TRIGGER WARNING – By nature of the plot of the K-Drama Tomorrow, this review will, by necessity, talk about suicide throughout. If you wish to avoid such content, please stop reading here, and it is suggested that Tomorrow may not be for you. If you are struggling, then there are services available to help, which in the UK includes the National Suicide Prevention Helpline.
Melodrama is a heavy-handed narrative device. It can be used effectively, sure. Heightened emotions whipped up by excessive circumstance can result in larger than life payoffs.
Yet it can also smash sensitivity to pieces within its wake. Thus, Tomorrow, a K-Drama about afterlife Reapers who strive to prevent suicides, is a show frequently at danger of overwhelming itself.
What Is Tomorrow About?
South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world (figures courtesy of the World Health Organisation). Tomorrow explores with all due weight and gravitas many causes of suicide, including workplace bullying, eating disorders, sexual assault, feeling like a burden to society or loved ones, and drug overdose.
The subject matters are plotted to never undermine the seriousness of the topic nor offer platitudes, to its credit.
However, in typical K-Drama fashion, Tomorrow will overload its characters with layer after layer of abject misery or wickedness.
In revenge stories like Taxi Driver, you can withstand this with the knowledge that the payoff of vengeance is always close on the horizon. Tomorrow has a scattering of moments of heart-rendering poignancy but tests your endurance to reach them.
Part of the problem is the central cast. Dismissed as ridiculous by their contemporaries in Jumadeung (a very departmental office-like afterlife), the suicide-preventing Risk Management Team consist of strict leader Koo Ryeon (Kim Hee-sun), fighter Lim Ryung-gu (Yoon Ji-on), and newcomer Choi Joon-woong (K-Pop singer, Rowoon). Their dynamic develops slowly, anchored by Koo’s ‘stoic to the point of robotic’ lead.
Choi is struggling to get a job. On his way home, after drowning his sorrows, he tries to save a suicidal man jumping from a bridge but in doing so ends up in a coma. The Jade Emperor of Jumadueng (K-Drama legend, Kim Hae-sook, Inspector Koo) offers a deal: work under Koo in the Risk Management Team and his time in the coma will be reduced to just 6 months.
Tomorrow tries to offset its inherently difficult-to-watch material with a smattering of humour. Such instances struggle to break through.
Until the team of Koo, Choi and Lim are bedded in, Rowoon’s ramped up performance means his immaturity makes for shaky beginnings.
Yet, he is the heart of the show who is deeply affected by the tragic life stories before him and becomes a fine representative to those in need as Tomorrow progresses.
Tomorrow Official Trailer
Is Tomorrow Worth Watching?
When Tomorrow strikes the right balance, it can be incredibly effective. An episode involving a Korean War veteran – whilst unashamedly nationalistic – is a gentle and nuanced story that explores what awaits people who returns from devastating battle.
An outlier episode deals with a suicidal dog – no, I’m not joking – but is played so straight that it breaks through any ridiculousness to come out the other side and cover loneliness and co-dependency regarding the dog’s owner.
Also, the backstory of Lim (who existed in the Land of the Living hundreds of years ago) portrays his tragedy with a calmer and more assured air, which makes that plot line all the more devastating.
Tomorrow is so hard going that it is best watched in small chunks. As the series fights on, the increasing camaraderie between Lim and Choi means the ‘workplace humour’ lighter moments feel more natural. Unfortunately though, Koo’s hinted-at backstory layers fail to pull up her presence beyond deadpan plot mover.
It doesn’t help that Koo’s early ‘tough love’ approach is to goad the people she is trying to help in an apparent effort to anger or guilt them into finding a renewed desire to live.
Yes, this is quickly dropped but Koo struggles to recover from such an introduction; her stoney expression betrays so little of what is going on underneath that despite being front and centre for the plot, she falls behind with audience connection.
The machinations of Jumadueng’s internal politics seek to fill in some plot gaps, although these are frequently stakes adding faux road blocks.
Rules such as ‘don’t mess in the affairs of humans’ are broken so often as to hold little narrative weight, and a time travel episode makes it abundantly clear that this is going to be a magical one and done for that single plot.
Even if it does fall into the layer-upon-layer-upon-layer of misery endemic to many K-Dramas, Tomorrow always has its heart in the right place and strives to bring forth the humanity of those at their lowest ebb.
For those willing to brave through, there are some heartfelt stories to be told within. The connections (or not) you form with its characters will ultimately guide your connection to the show. Tomorrow is, after all, the birth of a new day. Stay safe.
Words by Mike Record