Wading through the Secret Forest that is Stranger

Secret Forest official poster - 5 cast

Credit: tvN

Since “Signal” ended more than a year ago, no other Korean drama – not even the wildly popular “Goblin” – had caught my eye until Stranger (Secret Forest) came along. Incidentally, all three dramas are the works of tvN, which has become the de facto standard for quality drama productions.

“Stranger (Secret Forest)” – hereinafter referred to as “Stranger” – is a crime and legal mystery thriller where a prosecutor Hwang Shi-Mok, played by Jo Seung Woo (“God’s Gift: 14 Days”), teams up with a police investigator Han Yeo-Jin, played by Bae Doona (“Cloud Atlas”; “Sense8”), to solve a murder.


Credit: tvN

Hwang had brain surgery when he was young, and that left him unable to express his emotions. He is being seen as a cold and unfeeling person, thus a misfit and outcast among his fellow prosecutors. In contrast, Han is affable and has a strong sense of justice as well as passion for her work.

Despite their differences, they share a common goal of wanting to rip out corruption by the roots and restore justice to the society, so they decide to put trust in each other and work together. They end up getting entangled in a web of deceit and lies where they uncover gross misdeeds within the higher-ups in their organisations and powerful conglomerates.

I had refrained from recommending this drama prior to its final episode, for fear that it would not live up to my expectations that had been set so high by “Signal”. After all, many crime dramas produced in South Korea had fallen flat and fizzled out after a promising start. Thankfully, after having watched all 16 episodes, I am happy to say that “Stranger” has officially overtaken “Signal” to become my all-time favourite Korean drama.

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Werewolf game (狼人杀)

Werewolf game (狼人杀)


Role cards (credit: TV Tropes)

The Werewolf game (狼人杀 in Chinese) has seen immense popularity in China in the past few years, proliferating online via game apps and live streaming platforms, as well as offline through social gatherings and schools.

For the uninitiated, the Werewolf game is based on the The Werewolves of Millers Hollow boardgame, in turn an adaptation of Mafia, a classic Russian party game. In the Werewolf game, each player is assigned a role that belongs to either of the two camps: the Werewolves or the Villagers, the latter including ordinary townsfolk and special characters such as Fortune Teller, Hunter, Witch, etc.

The game commences with the first night where all players close their eyes. A moderator calls for the Werewolves to open eyes and choose a target to kill. After this is done, the Werewolves close their eyes. The moderator then calls for the special characters to carry out their respective responsibilities. During the day, everyone ‘wakes up’, and the victim is revealed and put out of the game. Surviving players then discuss and vote for a player whom they suspect is a Werewolf. The player who receives the most votes is ‘lynched’ and the game goes into night-time again. The game continues alternating between night and day until all the Werewolves have been eliminated (a win for the Villagers) or when there are an equal number of Werewolves and Villagers (a win for the Werewolves).


Lying Man (credit: Zhanqi TV)

The popularity of the Werewolf game was kickstarted in 2015 by “Lying Man”, a reality game show featuring famous eSports personalities playing the Werewolf game. Produced by Zhanqi TV – a live streaming platform in China – the show enjoyed tremendous success at the onset, benefitting from a ready base of fans of these eSports personalities. These personalities are huge celebrities and influencers in the eSports world, and many of them rake in millions of dollars a year through tapping the huge eSports market in China, estimated to number to 100 million fans in 2016.


Panda Kill (credit: Panda TV)

It did not take long for rival streaming platform Panda TV to follow suit with their own version called “Panda Kill”. (Interesting tidbit: Panda TV is owned by Wang Sicong, son of China’s richest man Wang Jianlin.) This further pushed the awareness and popularity of the Werewolf game to feverish heights. It is only natural that these followers started to take the Werewolf game offline in waves by playing it at regional meetups and social gatherings. The Werewolf game is seen as an ideal icebreaker and bonding game, as game rules are simple and easy to pick up. Players can also improve on their speech and logical thinking through taking on various roles in the game.

As the user base of the game grew, many Werewolf game experts started coming through the ranks in regional tournaments and became mini-celebrities in their own right. They also organised and live streamed regular regional meetups, fuelling more interest from the general public.


JYClub Shanghai (credit: Qianlong)

As a testament to its explosive popularity, JYClub, a dedicated venue for players of Werewolf game, recently opened to much fanfare in Shanghai and hosted special games featuring many popular Werewolf game experts. It attracted tens of thousands of users during live streaming and earned a million yuan on opening day alone.


狼人杀 app (credit: iTunes)

A Werewolf game app boasting nearly one million paying users and hundreds of thousands of daily new users recently raised a few million yuan in funding. Even TV programmes like “Temptations of Dinner” had incorporated a Werewolf game segment.

No one knows how long the Werewolf game trend will last, but it is safe to say that it has succeeded in doing what many boardgames had failed in recent years: getting people to physically meet and interact with other like-minded peers in the good old-fashioned way.


Lying Man

Panda Kill

JYClub expert matchup special






Signal sets high bar for Korean drama

While every other person seemed to be caught up in the recently concluded “Descendants of the Sun” craze, I was not particularly enamoured by it. Instead, I was attracted to the highly acclaimed drama “Signal“, which was specially aired on tvN for the broadcast channel’s 10th anniversary. Incidentally it took over the time slot from another quality drama “Reply 1988” – what’s with tvN churning out quality dramas helmed by lesser known but hugely talented cast?


“Signal” is a detective mystery thriller with an intriguing element in the form of the main characters communicating through time with the help of walkie talkie. This “communicate through time” storyline has been covered by American movie “Frequency” and Hong Kong drama serial “隔世追凶” (“To Get Unstuck in Time”) where father and son communicate that way, but “Signal” takes on a different form where the link is between two police detectives who had never met each other before but ended up joining hands through time to investigate and solve cold cases.

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Korean mystery music shows: “King of Mask Singer” and “I Can See Your Voice”

Korea is known for churning out music variety programmes with a twist. It is no longer about singing competitions like “I Am A Singer” or “K-pop Star”. It is about music shows unearthing gems and encouraging viewers to listen without bias in an entertaining way .

“Hidden Singer” (singers and their vocal doppelgängers sing behind a screen and audience vote on who they think is the real deal) is a trend-setter in the “mystery music show” genre. This year, two new programmes have emerged as worthy contenders, “King of Mask Singer” and “I Can See Your Voice“.

“King of Mask Singer”

Contestants range from singers, actors, comedians and pop idols. They wear elaborate masks and clothes to conceal their identity while singing. This ensures that the jury panel, made up of celebrities and audience, will not know the identity of the contestants and can vote without prejudice.

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Season 4 of “The Genius” : Grand Final begins June 27th

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Highly-lauded Korean reality-variety game show “The Genius” is back with its fourth season “Grand Final”, slated to air on June 27th. The title “Grand Final” had many fans fear that the show is ending for good. So far the production team hasn’t addressed that concern, so we can only cross our fingers and hope for the best.

(If you have not heard of this extremely entertaining and mind-blowing programme, you can learn more about it in my posts: “The Genius: Rules of the Game”, “The Genius 2: Rule Breaker” and “The Genius 3: Black Garnet”.)

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Plot twists abound in season 2 of “Crime Scene”

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“Crime Scene” is a Korean investigative-variety RPG show in which cast members are given suspect roles to play. One of them will play the real killer who will have to conceal his/her identity while trying to incriminate the others, and the other suspects will have to uncover evidence in the crime scene to find the real killer.

The first season aired on May 2014, and the second season is coming to a close tonight. Season 2 has garnered better ratings and reviews over Season 1 due to the more intricate crime scene sets, seemingly improbable plot twists and better hidden clues.

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Season 3 of “The Genius” : Black Garnet

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For people who are no longer contented with passive entertainment but instead enjoy having their minds stimulated while watching reality variety, fret no more. “The Genius 3: Black Garnet” had started airing since 1 Oct 2014.

If you have not heard of “The Genius”, it is billed as one of Korea’s top reality variety shows that pits wits, intelligence and sociability of the players against one another, with the last man/woman standing crowned the champion at the end of the season. (Yup, just like Liar Game) You can read more about “The Genius 1: Rules of the Game” and “The Genius 2: Rule Breaker” from my posts.

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