Memories of the Alhambra is a 2018 Korean drama series that ran for 16 episodes.
Yoo Jin-woo is the CEO of a "smart contact lens" company. While Jin-woo is attending an industry in Barcelona, Spain, he receives a frantic, panicky call from a young man who will later be named Jung Se-ju. Se-ju (played by Park Chan-yeol of Korean boy band EXO) has something to sell Jin-woo, and he asks Jin-woo to meet him in Granada in southern Spain.
Jin-woo is intrigued enough by the call to fly from Barcelona to Granada. Se-ju's last panicked words on the phone call were to meet him at the Bonita Hostel, a youth hostel in Granada that caters to Koreans. Jin-woo arrives at the hostel and meets its pretty owner, Jung Hee-joo. He is less than impressed by the dilapidated hostel, and he insults Hee-Joo, but he stays there anyway in hopes of meeting Se-ju.
Soon after arriving Jin-woo goes to a downtown plaza. To his shock, a statue of a Moorish warrior leaps off of its plinth in the fountain in the middle of the square, and attacks him. This is what Se-ju wanted to sell him: a mind-bogglingly advanced augmented reality game called "Memories of the Alhambra". Anyone who puts on special fancy contact lenses (like the ones Jin-woo's company makes) and logs on to Se-ju's game via wifi will find themselves in an insanely realistic VR game based on the late 15th century wars between Moorish Muslims and Catholic Spaniards. Gameplayers roam the streets of 21st century Granada but find it filled with medieval knights and warriors and pirates to fight, as well as other gameplayers to duel with. Jin-woo, who instantly recognizes the potential of the game to make him very rich, becomes desperate to buy it. But Se-ju did not show up at the hostel, and no one knows where he is. The only person Jin-woo can contact is Se-ju's older sister and guardian...Hee-Joo. The woman he insulted. And worse, Jin-woo's old friend and current bitter rival, Cha Hyung-seok, is also in Granada and also wants to buy the game.
Other characters include Cha Hyung-seok's very nasty father Professor Cha, Jin-woo's secretary and right-hand-man Seo, Jin-woo's first wife Soo-jin who still holds some feelings for him despite being married to Cha Hyung-seok, and Jin-woo's second and soon-to-be-ex wife Go Yu-ra who hates him.
Memories of the Alhambra ran in Korea on television network tvN and was distributed internationally by Netflix.
- Augmented Reality: The freakishly realistic VR game that anyone can play if they don the special contacts, a game which turns 2018 Alhambra into a battleground for 15th century Catholic and Islamic warriors. Jin-woo is CEO of a company that makes wifi-compatible "smart" contact lenses, which makes him a natural buyer for the game.
- Call-Back: Professor Cha's "You're the traitor!" insult to Cha Hyung-seok, first heard in a flashback in one of the early episodes, gets a call back in Episode 11 when Professor Cha does the exact same thing to Jin-woo. He slaps Jin-woo, rants about how he picked Jin-woo over his own son, then says the same "You're the traitor" line to Jin-woo.
- Character Level: Jin-woo has to earn higher levels in the game. When he first goes to the bar designated as a meeting space for game players, he sees a group of pirates an an avatar of Hee-joo called "Emma", but he can't talk to any of them, because he hasn't made it to Level 5 yet.
- Cobweb of Disuse: Jin-woo insists on a private room when arriving at the hostel in Episode 1. He gets one, but it's on the sixth floor, there is no elevator, and the whole room is covered in cobwebs and dust.
- Distant Finale: A one-year time skip in the last episode. Soo-jin has donated all of her monstrous father-in-law's estate to charity. Go Yu-ra is facing a sad future as a Trophy Wife. The streets of Seoul are full of people jumping and hopping around and looking like lunatics as they duel with invisible bad guys as part of J-One's new augmented reality game (in fact, they're becom.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Sang-beom, who originally was doggedly hanging around Hee-joo in Granada and then doggedly hangs around her in Seoul, despite the fact that she quite obviously is not into him. His jealousy and resentment of Jin-woo grows and grows and eventually boils over by Episode 12, when he reveals to Hee-joo's grandma that Se-ju hasn't been emailing and in fact has been missing for a year. Grandma collapses, and Hee-joo gets very angry.
- Dutch Angle: The camera tilts wildly in Episode 5 to indicate Hee-joo's distress as she dashes down the staircase after seeing someone fall. It's Jin-woo, who fell from the sixth floor.
- Establishing Character Moment: The audience learns quite a bit about Jin-woo's second wife, Go Yu-Ra, when she first appears in Episode 5. She's drunk on a movie set, swigging straight from a wine bottle, as she screams at Jin-woo's secretary about her soon-to-be-ex-husband not answering his phone.
- Everything's Deader with Zombies: As if the game wasn't terrifying enough, Jin-woo's quest to the Alhambra dungeon in Episode 10 has him fighting goddamn zombies, which In-Universe are supposed to be the zombies of prisoners in the dungeon. The only reason he isn't killed is that Virtual Seo shows up as an NPC and kills all the zombies for him.
- Experience Points: As Jin-woo completes tasks and kills enemies, he rises up in the game.
- Flashback: Many.
- One in Episode 3 that explains the Missing Mom and Disappeared Dad. The father moved the family to Spain so Hee-joo could study the guitar. But Hee-joo turned out to be not really that good a guitar player. The mom died suddenly of a stroke; the father turned to drinking and died in a drunk driving accident. That left teenaged Hee-joo raising the family.
- A quick series of flashbacks at the beginning of Episode 4 briefly sketch out Cha and Soo-jin's relationship, including her Gray Rain of Depression breakup with Jin-woo and Cha's "Well Done, Son!" Guy relationship with his father.
- Episode 8 reveals in a flashback how Cha found out about the game in the first place: Se-ju's slimy friend Marco went to Cha to make a deal.
- The finale has a whole sequence of flashbacks that summarizes Jin-woo's and Hee-joo's whole relationship.
- Flashback Within a Flashback: Episode 13 has a flashback to the death of Marco. In the flashback Cha picks up Marco's phone and Su-jin answers, and we have a flashback within a flashback where Marco tells Cha that he has an assistant. So a flashback, within a flashback, from a character that has been dead for ten episodes.
- Flash Forward: The end of Episode 2 jumps forward a year to find Jin-woo on a train, looking much scruffier and worn down. He talks about how things went badly wrong, before having a gun battle with masked bandits that seems to be part of the VR game.
- The Game Come to Life: The game becomes a lot less fun for Jin-woo at the end of Episode 3. He fight Cha in a duel with swords in the park, and defeats him, only to be shocked at the end of the episode to find out that Cha died in Real Life. (Even creepier, the next episode explains that while Cha has no visible wounds, his corpse doesn't appear to have any blood.) Things go from bad to worse when Cha, who is definitely dead, rematerializes as a non-player character in Episode 4 and proves he is able to badly injure Jin-woo in real life. Jin-woo also begins to regularly see Virtual Cha when Jin-woo isn't wearing his smart contacts.
- Episode 7, after the one-year Time Skip and the shifting of the action to Seoul, reveals that Jin-woo's executive assistant Seo can also see Virtual Cha, even without the smart contacts.
- Gratuitous English: The love theme that plays whenever Jin-woo and Soo-jin are having an emotional moment: a romantic ballad that is all in Korean, except for the chorus where the singer sings "My heart is you."
- Gray Rain of Depression: As shown in a flashback, the final goodbye between Jin-woo and Soo-jin took place in Seoul in a pouring rainstorm, Soo-jin with an umbrella but Jin-woo getting soaked to the bone while telling her that she shouldn't be crying, he's the one that should be crying. Then Cha shows up and smugly declares that he and Soo-jin have gotten married.
- Guns Akimbo: Jin-woo does this at the end of Episode 2 as he's having a dramatic shootout with masked bandits on the train.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Professor Cha has the servers turned back on in a deliberate effort to get the virtual assassins to kill Jin-woo. Instead, he himself is killed by the returned avatar of his son.
- Hub City: The Real Life city of Granada is also the world of the game.
- Invisibility Cloak: The final moments of the final episode reveal that Se-ju created one. The reason why nobody saw him on the platform in Granada was because he had created a "dungeon", basically a little invisibility pocket in the game. And with The Game Come to Life it rendered you invisible in the real world. This is where Jin-woo has been hiding out for the year-long Time Skip before the Distant Finale; hiding within his invisibility dungeon.
- Jitter Cam: Seen as Se-ju, in a blind panic, flees from his unseen stalker in Episode 1.
- Killed Off for Real:
- Jin-woo, having leveled up, defeats Cha Hyung-seok in a duel in Episode 3, stabbing him in the chest with his virtual sword. He gets a very unpleasant surprise at the end of that episode when his flunky Seo tells him that Cha was found in the park where Jin-woo left him, dead for real.
- Further tragedy ensues when Seo gets off the train at Granada in Episode 9 and is promptly ambushed and killed by NPCs, while Jin-woo is trapped on the train and unable to help him. Just like Cha, Seo comes back as a game character, although Virtual Seo is still Jin-woo's ally.
- Kubrick Stare:
- The Moorish warrior gives Jin-woo a particularly murderous one after leaping from his plinth. He then proceeds to kill Jin-woo several times before Jin-woo gets the hang of things.
- The NPCs that come after game players—namely, Cha for Jin-woo and later Marco for Se-ju—tend to shoot deadly Kubrick Stares as well.
- Lady Drunk: Jin-woo's second wife Go Yu-ra gets drunk in public, chugging straight from a bottle of wine at work, making a spectacle of herself. Later she shows up at the hostel drunk and assaults Hee-jin. She's also drunk when she bursts into Professor Cha's office for an ugly confrontation. In Episode 14 she chugs straight from a wine bottle again after finding out her plans with Professor Cha have gone awry, and she is swaying mightily when she arrives at the police station. The last episode reveals that she got a DUI.
- Level Grinding: Jin-woo has to kill Mook after Mook after Mook in the game in order to advance to new levels.
- Living Statue: The statue of a Moorish warrior that leaps off its plinth and attacks Jin-woo. He duels with it over and over again all night long before finally "killing" it and advancing to the next stage of the game.
- Longing Look: The stare Soo-jin gives Jin-woo as she leaves the train station reveals that despite the fact they've both married other people and she's carrying her new husband's baby, she still has feelings for him.
- Mathematician's Answer: Hee-joo is startled to see Jin-woo return when she thought he was leaving town, and asks him, "What brings you here?" He answers with "A taxi." (He really came back on hearing that Cha died.)
- "Metaphor" Is My Middle Name: When his flunky back in Barcelona tells Jin-woo in Episode 2 to stop being childish and step away from the duel with Cha Hyung-seok, Jin-woo defiantly says "Childish is my middle name."
- Never Bring A Knife To A Gunfight: Episode 7 has a scene where Cha comes after Jin-woo with a sword looking scary as usual. But after a year in which Jin-woo has advanced to Level 84, the dynamic has changed, as Jin-woo pulls out a virtual gun and shoots Virtual Cha dead with ease.
- Non-Player Character: Characters not representing players are roaming around in the "Memories of the Alhambra" game. A lot of them are trying to kill Jin-woo. He meets some pirates in a bar, which are identified as NPCs, but they call him a "noob" and a graphic tells him that he isn't at a high enough level to talk to him. This trope takes a darker turn later when Jin-woo's rival Cha dies in real life only to materialize in the game as a Non-Player Character who seems bent on killing Jin-woo.
- Plot Hole:
- If Seo was killed by NPCs, why was he found in a field, dead of a cerebral hemorrhage? And apparently he was killed by NPCs because
- The series never explains how just wearing fancy contact lenses allows a player to feel the physical sensations of combat, such as feeling your virtual sword clanging against a bad guy's virtual sword. One might Hand Wave this as The Game Come to Life in the case of Jin-woo, but the final episode makes clear that game players are still putting on contact lenses and clanging swords a year after the "bugs" have been removed from the game.
- How can Hee-joo see Jin-woo inside his Invisibility Cloak at the end of the series? It's established that the invisibility "dungeon" Se-joo created allows the master of the game to remain invisible. The last scene where Jin-woo is shooting bad guys also establishes that the other players can't see him, so how can she?
- Product Placement: In-Universe, the Seoul version of the "Memories of the Alhambra" game has a deal with Subway in which you have to go into a Subway to get your first sword, and you get virtual game currency and health and vitality points if you buy a Subway meal. (This is almost certainly the makers of the series selling Real Life product placement as well, of course.) If that isn't obvious enough, later Jin-woo meets Choi the game designer in a Subway for lunch.
- Romantic Rain:
- Subverted. The meeting between Jin-woo and Hee-jin in Episode 7 after a year apart has all the trappings of Romantic Rain, with the long Held Gaze between the two of them as the camera cuts between their faces and the love theme soars. But this is overcome moments later when Hee-jin drops the bomb, revealing that she's guess that he's writing the letters supposedly from Se-ju, and further, she's guessed the ulterior motive behind his buying the hostel.
- Later played straight in Episode 11, when Jin-woo and Hee-jin finally, finally have their first kiss at the end of the episode, in a pouring rainstorm. Hee-Jin even drops the umbrella she was holding, to make it more romantic.
- Running Gag:
- In the game, Se-ju hid the sword which is the only weapon for Level 1 in the bathroom of a restaurant. So Jin-woo has to go to the restaurant and go into the bathroom for the sword—and he has to do it again and again and again as the Moorish warrior keeps killing him in the game. The waiter at the restaurant gets more and more confused at the Korean man who keeps entering the restaurant, going to the bathroom, and leaving, without getting anything to eat.
- As it turns out, when Jin-woo's company adapts the game to other locations, they stick with the formula, and hide the Level 1 sword in a restaurant's bathroom. So game players in Seoul go into a Subway, and get bemused looks from peeing men as they whip around an invisible sword. A scene in the last episode, after the game has become wildly popular with the general public, shows a line of people in a restroom all waiting for their turn to grab a rusty iron sword.
- Shout-Out: When Seo joins the game to help Jin-woo, his player name is "City Hunter".
- Split Screen: Used in Episode 1 to make it more dramatic as Jin-woo walks to the public square for what turns out to be his entrance into the game.
- Split-Screen Phone Call: In Episode 2 we see an enraged Hee-joo venting at Jin-woo in a split-screen phone call, with a third panel showing Jin-woo's secretary Jang-woo cringing in embarrassment.
- Time Skip: A one-year time skip in Episode 7 moves the action to Seoul and has Jin-woo's company working on adapting the game for Korea and for other places. Jin-woo returns to his company after a year spent doing nothing but playing the game; he's risen to Level 84.
- Time Stands Still: In one scene in Episode 3 Jin-woo is about to get turned into a pincushion by a hail of Moorish arrows when the game starts buffering due to a poor connection with the server. Arrows freeze in mid-air inches away from him. Jin-woo dashes to safety.
- Titled After the Song: Both the miniseries and, In-Universe, Se-ju's game, are titled after "Memories of the Alhambra", a Spanish guitar piece often used as instruction for advanced players. In the back story, it was her apparent inability to play this piece that convinced Hee-joo that she was not a true guitar prodigy. (This series is marketed in English as Memories of the Alhambra, but the actual guitar piece is more commonly referred to in English by the untranslated Spanish title, "Recuerdos de la Alhambra".)
- Title Drop: "Memories of the Alhambra" is Se-ju's name for his medieval combat game.
- Trophy Wife: In the final episode Go Yu-ra, who wrecked her acting career by lying about Jin-woo (and being an alcoholic), settles for marring a millionaire businessman who's in his sixties. She's not very happy about it.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Part of the whole ugly We Used to Be Friends dynamic between Jin-woo and Cha Hyung-seok is that Cha's father, Professor Cha, couldn't stand his own son and liked Jin-woo better. There's a flashback scene in Episode 5 where Professor Cha slaps his son in the face twice after hearing that young Cha is leaving Jin-woo's company to found his own. While he's making his way to Granada after his son's death, Professor Cha grouses about how younger Cha is causing trouble from beyond the grave.
- We Used to Be Friends: Jin-woo calls Cha Hyung-seok his "former friend". They are now mortal enemies, after Hyung-seok left Jin-woo's company and took Jin-woo's wife, Soo-jin. In Episode 5 a hysterical Soo-jin screams at Jin-woo that Cha cried about the rupture of his friendship with Jin-woo and never gave up hope for a reconciliation.
- Wide Open Sandbox: The "Memories of the Alhambra" game. Jin-woo can roam all over the city, although he has to complete certain tasks to advance to the next level.
- You Have 48 Hours: In Episode 9 we find out that the hawk that Jin-woo saw while he was Level Grinding at the abandoned school carried a message from Se-ju, giving Jin-woo a quest in Granada that he had to perform, but allowing only 48 hours from receipt of message.