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Time-traveling detective to search for identity

OCN’s ‘Life on Mars’ claims it’s not another run-of-the-mill time travel series

Another drama series featuring a time-traveling detective is on its way, but its producers claim it does not rely too much on the instrument of going back in time, describing it as a “journey of finding one’s identity between dream and reality.”

Perhaps buoyed by past successes in the genre -- “Signal” and “Tunnel,” for example -- CJ E&M’s OCN network is to air yet another time travel series in “Life on Mars,” a remake of the popular British BBC production of the same name that aired 2006-2007.

Poster for “Life on Mars” / OCN
Poster for “Life on Mars” / OCN

The upcoming Saturday-Sunday series features a detective who travels back in time to 1988. While he had been a cool-headed detective who relied on facts and evidence, he learns to use his instincts to tackle cases.

“The original series is actually the root of the time travel genre,” director Lee Jung-hyo said at a media event Tuesday in western Seoul. He was aware that time travel has become an oft-used narrative instrument, which viewers could be tiring of.

“I myself thought ‘time travel again?’ when I was offered the series. But this one is more about the protagonist finding his identity in a space between reality and dream,” he said.

This is Lee’s second remake series. “The Good Wife,” a Korean adaptation of the popular US drama series, was well received by local viewers in 2016. In producing such adaptions, Lee focuses on following the Korean actors’ emotions.

“The flow of the script is important, too. But we have to make viewers understand why the actors feel and react in certain ways,” Lee said.

Cast members were often amazed when they arrived at the locales to shoot. Most of the series has been shot in Busan, in places where time seem to have stopped since the 1980s. As director Lee is from Busan, he knows the area well. 

Jung Kyung-ho (left) and Park Sung-woong separately pose for photos at a media event held Tuesday at the Conrad Seoul in Yeouido, Seoul. / OCN
Jung Kyung-ho (left) and Park Sung-woong separately pose for photos at a media event held Tuesday at the Conrad Seoul in Yeouido, Seoul. / OCN

Jung Kyung-ho plays the time-traveling detective. He took the role without reading the script, as he had worked with the director on JTBC series “Heartless City” in 2013.

“I now have learned the lesson that I should always read the script,” he said. Jung is going through a tight shooting schedule as he appears in every scene in the series.

“I don’t feel like I am working when shooting ‘Life on Mars,” and not every production feels this way,” Jung said. He added, “My character gets beaten up a lot. I had thought it would be OK as it is just acting, but it hurts so much now.”

The “violent character” who pummels Jung is played by veteran Park Sung-woong. Park gained 10 kilograms to play the detective in 1988 relying on instinct.

“As Jung is rather skinny, I thought I should have a contrasting image, as a well-built detective who is straightforward and bold,” he said. “I didn’t watch the original series. An actor is a creator. I just told the director, ‘Correct me if I am too out of line.’ Under his direction, I just enjoyed myself.”

The 16-part series will air its first episode Saturday at 10:20 p.m.

By Im Eun-byel (