Four days ago I’d never heard of Chicago Typewriter. Now, 16 episodes later, I can confidently say it’s a drama that’ll stay with me for a long time. The term underrated is thrown around a lot but when it comes to this beautifully written Korean series, that title is well-earned.
Blending romance, comedy and period drama together, Chicago Typewriter is a series that splits its time evenly between two time periods. The first takes place in a turbulent 1930’s as a rebel group rises up and looks to usurp the current administration ruling with an iron fist.
The second revolves around a prolific writer named Se-Ju in modern day Seoul. Commonly referred to as the Korean Stephen King, Se-Ju turns his hand to writing a romantic novel for his next project.
When a strange typewriter arrives on his doorstep, his life is changed forever. Serving as his female counterpart is super-fan Jeon Seol who slowly thaws away at Se-Ju’s icy heart.
Adding some spice to the mix is Se-Ju’s ghostwriter Jin-O, who’s hired to take over in Se-Ju’s stead when he hits a nasty bout of writer’s block. For the first half of the series, Chicago Typewriter teases glimpses of the past but mainly keeps things fixated on this strange typewriter and the dynamic between our three central characters.
Toward the middle portion of episodes – after a particularly shocking plot twist changes the dimension of the series – we look at the past a lot more. The 1903’s setting is gorgeously dressed and the costume design is second to none. While this could easily have been written off as another quirky gimmick, these scenes soon become integral to what’s happening in the present.
Recurring themes surrounding Carpe Diem (which in Latin means “seize the day”) and a pocket watch tie the big themes of the show together. In its simplest form, this is a story of forgiveness, betrayal, mystery and freedom but to be honest it goes so much deeper than that.
All of these ideas are tied within the complicated but endearing friendship and love triangle between Se-Ju, Jin-O and Jeon Seol. This is ultimately the glue that holds everything together and there’s so much meaning and history between the trio that you can’t help but fall in love with them.
What’s particularly fascinating about this show is just how quickly the tone and style can switch. Each episode mixes things up from laugh out loud comedy to eye-watering sorrow. This continues right the way through to the final act, with an excellent penultimate episode that spends its entire time in the past.
Unlike many Korean dramas that usually spend the last episode tying everything together, Chicago Typewriter justifies its 16 episode run-time and squeezes as much story into this as possible. The romantic elements and the various character arcs need this much time to really grow and across the season each person – supporting and main – grows and changes to some degree.
Stylistically, the series uses a lot of neat tricks from split screens, faded colours and even swinging camera movements. There’s a real artistry that comes from this one although personally I would have liked to see more of the 1903’s setting. There’s minimal sets used and most of the action takes place within a confined space.
However, seeing the same scene play out from multiple different perspectives is certainly interesting and all of it comes back to one fateful betrayal that’s slowly teased across the season.
Overall though Chicago Typewriter is a gorgeous, incredibly endearing Korean drama. It’s well written, confidently produced and wraps everything up with an emotional but really beautiful final few scenes. It’s one of those shows that easily falls under the radar next to other heavy hitters but more than holds its own in the ring.
If you’ve never heard of this Korean drama before, do yourself a favour and take the plunge. This is easily worth the time commitment and one of the most underrated Korean dramas out there.