Alchemy of Souls S1 (2022) 환혼: K-Drama Series Review

Jang Uk and Mu-deok/ Naksu

The 19-episode Korean series an interesting series which is based in magical kingdom of Daeho with mages. The route to be a mage commences with the opening of energy flow, and enlightened mages train to achieve the various levels – jipsu, ryusu, chisu and hwansu whereby the highest hwansu links to the alchemy of souls. The mages serves the Emperor of the kingdom, and consist of the 4 main family of Seo (of Seo Yul), Jang (of Jang Uk), Sang (of Dang Gu) and Jin (of the pretty lady Lady Jin).

The series focus on the path encountered by Jang Uk – the descendant of the Jang mage family, whose energy flow is blocked. Lazy, demotivated but good friends with the young mages of the other family, his life is turned upside down when he encounters Naksu (a soul shifter, who can switch souls with another person). Naksu shifted her soul into Mu-deok, who becomes Jang Uk’s maidservant.

Muse #1 The cinematography is beautifully crafted. Many of the sceneries within Songrim and even at the forest is beautiful. Natural with blending with CGIs.

Secrets of Songrim

Thereon, begins the adventure of Jang Uk to regain his blocked energy flow & training towards becoming a real mage. Park Jin, the master of Songrim, loves him as a son but is determined to protect him and his secret. Jang Uk is actually the son of the previous emperor, who is conceived with Jang Gang’s wife during the Alchemy of Soul of which Jang Gang performs at the request of the previous Emperor.

Park Jin – Song Rim’s leader and father figure to Jang Uk

Naksu/ Mu-deok is the daughter of the previous mage of star-gazing, whose family is terminated by the Royal family and the 4 mage families when she was a young girl. Saved by Jin Mu, the villainous party serving the practising Alchemy of Souls – she becomes an assassin and shifted her soul in Mu-deok and becoming master to Jang Uk. In her quest to obtain justice for her ownself, she is determined to ensure Jang Uk improves on his quest to be a strong mage. At the same time, the real identity of Mu-deok is actually the lost eldest daughter of the Jin family, before Naksu takes over her body. 

The beginning of the series is actually interesting & brings novelty to the series, especially with the introduction of the various mages, their specialty & spells, the inter-connecting family. With more divulging of information as the series go along, it becomes part-adventure for the young mages and part-investigative with clues being pieced together over time.

Naksu is being used to take revenge for her family, and the difficulties she faces to train as a “nobody” changes her into a calculating & cold person. Comparing against the young mages from aristocratic family members and royalty, who enjoys significant benefits to be mages.

Muse #2 The introduction of the main families of Songrim actually reminds me of the chae-bol of Korea. Very much aristocratic-style, with the benefits bestowed on members born within the aristocratic family. It almost makes it an impossible for an equal society as everyone’s starting point is not the same. Very much real life.

Upon Mu-deok’s soul-shifting, she is also racing against time as most soul-shifters may turn into a man-eating monster & lose their conscience. As the young mages maneuver through the schemes of the unknown power trying to open the soul-shifting, the men around her fall for her – Jang Uk (her disciple), Seo-yul (Naksu’s childhood friend) and even the crown prince.

The introduction to the story arc of head of Jinyowon mage as the guardian of various magical artifacts, including the magic lamp exposes a few more important clues that link the main story to the side story.

  • Head of Jinyowon Jin Ho-gyeong (also mother to Jin Cho-yeon) is a desperate mother who misses her first born Jin Bu-yeon, who went missing in a lake in their attempt to find (successfully too) the magic lamp
Jinyowon’s leader – selfish & blinded by her own desperation

Muse #3 It feels to me that Jin Ho-gyeong is such a hypocrite, as she misses her first born but neglects her second born. Her desperation to find her first born blinded her to all the manipulations by others. Worst, she side-lines those who loves her – her husband and her 2nd daughter.

  • Jin Mu (brother to Jin Ho-gyeong) manipulates his step-sister’s desperation and brought in a fake Bu-yeon, revealing his main participation in the whole scheme
  • Master Lee Cheol’s mysterious background, being the master to Sejuwon’s infirmary mages Seo Heom (even though when he looks much younger). And the revelation later that he has also performed soul-shifting.

Muse #4 Soul-shifting is forbidden as it has been painted as an evil action, whereby all soul-shifters are condemned to a miserable life. However, throughout the series, there seem to be exception eg Master Lee Cheol, Naksu, Jang Gang. The key takeaway seems to be the action itself is neutral, but more importantly the intent is key. An evil intent will turn any good action into a malicious situation.

Seo-yul and Park Dang Gu – good friends in need
  • The Royal Family, especially the Queen shows significant interest in the soul-shifting and resurrection. It is subsequently revealed that a soul-shifter has shifted into the body of the Queen while the real Queen is left rotting in the prison
  • Mu-deok also starts having visions of her past young life, linking her to the Jinyowon family. She finally realises that she is the missing Jin Bu-yeong, but loses her memory after she is saved.

With Jin Mu pulling the string to resurrect the soul-shifting through the magic lamp, the young mages are trapped within the magic lamp. Mu-deok also resurrects her own power as the mage of Jinyowon. At the critical period, Jang Gang (Jang Uk’s father) returns with revelation of his own soul-shifting but manages to save the royal family.

Conclusion 7/10

At the beginning, the series show great potential as the concepts are fascinating, the backstory of the characters are interesting and adventures of the young mages are exciting.

Main Couple

The series often mix good comedic timing within the tense situations, making it less intense. The pairing of Jin Cho-yeon, 2nd daughter of Jin family and Dang Gu is littered with funny situations as Cho-yeon is slightly arrogant but naïve while Dang Gu is almost like a joker of the lot. The hot and cold relationship shared between Maid Kim and Head of Songrim Park Jin is sometimes cute to watch, sometimes frustrating to follow. Both have feelings for each other, and have endured good and bad times together, but would not outrightly commit their feelings. 

Muse #5 I like the fact that most of the actors and actresses are not super handsome or super pretty. I would say the male lead is quite average-looking, and precisely because of that it makes the series more relatable.   

Half-way through, the series loses steam a little. Although the plot plodded along, the pace becomes slower and slightly repetitive. The ending leaves things hanging, with Jin Mu hiding in the magic mirror to meet up with the Crown Prince, leaving him with clues that Jang Uk is the previous King’s offspring and his arch nemesis.

It did take me a lot longer to actually finish watching due to lack of motivation to finish the series. Any sequel will probably take a bit more convincing to continue the series.

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