Apartment 404

Apartment 404
Apartment 404
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In Apartment 404 (presently available on Prime Video), a group of variety show performers, comedians, and actors come together to solve the reality-based crimes concerning an apartment building that has been in existence for years. It’s friendly here and even slightly crazy as stars take shots at each other while doing silly things, such as trying not to spill water when tied to their neighbor or playing party-style games, thereby trying to piece together the puzzles involved with wearing close approximations of clothes from a given year. But among all these celebrities, Jennie of girl band powerhouse Blackpink is the one who snatched all the attention for herself from cast members of Apartment 404.

Opening Shot

Since this variety show is set in an apartment building why not give it some background? Apartments first appeared in Seoul in the 1930s, large complexes were common by the ‘60s and today buying one costs a fortune. 

The Gist

Korean variety shows like dropping its participants into a format blind so it should come as no surprise that no one knows what they are going to do during Apartment 404’. Will we have any murders? What kind of challenges will they face? Such questions are asked of each other by Yoo Jae-suk and Yang Se-chan who both appear on Running Man; Jennie from girl group sensations Blackpink (Jennie was also paired with Yoo Jae-suk on Village Survival, The Eight); and actors Oh Na-ra, Lee Jung-Ha (Moving), and Cha Tae-Hyun. They are also handed two pristine items still stocked by their dealer in 1998 before they pile into a Pontiac LeBaron and Kia Pride heading towards an old apartment complex. There was an incident there in ’98. Clues can be found throughout units hidden sometimes right under your nose.And working in teams of three, participants will “solve” the mystery of what occurred and escape the apartment with the prize.

It’s not that simple, of course. Each player gets a character name – Jung-Ha is Kiwi, Jennie is Goose, and Jae-Suk is Toad, etc.- which they will see associated with random items in the apartments that were apparently still rocking GoldStar appliances, touch tone phones and VHS home video in 1998. “How did we ever use tape machines?” wonders Jae-suk when he sees everything around him at this year in the apartment and Jennie, who was born only two years after 1998 can’t believe it looks like a museum.

During the course of these proceedings there are many moments of laughter shared by participants and they take pleasure in engaging in food prep or having some easy conversation. However, Apartment 404’s pace slows down as they reason their way through repetitive bits about what transpired (or play bad games designed to get them clues). Moreover, Apartment 404 likes revisiting its funnier celeb moments – why not from three different perspectives? – and its onscreen prompts have useful information but also slow things down quite a bit.

What Does It Remind You Of?

The Zone: Survival Mission takes a group of Korean celebrities, and puts them inside an artificial survival world. Also, Yu Jae-suk is in Busted! on Netflix where they have to work together to solve small mysteries that will result into a season long cliffhanger.

Our Take

While we’ve watched our fair share of Korean TV—K-dramas or rom-coms, zombie fiction or game shows—we don’t know this country’s pop culture universe that well. Most of the cross-talk in Apartment 404 is good fun along the lines of variety shows but could be more enjoyable if we knew who the participants were, their previous work and so on. And because the clue-gathering and game-playing sections are not all that interesting, it does leave us yearning for those moments when the celebs are just hanging out with each other and bullshitting around. It would still be just as interesting if they were sitting around on a chat show couch; maybe even more so. Combine that with the slow pace of Apartment 404 and it becomes a problem. Its nearly two-hour runtime is severely padded. And while it’s funny to watch Na-Ra literally ROTFL, and some things like the show’s needling at its participants via its graphics lands, there isn’t enough here for this thing to work.

Parting Shot

The ongoing hook for Apartment 404 is constant cast members while every new year brings another secret to uncover. In some glimpses from scenes in next week’s episode, participants wear 1986-ish clothing while having seizures over “solving” a kidnapping.

Sleeper Star

Jennie from Blackpink (or did you catch her as Dyanne on Westworld?) is quite endearing in Apartment 404-let this K-pop idol cook! With 1998 appliances! –and remains active during gameplay even as ridiculous as it gets.

Most Pilot-y Line

Similar to other reality shows with a competition component, participants receive periodic messages from the Apartment 404 gamemasters.“Woosang Apartment has a secret. Whoever solves it by 5 PM, will win an awesome prize.” The messages however are seen in the context of VHS tape or terrestrial radio broadcasts since this is a 1998 setting.

Our Call

Apartment 404 offers a good bit of lighthearted and natural chemistry between its celebrity participants. But it enters SKIP It territory with its sluggish pace and uninteresting mysteries and clues. And for most of the jokes to land, you’ll have to know something about South Korean pop culture as well.

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