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Today’s Webtoon: A Bit of Onscreen Magic

Recently I finished the 2022 Kdrama Today’s Webtoon and really enjoyed it. I’m not sure how many stars I would give it, as it does so many things right and so many wrong, and I’m not certain I’d watch it again, but it was on the whole enjoyable. Especially from a writing perspective, the characters on the show discuss much about writing, storytelling, art, and the creative process. Much food for thought there.

Starring the cute-as-a-button Kim Se Jeong (The Uncanny Encounter) as a former Judo champion turned webtoon producer, fellow toon rookie played by Nam Yoon Too (The King’s Affection), and their editing supervisor in a wonderful, quiet performance by Daniel Choi (The Jugglers), the story follows a standard “office work” genre format. The rookies are given tough assignments and learn on the job and not only become great at what they do, but also gain a newfound love for it. The show is a based on a Japanese manga called Juhan Shuttai. The previous TV adaptation came out in Japan in 2016. The show has two directors, Kim Young Hum and Jo Soo Won, both of whom worked together on Kdrama Gogh, the Starry Night. Jo has a bit more projects under his belt, having directed the amazing Pinocchio and also Doctor John, which I hope to watch someday.

First off, the show boasts many good, magical scenes, the best of which is On Ma Eum (Kim Se Jeong) and Seok Ji Hyung (Daniel Choi) flipping a coin at a bus station. It’s a great scene and cements the personalities of both characters, their chemistry, and possibly their future. The scene hints at future romance, but that ends in a bit of a dud. Here’s the scene. Many of the episodes had me in tears as they were very human, sweet stories. The show makes something what many would consider trivial, webtoons, or online comic series and graphic novels, and shows how the writing, messages, images, and themes can be just as profound and soul touch as literary works of yore. In tone, the show is low key, the music light. The webtoon artists themselves are all fun personalities, each with their own challenges and their own little dramas. Again, and again the producers and editors of Neon Webtoon have to stretch and finesse them to meet their production goals and keep producing toons that the audience will keep reading.

I found all the discussions about story and what makes one webtoon better than another to be fascinating. It was also interesting to see how much pressure there is to produce when working with serial stories. Sometimes I wondered if these people, artists, editors, or producers, every really got a day off. Often the artists who I figured would give up did not and some who did came back at the end, wiser and more practiced in their craft. It was inspiring to watch.

Although in the show itself the characters discuss romance in stories and how it can help move stories along and engage the audience, for some mystifying reason, at least in this adaption, there is almost zero romance. By the end, a little is forced in, and it really felt forced. Although there’s a significant age gap, the palpable chemistry between Kim Se Jeong and her supervisor really overshadows the third lead, the other rookie, Goo Jun Yeong. Spoiler: He is supposed to be the love interest. It also really doesn’t help that Nam Yoon Too is one of those actors that sucks the energy off the screen. It’s not exactly bad acting, but certainly not engaging acting and lacking in screen presence. In his defense, though, Daniel Choi has an advantage, being more of a veteran actor and looking ridiculously good in glasses–and supervisor Seok owns a lot of glasses. Also really awkward throughout the show is the product placements, not subtle in the slightest and with the tendency to pull one out of the story.

The latter half of Today’s Webtoon almost had me stop watching. One of the webtoon artists is clearly dealing with trauma or psychological problems and it is like no one at all notices. But his behavior is even abnormal despite the colorful characters that are the other artists. When the fact that he has a problem gets addressed, it is handled very poorly, with a not-too-credible reason for what happened. Although the character gets much needed closure, it is probably the show’s worst moment.

Another thing that really had me rolling my eyes after awhile, was the Neon Webtoon department’s obsession with their former company Ginger Toon. I get that it didn’t work out and that it is sad for them, but…it is a bit too much after awhile, especially as, not to disrespect comics, but it is not like they are making essential products or solving major world problems or something. It is great they all still have so much passion for Ginger Toon, but it is also cringey that they can’t just move on already. And the bad guy is so meh, but that kind of works as with the low-key style of the drama. The primary focus is the main character’s transformation in joining this field of work.

Speaking of that, I can’t say enough about Kim Se Jeong. She brings so much life to the screen and is a pleasure to watch. Her character is written well, and the Judo angle kind of neat, as is the fact that her family owns a manga or comic book cafe. Almost all of the family scenes are wonderful. They seem like a real family that genuinely cares for each other. Kim really carries the show, especially as after awhile Daniel Choi is severely underused. The outfits chosen for her character show the growing pains of a character that’s never really thought about fashion before. In the end Ma Eum’s style is comfortable, yet feminine, and unique to her.

Today’s Webtoon isn’t a drama that will change your life, but it may give you the itch to be more creative and to consider how much meaning all stories have for their readers/watchers/consumers.

Love in Contract: Writing Fail – DNF

Park Min Young has turned out to be a great actress. Her character in City Hunter largely irritated me, but since then she has become an it girl for romantic comedies such as What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim, Her Private Life, my fave, When the Weather is Fine, and lately, Love in Contract in which she plays a thirty-something who has made marrying and divorcing men into a job. Starring alongside her are Ko Kyoung Po (Chicago Typewriter) and Kim Jae Young (Beautiful Love, Wonderful Life).

Mostly, I attempted watching this show for PMY, and Ko Kyoung Po is easy on the eyes. Wasn’t sure about the second lead as I hadn’t seen him in anything before. All around, the acting is pretty good, but they all really suffer through the writing, because it’s terrible! It’s as if the writers have no clue what either romance or comedy is. Ko valiantly carries the weight of the story as his character is the most intriguing and the least cliche. His awkward, introverted judge is supper appealing and it was clear early on that he was the one PMY’s character would fall for. Aside from their romance–and there wasn’t enough of it–the rest of the story is pretty useless. The main character’s roomie is funny and nice, but if he was easily forgotten, as was the second lead, as were most of the other characters. PMY herself also looked thin and tired, which is perhaps how her character was supposed to look, but it was distracting.

Made it to episode eleven and gave up. I just wasn’t interested anymore and it was clear the plot was just meandering along with no focus. Many of the choices the characters made were just dumb and not believable. When all you’ve got is either characters lying or withholding the truth as a way of creating drama, you don’t have much. Daytime soaps have better drama. How interesting it could have been to follow the main character as she navigates multiple marriages, and fake marriages at that. Instead the focus was on her strange past, that is sad, but not altogether interesting, and the life of the second lead, also uninteresting.

Altogether, Love in Contract will just be one of the many forgotten shows. There’s no there there to make it memorable.

Kdrama review: The Devil Judge, Excellence on Every Level

Spoilers ahead.

Approaching this review has been difficult. I absolutely loved this show. It is one of the best dramas I’ve ever seen. Instead of just gushing or simply layering effusive adjectives one on top of the other, I wanted to have something of substance to actually say. So that’s why this is late, had to wait a few days for the awesomeness of the show to lessen a bit for me.

Thankfully, The Devil Judge isn’t about the actual devil, but it is certainly about how human beings don’t act much better, especially those who have power over others. Set in a dystopian alternate reality, this show is unique among Korean TV shows, and did a good job, especially by set design, in creating a fake Korea just close enough to the real one (or the dramaland one, anyway) to be unsettling.

This show has everything: Top notch set design, phenomenal costume design, a near perfect soundtrack, great acting, fantastic directing, and truly stellar writing. See, already I’m piling on the adjectives. Although there are a few stupidities to the writing and characters as there always are, it was really some of the best writing I’ve seen for a show. At times I felt I was watching a Greek tragedy, not a modern television show. Many of the characters were fleshed out archetypes, and it absolutely worked for the show’s and plot’s purposes.

Starring Ji Sung (Dr. John) as Kang Yo Han, and Jin Young (Yumi’s Cells 2) as Kim Ga On, the story revolves around reality TV. In this world the elite have lost the trust of the masses due to their corruption. Much like in too many countries today. As a consequence, law and order is falling apart and the elites need at least a skeleton of law and order to say in power. They need at least some trust of the populace to continue their plans. They decide to make justice into a reality television show. A star judge and two co-judges will hear cases live as will anyone who watches along, and before the judge makes his final decision, he will get the votes of the regular people first. American Idol justice. Sounds awful and is awful, except the star judge in question wants to bring actual justice about. The first case he picks is one in which one of the elites is a defendant. This displeases his bosses.

The first half of the show is just building the situation of Judge Yo Han wreaking havoc on those around him, whether it’s the evil, self-righteous elites or the perhaps the even more insufferably self-righteous Ga On, who believes in human good and law and order almost to a fault. The second half is largely about Ga On fully realizing just how corrupt his society is, and with that realizing that Yo Han may not be the bad guy at all. This is essentially the story of a man becoming a monster to defeat the monsters and also training an apprentice to do the same. Yo Han is happy to play the monster to some degree because he’s always been misunderstood by those around him. He is bringing some form of justice to society and a change of power, but his true aim is revenge. It just so happens that both of these things coincide. Ga On is the everyman, he is us. He is also stupid and infuriating, but, hey, ain’t that the Average Joe? He is also easily manipulated, something that grates on us as we watch, thinking, no way would I be so easily used. But by the end of the show, I think we realize differently: We wouldn’t have fared and don’t currently fare much better. Ga On is humbled by the end and it is unclear if he will take up the vigilante mantel that Yo Han hands to him.

This is the first show I’ve seen Ji Sung in, and he was outstanding. I have no doubt this was one of the best performances of his career and of course I plan to watch his other performances as I have the chance. His character is a fun one to play, someone that walks the tightrope between good and bad. Yo Han’s methods to bring justice are what ultimately gets him labeled a “devil,” and at times one wonders exactly what world he may be ushering in. As corrupt as the society is, he may be bringing something worse into play. This is essentially what Ga On fears, that Yo Han is nothing more than a Joker character, wanting to watch the world burn. The judge definitely believes in keeping one’s enemies close, too close for comfort at times. Ji Sung is wonderful as Ga On, so wonderful, that after a certain number of episodes we really start to grate against him for thwarting Yo Han’s plans. Good writing, good acting. Ji Sung really knows how to cry on camera, and, oh, does he bring the feels. Like his character, we too are shocked, shocked at the corruption, and shocked also by Yo Han, who is clearly manipulating his coworker.

The Devil Judge also has superb villains. The two best are: Kim Min Jung (Man to Man) as crazy lady Jung Sun A. She is almost an evil queen out of a fairy tale and definitely Kim’s best performance to date. She uses her voice to great effect, talking in a weird sort of whisper. As President Heo, Baek Hyun Jin (Happiness) also has a wonderful, if painful to hear, use of voice, and is rather hilarious as Heo is a former actor using dictator speech tropes to keep the masses on his side. Baek is no stranger to playing the villain and also did great in Happiness as a whining, would be murderer.

Although the sets are fantastic it is the costume design that really sells the show. All of the characters look impeccable, everything about them suited to their stations and also ambitions in life. There are no weird fashions just for the sake of it, everything fits the story and the strangest yet most beautiful designs are given to the evil queen that as a watcher one loves to hate. It is a testament to the excellence of the show that at the end of the day we have a certain amount of sympathy for Jung Sun A. She has a very unhealthy relationship with judge Jo Yan, but their story is really only the true romance in the show, except for, perhaps, the friendship between Jo Yan and Ga On. Ga On gets a romance, but it’s one realized too late, and more just a piece of his character than anything else. One more step on his path to waking up. And wake up he does.

Much like The Hunger Games before it, The Devil Judge ends on a sad but poignant truth: Although it is possible to rid ourselves of corruption, it always comes back, because that’s human beings for you. We are sinners to the core. The difference with this story, however, is that the writers managed to end on a note of hope, if nothing else than the hope of true friendship and family. And really, if we have that in life, that is so, so much. As a Christian, of course I would have loved if they had employed more use of forgiveness and the gospel message, but few movies or shows, even so-called Christian ones, truly know how to do so, so I can’t really expect this one to, either. However, the Christian symbol of the cross is used to represent the justice being meeted out. It is clear, too, that Yo Han is just waiting for any of the bad people to simply show some true remorse, to repent and turn to good. He knows they won’t, but he gives them the chance, much like perhaps God gives us the chance in this life to repent and believe. One gets a glimmer, just a glimmer of how God must feel about our sinfulness in one powerful scene in which Yo Han reveals to Ga On just how corrupt their society is by using the case of his parents who were irreparably injured by a swindler. The kicker in the scene is that we still don’t know if Yo Han is good or what his goal is, but either way, it’s a powerful performance from Jin Young as Ga On experiences sorrow and almost a complete breakdown. In some ways, he has lost a true love. One of the best scenes in the show.

Almost an aside in the show, but certainly a part of it is the real life political trickery called COVID. This show came out in 2021 and I think the writers and producers of the The Devil Judge show great courage here in indicating that much of that whole thing was a lie, political theatre in the lust for power. Much of the world, too much, still believes the lies of COVID, many people, too many are dying and/or severely harmed by the vaccines the elites–the real world elites–foisted upon us. More people have awakened to the truth now, but in 2021 to have had this as a plot point, the gov’t making up a virus as an excuse to clear out a poor neighborhood and steal the land? Wow. Sadly, many watchers will probably take it as fantasy, but it seemed by the show comments that a few at least were awake to the truth.

The Devil Judge was so effective, because like Greek tragedy or like Shakespeare, it has a timeless quality. Change the technology and the wardrobe and this same story could take place in any country, any society, and in any time period. Most importantly, it showcases the reality of the real world and what we face on a continual basis. One stamps out corruption and the next tier, the next generation of elites, are hankering to go the same way, so powerful is the allure of money and power, so clear the pursuit of both into corrupting the heart and soul.

It is rare that a show without a happy ending gets such a thumbs up from me, but the writers latch onto the human element of true friendship and hope, the kind of friendship in which the parties are family to each other, if not biologically so. It also ends with a clear protection of family, even to the point of removing family to a place that has a chance of a better life. The ending message is that this dystopian Korea cannot be saved, yet Ga On is still there and we wonder, just what will his next steps be? Yo Han is clearly handing off the duty to him of striving to bring justice. An impossible task, but there it is. Much like God calls us to truly love our fellow sinners. Impossible, right? But God does the impossible every single day. It’s His stock in trade.

Last, but not least, this show would make a great book or book series.

Yumi’s Cells 1&2: Final Opinion

Spoilers ahead.

This was a great show. It really goes through the ups and downs of how people are thinking and feeling, especially when it comes to dating and romantic relationships. It had great acting, great soundtrack, and great CGI for the cell characters. Often it was laugh-out-loud hilarious. That being said, the ending wasn’t great.

Sadly many stories fall or rise depending on their endings. The majority probably fall, which is why we never hear about them. A bad ending, however, doesn’t mean people will not still enjoy and read or watch the story. I found the ending to Tess of the D’Urbervilles absurd yet it was a treat to read, sad story that it was, so I will read it again someday. Also the show Lost. I didn’t care for the ending, but would absolutely watch the show again. It was exciting and trippy. It is the same with Yumi’s Cells. I did not like the ending of season 2, but I would definitely watch the show again.

Simply said, the ending doesn’t match the rest of the show. Perhaps the comic it is based on focuses more on Yumi’s personal growth and her writing career, but largely the show did not. It focused on what most watching Kdramas want: romance. And because so much focus was on the romances that Yumi had, the personal growth ending just didn’t fit. It was a disappointment. We as the viewers wanted her to end up with Wung or Babi, and if neither, then be properly introduced to the real Mr. Right at the end. There was an introduction of him, but it was hardly him, just a haze, a shadow. I also really wanted to see Yumi actually loving someone. All through her time with both Wung and Babi, it’s like she never really loved them, but they loved her a great deal, especially Babi. How satisfying it would have been to have her realize she was in love with either one, but especially with Babi because he clearly fought for her the whole time.

In the end Yumi is run by her Writing cell. I’m not sure that’s an improvement over being run by her Love cell. Careers are fleeting things. People are what matters. The writing of the show did not leave me with the impression that Yumi will really learn to love this new guy on the horizon, even though she did have some character growth. It is a triumph to be content in one’s life and content just being single, too, if that’s the state you are in.

The show is still great and worth watching because at times it digs deep into both the feels and the humor and the opposite ways men and women often think. Both sexes are out of sync with each other, as Alison Armstrong of The Queen’s Code would say. A lot of the side characters are a hoot as are main ones like Wung. And the show does deliver romance, just not lasting romance and true love. If they were real people, I would hope that both Wung and Babi could quickly get over Yumi and move on to a woman who really loves them. And for Yumi that she would really fall in love with someone.

Yumi’s Cells 2: Hilarious!

Spoilers ahead.

This series is my current favorite. Not only is it hilarious, but it also has a lot of food for thought and fun, romantic suspense: Which guy will Yumi end up with? Based on the popular Webtoon, Yumi’s Cells was an instant hit, taking a lonely 30-something through one romantic possibility after another. In season one, we were introduced to Ku Woong (Ahn Bo Hyun – Kairos),got to watch as he and Yumi built a relationship, and subsequently got to watch it fall apart largely due to lack of communication.

Alternating between the real life scenes are cartoon scenes of the “cells” in each of their bodies, telling the audience what the character is thinking and feeling but as if each thought or desire was a separate cute, cartoon character interacting and arguing with the others. At first I didn’t like the back and forth, but more and more I enjoyed the very funny cells scenes that put a great X-factor on what is itself a rather humdrum story. It also makes one think, “hey, I sometimes do that!” or think that way, or feel that way. It makes one start to consider what “cell” is ruling at any given time. Am I ruled by logic primarily? Pride? Love? Hope? The depth of the show is often astounding.

It was sad to see Yumi and Ku Woong break up at the end of season one and I was pleasantly surprised there was a season 2, because with Kdramas there’s so often not. Yumi’s Cells 2 is even better. Kim Go Eun (Goblin) is Yumi. I can’t see the character being played by anyone else. And, although Yumi is frustratingly awkward in romance, she has good chemistry with this season’s love interest, Yoo BaBi, played by Jin Young of group GOT7. Jin is not only easy on the eyes, just like Ahn, but he has very expressive eyes himself, always a plus for an actor.

Babi was literally a paper doll in season one. Hey, it’s true, often when you’re dating or really into a certain person, all the other guys or girls could just be paper dolls, no matter how cute they are. It was pretty funny seeing that shown on screen that way. In season two it is Babi’s turn to date Yumi, and although he’s refreshingly straightforward as a person, it still takes them what seems like ages to get together. In contrast with Woong, Babi is more of a grownup and thus Yumi becomes more grownup as well. Some may think of this as boring, but it’s character growth and the two characters really seem like they have a real relationship. Refreshing also, is that Babi isn’t run by pride. His heart throws a party in welcome for Yumi. It’s a great thing and I sometimes wish that more people were like this: more straightforward and more ready just to dive into love. So, so much time is wasted on hesitation. Diving in is likely the best way to get to know the person, to know if they really are the right one. Over time, Yumi also has the courage to be straightforward as well, and sadly, a bit of her hesitancy and awkwardness rubs off on Babi. But, hey, he’s too perfect and needs flaws.

Speaking of those, Babi is quite possibly too nice in some ways and too open to love. If you have a damsel, you shouldn’t be out there helping every other damsel in distress you see. While that should be obvious, it isn’t to Babi, and he finds himself quite shocked one day to find that he has allowed a cute intern to worm her way into his affections. Sometimes it can be dangerous to care about others too much. If you have a significant other, there must be boundaries in place to protect yourself, that person, and the relationship. It seems Babi didn’t have those boundaries set well. Yumi ends up so hurt by this–even though he didn’t really, physically cheat on her–that she breaks up with him.

Although I am very team Babi, I get that Yumi can’t trust him. Still, he chases after her, while Woong most certainly did not. It shows Babi is willing to fight for her, and is something that remains with the viewers even after Woong shows up again, with better clothes, better hair, and loads of money as his computer game has now become a success.

Despite Woong being back in the picture and still head over heels for Yumi and egged on by the awesome “Control Z” illustrator (P.O of Block B), the show clearly still has plans for Babi. Both men face off in a hilarious showdown in which their cartoon cells do all the actual fighting. Both get significant barbs in, but it’s Babi who walks away with the girl.

The scene where Yumi and Babi get back together was done so well. The acting was amazing and we could see both knocking down each other’s walls. Afterward they are awkward together and walking on eggshells and it’s only at the end of episode 12 that we really find out why: Each one is sure the other one feels they made a mistake in getting back together. But that they are finally able to tell each other that is a great thing.

Not a great thing: Like Woong, Babi has now for the second time kept very important information from Yumi. It’s a lie of omission, it’s not ideal, and throws Yumi for a very big loop, as normally he is very straightforward. This seems to be his great flaw, that he is unable or unwilling to share either something he doesn’t understand about himself, or something he thinks will burden Yumi. Hopefully he got the message loud and clear from her that he shouldn’t do that, that not communicating is worse than the hurt that could be caused by communicating. Communication is so key in every relationship, but especially in romantic ones. Our basic instincts have us constantly misunderstanding each other, so even if a couple communicates well, it can still be a bit of a battle.

Four more episodes remain in the season. Although the Webtoon adds another guy, purportedly the one and Mr. Right, I do not know if there are plans for a season three of the drama. I think the writers will have Yumi end up with either Woong or Babi. The feminism doesn’t seem strong enough in this show to have her end up alone, but who knows? I am waiting in suspense for the next episodes.

The funniest things this season: Ruby and Control Z! Wow, are they great. I loved Lee Yoo-Bi in Pinocchio and she’s hilarious here as well as a ridiculous, cute girl who always refers to herself in the third person. We get more of these two than is warranted, but I like it. Funniest cells scene, aside from the man face off, was when Yumi and Babi kiss for the first time. Their tongue cells meet! It was laugh-out-loud funny. Yumi’s editor, played by Jun Suk Ho (Kingdom Season 2) was also hysterical.

Other things I love about this season is the soundtrack–a lot of great, mellow love songs–and also the poster. It’s a great poster. See for yourself: https://asianwiki.com/images/e/e4/Yumis_Cells_S2-p2.jpg

Can’t wait to find out what happens!

Happy Summer!

Hello, All! Well, June is here and in May I did some writing and since my book is calling to me, will be working more on that the rest of the summer. So I won’t be posting very regularly.

God answers prayers and I am happy to report that He seems to be answering my prayer for a great summer for me, my friends, and family with a resounding YES! What winter will bring, we have yet to see, but summer is to be fun and glorious and for that I am very, very happy. We need to be filled up with joy for the sorrows and hardships we may face ahead.

Speaking of sorrows, I’m hearing of more and more people diagnosed with various ailments and illnesses they have “had for years and just didn’t know it.” I am hearing of more people going on disability and more people suddenly dying. The main cause, however, is still elusive to the general public. Most want to pretend the authoritarian two years of COVID did not happen and that many, many people took a harmful vaccine under coercion and threat. To us who have long been awake about vaccines, it seems obvious that the vaccines have been hastening death and ill health in many as their immune systems have been, possibly, irrepairably harmed. Socially, there is still the pressure to not mention vaccines, or the vaccine, to not bring it up. To so many friends I want to ask, did they (whoever is having the health issue) get the vaccine? But I’m just not sure how they’ll react. So, so many still have a huge blindspot about vaccines, thinking that a vaccine is always something good and could never harm anyone. It fills me with sorrow to see so many under this delusion and under this spell. And it is a kind of spell, because if people weren’t under it, they would question vaccines or list them as possible causes for health difficulties. Sorrow hovers over me, too, knowing there may be many, many more yet to come who will die or have serious health problems due to these vaccines, probably at these some that I know personally. And yet I also live in the JOY that God is in control and that he has and may still spare some from their bad decision.

True Beauty: I realized I completely forgot to write a review for this funny and excellent Korean drama! Suffice to say, I really liked it, even though some of the initial episodes dragged. The show reminded me a bit of Boys over Flowers, perhaps being a high school show, and also of Extraordinary You, as it is the same director. In fact, if one pays attention there are a few nods to Extraordinary You in the show. The acting was great and the topic timely, as so many especially young women are obsessed with their own looks. Moral of the story: Ladies, don’t stress! If he likes your looks, he likes your looks, wearing makeup may enhance your attributes, but it’s really just down to does the guy dig you or not. If he does dig you, jackpot! If not, changing your looks isn’t really going to do anything, and isn’t it a rather hollow victory to only win someone after having to change so much for them?

In this story the main character uses makeup to stop being bullied for being “ugly,” but really she finds all she needs is self-confidence. Makeup isn’t directly vilified in the show; in fact, it’s a bit of a springboard for the heroine who finds a passion for it, wanting to be a professional makeup artist. What is highlighted in the show is the bad behavior of people who constant criticize others looks and call them ugly. From what I have heard of South Korean society, they have a problem with this. How true this is, I don’t know firsthand, but find most Koreans very good looking. Perhaps these are problems that plague good looking peoples? Shrug. Who knows? Americans often seem to revel in looking fat and sloppy–different side of the spectrum. Anyway, True Beauty was a great show, laugh out loud funny at times and having much food for thought.

Jirisan: Too Much?

Spoilers ahead.

First off, I loved the 2021 Kdrama Jirisan. It was epic, exciting, awesome, and somewhat exhausting to watch. The direction was great from Lee Eung Bok, who has directed many popular dramas like Sweet Home, Mr. Sunshine, Goblin, and Descendants of the Sun. The shots were amazing, using lots of natural mountain/forest footage incorporated with CGI, green screen, and drone footage. The rescue scenes are harrowing and thrilling.

That brings me to the plot. Starring Gianna Jun (The Legend of the Blue Sea) and Ju Ji Hoon (Kingdom series), the story follows mountains rangers and rescuers who work in the Jirisan mountain range and mostly help rescue illegal hikers. But it doesn’t stop there, no. Rookie ranger Kang Hyun Jo (Ju Ji Hoon) has inexplicable visions of death on the mountain. There’s a hunt for a serial killer who has been killing on the mountain for a long time. There’s a mountain ghost. There’s a head spinning amount of flashbacks and back and forth time jumps along with a very large cast. Writer Kim Sun Hee is used to plots like this, having written the awesome Signal and also the Kingdom series which I have heard many good things about. However, at times, and by the end of the show it felt like perhaps it was all too much.

Many wonderful TV shows have lame endings, and Jirisan is no exception. While giving us a nice, emotional ending for a minor character that went on far too long, it spent almost no time with our leads and their story. I have to wonder if another episode was planned or asked for and denied. Who knows? In any case, the ending was fitting, but didn’t totally make sense. For example: The bad guy gets his comeuppance in the end, but it’s the easiest way possible, as the “mountain” kills him in a landslide. It’s fitting because he believed the mountain was telling him to kill people. But contrast that with all of the supernatural stuff going on, visions, ghosts, weird lights, it was very, very odd to have the main character keep asserting in the last episode that “it’s only a mountain.” None of the supernatural things were explained. As the rescue scenes and the mountain life of the rangers was very engaging, it may have been better just to stick with that. Maybe the serial killer hunt, ok, but beyond that? The supernatural stuff really had no point and it wasn’t written as a debate between belief vs. science or something like that. The flashbacks really weren’t too bad, but often were egregious attempts to fill the time.

Gianna Jun did well here with a very cold character contrasted with Ju Ji Hoon’s character’s warmth. All of the actors in the show did outstanding jobs with all of the physical activities involved in the ranger job and working with special effects, etc. They all seemed very believable as rangers. The ranger team was headed up by a captain played by Sung Dong Il (Reply 1997) who is my favorite “dad” character in Kdramas. The outstanding actor in the show was easily Oh Jung Se (Touch Your Heart). His character is a ranger who finally gets the love of his life. It’s cute. Then we find in a flashback he has a tragic loss. Oh, the heartbreak of this man! I just wanted to give him a hug. It was the most emotionally impactful scene I’ve seen in a while. His grief seemed so, so real.

As far as the soundtrack, I found it adequate to the story, but the cinematic atmosphere was what really carried the show.

On the whole I loved the show, but I wouldn’t call it a must watch. The complicated plot is interesting for writers. It’s also great to get a slice of mountain life and the lives of rescuers and rangers. The acting is great throughout and the mystery is intriguing. It’s just that the plot and writing got away from itself a bit and justice was served, but in perhaps the easiest way possible for the killer. And also for the other characters. Maybe as they had all gone through so much, that was better than a long, drawn out court proceeding. With all that, Jirisan is worth watching and levels above many other shows out there.

Doctor Prisoner: The Best Villains

Spoilers ahead.

How glad I am that I didn’t give up on this show! Ok, let me back up a second, Doctor Prisoner, starring Namkoong Min is an excellent, over-the-top drama, but the plot quickly becomes repetitive. It is almost–almost–a fatal flaw. Thankfully the characters and incredible acting save it.

In South Korea they apparently have a law where a prisoner can get released for compassionate care. The prisoner has to have some awful disease that they are nearly dying of that the prison can’t treat, so they have to be moved to a hospital. In Doctor Prisoner this is the de facto way that rich and powerful people get out of prison. And doctor Na Yi Je (Namkoong Min) is the best at inventing diseases and helping the criminals get the compassionate release.

As I am still on a Namkoong Min binge, he is definitely why I wanted to watch this, but he is not why I stayed. Although this is a story about rooting out corruption, really it is about villains one upping each other. All of the “good” guys are villains in their own way. The few truly straight and narrow characters in the show are presented well, but blandly: This is not their show, not really. Sometimes it is just fun to watch villains be villains. We don’t have to try to understand why they are evil and give them sympathy. In fact, in this show they actually gain sympathy by their deviousness. Because they are outright evil, it is a joy to see them taken down. Not only that, but there’s an even greater joy as some are reformed.

The opening scene is hilarious as we watch Dr. Na Yi Je in action, meeting with a client in prison, and convincing her to practically kill herself to manifest evidence of an obscure, or even made up disease, to get released. Oh Jung Hee is a rich lady who has been imprisoned for hiring a contract killer on her husband’s mistress. Played by Kim Jung Nan (Tale of the Nine-Tailed), this character is the only woman on the show who’s a main player. She’s spicy, feisty, and awesome, and if one has to be an a woman of a certain age, hey, what a way to be! I absolutely love this actress and so want to be her. She also gets the best costumes here and in Tale of the Nine-Tailed–and her performance in that was great as well. A comparable American actress would probably be Meryl Streep. I can easily see Kim playing the “devil” in The Devil Wears Prada.

Oh Jung Hee also carries the romcom part of the story as she and prosecutor Jung Ui Sik fall for each other in hilarious fashion. Their story is way better than a serious romance with the lead character would have been. Jung Ui Sik is played by veteran drama actor Jang Hyun Sung (Leaves of the Red Sky), who plays a good villain.

But, back to Na Yi Je. Yes, he has a heartbreaking back story about how he turned out this way. By the end of the show, we don’t really care about that, we just want to see him take down more people and bend them to his will. In this cat and mouse game, this guy is always ten steps ahead, and boy, is it fun to watch. He enters into battle with the chief doctor of a famous prison (I can’t remember the name now), Sun Min Sik, played by Kim Byung Chul, who had a super creepy performance as the Wormtongue villain in Goblin.

Kim has so, so much fun here with this ladder climbing turd of a doctor, who wouldn’t recognize the Hippocratic Oath if it bashed him on the head. He uses “evil grin face” to full effect and is so ridiculous that after awhile one almost forgets he’s a villain. He’s an awful man who also has a great marriage: His wife is super supportive and it’s just great, great writing. Kim must have had so much fun playing this role. It’s just too bad he didn’t have a mustache to twirl.

After a few episodes with Na Yi Je and Sun Min Sik taking turns one upping each other, here’s where it gets repetitive, but if one can stick it out, it’s revealed that a different villain, an even worse one, is Na Yi Je’s real goal. It’s someone we’ve already met, the heir to a conglomerate, a chaebol character that frequently populates Kdramas: Lee Jae Joon played by Choi Won Young of Hello Monster (I Remember You) fame. Choi is awesome at playing a psycho, and although his character is necessarily scenery chomping, his physical acting is incredible to watch. An outstanding performance. By the end of the show, his character takes over almost everything. We, the viewers, are almost drawn in to his narcissism.

The best character, though, the best–and really this is a compliment to the writing–is Lee Jae Joon’s younger half-brother Lee Jae Huan, played by Park Sun Seok (Penthouse series). This is the first thing I’ve seen Park in and I hated his character. What an awful person! Jae Huan is essentially the first villain in the show, and for the first few episodes he seems like one of those characters that will get punished quickly and then the show will move on to someone else. It’s true that the show does move on, but Jae Huan stays, at first as a kind of comic relief as we get to see that prison life is hard for him. He’s so funny that we start to hate him less. Spoilers, spoilers! By the end of the show everyone is rooting for this guy! The writers do an amazing job of reforming this character and making him almost a good person. It’s awesome to watch and really makes the pay off with his brother at the end. It’s great writing because it was so unexpected.

Doctor Prisoner is Shakespearean in its scope and theatricality. The epic music almost never slows down, nor the pace. And yet fast pace continued can get dull. If you watch this and find yourself at that point, take a break and come back. The second half is worth it. Actor Namkoong Min holds the show being the solid, main character who is almost as villainous as the rest, but he’s just the ringmaster. Doctor Prisoner is a circus, a showcase of interlinked character pieces that I call: “The Best Villains!!”

A warning, if you ever want to go to the doctor again, this may not be the show for you, for the doctors in this are completely untrustworthy, especially and importantly our hero doctor Na Yi Je. They inject people with dangerous substances at an alarming rate and have an almost superhuman ability to manipulate the human body with drugs. Maybe the show is really just a commentary on our current medical industry? Literally the only tools they have are manmade drugs and surgery and in this show these things are the swords and spears of battle. It gives a patient real pause and concern.

The Undateables: More Matchmaking, Please

A sort of subset of Kdrama romcoms are those dealing with matchmaking agencies. The Undateables starring Namkoong Min (Awaken) and Hwang Jung Eum (She Was Pretty) is just such a one. For some reason Hwang’s characters always start over the top and then become normal. Not sure this makes the actress appealing, but it’s definitely a relief when the spastic humor stops. That being said, both leads are decent at comedy, though I prefer Namkoong in more serious fare.

Jung Eum, played by Hwang, is a former diving champion and now a matchmaker at a local dating agency. She’s not great at her job and through a serious of coincidences ends up getting Namkoong’s character, gallery owner and relationship expert, Hoon Nam to help her successfully breeze through a list of the agency’s most “undateable” clients. And of course the two fall in love in the process.

As a whole, the series was a fun watch and was very funny at times. The best parts were when the two leads were working on matchmaking other people. Sadly, this part of the plot was lost in other drama for awhile, but when it got back to that the show was more on track. Nearly all of the characters showed growth and change, which is always great to see, but some threads were dropped and never picked up again, like Jung Eum’s father’s ill health.

The minor characters were often hilarious, such as the prideful agency supervisor played by Baek Ji Won (Sell Your Haunted House), who to save face, bought a hideous pink jacket so expensive that she subsequently wore it every single day. The jacket itself almost became its own character, symbolizing both foolishness and stubbornness. The cutest couple was Oh Doo Ri (who had awesome style like Audrey Hepburn) and Kim So Wool (who has to be tracked via detective work), played respectively by Jung Young Joo (He Is Psychometric) and Kim Kwang Kyu (Pinocchio).

Another fun matchmaking drama is Dating Agency: Cyranro, although I didn’t care for the ending.

Hwarang Review: Oh, Those Flower Boys

For a number of years now I have put off watching the popular Kdrama Hwarang, because it just looked to girlie for me. And it is girlie, very girlie, but it’s also a pretty impressive coming-of-age story, too. Hwarang means “flowering knights” and is a story about an elite fighting force of young men back in the Three Kingdoms time period, specifically the Kingdom of Silla.

The drama bounces between being campy and not taking itself seriously to heart-wrenching, emotional scenes, and great fight scenes. The music also alternates between bubbly pop and more period appropriate movie music. Starring way too many pretty young men to mention, the main leads are Park Seo Joon (What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim?), who plays a character nicknamed “Dog-Bird,” and Park Hyung Sik (Happiness), who plays the hidden king, Ji Dwi. The two have a love triangle with Ah Ro, played by the beautiful Go Ara (You Are All Surrounded).

Silla is a country like many in which there are rich and poor and not a lot in between. The monarchy rules by a “sacred bone” system, which means that if you’re related to the royals you are noble. Dog-Bird comes to the city with his friend, who (spoiler) tragically dies. During this time, Queen Jiso, who is holding the throne for her son, the King Ji Dwi, until she feels he is ready, decides to put together a fighting force of noble, young, beautiful men. Flower boys. Dog-Bird ends up in this elite force along with the Ji Dwi, who is tired of, well, not being king. Their bromance is great and really the focus of the show as Silla eventually has two possible kings vying for its future.

The acting overall was great, but I do have to agree with some that Go Ara was miscast here as the leading lady. In some scenes she was very good, in many others, she just didn’t fit the story or the time period or something. A lot of her acting mannerisms were just like her acting in You Are All Surrounded. Although I liked her in that, her acting just didn’t work for me here, and although she has amazing eyes, I think they actually were a distraction in this. Her character was also not written the greatest, so the fault certainly does not fall all on her shoulders. There was also more chemistry between her and the king than the lead, Dog-Bird. And the main romance was tainted for me because they kept pretending to be brother and sister. Talk about killing romance. The secondary romance in the show, however, is highly satisfactory, with an adorable opposites attract, very sweet couple.

Probably the most distracting thing in the show, however, was the queen. She had a lisp. I don’t know if the actress simply has a lisp or if this was intentional, but it started to drive me nuts. Kim Ji Soo, was otherwise very good in her role, though, a ruler one loves to hate and who in the end garnered much sympathy. It was a bit odd, but kind of funny how one of the Hwarang, Choi Min Ho’s (Yumi’s Cells) character, falls for her. He’s a flirt who’s had all the other girls, so in a way it makes sense, but it’s a pretty big age gap. Min Ho was actually quite good in this. His acting hasn’t impressed me much in other things. He also has very good stage presence, and hands down, I think was the best looking Hwarang. It’s interesting that even with the long hair, jewelry, and pastel outfits, these guys still manage to look manly somehow. You are what you are, no matter how you’re dressed.

This show probably wouldn’t be the first Kdrama I would recommend, but it’s not too bad, despite it’s length of 20 episodes. As usual, it could have been shorter. The “adults” in the cast were all very good, many of them veteran drama actors. Always like to see Sung Dong Il (Reply 1997), as he’s like everyone’s dad in whatever he’s in. He’s got a great, fatherly aura about him. The best was the evil nobleman Park Young Sil, played by Kim Chang Wan (It’s Okay to Not Br Okay). Kim is great at playing villians and sometimes I was actually rooting for him to take down the queen and the royal family. Yes, it ultimately is very girlie, but very manly in many ways as well.

My next drama watch will be Doctor Prisoner starring Namkoong (or Namgoong) Min of the awesome Awaken. I’ve got a couple of thrillers on my list with this guy and they are definitely his genre.