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Secret Love Affair: A Work of Art

It’s rare that one comes across a TV show that is a work of art. Artsy movies abound, as do some many series, but hours and hours of a TV show? Well, it’s just not that common. In fact, I don’t really know that I’ve ever watched a TV show I would consider a work of art–up until now, that is.

Something about affairs, whether it’s the illicitness or the adventure, something about affairs is often involved in the art of story. This is something you can find right across history, from The Bridges of Madison County to the Illiad and that whole thing with Helen of Troy. Maybe it’s just the fact that in an affair there are likely to be high emotions and also retributions from the injured or cuckolded party–plenty of dynamics and fireworks possible.

Although publicly society generally doesn’t condone affairs, in our entertainment and art, they are everywhere. Sadly, few of the fictional stories about affairs truly touch how wrong it is to break one’s vows of marriage. The Korean drama Secret Love Affair is no different in this, and that’s because the sin it focuses on is not the affair itself, but the reason for it: The main character is living in an awful environment and denying her true self any agency.

A trend in K-dramas in recent years has been pairing older women with younger men. I’m sure real young men would be a bit horrified at this, but it’s just a reversal of the standard in visual storytelling, which for decades has been older men with much younger women. In real life one sees age gap pairings, but they are not nearly as common as TV and movies would lead us to believe. In my own experience, couples, married or not are two people of roughly the same age or within a few years of each other. The older I get, I realize that age doesn’t really matter that much when it comes to a relationship, but biologically, it can. Older women, for example, have less childbearing years ahead of them. That in itself may give a young man who wants a lot of biological kids pause. In Secret Love Affair, this aspect is not even a consideration, though the age gap is 20 years.

As a women who is in her 40s, I can’t even fathom dating a man of twenty or even early twenties. That aspect of this story grated on me throughout, for the young man was way too much of a boy still. He hasn’t even had time to think if he wants kids in his future or not. He was, essentially, a way for the female lead to change her life, and she also helped him change his life, but beyond that, it was a bit creepy. I don’t know how big an age gap has to be to be creepy–everyone probably has a different threshold–but for me, 20 years is too much. So, why did I continue watching? Hands down, for the music and the sort-of redemption story.

Secret Love Affair (aka Secret Affair) stars Kim Hee Ae (Mrs. Cop) as Oh Hye Won, a director/personal assistant to the Seohan Arts Foundation. In her job she is wedded deeply and dangerously to the family who owns the foundation. These are not nice people. Her husband, played well by Park Hyuk Kwan (Six Flying Dragons) is a do-nothing hanger on who has no music or teaching whatsoever, but somehow got a spot at the music school the foundation owns. Their marriage is one of convenience, both wanted to be a part of the foundation and saw that they could if they were together. This was the biggest sin Hye Won made in her life, for it led to her entanglement with the foundation and a life of walking on glass. When we are first introduced to her, we see that Hye Won has great talent at her job, that she has tact and guile and has helped the foundation succeed. It seems unlikely that she herself has musical talent, but we soon discover she does.

During preparation for a big concert, a young, lowly delivery guy happens upon the scene. Lee Sun Jae, played very well by Yoo Ah In (Chicago Typewriter) is a quiet, hesitant man in his early twenties. He quickly gets into trouble stealing some piano time on the schools expensive grand. The kicker is, that his performance is recorded and immediately Hye Won’s husband sees the young man as his ticket to greatness at the school and beyond. He pesters his wife to give the kid a listen and declare him someone who should be admitted to the school right away.

The couple’s real first meeting is at this audition at Hye Won’s home, and as a first meeting, it’s amazing. Few couples get to spend this much time together, ever. Ok, I exaggerate, but it’s unusual one gets to spend so much time with a person upon first meeting them. Hye Won listens to Sun Jae play and is immediately hypnotized. You see, she has musical talent at the piano. Back in the day, she could have been a star, but she was convinced to work in administration instead. She listens to him for hours and then starts to play along with him. The two immediately connect emotionally, spiritually, and physically through playing together. Their style of playing is very similar, their appreciation of music, as if they are one heart. It’s instalove, but spread over a few hours.

Inevitably, they do have an affair, but though they sort of attempt to hide it, it’s really not a secret to anyone. Hye Won is really the only one surprised, but it’s hard to see oneself and how one changes and flowers under real love and real passion and emotion. That takes an outside view. Everyone else could see how obviously she was changing except herself. Through her relationship with Sun Jae, Hye Won starts to realize what a truly toxic environment she’s been living in. Her life isn’t really her own; her husband’s life is barely his own. To save herself and also Sun Jae’s future, Hye Won embarks on a path of intrigue in order to take down the family and the foundation.

This show is a great, intense watch. All of the actors are spot on, especially Park as the irritating husband. He is so perfectly loathsome, he brings Hye Won down with him. What kind of women is she really to have entered into a marriage of convenience with him? The writing and directing are also top notch. Each episode feels like a film, and it reminded me most in style to Heartless City (also a great watch, but hard to finish). The music is all consuming and nearly ever present in the background. This is classical music, but stepped up to ten in its emotional impact. Contrast that with the awful school and the owning family, and the parts where the characters experience real joy in their practice and performances become jewels to be treasured.

One aspect that was almost too much to handle, was the supporting cast of women in the show. Many of these characters were prone to scary violence, and it’s quite possible that Hye Won herself could’ve one day become like that had she not turned almost all her emotion off.

It’s interesting at the end how Sun Jae keeps calling Hye Won to be good, but she knows she has to callously take down the family first or neither of them will ever be free. In some ways, Sun Jae is content to stay as he is with Hye Won almost as a stand-in mother figure to him (yeah, creepy), but she nudges him, gets him to spread his wings, and soon he’s making new friends all on his own and leading secret jam sessions. By this point we barely miss the cuckolded husband, though we are maybe shocked at how upset about the affair he actually is, as they seem to have had a loveless, sexless marriage. More likely, he finally realizes just how much of a loser he is on all levels. So Hye Won gets her redemption story and Sun Jae has hope for a future. Will they stay together? By the end, it doesn’t really matter, for they’ve fulfilled whatever was needed for the other by the end of the show.

Sad the story revolves around an affair, but I suppose these types of plots are signs that at least some of modern society still takes marriage vows seriously. And that’s a really good thing. It was shocking to see how isolating a loveless marriage can be. If Hye Won hadn’t had a couple of good friends, she would likely have had a total breakdown at some point. Your spouse should be your best friend and lover, someone you can confide in and be yourself with. She found that with Sun Jae and he with her. The piano music sort of packaged everything together.

Secret Love Affair is a worthwhile watch, and there are moral lessons in the story, though probably not the ones you’d expect. This show is a work of art on all levels.

Chicago Typewriter: Kdrama review

As a Christian, I don’t believe in reincarnation. However, it certainly makes for interesting plots. The first time I came across them was when I went through a major Bollywood obsession, and I’ve seen them a few times with Korean dramas as well. The Kdrama Chicago Typewriter is about a famous writer, a delivery girl, and a ghostwriter) who are all reliving past events of their former selves from the 1930s.

This was a really fun drama to watch even if it wasn’t always clear just where everything was going. Writer Han Se Joo (Yoo Ah In, Six Flying Dragons) is a bestselling author who is sent a possessed typewriter and simultaneously comes down with writer’s block. He’s also dealing with fans like Jeon Seol (Lim Soo Jung, Search: WWW), who are way too obsessed with him, and haters who think he stole their work and come and attack him in his house. Sometimes fame and talent is as much a curse as it is a blessing, but Han Se Joon takes it relatively in stride, considering.

With the typewriter, from Chicago and the 1930s, he starts to see images of a past life and even starts writing a story about it that is an instant success. At this same time ghostwriter Yoo Jin O (Ko Gyung Pyo, Strongest Deliveryman) shows up, and it’s unclear if he’s writing the story or if Han is. Han is having trouble remembering things. As the story unfolds, Han keeps encountering both Jeon Seol and Yoo Jin O, and we all soon find out they are all embodied by three friends from Japanese occupied Korea in the 1930s.

As the series continues, the scenes from the 1930s really started to take center stage, and in the latter episodes, at least one whole episode is devoted to that timeline, which was riveting. It reminded me a bit of Casablanca, and what an interesting thing it would be to have a Kdrama remake of that amazing movie. It would be cool. Also if they did one of The Princess Bride.

Back to the reincarnation stuff. Although this is a new thing for writer Han, Jeon Seol has been dealing with these visions her whole life and is afraid that in the past she killed someone. Yoo Jin O, who (SPOILERS!) we find is actually a ghost whose name is a play on playwright Eugene O’Neill, is also afraid of what happened back then. He can’t remember how he died, only that he loved Jeon Seol’s historical counterpart, and was friends with writer Han’s counterpart. Not sure what the rules are with reincarnation, but it seems odd that Han had has no problem regarding it until present day. Of course he ends of up falling for Jeon Seol at the same time he’s remembering falling in love with her club singer back in the 1930s.

The acting in Chicago Typewriter was solid. Not so sure about some of the clothes in the modern scenes, though. Writer Han looked like he’d stepped out of the 1990s much of the time, and Jeon Seol’s clothes were often not flattering. The outfits in the past scenes were all smashing, however. Ko Gyung Pyo essentially played the same character throughout, but he had a great screen presence that helped ground, the modern scenes. This worked especially well with the character of Han, as Han was larger than life, but not always in a good way. Yoo Jin O made him instantly more relatable and someone one could be friends with. As for the other two leads, well done acting. I ended up like their 1930s characters a lot more than the modern ones, but I kind of think that’s where the writers were going with this, anyway. The minor characters and actors were all okay, no big standouts. The shaman or fortune telling lady didn’t seem a big help at all, and for some reason couldn’t see ghosts, which didn’t really make sense to me, although it was rather funny.

Writing stuff: How fun to watch stories about writers and publishing. It almost never gets old. Both writer Han and his nemesis had writer’s rooms or offices that were to die for. Han’s house was a character in itself, with unique windows, sometimes looking like squares over the panes, and sometimes looking like white crosses peeking through a lattice. Something covered up, something revealed. The black stain of sin, the white light of redemption. Books were everywhere in this drama. Also, who could not love the cool Chicago typewriter that Jeon Seol’s past self tells writer Han’s past self is also the name of a certain gun that sound just like a typewriter.

The romance: Although this similar love triangle has been done a zillion times over, it totally worked. It was made all the more bittersweet by the fact that the love never really got to manifest: Freedom fighters can’t afford to fall in love, and that’s probably as true today as it was then. Yoo Ah In did an especially great job of using his expressive eyes, and although there was only really one great kiss, it was a great kiss. As for Lim Soo Jung, her Jeon Seol was a bit meh, but she shined as the woman from the 1930s and then it started to make sense just why the men were so taken with her.

Redemption: In the end everyone makes peace and is at peace, especially, Yoo Jin O. While that makes for a great story, it just reminded me again why I am a Christian. In reality, there’s only one person who can atone for sin, and that’s Jesus Christ. He only had to do it once for everyone. These freedom fighters live by a code in which they can’t forgive and have to meet out instant justice as they see it. It’s just kind of sad because the club singer and Yoo Jin O could have had a good life together, because she would have come to forgive him in time. She loved him, even if only as a friend. In the constraints of the story, however, that was not possible, and Yoo Jin O only gets a sense of peace and maybe forgiveness in the present day.

Still, he doesn’t go to heaven or Nirvana or wherever, but decides to stay and be reincarnated so that in his next life he will have his love story. The promise of another life in this sinful world, which might be better than your last, but will ultimately end in death in which you are sent back again to the world to do it all over again, just doesn’t do it for me. It’s not real, lasting comfort or hope. Christians get what some would call a second life in heaven with God, but the difference is, it’s a completely different life separate from this world of sorrow. Anyway, the redeeming or atoning done in association with reincarnation stories isn’t impressive, although the story itself might be.

Chicago Typewriter was one of the better Kdramas I’ve watched in the recent past. Wish there were more like it, as at times it really seemed like a work of art and not just another TV show. As I was curious how good an actor Yoo Ah In really is, I’m currently watching Secret Affair, and it’s unfortunately about adultery and even more unfortunately a masterpiece. He’s good, maybe even Seo In Guk good. If only this amazing artwork had a worthier plot, but the very sinful characters have much to do with why it’s so great. More on that another time.

Vagabond: Too Epic?

Sorry about the downer of a post last week. This time of having to go along with so, so many lies in politics, health, news, life, well, it’s taking it’s toll on all of us. Through all the craziness I do know that God is in control and that He’ll work out his purposes no matter the circumstances.

Some spoilers ahead.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve watched Netflix, but couldn’t resist watching Vagabond starring Lee Seung Gi (A Korean Odyssey/You’re All Surrounded) and Bae Suzy (Gu Family Book). Haven’t seen Suzy in much, because she just hasn’t acted in that much yet, but Seung Gi is definitely one of my favorite Korean actors, a good everyman with expressive eyes. He’s no Seo In Guk, but he’s a really good, solid actor.

Vagabond came out in 2019, and, unusually, this is a Korean drama built to have a second season. It ends, as is customary, on a bit of a cliffhanger. It begins with the same scene, but I’ll get into that in a second. Since K-dramas often end oddly or more often not as good as they began, I was skeptical that it truly was a show meant for a second season, but the last episode confirmed that it must be.

This show is a great, exciting watch with few missteps. The biggest flaw I came across was that we really don’t get that much screen time with the fantastic leads. Many, many scenes are spent with the bad guys, some of whom are charismatic enough to warrant it, but it seemed a bit much at times. The story is something pulled from the headlines, a plane goes down while flying to Morocco and everyone dies. Since it’s a Korean flight, many of the passengers are from Korea, and soon the surviving families of the deceased are shuttled to Morocco to get explanations and have memorial ceremonies. Lee Seung Gi plays Cha Dal Geon, a stunt man and Judo teacher who’s just never really made to the big time. He did take in his little nephew after his sister and the kid’s mom bailed and left him in a orphanage. There were many great scenes with uncle and nephew that really pulled the heartstrings. While in Morocco, Cha finds that at least one person who was on the plane with his nephew is not in fact dead. And the plot thickens.

Bae Suzy’s character, Go Hae Ri, works for the Korean NIS, something like the USA’s CIA, and she’s in Morocco to complete some missions. More of an analyst, she’s nevertheless quick to step up into roles that require more action and split second decisions. It’s great to see her character grow and Cha’s regard to grow for her as a result. The setting of Morocco was awesome and often I forgot I wasn’t watching a Hollywood made show. Multiple languages are used a lot in the story, and there’s something about it that just seems like a feature film the US would have made in the 1990s, which is a compliment. I miss that US.

Suffice to say, Cha and Go run around both Morocco and Korea trying to find some answers to just what happened on that airplane. They bump up against corruption with the NIS and also vying airplane corporations Dynamic and John Michael or Mark. The actual meaning of the title Vagabond, doesn’t pop up until far into the story when we find out that NIS lead Gang Joo Cheol (Lee Ki Young, Wok of Love) has some tricks up his sleeve.

Vagabond starts and ends very oddly for a company like Netflix that’s very proud of being diversity inclusive. The opening and ending scenes have a man we don’t know saying very racist things to Cha’s character. Wisely, Cha ignores him, until he finds he can’t anymore. By the end of the season, it’s apparent this racist man is some kind of Russian mercenary, except the actor is probably not Russian, and is a horrible actor to boot. It’s just odd that Netflix would have overlooked this in choosing Vagabond to show, but my Q-anon senses say that perhaps it had everything to do with this man being supposedly Russian, a racist, and with him (spoilers) getting shot in the end. Add that to Cha more than once putting the OK sign over one eye. Q-anon people will know what I mean–Spidey senses going off. Anyway, the beginning had me laughing because it was so ridiculous, and I almost switched it off.

Aside from that, the screen time thing, and some of the music, Vagabond was a treat to watch, with lots of action and intrigue. The writers did a great job having the main characters really grieve the dead. It wasn’t just a one-time sobbing at a funeral, they really grieved.

Some of the standout acting I have to tip my hat to, and in no particular order: Li Ki Young was great as NIS leader Gang Joo Cheol. Actually both he and Jeong Man Sik (King 2 Hearts), who plays another NIS head Min Jae Sik, did excellent jobs. Really didn’t know which side either was on for awhile. Edward Park of Dynamic and Jessica Lee of John Michael (or maybe it was John Mark?) were two very charismatic corporate honchos and played by great looking actors who have almost hypnotizing screen presences: Lee Kyoung Young (D-Day) and Moon Jeong Hee (When the Weather Is Fine). Both characters seemed very American in their ruthlessness, which I think was purposeful. As plotting Blue House official Yun Han Gi, Kim Min Jong gave a riveting performance, and I’m hoping to see some of the other shows he’s been in. The last actor I want to mention is Jang Hyuk Jin (Suspicious Partner), who I’ve seen enough to recognize, but has never stood out to me before. His pilot/junkie Kim Woo Gi was both pathetic and funny, and I really started to look forward to his scenes.

All in all, a great show and a great watch. Vagabond does highlight corruption, which is just everywhere these days, but it also has people doing something about it, which is satisfying, even if it’s only in a fictional world. I’m hoping, I’m really hoping, that Cha’s nephew is not actually dead, that in season two they somehow find that the people from the plane are being held captive somewhere. It’s just wishful thinking, but happy endings are so rare even in our fictional stories these days. I long for them, I truly do.

With so many plot lines, languages, settings, and a huge cast, Vagabond is almost too epic, if that’s even possible.

When the Weather Is Nice: K-drama review

As much as I love Viki, I prefer the titles listed on Asianwiki. For one, they are shorter, and two, the longer titles are awkward. Not sure if it is a more literal translation of the title or what. At any rate, Viki calls this one I’ll Come to You When the Weather is Nice, but I like the shortness of When the Weather Is Nice. This title makes me think of the Japanese anime film Weathering with You. Can’t wait to see that one again once it’s on video. Oh, it’s a rambling day. Sorry folks, I have summer brain!

That I loved this drama is an understatement. The latter episodes I started watching in fifteen minute chunks because I just didn’t want the story to end. Now, that’s some good writing, and not surprising as it’s apparently based on a book. Now I want to read the book, too.

When the Weather is Nice stars Park Min Young of City Hunter fame and numerous romances like What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim? She’s a good go-to actor for a great romance as she always has good chemistry with her costars and knows how to really smile with her eyes. Here, she plays cellist Mok Hye Won, who’s had a difficult time in life relating to other people, and most recently, the expectations of the director of the music school in which she teaches. As she needs a break, Hye Won goes to her family’s small village of Bukhyeon to hang out with her aunt.

The story also stars Seo Kang Joon from Cheese in the Trap and Are You Human? His character, Lim Eun Seob, also has grown up and currently lives in the village. He owns a remote bookstore called the Goodnight Bookstore and hosts a monthly (?) book club that is a great part of the story. He’s also been madly in love with Hye Won since high school and almost can’t believe she’s come back to the village, giving him one last chance with her. Like Park, Seo isn’t just a pretty face, he can act and really act well. They both got so into their characters, that I forgot they were actors at all.

When the Weather is Nice encapsulates so much: small town life, heartache, falling in love, sin, guilt, family relations, abandonment, ambition, and on and on. It’s almost too much to take in at times, though the drama itself is slower paced, like small town life, and it’s only by the end we the viewers realized just how much was packed in to the plot and themes. As a book lover, I high enjoyed the focus on stories and books, and, oh, what a book club! This is the book club everyone imagines when they think of a book club – a group of people who love stories and is their own little family. It’s charming and heartwarming.

The romance is sweet and not entirely certain until the end, much like life. Eun Seon is one of those quiet men often overlooked in high school, and Hye Won doesn’t really remember him at first. By the end, she’s probably kicking herself thinking about how much time she missed out on with him. Sometime quiet steadfastness and reliability can win women over in ways that more talkative men couldn’t hope to reach. Eun Seob will likely never run after her and violently protest his love for her, but he flirts in his own way and warms her heart simply by walking her home in the dark, and caring for her in other ways, like making sure she’s warm enough and getting her some winter boots. Men, women are easy, we really are. Just care for us, that’s all we really need, and it’s what Hye Won chooses in the end.

The latter half of the drama deals mostly with Hye Won’s family backstory–much tragedy and heartbreak and difficult to watch at times. It’s sad that people who are supposed to love their family can treat them with coldness and/or abuse, but even more amazing is that the family members that suffer still love those people. Just an amazing gift from God that we can still love, even then. Hye Won’s aunt and mother are so larger than life compared to the rest of the village, acting much like movie stars hiding out. I wasn’t sure I’d get into their part of the story, but again, the writing is just spellbinding.

Set during a long, long winter, When the Weather Is Nice sucked me in, both due to the bookstore and focus on writing and stories, but also due to the weather. I’m a Minnesota girl and let me tell you, our winters can be looooong. A week seems like a month, a month seems like a year, so it wasn’t surprising that by the end of the drama it seemed that a much longer time had passed. They also incorporated all sorts of winter weather and things like ice skating rinks and pipes freezing, and it all came together really well.

Some stand out minor characters: Lee Jang Woo played by Lee Jae Wook. Lee is a classmate of the leads and works for the city. He organizes a reunion for the village that is magical. Lee is also quiet and shy, though he also chatters on nervously. He, too, gets a chance to have the girl that got away, and it’s such a treat to see him get up the courage to win her. She also patiently gives him time to do this. His character was one of truly caring for those around him and enjoying a simple life. He is super smart and could have worked at a big company in Seoul, but chose to stay in Hyecheon City near the village.

Second standout character was Lim Whi (or Hui), played by a bubbling and vivacious Kim Hwan Hee. Whi is the typical annoying teenage girl, constantly chasing after boys who don’t want her. But I have to say, she does it with style, and there’s something about her persistence that’s appealing, even to those boys. She is the sister of Eun Seob, and almost his complete opposite, loud and brash, where he is quiet and still. Still, there’s a great sibling bond between them and it’s especially funny when Eun Seob is suspicious of the boys she likes, even though they don’t like her. Eun Seob probably finds Whi annoying at times, but he clearly loves her, just as he does the rest of his family, and it’s an interesting dynamic, him being a quiet man, for he can never really say, I love you, but manages to convey it in everything he does. Warm fuzzies galore.

Someday I’d really like to watch this drama again and go through it episode by episode, commenting and critiquing. It’s one of those stories that always stays with you, and really makes me want to learn to read Korean so I can read the book. Someday, someday, someday. I give it ten stars, though it’s probably not that perfect, but it was such a joy to watch, especially after reading and watching stories far more cynical about life and humanity.

Are You Human?: Give Shin His Life Back

The good news is, I am currently watching a drama that I love with a million hearts. The bad news is that Are you Human? (Viki title is Are You Human Too?) starring Seo Kang Joon (The Cheese in the Trap) and Gong Seung Yeon (Six Flying Dragons) is not that drama. A very watchable drama with decent acting, Are You Human? could have reached for profound, but settled for easy. It is also one of the few shows that had me constantly yelling at the screen: He is a robot! A robot!

Yes, my friends, this is a robot story involving a theme that has been overdone in sci-fi at this point: defining humanity. Exploring the question what does is mean to be human through a robot’s eyes can be effective, but in this show it was used to promote the idea that it’s ok to think of robots and human and even to replace actual humans with them. Not sure if this was the intended message by the writer, but nevertheless, it made me sick to my stomach.

The story is about a young man named Nam Shin, and in this review I’ll mainly call him Shin, who of course is the grandson of a rich company CEO. The grandpa is…how can I say psychotic nicely? I can’t. Anyway, grandpa basically holds kid Shin hostage, saying if he goes to his grieving mother (dad just committed suicide), grandpa will harm mom. Thus mother and son grow up apart. But this is not your average mom. Oh Ra Ra is a super smart robotic scientist who flees to the Czech Republic and there makes a robot to look exactly like her son. She finds out later that her project is funded by (spoilers) grandpa. Robot Shin III is programmed to be a kind, loving, young gentlemen, who in disaster mode will leap into action to save whatever human lives are at stake. Not a bad thing, but at the beginning, it’s unclear just what mom’s motive is in this. Her son is still alive, and I would have actually found it less weird for him to be dead and in her grief she finds comfort in a lookalike machine.

The real Shin grows up and appears to be a typically spoiled rich boy, but he does long for his mother and makes a plan to escape grandpa’s watch and go to Czecho to see her. This involves the manipulation of a bodyguard, Kang So Bong, who used to be a pro fighter, but had to retire due to injury. She’s a somewhat feisty character who becomes less so over time. Robot Shin runs across real Shin in the town of Karlovy Vary, and I kind of wish the story would have stayed in Czecho, because it’s a beautiful fairy tale country and I miss living in it. The bad guy, played stereotypically by Yu Oh Seong (Faith) wants to take over the company and has a hitman take out Shin. Mom and her scientist buddy arrive just in time to witness the accident and mom instinctively knows it is her real son that has been run over. Turns out Shin isn’t dead, but he’s in a coma and so mom and Shin’s watcher for grandpa Ji Young Hoon (Lee Joon Hyuk from City Hunter) come up with the obvious plan to have robot Shin pretend to be human Shin.

The story didn’t quite play out as I imagined it would, but instead of surprising me, it continually disappointed me. The acting was very good, Seo Kang Joon has a bright future ahead of him and played both Shin’s well. He also has great screen presence, something one just has or doesn’t have, and will continue to be a great lead because of that. Gong Seung Yoon started out strong, as did her girl bodyguard character, but the writing basically killed her character by the end. She would have benefited from a ton more screen time with human Shin, which would have been a romance worth watching. Everyone else did a decent job, but nothing really of note.

Let’s get into the ranting part. So human Shin is a jerk, a spoiled jerk, but he loves his mom, has been royally abused by his grandpa, and wakes up partway through the series to find that he has literally been replaced by a lifelike robot built by his mother. And she won’t destroy it for his sake. She’s far too attached. Understandably, Shin is upset, very upset and wants the robot gone and his life back. He does pretty despicable things to try to make this happen, and the thing is, most of the time I was cheering him on! His fellow humans were all acting psycho, continually telling him that the robot was a better human than he was, and having affection for a machine that just…shouldn’t be there. I like my cell phone and my vacuum cleaner, but I’m not about to fall in love with them. Come to find out that crazy grandpa has the plan to actually fully replace his grandson by the robot and having the robot run the company.

This is a dark side of humanity, that we think we can create something better than a human and replace humanity with it. But it’s faulty, sinful human beings doing the making and programming, and it’s simply wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, to do this. Robots are a machine, a tool, and while they can certainly be humanlike, we walk a dangerous tightrope trying to make them as much like humans as possible. And on this show, what does that look like? Sadly, it reduces humanity to one thing: emotion. There’s a little nod to kindness, etc., being a part of humanity, but the focus is on emotion. Robot Shin is only still a robot because he doesn’t have emotions. He’s programmed to smile or give someone a hug when they need it, but that’s about it. Humans are so much more than their emotions, and why the writers didn’t choose to plumb the depths by either doing outright fantasy and having robot Shin somehow earn a fairy blessing of humanity, or by giving human Shin a beautiful redemptive love story, I don’t know. Either choice would have been so much better than what they went with. Yes, robot Shin (spoilers) does magically shed tears at the end, but this is never explained, and other than the humans continually telling him he seems human to them, no reason is given other than the fact that he sacrificed himself to save a human. But that’s no great feat, because he’s a robot programmed to do just that.

Let’s talk about the love story. Gong’s first interaction is with human Shin, who actually hit her to carry out his little escape plan. She then has a chance to vent her anger, but it ends up being on the robot Shin. It takes a little while for her find that this Shin is a robot, but bizarrely, she continues down the path of a relationship with the robot. Yes, he’s handsome, he’s kind and gentle, and so on, but he’s programmed to be that way. At times she treats him like a child, and other times like a pet. If a real, grown woman tells you she wants this kind of romance, run. Run away fast. Real woman do not want robots or pets, they want men, real men that don’t do whatever they say, and who have flaws and faults that they sometimes courageously overcome. Real women want a man they can argue with, share their lives and dreams with, and…ahem…have sex with. Now the show doesn’t go there, but they could probably program robot Shin to do the deed, but he’s not more much more than a blowup doll. Is that really what Gong should be aspiring to, a pretend relationship with a blowup doll? They did give him tears at the end, they did, but even at the end, when she first encounters human Shin, there’s a spark there that is not there when she and the robot kiss. The ending turned my stomach. Human Shin happily looking on as a woman kisses and makes promises to a machine that looks just like him. It was rather gross and not romantic in the slightest.

Give human Shin his life back. Rewrite this atrocity and give him a redemption and love story that values humanity, not programmed robots. There was another character that did love human Shin and the writers did nothing with her, except finally send her away to America where hopefully she found someone to appreciate her persistence, sweetness, loyalty, and bravery.

Are You Human? is watchable, far more than some other dramas, but the message it conveys is just so icky to me that I have trouble recommending it because of that. Even emotionally, there wasn’t really a good cathartic moment. Anger, maybe, Shin’s anger at being replaced, and then more anger because he’s met not with understanding, but with the robot is a better human that you are. I mean, what the actual blank? As for robot Shin, he’s got a bland personality, but of course he does. Humans can’t program a personality the way God creates one. The idea that we can is laughable. Also really not sure what to make of the talk in the show of a whole city with humans and these humanlike robots…sounds nightmarish to me. Sometimes I really hate science and think that at its heart it is anti-God and anti-human.

Normal Life

This past weekend, because we couldn’t have a proper baby shower for my little sister, I arranged a Drive-By Baby Shower instead. It was a providential day; God blessed us with sun and good weather. No one was sure how it was going to work, but we set up tables and chairs outside and told guests the time frame for dropping off gifts and picking up a cupcake. As people did show up in bunches, it was fun to just stand in the front yard grass and talk, and at the end, those who were still there spread out on the grass to watch the new mom open her gifts. It was just a normal, wonderful afternoon spent with family and friends that I’ve sorely missed.

A big part of my life has always been going to church, and I miss that, too, but we’ve been doing Drive-In Church Services, and they are quite fun. Especially in a snowstorm. Bible Studies Online have also been a wonderful blessing as well, and it’s great to see everyone on screen even if we can’t be with them in person. These times are sure interesting with people finding ways to connect that they never really thought about before.

Besides that, I’ve been doing a lot of writing. 20,000 words and counting on the first draft of Trolls for Dust, Season Three, and I have been watching some Korean dramas.

Two Weeks starring Li Joon Gi: I really, really wanted to like this show, but by episode 10, I just wasn’t into it. For an intense storyline, father escapes from police custody in order to make it to donate bone marrow to his dying daughter in two weeks, the episodes were rather slow. It also took forever for the writers to flesh out the back story, how the cute-as-a-button little girl’s mom and dad fell in love and out of love in the first place, how mom ended up with her new man, etc. I get why they did it that way, as a big crisis for the mom is realizing that her boyfriend is actually a very good man after all, but I found myself wanting more back history and less present time. The villains were also one note and tedious after the first couple of episodes. This is the reason I never finished Lawless Lawyer, also starring Li Joon Gi. The villains repeated the same scenes or very similar ones ad nauseam. Not even including flash backs.

Watching an uninteresting story, makes one crave interesting, good, well written ones, so I turned to W: Two Worlds Apart starring Lee Jong Suk and Han Hyo Joo. To say this show is well written is an understatement. In fact, I’m surprised Hollywood or an American television hasn’t done a remake of it yet. The show breaks 3rd wall, 4th wall, 5th wall, all the walls. It’s a really fun show to watch and keeps both the characters and the audience guessing. Lee Jong Suk is perfect as a leading man, though maybe just a bit too baby-faced. The actor who really shines is Kim Eui Sung, who plays writer Oh Sung Moo. Poor Oh gets wrung through the wringer and back. This show really has a good combination of character and plot development, and the plot is so interesting that it’s often okay that it overshadows the rest. The writer for W definitely hit her sweet spot with this project, and it’s definitely on my top ten list for Korean dramas.

The others on my top 10 list are, not in any particular order: City Hunter, Faith, Boys Over Flowers, Goblin, You’re All Surrounded, Hello Monster, High School King of Savvy, I am Not a Robot, and Descendants of the Sun. Although I like the romance in Korean dramas, it’s the more interesting, action or fantasy-oriented plots that really keep me hooked. Honorable mention to K2, except for the last four episodes or so. My next drama to try is Tell Me What You Saw starring the awesome Jang Hyuk from Fated to Love You (by a truckload of tissues for the latter half) and Slave Hunters (really long, but epic).

Mother: A Definition (Review of the Korean drama)

Most great stories are based around simple concepts or trying to answer what one would think are simple questions. The Korean drama Mother, a remake of a Japanese show of the same title, attempts to define a mother. Who is a mother? On a surface level, it’s an easily answered question: It’s the woman who gave birth to you, whose egg was fertilized with your father’s sperm to create, well, you.

Mother probes a bit further, insinuating that a true mother is a woman who acts like a mother, biology aside. To go on this journey, the writers stay firmly within the world of women. There are few questions of fathers here, and their absence silently and continually accuses them.

Starring the everywoman Lee Bo Young (God’s Gift: 14 Days), Ko Sung Hui (While You Were Sleeping) as the biological mother, and introducing a very talented Heo Yeol as a horribly abused child Hye Na, Mother is an emotional roller coaster ride, almost to the point of overkill, that nevertheless offers up very real moral dilemmas in the process. Unquestionably Heo carries the show, as often children do in their first projects, but she is given a definite run for her money as we get to know the mothers who started the chain of events leading to the main story, especially aging actress Young Sin (played by the indomitable Lee Hye Young (Boys Over Flowers) and a mother of oh, so many regrets, played by veteran actress Nam Gi Ae. This is one of the few scripts really allows older actresses to test their mettle. The men quietly supporting in the background are unsung hero types, not romantic leads, and the men not supporting, again, are most “visible” in their absence. Their crimes are alluded to or told to us secondhand, but the message of the show is never that the women can or should excuse away their own behavior due to them.

(Spoilers) After a low-key beginning, Mother kicks into high thriller gear once the abuse of Hye Na becomes known to her teacher, Soo Jin (Lee Bo Young) and the teacher becomes frustrated that the social system has nothing in place to immediately protect this little girl. Soo Jin kidnaps Hye Na with the child’s full consent and most of the sixteen episodes focus on the pair’s continual elusion of the authorities who assume that her mother Ja Young (Ko) is truly heartbroken and wants her back. The plot thickens as we and Hye Na begin to learn more about her abductor and the essential back history that has led to this decision.

Here, the story really begins to plumb the depths of the definition of “mother.” We are introduced to several biological mothers all of whom in some way have been abandoned by their men and who either don’t love or don’t seem to love their child or children. This male abandonment is no excuse, as stated before, and it is Young Sin (Lee Hye Young) a self-declared mother who continually speaks to what a mother should be to her children, no matter the circumstances. Young Sin presents motherhood as a daunting responsibility to her daughter Soo Jin, while giving her courage and cheering her on. Protecting, loving, and nurturing, are all spouted as must-haves for any women aspiring to be a mother.

What struck me as being a little hollow in the story, was the fact that most of the mothers in the show were having essentially to be both mother and father. Aside from the couple of supporting men who are vaguely fatherlike at best, these mothers are all stuck with being both provider and protector. Not that women can’t be those things, and not that mothers certainly don’t protect in their own way, but when the father is in the picture, those roles are usually dedicated to him as a basic form of maleness, if you will.

Kang Yi Jin, Soo Jin’s sister is easily the most nurturing, classic mother-type of the women in the story, and she is the only one who has a husband and father in the picture for her children, who, although gone way too much for work, is clearly doing the providing and protecting so she doesn’t have to. Thus, Kang Yi Jin’s femininity is a lot stronger than the other women in the story–she’s more emotional and not as logical, and her focus is on homemaking, cooking meals, and the like. It is only when considering this character that I realized how masculine most of the other women in the story are, especially Soo Jin, and that it is largely due to them having to protect and provide, again roles that would be normally dedicated to a father or father figure, if he was in the picture.

This is where, despite the great, raw emotions pulled out of story, the defining of motherhood doesn’t go far enough. It’s adequate to define women who are indeed still mothers and act as mothers even if the father or a father is not in the picture, but I think the definition of “mother” as it relates to the feminine in particular needs to be both apart from the masculine providing and protecting, and also contrasted to it. To some degree, women have a physical safety radar on all of the time, but if you pay attention to them (or women, if you pay attention to yourself) you may find you act and/or are more in feminine mode when there’s a man on the scene who is or is at least perceived as the protector in the situation. The women, or you, are softer, more relaxed, perhaps more playful, and perhaps more in multi-tasking mode than single-focus male mode. This side of being a mother is woefully neglected on the show, and that is a shame because it is the main “mother” definition to which much of the world relates.

I give the writer props, though, because although Mother never outright says it, the story heavily implies that if the absent fathers had truly been fathers, things might have turned out differently. The only reason this implication can be made is because of the cool nature of women: We adapt. For example, in the absence of a masculine father/protector for either herself or Hye Na, Soo Jin steps not only into a protective and nurturing mother role, but also into that of a protecting and providing father. We do see her behave a little more femininely when she’s around the hunky doctor on the show, but it’s as if she’s trying on a dress. She’s too much in masculine mode for her feminine side to suit her.

All in all, Mother is a great show, exciting and heartbreaking to watch, and even if it doesn’t flesh out the mother definition to my satisfaction, it’s not shy about showing the cycle of abuse and just how awful women can become after being betrayed or abandoned by a man. Hye Na’s biological mother is a pathetic figure, her love for her child hinging not on maternal instinct, but upon keeping any man who will have her, in her life. This woman wouldn’t have been the best mom in the world even if the biological father had stayed and supported her, but she probably wouldn’t have started abusing her child or contemplated suicide. This mother would likely have adapted well to the love and support of a good, strong man, but the show doesn’t really give us enough background into her character to make that a rock-solid certainty. Sometimes parents simply cannot parent and do not have instinctive love for their children. If that doesn’t speak to the existence of evil in the world, I don’t know what does.

It’s far easier to think there must be a reason for the neglect and abuse, that it can be understood in some way, but Young Sin would say there’s no good reason for it. No matter what you’ve been through yourself, there’s no good reason to neglect and/or abuse your child. That message is the takeaway of Mother, and it can apply to either or both sexes, either or both parents. It is a timeless declaration for what kind of person a parent should be.

Hotel stories

I’m working on a couple of different stories these days, a sort-of medical thriller, and an intriguing idea for a Korean drama involving a hotel. Thus I have on my list to watch the new series Hotel de Luna starring IU, and a couple of older series about hotels: My Secret Hotel and Hotel King, respectively starring Yoo In Na and Lee Dong Wook. Probably should add Lie to Me to the list as it also involves a large hotel. As skeptical as I am about being able to do the Korean rom-com genre justice, it’s just too intriguing of an idea to let go of, kind of like Trolls for Dust was.

Speaking of Trolls for Dust, everything is looking well for focusing on book three in the series this fall. I’m excited to see if I actually will have enough material for book four or if I will choose to end it as a trilogy. I signed up to be in a couple of book fairs in Minnesota this fall, so will have more news up about that as we get closer to the dates. My plans to do more with the trollsfordust blog haven’t exactly materialized, but it’s on my list as a way to help brainstorm and get back into the series.

As for other dramas, I am finishing up Goblin for the second time and find it to be just as good, if not better than the first time, though a little slow in parts. Also, the soundtrack really makes the show even more magical, enhancing the writing and giving extra life to the various plot lines, my favorite of which is the romance between the grim reaper and the Olive Chicken BB.Q owner. I’d also forgotten how funny a lot of the scenes were and how they take the time to really show the “goblin’s bride” growing up, bit by bit.

Her Private Life: Kdrama review

I thoroughly enjoyed Her Private Life starring Park Min Young (City Hunter, What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim) and Kim Jae Wook (Coffee Prince). Park is currently my favorite drama actress. She has grown on me since City Hunter and has become very good at her craft. As for Kim, I’d only seen him play minor characters before now, but he did well as a leading man, and is a natural at it.

Her Private Life romantic comedy is possibly the stuff of nightmares for boyfriends and husbands around the globe. The romantic relationship in it is perfect–perhaps too perfect. Who could meet such standards of understanding and willingness to work together? This show is one of example of why some men run from the romanic comedy genre, but really, it’s just as unrealistic for women. Fortunately, most women know this is fantasy and that most men may not be so understanding if your side hobby is fangirling after other men. Yes, that is the main character’s “private life.” She is a crazy fan for the lead singer of a band called White Ocean. Fortunately for her, her love to be ends up thinking it’s a bit cute.

Although I like the feel goods in the series, it doesn’t focus on the fan stuff all that much. It could have been an opportunity to really show, well, how crazy fans get, and how obsessed. It touches on that, but quickly moves on to more comfortable territory of family drama and a first love back story for the leads. If I could read Korean, it would be fun to see how the novel goes, if it follows the same plot or sticks with the fangirling.

My favorite parts in the series were where Kim’s character, gallery director Ryan Gold, infiltrates Miss Sung Deok Mi’s website and message boards, picturing him entering in disguise through a metal detector to an inner sanctum of women sitting at tables and talking as if they were in a coffee shop. It was a fun visual and I was hoping they would do a lot more with it.

My second favorite part was the ending. Everyone ends up happy and fulfilled, even the people who didn’t get to be with the person they wanted. It’s fantasy, but we need that once in a while to keep that bird of hope perched in our souls. I am definitely looking forward to more from the two leads. They have great chemistry and hopefully will work together again.

Book Candy: Flavia de Luce

Perhaps it’s a lack of imagination or I need to learn more dictionary adjectives, but I find myself describing anything pleasant as “candy.” Bacon-wrapped water chestnuts are “meat candy,” Kerrygold butter is “butter candy,” kimchi fried rice is “spicy mac ‘n’ cheese candy,” which really doesn’t make any sense, but you get the idea. This can apply to reading, especially as we often talk about “devouring” books. I think that the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley is “book candy!”

The Flavia de Luce series is my current mystery favorite, and since I bought the most recent, and possibly final, book, I just had to take a break from the lengthy horror show of The Terror by Dan Simmons and enjoy some, well, candy. The Golden Tresses of the Dead doesn’t disappoint. It’s classic Flavia, with her dear friend Dogger, and we get cameos from her sisters, Feely and Daphne, as well as their cook, Mrs. Mullet, the vicar’s wife, and even Flavia’s woman crush: Antigone, the wife of the long-suffering Inspector Hewitt. Reading this last installment, I realize what good, old friends all of these character have become, even Undine, Flavia’s younger, even more precocious and annoying cousin.

Oh. Did I mention that Flavia de Luce is a rather annoying, know-it-all twelve-year-old? She’s also awesome, but if I met her in real life, she would likely drive me crazy. In this book, however, Flavia is clearly growing up: She’s more affected emotionally, especially with her growing association with Dogger, who is the father figure in her life now that her real father has passed away. She also has begun to see that Undine is much like a younger Flavia, and that the child may one day be able to really help her solve mysteries. Flavia also meets a boy that she admires, and Bradley shows this in their friendly feelings towards each other and also that she seems calmer somehow in his presence. No big romance or anything, but it’s clear that Flavia, as smart as she is, is in as much danger as the rest of us of falling in love…someday.

Bradley’s books include so many interesting facts, tidbits, and chemistry knowledge, that it’s not quite right to call them candy, but despite them being murder mysteries, the books always leave me with this sugary, fizzy feeling that all is right in the world. Flavia has solved the mystery once again and each bit of evidence is sorted in its place, chemically or otherwise. And talk about author goals! I found out that Bradley is in his 80s! Wow, that’s so awesome to be writing a hit series at that age. A writer can only hope. It is my fervent hope that we will get more Flavia books, that we’ll see more of Feely, her hubby Dieter, and Daphne, Dogger, and all the rest, and that the series will continue on and on. Rumor has it that a TV show of the book series is in the works, and we the fans will wait and see if it remains true to the source.

In other news: I am watching the Korean drama Her Private Life. The leads, Park Min Young (City Hunter), and Kim Jae Wook (Coffee Prince) have great chemistry, and the whole idea of her having this secret life of K-pop fandom is pretty cool. Review to be out in a few weeks once the show is over. Aside from that, May is the start of wedding season, which is why Golden Tresses that begins with Feely and Dieter’s wedding was too irresistible to put down. I’m feeling all girly buying bedazzled shoes and swingy dresses, and imagining what my bridesmaid bouquet is going to look like. And though it did threaten to snow today, spring, and romance are definitely in the air. Hmm. Air candy? Yes, I definitely need to learn more adjectives.