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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.

K-drama Review: Because This Is My First Life

This will be more a review of the second half of this sweet contemplation on couples in their thirties trying to adjust to the work, social, and romance demands that come with being an adult. For my thoughts on the first part, please see Winter’s Last Hurrah. Because This Is My First Life stars Lee Min Ki (Shut Up Flower Boy Band) and the awesome Jung So Min (The Smile Has Left Your Eyes). The writing of this series is good, which is always a helpful thing when one of the characters is a writer, too. Somehow, the show managed to hit the right combination of sentimentality, comedy, and drama.

Would you enter a contract marriage? In America, living together while not being married is pretty commonplace, so it’s more difficult to imagine that people would find it necessary to do a contract marriage unless some huge amount of money was involved or some high stakes circumstances. South Korea’s a bit more conservative and traditional still, so the plot works in this show and they highlight especially the family pressure on the two: Living as landlord and tenant like they want to do would not be at all acceptable to their families.

Would I enter into a contract marriage? As a forty-something-year-old single lady, spinster if we were in Jane Austen’s world, the thought of it is sometimes tempting. Dating has never really been a fun thought for me, though romance and marriage always have been. And my family is conservative Christian, so living together wouldn’t be acceptable, for me or for them. I just couldn’t carry on the charade. And they’d be so disappointed with the lie and really disappointed that there was no love, not to mention being a huge diss on the institution of marriage itself. We often joke about marriage being just a contract, but it’s not, it’s absolutely not. It’s a commitment unlike any other, which is why so many cohabitate instead of taking the plunge. Jumping with both feet in takes real courage, and I don’t get writers like Agatha Christie, for example, in which her characters get married after a couple of weeks. It boggles the mind. Besides, what would I have to offer in a contract marriage: Money? Nope. Carnal favors? Yikes. No, marriage for me would have to be about love, but it is hard sometimes. I have four weddings to go to this spring and summer and they are all for beautiful young women in love and loved, and it seems something, well, only for the young. It seems something that’s passed me by, or I’ve passed it by. Did I mention it’s going to be a difficult season?

Back to the review: I last watched, I think, episode six, when writing the first half review, and the writers had just introduced a corny love triangle. I am happy to report that the love triangle really isn’t one, merely a vehicle to test the main characters’ contract–is it really that, or is their marriage more a real marriage than they want to acknowledge? Of course it’s the latter. Both have already given each other their hearts by this time, and there’s no going back. The biggest problem they have, is really the Korean traditions of one having to help one’s in-laws for certain events. We have a little bit of this in America, but it’s not this pressure of making one person do all the work for something just because they are the new daughter-in-law.

On the night they first met, Jung So Min’s character, Ji Ho, kissed Lee Min Ki’s Se Hee out of the blue because she’d never kissed anyone before and wanted to have a first kiss. Later on, when he’s acknowledging how into her he is, he scoffs, “That wasn’t a kiss, that was a peck, a touching of lips at most,” and shows her what real kiss is. It was very swoon worthy and had me thinking of Crocodile Dundee: “That’s not a knife, this is a knife.” 🙂 Se Hee is so hilariously robotic and analytic, yet he is sweet and alluring as a man in love, and probably more dangerous, too. His goal is simply to not be a hindrance to Ji Ho. If that’s not romantic, I don’t know what is. Like I said before, there was no way she would not fall for him. He’s offering her safety, stability, security, and love that allows her to be who she is instead of asking her to become a pretzel.

More on the pretzel thing: A few posts ago, I talked about Alison Armstrong, her Keys to the Kingdom and The Queen’s Code. Because she’s truly curious, Armstrong has a learned a lot about men, women, and their differences. She often gives the advice: Don’t go for the people you’re super physically attracted to. It will never work. Why? You can’t be yourself. You won’t be yourself, you will constantly be trying to be someone else that you think will impress them. And you won’t be able to turn that off. It’s true, when you think about it. Mostly, I hate all exercise except walking and dancing, and I have professed a profound interest and love in running all to impress a guy that would have never have been the right one for, and who would have never been right for me. I know now, I would have exhausted myself, turning myself into a pretzel for him and still wouldn’t have felt good enough. Armstrong says it best: The people you’re most attracted to, don’t really like you, mostly because they’ve never met you and never will. The people who are attracted to you, but you’re not so physically into them, they’ve actually met you and know you quite well, which is why they like you so much. She says if you’re not having any luck in romance, to give those people a chance. Se Hee’s kind of that man that’s not super attractive, mostly due to his manner, but for the woman he loves–and the love probably came a lot sooner that he thinks it did–he is gold. He is the perfect one for her. With him, she is loved for who she is and she doesn’t have to be somebody else to please him.

The two of them do end up happy, though it takes a mild separation for them to get there. They first have to acknowledge just how much they’ve been dissing marriage and each other, as a whole, but they do end up getting married for real, but keep their “contract” part for fun. And that is great, because, that kind of communication about the relationship is vital to keep it going. They assess where they are, what their expectations are of each other, etc. It’s actually very romantic. As for the other couples, they, too, end up happy, but the women especially have to put aside timelines and expectations. There’s no year in life in which you absolutely have to be married by or have a baby by. Some people have families under the most dire of circumstances and thrive; for others, not even a six-figure salary and a mansion is enough. The question is, what do you want? Do you want marriage? Is it something you can plan for or do you just want to jump in with both feet?

Babies are trickier. In our whole march on the feminism road, we often forget that women’s bodies are built to have babies when their young. Instead it’s encourage in their 30s or even 40s and more as an afterthought after they’ve accomplished career goals or other kinds of goals. As a woman whose time is running out, whose biological clock is ticking: Don’t wait. Your body will drive you crazy wanting to make a baby, and failing the ability to do that, you will want to mother and take care of everyone–the whole world!–with comedic, yet, decidedly disastrous results. All I’m saying is if you’re in your twenties now, I can say as a forty-one year old, you might someday regret that you didn’t have children sooner, and this is a choice that cannot be corrected. There’s no cure. You could have a baby in your forties, but you would every day realize how much easier it would be if your body was younger. Am I being too depressing? I don’t mean to be, it’s just as a person ages, you start to look back on your life and see all the missed chances. The times where if you’d just taken the time to stop, or given that person a chance, that maybe now, you might be so happy in love and family. And I expect it only the gets worse the older one gets. I don’t see it as anything to be depressed over, just contemplating the new perspectives, the new information. Because this is my first life. As Se Hee says, this is all our first lives. We’ve never done this before, and of course we will make mistakes.

Honestly, I am glad to be a Christian where we only have one life to live. If I could go back and relive my life, not only would I likely make the exact same mistakes, but I’d probably make even worse mistakes and would always have the memory of how the first life went a lot better when I couldn’t anticipate what was coming. Like a time traveler who keeps going back to save the life of the woman he loves, but he can never do it. She was always supposed to die. You were always supposed to be as you are now and with who you are with now. Reliving life won’t make you a cooler more sexy person. You might win at sports gambling, but if you didn’t have money in your first life, in your second you probably wouldn’t be able to hang on to it. This first and only life is precious, every second. And a commitment like marriage should be honored, not brushed off as merely a business contract. If it’s a contract, it’s one of the heart, and hearts shouldn’t be navigated idly. Who can win another’s heart? It’s just given, isn’t it? In this, our first lives, we should appreciate that.

Winter’s Last Hurrah

Some years winter just. won’t. let. go. Here in Minnesota, we’ve gotten our last snow storm of the year well after we were all preparing to settle into spring. Well, hopefully, it’s the last. We did get more winter in May once. So it’s one of those times when one is supposed to be moving forward with the new season, but one is being held back from that and told to wait. That’s probably a metaphor for something. In any case, we must wait a little longer for our sunshine, our outdoor activities, our events and barbecues.

This week I’ve given up trying to read Cynthia Voight’s On Fortune’s Wheel, not because it’s not a good story, but I’m just not in the mood for it. Maybe the romance is just too much or something. It’s a spring story, not a winter one, and so I’ll pick it up again later. What has captured my attention is The Terror by Dan Simmons. I read a book a couple of years ago called The Kingdom of Ice or something like that, and I don’t even remember the author. It was the true story about arctic exploration north by ship in the mid-1800s. Well, the ships got stuck in the ice and never were able to get to the supposed open sea at the north pole. Years stuck in the ice and eternal winter, with no way out and supplies dwindling. I find these cold weather exploration tales fascinating, but hope to never live them myself. I’ll leave the battling of the elements to others, but am happy to read about their exploits.

The Terror takes the same story a bit further. Two ships with a hundred or more men are stuck in the polar ice, same time period, same plan of crossing the pole to the other side of the world, etc., only added on top of that the crew is being slaughter one by one by a terrifying creature whose domain is the cold and snow. I haven’t read very far, so I’m sure if the creature is an especially vindictive polar bear or an abominable snow monster of myth. Like all of Simmons’ Abominable, set in the Himalayas and purporting to be about purported said abominable snowman or monster, the writing is detailed, giving one a full picture of the setting and what kind of men are on the ships the Erebus and the Terror. The difference with this story is that I will likely finish it. Abominable simply wore me down with too much detail and delay long before they even started to climb Mt. Everest, and then I spoiled the ending, found that Nazis were involved somehow and thought it too cliche to continue. At this point, Nazis are overused and, well, kind of boring. Maybe they shouldn’t be, but they are. For me, Indiana Jones was the last time they were at all interesting in a story. Ok, maybe Heidegger’s Glasses, but at any rate they’ve been overdone as villains in storytelling.

Dan Simmons and other writers like him, Diana Gabaldon of Outlander fame, for example–I really, really appreciate their attention to historical detail and research. But it’s a pickle and a pain, a real pain, to read a story with too much nonessential detail. How can I, the reader, know it’s not essential? The story isn’t moving fast enough, that’s how! But what about all the hard work the writers put into the details, what about that? Oh, it’s a pickle, real pickle, and a pain. How much detail is really too much? As a writer, it’s often hard to know, but the readers will always know, and they’ll either go with you despite too much detail, or they won’t. In any case, The Terror isn’t as slow as Abominable, and the details are worked better in with the action, so I have high hopes of reading until the end.

Also, I have found a K-drama I am enjoying watching, though it is a second try: Because This Is My First Life starring the talented Jung So Min and character Lee Min Ki. I call Lee a character, because I’ve only watched him in two things and his characters are “characters!” He played a memorable out-of-control band leader in Shut Up Flower Boy Band, so well and so charismatically that for some it’s a struggle that he’s not in the entire series. I know, I know, spoilers, but that show was about his fellow band member and the audience trying to carry on without him. The writers probably didn’t anticipate the audience having to carry on, but Lee Min Ki’s Joon Byung Hee was a firecracker of a character. Also in Because This is My First Life, his Nam Se Hee is extreme. Se Hee insists on having everything his way all the time and explains everything in a robot, nonemotional manner, yet he somehow manages to come across as also thoughtful and endearing.

I’m not sure why I’m enjoying this show so much, especially as I’m to the point where the writer are throwing in a love triangle where it really isn’t needed, but maybe it’s just the attraction of doing something like getting married for other reasons than love. Why is that attractive? Well, we in these modern times often think of marriage as just being a contract, so it’s interesting to see that idea put to the test, even if it’s just in a TV show.

The plot is this: Jung So Min’s Yoon Ji Ho needs somewhere secure to live in Seoul, and Se Hee needs someone to help pay rent and also get his parents off his back about getting married. Both people are fully aware they don’t love each other, yet decide to get married for two years and then separate. I would say here, Se Hee is worrying more about the short term getting his parents off his back than the rent payment, because after two years he’ll need to find a new roommate and he has a lot of requirements that not just anyone, and most of his single, male peers would not be up for. Ji Ho rates highest on his roommate scale because she is an accommodating woman, not so much because she’s Ji Ho.

Of course, the point of the story will be that the two of them will fall for each other without even knowing it, and perhaps will never really answer the question about marriage just being a contract or not. In the early episodes, at least, they are trying to make their marriage a simple contract and coming to find out and having other married people tell them, that whatever marriage is, it’s not simple. Ji Ho finds this out quite suddenly shortly after they are married when she begins by making breakfast for the two of them. Why would she do that? Se Hee doesn’t eat breakfast and they’ve been telling each other they will just continue on as if they are renter and landlord. It soon becomes obvious to both of them, that although Ji Ho said she probably wouldn’t need romance or physical affection at least for two more years, when the contract is supposed to end, that this is in reality not the case. Ji Ho, like most woman, sees marriage as a relationship, no matter if it’s a contract on paper. She’s spending a lot of time with this strange but handsome, kind, and thoughtful man. Maybe being a man Se Hee can’t understand, but there’s almost zero chance she won’t fall for him, especially as he is providing safety and security for her. When Se Hee tries to bring her back to their landlord/renter association, the reaction is immediate: He’s hurt her and she realizes he has and more alarmingly, that she cares about him, which is why her next move is to give him payback. She even says she wants to hurt him back.

Oh, the poor man. He has no idea what he’s gotten into. We women often pretend today that we don’t care about marriage and family–and maybe somewhere in our heads, we don’t, but our bodies are a different story. Our bodies are built for husbands, families, and babies, with all the emotion and complication that entails. Men would be better off realizing that trying to be roommates with a woman, especially in her fertile years, is futile, even if love is involved. She will take the relationship further, because she has to. It’s built into her biology. Se Hee’s the one to wonder about, here. Is he actually attracted to Ji Ho? He calls her pretty, but seems to see that as merely an accurate description. He clearly likes that she’s willing to cede to his demands on a roommate and that in many ways they are compatible as far as living together. Perhaps unanticipated is that her being so accommodating rubs off on him: He also becomes accommodating for her, all the while rationalizing it as being the most logical thing to do.

By episode 6, all is not well. Ji Ho wants to hurt Se Hee emotionally, as he’s hurt her emotionally by trying to stick a contract-only relationship. Se Hee is also irritated and thrown off by the fact that now that they are married he’s going to have to pretend to a relationship they don’t actually have, not only in front of other people, but also in front of Ji Ho. This is going to zap a lot of Se Hee’s time, energy, and, yes, emotion, which is exactly what he didn’t want, but now he’s in a situation in which he can’t so easily back out: They have a two-year contract and Ji Ho would be out on the street without him. Oh, the weight of responsibility! Se Hee. Men. I don’t envy that, not one bit. If the situation were reversed, the woman would either have a lot of help from family, friends, and government, especially if the dependent was a child, or she would be released from the contract and the responsibility. Not here, oh no, Ji Ho will likely out of spite make him hold to the contract, and if she doesn’t, her father will. Or his father will.

Or not. Maybe they will both fall happily in love and live happily ever after, grow old together, have kids, and be content in their relationship.

The main couple’s friends highlight other aspects of romantic entanglement: one couple a manly career woman, vulnerable to sexual harassment by her coworkers, and an also driven, but more emotional man who wants to protect her and help her stand up for herself; the other a couple who are in love and living together, the woman anxious to get married, the man not sure if he can yet handle the responsibility, yet willing and able to please her in every other way. Good writing, very good. Enter the love triangle. This will be either done outstandingly or will force the show into an awkward place. Can Se Hee actually get jealous at this point? Even if he was in a romantic relationship with Ji Ho, would he really get jealous, or would he just get mad? He’s actually doing a lot for her. Despite the turmoil of her feelings, shouldn’t she be grateful to him, not spiteful? Do men ever really get jealous, or do they just get mad? Come on, women, they know, everyone knows we don’t care about the other guy. It’s just a ruse, a test to force your man’s hand and get him to tell you how he feels. It’s not treating your man very kindly or like a grown up. Ji Ho wants to know how he feels, she should just ask him. Ok, Se Hee would have to calculate things for a few days, during which his feelings might change, but he’d probably give her an honest answer. And she would and should appreciate him when he does, even if that’s not the answer she wants to hear. And that would seal their fate together more than using another man to make him jealous.

I’m sure Ji Ho will do the wrong thing. She has to: It’s a drama, and she’s a women who feels scorned. Se Hee’s just going to be trying to keep his head above water until he figures out how to help her do the right thing, which, ironically, will probably be sticking to their contract, though they may decide to extend it.

My Strange Hero: Review

Sometimes life is such that I don’t get a lot of time to watch, read and/or write, so it’s been a little while. I will start with K-dramas and move onto Christie mysteries.

Lately, I’ve been struggling to find a Korean drama that I like beyond the first couple of episodes. I miss DramaFever a lot, because I always had a slew of things I wanted to watch and shows that kept my interest. Viki is great, but it just doesn’t seem to get as many new shows in as fast as Dramafever did, and their new shows have few intriguing plots and actors or actresses that I want to watch. Not entirely their fault, though, as they are now having to compete with powerhouses like Netflix for licensing of the dramas.

Initially, I was impressed with The Last Empress, starring Jang Nara (Oh Sunny), who is an amazing actress. Trouble is, she’s such a good actress that when playing a character that’s a bit repulsive she succeeds in helping us to feel revulsion. The Last Empress is a crazy, over the top soap opera set in an alternate universe in which Korea still has a royal family. Down to the last child, this family is full of gossiping, spying, backstabbing, loathsome characters, of whom, Oh Sunny, the new queen and empress, is only a milder version. Ok, she is the heroine, but somehow the writers made her really not likable. She’s greedy for money and really doesn’t seem that talented as a play actress. I was also looking forward to seeing Choi Jin Hyuk in an action role, but his character who goes through a transformation is so unemotional that it’s difficult to connect with him.

Long story short: Although The Last Empress delivers in excitement and nonstop plot twists and turns, it offers little in character growth, and offers few characters to truly root for. I quickly got tired of the constant bickering and intrigues of the royal family and wished Oh Sunny would just leave the palace altogether and be rid of them. After awhile, I just felt like I was wasting my time because I didn’t really care who won in the end. Although I’ve never seen Game of Thrones, I imagine the shows are similar to the extent that one is just watching highly immoral people trying to outdo each other, and any “good” character changes to bad or gets murdered or kicked by the wayside. It felt spiritually draining, and I think as I age I am looking more for stories with integrity than entertainment value. In the middle of Episode 18 I realized I just didn’t care anything about the characters or their fates, and that there was so many more (the show being in half-hour increments) episodes to go.

The next drama I tried was much more promising, but it stars the handsome Sung Hoon (Oh My Venus) who I think could be a pretty actor given the right script. Up until now his acting, except in Oh My Venus, in which he capably played a strangely vulnerable sport fighter, has been rather wooden and expressionless. I Picked up a Celebrity on the Street had the possibility of being pretty funny, so I gave it a go. The first episode was actually kind of freaky, with scary music and a creepy opening montage. I figured I wouldn’t make it past the first ten minutes, but something about the way the story unfolded was unusual. Spoilers: A young woman ends up accidentally murdering a celebrity, only to find he’s not dead, but that she has to hold him hostage in order to not get caught.

The main character, Lee Yeon Seo (Kim Ga Eun), come off as truly psycho, and, although the drama is supposed to be a dark comedy, it just turned me off after awhile. Keeping someone hostage, continually knocking them out, and deliberating how to best get rid of the body isn’t really that funny. In a movie, sure, it could probably work, but hours and hours of this? No way. The plot also became quickly repetitive. It seemed that every episode ended with Yeon Seo thinking, yet again, that she’d killed the celebrity, only to have him wake up at the beginning of the next one. It got old, fast. However, I do have to say that Sung Hoon may have a knack for this kind of comedy, and that his lack of expression in some cases ended up being a plus. I Picked up a Celebrity just wasn’t good enough to keep watching until it became great.

After that, I retreated to rewatching a drama I knew delivered both in comedy and heart: I am Not a Robot. A story about a wannabe inventor who ends pretending to be a robot for a part-time job, the story makes few false moves, and nearly all the characters are given room to grow. It’s an instant classic, and both Yoo Seung Ho and Chae Soon Bin are extremely watchable.

Now, I am watching My Strange Hero, also starring Yoo Seung Ho, and realizing what a great actor he is, having the advantage of naturally expressive eyes, especially when paired with a pretty, but not very good actress, Jo Bo Ah. Jo Bo Ah has definitely improved her skills since Shut Up, Flower Boy Band, but she’s still not quite on point as an actress. The second lead, played by Kwak Dong Yeon, goes almost toe-to-toe with Yoo Seung Ho in screen presence, giving him a bit of a run for his money. Kwak Dong Yeon will be someone to watch in the future, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he soon gets his own starring role. The plot for My Strange Hero is a little weak, but the half-hour episodes help keep things moving along, and additions of veteran actors like Kim Mi Kyung (Healer) and Cheon Ho Jin (City Hunter) are a good move. I’m only on episode 9, and there’s already quite a bit of heart in the story, and I’m excited to see where it goes and if it ends up having a great payoff.

Kdrama review: Devilish Joy

Wow. I wrote this a few days ago and totally forgot to push the “Publish” button! Argh. Well, happy reading. –Pixie

With a name like Devilish Joy, I was hoping that this Kdrama would be a fun, romantic ride. It definitely started out that way. Petite actress Joo Gi Beum (Song Ha Yoon) and hunky neurologist Gong Ma Sung (Choi Jin Hyuk) meet by chance on a visit to the Chinese island of Hainan and fall instantly in love. Their meeting was both naughty and magical, with a murder thrown in for extra intrigue, and I was set to experience, if nothing else, a thrilling story. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.

I’ve actually been to Hainan. It’s a lot like Hawaii–beaches, flowers, boardwalk, jet skis. It’s the kind of place where if you sit alone on the beach someone’s bound to come talk to you, ask you out, try to kiss you, or at least give you a friendly wave. In Hainan you can set off fireworks on the beach, drink cheap beer, and instantly make friends with people you will never see again. Probably all such tropical tourist vacation spots are like this, but the island was a perfect setting for the first episode. It went downhill after that.

As far as the general story of Devilish Joy, it wasn’t bad, neither was the acting or production. The height difference of the main couple was fun. I am 5’3″ myself, and it’s amusing to see just how short one does like–almost like a child–compared to someone a lot bigger and taller. It’s easy to see why bigger and taller people might not take one very seriously at first. The biggest drawback of the drama was that it wasn’t ambitious enough. Everything stayed very safe and close to the tropes we are used to: The overbearing rich family, the spend happy nonserious heirs, the plucky heroine doing everything she can to raise money for a family that doesn’t help her much, and a hero with a memory problem. For me it was all just, meh. So meh that I didn’t even watch the last couple of episodes.

The two leads were ok, but it seemed like their characters didn’t really suit them. Choi Jin Hyuk is way better in bolder, more physical and more emotional roles. He was wasted as the neurosurgeon with memory loss and didn’t even need to stretch his wings. I’ve started to the watch the popular The Last Empress, and I think he’s going to be a lot better in that (also, only a few episodes in, it is a fantastic thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Definitely a review coming in the future). As for Song Ha Yoon, if I’ve seen her in anything else, I don’t remember her. She’s a good actress, but doesn’t quite have that “it” factor that keeps one watching. Also her character seemed to change drastically from episode one to the other episodes that begin three years later. Obviously, the character has been through a lot, but I struggled believing that it was the same girl. Same for the lead male character. On top of that, despite their magical beginning, the leads really didn’t have much chemistry after Hainan, and I think that’s partly due to bad writing and partly due to miscasting. I think that someone like Li Min Ho of Boys over Flowers fame would have been a far better choice here, because even if his acting is sometimes awful, he has a magical star quality presence. He also knows how to look at a woman onscreen–really look at her in a romantic way that draws the audience in.

There were some interesting parts and characters, but mostly from the minor characters. The romance between the leads wasn’t half as interesting as that of Sung Ki Joon (Hoya) and Lee Ha Im (Lee Joo Yeon), who were both alternately annoying and fun to watch. Their banter could have been its own show and Lee Joo Yeon just looks like a star and has a solid screen prescence. Hoya, who I’ve only see in Reply 1997, isn’t my favorite actor, but it was great seeing him play an over-the-top pop idol wannabe. Then there were the villains, the extremely one-note aunt and mother Gong Jin Yang (Jeon Su Kyeong) and the intriguing Dr. Yoon (Kim Min Sang). Kim Min Sang is an awesome actor (see him in Tunnel) who, again, was totally wasted here, but he brought depth and character to his role and made the doctor intriguing to watch. The other notable minor character was Joo Sa Rang (Kim Ji Young), Gi Beum’s younger sister obsessed with makeup. Please get this actress her own show! She has talent and feistiness galore and I wanted to see more of her.

Devilish Joy, named after the main characters, was a show that never really lived up to its name and seemed to be just going through the motions to get to the end of the story rather than trying to emotionally impact or even entertain the audience. If the writing itself it bland, everything else is bound to be bland, too. Other Kdramas are better and more worth one’s time.

Kdrama review: Cheese in the Trap

I have now watched Cheese in the Trap starring Park Hae Jin and Kim Go Eun twice, and I will probably watch it again at some point. Based on a popular webtoon, Cheese has multilayered characters that are fun to come back to again and again, and a college setting that is almost 1980s in feel. Like most Kdramas, it is a romance involving a rich young man and a poor young woman; the difference in this story is that the affluence of the young man is almost an aside. It is certainly a reason why many try to take advantage of him or seek favors from him, but for once the problem between him and his young woman is something entirely different: a personality disorder.

Hong Seol (Kim Go Eun) is a college student who periodically takes time off to work and earn more money, especially if she doesn’t get a scholarship for the upcoming semester. However, in the first episode we quickly learn that this time Seol is thinking of taking time off specifically to avoid a sunbae (or senior) in her major. Yoo Jung (Park Hae Jin) has inexplicably gotten under her skin, and Seol is both intrigued by him and afraid of him. The reason for her very real fear only becomes completely clear by the end of the series: Yoo Jung has problems, but we, like him, are not sure they stem from himself or from the actions of those around him. It “takes two to tango” as they say, but most often if a person is repeating the same problems over and over, the root issue isn’t something outside of them. Cheese is largely about Yoo Jung realizing that he does actually have a problem, but it ends on a hopeful note that it is a problem that can be fixed.

Seol is almost an afterthought in this story. It’s not that she’s not her own person or is sort of a blank character, but she really is largely a vehicle to showcase Yoo Jung and to mirror him. Both students are smarter than average, and both have to continually deal with people trying to ride their coattails to success. Of those who have more, much more is expected. It’s frustrating, but it’s true. In fact, one of Seol’s business teachers points this out, and that duty Seol has is a lot more complicated than merely helping someone with their work or doing it for them–the teacher says that Seol is the type of person who can help those underachievers with less smarts be at their best. Yoo Jung gets similar advice from his father, the owner of a large company, but Yoo only belatedly understands what he’s been trying to say. The key, the very difficult key, for both characters to help others is for them to genuinely care about those others. Seol is mostly there, but she backtracks a bit after starting to date Yoo Jung, causing more difficulties. It is shown that by and large the other, almost insane characters, do care, but it is Seol, and especially Yoo Jung, who doesn’t.

I can’t say I really understood all this the first time watching Cheese in the Trap. Some stories are simply so layered that it requires multiple views or reads to really get the message, even if it’s being told or shown to you clearly. Also, this is a difficult thing to swallow: Other people, no matter how annoying they are to you, care about you. In fact, they may even be antagonizing you because they desire your love and attention. You are experiencing insane behavior and even hatred towards you, because you aren’t truly caring for others. That doesn’t mean that these other people don’t have a responsibility to behave well on their own–they do–but so, so often people do awful things as a reaction to another awful thing: heartlessness. Heartlessness from those wealthier, smarter, more beautiful, more capable and blessed with gifts and talents they neither asked for nor earned. And from those people, more is expected. If they don’t give you–a person of no talent, no riches, no beauty, a helping hand–who then will?

Let me give an example from the story. Yoo Jung’s father took in a couple of orphaned siblings when they were in elementary school. It is at first presumed that the father wanted to care for them and also thought Yoo Jung could use some siblings. This is somewhat true, however, it seems that the father actually thought that these siblings–Baek In Ho and Baek In Ha–could help his son turn out “normal.” And by normal, he means able to care for others, to be concerned for their feelings and well being. In flashbacks we see that at the beginning Yoo Jung didn’t have this problem: He did care for others and for these new siblings. But over time, perhaps because he thinks too much like his father, he became jaded and started to see everyone in his life as only people leeching off of him or trying to take advantage.

That in itself is not untrue. Plenty of people try to take advantage all the time. Baek In Ha (played by the amazing Lee Sung Kyung) is perhaps one of the most memorable Kdrama characters I’ve encountered. She is selfish to the point of insanity, shamelessly mooching off of Yoo Jung and his father, spending money like water, and refusing to work. She is also hilarious and charming, and it’s easy to see why so many people simply let her have her way. But In Ha is deeply damaged by past abandonment and abuse, as is her brother. Yoo Jung’s father may have given her food, nice clothes, and a roof over her head, but he did nothing to actually help her. She acts like an entitled welfare queen because that’s exactly what she is and she has never been disciplined or trained enough in order to reel herself back in to being a productive, self-reliant person. She is also sure that she will someday be abandoned. When Yoo Jung finally realizes the severe damage that he and his father have done to her by not enforcing boundaries and good behavior from a very age, nor seeking any sort of healing therapy for her, he decides the best course of action is to cut ties with her completely. This is ultimately what In Ha fears most, but it is necessary as their relationship is so, so toxic that it is making her act like a crazy person to the point that she physically harms others. After the final, clean break, we find that In Ha has given herself to another man who genuinely cares for her. Yes, she’s still a spoiled rich girl, but she is tempered by love, not only from her significant other, but love from her brother and a renewed relationship with him.

It was very belated, but Yoo Jung realized that the best way to care for In Ha was to let her go. No more relationship of punishment and reward or “carrot and stick,” which was really all they had. Early on she may have been someone he would have thought to marry, but that was shattered when he realized that In Ha and In Ho, too, were there simply to take advantage of him–at least, that’s what he believed. Despite her crazy ravings, In Ha cares for Yoo Jung. She often says she understands him, and there’s no reason to doubt that she does, but her damaged self too often thinks this means he owes her something. Indeed, he does owe her something, but it’s something he may never be able to give her: the love, attentions, and affections of a family member/brother/husband. He can’t give this to her and realizes it’s best for her to let her go. Yoo Jung also for once understands that a big part of the problem is himself. No matter how crazy In Ha is, Yoo Jung and his father have not done right by her, and some of her behavior stems from theirs towards her.

So what exactly is Yoo Jung’s problem? He is jaded and cynical about other people, but that’s fairly normal. What’s not normal is how he deals with others who have wronged him or are trying to use them. A., he assumes that’s what’s going on when sometimes circumstances are actually the opposite. B., he doesn’t directly question others about their motives or call them out in a healthy, confrontational manner. This is because he is only viewing them as inferior in some way, rather than as individuals with desires and needs, and who with a little care and attention would behave much, much better. C., he lives by the motto of an “eye for an eye,” but the way he goes about getting back at someone is entirely duplicitous, underhanded, and all too often for Seol, frightening. For example, instead of bringing a peeping tom to the cops so they can charge him, Yoo Jung beats him to a bloody pulp in a flurry of violence that leaves Seol not thanking him, but shrinking from him. Another example: He continually does things for Seol, like helping her get a scholarship, but gets others in trouble or blackmails others into making way for both him and Seol. This is how his father must act, though we don’t get to see a lot of his father, and it is sociopathic behavior where the ends justify any means.

Seol isn’t as fully realized as the other characters, namely Yoo Jung, In Ha, and In Ho. While the other three seem to grow during the series, she only grows in her appreciation and understanding for Yoo Jung, not for those around her. After college, in the office world, she still coming across similar people trying to take advantage of her or earn her favor. She seems resigned to them, wisely not upsetting them, but also not really seeing them as people, merely a type of person. At this point, Yoo Jung is working on himself and his perceptions of other people, and our hope, is that once he returns to shower his love on Seol (and others), that he will in turn help her see people as well.

The best success in the series that Seol has for caring for another person is the way she treats Baek In Ho. In Ho used to be Yoo Jung’s best friend, but that was all shattered by a misunderstanding in high school. For whatever reason, the two connect and become genuine friends. At time it seems as if he’s the perfect man for Seol, but we easily forget that he was abused and damaged along with his sister. Although he may have fallen for Seol, it is likely because she was the catalyst for him to finally start healing and moving on from the past. In Ho, played by the very handsome and charming Seo Kang Joon, gets a lot more screen time than Park Hae Jin’s Yoo Jung, but it’s actually a relief in some ways, because Yoo Jung becomes so abhorrent after awhile. It is only in the last episodes that Yoo Jung realizes that he himself really has a problem and that it has to stop. He only has this epiphany because Seol gets physically injured by In Ha. If that never happened, I shudder to think what would have happened with Seol totally in love with Yoo Jung and supporting and affirming his dangerous and damaging behavior against others. Cheese in the Trap, indeed.

An entire novel could be written about the philosophy and world view of this show, as it is truly fascinating. It is definitely not your typical show or story in any country. One of these days, I hope to read the webtoon and see how different it is from the show. I have also heard that the Korean movie, also starring Park Hae Jin, treats Yoo Jung a bit more kindly. All of the actors, but especially the four leads, did a stellar job, and the series as a whole is both nostalgic (again, with that 80s feel, and at times unsettling as it seems like a camp of psychotic vampires is permanently camped around Seol. Cheese in the Trap is at its heart a morality tale: Those who do not learn to deal with conflict and adversity in a timely, upfront, and loving manner are dooming themselves to continually spiralling conflicts and adversity all the days of their life. Those who do not truly take the time and effort to know and really see people will find themselves constantly seeing and expecting only the worst in people, and will find them–and themselves–acting accordingly. It is so easy to see how others must take responsibility for themselves and their actions, but how difficult to see the same in oneself.