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TfD2

Hi, All,

Well, I’m finally done proofreading my manuscript and starting in on corrections and then layout this week. If all goes well, Trolls for Dust 2 will soon be on sale, hopefully by August 1!! And I may soon have a cover image and a theme song to share!

With all that craziness going on, I’m putting other writing projects on hold, including this blog, so I won’t likely be posting much until the book is out. The Stolen Necklace notecard story has about 4 cards left to go, and it’ll be interesting to see how it all turns out. As for Korean dramas, I likely won’t have any review out, but I’m really lovin’ Yoon Sang Hyun these days. He’s been in a lot of major projects, considering that he went into acting in his 30s. He often plays the second lead and very flawed men, but he’s great at it, and isn’t too shabby when he’s the star, either. Catch him in Shopping King Louie and Ms. Perfect on Viki or Dramafever, and as a detective hunting down a serial killer in Gap-Dong, showing on Netflix. Yoon’s one of those actors who really brings out the best in his fellow cast members, so watch for that.

Fortified with kimchi rice and watermelon for dessert, I am ready to get to work. Fighting!

–P. Beldona

5 Quick Drama and Movie Reviews

As has become my viewing habit, I tend to bounce around between shows and stories rather like a pinball.  One plot line captures my attention, and then a song or actor in the story leads me to another movie or drama that I start right away, and then something in that work will inspire me to look into a similar story or a different writer, director or actor, and so on.

This happens with books, too, and I find it hard to just stick with one story, drama, or movie straight through and am usually reading or watching up to twenty stories at the same time. Hopefully, this means I simply have a busy mind. 🙂  In any care, here are a few quick reviews of recent dramas or movies that I’ve watched.

  1. Till the End of the World.

This is a Chinese movie about a millionaire and a scientist that survive a plane crash in Antarctica and have to survive the elements. The CGI leaves a bit to be desired, and the movie’s not super dedicated to realism, but it’s a fun and a sweet love story at that. Mark Chao as the rich man Wu Fu Chun really wins the audience over as he braves the elements over and over, coming to love his environment at the same time. He also has uncannily resemblance to Korean heartthrob Choi Si Won (recently in Revolutionary Love) in parts. The female scientist, played by Yang Zi Shan, doesn’t have a lot to do, but her knowledge is instrumental in instructing Wu’s continual expeditions out into the cold and ice.

2. Our Town.

Our Town is a Korean movie from a few years ago. This story is extremely disturbing, with graphic levels of violence that had me covering my eyes half the time. So I probably missed a lot of the visual cues in the story due to that.  Our Town is essentially a study into the criminal murder’s mind, specifically those murders that do so in connection to a childhood trauma.  It has a slow feel like many noir films, and the environment is dirty and gritty and leaves you wanting to scrub away the filth after. The story has no positive light in it, except to say that trauma begets trauma, and is forthright about just how disturbed the minds of serial killers actually are.

I like murder mysteries and especially detective stories where they have to hunt a serial killer because I love the unfolding of the mystery. I like to watch the detectives put everything together. While that is fine and good, most murder mysteries often make murder into something mundane–the physical aspect and the horror of the killings are often glossed over to focus on the mystery. Our Town really plays up just how repulsive these killers actually are, and how sick of mind, and how tortured their inner soul. It is a mirror for the viewer: These people are truly ill and depraved, so why do we like watching these kinds of stories in the first place? Is it the mystery aspect? Is it so we can tell ourselves we are better than them? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t recommend this film unless you are calm of mind and have a very strong stomach.

That being said, the direction and acting are all outstanding, and I am disappointed to find that this appears to be director Jung Gil Young’s only work. If you know actor Ryu Deok Hwan only from shows like Faith (The Great Doctor), you will be dumbfounded by how scary he is in this. While the other lead character, played by Oh Man Seok (Squad 38) and Lee Sun Hyun (Pasta), are clearly haunted by their collective past, Ryu’s character copes by thriving from it.

3. Dating Agency: Cyrano.

This is from a few years ago as well and if you love romantic comedies, this is it. Episode one is great in showing how matchmaker Gong Min Young (a delightful Choi Soo Young, so dour and subdued in Squad 38) is initiated into treating her profession as James Bond-style missions. It is based on a similarly titled Korean movie, which I haven’t seen. It’s fun to see how all of the various love stories play out and frustrating how reluctant the male lead (Lee Jong Hyuk from Chuno [talk about epic story]) in showing his feelings or any passion whatsoever. We get a taste of what their romance could have been right at the very end, and it boggles the mind that the writer did not think to play it up more in the entire series. Maybe the James Bond plots were too much of the focus? The first half of the series is very enjoyable and reminiscent of romantic comedies past, but the second half veers off into a jumble of parts that may work separately, but don’t work together. The songs, specifically by Baby Cab Driver, are addicting. Altogether, the series is fun, but not a satisfying yarn.

4. Lawless Lawyer.

2018 seems to be the Kdrama year for procedurals and legal/detective plots. I am about halfway into Lawless Lawyer, about a young lawyer taking unorthodox measures to bring officials to justice for their crimes past. I haven’t seen Lee Joon Gi (Fly, Daddy, Fly) in many dramas, but he is outstanding as rebel lawyer Bong Sang Pil, and sells the action scenes really well. Bong Sang Pil is also unexpectedly funny in parts, bringing a bit of levity to the otherwise downer of a story. Seo Ye Ji (Hwarang) as his accomplice is great as well, with her low voice and no-nonsense personality.

What to watch it for, though, are the villains: Corrupt Judge Cha Moon Suk (played by Lee Hye Young of Boys Over Flowers fame), and her lackey An O Joo (peerless Choi Min Soo (Sandglass). That both these actors are good at playing the bad guys is an understatement. Choi, in particular, is one of those actors who always becomes a different character for his roles. The downside, and why I’m only halfway through, is that the writing is stuck in the power play between the judge and her lackey and seems to be on temporary repeat. Even the best actors cannot overcome this, and I’m seeing both Cha and Choi becoming bored with their characters. I will continue watching in the hope that the loop stops, but find everything else about the series refreshing and very watchable.

5. High School King of Savvy.

This was a second watch for me, and I found the second time even more enjoyable than the first, as I could really watch how masterful Seo In Guk (Shopping King Louis) and Lee Ha Na (Voice) are in creating their characters. They sold the age gap in a way few other actors can or will. “Noona” romances, or those with older women and younger men are fairly common in Korean dramas, but Savvy walks right up to the line, making their man, Lee Min Suk, an eighteen-year-old high school student (he would be seventeen in Western ages), falling in love with someone ten years his senior. Student Lee Min Suk finds himself in a rock and a hard place having to take on a double life pretending to be his corporate hawk of a brother.

Similar plots have certainly been done both in Hollywood and Korean dramaland, but Savvy takes it to another level as the Noona romance ends up being somewhat of a surprise, so awkward is Lee Ha Na’s Jung Soo Young compared to her streetwise younger sister, that at first we can’t imagine anything beyond a sweet friendship between her and Lee Min Suk.

If you’re stuck on the age gap, Savvy will be a hard watch and unbelievable; if not, you’ll see a masterful writer, director, and actors all slowly building the cases of Min Suk’s and Soo Young’s characters and how they are right for each other, because they aren’t right for anyone else. Min Suk is clearly bored by the high school girl chasing him, and bored by being a high schooler in general, except for his passion for hockey. Soo Young, in her innocence, doesn’t realize that though we all feel for him, Yoo Jin Woo’s (Lee Soo Hyuk) trauma, cynicism, and loneliness, would simply become her trauma, cynicism, and loneliness. Soo Young only begins to shine under the steady love and affection of Min Suk, and it is only her experiencing that real love, that she can shake off her embarrassment at being manipulated by Jin Woo.

High School King of Savvy also has a great soundtrack, minor characters, like Min Suk’s dad and grandpa, that will melt your heart, some of the best kissing scenes ever, and some of the funniest commentary on office life in South Korea. What to watch it for, though, is the acting of the leads, especially Seo In Guk. Seo is currently my favorite Korean actors, so I’m a bit biased, but, like Choi Min Soo, he has the ability to become another person onscreen, a feat few, more experienced actors, can accomplish. He sells the coming-of-age Min Suk in a way no one else could have, making him half in childhood, half in adult. For contrast, watch Big with Gong Yoo. As much as I love Gong Yoo in other works, Big was a misstep for him, as his teenager thrown into an adult life often acts as if he’s in elementary school instead of high school.

It’s also interesting to see Min Suk in contrast to Soo Young’s sister, Yoo Ah. Yoo Ah is just a little younger, but there’s a few scenes inserted into the story indicating that an “Oppa” (older man) romance wouldn’t work as well or be seen in the same light. There is a different standard when it comes to men and women in this area. Men are often seen as being far more sexually mature in their latter teenage years, despite the women often physically developing faster. What a person is ready for, I think really depends on the person (and of course the laws of the country), but it’s an interesting male-female contrast that the story notes, and a contrast that wouldn’t be as well accepted in other cultures where men and women (rightly or wrongly) are shown, or at least said to be equal, in every way, shape, or form. Having been a been a teenage girl, the contrast and male-female difference make sense to me, but I’m sure there are many who would disagree. In any case, Min Suk is clearly more mature than his male friends his age as well, so the difference with him in this story is largely relevant to his personal character, and not a statement that all boys in their late teens are ready for all of what adulthood entails. Savvy took on the controversy and committed to it, which is to the credit of both the characters and story, even it turns some viewers away.

Okay, back to proofreading Trolls for Dust, Season Two, and working on the next notecard for my notecard story. Happy reading, everyone!  –Pixie B.

 

Empress Ki – a half-review

Somehow I’ve made it through about 30 or so episodes of Empress Ki, mostly due to being sick and unable to do anything else. Thankfully, I am better now and enjoying the sunshine flooding Minnesota this week.

Empress Ki, like most of the Korean historical dramas, is decidedly epic in scale. A lot of the time it has me remembering the Lord of the Rings movies and that’s mainly due to the wonderful costumes and sets. The clothing alone makes the series worth watching. Empress Ki is a fast watch, despite so many episodes, because there’s really not much filler. Every episode has something major happen and the plot continually moves forward. The lead actors, Ha Ji-Won (Empress Ki/Seung Nyang), Joo Jin-Mo (Wang Yoo, the Korean king), and Ji Chang Wook (Ta Hwan/Emperor of Yuan), are all outstanding and do a good job with what they are given. I stress, what they are given, to work with.

Now to the story and writing. I’m in favor of keeping the plot moving most of the time and Empress Ki’s writing certainly fulfills that, however, in this case it comes at a cost, namely character and emotional development. Because the characters are constantly besieged by taxing or exciting moment after moment, they never really have time to process what’s happened to them, and neither does the audience. Seung Nyang and Wang Yoo, because they are strong characters, both physically and emotionally, deal with everything stoically–too stoically. We rarely get to see their vulnerabilities or them acting, for lack of a better expression, like humans! In contrast to them the Emperor of Yuan is so weak as to strain credulity. True, he’s much used and abused by the villain Yeon Chul (the subtitles I’m watching label him as El Tamur), and he’s young, but he has no interests or vices or focus in his life except for Seung Nyang and his out-of-control emotions often seem out of place. He would be more interesting, for example, if he actually was a drunk or a womanizer or even an actual basket case. The other leads, too, have no interests except the future direction of Korea and/or revenge. With a shorter series, these flaws would be fine, but at 51 episodes it’s not so excusable that most of the  emotional impact comes from minor characters, especially the eunuchs. Hopefully this gets addressed in the last 20 episodes, but it’s making me question whether I want to continue watching.

The love triangle is also irritating me, because the scenes depicting it are scarce and short. This wouldn’t be so bad if it was made up for by, say, amazing actions scenes, but, sadly it’s not. The Yuan Emperor has the most scenes dealing with romance, mostly his unrequited love for Seung Nyang. She is stoic, shows him no tenderness, has next-to-no feminine attributes and wiles that I’m often scratching my head at how he’s so infatuated. Because the plot calls for it, I guess. Also, the epic love for all time between Seung Nyang and Wang Yoo is scarcely represented adequately as such. She gets a ton more screen time with the man for whom she feels nothing. On top of that, both men seem incapable of having their own lives apart from Seung Nyang. She is amazing as their buddy and helping them get out of scrapes, but again, it’s baffling that she has cast such a spell over them in a (supposedly) romantic way, and she ironically seemed more feminine when everyone still thought she was a man.  I don’t think in writing strong female characters we need to balance it by making the male characters weaker, but it’s often done, though not quite believable.

All that aside, there are a lot of great scenes in Empress Ki, and many solid emotional scenes. We relish Seung Nyang triumphing over both villain Yeon Chul and his daughter, the Yuan Empress (played perfectly by Baek Jin-Hee of Missing Nine – Baek is a power house actress and her character’s story is a pathetic one.) We feel for Seung Nyang at certain losses and admire her smarts and resourcefulness. We feel the heartbreak of Wang Yoo and the Emperor, even if it’s not explained well.

I’ve decided to try and finish Empress Ki and I hope that it ends as well or better than it started, because the first fifteen to twenty episodes were pretty good. Middles are always hard to write and I do admire the writers for keeping the series jam packed with happenings, and for the production team and director having such attention to detail in the clothing, sets, and camerawork. I’ll have a full review up once I finish the series.

 

The K2: Kdrama review

The K2The K2 lost me as a viewer the first time around. I watched the first episode with the sound off, as I sometimes do, and focused on the amazing visuals, which were as good as any feature film. It was the story and writing that gave me pause and I was not surprised to find that the same writer also wrote Yong-Pal, another drama that lost me half-way through.

This isn’t to say The K2 isn’t worth watching. It is an incredible action-packed drama, but like Yong-Pal, it would have been better served either by half-hour episodes or ten or even less hour-long episodes. Jang Hyeok Rin is an awesome writer, but these kinds of stories don’t exactly fit into the time frames usually allotted for Korean dramas. These stories are better suited to what in America we would call a “miniseries.” Jang essentially writes morality play fairy tales set in the modern world. Morality plays and fairy tales are are older, simpler stories that get at common truths. This means that the characters are archetypes – i.e., the princess locked in the tower, the lone warrior, the evil step-mother/witch – and plot devices, not the complicated character confections (say that five times fast) with a high degree of moral confusion that we’ve become so accustomed to today. This also means that the stories, being necessarily more simplistic, will not stretch as well without either adding a lot of superfluous material or slowing the plot down to an unsustainable degree. Cutting episodes or the time length of episodes would instantly solve this problem, but it would take a very confident, savvy production company to decide to do that.

What The K2 has going for it is a great story at its heart, awesome visuals (you could watch the whole thing without either sound or translation and not be lost much at all), solid writing, commendable acting, and music that will both irritate and haunt. The soundtrack choices were fairly brave, being operatic and even church music, not even in Korean, but in, I think, Latin and German. As a viewer you really only get the full impact if you watch it on a site like viki.com that takes the time to translate at least some of the lyrics. The songs are the “chorus” of Greek theatre, an essential part of the story and part and parcel of the morality play angle.

Episode one is exhaustingly full of action, and although the action is fairly steady through the first few episodes, there’s no way a production would be able to sustain that level through the entire thing. The biggest drawback to episode one, though, isn’t the action, but that they risk losing viewers by ending the same way they began, with Anna, our “princess captive,” running away from–whatever horrors a woman in white runs from. As a viewer, one wonders just how many times we are going to have to watch this girl run away, epic as it is. By the end of the hour, we also don’t really know what the plot is. We have a vague idea of who the characters are, but little else. This problem is fixed as the plot is more developed in the following episodes, but it’s the reason why I didn’t continue watching and also why I gave it a second chance, as it didn’t seem like all that production effort could possibly be put into a crummy story.

Crummy story The K2, is not, though I found – like with Yong-Pal, my interest waning in the last few episodes that had to stretch the story in order to finish it in the time allotted. For both dramas, it’s a shame because the first halves of each were awesome. Ok, enough harping on the time issue, let’s get to some meat and bones.

If we’re really honest, the characters in fairy tales, at least the prince and princess, typically don’t have a lot of personality. They are there to be rescued or to rescue or to serve some purpose of the plot. It is the villains that tend to be more–though not always–interesting. The K2 doesn’t vary from this and I think that’s a credit to it. They cast a stellar actress, Song Yoon A, to play the baddy step-mom, and it was her character that kept me watching throughout. Cho Seung Ha, who plays serial adulterer and politician Jang Se Joon, was no slouch either, and it was the pair of them that seemed the drivers of the plot.

The two main characters, Anna, the “princess in the tower” and, Kim Je-Ha, the “lone wolf” were more people that things happened to than made things happen. When they did make things happen, it wasn’t so much character-driven as plot-driven. That aside, because the characters were archetypes, and simple yet well-written, Ji Chang Wook and Yoona really showed off some talent in playing them. Playing a damaged, yet sweet girl and a mercenary with little-to-no past and making either interesting can be a challenge. Add on top of that, that I at least have found both actors to be rather stone-faced and wooden at times and I’m not sure if that’s merely my perception or if they just don’t have a good grasp of how to make an engaging face onscreen even if one’s character isn’t showing strong emotion at the time. That probably sounds more like an insult than intended, but I thought they did well will the simple characters and better than I have seen them do with more complex characters and plots. I wish all actors could be more like Seo In Guk (Shopping King Louie) who somehow manages to actually be a completely different character every time he’s onscreen, but I realize that ability is extremely rare and that most actors simply play whatever type of person their character is. All of the acting in The K2 is top notch, if necessarily simple, and suits the tenor and mechanics of the plot.

Speaking of the the plot, Choi Yoo Jin, the step-mother is the main character. What we are seeing onscreen is possibly what her life would have been like if she’d married a good man of action who loves her instead of a fearful and manipulative adulterer who doesn’t. Several times she mentions how innocent she once was, and how (at least in her head) she would have been a good person had only her husband loved her. Since we really don’t know what young girl Yoo Jin was like, we don’t have much to go by, but it becomes clear early on that the successes the couple has had politically are almost entirely due to Yoo Jin’s brains and tenacity, not her husband’s, and that she feels upon meeting the “wolf” that had she been with someone like him, those skills would have been put to far better use. Is this just wishful thinking on her part? As her character is quite skillful at manipulation, I’m not sure, neither, I think is Ji Chang Wook’s “wolf” who would certainly save her from herself were it possible. The moral in this play is pretty straightforward, loving someone means actually loving them and only pretending to love creates monsters out of people, anxiety, distrust, the list could go on and on. At the end of the series we really don’t know who either the wolf or Anna really are, and that’s alright, because who they are isn’t the point, the fact that they really love each other and other people is the point. They don’t pretend to love, they actually love, and they earn their  happy ending due to it. Such a simple thing, but humans fail at this simple thing every single day.

A couple of more things to add, “Cloud 9” was an intriguing idea, but completely mishandled as was the location and threat at the end, both of which hampered the story and the pacing in a negative way. It was likely one of those choices made in which the ere simply isn’t time to go back and correct it, and that’s a shame, but happens a lot in television. That all said, I really liked The K2, and would watch it again. The atmosphere, the action, and the music all stayed with me long after watching the last episode.

My 5 favorite Kdrama actors

I’ve been watching Korean dramas for a few years now and have found I have a few favorites. The trouble with watching shows or movies of a different culture and/or language is that acting standards and line delivery are different. For many viewers from Western countries who are used to watching Hollywood, UK, or European films, the acting of other countries can come across as very over-the-top and fake, and often the comedy falls flat or is head-scratching. I have no doubt this works both ways. It takes a lot of viewing time to really see how good actors are, due to cultural and/or language barriers and many people don’t have patience for that. Having spent an embarrassing amount of my own life watching Hollywood, UK, and other movies and shows, jumping to Kdramas was no big deal time wise. The positive view of this is that I have come to appreciate South Korean culture, food, and language, as well as having viewed some of the best shows of all time (Signal, for example).

Here is a list of five drama actors I’ve come to appreciate. Yes, they are easy on the eyes, but are also extremely talented and stand apart from many of their fellow actors.

#1 Seo In Guk

SeoInGuk

We have music talent shows to thank for a lot of our amazing stars and singers today, and one of those is Seo In Guk, who won Superstar K in 2009. He has a classic rags-to-riches story and is multitalented on every level. Due to hard work and thoughtfulness, this guy could succeed in anything he puts his mind and effort into. Not only is he a great singer and performer, but is a brilliant actor who plays his character, not himself, and is able to turn this talent on and off at will. This is rare, as a lot of actors have to continually play the character even when not filming to keep up the, uh, charade. He’s also very open about how he creates each character, also unusual as many actors prefer keeping the acting trade shrouded in mystery. He was due for military duty this past year, but because of a health issue, could not enlist. As a recent fan of Seo In Guk, I look forward to seeing where his career will go from here. Best dramas of his that I’ve seen so far: Reply 1997, High School King of Savvy, Squad 38, Hello Monster (aka I Remember You), and Shopping King Louie.

#2 Jung Kyung Ho

Jung Kyung Ho

Jung Kyung Ho (also Jung Kyoung Ho) is one of those actors who should be showered with awards. He’s on point in every scene and chameleon-like in his ability to handle different dramas. Jung has very emotive eyes and uses them to full advantage. He, too, simply becomes his character and has a magnetic presence onscreen, and his career so far has been a pretty even mix between movies and dramas. Like Seo In Guk, Jung Kyung Ho is a bit under the radar and underestimated in his abilities–at least internationally. Jung is definitely equal to any of Hollywood’s A-list actors, and would probably put some of them to shame. His one flaw may be that he tends to work with writers and directors that flounder a bit, but can’t always be helped. Best dramas I’ve seen him in so far: Heartless City, Missing 9, Falling in Love with Soon Jung, and One More Happy Ending.

#3 Sung Joon

Sung Joon

A tall drink of water, Sung Joon is much younger than he appears. I was surprised to find he’s only 27. Maybe it’s his height or his deep voice, but he has no problem playing characters much older than himself and is often paired with older women. His choices of projects are riskier than most, and sometimes I think he gives the writers of some scripts a bit too much faith, but it’s refreshing to see someone so fearless. Sung Joon started out as a model, but has turned into a great actor, especially when it comes to romantic scenes. If he’s not putting his entire heart and soul into kissing his onscreen women, he’s very good a faking it. If I were a fellow male actor, I’d be a little hesitant to work with him as he has such an overwhelming screen presence, it’s almost distracting. Lee Min Ki had to work very hard in Shut Up Flower Boy Band to make his character come across as the actual leader of their band, so strong was Sung Joon’s presence. Best dramas I’ve seen him in so far: Ms. Perfect, Shut Up Flower Boy Band, Madame Antoine, and In Need of Romance 3).

#4 Lee Seung Gi

Lee Seung Gi

Lee Seung Gi is one of those actors that slowly earns audience appreciation. He is no stranger to TV, having been on several dramas and variety shows and he also is successful in nearly everything he does. Lee Seung Gi comes across as not only likable onscreen, but offscreen as well, joking with interviewers and the audience. He’s comfortable in his own skin and it shows. He often plays characters that seem very dumb at first, but then prove themselves later on. Although he has a good voice, I think he is more talented at acting than singing. So far his career has mostly been playing vain young men forced to grow up, and I hope now that he’s done with his military service he will choose a wider variety of characters to play. It would be great to see him take on the role of the bad guy, for example. He, for one, picks his projects well. Best dramas I’ve seen him in so far: You are All Surrounded, Gu Family Book, King 2 Hearts, and My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox.

#5 Lee Min Ho

Lee Min Ho

Due to the commercial success of Boys Over Flowers and The Heirs, one would hard pressed to find an international Kdrama fan who hasn’t heard of Lee Min Ho and his Brad Pitt good looks. Although I enjoy his dramas, he has slipped from being my #1 to watch, as his performances are hit or miss for me. When he is good, he is so good, and when he’s not I wonder if his own fame is overshadowing him. Lee Min Ho shot to fame in 2009 by playing Gu Jun Pyo, a vain, spoiled rich boy,  in Boys over Flowers, and hasn’t looked back since. Not the first to play the character, Lee made Gu Jun Pyo his own and the Korean BOF wouldn’t be nearly as funny without him. Lee also is very gifted in doing action scenes, having a natural athleticism that makes the most bizarre choreography (attacking a cook with a spoon, for example) look natural. He is also a very talented model, and would be #1 on this list if it were for modeling. Sadly, Lee’s most recent dramas The Heirs and The Legend of the Blue Sea were definite misses for me. He was paired with other famous actresses with whom he had no onscreen chemistry, and it showed. He also did not have a firm grasp on who his characters were and acted rather blandly due to that. Since all parties in these two projects have been great and successful with other productions, I have to wonder if there wasn’t too much pressure for profit involved. Both projects were very financially successful and had all star casts, directors and writers, but lacked heart and truly good storytelling. After finishing his military service, I hope Lee will choose projects and characters that he can really play well instead of focusing on the financial success. It’s hard to be so famous that you can’t take a real risk, and the projects he’s performed best in were not foregone successes. Best dramas I’ve seen him in so far: Boys Over Flowers, City Hunter, Personal Taste, and Faith.

 

 

Missing 9 review

Spoilers ahead.

The premise of the Korean show Missing 9 sounds great.  It’s a bit of a LOST takeoff, a group of people survive a plane crash only to be stranded on a deserted island where-in Lord of the Flies antics ensue.  I bring up LOST as an immediate comparison because for fans of that show it is impossible to not to see similarities, not only in the plot premise, but also in how the story is told.  (The Missing 9 creators are clearly replicating at least the flashback-present time switchback).  Missing 9, however goes more the direction of Lord of the Flies (and perhaps some Swiss Family Robinson) than heading off in the LOST no man’s land of science fiction. Although it would have been fun to see the Korean version of LOST with island monsters, time jumps, and the whole lot, not going in that direction is actually a strength of Missing 9.  At least initially.

For the first few episodes the fairly simple plot of Missing 9, the brief history of the celebrities and employees of Legend Entertainment, their plane crash and subsequent stranding on a deserted island somewhere off the coast of China, works. And it even still works once the people are pitted against each other on the island.  Where is fails is that one character ends up being a murderer bent on killing anyone who gets in his way.  For episode after episode he is the sole bad guy and the sole conflict the rest of the survivors have to fight against on the island. The plot rapidly gets old at this point and I actually stopped watching it and simply read through plot summaries of the rest of the show. Talk about mediocre ending.  I’m all for characters ending up happy, but partying with a murderer, even if he is soon to go back to prison, is a bit too much and actually makes light of what he’s done wrong.

Other things I liked about Missing 9 were the flashback scenes where everyone is dressed in beige or brown. It was an intriguing concept and it’s a shame it didn’t seem to go anywhere other than serve as a marker for which scenes were in the past. The soundtrack was better than most, both thrilling and nostalgic. The acting was also outstanding, especially the leads, Jung Kyung Ho (Falling in Love with Soon Jung), who is a very solid actor that exhibits old school charm (think Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant) and has complete mastery of both comedy and drama, and Baek Jin Hee (Pride and Prejudice (Kdrama)) who was a spot-on heroine and “average man” for the viewer to follow. Kim Sang Ho (City Hunter) is always a pleasure to watch and brings a subtle grounding to the production. His characters are always relatable and always seem to have good hearts. Choi Tae Hoon’s villain had a good progression of onscreen presence, but never really became a totally “love to hate” bad character that would have shot him to acting stardom. If they had cast Choi as the lead and Jung as the murderer, that would have given the show an amazing dynamic because Jung does have eyes that just pull one in. He would make a terrifying and thrilling villain and Kim’s character would be completely torn over love-hate as would the viewers. I also think that Choi would have faired better playing the lead as it would have necessarily forced him to have more expression on his face.

Missing 9 sounded like a must-watch, but ultimately failed to deliver. Better K-drama thrillers are Signal (2016) (probably the best TV thriller I’ve ever seen from any country) and Tunnel (2017).

The Show Must Go On

It’s funny that when one is working on a project, one sees similar themes and ideas everywhere. I am–probably too–proud of the fact that I’ve taken a scene I knew was bad and am rewriting it. Sometimes I think parts of my story are bad, but then in reading them later, think they are ok and keep them. It’s tough with writing because you can read your own stuff one day and think it stinks and the next barely recognize it and think, “who is this brilliant writer?  Can’t be me, can it?”  But some scenes are bad from the beginning, bad ideas, uninspired, and so on.  I’m excited because I genuinely found one I wanted to change and know the new one will serve the story better.

Speaking of rewrites, what person calls themselves a writer and thinks there will be no editing? No rewrites? No criticism? Now imagine that writer is writing for movies or TV and can’t stomach the possibility of their script being changed?  Bizarre.  I mean, who doesn’t know that the script changes constantly, especially when filming starts, and if it’s bad with movies, what about TV shows?

But I’m rambling. I’ve been watching this kdrama called The King of Dramas. It’s an awesome show with a huge flaw in that the writer lives in this fantasy of “no revisions, no changes” to her original script. Fortunately, she is learning (like I am) as the episode sprogress, but still. Her rigidity stuck out like a sore thumb at first and it was hard to suspend my disbelief.

The King of Dramas, or, in my mind, The Show Must Go On! with same-titled song from Moulin Rouge, is a 2012 kdrama about producing a Korean TV show. With epic music and everything from mafia financing to last-second deadlines, this show will have you wondering how any dramas are made at all. I mean, who would want all that stress and headache? And it become clear why showbiz people can be a bit neurotic. Anthony Kim (Kim Myung Min) is Macbethian in his strive for power, with ruthlessness and an alarming propensity for lying. Kim, the actor, has a magnetic presence about him and although everyone claims to dislike him you get the feeling they secretly want to be on his team.

The naive, stubborn writer is played by Jung Ryeo Won, and it’s refreshing to have a heroine for whom romance will turn out to be incidental. She’s also not overly crazy, mannish and loud, but womanly and thankfully doesn’t have any part-time jobs. I like the down-and-out-girl-with-10-jobs-and-a-relative-in-the-hospital, trope but it’s nice to have a break from it. Lee Go Eun is refreshing in her normalcy. Jung Ryeo Won also has a unique look that compliments her thoughtful character.

The comic relief in the show falls on the chosen lead of Lee Go Eun’s script, handsome and famous Kang Hyun Min. This guy fits every bad stereotype of an actor–vain, money and fame hungry, selfish–and he’s hilarious! Choi Si Won overcomes his distracting Ken-doll  looks by actually…acting, something that other K-pop stars seem to take eons to figure out.

Both male leads are jerks and the farthest thing from husband material. I’m about halfway through the series and am wondering if they are going to go with a love story eventually and if either will prove themselves worthy enough for the quite nice, but stubborn writer.  And being that she’s working with overbearing people, it’s also a good thing that she’s so stubborn, but I’m glad she learns to do some self-reflection when it comes to her writing. And the show is actually fine without a love story, so different still.

My favorite character, though, is the middle-aged cutie Jung In Gi. He plays recovering alcoholic director Koo Young Mok. Jung’s a bit more disheveled in this than I’m used to seeing (he’s in a ton of Korean shows and movies), but he adds much needed gravitas when the others are too over the top. He also is very believable as a kdrama director and steals a lot of his scenes simply by his presence. He’s a likable father figure to the younger characters–someone who has “been there, done that” but is still struggling himself.

I don’t know what else the real writers of The King of Dramas will throw at their characters in the remaining episodes, but I’m guessing there’s a good many inside jokes going on for those whose careers are built in show-biz. No matter the country or culture, entertaining people is rarely as easy as it seems. And somehow the shows do go on and on and on in miraculous precision.

–P. Beldona