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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.

House of Silk: book review

If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan, I highly recommend House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz. I am a little over halfway and am enjoying immensely–much, much more than his disappointing Moriarty. In fact, I am enjoying it so much that I want to go back and read all of Doyle’s original stories again, and the two Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr., as well as the fun BBC Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberbatch (still the best name ever). Holmes and Watson are simply the best detective duo ever written. Although I adore Agatha Christie’s Poirot, there’s something about these two characters. They are such men of action and really funny as well. House of Silk has a seal of approve from the Conan Doyle Estate, so Horowitz is certainly on the right track with this tale as far as they are concerned. Can’t wait to see how the story turns out.

Additional review: Kdrama Encounter (Boyfriend) is a unique Noona (older woman, younger man) romance starting out in Cuba of all places, and then, of course continuing back in Seoul. Not sure what to make of all these Noona romances they seem to be making lately. Here, Park Bo Gum’s Jin Hyeok is very sweet and naive, but is supposed to be twenty-nine or thirty, and because the actor himself is only twenty-five or so, he just comes across as very young. Add to that Jin Hyeok’s place as–shall we say not a chaebol (rich elite)–and you have a recipe for him simply bringing his older lady love (played by the beautiful Song Hye Kyo) more stress and trouble than she has already, as she will have to protect him continually. Now, the writers probably have something in store for him or the couple together to outwit the bad guys, but so far I’m skeptical. Loved the Cuba setting, though, and kinda hope they escape back there or something.

Happy reading and watching! –Pixie

The Smile Has Left Your Eyes: Ep. 16 Review (final)

It has taken me so long to final getting around to writing this review, because this ending is just so sad, that I just didn’t know if I’d have anything positive to say.  After thinking it over, though, the show has a lot of positive aspects. 

Let’s start with the bad: Yes, Moo Young and Jin Kang are indeed star-crossed lovers and both die at the end. Episode 16 was largely just a continual fall from the climax of the revelations in episode 15. We don’t learn a lot that we didn’t know before, and the episode felt a half hour too long. Poor Moo Young just never had a chance. He, thankfully, finds out from Officer Yoo that, no, Jin Kang is not his sister, but now he’s messed everything up by murdering CEO Jang. Moo Young’s focus, now, is making sure Jin Kang can live happily (without him), and then he’ll go off into the woods and shoot himself. 

Jin Kang snaps Moo Young out of this by confronting him and telling him she’ll shoot herself instead, as she can’t live without him. This sentiment is a bit more normal with teenagers (i.e. Romeo and Juliet), and it’s a bit hard to believe it’s coming from the almost thirty year old, Jin Kang.  I mean Moo Young has his appeal, certainly, but it just seems a bit much. To both Moo Young’s and the audience’s relief, Jin Kang is just testing him and she gets him to admit that he really doesn’t want to die, either. He wants to live. For her. Aww. 

The tragedy comes in the form of the secretary who works for the Jang company–now it’s the President or Papa Jang who’s the CEO and he’s enraged that both of his children are now dead, both due to Moo Young–and is on an assassination mission. President Jang has deemed that Moo Young must die, and so the secretary shows up at the house in the woods where Moo Young and Jin Kang have just decided that they both want to live for each other and promptly kills them both. Jin Kang gets shot first as she tries to protect Moo Young with her body, much like he did when they were kids and drenched in boiling hot water from a kettle. 

Two minutes too late, Officer Yoo shows up and finds the both of them dead by gunshot. He wails with grief, specifically over Jin Kang. One wonders what he’s thinking, if his detective skills can analyze the evidence showing that someone else shot them, or if he’s figuring Moo Young shot them both or maybe that they shot each other? In any case, it’s going to take Officer Yoo the rest of his life to get over the guilt he will surely feel over this tragedy that had EVERYTHING to do with him.

Now, the positive. Despite the troubling events of the plot, the story was generally told in a positive, sunny way. It wasn’t overly pessimistic and depressing. If it had been an American show, cynicism would have permeated everything, especially the romance. Not so here. We get a pure romance. We get a man on a journey to redemption through the love of a good woman. The acting from all three leads, but especially Seo In Guk and Jung So Min was outstanding, and their chemistry was off the charts. They became their characters so much I forgot about the actors, and that’s a good thing. There’s no inkling of any of their other characters in Moo Young and Jin Kang, either. If that’s not talent, I don’t know what is. 

On to cults. I am a Christian and I really don’t understand how there are so many cults based on Christianity and that people fall for them continually. There are probably many cults that are tangentially connected to other religions, but the cults represented most often in movies and television have a Christian base. The Smile Has Left Your Eyes is a warning to those who fall for false prophets. In episode 16 we find out that Jung So Min’s parents convinced Moo Young’s mother to take her son, leave her husband and join the cult. We find that Moo Young remembered Jin Kang as a little sister because he had to care for her. Their parents did not remember to feed them as they were too busy praying, babbling away feverishly as if God, or whomever they were praying to, would hear them due to their many words. Moo Young’s father took an axe to all three of these people. We don’t have a lot of information on the cult, but it seemed to have made everyone rather insane. What the two families were like before the cult (were they happy and sound in mind and body?) is also information we don’t have, but in Moo Young’s family his father must have been absent enough for his mother to become brainwashed and leave without his knowledge. We now have an explanation for why Moo Young held himself aloft from religion, even at the Catholic orphanage where he grew up. He somehow knew that religion can sometimes be dangerous and went the opposite direction of his mother, thinking God must not really exist. 

Jin Kang and Moo Young have a lot of conversations throughout the show on what it means to be a good person. With the truth revealed, we find that Moo Young does fit the show’s definition: a good person has a lot of love. Moo Young had a lot of love as a child for his parents and especially for Jin Kang, but, due to tragedy he just didn’t remember. Although Jin Kang is a good person with love as well, partway through the show, she ceased to be an adult for me, especially as the other characters treated her like the child they remembered her as. She was the one everyone catered to and took care of, and not really allowed to grow up. Only at the end, putting a gun to her own head did she seem to be her own agent, and yet she did it claiming that she couldn’t live without Moo Young. This statement was part ruse, but partly the truth. In considering cults and the history of their parents, I have to wonder if the two had lived if their love would have become a cult unto itself: a two-person cult in which no other person would matter. Some romantic love can be too much, the pair can be too desperate for each other, each person too unable to do things on their own. Our partner shouldn’t be our god, but people can make idols out of anything.

The true tragedy of this show, though, is Officer Yoo. On the one hand he has a good, but very sensitive heart. This sensitive heart led him to conceal much information that would have been far better off in sunlight. He held secrets that weren’t really his in order to keep Jin Kang safe, but she herself would have rather lived with the truth. His protective love smothered her and indirectly caused her death, and certainly caused much mental and emotional stress for both Moo Young and Jin Kang by the end. Officer Yoo also took on guilt unnecessarily. He was unable to accept that it wasn’t his fault he had to shoot Moo Young’s dad, and he let that shadow hang over him for twenty-five years. Fortunately, this show has a few Christian elements which make it shine, and one of those is forgiveness.

In his last will and testament, Moo Young writes to Officer Yoo that he forgives him and holds no ill will against him. He also writes, “If being heartless is being a devil, then I was a devil, like you said.” Moo Young admits to largely seeing people from a distance as if everything were a game. He urges Officer Yoo to let his guilt go and says that he has found peace with the love of Jin Kang. Once Officer Yoo gets over the shock of both their deaths, I have to hope Moo Young’s letter will comfort him much in the years to come. There is no better miracle than the power of forgiveness. Maybe Officer Yoo will finally find extra room in his heart for, say, Deputy Tak. 

Wrapping up, I liked the show as a whole. It was shot, directed, and written more like a movie than a Kdrama, and so it’s little unique because of that. The cinematography is amazing, every shot a joy to look at. I had hoped we’d get a bit more murder mystery and cat and mouse games, but it wasn’t to be. I wish they hadn’t dropped Moo Young’s photographic memory, as it was a cool device. And the bracelet that Moo Young gave the Damsel. I was certain we were going to find out that was Jin Kang’s bracelet as a child or something. Oh well. The romance really ended up taking over most everything. The minor characters did well with what little screen time they had. The big relief, was, of course, that the leads were not siblings, and Moo Young got his wish that Jin Kang would never know of the mistake he made in that regard. 

This show was such an emotional roller coaster, I don’t if I’ll ever watch it again. If I do, it would be largely due to the great acting by the leads, but even with that, I don’t know if I’d make it to the end a second time. The beauty of Moo Young’s breakdown in episode 15 was the high point, and probably the most heartbreaking scene in the show. In episode 1 we are introduced to three seemingly healthy and relatively happy people, but by the end, we know that they are all tortured souls unable to escape from the past and unable to avoid their fate. I think the fate thing is what turns me off about tragedies as a genre. As a Christian, I don’t believe in fate and I think that God always gives us a way out, that we can always choose to face the truth, not kill people, and not kill ourselves. The big winner in this show is Tattoo girl, Im Yoo Ri. She turned herself in and is serving the time for her crime. She will not live like Officer Yoo in mental torture, and as she’s trying to get off her meds, will not live like Moo Young, plagued by what she does not know. The last scene of her in the show as she’s talking to Jin Kang really showcases the quite beautiful tattoo on her neck. Im Yoo Ri will be ok, and Officer Yoo and the doctor will likely continue to visit her, giving her friends, comfort, and hope.

The Smile Has Left Your Eyes: Ep 15 Review

This story is breaking my heart, but then, that’s what good stories sometimes do.  Kim Moo Young’s memories of his little sister, Jin Kang, coming rushing to him. Instead of returning to her with the medicine for her burn, he runs all the way to CEO Jang’s house, demanding for her to tell him all that she knows.  Jang tells him she can see the truth of it in his eyes: he didn’t have a little brother, but a sister, a sister that Officer Yoo’s family adopted: Jin Kang. 

Moo young leaves, devastated. Seo In Guk pulls out all of his acting stops as the young man feels the full impact of the information. As he breaks down crying, the beautiful music is strangely upbeat, hopeful, almost. Moo Young is buckets of tears and definitely has his emotions back. This information seem as if it will break him completely.

When at last Moo Young returns to a concerned Jin Kang, he asks her for his keys back and breaks up with her. This is the Moo Young of the Damsel days, and he even mentions her, that he’s dropping Jin Kang just like he dropped the Damsel. Jin Kang believes he is lying and asks to know what is wrong. Like any man on a mission to protect someone he loves, Moo Young doesn’t budge and Jin Kang leaves in distress. (Why is it that so often liars look one straight in the eye when lying? They don’t look all over the room–some liars do that, but the best ones don’t.) Quickly, Moo Young gets to work at ridding his house of everything related to her. 

The next day Moo Young goes straight away to CEO Jang to reaccept her offer to manage the nightclub Angel’s Tear. She seems delighted and intrigued by this, even telling her assistant that she has found a trump card to use against Moo Young: Jin Kang is his sister. Originally, the CEO just made that up for kicks, but she says the look in Moo Young’s eyes confirmed it. Argh! So, is she his sister or not? Moo Young’s memories seem to seal the deal, but the show makers are obviously playing with this. Whether or not Jin Kang actually is his biological sister, that is now what Moo Young believes. 

When Moo Young returns home he find Jin Kang waiting there. She has been waiting all day and is freezing. Forgetting himself, Moo Young almost pulls off his coat to drop over her, but quickly remembers. She pleads with him to tell her what’s wrong, but he pull his arm away, goes inside, and slams the door. Like a desperate, little child, Jin Kang bangs on the door, continually pleading with him as he sits on the couch and covers his ears. It’s a heart-wrenching, pathetic scene and when Moo Young can’t take any more of her crying, he calls Officer Yoo to come take his sister home. Officer Yoo immediately complies and piggybacks a despondent Jin Kang home. It’s no surprise the next day Officer Yoo is visiting the pharmacy for cold medicine for her. 

Officer Yoo crosses paths with Moo Young and tells him he did a good job breaking up with Jin Kang. Moo Young tells the officer it wasn’t because of him, it was that he just got tired of Jin Kang. Not sure if Officer Yoo believes that, but I think he’s just relieved and probably isn’t going to analyze it too much. Later, Officer Yoo is surprised to find that Jin Kang has Moo Young’s childhood drawing in her possession. He remembers clearly finding it on the day he killed Moo Young’s father.  At that time, he took it and slipped it in Moo Young’s gown at the hospital, thinking the kid maybe would want to save that last image of a happy family. He remembers visiting not only Moo Young in the hospital, but also Jin Kang. 

CEO Jang is busy securing Moo Young as her pet. She’s given him a new job, new clothes, and now a new car. Moo Young accepts the keys and she asks him, why not get a new house, too? He replies that he should at least keep his real house, right? 

“Does that mean everything else is fake?” she scoffs.

“Don’t you have those times, too, when are more desperate for the fake?” he says.

After Jin Kang recovers from her cold, she’s still not quite her happy self, but she refuses to think bad of Moo Young. She knows she just doesn’t have all the information yet. Moo Young is looking like he’s going to break his vow of staying away from her as he keeps tabs on her to make sure she’s really okay. Jin Kang calls up Deputy Tak for a meeting and finds out from her that Officer Yoo killed Moo Young’s axe murder father. For some reason I thought that Jin Kang knew this information, but with shows like this, it’s sometimes hard to keep up. In exchange, Tak finds out that Jin Kang knows she’s not really Officer Yoo’s sister. 

Jin Kang visits Moo Young at Angel’s Tear as well, but he refuses to talk alone with her, and CEO Jang stresses him out by acting like she’s going to spill the fact that he and Jin Kang are brother and sister at any moment. Not surprisingly, then, when he drives Jang home later that night, he agrees to go up to her apartment in the hope of finding out what she has already told Jin Kang. Oblivious as perhaps only a super wealthy person can be, CEO Jang pushes all of Moo Young’s buttons that she can. Moo Young asks her if she has any intention of stopping and she laughs and asks him if he wants to stop the game.

“This isn’t a game.” Moo Young is incredulous, and in that moment we as the audience can tell that although the two do have similarities, they really are nothing alike in substance. Moo Young has the clear capacity for good and for love. Moo Young decides this game is definitely over, turning in his car keys to the CEO, bidding her goodbye, and telling her not to mess with him. But Jang just can’t give it up and keeps taunting him, threatening him that she’ll tell Jin Kang everything. As she sees his expression, she says she can’t believe it. He really loves Jin Kang. CEO Jang is obviously jealous, but why she would want a man supposedly in love with his sister…well, these characters all have their problems. Power is the most important thing to her, I think, even more important than self-preservation. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that her words are sparking a cold rage in Moo Young, she doesn’t even stopping talking and taunting as he goes to the bureau where she placed the gun he borrowed earlier, pulls it out, and shoots her three times. Maybe Jang secretly wanted to die, to have her endless games ended.  Who knows? In any case, Moo Young is now definitely a murderer. 

The news of the murder breaks quickly, especially as Moo Young has been caught on camera, though has eluded capture. Jin Kang is devastated yet again and convinced he is innocent. Officer Yoo is less sure and even though Deputy Tak cautions him that Moo Young is wandering around with a gun and will probably shoot him next, Yoo isn’t worried about his own safety. He readily goes to meet Moo Young at the temple when Moo Young calls. 

Generally, episode 15 was a downer, but this show is a tragedy. It seems more and more likely that Moo Young will end up dead somehow, and there will likely be some kind of big reveal at the end, making things even worse. Tragedies always seem to me like the writers needlessly torturing their characters. Isn’t there something sadistic about that? Anyhow, it’s definitely an emotional roller coaster. Maybe Officer Yoo will somehow save the day.