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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 Assets

The AssetsThere’s no better spy story than a true spy story.  The Assets miniseries now playing on Netflix tells the real story of a mole hunt within the CIA, a hunt that started in 1985 and took many more years than it should have to find the guilty culprit.  Although I didn’t find Jodi Whittaker (BBC’s Broadchurch) to be the best choice for playing officer Sandy Grimes, she did a decent job despite her unnatural-looking blond hair, and the teenage-like tantrums that may have been more the fault of the writers/directors than the actor.  Paul Rhys (Borgia) was perfect as cocky-yet-geeky traitor Aldrich Ames.  Has ever a man been so obviously influenced by a love interest?

What keeps The Assets compelling is that it bounces between the CIA offices, the Russian assets they are recruiting, and Grimes’s difficulty balancing her secretive work with family life.  Themes running throughout the miniseries cover bureaucracy/institutionalism vs. doing the right thing, how the definitions of “traitor,” and “hero” change depending what side one is on.  Based on the book Circle of Treason by Sandy Grimes and her colleague Jeanne Vertefeuille (a wonderful performance by Harriet Walker), the series indicates that were it not for the persistence of these two women, Ames would have never been caught because the heads of the CIA didn’t really seem to care.  Chilling, if true, and a stark contrast to the KGB that is shown taking great pains to weed out any possible traitor in their midst.

Indeed, the scenes showing the fates of both the US operatives in Russia and their assets are the most compelling in the series, revealing just how sinister Ames’s actions were.  These women and those on their team are to be commended for their bravery and persistence in pursuing the truth.  The last few scenes had me in tears as truth won out.

For a full understanding at how closely The Assets fits the real story, watch the final episode, which is a documentary with real interviews and historical background.  I find the journalists’ mockery of the CIA, and especially their unfair condemnation of officer Vertefeuille to be irritating, as so many journalists, especially today, can’t defend or praise the US for any action, no matter how good, just, or honorable, people who throughout the years have most times chosen the stance opposite US interests, pretending that this stance makes them “objective.”

On the positive side, both Diane Sawyer and Ted Koppel both have obvious contempt for Ames and his wife in their interviews.  Also, it is highly embarrassing that Ames was allowed to get away with his treachery for so long, and it is remarkable that he was actually caught, and equally remarkable that the CIA did not appear to foresee such a threat.  Sandy Grimes’s obvious delight in the truth and seeing Alrich sentenced is also refreshing in a society that puts increasing emphasis on sympathizing and understanding evildoers, instead of stopping them.

It’s also refreshing to see communism portrayed correctly as an undesirable type of government, an ideology that spouts love for the common man and for freedom, but always turns out to be the exact opposite.  Communism is merely one side on the die of totalitarianism, just like socialism, fascism, and progressivism.  All four ideologies are touted by those who believe that those in power know better than the common man (incidentally this thought usually begins with a hatred of both morality and Christianity) in how to run their lives, whether it be seeing the common people as too stupid or too poor to take care of themselves, or both.

These are not friendly ideologies, but sinister ones that lead to death camps, eugenics, euthanasia, abortion, mass executions, and the like.  All four ideologies are summarized by a flagrant disregard for human life, especially the lives of those most vulnerable in society, and many in service to them are revealed in history to be some of the worst murderers and torturers that the world has ever seen.  Most chilling is the institutionalization of murder where barbaric acts are seen as “civilized,” and desirable in an “enlightened” society.  The barbarism doesn’t often happen overnight, but takes a number of years to be engrained, for any resistance to the idea that some human lives are worth more than others, needs to be quietly stamped out, as most people’s consciences initially object to such a thought.

Another side to the die, is Islamism, a system that is just as totalitarianism as the others, and currently a more immediate threat to the West, though the others aren’t far behind as the people of the West increasingly look to governments for their daily needs and tell themselves that if something is “legal” it must be “right.”  Western people condemn Christianity and Judaism for “judging,” but happily defend and embrace a religion for more censorious and dangerous.  It’s nice to watch a story in which good and evil are not swapped, and a story in which ordinary people are revealed to be the most capable in caring for the welfare of their fellow citizens.  It’s also of note for any ideology, capitalism included, that some will always want for more money/power, and will do anything to get it, even if it involves taking lives, thus the unwillingness of the CIA to understand that a traitor was in their midst.

Full House Kdrama (review)

Full House KdramaGreat ideas suffer. I know this, because as a writer, I have many great ideas are hard to carry out. Great ideas and the execution problems that go with them often plague artists from all genres and all walks of life. The 2004 Korean drama Full House suffers from a great idea that was oh so poorly executed. Good writers can make bad actors look and sound good, and vice versa, but put bad writing and acting together and you end up with worse than bad: mediocre.

It’s standard rom-com stuff: Boy meets girl or girl meets boy and either one hates the other, or they both detest each other.  Full House establishes the mutual hate early on, and, honestly, there’s not a lot to like about the characters, though we sympathize with Han Ji-Eun, a good-hearted orphan who gets massively taken advantage of by two supposed friends.  She meets movie star Lee Young-Jae on the way to what she thinks is a free trip she won to Shanghai.  Panic starts to set in once she realizes that her ticket is one-way, there are no hotel reservations for her, and that she cannot reach her delightful friends who not only put her in an extremely dangerous situation, but also end up stealing and selling her house (as they aren’t the actual owners, I’m still not quite sure why they were able to do this, but, whatever, it happened).

Han Ji-Eun decides to turn to the only other Korean she knows in China, Young-Jae.  This would be like me being stuck in India and the only other American around would be Leonardo DiCaprio.  Would I ask Leo for money and/or help?  And this all after I threw up all over him on the airplane ride over?  Hmm.  Massive comedy ensues…or should ensue.  This was the first big misstep for Full House.  They could have played up this damsel in distress vs. the movies star’s view of a fan gone crazy for at least another episode or two.  Not only for laughs, but also for the romance angle, Ji-Eun’s situation could have been made far more dire.  Shanghai’s a big city and she’s quite dumb and naive at first.  It would have been great to see Young-Jae have to get her out of some other sticky situations before they even set foot back in South Korea.

But that’s not what happens.  What happens is that Ji-Eun is helped by his much cooler, much hotter, and much more confident friend.  This initial interaction at the hotel puts our romantic hero at a distinct disadvantage from which he never quite recovers.  Despite or rather because of how this girl irritates him, movie star Young-Jae helps her to get back to their country, probably hoping he’ll never see her again, but as the three rom-com fates would have it, he of course has decided to buy a new house that is of course Ji-Eun’s which has been callously sold by her two dear, dirtbag friends.  To make a long story short, the two leads decide on a contract marriage so Ji-Eun can work off the debt she owes Young-Jae and eventually get her house back.  He gets a poor attempt at making his long-time crush jealous, a move that actually works, though it really shouldn’t, as his long-time crush is longing for the better looking friend from the beginning.

What ensues after this fake marriage ceremony is a lot of cleaning. I’m talking massive amounts of cleaning that should only be shown on infomercials. Full House is named as such because it’s supposed to be full of love, but I think it’s actually full of a ton of dirt that can’t be seen by the naked eye and is wiped, brushed, and swept away by Young-Jae and Ji-Eun over the course of sixteen episodes. The insane amount of time the characters spend cleaning (and also staring into space) is such weak writing, I have to wonder if the writers of this show still have jobs. Why on earth did they think that cleaning was an interesting and romantic way to carry the story along? People do other things in their houses besides cleaning.  In addition to all of the cleaning, both leads spend the rest of their time yelling at each other like two brat siblings. These characters are supposed to be in their twenties, and while it is often charming for lovers to act childish, here it’s just one toddler tantrum after another.

On top of that there is no hint or speck (perhaps it got swept away with all the cleaning) of romance between the two! Even when two characters of the opposite sex don’t like each other, it’s often a thing in Rom-Coms (especially if they end up living together) to have them accidentally touch, bump into each other, pick the wrong moment to open the bathroom door, etc. Living with a strange (and theoretically very attractive) man for months in her own house should be unsettling as a woman for our heroine. As they grow to like each other, and because they are acting as husband and wife, it would have been more natural to have them start building a physical closeness. I’m not talking jumping right into bed like in American TV shows, but something more interesting than cleaning, perhaps? I mean, this is a movie star who is sadly not a player (that would have been too interesting), but who has a huge almost shirtless picture of himself in his own bedroom! This is also a guy who works out all of the time and there is no scene, no moment when Ji-Eun says to herself, “my, this pretend husband yells at me a lot and is a neat freak, but he’s also quite fit.” Considering that they do kiss once early on, and that they are legally married despite it being a charade, and that his family is hoping they will get pregnant soon, it’s head-scratching that there is almost zero sexual innuendos and/or references to anything of a sexual nature throughout the entire series. Sexual tension is a staple of these kinds of stories!  And it doesn’t have to be done in a licentious way, but could have furthered the romance of the story. I’ve made it (I don’t know why) to episode 15, and, honestly, they might as well just be brother and sister who live together and clean their house.

Full House isn’t completely devoid of romance and charm. There are fleeting moments and ideas, like a silly bear song that was introduced so out of place that it only became funny later on because they kept singing it so much. Random jokes are scattered throughout, but with no real attempt at humor. The overdone cleaning is sometimes endearing, as are a few of the numerous scenes where one character spends the night waiting for the other to come home. Clean, fight, wait. Repeat multiple times each episode.

The only character with real spunk was Young-Jae’s grandmother, played by Kim Ji-Young, a veteran actress who knows comedy. Song Hye-Kyo (The Winter, That Wind Blows) does a decent job as the plucky Ji-Eun, but the writers don’t give her much to work with. Indeed, I find it ironic that Ji-Eun is supposed to be a struggling writer who has trouble thinking up dynamic stories when the show suffers from the same lack of dynamism. The biggest problem actor-wise for Full House was the singer Rain totally miscast as movie star Young-Jae. Rain is pretty famous all over Asia.  When I taught English in China, a lot of my students were fans of his or knew who he was, so I’m a bit dumbfounded not that he’s a bad actor (so many singers want to be actors and vice versa, but should stick to their day jobs), but that as such a big performer with star appeal, he radiated zero of that star quality in the character of Young-Jae. Young-Jae has about two expressions and he spends the majority of Full House with his grumpy face on. Rain’s smile is adorable and, again, staggeringly underused.

Also miscast, but only because Rain was, was Kim Sung-Soo as Young Jae’s sort-of friend and the guy who makes a play for his sort-of wife. Kim is blessed with very good looks, and like I said earlier, it’s a blow to our romantic hero, as this friend is not only more attractive and manly than the movie star, but despite being labeled as a playboy (which is shown in exactly one scene) is kinder, more gentlemanly, and far more worthy of Ji-Eun’s love than the juvenile Young-Jae who. has. NO. game. whatsoever. The fourth person in this love quadrangle who is Young-Jae’s stylist and childhood friend/crush played by Han Eun-Jung. Like in most Kdramas, this female rival to the heroine is cooler, dresses better (as-in clothing pricing), and is never seen either cooking, cleaning, or anything connected to domestic life. She’s a magazine cutout with questionable hair and wardrobe choices.

Full House is a great idea for a story, but so poorly executed that it teeters on boring.  If you like you Rom-Com’s where the leads have to live together and/or pretend to be married and fall in love while doing it, watch the Kdramas that have done it better and in which poor acting is covered by good writing and vice versa (how many times have I used that phrase, now?), namely:  Playful Kiss (Mischievous Kiss), Personal Taste, To the Beautiful You, and Lie to Me.

Haven, Season 5, Episode 13, Chosen (Season Finale)

Spoilers Ahoy!

In between my early mornings, late evenings and interesting/amusing experiences working with people upon people upon people during the holiday season, I did get a chance to watch the S5 finale for Syfy’s Haven.

Duke is now a Trouble giver rather than taker, but he has no choice in who he gives the Troubles to.  These spells come out of him as black tears that settle on the human/s nearest to him at the time.  And Mara is right: These Troubles are much worse, in one case causing near instantaneous death and destruction.

Vince and Dave are on a hunt to discover whatever or whoever Dave is remembering from his time in the lighthouse in S4.  Also, the infection on his leg is getting worse, and it appears that his attacker may still be in Haven.

Charlotte Cross appears to be a kind mother, loving enough to have tried to discipline her daughter (albeit perhaps a bit too harshly).  She and Mara come from another world like Earth, but more advanced and “developed independently” – whatever that means.  She is also a thousand some years old, while her daughter Mara is 600 years old.

Dwight is understandably upset that Charlotte was not completely honest with him.  He did not realize he was under the power of a major cougar. 😉

Audrey/Mara – Finally, finally, push came to shove and the writers decided to get rid of Mara.  The sad thing is, they gave her such a reason to hang around before they did it: Redemption.  Charlotte sees all of the maliciousness and anger  in Mara and realizes that through Charlotte’s punishment, Mara has become worse, not better, and in fact seems to have no goodness or love in her at all.  But that’s not necessarily the case.  When confronted by her mother, Mara recalls her father and when she would like to do to get him back (hopefully Papa Thinny’s story will be detailed in S6), and the emotion in her voice and eyes show a hurt that runs very deep.  Mara’s hurting doesn’t excuse her actions, but it’s a sign in my mind that she’s not merely an uncaring devil who wants to take the world to hell with her.  She had something good (possibly the unconditional love of her father, and maybe mother) and desperately wants it back.  That’s what I saw, anyway, and a motivation like that seems like a good way to start a cool redemption story.

Charlotte says that Audrey is essential all of the rightness and goodness that used to be in Mara.  She hopes by using her Thinny powers to combine the two beings that it will make Mara whole again.  Well, as I said before, Char decides against that and instead kills her daughter, choosing to leave Audrey behind in her place.  Audrey’s great and all, but she’s already sweet, smart, good, etc., no redemption needed (though likely if S6 resolves around Papa Thinny, she’ll have some daddy issues to deal with).  So I’m a little miffed that Mara’s just gone (if indeed she is) because it appeared as if the character had room to grow and Emily Rose is so good at playing her.

Nathan is Nathan.  He doesn’t really have anything interesting going on with him aside from being there for Audrey (and sometimes Duke) and helping with the Troubles.

The Troubles – S5 ended with a bang!  With Mara’s death, her Duke curse was ultimately released on Haven in the form of massive quantities of those Trouble tears erupting from the lanky antihero’s mouth like flies from the mouth of a possessed person.  The last couple of minutes evoke good horror genre imagery, and no doubt that angle is a nod to one of Stephen King’s tomes (if you know which one, let me know.).  So an apocalypse is upon Haven with its citizens Troubled ten times over and unable to leave the town.  Hopefully the solution will involve a cool trek to Charlotte’s world.  And the Colorado Kid.  Whatever happened to him?  Sounds like I’ll have to rematch the whole series before the next season airs.  🙂

Haven, Season 5, Episodes 10-12

10. Mortality. 11. Reflections. 12. Chemistry.

Spoilers.

Haven, Season 5 is chugging along.  So many developments.

Audrey: S5, she still isn’t quite the same, yet her relationship with Nathan is sweet and the big reveal about how she and Mara are exactly connected is looming on the horizon (along with Mara’ origins).  Audrey is now sick and dying.  Her cells are slowly breaking down.  Is this happening because of the Trouble Duke used to separate her (or create a separate being of Audrey), or something to do with Mara and how she and Mara are related?

Mara: Manipulative, she is, and sadly her manipulation of Duke is working.  For reasons yet to be revealed, Mara is turning him to the dark side, black, bleeding eyes and all.  Duke’s power of taking away Troubles is the antonym to Mara’s ability to create them.  This begs the question: Are Duke and his family merely Troubled, or is there more to the story?  If Mara created (and I think she may have said that in a past episode) the Crocker family Trouble, why this particular one?

Duke: Who knew he was quite such a lonely soul? So lonely that he ends up sleeping with Mara (presumably because she looks like Audrey) and detesting himself for it.  He’s in a place where he can’t trust Nathan and Dwight, and is likely still mourning the loss of Jennifer.  Is his wishing that Mara were Audrey an indication that he still holds a candle for Audrey?  Audrey still cares about him, too, and instinctively knows he’s hurting, and even encourages Nathan to get him to open up.

Nathan: There’s not a whole lot going on with Nathan, but I like that he’s he’s calmer and actually quite charming now that he has Audrey back.  His belief in both their love and her realness is still rock solid and will likely be what saves her in the end.

Dwight and Charlotte: He has a sweet, little love story that might possibly be ruined now that Dr. Charlotte Cross has revealed herself to be Audrey/Mara’s mother — say what?  Yup, her mom.  Her scrapbook following the progress of Mara/Audrey over the years raises other questions: Has Charlotte also been banished from the Thinny world? Does she, too, get recreated every x number of years? Has she been searching for Mara or only come to Haven to complete a specific mission?  What’s with the genetic markers for the Troubled? Do they actually exist, or has Charlotte been hoaxing everyone?  And, for Dwight, does Charlotte actually like him, or is she just manipulating him like what Mara is doing to Duke?

Vince, Dave, and Gloria:  Vince is really the only one doing the investigating lately, as most everyone else is busy with amorous pursuits.  He and Gloria both may be the saviors in all of this, as they don’t trust anyone, especially those new to town.  Plus, they are older and have seen a lot more of the Troubles.  I’m interested to see how they react to the news about Dr. Cross.  Dave has been MIA the last couple eps, and I miss him.

All in all, the show is picking up, working on its world- and myth-building á la Lost (not a bad thing at all, in my book), and giving the characters more emotional meat to work with.  I liked the last Trouble where people were turned into how they saw themselves.  Very revealing.  How can a jaded creature like Mara create Troubles with so much depth?  This understanding of how humanity works indicates an interest in them beyond being “less than insects” as she insists.  Maybe her mother will be able to shed more light on who Mara actually is.  The Troubles are based on emotions, and usually one has the most powerful emotions about family.  Plus this Thinny family has cool matching rings.  Rings of power, perhaps?  We will see.  Season 5 is, I think, the first half and set up to hopefully an awesome Season 6.  Still, I’m excited for the S5 finale.

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Happy almost Thanksgiving!  The day on which we hopefully realize how much we do actually have in our lives and to whom we owe them.  For me, it’s God, always and forever, and I’m amazed he gets me out of the messes I make — and I make a lot.

Syfy’s Haven: So, so good!  Give it a try on Netflix if you haven’t checked it out yet.  I will be back next week with more thoughts on Season 5.

Book recommend: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a wonderful read full of thoughtful moments and a new angle on the pandemic-ending-civilization storyline.  I’m enjoying it so much, I don’t want to finish it because then it would be over.

The Five Fingers: Ok, I said I was going to review this K-drama, but getting to episode five ending up being torture — too much soap opera and not enough interesting and/or funny drama.  Plus, I couldn’t take anymore kid crying.  It started to make my ears ring.  I love that it’s about piano prodigy brothers, and maybe I’ll give it a shot again sometime, but this just wasn’t for me.

CW’s Reign: Wow. Love it. Addicting guilty pleasure starring Adelaide Kane and the awesome Megan Follows (Anne of Green Gables).  It loosely (and I stress loosely) follows the story of Mary Queen of Scots.  The costumes are Renaissance Fair cool and the music is contemporary.  The content is rather adult, especially for younger viewers, but it’s a compelling story of a girl learning how to rule as a queen, with all of the responsibilities and heartbreaking choices it entails.

Until next week,

Pixie

Haven, Season 5, Episode 9, Morbidity

(As usual, spoilers)

Dwight! Ok, ok, I did miss you!  This was a great episode for Dwight, a little flirtation with the CDC lady, and also one of the best lines, ever: Got a new crossbow! The line was said to recurring character Chris Brody (Jason Priestly), who has the one of the most comedic Troubles: everyone who looks at him thinks he’s awesome.  Both his reactions to this charm and the reactions of people charmed by him are hilarious.  Brody’s world-weary abruptness has comedic timing and the shameless flirtation of both men and women smitten by him reveal cute, willing to please desires. Fortunately, Brody is not evil enough to take advantage of everyone around him, or he would be Haven’s and the world’s biggest threat.

Nathan and Audrey: Silly socks and adorableness abound.  I like them together, but like them most when they are solving Troubles together.  And they deal with two really weird Troubles: One involving a dancing bear costume with a dead man inside, a bear costume that multiplies, the second, a Trouble affecting the Troubled, giving them a sickness and bubbly lips, and activating their Trouble powers.

Gloria and her sharp wit and dry humor are also back in this episode.  Laura Mennell (Alphas – a great show that unfortunately got cancelled) does well as CDC doctor Charlotte Cross, and I look forward to her continued presence and interactions with Dwight on the show.

Duke and Mara: Steamy flirting in a scene reminiscent of Audrey’s first meeting with Duke. Mara’s manipulation of Duke’s loyalty to his friends seems to be working, but he’s a poker player, so he might just be pretending to get her to trust him.  Mara needs to get off the boat soon, because her prisoner status is starting to get a bit tedious.  Her idea of Audrey’s identity is interesting, that she is nothing more than a husk.  Mara seems to consider herself Audrey’s maker, as well.

Overall Arc: The Troubled have genetic markers? !!! X-Men ahoy! Joking aside, the markers will likely be the way they figure out how the Troubles were made and/or the origins of the Thinny world.  Maybe the markers all contain Mara’s DNA.

The cliffhanger ending shows the alignment of Duke and Mara, and the sad realization that Duke is still not quite one of the Scooby gang.  He is on the outside now, not because of his wrong-side-of-the-law past, but because he’s a Pandora’s Box of Troubles waiting to spill over into the streets of Haven.  Plus, Sasquatch taser’s him! Dwight claims he’s for doing what’s best for the town, while Duke and Nathan are focused on themselves.  Time will tell if that’s true or not.  Dwight’s attraction to Charlotte might cloudy his thinking, and what if she isn’t who she says she is? Maybe she has an ulterior motive to be in Haven?