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Jirisan: Too Much?

Spoilers ahead.

First off, I loved the 2021 Kdrama Jirisan. It was epic, exciting, awesome, and somewhat exhausting to watch. The direction was great from Lee Eung Bok, who has directed many popular dramas like Sweet Home, Mr. Sunshine, Goblin, and Descendants of the Sun. The shots were amazing, using lots of natural mountain/forest footage incorporated with CGI, green screen, and drone footage. The rescue scenes are harrowing and thrilling.

That brings me to the plot. Starring Gianna Jun (The Legend of the Blue Sea) and Ju Ji Hoon (Kingdom series), the story follows mountains rangers and rescuers who work in the Jirisan mountain range and mostly help rescue illegal hikers. But it doesn’t stop there, no. Rookie ranger Kang Hyun Jo (Ju Ji Hoon) has inexplicable visions of death on the mountain. There’s a hunt for a serial killer who has been killing on the mountain for a long time. There’s a mountain ghost. There’s a head spinning amount of flashbacks and back and forth time jumps along with a very large cast. Writer Kim Sun Hee is used to plots like this, having written the awesome Signal and also the Kingdom series which I have heard many good things about. However, at times, and by the end of the show it felt like perhaps it was all too much.

Many wonderful TV shows have lame endings, and Jirisan is no exception. While giving us a nice, emotional ending for a minor character that went on far too long, it spent almost no time with our leads and their story. I have to wonder if another episode was planned or asked for and denied. Who knows? In any case, the ending was fitting, but didn’t totally make sense. For example: The bad guy gets his comeuppance in the end, but it’s the easiest way possible, as the “mountain” kills him in a landslide. It’s fitting because he believed the mountain was telling him to kill people. But contrast that with all of the supernatural stuff going on, visions, ghosts, weird lights, it was very, very odd to have the main character keep asserting in the last episode that “it’s only a mountain.” None of the supernatural things were explained. As the rescue scenes and the mountain life of the rangers was very engaging, it may have been better just to stick with that. Maybe the serial killer hunt, ok, but beyond that? The supernatural stuff really had no point and it wasn’t written as a debate between belief vs. science or something like that. The flashbacks really weren’t too bad, but often were egregious attempts to fill the time.

Gianna Jun did well here with a very cold character contrasted with Ju Ji Hoon’s character’s warmth. All of the actors in the show did outstanding jobs with all of the physical activities involved in the ranger job and working with special effects, etc. They all seemed very believable as rangers. The ranger team was headed up by a captain played by Sung Dong Il (Reply 1997) who is my favorite “dad” character in Kdramas. The outstanding actor in the show was easily Oh Jung Se (Touch Your Heart). His character is a ranger who finally gets the love of his life. It’s cute. Then we find in a flashback he has a tragic loss. Oh, the heartbreak of this man! I just wanted to give him a hug. It was the most emotionally impactful scene I’ve seen in a while. His grief seemed so, so real.

As far as the soundtrack, I found it adequate to the story, but the cinematic atmosphere was what really carried the show.

On the whole I loved the show, but I wouldn’t call it a must watch. The complicated plot is interesting for writers. It’s also great to get a slice of mountain life and the lives of rescuers and rangers. The acting is great throughout and the mystery is intriguing. It’s just that the plot and writing got away from itself a bit and justice was served, but in perhaps the easiest way possible for the killer. And also for the other characters. Maybe as they had all gone through so much, that was better than a long, drawn out court proceeding. With all that, Jirisan is worth watching and levels above many other shows out there.

Doctor Prisoner: The Best Villains

Spoilers ahead.

How glad I am that I didn’t give up on this show! Ok, let me back up a second, Doctor Prisoner, starring Namkoong Min is an excellent, over-the-top drama, but the plot quickly becomes repetitive. It is almost–almost–a fatal flaw. Thankfully the characters and incredible acting save it.

In South Korea they apparently have a law where a prisoner can get released for compassionate care. The prisoner has to have some awful disease that they are nearly dying of that the prison can’t treat, so they have to be moved to a hospital. In Doctor Prisoner this is the de facto way that rich and powerful people get out of prison. And doctor Na Yi Je (Namkoong Min) is the best at inventing diseases and helping the criminals get the compassionate release.

As I am still on a Namkoong Min binge, he is definitely why I wanted to watch this, but he is not why I stayed. Although this is a story about rooting out corruption, really it is about villains one upping each other. All of the “good” guys are villains in their own way. The few truly straight and narrow characters in the show are presented well, but blandly: This is not their show, not really. Sometimes it is just fun to watch villains be villains. We don’t have to try to understand why they are evil and give them sympathy. In fact, in this show they actually gain sympathy by their deviousness. Because they are outright evil, it is a joy to see them taken down. Not only that, but there’s an even greater joy as some are reformed.

The opening scene is hilarious as we watch Dr. Na Yi Je in action, meeting with a client in prison, and convincing her to practically kill herself to manifest evidence of an obscure, or even made up disease, to get released. Oh Jung Hee is a rich lady who has been imprisoned for hiring a contract killer on her husband’s mistress. Played by Kim Jung Nan (Tale of the Nine-Tailed), this character is the only woman on the show who’s a main player. She’s spicy, feisty, and awesome, and if one has to be an a woman of a certain age, hey, what a way to be! I absolutely love this actress and so want to be her. She also gets the best costumes here and in Tale of the Nine-Tailed–and her performance in that was great as well. A comparable American actress would probably be Meryl Streep. I can easily see Kim playing the “devil” in The Devil Wears Prada.

Oh Jung Hee also carries the romcom part of the story as she and prosecutor Jung Ui Sik fall for each other in hilarious fashion. Their story is way better than a serious romance with the lead character would have been. Jung Ui Sik is played by veteran drama actor Jang Hyun Sung (Leaves of the Red Sky), who plays a good villain.

But, back to Na Yi Je. Yes, he has a heartbreaking back story about how he turned out this way. By the end of the show, we don’t really care about that, we just want to see him take down more people and bend them to his will. In this cat and mouse game, this guy is always ten steps ahead, and boy, is it fun to watch. He enters into battle with the chief doctor of a famous prison (I can’t remember the name now), Sun Min Sik, played by Kim Byung Chul, who had a super creepy performance as the Wormtongue villain in Goblin.

Kim has so, so much fun here with this ladder climbing turd of a doctor, who wouldn’t recognize the Hippocratic Oath if it bashed him on the head. He uses “evil grin face” to full effect and is so ridiculous that after awhile one almost forgets he’s a villain. He’s an awful man who also has a great marriage: His wife is super supportive and it’s just great, great writing. Kim must have had so much fun playing this role. It’s just too bad he didn’t have a mustache to twirl.

After a few episodes with Na Yi Je and Sun Min Sik taking turns one upping each other, here’s where it gets repetitive, but if one can stick it out, it’s revealed that a different villain, an even worse one, is Na Yi Je’s real goal. It’s someone we’ve already met, the heir to a conglomerate, a chaebol character that frequently populates Kdramas: Lee Jae Joon played by Choi Won Young of Hello Monster (I Remember You) fame. Choi is awesome at playing a psycho, and although his character is necessarily scenery chomping, his physical acting is incredible to watch. An outstanding performance. By the end of the show, his character takes over almost everything. We, the viewers, are almost drawn in to his narcissism.

The best character, though, the best–and really this is a compliment to the writing–is Lee Jae Joon’s younger half-brother Lee Jae Huan, played by Park Sun Seok (Penthouse series). This is the first thing I’ve seen Park in and I hated his character. What an awful person! Jae Huan is essentially the first villain in the show, and for the first few episodes he seems like one of those characters that will get punished quickly and then the show will move on to someone else. It’s true that the show does move on, but Jae Huan stays, at first as a kind of comic relief as we get to see that prison life is hard for him. He’s so funny that we start to hate him less. Spoilers, spoilers! By the end of the show everyone is rooting for this guy! The writers do an amazing job of reforming this character and making him almost a good person. It’s awesome to watch and really makes the pay off with his brother at the end. It’s great writing because it was so unexpected.

Doctor Prisoner is Shakespearean in its scope and theatricality. The epic music almost never slows down, nor the pace. And yet fast pace continued can get dull. If you watch this and find yourself at that point, take a break and come back. The second half is worth it. Actor Namkoong Min holds the show being the solid, main character who is almost as villainous as the rest, but he’s just the ringmaster. Doctor Prisoner is a circus, a showcase of interlinked character pieces that I call: “The Best Villains!!”

A warning, if you ever want to go to the doctor again, this may not be the show for you, for the doctors in this are completely untrustworthy, especially and importantly our hero doctor Na Yi Je. They inject people with dangerous substances at an alarming rate and have an almost superhuman ability to manipulate the human body with drugs. Maybe the show is really just a commentary on our current medical industry? Literally the only tools they have are manmade drugs and surgery and in this show these things are the swords and spears of battle. It gives a patient real pause and concern.

The Undateables: More Matchmaking, Please

A sort of subset of Kdrama romcoms are those dealing with matchmaking agencies. The Undateables starring Namkoong Min (Awaken) and Hwang Jung Eum (She Was Pretty) is just such a one. For some reason Hwang’s characters always start over the top and then become normal. Not sure this makes the actress appealing, but it’s definitely a relief when the spastic humor stops. That being said, both leads are decent at comedy, though I prefer Namkoong in more serious fare.

Jung Eum, played by Hwang, is a former diving champion and now a matchmaker at a local dating agency. She’s not great at her job and through a serious of coincidences ends up getting Namkoong’s character, gallery owner and relationship expert, Hoon Nam to help her successfully breeze through a list of the agency’s most “undateable” clients. And of course the two fall in love in the process.

As a whole, the series was a fun watch and was very funny at times. The best parts were when the two leads were working on matchmaking other people. Sadly, this part of the plot was lost in other drama for awhile, but when it got back to that the show was more on track. Nearly all of the characters showed growth and change, which is always great to see, but some threads were dropped and never picked up again, like Jung Eum’s father’s ill health.

The minor characters were often hilarious, such as the prideful agency supervisor played by Baek Ji Won (Sell Your Haunted House), who to save face, bought a hideous pink jacket so expensive that she subsequently wore it every single day. The jacket itself almost became its own character, symbolizing both foolishness and stubbornness. The cutest couple was Oh Doo Ri (who had awesome style like Audrey Hepburn) and Kim So Wool (who has to be tracked via detective work), played respectively by Jung Young Joo (He Is Psychometric) and Kim Kwang Kyu (Pinocchio).

Another fun matchmaking drama is Dating Agency: Cyranro, although I didn’t care for the ending.

Hwarang Review: Oh, Those Flower Boys

For a number of years now I have put off watching the popular Kdrama Hwarang, because it just looked to girlie for me. And it is girlie, very girlie, but it’s also a pretty impressive coming-of-age story, too. Hwarang means “flowering knights” and is a story about an elite fighting force of young men back in the Three Kingdoms time period, specifically the Kingdom of Silla.

The drama bounces between being campy and not taking itself seriously to heart-wrenching, emotional scenes, and great fight scenes. The music also alternates between bubbly pop and more period appropriate movie music. Starring way too many pretty young men to mention, the main leads are Park Seo Joon (What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim?), who plays a character nicknamed “Dog-Bird,” and Park Hyung Sik (Happiness), who plays the hidden king, Ji Dwi. The two have a love triangle with Ah Ro, played by the beautiful Go Ara (You Are All Surrounded).

Silla is a country like many in which there are rich and poor and not a lot in between. The monarchy rules by a “sacred bone” system, which means that if you’re related to the royals you are noble. Dog-Bird comes to the city with his friend, who (spoiler) tragically dies. During this time, Queen Jiso, who is holding the throne for her son, the King Ji Dwi, until she feels he is ready, decides to put together a fighting force of noble, young, beautiful men. Flower boys. Dog-Bird ends up in this elite force along with the Ji Dwi, who is tired of, well, not being king. Their bromance is great and really the focus of the show as Silla eventually has two possible kings vying for its future.

The acting overall was great, but I do have to agree with some that Go Ara was miscast here as the leading lady. In some scenes she was very good, in many others, she just didn’t fit the story or the time period or something. A lot of her acting mannerisms were just like her acting in You Are All Surrounded. Although I liked her in that, her acting just didn’t work for me here, and although she has amazing eyes, I think they actually were a distraction in this. Her character was also not written the greatest, so the fault certainly does not fall all on her shoulders. There was also more chemistry between her and the king than the lead, Dog-Bird. And the main romance was tainted for me because they kept pretending to be brother and sister. Talk about killing romance. The secondary romance in the show, however, is highly satisfactory, with an adorable opposites attract, very sweet couple.

Probably the most distracting thing in the show, however, was the queen. She had a lisp. I don’t know if the actress simply has a lisp or if this was intentional, but it started to drive me nuts. Kim Ji Soo, was otherwise very good in her role, though, a ruler one loves to hate and who in the end garnered much sympathy. It was a bit odd, but kind of funny how one of the Hwarang, Choi Min Ho’s (Yumi’s Cells) character, falls for her. He’s a flirt who’s had all the other girls, so in a way it makes sense, but it’s a pretty big age gap. Min Ho was actually quite good in this. His acting hasn’t impressed me much in other things. He also has very good stage presence, and hands down, I think was the best looking Hwarang. It’s interesting that even with the long hair, jewelry, and pastel outfits, these guys still manage to look manly somehow. You are what you are, no matter how you’re dressed.

This show probably wouldn’t be the first Kdrama I would recommend, but it’s not too bad, despite it’s length of 20 episodes. As usual, it could have been shorter. The “adults” in the cast were all very good, many of them veteran drama actors. Always like to see Sung Dong Il (Reply 1997), as he’s like everyone’s dad in whatever he’s in. He’s got a great, fatherly aura about him. The best was the evil nobleman Park Young Sil, played by Kim Chang Wan (It’s Okay to Not Br Okay). Kim is great at playing villians and sometimes I was actually rooting for him to take down the queen and the royal family. Yes, it ultimately is very girlie, but very manly in many ways as well.

My next drama watch will be Doctor Prisoner starring Namkoong (or Namgoong) Min of the awesome Awaken. I’ve got a couple of thrillers on my list with this guy and they are definitely his genre.

Happiness–Is a Power Couple: Kdrama review

It’s a good sign when one finishes a drama that one wants to watch it again right away. Happiness by TVN is an excellent 12 episode drama worthy of binge watching. It is short on the blood and gore of usual zombie stories, for which I’m grateful, but decently paced and has a great X-factor, an awesome power couple.

The leads, played by Han Hyo Joo (W: Two Worlds Apart), and Park Hyung Sik (Strong Woman Do Bong Soon) are great, both reckless and cool as cucumbers. Both actors really show their chops here and the writing displays a strong man and woman working together while not denigrating either sex. They have each other’s back, are best friends, and have sort of contract marriage that they realize at the end was born out of mutual affection. Sometimes it takes a number of years for one person to fully realize they love another, and sadly, it often is the prospect of losing said person that brings it out.

The short plot is that during a outbreak of an unusual virus, an apartment complex is quarantined from society and the residents have to deal with that, scared for their lives and bickering with each other. Yes, this is a zombie show, but I don’t think they mention zombies once. The way the characters act, one just has to suspend disbelief a bit and realize this is an alternate universe in which there may be no zombie movies for them to reference. The framework, or reference for this story, is roughly COVID and the writers deal well with that, making this another outbreak with which the authorities and regulate people have to deal. While it is clear that most of the characters are over COVID, there are subtle reference to the lifestyle changes we have all made throughout the show. The best aspect of this, though, is that no matter how great the two leads are at taking down zombies, they never lose their empathy and compassion. They almost always see them as people, just afflicted people.

Jo Woo Jin (Squad 38) is the definite standout actor here. I almost always looked forward to his scenes as he ended up being a bit of a scene stealer. I actually wanted more scenes with him and the two leads together. He plays a somewhat shady military colonel who is trying to find a cure for the virus. From the first time we see him, it is clear he knows way more than what he is telling. But isn’t that always the truth with government officials?

All of the minor character actors were also excellent, many of them, so, so infuriating that I think they must have really enjoyed playing these flawed people, some who just want to survive, some who go out of their minds, and some who end up surprising those around them by their kindness and strength. Intense circumstances will bring out our true characters. The leads are just cool and because they both work in the police force are completely accommodated, but the others are all just regular people caught up in the chaos.

The writing of the show was great overall, but, again, only if one assumes this is an alternate world where zombie and/or scary movies don’t exist. The characters are excessively stupid when it comes to keeping the virus in check, even the leads. Fortunately, the zombies don’t have particular super strength or speed. They also don’t eat brains and are sort of zombie vampires. The female lead is the most reckless of them all, but her recklessness is likable, cutting through all the crap and getting to the point, and one can see why her longtime friend has fallen for her. The loyalty of the couple to each other is amazing and is showcased with little romantic scenes in sight. Their love for each other shines through so well, that by the end, a kiss scene wasn’t really necessary. The writing also was made better by having only 12 episodes. Whoever made that decision chose wisely. The show doesn’t feel dragged along like many other ones can. The other big thing I like about the writing and this story concept in general: It gets the watchers to question whether their government really has their best interests in mind, something everyone needs to consider and weigh these days.

Other great things about the show: The music was very fitting, although off-putting and unsettling at times, which was the goal. I loved the theme song and beginning credits. Everything about the production was modern and slick. This is a show that would also make a great book series.

The only, very minor, flaw I saw was that many cuts were edited horribly. These were clearly cuts before a commercial break, and because I watched it on Viki, I am not sure if these were bad cuts made by Viki to insert their commercials or if the editor was just that bad. The former makes the most sense.

Come for the zombies, stay for the power couple. They are very cool and just the sort of people one would want to be with if civilization would crumble.

Kairos: When You Have Time

Spoilers ahead, matey.

Writing involving time travel, even if the characters are not actually traveling through time, can be tricky. I admire any writer who makes the effort. Kairos is a very strong second to the more superior drama Signal from 2016, but I enjoyed and found it brought its own uniqueness to the genre.

Speaking of the genre, I’m not certain it has a name and have seen it primarily with Korean film and TV, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t used elsewhere. For my purposes, I will call it Time Interchange, a genre that involves time travel without the characters actually traveling through time. The “traveling” part is usually done by some medium or device of communication, as in a mailbox or cell phone or walkie-talkie. The characters on either end are separated by time, weeks, years, or months, one ahead, one behind. I first encountered this genre with The Lake House with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. Later in a random book thrift in Tallahasee, I came across the original movie, a Korean one call Il Mare. I quite liked the original and found the acting much better than The Lake House. Although the plots can get confusing due to the time differences, time interchange is a perfect genre for suspense and mystery.

Kairos begins with an extremely heart-wrenching episode. I had to grab a tissue several times as the plot was just brutal. Kim Seo Jin, an executive for a powerful construction company, loses everything precious to him in quick succession. Actor Shin Sung Rok (The Last Empress) is an impressive lead here, and his acting is off the charts. He is well matched by Lee Se Young (Memorist), who plays convenience store worker Han Ae Ri who has a cell phone with very unique capabilities: At 10:33pm each night, she is able to call Kim’s phone for exactly one minute. Not so remarkable in itself, until the two figure out that Han Ae Re is in the past, a month behind when Kim Seo Jin is living!

Although, as always, a little slow for my tastes, Kairos delivers. The word kairos means opportunity and is fitting as the characters are given a fantastical opportunity to change their destinies and that of those around them. A shout out to Park Seung Woo and whoever he hired to be cinematographer, as the cinematography and the shote are unique and top notch. So many episodes have the feel of a movie, not a show. And the camera shots and angles clearly are an effort to move the story along. The music was also spot on and there was almost an 80s, early 90s feel to the show at times.

One of the biggest themes in the show is loyalty. Han Ae Ri has probably the most loyal pair of friends in the world, aside from stolen money, but, hey, it’s just money. Kim Seo Jin quickly finds that no one is loyal to him and soon relies heavily on the loyalty of these strangers from the past. The minor villains played by Ahn Bo Hyun from Yumi’s Cells, and Nam Gyu-Ri from Heartless City end up being a perfect pair for each other and it’s infuriating how the writers especially give Ahn’s character so many chances to continue messing things up for our leads. Both actors had great, great moments, but there is something about them that is missing that star quality, that X factor of most leading actors. I think it is screen presence. Both are very good looking, but in a generic, Abercrombie and Fitch kind of way, if that makes sense.

What Kairos brings to time interchange, is a butterfly effect. When things change in the past, the future–or present, depending on how one looks at it–Kim Seo Jin starts to remember those events, and even events that get redrawn or rewritten due to Han Ae Ri’s efforts. It’s trippy and fun. In the latter efforts, the writing gets very intense as they scenes start constantly flipping back and forth between to the two time periods. It’s all stamped on the screen for the viewing audience, so in that way is easy to keep track, but because we are dealing with two Kim Seo Jins at that point, it’s tricky to keep track of what’s going on. As a whole, the show uses the time difference to great suspense, but never really found a solid groove with that. Many episodes had a lot of boringness with some excitement. Pacing in any show is difficult and even more so with this type of genre. Signal has better pacing and overall suspense than Kairos, but, like I said, Kairos is a very close second. An easy pacing fix would have been to make the show only twelve episodes instead of sixteen. I look forward to what both leads do in the future, Shin Sung Rok, especially. He was definitely the standout performance and carried the show well.

Another show that involves actual time travel that is outstanding is Tunnel starring Choi Jin Hyuk (Zombie Detective) and Yoon Hyun Min (Witch’s Court).

Kdrama partial Review: Yumi’s Cells

What is really going on in people’s heads, especially men and women, and especially when it comes to romance? Kdrama Yumi’s Cells takes this literally, showing in animation the feelings and thoughts the main characters are experiencing. It is quite entertaining, to say the least, but the drama is only six episodes in, so I’m a little worried the writers won’t be able to sustain the awesome momentum they have going on.

Fortunately, Yumi’s Cells is based on a webtoon, so has a solid source to play off of and use. Starring drama It Girl, Kim Go-Eun (Goblin, Eternal Monarch) and handsome Ahn Bo-Hyun (Kairos), the story follows a slightly boring and depressed Kim Yu-Mi as she searches for love once again. Despite her depression and fear, Yumi is really not afraid to keep trying, and that hope is ultimately great to see. Kim nails her acting as usual. Ahn’s acting is a bit expressionless at times, but he plays his character well, a smart dude who needs a push from a friend to jump into dating. After that he’s all for it, and although I think I’ve grown past the Shaggy, Scooby-Doo look since college, his long hair has grown on me over the episodes. The chemistry between the two is great and both know how to kiss onscreen, always a plus.

The X factor with this show are the cells, computer animations of what Yumi and other characters are thinking and feeling. At first they just seemed like annoying decoration, but over the story I’ve come to really like them and they are super funny. Important note: These are not cartoons for kids. The show isn’t super smutty or anything–at least not presently–but it is clearly a drama and animation for adults, not children. One will either love or hate the cells, and if you find yourself hating them, this show will not be for you. It’s certainly not a new concept, but probably something that hasn’t been done in an entire TV show before.

The humor in the show is pretty spot on as it deals largely with romance and the different approaches men and women have, as well as the misunderstandings. These are things most of us can relate to, especially the embarrassing parts, and makes for an addictive watch. So far the minor characters aren’t really standouts to me, any passible actor could play them, but I like the soundtrack, the writing, and the flip-flopping between the drama and the animation. The fact that Yumi and her love are kinda boring on the outside actually works great with the fireworks going on in their insides. Wonderful contrast, and, again, relatable for a lot of people, especially us emotion-filled women. Looking forward to seeing where it’s going and hoping the show can keep up the good momentum. Only on viki.com.

Witch’s Court: A Character Piece

Although I’m disappointed this show isn’t as much of a RomCom as I thought it would be, I am digging it, especially the main character. At about 75% through, Witch’s Court is still engaging because it’s more of a character piece than anything else. Yes, the main plot is important, too, but even if prosecutor Ma Yi Deum doesn’t get the justice she’s hoping for, the writing leaves no doubt that she’ll keep on trying no matter what happens.

Witch’s Court came out in 2017 and stars Jung Ryeo Won (The Lord of Dramas) and Yoon Hyun Min (Tunnel) as public prosecutors Ma Yi Deum and Yeo Jin Wook. Yi Deum, by demotion, and Jin Wook, by choice. both end up working in the Crimes against Girls department, a place Yi Deum assures Jin Wook no prosecutor actually wants to be.

Ma Yi Deum is a love her or hate her character, though most will probably begin by disliking her. She’s abrasive, mannish, and conniving to a fault–barely any empathy can she spare for her own sex. But she’s our heroine, so of course Yi Deum is doing more than just climbing up the government ladder. Her tragic past has everything to do with the Crimes against Girls department, for when she was a kid her mother disappeared suddenly and we, the audience, get to know that her mother had some very key information on a sexual abuse case against a powerful police officer. That officer is now a politician and running for mayor of the city. It fast becomes Yi Deum’s goal to bring the rapist to justice.

This show is mostly a procedural one, focused on the cases brought to the department, and it’s a little off-putting that these crimes against women, children, and also men, are not really given the gravity they deserve. Everything is presented in a near-campy way, and like the prosecutors in the department, it’s easy for us to forget the horrific, invasive nature of the crimes throughout the show. On the other hand, sex and abuse crimes are pretty awful to handle. A whole show treating them as seriously as possible would also be hard to watch. The emotional weight of what the team is dealing with largely is shown to the audience through the actions of their stoic leader, Min Ji Sook, played excellently by Kim Yeo Jin (Man to Man), and the aforementioned Jin Wook, who really, really wants to be there.

Yi Deum and Jin Wook make an excellent team. The latter is far too emotional and empathetic, while the former is focused almost solely on winning the cases. Both make up for what the other lacks, and both are smart in different ways. Although there is clear attraction between the two, romance is a small part of the show. Yi Deum is a very masculine behaving woman and Jin Wook a man very in touch with his feminine side. This makes for a fun and funny dynamic, and the RomCom tables are turned a bit here, as it’s usually the guy who’s the jerk in the beginning.

Add to that a powerful soundtrack, great minor characters, and plenty of heartbreaking and frustrating cases, and Witch’s Court is a good, solid watch. Jung Ryeo Won is great as Yi Deum, and as annoying as she is, I really do like the character. Yoon Hyun Min, who is necessarily easy on the eyes, taps into his wonderful emotive acting that I first saw in the awesome show Tunnel. His Jin Wook is just a bit too much, too caring, too wanting to do the right thing. By the second episode it’s clear why both leads are still single.

Witch’s Court is a fun watch that rests heavily on the character of Yi Deum and her interactions with her opposite, Jin Wook. It stops short of being great, but hits all the points of a good RomCom without actually technically being a RomCom. This is a procedural drama with low-key comedy running throughout. I am excited to see how it ends.

2 Kdrama partial reviews: That Kiss!

Backstreet Rookie

Beautiful people can be funny, too. Backstreet Rookie starring Ji Chang Wook (The K2) and Kim Yoo Jung (Clean with Passion for Now) is a crazy comedy that reminds me of something Stephen Chow of Kung Fu Hustle fame would come up with. Sadly, I’m not digging it for now, but both Ji and Kim are pretty funny. Kim’s character’s violence is over the top and not meant to be serious, yet it just made me uneasy while watching. Beating people up when you don’t get your way isn’t really funny, no matter how it’s portrayed. What’s fascinating to me is the setting: Ji’s character owns a 24-hour convenience store, and even though I only watched a couple episodes, it was interesting to see him struggle with keeping the store running. He’s a hard worker sort of at the top of his game, but with serious self-confidence issues who lets a girl much his junior run circles around him. Thus, the comedy. Might give it another try later on to see if both characters improve.

Forest

Although this one isn’t a fairy tale, being set in a forest gives the show a fairy tale quality. Forest stars the handsome Park Hae Jin (Cheese in the Trap) and Jo Bo Ah (Tale of the Nine-Tailed) and is about a rescue worker and a doctor who end up as roommates in a remote forest village. The acting is great in this, both leads are their characters and have great screen presence and amazing chemistry. I take back what I said about Jo needing to work on her acting. She didn’t really have chemistry with the other leads I’ve seen her with. Here, the chemistry is blinding obvious. Park is spectacular and although his character is somewhat of a bad boy, he’s still likable and quite funny to boot. That reminds me, I never finished watching Man to Man that he was in… The second lead, No Gwang Sik is fun to watch, too. This is his first drama and he looks comfortable and great on screen. His looks bring to mind Peter Pan or Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The forest setting is refreshing and the cinematographer did an amazing job. Every shot looks magical. The plot, however, is all over the place, at least up until episode 13 (there are 32 episodes), and I really think this is one show that does not benefit from half-hour episodes. Because the setting itself is more relaxed than the usual city setting, it would have made more sense to put Forest into one-hour episodes. The timing is often too rushed and throws things off. As far as where the show is going, I’m not sure if we’re to suddenly find out this is a magical forest of some kind or merely that the leads have a childhood trauma they experienced there. Or is this a morality tale about corporations infringing on nature, a la Ferngully? We’ll see.

The romance is fun and the banter hilarious, but at times it is just bicker, bicker, bicker. Always thought it would be kind of fun to have a romance where you tease each other and fake fight all day, but now I’m not sure. Peace is probably a lot better, and more relaxing. But, wow, when they finally kiss is it worth it: all that pent up passion. Probably one of the best kisses I’ve seen in kdramas, and I’ve watched a lot. The key is that she really kisses him back, which doesn’t happen often on these shows. Did I mention their chemistry is off the charts?

Intrigued to see where the story goes and if Park’s character actually turns out being a good guy for both the forest and the girl. He keeps telling her she has a confidence problem, and it’s true. Both characters have psychological issues to deal with, but Jo’s character, the doctor, has deeper problems than just panic attacks. Her character and Ji Chang Wook’s character from Backstreet Rookie should get together to form a self-help club. Despite also having bouts of mental trauma resurfacing, Park’s character has perhaps too much confidence in himself. However, I think it would be sad to see him fall, as his character is so smart. It would be nice to see him win at the game he’s playing, and hopefully, that would end up being a win for all of them. Despite its flaws, Forest is definitely a show worth watching.

You’re My Pet: Oddballs Find Each Other

Kim Wa Petto, or You’re My Pet is my second Japanese drama. Although I didn’t love it like Pretty Proofreader, the frustrating characters make one think, and it ends happily, which is always best case scenario with a RomCom. This one is the 2017 version by Fuji TV starring Noriko Iriyama and Jun Shison.

Sumire Iwaya (Iriyama) is a reporter with beauty and smarts who struggles at life and is basically her own worst enemy. One night she gets very drunk and mistakes a young man hiding in a cardboard box for a puppy she had as a kid named Momo. Takeshi Goda (Shison) carries her home and ends up staying…as Sumire’s pet! If that wasn’t weird enough, there is an age gap of ten years. Takeshi, or “Momo” is 20 and Sumire about to turn 30. The pet thing is strange on its own, but made worse by the fact that Momo easily could pass for a teenager.

Despite all of that, I liked the main relationship and romance and wanted to see more of it. Here, chemistry is a key factor. The two leads are an instant family, though the specifics of their relationship get worked out over time. In contrast to that, we watch Sumire suffer miserably through a relationship that can never work. Sometimes chemistry just doesn’t develop, even with time.

It was tedious and also horrifying to watch as Sumire fails time and again to simply be herself with a man she was once in love with. Shigehito Hasumi, played by the handsome Terunosuke Takezai, is unfortunately equally clueless. Both are not comfortable with each other, but persist and persist, as if loveless sex can simply cover over the problem. It was so irritating it made me want to tear my hair out, but sometimes it takes people forever to realize the truth, and, more importantly, to act on it. Later on Hasumi gets a “pet,” too, and it is actually those humans that help the two finally understand that their relationship is just not going to work.

Takeshi says he likes Sumire in part because she’s not a fighter, she won’t compete for him or run after him or anything. That kinda makes sense because usually the men like to do the chasing, but he is truly blessed with a patience for her as she stumbles through a personal life filled with insecurity and lack of self-confidence. The pet thing begins as a sort of joke, Sumire is really trying to get Takeshi to leave and is surprised when he agrees to be her pet, or, rather agrees to make her his Sugar Momma. We find later that on the first night she kissed him, and perhaps it is that which is still keeping him around. But the only satisfying explanation is that they have instant chemistry and get each other in a way no one else does.

As for Takeshi, we get to know him in his profession as a dancer–a profession in which he excels–however he seriously lacks screen time compared to Hasumi. Incidentally, we don’t really get to know Hasumi, either, but despite being overbearing in his attentions to Sumire and failing to notice how uncomfortable she is, he’s a good guy. He’s sadly such a good guy that he lets a scheming receptionist in his company seduce him. Well, sort of. In the end, the two are a good match and seem to actually like each other, if not love each other.

By the end of the show, I found it to have been a tedious watch. Good, peppy intro song, but not nearly as funny as I thought it would be. Sumire is agonizingly slow to realize she’s fallen in love with Takeshi, and it’s sad that her character has such low self-esteem that she can’t simply break off her relationship with Hasumi. It was great when both finally happened, but it should have happened about ten episodes before that. Hasumi perhaps has a similar insecurity, which is why he didn’t break it off, either. The manga this was based on and the other TV/movie versions of this story are hopefully better.

The pet thing was weird, but I kinda get it, it’s a role play, a way or excuse to care for and love someone in ways that would normally not be accepted unless one is dating the person. Sumire and Takeshi are instantly physically close due to this role play, and it was really the age difference that was holding Sumire back. Holding her back, perhaps, because although she’s a decade older, she’s not nearly as mature as him. A large age gap with the woman as the older one is kind of a new subgenre in RomComs. Probably A, because there’s a ton of older women who are single and alone, B, youth is attractive, C, young men are often still more eager to please the women than many of their older counterparts. It’s difficult to imagine Hasumi, for example agreeing to be a pet to a woman. He’s just too old for it, and once Takeshi finally decides to stop playing around, he’s the same. The age gap works here because Sumire is immature for her age and Takeshi is mature for his, although it may not seem so at first.

It’s unclear how many Sugar Mommas Takeshi has had in the past, but Sumire with her insecurity helps him leave that lifestyle behind, taking on manliness and the leadership and willingness to provide that comes with it. In turn, Sumire truly learns to rely and trust another person. She can completely be herself with him, and sometimes I think that is an aspect that really defines love. Yes, there is uncomfortableness sometimes due to chemistry and sexual attraction, or even just misunderstandings, but at some point that wall is broken down if the relationship is real and going to last. The worst aspect about Sumire’s forced relationship with Hasumi was that neither tried ways of making it better. They just continued on hoping things would change. That’s not love. Love deals with things, really deals with them. Lovers shouldn’t brush problems under the rug, but seriously examine them. If what you have can’t pass that test, then what you have may not be love! All the time, Takeshi was trying to help the two, especially to get Sumire to open up to Hasumi. I think if she’d been able to do that, and able to rely on Hasumi and let him help her with things, the two would have made it, but it would have taken ages before either felt like family with the other.

You’re My Pet was a show of oddballs, and the biggest ones all ended up together. If America did this show, it would have been…way kinky. This story was portrayed largely very innocently, and although it did involve some sex, it clearly showed that simply having sex doesn’t and can’t make one happy. A good lesson. Love is really the thing to pursue. On the whole, the show was neither funny nor romantic, yet somehow it’s still a RomCom. Both leads did a great job acting, especially Iriyama as Sumire. She’s a difficult character on so many levels. Not a show I would watch again, but perhaps will someday check out some of the other remakes.