Tag Archive | kdrama

Awaken: Sci-Fi Awesomeness (spoilers)

This was one of the most well-written shows I’ve ever watched. Awaken by Shin Yoo Dam, is a mystery revolving around events that happened 20-some years ago at an orphanage called White Night Village. If you haven’t yet seen this show, I would recommend watching it while knowing little about the plot or characters, much better that way. I was confused at what was going on the first few episodes, but it kept me watching, so props to writer Shin.

The first episode gives a little teaser into what happened at White Night Village, but then we are soon introduced to our police investigation team led by Do Jung Woo, played by Namkoong Min (The Undateables). Haven’t seen Min in a lot, but he’s a cutie, and he’s my age, so yay for 1978! He is so totally awesome in this role and I can’t see anyone else playing Do. An FBI agent from the US enters the scene as she’s been called to help with the strange serial killer case they working, a case in which people appear to kill themselves for no reason–A Study in Scarlet, anyone? Jamie Leighton is no Sherlock, but she’s dogged in her work and gets along well with the team. And her backpack is almost its own character. Jamie is played by the beautiful Lee Chung Ah, and I know her best from that crazy movie The Temptation of Wolves.

Also on the investigation team is Kang Hye Won, played by Seon Hyun (Orange Marmalade), and although she’s an awesome fighter, she had way too many anger management issues at first, so that it took me a bit to warm up to her. The team tech guy is Yoon Seok Pil (Choi Dae Chul, Vagabond) and the new recruit is Jang Ji Wan (Lee Sin Young, Crash Landing on You).

Throughout their investigation, the team gets drawn into a deep, dark web, I’m sorry of which to say probably has some basis in reality. We all know of child trafficking in the world, and we all know that key rich people are the ones doing it and that awful things are done to the children. We all know scientists exist who care only for their experiments and little for humanity. Awaken puts both things together. The bad guys are truly villains, even the ones we don’t get to see much of, and it is their lack of remorse that is truly chilling. Aside from Min, the other standout actors were Yoon Sun Woo as an abused young man and later a villain, and An Si Ha who’s beauty makes her character all the more frightening.

Some watchers will probably get frustrated that little is explained in much of the first half of the show, but as the explanations unfold, their clockwork intricacies turn the story into a true morality tale. And the ending was poignant and spot on. Truly great characterizations and great writing. Can’t say much for the soundtrack as I barely noticed it, and if you’re looking for romance, keep looking. Love is there, though, and that’s more important.

As for the big spoilers, ah, I don’t really want to give them now. It’s so, so much better if you don’t know what’s coming. Kinda like life, really. However, I will never think of lollipops in quite the same way. Awaken is both a great police procedural and an old school sci-fi story. In some respects it’s a slow burn, but the payoff is satisfying. Did I mention the writing was great? Looking forward to what writer Shin does in the future. This would also make a great book.

Chicago Typewriter: Kdrama review

As a Christian, I don’t believe in reincarnation. However, it certainly makes for interesting plots. The first time I came across them was when I went through a major Bollywood obsession, and I’ve seen them a few times with Korean dramas as well. The Kdrama Chicago Typewriter is about a famous writer, a delivery girl, and a ghostwriter) who are all reliving past events of their former selves from the 1930s.

This was a really fun drama to watch even if it wasn’t always clear just where everything was going. Writer Han Se Joo (Yoo Ah In, Six Flying Dragons) is a bestselling author who is sent a possessed typewriter and simultaneously comes down with writer’s block. He’s also dealing with fans like Jeon Seol (Lim Soo Jung, Search: WWW), who are way too obsessed with him, and haters who think he stole their work and come and attack him in his house. Sometimes fame and talent is as much a curse as it is a blessing, but Han Se Joon takes it relatively in stride, considering.

With the typewriter, from Chicago and the 1930s, he starts to see images of a past life and even starts writing a story about it that is an instant success. At this same time ghostwriter Yoo Jin O (Ko Gyung Pyo, Strongest Deliveryman) shows up, and it’s unclear if he’s writing the story or if Han is. Han is having trouble remembering things. As the story unfolds, Han keeps encountering both Jeon Seol and Yoo Jin O, and we all soon find out they are all embodied by three friends from Japanese occupied Korea in the 1930s.

As the series continues, the scenes from the 1930s really started to take center stage, and in the latter episodes, at least one whole episode is devoted to that timeline, which was riveting. It reminded me a bit of Casablanca, and what an interesting thing it would be to have a Kdrama remake of that amazing movie. It would be cool. Also if they did one of The Princess Bride.

Back to the reincarnation stuff. Although this is a new thing for writer Han, Jeon Seol has been dealing with these visions her whole life and is afraid that in the past she killed someone. Yoo Jin O, who (SPOILERS!) we find is actually a ghost whose name is a play on playwright Eugene O’Neill, is also afraid of what happened back then. He can’t remember how he died, only that he loved Jeon Seol’s historical counterpart, and was friends with writer Han’s counterpart. Not sure what the rules are with reincarnation, but it seems odd that Han had has no problem regarding it until present day. Of course he ends of up falling for Jeon Seol at the same time he’s remembering falling in love with her club singer back in the 1930s.

The acting in Chicago Typewriter was solid. Not so sure about some of the clothes in the modern scenes, though. Writer Han looked like he’d stepped out of the 1990s much of the time, and Jeon Seol’s clothes were often not flattering. The outfits in the past scenes were all smashing, however. Ko Gyung Pyo essentially played the same character throughout, but he had a great screen presence that helped ground, the modern scenes. This worked especially well with the character of Han, as Han was larger than life, but not always in a good way. Yoo Jin O made him instantly more relatable and someone one could be friends with. As for the other two leads, well done acting. I ended up like their 1930s characters a lot more than the modern ones, but I kind of think that’s where the writers were going with this, anyway. The minor characters and actors were all okay, no big standouts. The shaman or fortune telling lady didn’t seem a big help at all, and for some reason couldn’t see ghosts, which didn’t really make sense to me, although it was rather funny.

Writing stuff: How fun to watch stories about writers and publishing. It almost never gets old. Both writer Han and his nemesis had writer’s rooms or offices that were to die for. Han’s house was a character in itself, with unique windows, sometimes looking like squares over the panes, and sometimes looking like white crosses peeking through a lattice. Something covered up, something revealed. The black stain of sin, the white light of redemption. Books were everywhere in this drama. Also, who could not love the cool Chicago typewriter that Jeon Seol’s past self tells writer Han’s past self is also the name of a certain gun that sound just like a typewriter.

The romance: Although this similar love triangle has been done a zillion times over, it totally worked. It was made all the more bittersweet by the fact that the love never really got to manifest: Freedom fighters can’t afford to fall in love, and that’s probably as true today as it was then. Yoo Ah In did an especially great job of using his expressive eyes, and although there was only really one great kiss, it was a great kiss. As for Lim Soo Jung, her Jeon Seol was a bit meh, but she shined as the woman from the 1930s and then it started to make sense just why the men were so taken with her.

Redemption: In the end everyone makes peace and is at peace, especially, Yoo Jin O. While that makes for a great story, it just reminded me again why I am a Christian. In reality, there’s only one person who can atone for sin, and that’s Jesus Christ. He only had to do it once for everyone. These freedom fighters live by a code in which they can’t forgive and have to meet out instant justice as they see it. It’s just kind of sad because the club singer and Yoo Jin O could have had a good life together, because she would have come to forgive him in time. She loved him, even if only as a friend. In the constraints of the story, however, that was not possible, and Yoo Jin O only gets a sense of peace and maybe forgiveness in the present day.

Still, he doesn’t go to heaven or Nirvana or wherever, but decides to stay and be reincarnated so that in his next life he will have his love story. The promise of another life in this sinful world, which might be better than your last, but will ultimately end in death in which you are sent back again to the world to do it all over again, just doesn’t do it for me. It’s not real, lasting comfort or hope. Christians get what some would call a second life in heaven with God, but the difference is, it’s a completely different life separate from this world of sorrow. Anyway, the redeeming or atoning done in association with reincarnation stories isn’t impressive, although the story itself might be.

Chicago Typewriter was one of the better Kdramas I’ve watched in the recent past. Wish there were more like it, as at times it really seemed like a work of art and not just another TV show. As I was curious how good an actor Yoo Ah In really is, I’m currently watching Secret Affair, and it’s unfortunately about adultery and even more unfortunately a masterpiece. He’s good, maybe even Seo In Guk good. If only this amazing artwork had a worthier plot, but the very sinful characters have much to do with why it’s so great. More on that another time.

You’re All Surrounded – Kdrama

(Note: there are a few spoilers)

You're_All_SurroundedI’m only on episode 10, but totally digging You’re All Surrounded, a summer police drama from 2014.  It’s part procedural crime solving, part comedy, part mystery, part romance, and on the whole, a lot of fun to watch.  The opening credits are campy, with 70’s inspired music and comic book backdrops of explosions and fights.

The story follows a set of four new detective recruits fresh out of the academy to the famous Gangnam police district.  They are: Eun Dae-koo (Li Seung-Gi), Eo Soo-Sun (Go Ara), Park Tae-Il (Ahn Jae-Hyeon), and Ji Kook (Park Jung-Min).  Eo, Park, and Kook all seem to have normal reasons for wanting to work as detectives in Gangnam (they do have some secrets, of course), but Eun has an obvious hatred of the leader of their unit, Seo Pan-Seek (Cha Seung-Won).  His immediate and obvious attempts to provoke such an accomplished detective are both alarming and entertaining to watch.

The long arc of the series is Eun’s problem with his boss:  Years ago, when he was in Junior High, Eun’s mother, a key witness to a crime, was brutally murdered.  Seo was the detective on the case, and from the events of that time, Eun is convinced he’s either the killer or in cahoots with him.  Add to that the fact that Eun is hiding his true identity to stalk Seo, and has trouble doing so, as an annoying girl from his neighborhood, Eo Soo-Sun, is also a new recruit.

Being a fan of American procedural crime shows like CSI and Criminal Minds, I find it neat to see how a similar show may be handled in other countries.  You’re All Surrounded has the added benefits of comedy, and that Kdrama staple, romance (plus the fact that it’s only one season).  The detective work is mixed not only with the bigger show arc, but with cute romances, heartbreaking drama, and unexpected twists.  For example, in one episode the four recruits have made a few blunders and go out to a mom and pop noodle shop and end up hostages of a desperate, suicidal man–who wields a blurry knife.  They blur out the knives but not the guns, I don’t get it.

The best part of the show is outstanding acting by Cha Seung-Won as Detective Seo, and Li Seung-Gi as Eun.    As a veteran actor, Cha is at the top of his game, looking handsomely weathered, and a perfect choice to play the boss/older brother/father figure to the new recruits.  He and Sung Ji-Ru (as Lee Eung-Do, the other lead detective) seem a perfect match for their characters who do their best to not tear their hair out as they try and teach the ropes to the kiddos.  Li Seung-Gi is an actor to watch, as he has the ability to command the screen even though his character Eun holds his emotions and even facial expressions close to the chest most of the time.  Eun’s understatement is balanced by the super expressive and goofy Eo and Kook, and underscored by Park, whose pretty boy character has a smooth calmness about him.

I am excited to finish this series and find out what happens.  I’m on pins and needles trying to figure out just what is going on with the head of police – Is she good? Is she evil? – and how the budding romance between Eun and Eo will turn out.  If you like quirky Kdramas and crime procedurals, check this one out on Viki or Dramafever.

Why Do Dramas Do That? – ebook review

Why Do Dramas Do That?Why Do Dramas Do That?: Part One is the first in an informative ebook series about Korean TV dramas, or Kdramas.  This is a must-read for any Kdrama fan, especially one not from South Korean culture.  The ebook has a lot going for it:  It is short, to the point, and separated into easily-navigated chapters detailing key South Korean culture points, lingo, characters, story arcs and the like.  This information makes watching Korean TV all the more exciting.  For instance, I had no idea just how crazy the shooting schedules of Korean TV can be, so I enjoyed the tidbits and stories regarding that the most.

The ebook is written by JavaBeans and GirlFriday, the creators of a great website called dramabeans.com.  If you want awesome Kdrama reviews, check out their site.  You won’t be disappointed, as the reviews are in depth and insightful, and it’s obvious that the writers truly appreciate the subject matter.  They also have a wealth of viewing history and thus information, so they are truly informed critics.  I, for one, cannot wait for the next part in the series.

Remakes That Need to Happen: Princess Bride Kdrama

UnknownMy initial reaction to The Princess Bride as kid wasn’t much different from that of the sick kid in the film who thinks his Grandpa is going to tell him a yawner of a story.  My younger brother, in elementary school at the time, loved this movie and thought we should watch it as a family after having seen it in class.  We were all suspicious, but rented the video anyway, and subsequently found ourselves rolling with laughter.  It was the funniest movie we’d ever seen, and I immediately decided that Westley was the man for me (funny, handsome sword fighters with immunities to Iocane powder are sadly in short supply).  Since then, my family has watched The Princess Bride countless times over the years, memorizing the fantastically quotable dialogue and still coming away amazed at the wonderful sword fights, the torture machine in the Pit of Despair, and the chilling scenes near the end where Inigo gets his man and Westley reclaims Buttercup for his own.  This movie is a genuine romantic comedy that is, well, actually funny and romantic without denigrating either.

As a longtime fan of the Rob Reiner film as well as the book by William Goldman, the idea of remaking the cult classic sounds lame.  And yet?  And yet, it would be fun to see the story explored again with a new cast and for modern audiences.  In recent years I have become a fan of Korean TV Dramas, or Kdramas, specifically the romantic comedies.  I think most of the themes and characters in these melodramas fit in line with the themes of The Princess Bride, specifically that there’s nothing like good friends and that love conquers all.  Being good at everything, Westley would fit right in with the “flower boys” in many dramas, as would Buttercup with her subtle snottiness and comic inability to act when the time calls for it.  Romantic comedies are almost always a battle of the sexes and both Kdramas and The Princess Bride play out that battle to that bitter…er, I mean happy end…of a head-spinning kiss.

Other reasons TPB would make a great Kdrama:  1. The book could get its due.  As fantastic as the Reiner film is, it doesn’t plumb the depths of the satire that Goldman wrote.  If Cary Elwes’ Westley seems arrogant in the film, he pales in comparison to the character in the book.  Buttercup and the other characters are just as ridiculous, but to great effect.  The trials Westley goes through are a bit more bizarre, the pit of despair, being more like consecutive circles of a hellish zoo.  A 20-episode treatment could be a whole lot of fun.

2. Revenge.  I still love Westley, but my favorite character is sword master Inigo Montoya.  His backstory is briefly told in the movie, but the book has a lot more, like his despair at being able to find a worthy opponent.  And his quest for revenge is a common tale highlighted again in many Asian movies from not only Korea, but Japan and China as well.  Inigo Montoya the samurai or Korean equivalent?  Yes, please.

3.  Talent.  Korea has hands down some of the best quality film and TV production out there.  Many of their TV shows are just really long movies.  Add to that the numerous talented writers, actors, and directors from all over Asia who participate in the Kdrama industry.  It would be fun and exciting to see that talent showcased in a remake of an American cult classic.  Hey, we remade Oldboy, so why not?

City Hunter review

City-hunterEpisode one of City Hunter,  the Korean TV drama based on a Japanese manga, is one of the most intriguing and exciting setups I’ve ever seen for a show.  It sets the stage for political drama, a Monte Cristo-styled revenge, heroes who are loveably flawed, and a sweet romance.  The basic plot of the show is this: After a botched mission into North Korea, an army general named Lee Jin Pyo (Kim Sang-Joong) is out for revenge and kidnaps his best friend’s baby to be his instrument.  Jin Pyo is a patient man, he builds an empire and raises the boy, Lee Yoon-Sung (Lee Min-Ho), as his own for twenty-seven years, teaching him to be a ruthless killer.  Despite his upbringing, Yoon-Sung is a good person and heart and loves his adopted father.  He moves to Seoul, South Korea, and begins to execute Jin Pyo’s plan, taking five corrupt government officials down one by one in style.

The action in City Hunter is outstanding, many of the moves unexpected, and this is where both Lee Min-Ho and his character really carry the show.  Kim Sang-Joong is no slouch either as “the General”  and throughout the show is the perfect antagonist to Lee’s protagonist.  As much as the show is about bringing dishonest politicians (but I repeat myself) to justice, the heart of the story is the relationship between adopted father and son.

City Hunter has several supporting characters, one of them being an eager government prosecutor played by Lee Joon-Hyuk, who goes from being an enemy of Yoon-Sung to a collaborator in his plan to reveal the crimes to the public.  Joon-Hyuk gives an outstanding performance as does Hwang Sun-Hee who plays his character’s love interest, a gentle veterinarian.  City Hunter is a bit of a Robin Hood character and Bae Man-Duk (Kim Sang-Ho) is the perfect Little John.  He’s a sweet-hearted gambler with a motherly side and a dangerous addiction to the Home Shopping channel.  Bae is my favorite character in the series and I don’t think he’s used enough.

As with any superhero or masked man, City Hunter is not allowed to fall in love for fear that it would compromise him.  Of course he begins falling in love years before his plan will even be executed.  Kim Na-Na is a good foil for Lee Yoon-Sung.  She never quite buys his cover story maybe because she herself has had a tough life and has had to take care of herself, sometimes lying to do so.  Park Min-Young as Kim Na-Na won me over by the end of the show, but many times I thought she appeared too young and childish next to Lee Min-Ho, who, although also young carries many of his scenes in a much more mature fashion.  Kim Na-Na is also the worst body guard on the planet and it strains credulity that she would have even been considered to work at the Blue House, she’s that inept.  Perhaps it was a writing problem.  In any case, Park Min-Young did the best she could, and again, did win me over by the end.

Aside from the politicians under siege, most of the minor characters could really have been done without, including the hero’s mother, who is kept around mainly to reveal a twist at the end.  The twist wasn’t really necessary from the hero’s perspective––Lee Yoon-Sung would have been conflicted either way––but it does reveal just how single-minded and tortured the General Jin Pyo is.

The show uses the fact that Jin Pyo made zillions of dollars being a drug dealer in the Golden Triangle to full advantage, from elaborate house locations, to the sometimes silly fashions that Yoon-Sung sports.  The high-class lifestyle enhances the rather fluffy romantic comedy humor running throughout, the best of that being the scenes where the female body guards teach judo to the IT members of the Blue House (S. Korea’s White House) security team.  (Yoon-Sung’s cover is that of an MIT grad from America who has returned to his home country to settle down.)

All in all, City Hunter is a great watch, but slow in parts and could have done with more action, as that is definitely its strength.  The ending is fantastic, with standout performances all around, and the resolution is left fittingly vague.  The storyline raises questions about bringing officials to justice and whether their faults are totally their own or more of a symptom of a government system in which no one’s hands are clean.  All of the characters, whether working in government or not are all wonderfully, humanly flawed.  The hero, although mostly pure of heart, is a drug dealer’s son.  He dreams of living a normal life, not of saving the world.  For the General, his revenge justifies all the means he uses to meet it out.  The big question is this:  Is the revenge worse than the initial crime?  It’s never really answered and left open to the viewer.  The City Hunter does both good and harm by the end of the series.

On a side note, as an American, I found it amusing that privatizing health care was posed as being such a bad thing when they clearly showed over and over again just how corrupt government was.  In my experience, the more involvement government has in something, the more it costs all around.  People often think of any government money as “free” and take liberties with that money that would never take if a private enterprise was running the show.  This cavalier attitude is what drives prices up and up.  College tuition is a prime example.  Without the large cushion of government loans, colleges and universities would be forced to set tuition at a more competitive price or risk going out of business.  That’s my opinion, anyway.  The main point of City Hunter for me was that government needs to be held to account in every area it runs or influences.  No one should be above the law, no matter how honorable their intentions may be.  This is why a free press and reporters who are skeptics and not groupies of government officials are so important.  The first step in stopping corruption is exposing it.

The Great Doctor (Faith) 신의 — review

Poster-the-great-doctor-aka-faith-32029441-680-1000If you have not experienced the awesomeness of K-drama, or Korean TV dramas, I highly recommend giving them a view.  The set up is a bit different than American TV shows, the episodes are an hour or more long, and there’s usually only one “season” or anywhere from 16-30 episodes in each drama.  Given that the stories have a definite end point instead of yearly “will they or won’t they” renewals and extra seasons, the writing, acting and storytelling are stellar and don’t suffer from consecutive seasons that become more mediocre after each year.

The Great Doctor or Faith is a historical drama and romance set in the 1300s during a time when Korea or Goryeo is under the heavy thumb of the neighboring Chinese Yuan dynasty.  The young king is returning with a new queen to his homeland after years of living as a hostage in China.  The king and queen are being transported by a small group of royal guards called Woodalchi.  They are led by weary warrior Choi Young who has been serving for royals for many years.  They are attacked during the journey and the new queen is wounded.  Only a powerful surgeon can heal her, and one of the king’s advisors suggests going to a place he knows of with a magic gateway to heaven where a famous ancient doctor is said to have gone.

The gateway still exists and Choi Young is sent on a quest to heaven to find the great doctor.  “Heaven” is actually modern day Seoul as the “gate” turns out to be a wormhole bending time and space.  In a happy coincidence, Choi Young enters the future in direct vicinity of a plastic surgeons convention and kidnaps a surgeon named Yoo Eun-Soo after giving her a practical test to gauge her surgical abilities.  The show could have easily just run with the fish-out-of-water theme that it plays up in the first few episodes, but the writers smartly kept that to a minimum and focused more on the drama surrounding the king and queen and how the two protagonists deal with that and begin falling for each other.

From the first episode to the last, the production of The Great Doctor is a stellar, movie-quality experience.  The story drags a little at the end, but it’s mostly character driven with plenty of action.  If you don’t like the characters at the beginning, they will feel like old friends by the 24th episode.  There aren’t many special effects, but what is shown doesn’t look too corny.  The magic in the world is left partly unexplained, but the character and action more than make up for that.

Much of the series reminded me of the book series Outlander in which a WW2 nurse gets sent back to ancient Scotland and falls for a younger warrior.  Except this version is far more charming and romantic and doesn’t rely on sadism as a way of furthering the plot.

At first I thought Yoo Eun-Soo played by Kim Hee-Seon was annoying and acted a bit childishly for her age, but Kim won me over especially in the second half of the series as her character begins to bloom under the love of Choi Young.  Young is played by the popular and easy on the eyes Li Min-Ho who came to fame from the comedy series Boys Over Flowers (if you love high school shows and comedies do not pass Go, do not collect $200, but go directly the Kdrama app where you can watch the series for free).  His character is my favorite simply because I enjoy exploring the plight of the “faithful servant.”  He’s killed hundreds, possibly thousands of soldiers and others all at the request of the kings that he serves and his soul (Seoul, ha, ha!  Okay, I’ll stop being so punny) hurts because of it.  He’s damaged in a way that I cannot comprehend, but that I’m sure many of those who are soldiers and good at it can.

Like most shows and films The Great Doctor wasn’t easily made.  It suffered from production delays and the lack of a lead actor after the first and second choices for Choi Young fell through.  Li Min-Ho stepped up to the plate and did a decent job.  He’s a bit younger than the age the role calls for, but Li is believable as the captain of the royal warriors because he commands wonderful screen presence…and he’s tall. 🙂  Okay, all the warriors are tall (at least to me, I’m 5’3″– okay 5’2 and 1/2″), but Li was a good choice as he’s an expert at sporting a sort of bored “I’m cool” expression well-suited to a warrior who has probably seen every atrocity under the sun.  Also, the King Gongmin played impressively by Ryu Deok-Hwan is tiny!  At least, he appears that way in this production.  Ryu does a great job portraying someone who simultaneously has a lot of power and no power and who struggles with it constantly.  The king’s personal struggles with power over his own life mirror that of his best warrior, Choi Young, and their relationship is in a way more interesting than that between Young and the “great doctor from heaven.”  Also, the king and queen’s relationship is sweet.

I love romances, and the love story in this is wonderful with lots of funny moments and many touching, endearing ones.  By the end you just want to shout out the Jerry McGuire line: “You complete me!”  Yoo Eun-Soo fills the ache in Choi Young’s heart and vice versa.

One more shout out, and that’s to the soundtrack people.  The main theme is especially addicting and reminded me somewhat of the Pirates of the Caribbean music.