Tag Archive | Korean dramas

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).

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.

Boys Over Flowers (kkotboda namja)

If you have Netflix and enjoy watching dramatic High School-themed stories, check out the Korean show Boys over Flowers.  It’s a 2009 show based on a Japanese manga (I think there is also a couple of Japanese adaptations, but I haven’t seen them).  The show is about a girl whose family owns a dry cleaning business standing up to super rich bullies that belong to an exclusive group called F4.

 The bullying is actually so awful, I found myself wondering where all of the adults are at this elitist snobby school.  No one seems to really care that kids are being bullied so bad that they contemplate suicide.  But the extreme bullying does make the fact that Geum Jan Di (played hilariously by Hye-Sun Koo stands up against it all the more powerful.  She soon has the richest, most powerful guy in the school so confused by this that he actually thinks she has a crush on him.  It never enters his head that someone might have compassion for the regular people that he pushes around as if they were serfs in his personal kingdom.

Throughout the show, the boys in the F4 grow on the audience and on Geum Jan Di and it’s a pleasure to see them begin to use their wealth and power for good instead of evil.  The wealthy Goo Joon Pyo (Min-ho Lee) could probably be Batman if he really wanted to:  He has the money, power, and fighting skills, and being the leader of F4, and the one completely dumbfounded by Geum Jan Di, he also has the most dramatic character growth of all of the Boys in the series.  I am halfway through the season and am looking forward to the last few episodes.  🙂