Tag Archive | Seo In Guk

5 Quick Drama and Movie Reviews

As has become my viewing habit, I tend to bounce around between shows and stories rather like a pinball.  One plot line captures my attention, and then a song or actor in the story leads me to another movie or drama that I start right away, and then something in that work will inspire me to look into a similar story or a different writer, director or actor, and so on.

This happens with books, too, and I find it hard to just stick with one story, drama, or movie straight through and am usually reading or watching up to twenty stories at the same time. Hopefully, this means I simply have a busy mind. ūüôā ¬†In any care, here are a few quick reviews of recent dramas or movies that I’ve watched.

  1. Till the End of the World.

This is a Chinese movie about a millionaire and a scientist that survive a plane crash in Antarctica and have to survive the elements. The CGI leaves a bit to be desired, and the movie’s not super dedicated to realism, but it’s a fun and a sweet love story at that. Mark Chao as the rich man Wu Fu Chun really wins the audience over as he braves the elements over and over, coming to love his environment at the same time. He also has uncannily resemblance to Korean heartthrob Choi Si Won (recently in Revolutionary Love) in parts. The female scientist, played by Yang Zi Shan, doesn’t have a lot to do, but her knowledge is instrumental in instructing Wu’s continual expeditions out into the cold and ice.

2. Our Town.

Our Town is a Korean movie from a few years ago. This story is extremely disturbing, with graphic levels of violence that had me covering my eyes half the time. So I probably missed a lot of the visual cues in the story due to that. ¬†Our Town is essentially a study into the criminal murder’s mind, specifically those murders that do so in connection to a childhood trauma. ¬†It has a slow feel like many noir films, and the environment is dirty and gritty and leaves you wanting to scrub away the filth after. The story has no positive light in it, except to say that trauma begets trauma, and is forthright about just how disturbed the minds of serial killers actually are.

I like murder mysteries and especially detective stories where they have to hunt a serial killer because I love the unfolding of the mystery. I like to watch the detectives put everything together. While that is fine and good, most murder mysteries often make murder into something mundane–the physical aspect and the horror of the killings are often glossed over to focus on the mystery. Our Town really plays up just how repulsive these killers actually are, and how sick of mind, and how tortured their inner soul. It is a mirror for the viewer: These people are truly ill and depraved, so why do we like watching these kinds of stories in the first place? Is it the mystery aspect? Is it so we can tell ourselves we are better than them? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t recommend this film unless you are calm of mind and have a very strong stomach.

That being said, the direction and acting are all outstanding, and I am disappointed to find that this appears to be director Jung Gil Young’s only work. If you know actor Ryu Deok Hwan only from shows like Faith (The Great Doctor), you will be dumbfounded by how scary he is in this. While the other lead character, played by Oh Man Seok (Squad 38) and Lee Sun Hyun (Pasta), are clearly haunted by their collective past, Ryu’s character copes by thriving from it.

3. Dating Agency: Cyrano.

This is from a few years ago as well and if you love romantic comedies, this is it. Episode one is great in showing how matchmaker Gong Min Young (a delightful Choi Soo Young, so dour and subdued in Squad 38) is initiated into treating her profession as James Bond-style missions. It is based on a similarly titled Korean movie, which I haven’t seen. It’s fun to see how all of the various love stories play out and frustrating how reluctant the male lead (Lee Jong Hyuk from Chuno¬†[talk about epic story]) in showing his feelings or any passion whatsoever. We get a taste of what their romance could have been right at the very end, and it boggles the mind that the writer did not think to play it up more in the entire series. Maybe the James Bond plots were too much of the focus? The first half of the series is very enjoyable and reminiscent of romantic comedies past, but the second half veers off into a jumble of parts that may work separately, but don’t work together. The songs, specifically by Baby Cab Driver, are addicting. Altogether, the series is fun, but not a satisfying yarn.

4. Lawless Lawyer.

2018 seems to be the Kdrama year for procedurals and legal/detective plots. I am about halfway into Lawless Lawyer, about a young lawyer taking unorthodox measures to bring officials to justice for their crimes past. I haven’t seen Lee Joon Gi (Fly, Daddy, Fly) in many dramas, but he is outstanding as rebel lawyer Bong Sang Pil, and sells the action scenes really well. Bong Sang Pil is also unexpectedly funny in parts, bringing a bit of levity to the otherwise downer of a story. Seo Ye Ji (Hwarang) as his accomplice is great as well, with her low voice and no-nonsense personality.

What to watch it for, though, are the villains: Corrupt Judge Cha Moon Suk (played by Lee Hye Young of Boys Over Flowers fame), and her lackey An O Joo (peerless Choi Min Soo (Sandglass). That both these actors are good at playing the bad guys is an understatement. Choi, in particular, is one of those actors who always becomes a different character for his roles. The downside, and why I’m only halfway through, is that the writing is stuck in the power play between the judge and her lackey and seems to be on temporary repeat. Even the best actors cannot overcome this, and I’m seeing both Cha and Choi becoming bored with their characters. I will continue watching in the hope that the loop stops, but find everything else about the series refreshing and very watchable.

5. High School King of Savvy.

This was a second watch for me, and I found the second time even more enjoyable than the first, as I could really watch how masterful Seo In Guk (Shopping King Louis) and Lee Ha Na (Voice) are in creating their characters. They sold the age gap in a way few other actors can or will. “Noona” romances, or those with older women and younger men are fairly common in Korean dramas, but Savvy walks right up to the line, making their man, Lee Min Suk, an eighteen-year-old high school student (he would be seventeen in Western ages), falling in love with someone ten years his senior. Student Lee Min Suk finds himself in a rock and a hard place having to take on a double life pretending to be his corporate hawk of a brother.

Similar plots have certainly been done both in Hollywood and Korean dramaland, but Savvy takes it to another level as the Noona romance ends up being somewhat of a surprise, so awkward is Lee Ha Na’s Jung Soo Young compared to her streetwise younger sister, that at first we can’t imagine anything beyond a sweet friendship between her and Lee Min Suk.

If you’re stuck on the age gap, Savvy will be a hard watch and unbelievable; if not, you’ll see a masterful writer, director, and actors all slowly building the cases of Min Suk’s and Soo Young’s characters and how they are right for each other, because they aren’t right for anyone else. Min Suk is clearly bored by the high school girl chasing him, and bored by being a high schooler in general, except for his passion for hockey. Soo Young, in her innocence, doesn’t realize that though we all feel for him, Yoo Jin Woo’s (Lee Soo Hyuk) trauma, cynicism, and loneliness, would simply become her trauma, cynicism, and loneliness. Soo Young only begins to shine under the steady love and affection of Min Suk, and it is only her experiencing that real love, that she can shake off her embarrassment at being manipulated by Jin Woo.

High School King of Savvy also has a great soundtrack, minor characters, like Min Suk’s dad and grandpa, that will melt your heart, some of the best kissing scenes ever, and some of the funniest commentary on office life in South Korea. What to watch it for, though, is the acting of the leads, especially Seo In Guk. Seo is currently my favorite Korean actors, so I’m a bit biased, but, like Choi Min Soo, he has the ability to become another person onscreen, a feat few, more experienced actors, can accomplish. He sells the coming-of-age Min Suk in a way no one else could have, making him half in childhood, half in adult. For contrast, watch Big with Gong Yoo. As much as I love Gong Yoo in other works, Big was a misstep for him, as his teenager thrown into an adult life often acts as if he’s in elementary school instead of high school.

It’s also interesting to see Min Suk in contrast to Soo Young’s sister, Yoo Ah. Yoo Ah is just a little younger, but there’s a few scenes inserted into the story indicating that an “Oppa” (older man) romance wouldn’t work as well or be seen in the same light. There is a different standard when it comes to men and women in this area. Men are often seen as being far more sexually mature in their latter teenage years, despite the women often physically developing faster. What a person is ready for, I think really depends on the person (and of course the laws of the country), but it’s an interesting male-female contrast that the story notes, and a contrast that wouldn’t be as well accepted in other cultures where men and women (rightly or wrongly) are shown, or at least said to be equal, in every way, shape, or form. Having been a been a teenage girl, the contrast and male-female difference make sense to me, but I’m sure there are many who would disagree. In any case, Min Suk is clearly more mature than his male friends his age as well, so the difference with him in this story is largely relevant to his personal character, and not a statement that all boys in their late teens are ready for all of what adulthood entails. Savvy took on the controversy and committed to it, which is to the credit of both the characters and story, even it turns some viewers away.

Okay, back to proofreading Trolls for Dust, Season Two, and working on the next notecard for my notecard story. Happy¬†reading, everyone! ¬†–Pixie B.

 

My 5 favorite Kdrama actors

I’ve been watching Korean dramas for a few years now and have found I have a few favorites. The trouble with watching shows or movies of a different culture and/or language is that acting standards and line delivery are different. For many viewers from Western countries who are used to watching Hollywood, UK, or European films, the acting of other countries can come across as very over-the-top and fake, and often the comedy falls flat or is head-scratching. I have no doubt this works both ways. It takes a lot of viewing time to really see how good actors are, due to cultural and/or language barriers and many people don’t have patience for that. Having spent an embarrassing amount of my own life watching Hollywood, UK, and other movies and shows, jumping to Kdramas was no big deal time wise. The positive view of this is that I have come to appreciate South Korean culture, food, and language, as well as having viewed some of the best shows of all time (Signal, for example).

Here is a list of five drama actors I’ve come to appreciate. Yes, they are easy on the eyes, but are also extremely talented and stand apart from many of their fellow actors.

#1 Seo In Guk

SeoInGuk

We have music talent shows to thank for a lot of our amazing stars and singers today, and one of those is Seo In Guk, who won Superstar K in 2009. He has a classic rags-to-riches story and is multitalented on every level. Due to hard work and thoughtfulness, this guy could succeed in anything he puts his mind and effort into. Not only is he a great singer and performer, but is a brilliant actor who plays his character, not himself, and is able to turn this talent on and off at will. This is rare, as a lot of actors have to continually play the character even when not filming to keep up the, uh, charade. He’s also very open about how he creates each character, also unusual as many actors prefer keeping the acting trade shrouded in mystery. He was due for military duty this past year, but because of a health issue, could not enlist. As a recent fan of Seo In Guk, I look forward to seeing where his career will go from here. Best dramas of his that I’ve seen so far: Reply 1997, High School King of Savvy, Squad 38, Hello Monster (aka I Remember You), and Shopping King Louie.

#2 Jung Kyung Ho

Jung Kyung Ho

Jung Kyung Ho (also Jung Kyoung Ho) is one of those actors who should be showered with awards. He’s on point in every scene and chameleon-like in his ability to handle different dramas. Jung has very emotive eyes and uses them to full advantage. He, too, simply becomes his character and has a magnetic presence onscreen, and his career so far has been a pretty even mix between movies and dramas. Like Seo In Guk, Jung Kyung Ho is a bit under the radar and underestimated in his abilities–at least internationally. Jung is definitely equal to any of Hollywood’s A-list actors, and would probably put some of them to shame. His one flaw may be that he tends to work with writers and directors that flounder a bit, but can’t always be helped. Best dramas I’ve seen him in so far: Heartless City, Missing 9, Falling in Love with Soon Jung, and One More Happy Ending.

#3 Sung Joon

Sung Joon

A tall drink of water, Sung Joon is much younger than he appears. I was surprised to find he’s only 27. Maybe it’s his height or his deep voice, but he has no problem playing characters much older than himself and is often paired with older women. His choices of projects are riskier than most, and sometimes I think he gives the writers of some scripts a bit too much faith, but it’s refreshing to see someone so fearless. Sung Joon started out as a model, but has turned into a great actor, especially when it comes to romantic scenes. If he’s not putting his entire heart and soul into kissing his onscreen women, he’s very good a faking it. If I were a fellow male actor, I’d be a little hesitant to work with him as he has such an overwhelming screen presence, it’s almost distracting. Lee Min Ki had to work very hard in Shut Up Flower Boy Band to make his character come across as the actual leader of their band, so strong was Sung Joon’s presence. Best dramas I’ve seen him in so far: Ms. Perfect, Shut Up Flower Boy Band, Madame Antoine, and In Need of Romance 3).

#4 Lee Seung Gi

Lee Seung Gi

Lee Seung Gi is one of those actors that slowly earns audience appreciation. He is no stranger to TV, having been on several dramas and variety shows and he also is successful in nearly everything he does. Lee Seung Gi comes across as not only likable onscreen, but offscreen as well, joking with interviewers and the audience. He’s comfortable in his own skin and it shows. He often plays characters that seem very dumb at first, but then prove themselves later on. Although he has a good voice, I think he is more talented at acting than singing. So far his career has mostly been playing vain young men forced to grow up, and I hope now that he’s done with his military service he will choose a wider variety of characters to play. It would be great to see him take on the role of the bad guy, for example. He, for one, picks his projects well. Best dramas I’ve seen him in so far: You are All Surrounded, Gu Family Book, King 2 Hearts, and My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox.

#5 Lee Min Ho

Lee Min Ho

Due to the commercial success of Boys Over Flowers and The Heirs, one would hard pressed to find an international Kdrama fan who hasn’t heard of Lee Min Ho and his Brad Pitt good looks. Although I enjoy his dramas, he has slipped from being my #1 to watch, as his performances are hit or miss for me. When he is good, he is so good, and when he’s not I wonder if his own fame is overshadowing him. Lee Min Ho shot to fame in 2009 by playing Gu Jun Pyo, a vain, spoiled rich boy, ¬†in Boys over Flowers, and hasn’t looked back since. Not the first to play the character, Lee made Gu Jun Pyo his own and the Korean¬†BOF wouldn’t be nearly as funny without him. Lee also is very gifted in doing action scenes, having a natural athleticism that makes the most bizarre choreography (attacking a cook with a spoon, for example) look natural. He is also a very talented model, and would be #1 on this list if it were for modeling. Sadly, Lee’s most recent dramas The Heirs and¬†The Legend of the Blue Sea were definite misses for me. He was paired with other famous actresses with whom he had no onscreen chemistry, and it showed. He also did not have a firm grasp on who his characters were and acted rather blandly due to that. Since all parties in these two projects have been great and successful with other productions, I have to wonder if there wasn’t too much pressure for profit involved. Both projects were very financially successful and had all star casts, directors and writers, but lacked heart and truly good storytelling. After finishing his military service, I hope Lee will choose projects and characters that he can really play well instead of focusing on the financial success. It’s hard to be so famous that you can’t take a real risk, and the projects he’s performed best in were not foregone successes. Best dramas I’ve seen him in so far: Boys Over Flowers, City Hunter, Personal Taste, and Faith.