A Rising Star – Kim Sung-Cheol

I have been watching Our Beloved Summer on Netflix (which is awesome), and even though the leading male and female are perfect and captivating, it’s the second male lead that keeps stealing my attention. Kim Sung-Cheol plays Kim Ji-Ung, the psuedo-adoptive-brother of the male lead. In the show he’s a videographer, best suited to remaining behind the camera, observing everything but rarely taking part in it. He’s stubborn, a bit arrogant, closed-off, and terribly sad. He’s hyper-aware of other people’s feelings yet completely ignorant of how they feel about him. The sensitive person with the hard shell.

He’s so in his head all the time and has no idea he’s telegraphing all this emotions for anyone bothering to pay attention to him.

As these things go, once you notice an actor you start to see them everywhere.

I finally watched Sweet Home, which blew me away, and lo and behold… towards the end… in walked Kim Sung-Cheol. Once again playing this nuanced character that called for your sympathy and your criticism with equal measure. He was a member of a street gang that was going around terrorizing survivors of the apocalypse, but he stuck out from the group. His calm demeanor, his sad yet cold eyes, his world-weary posture. It was not surprising when his character ended up being a major focus of the plot. I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping we’ll see this character return should we get a second season of Sweet Home.

He’s the only one without a giant weapon but he’s the one you’re most wary of.

As if the K-Drama gods were rewarding me, I ran into him again when I was rewatching Arthdal Chronicles (speaking of second seasons – I find myself checking for news of this show’s next installment at least once a month). Though I’ve watched this show about four times now, I had never bothered to look up this actor. He’s one of my favorite character’s in the show, arriving mid-season to co-star with Song Joong-Ki’s Eunseom. This time, I recognized him instantly. Kim Sung-Cheol!

In Arthdal Chronicles, he plays a plucky foil Ipsaeng, a young man who has experienced the hardships and treachery of the world first-hand. He’ll do whatever it takes to survive, whether its lie, cheat, steal, or betray. He’s made his peace with the horrors of the world and is disturbed, greatly, by Eunseom’s alternative perspective and continued belief in humanity’s goodness. Kim Sung-Cheol is so good at playing these conflicted characters, whose eyes show so much emotion even while they are desperately denying they feel any.

He’s also really funny and gets into the physicality of his performances.

But most of all, he’s got that Je ne sais quoi – that undeniable something that draws your eye. I find myself focusing on him even when he’s next to the lead actors, some of the biggest stars in the game. He’s distinctive. His face, his voice, his performances are memorable and unique.

I’ve already added his other dramas to my que – and look forward to seeing him playing other characters. I doubt we’ll have to wait long for him to be cast as the lead in a drama – seems inevitable to me.

Review – Gu Family Book / Kangchi, the Beginning

I watched this series when it first came out, slapped a 7.5 star rating on it, and moved on with my life. Except I didn’t move on. I kept coming back to it. I don’t know how many times I have watched it now, but it’s a lot. A lot, a lot. And I honestly think it gets better with each rewatch. Now I’d say it’s a perfect 10/10. Occasionally our first impressions are just… wrong, okay?

Listen, sometimes you have to change your mind about stuff. It’s good for the soul.

Just like this drama.

Just like these two.

Bae Suzy and Lee Seung-Gi are the two leads, both of which are notoriously charming in all their dramas. Sticking them together was like the first person who thought to create a double layer cake. What if we put a cake… on top of a cake? Afterwards humanity forever wondered why they hadn’t been doing this the whole time. Cause of course, of course, cake on cake is perfect. And Bae Suzy and Lee Seung-Gi are perfect. They’re both charismatic actors who bring innocence, humor, and sincerity to all their roles. And just so you know – they don’t even really show up until episode 3. Like Queen Seon Duk, the first two episodes are all about the laying foundations of the story with the generation before.

The plotline of Gu Family Book is fantastic – both the supernatural plotline and the political one. There’s melodrama, action, revenge, political intrigue, and the supernatural. But at its core, this is a romance. And the romance is achingly romantic, with the plot winding slowly around your heart until by the time things start coming together for these two, you’re already desperately bound to their stories.

The warrior’s daughter and the gumiho’s son

Oh, Gu Family Book! This show has it all. It packed in everything you can think of in its suitcase of plot devices to spellbind an audience. Kang Eun-Kyung wrote a script to rival some of the best historical dramas of all time. The story is huge, complicated, and multi-generational – yet it’s easy to follow and just builds on itself as it goes. There’s tons of humor to balance all the tragedy. The stakes are high but realistic. All the characters are fully developed, and I mean all of them. And they all get complete characters arcs, too, with transformation and growth (even if towards the dark side). I’ll get into all of this in more detail in the spoiler section.

Sometimes your protagonists are only as good as your antagonists, and Lee Seung-Gi plays one of the most monstrous villains of all time. You’ll be rooting for someone to cut this man down from the very first episode. Lee Seung-Gi will make your skin crawl. He plays his role with such menace, such devious certainty, that you never once doubt his character’s soul is blacker than the eyeliner of the lead singer of The Cure.

There are really dark aspects in this drama – human slavery, rape, torture, and murder – though their presentation is PG-13, you might be disturbed by the content. Gu Family Book does not pretend that the past was an entirely pleasant experience – it could be a very, very harsh world. But our characters still find ways to survive, to find beauty, joy, and pleasure, in the world they occupy. Sometimes the darkness can be overcome, and sometimes people have to make room for the light despite of it.

Listen, I’m hard pressed to think of a reason why you won’t like this drama. Other than the “old-school” special effects – which okay, sure, they’re old fashioned… it’s just glowing lights and rather painful looking colored contacts most of the time, but whatever. I’m embarrassed to admit I was overly dismissive of the simplistic special effects first viewing – which now don’t bother me in the least. In fact, I actually prefer a lot of these FX tricks over more tedious CGI. Don’t let your modern eye keep you from enjoying this fairy tale goodness just because its special effects are a bit dated. Maybe at first you’ll be a little unsure of how to feel about some of the show, but it will hypnotize you. Next thing you know you’ll be utterly delighted every time those little blue will-o’-the-wisps show up, every time Kang Chi’s eyes switch colors, every time the operatic theme song by Yisabel busts in… “There’s a stone for the things forgotten…”

Around the early 2010’s is when Korean dramas started picking up a substantial fan base in America. There is something particular about the shows coming out during this time – they were so universally loved by viewers (with a few problematic elements here and there, sure) – they were so addictive, so shamelessly full of love, sorrow, hope, honor, and friendship – that they swept people up into the fan base and retained them as permanent K-drama addicts. Warrior Baek Dong Soo, The Moon Embracing the Sun, Queen In Hyun’s Man, Sungkyunkwan Scandal. If you’ve watched any of these dramas – then you know what I’m talking about. They’re distinctive. Distinctively freakin’ good.

Check it Gu Family Book and fall in love with a smitten tomboy warrior girl and the half-human half-mythical creature whose big heart and dimpled smile will win you over.

Overall Rating: 10/10. Supernatural Tale Involving Magical Blue Lights and Colored Contact Lenses.

Character Discussion & Spoilers Follow…

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2021 Korean Drama Awards

Korean Drama Awards of 2021 – According to me. Featuring only shows that came out in 2021 (with Eng Subtitles)… and to be fair, I certainly didn’t watch every show that came out this past year. But of the ones I did watch… here we go!

GENRE WINNERS

Best Romance: Mr. Queen

Best Comedy: Mr. Queen

Best Historical: Mr. Queen

Best Fantasy/Sci Fi: The Silent Sea

Best Mystery: Mouse

Best LGBTQ+: Devil Judge

Best Action: Taxi Driver

Best Drama: Move to Heaven

READ MORE WINNERS…

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Review – Dali and the Cocky Prince

Dali and the Cocky Prince is a light-hearted, cute romance. It’s predictable and charming, like ordering the dish you know you like at the restaurant even though you promised yourself you would try something new. It’s the safe bet. You know you’ll enjoy it but you also know it will probably blur together in your memory with all the other times you ordered it.

This is not to say it has nothing new to offer. The premise itself is new and fresh – exploring the world of fine art and all the nuances involved in maintaining an art museum. Though there should have been a lot more of this written into the script, both to establish characters further and to elevate the shows themes. More on this topic in the spoiler section below.

The two leads were adorable and I genuinely cared about both of them. Their struggles were believable, their personalities distinctive and unique, and their immediate chemistry hooked me to this show in the first episode. Honestly, the couple’s chemistry is what kept me from abandoning this show all together – cause there were a few moments in my viewing that I felt rather bored with the whole storyline. Thankfully the main couple were both cute, quirky, and risk-takers in fashion – which is an art form in itself. How could I abandon ship when I looked forward to seeing what they’d be wearing each episode?

I thoroughly enjoyed all the side characters in this drama, too – though I instantly forgot about them as soon as the show was over. It would have been nice if they’d let the roots go a little deeper with these characters, as they each promise. I mean, sure, we had a bunch of hammy trope characters (the goofy one, the serious one, the broody one, the dutiful one, the earnest one, and so on) but the potential was there to expand past that. Tell us more! The overall impression of the cast was firmly set in place, so why not add a bit more depth… some shadow, some contrast, some dimension to make the forms pop. It would have made the show far more memorable. Character development is what separates really good shows from the mix, really. A lot of shows might be worth hanging in your living room, but only a few will hang in a gallery or a museum… if we continue with the artistic metaphors.

So it is this, the wasted potential, which ultimately leads me to recommend this show but not rave about it. She’s good quality, but I can’t help but thinking she could have been a star. Check it out if you have the time and you just want to relax with some low stress cuteness, two adorable fashionistas falling in love, and some cool artwork.

Overall Rating: 8/10. An Affordable Reproduction of a Romantic Masterpiece.

MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW

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Reviews – Netflix K-Dramas: Squid Game, Run On, My Name, & Hellbound

Squid Game. Overall Rating: 9/10. The Korean Drama That Hooked American Viewers by Using Cliffhanger Bait.

What can anyone say about it at this point that hasn’t already been said?

It was good. I enjoyed watching it. The aesthetics, the acting, the music, the plot – everything was stellar. The violence was nicely balanced with the quieter scenes of character development. The stakes felt real. The motivations that drove people to such desperation all seemed believable. Everything gelled.

I can’t give it a 10/10 because it didn’t… end. Entire story lines were just abandoned, storylines left dangling in the wind. Clearly it’s meant to be continued, but I still like a satisfying to conclusion to each season of a show. So… I had to knock a point off.

If you are one of the few people on the planet who haven’t watched this global sensation, then I recommend you go watch it.


Run On. Overall Rating: 7/10. Getting Your Footing in Life is Easier When You’re Hot.

Ah, rich people problems. Are they even… real problems? This show will not answer that question for you. I don’t think this show appreciates you even asking that question. In fact, this show would prefer you not think too hard about any of its major plot points, thank you, and please refrain from using your brain while you enjoy these attractive faces on the screen.

I enjoyed watching Run On. It didn’t offer anything new (other than finally giving Shin Se-Kyung a role she seemed comfortable in). The romance is average. It was super sweet, mind you, and the actors have decent chemistry, but it’s nothing to write home over. There are better shows about a girl winning over the heart of an awkward man. There are better sports shows. There are better shows about the movie industry. There are better shows about rich, entitled children standing up to their rich, entitled parents.

Originally, I had intended to give this a solid 8/10 and stick it on my recommended list… but the second I sat down to review it, the rating quickly dropped. Because there are a lot of issues with the story line, if you pause long enough to think about it. What is the message? What… is this show saying about life and love? It seems to want to say something, but just didn’t mumbled through the thesis. So… no. It’s just so-so and thus deserving it’s 7/10.


My Name. Overall Rating: 7/10. Pretending a Snowflake Can Cause You Physical Damage for 8 Hours Straight.

Did anyone believe that the leading lady could kick someone’s ass? I wasn’t even convinced she could give someone a stinging slap, let alone step into an underground MMA ring. Maybe it’s something about Han So-Hee’s gently rounded face that makes it impossible for me to believe this story.

Some actresses can pull off the illusion of strength and some can’t. Kim Da-Mi from The Witch and Itaewon Class? I believed she could kick my tail. Kim Ok-Vin from The Villainess? Same. Jun Jong-Seo as the crazy chick from The Call? Yup. Ha Ji-Won can kick all their tails combined. Bae Doo-Na and Lee Si Young, too.

Han So-Hee, however… is a gentle ballerina, a flower petal, a snowflake. I like this actress, but I didn’t like her in this role, and that soured the entire experience for me.

I mean… look at her grip on that knife!

Though My Name did not give us a believable protagonist, it did offer up one of the most convincing villains of all time. Chang Ryul playing the feisty fighter working his way to the top of the Dongcheonpa was golden. His performance was so unhinged, so enjoyable to watch, that I quickly forgot about my qualms with the casting the second he was on screen.

I totally believed this dude would get a neck tattoo and chop a guy’s arm off while taunting him. This is excellent casting. Seriously, he saved the entire show in my opinion.

Was the overall plot stupid, with little to no attempts to be convincing or believable? Yes. Was the romance good, at least? Eh, not particularly. Seemed kinda out of left field to me, if I’m honest. Should I even watch this series, then? Sure. I mean, if you’ve seen all the better shows and you’ve got the time… why not? It’s not very long, with only 8 episodes, and there’s lots of fighting and cops chasing after gang members and whatnot. This show doesn’t have anything to say, really – there’s no message or cultural critiques or unique insights into humanity. It’s just a cheesy action show. Popcorn, if you will. A tasty snack with little to no nutritional value. But most people like it anyways, myself included.


Hellbound. Overall Rating: 8/10. What If It’s All Meaningless?

Hellbound was another show that I had to change my rating for as I thought about how to review it. When I originally watched it, it was a solid 7/10 (the first chunk maybe rating around 9/10 – then quickly losing me as it switched focus for part two). But this show lingered in my mind. The implications of this show were… vast. And it made you think about humanity, and how we are culturally conditioned to believe certain things without proof, and how this can be both good and bad depending on the circumstances. So, I rounded it out to a solid 8/10. It’s worth it cause it makes you think.

The plot of Hellbound is relatively simple. A mysterious entity shows up to various people in the world, announces the exact time in which they will die and be dragged to hell, and then makes good on that promise. Huge creatures appear out of nowhere, violently beat you to pulp before killing you, and then just as suddenly disappear. The creatures were awful, by the way – the CGI was sadly lacking, presenting us with these gummy looking children’s’ toys that only seemed threatening due to the performances of the actors pretending to die. But the horror of it, of knowing you were not only going to die – but had been judged and sentenced – is quite an uncomfortable topic. The general public’s fervent desire to cast these people into the roles of “wrong doers” was obvious – they had to deserve it, surely, or else what does that say about the nature of the world? About the afterlife? This series leaves you with uncomfortable questions about the definition of hell, about the unknown things in the universe, about what it means to die or have your life and all your decisions judged by outside and unknown forces. Most of these questions were not answered, either, which works for me… for the most part.

Once again, I am left wondering if the dangling questions were left there with the intention of a second season. Like Squid Game. As you may or may not know (depending on how much of this blog you’ve read), I am not a fan of second seasons in Korean Dramas. In general, I find what I most like about K-Dramas is their ability to complete a storyline. The threads of various storylines and characters in one show all pulling together for a tightly connected plot is one of the reasons K-dramas are awesome. They know what they are and they know where they are going.

But Hellbound was already presented as two different short stories within one larger frame. The first half of the series focusing on one group of characters, and the second half on another. Both stories were interesting, though I found the first more compelling overall.

Anyways, I liked it. I liked it for it’s horrific implications. I liked it for its nihilism. It reminded me of the ending of Revival by Stephen King – a shocking, surrealistic nightmare vision of the afterlife which to this day still haunts me. Humans put a lot of stock into certain ideas – into religions – into how our lives fit into the universe. Souls, afterlives, reincarnations, supernatural beings who navigate our destinies… it’s meant to both comfort us and disquiet us. “Be good or else.” It appeals to our desire for balance and justice. “They might not suffer in this world for the terrible things they’ve done, but they’ll suffer in the next.” A show like this could not be made in America. We can only pick holes into religion in a playful or ridiculous way – ways that are clearly entertainment only and not meant to trigger any real examinations of our spiritual beliefs. The Good Life, Supernatural, Lucifer, and such. Even more drama-heavy shows, like The Leftovers or Midnight Mass, leave room for comfort in beliefs. Hellbound doesn’t bother to try to comfort you. It just kicks you when you’re down and says, “Makes you wonder, huh?”

What can I say? I like the existential dread.

Star Wars X Korean Dramas

I woke up yesterday with this brilliant (let’s call it brilliant, shall we?) idea to combine my two favorite things: Star Wars and Korean Dramas. And make short silly videos and possibly some memes.

Just for funsies.

Here’s what I made tonight using She Was Pretty audio/subtitles and Star Wars footage:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens X She Was Pretty


Star Wars: The Last Jedi X She Was Pretty


Star Wars: The Last Jedi X She Was Pretty

This last one keeps getting flagged… so I guess it’s too long? I’m going to have to do a little research into the algorithms that flag content. Though this project is safely within the “Fair Use” guidelines, having to appeal to automated content protection bots constantly is not appealing.

Review – Taxi Driver

What would happen if James Bond, Mr. 007 himself, decided to quit tracking down international threats and instead focused his attention on his own community? “I’m sorry, M, I can’t track down those nuclear codes right now because I’m busy helping this teenager deal with the punks who torment him at school.” I mean… if only, right?

What if Batman stopped chasing after criminals in Gotham and instead opened a help-line? “Oh, sorry Commissioner Gordon, Batman can’t help you with that bank heist right now… he’s helping an old woman who got swindled by a mail scam.”

Well, that’s what Taxi Driver is. It’s everyone’s wild dream of justice-for-hire. So get on board!

In Taxi Driver – people who have been screwed over by the system can seek revenge outside of it, by contracting someone to do their dirty work for them. This is yet another show that illustrates how people with money and power have less fear of retribution. At the same time… it’s a show about criminals who ultimately use money and power to create “justice.” Do you see it? Do you see the Batman parallels? I mean, in this show they have a secret base in an underground lair, access to fancy computer systems and a nerd who inexplicably knows how to use them, they have fancy customized cars and motorcycles with gadgets, and they have connections gained from wealth. All of of these things give our vigilantes the power to act.

Welcome to the bat-cave

What is Batman without his bat-cave and wealth? Who is James Bond without his fancy gadgets and his military combat training? Well, Batman would just be a pissed off dude on a rampage – and one that is bound to be quickly rounded up and tossed into the pen. And James Bond would just be a dishy misogynist. The wealth and power is required. So… it can get a little messy when you’re tackling problems like social justice based on inequality – because the answer to the problem shouldn’t be the problem. But whatever. This show realizes there are problems with the premise and addresses them as best it can. It even makes a point of highlighting some of the pitfalls with vigilante justice. Cause justice is complicated.

But sometimes we just want a hero to rescue us.

A theatrical hero who likes to wear a gold hockey mask on occasion. Cause style matters, damn it.

It’s not like this is anything new. Robin Hood. Hong Gil-dong. Ned Kelly. Bandits we love. Played by attractive male actors. Give them a tragic back story, a broody demeanor, an impressive physique, and it’s cat nip for boys and girls alike. This drama reminded me how much I love Lee Je-Hoon (who I had only known from Signal). I was so mesmerized by his performance that I immediately ran to his wiki page to see if there any other dramas I had missed (and was gifted the beautiful perfection of Move to Heaven, as well as the gift I wish I could return of Where Stars Land).

Though I think Taxi Driver would have been great no matter who they cast in the roles, since the writing was fantastic and the plotlines were action packed and exciting, I believe we should all thank the people who decided Lee Ji-Hoon should play the lead. Cause he nailed it.

Without getting into spoilers, let me say there is an unexpected element to this character that really elevated him beyond your usual Batman-hero-type: The vigilante in Taxi Driver wanted to be theater major. That’s right, folks, this butt-kicking badass is a drama club geek at heart. He gave up his dreams of the stage and enlisted in the military for, you know, whatever reason, but underneath his lean muscled exterior beats the heart of a man dying to act. So when he gets to go undercover to root out criminals and sabotage their lives… he’s not just undercover, he is living for these roles. Not only is this unexpected and really funny, but and it adds a whole juicy layer of nuance to the character. Sure, he enjoys his work of vigilante justice, but you can tell he loves his work when he gets to play a character. When he’s playing a geeky teacher, a shady businessman, a lothario gangster… he’s playing to his heart. He’s putting is full game into it. He’s having so much fun, it’s contagious.

This is where I think the choice of Lee Ji-Hoon really paid off, cause he’s able to shift into all these characters and you can tell he’s having a blast doing it, just like the character he’s playing is supposed to be doing. It’s very meta.

Listen, you need to watch this show. Unless you’re put off by violence, this show is going to win you over completely. It’s got it all. A great cast (and every character gets their moments to shine), a unique overarching storyline as well as amazing individual episode plotlines, fantastic production design (it’s beautifully shot, the action scenes are epic, the aesthetics are spot on in every scene), and a killer soundtrack (a cool mix of rock and synth that will have you searching the internet for the OST). You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be invested. The show is based on the webtoon The Deluxe Taxi by Carlos and Lee Jae-jin, and apparently many of the crimes are based on real crimes committed in Korea.

What can I say other than watch it? WATCH IT. Watch it now.

Rating: 10/10. Deluxe Taxi Service Includes Stylish Revenge.

And now for a few spoilery-extra thought…

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BORNE by Jeff VanderMeer

Mord vs Borne, concept art by ArtStation

Overdue book review of Borne by Jeff VanderMeer. I have had to sit with my thoughts over this one for a few days to decide whether or not I liked it. I did. But I also… didn’t?

Theo Ellsworth’s woodcut of Mord

Concept-wise, it’s brilliant and strange… a toxic city is ravaged by bio-engineered creatures, including a three-stories-tall flying bear. At the heart of it a couple lives holed up in an abandoned apartment complex… the dude making psychedelic drugs from beetles… the gal out scavenging for edible “products” to keep them alive. Our scavenger then finds Borne, a strange glowing blob which she takes home… and raises, as it morphs through continuous forms and eventually starts talking.

sketch of Borne

Borne is a delightful, fun creature – eager to explore and learn and play word games with his human companion. But Borne is also terrifying and unknown… scarier, in a way, than all the other horrific things you come across in this book.

Unfortunately, the pacing is slow. It’s not as depressing as Margaret Atwood’s maddaddam trilogy – but it has the same structure… in that it’s slow, even for a relatively short book, and you’re interested in the characters but you don’t really like them… so it seems even slower. Eh.

Borne by rhunevild

I hear they’ve optioned it for a film. Which I look forward to. The visuals left a permanent impression in my brain – and I will never be able to shake Mord, the flying bear, his fur matted with blood and biomatter…. or Borne, the grotesque yet fascinating shape-shifting creature that hops around exclaiming things with the delight of a toddler.

Illustration by Keith Negley

If you’ve seen Annihilation, that’s also Jeff’s work. It’s based on a novel from his Southern Reach Trilogy (which is a solid 5/5 for me – every book – loved that series). Disturbing, non-conclusive, and haunting – the film was an excellent adaptation even though it changed quite a bit.

What can I say? Wait for Borne the movie? Read it? Don’t read it?

I don’t know. I do know I have enjoyed looking at the fan art just as much as I reading the book… so… maybe that helps.

See More Amazing Fan Art HERE.

RATING: THREE STARS

Title: Borne
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Originally published: April 24, 2017
Country: United States
Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Dystopian Fiction

Review – Devil Judge

I loved this drama. It was a 10/10 for me. It had all the hallmarks of a good melodrama – plenty of angst and anguish. Child abuse, dark secrets, shadowed mansions, homoerotic antagonism, BDSM, murder, mayhem, and more. There’s plenty of twists and turns in this drama, keeping the excitement running full speed and the tension high. It’s over the top and a great escape from the norm when you want something different.

Overall, it’s a story about one man trying to determine what kind of person another man is. This evaluation is a difficult and ongoing process – because the man in question does not behave or react in typical ways. He’s contradictory. He’s secretive. He’s extremely clever and ruthless. He’s manipulative and brazen. One minute he’s nurturing and the next minute he’s throwing punches. Mercurial is an understatement. Determining whether or not he is a “good” buy or a “bad” guy is the ultimate challenge – which is intriguing as both the men in question are judges. It is literally their job to figure people out.

It is also a nice metaphor for figuring out your sexuality when it doesn’t quite fit neatly into a standard package (the bisexuals in the audience will get this message right away) – there’s a lot of second guessing, a lot of flip flopping sides, a lot of confusion and emotions, and depending on your circumstances a lot of internal resistance, guilt, anger, shame, and more that you may have to process before you come to acceptance of your unique self. What is good and bad, right and wrong? What are the rules and who made them? Justice is tricky shit, after all. About as tricky as realizing there is no “normal.”

There’s so much to talk about with this show that I had to narrow it down to keep this review from turning into a novel. But I think I can manage it… maybe. This review is going to be focus on 2 major plot points – the Justice, aka the politics of the drama – and the Queer-Coding, aka, the characters.

There’s gonna be spoilers mixed in with what follows… so go ahead and watch the show. Come back when you’re ready to discuss.

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Review – Love Alarm

A short, simple, and relatively enjoyable show about romance and insecurity. Though most people know, by context clues and awareness of themselves and others, who likes who in this world – for some reason we still manage to muck up relationships. Cause people are kinda dumb and we live in fear of rejection. Because rejection leads to shame – and shame can be just as powerful an emotion as love, so… you know… it’s a toss up. A gamble, so to speak, to pursue the ones we know like us. Wouldn’t it be nice if it we could avoid the whole stressful gamble with a handy app that loudly, publicly declared our interest? I mean, sure, we could swipe right, but that’s private. If someone likes someone online does it really count before there’s evidence of it to share publicly? It is the question of the ages.

Anyways… this is a show about a silly phone app that lets people know who’s attracted to them. And that’s generally pretty cool cause almost everyone in this show is attractive or at the very least fit and standard “Hollywood Extra” quality. In other words – this isn’t going to be a show that dives into how an app like this could revolutionize society by saying out loud things that people keep quiet. I mean, sure, the hot people are going to get tons of hearts and likes or whatever – but the truth is, people are pretty varied and we like a lot of stuff. And we find a lot of things attractive. Different ages, different races, different body types, different genders, and so on and so forth. This could have been a show that got really deep in the weeds of human behavior, societal expectations and control, suppression and desire. But… nope. It’s a show about a silly app.

No one really has a hard time with this app. I mean, not really. Cause, remember, they’re all pretty attractive and young and finding a romantic partner doesn’t seem like anything the majority of the characters would struggle with.

There’s like… one short nerdy guy who’s not extremely attractive but he’s also not unattractive either… I mean… at one point, he changes his hair and is suddenly pretty cool, so, that’s what we’re dealing with. Short nerdy guy’s got a crush on the hot mean girl at school, who clearly and obviously does not like him, but I guess we’re supposed to feel he’s being bullied or something for that… but honestly… why? Isn’t the whole point of the app to match you with people who also like you? Were there no short, slightly less than standardly attractive women who might fancy this nerdy guy? Who knows… cause the scope of this show is very narrow and the writers try very hard to divert your attention from such obvious plotlines queries by not spending much time on these side stories.

There’s a few gay boys who are embarrassed about being outted by the app (but who also turned it on, so you’re not really sure how you’re supposed to feel about it)… and as far as we know there are no gay girls in the school (though perhaps the gay girls were smart enough not to out themselves with an app if they preferred to stay closeted until college).

Anyhoo… the main characters of this show are attractive and well aware of it. This app only confirms what they already know – that people like them for the way they look. The things they struggle with are internal or unseen stuff. You know, like horrific childhood trauma or difficult family situations. So it’s your cookie-cutter storyline of “which hot guy will the beautiful girl choose?”

Listen, this ain’t a serious drama. It’s a romantic drama. And it’s pretty enjoyable, largely carried on the shoulders of the leading female, Kim So-Hyun. I also liked both of the male leads, which was shocking because I watched Nevertheless right before this and found Song Kang dreadful in that show. To my surprise, he was quite charming in this drama with a wide variety of facial expressions and emotions. Who knew? I had to change my mind about this actor so fast it gave me whiplash. The other guy, Jung Ga-Ram, was also great (more on him in a second). So… the trio of main characters were awesome and that’s a win right there. I mean, it’s not a drama I’m gonna run out and tell people to watch – but it’s only six episodes and pretty cute and… yeah. Thumbs up. I guess. Eh. Whatever.

On a random note… I decided to watch this show because I read somewhere that there was an LGBT storyline. Perhaps this expectation caused some wishful thinking – but I swear, I thought Jung Ga-Ram’s character was going to be gay.

I mean… think about it (if you’ve seen it)… the set up was there! His adorable and questionably over-the-top affection for his best friend (I mean, seriously, the first episode had my gaydar alarm going off like crazy). Encounters with not one, but two gay boys at school – both of which ended with Jung Ga-Ram’s character supporting their same-sex attractions with an odd reserve… a reserve that I read as “I too am familiar with this feeling”… and not because of his crush on the main female, but because he too liked cute boys. I figured that was why he hadn’t turned on his love alarm. Because he was in denial of his sexuality. I also figured that was why he hadn’t approached his crush, but kept her on a pedestal out of arms reach… a known occurrence of some teenage boys in their last chapters of coming out to themselves. Spoiler alert – he ain’t gay. Other than the two random gay boys at school who are on screen for a split second, there’s no rainbow to be found.

Apparently this show is getting a “season 2,” which is awful really cause revisiting a love triangle story line – AGAIN – just means these attractive people still haven’t resolved their shit. Even though the ending of the show suggested they had. Learning there is a season 2 ruins the happy ending of the first season. If that wasn’t the end – then they shouldn’t have made the show 12 eps instead of 6 – though can you imagine? The last few episodes were already starting to drag… I would have DNF’d this show had I seen there were still lots of episodes remaining.

I wish I could assume that Season 2 would show that relationships change – that the people you may have connected with in high school don’t always align to your future. Or dive deeper into the reality that human beings are attracted to multiple people at the same time and that love may be possible with any of them, or even with someone you’re not attracted to at all. Do I imagine the scope of the show will broaden and develop into a more nuanced story? Uh, no. I have zero hope for that. This is a teen romance – and you’re going to find your soul mate in high school, damn it, and that is the ONE and ONLY forever and ever amen, ya dig? It’s just gonna be love-triangle Part 2. And… do you really care which hot guy the hot girl ends up with? I mean, they’re both pretty decent dudes so I didn’t care. Sure, one relationship was developed more than the other – and this caused viewership bias. But do we really care?

I’ll be skipping the sequel.

Overall Rating – 6/10 – Silly Dating Apps and a Standard Love Triangle.