Review – Live

Review – Live

Live is a true gem and definitely worth your time.  Like Misaeng, it’s a character study on individuals within a certain profession.  Misaeng (which is slightly better, in my opinion) covered the insanity of the South Korean corporate business world, and this show deals with police officers.  Following three rookie cops from the three-year cram schools for the Civic Exam, to training, and into their probationary first year, you will experience the full spectrum of what it takes to be a street cop.  And it ain’t pretty.  But trust me, this show is.

This drama will have you enthralled with the lives of its characters.  All of them.  They couldn’t have chosen a better title for this drama.  It will tempt you to do some deep thinking about society, our structured laws, the media, the conundrum of law enforcement, humanity, and crime.  To be fair, there is a slow build up as it takes a while for all the characters to be introduced and come together.  But like Misaeng, if you stick around a while, you won’t want to leave.  Because you’ll be transported into their world, into their struggles and lives and families and ambitions and fears.  I watched the entire show in two days.  I threw it on because it looked vaguely interesting – but by episode five I had a hard time forcing myself to go to sleep so I could watch the rest the next day.

Overall Rating – 9/10.  Code Zero.  Code Zero.  All Units Respond.  Quality K-Drama Alert.  Last Call.

More details, spoilers, characters and more….

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Rom Coms or Ambien?

Rom Coms or Ambien?

K-Drama romcoms have always been hit or miss, but there’s a troubling amount of “middling” and “mindless” romcoms coming out lately.  Lazy writing, relying too heavily on cliches, rapid jumps in behavior without foundational character development… I find myself bored before each episode ends.

I will also admit to be very cranky today… so throwing some romcoms into the shredder is just an outlet.  I’m sure I’ll finish each of these shows and may have a totally different perspective once I do… so wait for the reviews.  Until then, let’s pounce on some current summer snoozers!

Example 1:  ABOUT TIME, a new romcom with two outstanding leads… and so problematic.  Character development?  Forget it, not happening.  Chemistry between the leads?  It’s there… but they forgot to actually build up a solid romance before slapping these two together.  Problems in the relationship?  They’re almost entirely manufactured… which is just lazy writing.  We need a conflict!  Oh yeah, let’s just use this jealous rich gal – AGAIN – to randomly throw conflict into the story.   It’s shameless for a show about knowing you’re going to die soon (seriously, has anyone felt the impact of that, cause I haven’t felt the urgency at all) and musical theater (unbelievably dull musical theater… compounded by cheap, corny background music in the actual drama… it sounds like a kid playing on a toy xylophone!  Background music is not supposed to be that noticeable, people… it should enhance the story, not attempt to direct it).  Also, how old is our lead male supposed to be – because he keeps acting like a fourteen year old boy instead of a man and it’s confusing, cause the actor is quite manly looking and what’s supposed to be endearing comes across as pathetic.

Example 2:  WHAT’S WRONG WITH SECRETARY KIM?  Another great cast with an outstandingly stupid plot.  I love a show about an extreme narcissist (Secret Garden, Greatest Love), but it’s important to balance that with commendable naivete and charm.  We have to like you.  We have to… get it.  I don’t get this show.  The perfectionist secretary who all but wipes the butt of her OCD CEO has finally decided to call it quits – but then doesn’t.  OCD CEO very quickly goes into woo-back-my-secretary mode, in an attempt to keep his slave-girl and possibly develop common emotional responses in the process.  It’s actually a cute premise, I mean yes it’s well worn territory, but everyone likes a story about a good-natured woman saving a dumbass from his own self-sabotage .  So why can’t they do it right?  It’s rushed, fails to be charming, and relies too heavily on cliches.  Disneyland?  Already?  And how many shirtless scenes are we going to have?  The oooo la la moments of a glimpse of sculptured man flesh become ordinary if you throw it out daily.  It’s not a dinner special if its always on the menu.  (update:  this show is getting more interesting as it goes, introducing a nice mystery)

Example 3:  ARE YOU HUMAN TOO?  Someone tell this show you can act like a robot without looking like you had a frontal lobotomy.  There is nothing sexy about a full grown man staring at you like a four year old boy.  Gag.  I have always loved the idea of androids – super smart, effective, built to run space ships and bridge the communication gap between complex technological systems and humans.  I also like the robot-soldier idea.  But the robot house-mate / child-replacement theme is odd.  There are deeply rooted societal implications in the creation of robots to replace humans in a world where the human population is so vast.  It seems off putting not to have these issues addressed.  Even in the bubble-gum I AM NOT A ROBOT they at least attempted (poorly) to dive into the sociology of relationships, replacements, servants and subservient, power and powerlessness.

I love romcoms – in particular, “feel good” romcoms – and have rewatched most of my favorites mulitple times… so until another good one hits the market, here’s a list of some alternatives to help us get through the dry season.

Feel Good Dramas.

 

Review – Who Are You: School 2015

Review – Who Are You:  School 2015

Oh, what to say, what to say?  It was… tolerable.  A story about a bullied girl who gets into an accident, loses her memory, gets mistaken for another girl, who also got into an accident, and gets to suddenly live a new life as a pampered rich girl at a fancier school.  It’s just one dumb plot device after another.  Secret twins!  Near Death Experiences!  Amnesia!  Imposters!  Generic Love Triangle!  It still managed to be slightly enjoyable though.  The cast was solid, the cruelty and kindness of teenagers adding drama to each episode.  But overall, I wouldn’t recommend it.  Watch School 2013.  It’s better.

Nam Joo-Hyuk proves he’s got leading male capabilities.  Kim So-Hyun beguiles us with her big eyes and expressive face.  And Yook Sung-Jae gets pushed to the side in the generic role of second male lead.  I really enjoy Yook Sung-Jae, but have yet to decide if he’s strong enough to pull off a lead in a drama of his own yet.  He’s a bit too idol for me, a bit too hammy, a bit too adorable.  Super adorable as a blonde.

Our second female lead, however, is amazing.  The bully.  The villain.  She’ll never want for work.  When she’s old enough, she can easily migrate into the “evil mom,” “evil boss,” and “evil ex” roles.  She delivered some blood curdling coldness.  Jo Soo-Hyang is amazing, but I’m not delusional enough to expect her in leading female roles… she’s lovely, but the beauty standards of South Korea are as strict as Hollywood’s.  And that’s a whole other post.

Overall Rating – 5/10.   Ridiculous Plot Devices & Attractive Teenagers.

Never Grow Up (but please do and quickly!) – Thoughts on Nam Da-Reum

How amazing is this kid?

Nam Da-Reum has been popping up in dramas for a while now, since he was seven years old, actually – usually playing the “young” versions of male leads in flashbacks.  I’ve been watching Come & Hug Me, and he’s the young male lead.  And perfect.  He was the young version of Lee Bang Won in Six Flying Dragons.  The young version of our prosecutor in While You Were Sleeping.  The young version of our celebrity DJ in Radio Romance.  His acting profile is long already, and he’s only sixteen.

I love this guy.  He’s got the sweetest face.  And he’s intense as all get out, too.  The boy can pull off an impressive emotional range.  I can’t wait until he’s old enough to play lead male roles – you know, the grown up versions.  But then again… can we just slow down time a bit so we can keep those innocent eyes a little longer?  Oh, the conflict!

P.S.  If you’re not watching Come & Hug Me, you should be.  It’s great.

Review – Lucifer

Review – Lucifer

Recently re-watched Lucifer, one of my top 20 Korean dramas of all time, and it still holds firm in its position.  This isn’t a typical story of a cop tracking down a serial killer.  This is a morality play, in which the reasons behind the killings are the plot line.  Much like one of my other favorite shows, I Remember You, the murderer isn’t necessarily the bad guy.  Or rather, they are not the only bad guys.  The people who made them, who drove them to such extremes, are equally culpable.  In a fantastic twist, the cop hunting the killing has also committed a terrible crime in his youth – and now his dark past is coming to light as he races against time to save those who may not deserve saving.  It’s a story of revenge, a story of guilt, and a story of the personal choices that define us.  It’s a drama that asks you to ponder the hard questions, to twist around your normal definitions of right and wrong, to see multiple angles to dubious actions.

And I loved it.  I loved it just as much the second time as I did the first time I watched it.  It’s beautifully filmed and the story is expertly crafted.  It is the second installment in a “Revenge” trilogy by director Park Chan-Hong and writer Kim Ji-Woo.  The first was Resurrection, a haunting mystery, and the third was Shark, a gorgeous slow simmer show.  All three films are remarkable, unique and highly recommended.

Overall Rating – 10/10.  Where the Good Guy is Bad and the Bad Guy is Bad too.

More musings on the morality lessons, the plot, herpes, and spoilers follow:

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What Next? Suggestions?

I’m struggling to find a new drama to invest it.  Considered going back to some older ones I watched and didn’t review.  Open to suggestions….

Anyone have an idea?  Request?  Dedication?  The phone lines are open.

Review – My Mister

Review – My Mister

Holy shit, somone give this show all the Korean Oscars known to man.  The nuances in the characters – the extended scenes in which nothing is happening, expect what’s happening in their head, reflected on their faces – holy God!  This is mesmerizing tv.  Not only is it an interesting plot – and unique – but it’s sooo subtle.  It’s slow, but in the best simmer way.  There are main characters, but even the side characters are massively important to you while viewing.  Everyone is connected, developed, full of their own stories and pain and personalities.

If you’ve already watched this amazing show, you know those moments where (anyone of) our characters are on the phone, holding back everything, but the person on the other end knows them enough to know what their sighs or hesitations mean… that slow motion development of inner conflict without words… Jesus.  It’s good.  Even if the plot had sucked (and it didn’t), I would have been won over with the character development.  Escaping obvious tropes and cliches, the people in this show suffered silently and then together and then silently again.  Family, friends, lack of, all determined how they approached letting people in.  And letting people in – really in – to your inner world was the key focus of this show.  The few people who break down your barriers, or who you surrender your castle to, these are the people who really know you and who also can really hurt you.  They are your true reflections.

Overall Rating – 9.5/10.  Being Jealous of a Close Knit Community of Alcoholics for 16 Episodes.

More thoughts on plot and characters – which include SPOILERS… below….

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Review – I Have a Lover

Review – I Have a Lover

Oh, where to start?  There were chunks of this show that were pointlessly dragged out.  I mean, we could have edited the first seven episodes into one episode and gotten the same point.  There were also chunks of this show that were quality melodrama, with the right amount of intrigue and romance to suit any melodrama fan (eps 8-20ish).  And then it just keep going… and going… my God, why did it keep going?  There were probably 16 episodes of quality drama strung out into 50 long, tedious episodes.  I fail to understand the justification for taking this exasperating approach to the story.  I honestly want to take this drama through a video editing program and re-release it, because the idea was marvelous, the execution however murdered the show.

Plotline (condensed version):  A married couple struggles to find common ground after the horrible death of their precious daughter.  She turns colder, he grows distant.  He gets swept up into the arms of a younger woman, seeking an escape – and runs off to America with his new sweetie.  Meanwhile, his wife is in a fateful accident and presumed dead.  She survives, however, with total amnesia and is mistaken for another woman and adopted into this doppleganger’s life.  Who is this other woman?  Well, her long lost twin… a whistleblower whose life had been destroyed trying to take down a giant pharmaceutical company for unethical practices.  She runs off to China for several years, only to return under a fake name when her daughter’s illness requires specialized care.  How long can these twins live in the same town before their true identities are revealed?  Can our married couple find a way to mend their burned bridges, or are they destined to be with the people who have taken them into their lives and poured their love on them?  Will the big pharma company face justice?  Will the twins finally learn they are not alone in the world?

It’s quality melodrama ruined by a lengthy run time.  What a shame.  So many adorable children in this show!  So many fun ideas bogged down by pointless plot extension.  Such wickedly fun characters (the wife of the stepson, in particular, hands down one of the most enjoyable bitches I’ve seen in years!)  and exciting family dynamics.  So many laughs and sighs and potential – ruined!  Oh, the waste!  The humanity!  Why?!  (weeps for the loss of what should have been a new favorite drama)

Overall Rating – 4/10.  A Few Quality Episodes Baked Into a 50 Episode Inedible Cake.

Review – Radio Romance

Review – Radio Romance

Could I love this drama any more?  It had all the tropes that I adore:  A man haunted by his past, awkward and childlike in love – a zany cast of misfits trying to carve out their niche – interesting, complicated parents – and psycho antagonists who are strangely lovable.  Add to that some quality writing that kept me glued to the screen every episode, and you’ve got a recipe for a quality romantic drama.

Overall Rating:  8.5/10.  Tune In To This Adorable Romance.

More – including spoilers, one complaint, and character discussions follow:

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Review – Great Seducer / Tempted (to Fast Forward)

Review – Great Seducer / Tempted (to Fast Forward)

Full disclaimer – I adore the male lead in this show.  Even if his character is immensely boring, as it was in this drama.  Even if his usually shining star seemed dim playing a conflicted, conceited Lothario.  Even when he tried to convince the audience that rich kids have problems too… just not money problems, which is the vast majority of life’s problems, but, ya know… problems.  Even though this show kinda sucked, I still liked it.  Such is the power of Woo Do-Hwan.  I’m just a fan.

This show was an odd, very loose adaptation of the old Les Liaisons Dangereuse by Pierre Choderlos de Lacios.  What?  Not familiar with that 18th century French novel?  What about the play?  What about… Dangerous Liaisons, the fantastic 1988 movie with Glenn Close?  Or Valmont in 1989?  No?  Okay… Cruel Intentions in 1999?  Untold Scandal… the 2003 Korean movie?  The 2012 Chinese version?  It’s a popular story.

The plot (of Dangerous Liaisons) is simple:  Two very rich and powerful people are friends, skirting around some powerful attraction to one another.  They are both shameless sexual deviants, having affairs left and right with no real feelings for the people they are sleeping with.  When the woman is jilted by her lover for another woman, her pride is hurt and she concocts a revenge scheme… ruin the reputation of her sweetie’s new sweetie.  It’s a very passive aggressive move.  She enlists the help of her bestie to seduce this new woman, offering herself as the reward for a job well done.  Everything goes to hell once her bestie falls in love with this conquest… ruining all their lives in epic proportions.

It’s a great story, honestly, who isn’t fascinated by the idea of sex as a weapon – and worse, love as a game.  It’s a story about cruelty for pleasure, about deep insecurities, about those with power using it shamelessly over those without.  It’s funny, sexy, and… a tragedy.  Because if you start to care about your prey… it’s no longer the same game.  You’ll have a hard time serving the family dog for a holiday meal, ya dig?  Once you love them, to destroy them is to destroy yourself.  If you haven’t seen the 1988 movie version, do yourself a favor… Glenn Close is the master at playing a cruel bitch.  Though for camp value, the 1990s Cruel Intentions is also fun.

This drama takes the Dangerous Liaisons story and adds a bunch of unnecessary story lines – unrequited love between parents, another leading male, some teen sob stories, a few tangled connections and angles that do nothing to enhance the classic tale of sex and heartache.  It attempts to make the villains, aka the leads, sympathetic… which declaws the beast.  It doesn’t really make us love the bad guys or the good guys… everyone is just lounging around in the middle.  The power of the original story is that the two leads are total assholes – just terrible, terrible people –  and having one of them fall in love shatters their delicate world of manipulations and smug, shameless conduct.  That in fact, they are their own worst enemies.

This show wants to play it nice.  It’s not a morality play, it’s a teen romance.

So instead of being a fantastical, K-world version of the centuries old, beloved and wicked classic Dangerous Liaisons, it’s more like a few episodes of Gossip Girl.  And there’s nothing wrong with Gossip Girl.  Sometimes you just want to watch beautiful rich people run around and be mean, then nice, then mean, then nice to each other and know it will all work out in the end.  Fans of Gossip Girl will love this.

Overall Rating – 7.5/10.  Basically a Few Episodes of Gossip Girl, K-Style.