BURNING (2018) – a meditation in isolation

Burning, a Korean film starring Yoo Ah-In, Jeon Jong-Seo, and Steven Yeun, is a bleak, atmospheric examination of the modern man. And by man I mean mankind, both men and women. It’s based on the short story Barn Burning from The Elephant Vanishes by author Haruki Murakami.

Yoo Ah-In, one of my all time favorite Korean actors, plays a young man who is struggling. In every way imaginable. He struggles to find work. He struggles to come to terms with his upbringing. He struggles to relate to people. He struggles to piece together sentences. You can almost hear the wheels creaking as he struggles to form his own thoughts. It’s ironic that he considers himself a writer, even though there is little evidence of this aspiration around him. Yet perhaps it is most telling that he yearns to find a way to express himself, as this seems to be the insurmountable task of life.

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THE EMPEROR OF ANY PLACE by Tim Wynne-Jones

 

The Emperor of Any Place is about men. Specifically, the Canadian son of a draft dodging American, his military grandfather, and two soldiers shipwrecked on a mysterious island from opposing sides of WWII.

It deals with growing up, grief, responsibility, fathers and sons, male mentors, and male friends. There’s a nice mystery that baited me enough that I actually finished the book, even though I was only halfheartedly invested. The author went on and on about things I found tedious and boring (constructing forts, shelters, miniature boat models). There were tangent plotlines that felt irrelevant, mainly the bits about the grandson, his band and his friends. But there were also very intriguing elements – the diary of the two men on the island, for example.

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The Noise Must Become Music – Ronan Lynch / Adam Parrish

The art of Fumi Mini Nakamura seamlessly folds basic elements into a cosmic narrative. Flowers, hands, faces, skulls, birds, and wolves – with teeth and nails and thorns – wrap around each other to create ethereal, moody images. Her 2009 Untitled works – (which are titled) “WE FIND NO VESTIGE OF A BEGINNING – NO PROSPECT OF AN END” and “THE NOISE MUST BECOME MUSIC” are, to me, the perfect embodiment of The Raven Boys. In particular, of Adam & Ronan.

See more art by Fumi Mini Nakamura

Adam – all dreamy and conflicted, a mix of longing and defeat.

Adam Parrish drawing by Maggie Stiefvater

Ronan – all teeth and noise.

Ronan Lynch drawing by Maggie Stiefvater

The magical woods, their blossoming romance, their tragic pasts, the spaces only they share. They are so different – but such a beautiful compliment.

Like drifting into this song…

Read the Raven Boys Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater if you haven’t (what are you waiting for? get on it!).  The new Dreamer Trilogy will be out soon… starting with Call Down the Hawk, so you better get on it.

Image result for the raven boys cycle

 

Eulogy for Dramafever

I think we were all stunned and deeply saddened by the unexpected and untimely departure of Dramafever, one of our beloved streaming services. Dramafever passed away October 16, 2018, without warning. Known for its large collection of Korean Dramas, spanning multiple decades, and pristine quality videos… Dramafever was a close friend to so many of us K-addicts. It let us comment and review. It offered us helpful collections. It provided adorable fan service. And it held the solitary rights to some of our favorite K-dramas (Goblin! Where will we watch you now???).

I read the articles detailing the reasons behind your demise and, okay, some of them made sense. Basically this is what happens with conglomeration mergers and bidding wars for content that drive the prices too high for our favorite “independent” stores to survive. But Dramafever was more than a profit generating vehicle that bridged the gap between Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Thai content with international viewers. It was a safe haven.  And with its departure, I feel like one of my private spaces has been invaded and blown to pieces.

There is a Dramafever shaped hole in my heart.

You will be missed.

 

Funeral donations may be made to our closest family member, Viki.

Viki.com (Great site, includes lots of shows from all the major channels -fork out for the premium, it’s worth it – $9.99USD/month or $99.99USD/year – almost always sale offers going on)

 

And more questionable relatives may seek comfort from…

Kocowa.com (SBS, MBC, & KBS dramas – $6.99/month, or $69.99/yearly)

AsianCrush.com (more movies, limited tv dramas – $6.99/month, or $69.99/yearly)

OnDemandKorea (lots of dramas, but not everything has english subtitles – $6.99/month)

DramaGo.com (free with tons of dramas – but an external link maze and popup nightmare)

GoodDrama (… I think it’s just a mirror of DramaGo… same boat)

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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