LUCK KEY (2016) – Korean Film Review

Luck Key is one of those adorable, entertaining movies about identity and assumptions. The plot is simple – two very different men swap identities. One is faltering in life, the other is successful. How will they both fair when their circumstances are reversed?

Surprisingly, the answer is… exactly the same.  I say this is surprising because it subverts the usual trope of identity swapping. These sort of stories usually go like this… “Rich Man” is forced to live the life of poverty and learns valuable lessons about kindness and making genuine connections with people not based on monetary value. The “Poor Man,” by contrast, brings humanity and insight into positive working relationships with others to the cold, calculating world of wealth. Both learn the challenges the other faces and become better for it.

This is not the standard identity swapping story. Instead – it’s a humorous tale of two men whose personalities prevail despite circumstances. The hard working hit man and the train wreck youth.

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Movie Review – The Villainess

The Villainess opens with one of the most exciting, intense action sequences I have ever seen. Entirely from the protagonists point of view, you rush through a multi story building on a killing spree – seeing what she sees. I guess they mounted a camera to the stunt double’s head but geesh is it intense! Like a live action video game – with guns and blades and blood splatter everywhere. And, honestly, as deeply unrealistic as a video game… but why knit pick? Who cares if the bad guys cue up to fight her? Who cares if randomly none of them have guns when she’s brandishing a knives? It’s so awesome – just enjoy it. Enjoy it for the fun, furious murder ballad it is.

The Villainess is one of those rare movies where I was pretty sure I was going to love it before I even started watching it. Why? Because it’s loosely based on one of my favorite stories of all time: La Femme Nikita! It all started with French film Nikita by Luc Besson, which was excellent. America remade it, with the film The Point of No Return, which was also excellent. The Canadians did us all a favor and created an unbelievably sexy, sinister television series out of it – called La Femme Nikita. Oh Peta Wilson… you will forever be my first serious girl-crush. America followed suit, again, and made their own tv show several years later called Nikita… which I didn’t watch, for some reason, probably out of loyalty to Peta Wilson… but I hear it was pretty good too.

The premise is simple. A young criminal girl is caught up in the seedy underworld and ends up caught by the police. She will surely be sentenced to life in prison or death for her transgressions. A shady government organization sees potential in her and offers her an option – work for us and live… or serve out your sentence. She gets a makeover, learns to pass as a classy lady, and the next thing you know she’s off on assassination assignments and living under an assumed identity. In all stories, her handler is obsessed with her. There’s betrayal and secrets and amazing action sequences. And that’s Nikita.

The Villainess is a new Nikita. And she’s a worthy addition to the cannon.

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Movie Review – Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned

Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned is a slow paced, achingly beautiful movie about isolation and friendship. The cinematography alone would be enough to warrant a recommendation – but the plot, the acting, and the direction are equally exceptional.

There are images and sequences in this film that will stick in my brain for the rest of my life. Ideas that will continue to pick at me. Moments that will continually unravel.

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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)

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.

 

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.

Yoo Ah-In Always Brings It

Yoo Ah-In Always Brings It

Oh, he’s bringing it… and has so much he’s leaving with leftovers

So, it’s been a pretty lazy Spring for me – with a tendency to rewatch old dramas over committing to new dramas.  I justed rewatched Chicago Typewriter (absolutely love this unusual love story that bounces through time), and was in awe of the acting prowess of Yoo Ah-In.  What can’t he do?

Chicago Typewriter

He’s so good that I didn’t even realize he was Moon Jae-Sin in Sungkyunkwan Scandal.  And I’ve watched that romantic drama at least six times!  Maybe it’s the wig, but even so… I generally recognize my favorite Korean actors now.  I’ve got an eye for it.  Or so I thought….

Sungkyunkwan Scandal.

I thought he was a cute, horny mess of a piano prodigy in the “noona” romance Secret Affair.  Still not a favorite, but I admit it was good.

piano inspired orgasms everywhere

To me, probably forever, he’ll be Lee Bang-Won, the Scholar Dragon, from Six Flying Dragons.  Damn, he was amazing in that drama.  That entire drama was amazing!

Six Flying Dragons

So far, there’s nothing on his docket for 2018, as far as dramas go… but I would rather he hold out for something worthy of him than just kill time making a “meh” drama.  He could probably transform a “meh” drama into something fantastic just by being in it… I mean… geesh, he’s good.  But quality actors should seek out quality dramas.  It’s always so disappointing when one of the A-Lister’s make a so-so show.

There are very few actors I keep an eye out for… watching the news feeds to see what their next move will be.  Yoo Ah-In is one of those actors.  He’s just golden.

 

 

100 Percent Love – Top 10 Feel Good Dramas

Everyone Feels the Love in a Classic Feel Good Drama

There are a LOT of great romances in K-World.  But sometimes my favorite romances are the ones that are just that – romantic.  And not much else.  This is not the list for Goblin (too many tears!), Love in the Moonlight (political plotline rather dull), While You Were Sleeping (serious crimes), or Will It Snow for Christmas (dude… so melodramatic!)… though all of those are stupidly romantic.

This is the list of the FLUFFY BUNNY SLIPPERS variety… the ones you start smiling just thinking about it.  Though there may be some drama (well, there’s gotta be a little conflict for plot), it will not distract you from the ultimate plot, which is love sweet love.

Top 10:

  1.  Coffee Prince – a joy ride from start to finish
  2. Sungkyunkwan Scandal – Sageuk cuteness
  3. Shopping King Louis – gaaaaahhhhh so adorable
  4. 1% of Something – a classic premise of contract love
  5. The Greatest Love  – zany and fun
  6. Beautiful Gong Shim – weirdos in love
  7. Cinderella and the Four Knights  – fairytale romance
  8. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo  – slice of sweet life
  9. Flower Boy Next Door & Me Too Flower! (tie of Yoon Si-Yoon, king of cuteness, dramas)
  10. Which Star Are You From?  – opposites attract

Runners Up:

  1. My Girl – an oldie but goodie
  2. Tomorrow’s Cantabile / Naeil’s Cantabile – quirky proteges in love
  3. You’re Beautiful – a staple of K-world silliness and fun
  4. What’s Up & Dream High (tie of musical teen group  feel great dramas)
  5. Cheer Up Sassy Go Go – aerobics love
  6. Twenty Again – ajumma!  I love you!
  7. Reply 1997 – nostalgic sweetness
  8. Queen In Hyun’s Man – grinning like fools in love
  9. Oh My Venus – so adorable
  10. Marriage Not Dating – cuties falling for each other

Hm… I didn’t realize I hadn’t reviewed some of these until now.  My goodness.  How did I forget to review My Girl???  That was one of the first romantic comedy K-dramas I watched, many moons ago…. gives me an excuse to watch it again, I guess.

What about you?  Do you have a favorite 100% Feel Good drama that didn’t make it to the list?  Let me know!  

Best Korean Drama of 2017

The new year is approaching and with it, lots of lists are popping up everywhere… best dramas, best couples, best kisses, and so on.  It’s hard to get into a new drama right now when instinct propels you into “year in review” mode.  So I find myself rewatching some of my favorite dramas instead of investing in new ones.  The new year will pull me back into new dramas, but for now… let’s savor the last few minutes of 2017.

I’ve sat around and attempted to compile a few  “Best of 2017 Lists” of my own – my journal is a mess of notes about bromances and genres and kissing and whatnot.  I honestly put some time into it, but in the end it was all futile.  There’s only one show that completely won me over this year.

GOBLIN.

I have rewatched this show at least a dozen times.  It’s funny, it’s romantic, it’s supernatural and melodramatic and interesting and totally unique.  Though other shows may have had better elements – this is the show that stands above them all for combined effort.  Goblin got me back into the swing of watching K-Dramas after a long hiatus.  If I had to recommend one show this year… it would be this one.

So… thank you, Goblin, for being the bright light in a rather dim year.  There were other great shows (quite a few, honestly… lots of great dramas came out in 2017), but you reigned supreme.

Full Review of Goblin.