There’s gonna be a lot of gifs and images in this review… so if you’re internet is slow, give it a minute to load up cause… lights camera action.
Ah, Bulgasal! I’ve been sitting on this review a while because this is a tricky show to discuss. Like many other poor fools out there, I watched this drama as it was airing. And in a strange way, that contributed to my love/hate relationship with this fantasy. Cause I should have hated it. I shouldn’t really recommend it to anyone in good faith. But I had such a blast watching this show!
I was soaked in the fandom, giddy with anticipation as the mystery unfolded, and horny over too many characters not to love it. I was amused as often as I was annoyed with the outcome week to week as the story unfolded two episodes at a time. It doesn’t deserve a high rating. It’s slow paced, the plot line is a huge mess, and the characters are weird. But I’m giving it a high rating cause I loved this dumb, beautiful disaster of a show with my whole heart.
Everything you need to know about Bulgasal is revealed in the first ten minutes of the show with the narration introducing the last monster, the flashes of mysterious scenes on a bridge, and the cool opening title sequence. Not once did I hit the skip button, either. I love that title sequence.
Bulgasal has an unknown story line (we’re not following any real historical royal families or diving into era specific conflicts or politics), so there’s no easy guessing of the plot’s major conflict. It’s got reincarnation angles, so there are multiple timelines with multiple versions of characters popping up. It’s got a grumpy protagonist who spends the large majority of the show sulking around a dirty house while a bunch of sunshine characters come in upset his world. It’s got a very enjoyable and theatrical antagonist who has more chemistry with the leading man than the leading lady does. And it’s got all kinds of wacky supernatural stuff at play without clear rules so it’s always a mystery how it’s going to effect the storyline and all the characters.
I mean, you won’t really know what’s happening or why in this show for a long time and even when you find out it’s not particularly inspired, but it’s so much fun guessing. If you have any imagination whatsoever you will invent a plotline three times better than the one offered and bask in the glory of your mental fanfiction as you stare at the beautiful people on your screen.
Bulgasal is a whole vibe. You’re either on board or not. Do you want on this ship?
Wait, I’m sorry. What was that? I don’t think I heard you.
I said DO YOU WANT ON THIS SHIP?
ALL ON BOARD.
My personal rating 10/10. My subjective rating? Uhm… 7/10? But why be subjective with Bulgasal? That’s not what this drama is bringing to the table. Let’s adjust to uh… Overall rating: 9/10. A beautiful disaster that captivated the fandom.
Now let’s talk about what made Bulgasal… Bulgasal. Or rather, let’s just follow tangents along and ramble as I reminisce on the fandom and the characters in this show.
BL, or Boys Love, is nothing new to the scene. It’s been around for quite a while, largely in print or anime format. It’s also been extremely diverse from the get-go with many different genres and settings offering us male/male relationships from super sweet romance romances to intensely sexual content. I still remember stumbling across the anime Ai no Kusabi (1992) – which was burned onto a CDR and stuffed in as some free bonus content from my order of Wolf’s Rain (2003) I’d received off eBay.
Ya’ll. I was not prepared for Ai no Kusabi.
I’d stumbled across the Finder manga in 2002 and thought I’d found the peak pervy storyline of the sexy mafia boss and his feisty reporter twink… but no. Ai no Kusabi created an entire world around sex pets, like the Claiming of Sleeping Beauty trilogy and Exit to Eden books by Anne Rice, this was a society built upon BDSM and sexual servitude.
So, like many others, I discovered BL through Japanese manga and anime. Some of them creeped me out with their childlike boy characters (No Money, Boku no Pico), while others made the age-gap work for them (Junjou Romantica). And of course, there were plenty of manga and anime series with heavily implied gay storylines and artwork, giving us “manservice” if you will, where they would show you they were gay but wouldn’t tell you they were gay. One of my all time favorite series X/1999 is one such storyline. I mean… that entire story is just queer escapism. The manga, the anime, even the weird movie… it’s good stuff. Super gay. And yet… not.
The 21st Century has already seen many cultural shifts and changes, one of the most positive of those has been the push for global acceptance of LGBTQ+ people. We have seen gay marriage, gay rights, and gay issues become major movements around the world. My ardent wish is that by the mid-century, LGBTQ+ people will have equal rights and protections under the law everywhere.
In the past few years I have watched an explosion of BL live action dramas coming out of Asia, the popularity of this genre increasing almost exponentially whereas now it seems a global phenomenon. This is largely due to the fact that gay content has always been enjoyed outside the gay community. Love is universal, after all, and whether it’s two boys, two girls, a boy and a girl, or a pairing of other gender or sexual identities, it all reads the same – people falling in love.
Since 2020, BL is increasingly common in the live action drama market. So… which country does it best?
I’m not sure there is a real answer to that, as everything boils down to preference. Whether you prefer Thai, Taiwanese, Korean, Filipino, Japanese, and Chinese dramas will, undoubtedly, heavily influence your rankings. I certainly have my preferences, as I am sure you have yours (if you have watched more than one BL, that is). My preferences tend to be related to the storylines and dynamics more than the country, though. So in the genre of BL, I tend to stray from my preference for Korean Dramas, though there are a few from Korea that I enjoyed.
Anyways, without further adieu – here are my favorite BL drama series that I’ve seen from various countries….
So cute! So breezy! So light weight it floats away as soon as you let go of it.
Here’s my issue with Backstreet Rookie, Melting Me Softly, & Lovestruck in the City. They all featured Ji Chang Wook, so of course I watched them all cause I’m a fan. But they’re all just… good. But not great. Not outstanding. Not the types of shows to get you excited about the story line or the fate of the characters. None of these shows are top tier dramas and Ji Chang Wook is a top tier actor, so it feels like a waste somehow, even when it’s a good show.
Ji Chang Wook is an actor who is skilled in his craft, who can bring complexity and a wide range of emotions to his roles, who can really suck you into the character arcs of a story. And none of these story’s are worth him. These are all shows you hand over to lesser actors. These are shows that only required a handsome male lead who can be charming and a little pathetic when in love. And by taking these roles… Ji Chang Wook has lowered his standards, and ours.
Listen, I’m not saying I didn’t have a good time watching this show. I enjoyed every episode of it.
Backstreet Rookie is a story about a handsome dude running a convenience store and the young super model “average girl” who is obsessed with him. She comes to work at his store and helps the business do better in order to win his heart and of course it works. They both fall in love. There are obstacles along the way. It’s a typical romantic comedy without any over-dramatic high stakes or melodramatic emotional obstacles to overcome. They’re both impossibly attractive and single – so yeah… cue the wedding march, I guess. I honestly don’t remember much more to the plot than that, now that it’s been a while.
I think there was a side story line about her sister wanting to be an idol. And another side story line about a guy obsessed with Reggae music. Maybe? Was he an author or something? I don’t remember. Whatever. The side stories were cute, but they were garnish, not appetizers. They weren’t mean to be filling in any way, just decorate the surroundings of the main story.
Ji Chang Wook was super sweet in this. He’s good at playing these frustrated, adorable men. He’s good with comedic timing and playing off other characters. And he’s always good with his female leads, always.
The female lead, played by Kim You-Jung, was a drop-dead gorgeous young woman who went through a rebellious phase before settling into the routine and responsibilities of a regular job. She was stunning in every scene and her character was quite charming and I liked her the entire show.
There’s nothing to complain about. You’ll like watching it. You probably just won’t remember much of it later.
There are God-Tier work place dramas, like Coffee Prince, Incomplete Life/Misaeng, Live, Move to Heaven, & Pinocchio – you know, the ones that do the heavy lifting and bring more to the table with incredible character development, deeply moving character arcs, unexpected realism, and award winning performances – and then there are all the others, which vary from good to meh to skip it. Backstreet Rookie was good. Check it out. You’ll undoubtedly like it as it was a fun, feel-good rom-com.
I will warn you there is no physical intimacy in this drama. A hug, maybe?
This is not a spoiler, in my opinion, as we all know what we are getting into when we start a romantic comedy. For whatever dumb reason we, as an audience, weren’t allowed to see the couple kiss (other than the pop kiss in the first episode with the weird pseudo-flying move). I thought this was a bullshit choice by the show runners, frankly, and it deeply annoyed me right at the end when I was supposed to be happy about a happy ending. So an otherwise cute and cheerful romantic comedy went out on a sour note. They even had the audacity to have the characters break the fourth wall and look directly into the camera and wink at us, as if we were on this decision and agreed to look away. Listen, that’s not how the endearing break of the fourth wall at the end trope works. Watch The Greatest Love, that’s a far better romantic comedy that did the same trick the correct way. That is what we want to experience when our characters acknowledge the viewing audience.
Ji Chang Wook, are you sure you don’t want to do action dramas again? It doesn’t have to be anything as exhausting as The K2, mind you. We know you don’t want to be Super Wook any longer, but surely there is a middle ground. Something between. I know you’ve got it in you to bring the house down, so I’ll keep watching and hoping you pick up a role worthy of your acting chops.
Until then, I guess I’ll have to settle for these good-but-not-great romances you keep churning out.
Backstreet Rookie – Overall Rating: 8/10 – Ridiculously Attractive People Maintain Their Perfect Figures & Complexions While Working Blue Collar Jobs Selling Junk Food.
In the world of this drama, some people are born color blind. It is inexplicable color blindness, having nothing to do with traditional color blindness that involves genetics and cells in the eye’s retina. These unique people are called Monos. They see only in shades of gray.
Monos can be triggered into seeing color, however, if they find a person known as a Probe. Also incredibly rare, these individuals can activate (for lack of a better word) the eyes of Monos. The Monos then experience a color rush – as their eyes change to see color. It’s an overwhelming experience, causing fainting and blackouts. The Monos only experience color in the presence of their paired Probe.
Needless to say, this change in world view is very disorienting and compelling to the Monos. The experience causes obsessive tendencies and can even result in violence. The Monos desire to be always in the presence of the Probe leads many to stalking, kidnapping, and assault. There have even been cases of Monos eating their Probe partners.
So when our cute young Mono unexpectedly discovers his cute young Probe, all he wants to do is run away before the madness takes him. And all his Probe wants to do is flirt and invade his personal space, red flags of warning be damned. He strings along his color-rushed Mono, dolling out small doses of overwhelming color in carefully crafted (and surprisingly thoughtful) experiences. He drapes himself around this fainting, confused cutie and drags him into closets to see rainbows. Even when it’s obvious the experience is having an unsettling effect on the Mono, our slinkly Probe keeps pushing him along. Cause if you can see the world in color… why would you ever go back? Isn’t it worth the gamble of madness? Isn’t it worth turning your life upside down for? Isn’t it… the perfect metaphor for discovering you’re gay?
To say the premise of this series about all the colors of the rainbow is dark is the understatement of the year. It’s deliciously dark. My only complaint about this show is that it didn’t lean in harder to its obvious tonal values. It wanted to be both dark while also cuter than a basket of kittens… which is impossible to pull off under this plot line. I mean, we are told the color rush experience triggers cannibalism in the first episode. You can’t toss out information like that and not have it color, so to speak, the budding relationship.
Honestly, the entire show was just middle of the road for me – the actors, the locations, the cinematography, the side story (which was non existent but could have been awesome), and the romance. Not bad but not good either. Just a solid “eh.” BUT – the plotline elevated this show into a higher status by being so intriguing that every episode felt exciting. The “what if…?” and the “oh god, is he…?” and the “OH MY GOD, IS THAT-?” that you’ll be asking yourself throughout the run time were massively engaging. Ultimately a bit of a let down, too, but enough to propel you forward at an enjoyable speed through this shows short run time.
I’ve got more to say – but it skirts into spoilers, so let’s just drop a quick rating before we get into more. Though it really only deserved a 6 or 7, I’m gonna drop it in the top tier cause I doubt I’ll ever stop thinking about the BL story that tempted me with flesh eating insanity.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – You’ll See Colors and Cannibals Everywhere.
The Red Sleeve had a solid start but unfortunately wandered off the track towards the end and got lost in its own introspection. For nearly everything I liked about this drama, there was a counterweight of something I didn’t like. I will also admit I went into this with expectations of a sweeping historical romance, as I had heard this was a drama that captured people’s hearts with its love story, but, uhm… well, more on that in the review. Cause there was good and bad there, too, unfortunately.
The story itself was interesting and fresh. Though I am familiar with the fate of Crown Prince Sado, I am less familiar with the story of his son, King Jeongjo. I was captivated by the struggles of this young man, his fierce battle to always appear even tempered, intelligent, and upstanding so as never to be compared with his violent, mentally unstable father. You could really sense the pressure this young royal was under, how practiced his manners were, how he forced himself to endure any hardships with near silence and restraint. Lee Joon-Ho was surprisingly good in this role, for the most part, his bright eyes barely hiding the amount of intense suppressed emotion he carried around inside him.
He was especially charming in the beginning of this show. We got to enjoy one of the most tried-and-true tropes, the prince in disguise, as he sat around the library flirting with our lead female, the palace maid who somehow failed to recognize him as royalty.
These were the best episodes, in my opinion, and where both the lead male and lead female truly shined. At this point in the drama, the script felt focused and on track to deliver a great story of a young man navigating the complexities of politics and the dangers of the royal court while finding a loyal and intelligent woman to stand by his side. The King even says this. Verbatim. Like a thesis statement. That the crown prince will need to find solace and comfort in a woman, someone who can be his rock as he navigates the raging sea of politics. And for about half of the drama, that is the storyline we were given. And it was great.
I am most familiar with Lee Joon-Ho from Cheese in the Trap, one of my favorite coming of age stories (despite its flaws). He was excellent in that show as the extroverted, charming, troublemaker second male lead – the counterbalance to the serious, near psychopathic male lead. As a casting director, I can’t say Lee Joon-Ho would have been my first choice for this role, but overall the actor pulled it off. Personally, I think he’s better suited to a historical drama with more comedy, but whatever.
The most emotional aspect he was required to deliver was his conflicted relationship with the King. And he nailed it. You could sense how much he feared and probably despised his grandfather. And with good reason.
For those of you who may not know – Crown Prince Sado was murdered by his father. His death was particularly cruel – as no one wanted to outright murder him – so they shut in a small box until he died from starvation and dehydration. There were a lot of reasons behind Sado’s murder, but the constant criticism and strict disapproval of his father, the King, were certainly culprits. The King, played by Lee Deok-Hwa, was outstanding and captured both the disarming charm of the man as well as his mercurial nature, his fits of rage and suspicion, and his descent into dementia. Would it have been nice to have a little more overview into what exactly transpired between the King and his son Sado? Well… yes. I imagine it’s common knowledge in South Korea and no one needs the refresher course, but for us foreigner viewers I was grateful I had seen several movies and shows about Sado so I knew what was going on.
So that’s the basic plot. The male lead, our crown prince, is doing everything in his power to appease his grandfather the King and stay in his good graces so that he may one day take the throne. Our crown prince has many ideas for improving the country and is eager to step up and rule. Again, this is another area of the show that is both good and bad. Good, cause I understood why he’d been so studious and forced himself to remain stoic and even tempered in order to secure the crown. Bad, cause the show remained quite vague about the specifics of his grand plans of improvement. It was also quite vague about all the political and bloody turmoil that happened after he took the throne. They felt rather skimmed over and when they did take to the front of the stage, the emotional weight was lacking because those characters hadn’t been developed enough for me to care. Where the script chose to focus its attention often meandered and left me, the viewer, quite annoyed by its choices.
Listen, creating a good historical drama is a tough gig. Most sageuk’s end up like this one, with some solid episodes but overall sort of messy. They can’t all be Six Flying Dragons, I guess. For me, this was worth watching but I’ll never rewatch it. And if I am going to be recommending historical dramas, this won’t be near the top of the list.
Overall Rating: 7/10.
To say more is to venture into spoiler territory so come along with me, my friends, further down the page if you want to dig into the female lead and the awkward handling of gender in this tale.
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.
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.
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.
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 Witchand 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.
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 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.
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 livingfor 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.
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 fit neatly into the 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, and shame 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.