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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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.

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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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. 

Review – When A Man Loves

Review – When A Man Loves

Deep satisfied sigh.  What a cool melodrama!  Talk about an unusual plotline that hooked.  I was completely swept up into this romantic entanglement.  Not quite a love triangle, not quite NOT a love triangle.  There was more nuance and character development in this drama than most shows.  You’ll be hating someone in one episode and completely understanding them and sympathizing with them in the next.  Shades of gray, my friends.  It’s a show about how your life experiences define you, even when you’ve changed your life.

Plotline Short Version:  A gangster falls for the daughter of the man he’s terrorizing and a series of events leads him to change his ways and give up his life of crime to reemerge several years later as a successful businessman.  When he runs into the daughter again – he sweeps her into his new life, with promises of financial security and his heart.  However, our young lady is wary of her new suitor.  He’s over a decade older than her, excessively smitten, and… ya know… a bit scary.  While she’s attempting to let this man into her life, she meets another man – her age – whom she shares natural chemistry with.  Unfortunately, his life is equally tied to the reformed gangsters.   It’s a struggle of will, of families, of obligations and of fear as these three circle around each other.  And it’s really great tv.

Overall Rating – 9/10.   One Person’s Love Is Not Enough To Carry Two Hearts.

LOTS OF SPOILERS, life musings, dating advice, and rambling follow…

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Review – Shopping King Louis

Review – Shopping King Louis

A totally adorable drama that’s bound to please, Shopping King Loui delivers an impossibly sweet story about a stupidly rich boy falling in love with a pauper girl.  One of everyone’s favorite tropes, amnesia, is used to full effect here:  After an accident, a pampered .01% uber-rich, unemployed, shopaholic young man is left homeless and afraid on the streets of Seoul.  Thankfully he is quickly adopted by a simple, sweet, and diligent young woman from the rural mountains who has come to the city to find her missing brother.  I love a good Prince & Pauper storyline, and anything that will lead to flirty cohabitation is always good television.

Here is what’s most important – about the show and the plot – these two mismatched pairs are simply the cutest things you will ever see.  Our leading male has no idea how the world works (this was true even before he had amnesia, and now it’s doubly so), follows his instincts (which are laughably unsuited to the real world), and is genuinely, adorably, grateful that this bright eyed young woman has decided to take him under his wing.  He would literally be lost with out her, and charmingly points this out all the time, flashing the innocent dog grin that wins her over, no matter how much he’s misbehaved.

She, on the other hand, is used to serving and taking care of others.  Raised sheltered in the mountains, she isn’t aware of the dangers of the world, the insanity of social media, the often cruel natures of men and women.  Without this “standard modern society fear,” she’s free to live more naturally – walking the streets of Seoul at all hours, living in bath houses, taking in strangers, trusting people easily and finding joy in simple, non-materialistic things.

I shouldn’t have to tell you these two fall hopelessly in love, but I should warn you that will too – with both of them.  They’re sooo cute.  So, so, so cute.

The music in this show is spot on – often referencing pop culture (Kill Bill and Aladdin anyone?).  The gimicks are perfect (the little snippets of narration, the visual guides to general users shopping behaviors, social media uses, and group think.  The side characters are all lovable and funny – and I never once minded when the story shifted away from our adorable couple to these other people.  Even the little cartoon additions (used sparingly) were super cute… cue the puppy ears.  Gah.  It was so freakin’ adorable I feel like watching the whole thing over again.

I won’t go into more of the plot because, honestly, everyone should see this show for themselves.  It’s like Weightlifting Fairy or Sungkyunkwan Scandal – the joy of this show is the viewing, not the reviewing.  Watch it!  Watch it now!

Overall Rating – 10/10.  It’s A Hug You Give Yourself.

 

Review – Jugglers

Review – Jugglers

Jugglers was a mild drama.  By mild, I mean that the stakes weren’t very high professionally (something about who will get the VP position in a big company, a bit of sabotage and backstabbing, some very silly villains), personally (biggest back story obstacle we had was our lead male trying to overcome his phobia of other people and fire), and romantically (dating your boss was the theme of this show… which, naturally, has its problems).  Even though it wasn’t a long show, only 16 episodes, it felt long.  To me, at least.  I honestly wasn’t charmed enough by any of the characters or compelled enough by the plot to deeply invest… so I skimmed quite a bit towards the end.

That said, it’s really a very cute little show.  If you go into it with low expectations, you’ll probably have a lot of fun.  The lead female is feisty and silly.  When her boss moves into her house, becoming her tenant, she has fun with the power reversal – and it’s fun for us, as viewers, to see the home life of these suits and secretaries.  The lead male, her boss, is lovably grumpy, awkward, and nerdy… quoting anime and manga, flipping the bird at people when he’s adjusting his glasses, bluntly rejecting anyone’s attempt to befriend him.  Naturally we all wanted to see this dude fall in love and smile.  Considering our lead female turns into a manga shojo character when she’s smitten, acting silly and cutesy and overtly flirty, it’s actually kinda perfect.  I half expected hearts to come out of her eyes, or little cat ears to appear.

Rounding off the romance, we have office politics – including a side romance (sorta) between a housewife-turned-secretary and a ridiculous man-child with a high paying job.  They actually saved this drama for me, as I found their story line to be surprisingly endearing and sweet.

We also have another man-child, the ridiculous “villain” who basically runs around laughing awkwardly and doing victory dances, or frustration dances, or… just dancing.  His character was extremely physical – again, a lot like a manga villain… more silly than menacing.  I found him amusing.  As well as his long-suffering secretary who had to put up with his insanity.

So, Jugglers was kinda cute.  It had its merits.  But honestly, there are so many k-dramas that cover this same ground that are better.

Overall Rating – 6.5/10.  Goofy Men in Power and the High Heeled Women Who Take Care of Their Messes.