Review – Gu Family Book / Kangchi, the Beginning

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.

The warrior’s daughter and the gumiho’s son

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.

Character Discussion & Spoilers Follow…

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Review – While You Were Sleeping

Review – While You Were Sleeping

A perfect 10.  Same writer that gave us Pinocchio, also a perfect 10 show.  This is drama that managed to mix comedy, romance, thrills, and fantasy into one episode after the other of pure entertainment and joy.  Lee Jong-Suk plays a young prosecutor who is learning the trade, stumbling hysterically along the way but still admirable due to his strong sense of justice.  It was so refreshing to see a young man play a young man for once – naive, goofy, lounging about in a messy home as he sorts out his feelings and career.  Bae Suzy plays a reporter who has quit her job because of an ominous dream.  She’s carefree and yet complicated, her constant dreams of the future have crippled her ability to bravely face a world she believes she can not change.  When Lee Jong-Suk’s character causes one of her premonitions to alter, she realizes the future isn’t as concrete as her dreams might imply and begins to climb out of her shell.

The entire cast is a goldmine of lovable characters with unique personalities and back stories.  Each of them gets their moment to shine as this drama unfolds, allowing them all a chance to win your heart.  Even the antagonists, in typical K-Drama style, are oddly sympathetic and though you will be cheering for justice, you’ll also feel a little bad for them too.  Touchingly sweet moments full of sentiment and genuine affection were sprinkled throughout the show, nicely balanced between the intrigue and humor.

This will probably be my new choice for “First K-Drama” recommendation.  I can’t imagine anyone not being charmed and compelled by this amazing story.  If you haven’t seen it yet – watch it immediately!  It’s currently on Viki.

Overall Rating – 10/10.  Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This.

Character Breakdown, Spoilers, Thoughts and More follow…

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Review – Uncontrollably Fond (of Melodramas!)

Review – Uncontrollably Fond (of Melodramas!)

uncontrollably

In which a romantic melodrama causes me to become very philosophical about life and spend too much analyzing a show as a microcosm of the problems of the world.  But before we jump into that mess, let’s just say this was a cool melodrama with a bizarre plot line about justice and personal responsibility that I quite enjoyed.  We had the battle between the economic classes, the battle between lovers, the battle between exlovers, the battle between spouses and extended families, and the battle for your life.  Lots of little wars going on in this show with lots of little twists and turns to keep you entertained.

Do not be fooled by all the happy smiling faces in the promos and title images.  It’s a melodrama, not a romantic comedy. I get very frustrated with viewers who want to criticize a melodrama for being a melodrama, with comments like “it’s not realistic!” and “why does she keep apologizing!”  and “oh my god, I hate his hot and cold treatment of her!”  I mean… what?  What do you think a melodrama is?  They’re sensationalist madness.  They’re emotional rollercoasters.  They’re a giant trainwreck and when you bought the ticket to ride it said, “WARNING:  THIS TRAIN IS GOING TO EXPLODE, THEN IMPLODE, THEN PROBABLY RECONSIDER, HOLD ITSELF HOSTAGE WITH DYNAMITE STRAPPED TO ITS CHEST, CHICKEN OUT, START CRYING, AND FINALLY SETTLE FOR TURNING INTO A BLACK HOLE AND PULLING THE ENTIRE WORLD INTO ITS VOID.  We hope you enjoy the ride.”  Your ticket was very clear, my pretties.  Melodramas don’t mess around with your reasonable business, go elsewhere if you want a fair shake down and rational decisions.

I am a huge fan of melodramas; it’s exciting, perversely, to watch everyone’s lives crumble to pieces despite their best efforts to keep it together with lies and manipulations.  Oh, the drama!  The drama, the drama.  You will gasp and shake your head and bite your pillow and cry.  Even the most stoic of viewers will probably melt down in ep 19 about 38 minutes in… if you have dry cheeks after that scene then I fear for the state of your soul.  It would be stripped away of its melodrama title if it didn’t make you ugly cry at least once, though, so embrace the hard earned tears.

Overall Rating:  8/10.  Broken Hearts Are Easier To Mend Than Broken Families.

Now for lengthy philosophizing and ranting and raving….

spoilers ahead!

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