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 – 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 – The King Loves / The King in Love

Review – The King Loves / The King in Love

This drama was divine.  It took your basic love triangle and raised it up to levels of discomfort, pain and joy that I don’t recall ever experiencing in another drama.  Kings are always lonely, isolated people – by design – the people they can trust or count on are few and far between.  In this story, our King had one friend.  One.  So when they both fall in love with the same woman… cue the twenty hours of beautiful agony this show will provide.  I think what made this particular love triangle special was that our lady in the middle really loved both men.  She just happened to love one of them a little more…

Add to that some outstanding political intrigue – none of the boring filler that so often accompanies historical dramas – and brilliant side characters – and you’ve got yourself a historical drama that stands above others.  Let’s not forget how freakin’ sweet this show was!  So many sweet moments.  And tons of genuine humor, too.  There was a great mix of everything, honestly.  Gorgeous cinematography,  detailed costuming, and a complicated but tightly woven plotline that deeply satisfied.  Until the very end.  The very bitter end.  Cause… only one of these absolutely lovable men is getting the girl, after all.  And your heart is going to break for the other dude.  It wouldn’t have mattered which one.  That’s why this drama was amazing… it was a win-win and a lose-lose either way…

Overall Review – 9.5/10.  Love Is A Game That Demands Losers.

More musing on heartbreak, some spoilers, and character thoughts follow… let’s dive in.

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