Review – The Red Sleeve

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.

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Review – On The Way To The Airport

Review – On The Way To The Airport

Though this drama had a strong cast, it failed to impress me.  The lead male was lovable, kind, and generous.  The lead female sweet, nice, and sincere.  It was clear from the first episode that they were perfect for each other.  Only problem was, they were both married to jerks.  He was married to a manipulative, cruel beauty (whom he insists repeatedly that he fell in love with despite no evidence of such feelings between them).  She was married to a self-centered pilot who neglected and disrespected her (they hooked up drunk one night and one unexpected pregnancy later, were married).

I am single, dear reader.  So I have trouble with a drama like this one.  What kind of fools are these people to stay in such horrible, soul crushing relationships for so long?  It’s like they went on autopilot, like a horse stuck on a routine circuit with blinders on.  Both of these unhappy people just put all their love and energy into their children, so much so that they both disappeared, more or less.  They didn’t notice the unhappiness or indifference of their families, their inlaws, their friends and their spouses.  It was all about their children – which is great, except their children weren’t wearing blinders.  Their children were unhappy and noticed the one person who cared about them most were vulnerable fools wearing blinders – so the children in this show were forced to grow up quickly, to deceive their parents, and play a pawn between them more often than not.  Especially the man’s daughter, but also our lead female’s daughter.

Both families had already sent their kids to boarding schools in foreign countries.  They obsessively worked.  They came home to empty, cold houses.  They basically lived alone, though under the pretense of marriage.

There is more to life than this.  And that’s the plot of the show.  The two nice people find each other and fall in love.  It’s slow and it’s beautiful and I really felt like I was watching two strangers fall in love.  (The cinematography was also lovely in this show)

But I didn’t love it.  I found myself annoyed 50% of the program.  I can mull things over with the best of the introverts, but when it’s time to make a decision – I am like a butcher who will sever one half of a body from the other if need be.  So I found myself annoyed and rather bored quite often.  This drama was purely a drama (with the tiniest pinch of mystery just for taste) and I prefer melodramas, because… honestly… I would have loved to watch these people scream and freak out and tear each other to pieces.  It would have been deeply satisfying.  I would have liked the “evil” spouses to be more evil.  I would have liked to take the drama volume and turned it waaaaaay up.  Because their domestic, domestic problems were tedious and almost entirely self inflicted.  Just rip that band aid, you pussies.

Overall Rating – 7/10.  Check Your Baggage, People.

Best Line:  “The maternal instinct isn’t a natural instinct.”

Review – Spy Myung Wol

Review – Spy Myung Wol

Spy Myung Wol is one of those adorable, zany romantic comedies that came out a while back – with heavy handed shenanigans, lots of side characters, tons of extras, and these stellar cliches for leads that are so out there you can’t help but love them.  Think… The Greatest Love or You Are Beautiful or Fated To Love You or Secret Garden.  Zany.  With handguns!  This drama is about a North Korean spy who ends up getting entangled with a South Korean actor/rockstar.  National politics, international intrigue, paparazzi, and a hosts of fans are thrown into the mix for a good-hearted romp of a show.  Not only are the two leads highly amusing, but there’s a whole gift basket full of side characters that are witty and entertaining.  It’s so much fun!

Overall Rating – 9/10.  The Drama Between North & South Korea Is Nothing Compared To The Drama Between Men & Women.

Mild Spoilers & Fan Gushing Follow

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