Review – Backstreet Rookie (and Ji Chang Wook’s Career Choices)

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. Ji Chang Wook who shook us to our core in Empress Ki. Ji Chang Wook who took our hearts in Warrior Baek Dong Soo. Ji Chang Wook of the iconic show Healer. Ji Chang Wook of the action frenzy escapism of The K2.

None of his recent dramas 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.

Sigh.

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.

Review – Suspicious Partner / Love in Trouble

Review – Suspicious Partner / Love in Trouble

What happens when you take a pretty good plot for a standard 16 episode drama and try to pull it apart like taffy into a drawn out short format series that goes on for 40 long (yet annoyingly short and empty) episodes?  You ruin a perfectly good show, that’s what happens.  Can we just stop making these 35 minute format shows?  They’re so annoying!  This drama was just a big mess – and I blame the formatting for 90% of the problem.

The cast was stellar and had great chemistry – all of them – though it felt more like “playing” than “acting”… as if they were all enjoying a nice vacation from serious work for a while and just goofing off for an easy paycheck.  So it wasn’t an unpleasant waste of my time – I enjoyed watching them enjoy themselves, I guess.  I am a huge Ji Chang-Wook fan, but this role required very little of him.  He just had to show up, basically, and be adorable… which he can do in his sleep, I imagine.  Sigh.  I was all on board seeing him in a romantic comedy, but this drama did nothing but frustrate me.

With the exception of the villain, played to absolute perfection by Dong Ha (someone just give him an award immediately, cause he brought his acting chops to the table while everyone else came empty handed).

I’m too annoyed to even review the plot.  It’s basically about lawyers and prosecutors and the challenge of trying to determine the guilt and innocence of people when all these external and internal factors are messing with the evidence  (watch Remember, if you want a damned fine drama on this subject).  The two main leads fall in love, so lots of cutesy flirting and kissing.  Everyone is charming and cute, but other than that… there’s not a lot going on with their characters.  As mentioned, the only character who really mesmerized me was the villain – and the cool plot twist at the end could not save this long, rambling story line or this show.  The biggest surprise was that I actually watched the whole show – in chunks, over the past few weeks.  If I had tried to watch it sequentially, I probably would have abandoned it in frustration long ago.

Overall Rating – 4/10.  Ji Chang-Wook’s Star Power Can Not Survive In Black Holes.

Review – Empress Ki (Sageuks, Not Sanity!)

Review – Empress Ki (Sageuks, Not Sanity!)

I feel like the most important thing everyone should know before committing 51 hours of your life to a historical drama is this… you will never get so torn up over whether or not two people will be in the same room together as you will in these slow burn historical romances.  Just intensely looking at each other in silence turns into the most erotic of experiences.  Holding hands? Gasp!  Someone bring the fire extinguisher because you’re gonna be BURNING UP!

I know it sounds ridiculous.  It really defies reason, in this day and age, that we can revert back to grade school romance so quickly, no matter how old we are… but such is the power of the historical drama.  Such is the power of Empress Ki.  There is literally a scene where two grown men are fighting over who is going to covertly hold a woman’s hand in a dark room and the stakes have never been higher!  Who will win?  Which hand will she hold?!  I imagine a bookie is literally taking bets from an excited audience at this point (“$15 on the Emperor!” – “Put me down for $100 on Wang Yu!”) – cause it’s like… what… episode 17 and it’s hard to explain but by then you’re just INTO IT and you’re ready to scream “Chuna!” and “Kill Me!” and the spell has been cast.  You are committed to these characters and their stories and this love triangle is EVERYTHING – it’s not just about two men and a woman, it’s about two countries fighting for power and you know this woman is going to be key… but it’s also about love and you kinda want her to lean left, no right, no left, no right!  Curses!  They’re both so awesome!   And deep down you know you’ll probably sit through 51 hours of this show and never even get any tongue, cause if Queen Seondeok taught us anything, it’s that you’re going to have to take those chapters to the fan fiction forums.  Does that stop you from chewing your nails off as the intensity between these people increases?  Hell no!  Cause… we’ve got mega intense hand holding happening here!  And who knows what might be next… there could be a dramatic rescue scene or some heartbreaking sacrifice or… a hug… oh my god, they might hug!  THERE COULD BE HUGGING!!!  And that might as well be uncensored porn, because that’s how rewired your brain has become watching these shows.  I say this without irony.  This really happens.

And while watching something this long… you may be tempted to start skimming.  DO NOT DO THIS.  You can skim all you want the second time you watch it, but the first time it is vital that you watch it – every scene – just as it is.  The pacing is important.  The details are important.  The people are important.  And yeah… it’s freakin’ crazy long.  So take a break if you need to – watch another drama and come back to it.  You do not have to binge Empress Ki.  I watched about 32 episodes of this before I had to stop – and then I didn’t return for a while. When I did return, the last chunk of eps flew by with babies, deaths, madness and intrigue.  I’m glad I took a break, though – cause even with the break, that’s still a heck of a lot of time to spend with one show.  After a while, you kinda start to get wonky.  But hey… I don’t need sanity, I need Sageuks!

Empress Ki is bound to live on for some time as one of the great historical dramas… and it is well deserved.  The character development alone is worth the price of admission.  The amazing acting, the incredible sets, the drool inducing costumes… it was a work of art.

Empress Ki is divided into two sections – PRE CONCUBINE Eps 1-24 and POST CONCUBINE eps 25-51.  Both sections are cool.  There are also “two houses” in this play… and two men, both the heads of each, vying for the same women.

I felt like my grandmother was in the room lecturing on me on the importance of finding a man who “needs me” over a man who “wants me.”  According to grandmother, a woman who is needed is never taken for granted and will always live a happier life.  I’m not sure if that’s true – but this show was definitely the perfect example of a man who Needs You and a man who Wants You.  The Emperor needed her.  And the King wanted her.  Let’s face it, though… it feels nice to have either type of love… and to have both, well… that’s kinda the plot.

Overall Rating – 9/10.  To Be Needed Is To Be Loved.

More musings… and SPOILERS

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Review – The K2

Review – The K2

The K2.  In which I die and go to heaven.

Summary:  Shady politician is almost caught having an affair, which would have ended his run for president, so he quickly sweeps the witnesses under the carpet – except for one random dude, who turns out to be Super Wook.  Super Wook says “I don’t like the look of that carpet.  When’s the last time you cleaned it?”  Since the Super Wook can’t be silenced or killed, the politician and his wife decide to hire him… going with the old “friends close, enemies closer” rule.  Super Wook becomes the bodyguard of the shady politician and ends up neck deep in their personal lives (which are about as comfortable as a barbed wire mattress – these people are NOT pleasant).

This is a high production value action packed political thriller with enough romance to melt butter.  I loooooooooooved it.  We’re talking explosions, breaking through glass windows, car chases, epic fight sequences, guns, bombs, hostages, espionage, military and black ops and more!  Think… James Bond or Jason Bourne.  This is Ji Chang Wook kickin’ butt and looking fantastic doing it (as always).  This is globe trotting, big political conspiracy, high stakes ACTION.

If you actually watched this as it was airing, then I pity you.  Cause action dramas are hard to enjoy when you have huge gaps of time in between episodes.  The K2 is best watched in chunks, if not binged.  So, dedicate a few days to it and soak in the sweaty awesome sauce.  Sit back… let it blow you away….

Overall Rating – 10/10.  Super Wook For Sixteen Hours.  YES, SWEET JESUS, YES!

MORE MORE MORE (including lots of spoilers and poking of bears and fun)

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Review – Warrior Baek Dong Soo (I can’t quit you!)

Review – Warrior Baek Dong Soo

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The Plot, Short Version:  Two young warriors choose two different paths and swords clash.

Though I still don’t think this is a perfect drama and stick firmly to my 8/10 rating, I must confess… the rewatch factor on this show is HIGH.  I have rewatched this show several times.  Maybe not all the way through, true, but I’ve cherry picked my favorite episodes and scenes and tend to crave them like a pregnant woman craving pickles.  Nothing else will do.

Let’s Dig In.  (minor spoilers follow)

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Review – Healer

Review – Healer

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The definition of awesome sauce.

Our main male lead is an independent contractor who lives alone in a massive warehouse (massively cool warehouse) and dreams of one day escaping to an island paradise.  He is known by the codename HEALER.  And he looks very good in black.  Ji Chang-Wook is a star for a reason.  He shines in everything.

Our main female lead is a young street reporter who works for an online news source and dreams of being a more successful reporter.  Her father is a coffee shop owner/criminal lawyer.  Many of the criminals he helped in his long career have now become his employees and act as an extended family for our young heroine.  Needless to say, it can be pretty cushy to have the support of such a clan.  And it’s ripe for comedy gold.

Our second male lead is a seasoned reporter, well established and celebrated for his work.  He has been looking for the whereabouts of a “child” for many years, who was adopted.  She’d be about the same age as our lead female… coincidence?  Cough, cough.

Outstanding Supporting Cast all around, without exception.  Everyone is great in this.

There is action, there is intrigue, there are complicated but exciting plotlines with many twists and turns.  We’ve got people under cover and double agents and secret identities and mysteries of the past mixing up with mysteries in the present.  There’s breaking and entering, there’s cyber crime, there’s lots of insanely good choreographed fights.  Did I mention murder?  Revenge?  Childhood ninja training?

The production value is top notch.  The music is great.  It’s a fun, fun, funnnnnnnn show.  There’s also a nice romance and plenty of satisfying flirtations and longing stares to keep your heart racing with the action.

Every single episode is quality.  Too good for a major review with spoilers – just watch it.  Watch it.  Watch it, watch it, watch it!

Overall Rating – 10/10.  Awesome In Every Way.