I loved this drama. It was a 10/10 for me. It had all the hallmarks of a good melodrama – plenty of angst and anguish. Child abuse, dark secrets, shadowed mansions, homoerotic antagonism, BDSM, murder, mayhem, and more. There’s plenty of twists and turns in this drama, keeping the excitement running full speed and the tension high. It’s over the top and a great escape from the norm when you want something different.
Overall, it’s a story about one man trying to determine what kind of person another man is. This evaluation is a difficult and ongoing process – because the man in question does not behave or react in typical ways. He’s contradictory. He’s secretive. He’s extremely clever and ruthless. He’s manipulative and brazen. One minute he’s nurturing and the next minute he’s throwing punches. Mercurial is an understatement. Determining whether or not he is a “good” buy or a “bad” guy is the ultimate challenge – which is intriguing as both the men in question are judges. It is literally their job to figure people out.
It is also a nice metaphor for figuring out your sexuality when it doesn’t fit neatly into the standard package (the bisexuals in the audience will get this message right away) – there’s a lot of second guessing, a lot of flip flopping sides, a lot of confusion and emotions, and depending on your circumstances a lot of internal resistance, guilt, anger, and shame that you may have to process before you come to acceptance of your unique self. What is good and bad, right and wrong? What are the rules and who made them? Justice is tricky shit, after all. About as tricky as realizing there is no “normal.”
There’s so much to talk about with this show that I had to narrow it down to keep this review from turning into a novel. But I think I can manage it… maybe. This review is going to be focus on 2 major plot points – the Justice, aka the politics of the drama – and the Queer-Coding, aka, the characters.
There’s gonna be spoilers mixed in with what follows… so go ahead and watch the show. Come back when you’re ready to discuss.
A short, simple, and relatively enjoyable show about romance and insecurity. Though most people know, by context clues and awareness of themselves and others, who likes who in this world – for some reason we still manage to muck up relationships. Cause people are kinda dumb and we live in fear of rejection. Because rejection leads to shame – and shame can be just as powerful an emotion as love, so… you know… it’s a toss up. A gamble, so to speak, to pursue the ones we know like us. Wouldn’t it be nice if it we could avoid the whole stressful gamble with a handy app that loudly, publicly declared our interest? I mean, sure, we could swipe right, but that’s private. If someone likes someone online does it really count before there’s evidence of it to share publicly? It is the question of the ages.
Anyways… this is a show about a silly phone app that lets people know who’s attracted to them. And that’s generally pretty cool cause almost everyone in this show is attractive or at the very least fit and standard “Hollywood Extra” quality. In other words – this isn’t going to be a show that dives into how an app like this could revolutionize society by saying out loud things that people keep quiet. I mean, sure, the hot people are going to get tons of hearts and likes or whatever – but the truth is, people are pretty varied and we like a lot of stuff. And we find a lot of things attractive. Different ages, different races, different body types, different genders, and so on and so forth. This could have been a show that got really deep in the weeds of human behavior, societal expectations and control, suppression and desire. But… nope. It’s a show about a silly app.
No one really has a hard time with this app. I mean, not really. Cause, remember, they’re all pretty attractive and young and finding a romantic partner doesn’t seem like anything the majority of the characters would struggle with.
There’s like… one short nerdy guy who’s not extremely attractive but he’s also not unattractive either… I mean… at one point, he changes his hair and is suddenly pretty cool, so, that’s what we’re dealing with. Short nerdy guy’s got a crush on the hot mean girl at school, who clearly and obviously does not like him, but I guess we’re supposed to feel he’s being bullied or something for that… but honestly… why? Isn’t the whole point of the app to match you with people who also like you? Were there no short, slightly less than standardly attractive women who might fancy this nerdy guy? Who knows… cause the scope of this show is very narrow and the writers try very hard to divert your attention from such obvious plotlines queries by not spending much time on these side stories.
There’s a few gay boys who are embarrassed about being outted by the app (but who also turned it on, so you’re not really sure how you’re supposed to feel about it)… and as far as we know there are no gay girls in the school (though perhaps the gay girls were smart enough not to out themselves with an app if they preferred to stay closeted until college).
Anyhoo… the main characters of this show are attractive and well aware of it. This app only confirms what they already know – that people like them for the way they look. The things they struggle with are internal or unseen stuff. You know, like horrific childhood trauma or difficult family situations. So it’s your cookie-cutter storyline of “which hot guy will the beautiful girl choose?”
Listen, this ain’t a serious drama. It’s a romantic drama. And it’s pretty enjoyable, largely carried on the shoulders of the leading female, Kim So-Hyun. I also liked both of the male leads, which was shocking because I watched Nevertheless right before this and found Song Kang dreadful in that show. To my surprise, he was quite charming in this drama with a wide variety of facial expressions and emotions. Who knew? I had to change my mind about this actor so fast it gave me whiplash. The other guy, Jung Ga-Ram, was also great (more on him in a second). So… the trio of main characters were awesome and that’s a win right there. I mean, it’s not a drama I’m gonna run out and tell people to watch – but it’s only six episodes and pretty cute and… yeah. Thumbs up. I guess. Eh. Whatever.
On a random note… I decided to watch this show because I read somewhere that there was an LGBT storyline. Perhaps this expectation caused some wishful thinking – but I swear, I thought Jung Ga-Ram’s character was going to be gay.
I mean… think about it (if you’ve seen it)… the set up was there! His adorable and questionably over-the-top affection for his best friend (I mean, seriously, the first episode had my gaydar alarm going off like crazy). Encounters with not one, but two gay boys at school – both of which ended with Jung Ga-Ram’s character supporting their same-sex attractions with an odd reserve… a reserve that I read as “I too am familiar with this feeling”… and not because of his crush on the main female, but because he too liked cute boys. I figured that was why he hadn’t turned on his love alarm. Because he was in denial of his sexuality. I also figured that was why he hadn’t approached his crush, but kept her on a pedestal out of arms reach… a known occurrence of some teenage boys in their last chapters of coming out to themselves. Spoiler alert – he ain’t gay. Other than the two random gay boys at school who are on screen for a split second, there’s no rainbow to be found.
Apparently this show is getting a “season 2,” which is awful really cause revisiting a love triangle story line – AGAIN – just means these attractive people still haven’t resolved their shit. Even though the ending of the show suggested they had. Learning there is a season 2 ruins the happy ending of the first season. If that wasn’t the end – then they shouldn’t have made the show 12 eps instead of 6 – though can you imagine? The last few episodes were already starting to drag… I would have DNF’d this show had I seen there were still lots of episodes remaining.
I wish I could assume that Season 2 would show that relationships change – that the people you may have connected with in high school don’t always align to your future. Or dive deeper into the reality that human beings are attracted to multiple people at the same time and that love may be possible with any of them, or even with someone you’re not attracted to at all. Do I imagine the scope of the show will broaden and develop into a more nuanced story? Uh, no. I have zero hope for that. This is a teen romance – and you’re going to find your soul mate in high school, damn it, and that is the ONE and ONLY forever and ever amen, ya dig? It’s just gonna be love-triangle Part 2. And… do you really care which hot guy the hot girl ends up with? I mean, they’re both pretty decent dudes so I didn’t care. Sure, one relationship was developed more than the other – and this caused viewership bias. But do we really care?
I’ll be skipping the sequel.
Overall Rating – 6/10 – Silly Dating Apps and a Standard Love Triangle.
Before I even attempt to review this magnificent multi-layered murder mystery of conspiracy, crime, and corruption… let us first take a moment to step back and admire the bold choices of the casting and the writing. In particular, in regards to the two main protagonists.
We have the tall, steely cop – who uses few words, has a secret streak of kindness, and dedicates all to the job. This cop leads a team of dedicated followers, kicks ass in physical altercations, and lives alone without close family or friends.
We have a passionate teacher – who gets caught up emotionally in the lives of students, who is quick to express themselves, who worries over and looks after those around them. They live with their extended family, care for their niece who adores them, and works easily as a group amongst his peers.
Now… tradition tells us which gender to assign these roles. But Nobody Knowsis not about following your standards, thank you but no thank you. Nobody Knows had the audacity to give us a female protagonist who is not only significantly taller than the male lead, but also the cold, confident, and calculating character usually assigned to the dudes.
If you think this is not a big deal, then help me out: Name me one show where the central female is the single, solitary figure in a leadership role and the central male is the outgoing, extroverted emotional character in a general worker role. Even if we do have occasional broody female characters, they are not the head of the department or the main character. And if they are, they are certainly not paired with emotional male leads with less “powerful” roles. We are so boring with our gender roles in media – and characteristics we assign to those roles – so I believe dramas like this deserve a round of applause for breaking the mold.
I mean… can you name one show that even has a female lead who is taller than the male lead? Name for me a romance that has a man looking up into the eyes of his beloved. Even in ensemble media, there is still hierarchy of height according to gender. The only exceptions are characters that are significantly short (like Danny Devito). I mean… off the top of my head I can think of… Brienne and Jamie in Game of Thrones, though her tall stature was a big part of the storyline. Usually when it happens the industry will bend over backwards attempting to trick the eye – having the men stand on boxes, always having the women in flats, and so forth. Now… there are a few outliers, like this show, who just have tall women and there is no plot point to made of it, no tricky camera work to hide it… the movie Tenet featured an exceptionally tall woman who slinked around in heels, looming over all the males in the film. Our lead female in Nobody Knows also wears stocky heels – but the kind you can run after criminals in. There are other men in the show that are as tall as her or taller – but the leading man is a shorter. And it’s cool. It’s just… so nice. I noticed it every time they were standing side by side in the show (which is often) and I only noticed it because it’s so uncommon. In the media. Not in the real world.
The music was also… unbelievably good. I’m used to a sorta “standard” with Korean dramas. There is a consistency to their musical choices – but not so with this drama. Every single moment was taken into consideration. I was blown away at how seamless the music blended with the story, building tension, drawing out a character, creating a mood, moving fluidly from scene to scene, always perfectly blended, never a distraction. The instrumental music was perfect – the soundtrack songs were perfect. I was stunned.
The song “The Secret Not Revealed” which is the theme song, really… sums up the series perfectly. The slowly building composition, the haunting lyrics, the beautiful voice… I mean… just listen to it. It’s so stunning.
Above all else, of course, were the awesome characters. I thought this show did a particularly good job of capturing the nuances of young adults – especially young men – and how secretive, withdrawn, and emotionally vulnerable they can be.
This drama was a hit for me. I enjoyed every single episode. There were no wasted moments. Although there were slow meditative scenes, they weren’t “filler” – they were character moments. The flashbacks were minimal and almost always new content (instead of just rehashing a scene from the last episode). The dialogue was natural, as was the setting, the costuming, and the overall feel of the show. There was a foggy, cool tone to this series, like a mood that lingered… setting the tone. It had sweater-weather vibe.
I’m not going to go into too much detail about the actual plot because this is a mystery – and the less you know the more you will enjoy it. But I will point out a few things that I thought made this show superior (other than what I have already mentioned).
Every character in this show has a secret – and whatever that secret is, it is their driving motivation and their character arc to be resolved. Whether it’s a secret from their past, a secret connection to another person, a secret job, a secret relationship, a secret part of an organization, a secret business deal, a secret shame or a secret crime, they all have secrets. Maybe secrets are human nature. There are the rules of society, and there are also rules behind how we break them. Society has many layers, and shows like this are all about exposing just how complicated each human is – by themselves as well as in relationship to others. This is a show that reveals in character nuance.
Every character in this show also does bad things. It may be justified to the character (and even the audience) but it’s still a bad thing. No one is perfect. The students, the teachers, the cops, the parents, the adults in the community – they each have instances of doing something bad, of crossing a line. It may be small – like being a poor care-taker, mistakenly misjudging someone, covering up something to help someone else, or keeping their mouths shut when they should have spoken up. Sometimes it’s larger – like committing a white collar crime or engaging in physical or verbal abuse. This show never points out these differences, but it subtly alludes to them and hopes you make the connection.
These various levels of misdeeds create a vivid tapestry of human connections, irony, and complicated justice. For example… a child is abandoned and then taken in by a respected community member, only to be abused again. When the child grows up, they too abuse others. These manipulations and methods were learned, endured, and now being used by the victim. Are they still victims? Does it depend? On what kind of abuse are we dealing with? Abandonment? Physical abuse? Psychological abuse? Verbal abuse? How often does it occur and from how many different sources? Does it depend on whether the victim of the abuse is perceived as innocent or guilty? On how well matched they are? Do we have less sympathy for a teenage boy beaten by another teenage boy if we estimate it to be a “fair fight”? If they “had it coming”? Does it depend on their perceived value to society? All these questions just sort of float around in the air of this show… causing you low key anxiety as you attempt to catalog the characters into good/bad boxes that they refuse to fit into.
Justice is complicated. Crime and punishment are complicated. This show does not pretend otherwise. There are no “good” people and “bad” people in this show. There are just people, who have done varying degrees of bad things for various reasons – whether its insanity, defensive, profit, revenge, or some other motivation.
The characters of this show ruled. They were so well-rounded and memorable. In particular, the man who owned the big hotel near the water.
This guy was just… mesmerizingly odd. Snaps to Park Hoon for delivering such an exceptionally bizarre and charismatic character. It reminded me, in an odd way, of Jang Hyuk’s performance in Fated to Love You. A completely original vibe – everything about them stands out, their mannerisms, their voice, their expressions and interactions with others. Someone give this dude an award.
So, I think you should watch it. If you haven’t already. Sit down and enjoy a drama that doesn’t rely on tropes or familiar story lines. It’s unique. And it will keep you guessing, episode to episode. And it will make you ruminate on a lot of things as you bask in the moody ambiance of this amazing noir mystery.
Overall Rating – 10/10. A Modern Noir Masterpiece.
Move to Heaven is currently airing on Netflix. It’s only 10 episodes long, so I highly recommend you wait until you have 10 hours to spare because it will be very difficult not to binge this drama in one sitting. I myself stayed up until 3:00 AM last night, even though I had to get up at 7:00 AM, because I had to know how it ended… I needed the completion. I was a total emotional wreck for, roughly, ten hours. And I am extremely glad to be working from home today so I don’t have to see anyone in person, cause my face is a puffy mess from crying… repeatedly… just… sobbing all over the couch. I haven’t cried over a show in a long, long time, ya’ll… but this one hit me hard.
It’s a perfect 10/10 drama. It has it all – blood, sweat, and tears. It’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking. The characters are so memorable and fully developed over the series. The individual story lines that tie to the deaths are diverse and show the “end” may be different for everyone but every life is valued. The cinematography, music, and editing are perfect – and with a tight 10 episode run time, you don’t have to suffer through the dreaded flashbacks upon flashbacks or ridiculously long sequences of, say, staring at someone, that are the plague of so many lengthier dramas. This drama hooked me from the first episode and did not let go until the final credits… and arguably is still holding on to me, cause I am rooting for a second season (and I don’t like multi-season dramas – and hope that their creation and use remains sparse so we can ensure K-dramas maintain their originality and casting shuffles).
There is a little humor, a little mystery, but overall I would call this a standard DRAMA drama. It’s a story about people – a very sentimental one, but also a highly unusual one. It revolves around trauma cleaning – which is a specialized service that comes in and cleans up homes in which someone has died. They both sanitize the spaces, as well as pack up and organize the possessions of the deceased. It is not for everyone, certainly. Just like working in a hospital or a meat processing plant or a nursing home is not for everyone.
There will be blood. And… other icky things.
But such is life, and death, and this show does not gloss over the nastier aspects of the gig.
It doesn’t linger on it, either. Anything shown is important to the story telling of the individual episodes. This is also the case with any violence in the show – and there is some violence as well. My mother would have been disturbed by some of the scenes in this show – but she doesn’t watch television except on rare occasions and hasn’t been as desensitized by the media as most general audiences are. Anyways, I suppose viewer discretion should be advised.
To balance out this rather dark topic of death cleaning, we have the beautiful stories of the deceased which are brought to light as the crew digs through their belongings. We have the lovable characters of the main cast. The leading male has Asperger’s Syndrome and his uncle has just gotten out of prison for illegal fighting. These are two very isolated men, with very distinctive personalities, who are attempting to live together for the first time. Add on top of that an incredibly nosey and overprotective neighbor, and you (as a viewer) have a highly enjoyable trio to follow.
Overall Rating 10/10 – Learning to Live a Better Life by Cleaning Up After the Dead.
And now I shall babble about the characters – including full spoilers for the entire show so please watch it first before proceeding…
It’s been a year. Since last summer I have tried, and failed, to get back into Korean dramas. I found myself watching a lot of Scandinavian shows and a few made in Germany. But 2020 and now 2021 have been nothing if not strange times.
More Korean dramas are popping up on Netflix, which is great, and I’ve renewed my Viki subscription to get more variety. Slowly but surely I’ve found several that I’ve enjoyed enough to review – and a few I completed but haven’t bothered to review cause there’s not much to say about them (such as Lovestruck in the City).
But overall it’s been a lot of ship jumping.
These are some shows I started but did not finish… and most likely never will. In alphabetical order, for my OCD and your viewing pleasure.
100 Days My Prince – ep 1 – cutesy and not my style.
Absolute Boyfriend – ep 20 – I honestly don’t know why I watched so much of this… it was just kinda on in the background. It felt like a cartoon.
Abyss – ep 5 – certain aspects of this show annoyed me considerably… though I like both actors, I was not charmed by the body swapping shenanigans.
Alice in Borderland (Japanese) – ep 2 – eh. Killer escape rooms is kinda a worn out concept at this point, isn’t it?
Angel’s Last Mission: Love – ep 3 – too cutesy for my taste.
Beauty Inside – ep 9 – what the…? Did we just stop trying, Korea?
Beyond Evil – ep 8 – sigh. Shin Ha-Kyun and I just don’t mix, apparently.
Born Again – ep 6 – what a waste of potential. Felt like a day time soap opera.
Devilish Joy – ep 2 – meh.
Doctor Prisoner – ep 16 – It was exciting but unfortunately it spent all its time trying to be exciting. You can’t stay on Code Red every minute of the day, Doctor Prisoner. Without some calm to contrast your high stakes over zealous plotlines, it’s just cheap tricks. You know the music they play in game shows, right before a contestant chooses and they’re building the excitement and tension? They played it like that the whole hour, episode after episode. It was exhausting.
Doom at Your Service – ep 11 – another show that thinks two attractive leads is all it takes to charm an audience (which apparently is true from how many positive reviews this got). The plot line is paper thin. With some script development this could have been a more interesting and beautiful story – the outline is there, but right now it’s just a child’s coloring book and not a work of art.
Find Me In Your Memory – ep 9 – I like it and I wanted to keep watching… but this drama is soooo long and not enough is happening. My time is precious, people.
Flower of Evil – ep 10 – The sadness of the wasted potential! These are the kinds of story lines that generally suck me in. But… not this show. To be honest, I will probably try to finish this one at some point cause I do love a psycho killer story and Kim Ji Hoon is fun to watch. (update: I finished it. The ending was fun. 8/10)
The Good Detective – ep 7 – meh.
The Guest – ep 2 – really wanted to like this one. Shaman, Catholics, demons, and murder? Sign me up! But it felt unfocused and after the second episode ended, I hadn’t been hooked. Is there a plot? Or just an idea of a plot? Should I give it a few more episodes? Has anyone watched this one?
Guardian (Chinese) – ep 2 – not my style.
Hello, Me! – ep 8 – very cute idea and overall not a bad show… just not that good either. Love the leading actor, Kim Young-Kwang, in particular, though he seemed pushed to the background in this show.
Hotel Del Luna – ep 7 – decent concept but felt like someone just cut out characters from better dramas and didn’t bother to try to make them work for this particular show.
I’ll Go When the Weather is Nice – ep 6 – I generally adore slow melodramas but this one just didn’t grab my emotions.
Into the Ring – ep 2 – meh.
The Last Empress – ep 2 – dreadful.
Less Than Evil – ep 7 – started out okay but I’m not a fan of the male lead…
Kiss Goblin – ep 1 – ack, no thank you.
Live Up to Your Name – up to ep 7 – time travel comedies are hit and miss, and this one was a miss for me.
Mad for Each Other – ep 8 – fun concept but not quite funny. It’s Okay That’s Love or Heart to Heart are far superior, if you like love and mental health stories. Kill Me Heal Me is also a zany romantic comedy that was better. I dunno… this felt like something slapped together over a luncheon. 2020 was a tough year, though, so… it is what it is.
Melting Me Softly – ep 11 – snaps for a fun plot line but thumbs down for not putting any real effort into how to hold up such a plot line with narrative structure and intrigue.
My Country : The New Age – ep 11 – it wasn’t awful but kept reminding me how superior Six Flying Dragons was.
My Strange Hero – ep 28 – the show that is just one head-shot after another. It’s like a teenager who can’t stop taking selfies of itself. Soooo many giant heads on the screen. And I just don’t care to watch even one more minute of these continuous, tedious tight close ups of people’s faces. We get it! They’re attractive! Geesh – just back up, man!
My television is eight feet from my couch and I felt like my personal space was being invaded by this show. I snapped. Honestly, it’s not a bad storyline… and the actors are good. I just couldn’t take one more close up – to the point where I don’t care how this show ends, even though I only have about two hours left. I can’t! Call it a protest.
Private Lives – ep 3 – nope. This is gonna sound mean, cause maybe it is… but Ko Gyung-Po does not have leading man charisma… he’s awesome as a second lead, though. Anyways… dropped it.
Psychopath Diary – ep 6 – cute but sadly does not have a complex enough plot to justify the run time. If they would have developed the whole angle of the killer/cutie weirdness… then yeah. That was truly complicated and strangely sexy and just… wow, what a fun concept! But nope, they hopped over that before it even warmed up. Just watch Me Too Flower or one of his other shows if you wanna see Yoon Si-Yoon be adorable.
School 2017 – ep 9 – School 2013 is far superior in every aspect.
School Nurse Files – ep 1 – too camp
Sisyphus – ep 8 – I’m hard pressed to think of a show where the leading actors had less chemistry. When separate their storylines are interesting but together they just drag this show into a dull sci fi landscape.
Sky Castle – ep 7 – I might give this another shot eventually… maybe… I do love scheming rich ladies.
Start Up – I made it through the first 3 eps before I realized what direction the love story was headed. This is not to say this drama is bad – it may very well be awesome… but I kinda fell for the second male lead, apparently, and I just can’t support a show that created a leading character who is not the leading love interest.
Tale of the Nine-Tailed – ep 7 – ugh.
Tell Me What You Saw – ep 2 – overacting anyone?
Train – ep 7 – nice idea but lackluster execution
True Beauty – ep 2 – Did we need an entire show about the power of makeup? No, no we did not. We still have access to the old YouTube video Contouring 101 by Sailor J… and that’s all we need on the subject.
The Uncanny Counter – ep 1 – too goofy for me. (Update: I finished this and absolutely loved it… so first impression was wrong on this fun gem of a show. Rated 8.5/10)
The Untamed (Chinese) – ep 11 – I tried, ya’ll. This is as far as I have ever gotten with a Chinese drama. I love some smoldering gayness, but gheesh, these plotlines… I just can’t get into it.
Vagabond – ep 3 – I love an action drama but… not this one.
Vincenzo – ep 2 – I love this actor but could tell I was not going to vibe with this drama.
The premise of this show is simple. A battered wife who has nothing to live for stumbles upon a car crash… with 9.9 million dollars in cash in the trunk. Now, perhaps there are saints in this world who could walk away from such an enormous temptation… but I can’t think of even one living soul I know who could resist. Our miserable female lead is no saint – she takes the money. Every single cent of it.
What happens next is the show.
I don’t like to write detailed reviews about mystery shows. The less you know, the more fun you will have discovering the many – many, many, many – twists and turns of this show. The plot starts off taking you in the logical direction you expect – how will she get away with it? Whose money was it? What will she do with it? Where can she hide it? Who can she trust? But after it jumps through these basics within the first two or three episodes, it starts to do real heavy lifting. It starts to create this intricate web, connecting multiple characters, spinning back on itself, rewriting things, taking you in completely new and fresh directions before marching you back down into the thick of it. There’s a lot of people who are interested in that money…
9.9 Billion won is a lot. A lot, a lot. 9.9 Billion won is $9 million USD. That’s Life changing money. Lottery money.
Money changes your perception of life. The having and not having. The corrupting influence of it. And at its heart, Woman of 9.9 Million is a morality tale. It’s like an elaborate and violent parable or Bible story. And yeah, it’s pretty violent.
The actors in this show all owned their characters. I understood them – the good, the bad, and all the gray shadow folks inbetween. This show took the time to develop everyone important, to give us moments that put spotlights on different people. Everyone was complex. Everyone had issues and hang ups and distinct personalities. No one was perfect, and no one was exactly who they first appeared to be.
The cinematography is gorgeous – the set designs were awesome (so many cool lamps everywhere!) – the music was perfection in every scene. There were very few flashbacks or wasted moments. You will NEVER look at a suitcase the same way again…
Now, I know right away that this drama is not going to be for everyone. The lead characters are all middle aged. I would not call this a romantic or melodramatic. Most of your standard Korean drama tropes are absent from this show entirely. Woman of 9.9 Million is a unique storyline and will definitely surprise you.
If you like murder mysteries, please stop whatever you are doing and go watch Mouse immediately. I mean… just do yourself this one favor. You’ve undoubtedly earned it. I’m sure you work hard. I’m sure you’ve suffered through enough mediocre and forgettable dramas that you have qualified yourself for a reminder of how good a really good K-drama can be when they get everything right.
I loved this show. It was a perfect 10/10, in my humble opinion.
I love a drama that rewards you for watching it. One that has been intricately plotted before production started. You can always tell when this is the case because you have plant and payoff scenes throughout. Little interactions, little cut scenes, little details that just barely caught your eye in early episodes will be brought back later as major revelations and huge plot twists. This show knew where it was going from the first episode and just circled around you a few times like a predator before pouncing and sinking its teeth in. By the end of the second episode, I was completely at the mercy of this drama.
If, by chance, you are reading this review trying to decide whether or not to commit 20 hours of your life to this show, then let me say again, YES. Yes, you should.
It’s about serial killers. That’s all you need to know. That’s it. Just… trust me.
Don’t read any more reviews and for the love of all things holy – do not wander onto the internet in search of spoilers. If you find yourself confused at any point, don’t seek to have your questions answered outside the drama. The drama will tell you everything. It will make it abundantly clear who is who, what is what, and why. Just wait for it. I know we are all accustomed to instant gratification and carry around search engines in our hands, but just… don’t do it.
RESIST THE SPOILERS.
Let the mystery unfold.
Cause if you do – you are gonna have the most enjoyable experience with this show. Your jaw will drop. Your eyes will pop out in surprise. Not once, but twice, my hand flew to my mouth as I audibly gasped with shock. I cried “OH MY GOD!” out loud, to no one, multiple times. I mean… there are plot twists, and then there is Mouse. This show turned a bunch of messy plotlines into a gorgeous, intricate work of knotted art. Spiders everywhere are watching Mouse thinking “Oh, wow, now that’s a freakin’ web!”
The most enjoyable mysteries are the ones that let you get a few things right, so you can congratulate yourself on your deduction skills, but ultimately push you into a dark room and leave you guessing until the very end.
Of course, the story relies greatly on the acting skills of the cast to make it believable. To draw you in with their performances as their character arcs bend and shimmy and attempt a few feats of now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t. The casting of this show was perfect, down to the most minor characters. Everyone brought their A Game, grounding their characters with passion and heart while understanding the shades of gray this drama wanted to highlight.
This show is not a romance. It’s not a comedy. It’s not an action flick. It’s not a melodrama. It’s a mystery. It’s a mystery about serial killers, so if you don’t want to see some mangled limbs and curiously blurred knives, then you are the only person I steer clear of this masterpiece.
Hopefully this gushing enthusiastic “review” is enough to get you started on Mouse. If at any point you start to feel slightly… comfortable… while watching, then don’t worry – a bomb is about to explode and redirect the entire narrative.
“You thought it was a story about this? Oh no, it’s about this.”
(excited by the change in the story line, you settle in)
“Or… is it…” (drum roll) “this?”
(you gasp and resist texting all your friends about the crazy plot twist you have just experienced)
“You liked that, huh? Well, what about this?!”
(waits until you’ve finally recovered from the last four panic attacks and plot twists before jumping out from behind another mystery door)
“OR IS IT THIS?!!!!”
(you fall over dead from shock – but the drama comes in with automated external defibrillator)
(you come back to life, severely shaken)
“Oh… we’re not done…”
(the insanity continues even into the post-credit scenes of the last episode. you have left your body by this point and ventured into Korean Drama Nirvana)
Overall Rating – 10/10. The Less You Know Going In, The More This Show Will Fuck You Up (in a good way, I promise).
This melodrama was a perfect 10 for me – until about 16 episodes or so, when Kim Jung-Hyun dropped out of the show. Sigh. What a shame.
I cruised around the web long enough to read about why the actor dropped out of the show, citing his eating disorder and mental health. I also found a few more recent articles hinting a tumultuous relationship with his then-girlfriend may have also contributed to the shows fate. Who knows. Whatever the reason, it happened. The leading male actor left the show before it’s completion. And no matter how talented the writers are, that’s a hell of a hole to dig yourself out of. I’d say they did a damned good job, all things considered. But it never got back to the high ground it was originally founded on, though I’d say it definitely held its head above the water.
Melodramas are a mixed bag for a lot of people, but for me they’ve always been the favorite item on the menu. The more overdramatic and crazy, the more I love it.
This particular melodrama had a lot of call-backs to melodramas of old Uncontrollably Fond, Mask, Something Happened in Bali – with an insanely privileged leading male acting like a complete asshole, throwing screaming fits, terrorizing everyone, and basically being a gigantic demonic toddler – paired up with a rather ordinary girl struggling to survive the injustices of her life and economic hardships. Some horrible twist of fate will bring them together – and they will basically make each other’s lives miserable for a long time before slowly finding common ground, helping each other out, and healing past traumas. One of them might die at the end. Roll credits. This is the format and it usually delivers – because we spend the majority of our time in the angsty sections in the middle. Watching things go from bad to worse to… much, much worse. And then, oh my god, I didn’t realize it could get worse but it has and holy hell, these poor people can not catch a break. If you don’t have characters bawling their eyes out in public as often as they’re sobbing their eyes out in private, then you’re not peak melodrama. Melodramas thrive off absolute destruction before they give you the catharsis of rebirth. You’re gonna burn first, honey, and it ain’t gonna be pretty.
If I don’t want to throw a shoe at everyone’s head, then the writer’s aren’t doing their jobs right.
Kim Jung-Hyun was soooo mesmerizing as the doomed male lead. I immediately sought out more dramas with his actor after finishing Time and am happy to announce he officially kicks ass across the board.
The premise of Time is as follows:
A rich guy finds out he has a brain cancer and will not survive the year. This is very annoying to him, as he has yet to get over his rebellious stage and make any solid impressions in his life. Everyone thinks he is a screw up because he is a screw up. In typical self-destruct style, our rich guy decides to get wasted and end his relationship with his fiancé by having her walk in on him with a sex worker… cause taking responsibility is not taught at fancy private schools, apparently. He passes out drunk before his fiancé gets there, however, and when he wakes up the sex worker is dead in his hotel suite’s swimming pool (yeah, this guy is so rich he can afford a hotel suite with its own private swimming pool). He has no idea if he is responsible for her death or what happened – but in a tragic twist of fate, ends up meeting the dead girl’s sister. Guilt and a deeply subconscious feeling he should “do something” with his life before it ends, he attempts to help out the sister. And basically makes everything worse. Repeatedly.
It was awesome.
The rich guy was a classic jerk fighting a war largely of his own invention.
The pauper was a classic bland girl pushed to one desperate breaking point after another. The most interesting thing about her was how pathetic her life was.
His fiancé was a classic ice queen, spoiled princess, too self involved to even consider the lives of others she crossed paths with.
There was the particularly intriguing character of the lawyer who works for the rich family who also has ties to the destroyed poor family. This dude, played by Kim Joon-Han, literally carried the weight of the drama on his back after the male lead left. He was so… shifty. I found this actor and this role very compelling and always leaned forward a little when he was speaking in his soft, calming voice. The dynamics of this guy, untethered between the other characters, neither for or against anyone but himself and yet… so involved, so obviously devastated and lonely, so broken… I loved him. I loved to hate him. He was fantastic.
This show has all your favorite tropes. Shared living spaces. Fake marriages. Terminal diseases. Rich men atoning for their sins by helping some poor girl become rich too (hey, I didn’t create capitalism).
Even after the unfortunate loss of the leading male, it managed to drag itself to the finish line. Though admittedly flawed by this turn of events, the show still deserves praise. It’s a dark, vicious, tear-soaked spiral down the drain and I highly recommend it anyone who likes melodramas.
Overall Rating – 8/10. A Melodramatic Masterpiece That Died Before The Finish Line.
I love time traveling Korean dramas. And I’m also a sucker for the “enemies to lovers” trope. So I figured there was a fair chance I would enjoy this drama. But Mr. Queen surpassed all my expectations by providing a new twist on the old “boy disguised as a girl/girl disguised as a boy” routine. A modern man ends up transplanted into the boy of a woman from the past – not just any woman, of course, but the queen.
This show has a lot of people to thank for its success, but at the heart of it I would say the two leads ruled supreme. The chemistry and the comedic prowess of our king and mister queen carried the vast majority of the weight on their shoulders. Shin Hye-Sun completely nailed the posture, facial expressions, and often over-bearing and oafish behaviors of an attractive modern male. Kim Jung-Hyun blew me away with his sincere performance of a flabbergasted, frustrated monarch. Without his grounding anchor of calm nuance to balance our actresses flamboyant shenanigans, I don’t think the comedy would have landed. The two actors also had incredible chemistry and sold me on hating each other, begrudgingly accepting each other, and ultimately falling madly in love with each other. I confess, I didn’t expect to be so enamored with this couple, but as the show progressed I was spellbound by their story.
The writers, of course, should also be praised. Historical dramas can be tricky business, and managing to create episodes that will entertain the average viewer while also maintaining some sibilance of historical accuracy is no small task. Finding fun ways to incorporate the “modern” interests of the viewers, the “modern” behavior of the time traveler, and still staying true to the rules and regulations of the era is a challenge. This show embraced the current global love of cooking shows, using the challenge of cooking modern dishes with historical tools. I myself do not enjoy reality television, but I admit I was charmed by these kitchen scenes.
The twist of having a modern man in a woman’s body was explored in intriguing ways. While most of your basics were covered – such as discovering your physical body is weaker, the “gay” comedy, the behavioral comedy of gender roles and expectations – there were some elements that were hysterically ignored. I mean, I thought it was funny that they did not have even one scene in which the dude figures out how his downstairs business functions for gratification. Seriously? And though our queen gets menstrual cramps, they completely gloss over the experience of a man finding out what its like to have a period. I dunno, maybe I’m just knit-picking on this, but I have always found it hysterical that women masturbating and having their periods is so taboo.
I was impressed on how many subtle criticisms or critiques of gender and social norms they snuck in – both about the historical era and the modern one. If you’re looking for commentary about gender roles, various sexualities, and even transgender allusions, you can find them. But if you’re not interested in such things, you can blithely ignore all that commentary and just laugh over the standard poop jokes. Honestly, it’s a path to discourse that has proven successful. Scatter the seeds around (even if only a few take root subconsciously) so you can take a larger step into more “controversial” narratives next time.
Another creative choice was focusing on the close friendship and comradery of a female group instead of a male group. In the majority of historical shows, it is the close friendships of men that are generally the focus of side plots. Guards, scholars, politicians, rebels, commoners and royalty. Whether they are friends or rivals, opposite ends of a love triangle or standing side by side for a goal, it’s usually the dudes who get the most interesting side stories, even when a female is the focus of the show. Think of… well, any historical Korean drama. If there are other girls, they are generally rivals, enemies, or not heavily involved with the other ladies in the show. Mr. Queen gave us the endearing relationships of the Royal Court Ladies. It was so refreshing to watch these women come together and form strong attachments to each other, despite age and status differences. Though the king also had his entourage, I think it’s safe to say the focus for this show was on the queens court.
Historical comedies are generally a mixed bag. Finding one that can balance the conflict of the plotline and the romance, while also keeping its audience engaged and occasionally giggling for hours at a time is a struggle. My favorite historical comedy is still Sungkyunkwan Scandal, but I admit this drama ranks highly with other contenders, such as Moonlight Drawn by Clouds or Queen In Hyun’s Man. Was I invested in the political plotline? Uhm, no. Not even a little bit. But I was invested in the main characters, so I’d call it a win.
Overall Rating – 9/10. Discovering Your Bisexuality Through Time Travel and Body Swapping.
A few additional thoughts about Mr. Queen’s sexuality and the final episode below…
You know when you were a kid and you wanted to mix all the drinks in the soda dispenser at restaurants? We called that concoction a “Kamikaze.” Most people called it a “Suicide,” or… if you’re from the Midwestern region of America, maybe a “Graveyard.” You basically murdered your tastebuds by including everything. And yet… as a kid… you didn’t care. You were gonna do it and you were gonna drink it and it was glorious. It was muddy, bubbly, excitement in a plastic glass. The Penthouse is the Kamikaze of Korean Dramas. It’s terrible. Just… awful. Just fantastically, gloriously, bad. And you’re gonna love it.
The Penthouse is the drama we all needed during lockdown. When you’ve been stuck in your home for days, weeks, months, and everything just seems… overwhelming and yet boring, too much and too little at once… when the globe huddles together as shivering creatures susceptible to germs and you’re painfully reminded of your squishy organic humanity… then you seek escape. You want as far from normal as you can get. You find yourself watching Tiger King or… The Penthouse.
What is more distant and alien than insanely rich people living in luxurious, high rise condominium suites, far above the rules that govern normal society? What could be more niche than… opera?
If you’ve read some of my other reviews, you may have noticed I have a soft spot for melodramas. The more outlandish and ridiculous the plot twists and turns, the better. Grudges passed down through the generations, baby swapping, secret identities, cruelty, fits of rage and passion, character’s breaking up, breaking down, and breaking everyone around them as they lash out in the shallow waters they are drowning in… I live for it.
Melodramas are a required taste and have to find us when the mood is right. Was it a coincidence that How to Get Away with Murder also premiered during a global virus outbreak? If you raised a skeptical eyebrow at my pandemic analogy, then you may not be in the mood for The Penthouse. However, if you find yourself watching a bunch of videos on cults, conspiracy theories, and secret cabals that pull at all the hidden strings of the world… then you may be in the right frame of mind. If you find yourself thinking, “Maybe lizards do run the government,” or “I wonder if my backyard is big enough to house a pet tiger,” or “Is some corporation using my social media data to create clones?”… then the iron is hot and you are ready for a good melodrama to strike!
Melodramas thrive in toxic environments. They are irrational. They are the shapes you interpret in shadows, more about the implication of an idea over substance. You know it won’t stand up to scrutiny and so you purposely avoid turning on the light, willing to suspend belief. And if you hang around in the darkness long enough, your eyes adjust and maybe you forget the light switch is only a few feet away…
Melodramas are best enjoyed when you’re feeling subconsciously vulnerable. You aren’t going to learn a valuable lesson or muse about the subtle nuances of life while watching a melodrama, after all. Melodramas are not meant for self-reflection. They are a funhouse mirror, something so grotesque and fascinating that you can’t help but smile at this bizarre distortion of reality they present you.
Melodramas can be the only drink that transports you to the mentality of childhood innocence, back to a time when you could run through the house with your plastic toy dinosaur and lay waste to the imaginary cities around you. To the drama of your pastel princess dolls who ruled kingdoms, raised families, and then became rock stars in the course of a single afternoon. To the improbable wars of action figures and transforming alien robots. Where you can enjoy the godlike powers of ultimate creation and use them in silly, overdramatic ways without guilt or shame or justification of your outlandish plotlines. No one watches a child play and criticizes their worldbuilding skills. You just vicariously enjoy their enjoyment.
The Penthouse gives you both and adult melodrama and a teen melodrama simultaneously.
If someone is going to make a mistake in this show, it will be on stage or in front of a large group of people who will collectively gasp in horror. Think of any common nightmare scenario (like being chased by a killer, falling from great heights, public speaking, being late for a big test) and multiply it by ten. Think of day time soap operas and then boil them in a pot with Latin American telenovelas. Think of having one major problem, then continue to wrap more problems around it, as many as you think of, until you have this big, crazy, hard asteroid of problems.
Here is a visual representation of the plotline of The Penthouse.
Don’t try to make it useful or decorative or anything other than what it is. A big mess. Why would you want to untangle that? The individual problems have become warped and stretched out and absorbed into the whole. It’s a colorful disaster now and useful only as a weapon… (otherwise it’s just an embarrassing reminder of time wasted… so you gotta hurl it at someone… how else are you gonna get rid of that thing? call it self defense… call it… survival… but it’s gotta go and you know it’s gonna hurt someone on the way out… but… well… what other option do you have? Self destruction is sometimes instinctual. Humans are weird, friends, that’s all I know. We are strange, strange creatures).
If you’re expecting me to talk about the plotline or the characters… well… I have been.
I have not started Season 2 yet. I’m honestly not used to having a second season of a Korean drama and rather enjoyed the unexpected ending of Season 1. But I’m sure I’ll get around to it eventually and it will be just as fun.
Rating – 9/10. Setting off Fireworks Inside a Panic Room & other Bad Decisions with Colorful, Dangerous Results.