Review – When the Camellia Blooms

When the Camellia Blooms stars perennial favorite Kong Hyo-Jin as a single mom struggling to make ends meet by opening a bar in a small fishing town. As the majority of the women in the town are small business owners, the men flock to the new bar as the one place where they can get drunk without worrying about the prying eyes of their wives and relatives. Unfortunately, this does nothing to help our mom’s popularity amongst the community, who are suspicious of a young single woman anyways.

This is one of those shows were the main antagonist is other people’s prejudices (I mean, sure there’s a serial killer but I’ll talk about that mess in the spoilers section). It’s a very blunt exploration into the prejudices, contradictions, and difficult natures of human beings. It wasn’t a melodramatic exploration of human connections, like Angel Eyes or Will it Snow for Christmas or Just Between Lovers. It wasn’t as cute and playful in its depiction of adults struggling to find love and fit in, like Dear Fair Lady Kong Shim/Beautiful Gong Shim, Flower I Am!, or Heart to Heart. It was just kinda… good. Without being great. It wasn’t anything new, and yet it was enjoyable. You’re not gonna stay up all night to finish this one, but you’ll probably stick around until the end. This show will cause you to hate people. And conversely, to love them a little too. 

This screenplay won Best Screenplay at both the KBS Awards (2019) and the Baeksang Awards (2020), so I had high expectations of a well-crafted drama full of memorable characters and a tightly laced plot. I dunno… I guess it was a weak year, cause if this is the best they’ve got, that’s not saying much.

This is not to say there weren’t moments of sparkling dialogue – cause there were a few: 

We also got this perfect line of dialogue:

Writer Im Sang-Choon also wrote Fight My Way, which I thought was better. Also not perfect, but definitely more enjoyable over-all. 

More often than not, When the Camellia Blooms felt like a drama that was supposed to be set in the 80s. Before cell-phones. Before late-stage capitalism took over the country. Before the internet. The behavior of everyone reeks of the old-fashioned stigmas of the 20th Century – the stigma of unmarried mothers, the ability to “disappear” in a small country, the weird detail that none of the women ever stepped foot in the bar they were so all so suspicious of to check on their husbands (as if ladies going into a bar was too scandalous to consider!), and the fact everyone commonly associated bar owners with prostitutes. How ostracized orphans were (by adults, too, and openly!). How the police work to solve crimes was also incredibly old fashioned and low-tech. How no one ever checked the internet or their phones for immediate information, entertainment, and social connections. I mean… video arcades were still a thing in this drama… yet at some point, a kid has a gameboy… I dunno, it was all over the board. So I assumed, for a while, it was set in the past… but then they ruined it with occasional references to Instagram and cell phones. So  either it was just a mess to begin with or the producers changed the setting at the last minute to accommodate more advertisers. I suspect it was the latter.

So… 

Overall Rating – 7.5/10. Cranky Locals Learn to Love the Town Outcast.

SPOILERS & MORE RAMBLINGS ON CHARACTERS FOLLOW

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Review – The Heirs

Review – The Heirs

Well, I broke down and finally watched The Heirs.  It was much better than I expected, but also a lot of what I thought it would be.  Lee Min-Ho was rather charming as the aloof rich guy who turned into a puppy with love.  Park Shin-He did what she does best – look adorable at all times, cry a lot, and seem vaguely lost.  Kim Woo-Bin ruled as the school bully who finds his soft spot… by tormenting his first crush.  And the rest of the large cast was entertaining, interesting, and engaging as the plot lines moved around from episode to episode… from America (how bizarre was that?  Don’t break the 4th wall!) to elite private schools, and from the bedrooms to the board rooms.

It’s easy for me to be disengaged with these “super rich” dramas.  I find myself with a growing lack of sympathy of their problems, but this show managed to keep my emotions in check by doing a very good job of humanizing these rich kids and forcing me to care about them.  Quite a few of the side plots were very unique, including the awkward and funny friendship between the mistress and the mute housemaid.  It was fun to see Park Hyung-Sik before he’d capped his teeth and really matured into the full-blown handsome A-List actor he is today.  Tons of huge stars and exceptionally fine acting prowess saved what probably should have been a mediocre show and propelled it into a highly satisfying soap opera about young love between the economic classes.

I confess, I really liked it.

 

 

Overall Rating – 8/10  – Cinderella Hangs Out with The 1%.

Review – Angel Eyes

Review – Angel Eyes

A perfect, classic romantic melodrama!  I say classic in that it got everything right – the pacing, the tropes, the love triangles, the side characters, the mysteries, the music (was stellar, great soundtrack), and the sigh inducing love story.  Just…  Achingly romantic story of first love… overcoming an obscene amount of obstacles – just thrown at them one by one.  Oh, the drama!  Oh, the tears!  Oh, the ridiculous joyously fun circles of coincidence and fate and connections.  God, I love melodramas.  It’s my favorite genre, so when I find a great melodrama it’s like a gift addressed to me.  Romantic melodramas are my favorite of course, because then you have the painful separations, the smoldering, the aching between two people as they are yanked apart over and over.  Sigh.  I ate that mess up.  Plus this drama balanced out all the sadness with lots of light hearted moments, comedy, exciting work stories, side stories, and more.  It was so well rounded!  I adored it!

This drama had two attractive leads:  Lee Sang Yoon was mesmerizing as the die hard for love… it was impossible not to fall head over heels in love with this guy… and Gu Hye Sun was adorable, plucky, and proved she could also bring it to the melodrama table with some outstanding emotional performances.  I also loved the teen versions of these two, whose story took place in the first two episodes.  Kang Ha-Neul and Nam Ji-Hyun were sooo cute together.

Overall Rating – 10/10.  Organ Donors Are Confidential For A Reason.

More About Angel Eyes and Why It Is Amazing (with spoilers spoilers)

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Review – Incomplete Life (Misaeng)

Review – Incomplete Life (Misaeng)

incomplete-lif

Work.  It’s something most of us have to deal with about 50% of our waking lives, if not more.  So much of your identity is tied to what your job is.  What kind of life you lead is largely determined by your career, let’s face it.  Whether you are a cop, a priest, a lawyer, a chemist, a construction worker, a teacher or a salaryman – your job wraps around you like an extra skin.  It shapes your view of the world, the environment you grow accustomed to, the people you are in contact with, and the paycheck you learn to live on.

This is a show about work.  It’s a character study, focusing on a few key players and exploring the nature of their personalities, their backgrounds, their current lives, and their struggles and successes as they navigate their careers.  It’s fascinating, well written, engaging and just really good.  It’s a show that makes you think.  It doesn’t hand you all the answers.  You’re expected to be smart enough to figure it out or patient enough to wait it out.  And the pay off is worth it.  It’s an odd mix of realism and subtle optimism, which makes you reflect deeply but offers you hope.  I highly recommend it.

Overall Rating – 10/10.  You Are What You Do, Not What You Think.

More Musings About Work and the Characters and SPOILERS…

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