Review – L.U.C.A.: The Beginning

L.U.C.A.: The Beginning.

This drama started strong, but then it stumbled under its own weight. The first episode, in particular, was thrilling! That opening scene? The mystery of it all? Super powers, action, intrigue, kooky cults and mad science? What’s not to love? I was hooked and sure the show was going to be one of my all time favorites. And for a while… it was.

The first few episodes were amazing. The action sequences were long but interesting, following characters as they chased people through apartment complexes and busy streets, up and down stairs, into train tunnels, hospitals, elevators, and more. You really felt the scope of the city and got to know the characters by how they responded in these intense situations. The camera work was also incredible and insanely cinematic.

Within the first few episodes, I had been given an epic Korean drama that was surely bound to build up on its rock solid foundation. The cornerstones were set:

Mild spoilers for first few episodes.

Corner 1: The Cops and Our Female Heroine: Juan Police Station.

Truly an unusual female lead, who was given the personality generally reserved for male characters. She was distrustful, antisocial, self-centered, and obsessive about her own private agenda. People seemed to like her despite this, but she remained distant – only slowly drawing closer to the male lead who basically had to stalk her, woo her, and fight her to keep her attention. She was not instantly falling for this hot suspect cause she had shit to do, ya hear me? Her personal life was booked up at the moment and she wasn’t too keen on penciling in some new guy. See what I mean… sounds the like the traits of a lot of male leads in dramas, not the female leads. Naturally, this confused a bunch of people and I noticed a lot of hate mail flying her way via the interwebs. But I thought she was great. At first (like everyone else, she suffered under the writing and direction of plot archs). The other cops are great – all the cliches we love, like the cranky head of the department, the funny guy, the super loyal guy, just… all the guys you like to see in a cop ensemble.

Corner 2: The Male Hero: The Mystery Man.

What’s not to like? A handsome guy who has crazy powers, who seems more confused by them than we are. People are after him and he’s just running away on a survival instinct, because they’re chasing him and so running away seems like the appropriate response. He has no idea who he is or what he’s done. He knows he’s not normal, but other than that… he’s got a blank slate where his memory book should be. He’s drawn to the female lead because she seems familiar, or rather, he seems familiar to her… and that’s a lead he’s willing to follow. Like an adorable puppy with alarming super powers.

Corner 3: The Mad Scientists: Human Tech.

I sincerely appreciate that this show was willing to go Full Tilt Boogie Old School Mad Science. We’ve got secret laboratories hidden in basements. We’ve got mysterious jars filled with mysterious items, back lit with neon lights for effect. We’ve got huge syringes of glowing green liquids and subjects restrained on the operating tables with bulky leather straps. We’ve got a lead scientist with a white lab coat and wild hair. The laboratories are all dark with unrealistic colored lights everywhere and I adore it. Embrace the science-fiction glamor! Mad science is a statement and there’s a certain dress code we expect – it’s visual short hand that tells us whatever they’re up to it’s surely not legal… and probably not ethical… and definitely exciting.

Corner 4: The Cult, The Killers, and The Politicians: Project L.U.C.A.

There’s nothing like a nefarious religious leader to add a little extra drama to your show. We know little about this cult other than it’s got an awful lot of young ladies in it and a fabulous dress code. We also know it helps fund the mad science. The politician is the “outside” man, or the dude who represents the outside involvement on this mysterious side project. This is played by the ever-so-funny and talented Park Hyuk-Kwon (my favorite character in Six Flying Dragons). Does anyone play a shady, loveable villain better? The answer is no. No one. Just cast Park Hyuk-Kwon every single time, please. And of course, you can’t have a secret organization without enforcement, and our villains have super powers too. What is their end game? We are dying to know…

A quick side note about the villain enforcers. They kick ass.

The casting was exceptional all around, but in particular the choice of Kim Sung-Oh as the lead henchman in the black gloves. He plays the complicated, stubborn, tragic super-villain to perfection. Unlike our leading male, who walks around with the blank face of someone who can’t remember what they ate for breakfast and it’s slightly irritating him, the lead henchman seems to be carrying the weight every single mistake and tragedy of his life on his shoulders. He looks absolutely tortured, and resigned to being tortured.

With those rock solid elements as the foundation to a show, you’d think it would be a sure shot to be the most epic, talked-about, fan-favorite show of 2020. It had no where to go but up. It could have built us a mysterious pyramid, a spectacularly futuristic skyscraper, a creepy castle of gothic romance and intrigue, or a secure fortress in the super hero pantheon. But… it just kinda made a box and then asked us to imagine what was inside. I’m sorry, but if J.J. Abrams has taught us anything its that the Mystery Box approach to film making only works as a good hook, not a good plot vehicle. You use it lure bait into the boat… you’re not supposed to use it as the boat itself.

Though the title hints this is only the first chapter in what could be a continued series, I’m not sure it has enough strength in its legs to walk. I mean… I’ll definitely watch it, don’t get me wrong. But if it does get made, I’ll resent that it was it was broken into two parts instead of offering me a more complicated, if not longer, unified story.

Have you seen Gu Family Book – also called Kangchi, The Beginning? In a lot of ways, these two dramas have a similar feeling to them. Gu Family Book has its origin story, leading to the main protagonist, and then loops back around to pick up the dropped threads of the origin story again before reaching its dramatic ending. I think L.U.C.A. would have been better served to follow this format, expanding into a longer series but also weaving its plot lines together to improve viewer satisfaction.

So… where does that leave us with L.U.C.A.?

If you like science fiction or camp, you’re going to enjoy this show. You may not love it, but you’ll have fun with it.

If you like action and adventure, then this show is also a safe bet. The fight sequences are great and the choreography, stunt work, and direction – as well as the camera work – are top game.

If you like mystery… you might like. There’s a bunch of mysteries, don’t get me wrong… but it’s a bit wishy-washy on whether or not those questions marks paid off with answers worth the effort.

If you like romance… you might like it. The romance is a side plot, in my opinion. It didn’t have to be, but that’s how it turned out. It’s arguably the weakest link in the show, feeling oddly paced and somewhat confusing most of the time. We will discuss this more in the deep spoiler section below.

Do I recommend this show? Yup. It was a mess, but I had fun with it (clearly I am a science fiction fan).

Overall Rating – 8/10. The Korean Peninsula of Doctor Moreau.

MORE MUSINGS & MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!

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Review – Black Knight : The Man Who Guards Me

Review – Black Knight : The Man Who Guards Me

This show started off unsteady, but by episode four I was totally hooked and in love.  Why?  Cause the villains of this show were so mesmerizing!

Without any spoilers , the plot is simple:  It’s a super sweet love story between a rich business man and a woman who works for a travel agency.  They’re childhood sweethearts who are reunited as adults, and clearly meant to be together.   Unfortunately, there’s a beautiful witch who wants to break this couple apart and have the handsome man all to herself.

Our adorable re-incarnated lovers

I admit, I was charmed by the cuteness of the main couple, but it was the devious witch dressmaker with her eerie pale shop and colorful assistant that won me over completely!  It’s quite possibly the best, weirdest work environment of all time… it’s like a David Lynch dream of stark interiors and bright, bizarre characters.  If you aren’t sure whether or not this odd little show is for you… watch this clip.  There is basically no context for this dance sequence… it just happens.  If you’re thinking to yourself “How cool!  What’s happening?” then you will enjoy this show.  If you’re thinking, “That’s too weird for me” then don’t bother with Black Knight.

The jumps through time are especially awesome, as we got lots of flashbacks of the two immortal ladies in various decades, fully decked out in the latest fashions.  It’s the one thing I am usually disappointed with in other shows that deal with time travel, the lack of “inbetween” years.  Not Black Knight, though!  We get plenty of glimpses through the two hundred years these ladies have roamed the earth.  Between the time jumps, the atmospheric sets, the location shooting, the sickeningly sweet romance, and the calm deviousness of our witch made Black Knight awesome.  It’s a surrealist fairy tale for grown ups.

Overall Rating – 8/10.  Hell Hath No Fury Like A Witchy Woman Scorned.

More about the actual plot – with SPOILERS galore – follows…

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Review – Which Star Are You From?

Review – Which Star Are You From?

I stumbled across this romantic comedy from 2006 by chance… and what a charmer!  It had everything you want from a romantic comedy – or at least, everything I want – nonstop focus on the main couple.

The plot is simple:  A successful filmmaker falls in love with an elegant, rich beauty – but doesn’t measure up to her family’s standards.  In a tragic accident, she dies – leaving him heartbroken.  Several years later, he stumbles across this backwoods hillbilly girl who looks just like his departed lost love – and follows her to her mountain home.  She’s crass, rude, wild, honest, and basically the exact opposite of everything his first love was… yet they find themselves having a blast together, fighting and bickering and playing and falling in love.  Can he open his heart his again to this unexpected girl?

Though it was a simple show, it had enough twists in the road to keep me highly entertained all sixteen episodes.  It was also incredibly romantic.  The two leads had great chemistry – Kim Rae-Won and Jung Ryeo-Won have no trouble convincing us they are star crossed – and the female lead, in particular, was fantastic at playing dual roles – of the mysterious, lovely first love and the plucky, gregarious hillbilly with her childish braids and hair barrettes.  Classic romantic K-Drama.  I loved it!

Overall Rating – 9/10.  Lolita of the Back Woods.

Review – Doctor Crush / Doctors & Good Doctor (Diagnosis please…?)

Review – Doctor Crush & Good Doctor

So… pushed myself to watch some medical dramas… some of my LEAST favorite shows of all time.  Ugh.  Is there any thing more tedious than watching people being rushed about on gurneys, those annoying machines that are always beep beep beep beeping cause something has gone wrong or dropped too low or too high or whatever?  A bunch of people continuously washing their hands and slicing up humans like it’s Top Chef.  Gross.  Clearly I am not cut out for the healing arts.  I’m grateful that others are… but it’s not my cup of tea.  And I am rarely interested in anything that occurs within the horror white washed walls of hospitals.  But still… I thought I’d try.

The first time I tried Doctor Crush, also known as Doctors, I didn’t make it past episode six.  Despite the somewhat promising first episode and unique premise (rough and tumble bad girl decides to mend her wicked ways and focus on turning her life around – to become a surgeon, of all things, motivated by the suspicious death of her grandmother… and the encouragement of a hunky doctor-turned-teacher-turned-romantic-interest who also becomes a surgeon again), it quickly did a belly flop into snoozeville.  After six episodes, I thought to myself… I’ll never get these hours of my life back.  I must abandon ship! I must run before the love I have for Park Shin Hye is diminished.  I really liked her and that older teacher dude, too… though their chemistry was off.  Way off.

Seriously, I am uncomfortable even LOOKING at this picture, that’s how bad the chemistry was…

Which dooms a romantic storyline, so the show lost its spine right there.  They seemed like friends, I guess… but every time they were out having one of their “romantic” dates, the smiles of the male lead seemed fake and strained and our female lead actually seemed physically uncomfortable.  The actors tried.  But I wasn’t buying it.

Then I gave the show a second chance, months later, and completed the series.  The second time around, I did enjoy it a bit more but it still felt lacking.  The tall Yoon Gyun-Sang was awkward as a physician and a character, his one sided crush on the female lead felt forced and convoluted.  The beautiful Lee Sung-Kyung was slightly more interesting, as the insecure pretty girl who was used to being at the top, but her character came across as unintelligent… and she was supposed to be a freakin’ brain surgeon so I had trouble believing anyone could be so dumb and so brilliant at the same time.

As I was watching, I wondered if I wasn’t being overly critical of the show.  I mean, it wasn’t that bad, was it?  But then cameo actors would show up and suddenly everything became exciting, interesting, and completely engaging.  The motorcycle riding thug played by Ji Soo stole every scene he was in, for example.  I also want to add that our leading lady had real chemistry with this guy… I’d love to see them paired up in a show, wouldn’t you?

The grandmother?  Brilliant.  Namgung Min came in as the father of two young boys who both had brain tumors – around episode 13 – and I was overwhelmed with how he could turn a bit part into the most profoundly moving few episodes in the show.  Namgung Min was the nail in the coffin, in my opinion.  After he showed up, and basically turned every other plotline into a stale piece of bread, I knew I wasn’t being overly judgmental.

There’s a scene in the last episode where a stern father is coming to comfort his grown son – who is facing a serious surgery.  And the son confesses he’s terrified his life will be ruined after the surgery, or worse, he might die.  And the father grabs his hand and yells at him that he won’t die.  And then both are overcome with emotion, the son crying, the stern father unable to look at him turns away but still holds his hand.  Now, that scene was amazing.  And it was two side, side characters.

  

This is my problem.  Why are there no scenes like this with our leading characters?  Or even the principle side characters?

Doctors just wasn’t that great.  Tolerable, yes.  Memorable?  No.

Overall Rating:  6.5/10.  A Flatlined Medical Romance.

Good Doctor was much better.  Even though I didn’t love it, at least it was interesting.  An autistic genius doctor struggling to overcome his ticks and social limitations to function properly enough to make it as a successful surgeon?  Okay, I’m intrigued.  The actor was brilliant, too.  He was brilliant in Bridal Mask and he was brilliant in this.  Moon Chae-Won was also lovely, as always, as the sorta doofy but genuinely sweet surgeon who took him under her wing and into her heart.  Though I liked her, she never felt fully believable as a surgeon.  Opposite this sensitive pair, we have just about everyone else… a well rounded cast of doctors and patients.  And of course, the head of pediatrics, the hunky young doctor who spends the majority of the show screaming at or belitting our autistic doctor.  It’s rough.  There’s a lot of abuse disguised as tough love, and a lot of flat out abuse.  And yet… I don’t know… I wasn’t entirely emotionally invested since the outcome seemed obvious from the first episode.  I would have stopped watching this show – but it had something unexpected….

The Good Doctor provided small moments of beauty.  Almost painful in their sincerity.  If it had been delivered in another show, it would have seemed too corny, too cheesy, too force-fed lesson-of-the-day… but because they snuck it in between bloody operations and screaming doctors, it worked.  These moments were largely delivered by the autistic doctor, but not entirely… sometimes they came from the children, or the staff, or the just through an expression or a moment of understanding between two characters.

The romance was sweet but also kinda… hm… well, it’s difficult.  The man has the emotional maturity of a 10 year old.  He’s incredibly smart and sensitive and kind… but it’s hard to imagine a night of passion with him in the bedroom.  Though I am no expert on the subject.  Perhaps that’s just another thing he would surprise everyone with and also be extremely good at… who can say.  It seemed unlikely.  But whatever, that’s not all there is to romance, after all, as this show clearly demonstrates.  Our lead male offers love in a strangely pure form and our leading lady is able to receive it with equal kindness of spirit.  They were, in a way, a wonderful couple and truly unique in the history of k-drama.

I’m not sure I’d recommend either… but if you’re gonna watch a medical drama – Good Doctor is your best bet.

Overall Rating – 8/10.