Review – Nobody Knows

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 Knows is 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).

Secrets.

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.

Bad Things.

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.

Characters

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.

Review – Come & Hug Me

Come & Hug Me. What should have been a 10/10 winner – combining psychopathic serial killers, star-crossed lovers, fractured families, societal judgement, and a thrilling story of cat and mouse… barely made it to 6/10 due to its excessive use of unnecessary flashbacks, painfully long sequences of staring and slowly rotating cameras, faulty dialogue (and lack thereof), and jarring tonal shifts. But since it’s exactly my brand of melodrama, romance, and murder… I’ve bumped it up to an 8/10 cause I can’t deny I still love this show despite it’s many, many problems.

Let us all examine this tarnished show as what happens when editing goes wrong.

 

Which poster most accurately represents Come & Hug Me? Unfortunately, they both do… and that’s a problem.

Korean dramas have mastered the art of blending genres – especially when it comes to mixing dark plotlines with beautiful romances. Think of Pinocchio, for example. This is a masterpiece of blended genres – adorable, genuine romance – gritty, urban crime – melodramatic, dark pasts coming to light – and an unflinching commentary of modern society. It had a large cast and plenty of subplots and characters to follow around and not a wasted minute in the entire show. There are also dramas like Just Between Lovers, that kept everything close to the main couple and focused heavily on their inner turmoil, tortured pasts, and slow healing from severe trauma. I Remember You has not one, not two, but three serial killers, a boat load of family trouble, and a whole mess of relational, dark plotlines and it still gave us a swoon worthy romance. These were tightly paced, well plotted shows worth every award and accolade given to them.

So it can be done, this contrast of light and dark. It has been done. Come & Hug Me just didn’t manage to do it and that’s a shame. It felt like a significant chunk of the writers quit halfway through the project. Or maybe the studio said, “I love this 12 episode drama – let’s make it 32 episodes!” and then tossed it to an editing crew to pull on it like taffy. There were sooo many spaces that just felt empty, drawn out, padded, and needlessly prolonged. Every character in it could have used additional development – there were plenty to choose from, too. It would have been easy to tighten this drama into a finely crafted show. Instead, it just unspooled into a mess on the floor.

The plotline of Come & Hug Me is amazing, though, and thus despite its many editorial flaws and awkwardness, it’s impossible to deny the plot is pure melodrama. It’s a blood soaked cocktail of murder and romance and that just so happens to be my favorite drink… so let’s discuss…

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Movie Review – The Villainess

The Villainess opens with one of the most exciting, intense action sequences I have ever seen. Entirely from the protagonists point of view, you rush through a multi story building on a killing spree – seeing what she sees. I guess they mounted a camera to the stunt double’s head but geesh is it intense! Like a live action video game – with guns and blades and blood splatter everywhere. And, honestly, as deeply unrealistic as a video game… but why knit pick? Who cares if the bad guys cue up to fight her? Who cares if randomly none of them have guns when she’s brandishing a knives? It’s so awesome – just enjoy it. Enjoy it for the fun, furious murder ballad it is.

The Villainess is one of those rare movies where I was pretty sure I was going to love it before I even started watching it. Why? Because it’s loosely based on one of my favorite stories of all time: La Femme Nikita! It all started with French film Nikita by Luc Besson, which was excellent. America remade it, with the film The Point of No Return, which was also excellent. The Canadians did us all a favor and created an unbelievably sexy, sinister television series out of it – called La Femme Nikita. Oh Peta Wilson… you will forever be my first serious girl-crush. America followed suit, again, and made their own tv show several years later called Nikita… which I didn’t watch, for some reason, probably out of loyalty to Peta Wilson… but I hear it was pretty good too.

The premise is simple. A young criminal girl is caught up in the seedy underworld and ends up caught by the police. She will surely be sentenced to life in prison or death for her transgressions. A shady government organization sees potential in her and offers her an option – work for us and live… or serve out your sentence. She gets a makeover, learns to pass as a classy lady, and the next thing you know she’s off on assassination assignments and living under an assumed identity. In all stories, her handler is obsessed with her. There’s betrayal and secrets and amazing action sequences. And that’s Nikita.

The Villainess is a new Nikita. And she’s a worthy addition to the cannon.

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Review – Great Seducer / Tempted (to Fast Forward)

Review – Great Seducer / Tempted (to Fast Forward)

Full disclaimer – I adore the male lead in this show.  Even if his character is immensely boring, as it was in this drama.  Even if his usually shining star seemed dim playing a conflicted, conceited Lothario.  Even when he tried to convince the audience that rich kids have problems too… just not money problems, which is the vast majority of life’s problems, but, ya know… problems.  Even though this show kinda sucked, I still liked it.  Such is the power of Woo Do-Hwan.  I’m just a fan.

This show was an odd, very loose adaptation of the old Les Liaisons Dangereuse by Pierre Choderlos de Lacios.  What?  Not familiar with that 18th century French novel?  What about the play?  What about… Dangerous Liaisons, the fantastic 1988 movie with Glenn Close?  Or Valmont in 1989?  No?  Okay… Cruel Intentions in 1999?  Untold Scandal… the 2003 Korean movie?  The 2012 Chinese version?  It’s a popular story.

The plot (of Dangerous Liaisons) is simple:  Two very rich and powerful people are friends, skirting around some powerful attraction to one another.  They are both shameless sexual deviants, having affairs left and right with no real feelings for the people they are sleeping with.  When the woman is jilted by her lover for another woman, her pride is hurt and she concocts a revenge scheme… ruin the reputation of her sweetie’s new sweetie.  It’s a very passive aggressive move.  She enlists the help of her bestie to seduce this new woman, offering herself as the reward for a job well done.  Everything goes to hell once her bestie falls in love with this conquest… ruining all their lives in epic proportions.

It’s a great story, honestly, who isn’t fascinated by the idea of sex as a weapon – and worse, love as a game.  It’s a story about cruelty for pleasure, about deep insecurities, about those with power using it shamelessly over those without.  It’s funny, sexy, and… a tragedy.  Because if you start to care about your prey… it’s no longer the same game.  You’ll have a hard time serving the family dog for a holiday meal, ya dig?  Once you love them, to destroy them is to destroy yourself.  If you haven’t seen the 1988 movie version, do yourself a favor… Glenn Close is the master at playing a cruel bitch.  Though for camp value, the 1990s Cruel Intentions is also fun.

This drama takes the Dangerous Liaisons story and adds a bunch of unnecessary story lines – unrequited love between parents, another leading male, some teen sob stories, a few tangled connections and angles that do nothing to enhance the classic tale of sex and heartache.  It attempts to make the villains, aka the leads, sympathetic… which declaws the beast.  It doesn’t really make us love the bad guys or the good guys… everyone is just lounging around in the middle.  The power of the original story is that the two leads are total assholes – just terrible, terrible people –  and having one of them fall in love shatters their delicate world of manipulations and smug, shameless conduct.  That in fact, they are their own worst enemies.

This show wants to play it nice.  It’s not a morality play, it’s a teen romance.

So instead of being a fantastical, K-world version of the centuries old, beloved and wicked classic Dangerous Liaisons, it’s more like a few episodes of Gossip Girl.  And there’s nothing wrong with Gossip Girl.  Sometimes you just want to watch beautiful rich people run around and be mean, then nice, then mean, then nice to each other and know it will all work out in the end.  Fans of Gossip Girl will love this.

Overall Rating – 7.5/10.  Basically a Few Episodes of Gossip Girl, K-Style.