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 – Thank You (…No Thank You)

Review – Thank You (…No Thank You)

This drama is all about understatement (the picture above is very misleading… basically the little girl and grandpa are the only happy souls in the show).  It’s almost entirely set on a small island, the slow pace of life mirrored in the slow pace of the story unfolding.

Plot:  A young girl is desperately in love with her childhood sweetheart, who thwarts her to go off in pursuit of bigger ambitions.  But not before knocking her up, unbeknownst to him.  She raises the child the best she can, along with her elderly grandfather who suffers from dementia.  When her daughter is about eight years old, she’s in a car accident – and due to a mix up at the hospital, given contaminated blood and ends up with HIV.  The doctor responsible dies, but not before sending her doctor boyfriend off on a mission to apologize to the child and mother for her.  A series of events bring the doctor and the long-lost father of the child back to the island at the same time – and basically… it’s a slow, atmospheric WWIII of the Heart, with the adorable little girl at the center.

It’s a decent story about responsibilities and insecurities and families and communities.  You’ll come to know the small town and all the people in it as if you moved in, too.  I didn’t love it.  I’m not sure I even liked it.  The whole thing was a dreary mess, honestly… sort of washed out and pitiful instead of intense and heartbreaking.  I prefer my melodramas to be the latter.

Overall Rating – 7/10.  Small Town Life is Highly Contagious, Take Precautions.

Just a little bit more… but not much…. light spoilers follow…

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Review – Jealousy Incarnate

Review – Jealousy Incarnate

This show really shouldn’t have been as entertaining as it was.  The plot was kinda lame, the territory worn… but due to the amazing cast, it somehow managed to still be an enjoyable show for 20 something long episodes.  I think the reason this show appeals to people is because the premise is appealing.  Who hasn’t had a crush on someone who just didn’t feel the same way?  And how awesome would it be if they suddenly changed their mind – at the exact time someone as equally awesome came along and also liked you?  And… let’s shoot for the stars… how incredible would it be to date them both, with their permission, and even set up house together while they generously allow to figure out your feelings?  Geesh.  It’s so ridiculous and in the realm of fantasy, which is exactly why it was entertaining for twenty episodes.

The love triangle is really the only reason to watch it.  There are better shows about broadcasting (Pinocchio) and there are better shows about cancer (Padam Padam), though I will admit the male breast cancer angle was interesting.  The side story about the warring moms was funny and I enjoyed their love triangle as well.  The side story about the teenagers, eh.  I have a serious crush on Choi Hwa-Jung, who played the rich guy’s mom, Madam Kim, so I loved watching her prance around and try to reign in her empire and heir… oh my God, she was rockin’ in this show.  Her stylist deserves a special award for fitting those curves to perfection.  Damn.

Overall Rating – 7/10.  Two Boyfriends Are Better Than One.

More musings…

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