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 7.5/10 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. 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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Review: Kill It

Kill It is a twelve episode action-mystery drama that feels like it started out as a six episode drama that was handed over to an intern in editing who then chopped it up into a billion unnecessary flashbacks (flashbacks to what happened, literally, ten minutes before in the same episode) and excruciatingly long staring scenes where no one moves (did time stop? are there photographers on set? why do they keep doing this in dramas?).

It stars the handsome, tall Chang Ki-Yong as a brooding, introverted assassin… who is also a veterinarian. There are two ways to make scary men lovable, and that is to surround them with cute small children or cute fluffy creatures. This show chose the latter, as all children were too busy being horribly abused in this drama to enjoy even a  moment of cuteness.

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Review – Who Are You: School 2015

Review – Who Are You:  School 2015

Oh, what to say, what to say?  It was… tolerable.  A story about a bullied girl who gets into an accident, loses her memory, gets mistaken for another girl, who also got into an accident, and gets to suddenly live a new life as a pampered rich girl at a fancier school.  It’s just one dumb plot device after another.  Secret twins!  Near Death Experiences!  Amnesia!  Imposters!  Generic Love Triangle!  It still managed to be slightly enjoyable though.  The cast was solid, the cruelty and kindness of teenagers adding drama to each episode.  But overall, I wouldn’t recommend it.  Watch School 2013.  It’s better.

Nam Joo-Hyuk proves he’s got leading male capabilities.  Kim So-Hyun beguiles us with her big eyes and expressive face.  And Yook Sung-Jae gets pushed to the side in the generic role of second male lead.  I really enjoy Yook Sung-Jae, but have yet to decide if he’s strong enough to pull off a lead in a drama of his own yet.  He’s a bit too idol for me, a bit too hammy, a bit too adorable.  Super adorable as a blonde.

Our second female lead, however, is amazing.  The bully.  The villain.  She’ll never want for work.  When she’s old enough, she can easily migrate into the “evil mom,” “evil boss,” and “evil ex” roles.  She delivered some blood curdling coldness.  Jo Soo-Hyang is amazing, but I’m not delusional enough to expect her in leading female roles… she’s lovely, but the beauty standards of South Korea are as strict as Hollywood’s.  And that’s a whole other post.

Overall Rating – 5/10.   Ridiculous Plot Devices & Attractive Teenagers.

Review – Lucifer

Review – Lucifer

Recently re-watched Lucifer, one of my top 20 Korean dramas of all time, and it still holds firm in its position.  This isn’t a typical story of a cop tracking down a serial killer.  This is a morality play, in which the reasons behind the killings are the plot line.  Much like one of my other favorite shows, I Remember You, the murderer isn’t necessarily the bad guy.  Or rather, they are not the only bad guys.  The people who made them, who drove them to such extremes, are equally culpable.  In a fantastic twist, the cop hunting the killing has also committed a terrible crime in his youth – and now his dark past is coming to light as he races against time to save those who may not deserve saving.  It’s a story of revenge, a story of guilt, and a story of the personal choices that define us.  It’s a drama that asks you to ponder the hard questions, to twist around your normal definitions of right and wrong, to see multiple angles to dubious actions.

And I loved it.  I loved it just as much the second time as I did the first time I watched it.  It’s beautifully filmed and the story is expertly crafted.  It is the second installment in a “Revenge” trilogy by director Park Chan-Hong and writer Kim Ji-Woo.  The first was Resurrection, a haunting mystery, and the third was Shark, a gorgeous slow simmer show.  All three films are remarkable, unique and highly recommended.

Overall Rating – 10/10.  Where the Good Guy is Bad and the Bad Guy is Bad too.

More musings on the morality lessons, the plot, herpes, and spoilers follow:

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Review – My Mister

Review – My Mister

Holy shit, somone give this show all the Korean Oscars known to man.  The nuances in the characters – the extended scenes in which nothing is happening, expect what’s happening in their head, reflected on their faces – holy God!  This is mesmerizing tv.  Not only is it an interesting plot – and unique – but it’s sooo subtle.  It’s slow, but in the best simmer way.  There are main characters, but even the side characters are massively important to you while viewing.  Everyone is connected, developed, full of their own stories and pain and personalities.

If you’ve already watched this amazing show, you know those moments where (anyone of) our characters are on the phone, holding back everything, but the person on the other end knows them enough to know what their sighs or hesitations mean… that slow motion development of inner conflict without words… Jesus.  It’s good.  Even if the plot had sucked (and it didn’t), I would have been won over with the character development.  Escaping obvious tropes and cliches, the people in this show suffered silently and then together and then silently again.  Family, friends, lack of, all determined how they approached letting people in.  And letting people in – really in – to your inner world was the key focus of this show.  The few people who break down your barriers, or who you surrender your castle to, these are the people who really know you and who also can really hurt you.  They are your true reflections.

Overall Rating – 9.5/10.  Being Jealous of a Close Knit Community of Alcoholics for 16 Episodes.

More thoughts on plot and characters – which include SPOILERS… below….

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Review – I Have a Lover

Review – I Have a Lover

Oh, where to start?  There were chunks of this show that were pointlessly dragged out.  I mean, we could have edited the first seven episodes into one episode and gotten the same point.  There were also chunks of this show that were quality melodrama, with the right amount of intrigue and romance to suit any melodrama fan (eps 8-20ish).  And then it just keep going… and going… my God, why did it keep going?  There were probably 16 episodes of quality drama strung out into 50 long, tedious episodes.  I fail to understand the justification for taking this exasperating approach to the story.  I honestly want to take this drama through a video editing program and re-release it, because the idea was marvelous, the execution however murdered the show.

Plotline (condensed version):  A married couple struggles to find common ground after the horrible death of their precious daughter.  She turns colder, he grows distant.  He gets swept up into the arms of a younger woman, seeking an escape – and runs off to America with his new sweetie.  Meanwhile, his wife is in a fateful accident and presumed dead.  She survives, however, with total amnesia and is mistaken for another woman and adopted into this doppleganger’s life.  Who is this other woman?  Well, her long lost twin… a whistleblower whose life had been destroyed trying to take down a giant pharmaceutical company for unethical practices.  She runs off to China for several years, only to return under a fake name when her daughter’s illness requires specialized care.  How long can these twins live in the same town before their true identities are revealed?  Can our married couple find a way to mend their burned bridges, or are they destined to be with the people who have taken them into their lives and poured their love on them?  Will the big pharma company face justice?  Will the twins finally learn they are not alone in the world?

It’s quality melodrama ruined by a lengthy run time.  What a shame.  So many adorable children in this show!  So many fun ideas bogged down by pointless plot extension.  Such wickedly fun characters (the wife of the stepson, in particular, hands down one of the most enjoyable bitches I’ve seen in years!)  and exciting family dynamics.  So many laughs and sighs and potential – ruined!  Oh, the waste!  The humanity!  Why?!  (weeps for the loss of what should have been a new favorite drama)

Overall Rating – 4/10.  A Few Quality Episodes Baked Into a 50 Episode Inedible Cake.

Review – Radio Romance

Review – Radio Romance

Could I love this drama any more?  It had all the tropes that I adore:  A man haunted by his past, awkward and childlike in love – a zany cast of misfits trying to carve out their niche – interesting, complicated parents – and psycho antagonists who are strangely lovable.  Add to that some quality writing that kept me glued to the screen every episode, and you’ve got a recipe for a quality romantic drama.

Overall Rating:  8.5/10.  Tune In To This Adorable Romance.

More – including spoilers, one complaint, and character discussions follow:

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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. 

Review – When A Man Loves

Review – When A Man Loves

Deep satisfied sigh.  What a cool melodrama!  Talk about an unusual plotline that hooked.  I was completely swept up into this romantic entanglement.  Not quite a love triangle, not quite NOT a love triangle.  There was more nuance and character development in this drama than most shows.  You’ll be hating someone in one episode and completely understanding them and sympathizing with them in the next.  Shades of gray, my friends.  It’s a show about how your life experiences define you, even when you’ve changed your life.

Plotline Short Version:  A gangster falls for the daughter of the man he’s terrorizing and a series of events leads him to change his ways and give up his life of crime to reemerge several years later as a successful businessman.  When he runs into the daughter again – he sweeps her into his new life, with promises of financial security and his heart.  However, our young lady is wary of her new suitor.  He’s over a decade older than her, excessively smitten, and… ya know… a bit scary.  While she’s attempting to let this man into her life, she meets another man – her age – whom she shares natural chemistry with.  Unfortunately, his life is equally tied to the reformed gangsters.   It’s a struggle of will, of families, of obligations and of fear as these three circle around each other.  And it’s really great tv.

Overall Rating – 9/10.   One Person’s Love Is Not Enough To Carry Two Hearts.

LOTS OF SPOILERS, life musings, dating advice, and rambling follow…

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Review – Jugglers

Review – Jugglers

Jugglers was a mild drama.  By mild, I mean that the stakes weren’t very high professionally (something about who will get the VP position in a big company, a bit of sabotage and backstabbing, some very silly villains), personally (biggest back story obstacle we had was our lead male trying to overcome his phobia of other people and fire), and romantically (dating your boss was the theme of this show… which, naturally, has its problems).  Even though it wasn’t a long show, only 16 episodes, it felt long.  To me, at least.  I honestly wasn’t charmed enough by any of the characters or compelled enough by the plot to deeply invest… so I skimmed quite a bit towards the end.

That said, it’s really a very cute little show.  If you go into it with low expectations, you’ll probably have a lot of fun.  The lead female is feisty and silly.  When her boss moves into her house, becoming her tenant, she has fun with the power reversal – and it’s fun for us, as viewers, to see the home life of these suits and secretaries.  The lead male, her boss, is lovably grumpy, awkward, and nerdy… quoting anime and manga, flipping the bird at people when he’s adjusting his glasses, bluntly rejecting anyone’s attempt to befriend him.  Naturally we all wanted to see this dude fall in love and smile.  Considering our lead female turns into a manga shojo character when she’s smitten, acting silly and cutesy and overtly flirty, it’s actually kinda perfect.  I half expected hearts to come out of her eyes, or little cat ears to appear.

Rounding off the romance, we have office politics – including a side romance (sorta) between a housewife-turned-secretary and a ridiculous man-child with a high paying job.  They actually saved this drama for me, as I found their story line to be surprisingly endearing and sweet.

We also have another man-child, the ridiculous “villain” who basically runs around laughing awkwardly and doing victory dances, or frustration dances, or… just dancing.  His character was extremely physical – again, a lot like a manga villain… more silly than menacing.  I found him amusing.  As well as his long-suffering secretary who had to put up with his insanity.

So, Jugglers was kinda cute.  It had its merits.  But honestly, there are so many k-dramas that cover this same ground that are better.

Overall Rating – 6.5/10.  Goofy Men in Power and the High Heeled Women Who Take Care of Their Messes.