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.

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 – Hwayugi / A Korean Odyssey

Review – Hwayugi / A Korean Odyssey

You never know what you’re going to get when you start watching a Korean supernatural drama.  Vampires, ghosts, gumihos, goblins, demons, grim reapers, or deities.  You also don’t know how involved they’ll be in the human world.  So it’s always fun – because each show tends to write their own rules for the game.  In Hwayugi, we have demons, ghosts, deities, fortune tellers and more – and they are all heavily involved in the human world.

All the supernatural characters in this show are extremely quirky and enjoyable.  The pompous tv host demon who is trying to mend his ways, the shallow celebrity, the bratty exiled monkey deity, the male/female fairy, the demon dog and the zombie girl.  We even have a powerful billionaire CEO that spends his evenings playing a servant because these domestic chores bring him joy.  Most of these supernatural peeps have a job or something they are doing for a reason, or striving for, or living for.  They kinda make sense, motivation wise, though they are also silly and preposterous as well.  That preposterous nature is where the fun of this show lies.  It’s so over the top and silly that you can’t help but love it.  Reminds me of You’re Beautiful.  Just… fun.

At it’s heart, Hwayugi is a love story about a woman who can see ghosts and a monkey god who’s been banished from the heavenly realm.  She is an outcast amongst her own people just as he is.  She’s spent her life alienated and alone.  And he’s spent large chunks of his life imprisoned.  She’s our human, struggling with her emotions, and he’s our crazy deity, struggling to have emotions.  Problem is, she’s been transformed into a mythical monk whose blood grants powers to demons and he’d like very much to eat her and gain that power.  These two are bound to each other, with contracts and spells.

It’s a total mess.  But a lovable mess.  With outstanding costuming.

Overall Rating – 8/10.  Modern Deities Wearing Funky Fur Coats.

More discussion, musings, and spoilers follow….

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