Review – The Red Sleeve

The Red Sleeve had a solid start but unfortunately wandered off the track towards the end and got lost in its own introspection. For nearly everything I liked about this drama, there was a counterweight of something I didn’t like. I will also admit I went into this with expectations of a sweeping historical romance, as I had heard this was a drama that captured people’s hearts with its love story, but, uhm… well, more on that in the review. Cause there was good and bad there, too, unfortunately.

The story itself was interesting and fresh. Though I am familiar with the fate of Crown Prince Sado, I am less familiar with the story of his son, King Jeongjo. I was captivated by the struggles of this young man, his fierce battle to always appear even tempered, intelligent, and upstanding so as never to be compared with his violent, mentally unstable father. You could really sense the pressure this young royal was under, how practiced his manners were, how he forced himself to endure any hardships with near silence and restraint. Lee Joon-Ho was surprisingly good in this role, for the most part, his bright eyes barely hiding the amount of intense suppressed emotion he carried around inside him.

He was especially charming in the beginning of this show. We got to enjoy one of the most tried-and-true tropes, the prince in disguise, as he sat around the library flirting with our lead female, the palace maid who somehow failed to recognize him as royalty.

These were the best episodes, in my opinion, and where both the lead male and lead female truly shined. At this point in the drama, the script felt focused and on track to deliver a great story of a young man navigating the complexities of politics and the dangers of the royal court while finding a loyal and intelligent woman to stand by his side. The King even says this. Verbatim. Like a thesis statement. That the crown prince will need to find solace and comfort in a woman, someone who can be his rock as he navigates the raging sea of politics. And for about half of the drama, that is the storyline we were given. And it was great.

I am most familiar with Lee Joon-Ho from Cheese in the Trap, one of my favorite coming of age stories (despite its flaws). He was excellent in that show as the extroverted, charming, troublemaker second male lead – the counterbalance to the serious, near psychopathic male lead. As a casting director, I can’t say Lee Joon-Ho would have been my first choice for this role, but overall the actor pulled it off. Personally, I think he’s better suited to a historical drama with more comedy, but whatever.

The most emotional aspect he was required to deliver was his conflicted relationship with the King. And he nailed it. You could sense how much he feared and probably despised his grandfather. And with good reason.

For those of you who may not know – Crown Prince Sado was murdered by his father. His death was particularly cruel – as no one wanted to outright murder him – so they shut in a small box until he died from starvation and dehydration. There were a lot of reasons behind Sado’s murder, but the constant criticism and strict disapproval of his father, the King, were certainly culprits. The King, played by Lee Deok-Hwa, was outstanding and captured both the disarming charm of the man as well as his mercurial nature, his fits of rage and suspicion, and his descent into dementia. Would it have been nice to have a little more overview into what exactly transpired between the King and his son Sado? Well… yes. I imagine it’s common knowledge in South Korea and no one needs the refresher course, but for us foreigner viewers I was grateful I had seen several movies and shows about Sado so I knew what was going on.

So that’s the basic plot. The male lead, our crown prince, is doing everything in his power to appease his grandfather the King and stay in his good graces so that he may one day take the throne. Our crown prince has many ideas for improving the country and is eager to step up and rule. Again, this is another area of the show that is both good and bad. Good, cause I understood why he’d been so studious and forced himself to remain stoic and even tempered in order to secure the crown. Bad, cause the show remained quite vague about the specifics of his grand plans of improvement. It was also quite vague about all the political and bloody turmoil that happened after he took the throne. They felt rather skimmed over and when they did take to the front of the stage, the emotional weight was lacking because those characters hadn’t been developed enough for me to care. Where the script chose to focus its attention often meandered and left me, the viewer, quite annoyed by its choices.

Listen, creating a good historical drama is a tough gig. Most sageuk’s end up like this one, with some solid episodes but overall sort of messy. They can’t all be Six Flying Dragons, I guess. For me, this was worth watching but I’ll never rewatch it. And if I am going to be recommending historical dramas, this won’t be near the top of the list.

Overall Rating: 7/10.

To say more is to venture into spoiler territory so come along with me, my friends, further down the page if you want to dig into the female lead and the awkward handling of gender in this tale.

Continue reading

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….

Continue reading

Review- The Best Hit

Review – The Best Hit

Where to even begin with this odd, nonsensical, messy yet… strangely… kinda fun show?  Here’s the premise:  In 1994, a pop duo J2 ruled the charts until its front man went missing, mysteriously… leaving behind his pregnant girlfriend.  In 1993, that same front man actually traveled through time, 20 plus years into the future, via a typhoon/staircase incident (don’t ask)… and apparently this split him into two people – the one who will stay behind and continue on route to disappearing in 1994… and the one who now roams around in the future.  Time traveling rock star hangs out with his own son (who is struggling to become a pop idol via some training program), and his two best friends – who all share a rooftop room together.  Meanwhile time traveler’s best friend and baby-mamma live downstairs, now middle aged.  From there it is a bizarre mix of flashbacks and strange relationships and strained relationships, as everyone deals with this time warp business.

It was honestly a disaster, but Yoon Si-Yoon is so good at playing these cheesy, over the top, lovable goofball rolls that he makes even the most preposterous convoluted story lines enjoyable.  I wasn’t overly impressed with anyone else – or their stories – but I stuck around.  I admit I did fast forward quite a bit.  This was another one of those annoying “short” episode shows where they’d literally just cut a normal episode in two for no conceivable reason – so the pacing always felt off.  It wasn’t quite about family.  It wasn’t quite about the entertainment industry.  It wasn’t quite a time travel mystery.  It wasn’t quite a romance or a bromance.  It was a little of everything and thus not quite much of anything.

The love triangle was more interesting than most, though, as it mirrored the infamous Pretty In Pink storyline… where you have two best friends who mean everything to each other, but one of them is secretly in love.  The key to this is making the person with the one sided love very charming and sympathetic… thus leading to “Duckie Syndrome,” where the majority of the audience likes that guy more than the lead guy and seem annoyed the girl doesn’t return his affections.  In this show, the son of the time traveling pop star has been in love with his best friend for years – and finally decides to confess once he notices her falling for his time traveling father.

So… there were pros and cons.  Probably more cons… and yet… and yet… it so freakin’ weird and unexpected that I did enjoy watching it.  The first 10 eps were incredibly hammy and nonsensical, but once it found it’s place, the story did improve drastically.

Overall Rating – 7/10.   Yoon Si-Yoon Is Fun In Every Decade.