Review – Gu Family Book / Kangchi, the Beginning

I watched this series when it first came out, slapped a 7.5 star rating on it, and moved on with my life. Except I didn’t move on. I kept coming back to it. I don’t know how many times I have watched it now, but it’s a lot. A lot, a lot. And I honestly think it gets better with each rewatch. Now I’d say it’s a perfect 10/10. Occasionally our first impressions are just… wrong, okay?

Listen, sometimes you have to change your mind about stuff. It’s good for the soul.

Just like this drama.

Just like these two.

Bae Suzy and Lee Seung-Gi are the two leads, both of which are notoriously charming in all their dramas. Sticking them together was like the first person who thought to create a double layer cake. What if we put a cake… on top of a cake? Afterwards humanity forever wondered why they hadn’t been doing this the whole time. Cause of course, of course, cake on cake is perfect. And Bae Suzy and Lee Seung-Gi are perfect. They’re both charismatic actors who bring innocence, humor, and sincerity to all their roles. And just so you know – they don’t even really show up until episode 3. Like Queen Seon Duk, the first two episodes are all about the laying foundations of the story with the generation before.

The plotline of Gu Family Book is fantastic – both the supernatural plotline and the political one. There’s melodrama, action, revenge, political intrigue, and the supernatural. But at its core, this is a romance. And the romance is achingly romantic, with the plot winding slowly around your heart until by the time things start coming together for these two, you’re already desperately bound to their stories.

The warrior’s daughter and the gumiho’s son

Oh, Gu Family Book! This show has it all. It packed in everything you can think of in its suitcase of plot devices to spellbind an audience. Kang Eun-Kyung wrote a script to rival some of the best historical dramas of all time. The story is huge, complicated, and multi-generational – yet it’s easy to follow and just builds on itself as it goes. There’s tons of humor to balance all the tragedy. The stakes are high but realistic. All the characters are fully developed, and I mean all of them. And they all get complete characters arcs, too, with transformation and growth (even if towards the dark side). I’ll get into all of this in more detail in the spoiler section.

Sometimes your protagonists are only as good as your antagonists, and Lee Seung-Gi plays one of the most monstrous villains of all time. You’ll be rooting for someone to cut this man down from the very first episode. Lee Seung-Gi will make your skin crawl. He plays his role with such menace, such devious certainty, that you never once doubt his character’s soul is blacker than the eyeliner of the lead singer of The Cure.

There are really dark aspects in this drama – human slavery, rape, torture, and murder – though their presentation is PG-13, you might be disturbed by the content. Gu Family Book does not pretend that the past was an entirely pleasant experience – it could be a very, very harsh world. But our characters still find ways to survive, to find beauty, joy, and pleasure, in the world they occupy. Sometimes the darkness can be overcome, and sometimes people have to make room for the light despite of it.

Listen, I’m hard pressed to think of a reason why you won’t like this drama. Other than the “old-school” special effects – which okay, sure, they’re old fashioned… it’s just glowing lights and rather painful looking colored contacts most of the time, but whatever. I’m embarrassed to admit I was overly dismissive of the simplistic special effects first viewing – which now don’t bother me in the least. In fact, I actually prefer a lot of these FX tricks over more tedious CGI.

Don’t let your modern eye keep you from enjoying this fairy tale goodness just because its special effects are a bit dated. Maybe at first you’ll be a little unsure of how to feel about some of the show, but it will hypnotize you. Next thing you know you’ll be utterly delighted every time those little blue will-o’-the-wisps show up, every time Kang Chi’s eyes switch colors, every time the operatic theme song by Yisabel busts in… “There’s a stone for the things forgotten…”

Around the early 2010’s is when Korean dramas started picking up a substantial fan base in America. There is something particular about the shows coming out during this time – they were so universally loved by viewers (with a few problematic elements here and there, sure) – they were so addictive, so shamelessly full of love, sorrow, hope, honor, and friendship – that they swept people up into the fan base and retained them as permanent K-drama addicts. Warrior Baek Dong Soo, The Moon Embracing the Sun, Queen In Hyun’s Man, Sungkyunkwan Scandal. If you’ve watched any of these dramas – then you know what I’m talking about. They’re distinctive. Distinctively freakin’ good.

Check it Gu Family Book and fall in love with a smitten tomboy warrior girl and the half-human half-mythical creature whose big heart and dimpled smile will win you over.

Overall Rating: 10/10. Supernatural Tale Involving Magical Blue Lights and Colored Contact Lenses.

Character Discussion & Spoilers Follow…

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Review – Mouse

If you like murder mysteries, please stop whatever you are doing and go watch Mouse immediately. I mean… just do yourself this one favor. You’ve undoubtedly earned it. I’m sure you work hard. I’m sure you’ve suffered through enough mediocre and forgettable dramas that you have qualified yourself for a reminder of how good a really good K-drama can be when they get everything right.

I loved this show. It was a perfect 10/10, in my humble opinion.

I love a drama that rewards you for watching it. One that has been intricately plotted before production started. You can always tell when this is the case because you have plant and payoff scenes throughout. Little interactions, little cut scenes, little details that just barely caught your eye in early episodes will be brought back later as major revelations and huge plot twists. This show knew where it was going from the first episode and just circled around you a few times like a predator before pouncing and sinking its teeth in. By the end of the second episode, I was completely at the mercy of this drama.

If, by chance, you are reading this review trying to decide whether or not to commit 20 hours of your life to this show, then let me say again, YES. Yes, you should.

It’s about serial killers. That’s all you need to know. That’s it. Just… trust me.

Don’t read any more reviews and for the love of all things holy – do not wander onto the internet in search of spoilers. If you find yourself confused at any point, don’t seek to have your questions answered outside the drama. The drama will tell you everything. It will make it abundantly clear who is who, what is what, and why. Just wait for it. I know we are all accustomed to instant gratification and carry around search engines in our hands, but just… don’t do it.

RESIST THE SPOILERS.

Let the mystery unfold.

Cause if you do – you are gonna have the most enjoyable experience with this show. Your jaw will drop. Your eyes will pop out in surprise. Not once, but twice, my hand flew to my mouth as I audibly gasped with shock. I cried “OH MY GOD!” out loud, to no one, multiple times. I mean… there are plot twists, and then there is Mouse. This show turned a bunch of messy plotlines into a gorgeous, intricate work of knotted art. Spiders everywhere are watching Mouse thinking “Oh, wow, now that’s a freakin’ web!”

The most enjoyable mysteries are the ones that let you get a few things right, so you can congratulate yourself on your deduction skills, but ultimately push you into a dark room and leave you guessing until the very end.

Of course, the story relies greatly on the acting skills of the cast to make it believable. To draw you in with their performances as their character arcs bend and shimmy and attempt a few feats of now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t. The casting of this show was perfect, down to the most minor characters. Everyone brought their A Game, grounding their characters with passion and heart while understanding the shades of gray this drama wanted to highlight.

This show is not a romance. It’s not a comedy. It’s not an action flick. It’s not a melodrama. It’s a mystery. It’s a mystery about serial killers, so if you don’t want to see some mangled limbs and curiously blurred knives, then you are the only person I steer clear of this masterpiece.

Hopefully this gushing enthusiastic “review” is enough to get you started on Mouse. If at any point you start to feel slightly… comfortable… while watching, then don’t worry – a bomb is about to explode and redirect the entire narrative.

“You thought it was a story about this? Oh no, it’s about this.”

(excited by the change in the story line, you settle in)

“Or… is it…” (drum roll) “this?”

(you gasp and resist texting all your friends about the crazy plot twist you have just experienced)

“You liked that, huh? Well, what about this?!”

(waits until you’ve finally recovered from the last four panic attacks and plot twists before jumping out from behind another mystery door)

“OR IS IT THIS?!!!!”

(you fall over dead from shock – but the drama comes in with automated external defibrillator)

“CLEAR!!!”

(you come back to life, severely shaken)

“Oh… we’re not done…”

(the insanity continues even into the post-credit scenes of the last episode. you have left your body by this point and ventured into Korean Drama Nirvana)

Overall Rating – 10/10. The Less You Know Going In, The More This Show Will Fuck You Up (in a good way, I promise).

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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Review – King 2 Hearts / The King 2hearts

Review – King 2 Hearts / The King 2heart

Ah… King 2 Hearts… a hit from 2012 that is still great.  It imagines a constitutional monarchy in modern South Korea, but with the same divide between North and South.  Our male main character is the second in line to the throne, but reluctant to step up to the demands and responsibilities of his title.  In an attempt to help him “grow up,” the King sends him on a peace-making mission to work with North Koreans for a military collaboration.  There he meets our female lead, a North Korean assassin.  Throw in a maniacal global arms dealer determined to crush the monarchy, a motley but lovable group of soldiers, royals, and all the family and political intrigue of mixing two long-separated countries… and you have an amazing show that is sure to entertain.

Overall Rating 9/10.  A Fairy Tale Romance With North Korean Cuteness.  Who Knew?

More discussion, ramblings and spoilers follow….

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Review – Shining Inheritance

Review – Shining Inheritance

Overall Rating – 8/10

Shining Inheritance is one of those “classic” k-dramas that sticks firmly to its tropes, indulges in its stereotypes, and ultimately resembles lessons taught in Vacation Bible School.  At the end of every episode, I half expected G.I. Joe to pop up with their moral tag line “Now you know.  And knowing is half the battle!”  Good people persevere despite obstacles.  Bad people will eventually get their due comeuppance.  You will fall in love G-Rated style and if your love life didn’t work out, you will bow out gracefully, without hard feelings or regret.  Welcome to 28 hours of a feel-good romantic drama.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

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