Review – Time

This melodrama was a perfect 10 for me – until about 16 episodes or so, when Kim Jung-Hyun dropped out of the show. Sigh. What a shame.

I cruised around the web long enough to read about why the actor dropped out of the show, citing his eating disorder and mental health. I also found a few more recent articles hinting a tumultuous relationship with his then-girlfriend may have also contributed to the shows fate. Who knows. Whatever the reason, it happened. The leading male actor left the show before it’s completion. And no matter how talented the writers are, that’s a hell of a hole to dig yourself out of. I’d say they did a damned good job, all things considered. But it never got back to the high ground it was originally founded on, though I’d say it definitely held its head above the water.

Melodramas are a mixed bag for a lot of people, but for me they’ve always been the favorite item on the menu. The more overdramatic and crazy, the more I love it.

This particular melodrama had a lot of call-backs to melodramas of old Uncontrollably Fond, Mask, Something Happened in Bali – with an insanely privileged leading male acting like a complete asshole, throwing screaming fits, terrorizing everyone, and basically being a gigantic demonic toddler – paired up with a rather ordinary girl struggling to survive the injustices of her life and economic hardships. Some horrible twist of fate will bring them together – and they will basically make each other’s lives miserable for a long time before slowly finding common ground, helping each other out, and healing past traumas. One of them might die at the end. Roll credits. This is the format and it usually delivers – because we spend the majority of our time in the angsty sections in the middle. Watching things go from bad to worse to… much, much worse. And then, oh my god, I didn’t realize it could get worse but it has and holy hell, these poor people can not catch a break. If you don’t have characters bawling their eyes out in public as often as they’re sobbing their eyes out in private, then you’re not peak melodrama. Melodramas thrive off absolute destruction before they give you the catharsis of rebirth. You’re gonna burn first, honey, and it ain’t gonna be pretty.

If I don’t want to throw a shoe at everyone’s head, then the writer’s aren’t doing their jobs right.

Kim Jung-Hyun was soooo mesmerizing as the doomed male lead. I immediately sought out more dramas with his actor after finishing Time and am happy to announce he officially kicks ass across the board.

The premise of Time is as follows:

A rich guy finds out he has a brain cancer and will not survive the year. This is very annoying to him, as he has yet to get over his rebellious stage and make any solid impressions in his life. Everyone thinks he is a screw up because he is a screw up. In typical self-destruct style, our rich guy decides to get wasted and end his relationship with his fiancé by having her walk in on him with a sex worker… cause taking responsibility is not taught at fancy private schools, apparently. He passes out drunk before his fiancé gets there, however, and when he wakes up the sex worker is dead in his hotel suite’s swimming pool (yeah, this guy is so rich he can afford a hotel suite with its own private swimming pool). He has no idea if he is responsible for her death or what happened – but in a tragic twist of fate, ends up meeting the dead girl’s sister. Guilt and a deeply subconscious feeling he should “do something” with his life before it ends, he attempts to help out the sister. And basically makes everything worse. Repeatedly.

It was awesome.

The lawyer, the rich guy, the princess, and the pauper.

The rich guy was a classic jerk fighting a war largely of his own invention.

The pauper was a classic bland girl pushed to one desperate breaking point after another. The most interesting thing about her was how pathetic her life was.

His fiancé was a classic ice queen, spoiled princess, too self involved to even consider the lives of others she crossed paths with.

There was the particularly intriguing character of the lawyer who works for the rich family who also has ties to the destroyed poor family. This dude, played by Kim Joon-Han, literally carried the weight of the drama on his back after the male lead left. He was so… shifty. I found this actor and this role very compelling and always leaned forward a little when he was speaking in his soft, calming voice. The dynamics of this guy, untethered between the other characters, neither for or against anyone but himself and yet… so involved, so obviously devastated and lonely, so broken… I loved him. I loved to hate him. He was fantastic.

This show has all your favorite tropes. Shared living spaces. Fake marriages. Terminal diseases. Rich men atoning for their sins by helping some poor girl become rich too (hey, I didn’t create capitalism).

Even after the unfortunate loss of the leading male, it managed to drag itself to the finish line. Though admittedly flawed by this turn of events, the show still deserves praise. It’s a dark, vicious, tear-soaked spiral down the drain and I highly recommend it anyone who likes melodramas.

Overall Rating – 8/10. A Melodramatic Masterpiece That Died Before The Finish Line.

Review – The Penthouse Season 1

The Penthouse. Oh, The Penthouse.

You know when you were a kid and you wanted to mix all the drinks in the soda dispenser at restaurants? We called that concoction a “Kamikaze.” Most people called it a “Suicide,” or… if you’re from the Midwestern region of America, maybe a “Graveyard.” You basically murdered your tastebuds by including everything. And yet… as a kid… you didn’t care. You were gonna do it and you were gonna drink it and it was glorious. It was muddy, bubbly, excitement in a plastic glass. The Penthouse is the Kamikaze of Korean Dramas. It’s terrible. Just… awful. Just fantastically, gloriously, bad. And you’re gonna love it.

The Penthouse is the drama we all needed during lockdown. When you’ve been stuck in your home for days, weeks, months, and everything just seems… overwhelming and yet boring, too much and too little at once… when the globe huddles together as shivering creatures susceptible to germs and you’re painfully reminded of your squishy organic humanity… then you seek escape. You want as far from normal as you can get. You find yourself watching Tiger King or… The Penthouse.

What is more distant and alien than insanely rich people living in luxurious, high rise condominium suites, far above the rules that govern normal society? What could be more niche than… opera?

If you’ve read some of my other reviews, you may have noticed I have a soft spot for melodramas. The more outlandish and ridiculous the plot twists and turns, the better. Grudges passed down through the generations, baby swapping, secret identities, cruelty, fits of rage and passion, character’s breaking up, breaking down, and breaking everyone around them as they lash out in the shallow waters they are drowning in… I live for it.

Melodramas are a required taste and have to find us when the mood is right. Was it a coincidence that How to Get Away with Murder also premiered during a global virus outbreak? If you raised a skeptical eyebrow at my pandemic analogy, then you may not be in the mood for The Penthouse. However, if you find yourself watching a bunch of videos on cults, conspiracy theories, and secret cabals that pull at all the hidden strings of the world… then you may be in the right frame of mind. If you find yourself thinking, “Maybe lizards do run the government,” or “I wonder if my backyard is big enough to house a pet tiger,” or “Is some corporation using my social media data to create clones?”… then the iron is hot and you are ready for a good melodrama to strike!

Melodramas thrive in toxic environments. They are irrational. They are the shapes you interpret in shadows, more about the implication of an idea over substance. You know it won’t stand up to scrutiny and so you purposely avoid turning on the light, willing to suspend belief. And if you hang around in the darkness long enough, your eyes adjust and maybe you forget the light switch is only a few feet away…

Melodramas are best enjoyed when you’re feeling subconsciously vulnerable. You aren’t going to learn a valuable lesson or muse about the subtle nuances of life while watching a melodrama, after all. Melodramas are not meant for self-reflection. They are a funhouse mirror, something so grotesque and fascinating that you can’t help but smile at this bizarre distortion of reality they present you.

Melodramas can be the only drink that transports you to the mentality of childhood innocence, back to a time when you could run through the house with your plastic toy dinosaur and lay waste to the imaginary cities around you. To the drama of your pastel princess dolls who ruled kingdoms, raised families, and then became rock stars in the course of a single afternoon. To the improbable wars of action figures and transforming alien robots. Where you can enjoy the godlike powers of ultimate creation and use them in silly, overdramatic ways without guilt or shame or justification of your outlandish plotlines. No one watches a child play and criticizes their worldbuilding skills. You just vicariously enjoy their enjoyment.

The Penthouse gives you both and adult melodrama and a teen melodrama simultaneously.

If someone is going to make a mistake in this show, it will be on stage or in front of a large group of people who will collectively gasp in horror. Think of any common nightmare scenario (like being chased by a killer, falling from great heights, public speaking, being late for a big test) and multiply it by ten. Think of day time soap operas and then boil them in a pot with Latin American telenovelas. Think of having one major problem, then continue to wrap more problems around it, as many as you think of, until you have this big, crazy, hard asteroid of problems.

Here is a visual representation of the plotline of The Penthouse.

Don’t try to make it useful or decorative or anything other than what it is. A big mess. Why would you want to untangle that? The individual problems have become warped and stretched out and absorbed into the whole. It’s a colorful disaster now and useful only as a weapon… (otherwise it’s just an embarrassing reminder of time wasted… so you gotta hurl it at someone… how else are you gonna get rid of that thing? call it self defense… call it… survival… but it’s gotta go and you know it’s gonna hurt someone on the way out… but… well… what other option do you have? Self destruction is sometimes instinctual. Humans are weird, friends, that’s all I know. We are strange, strange creatures).

If you’re expecting me to talk about the plotline or the characters… well… I have been.

I have not started Season 2 yet. I’m honestly not used to having a second season of a Korean drama and rather enjoyed the unexpected ending of Season 1. But I’m sure I’ll get around to it eventually and it will be just as fun.

Rating – 9/10. Setting off Fireworks Inside a Panic Room & other Bad Decisions with Colorful, Dangerous Results.

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 6/10 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. But since it’s exactly my brand of melodrama, romance, and murder… I’ve bumped it up to an 8/10 cause I can’t deny I still love this show despite it’s many, many problems.

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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