Reviews – Netflix K-Dramas: Squid Game, Run On, My Name, & Hellbound

Squid Game. Overall Rating: 9/10. The Korean Drama That Hooked American Viewers by Using Cliffhanger Bait.

What can anyone say about it at this point that hasn’t already been said?

It was good. I enjoyed watching it. The aesthetics, the acting, the music, the plot – everything was stellar. The violence was nicely balanced with the quieter scenes of character development. The stakes felt real. The motivations that drove people to such desperation all seemed believable. Everything gelled.

I can’t give it a 10/10 because it didn’t… end. Entire story lines were just abandoned, storylines left dangling in the wind. Clearly it’s meant to be continued, but I still like a satisfying to conclusion to each season of a show. So… I had to knock a point off.

If you are one of the few people on the planet who haven’t watched this global sensation, then I recommend you go watch it.


Run On. Overall Rating: 7/10. Getting Your Footing in Life is Easier When You’re Hot.

Ah, rich people problems. Are they even… real problems? This show will not answer that question for you. I don’t think this show appreciates you even asking that question. In fact, this show would prefer you not think too hard about any of its major plot points, thank you, and please refrain from using your brain while you enjoy these attractive faces on the screen.

I enjoyed watching Run On. It didn’t offer anything new (other than finally giving Shin Se-Kyung a role she seemed comfortable in). The romance is average. It was super sweet, mind you, and the actors have decent chemistry, but it’s nothing to write home over. There are better shows about a girl winning over the heart of an awkward man. There are better sports shows. There are better shows about the movie industry. There are better shows about rich, entitled children standing up to their rich, entitled parents.

Originally, I had intended to give this a solid 8/10 and stick it on my recommended list… but the second I sat down to review it, the rating quickly dropped. Because there are a lot of issues with the story line, if you pause long enough to think about it. What is the message? What… is this show saying about life and love? It seems to want to say something, but just didn’t mumbled through the thesis. So… no. It’s just so-so and thus deserving it’s 7/10.


My Name. Overall Rating: 7/10. Pretending a Snowflake Can Cause You Physical Damage for 8 Hours Straight.

Did anyone believe that the leading lady could kick someone’s ass? I wasn’t even convinced she could give someone a stinging slap, let alone step into an underground MMA ring. Maybe it’s something about Han So-Hee’s gently rounded face that makes it impossible for me to believe this story.

Some actresses can pull off the illusion of strength and some can’t. Kim Da-Mi from The Witch and Itaewon Class? I believed she could kick my tail. Kim Ok-Vin from The Villainess? Same. Jun Jong-Seo as the crazy chick from The Call? Yup. Ha Ji-Won can kick all their tails combined. Bae Doo-Na and Lee Si Young, too.

Han So-Hee, however… is a gentle ballerina, a flower petal, a snowflake. I like this actress, but I didn’t like her in this role, and that soured the entire experience for me.

I mean… look at her grip on that knife!

Though My Name did not give us a believable protagonist, it did offer up one of the most convincing villains of all time. Chang Ryul playing the feisty fighter working his way to the top of the Dongcheonpa was golden. His performance was so unhinged, so enjoyable to watch, that I quickly forgot about my qualms with the casting the second he was on screen.

I totally believed this dude would get a neck tattoo and chop a guy’s arm off while taunting him. This is excellent casting. Seriously, he saved the entire show in my opinion.

Was the overall plot stupid, with little to no attempts to be convincing or believable? Yes. Was the romance good, at least? Eh, not particularly. Seemed kinda out of left field to me, if I’m honest. Should I even watch this series, then? Sure. I mean, if you’ve seen all the better shows and you’ve got the time… why not? It’s not very long, with only 8 episodes, and there’s lots of fighting and cops chasing after gang members and whatnot. This show doesn’t have anything to say, really – there’s no message or cultural critiques or unique insights into humanity. It’s just a cheesy action show. Popcorn, if you will. A tasty snack with little to no nutritional value. But most people like it anyways, myself included.


Hellbound. Overall Rating: 8/10. What If It’s All Meaningless?

Hellbound was another show that I had to change my rating for as I thought about how to review it. When I originally watched it, it was a solid 7/10 (the first chunk maybe rating around 9/10 – then quickly losing me as it switched focus for part two). But this show lingered in my mind. The implications of this show were… vast. And it made you think about humanity, and how we are culturally conditioned to believe certain things without proof, and how this can be both good and bad depending on the circumstances. So, I rounded it out to a solid 8/10. It’s worth it cause it makes you think.

The plot of Hellbound is relatively simple. A mysterious entity shows up to various people in the world, announces the exact time in which they will die and be dragged to hell, and then makes good on that promise. Huge creatures appear out of nowhere, violently beat you to pulp before killing you, and then just as suddenly disappear. The creatures were awful, by the way – the CGI was sadly lacking, presenting us with these gummy looking children’s’ toys that only seemed threatening due to the performances of the actors pretending to die. But the horror of it, of knowing you were not only going to die – but had been judged and sentenced – is quite an uncomfortable topic. The general public’s fervent desire to cast these people into the roles of “wrong doers” was obvious – they had to deserve it, surely, or else what does that say about the nature of the world? About the afterlife? This series leaves you with uncomfortable questions about the definition of hell, about the unknown things in the universe, about what it means to die or have your life and all your decisions judged by outside and unknown forces. Most of these questions were not answered, either, which works for me… for the most part.

Once again, I am left wondering if the dangling questions were left there with the intention of a second season. Like Squid Game. As you may or may not know (depending on how much of this blog you’ve read), I am not a fan of second seasons in Korean Dramas. In general, I find what I most like about K-Dramas is their ability to complete a storyline. The threads of various storylines and characters in one show all pulling together for a tightly connected plot is one of the reasons K-dramas are awesome. They know what they are and they know where they are going.

But Hellbound was already presented as two different short stories within one larger frame. The first half of the series focusing on one group of characters, and the second half on another. Both stories were interesting, though I found the first more compelling overall.

Anyways, I liked it. I liked it for it’s horrific implications. I liked it for its nihilism. It reminded me of the ending of Revival by Stephen King – a shocking, surrealistic nightmare vision of the afterlife which to this day still haunts me. Humans put a lot of stock into certain ideas – into religions – into how our lives fit into the universe. Souls, afterlives, reincarnations, supernatural beings who navigate our destinies… it’s meant to both comfort us and disquiet us. “Be good or else.” It appeals to our desire for balance and justice. “They might not suffer in this world for the terrible things they’ve done, but they’ll suffer in the next.” A show like this could not be made in America. We can only pick holes into religion in a playful or ridiculous way – ways that are clearly entertainment only and not meant to trigger any real examinations of our spiritual beliefs. The Good Life, Supernatural, Lucifer, and such. Even more drama-heavy shows, like The Leftovers or Midnight Mass, leave room for comfort in beliefs. Hellbound doesn’t bother to try to comfort you. It just kicks you when you’re down and says, “Makes you wonder, huh?”

What can I say? I like the existential dread.

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 – 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… let me explain one particular scene. At one point in the show, the fashion designer witch and her colorful assistant perform a modern dance in their studio.  There is basically no context for this dance sequence… it just happens. And it’s not short either, it’s a full dance sequence… with no preamble explanation and no dialogue at the end. They just start dancing together… as if this is a normal day at work. 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.

I used to have a link to the full dance sequence on Youtube, but it was sadly deleted. Instead… here’s just a random gif of the assistant skipping off as if he’s living in a permanent modern ballet show and not reality… which maybe he is…

BlackKnight_Dance1

If the witches and the dancing aren’t enough to entice you, let me point out another cool variation to the norm that Black Knight provides: The jumps through time! We get 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 – (Suffering Through) The Bride of the Water God

Review – (Suffering Through) The Bride of the Water God

I am a sucker for supernatural stories, so of course I signed up for this show the minute it started.  Even though the first episode was lame.  Even though the second episode was lame.  Even though it never got better… it just… middled around towards the bottom.  But I kept watching it.  Every Tuesday.  Two new eps at a time.  Like an idiot.  Because I kept expecting something to happen… which is ridiculous, because after a certain point, you just know nothing is going to happen because if the writers knew how to make a good story, they would have been giving you one the entire time.

So, idiot me, watched this entire dumb show.  About the most boring, lifeless, and dreadfully uninspired divinities EVER.  Have there ever been more boring gods?  NO.  They have zero personality.  They don’t really do anything, apparently – they were as boring in the Realm of the Gods as they were in the Human World.  Just… dreadful.

As was our lead female.  What a low key bitch, right?  And her annoying habit of rambling out her self autobiography showed a sad lack of insight for a therapist.  I mean… didn’t she have a degree in psychology?  No wonder she didn’t have any clients.

Did the actors not read the script first?  I honestly can’t believe this show got the green light.  It’s so bad!  Plot holes, pointless characters, storylines that go no where, seemingly important things that turn out to be utterly meaningless, and bad fashion.  The romance was stupid, too.  Childish, annoying, insipid, awkward.  Eck.  I hated it.

Overall Rating – 2/10.  Drowning In A Plate of Water.

Review – Six Flying Dragons

Review – Six Flying Dragons

This drama was outstanding.  It’s about the end of the Goryeo period and the beginning of the Joseon period – in particular, the revolution leading from one to another.  And it’s the best historical Korean Drama I have ever seen.  Ever.  After the second episode, I was pretty sure it was surpassing my favorites.  And after the epic 3-Prong Rescue Sequence from the Biguk Temple in Episode 6… I was hooked.  By the end of the loop to the opening scene in Ep 1 closing in Ep 10, I thought… wow… holy crap… that’s extremely good writing.  It’s by the same writing team that brought us Queen Seonduk and Tree with Deep Roots… this male/female team, Kim Young-Hyun and Park Sang-Yeon, know their stuff.  And they have been perfecting their craft.  Tightly woven plots in each episode, building on each other throughout yet changing enough to keep you enthralled, extremely complicated but fulfilling character development, action, historical significance, and even some romance.

Seriously.  BEST HISTORICAL DRAMA I HAVE EVER SEEN.  Just… mesmerizing.

Overall Rating – 10/10.  The View Is Only Better From the Moral High Ground If You Don’t Look Down.

More about characters – spoilers spoilers spoilers – thoughts and more…. please watch the show before treading into these waters, you don’t need to muddy up your experience by reading details first.

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Review – Sensory Couple

Review – Sensory Couple

sensorycoupletitle

First of all… very misleading title image!  This is not a fairy tale romance and neither character runs around in beautiful clothes throughout the show.  This picture is more accurate of what to expect:

sensecoupl3

The show about a girl who sees smells (by the seashore) and a guy who feels no pain.  Throw in a serial killer and you’ve got an unusual, yet surprisingly cute drama.

READ MORE…

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