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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Movie Review – The Villainess

The Villainess opens with one of the most exciting, intense action sequences I have ever seen. Entirely from the protagonists point of view, you rush through a multi story building on a killing spree – seeing what she sees. I guess they mounted a camera to the stunt double’s head but geesh is it intense! Like a live action video game – with guns and blades and blood splatter everywhere. And, honestly, as deeply unrealistic as a video game… but why knit pick? Who cares if the bad guys cue up to fight her? Who cares if randomly none of them have guns when she’s brandishing a knives? It’s so awesome – just enjoy it. Enjoy it for the fun, furious murder ballad it is.

The Villainess is one of those rare movies where I was pretty sure I was going to love it before I even started watching it. Why? Because it’s loosely based on one of my favorite stories of all time: La Femme Nikita! It all started with French film Nikita by Luc Besson, which was excellent. America remade it, with the film The Point of No Return, which was also excellent. The Canadians did us all a favor and created an unbelievably sexy, sinister television series out of it – called La Femme Nikita. Oh Peta Wilson… you will forever be my first serious girl-crush. America followed suit, again, and made their own tv show several years later called Nikita… which I didn’t watch, for some reason, probably out of loyalty to Peta Wilson… but I hear it was pretty good too.

The premise is simple. A young criminal girl is caught up in the seedy underworld and ends up caught by the police. She will surely be sentenced to life in prison or death for her transgressions. A shady government organization sees potential in her and offers her an option – work for us and live… or serve out your sentence. She gets a makeover, learns to pass as a classy lady, and the next thing you know she’s off on assassination assignments and living under an assumed identity. In all stories, her handler is obsessed with her. There’s betrayal and secrets and amazing action sequences. And that’s Nikita.

The Villainess is a new Nikita. And she’s a worthy addition to the cannon.

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Review – White Christmas (A Tribute to 90’s Angst)

Review – White Christmas (A Tribute to 90’s Angst)

In 2011, they gathered together all the young stars who could tear down a house with their acting abilities and threw them in a short, creepy drama together called White Christmas.  They set the entire thing to late 20th century indie music…  Primal Scream, Massive Attack, The Pixies, Alice in Chains, Velvet Underground… like a stolen mixed tape from my formative years.  The plot is simple – seven students receive a threatening, confusing anonymous letter saying they’re all cursed and someone will die over the Christmas break.  So they all stay behind, as the rest of their peers leave for the holidays.  These stragglers linger in a huge empty school building isolated on top of a snowy mountain… desperate to discover what role they have to play in this mystery.

And at its heart, the show is a mystery.  But it’s also an examination into a high pressure school system.  It’s social commentary.  It’s a therapy session.  It’s an exploration of natural violence.  It’s a story about people… and how they hurt and heal each other.  And it is DARK, people.

I’ve had it in my que for months… saving it.  Now that summer is coming to an end, I finally treated myself to dessert.  And it was exceptionally tasty.  Only eight episodes long but jam packed with mesmerizing performances, plot twists, and a startlingly original story.  It’s on Viki – go watch it now! (and please when you’re watching it take note of all the bizarre conceptual 90’s-style photoshop artwork all over the walls in every room… cause… wow… so eerie… remember the doll heads?)

Overall Rating – 10/10.  REDRUM!  REDRUM!!!

Discussion of characters and SPOILERS follow….

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Review – In Need of Romance 3

Review – In Need of Romance 3

The more I think about this show, the more I dislike it.  I will admit being biased, as I don’t care for Kim So-Yeon.  She’s one of my least favorite actresses in K-World.  She’s like Seth Rogan… krytonite to my viewing experience.  So, I should have known better going in… but I thought, Sung Joon might save it… or Namgung Min.  Nope.

The plot is basically about a young girl who was a nanny for a rich boy all through her childhood, watching this kid from infancy until he was about 10 or so.  For him it was all sunshine and roses, but for her it was hell.  Time jump about 17 years and she’s grown up to be a bitchy, successful producer of a home shopping network and he has grown up to be a naive, successful musician.  They have a ten second romance before his identity is revealed, and then they basically switch roles from their childhoods – with him acting as the caregiver and her as the busied dependent coming in and out without appreciating him.  And, you know, they slowly fall in love.  I guess.  You’ve also got all the coworkers at the home shopping network going through their own romances – none of which are very noteworthy.  They’re so cliche and one note, they’re basically wallpaper.

One of my pet peeves is tedious voice overs – especially when they’re trying to be poetic or introspective and it doesn’t seem to match the character at all.  This show was stock full of annoying voice overs of our two main character musing about life and love and blah, blah, blah.  Just, show NOT tell, please.  If you couldn’t get that message across in the drama, then it’s lazy writing to try to throw it on top as a voice over.  Yuck.  The voice overs were like those contrite memes with inspirational sayings.  Also, the dialogue was a mess.  There were too many instances of a character saying something that sounded way too measured and preachy for sporadic conversation.  What, did they memorize this speech before hand?  It felt so unnatural.  Our male lead calmly lecturing our female lead about her emotional state… “maybe you’re just a person who doesn’t recognize your own feelings” was ridiculous.  People don’t talk like that.  Even therapists don’t talk like that.  The whole show was like this.  Groan inducing.

What the show DID have going for it was open mouth kissing.  And quite a bit of it.  And bed scenes (mainly “after” where there’s a dude without a shirt and the girl mysteriously sleeps in pajamas).  It was quite frank with its sexual tone.  If only I cared about whether any of them ever got laid, ever again in their lives.  But I didn’t.  I basically just enjoyed the eye candy and fast-forwarded through massive chunks of the eps towards the end.  Honestly, I should have just watched some kiss compilation videos on youtube… saved myself from the constant eye rolling.

Overall Rating – 4/10.  French Kissing Does Not Make Up For Bad Writing.

Review – Discovery of Romance

Review – Discovery of Romance

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This romantic drama featured the reunion of actors Jung Yoo Mi with Eric Moon.  I love these two together.  They were fantastic in Que Sera Sera.  And they were good in this drama as well.  Sung Joon is also in this show, and he’s another of my favorites.  But I’m just gonna stop you now before you get excited by the quality line up of actors…

It just wasn’t that good.

Discovery of Romance is love triangle plotline, but with a bit more weight on each side for once.  Eric Moon’s character is the former lover of Jung Yoo Mi’s character.  They were together five long years before breaking up.  Now she’s with Sung Joon’s character, in a strong, healthy relationship.  That is… until her old lover turns up again and wants to try again.

Despite loving all the actors and the exploration of the complexity of relationships, I didn’t think too much of this drama.  I finished it, though I confess I started to skim towards the end.

Overall Rating – 5/10.  When The Heart Is Involved, Honestly Is Easier In Theory Than In Practice.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

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