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 – Chicago Typewriter

Review – Chicago Typewriter

Stop the press!  This show gets the award for best use of books as decor.  Bookshelves galore – and all of them packed.  I’m talking… books, books, books!  Anyways, this was a fun and strange little drama about reincarnation and writers.  A group of independence fighters from the 1930’s end up reunited again in 2016… trying to solve the mystery of their past lives and their current situations.  Though I really liked this show, I thought it could have been better – so it’s not a perfect story.  But it’s such an unusual tale… with ghosts and shamans and snipers and book thieves and stalkers and quirky side characters… that it definitely stands out.

It’s no spoiler that all our characters had to die at some point to be reincarnated, and I’m not gonna lie… it was sentimental and gloriously patriotic and heartbreaking and awesome when it’s finally revealed at the end and I wept openly.  Before the tears, thankfully, there’s quite a bit of comedy and romance and screwball situations to amuse the viewing audience.  And did I mention mansions full of bookshelves?  It’s like the Beast’s castle, I swear.

For a drama about writers, I think they got a lot of things right.  Including the literary jokes (Stephen King references anyone?)!  Writing is tough.  My mother is a published author and it’s work, people… it’s not glamorous most of the time, it’s a lot of sitting in front of a computer typing until you’re fingers are numb.  And then doing the same thing the next day.  It’s deadlines and rewrites and editors and then, at some point, a finished product… followed by publicity tours which are also less glamorous than they seem.  Cause work is work.  And if writing is your profession, then it’s what you put 8 to 10 hours of you day into.  Just like other professions, 99% of the people in it aren’t amazingly successful and living in mansions filled with 40 foot bookshelves.

The three principal actors carried the show – drawing you into their past and present story lines with ease.  They all had a natural camaraderie that was believable.  Yoo Ah-In was perfectly cast as the neurotic, obsessive, serious author – he’s really quite a talent.  Ko Gyung-Pyo continues to shine by finding roles that are well suited for him – in other words, roles that don’t require too much besides a sensitive face and a calm demeanor.  Lim Soo-Jung, our wide eyed lady, was charming and a perfect balance between the two.  None of the side characters were interesting enough for me to bother writing about but all of them were fun enough that I was entertained by their presence.  Though it was great to see Yang Jin-sun playing the best friend/newly awakened shamen… I honestly think she’s leading lady material and hope she’ll get headline status again soon.

Overall Rating – 8/10.  When Ghostwriters are Actual Ghosts.

P.S.  It should be mentioned there is a few quality smooches in this drama… one with the same preamble used in Grease 2 “Let’s do it for our country!” and the other, my favorite, off a crowded street… meow!