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.

Yoo Ah-In Always Brings It

Yoo Ah-In Always Brings It

Oh, he’s bringing it… and has so much he’s leaving with leftovers

So, it’s been a pretty lazy Spring for me – with a tendency to rewatch old dramas over committing to new dramas.  I justed rewatched Chicago Typewriter (absolutely love this unusual love story that bounces through time), and was in awe of the acting prowess of Yoo Ah-In.  What can’t he do?

Chicago Typewriter

He’s so good that I didn’t even realize he was Moon Jae-Sin in Sungkyunkwan Scandal.  And I’ve watched that romantic drama at least six times!  Maybe it’s the wig, but even so… I generally recognize my favorite Korean actors now.  I’ve got an eye for it.  Or so I thought….

Sungkyunkwan Scandal.

I thought he was a cute, horny mess of a piano prodigy in the “noona” romance Secret Affair.  Still not a favorite, but I admit it was good.

piano inspired orgasms everywhere

To me, probably forever, he’ll be Lee Bang-Won, the Scholar Dragon, from Six Flying Dragons.  Damn, he was amazing in that drama.  That entire drama was amazing!

Six Flying Dragons

So far, there’s nothing on his docket for 2018, as far as dramas go… but I would rather he hold out for something worthy of him than just kill time making a “meh” drama.  He could probably transform a “meh” drama into something fantastic just by being in it… I mean… geesh, he’s good.  But quality actors should seek out quality dramas.  It’s always so disappointing when one of the A-Lister’s make a so-so show.

There are very few actors I keep an eye out for… watching the news feeds to see what their next move will be.  Yoo Ah-In is one of those actors.  He’s just golden.

 

 

Review – Sungkyunkwan Scandal

Review – Sungkyunkwan Scandal

I recently rewatched Sungkyunkwan Scandal, for… what?  Maybe the sixth time?  It’s an adorable romantic comedy.  It is, in my opinion, the best historical romantic comedy.  Still standing strong since 2010.  It has it all.  The best of all the tropes.  All your favorite things.  All the things you hope to see in a romantic comedy.  All the tricks of the trade done just right.  And for some reason, it’s impossible for me to write a review about it.  Every time I try, I just end up wanting to watch it again.  Sometimes you just have a to watch it.  When everyone agrees that it’s awesome – how many reviews do you need to read, anyways?  Trust the crowd.  It’s true.  It’s really, really freaking good.

The cast is perfect.  The lead male is the most delightful stick in the mud nerd… and let’s face it, how often is the main character an uptight, mega nerd?  But it works!  It works because they paired him off with a equally smart lady disguised as a man, who has a sense of humor and a flair for drama.  It works because they balanced him off with polar opposite friends – a carefree, socialite who is interested in fashion and flirting (Yeorim!  Oh, how I love him!) and a misfit, rebel who is interested in fighting and social justice won through actions over words.  They’re all awesome.  I wanted to be bestie with all these besties.

Just watch it.  You won’t be sorry.  You’ll laugh and be entertained and smitten and charmed.  It’s unavoidable.  It’s so well written – the cast is large and memorable.

Overall Rating – 10/10.  Nerds in Love.

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!

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 – Secret Love Affair (a PG Rated Erotic Tale)

Review – Secret Love Affair (a PG Rated Erotic Tale)

I avoided this show for a long time due to the “noona romance” but finally gave in when I saw it pop up on Netflix.  I’ve read a ton of reviews on it, raving about how sexy it was, how divine, how romantic and beautiful and so on.   And it is all of those things.  But it’s also incredibly demure.  This show is such a tease!

I enjoyed Secret Love Affair.  But I didn’t love it.  I loved the music.  I loved the cinematography.  I loved the writer’s for leaving a great deal of the performances “unspoken” and giving the actors a chance to emote with their facial expressions.  The husband, in particular, became more interesting due to his actions and reactions of the affair.  What a complicated man.  And yet I found most of the characters very unlikable.  And tedious.  And boring.  And though our lead couple shared a connection through music, I couldn’t really understand what either of them saw in each other… except for the obvious cliches associated with a relationship with such a vast age difference.

Plot:  Unhappily married woman in crappy job finds solace and escape in the arms of a struggling young piano prodigy.  Both their lives become more complicated because of it.  Subplot and perhaps moral of the story:  Rich people are mostly jerks, but since a lot of people will do unethical and crappy things to get money, can we really throw stones in our glass houses?  And do you even like your glass houses or have you just bought the lie?

Overall Rating – 8/10.  A Major Musical Seduction and a Minor Romance in B Flat.

Full titillating review follows (including spoilers and X-Rated commentary)

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