Kdrama Review: Hero (2012/OCN)

I’ve noticed, in recent months, that my tv watching habits are the same, no matter the language the TV show is in. Earlier this year, I watched a nine episode Korean drama called Hero. There are actually two dramas with this name, the first one (which I’ve also watched) was made in 2009 and stars one of my favorite actors, Lee Jun Ki. But this is the 2012 version, aired on OCN (and I watched it on Hulu). It’s really, really good.

I love crime dramas. I adore them. My favorite kdramas and non-kdramas are almost completely crime related (examples: (non-kdramas) AliasNCISCrossing Jordan, & Covert Affairs; (kdramas) Vampire ProsecutorTen, Joseon X-Files, & Ghost). That’s not to say that there aren’t other types of shows out there that I love, because there are plenty of other dramas/shows that aren’t crime dramas and I still love them (I’ll list them later, maybe). But what makes Hero so good is the fact that it’s science fiction crossed with a crime drama. It’s sort of a superhero origin story, with a morbid sort of twist.

The setting is the Korea, in the near future. You can tell from the grittiness of the of the poor neighbors to the glam of the rich. Our hero, as it were, is Kim Heuk Cheol (played by Yang Dong Geun). He’s the son of a very rich man and has a sister and a brother.  Heuk Cheol is a typical rich kid wannabe. Daddy’s money gets him everywhere, but it’s also Daddy’s money and love (albeit misguided) that makes  Heuk Cheol into the Hero. I’ll spare you the spoilers (you can watch the show on Hulu), but suffice to say that something bad happens and  Heuk Cheol’s dad pays a lot of money to save his son’s life.

It’s what comes after this that makes the show so good. Flawed heroes often make the best dramas and  Heuk Cheol is nothing if not flawed. He’s naive, he’s sort out of control and he’s kind of crazy. But he’s also trying hard to be a good guy. Each episode has a CotW (case of the week) that  Heuk Cheol sort of stumbles into (more often than not). All of these crimes are also uncovering secrets about  Heuk Cheol’s brother and father that he (and his family) would rather he not find out. But, of course, that’s what makes a good drama.  Heuk Cheol’s not alone, though. He works with an adorably geeky computer nerd, Shin Dong Min (played by Kwon Min). Heuk Cheol spoils Dong Min by providing him with really great tech (and giving us some really great scenes between the two of them). But, of course, my favorite character is  Yoon Yi On (played by Han Chae Ah). She’s a pretty bad ass cop (some of the best kdramas I’ve loved had badass female characters) who totally sees through Heuk Cheol, even as he’s trying to help (and usually failing).

The relationships in this drama are short lived, after all it’s only nine episodes. But the writing and acting is strong enough that I found myself caring about Heuk Cheol, about Yi On and Dong Min, along with a few other minor characters who play important roles. Over the course of those nine episodes, you watch relationships develop and while Heuk Cheol never quite wins the girl (I’m hoping they’ll make another season, like with Vampire Prosecutor on the same network), he does earn respect and figure things out. The final episode is a bit rushed, but then again, it’s almost meant to be. I adored the show, I loved every minute of the finale, even while I was crying my eyes out.

If you don’t mind watching on your computer (unless you subscribe to Hulu Plus) and reading subtitles, I completely recommend this drama. It’s fun, it’s well made and it mixes science fiction with crime drama in a well thought out way. And I didn’t even mention the Alfred-like character who looks out for Heuk Cheol, Yi On’s cop partner, some of the guest stars and other characters who flesh out this drama.

I gave it at 10/10, but your mileage may vary.

Kdrama Review: Rooftop Prince

Micky as Lee Gak and Han Ji Min as Park Ha

What do you do when four strange men, dressed in historic Joseon era garb magically show up in your rooftop flat? The short answer is that you freak out. The long answer is that you get a pretty hilarious drama which deals with all sorts of issues, include falling in love with someone 400 years older than you and some pretty hilarious scenes where those four strange men try to adapt to 2012. You also get a lot of heartache and frustration, as well as some good drama. Because not only is Rooftop Prince (get it?) a time traveling historical fusion drama, it’s also a family drama because the Joseon era princes is a dead ringer for a missing heir. If it sounds like a lot to handle, it’s mostly not.

But I will warn you, before you put the effort into watching the show (on DramaFever), the ending has some issues. They try to make it work, but time travel dramas are hard and usually end in tears and Rooftop Prince is no exception. But, in spite of the less than satisfactory ending I really quite like the show.  Most of the 20 episodes tend to balance between the drama and the comedy, with some working better than others. It helps, of course, that in this case, it was well done (for the most part).

Do Chi San, Woo Yong Sul and Song Man Bo.

The prince I’ve mentioned, Lee Gak (as well as his look-alike, Tae Yong), is played by JYJ singer Micky (real name: Park Yoochun). I was actually pretty surprised by his acting, as what I’d read wasn’t really appealing. But this drama looked entertaining enough to give it a go and Micky did a pretty decent job. The other half of the lead couple is Park Ha, played by Han Ji Min. Park Ha is an aspiring business woman (she wants to open her own shop) and it’s her apartment that those four men appear in. Lee Gak brings with him Lee Min Ho (the younger) as Song Man Bo (advisor to Lee Gak), Cho Woo Shik as Do Chi San (eunuch) and Jung Suk Won as Woo Young Sul (bodyguard). It’s these three characters that really make the drama a lot of fun.

Their, and Lee Gak’s, exploits as they learn about modern culture are priceless and mostly hilarious. It is also their inability to lose some of their Joseon era habits that also causes much amusement for the audience (and Park Ha, though also some embarrassment). But the drama isn’t just the boys and their attempts to fit into 2012. There’s the drama to contend with.

Prince Lee Gak ends up pretending to be Tae Yong, a rather rich young man, whose grandmother wishes for him to inherit her company. There’s also sorts of drama involving Tae Yong and his cousin (played by Lee Tae Sung). Unfortunately this is the weakest part of the drama. It’s not bad, not really, but the drama tends to dwell a little bit too much on the business side of the story  for my liking. That being said, the plot thickens when we learn secrets about Park Ha’s background and that Tae Yong’s former love interest (played extremely effectively by Jung Yoo Mi) may or may not be related to Park Ha herself. The show twists characters around so that sometimes it’s hard to hate them as much as you should.

And that’s just a taste of what happens in the modern part of the drama. There’s also the whole Joseon era stuff that Lee Gak and his three retainers escaped from. In their world, the Crown Princess has been murdered — and to solve that murder the four men travel through time. We’re treated to flashbacks where we slowly realize that not only is Lee Gak a dead ringer for Tae Yong, but Park Ha and Jung Yo Mi’s character, Hong Sa Na are dead ringers for characters in Joseon. I won’t tell you who, because that would spoil the fun. Suffice to say that the answers to the murder are both note quite as satisfying as one would like and satisfying in that at least we got a conclusion.

Obviously there’s much more to this drama, since it is 20 episodes. Not everything works, some of it fails spectacularly. But as someone who’s watched some pretty bad dramas, Rooftop Prince holds it’s own. I might not want to watch it again, but I did enjoy watching it. I recommend it, because it’s fun and cute — just don’t think too hard about the ending and you’ll be fine. And, of course, why pass up the opportunity to watch these guys in action?  They really are just as fun as they look.

Choi Woo Shik (Do Chi San), Lee Min Ho (Song Man Bo), Micky (Lee Gak) and Jung Suk Won (Woo Yong Sul)

Friday Links (aren’t feeling very newsworthy)

Today’s links are mostly a bunch of pictures/videos, but I suppose that’s the way things end up. I’ve been watching more Wimbledon than anything else, to be quite honest. But we’ll start with a few blog posts.

    • In a lot of geekish circles I read/travel in, gaming and women has been a pretty hot topic. There’s been a lot of drama about women playing video games, about who the audience of games are and so on. Skepchick has a really good article about the lack of women characters in World of Warcraft, but the article is more meta that just that. I recommend giving it a read.
    • Phil Plait, of Bad Astronomy always posts really good time-lapse videos (which I really love) and the other day he posted a great one by Tor Even Mathisen, filmed in northern Norway, it includes auroras and snow — the perfect thing to watch since SE Michigan is under a heat advisory at the moment.
    • I recently finished a great Korean drama (tv show) called Hero (2012/OCN). I plan to review the whole show (it’s only 9 episodes) eventually, but if anyone is interested in what it is I like, you can watch the whole show on Hulu. Also, be sure to check out the kdrama City Hunter on Netflix Instant, it’s also good.

Wednesday Nights: kdramas, martinis and Running Man

Starting the week after Christmas (last year), my friend (I’ll call her H) and I started hanging out on Wednesdays. We’ve been doing this every Wednesday (except for three: we missed one due to a family emergency and two due to illnesses) since that week after Christmas and it’s a lot of fun. It started out with us meeting at my job and going out to eat, then spending hours in Barnes & Noble. But after my bad experience with acquiring a signed copy of John Green’s A Fault in Our Stars (B&N never did send it and it’s still on my account), we stopped going there and instead spent time all our time at Starbucks. Until the day we decided to watch episodes of Rooftop Prince  (watch for free at DramaFever) together. We managed to watch one and a half episodes one week and then the wireless at Starbucks just couldn’t handle it. What did we do? Started going to my apartment.

One of the things I really love about getting into kpop/Korean culture/etc is that I’ve ended up developing a really great friendship with H. I forgot how awesome it was to watch TV shows with other people — in the same place (my sister and I watch Star Trek via Netflix and chat online at the same time, but it’s not quite the same). I used to do this all the time in college. We never went out Friday nights, because that’s when X-Files was on (yes, I was in college in the late 90s). And it’s so much fun to be able to do this again.

photo via soulbeats

We’re almost done with Rooftop Prince (by the time this gets posted, we should have hopefully finished it) and then who knows what we’ll be watching. But it’s not just kdramas we’re into. We spend a lot of time talking/fangirling/just generally having fun. But we also plan to watch some Chinese movies. Though at the moment, we’re both really into this variety show called Running Man. It’s so hilarious that sometimes I laugh so hard that my face hurts. There’s just something about Korean variety shows that makes them way more interesting than anything on English speaking TV (I mean, my reality TV shows in English are stuff like Mythbusters, Top Gear, etc).

I know what you’re thinking, what about the martinis? We both realized that spending so much money eating out and getting drinks was costing us and solved by making our own martinis. We don’t do it every week, but it’s fun. Especially since my mom gave us a recipe for the pineapple upside down martinis.

Moral of this entry? Hanging out with H, watching Korean (or Chinese or American or WHATEVER) is way more fun than doing it alone. I didn’t know I was missing this until we started and I didn’t realize how much I needed this every week until my family emergency. The best part is that we’re both doing something that’s fun and sharing what we love. There might be other problems in our lives, but at least we have our Wednesdays (at sometimes Thursdays. Or Fridays. Or Saturdays. Or Sundays ….).

Friday Links (are all over the place)

Today’s Friday links are brought to you by the first of June, with it’s chilly and rainy weather, along with the dulcet tones of Yoga Lin (I’m currently listening his album Perfect Life).

Friday Links (are relevant to my interests)

I kind of hope this’ll become a weekly feature, but I’m just testing it out at the moment. The topics will change, from week to week, and so will the format, maybe (at first). But anyway, here goes.