Series Review: Liar Game (tvN)

When I originally wrote this post, I had at least 14k in words and what I felt was a very thorough review. But as sometimes happens, Chrome got browser hacked and I had to shut it all down and lost the whole thing. This review is not as good, not even remotely close. Sadly, I won’t be able to recreate my long lost review, which is a shame. Anyway, here goes. Upon completing this review, I’m inclined to disagree with myself, this review might actually more coherent than the original!

Note: Spoilers for all 12 episodes of Liar Game The Liar Game

20141007-teaser-photoI’m reviewing is a live action Korea remake/adaptation of a Japanese manga, anime and live action Japanese show. I have not watched or read the source material, nor am I interested in the source material. Why? Because I really, really love the Korean version.

The drama itself is about a game show called Liar Game, MC’d by Kang Do Young (played by Shin Sung Rok). Throughout the course of the show, we learn that he is the money behind the show, in addition to the whole thing being his idea (it’s interesting, he seems to believe, which comes to be his tagline).

The series begins with our main character/heroine, Nam Da Jung (played by Kim So Eun), getting entwined in the show. Her father has lots of debts and Da Jung wants to see him again and is trying to pay those debts off. Though she is reluctant, she agrees to join the show. But because she’s a very trusting and naive, in many ways, young woman, she obviously cannot win the show. One of the men hired by the loan sharks who her father owes money, Jo Dal Goo (played by Jo Jae Yoon), has become rather fond of her (in a big brother sort of way) and convinces her that he knows someone who can help her win.

Enter the third player of our three (Do Young and Da Jung being the other two). Dal Goo’s old prison buddy is finally leaving prison and is the perfect person to help Da Jung win. Professor Ha Woo Jin (played by Lee Sang Yoon) was in prison for a giant con that caused a lot of people to lose their money (including, we find out later, Da Jung’s father). He’s also a former psychology professor and, more importantly, a human lie detector. He’s trained to be able to read people’s microexpressions and therefore knows when they’re lying. Though Woo Jin is initially extremely reluctant to help Da Jung, he sees something in her that makes him reconsider. We find out later that he sees his mother in her (she, too, was far too trusting and it ultimately led to her death), though Da Jung is not like his mother.

The game show Liar Game is made up of different contestants from all walks of life. Most, if not all, have financial problems which led them to accept the temptation of winning lots of money by trying to win Liar Game. What none of them know, including our hero (Woo Jin) and our heroine (Da Jung) is that the game is merely a means to an end for our MC, Do Young. There are plenty of side characters aside from Dal Goo. We have Jaime (or Jamie, depending on what subtitles you use) who masquerades as someone else at the beginning of the show. We also have a hacker (and, predictably, my favorite character) Sung Joon (who has a very troublesome brush with death).

Screen-Shot-2014-10-07-at-9.11.47-PMAlong with the PD of the show, as well as the producer, there are plenty of minor characters who have small, but significant roles in the show. Each episode gives us at least part of a game on the game show itself and the episodes lead into each other in such a way that watching all 12 episodes in a marathon would not be a bad idea (though I watched them as they aired, which wasn’t bad either). Toward the end of the show, the focus of the game show itself changes. It shifts from who will win to how will Da Jung win. Although some of the other characters want to win, there comes a point in the last couple of episodes where it is clear to everyone (not just the audience) that Da Jung must win.

If the first turning point of the show was Woo Jin becoming a full contestant, the real turning point was MC Do Young becoming a contestant himself. While the producer and PD are not pleased, this gives the show the push they need to turn it into something more than just a show about a TV show where people lie. We learn, little by little, that Do Young has other ideas.

Of course, he’s not in it for the money, but nor is he (as he insists) in it just because it’s interesting. Instead, he seems to be in the game to win — but in reality it’s to best Woo Jin. We find out that Woo Jin’s mother ran and orphanage and that both Do Young and Da Jung lived there for a time. Da Jung’s father came back to take her home with him, but Do Young was “adopted” by a family in the United States. Unfortunately for Do Young, there was no family waiting for him. Instead, he grew up in a experimental community practicing behavioral therapy on children. The place is seemingly based on Walden Two, the utopia from BF Skinner’s novel of the same name (which I have read, because of the show — it’s a very interesting and good book).

This sets up Do Young as Woo Jin’s foil. Where Woo Jin can read people’s microexpressions, Do Young can control his. They become pitted against each other, which chances the face of the game show, as well as the drama itself. Do Young stops being an impartial observer (though was he ever?) and becomes a shit-stirrer and works very hard to get Woo Jin to react the way he wants. It works, to a point. Of course, not everything is as it seems and the glue that holds the characters together (though not the show) is Da Jung. It is her honesty and trustworthiness that brings people together. While it also hampered her on the game show, even after Woo Jin agreed to help her, it turns into an asset.

First-teaser-video-released-for-the-Korean-drama-Liar-Game

While Jamie is the character with the most character development, Da Jung also grows as a person. She is no longer the naive young woman we met in the first episode, but she’s also not as jaded as one would expect. And thus she turns out to be key in the progress of the game and everyone’s attempts to thwart Do Young. And it is Da Jung that the two men, Woo Jin and Do Young, seem to be invested in, though for different reasons. Da Jung is a part of both men’s pasts; she had what Do Young wanted (a parent who wanted him) and she is, in a way, the vehicle for Woo Jin to forgive himself for his mom’s death.There are other things at play, of course, but much of that is far too complicated for me to go into (but makes sense on the show).

The final episode brings everything to a close, while leaving open the need for a second season (please, tvN, PLEASE). The final game brings Woo Jin, Da Jung and Do Young together. They, in a way, relive a scene we’ve seen flashes of throughout the show, the three of them, together. Unlike the flashback, it is only the final game that gives some resolution. I will not spoil the end, except to say that is extremely rewarding to watch. And while some people were unhappy with the very end of the show, I was not. It was open ended, but should tvN decide to grace us with a second season, I will be happy. Should they not? Well, isn’t that what fanfic is for?

You can watch tvN’s Liar Game on Viki and SoompiTV. And, really, you totally should. It’s well worth your time.

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Kdrama Review: End of the World (JTBC)

As longtime readers of my blog know, I watch a lot of kdramas and that I really love the crime-related ones. And some of you might know that I used to watch The X-Files a lot (I’ve seen the whole thing) and at one point, I wanted to be Scully. Some of you may also know that I am totally paranoid about infectious diseases and so on … which you would think means that I’m not interested in those things in fiction. But you’d be wrong. You see, there’s a very masochistic part of me who really, really loves that kind of stuff. Which, of course, brings us to the subject of this post.

Back in 2012, I watched (on the recommendation of a friend) a drama called King 2 Hearts. And while there was a lot about that drama that I liked, the main villain really stuck with me. His name was Kim Bong Gu and is played by Yoon Je Moon. It turns out that I’ve seen Yoon Je Moon in a bunch of stuff and really like him. So, in 2013, I was really excited to see that he was going to be in a medical-ish semi-crime drama called End of the World. I didn’t watch it back in 2013 for various reasons (including another, similarly themed kdrama called The Virus, which was excellent). But I recently found it with subtitles and decided to watch.

Going into End of the World, I knew of couple of things. Yoon Je Moon was the main character, the drama was about a virus possibly going to wipe out the world and it was originally 20 episodes but had been cut down to 12. What I didn’t know (and maybe I should’ve realized) was that the drama was going to be really, really bad. But not bad in the same way other shows are bad — the acting and the cinematography was fantastic and the plot had a lot of potential, but, um, the whole show was basically a mess.

If you want a positive review of the drama, check out Outside Seoul’s review, because this one isn’t going to be good. The End of the WorldAs a crazy person who enjoys these virus-end-of-the-world movies/tv shows, I think my standards are probably too high, especially because I’ve read some books recently that do a fantastic job with the virus is going to kill everyone or make them nuts (or zombies) trope. I guess maybe I should blame Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy (zombies) or her new Parasitology trilogy (the third one isn’t out yet) for basically killing it (in a good way). And therefore my expectations of what this show would be, along with how badass Yoon Je Moon was going to be, were, um, well, wrong.

I know, sometimes I need to just lower my expectations, but this was a Korean cable drama and the one’s I’ve seen have usually been excellent. But somewhere along the lines, End of the World went off the rails. Yoon Je Moon plays Kang Joo Hun, the director of a section of the Korean CDC’s infectious disease unit. He’s not a doctor (how is he director???) but he does a good job being their boss and he doesn’t take shit from anyone, or at least he tries not to.

The premise of this show is that there is a disease that is being spread, only the Korean CDC doesn’t want anyone to know even though people are getting sick/dying. And just like with Virus, there’s a carrier they have to find. Unlike Virus, the carrier figures out he’s making people sick and doesn’t seem to give a shit. There’s more to his character, but he’s so unsympathetic that I don’t care what happens to him. But ignoring that, the show had a lot going for it.

Kang Joo Hun has to butt heads with everyone above him in both the Korean CDC and the Korean government. In order to get stuff done, he has to find people who are on his side (and there are a few). His team has to go into dangerous situations and there’s always a risk that they’ll get sick. And then, slowly, things start to go completely nuts.

I was okay with members of the team getting sick, with miracle cures and government bureaucracy. But the active cover up but the government on this show and the possible implications of not caring if people get sick and die seemed kind of out there, but not enough to get me to quit watch. Granted, the show was only 12 episodes and I finished it, but still.

The End of the WorldIt was toward the end, when the infected victims were starting to go crazy that I was worried I was watching an accidental zombie show. I’m fine with zombies in movies, tv and books. But if I don’t know that I’m getting into zombies, then I’m not happy. The End of the World didn’t have zombies, but they weren’t not zombies, either. They were alive, but they were trying to infect other people because it wasn’t fair that they were sick and others weren’t (guys, you know that’s not how diseases work, right?).

Of course, there’s also a love story (wtf) that was nice and cute, but not overt, but also kind of unnecessary. I only liked it because it was a nice break from the rest of the nonsense. But then you have people going completely nuts and the hospital becomes a riot zone (wtf) and they have to get the spinal fluid (I think?) of one of the people because it will help them save lives and so the heroine is in the hospital when shit starts to go down and she can’t get out to deliver the cure, so she tries to make it work and then the hero decides to go in after because why the hell not?

So, he dresses up as a patient and sneaks through the rioting sick people and into the hospital. Which he succeeds in doing and then a bunch more unrealistic stuff happens and then they save the day. Because of course they save the day. There was a point, when I was watching this drama, that I really, really wanted the virus to win. I couldn’t figure out why I was still watching it (probably because it was only 12 episodes?) and I couldn’t stand seeing everyone survive. But of course that was never going to happen and because this drama is nuts, well, it remains nuts.

If you’re going to watch a kdrama about viruses, watch the Uhm Ki Joon-lead drama The Virus (which was on OCN, one of my favorite networks for kdramas). It’s better in pretty much every respect and while it’s only 10 episodes, it packs a bunch. Plus, Uhm Ki Joon is pretty great.

Series Review: Bad Guys (OCN)

If you’ve learned nothing from reading this blog, you probably picked up on the idea that I like watching crime shows and that I enjoy Korean dramas and when you combine them? I’m a very happy camper. Add to that mix actors I like and you have a potentially winning combination. Now as we all know, that doesn’t always work. In fact, more often than not, shows usually aren’t that good. But luckily one of my favorite drama-producing stations in South Korean (cable channel OCN) decided to give me exactly what I wanted: a dark, gritty crime drama starring Park Hae Jin, an actor I really like. The drama is called Bad Guys and it is really good (I wish y’all could watch this, but finding it with English subs is tricky).

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And, to be honest, by really good I mean amazing. The story is as follows. Washed up Detective Oh Goo Tak (far right in the suit) decides that the only way he can solve serious (and violent) crimes is to use criminals to solve them. Using his influence as a mad dog detective (he bites criminals/etc), he forms his team. Assigned to work with him (aka try to keep him under control) is a young, though ambitious policewoman, Yoo Mi Young (standing up behind Oh Goo Tak). Between the two of them, they must keep their three criminal charges in line.

The criminals (L-R in the picture above): Lee Jung Moon (played by Park Hae Jin) the serial killer, Park Woong Chul the mob boss/muscle/etc and hired killer/assassin Jung Tae Soo. Together with the two police officers, they solve crimes. Of course, this isn’t some sort of charming drama where everyone lives happily ever after — all of these characters have secrets, some of them in the past and some of them occurring right as we’re watching the show.

Park Hae Jin as Lee Jung Moon

For each crime that the three criminals solve, they give five years shaved off their jail sentence, which works to motivate them. But each of the three criminals has their own stories. Lee Jung Moon, the serial killer, can’t remember killing any of the people he’s charged with killing. Park Woong Chul is in prison because he’s taken the fall for his gang (and he’s not happy about it for various reasons) and Jung Tae Soo is thinking about giving up killing. Each of these story lines play very significant and important parts in this drama.

They back all of that backstory into 10 episodes — add to that a few cases of the week, some police politics and the fact that Oh Goo Tak’s daughter was murdered two years earlier — we’re all left wondering just why did he pick those three men to help solve his crimes. We definitely get those answers and a whole hell of a lot more.

I loved Bad Guys because it was fun. I loved it because it made me cry in unexpected ways. The acting was exceptional and the story was strong — it was clear to me that the writers knew where they were going and how to get us there and that trip was really, really good. Hopefully Soompi or DramaFever will sub this so that everyone can enjoy it. I highly, highly recommend it.

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 ….).