Series Review: Bridal Mask (Gaksital)

“I thought she died that day. But she’s alive. What do I do? I have to kill her.”
created by joowons

Spoilers for all 28 episodes.

Watch Bridal Mask on Viki, DramaFever, or Hulu.

On Tuesday I reviewed a drama that took me around a year or so to watch. The drama I’m talking about today came out in 2012, so, you know, that took even longer to watch.

Bridal Mask or Gaksital is based based on a manhwa (Korean graphic novel, similar to manga) of the same name by Huh Young Man. Once I realized that it was basically a comic book TV show, I ended up enjoying it a lot more. Unfortunately, that took a long time because the show has a lot of things going against it.

  1. The main star is played by Joo Won, who I’ve only seen in two things. One was a ridiculous movie (S.I.U.) which I very much enjoyed and the other was a very terrible kdrama called 7th Grade Civil Servant. Joo Won is actually a very good actor, but the drama I saw him in was awful and basically he was the worst.
  2. Another thing going against this drama was the actress Jin Se Yeon. I have no idea if she’s a good actress, because she’s been terrible in the two things I’ve seen her in, this drama and the very awful Stranger.
  3. And, of course, the third thing going against this drama was also something going for this drama. Park Ki Woong is one of my favorite Korean actors (he’s in my favorite drama, Story of a Man/A Man’s Story) and he plays the third rung of the love triangle and also a bad guy. It was very hard for me to get into this drama knowing that fact.

Those three things made it very hard to keep watching. I don’t remember when I started this, maybe back in 2012? It’d been a really long time, but I was feeling like I needed to complete this after I’d completed MLFAS. Actually, it was more like I felt that I could completely it because I’d completed the previous drama. I hadn’t counted on a lot things – like the fact that in some ways I really ended up liking this drama.

created by joowons

created by joowons

Bridal Mask is so named because the main character becomes the hero of the show – a freedom fighter who wears a bridal mask, hence the name. There’s a lot of yelling “GAKSITAL” throughout the drama, it’s amusing. Set in Seoul in the 1930s, in the midst of the Japanese occupation, Joo Won’s character, Lee Kang To, must come to terms with his family’s past, their deaths and the world he now inhabits.

The first couple of episodes set up the story, giving us background about Kang To, his mentally challenged older brother and what Kang To does for a living (he’s a policeman in the Japanese police force). We also learn that Kang To is best friends with a Japanese school teacher, Kimura Shunji, played by Park Ki Woong. Shunji and Kang To have been friends for a long time even though one of them is Korean and the other is Japanese.

Kang To’s brother dies, which is how Kang To finds out that much of his life has been a lie. His brother, in order to get revenge for their father’s death, pretended to have lost his mind, but was really masquerading as the Bridal Mask. And, in turn, Kang To must decide if he wants to avenge the death of his brother and his brother by donning the mask as well.

He does, of course. And we come to the first really dramatic (as opposed to traumatic – Kang To kills his brother, thinking he’s killed Bridal Mask, who he’s been sent to capture or kill) moment when Kang To, dressed as Bridal Mask, kills Shunji’s older brother. Shunji witnesses this and goes over Bridal Mask. They fight, Kang To, still dressed as Bridal Mask, flees and eventually is thought to be dead. Shungji is rewarded and becomes one of the police force. And thus the drama really gets going.

created by joowons

created by joowons

Obviously Kang To’s not dead and when he comes back, he starts leading a double life arguably worse than his brothers. Instead of quitting the police force, Kang To continues to work against the Korean people while at the same time helping them out. Jin Se Yeon’s character is the love interest for both men. Boon Yi (her character’s real name, though she’s known as different things to different people) was friends with Kang To when they were little kids and she befriend Shunji later in life.

There’s a lot of tears and lies throughout this drama. It takes Kang To a long time to reveal to Boon Yi who he is and eventually they realize they knew each other a long time ago. Their romance is almost believable. Sadly, Boon Yi is a wasted character in many ways because the actress just isn’t good enough to carry her. As Dramabeans said in one of her recaps, Boon Yi’s much more interesting when she’s off screen.

That’s not to say that there aren’t any great female characters, there are plenty of them. The best is Han Chae Ah. Her character, Ueno Rie, is Korean. As a child she became a gisaeng (similar to that of a Japanese geisha) until she was adopted by a powerful Japanese man. She is loyal to him, because he gave her life, but her heart betrays her in the end – not just because she falls in love with Kang To when she’s meant to kill him, but because her love of Korea is stronger than any loyalty to her adopted father. Han Chae Ah’s acting is phenomenal and Ueno Rie is probably the best and most interesting character in the entire drama. Every scene with her was good, no matter how short it was.

“No matter where you are or what you’re doing, I’ll definitely find you. I’ll find you and, I will protect you at any cost.”
created byjoowons

All of the character interact with each other in different ways and at different times. But the goal for many of them is the same – find Bridal Mask and kill him. Even Kang To himself is assigned to the case. Of course, everything changes when rebellion spreads through the Korean populace and again when it’s revealed that Kang To has been Bridal Mask for a very long time.

The end of the drama is actually quite well done. Most of the character don’t get a happy ending, but some do. Kang To, on the other hand, doesn’t, but of course most super heroes and freedom fighters don’t. I thought the ending, which I won’t completely spoil here, was very well done and fit the tone of the drama.

Overall, in spite of my reservations and dislike of Park Ki Woong as a bad guy, I thought this drama was actually quite good. The acting, aside from Jin Se Yeon, was really good, even when it was over the top. If you have 28 hours to spare and an interest in comic book dramas, give Bridal Mask a try.

“It doesn’t hurt? You’re crying. You think I don’t know that?”
-Sorry…I’m sorry Shunji.-

created by joowons

Series Review: My Love From Another Star

Park Hae Jin as Lee Hwi Kyung (by lnse)

Note: Spoilers for the entire drama.

Instead of writing this review, I’ve been looking for pictures to post with it. Why? Because writing this review is going to be weird. It took me a very, very long time to watch this drama (not as long as some, but still a long time). I initially began watching it because I’m fan of Park Hae Jin and he plays the second lead, which meant he’d get a lot of screen time, if not the girl. I was okay with that (and I guess I still am, really), but the drama just wasn’t working for me. I pretty much gave up on it until March of this year. Why? Well, that’s complicated.

created by ywcfts

My friend E really likes the actor Shin Sung Rock and it so happens that he plays the villain in My Love From Another Star (MFLAS) and so she decided that of course she needed to watch it. I’d already watched the first five episodes, but that was ages ago, so she’d watch episodes and then email me very hilarious recaps of what happened. I mean, at this point I didn’t remember any of the characters names and she wasn’t really interested in learning them. She watched some more episodes, I watched some more episodes, but it just wasn’t pulling me in, but I was trying.

It’s near the end of March and we meet up in Cleveland and because sometimes we’re lazy, we watched episode eight or nine and it was boring. It was so boring. I cannot even begin to express how boring it was. I didn’t care about any of these characters, even PHJ. Then we went our separate ways, I watched something else and E kept plugging along with MFLAS and somehow it … got better? That’s not quite right, but at least it stopped being boring. Which meant that, in the end, I just plowed through it. God, it was hard.

But, as with Boys Over Flowers*, it was worth. Not because MLFAS is actually good (it’s not, it’s really, really not), but because it’s so incredibly popular that people are constantly referencing it in Chinese and Korean popular culture and now there are jokes that I finally understand. So, you know, that’s nice. And, guess what, I never have to watch it again – which is EVEN BETTER.

create by ywcfts

created by ywcfts

The drama is about an actress, mostly a TV actress, who isn’t very bright and is very selfish. She has lots of issues, including a missing dad and a mom who spends all her money before she even earns it. Stuff happens and she ends up moving into a very fancy apartment building next to a very handsome man, played by Kim Soo Hyun. It just turns out that KSH’s character is an alien, yes an alien.

Obviously, the romance is between the kdrama actress (which is what E called her in the recaps) and KSH the alien. Their actual characters names are Cheon Song Yi (the actress) and Do Min Joon (the alien). PHJ plays Song Yi’s best friend who also happens to be in love with her. His character’s name is Lee Hwi Kyung and he’s twice over cursed – 1) Song Yi is definitely not in love with him and she’s not going to be. 2) His brother, Lee Jae Kyung (Shin Sung Rok) is a very, very bad guy.

Most of the drama takes place in 2013/2014m, but in almost every episode there are flashbacks. Some of them are Min Joon 400 years earlier when he came to Earth and ended up stranded here. Others are of his life throughout the years. These flashbacks tie the original 400 year story to the present day and attempt to give the drama the historical fusion feel that is very hard to accomplish.

Min Joon doesn’t want to fall in love with Song Yi, but because this is a historical fantasy kdrama, he’s fated to do so. Why? She looks like someone from his past. Which means of course he’s going to fall in love with her and she’s going to fall in love with him. That’s fate for you.

Kim Soo Hyun as Do Min Joon created by ywcfts

Kim Soo Hyun as Do Min Joon (created by ywcfts

The drama follows Song Yi and Min Joon as they navigate their way to finding their way to each other. There’s lots of drama throughout the show, from Jae Kyung killing people to Song Yi losing her career to her finding it again. And, against my desires, there were a couple of scenes that made me cry. Damn you, drama, damn you!

I didn’t really like this drama. I’m not a big fan of over the top acting or unnecessary drama within a tv show, but even though I didn’t like it, I felt compelled to finish it. It’s not like I couldn’t even read recaps to find out what happened, it more that I wanted the satisfaction of having finished it. I did feel rewarded when I completed the final episode, but at the same time it sort of sucked because I could see what this drama should’ve been.

One of my biggest problems is that I felt that KSH was poorly cast, this is not a slight on his acting (he’s amazing in the movie Secretly Greatly), but I felt his character should’ve been played by Seo In Gook (I believe that was the one of the reasons I quit watching it in the beginning). Another complaint I had was that all of the characters seemed to be caricatures of themselves. If this had been based on a manga or a manhwa, that would’ve made sense, but it wasn’t.

The drama also couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. Was it a comedy? A romance? A thriller? It could’ve done two of those, hell it could’ve done all three, but instead of trying to do them all well, it did them all poorly. Sometimes when the drama picked one of them to focus on, it worked better. But that seldom happened and instead the drama floundered.

 Lee Hwi Kyung isn’t as dumb as he seems. (by lnse)

I didn’t necessarily like much of the cast or the acting, but there were times when the drama really worked for me. PHJ’s character shone through many times – his devotion to Song Yi, his attempts to be the better man and the fact that, in the end, he ended up alone but also turned into a better person. Also, all of his interactions with his brother after he realized what a horrible person he was were very well done. PHJ and Shin Sung Rok should be in another drama together, because they work very well opposite one another.

I don’t regret watching. I do sort of resent the fact that it made me cry. I can remember a few times when I was sitting on the couch crying as I watched and I was mad at myself for being upset, but I couldn’t help it! I’m such an easy crier.

Overall I’d give this drama a C, maybe a C+ because PHJ is so pretty. Don’t watch it, it’s not worth it unless you need to know the pop culture references. Otherwise, ugh.

But if my crappy review makes you want to watch it, here’s how: Hulu, DramaFever, or Viki.

Song Yi and Min Joon gifset by seouldramas

*BoF is a truly terrible drama based on a manga. It’s awful, don’t watch it. But when I got into kpop/kdramas, it was still really popular as a reference point (it came out in 2009, I got into kpop in 2011) and something that people would still make fun of. In addition, H and I later watched a bunch of old stuff that referred back to BoF, so it was useful to understand what they were talking about. Even though the drama was awful. I’m glad I watched it, but man. Don’t watch it.

Series Review: Seonam Girls High School Investigators (kdrama)

If you want to watch, you can see all 14 episodes on Dramafever or Hulu.

I decided to watch Seonam Girls High School Investigators for a couple of reasons. The first time the show came to my attention was because of a lesbian kiss (a quick google search gives you pictures, videos and news articles), something that you don’t really see in kdramas, even cable ones, like Seonam Girls, but it wasn’t until I’d finished a couple of other dramas (Healer and Bad Guys) that I decided to start the show. The second reason was because I wanted a show that was empowering to women and, well, fun. Seonam Girls seemed like the perfect fit and for the most part, it totally was.

The show follows new student Ahn Chae-yool. She’s been having problems in school and Seonam Girls high School is her mother’s last resort before sending her to American, which Chae-yool seems to want to do. But Chae-yool is like every other teenage girl, she has her opinions and she’s not going to let other people tell her what to do. Chae-yool’s relationship with her mother sets the tone for show — it’s equal parts amusing and serious, which is the show in a nutshell.

We follow Chae-yool as she is befriended by a young woman (who plays an important role in a later episode) at the behest of Chae-yool’s mother. That doesn’t work, of course, but it does give Chae-yool the impetus to at least listen to a group of friends who want to be her friend. That group, of course, is the Nancy Drew-esque foursome aka the Seoname Girls Investigators. The self-named group solve crimes, starting with the very first episode. On her way to school, Chae-yool is bitten on the wrist and the girl detectives decide to track down the criminal and also attempt to befriend Chae-yool.

Thus begins a very contentious friendship that grows and then blossoms through all fourteen episodes. Each episode flows into the next, there are cliffhangers for some, but not all, of the episodes and a few of the cases are wrapped up before the episode ends. After the wrist biting case, the girl detectives begin to address many issues that high school students in Korea, and across the globe, are familiar with.  These range from bullying to abortion to the aforementioned kiss (which is more about secrets and loving people than it is about the actual kiss, which, nicely done, show). While I didn’t love everything about all the stories (the abortion episode could’ve been handled differently, but I’m pretty sure that’s my Western privilege speaking), I loved everything about the show.

The five girls aren’t the only characters. There’s Chae-yool’s mother, her brother (and his love line with one of the girls detectives which is hilarious and adorable), and her father (to a lesser extent). There’s also a very interesting (and sometimes unsettling) teacher with his own mystery that’s woven throughout the series, coming to a head in the final episode, as well as his nephew (I think) who has really great chemistry with Chae-yool. There’s Chae-yool’s truly adorable homeroom teacher (I adore him) as well as other teachers and minor characters — many of whom are students involved in the cases the girls are solving.

While Seonam Girls is about high school students, like all good YA, it’s not just for them. The characters are all fully developed and their friendship runs very much like real friendships – hot and cold. One of the things that I love about this show, though, is that no one’s perfect and everyone fucks up once in a while, but they find a way to make things work. The girls do screw up a few of the cases, but the apologize and make amends when necessary. Also, their friendships seem very real in many ways and I love it because you rarely see two female characters, much less five, who are actually friends. Chae-yool and the rest of the girl detectives are amazing for many reasons, but that is one of the most important.

The emphasis of this show isn’t on school, which to an outsider might seem ridiculous (no one really does any homework) but for a country as obsessed with school as South Korea, I thought it was a nice, refreshing change. They do, of course, deal with studying issues, but not nearly in the same way as the others.

At the heart of Seonam Girls aren’t the crimes they solve nor the overarching mystery that stretches through all fourteen episodes. It’s the relationship the girls have to each other and to the people (especially the adults) around them. It’s what made us love all those teenage crime solving shows and books — the girls want answers and they want to find them — but they want to do it together. And even when things go wrong (and they very much on one of the cases) they must make it right. The adults in their lives won’t (can’t) fix it for them, which is how real life goes, too.

You should watch Seonam Girls because it’s fun and funny. You should watch it because it’s clever and endearing. But you should watch it because it’s so damn good at getting what it means to be a teenager. You should watch it because friendships are important and they’re so rarely done well and Seonam Girls is full of some of the best friendships anyone could wish for.

I want a season two, though I’m not sure the controversy surrounding the kiss will let that happen. But don’t let that stop you from watching. Go, watch. And maybe you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Series Review: Doctor Stranger (SBS)

Note: this was originally posted on a different blog, but I’m moving it here because it’s more relevant. It written in July of 2014.

Warning: Spoilers for all 20 episodes of DS.

Park Hae Jin in Doctor Stranger via PHJ's Weibo.

Park Hae Jin in Doctor Stranger via PHJ’s Weibo.

I was first introduced to Park Hae Jin on old episodes of Family Outing, a show which I still adore (though only that first season). Up until deciding to watch Doctor Stranger, the extent of my watching PHJ was a handful of episodes of My Love From Another Star*. I like him for all the superficial reasons, but I had no idea what he was like as an actor. Sure, he seemed to do a good job in those 5 (I think?) episodes of MYFAS, but that’s not enough to really go on. Plus, I’d heard great things about Lee Jong Suk (and he’s in at least one thing I want to watch). And while I don’t really like medical dramas, I figured this might be interesting. After all, a guy escapes from North Korea and becomes a doctor, it sounds good!

And those first couple of episodes? They were brilliant. All the back story that built up LJS’s character was incredibly well done. The cinematography, plot, and acting were spot on. And then the show caught up to read time and devolved into a mess. It wasn’t immediate and I didn’t quite realize what was going on. I liked LJS’s tears and PHJ’s ice cold demeanor. I thought the show had potential … and I guess it did? And maybe that’s the root of the problem. It had so much potential that I kept watching in hopes that it might realize the potential.

For example, the early scenes between Jin Se Yeon (Jae Hee/Seung Hee) were exception and understated. Many of flirty scenes between LJS and Kang So Ra’s Soo Hyun were promising because their chemistry was palpable. This was a storyline I wanted to follow. And the true reveal (for what we already knew or perhaps I guessed) about PHJ’s character’s true identity finally gave me something to hold onto. Revenge makes for good drama (I did quite enjoy Golden Cross) and I thought that, perhaps, PHJ would get to (no pun intended) act on it. Unfortunately none of these story lines carried through from one episode to the next, much less throughout the whole show.

When Hoon (LJS) discovers that his first love has come back, there’s no chemistry. When Soo Hyun and Jae Joon (PHJ) have scenes together, there’s almost no chemistry — which in this case is not the actor’s fault. All the Hoon and Soo Hyun scenes have shown us who should end up together. It’s only the interactions between Chang Yi (played exceptionally well by Sistar’s Bora) and Hoon as well as Chang Yi and her love interest, Chi Gyu (played by Lee Jae Won, who was in H.O.T, which I had no idea), that were consistently entertaining throughout the whole show. That’s pretty sad, guys.

And yet, in spite of all of this — the bad acting, the plot holes as big as the Lake Michigan, and the nonsensical episodes, I KEPT WATCHING. I don’t know if it was the magnetic power of  PHJ’s beauty or the chance I might get to see LJS cry again — or maybe it’s as simple as watching a train wreck (at least no one was actually hurt) when you can’t look away. It wasn’t hate watching, because I never actually hated the show (that’s what Level 7 Civil Servant devolved into — it took a sheer force of will to keep watching it). But there was something that kept me watching.

I’ll probably never know and, to be frank, I’m fine with not knowing. Why? Because it’s over. I never, ever have to watch it again.

And I’ll end on this note. Every time someone asked me about the show/what I was watching, I would struggle to describe it, except to say that Doctor Stranger took place in the single worst hospital ever. I still stand by that statement. That being said, though. I’m looking forward to watching LJS in I Hear Your Voice and PHJ in his new murderer/serial killer (?) role. And maybe one day I’ll finish YWCFTS.

*It’s not quite a year later (give it a few months) and while I’ve watched some more of YWCFTS/MLFAS (My Love From Another Star) I don’t think I’ll ever be able to finish it. It’s just terrible, or at least terrible to me (and my friend who is currently powering through). Sorry, PHJ.

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.

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.