Series Review: Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo (SBS)

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I said last week I’d write about this drama, so here we go. Back when it finished (November of last year) my friend N and I were barely halfway through, if that. We knew a few spoilers, but not a lot and the only thing I remember is that people were kind of pissed about the ending and, in general, didn’t really enjoy the drama. Now that we’ve completed it, I totally disagree with their assessment. Not that they’re wrong, but I actually found little to complain about.

For reference: IU is a singer, Jisoo and Nam Joohyuk are two popular up and coming actors, Baekhyun is a member of the kpop group EXO, Seohyun is a member of SNSD/Girls Generation, and Lee Junki is a actor/singer who I love. There are others, but those are the more famous ones I might mention.

Spoilers ahead!

The premise of Moon Lovers is that IU’s character, Go Ha Jin, travels back in time to Goryeo era of Korea’s history. She falls into the body of a young woman (Hae Soo) and basically becomes her. The fate of the real Hae Soo is most likely death, though this is not really explained, but instead inferred.

Hae Soo is the cousin of the wife of one of the kingdom’s many princes (sons of the current king) and goes from being in her 20s to being 16. The beginning of the drama is made of a Hae Soo trying to figure out her new body and life in Goryeo. Everything, from court behavior to the writing is complete foreign to her. The one thing she remembers from her history text is that the person who takes over from the current king will kill all of his brothers. This knowledge and the fact that she’s not supposed to meddle in affairs of state, are the two things guiding her throughout the whole drama.

Of course, as you can expect, Hae Soo fails at meddling. It’s not as though she sets out to mess things up, but that’s how it happens. You see, Hae Soo inadvertently befriends most of the princes and several of them fall in love with her. This is one of the ways her presence disrupts history, but both N and I decided that it didn’t actually matter what she did, things were always going to turn into the bloodbath at the end of the drama.

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The Princes and Hae Soo
(L-R) Won, Eun (seated), Jung, Wook, Hae Soo, So (seated), Baekah, and Yo.

Hae Soo has several love interests throughout the drama: including Baekhyun’s prince (the youngest) Eun, Kang Hanuel’s princes, Wook, Junki’s So, and, the always adorable Jisoo’s Jung. Eun does find love, toward the end of the drama (and his character’s life). He is a cute character, often providing comedy, but toward the end Baekhyun’s acting comes through and you do care about Eun and his wife, Soonduk (she is amazing and kick ass and played by singer Z.Hera).

The main people, aside from the characters above, of importance to Hae Soo are the Crown Prince, Moo, and two of the brothers, Yo and Uk/Baekah (the latter played by Nam Joohyuk). It’s a lot of characters to keep track of — and that doesn’t even include Baekah’s love interest (played by Seohyun), the two queens, Wook’s (late) wife, and his sister. But that’s more detail that is needed in this review. Instead, if you do want to know, watch the drama.

Hae Soo is favored by the Crown Prince, who becomes king when his father dies. She discovers, by accident when he’s still the Crown Prince, that he has a medical condition. Under the training of Court Lady Oh, Hae Soo begins to work in the palace. This happens because she’d been living with Wook and his wife, who dies and though Wook and Hae Soo are in love, things don’t work out and she can’t stay with him so she moves to the court.

Much of the drama focuses on Hae Soo and her interactions with the princes and the people who surround them. As time passes Hae Soo changes from her 21st century self into a proper Goryeo court lady. Both N and I began to question whether she would go back to her former life at the end of the drama. As Hae Soo became more a Goryeo woman, her love changed, too. Wook’s sister didn’t like Hae Soo and along with two of the brothers Yo and Won, caused her lots of problems. When Wook should’ve stood up for Hae Soo, his sister threatened him and forced his hand, showing us his true feels.

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Lee Junki as Prince Wang So

It was Junki’s prince, So, who ended up standing up for her and, eventually, falling in love with her. Prince So was feared, both because he’s a ruthless killer and because he always wears a mask due to the scar on his face. His mother loathed him and she tried to kill him, failed, and left his face scarred. So, on the other hand, both loves his mother, even while he hates her and it’s not until he meets Hae Soo that he begins to understand friendship and love.

Of course, all of the romances in this drama are doomed. The king who becomes Gwangjong kills all of his brothers in order to attain the thrown and this is what Hae Soo fears. As the drama passes, she begins to think that So is going to be the next king and that he will kill his brothers. She tries, at different times, to prevent this from happening, but history as a way of working itself out and no matter how she tries, it fails.

But outside of the court intrigue and Goryeo politics is a love story. Where Hae Soo loved Wook, when he turned away from her, she too turned away from him. It was So who ended up putting the pieces of her heart together and this is the romance that spans the rest of the drama. Much of the criticism of this drama involved Junki and IU’s acting, but I found it to be very, very good. Their romance as believable, well-acted, and often quite emotional. Both N and I did a lot of crying as we proceeded through the episodes.

In the end, So does become king and most of his brothers die — though not complete by his hand. There’s much in this drama that I’m leaving out, but I do want to talk about the ending. Hae Soo learns she cannot marry the King (So) and he won’t let her leave the palace, even though she’s dying. The body she’s in has a weak heart and it’s slowly killing her. Eventually Jisoo’s prince, (and my favorite), Jung, comes to the rescue. He had always been in love with Hae Soo and had convinced his own brother (Yo) who was briefly king, to proclaim that he could marry Hae Soo. He presented this information to the So who, with a tenuous grasp on actually being King, had to enforce it. This, it turns out, was the only way Hae Soo could leave the palace.

Spoilers — seriously more spoilers.

Jung and Hae Soo leave and he cares for her as she struggles with child. It is, of course, the King’s daughter and Hae Soo does not live long after her child’s brith. But as she’s dying, she sends letter after letter to the King, who doesn’t open them as Jung had put them in envelopes and the King had dismissed them. When he does open them, it’s too late and Hae Soo has died. Everyone is miserable and we cried along with Jung and the King. Then, of course, we skip forward to the present day where Hae Soo, back in her body and known as Ha Jin, is living her life as normal. We learn that she’s been in a coma for a year and she doesn’t remember what happened to her.

She does remember, it’s so sad and heartbreaking and then the drama ends. There is no extra episode, no epilogue and we don’t know if they (So and Ha Jin) find their way to each other. That being said, the ending fit perfectly. Life is open ended, we don’t ever know what happens or what’s going to happen.

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Hae Soo and Wang So

I really liked this drama. IU’s acting was very good and her chemistry with all of the princes was incredible. There were some bad points and plot holes, but what drama doesn’t have them? Since this is a fantasy-historical fusion drama, it might not be for everyone. But definitely give it a try if it sounds interesting. Spoilers don’t really take away much from the drama, mostly because it is 20 episodes and there’s so much more that happened.

You can watch it on Dramafever.

Series Review: Voice (OCN)

I haven’t talked about a kdrama (Korean drama/tv show) on this blog in a long time, it’s about time I did it again. So, enjoy this review!

파일-보이스_포스터If you know anything about me, you may have noticed that I really like crime dramas (and books). I’m not sure when this started or why I like them so much, but I do. Whenever a new I read about new kdramas, if they’re crime-related, I usually am interested. When I read the synopsis, I knew I wanted to watch it:

Two detectives teamed up to catch a serial killer who murdered their family. Moo Jin Hyuk’s life spiraled out of control after his wife was murdered. He starts to put himself together after he meets Kang Kwon Joo, US-graduated voice-profiler, who lost her police father to the same serial killer. They work together on the 112 (emergency telephone number) call center team.

Serial killer shows also intrigue me (ex: Gap Dong, Signal, and, to some extent, Bad Guys) and so that just sealed the deal for me. The who is, in fact, about Jin Hyuk and Kwon Joo’s hunt for the serial killer who killed their loved ones, but it’s actually more than just that. The serial killer storyline is what brings the two characters together and it’s the overarching theme that runs through each episode, but it’s not what brings the show together. Instead, that is left in the hands of the characters whole make up the call center and the detectives who solve the crimes the call sender sends their way.

Spoilers for the entire show (16 episodes) to follow.

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Jin Hyuk

Jin Hyuk’s characters is call “mad dog” (at least in the English subs on Dramafever) because he’s kind of nuts — but he also doggedly (lol) gets the job done. The show begins with Jin Hyuk and his team solving a crime and then celebrating a job well done while a woman is being stalked in the shadows. She calls someone, who doesn’t answer, and then she calls 112 (911) and Kwon Joo picks up. It turns out that the person on the phone is Jin Hyuk’s wife and he’s the one she called first. He was too bus, both catching the bad guy and then celebrating to answer the phone. His wife is killed and we suffer his guilt and grief alongside him.

We skip to the trial, a man’s arrested for the murder, but all is not as it seems. A woman, Kwon Joo (though we don’t know it’s her) arrives to testify. She explains that she heard the killer’s voice when he killed her father (a cop) and she knows the man they have on trial isn’t the murder. She asks them to play the recording of her conversation with the killer, but it’s gone — erased. The man gets off and Jin Hyuk goes crazy.

We skip three years and this is where the drama truly beings. Jin Hyuk is back to being a glorified traffic cop and Kwon Joo has just returned from life in the United States. She is assigned to the same police station where Jin Hyuk works, determined to find out who killed her father and Jin Hyuk’s wife. She forms what is called the Golden Time Team, which consists of the 112 call center and detectives who solve the crimes that come in. She insists that Jin Hyuk be part of the time and this is the first part of the drama of the show.

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Kwon Joo

Kwon Joo wants to work with Jin Hyuk, but he wants nothing to do with her. He reluctantly begins solving the crimes she throws at him and this is the basis for each episode, except the very last one. There are threads of the serial killer search throughout the show, but the central plot of each episode revolves around cases that come into the 112 line. Similar to a “case of the week” show (like Law & Order or Person of Interest), the Golden Time Team must save people before it’s too late. The beginning of each episode resolves the case of the previous episode and the second half introduces the next case, all mixed up with the search for serial killer.

Some of the cases are tied to the serial killer directly, some not so much. It is through these cases, and the frank honest between Kwon Joo and Jin Hyuk, that they grow to trust each other. Really, that Jin Hyuk learns to trust Kwon Joo. She convinces him that she’s not nuts — her story is that when she was younger, she was gravely ill and lost her sight for many years. During her period of blindness, she honed her hearing and now it is exceptionally good. This is the only true part of the show that is not quite believable, but without it, this show wouldn’t work. I decided, almost immediately, that I didn’t care if this part didn’t seem real, it works too well for me to care.

Once Jin Hyuk grudgingly trusts Kwon Joo, their hunt for the murderer of her father and his husband begins in earnest. While they solve crimes each week, we also slowly see them uncover the truth behind the murders. They uncover conspiracies, are thwarted at every turn and eventually discover a mole in the police.

Voice is a very dark drama. It’s actually darker than many kdramas I’ve seen, even the crime ones that I adore. The stories feel real, the anguish the victims and our cops feel is real, too. Even the emotions of the bad guys, with whom we do spend time, are very raw. There is back story, reasons for why people behave the way they do, and much of is heart breaking. For those of you who’ve read my reviews before, you know I like the “flower boy” detectives quite a bit and Shim Dae Shik is no exception. I adored him, but as with most of our characters, all is not what it seems.

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Jin Hyuk and Dae Shik

Another spoiler warning! Somewhere toward the middle of the show, maybe episode eight, I realized that they were going to make Dae Shik the mole. I didn’t want to be write, I loved his character, but unfortunately I was correct. He was the mole and his storyline just grew more and more upsetting.

Of course, we always knew how this drama was going to end, with the good guys bringing down the bad guys. The truth is that the way they got there was the interesting part. While not a perfect drama, it had all the elements I really enjoyed. Once I accepted how Kwon Joo’s hearing worked, everything else seemed more or less believable. It was a great drama, the acting was by far and away the best part of the show and is, to be honest, a reason to watch it.

I enjoyed Voice much more than I expected and am glad I watched it. Perhaps for my next kdrama I’ll go for something a bit more light hearted. Maybe.

 

 

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.