Thursday, May 17, 2018

CDrama Review: A Love So Beatiful


 *Available on U.S. Netflix*

The Gist: Plucky Xiaoxi (Shen Yue) pursues a one-sided love with her smart, but cold neighbor Jiang Chen (Hu Yitian). Jiang Chen has a hard time looking past her low IQ and embarrassing antics, but starts to get possessive when a new student, competitive swimmer Wu Bosong (Gao Zhiting) transfers to their school. Still, as both boys start to circle Xiaoxi, neither can really accurately express their feelings. The cast of friends is rounded out by tough but smart Jingxiao (Wang Ziwei) and dorky Lu Yang (Sun Ning). The five friends live out their high school days trying to sort out their hearts and chase their dreams!

Love:

1. The Romance


So, did this summary remind anyone of all those Itazura Na Kiss adaptations? The smart but cold boy pursued by energetic but dumb girl. They’re neighbors in this rather than living together, but the effect is similar. Readers should know by now, though, that my love for the Kiss franchises (It Started With a Kiss, Mischievous Kiss, Miss in Kiss, etc.), so it was nice to see a show that had the same vibes.

However, there were some major differences that I found quite awesome in our main duo. Shen Yue and Hu Yitian have awesome chemistry as our main pair. While Xiaoxi is totally obsessed with Jiang Chen, she doesn’t wrap her career around him and when she feels like she’s being mistreated, she doesn’t hesitate to stand up for herself. There are some misunderstandings that arise from this, but it’s nice to see a girl who can still stick up for herself despite being so in love.

Likewise, once Jiang Chen admits his feelings, he is very doting on Xiaoxi. It’s so lovely to see that he isn’t embarrassed of her. When he tells people that she’s his girlfriend or their getting married, it almost took me by surprise because he does grow a lot in the series from being so closed off. Into some spoiler territory, at the ending, it does take him a long time to apologize (and there was fault on both sides), but when he does, he is so sincere about it, it just wiggled its way into my heart.

Honestly, I have heart cavities from how incredibly sweet this show is.

Also, I will say, again, in small spoiler territory, that I loved the development between Jingxiao and Lu Yang. I was worried with the nurse plot, but they are a good match and it was nice to have their story moving along in the background from our main couple. Again, this show is just so sweet all around, I could barely take it!

2. The Time Jump

So another thing about this show that reminds me of the Kiss franchises is the time jump. We see our characters not only in high school (though that is the bulk of the show), but in college and beyond as well. I was wondering why all the characters looked so old at the beginning of the show, but once I realized the scope of what they were doing, it made sense. I like this in the Kiss shows and I liked it a lot here as well.

It was nice to see how our characters matured and to give their relationships time to develop. Obviously, any show like this will have some relationship problems to work through and I think that progressing to working adults gave some extra opportunities to really handle the nuances and hard work of balancing life with your work. Also, the ending to this show was just so insanely adorable, I couldn’t handle it. Their relationship isn’t perfect, but it felt very relatable.

3. Wu Bosong

Oh man. I really liked Bosong. His relationship with Xiaoxi is really funny - I love that he calls her boss. He is very supportive and friendly and while you know that Jiang Chen is end game, I did really feel bad for him. Not to say I think that Xiaoxi should have ended up with him, but some triangles are harder to swallow than others and I think this one was difficult. He is willing to open up to Xiaoxi in a way that Jiang Chen isn’t for a long time, but I think he just came from too far behind, she was already so in love with Jiang Chen by the time Bosong showed up. I will say though, that a lot of the parts following him swimming when other characters weren’t present, I found myself skimming. I like him more in relation to other characters than I did on his own. Additionally, I liked that Bosong and Jiang Chen had sort of an uneasy friendship. It’s more complicated than if they just straight up hate each other all the time. I think it also allows for Jiang Chen to really have to contemplate if Xiaoxi would be happier with Bosong.

4. Pacing

I was a little worried about this show being 23 (+1 bonus) episodes long, but honestly, I watched this show so fast that I didn’t even mind that it was on the longer side. Realistically, this is one of those shows that I would have kept watching if it was even longer. Things move a little slower during the high school years, but not in a way that I minded. I like a little bit of a slow burn romance (although I was ecstatic when they finally got together). The later episodes move really quickly and I think that doesn’t leave too much room for filler. This means that most of the show at that point is just so focused on the romance and that’s just the way that I like it.

5. Jiang Chen

OK, so I said already I like the romance, but I really loved Jiang Chen. Hu Yitian does such a fabulous job of making him aloof, but also just so so caring. You can tell how much he loves Xiaoxi and is just totally committed to that. I find that he really shines in their kiss scenes. The expressions he makes before (super intense) and after (kind of an amazed dazed?) are just to die for. It’s lovely. Also, he is very beautiful, so I get where Xiaoxi is coming from. I don’t think my heart would make it either.

Meh/Hate

Honestly, this is another one of those times that I am really wracking my brain to figure out what about this show bothered me and am coming up quite short. This show warmed my heart so completely and I am excited at the prospect of watching it again sometime soon. Spoilers: I think maybe my only complaint is that we didn’t get to see a wedding for them? But at the same time, we get a beautiful proposal and we did get to see Lu Yang and Jingxiao’s wedding, so maybe that would have been overkill.

So:

So… I adored this show! ADORED IT. This was one of those times that I was slowing down so that I could savor it just a little longer because I wanted to watch the entire thing in one sitting. It was a struggle. This is a great summer show - light with all the romance. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it executes familiar tropes well.

Final Grade: A+

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

JDrama Review: My Little Lover (Minami kun no Koibitio)


The Gist: Chiyomi (Maika Yamamoto) and Minami (Taishi Nakagawa) used to be best friends. After knowing each other since childhood and being neighbors, Minami suddenly pulls away when his father leaves his family. Now in high school, Chiyomi and Minami barely speak to one another. That is, until a rainy night catches Chiyomi out in the storm and she wakes up to be several inches tall (think Honey I Shrunk the Kids). After Minami tracks her down, she begs him to hide her rather than burden her parents with her mystical disaster. Minami reluctantly agrees. While the challenges of having to take care of your tiny next-door neighbor cause troubles for Minami, the new close quarters give them a chance to work out just exactly what went wrong in their relationship.

Love:

1. Unique

I am on a kick of shows that I had been avoiding because they just sounded so stupid. I should know by now that the dumber the premise, the better the show. After reading a couple good reviews, I decided to watch this one. It was short, so despite being skeptical, I dove in. I actually watched this entire show in one sitting on my day off. I can say I’ve been thinking about it every since I finished it because it was just a strange plot that is executed really well.

Really, what is the bread-and-butter of this show is Minami and Chiyomi. They both have some serious acting hurdles to overcome because with Chiyomi needing to be so small, they can’t actually act directly at each other (in real life). I thought both actors handled it really well and they both managed to convince me that they were talking to one another, when it is obviously an effect. It is no small feat to handle a romance when the girl fits in the guy’s pocket, but they handled the chemistry in all the right places.

Not to mention, it was interesting to see how they handled the tiny details of her being so small. Where does she go to the bathroom? (my biggest question and it was answered immediately). How will she bathe? What will she wear? It’s hilarious to see Minami struggle to take care of her like a small child when she’s really a peer.

2. The Romance

So, I think one of the things I really like about Japanese romance dramas is they tend to focus really singularly on the main pair. Korean dramas tend to build a lot of other story lines and multiple romances and it’s interesting, but can be overbearing. Every scene in every episode of this show is in service of the romance and the main problem of Chiyomi being small. This helps with the pacing of the show as it’s relationship-building is front and center.

I also really like that they avoided any major love-triangles, although in another show, Sayori could have been the leading lady. Her and Minami had a lot in common and really her only flaw is that she isn’t Chiyomi. Obviously she serves the purpose of getting Minami to really confront his feelings, but I appreciate that they developed her into a well-rounded character and not just a set piece.

Honestly, the show that this actually gave me a similar vibe to is Mischeivous Kiss. Now, you should all know how much I love that show (Mirai Suzuki was actually in both shows and in the hospital scene, the characters are reading the manga!). Something about the forced cohabitation and the male lead coming to realize the one for him has been there all along has a similar warm feeling. Especially as their families are both friends, even though this plot is totally different, I found myself feeling similarly to how I do when I watch Mischievous Kiss.

Let’s get into spoiler territory here. I love that since the traditional skinship of this show has to be light (she’s so tiny!) that we make up for it with a big kiss scene at the hospital. I wasn’t totally sure how much of this we were going to get, but I appreciate that after waiting all this time, they didn’t shy away from our characters getting their much deserved intimacy once Chiyomi grows again. Also, I know some people will think this show ties up too neatly, but I love a show that ends on a wedding. Gah! It’s so cute!

3. Our defeated rivals

I know I touched a bit on how Sayori is a well-developed character beyond being a rival, but I was equally impressed with Chiyomi’s other potential love-interest Riku (played by the above-mentioned Mirai Suzuki). While he is definitely way too obsessed with dolls (it’s a touch problematic to want to keep a girl in your pocket…you know, without the supernatural circumstances), I appreciate him manning up and stepping aside when it’s obvious that the person Chiyomi loves is Minami and not him. I found him to be a fairly mature character and I was glad we didn’t shoe-horn extra conflict in with him. Also, he handles finding out Chiyomi’s secret like a boss.


4. Family Building

Now, while the romance is definitely the focus of the show, the family relationships are an excellent backdrop. So much of how children see romance is colored by their parents’ relationships. We see how much Minami’s father leaving affects him, but his grandmother and mom are both so strong and so supportive. Although he feels like he has to be the protector, they are both good examples of leadership in his life. I like how when Minami gets into trouble helping Chiyomi, his mom’s first reaction is always to support him, rather than punish him. It is clear that they have a lot of trust in their relationship, which you can see mirrored in his approach to Chiyomi.

It’s obvious throughout the show that Chiyomi’s parents have problems. We find out quickly that they got married after Chiyomi’s mom became pregnant. Their relationship is stressed as their daughter appears to be missing, but I appreciate how they resolve this storyline, especially how Chiyomi gets to be a part of this solution. Just as her parents have to work at their relationship, Chiyomi and Minami have to work at theirs.

Meh:

1. Self-defeating problems

So, throughout the show, I was really wondering what happened to Chiyomi and Minami’s relationship.  It was obvious it had something to do with his father, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Slight spoilers ahead - finally, Minami confesses that he pushed her away because he was worried his feelings for her would change and that he would abandon her, like his father did to his mother. All that makes sense in the mind of a pre-teen teenager, but when the solution to that problem is to randomly have a change of heart and abandon her… aren’t you just becoming the thing you’re afraid of earlier? Again, I am willing to forgive this plot line because he is so young when his dad leaves, he doesn’t really have the tools to process what happened to him, but it is a little ironic that he enacts what he’s afraid of as a solution.

Speaking of problem-solving, so it becomes obvious quickly that the reason that Chiyomi is staying with Minami is to get closer to him rather than to spare her parents, but for how much she complains about her parents reactions, they also handle finding out her secret with cool heads. It becomes obvious in the end of the show that she was creating more problems than she was solving, but again, forgivable - she’s a teen girl with a chance to get close to her crush. Eh, I’d do the same.

2. The Special Effects

Don’t get me wrong, as far as dramas go, they did a pretty stellar job with the effect of Chiyomi being tiny. Yet, there was always a little part of my mind thinking “the pillow’s not indenting where she is.” While they got the placement right and the acting is great, they have a hard time making Chiyomi look like she has any weight to her. It’s especially obvious when he’s holding her that it’s not quite right. Again, I think everyone does a great job and it doesn’t really detract from the writing of the show, not to mention how much did the effects cost already, it’s just a little distracting. I will say, they did a pretty good job of making her look like she’s wearing things that are tiny, large knit cloth or doll’s clothes. Additionally, her holding giant pieces of food is always hilarious.

So:

So… color me surprised, I freaking adored this little (get it??) show. It was an excellent watch, with all the right pieces for a good romance. It’s not especially heavy, but it does have just enough that it will keep you thinking about it for awhile (at least, it did for me). At 10 episodes, it’s much less of a commitment than a lot of other shows and the story just breezes by. I definitely recommend for any and all drama watchers, especially those who liked Mischievous Kiss.

Final Grade: A+

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

KDrama Review: Beating Again/Falling for Innocence


The Gist: Kang Min Ho (Jung Kyoung Ho) has a major chip on his shoulder. After his sick father’s death during his childhood, his uncle betrayed his father, took over his company and abandoned his family. The betrayal and loss prompted his mother to commit suicide, leaving Min Ho with a whole slew of emotions to work through. He lands primarily on revenge, eyeing his uncle’s company, with a plan to dismantle it before the same heart disorder that claimed his father’s life claims his own.

It is in the midst of this hostile take over, that he is reunited with a childhood acquaintance Kim Soong Jung (Kim So Yeon). She has taken up the mantle of her father as secretary to the chairman, Min Ho’s uncle, at their company. This has not done her any favor with Min Ho, who sees her whole family as complicit in his uncle’s betrayal.

A twist of fate intervenes when Soon Jung’s dopey and lovable fiancĂ© is in a car accident (more on this later), and is a match to donate a heart to Min Ho. After the transplant, Min Ho starts displaying personality traits and a stronger affinity towards the now grieving Soon Jung. This relationship is further complicated by longtime friend Joon Hee (Yoon Hyun Min) who will do anything to win Min Ho’s seat at the company and Soon Jung’s heart (like, literally ANYTHING).

Love:

1) Min Ho Substitute Father

So Min Ho is understandably wrestling with a lot of guilt when he realizes that he has Soon Jung’s fiance’s heart. One of the best things about this show was the relationship he builds with the heart donor’s father, played beautifully by Ahn Suk Hwan. They have a hilarious teasing relationship that turns sincere as they are trying to save their company. All the while, they are filling a void in each other’s lives, with Min Ho having lost a father and Tae Seok having lost his son. He is a great force for good in Min Ho’s relationship with Soon Jung, as he wants her to move on and be happy. *Minor Spoilers* When it is revealed that Min Ho has his son’s heart, Tae Seok is happy for Min Ho and grateful that his son’s death means another can live. The continued relationship for them I felt was very strong and added a good depth to Min Ho’s development across the span of the show. While I love the romance, this relationship was probably my favorite thing about this show.

2) Min Ho

Kyoung Ho really gets put in some work and show off his acting chops in this drama. He does a great range from pre and post transplant Min Ho. He plays fierce perfectly in the beginning of the show, but is completely believable as the softer hearted man he becomes throughout the show. He does excellent work So Yeon, who are handling a lot of complex emotions they need to show on screen. So Yeon also does an excellent job juggling falling for Min Ho, still missing her fiance, and feeling guilty about both. Min Ho is just an instantly likable character, and even when he is being cruel, you can tell that he is just hurting. I like that they plant some seeds of empathy in Soon Jung before his transformation and you can tell that even she understands why he is the way he is. Sure, that doesn’t necessarily excuse his behavior, but he is a character whose motivations I understand completely. This is a combination of solid writing and great acting, that I really enjoyed. 

3) Villain Commitment

We are going to head back into spoiler territory. So at the beginning of this series, you really think that the uncle is going to be the big bad. Oh boy is that not the end of it. Joon Hee starts out as a fairly beige character whose biggest threat is being in a love triangle. But oh man do they double down on committing him to irredeemability. If Min Ho’s motivations are completely understandable, than Joon Hee is on the complete other side of the spectrum. He, in the course of the show, sabotages a company several times, murders his best friend and then relentlessly pursues his fiancee, treats his father like garbage even though he is willing to protect him at the cost of his life, and just has no sense of shame. I have never seen a character under the guise of a friend who I so strongly object to. I found myself just watching this play out with my mouth agape at the gall he has to continue to woo Soon Jung after murdering her fiancĂ©. I just can’t even.

However, I will say that this kept things interesting. I am sick to death of the second lead syndrome and Joon Hee’s actions again and again make it totally impossible for him to ever have a shot at being redeemable in any shape or form. I was impressed that the show was willing to go this far, to break Soon Jung’s heart so completely. I am also glad that the show gave Soon Jung a chance to confront him after she figures out what he’s done. It was a unique twist to this show’s development.

Meh:

1) Let’s Suspend Our Disbelief

I know most Kdrama’s really ask you to not think too hard about what it is they’re doing with the plot, but this show is pushing the envelope a little. Now, people who have transplants do sometimes start exhibiting tastes and behaviors of the people their organs are from. However, I don’t think psychic memories are included. I am willing to set this aside for the sake of an otherwise strong show, but it did have me sort of scratching my head a little bit when we would run into those scenes. If you go into this knowing that you are going to have to turn off your thinking brain for a bit to get through a few scenes, you should make it out OK.

2) A lot of Corporate Stuff

Oof. Beyond the wonderful character building and romance development, there is a lot of time spent plotting and in corporate warfare. I think this show does a fairly good job of balancing that aspect of the story with other more interesting parts of the show, but there were definitely scenes and problems that I was just ready to be done with even before they started. Still, the reward for sticking through all the corporate problems is satisfying. More spoilers, the ending is a nice wrap-up with Min Ho getting what he’s working for and Joon Hee getting some swift justice.

So:

So… my gripes with this show are relatively minor and I will say I thoroughly enjoyed watching this show. The romance was a delight from start to finish and now that I am more used to dramas being a bit both dark and funny in the same show, I think I didn’t mind that this show is a strange blend of several tones. There are definitely some heartbreaking moments, but the viewer is rewarded for powering through them with some great character development and sweet moments. I will say, when I first read the summary for this show, I thought it sounded stupid, but I was very glad I gave it a try (I should stop judging shows on their summaries. Some of the best ones have the dumbest premises!).

Final Grade: A

Friday, March 17, 2017

KDrama Review: Goblin (The Lonely and Great)



The Gist: Once upon a time there was a man. This man was a general in the king's army. This general was betrayed by his king and suffered a great curse. This man was no longer a man. He was a goblin.

Kim Shin (Gong Yoo) has wandered the world for over 900 years, waiting for the Goblin's Bride who can remove the sword in his chest and his immortal curse. Ji Eun Tak (Kim Go Eun) has always been different - the ghosts she can see have told her that she is the Goblin's Bride, although she does not know what that means. That is, until her 19th birthday when she summons a Goblin to her side by blowing out the candles on her cake. In Kim Shin, Eun Tak finds a salvation from her miserable home and school life and in her, he finds his chance to die. Unfortunately, now that he is not alone, he is not sure he is ready for his time to end.

Throw in a Grim Reaper (Lee Dong Wook), who becomes the Goblin's unlikely roommate and who can't reconcile his feelings sassy chicken store owner (Yoo In Na) and you've got Goblin. Let's settle in - it's a fabulous ride.

Love:

1. The World Building

I have been mostly unimpressed with the fantasy dramas I've watched thus far, so I was excited to hear that Goblin was doing so well. The thing that impressed me right off the bat was the nuances of the world that were a constant delight to discover. I love the corporate feel of the reaper world; that the most troubling thing that they deal with is too much paperwork. I love the teahouse that Reaper operates out of and the mysterious questions about the reapers' pasts. Some of the best scenes are when Reaper is escorting souls on their way (the blind man meeting his guide dog! I teared up.)

I also love the touches on the Goblin lore. The doors that open between places for him and the summoning with the fire were both nice touches to the storyline. There is also a great intersection of worlds when the Goblin interferes with doomed souls. The balance between real world and fantastical elements is handled craftily and the whole discovery was a joy.

2. The Found Family

This is one of my favorite story devices: when a group of unrelated people create their own family and depend on each other. This starts with the Goblin and Reaper. Their bromance really steals the show in every scene they are opposite each other. They are natural opposites, but as two eternal and empathetic beings, they are naturally poised to understand each other. Especially as they both start romances with mortal girls, they are following each others' pitfalls. The scene where the Goblin and Reaper come to save Eun Tak from the kidnappers and they're doing a nice slow-motion walk gave me literal chills. LITERAL CHILLS.

They're also both sort of tragic heroes. As comedic as they are, they are both facing down their own tragic fates. The Goblin is doomed to die now that he's met the girl he loves and the Reaper can't really connect with a mortal because he does not know himself or his past.

Next up in the family is Eun Tak. Although she's the only mortal residing in the house, she's magical in her own right. She can see the reapers, the Goblin, and ghosts, and she has her own special role to play. She brings a unique perspective to the house and it's adorable to see the boys get protective over her. I love her bright and cheery attitude in the face of her troubles - which I know is standard for heroines, but I love a strong and chipper leading lady.

Rounding out the family is Duk Hwa (Yook Sung Jae). He is likely to rub you the wrong way at first, but it's nice to see his growth through the show. Also it's funny to see him push the buttons on our Goblin friend, especially knowing the history his family has of serving him.

Sunny is fabulous in her own right, but she's not really connected to the house, so she is a little ancillary to the found family in my mind. However, her big sis attitude with Eun Tak and total confidence is refreshing. She also took some time to grow on me, but her chemistry with Reaper is fantastic and heartbreaking all at once.

3. The Romance

Like Descendants of The Sun, Goblin has two parallel storylines rather than competing love triangles. The romance is well paced and well developed. On the Goblin/Eun Tak side of things, you get over the supposed age gap pretty fast. The Canada scenes were some of the best of the bunch. Eun Tak and the Goblin both have some pretty dramatic acting to do with each other and both actors rise to the occasion. Especially towards the end, there is some nice kisses and sweet touches. They are a well written pair, which makes the balance they walk of sad and funny so poignant.

Reaper and Sunny likewise are total delights. The way they meet is hilarious and without spoiling much, the ultimate framework of their love story is well woven, which kept me totally engaged. Their romantic trajectory is very different from the others, but I think that's what keeps this show interesting.

Honestly, I found myself thinking as the show went on that it was just plain romantic. Not sweet, not cute, not sexy, just so so romantic. It's one of the best I've seen.

4. The Backstory

I traditionally have had trouble with stories that jump back in time too much, have reincarnations/dopplegangers, and amnesia. Goblin has quite an abundance of all three and has handled it the best of any drama I have watched so far. Peeling the layers back on this story were worrying at times, exciting at others, but all the way had me just wanting to watch all of the time.

Let's get into spoiler territory here: So the Goblin, Reaper, and Sunny are all original players in the historical backdrop. The way that the Reaper handled finding out he was Wang Yeo broke my heart all over the place, but watching him and Kim Shin work towards some kind of reconciliation that they didn't get in their past life really reinforced their friendship. I would have liked to see a bit more building between Kim Shin and Sunny (his reincarnated sister), but seeing Reaper and Sunny process who they are and sort it out across their lives made their romance ending particularly satisfying. I guessed that Reaper was the king very early on, but it was still fascinating to see everything fall into place as an organic source of conflict for our characters.

Meh:

1. Some qualms about that ending...

Spoilers ahead! You have been warned. So I had this aching in my stomach that this story was going to end sadly and I was half right. Yet, I think that the show ended exactly as it needed to. I have two qualms about the ending. They aren't flaws with the plot, but are things I am still processing and feeling a few days after finishing this show.

Number one: breaking up the bromance. Now, it is necessary for Reaper to be truly happy to put aside his memories once more and live again as a person. This gives him and Sunny the chance to be happy without the burden of their past. Reaper doesn't need to feel guilty anymore. He definitely has the happier of the two endings because Goblin now doesn't have his friend to walk his immortal life with. I was hoping that if Goblin has to live on that at least they'd still have each other. I was sad to see that relationship dissolve with the end of the show.

Number two: Goblin has such a sad fate. While it reinforces the sacrifice he makes for Eun Tak, to have the time with her in exchange for his chance to die, it is gut-wrenching to think of him living on waiting for her for years and years and years. If she only has four lives, then even living long with her will leave him alone for most of his life. Essentially, Kim Shin is exactly where he started - lonely and waiting for his bride. It was pleasant to see the two of them meet again at the end of the show, it was honestly happier than I thought they would get, but still ultimately left me feeling sad.

But, that's not such a bad thing. This show is all about balance and it is funny, happy, and breath-takingly romantic, but it is also sad, and anxious, and leaves you thinking and feeling long after you've finished. I love a happy ending, but it gives a real weight to the show that the emotions linger. At its heart, this show is sad, but the beautiful world and characters are definitely worth the trade off (also it's not hopeless, which is what I truly can't stand).

So.

So... let's wrap up this review. I didn't hate anything about this show and in fact, am surprised at just how impressed I am with it overall. It's one of the best shows I've watched. Period. The story is well-paced, the sets are beautiful, the effects are good, the romance is romantics, and the soundtrack is to DIE for (seriously - check out Round and Round and Stuck in Love. If you didn't watch the intro to this show every time, you are a stronger person than I).

Don't wait. Watch this show immediately and when you have a lot of time to sink into it. I can't recommend it enough.

Final Grade: A+++ Damn Near Perfect.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

TDrama Review: Miss in Kiss


I know, I know... nobody sent help and I watched another remake of this show. I can't help myself! The good news is this was an excellent rendition. If you've never watched Playful Kiss (Korean), Mischievous Kiss (Japanese), It Started with a Kiss (Taiwanese), or Kiss Me (Thai), never fear, this is not a bad one to start with. Miss in Kiss is a second Taiwanese remake of the Itazura Na Kiss manga. It Started with a Kiss is fabulous, but Miss in Kiss is a great successor. Let's dive in!

The Gist: All seems helpless for plucky but not bright Yue-qin (Esther Wu), who has her eyes set on class genius Shi-zhu (Dino Lee). Fate intervenes when Yue-qin's house suffers a catastrophic accident, leaving her and her father on the street. However, a good friend of Yue-qin's father comes out of the woodwork and takes them into his home and it is only when Yue-qin moves in that she realizes that Shi-zhu is her new housemate. Yue-qin may turn Shi-zhu's life upside down, but for someone who doesn't have to try at anything, that may not be a bad thing.

Love:

1. The Ending

Spoilers. Obviously. So why start this review at the end? As you know, the best remakes keep the spirit of the original while changing enough to keep it interesting. MiK is a very faithful adaptation, which is excellent for a first time watcher, but can be a little boring for the re-watcher. However, some of the smartest changes I think came in that last episode.

MiK has the final confession in the classic rain scene, Shi-zhu hears that Ah-jin is proposing and hunts Yue-qin down to win her back. When they return home, Shi-zhu promptly asks for Yue-qin’s hand. In other iterations of this show, Yue-qin’s father lists out her bad points before wrapping up with why she’s worth it. MiK has an excellent turn where Yue-qin’s father starts listing out her bad points and Shi-zhu counters with why she is worth it.

Essentially, all versions have the main male character softening up, but MiK is the first one that has him lay out why he likes her and why he needs her this early. There is another nice moment later in the episode where Shi-zhu tells her that it’s because she’s not perfect that she is perfect for him. Round that out with a wedding where he plays Clair de’Lune for her and I am just swooning.

I am curious if there will be a second season to this show as Shi-zhu has all his barriers down by the end of this first season, seeming to be more committed to being nicer to Yue-qin. Yet, I hope they do as we don’t get to see much of Yue-qin or Shi-zhu’s medical pursuits and my heart just breaks for Ah-jin. I would like to see him get his happy ending. Still, if this is one and done, it was a nice way to wrap up.

2. Pacing

This show may seem long as Netflix has this broken into 40 1/2 hour episodes, but I like shows that get broken into smaller pieces. Dramas are such a long endeavor per episode, it was nice to have shorter episodes and just have more of them. I felt like I was able to get through this show faster because I didn’t need a whole hour carved out to watch an episode. With that said, I think that I wanted to watch the episodes faster than Netflix was releasing them, so there is that.

3. The Family

I adored that Yue-qin and Zhi-shu’s younger brother get to be friends in this version. One of my favorite episodes in all versions is when he gets sick and Yue-qin has to take him to the hospital. It’s a good bonding moment for the two characters and is a start of a turning point for Zhi-shu. The pay off of this relationship really is that when Zhi-shu starts dating another girl, the little brother is kind of an advocate for Yue-qin to him. It was all really sweet.

Additionally, I was really impressed with the writing of Zhi-shu’s parents in this version. In many of the versions, Zhi-shu’s father really forces his job on Zhi-shu. We may start there in MiK, but he quickly finds out that Zhi-shu wants to be a doctor and tells him to pursue his dreams. Even when Zhi-shu doubles down on his commitment to the company, his parents really just want him to be happy. Even Zhi-shu seems to really be pushing Yue-qin towards him because she knows Yue-qin can make him happy.

4. Cute Opening

I love the upbeat song and the mini version of the characters are adorable. I watched it the whole way through every time.

Meh & Hate:

I’ve been sitting on this for a few days and I just can’t find major faults with this show. My biggest gripe would be that some of the scenes are too identical to other versions, but if that is my only complaint, I’d say this show is a success. The characters are well cast, the story moves at a good pace, and it has everything you’d expect from this show.

So:

So… I am very happy with this rendition! If you are looking for a more recent introduction to this story, this is actually a pretty good one. It Started With a Kiss is starting to show its age a bit, which makes it a good time for an update. I was not sure about our main characters, but they had great chemistry and Zhi-shu really grew on me. If you’re looking for a wildly inventive take on this story, this won’t satisfy you, but if you’re looking for a faithful adaptation that adds its own sweet twist, Miss in Kiss is a fun, happy, warm show.

Final Grade: A

Monday, February 6, 2017

TDrama Review: Bromance

Say what you will about 2017, but my drama game is off to a great start with Bromance!

The Gist: Bromance is about the kind-hearted kids of Taiwan's mafia bosses. Bromance is also about family and loyalty, sticking together and finding your happiness. It's also about love between friends, family, sworn brothers, and couples. It's about a girl with a secret, counting down to her birthday.

It's about all of those things, but really it's about Pi Yanuo (Megan Lai) finding Du Zifeng (Baron Chen). Yanuo's superstitious parents force her to live to as a boy until her 26th boyfriend after getting a bad fortune for their newborn daughter. She's done well until she runs into the mafia boss son turned clean, Zifeng, and the two become fast friends (literally). Her secret becomes harder to navigate as Zifeng's sister Zihan (Mandy Tao) falls for Yanuo as Yanuo starts to fall for Zifeng. Simultaneously, Zifeng's childhood friend, quiet Qingyang (Bii) finds a connection with a energetic coffee-enthusiast, Nana (Katie Chen).

Love:

1. The Characters

Seriously, the amazing, lovable characters are the soul of this show. When I started thinking about how to summarize these characters, I started making lists... so, sorry for how long this post is going to be!

Du Zifeng
1. Genuinely Good Person (seriously, done with the guys treating girls like garbage!)
2. Loyal and Honest. He takes his friends and family very seriously - no fear of commitment here.
3. Eyes that bore into your heart.
4. Protective, but not scary.
5. So supportive it kills me.
6. Gorgeous.
7. Open-minded x 2,000.

Yanuo
1. Sweet and kind.
2. Always trying her best for the people she cares about.
3. Rarely negative, despite the keeping this secret.
4. KICK ASS. Literally, she's keeps right up with Zifeng.
5. Can convincingly pull off being a guy (which seems largely due to her being extraordinarily tall, a bit flat chested, and doesn't wear make-up. Bii wears more make-up than Megan during most of this show).

Qingyang
1. Has a fashion sense that makes me drool (those sweaters... those rings... those jackets... dear God lend me that stylist)
2. Quiet but reassuring - he emotes with such little dialogue.
3. A little naive, but is willing to go the mile for those he loves.
4. Like Zifeng, not afraid of commitment - friends are family.
5. The way he takes care of Nana with such unwavering support and compassion.

Nana
1. So positive for someone dealing with a lot.
2. Not afraid to share her feelings and go for it.
3. Talkative without being annoying, a great other half to Qingyang.
4. Strong as hell.

Xiaojing
She's just awesome. I loved her pushing Yanuo every time she showed up!

The Adults on This Show:
ACTUALLY WANT THEIR KIDS TO BE HAPPY. OMG. Finally, rich parents who just want to support their kids and their decisions, who don't think that no one is good enough, who don't push their decisions onto their children. I am so stoked with the parents on Bromance, I could barely contain my surprise. With the exception of Yanuo's parents, who are well meaning... but also kind of morons.

2. Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

Those of you who are familiar with my blog know that I have trouble starting a show that immediately has me waiting for a reveal. Yet, the pervasive sense of trust between characters not only means that there are few miscommunications but that I was not worried about the reveal at all. By the time Yanuo gets to the big reveal, I had no trouble believing that every single character would be supportive and loving (spoiler alert: I was super right). It's sort of fascinating to find a show where the characters have such a strong bond and a sense of trust that the obstacles they face aren't between them, but for them to deal with cooperatively.

3. Warm and Fuzzy

When I saw how long this show was (30 eps on Netflix), I was hesitant to start it. Yet, now I found as I was watching it that I drew out the experience as long as I could to spend more time in this universe. The warm feeling in almost every scene just made me feel like I was watching comfort food. The romances were beautiful and sweet, the family stuff was just heart-warming and watching the characters develop just made me squeal every scene.

4. Romance

Let's dive in. Starting with Qingyang and Nana. Their relationship is the epitome with sweet and gentle. Qingyang immediately connects with Nana and does not hesitate to consider her as family. When he buys her the baby bunny, I thought my heart was going to fall out of my chest. While I wish it wasn't always so innocent (one kiss maybe?), their unwavering commitment to each other, especially as they both deal with loss, was well-done.

Now, what the Qingyana pair leaves in innocence, Zifeng and Yanuo make up for in droves. Even as they are becoming closer as buddies (brothers), the tension is thick as fricking pudding. They can barely keep their hands off of each other and by barely, I mean they literally can't. When they finally get together, things get steamy! I mean not x-rated, but man, if you're sick of drama leads kissing like they're 12 year olds, this will cure you of that (the last scene alone!). Despite the ridiculousness of this scenario, Zifeng and Yanuo have chemistry that hops of the screen, a passionate romance that is laid over a solid foundation of trust and respect. This romance is just short of perfect.

Even the side romances are nice detours. While these shows can get a little matchy-matchy, I liked the added touches with Zihan and Sister Feng. If you like romance, and you like asian dramas so you do, this show is for you!

Meh:

1. Zherui (Lee Shiau Shiang)

I think this character was a major misstep for this show. He's nice and cute, but let's face it Zherui never had a chance in hell. I really appreciated that the beginning of the show didn't have a triangle, so when Zherui showed up, I was disappointed. Not only that, because he showed up so late, Yanuo was already so involved with Zifeng that Zherui was more like a minor footnote. Most of all though, I do not understand why Zherui is so obsessed with Yanuo after all of these years. I mean, I get if he remembers her fondly and starts to fall in love again, but he makes it seem like he never loved anyone except Yanuo... which is overkill. You're both adults now and different people. If he really was that obsessed with her, why didn't he every come to look for her. It's not like he doesn't know where she lives.

Mostly, Zherui just felt like poorly a executed plot device that didn't even cause that much of an obstacle. I thought they might work him into the general friend group, even if he doesn't get with Yanuo, but he just stays fairly pathetic and then gets written off. For a show with so many amazing characters, I could have done without!

2. Amnesia!

NO. Not the A word! As we all know Amnesia is poison to dramas. When it showed up in this show, I was horrified. Now, without spoiling too much, I am going to say that of all the shows I've watched with an amnesia plot, Bromance handled it the best.

Now, with spoiling too much - I didn't even mind that this didn't get resolved. It felt right that something had to get sacrificed. With Qingyang's parents getting murdered, it seems OK that not only did the Du family have to sacrifice 7 years but also give a little something up. Besides, with a family as supportive and kickass as this one, it's impossible to to fall in love all over again. It was definitely heartbreaking to see Zifeng suffering to get his father to remember, but the payoff made the struggle satisfying. But poor Qingyang. Seriously. Bless his heart!

Hate:

I'm obsessed with this show. Despite all of its flaws, I could not stop watching it. Almost everything about this is on point.

So:

So...Do you ever finish a book and want to flip it over and start it again. I feel like that after just finishing Bromance. I wanted to spend eternity with these characters. Every small moment, every little touch, little glance just built this show into a perfect romance. I think if you need action, there is a touch of it (that last gang showdown), but for a show about mafia families, this show is about as gentle as it gets (unless you're talking about Zifeng and Yanuo's hands on each other. Nothing gentle about that!). I thought this drama sounded dumb when I heard about it, but I was glad to read some positive reviews so that I didn't miss this amazing show. So, I'm paying it forward! If you're not sure about this, give it a try. It's got a great pilot and opening theme song. I can't wait to watch it again.

Final Grade: A+

Friday, December 30, 2016

KDrama Review: Moonlight Drawn by the Clouds/Love in the Moonlight


The Gist: Hong Ra On (Kim You Jung) has always reluctantly lived her life as a man and in her teen years has taken up giving romance advice. This leads her astray when a friend/client gets entangled with the crown princess, sending Ra On, disguised as her male self Sam Nom, to deal with it. When she ends up facing Crown Prince Lee Young (Park Bo Gum), friction sparks between them. This friction sparks to an all out flame when Ra On ends up being sold to the palace as a eunuch. Yet as Ra On supports the prince in a time of unrest - the king is haunted by a rebellion that may not be quite dead and the prime minister and court officials are working against them - his feelings towards her begin to change, even before he realizes exactly who she is. It’s political intrigue, history, and romance today in MDbtC. Let’s go!

Love:

1. Crackling Chemistry!


Kim You Jung is a fabulous young actress. It is hard to believe that not only is her character in her late teens, but she is as well. She was amazingly expressive in Moon Embracing the Sun, so it was a real treat to see how she has grown as an actress in this series. Not everyone can pull off the gender swap convincingly, but I thought You Jung was simply stellar.

Despite the age difference between the two actors, Ra On and Lee Young had onscreen chemistry that was almost tangible. They were really well cast opposite each other. Although I suspect the very stoic way they kissed (did You Jung almost look afraid a few times?) was due to her young age, it still played very sweetly.

Bo Gum has a lot on his plate as the young crown prince, but he handled it with poise and a dedicated emotion that made this character instantly lovable. I liked the steel this character had, even while being incredibly sweet. The romance really is the star of this show.

Meh:

1. Three Friends Tragedy


Let’s talk about the crown prince, his bodyguard, and the prime minister’s grandson. Spoilers to follow. All three were very close in childhood, but are torn apart by three separate causes. Lee Young is working very hard to protect his position as future ruler, the bodyguard Byung Yeon (Kwak Dong Yeon) is working with the rebellion to avenge his family, and Yoon Sung (Jin Young) is divided between protecting his family’s legacy and helping old friends. All are trying to reconcile their personal feelings with what they think are best for the country. I was really, really hoping that all three would survive, reunite, and use their separate positions as a way to work together.

That is super not what happened and I’m still kind of bitter about it. This is not to say that the character development wasn’t great or that the acting wasn’t perfect, all three did amazing jobs, but I feel like historical dramas never reconcile broken childhood friendships and it bothers me.

At any rate, Byung Yeon is kind of my favorite so I am glad he didn’t actually die. I also especially liked Lee Young’s unwavering faith in his friend. Despite all the warnings, his trust was rewarded and it’s nice to see such a strong relationship, even if we’re not sure how things work out for Byung Yeon at the end.. I wish I could say the same for Yoon Sung, who not only poses a threat to Lee Young’s throne, but falls for Ra On as well. It’s almost like a reconciliation then, that he gives his life to save Ra On and removes himself as a threat to Lee Young. It’s an ending that works, but it’s not exactly happy.

2. The Ending

Spoilers obviously. Don’t get me wrong - I love that Ra On and Lee Young end up together. However, I am a bit miffed that they aren’t married by the end of this. For Lee Young to really be secure, he needs a queen and an heir! I guess we’re supposed to imagine something of that sort happens later, but I was hoping that after we see Lee Young in his King getup (nice scene btw) that we’d get a glimpse at Ra On in her queenly outfit.

I do like that the King makes an effort for the would-be crown princess Ha Yeon (Chae Soo Bin) so that she can take her broken heart and find love elsewhere. I actually really liked Ha Yeon and thought she would have made a fine princess, which actually adds a bit of tension to the show. It would have been easy to hate her, but she is undeniably likable. In another show, she could have been the heroine.

Now, it is not to say that the end of this show is bad. It really isn’t. There is a satisfying comeuppance for those working against the crown and is all around about how you’d expect this show to end.

3. The Pacing

I think that this show is too long. By the time I hit episode 13, I really wondered how it was going to take 5 more episodes to resolve this. While there was certainly action-packed episodes, I think the last third of this drama dragged a bit. I am stoked they didn’t extend this to 20 episodes, but I think 16 would have been a bit tighter. These dramas have too much of the villains sitting around discussing evil plans. Naturally, I suppose, you need a balance to the happier storyline, but it did weigh down a bit for a minute there.

Hate:

Nothing really to hate, just a few missteps here and there.

So:

So...It may seem like I am complaining about this drama, but I honestly really enjoyed it. The characters are well-developed and interesting, the actors were all phenomenal, and the romance was well-written with chemistry to back it up. I have a few grudges with the way the show wrapped up, but it was a very entertaining and heart-warming (for the most part) watch. I definitely recommend this one.

Final Grade: B+