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+

Friday, December 2, 2016

Thai Drama Review: Kiss Me


Somebody help me - I cannot stop watching every remake this show seems to come up with. This show is based off of the same manga (Itazura Na Kiss) as Mischievous Kiss (Japanese), It Started with a Kiss (Taiwanese), and Playful Kiss (Korean). I’ve never watched a Thai show before, but when I found out about this…

Seriously. Send help. Can’t stop. Won’t stop. Let’s dive in.

The Gist: Childhood friends Tenten (D’Angelo Mike) and Taliw (Managing Sucharat) are reunited after spending most of their adolescence and teen years apart when Tenten’s family returns to Thailand from Japan. When Tenten joins Taliw’s high school, she is instantly smitten, even though she doesn’t remember their falling out many years earlier. Fate continues to draw them together when Taliw’s home is destroyed after a gas explosion, causing Taliw and her father to move in with Tenten’s family. Tenten still remembers their relationship as children, but is hesitant to pursue Taliw, who is much more outgoing, silly, and less booksmart than Tenten. Furthermore, Taliw’s overprotective best friend King (Phiangphor Sarasathapheng) is not shy about his feelings for her. It’s time for love in Kiss Me!

Love:

1. Changes to the Leads


Let’s start with Tenten. Yes, this is the same framework of the male lead from the iterations of this show, but Tenten pretty much knows he is in love with Taliw from day one, which is new and fabulous. I like the background story of having the leads know each other as children since their families are so close. None of the other versions ever explain why the kids haven’t met before or put all of this together. Having Tenten’s family move and come back is an elegant solution to this problem, but I digress.

Tenten recognizes Taliw immediately and seems to be in stages of realizing he likes her pretty early on. I think this story is more him trying to sort out how to make the two of them work rather than him being in denial for the entire series. For example, in Mischievous Kiss, I really believe that Naoki doesn’t like Kotoko for most of the show, but falls for her as time progresses. Tenten very early on is obvious about his feelings. For example, the classic tutoring scenes really show that Tenten is struggling with the fact that he likes Taliw. This is the only version where I really felt that the two leads were friends, rather than the girl just being someone the boy tolerates. This does make some of the ending scenes a little confusing, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

For our leading lady - Taliw - who has all of the qualities we come to expect from this role: not the brightest, but plucky and likable. I do have to say that I appreciate that they make Taliw a little more abled in this version than others. When she gets to college, we don’t focus on her struggling through school, but let her studies fade to the background as a non-issue. I liked this change as I’ve always been a little uneasy with this character being so inept and then moving into a health profession. Taliw is the only character I feel comfortable with her moving forward with her goals in life.

2. Some Very Sweet Scenes


So some of the benefits to the fact that Tenten is more attached early on means we get some very sweet scenes peppered throughout the show. I’ll touch on a few of my favorites (there will be spoilers!). Tenten seeks Taliw out after their graduation, just to spend some time with her, which leads to a cute hug with their first kiss not too long after. I was kind of amazed at this scene because I cannot imagine any of the other iterations of this character just coming to find her just to see her this early in the show. It was nice.

Second, when they go with their teacher to help build the school, Taliw gets lost when attempting to find help for a sick friend. Tenten is not shy about going out after her and when he finds her, they have a really adorable hug. Again, I imagine that if Naoki out of Mischievous Kiss was in this scene, he would have played off how worried he was about her and moved on. I like that Tenten takes time to comfort her and that builds up to another kiss later that evening.

Super spoilers. Seriously. While I was mad they messed up the rain scene (we will get to that!), I must admit, that proposal was so ridiculously adorable, I was squealing for like a half hour. It does a really nice job of bringing up their childhood relationship to the forefront of the moment by having him read the letter he wrote so many years ago. It also says a lot about his feelings for her that he kept it all this time. It makes their relationship seem much less one-sided. It is actually also a really earnest moment from Tenten. Just lovely.

Meh:

1. King


So this character always gets the short end of the stick, but wow I feel like this version leaves him high and dry (some spoilers). Despite the fact that we can tell early on that Tenten does really like Taliw, King is still firmly working his way in for a chance with her. We all know he’s going to get his heartbroken, but because this story ends much before the source material, King goes forth without his happy ending. In other versions, this character eventually finds another to love and comes to acceptance about the leads’ relationship, but this show pretty much decimates his feelings and then just ends the show. I almost felt like I was missing scenes in this show because it seemed really cruel to just close it out that way. Anyway, for fans of this story, prepare for this character to be just trampled.

2. Namkang and P’Dan

So, in all versions there is a smart girl that works as a bit of a foil to our dim leading lady. Namkang (Bubear Pim) is that character for this version. While I don’t mind her being in this story, we spend a weirdly long amount of time with her and P’Dan developing a random side story that has very little to do with the rest of the situation. I wouldn’t even have minded the amount of time we spent with them if it wasn’t for two things. The first is that it took a lot of time out of Tenten and Taliw’s relationship development. Second and more importantly, there was very little payoff for them (more spoilers). At the end of this, P’Dan really just takes off and Namkang, who might just be getting over Tenten is left alone… again. I feel a little like everyone but Tenten and Taliw get screwed over by this ending. It made me feel a little confused that I just spent a bunch of time in the later episodes getting invested in these characters and then they fell apart. Seriously though, did I miss some episodes?

Hate:

1. Let’s talk Some More About that Ending


OK. Besides the fact that King and Namkang get really horrible endings, I had some beef with the way things wrapped up with Tenten and Taliw. So Nana (Pimpatchara Vajrasevee), an ex girlfriend of Tenten shows up for the last few episodes of this show. It’s not really shocking, some variation of this character shows up every time.

However, the changes they’ve made to Tenten make this plot totally bananas. Tenten has already decided pretty concretely that he likes Taliw and has gotten pretty close to her. Yet, he pretty much ditches her as soon as Nana shows up. We don’t really know too much about what’s in the past between these two, but it seems really counter to this character for Tenten to just bail on Taliw. In other versions, the Naoki character spends a lot of energy denying his feelings and trying to like this other person. Yet, Tenten isn’t really doing that so much, so I was super confused about this turn of events.

Finally, the reason we are usually able to forgive this plot development in the other versions is because there are added stakes. For instance in Mischievous Kiss, Naoki agrees to an engagement, despite the fact that he is falling for Kotoko, because it will save his father’s business. It adds a layer when Naoki decides that Kotoko is even more important than helping his family. In Kiss Me, there are no extra strings attached. It really is just that he seems to kind of waffle for awhile before really deciding that he does, in fact, like Taliw better than Nana. The whole thing seemed weird and off-putting after his sweet sides to her through the show - I mean, don’t get me wrong, he is still hot/cold - but he’s definitely more affectionate than other versions.

I guess the proposal makes up for this somewhat, but I still felt like the ending was executed in a way that is clumsier than the rest of the plot.

So:

So… I did enjoy this show, as I do every version, but I think it had some pretty big missteps. I loved Tenten and liked to see the relationship develop much differently between him and Taliw than the others, but the second half of this show had some confusing plot developments. Ultimately, the ending of this show left me feeling a bit mixed, despite the happy ending for Tenten and Taliw. I would say it’s worth a watch if you like this storyline, but it is definitely not my favorite version of this show.

Final Grade: C+

Friday, October 14, 2016

KDRAMA Review: Descendants of the Sun


Hello all! I'm not dead, I promise. I'm sorry for how much I have not posted this year. >.< Forgive me! Anyway, let's get on to it. You're probably thinking, Drama Queen, you are so late in reviewing this show and you are right. I'll let you in on a secret - I didn't even want to watch this show! GASP. I know. But it came up on U.S. Netflix and my good friend recommended it, so I got over how much I was not excited to watch a military drama and tucked in. Oh snap. I understand the hype. Here we go!

The Gist: It's fate for Kang Mo Yeon (Song Hye Kyo) and Yoo Shi Jin (Song Joong Ki) when they cross paths in a hospital and it's an instant attraction. It's not too long though before Mo Yeon, a surgeon, can't reconcile her life's work of saving lives with Shi Jin's occupation as a special operations soldier, especially when he disappears suddenly for long stretches of time. Fate works again though, when Shi Jin is stationed in the fictional country of Urk and Mo Yeon, along with many of her delightful coworkers, are sent along after him on a volunteer medical mission. Can they really keep apart when they see each other every day and the stakes get higher? Secondary plot line follows Shi Jin's best friend Dae Young (Jin Goo) and his superior Lt. Myeong Joo (Kim Ji Won) as they struggle post-break up with lingering feelings. It's romance and action for days - let's dive in!

Love:

1. The Leads are Super Fine

There is not really much to analyze about this. It's just true :)

2. Superstar Romance

Yow mama, do all four of our leads have chemistry or what!? I was worried this show was going to skimp on the romance and focus on the action, but it does a really good job of framing the action sequences around the romance, stitching them together just enough to keep the plot moving. I found myself a little annoyed with Mo Yeon early on because if she is keeping apart from Shi Jin because she's scared to lose him, then, well she's lost him already. It's not like her insisting they be apart makes her any less in love. She's just in denial about it. Still, though, I like the way they worked through this issue and really developed their relationship. DotS is 100% committed to the romance stories it is telling (even the side romances are pretty well developed) and it really makes me wonder  how I was ever worried in the first place. I give A++ to both lead romance stories. Adorable, heart-wrenching, heart-warming, and everything in between.

3. Holy Action Sequences Batman!

*Spoilers gonna spoil! You've been warned* I'm just going to say that the episodes immediately following the earthquake were definitely my favorite of the show and some of the best for most dramas I've watched. The tension played out perfectly and honestly, just really highlighted the work that emergency responders do. This really showed our characters at their best (well maybe not Chi Hoon, but pretty much everyone else). I've heard criticism that the action gets unbelievable and well, just think how much they went through in that time (natural disasters, disease epidemics, several major car incidents, gun fights, it goes on). Honestly, though, I didn't find much issue with it - it kept the show moving at a quick pace without too many filler episodes. You may have trouble with it, but I was sitting chanting Bring It On!

4. Diversity for Days!

I am so stroked about the sheer inclusion of this show. We have several characters, including the main bad that only spoke English. This showcased our main actors English abilities. It's always nice to actually see characters who are supposed to be from English-speaking countries, speaking English. It was also nice to not need subtitles during some scenes. Also, I love that in the Dae Young and Myeong Joo story line, the problem was that she was too high-ranking for him! You go girl! Work that female in command angle. Loving it. Also, I love that Mo Yeon's friend in the hospital is in a wheel chair and only one person ever says anything about it. She's just another character. DotS does a fantastic job of showing off some diversity and I am still pumped.

5. Ki Bum (Kim Min Suk)

Seriously, Ki Bum is such a punk at the beginning of this episode! But just think, if he hadn't been a little thief, our story wouldn't have unfolded and then where would we be? I'm glad that we didn't just ditch this character after the first episode because it was a real joy to watch his growth throughout this series. It also says a lot about Dae Young and his past, without ever really talking about it for the dedication that he has to Ki Bum. Also, sort of spoiler, that ending scene with Ki Bum and Dae Young had me crying big crocodile tears. 

Meh:

1. Almost Not-Quite Ending

*More Spoilers* Seriously, stop reading if you don't want to know about the ending of this show. So, does anyone find it so harsh that our poor girls thought that their guys died for a year?! I understand they were trying to validate some of Mo Yeon's concerns without actually killing anybody off, but wow, that's some serious character abuse! I found myself just like openly weeping through the 15th episode, even though I was like 99.99% sure they weren't dead (I mean, there's always the 0.01% right?). Don't get me wrong - I loved the reconciliation and the actual ending. I was literally laughing out loud at the screen, but man, get ready for feelings when you sit down for this one.

2. Myeong Joo's Dad

Cliche's don't typically bother me, but the whole my kid is too good for you so I'm going to incessantly interfere with your love life thing is really overrated. If Myeong Joo's dad really cared about her happiness and what she wanted, this would not be an issue. I mean, she's a grown woman and he's just constantly abusing his power over them both. It's pretty depressing. I feel like this show had enough original ideas that this one just seemed to stick out as overplayed. I mean, who really cares about Dae Young's ranking? Is this something people care about? Does the fact that he's super special forces count for nothing? Oof. Could do without!

Hate:

I'm just going to leave this part empty :)

So... I loved DotS. Loved loved loved it. I sprinted through them. I watched these in 4-5 episode batches, so I had the whole thing done in like 3 sittings. I also feel like this will be immensely rewatchable and I'm really looking forward to diving into this again in the future. This had a great balance of romance and action that made this an easy and compelling watch. Unlike some shows attempting the same thing (I'm looking at you City Hunter!). I'm contemplating moving around my top ten. If you've had any reservations about watching this - I was with you, but it's definitely worth it.

Final Grade: A+