Thursday, May 16, 2013

KDrama Review: The Moon that Embraces the Sun

The Gist: It’s an instant connection when Yeon Woo (Kim Yoo Jung/Han Ga In) meets the young prince Lee Hwon (Yeo Jin Goo/Kim Soo Hyun) at the palace, even though she mistakes him for a thief. When her brother Heo Yeom (Siwan/Song Jae Hee) becomes the prince’s literature teacher and Yeon Woo is selected to be Princess Min Hwa’s (Jin Ji Hee/Nam Bo Ra) friend, the two can’t help but see each other everywhere. They are delighted when Yeon Woo is chosen to be the prince’s bride. Not so thrilled is the prince’s older brother Yang Myung (Jun II Woo /Lee Min Ho) who not only has to give the throne to his brother, but also the girl he loves, having known her from studying under her father. Also uneasy and hungry for more control, the Queen Dowager (Kim Young Ae) instructs the Head Shaman (Jun Mi Sun) to kill Yeon Woo so that her nephew’s daughter Bo Kyung (Kim So Hyun/Kim Min Seo) can be Queen. Unable to do so, the Head Shaman fakes Yeon Woo’s death, stealing her memories so that she can live as an ordinary shaman out of danger. The only person who knows the truth is her servant girl Seol (Suh Ji Hee/Yoon Seung Ah) who serves as a bodyguard. Destiny can only be interrupted for so long when Yeon Woo, now known as Wol, is dragged back into the palace, confusing both herself and the new king as they cannot seem to stay away from one another.
1.The Casting/Acting

This show is a bit unusual in that each of our core characters is played by two actors – the younger version for the first 5 episodes and the older for the duration of the show. While I was impressed with the older cast, especially Kim Soo Hyun who I wasn’t fond of in Dream High, the younger cast was phenomenal. Every review you read will probably say the same thing. The kids have such great ability to express love, grief, death, moral confliction and everything in between. You get attached to them all quickly that it’s almost a shame to say goodbye to the younger set. I especially really like the younger Yang Myung, more so than his older counterpart. The story is good but these actors make it.
2. Surprise Hit: Un!

Played in his youth by Lee Won Gun and mostly by Song Jae Rim, Un is the personal guard of the prince and quickly became my favorite character. Not only is he bizarrely good looking, but has an intense loyalty and warmth that somehow he is able to show through his stoicism. He is not as emotional as the other characters, but that’s OK because you’re going to be overwhelmed by all the emotional people by the end of it. Un is just totally trustworthy and likable. I am stunned by how much I enjoyed his character by the end of it. Not only is he smart and reserved, but an awesome fighter. Love it. I recognized Jun II Woo from Flower Boy Ramen Shop immediately, but it was only looking up Song Jae Rim that I remember he had a cameo in that too! Congrats Un – your character rocks!
3.The Romance/Plot

This story really strongly centers around the romance between Yeon Woo and the prince, which suits me just fine. It’s not 100% original, but it’s definitely different from everything else I’ve seen. It reminds me a bit of Faith, but really the only similarity are that they are both period pieces, which at this point I might as well just admit that I like. There is enough action to spice things up, but the characters are all well developed, with maybe one exception in the Queen but more on that in a moment. The writing is strong and the chemistry between our leads is strong enough to make the story captivating.
1.Bo Kyung

I feel like this character lost complexity as the show progressed. You could see her struggling with herself when she was a child – second to Yeon Woo, disappointing her father. While she wasn’t exactly likable, you still felt sorry for her. That totally evaporates as she gets older as there is just nothing redeemable about her character. I was really looking forward to liking her even as you root against her, but they just couldn’t do it. Also, she never gets a scene with Yang Myung who would have tons in common with her! WHAT THE HECK?! She just ended up being kind of a place holder. An important one, but still wanted more.  
2. Yang Myung

I guess I just have some issues with the second moon/sun pair. Yang Myung adds some good rivalry and complicates thing but I had some problems with his character. First, I hated Flower Boy Ramen Shop so much that I just couldn’t take the actor seriously. Moving past my personal preferences, he really should get over Yeon Woo. It’s one thing if she loved him, but it’s not like the prince stole her – she CHOSE him and Yang Myung can’t get over it. I mean, the story wouldn’t work if he did, but it made him sort of a jerk. Also, I am not stoked on how they ended on this character…unnecessary.
1.A Little Long and A Little Weepy

There’s not a lot to hate with this show. My only complaint is that as serious as it gets by like episode 16, everyone is crying all the time. I felt like I needed a break for that middle section there. I think a couple of those episodes could have been combined to condense the seriousness. Also, any scene with Bo Kyung’s plotting father just bored me to tears. There were important plot points, but they should have conveyed them faster. It’s not like we don’t have enough characters to deal with. I think they needed a little bit more happy to balance out the sad. Still, the drama is so good that you’re willing to put up with it.
So… this show is good. There’s no two ways about it. It received lots of acclaim and awards and they are well deserved. The show is smart and enjoyable. The acting is spot on and impressive. It’s long, but I powered through it way fast. Loved it.
Final Grade: A-

Thursday, May 9, 2013

JDrama Review: Ryusei no Kizuna

The Gist: The Ariake children watch their lives crumble when they sneak out for star gazing, only to return home to murdered parents. The oldest, Koichi (Ninomiya Kazunari) spearheads a promise with his brother Taisuke (Nishikado Ryo) and his sister Shizuna (Toda Erika) to take revenge on their parents killer. The promise is almost forgotten as the kids grow, but as young adults, they come back together as the statute of limitations on the murders is almost at hand. Trying to work around the detective on the case, Kashiwabara Yasutaka (Miura Tomokazu), the siblings uncover new evidence that brings them closer than ever before to getting their revenge.

Toda Erika and Nino are obviously both incredibly famous and well-known actors – I’d consider Nishikado slightly less (maybe that’s just my personal opinion) – so I feel somewhat dumb applauding their choice in actors, but I was incredibly impressed with the performances from all the siblings. Nino obviously isn’t a stranger to emotional performances, cue Letters from Iwo Jima, but his dedication really sold this show. Toda Erika and Nishikado supply fabulous supporting roles, clearly delving past the light drama performances in their past for something heavy. Their bond as family was easily believable, making their chemistry a key part of the success of the show.
2.The Ending

**SPOILERS** Seriously, if you haven’t watched the show, stop it. Obviously the great climax of this story is the big reveal, who did it? My brain tried to figure it out with our characters, but the story did a great job of diverting me to where it wanted me to go. So, it’s the detective. How about that? It’s not a fly by night murder, but perpetrated by someone who’s been so entrenched in the kids’ lives. The one person who seemed to be on their side is the killer! The emotional confrontation between Koichi and him gave me chills. Amazing performances on both sides closed out this show perfectly.
3. Short

I think it would have killed me if this show dragged on (har har). Luckily, the show is just long enough to set the scene, jump through its paces, and close out the mystery. I think ten episodes were enough for me to be invested without being bored.
1.Togami Yukinari

Played by Kaname Jun, the most I can say about this character is that he was OK. I kind of wish he was a bit more developed and came across surprisingly one note for how complex the story was trying to make him. Also, I think his chemistry with Shizuna wasn’t good enough to really make the scenes with the two of them terribly entertaining.
2. Bit of a Stretch

Ok, I’m not going to spoil anything major, but with crime mysteries like this, it gets to be a little bit annoying when things come too easily. Like, if some evidence is still somewhere, unmoved for 10 years, that seems kind of farfetched for me. Also, when the siblings decide to act and deceive people to solve things, that gets to be a bit obnoxious because I don’t think people would really do that.  STILL, if you can ignore that, the end is worth the moments you can’t believe.
Now while I said this was just the right length, the show did still find some time to throw in things you didn’t really care about. I think it’s to the show’s credit that the main plot is so interesting, that it’s frustrating to get bogged down by anything else. This is a really minor problem though, as I said, because the show is so short.

So… this show is totally different from my usual fare. I really watched it when I was getting into Arashi because Nino was in it. He gave a stellar performance, but the show itself is generally just good. The characters and actors married well and the plot was captivating. Any complaints I had were minor, even if the show was a bit heavy, I mean it’s about murder. Over all, surprised by how much I liked it.
Final Grade: A-

Friday, May 3, 2013

KDrama Review: Personal Taste

*Also Referred to as Personal Preference*

The Gist: Architect Jeon Jin Ho (Lee Min Ho) knows he has to win the bid to redesign a huge art gallery to keep his business afloat. When he finds out the theme of the rebuild is Sanggojae, the home of a famous architect, he becomes determined to find his way inside. Luckily, the home is occupied by the architect’s daughter, Park Gae In (Son Ye Jin), who was recently jilted by her boyfriend Han Chang Ryul (Kim Ji Suk) rather spectacularly when he almost marries her best friend and ex-roommate Kim In Hee (Wang Ji Hye). Crushed beyond reason and financially distressed, Gae In leases out a room in Sanggojae to Jin Ho, whom she mistakes as a gay man. His lies become hard to keep up as he tries to help Gae In become more womanly and they grow more attached to each other. Still, Jin Ho is afraid that if he reveals the truth, Gae In’s fragile heart will break at the betrayal again and he needs to figure out the secret to winning the museum design. That leaves Jin Ho stuck between his lies and his affection for Gae In as Chang Ryul and In Hee plot to interfere with their relationship.
1.The Middle Five

There’s a sweet spot that this drama hits between about episode 6 and 11, where Jin Ho and Gae In have a lovely friendship budding. There’s enough tension to be interesting without the lies being too overbearing. You get the sweet hints of the feelings developing between the two. I busted through the middle of this series… now the beginning and ending episodes are a different story, but I’ll get to that later.
2.Gae In and Jin Ho

I love the chemistry between these two. I’m starting to suspect that Min Ho might play the same character over and over – a control freak, jerk with a soft side. Still, you have to love those soft moments. I can’t bring myself to dislike him at all. I think all of the best scenes are with Gae In and Jin Ho alone. PLUS, man that kiss. Every review I read talks about it, but FINALLY! This is what people want.
3. The Ending Episode

Ok, the episodes leading up the ending drive me crazy, but the ending episode itself was a nice treat after all the mess. *SPOILERS* So, Jin Ho’s firm gets the project, which I was actually wondering if they were going to do. Jin Ho and Gae In get to be together and be in love. Everyone’s parents become more accepting and Chang Ryul actually gets a bit more closure than I thought he would! I love that this show ended on a proposal – it circled nicely back to starting with a wedding. The only thing left open was In Hee, which I resent sort of. But still, it ended very strongly.
1.Director Choi

Played smartly by Ryu Seung Ryong, Director Choi is the head of the museum building project. I feel sort of bad about putting him in the Meh category because I did love him as a character. His unwavering support of Gae In and Jin Ho is delightful. *SPOILERS*I love the idea of Choi as a gay character to get some actual perspective, but I thought his interest in Jin Ho was a little too on the nose. As soon as he made his confession, I was a little disappointed. He’s a great character but I think his part would have been better suited as a gay friend with perspective rather than a crushed love interest.
1.Chang Ryul and In Hee

OK, I get that you’re supposed to hate them, but I don’t just think they’re mean – I think they’re unbelievably dumb and cruel. Like I literally don’t believe their actions. First, who gets engaged to someone their friend is actively dating and NOT TELL THEM until they’re standing at the altar. Like, HELLO?! That just doesn’t make any sense to me at all. Secondly, after all that they DON’T get married and Chang Ryul somehow thinks he should be back with Gae In. No matter what Jin Ho does to Gae In, Chang Ryul can’t even be in competition because he LIED ABOUT MARRYING HER BEST FRIEND. That’s just dumb. Also, In Hee just seems to be mean for no reason. I kept hoping for some resolution and didn’t get it.
2.Waiting for the Other Foot to Drop

I was in so much anxiety for the last like 4 or 5 episodes of this series that I actually stopped watching it for about a week. Gae In and Jin Ho seem to find some happiness but there’s still all these lies hanging above them that you know is going to come crashing down, but it takes forever! I couldn’t even enjoy the happy times because I knew it was all about to go horribly wrong. I jumped about ten minutes in episode 15 because it was just that awkward. *SPOILER* Why on earth did Jin Ho not say why he was there when he confessed he wasn’t gay. It should have been obvious like I pretended to be gay to get in your house. Otherwise, why would he even bother lying? That makes Gae In extra dumb. I wish everything got sorted sooner and with less anxiety.
3. Slow Start

Seriously, I think this drama has the least interesting pilot of any drama ever. The characters all come off as annoying and bizarre. I watched about 2 episodes and then it took me about a year to actually finish it. By episode 4, I was thoroughly enjoying myself, but that’s 3 or 4 hours to sit through before you’re really interested. That is just too long.
So… I have very mixed feelings about Personal Taste. I love Min Ho and Ye Jin really grew on me, but I think the best part of this show was when they were friends. It has such a slow start and gets so bogged down in lies that I honestly found myself hating the show by the end. I just wanted everyone to come clean already! I think if this show was like eleven episodes, it would have been better. Still, after getting to the end of it, I’m satisfied with what it is.
Final Grade: C+