Tuesday, December 2, 2014

KDrama Review: Liar Game

Liar Game 2014 TV series-poster.jpg
The Gist: A new reality show has hit Korea. Liar Game pits real people against one another in the hopes of winning absurd amounts of money. When painfully honest and kind Nam Da Jung (Kim So Eun) is selected to participate, she sees it as a way to get out of her father’s debt and reunite with him. Yet, in a game where lying and backstabbing are rewarded, Da Jung is quickly on the losing end. Desperate to not fall further into debt, she seeks out genius conman Cha Woo Jin (Lee Sang Yoon), recently released from prison, to help her out. Woo Jin takes pity on Da Jung, who reminds him of his mother. As Woo Jin and Da Jung combine his wits and her ingenuity to climb the Liar Game ranks, it becomes apparent that their participation in this game is no accident and that game maker and host, Kang Do Young (Shin Sung Rok) may have more up his sleeves than first appears.

I feel mixed about a lot of aspects of this show, but still feel strongly about many pieces. Therefore, I’m abandoning my Love/Meh/Hate format because I just don’t know how to break it up. So, I’m just going to dissect it and go from there. Let’s go!

Character Development

I think one of the places where the Korean version shines is the time it takes to flesh out its characters. From the Japanese version, I remember the conman, the girl, and mushroom head. By the end of this show, I felt I had a good grasp not only of our main people, but also of many of our secondary contestants. Characters I thought would be write-off one notes, like Bulldog, actually got fleshed out. I loved the twist of making Jaime a girl (not that watchers of the Japanese version wouldn’t spot her a mile away) and I really appreciate the growth that character is afforded. Yes, she’s out for number 1, but she has some morals.

That said, I don’t know why the romance of this was so overhyped, when you literally don’t get any of it. I think that Woo Jin has a very solid protective role and he feels sorry for Da Jung, but they never really cross any lines. There’s not even a hint. If you’re watching this for the romance, it will leave you a bit starved. I think a lot of people will be OK with that, since it’s not so much in the source material, but it leaves me feeling a little disappointed all the same.

Let’s talk about Kang Do Young for a moment. Oh man is he delightfully evil! Sung Rok plays evil so well (just watched My Love from Another Star), but this is an even more nuanced evil. The tension this  character is able to bring is a real driving force in the show. The Japanese villains were always so faceless, that it was nice to get a character to be the face of the problem. Also, him getting totally unhinged at the end was my favorite. Love it.

The Game!

I think making the Liar Game into a show was a smart move. It made more sense to me than underground battles (though spoilers for a possible season two may be moving in that direction?). I was a tad disappointed that they didn’t invent more of their own games but lifted most of them straight out of the Japanese version. That said, first time watchers will be delighted, and second time watchers will still love seeing the characters triumph - “I have a winning strategy!”

The show does grow into its own as time goes on. I didn’t remember the presidential candidate game, which either makes it an original or something I didn’t see. That’s also the game where SPOILERS our winning duo finally takes a hit, so it’s surprising all around. The final roulette was also original, I believe, and had so much suspense!

The pacing of this show was dead one. The games typically took two episodes to complete a round: one episode to dig our main crew into a hole and one to twist the tables back into their favor. It’s not totally unpredictable, but certainly keeps the show moving at a pretty good clip.

I praised the sets of the Japanese version and I think the sets on the Korean version blew the JV out of the water. I especially liked the building they used for the smuggling game. The architecture was very cool.

The Ending

Spoilers. Obviously.

I think I have the most mixed feelings about the giant reveal at the end. So, Woo Jin, Da Jung, and Do Young were all at Woo Jin’s mom’s orphanage and she essentially sold some kids including Do Young for money. Yikes.

While it makes Do Young sympathetic on one level - I mean child experiments? It’s like robot children - it also is sort of nonsensical. I get that he wants to show that not everyone is as nice as they seem, but it’s sort of cruel to pull Da Jung and Woo Jin into it since 1. Da Jung could have been sold and 2. Woo Jin has pretty much suffered a whole bunch already.

That brings us to a really big plot hole. There is no way that Do Young could have known that Da Jung would bring Woo Jin in. In fact, it would have been more likely for her not to reach out to him and for him not to accept.

I am not sure how I feel about Woo Jin’s mom effectively selling children as a plot line. While it is shocking and pulls things together, it also just reinforces what we’ve been working a whole season to get Woo Jin to believe - that it is OK to trust people. If he can’t trust in his mom, why should he trust Da Jung? They’re so similar.

I also felt that as much electricity as that last episode had (oh man, we need a season 2!), the characters had too quick a wrap up. Da Jung and her dad get an off screen reunion, the guy who fell down the elevator is somehow not dead (yay!), Da Jung and Woo Jin don’t really sort out their relationship, and a new big bad is set up. Too much, too quick. I wanted some time spent giving our characters a second to breathe!

OK. Speaking of that last guy being alive. Does anyone else find Do Young essentially disappearing and maybe killing contestants after they leave the game totally unbelievable? That part just didn’t sit quite right for me. Those people should have been all over interviews and such. The media would have noticed. It’s ridiculous.


So… I am not sure if this version is more or less successful than the Japanese version. They’re both delightfully suspenseful, but this one has a more cohesive back story and a more solid villain. It made some smart choices and I love the chemistry between Woo Jin and Da Jung and Woo Jin and Do Young.

Final Grade: A-

Thursday, November 6, 2014

KDrama Initial Thoughts: Bad Guys and Liar Game

So I'm doing something a little unusual for me and watching current shows as they're airing, two of them at that! I was intrigued by Liar Game as the Japanese version is a show I liked quite a lot and I heard a rumor they're adding in a bit of romance, which I've always felt the Japanese version teased without really fleshing it out. Honestly, I'm not sure what really drew me to watch Bad Guys, besides having just enjoyed Park Hae Jin in My Love from Another Star. Actually, it's funny because his brother on that show is our villain/host in Liar Game. What a delight! Anyway, let's dive in a little bit.

Bad Guys:
Bad Guys (Korean Drama)-p1.jpg
Episodes watched - 4

Baby Gist: When a serial killer stabs the police commissioner's son, he calls on a retired "mad dog" cop to do whatever it take to catch the guy. That ends up pulling three harden criminals out of prison to use their know how to catch the killer. Rounded out by the all-business female inspector in charge of them, they make a dynamite, if not unusual hunting team.

What's working: I have to admit, I'm totally blown away by this show so far. It looks like I'm not the only one. The ratings this show continues to put up is very impressive. While I usually love a good romance, this show has bromance stamped all over it. Watching our criminal team learn to work together rather than just side-by-side is a true delight. Each of the characters is really well developed even in such a short amount of time. The pacing of this show is also dead on. I have a sweet spot for crime dramas (Criminal Minds, CSI, etc.) and I love shows where they're catching the bad guys. Which is what this show is all about. Loving it so far.

What I'm hoping for: This show has a lot of great teaser questions hanging out there. I'm particularly intrigued by Oh Goo Tak's (Kim Sang Joong) daughter's murder and I'm really curious if any of our three were involved. Also the blind spots in Lee Jung Moon's memory is also posing some interesting questions, the least of which is whether or not he is actually a serial killer. Though, after that scene with his ex, he is certainly capable. It also asks an interesting question about guilt. Do you feel guilty for something you don't remember? At first it seemed like no, but I'm curious to see where this story line develops. I', also curious where Jung Tae Soo's (Jo Dong Hyeok) pseudo romance is going. I just can't see it ending well, but we'll see. All in all, as long as this show keeps pace and doesn't leave us with any loose ends, I'm very hopeful about the rest of this show.

Current Grade: A

P.S. Is anyone else just so distracted by how pretty Hae Jin is? It really is actually distracting. New celeb crush forming!

Liar Game:
Liar Game (Korean Drama)-p1.jpg
Episodes watched - 6

Baby Gist: A powerful ex-executive starts a reality show that pits people against each other in games meant to encourage betrayal and distrust. This causes major problems for Nam Da Jung (Kim So Eun), who is naive to the point of foolishness. She agrees to be on the show to work her way out of her father's debt. However, in order to win, she calls on the help of genius con man, who was recently released from prison.

What's working: So, I think viewers who have not seen the Japanese version of this are going to be at a bit of an advantage because the writer's didn't change the structure of the games that much. That did bug me at first as even though I haven't watched the JDrama in a few years, I still remember how they all turn out. Thankfully, as the show went on, it came into its own and I'm glad I didn't drop it after the pilot. First, they're giving the characters more of a personal touch and painting a more detailed back story. I appreciate the connection forming between all of our characters. Second, I think the reality show framing makes way more sense than the random nefarious organization that's running the Japanese version. Third, I am super excited about the prospect of some romance here. Fourth, they're playing a bit with the genders of side players which also adds some unexpected twists.

What I'm hoping for: An elegant, cohesive back story. They're playing a lot with the dynamic between our host (who is excellently cast by the way - Shin Sung Rok has this nefarious thing down!) and Woo Jin. I'm really looking forward to how that's all going to play out and I hope there's no cop outs. I'm also looking forward to Da Jung and Woo Jin getting closer. The show has laid good groundwork, but they still have a lot to figure out. I felt like the JDrama was a little stilted in this regard as you can see how much he cares for her, but it never really develops into much. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a lovely end to the series.

Current Grade: A-

On a side note, I'm sort of split between being excited and disappointed that these shows are only 10 episodes. It's keeping the story lines tight, but I'm at least hoping for a second season of Bad Guys. That show could just go on forever.

Speaking of JDrama remakes, is anyone watching the Nodame Cantible remake? I haven't dove in since I had very mixed feelings about the Japanese version. Curious if it's going well.

Keep watching, lovelies! I'll have full reviews up after I finish the shows! 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

TDrama Review: Just You

The Gist: Chen Liang Liang (Puff Kuo) loses total control of her life when the house she is renting is foreclosed and bought by Qi Yi (Aaron Yan), who simultaneously buys out her company - becoming her land lord and boss in one fell swoop. All hope for an alliance is broken when Qi Yi immediately bans office romance, cancelling the engagement of her best friend Kate (Katherine Wang) and coworker Alex (Tan Zhen-Gang) who are afraid of being fired. In an effort to make Qi Yi overturn his decision, Liang Liang plots with Kate and their friend Princess (Ashi Lin) to make Qi Yi fall in love with Liang Liang. This proves difficult at first, when Qi Yi is controlling and cold and Liang Liang can't do anything right. Yet, as they work out their living and working situation, Liang Liang realizes that Qi Yi is just trying to fulfill his dream of reuniting his family in his childhood home - the house in which they both now live. As they both start to develop real feelings, prodded by the friendly rivalry of new work acquaintance Dean (Dean Fujioka), things get topsy turvy when Qi Yi's ex-fiancee, Jia Yu (Lyla Lin) shows up out of nowhere, determined to win him back.


1. Dat Chemistry

It's a Taiwanese Drama and yes, the physical intimacy is so adorable! I read one review before watching this show off of a random recommendation on Hulu, which basically said it was unoriginal, but the skinship was excellent. Oh boy was that true. While you may not get some of the steamy scenes you get from other shows, the small moments between our leads just had me smiling like an idiot. Qi Yi's hand in her hair, pressing foreheads together, a hug here and there, it was all just plain warm. Their chemistry jumps off of the screen and while it doesn't have that fiery tumultuous feeling to it, there's a beautiful sense of growing together while they are essentially building a life together. When Qi Yi says that Liang Liang is family, you really feel it. It's true, not just empty words. I'd say in this aspect, it's pretty original. I've never seen a show develop a romance quite like this, with the feeling of trust and family in the center of it. This is the show that Personal Taste could have been if it was done well. They handled the cohabitation delicately and perfectly.

2. Problem Solving!

Thank you Good Lord for Qi Yi. Every time the two of the leads fought and Liang Liang sprinted out, I thought for sure the scene would cut ahead and wait for the two to make up later. Every time, I was wrong as Qi Yi chased after her in that instant and brought her home. It blew my mind to have a protagonist who really isn't willing to let things lie. I could count the number of times that Liang Liang and Qi Yi went to bed angry on one hand. Additionally, Liang Liang's control on her jealousy is amazing. I would have clawed Jia Yu's eyes out well before the end of this series and while Liang Liang stands up for herself, she also doesn't forsake a potential friendship. She's a real treat.

3. Dean

Team Dean for life! I am so happy to not have a full blown triangle with Dean. He is the most mature character I've seen in this situation. Think Rui from HYD, but better. Dean immediately thinks of his friend's happiness before his own and doesn't ever put up a real fight for Liang Liang. Which is good, because we have enough crazy time from Jia Yu. Dean is pretty much like Gaze's cupid, who is working tirelessly to fix up his friends. Which, once you get Qi Yi's back story, you can see how much he needs Liang Liang. *SPOILERS* for how matchy matchy this story gets, it's a bit of a bummer we couldn't find Dean an adorable little chick.

4. Family Love!

Usually a strong romance and the power of friendship make a show for me, which Just You definitely has, but the family aspect was definitely new and wonderful for me. When Liang Liang's parents come to visit and you can just see the longing on Qi Yi's face, my heart just ached. I appreciate the time we spent with Qi Yi's dad, which added to the life building between our leads. Qi Yi has complicated family issues and when their two families finally collided, I was just plain excited. I think Qi Yi's mom had some things to work out, we'll touch on that in a minute, but the dynamic was fantastic. LOVE IT.

5. Pacing/Crisp

I will never again say that Taiwanese dramas are lower quality because this drama was beautiful! If the names were changed and I turned off the sound, I could have totally mistaken this for a Korean Drama. It was beautiful. The one review I read said that this drama was 6 episodes too long, which I was somewhat expecting out of a 21 episode show, but I really didn't feel that way. I think the 2nd/3rd episode took a little too long to get Qi Yi to soften up towards Liang Liang, but I powered through the rest of the show and could have watch the whole thing in one sitting. Honestly, if this was any shorter, I would have cried. I need more!

6. The Goldfish.

Just watch it. You'll understand the power of the goldfish. Love it.

7. Ending Marathon

*SPOILERS OBVIOUSLY* So this show ends as if it has something it is trying to prove! The last episode has a double wedding, three engagements, and one pregnancy. Um, wow. It was like one thing after another, over and over again. You have to sort of just let it happen. It can seem cheesy if you're not open to it, but the whole thing just made me smile like an idiot. I found it all to be good fun. Ah, I love ending on a wedding, even if it's not our main duo. Besides, they were family way before the last episode. 

8. Best Confession Ever

*MORE SPOILERS* So it did take a little while for Liang Liang to finally confess, but the show makes the wait enjoyable enough that it's no problem at all. I loved both of her confessions. The first time, they're shouting at each other across the street and it was actually Qi Yi whose words had me moved. When he said "How could you change my life and just leave? How could you make me go home alone to a house meant for two?" I just nearly died. My heart melted. So that when Liang Liang finally breaks down to tell him that she loves him, still shouting across the street, I was literally squealing like a moron. Second, when Jia Yu serves up an ultimatum to Qi Yi and Liang Liang grabs her man, kisses him, and takes over the situation, I was so proud of her. I was cheering out loud (essentially, my husband thought I was a crazy person while I was watching this show). There's a lot of good confessions out there, but these are right at the top.


1. Ban on Romance?

I swear the ban on office romance just sparked all sorts of romance. Talk about counterproductive. Gaze if pretty much a match making agency. *SPOILERS* Thank god for Mei Mei. Without her holding out, everyone would have paired up too perfectly. Alex and Kate are a given as our initial couple. Obviously the romantic mess with Liang Liang, Qi Yi, Dean, and Jia Yu take up plenty of worker bees. The things with Shi Cui Xia (Ke Ya Xin) and Brother Bo (Xie Qi Wen) had me very skeptical at first, but honestly really grew on me. You pair that with the romances outside of the office - family things and Princess' storyline - it's a lot. Yes, this show ends up overly neat, but it was all so lovely that I can forgive it.

2. Who are these people?

Um. So how many people exactly work at Gaze? I thought for a while that there were about ten people that worked at Gaze, all of our main peeps. Then I started noticing random people wandering in the back or sitting in cubicles an then I noticed just how many unoccupied cubicles there really were. It just seemed weird that Gaze just like ignored half of their employees. Like when they went on the retreat, they only brought our main people. What were the other people doing? It was weird. But in such a minor way that it won't really detract from the rest of the story.

3. Crazy Town

Minor spoilers ahead. So I appreciate the level of resolution we got with Jia Yu because you do feel a little bad for her, but yeah wow is she totally insane. It's immediately unreasonable to expect that Qi Yi will forgive her when she bailed on him the day after he proposed and didn't say a word for three years! That's not something you ever get over. So when she acts all hurt, it's just totally whacko. Then when she goes all psycho involving Liang Liang and Jerry, I just rolled my eyes. In Qi Yi's defense, he really didn't waver until he was given a good reason to. I really was thrilled with the writer's for not making him wishy washy immediately when she showed up. Props to Qi Yi.

4. Too Many Coincidences

Every time Qi Yi's mom would walk right past him or his dad, I just groaned. Like out load, full blown groaning. I hate the just missed them vibe and when you meet that with the fact that her only friend is her son's ex-fiancee, it's just too much a coincidence. It never mentions how the two of them met and honestly, their relationship really irked me. I'm glad they had some support, but it was really asking a lot of me to believe the entwined messes of their lives. I was able to put my qualms aside, but I think it would have been a stronger show without it.


No hate for this show. Not at all.


So... I do not take it lightly when I say this show is IMO pretty much perfect. It's like they wrote this show for me. I could watch this show over and over again. I think - gasp - this might be my new favorite drama. I honestly think it is better than Hana Yori Dango (oh God! Matsujun, forgive me!). The quiet growing in this show just made me feel warm and happy. When I wasn't watching this show, I wanted to be and every episode surprised me in a loveable way. Qi Yi didn't treat Liang Liang like she was made of glass, but like a girl he loved and it was adorable. The family and life building just made smile. This was a real treat and I'm recommending it to everyone, even if it is not flashy or the most inventive drama ever. I really look forward to watching this show again soon. Ah, so warm. Love it. Love it. Love it.

Obviously, I had a lot to say about it. I could just go on and on, the matching sneakers, when Liang Liang almost drowned, when Liang Liang finally stops calling Qi Yi boss... there is no one favorite moment! SO GOOD.

Final Grade: A++

Sorry this was so long!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

KDrama Review: My Love from Another Star

The Gist: Cheon Song Yi (Gianna Jun) is a top star in Korea. When she moves next door to Do Min Joon (Kim Soo Hyun), a centuries old alien stranded on Earth, it's an immediate clash of personalities. Things go from bad to worse when Min Joon ends up being Song Yi's professor. Yet, when Song Yi gets caught up in the death of another big name star, Do Min Joon becomes the support system for Song Yi. Things are further complicated by the brothers Lee: the younger Whi Kyung (Park Hae Jin) is hopelessly in love with Song Yi and the older Jae Kyung (Shin Sung Rok) is responsible for a number of crimes, including the murder that Song Yi is getting blamed for. While co-star Yoo Se Mi (Yoo In Na) is benefiting from Song Yi's hardships, she is still hoping for Whi Kyung's affections. As Jae Kyung looks to eliminate Song Yi as she tries to salvage her career, Song Yi and Min Joon get closer and closer.


1. Imperfect Leads

Song Yi is instantly unlikable - vain, prideful, mean, and just plain dumb. Do Min Joon is overly smart and cold, deliberately uncaring. It was nice to get some main characters that are actually flawed. Yes, Song Yi has a heart of gold and Min Joon is adorably protective, but it takes some time to break them down to get to their creamy, lovely centers. They had remarkable chemistry and so while it takes a bit to warm up to them, I loved them.

2. Song Yi's Brother

Yoon Jae (Ahn Jae Hyeon) was such a nothing character for the first half of this show that I was delighted and surprised when he actually showed up in his scenes with Min Joon. The blind adoration and blatant love he has for his sister's love interest, is 100% hilarious. These are some of the best scenes of the show and it had me laughing out loud. I could have used more of Yoon Jae.

3. The Alien Thing

I really worry about shows that have "a big reveal" because it's distracting to the plot development. Yet, this show didn't really dwell on the fact that Min Joon was hiding his alienness from Song Yi and allowed their relationship to develop unhindered. Once the reveal was made, I thought the show handled it deftly and didn't leave me feeling anxious or annoyed.

4. Kiss the Girl!

For someone who gets sick kissing people, Do Min Joon just can't keep his hands off of Song Yi. I love the amount of intimate moments we get with them and *SPOILERS* how about that red carpet kiss at the end? Dead on.


1. Time Limit

Ah! How I hate shows that start off with a time limit to the romance. This one starts off with Min Joon leaving for his planet in three months. What makes it extra frustrating is that he's been here for four hundred years. FOUR HUNDRED! And he has to leave now? That said, I think it was handled nicely with a happy ending that isn't too perfect.

2. Doppleganger

Ugh. I am so over the doppleganger thing. It had me pulling out my hair in Rooftop Prince. I wasn't crazy about it in this one, but it wasn't overbearing. At most it's frustrating because you don't know if Min Joon likes Song Yi for herself or because she looks like someone from a long time ago. I think the plot would have been a little bit better and more believable (well, for a show about aliens) if Song Yi looked similar to her, but wasn't played by the same actress. Just unnecessary.

3. Love Quadrangle

Poor little brother. Whi Kyung is so pitiable. He and Song Yi actually are a pretty good match and I firmly believe that he could make her happy. As much as I love our main duo, it's pretty obvious that Song Yi would have been happier with Whi Kyung. I was glad to see Se Mi grow into her own a little bit and shake off her unrequited love, but the threads between everyone is just so crazytown. I wish we could have gotten Whi Kyung a girl, so that I didn't feel so sad for him at the end.

4. Hospital...again?

There's not a lot about this point, but really, Song Yi is in the hospital like 35 times in the course of this show. It made sense the first time, then it just got to be overbearing.


1. Murder!

OK. I have serious beef with the believability of Jae Kyung as a character. His plans are just so unsustainable. You can't just kill off everyone you have a problem with and not get caught. That' not how life works! I also found the murder plot to be weirdly serious for an otherwise pretty light and happy show. Then when *SPOILERS* we get the news that Jae Kyung killed his brother, that was just way over the top. Who does that? Did I mention how sad I feel for Whi Kyung, because it is SO MUCH. I sort of had this feeling with Rooftop Prince too when the lead tries to kill his cousin because it's just such a weird mix of tones for a show like this. That said, the actor is rather delicious when he's playing evil and does it well. Oh and did we mention him locking up his wife in a mental institution? Who does that???


So.... I freaking loved this show. As many things about the plot as predisposed me to not like it, I just found it so sweet and just fun. It's not believable in the slightest, but who watches dramas for believability? The pacing was excellent and I watched the whole thing crazy fast. The action is fun and the love just has me sighing. It was great. Better than I thought it would be.

Final Grade: A+

Friday, September 5, 2014

JDrama Review: Majo no Jouken

The Gist: 26 year old Hirose Michi (Matsushima Nanako) is feeling trapped: still living at home with her parents, including a strict father, trying to impress the high school students she teaches, and accepting a proposal she feels like she’s supposed to from a guy she doesn’t care that much about. That all changes when 17 year old Kurosawa Hikaru (Bessho Tetsuya) hits her with his motorcycle, sparking a moment that gets the chance to grow when he transfers into Michi’s class. They realize a mutual attraction fairly quickly, which never ceases to stop problems as society refuses to understand them. They try to hold fast together, but everyone from family to coworkers is determined to break them up.


1. Forbidden Romance, what else?

Obviously the draw of this show is the we-really-shouldn’t factor. I’ve never watched a drama with a student/teacher romance at the center of it. I’ve enjoyed a few mangas that deal with this storyline, but all in all it’s a pretty unique perspective. I was really curious to see where this show was going to go and while I didn’t love all of the choices it made, it was certainly a fascinating plot point.

2. Hikaru

Loved him. Tetsuya is not a familiar face for me (which isn’t super surprising considering this drama is around 15 years old), but I felt like he handled the role very well. He was actually cast young, which makes the audience feel the age difference between our main duo. So at 25 years old myself, I can’t even sort of imagine choosing to be with a 17 year old, but if it was someone genuinely caring like Hikaru, I might make it work. I though he was going to be a reckless bad boy - stereotyped to death, but Michi wasn’t really looking for excitement in her life, she was looking for freedom!

3. Trapped

This show does an excellent job at making you feel the claustrophobia of Michi’s life. After the pilot episode, I wondered what I would do in her shoes. Most characters it would be easy for me to say “she should have turned down a proposal from a man she doesn’t love” but you could feel the expectations. Is her fiancĂ© the lesser of two evils between him and her father? Of course as the show went on, she made some less than brilliant choices (not including loving a young guy), but I have to appreciate how well the setting opened up Michi’s life, so that we could all understand the rough spot she’s in.


1. The Pacing

I never put a JDrama’s pacing in the Meh category! At eleven episodes, this should have been a pretty quick ride. Initially, things move very quickly. The confession, kiss, sex all happen in the first few episodes, which is delightful, but then the rest of the show is left sort of floundering. I really wanted to focus on the relationship building, not watch them on the run for eight or nine episodes. I feel like for all the drama that happens, the audience isn’t really rewarded. I think you only get one kiss after the first one, which is odd. It’s bizarre watching this on the heels of Gentleman’s Dignity because I have the same thought about the age difference romances of the two shows. It’s almost condemning them by not showing their affection on screen. That said, that first kiss is pretty dynamite.


1. The Obvious

Michi and Hikaru are very distraught because everyone thinks they’re doing something wrong and you know what, they are sort of. Seventeen is really an adult, but the laws are in place for a reason. While Michi wasn’t taking advantage of Hikaru, there are teachers in the world who do. Not only does she have the age advantage, but as a teacher, she has power over Hikaru in a very real way. Of course the teachers are all upset at her, that’s a betrayal of what they’re trying to do. If they waited until he graduated and started dating them, no problem. But while they’re still in this unbalanced power dynamic, the age isn’t the only issue. So when she declares he love for Hikaru in front of the school, I was groaning so hard. It was trying to be a sweet moment, but ended up just being dumb. Just the dumbest.

2. The Ending

Michi went from a character I really respected to one I just had enough with. *SPOILERS* OK, when Michi is pregnant and goes off, I was fine. When she pushes herself way to hard, I’m starting to worry. When she refuses to abort because … of what? I was like this is dumb. Is the idea that she loves Hikaru so much that she’d rather die and leave him alone rather than “kill their baby” and then leave Hikaru alone as a teenage father!? That’s the worst plan ever. EVER. She kept insisting her body could handle it when she’d already passed out. HINT. That’s your body saying you can’t handle it! Dude, I know it’s a touchy situation, but it’s better to keep the mother safe and try again. So heartbreakingly dumb.

3. Hikaru’s Mom

This is another character I had respect for at first and then she just devolved into total nonsense. Of course if your son starts dating his high school teacher, you’re going to be mad. I would yank my son out of that class so fast, he’d get whiplash. It’s understandable for her to be unhappy. What is not understandable, is that he forcing her will just makes it worse. Hikaru dating someone (even a teacher) doesn’t mean she’s all alone. If she was supportive, they could all be a big happy family. It’s only because she’s freaking out that he keeps running away. THIS SEEMS SO OBVIOUS. So when she becomes suicidal over her son falling in love and being an adult, it just kills me. Yes, the hospital thing is stressful, but if she wasn’t such a neurotic maniac, she could have kept her son around. That’s how it works. You’re nice to him, he doesn’t want to go far. It’s just insane for me that after Michi saves her life, she’s still so unwavering. I felt similarly about Michi’s dad, but I actually liked the resolution they gave that character at the end of the show.


So…I actually enjoyed this show pretty well while I was watching it, but the more I reflect back on the experience, the less satisfied I am with what the story ended up being. I think it squandered a lot of potential. It was nice to get a JDrama back into rotation - I picked this one on a review over on Outside Seoul (one of my favorite Drama blogs). It’s not without merit and will be enjoyable, if not a little heavy, for a once watch through, but nothing more than that.

Final Grade: C-

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

KDrama Review: A Gentleman's Dignity

The Gist: When school teacher Seo Yi Soo (Kim Ha Neul) has an embarrassing chance meeting with charming architect Kim Do Jin (Jang Dong Gun), she thinks it’s a one time deal. However, fate can’t keep them apart as Do Jin happens to be very close friends with her long time crush Im Tae San (Kim Soo Ro). Heartbreakingly for Yi Soo, Tae San asks her to set him up with Yi Soo’s roommate Hong Se Ra (Yoon Se Ah), a man-eating pro golfer. Do Jin must have Yi Soo, despite her obvious crush, even though Tae San wanted to set her up with another friend Choi Yoon (Kim Min Jong), a widowed lawyer. That doesn’t seem to be on the table as Tae San’s much younger sister Mea Ri (Yoon Jin Yi) comes back from America and immediately sets to claiming Choi Yoon, despite her brother’s protests. The friendship-foursome is rounded out by playboy Lee Jung Rok (Lee Jong Hyuk), whose rich wife is leasing property cheaply to the other three, who are determined to save an ever-failing marriage. The four guys think they might be able to sort out their love lives, when an unexpected surprise appears.


1) The Romance!

I’ve read reviews about this show that say that it’s not about anything. I found that to be rather untrue, as the plot is rather intricately building four interesting romances. Our lead couple is pretty cookie cutter, with a wrench thrown right in the middle. The actors have pretty stellar chemistry and they made a good match. Yi Soo’s roommate, Se Ra had me a little unimpressed at first. I was with Mea Ri on this on, but as Mea Ri warmed up to her, so did I. Tae San and Se Ra are actually a pretty solid match - they’re both so stubborn but really quite caring. Speaking of Mea Ri, ah, my heart ached for her and Choi Yoon. It maybe took a little too long to work out, but you could feel the desperation between them. Compelling! That just left Jung Rok, moron. I was just totally appalled at how he treated her, what an asshole! I would have demanded a divorce everyday too! Still, the way they relate to each other gets to be interesting and dare I say, downright moving!

2) Happy Ending?!

Spoilerish? What? Nobody has to be unhappy or move away or anything? I was so hoping to see all four couples together and we do for a bit. I liked as the female counterparts were building their own friendship to complement the strength of the guys… speaking of which…

3) The Magic of FRIENDSHIP

Ah, the feel good wonders of a solid story. I love the fluffy but serious dependence these four have on each other. It was a treat to watch the troubles play out between them, how they help and impede, sometimes intentionally and sometimes accidentally, each other’s happiness. When the girl you like is into your friend or your friend wants to date a family member or when you’re trying to be supportive but your friend is a scumbag, the result is complicated. For a show that’s not so heavy, the main foursome deal with some serious stuff. It’s awesome! I also love to see how young Colin (Lee Jong Hyun)dealt with the older generation’s friendship, developed his own quasi friendship with Yi Soo and Mea Ri, and got a nice warm friendship at the end for him too. Awesome :D

4) Watchability

I know you think that it took me a billion years to watch this show, but honestly I watched them in like five episode spoonfuls (the reason this is so late is because I stopped to watch Lost Girl, a pretty good American series!). The nice thing about a feel good show is that the episodes go down real easy. I probably could have watched this whole series in one sitting, if I’d had the time.


1) Amnesia?

REALLY? God damn, I hate amnesia plots. The good news is that it was only a small sub plot. The bad news is, it was only a small sub plot! If you’re going to give a main character a memory disorder, give him a darn memory disorder! It was a real big deal for like one episode, then it just never really mattered again. Amnesia is a fairly unbelievable cop out and I feel like it was just plain unnecessary for this show. The good news is that once the band aid is ripped off, it’s off pretty quick and you can move on to what you really want to see.

2) Not One

SPOILERS. Ok, so after all the desperation and heartache for poor Mea Ri and Choi Yoon, we never even get one darn kiss! We get a spoilers spoilers wedding, but even then, not a kiss! It’s like I wasn’t getting the payback on the investment in the show. So sad. I felt like the show didn’t want the actors to be uncomfortable, but come on, they’re adults, if you want your show to be OK with the age difference, be OK with the age difference! I’m 25, I would have totally kissed him. Again, there’s good news, as the actors make the most out of a pretty unphysical conclusion and have a few really touching moments. For instance! The “proposal” scene had my heart in my mouth. Choi Yoon. So determined! LOVE IT. 


1) Jung Rok

Maybe this isn’t fair, but while I came to appreciate the romance between him and his wife, he really is just a scumbag. Min Sook (Kim Jung Nan) was obviously really trying and Jung Rok just beat her down. The show definitely condemns Jun Rok’s cheating behavior, but is also weirdly on his side because he is one of the core four. When it comes down to it, I just don’t like him. When Min Sook can’t trust Jung Rok, he’s laughing because he’s actually trying now, but it’s the result of years of being torn down. I’m glad they worked things out, but I think Min Sook would have been totally justified in finally just getting a dang divorce.


So…I really really liked this show. It made me feel happy and good on the inside and gave me just enough plot disturbances to keep things interesting. The romances had me equally compelled, not to mention another nice small part from Heirs cutie Kim Woo Bin. This has all the big things I look for in a good show and overcomes the egregious amnesia error nicely enough that I wasn’t too worried about it.

Final Grade: A

Saturday, June 7, 2014

KDrama Review: Arang and the Magistrate

The Gist: Eun Oh (Lee Joon Gi) has been able to see ghosts for most of his life, but he does his best to ignore them. That becomes impossible when, on his search for his lost mother (Kang Mun Yeong), he meets Arang (Shin Min A), a brash ghost who wears his mother’s hair pin. The connection made, Eun Oh agrees to help Arang find out who she was in life, since she can’t remember anything about her living days. Fate intervenes further when the Jade Emperor allows Arang to be human for three full moon’s time to find out the mystery of her murder. Eun Oh stumbles into a better position to help her, when he gets made into a magistrate of a corrupt town at the mercy of Lord Choi (Kim Yong Geun). As they begin to investigate their joint mysteries, it is obvious that something is not right in the Choi household, besides the cruelty of Lord Choi and his apathetic son Ju Wal (Yeon Woo Jin). With the help of a local shaman (Hwang Bo Ra) and Eun Oh’s servant (Kwon Oh Jung), the pair set down to discovering a shocking truth, while trying not to focus on the dwindling time they have together.


1. The Mystery

While this story certainly had political undertones, it was nice to see a Joseon story that wasn’t all about being king, overthrowing the king, and all that jazz. No, a good murder mystery is a nice change of pace. I really only lament that the layers were peeled back so quickly *Spoilers ahead* Because wow! What a twisted hand of fate. So Ju Wal is a murdering psychopath, which makes Arang’s continued longing for him so creeptastic, I could hardly stand it. And it was great! What tension! He was willing to kill all those girls for a comfy life. He’s pretty much just the worst (aside from his dad). Eun Oh’s mom is wrapped up in it so delicately. Her anger mirror’s her possessor’s so well. They’re both so blinded by their singular desire that they’re shunning the people important to them. It’s a good story and the real way Arang died is just extra heartbreaking. Ju Wal is really responsible for her death over and over again.

2. The Romance

While the pacing may have been a little off, Eun Oh and Arang are very sweet together. They have a great chemistry and Shin Min A is a great spunky leading lady. Her character here had echoes of her character in My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, but that’s OK. She’s still adorable. Their romance was supplemented nicely with the *baby spoilers* Shaman’s crush on Dol Sue. They are so incredibly awkward together, but it’s actually really humorous. Really my only complaint is that the magistrate spends a weird amount of time hanging outside late at night, just waiting for Arang. It happened all the time!

3. Imaginative Side Characters

Outside of our charismatic leads, we had some really likable side characters. First off, the reapers are visually very unique and interesting. I loved it. Beyond the aesthetics, Moo Young (Han Jung Soo) had his own problems going on. The Jade Emperor (Yoo Seung Ho) and the Underworld King (Park Jun Gyu) had an unusual and interesting dynamic. I was mostly surprised by the trio in the magistrate’s office. Mostly exposition and annoyance for the first half of the series, once their allegiance starts breaking down, they turn into almost compelling personas - funny too! 


1. The Ending

*Spoilers Obviously* So I was very curious about where they were going with the end of this show. It was obvious they weren’t going to go fully tragic, with an eternal separation, but they definitely had some problems to work around. I didn’t mind the ticking clock on this one as I did with many other shows. Yet, I have to lament watching this on the heels of Rooftop Prince because I’m already a bit peeved with the reincarnation storyline. This one did a bit better as Arang, even as a reincarnated little girl, has all of her memories and it leads to a squeal-worthy adorable moment between them. That said, it’s awkward to shove a pre-existing adult relationship into this child’s body. Also, with Eun Oh being the Shaman and Dol Sue’s kid, aren’t they going to find it weird that little Eun Oh, ends up with a little girl named Arang. I would be weirded out. Also, no one ever figured out that Ju Wal is a murdering lunatic! I kept waiting for the big reveal and they just never got around to that point. I did like the idea of him becoming a grim reaper and I did like the previous reaper disappearing with his sister. It was a good closure on the whole thing. Another peeve: they traveled all the way to the underworld to look at Arang’s special Life/Death book and Arang figures it out herself before Eun Oh even tells her! That seemed like a real waste. Boo.

2. Ju Wal’s Unending Self Pity

*Minor spoilers* I mean, yeah sure, he had a rough childhood. And yeah, who really wants to be held to an agreement they made when they were starving and like seven years old? Still, Ju Wal looks like he’s about to burst into tears this entire series. I find almost everything about him 100% unforgivable. It’s unforgivable that he is willing to kill innocent girls (not a feminist thing, just people even)in exchange for a life, that he can’t even recognize the face of his fiancĂ©e, a girl who saved his life (and the memory wipe thing does NOT justify this in my opinion), heck the fact that he even lets demon chick wipe his memory, his wishy-washy IlovehersoIhalfprotectherbutthenswitchsidesandamokwithherdyingthing, and just general selfishness makes it so not alright. Yes, we get a good apology out of him, but Arang never realizes the extent of his sins and so that even feels only half committed to me. Annoying.


1. The Pacing

This show was enjoyable, but absolutely definitely too long. I have my doubts about twenty episode shows and twenty episode romances twice that. I think if we had discovered layers of the mystery more intermittently, rather than really fast at the beginning and then nothing for fifteen episodes, it would have made for a more captivating watch. Likewise, the confession comes pretty promptly from Eun Oh, but Arang’s resistance feels oddly manufactured and takes too long without leaving a good amount of time for a relationship. Hack this show to sixteen episodes and sparse out the reveals, and I think this show would have been much better.


So… this show was pretty good. The romance had good chemistry and the mystery was certainly interesting, but the pacing was funny and the show was too long. This was certainly an amnesia plot done well, with enjoyable scenes of the Jade emperor and I loved the reapers. Still, I don’t think I’d ever rematch this show as once the reveals have been revealed, there isn’t much left to go on.

Final Grade: B-

Monday, April 28, 2014

Hana Yori Dango 3 Way Comparison

Recently, I had the unexpected urge to re-watch Boys Before Flowers (even though I should have been finishing Arang and the Magistrate), the Korean version of my beloved Hana Yori Dango. Those of you familiar with my blog know that Hana Yori Dango was my “gateway” drama as it were, my first love that got me into this mess. You also know that the Korean version did not rank highly in my opinion, so my sudden desire to watch it again had me a bit baffled. Now that it’s available on Netflix (US at least), I sunk a good seven episodes down yesterday without even blinking and was surprised to find that I was enjoying it much more the second time around. I’m not sure if that’s due to everything being better than Meteor Garden’s second season or if it just lends itself better to hindsight watching. Either way, now that I have the Japanese, Taiwanese, and Korean versions well watched I figured I’d do some comparisons. Here we go!

Taiwanese Version (2001): Meteor Garden
2 Seasons
Episode Count: 19 in Season 1, 31 in Season 2 (50 total)
Starring: Barbie Hsu, Jerry Yan, and Vic Zhou

Japanese Version (2005): Hana Yori Dango
2 Seasons + Movie
Episode Count: 9 in Season 1, 11 in Season 2 (20 total)
Starring: Inoue Mao, Matsumoto Jun, and Oguri Shun

Korean Version (2009): Boys Before Flowers
1 Season
Episode Count: 25
Starring: Koo Hye Sun, Lee Min Ho, Kim Hyun Joong

Best Leading Man?

I’m going to have to give this one to Japanese Matsumoto Jun, whose Domyouji had me totally enthralled with his series. As much as I love both Lee Min Ho (K) and Jerry Yan (T), I felt that Matsujun was able to strike the best balance of terrorizing and desperation for human connection. Now, this may be skewed since I watched HYD first, but as objectively as I think about it, I just loved him and he’s been my favorite ever since.

Best Leading Lady?

Surprisingly, I think I’m going to give this to Barbie Hsu’s Shan Cai. She ended up being a little more fun and carefree than the other two. She embodies the spunky spirit that makes the leading lady her, but she isn’t quite as stiff as the other two, even when she’s upset. Plus, I think Barbie has the best connection with her male counterparts, which leads to a sparkling chemistry. If I had to rank them, I’d put Inoue Mao second and Koo Hye Sun last.

Best Second?

Ah man I loved Vic Zhou’s Lei! He is absolutely adorable and his chemistry with Barbie makes that show. I’d say that he is also the most versatile, though his character ends up being just heartbreaking. I’d say Rui and Ji Hoo are about even in their portrayals as the jilted but supportive best friend.

Best F4?

Once again, I’m going to give this one to Taiwan. Since it’s a bazillion episodes long, you get to spend a lot of time developing the friendship between the four. I also love to see some backstory for our side characters and while the J and K versions give a bit, the T version just felt the most fleshed out. A quick caveat - I love the secondary romance in the Korean version. It’s the only one that doesn’t make the best friend seem like a stalker.

Best Villain?

I’m going to give this one to Mama Domyouji, the ice queen of the Japanese HYD. Mad props to Mariko Kaga, who gives a spot on cold performance, while also being somewhat human. The K and T versions are cruel, but don’t actually seem to be real people. You can see Mama D getting frustrated with her son’s life getting out of her control. One of the benefits to the movie that rounded off this series is giving some reconciliation between her and Makino. Heck, even at the end of the show, she gives Makino a ride, even if she can’t bring herself to go into the proposal.

Best Fiancee?

Ah, I really do love HYD’s Shigeru. She strikes the perfect balance of being sweet but still threatening. I can’t even talk about the poor girl opposing Dao Ming Si in the T version, too likable and not threatening. The K version is too threatening and just not that likable. 

Best Family?

Japanese wins out again. The Makino family has a beautiful dependence on each other that gives a close knit feel without getting too crazy. The Geum family in the K version has far too much tension to be likable at all, though again, I find them less insufferable on a second watch. Shan Cai’s parents in the T version are super annoying and just plain silly. They have their endearing moments, but mostly were just over the top. Way too over the top.

Best Pacing?

Once again, I’m going to give this to the Japanese version. Even with two seasons, it’s still the shortest of the three, which means there’s not a lot of down time. In the K and T versions, I think the confession is too drawn out. Let’s not even talk about the abysmal choices the Taiwanese drama made with their second season to make it unbearably long. The Japanese version wrapped up their story solidly and every episode was 100% watchable and not drawn out.

Best Intro?

Surprisingly, I think I’m going to give this one to the Korean version. While the three aren’t terribly different, I think the K version had me most immediately caught up and invested in the story. I’d give a close second to the J version and a 3rd to the T version.

Best Ending?

Hana Yori Dango takes the cake no question. Whether you ended on the show (with a seriously celebratory proposal) or the movie (with a wedding and a baby announcement!), the only thing the J version leaves you wanting is some closure on Makino’s professional career. I’m going to rank the K Drama second in that it gives you a good look at Jan Di professionally, but leaves you wanting some concrete romance closure. Meteor Garden had a decent close to season 1 and just failed so epically in the second season, it’s almost not worth talking about.

Best Kiss?

Oh come now. When have I ever given a best intimacy rating to anything outside of a Taiwanese drama? Once again, their willingness to commit to the moment makes the T versions of all shows stellar in the intimacy rating and this is no exception. Every kiss on that version is electric. We’re giving a close second to the closing kiss of HYD season one at the airport. Then a third to Jan Di and Joon Pyo at his house on the bed. Adorable!

Best Tear-jerking Moment?

Easy peasy. When Domyouji is trying his best to stay away from Makino and she finally works up the courage to call him. She says what a beautiful thing their phone is and essentially how much she missed him. He’s not saying anything and she’s trying her best not to cry before asking him out just the way he did earlier. Oh man, that scene gets me every single time. I’m tearing up just thinking about it! Close second, Shan Cai and Lei on the beach. You know what I’m talking about here.

Worst Thing about the Show?

Meteor Garden - The entire second season. Die amnesia plot device, DIE!
Hana Yori Dango - Alongside the amnesia plot device, things get a little too loose at the end of the second season. The whole maid thing just screamed I was in Manga!
BBF - I’m going to go with the whole competition to see if Jan Di and Ji Hoo are going to get expelled. It was lovely to get the sister involved, but it had me very confused about whose side I was supposed to be on.

Best Moment in Each Show?

MG - Oh snap. I am surprisingly going to go with that totally unexpected, heart-wrenching and totally perfect kiss with Shan Cai and Lei on the beach. It was the only version that didn’t totally make me mad about Shan Cai being an indecisive jerk. Totally.
BBF - I’m a little torn on this one. I think I’m going to go with the moment that Joon Pyo jumps into save Jan Di amid the framing scandal. He carries her out princess style, then tends to her wounds in a manner gentler than we’ve seen from this character.
HYD - Actually, I don’t know why, but I super love the scene where tensions are running high in F4 and they finally just beat the crap out of each other. It’s adorable and you can feel the reconciliation afterwards. Since I feel bad leaving Makino out of my favorite moments, I’m going to give a close second to Domyouji’s letter given to her with the Saturn necklace, about being a partnership of destiny. Squealing a little bit on a the inside (OK, maybe a lot).

Most Worthless Character in Each Show?

MG - Qing He. While he may be based on a character in the manga. I just wanted to kick him out of every scene he was in. A close second goes to all the other random people this show decided to include. TOO MANY.
BBF - I’ll give it to the K version. This show keeps it pretty tight character-wise.
HYD - As lovely as Toda Erika is, her hospital patient character really just kicks up her feet for an episode then lets you down. After the whole Shigeru debacle, it’s just sort of a hiccup.

Best Curls?

OK, have to finish on a silly one. Let’s give it to Lee Min Ho’s Joon Pyo! Si looks ridiculous when his hair’s not straightened out (thankfully they fixed it fast) and Matsujun’s hair was really struggling in season 1, but got a lot better in season 2. But no matter what qualms I have about the Korean series, Lee Min Ho will always be pretty and I guess that's something.

So, what’s that mean? Well Hana Yori Dango is still my favorite, but Meteor Garden season 1 surprised me with a lot of nice moments. That said, season 2 horrified me with an unending onslaught of terrible moments. The Korean version doesn’t do hardly anything the best of the three because it often misses some crucial timing and tone (like a serious scene will have weirdly happy music). That said it still manages to avoid a lot of serious errors, keeping it sort of middle of the pack.

Hope there’s other obsessive fans out there who enjoyed this!