Wednesday, January 29, 2014

KDrama Review: Ma Boy

The Gist: Recovering cancer patient Jan Geu Rim (Kim So Hyun) gets a chance to realize her dream of becoming a singer when she is accepted to an arts school, the same as her idol Tae Joon (Min Hoo). Things get a little odd when she ends up rooming with the school’s mystery girl Irene (Sun Woong). Geu Rim quickly figures out Irene’s mysterious secret – she’s actually a very pretty boy, taking modeling jobs as a girl until he can make his debut as a dancer. Geu Rim swears to keep his secret, which is no easy task considering Tae Joon is obliviously in love with him, which upsets his fan club, and Irene’s fan club. Soon, Geu Rim finds herself a little less preoccupied with Tae Joon and a little more interested in the boy hiding in plain sight.


1.Bite Size

 This miniseries is like a little drama snack. At just three episodes, there’s no extra fluff as each episode hits every plot point deliberately and there’s no dragging out of lies and intrigue. It was an adorable story and I could have stood if it was a shorter full length series, say 11 episodes or so, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to sit down and finish a story in one sitting. In this sense, it felt more like a fleshed out movie than a show.

2.Geu Rim and Hyun Woo

Kim So Hyun is an actress I’m already impressed with, showing off serious talent at such a young age (She’s 14!!! OMG. She’s ten years younger than I am.). I loved her in The Moon that Embraces the Sun and while I didn’t finish I Miss You, her role left and early impression. Sun Woong is a new face for me, which is not surprising as he’s only been in 2 shows including this one and he’s 22 (aka WAY TOO OLD FOR So Hyun, but you won’t think so just watching the show). Either way, he is a talented dancer and actually shockingly pretty for a guy. The two were well cast and well matched, playing off each other easily.

3. A New Kind of Swap

Even if it didn’t work perfectly, I still liked the new twist on the gender bending usual. The cross dressing girl to boy is played out (see You’re Beautiful, Hana Kimi, Nail Shop Paris, etc.), but this is the first time I’ve seen a show playing up the other side. As uncomfortable as it was for his character, Sun Woong really embraced it and did it well. Still, seeing him in his Irene getup for the first time really had me zeroed in on all the reasons I could see he was a guy. Even though his face is pretty enough for a girl, the broad shoulders were a dead giveaway, he’s really tall, no hint of an hourglass, Adam’s apple, and let’s not forget good ole man hands. All that said, not all girl’s fit one type, so if I didn’t know ahead of time, I’m not sure what I’d think. Either way, it’s a bold choice and I like it.


1.Side Characters

Ok. How overly ridiculous was Tae Joon? It successfully paints our Hyun Woo in a much better light, but I think it was just a spoonful over the top. That’s not even talking about the fan clubs, whose obsessions were downright stereotypical, without much character building. I’d say the only bright spot allowed was the leader of TJ’s fan club, when she gets the chance to swoop in and help Geu Rim, even after making her life a little bit miserable.

2. Ok. Let’s think about this for a moment…

Some of the premise of this story you have to take with a grain of salt. As in, even in the extreme situation that Irene gets Hyun Woo much needed work, there’s really no reason for him to go to school as her. I mean, couldn’t he just go as himself and then change into his garb when he gets to the studio? I’m not sure whose bright idea that was, but it only served to make it harder for him to come out as himself when the time came. Also - *spoilers ahead* - why on Earth would he wait a whole year to tell Geu Rim what was going on? She already knows the secret, so why not pick up the phone, say I’ve been found out, I’m taking a break from school, but hey want to catch a movie sometime? It just didn’t make sense. I’m glad they fixed it up quickly, but it was certainly surprising.


1.Lip Syncing!

If this show had one major flaw, it was how poorly Geu Rim was lip syncing when she was supposed to be singing. Her voice was obviously auto-tuned into next year. I’m willing to forgive this egregious error, since the actress is so good.


So… if you’re looking for a quick watch of a light romance, this one is perfect. It’s not overly cheesy, while still being sweet. Something I was still in the mood for after my Love in Tokyo excursion. It’s a slightly original twist on a usual storyline that’s just pleasant and fast to watch.

Final Grade: B+

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

JDrama Review: Mischievous Kiss: Love in Tokyo

Having watched many shows based on the wonderful manga Itazura Na Kiss, I will be doing frequent comparisons in this review. To aid in that, I will shorten the Japanese Version (Mischievous Kiss: Love in Tokyo) to JV, the Korean version (Playful Kiss) to KV, and Taiwanese Version (It Started with a Kiss) to TV for ease. I haven’t watched the 1996 Japanese version and won’t factor it in.

The Gist: Determined Aihara Kotoko (Honoka) has never been considered smart or talented, but that doesn’t stop her from confessing to the star student, the icy Irie Naoki (Furukawa Yuki). After Naoki refuses to even take her letter, Kotoko is resolved to move on with her life. That is until a small meteor hits her family’s new home and destroys its fragile structure. With nowhere else to go, Kotoko and her father (Tanaka Yoji) move in with his long lost friend. When Kotoko and her father move in, she realizes that this is the home of Naoki and their fathers are childhood friends. Kotoko’s resolve to forget Naoki are shaken living in the room next door, especially when his energetic mom (Nishimura Tomomi) takes a strong liking to Kotoko. All this only serves to frustrate Naoki, who doesn’t know what to do with the total mess that is Aihara Kotoko.


1.Positive Changes!

The recipe for a great remake really consists of two things: bold changes that make the show its own entity and maintaining the integrity and spirit of the original work. I think the JV does a fabulous job at both of these things. I loved the decision to hold back the letter and that Kotoko had the foresight to proofread her letter to death so she doesn’t suffer the same fate as her characters in the KV and TV (aka getting a failing grade from Naoki). Also, holding it back meant that when Naoki finally read her letter, he actually got to soften towards her and get to know her a bit. I liked the stronger emphasis on Kin-chan, which I will talk more about later. I love love love the rewrite of the hospital episode where Yuki falls ill. The pairing of the apartment stay over is less forced in the JV and they actually get a chance to really talk before a sweet and revealing close. I also liked breaking Yuko (Mori Kanna) and Sahoko (Takada Riho)into two characters. It took me by surprise, though I’m not sure how it is in the original, as Yuko gets the fiancĂ© position in both the TV and KV. I think this worked better for me as Hera and Baek Seung Jo are actually a pretty good match in the KV.

2.Coffee Scenes

My, my, what a small thing that left such a strong impression on me! This is a little thing that the JV adds for its own flavor. Around episode 2 or 3, there’s a great moment, where Naoki walks down the stairs after staying up all night helping Kotoko study and she’s making him coffee. The viewer sees her from Naoki’s POV and with the sunlight around her to perfection, she actually glows a little. It’s the first time Naoki (and the audience) sees her as a little less neurotic and an actual woman. This thread is pulled through as Naoki asks her to make him coffee again and she leaves him some after their stay over in the hospital episode I mentioned before. Lastly, when Kotoko finally goes on a date with Kin, Naoki’s sitting in his room, ruminating over a cup of coffee. We didn’t get any flashbacks, but my mind at least flashed back to all their morning coffees and it was a subtle, beautiful touch.

3. Naoki and Kotoko

I’ve seen a lot of mixed feelings about these actors, but I liked them tremendously. People are mentioning that Honoka isn’t as pretty as other installments, but I thought she was adorable and completely likeable, which is perfect for Kotoko. People come down pretty hard on Naoki, saying he’s the most stoic of the versions. While the TV’s is very emotive and the KV’s not so much, I actually thought that the JV’s was surprisingly transparent. You don’t really see Naoki’s jealousy so early in the other series, but the JV makes a point of showing Naoki watching Kotoko with Kin, which set a strong foundation for their tipping point at the end of the show. Also, I think he’s a lot more open with Kotoko, I found myself surprised at some of the things he said to her as I expected him to be more reserved. So, yes, Naoki doesn’t smile as much as the TV and KV characters, but it’s obvious when he’s annoyed, jealous, happy, or completely miserable (as in his engagement to Sahoko). Top that off with a great chemistry between our leads and it’s a winner.

4. Kin

Played by Yamada Yuki, we finally have Kin we can appreciate. Jin is lovely in the TV, if not totally desperate, but oh boy is Bong Joon Gu ridiculous in the KV. Kin’s a little rough around the edges, but he’s actually cute and 100% supportive of Kotoko. As much as he loves her, he’s surprisingly willing to recognize her feelings for Naoki as long as it keeps her happy. Other reviews I read mentioned that Kin and Kotoko actually develop a friendship and I too found that a strong positive force working in this show. It’s a little bit sad that we don’t get to see more resolution for Kin, as fans of the story will know he goes on to be a happy and loved fellow.



This might seem a tad misplaced as I’ve mentioned how much I like our three main characters, but I think a few of the side characters didn’t work as well in this version. For starters, Naoki’s mom is a character I cherish in this story, but boy does she really push them. It’s fine if she thinks that Naoki and Kotoko should be together, but when it’s overriding her son’s feelings and actually pushing them apart, that gets to be a tad annoying. She’s a bit crazy in all the version, but it’s dialed up for this one. Second, Aizawa Yuga’s Irie Yuki is cute, but I don’t think you get the range and bonding that shines through in the KV (it’s much better than the TV shudders). I think Kotoko’s friends Jinko (Fujimoto Nanami) and Satomi (Yamaya Kasumi) could have used a bit more character building, but the JV is the shortest, so I can understand needing to cut some of it out.

2.The Ending

Don’t get me wrong. This ending had me squealing like a middle school girl as it just has that raw emotion that is so satisfying after all the trouble. That said, with how well the rest of the show was paced, the ending was certainly rushed. *SPOILERS* While I don’t mind them ending on a wedding (it’s no surprise to longtime fans), I think it would have been better to just do a jump ahead in time rather than having his mom throw together a last minute surprise wedding. I mean, sheesh, give them a second to be engaged and plan things out their way. Still, I liked this wedding best of all. It didn’t have the awkward comedy of the TV version and Naoki actually acts like he wants to be there, not like the KV, where Baek Seung Jo just sort of grimaces the whole time.


1.Shooting Star?

Really? That’s the route we’re going with? Her house got hit by a FREAKING METEOR? It was already hard to believe when the KV and TV series had her house collapse from an earthquake, but this is just stretching the realms of believability. Not to mention the effects are bad. I think if they were going to change things up, this was not the way to go. I guess they were trying for a romantic vibe, but it’s a swing and miss.

2. Too Short!

One of the things I love about JDramas and I’ll say it all day long is their brevity. It gets in, gets out, concise and to the point. So, at 16 episodes, this show’s about as long as most Korean shows, and it still felt too short. I tore through these episodes like I didn’t have anything else to do and I could have taken more. If they do a second season, it will be more than welcome in my book. It’s not like there’s a shortage of material to work with. The KV had a few specials to round things out, but only the TV’s two season approach really left me feeling like the story was fleshed out (though that had its own problems).


So… I’m surprised and not at all that I just adored this show. I powered through it and it still has that spark of shows that are exceptional. It’s possible I may just love this show in any iteration, but I felt that this one had some strong merits of its own. While it seems silly to have the same story twice in my top ten, this one is right up there with Playful Kiss as one of my all-time favorites and I’m sure I’ll be watching it again sometime soon.  

Final Grade: A+

EDIT: SEASON 2. It happened! And it's wonderful. Read more here....

Friday, January 3, 2014

TDrama Review: Mars

The Gist: Sexual assault victim and college student Han Qi Luo (Barbie Hsu) tries to go through life unnoticed, avoiding men. So when reckless ladies’ man Chen Ling (Vic Zhou) takes an interest in her after admiring her artistic skills, Qi Luo is terrified. Yet when Ling saves her from unwanted attention, Qi Luo begins to question her judgment and asks him to model for her. As their relationship builds, Qi Luo’s problems are mirrored in a scarred Ling, suffering from the suicide of his twin, the loss of his mother, and a father whom he can’t identify with. As they learn to trust each other and be honest with themselves, they start healing and opening up to the possibility of being in love.


1.The Romance

I’m a broken record when it comes to Taiwanese dramas, but they’ve got intimacy and romance locked down. Fans of Meteor Garden will know that Barbie and Vic have a sparkling chemistry and it’s on full display in Mars. The tender pain of Qi Luo’s past means that the desperation they feel for each other has to be gentle and careful. Their faith in one another is inspiring as we watch the characters resolve their heart aches. The pacing of the romance is delightful – an early first kiss, devoting much of the show to deepening the relationship rather than approaching it. A+.

2. Qing Mei (Megan Lai)

Appearing first as a villain, Qing Mei’s character has just as much growth in the show as our main duo. Rarely do you see so much compassion from a character initially meant to stir up tension. Her fiery attitude is a nice pairing with Qi Luo’s quiet nature; often Qing Mei will speak up when Qi Luo won’t. She shows an incredible maturity in supporting Qi Luo and Ling. Even though it’s mostly in the background, her pairing with Da Ye (Xiu Hie Kai) always brought out a pleasant side to a dark story. 


1.Tragedy on Tragedy


You really need to be in the right mindset for a show like this. While it offers plenty of sweet moments, its default tone is overwhelmingly solemn. Ling and Qi Luo’s relationship is framed by the ghosts of their pasts. Any happiness does not last long as one obstacle is always followed by another. I’m not crazy about how sad the show is, but since it handles it smartly and uses it always for the betterment of our characters, it’s not much of a hindrance. Still, for how long the show is, it’s difficult to be in that mindset for long. 

2. The Ending

*SPOILERS*I’ll start off by saying that yes, I am relieved that Mars has a happy ending. Nobody gets killed off or tragically separated. I wasn’t terribly surprised as I have read the comics before watching the show, but I had hoped to get a bit more out of the ending. The last few episodes have a lovely proposal and while the show gives a glimpse of their lives together, I was honestly hoping for a wedding.  When Qi Luo tried on the veil as Ling got attacked, my heart just dropped. It’s in tone with the show to have the theme of the last episode be tragic, but I would have preferred just the once to take the happy route. I felt that I missed out on the reward of the wedding after watching the tragedies of our poor couple, even though knowing they had one is consolation.

3. Tong Dao (An Jun Can)

After pondering on this show for a few days, I’m still not sure whether Tong Dao is supposed to be sympathetic at all. For a storyline that deals in layers and complexities, Tong Dao seems bound to be one note in his violence. While he serves as a sort of foil for Ling, some sort of growth would have been nice. At the end, I’m not sure if he’s still faking any revelations or actually considering things about himself. *SPOILERS* He appears to come to some conclusions about himself, but when he stabs Ling, it all sort of falls apart. He is by far the most tragic character on the show. Also, how the heck does he keep getting out of the mental care facility? I mean, he’s a murderer, attempted murderer, and unhealthy psychopath. All those doctors should lose their licenses for approving him as safe for public release.


1.Qi Luo’s Mom (Ying Cai Ling)

YIKES. It’s going to take a lot for any other character to top worst parent after this show. If you only watched the show up until the halfway point, you’d think she was a little shy but a fine mother. *SPOILERS* That is until she gets back together with Qi Luo’s sexual abuser, putting her back in the same house as the man who raped her. AH!!! What an awful parent. She is in full awareness of her daughter’s predicament, but chooses him anyway. She willingly said Qi Luo was not to work and just focus on her studies. She pushed herself too far then punishes Qi Luo in the most awful way. Then when he attacks her again, she doesn’t take her daughter’s side! There is just no way to see her side of things. I’d be homeless and dying before making her choices. Her only small redeeming quality is giving consent for Qi Luo to marry Ling. What an atrocious character.  


So… While this show is quite a bit heavier than I prefer to dive into for 20 episodes, it’s altogether heartwarming and has a wonderful romance. Ling and Qi Luo are the heart of the show and I’d spent another 20 episodes with them if I could. I doubt I’ll be rewatching this any time soon, but it’s a solid story for a single watch.

Final Grade: B+

P.S. Ling's dad is a great example of a rich parent who cares about the happiness and heart of his child, rather than railroading his ways onto him. FINALLY.