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+