Review – Sweet Stranger & Me

Review – Sweet Stranger & Me

Welcome to backflash city.  The heavy handed, overuse of backflashes in this show reminded me of K-dramas of old… when you’d have a backflash to something that literally happened in the same episode.  It’s K-dramas for goldfish.

With that said, I still enjoyed this light drama.  The side characters were particularly enjoyable.  It’s one of those rare dramas that fully develops its side characters, so that they’re not just around as a plot device to add conflict as the two leads find love.  Oh no, these side characters get their own stories and you’ll be rooting for them to find happiness too.  In fact, I liked the side characters more than the lead characters.  A lot more.  The two second leads, the stalker sister, the goofy side-chef, the young gangster guy… I found them all to be more interesting and complicated than our reformed gangster turned chef and the grumpy stewardess.  My biggest qualm with this entire series is that it didn’t firmly wrap up the endings to these people – after laying all that foundation for them, giving them walls and windows and doors… why leave us hanging?  Give those people a roof, damn it, and complete their stories.

The simple version of the plot:  A young woman comes home to rest shortly after her mother dies and she catches her fiance cheating on her.  Once home, she discovers her mother secretly married a young man and this handsome guy is now her stepfather and owner of her family house, business, and property.  Her family turns out to be full of secrets, including tons of massive debt.  An extremely handsome and feisty local “Robot Museum” owner wants to buy the land to develop it into a resort… and he’s not only interested in the property, but also our leading lady.  On top of all this, the girl her fiance had an affair with keeps hanging around, bringing all her drama and shenanigans with her.

It was cute.  You have to suffer through the flashbacks for it, but it’s still a nice romantic show.  With two very handsome leading men.

Overall Rating – 7/10.  Kneading Dough… Better Than Crossfit For Upper Body Strength.

More on Characters, Spoilers, Complaints and Musings follow….

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Review – Revolutionary Love

Review – Revolutionary Love

This show was a fine mix of screwball comedy and drama.  The screwball was played by Choi Se-Won, who seems almost type-cast to play these lovable dufus characters.  He’s the male lead in this show, though I wasn’t entirely sure he was the male lead until the last episode because the second male lead, played by Gong Myung, had an equally compelling story and, in my opinion, more chemistry with the lead female.

This is a story of a bumbling third generation rich guy who’s spent the first thirty years of his life playing with his family’s money.  He has no job, no responsibilities, no worries and no sense of the world.  His small, extravagant world IS the world, as far as he’s concerned.  He’s happily let his older brother play the heir to the company, content to just ride on the coat tails of other people’s success.  He even has a personal secretary, the second male lead, whose sole job is to follow him around and clean up his messes.  These two men grew up together, one the prince, the other the pauper.  Gong Myung’s character is the son of the family chauffeur, a part of the wealthy world of his employers but only as an accessory.  He’s a brooding, miserable mess – a stark contrast to the ever-joyously oblivious prince heir.  Their friendship is real, but strained under the weight of their different roles and social positions.  It isn’t until our prince gets kicked out of the castle that the two finally get to grow as individuals.

Between these two men is our lead female.  A plucky young lady who refuses to get a full time job, already jaded by the insecurities of the working world after watching her father lose his job just short of retirement.  She’s had a crush on the brooding chauffeur’s son for years, but their relationship never progressed past awkward friendship.  When circumstance causes her to mistake our prince for a pauper, she bonds with the goofy rich boy in disguise and he, in turn, falls head over heels for our female lead.  Our prince sets out to woo this lady with everything he’s got – unfortunately, she doesn’t think anything he has is worth much, so he’s forced to re-evaluate his perceptions of reality.  His dogged pursuit of our female lead causes him to do things he’s never done before… like… get a job.

It’s a light, cute, goofy story.  There are lots of enjoyable characters – the other employees, the families of our three leads, the friends, even the neighbors – and everyone gets fleshed out enough that no one feels like a prop.  Choi Se-Won has perfected the art of being overtly hammy and still endearing, though his characters always seem to fall short of being romantic leads.  He’s better suited to being the one-sided crush guy, in my opinion, though maybe this is a failing on the writer’s part and not the actor.  There’s not a lot of romance in this romantic comedy.  For this particular plot, it worked fine.  This story was more about having the three leads grow as people and not as lovers.

Overall Rating – 7/10.  Rich Goofball Learns To Use A Toilet Plunger.

Review – Save Me (from people!)

Review – Save Me (from people!)

Is this show a dark commentary on humanity?  YES.  Was it awesome?  Yes… but it’s very, very dark, so light a few candles and pray for the soul of the world before you start viewing.

This is the story about how a family got sucked into a cult.  It’s also a story about growing up, and realizing your parents aren’t the gods of our childhood.  It’s a story about society, and how the struggle for power changes people.   Power over your own life, power over circumstances, power over others.  It’s a commentary on politics, religion, government, and the basic needs of humans – to be useful, to be happy, and to be safe.  And at its heart, it’s a story about friendship.  There’s a lot packed into this drama.

It’s not a pleasant experience, though.  The drama tackled quite a few uncomfortable topics – from police corruption to political corruption, violent school bullying to murder, unbelievable cruelty to cold manipulations of others – both emotionally and physically.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  I’m not sure I want to again for a while, either.  You’ll want to give your brain a rest after this intensity… maybe watch a Disney movie or something.  Cleanse the palette, cleanse the soul.

Overall Rating – 9/10.  Getting To New Heaven Is Hell On Earth.

Thoughts on religion, my personal opinions on the matter, and various musings follow…

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Review – Temperature of Love (is lukewarm)

Review – Temperature of Love (is lukewarm)

So, this is one of those dramas that’s basically your friend from high school who always dominated conversations, drank expensive coffees, and thought they were the first ones who ever figured out anything.  Usually they just babbled about something everyone already knows instinctively, but acted like they alone were privy to such spectacular insights into humanity.  A bit smug, a bit self-righteous, a bit annoying but you still called them your friend cause overall, they were basically harmless.  A perfect example of this:  In the show, our lead female has found a small flowering weed growing out of a brick wall… and turns this into a meditation on strength and tenacity… and our two leading men are blown away by this, as if this obvious metaphor were profound and they can’t help but love a women with such wisdom!  Ugh.

…the majority of the show is like this… two people sort of blank faced and brooding over very little… a LOT of talking about their feelings… a thousand cups of coffee

Temperature of Love is a character study on young professionals, their ambitions and dreams, and the various interpersonal hang ups they have that keep them at a distance or bring them closer to other people.  No one in this show is that remarkable.  They are all hard working and dedicated to their careers.  They all understand that talent only gets you so far, it’s the hours behind it that push you ahead.  We have three main characters, the young CEO who lives in his head, the young chef who expresses himself more with creatively arranged garnishes than with words, and the young drama script writer who did nothing to make herself unlikable but I still couldn’t bring myself to like her.  These three are our love triangle, though honestly the story is just about the chef and the script writer, who are about a decade apart in age and spend a lot of time breaking up and getting back together.  I kept listening to their stories because they wouldn’t shut up and I was mildly curious… but the quirky side characters were far more captivating.  The bitchy rival screenwriter who was preposterously self aware and unbelievable, but I still loved – the goofy side kick friend and her bumbling romance with the director – the selfish, beautiful mom who had more personality than… well… everyone in the show, honestly.  The side characters were solid.

…dang… Korean MILF

This show reminded me of Another Oh Hae Young.  Same leading lady.  Same sort of low key overdrama.  Same overall effect of “eh” when all was said and done.  In this drama, they tried really hard to convince us romantic things were happening with lots of voice overs (of deep thoughts in the shallow pool) and when our couple would embrace, suddenly the show would drop into black and white… which was fitting, as their relationship was not colorful or inspiring.  I watched it feeling happy I was single.  I had serious second lead syndrome the entire show, but just like in the drama Mary Stayed Out All Night, I didn’t want our leading lady to end up with the second lead male cause I didn’t think she deserved him.  He was far too awesome for her.

Anyways, I didn’t hate it.  I didn’t love it.  It’s somewhere inbetween.  All the kissing and cuddling would have been more enjoyable if I enjoyed the lead couple more, I think.  You might love them… so who knows… this drama may rock your socks.

Overall Rating – 7/10.  Too Much Milk In The Coffee, Not Enough Food On The Plate.

Review – Duel

Review – Duel

You have to be in the mood for this type of drama.  It’s an action/thriller/mystery and it succeeds in each of those categories.  A middle aged cop with an adorable young daughter, dying of something-or-other, goes to extremes to save his child after she is kidnapped and held for ransom.  He tracks down a suspect – only to find himself face to face with two identical men.  Which of them is guilty of the crime?  Or are they co-conspirators?  He manages to arrest one… unfortunately, the one he captures has total amnesia, but swears up and down that he is innocent.  Add to this an alluringly ambitious prosecutor who means to get to the top if she has to chop everyone’s legs off to climb over them, and a young woman attempting to solve the mystery of her mother’s secret experiments… and you’ve got a winning drama.

Could there be a cooler opening sequence?  I just loved it!  The gothic piano, the chorus, the eery shots of handsome nudes morphing creepily into one another…

It’s one twist and turn after the other, with outstanding car chases, shoot-outs, evil big pharma companies, secret laboratories, and mafia.  Yang Se-Jong pulls double duty playing the twins – one malicious and deadly, the other baffled and determined to prove his innocence – and his face is quite mesmerizing in its ability to convey emotions.

But Kim Jung-Eun stole the show, in my opinion, as the gray-scale prosecutor… sailing smoothly between self-serving bitch to genuine pursuit of justice.  She was magnificent, complicated, and pretty much rocked my socks every time she was on screen.  You’ll love to hate her.

Overall Rating – 9/10.  No One With A Secret Laboratory Is Up To Any Good.

Review – Goong / Princess Hours

Review – Goong / Princess Hours

I would have loved this ten years ago.  The premise is pretty cute, though a little weak threaded.   Modern monarchy in South Korea, arranged marriages between a charming, oddball “commoner” and the aloof, jerky prince, some inner palace strife over who gets the throne, yada yada.  It got ridiculously convoluted at the end… but then again, with the foreshadowing in the first episode, it fit right in.  I mean… the prince’s portrait showed him standing in front of a burning building.  Either that artist had an agenda, or that is some heavy handed foreshadowing thrown in for no reason other than to make viewers go, “Why is he standing in front of a burning building in his official royal portrait?  What’s the story there?  Did the artist read the drama script?”

Yoon Eun-Hye is adorable and I love her just about everything.  I loved her in this – and she was the only reason I kept watching, even when it dragged its feet and I wondered if there would be some, uhm… conflict?  Or… romance?  Or… interesting plotlines?  Eh, so so.  It’s a rather deliciously shallow gem from 2006.  As for Cinderella stories, they never get old… though I believe you’ll find better options.  Shining Inheritance came out a few years later and I thought it was much cuter, personally.  Anyways, Goong is a classic and I always felt a little bad for not watching it… so I sat down and let it roll.  I am glad I stuck it out, cause… even though a bit of a bore, seeing our prince and princess finally come together was cuter than a basket of puppies.

Overall Rating 6.5/10.  The Monarchy… When Living Is What You Do For A Living.

Review – Kingdom of the Winds

Review – Kingdom of the Winds

How epic is this cover image, am I right?  Well, don’t be fooled…. cause this drama doesn’t live up to its own glorious press.  I might have enjoyed it more if I had watched it when it originally came out – before bigger, better, more impressive historical sagas came out and destroyed all contenders.  Maybe this drama helped pave the road for the big budget beauties I so adore, but I still can’t hep but feel underwhelmed.

It’s basically about this prince whose life was ruined on the day he was born after a shamen said that the heavens cursed him – doomed to kill his parents, his siblings, his own children, and destroy his country.  Yup.  All that.  It was enough for his daddy, the King, to seriously consider stabbing his own infant son – but instead he sends him away and tells the nation he died.  Well, our young prince grows up.  Goes through a series of misadventures.  And basically proves he’s immortal – cause the man escapes death a billion times, it’s ridiculous.  He falls in love with this blank faced medic, who just happens to be a princess (conveniently allowed to leave the palace, wear commoners clothes, and be unattended by guards… wtf?  Since when does that happen?).  He’s got a dorky side kick.  He’s got a rival for his love interest.  He’s got a bunch of political schemes and hurdles to leap over before he can jump on his rightful throne.  The bad guys aren’t terribly malicious or cruel, the schemers don’t seem too troubled when their plans are constantly thwarted, the action never makes you wonder who will survive and whose heart and soul will break in the process.  And even with the tragic ending (was it though?), it still felt like a mediocre historical adventure through cliches and tired story lines.

This is our leading ladies’ expression about 90% of the show… blank, bewildered and beautiful… for someone so interesting, with her regal past and medical interests… she was so boring. But it’s not just her. They all were.

Where are the grand ambitions?  Where are the personal faults and self destructive tendencies of our heroes?  Where are the clash of wills, the grand romances, the small moments of humor and heart?  Well… scattered to the wind, apparently.

I had a lot of time to kill, so I watched it all.  Every stinking episode.  I confess I napped quite frequently and didn’t seem to miss a thing.  There are better sageuks.  Far better.

Overall Rating – 6.5/10.  An Echo Chamber of Worn Cliches.

Special shout out to Kim Sang-Ho – who played a devious, funny merchant.  I got him.  His character made sense – his ambitions, his life, his personality – there were no question marks around his motivations.

Review – While You Were Sleeping

Review – While You Were Sleeping

A perfect 10.  A show that managed to mix comedy, romance, thrills, and fantasy into one episode after the other of pure entertainment and joy.  Lee Jong-Suk plays a young prosecutor who is learning the trade, stumbling hysterically along the way but still admirable due to his strong sense of justice.  It was so refreshing to see a young man play a young man for once – naive, goofy, lounging about in a messy home as he sorts out his feelings and career.  Bae Suzy plays a reporter who has quit her job because of an ominous dream.  She’s carefree and yet complicated, her constant dreams of the future have crippled her ability to bravely face a world she believes she can not change.  When Lee Jong-Suk’s character causes one of her premonitions to alter, she realizes the future isn’t as concrete as her dreams might imply and begins to climb out of her shell.

The entire cast is a goldmine of lovable characters with unique personalities and back stories.  Each of them gets their moment to shine as this drama unfolds, allowing them all a chance to win your heart.  Even the antagonists, in typical K-Drama style, are oddly sympathetic and though you will be cheering for justice, you’ll also feel a little bad for them too.  Touchingly sweet moments full of sentiment and genuine affection were sprinkled throughout the show, nicely balanced between the intrigue and humor.

This will probably be my new choice for “First K-Drama” recommendation.  I can’t imagine anyone not being charmed and compelled by this amazing story.  If you haven’t seen it yet – watch it immediately!  It’s currently on Viki.

Overall Rating – 10/10.  Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This.

Character Breakdown, Spoilers, Thoughts and More follow…

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Review – Stranger

Review – Stranger / Forest of Secrets

So, I had a weekend to kill and loaded up Stranger, on Netflix.  This is a mystery-thriller that, honestly, would have been outstanding if they cut it in half.  It just didn’t have enough plot for 16 episodes – 8 would have perfect.  As it was, it drifted along with  mellow intrigue, excellent character development, and quality drama… but geesh, was it long.  I stuck it out, cause I was committed, but dang… even the British, who are famous for their leisurely plot development, would have added some caffeine to this weak tea.

Being a sucker for romance, I think the complete lack of it also made the show seem longer.  I knew these characters were all going to grow as people and be the better for knowing each other – but I got the impression right away there would be no breakthrough moment or cuddling happy ending for our lead protagonists.  Cho Seung-Woo played the detached prosecutor who’d basically had a lobotomy in his teens, removing the emotional part of his brain.  I kid you not.  Medically created sociopath.  He was dreamy and cool and collected and I loved him to death.   The gorgeous Bae Doo-Na, whom I have only seen in the delightfully pervy globe-trotting disaster of a show known as Sense 8, was perfectly cast as the tough as nails cop with a strong moral compass.  She and Cho Seung-Woo had oodles of chemistry – and my favorite aspect of the show was watching her casual, slow approach to winning him over and digging out his humanity, one cute sketch at a time.  Her sketch of his brain, in particular, was endearing and had me laughing.

The real stand out performer was Lee Joon-Hyuk, who played a crooked prosecutor who lived on paranoia and cockiness.   What a smug mug, eh?  He was the true sociopath, dazzling one second, violent the next, spinning from one extreme to another in an ever increasingly mad dash to stay one step ahead.

So… there’s corruption and scandal and a murder mystery or two.  I must say, personally, I was not a fan of how this unraveled at the end.  It was just too random.  After all that build up, it felt like a smack in the face to bring in something so out of left field.  The last episode made up for it, though, and there was a nice chunk of “what happens next” with your key players so that you weren’t left wondering.

But still.  It was just… really slow.  If you don’t like romantic dramas, you will probably like this one a lot more than I did and maybe not even mind the pace, but for me it was almost torturous near the end to finish it.

Overall Rating – 6.5/10 – Don’t Have Private Conversations In Rooms With Open Windows.

Review – The Heirs

Review – The Heirs

Well, I broke down and finally watched The Heirs.  It was much better than I expected, but also a lot of what I thought it would be.  Lee Min-Ho was rather charming as the aloof rich guy who turned into a puppy with love.  Park Shin-He did what she does best – look adorable at all times, cry a lot, and seem vaguely lost.  Kim Woo-Bin ruled as the school bully who finds his soft spot… by tormenting his first crush.  And the rest of the large cast was entertaining, interesting, and engaging as the plot lines moved around from episode to episode… from America (how bizarre was that?  Don’t break the 4th wall!) to elite private schools, and from the bedrooms to the board rooms.

It’s easy for me to be disengaged with these “super rich” dramas.  I find myself with a growing lack of sympathy of their problems, but this show managed to keep my emotions in check by doing a very good job of humanizing these rich kids and forcing me to care about them.  Quite a few of the side plots were very unique, including the awkward and funny friendship between the mistress and the mute housemaid.  It was fun to see Park Hyung-Sik before he’d capped his teeth and really matured into the full-blown handsome A-List actor he is today.  Tons of huge stars and exceptionally fine acting prowess saved what probably should have been a mediocre show and propelled it into a highly satisfying soap opera about young love between the economic classes.

I confess, I really liked it.

 

 

Overall Rating – 8/10  – Cinderella Hangs Out with The 1%.