Review – Fantastic (isn’t quite)

Review – Fantastic (isn’t quite)

Here’s the thing with this show.  It really does deliver all that it promises to in the first episode.  You’re introduced to all the characters, you get the general sense of what will happen, and most importantly… the tone is established.  This drama plays out both campy and melodramatic.  It’s an odd mix, and one only K-Dramas seem to master.  You’ve got silliness on the flip side to serious issues.  Cancer isn’t the only thing that can kill you after all.  The public’s opinion of your skills, for one.  Loosing yourself in a loveless marriage.  These things can also kill you.  They murder your confidence, they eat at your self worth, they slowly liquify your soul.  A lot of people are struggling in this show – and only by coming together, and anchoring themselves to others who have more grounding and positive life experiences, are they able to heal themselves.

It was okay.  I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it.  It wasn’t what Goldilocks would call “just right,” but it was comfortable enough that I settled in and watched the whole thing.

The main couple, the drama writer diagnosed with cancer and the goofy, struggling actor… meh.  They were cute.  I don’t really have anything else to say about them though, as the second romance in this show was far more interesting:  The story of the confident, head-strong young woman who’d turned into a mousy doormat after marrying into a rich, political family.  She was Cinderella, literally cleaning up after everyone and mocked openly for her circumstances.  I enjoyed how this show had her rescue herself, in a way.  Sure, she had the love of a hot young prosecutor (Ji Soo!) to help her and the support of her friends – but as an adult, more often than not you have to rescue yourself when your life goes sour.  And run away on a motorcycle.

Honorable mention also goes to another side character – the lovable doctor who is also fighting terminal illness.  Though I wasn’t overly in love with the romance in this show, the bromance was outstanding.  Our goofy actor and this doctor end up bonding and sharing a remarkably sweet friendship towards the end that helped them both become better people.  Plus I like Kim Tae-Hoon… he has an unusual vibe and tends to make most shows better just by hanging around in the peripherals.

Anyways… it is what it is.  Nothing to write home about, but I wouldn’t avoid it either.

Overall Rating – 7/10.  Fantastic It Is Not.

P.S.  Jo Jae-Yun, who played the actor’s manager, rocked my socks.  He’s always comedy gold.

 

Review – King 2 Hearts / The King 2hearts

Review – King 2 Hearts / The King 2heart

Ah… King 2 Hearts… a hit from 2012 that is still great.  It imagines a constitutional monarchy in modern South Korea, but with the same divide between North and South.  Our male main character is the second in line to the throne, but reluctant to step up to the demands and responsibilities of his title.  In an attempt to help him “grow up,” the King sends him on a peace-making mission to work with North Koreans for a military collaboration.  There he meets our female lead, a North Korean assassin.  Throw in a maniacal global arms dealer determined to crush the monarchy, a motley but lovable group of soldiers, royals, and all the family and political intrigue of mixing two long-separated countries… and you have an amazing show that is sure to entertain.

Overall Rating 9/10.  A Fairy Tale Romance With North Korean Cuteness.  Who Knew?

More discussion, ramblings and spoilers follow….

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Review – Two Cops

Review – Two Cops

I didn’t realize this was going to be a supernatural comedy until the end of the first episode.  Two Cops is the phone “nickname” that our lady reporter gave our gentleman detective after noticing he seemed to have two personalities.  One, the intense and focused detective with incredible fighting skills and a keen sense of justice – and Two, the goofy, flirtatious conman that mystically takes over our detective’s body sometimes after they were both involved in an accident together.  This may be the best role Cho Jung-Seok has ever played (just kidding, he’s been great in quite a few shows) – as he gets to seriously show off his acting chops by being two believably different personalities inside one body.  Everything about him changes, his tone of voice, his physicality, the look in his eyes.  Its one of the best examples of one actor playing two people that I can think of.  Kim Sun-Ho plays the conman, when he’s in spirit form, and excels as the lovable lawbreaker.  Hyeri is simply adorable as the feisty reporter caught between these “two” men.

Overall, this is a buddy comedy.  A bromance.  A mix-match personality pairing in the style of Lethal Weapon, Men in Black, Bad Boys or even Midnight Run.  There’s a little romance mingled in there, but really… it’s about two dudes.  And it was adorable.  This show was a wild, fun ride that I highly recommend.  True, the first half was a bit more zany and fun than the second half, but it will still overall awesome and I loved it.

Overall Rating – 9/10.  Two Souls and One Hot Body.

More about Two Cops… with spoilers…

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Review – Mad Dog

Review – Mad Dog

Just an all-over great show, with action, drama, a little comedy and romance, and a whole lotta love.  This story illustrates how people make their own families.  The rag tag team of Mad Dog all had different, tattered pasts but when they came together, they found a home.

The plot is this:  A plane crashed killing a ton of people and injuring more and the reports said the pilot was to blame, taking the aircraft down on a suicide mission, leaving his younger brother with a fortune in insurance money.  The younger brother, played to perfection by Woo Do-Hwan, isn’t convinced his older brother was the culprit however.  Unfortunately, no one believes him.  Let alone the leader of a rogue team of investigators who lost his wife and son in the crash and passionately despises him.  How these people come together – to work towards a common cause of uncovering massive corruption, is the basic plot.  And it’s captivating, thrilling and hugely enjoyable.

The Bromance is Strong With These Two.

The entire show was great – from beginning to end – and really let all the characters shine.  Even the bad guys (and there were several) became fully developed, their motivations and personalities distinctive and interesting.  My favorite was the unique, twisted relationship between Joo Hyun-Ki, the heir to the airline company, and Cha Hong-Joo, the heir to the insurance company.   Those two snakes were mesmerizing!  Especially the crazed Joo Hyun-Ki, played by the talented Choi Won-Young.

Love ’em or Hate ’em… these two were made for each other.

Oh, the playful, loving relationships of the Mad Dog team, all dependent on each other, full of laughs and genuine emotion, how I loved them all!  They truly cared about each other and it grounded the drama with heart.  These were people you liked to spend time with – and wanted to see succeed despite all the obstacles in their way.  It made escaping into each episode with them more exciting and rewarding as a viewer.  Other shows should take note of this formula – as it is often sadly lacking in thrillers, the creation of a unique, likable cast.

The Team of Mad Dog… which you want to be adopted by…

Who knew a show about insurance fraud would be so spectacular?

Overall Rating – 9/10.  Using White Collar Crime to Catch Criminals.

Review – Just Between Lovers

Review – Just Between Lovers

Tragedy can change a person.  Forever.  An unexpected death, a crime, a war, a disaster.  This show focuses on the tragedy of a building collapse – and those who died as well as those whose lives were left shattered in the wreckage.  Each of our three principle characters was there the day it happened – but each experienced a different aftermath.  And each of them is profoundly, irrevocably altered by the experience.

I loved the characters in this show.   All of them.  I especially loved their personality flaws: their anger, their survivor’s guilt, their irrational thinking- which I’ll go into below.  The romance was slow and steady and gorgeous.  Their secrets unraveled with precision as the show moved through its various points, heavy with emotion.  It had a relaxed paced, but wasn’t at all boring.  It wanted us to get a feel of these people’s every day lives, and how much they were impacting each other, and you can’t really show that if you’re rushing from one action scene to another.

Just Between Lovers was moving and unique.  I was fully invested from the first episode to the last.  There was such a delicate push and pull in the main love story – both wounded creatures, their instinct was to run and hide when someone got close – and so they ran and slowly came back together, ran away and came back together.  Getting closer every time, inching towards real trust and recovery.  The writing in this show left me speechless… so many lines worthy of quoting, so much wisdom… it was top tier stuff.

Overall Rating – 10/10.  A Story of Love Built Over Ruins.

More about the characters, spoilers, and thoughts follow…

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Review – Personal Taste

Review – Personal Taste

I just rewatched Personal Taste, after several years, and have to admit… it’s still a funny, cute, and charming K-Drama.  Sure, it’s a bit dated.  Sure, it’s over the top and almost laughably preposterous.  Sure, it’s full of gay jokes that are just thin layers hiding serious homophobia.  “You were born as a man but unable to fully live as one.”   Jeez.  You’ll just have to accept the icing on the cake is homophobia and let that go to enjoy the humor.  Though on the flip side, it did feature one of the coolest gay dudes in K-Drama history, the classy Director Choi of the Art Museum.  Anyways, despite the chips on the veneer – it’s so freakin’ adorable.  Full of sex jokes and innuendo, this show knows how to have fun with its context and its subtext and pull you along for the ride.

First of all, Lee Min-Ho has never been better cast as the fussy heterosexual everyone easily mistakes for a flaming homosexual.  This is one of his best roles, in my opinion.

Secondly, the female lead is absolutely lovable and adorable.  The frumpy furniture designer living comfortably in her father’s badass house while her personal and professional life flounders.  She’s such a “good girls come in last” stereotype, but instead of being pathetic – I really admired her and wanted to be her friend.  I mean, I really, really wanted to be her friend.  Why can’t I have friends like that?  Why can’t I have friends like her friend?  No, not the boyfriend stealing one or the money stealing one, but her bestie girlfriend, the humorous and loyal companion who will have your back for life.  I loved her best friend.  She’s the type of friend who will key the car of the person who hurt you and then buy you ice cream and say you look beautiful when mascara is running down your cheeks.

I will kill for you, bitch!

I love stories where the couple fall in love while sharing a house.  I mean, it’s hard not to really get to know someone when you are co-habitating.  That goes triple when you are sharing a house with paper walls.  Literally, rice paper walls.

To me, one of the best staples of a classic K-Drama is the arch nemesis who has no conscience.  Personal Taste provided an ice queen who knew no boundaries in her villainy.   Combine her with a flaky, weak man who also stirred up trouble wherever he went, and you have a deadly cocktail of foils for our main couple.  There were a lot of plot points – relationships, work, family, and friends – and they all worked well together.  It also had one of the greatest first episodes in K-Land… a lot happened.  Reminds me of She Was Pretty… another show with a great first episode.

Overall Rating – 8/10.  A Prudish Virgin Finally Gets Laid.

More… including shop talk, gay musings, sex and spoilers follow…

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Review – Whisper

Review – Whisper

Oh, my my.  Hello dark examination of the soul, eh?  They say everyone has a limit.  Everyone.  A breaking point that will make them turn away from everything they thought they were – their principles, their convictions, their conscience.   Do most of us ever find that line?  Probably not, thankfully.  We don’t live in Korean dramas.

This drama is all about people being pushed to their limits.  About good people finding themselves turning into bad people.  Just helplessly watching the layers and layers of their goodness fall down around them as they scramble to keep from drowning in a sinking pit that started with bad luck or a bad choice and just spiraled out of control.  I LOVED IT (for about eight or nine hours, then it lost serious steam).  I love shows that explore the complexities of human nature.  I also love a show that gives the lead female room to kick ass!  Holy Moses, did she ever, too.  Three cheers for having a strong female lead for once…. can we please share this memo with the rest of the action/thriller drama writers?

Unfortunately, I felt this drama sort of lost a lot of steam after 10 episodes or so… with its endless evidence gathering and court proceedings… but it by no means stopped.  It’s more like it started at 120 mph and relaxed comfortably into a breezy 65 mph the rest of the way.  Still good enough for interstate driving.  But honestly, if it kept up the blazing pace and wrapped up the show in 12 episodes, it would have been perfect.  10/10.   A magnificent joy ride of suspense and danger! As it was… eh.  Great then good then okay.

Overall Rating 8/10 – Being Bad Can Be So Freakin’ Easy.

MORE, more, more… including, of course, some spoilers…

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Review – I’m Not A Robot

Review – I’m Not A Robot

A syrupy sweet show – with zero substance and great flavor.  Like a stack of pancakes.  You know it’s not a well balanced meal… but who cares?  It’s cheap, it’s fluffy, it’s yummy and it required very little preparation time or monetary investment.

Basic plot – young uber rich guy has an allergy to humans, so he’s locked himself away in his mansion and helped fund A.I. research, in the hope of having some companionship.  The A.I. research team runs into some trouble and ends up having to substitute the actual robot they created for the girl the robot was modeled after.  So the billionaire ends up completely fooled and falls in love with his “machine”… all the while overcoming his “allergy” and making friends along the way.  It’s super cheesy.  And honestly, that’s about all there is to the plot.  Like a cutesy shojo manga.

Yoo Seung-Ho is handsome and amusing as the neurotic rich guy with no social skills.  Chae Soo-Bin is endearing as the human disguised as a robot, comically attempting to manage her new “master,” her ex-boyfriend, her failing business ideas and her life.  The research team is full of lovable, goofy nerds.  There are other characters, but they’re not exactly needed – they’re just an assortment of jellies on the table.  Everyone has lots of heart-to-heart moments, some sappy tears and group hugs.  It’s just a feel good dessert disguised as an entree.

Seriously.  This sums up the whole show better than any written review:

Any why not have some pancakes?  Who doesn’t love ’em?

Overall Rating:  7.5/10.  Sticky Sweet.

Review – Nightmare High

Review – Nightmare High / Nightmare Teacher

What a fun little slice of a dark morality play!  This show reminds of me of an anime, in a way, as anime’s have always been more eager to jump into the horror genre.  It also reminded me of an anime in that it was fairly simplistic.  You won’t get the usual character development, home life, tropes and heightened emotions generally found in a Korean drama.  This show stays pretty even layered in its thin but satisfying story about a classroom of high school students who end up with a new teacher… who grants them their wishes and watches as they sabotage themselves with their desires.  The kids start out with good intentions, but greed and revenge and personal gain always get the best of them… and things go sour.  One after the other, they start to disappear, trapped in a nightmare of their own making.

Nightmare Teacher was exactly what it said it was going to be and delivered fun little examinations into the darker side of young adulthood.  Kids can be cruel.  Just like a prison system, a high school has its own rules and regulations and inmate behaviors that are common and often “overlooked” by adults and even other kids.  That’s just the way things are, they shrug.  And kids can also be kind, and watch each others backs and do the right thing and step up when needed.  This show examines the balance between good and evil, and how both sides of the coin are apart of us all.

Uhm Ki-Joon was delightful as the unassuming face of evil (or was he?).  And Kim So-Hyun was wonderful as his antagonist, the bright student who plays it safe.  It’s not deep, mind you.  Just a quick and simple little exploratory adventure into a dark fairy tale that’s a short and pleasant way to pass the time.

Overall Rating – 7.5/10.  What Happens To Nightmares When We Wake Up?

Review – Witch’s Court

Review – Witch’s Court

God, I hated this show.  I’m usually a big fan of characters that break that mold – and our leading female certainly did – but unfortunately all that emerged from the mold was a jerk.  I found the lead female to be annoying and groan inducing.  I’ve read a lot of praise for this show for having a strong female protagonist… and I feel like they were watching a different show than I was.  This is exactly the kind of person I can’t stand in real life, so it’s no wonder I didn’t care for this show.  Even with the handsome Yoon Hyun Min playing the altruistic shrink turned prosecutor.  Even with the much needed social commentary on sexual assault, misogyny, and personal responsibilities.  Even with the pretty compelling mini-plots, aka the cases that were being solved as we waited for the “big case” to be solved.  Even with all this going for it… I just couldn’t get past episode six.

Hey, not every show is for everyone.  That’s why there’s so many of them.  Something for everyone.  This one just wasn’t for me.

ugh…

You wanna see a show with a strong female protagonist?  They’re out there.  Remember.  City Hall.  Let’s Eat.  Queen Seon Duk.  Healer.  It’s Okay, That’s Love.  Sungkyunkwan Scandal.   Signal.  The K2 (the evil queen, not the princess).  There are plenty!  I usually don’t even bother writing “reviews” for shows I’ve abandoned, but this one compelled me to complain.

Witch’s Court final verdict:  Abandoned to the Graveyard.