10 Apr 2017 03:52 pm
mayoraasei: (Jdrama)
"Pigoin", or "the defendant".

I should be studying for exams and obviously I'm here posting about K-dramas...

The Defendant is one of those shining examples of Korean script-writing that in part explains why, while Japanese dramas in general is in a decline, the new Korean dramas continually break records in ratings and audience response.

That is not to say that it's without flaw (though I haven't watched the whole thing yet), because if you take a step back, some parts of it isn't really consistent with what a character might do. For example, Park Jung-woo choosing to avoid authorities instead of trying to enlist the help of either his colleagues (though understandably he may not trust all of them) or his family, despite being previously a law enforcer himself. Or the odd choices by Cha Min-Ho to kill or not kill people - especially his "wife" when she "betrayed" him multiple times.

The script does something that both Japanese and Korean dramas are good at - the exploration of human nature, of the effect society (especially in a much more conformative society as would exist in Asia compared to the western world) has on the actions of an individual, and the drivers behind a crime and a kind act.

What it adds to that, and is something that recent good Korean dramas have been able to achieve that Japanese dramas struggle with, is the wholeness of a story. Japanese dramas have been very good at suspense and crime procedurals, but they have very rarely done a good job with a story arc that is paced across the entire series. They also have this inexplicable penchant for explaining away plot points with some mind-boggling conspiracy that feels more like a badly written hyperbole.

Pigoin is about a well-respected prosecutor who (conveniently - Korean drama staple #1) is struck by amnesia, and can't remember exactly why or how he came to be on death row for the murder of his own wife and young daughter. What unravels as he slowly regains pieces of his memories is an intriguingly complex web of ruthless petty vengeance, jealousy, greed, personal ambition, loyalty, obligation, integrity and love.

If Descendants of the Sun painted soldiers and doctors in a romantically unblemished light, Pigoin comes across as an ode to the faithful barristers and prosecutors who respect and uphold the moral demands of their jobs. It also reminds us that the world, especially where the law is entangled, is grey: that while most criminals are not framed like Park, many despite their crimes usually has some goodness in them.

It's nice to see the despicable factory owner in Descendants of the Sun get somewhat of a good part this time - though he starts out a gangster angry at the main character for putting him in jail, he eventually becomes an ally and then a friend.

But let me get to exactly why this post came to be. Kim Minseok - the cute little spark in Descendants of the Sun, the runaway thief who became everyone's little brother. Despite staying in side parts, his roles are getting meatier and meatier, last year playing a neurosurgical intern diagnosed with brain cancer (of course - it's amazing how many hospital staff get sick in the correct specialty in medical dramas). This role is his best yet.

***** SPOILER ALERT *******

He is an accomplice in the murders, but after he kidnaps Park's daughter he finds he couldn't bring himself to murder her. He was rorted into this because the bad guys promised they would pay for his ill sister's operation, but his sister died in the operation anyway. Struck by guilt, he then spends 10 episode looking after Park's daughter and hiding from the bad guys, who have told him that if he dares to go to the police then they are able to pin Park's wife's death on him. He was forced to turn himself in later on and had hoped to provide the evidence to convict the man who instructed him to abduct Park's daughter, but ends up being killed for it.

This is one of those roles that can really make an actor, and Kim is helped along by his baby face that makes him look more like the kid's older brother than (almost) 20 years her senior.
The interactions between him and the girl are some of the sweetest things on TV and is in fact cuter than the father-daughter interaction (I'm guessing Shin Rina spends a lot more time on/off screen with Kim Minseok than she does with Ji Sung, and the level of comfort shows because of her young age).

His character stands as the symbol (one of many in this series) of what a single selfish action can bring and what a singular kind thought can achieve. And (I can't seem to emphasise this enough XDD) his baby face really helps his case as the young and immature kid who made the wrong choice in life, and throughout the series grows enough to accept retribution for his wrongdoings.

In fact, if anything, his character has a more complete character development arc than anyone else in the series. The main characters have had a lot happen to them, but they've pretty much stayed consistently themselves, with their fixed world views, from beginning to end.

His is only one character in the throng of interesting character motivations - take Park's friend, who turns from upright prosecutor to protecting his selfish interests; or Cha's wife, who initially stays silent but surrenders to her moral misgivings at a crucial moment. It's a fascinating web of humans being driven by their flawed or virtuous humanness, the flaws that put the noose neatly around Park's neck, or the kindness that slowly weathered away until those traditional heroic virtues - kindness and justice - won the day.

It is a good script, if flawed and slow at times, and it is the type of script that explains (above and beyond the pretty faces that adorn it) the good ratings that accompany a drama of this calibre.

It is the contrast that you see with a terrible script like A Life ~ Itoshiki Hito that explains why Japanese dramas are struggling to obtain ratings above 15% these days despite being stuffed full of well-known names.

Japanese literature and film have traditionally been great at its incisive comments on the human condition, and it's getting more and more technically mature at doing police procedurals, but the formula is getting tired. I'm waiting for the day where it can put together something that fits together as well as Pigoin does - and it has the luxury of doing this in only 12 episodes instead of dragging it out over 18 (for Pigoin, sadly a victim of its own popularity).

Like in the heyday of Hanazawa Naoki, I think we would see something that's more deserving of a high rating than the brain-numbingly silly Doctor X.
mayoraasei: (Reflective)
From the director and scriptwriter who brought you the phenomenon Descendants of the Sun, comes another phenomenon, The Lonely and Great God ~ Goblin.

900 years ago, a general returned victorious from war, only to be accused of treason by his king and killed. As he lay dying, his own blood dripping from his sword, awoken by the prayers of the people he had protected, he turned into a "goblin". His immortality is a curse, a punishment to bear for the thousands of lives he had killed with his sword. The only one who can release him from this curse is "the goblin's wife", someone who can see the invisible sword in his chest and pull it out. 900 years later...he saves the life of a pregnant mother who was meant to die in a hit-and-run accident. A child who should not have been born comes into this world and grows up, able to see supernatural beings...and the sword.

If this was a *cough* novella, it would be encapsulated with 大叔年上x陽光少女,副CP重生

And I think therein lies its problem, for me.

A large age gap is a bit of a landmine for me, even more so if the younger character starts off in high school. I mean technically it shouldn't matter, right, because we've had Twilight tell the world that it's okay for centuries old vampires to hover outside (or inside?) the bedroom of a 16 year old girl. Fortunately the ahjussi is the more passive one in the relationship, so it doesn't feel like something illegal is happening...

But because of my personal taste, I can't get into the romance between the two main characters, and I ended up skipping almost all of their scenes after the first few episodes.

The more interesting story comes in the middle and is courtesy of the two side characters, the "grim reaper" (or one of) and the boss of a fried chicken shop.

The thing about 重生 (rebirth) stories is that it provides the perfect background and atmosphere to 虐 and 騙眼淚. It really is the highlight of the story - the love between a sister and brother, a husband and wife, and a general and his liege.




There's some undeniable holes in the plot, like why random people kept saying the main girl will die if the guy doesn't but in the end the girl dies anyway...and the guy stays immortal anyway??? In fact the plot holes detract so much from the main romance that the side story, being more emotionally piquant to start with, stood out a lot more.

It's a bit of a shame that the main girl had no role in the past. I don't think it is a flaw per se, but somehow her lack of involvement and the way her character is construed makes her seem really bland in the face of the cruel star-crossed destinies that the other 3 people went through.

The cinematography is gorgeous, and the plot is pretty good for about 7 episodes...and that would be episodes 1-3 and 10-13. I personally skipped the rest, but your taste will vary.
mayoraasei: (Jdrama)
It's not often that stories make you feel both satisfied and dissatisfied with its conclusion.

The thing to remember about Descendants of the Sun is that it is ultimately a love story, rather than a war story or a medical drama, and as far as the romance part of it went, it was as perfect as love could be. Every couple had a happy ending, and apart from the odd glitch/argument between the secondary couple, their relationships were all impressively mature and rational.

On the drama side of things...well, let's say that it felt like that part of the story ended at episode 12. Sure, a few things happened in episode 14 and 15, but those were really afterthoughts. After the tense and tight Uruk arc, the plot line after returning to Seoul was bordering on recklessly flippant.

I know a lot of people have been talking about the Yoo's resuscitation - to be honest, I switched off my brain after he rolled out of the ambulance because I knew it was going to be =____= I've seen people talk about the beeping of the machines are wrong - let's be fair, the beeping of the machines is the least of the problems with that scene. In a real resus you're less likely to pay attention to the alarms than the actual patient and what the alarms/indicators read.

In particular - and firstly, kudos to the filming crew to actually be correct in using the defibrillator on someone who is showing ventricular fibrillation on the rhythm monitor - but after 2 shocks, the monitor is still showing VF (i.e. he may/may not have output but it's a shockable rhythm and NO ONE would call a stop at this stage, especially on a young fit patient) - the junior doctor says, "all signs of life is extinct". Umm....

I don't even know why he has a dressing on his abdomen which in no way explain the pattern of blood splatters on him and at this stage I'm too afraid to ask.

His predicament lasted all of 10 minutes, which.......while it frees him up for plenty of comic/romantic relief, really doesn't do any credit to what the series had been able to achieve.

The "deaths" in episode 15 ultimately feels like a retread of exactly what this scene entailed, except dragged out over 40 minutes and overturned in the last 5 minutes with what I thought was a poorly scripted episode ending...I don't mind that he comes back, but I think the reunion would have been better left completely to episode 16 so that episode 15 ends on a cliffhanger.

I think episodes 13-16 really dragged the series downwards, even though the ending was happy and complete. There was a lot of romcom which were sweet but done at the price of treating the more serious and dramatic moments with gravity.

Episodes 1-12 (well...okay, 3-12) were great in the way it successfully married medical/military thriller with rom-com, with some wonderfully written characters and some very witty dialogue. Episodes 13-16 sank more and more into cheesy rom-com territory, and the higher the stakes (and there were some good poignant plot points in those last 4 episodes), the more ridiculous it seemed when they were resolved so glibly.

It will still remain one of the better K-dramas I've watched (erm, out of 5? LOL) but the last 4 episodes really were quite anti-climatic and worth watching only because the actors manage to carry it on charisma alone.

But Captain Yoo and Doctor Kang, I think, will always be my favourite couple
mayoraasei: (Reflective)
I've watched about 9 episodes of this projected-to-be-16 episodes saga.

I actually didn't want to watch it based on the synopses (又用這個藉口不累嗎) - a soldier and a doctor? So many things could go wrong, but then a nurse at work kept pushing me to watch it, so surely it can't be too bad.

I'm really not into K-dramas, but I understand the central characters are all pretty famous? And this is Song Joong-ki's first drama since returning from military conscription.

There's a good reason I try to avoid medical drama but I like stuff with suspense (but preferably not a convoluted plot that resolves over 50 episodes) so it's almost always police procedurals or medical dramas on my watch list.

Fortunately, Descendants of the Sun doesn't pretend to be a medical or a military-based thriller, and so I'm far more forgiving of its mistakes. I think the wonderful thing about this show is how perfectly balanced it is between the romance and the drama, humour and angst.

I was so busy laughing at this scene (basically the doctor is 花痴ing over the guy's "only photo") to notice the dextrocardia situs inversus totalis the first time I saw this. Then when it popped up again in an MV, I thought, "Hang on...not only is the heart deviated...the gastric and colonic gas are also on the right."

SO MAYBE HE HAS HIS APPENDIX ON THE LEFT SIDE AFTER ALL. I mean, excuse my 職業病 but it looks like the bronchus on the left is also more horizontal than the right? So it's likely that he has the total inversion of the organs. The text on the Xray is not flipped, so it just remains whether this is going to be a plot point or just...some random mistake trivia.

Also, just for the record, the only X-rays that make surgeons go 花痴 (yes, even female surgeons) are the ones of people who are not walking out of hospital the same day.

Anyway, back to the story, because I didn't know Song Joong-Ki when I first started watching (and I didn't see any posters...) I seriously thought Seo Dae-young was the main character until the scene in the hospital where the two main characters gaze upon each other as the curtain glides in slow motion between them while a love song croons in the background.

Hey, it is a Korean drama after all.

Which brings me back to what I mentioned a few days ago in the Sungkyunkwan post. Don't get me wrong, I love Song Joong-Ki in this role, and my lack of knowledge of Korean stars aside, I can't imagine someone else doing Yoo Si-jin. He manages to subvert his character as Yeo-rim, despite both these characters having a playful streak (okay, there are one or two scenes where his mischief overlaps with Yeo-rim). Whether 2 years of service did this, who knows, but his air is much more mature, more confident, and more manly. In a way, I think Joong-ki tries to play Yeo-rim as aesthetically pleasing as possible, which is in keeping with the character but also with a lot of idols of that age. Yoo Si-jin's expressions are much less...picturesque, if that's the word, his smiles and grimaces and snarls and shock can all contort his face into odd angles, but makes him feel more like a working man than an idol.

That said, Song has a very boyish face, and coupled with his leaner physique, his perpetual slouch, and the character's playful mannerisms...I seriously thought Seo Dae-young, who exudes much more discipline and the manly virtues of not having an idea of romance assurance was the main character. Or at least, the higher ranking captain. It's not that Song can't do serious, and some of his best scenes are when he's serious, but on occasions, depending on the lighting and which uniform he's wearing, standing amongst other soldiers he looks like a cornered high school student....

Kang Mo-yeon and Yoo Si-jin especially are impossibly perfect characters, written in a way that makes it hard to dislike them. I like how mature and rational they approach their vocation and their relationship. I like their level-headed discussions, where they acknowledge each other's values without compromising their own. Their discussions about the different and potentially contradictory commitments of a surgeon versus a soldier is interesting for two jobs that deal with injury and death on a regular basis. Fortunately I don't think the drama tries to preach any lessons about which side is correct, though it did have a rather painful side plot about a doctor who ran away from a building (leaving a trapped patient behind) during an aftershock and was then, despite the patient surviving, guilt-ridden for 4 episodes with many scenes of really grating mopiness.

First rule of emergency medicine: check for danger and keep yourself safe. You can't save the patient if you become a patient.

Without trying to nitpick, that entire plot was written poorly - certainly some junior doctors can be left quite unsupported in the field, but that is not characteristic of the medical team shown in the drama. They're a good cohesive team who work well together, so it was incredible that the senior doctors didn't try to mediate at all. Secondly there was no good reason that the junior doctor was in the ruins looking for survivors, he's not trained in that sort of retrieval, and when he found the trapped patient, he should have called for help first rather than trying to drag him out on his own. Third, while it's true that you shouldn't be changing treating doctors on a whim, when the therapeutic relationship has clearly broken down, it's to everyone's benefit to change the treating doctor.

Aigoo...let's stop talking about the medical aspect, because otherwise I won't stop.

I like how the relationship between Yoo and Kang plays out, even though it might feel a bit drawn out. I think Kang's prolonged misgivings about entering the relationship are perfectly justified, because not many rational people want to commit to a relationship where the other person might get sent on a job and never return. I like how Yoo is usually playful, but when questioned about his expectations and hopes for the relationship, he always approaches the discussion like an adult.

However, I think Yoo is too perfect, to the point where his biggest flaw is his job. He's perceptive, and so he's always playful when the mood needs to be lightened and serious when situations demand respect. He's smart, skillful, disciplined, responsible, brave, pragmatic, humanitarian...........He knows exactly what to say to make a girl's heart flutter (seriously, stuff like "You don't have to feel defeated just because your feelings have been exposed. Just remember that I love you more and you always have that advantage over me." - many kudos to Song Joong-ki for somehow able to carry all these sappy lines without making the audience cringe). He's the sort of character that only exists in fiction, matched with a female character who is similarly smart, strong and stoic, even if she keeps grudges for a little too long and is sometimes a little too fierce - but she's a surgeon, so that would be totally in character XDDDD

The secondary couple of Seo Dae-young and Yoon Myung-ju is a pleasant surprise. In fact, one of the best things about this drama is its general lack of people backstabbing each other (at least, not in seriousness XDDD). There's no multi-angle relationship, just two couples trying to iron out their own massive problems. Seo and Yoon's relationship is perhaps your much more traditional Asian problem of class difference. Yoon's dad is the general, Seo is unlikely to get much further past a sergeant major. Yoon's dad prefers Yoo - despite this, Seo and Yoo are still good friends, Yoo and Yoon bicker like siblings, and the romance between Seo and Yoon teeters between tragedy and hilarity. I like Yoon's forwardness, and her tireless efforts to be somewhere close to Seo despite his and her dad's efforts to keep them apart. I like Seo, or rather, I love Jin Goo's portrayal of Seo - probably one of the best 面攤 (blank faced) acts I've seen (YAMASHITA TAKE LESSONS FROM THIS MAN YO). Unlike Yoo, he is a man of few words and few expressions, but despite that it's still obvious from the way his eyes narrow, or the way his brows furrow, or the way his jaw tightens or relaxes exactly what Seo is thinking, and that is the epitome of 面攤. I like how there are several long conversations where Yoon practically talks to herself while he remains silent and unsmiling...but it still somehow felt like one of the richest conversations between two star-crossed lovers.

But what keeps audiences watching is how well the scriptwriter has balanced and juxtaposed scenes that are completely emotional opposites. After a tense gunfire or a stressful mass trauma event, there's always something sweet, something funny, something mellow, something cute to soften the pain...and just when things are in danger of getting too sappy, the tension starts building again.

Because I'm someone who always preferred thrillers to romances, I think the pace is perfect, but I wonder how people who only watch romances are able to sit through the gunfights? I know my mum runs away every time that comes on...

Really hoping for a happy ending, but somehow with their occupations that seem rather difficult....
mayoraasei: (Gintama)
The previous post was getting too long, so I thought I'd leave the rest of my babble in another post.

Moving onto the characters - I admit I've always been someone who preferred side characters to main characters, but there's something particularly...uninteresting about the courtship between Dae-mul and Ga-rang, even in spite of how natural the relationship seemed to be. In fact, each character, on their own, are quite interesting and well-written, even Dae-mul (except in the previously mentioned moments where male characters are required to be Knight in Shiny Armour). Dae-mul and Ga-rang, when with other characters, are perfectly interesting to watch...but when it came to Dae-mul and Ga-rang together...I don't know how many times I hit skip. I suspect it's also a K-drama thing, but they spend so much time staring at each other with tears in their eyes for no good reason that...skip.

Dae-mul reminds me quite a lot of Kou Shuurei, in good ways and bad. They're exactly what the plot requires them to be, cute, strong, kind, vulnerable, smart, reckless, to the point their characters have everything but also nothing. Everyone loves them, except those who unjustifiably (or for selfish reasons) despise them. Park Min-young does a decent job - she makes Dae-mul cute and likable, but never convincing as a male (except in the rare moments where the script allows her to be cool), but I suspect that's a directorial decision rather than poor acting.

Ga-rang is a rather bland character amongst all the interesting people surrounding him, but there is comic relief in the juxtaposition. Not much expression is required of Yoochun, which is not to say he did a lazy job, because I felt he was still on point for most of the scenes. His character arc is the most straightforward, and as a result, the least interesting, which is a real shame. He's not a flat character, and he's the sort of person we should all aspire to be (though preferably with better people skills). He is principled and fiercely defensive of the same, and though he is someone who rarely speaks up in public, when he does he can tear people to shreds. In real life, he would make a terrible politician but an excellent public prosecutor, and maybe that's the sort of story where he could have really shone.

The two seniors - Geol-oh and Yeo-rim were (to the detriment of the 2 main characters) the highlight of the piece. Geol-oh's character is written in a way that makes it very hard to dislike him. At first he appears to be just your typical burly and surly guy who is anti-authority, with more brawn than brain, but as things progress you find he's surprisingly caring and perceptive, has surprising mastery of literature, and is surprisingly conservative and "proper" in his conduct. Once all that is taken in consideration with his gruff appearance and curt words and his rare but really quite boyish smiles...I think he hits the "moe" button for a lot of girls. I'm not sure Yoo Ah-In was good at portraying the actual character, but he certainly gave Geol-oh enough charisma to make him everyone's favourite big brother rather than just creepy. Having a secret identity is definitely brownie points for any character, and when his secret identity drives the political plot and the main tension of the series, that certainly makes the audience more interested in him than the budding romance of our two leads. I particularly liked the bit where he pours alcohol on his clothes before going into the room he shares with Dae-mul and Ga-rang - he was introduced as a violent drunkard, but the more we see of him the more layers we find...and that's the sort of character you want to act.

Song Joong-ki's Yeo-rim, on the other hand...I'm not sure what to say. I concede he's extremely pretty, but never (at least not for me - though everyone's tastes differ) to the point of cringeworthy girliness, but his mannerisms are so flamboyant and effeminate that...what I said prior to the comma doesn't matter. I somehow can't be convinced that he's a playboy, because seriously his mannerisms are girlier than some of the girls. I a way, I don't think Song Joong-ki is too pretty for the role, I think appearance-wise he's perfect (hey, I could look at that face for hours XDDD). But at the same time...when he's not smiling, he naturally looks vulnerable and helpless (this was a problem in Descendants of the Sun as well), so his Yeo-rim always seems a little less assured and less...expansive than I feel his character should be. Yeo-rim's character is interesting, but a bit messy. He's the perpetual prankster, but also someone who's clearly more perceptive and intuitive and aware than everyone else, which makes it difficult to understand how he could risk Dae-mul's reputation (sad fact: in ancient Asian societies, the virginal reputation of a woman can be more important than her life) by all his pranks, especially after he joined their friends circle. I feel Yeo-rim is a very popular character because (apart from his face, ahem) of his very high EQ and IQ, as well as his penchant for having fun at other people's expense. I like both these sides of Yeo-rim, but unfortunately I cannot be convinced that they're compatible with each other.

There's a lot of Geol-oh X Yeo-rim going around, so I thought it was actually a thing, and I think towards the end, the fandom made into such a thing that the series felt like fanservice was deserved. To be honest...maybe my gaydar is broken? The interaction between Geol-oh and Yeo-rim is certainly some of the cutest stuff that brings a smile to your face even if Yeo-rim is cringe-inducing in his exaggerated PDA, and I suspect that's why they're a more likable couple than the main one, which had a lot less love. But I don't feel there's anything beyond friendship, even if Yeo-rim gets dangerously close into Geol-oh's personal space. Sometimes their relationship seems a bit unequal, because Geol-oh rarely acknowledges Yeo-rim, even though Yeo-rim does so much for him...but then you realise Yeo-rim's good intentions is the only one that Geol-oh would guiltlessly easily accept. When Ga-rang stepped out for Geol-oh, Geol-oh told him to never do it again ("Or I won't talk to you again" - LOL srsly you in kindergarten?), but Yeo-rim tidies up after him time after time, saving him when he's wounded, hiding him despite threats from Ha In-Soo, etc...and Geol-oh doesn't even bother thanking him. Their give-and-take relationship just seems so natural for Geol-oh that I'm surprised that Yeo-rim always gets a 受寵若驚 face when Geol-oh acknowledges anything he does.

I think theirs...and their relationship with Ga-rang is a nice friendship, the sort where you just let your friend find their own way and do what they believe in, and when they fall, pull them back on their feet, and maybe help bury the dead body.... It's the same sort of relationship between Dae-mul and Cho-sun. If only the author/scriptwriter could have kept that in mind that that is how friendship works when writing their storylines involving Dae-mul...rather than make the 3 other guys keep having to jump out to protect her.

To cut the rest of the babble short, the other characters are all surprisingly well-rounded and...surprisingly, no one was purely evil. I even have a soft spot for baddie Ha In-Soo and his unwavering adoration for Cho-sun, but again that relationship bothers me because how could he accept Cho-sun being a prostitute and not turn his anger on his father until the end...?

I particularly like how there were no evil female characters in this one. I feel, in drama particularly, women are greatest enemies to each other, sometimes for the weakest reasons. I liked how silently supportive Cho-sun was - to be honest, her personality was more manly than a lot of the guys. I suspect she knew Dae-mul was female somewhere around the middle of the story, so she didn't look surprised when she was told in the end. I liked how she just quietly rooted for Dae-mul from the sidelines, not interfering, not helping (except at the end when Dae-mul's life is on the line), but also not striking out because Dae-mul was female.

Similarly, Ha In-Soo's sister was amazingly naive, and for the first time, I can call use this word positively. She had the purest adoration for Ga-rang, and she chased after him with all the innocence of a girl who didn't know a thing about cynicism. She wasn't needlessly jealous, and in the end when she realised she had lost, she didn't try to make Dae-mul or Ga-rang pay for her own unhappiness, and instead tried to help them out.

The characterisation and relationships really brighten the story, and as I said previously, the themes and underlying class conflict creates enough tension and thoughtfulness to make this more than a silly school comedy. Unfortunately, the central relationship is too bloated and the central premise too protected by its own tropes, and in the end the sum is much less amazing than its parts.
mayoraasei: (Gintama)
As far as terrible excuses go, I went and watched this because I felt I should fatten up my K-drama tag a little...

Actually the real reason is yes, I got on the boat that's Descendants of the Sun and seeing that it's yet to hit the obligatory!k-drama!angst part (i.e. last 3 episodes), I thought I'd dig this out.

I've always been a bit wary of watching actors/actresses I don't know, especially in stories that need to be carried by charisma rather than plot, which was why I never started watching Sungkyunkwan despite really liking Rooftop Prince a few years ago. Also, frankly, the poster that's been used around the net for this drama has really not inspired an interest.

I admit I started watching it for mainly Yoochun and curiosity about Song Joong-Ki. In a way, the first episode was one of its best episodes, because thereafter a series of poor writing made you lose sympathy for the main character "Dae-mul" bit by bit until you were sick of her stupid face.

To be honest, the drama had a lot going for it, and was unfortunately sunk by its central romance. The most interesting parts were everything else - the rigid restrictions brought on by class (and gender) inequity, the importance of an education system that protects the students against partisan interference to foster free thinking, and how different parenting styles create different thinkers.

Unfortunately the central romance and the main plot point of "cross-dressing girl studying in an all boys' school" (wait...where have I seen that before...HanaKimi) is its weakest link because of its shallowness between the meatier plot lines raised above., but to say that would be unfair to its premise.

Sungkyunkwan is meant to be a crossdressing school drama exactly in the vein of HanaKimi and Ouran Koukou and others such silly shoujo things, but set in the ancient times...but if it were only that then it would have sunk into oblivion. It's both fortunate and unfortunate that it's propped up by these pertinent themes and subplots, as it makes the central story of "crossdressing girl in boys' school" really quite...bland.

What makes it more disappointing - and perhaps because it had such an intelligent approach to highlighting class inequities - is the Mary-Sue misogyny that is so painfully unavoidable in these crossdressing stories (perhaps except Ouran Koukou, I still think Haruhi was one of the best done crossdressing heroines).

Even given the grace of "main character protection", she still comes across in her actions as passive and uncertain, until the plot calls for a Mary Sue moment in the end. It's really quite disappointing, because in the first episode she was an admirable (albeit foolhardy) girl who could face down threats of unequal marriage and rape, and take on the risk of potential death by entering Sungkyunkwan. But from episode 2 to 19, the Asian Main Female Character syndrome takes over. She's helpless and quivering when threatened by Ha In-soo and his cronies. She's speechless and keeps trying to run away when teased by Yeo-rim. Despite this, she retains her Mary Sue achievements and clinches several competitions that require real skill and experience, of which it was made obvious she did not have.

This all culminated in a frustrating showdown in episode 18 where she runs (without checking her surroundings or notifying her friends) into a temple, and her 3 friends each paid a terrible price to bail her out - Geol-oh was injured trying to distract the troops, Ga-rang surrendered himself in order to protect Geol-oh, and Yeo-rim - trying to save all three - was forced to publicly acknowledge his falsified heritage. All throughout this, Dae-mul stood big-eyed and open-mouthed without trying, for a moment, to stop Ha In-soo from finding Geol-oh or arresting Ga-rang or publicly humiliating Yeo-rim.

Does this mean that the main character is stupid and useless? She's not - because she's supposed to be one of the smartest in her class, and when the plot calls for it she's more than able to hold her own against a barrage of threats against her poverty and her gender.

What it says, unfortunately, is the perpetuation of gender roles in our modern society, where even a script that has Dae-mul preach several times about "western standards of gender equality", still sees this strong, smart female character as someone who must nevertheless fit the traditional female role of needing to be protected, as not having the ability to stand up and speak out for those she cares for, as being less capable of problem-solving and advocacy than her male counterparts.

Sure, in the end she was the one who led the students in a peaceful protest in front of the emperor, condemning the military intrusion into Sungkyunkwan - but the students would not have been there if Yeo-rim did not abdicate his role to her and if Geol-oh hadn't dragged his wounded body out onto the rooftops to be Hong Byuk Seo. It was, bittersweetly, handed to her on a silver platter for her to enjoy her Mary Sue moment.

I'll talk more about the characters in another post, but Sungkyunkwan is a drama that I think tried to be two competing stories and as a result isn't very successful in either. It has fascinating characters, some beautifully formed friendships, and, as of crossdressing dramas, one of the more natural romances. It has an intriguing political plot line, driven by some well-portrayed class conflict, and its use of Confucius literature is a testament to its intelligence. Unfortunately, all this is undermined by the central premise of a school comedy romance, and all its finer points are sacrificed to uphold this much more banal storyline.
mayoraasei: There is no such thing as coincidence (Default)
I have been out of anime and manga world for so long, but every now and then I go back to check if any of my favourites have finished (answer: NO), but just a few tidbits.

1. Sailor Moon is getting a reboot
This could be good or terrible, however I have high hopes for it as it promises to be "closer to the source material". Supposedly that's a good thing, but I haven't read the original manga either. Presumably any anime that tries to tell a story in 26 episodes will be more bearable than one told over 144 episodes.

2. Gintama anime resumes
After making it look like the Gintama anime is over for good, it comes back after barely 6 months off the block. Or something. That said, I appreciate the anime pausing for a season, every season, just for the manga to catch up instead of filling it up with endless fillers like...Sailor Moon, for example. Or Naruto. Or Bleach. Or Hunter X Hunter. Or any other manga that had the misfortune of not being complete when the anime is still going.

3. And oh, gets a(nother) movie
The script for the new movie will be penned by Sorachi-gorilla. I have no doubts it will be funny and bizarre, but early sketches are teasing a Gintoki origin story. Will we finally canonically know what happened during Gintoki's famous "Shiroyasha" years? Or Sorachi's having a go at us, again. And when will the Shinsengumi ever turn up in a Gintama movie?

4. Fushigi Yuugi Genbu Kaiden is still going
And amazingly, NO ONE IMPORTANT HAS DIED YET. What is going on. This is unacceptable.

5. Gakuen Alice is still going
After about 20 chapters of Natsume nearly dying...and then not dying...and then nearly dying...and then not dying...and then nearly dying, I'm going to sit this one out until she makes up her mind.

5. Ludwig Kakumei restarted
As much as Fairy Cube was refreshing, and Ningyou was sweet, Yuki Kaori really hasn't returned to her former epic-ness since Count Cain ended. She's like the Japanese version of Tim Burton, deriving her tales from well-established stories, and like Burton she's lost her touch. As much as I adored Ian, I don't think I've cared much about any of her characters, certainly not in the way I used to love them in the heyday of Angel Sanctuary or Count Cain.

Other things #1
Recently I tried to watch Timeslip Dr. Jin (aka the Korean version). I never managed to watch the Japanese version because as much as I find Ayase adorable I can't stand her acting.

One lesson to learn from the Korean version is...if you have bland, uninteresting main characters, do NOT make your secondary major character a tragic anti-hero who struggles with such profound issues as obligation and filial duty and integrity, because suddenly no one's interested in the main characters. And do NOT, then, make every tragedy imaginable happen to this sole character just to deepen the emotional impact, because suddenly no one gives a hoot about the main characters' own tragic love story. And next, do NOT cast someone who is ten times more eye-catching (that is not, actually to say, he is in any sense of the word a better actor or in fact suited to his role) than the main actor; because everyone's eyes glaze over when the girl opts for the bland guy for no apparent reason. And finally, DO NOT make the story's pivotal events eventuate because of the actions of this secondary character, because then everyone's kinda wondering, so what's the point of the main character?

Other things #2
Searching "Gintama" on Ebay is a very, very bad idea. It reminded me of those long ago high school days, when my young innocent eyes came upon Yuu Yuu Hakusho doujin's. O how I shudder to think of it.

Other things #3
Speaking of Yuu Yuu Hakusho, I drew this for my friend's birthday:

Maybe one day I'll finish it (I'll have to steal my parents' computer for the Photoshop). Does anyone still remember these 2 anime?

Other things #4
After drawing the above picture, I remembered these were some of my first favourite anime characters ever -

...Not to mention the craploads of long-haired guys in Bleach, Saiunkoku, anything by CLAMP or Yuki Kaori, or Kenshin, or Fujiwara Sai...

Suddenly it all made sense =0=;;;;;;;;;;;

(To be fair, only Nuriko acted like a girl despite having the non-girly superpower of superstrength...I'd never accuse Kurama or Inuyasha or Duo of being girly, possibly on the account they can incinerate me with a thumb)
mayoraasei: There is no such thing as coincidence (Default)
I think my friends can attest, prior to this year I had no care or idea about K-pop, K-drama or most things Korean in general.

It all changed because a good friend of mine suddenly got re-addicted (for like the sixth time in the last 2 years) to K-pop, or more specifically the disaster that was TVXQ that turned out to be not quite a disaster at all, in retrospect.

So after being forced to sit through their variety shows and concerts and PVs and whatnots and playing the "repeat after me, that's Yunho-Jaejoong-Junsu-Yoochun-Changmin" game, I can finally match their names to their faces (and, tell them apart, because up until 2 months ago all Korean stars looked the same to me).

So anyway, because we had such a bad run of Japanese dramas, I watched Protect the Boss during the holidays, which was a great deal of fun for the first 10 episodes like such things tend to be before it derailed into a trainwreck of terrible plot devices and character assassination. It had Jaejoong in it, who for the first time looked slightly like a man and also didn't sound so congested when speaking in Korean (that is, until that 20 seconds when he did speak in Japanese and I facedesked my...desk in vicarious shame). Also, he wasn't required to act much, which was a blessing in every form, although he did spend a lot of time doing the Kame thang...

You know what I mean. The mysterious ability of making a perfectly normal scene alight in Yaoi wtfery just because Kame is looking at another male =______= To his credit though, Jaejoong has a lot more chemistry with female costars than Kame can ever aspire to.

It was still a nice drama though, because the two main leads were ridiculously comical and the two supporting characters ridiculously photogenic.

Anyway...anyway, I thought that was going to be the end of my K-drama run. I never thought much of Jaejoong's acting (especially after the disturbing affair that was Sunao ni Narenakute) but I have a soft spot for guys with mellow singing voices XD

So when people told me that Yoochun was in a drama this season, I was all "meh", not least because I find him looking variously plain/weird/mushroom-like (mean). And when I saw the first previews of people running around in traditional Korean costume, I was even more "MEH".

But then I read the synopsis and I was all "oooooooh!"

The synopses said that it was a comedy about a Korean prince from 300 years prior who, grieving at the loss of his beloved wife, accidentally fell through a time-warp and ended up in modern day Korea, where his courtly airs and royal pride gets completely stamped into the dust XDDDDDDD

And I thought, well, I wouldn't mind watching Yoochun being various stamped into the dust (oi).

When I watched the first episode my face was all =/ and =S and =T and =O and =@ because it didn't seem at all comedic, what with sisters burning each other's faces and half-brothers pushing each other into the ocean and step-sisters leaving each other on trucks and other such horrible things.

I almost stopped watching it when, after 65 long torturous minutes, they FINALLY arrived in the modern world, and I thought...oh heck, why not.

So now, 5 episodes later, I think I'm addicted XD

The plotting is pretty terrible, actually. The incongruence in the premiere became less pronounced in succeeding episodes, but abrupt changes of scenes before properly ending the previous one still happens a lot. There's also a lot of plot-holes, like how did Park Ha ever end up in America when she was a penniless orphan. Or why her mother would come to Seoul to look for her when she disappeared for eighteen years. Or why her English still sucks after spending nearly two decades of her youth in New York.

But despite all its flaws, it's oddly watchable. It may have been an act of foresight after all to make the first episode heavy and foreboding. By not making light of the two deaths and the burdens of guilt in the first episode, the show manages to sustain a lot of suspense when it drops away from comedy into the underlying threads that drive the story and the characters.

And Yoochun is surprisingly convincing as a prince. Homely enough not to be distracting, but authoritative enough to convince, and in some angles, better looking than I've ever imagined him possible to be HAHAHAHAHA (oi).

And Han Jimin has the most beautiful expressive eyes I think I can just watch her emote forever. LOL.

Oh, and I love the song. It's kinda Ghibli like.

mayoraasei: (Angry)
Uwah, stupid LJ wiped my entire post when it went into maintenance mode.

So anyway, trying to cash in on the phenomenal success of Meteor Garden (TW) and Hana Yori Dango (JP), Korea produced its own version of Boys Over Flowers.

If you enjoy the Korean version this post might offend you, so I suggest you don't read further.

The first episode was 70 minutes, which isn't long considering that Kdrama tend to be around 60 minutes, and premieres tend to be extended. I had to force myself to sit through the last 40 minutes because I didn't want to waste the bandwidth I spent in downloading it.

As soon as I saw the casting for Makino (Geum Jan Di in Korean, according to Wiki), I started having doubts. She looked like an OBASAN, but let's not discriminate on physical appearances, I thought to myself. But 30 minutes in, I was so pissed off at...just everything about her that every time she screeched, or screwed up her face, or stretched her mouth in that really fake smile, I wanted to chuck rotten vegetables at her.

Now, I think part of it comes from the reason why I never got into Kdramas. Strong heroines in Jdramas, rare though that they are, still retain that streak of feminine gentleness. Makino was the voice of justice, but that was because she was a kind-hearted, well-meaning girl who understood the suffering of others. Kdramas, ever since My Sassy Girl or whatever it is that started the trend, seems to sprout a peculiar breed of aggressive loud-mouthed hysterically unreasonable heroines.

One of Makino's key strengths was her sense of filial duty, a trait that's preserved in both the Japanese and Taiwanese versions, but is trampled all over by the Korean version. She was willing to swallow and sacrifice so much, just to repay all the efforts her parents put in. Having "Makino" being accepted on a shifty scholarship, and having her parents pretty much tow her screaming and kicking to the school just completely obliterates that virtue.

Now, moving on from Makino. Admittedly, on first glance, the F4 ensemble look much better than both the Jap and TW versions. BUT THEY CAN'T ACT. OMG. When MatsuJun was cast as Doumyouji we were all floored because like, seriously, he's short and to the unaccustomed eye, he's pretty ugly. But MatsuJun has a gift for hauteur that's more a part of his personality than his acting. He can pull off Doumyouji's domineering presence without even needing to open his mouth. The TW version at least managed Doumyouji's aggression right, even if he didn't get that inbred arrogance. WTF is the Korean version? If the camera isn't on him he'd fade into the wallpaper. There's no sense of violence or aggression, just a stupid leer. The bit where she threw the ice cream into his face is totally IMI WAKANNAI. The punch in the face is memorable and actually recalls his sister smashing him in the face. It makes no sense that he'd be so fixated on a girl rude enough to throw ice cream - the main reason he became obsessed was because he was reminded of his sister AND HE HAD A SISTER COMPLEX.

As for Hanazawa Rui, whom I've always liked much better than the bullheaded Doumyouji, I have to admit that the actor is as pretty as a picture. BUT HE CAN'T ACT. Does he think he's doing an impression of Edward Cullen from Twilight?! Standing around pouting and posing with a frozen expression on his face?? I mean, neither Oguri Shun nor ZaiZai are perfect either. Shun at first glance isn't pretty enough, and ZaiZai can't act - but at least both of them keep their characters consistent. ZaiZai keeps Rui drifting in a permanent state of daydreaming, breaking out only in the important moments. Shun, on the other hand, can act, and easily keeps Rui navigating between distant and gentle. This guy just...walks around with his face looking like it's been botoxed, then breaks out so randomly in smirks and grins that it just looks completely out of character. And nothing...absolutely NOTHING beats Shun's singsong, "Ma~kino~~"

The pace itself is so painfully slow it's killing me. There is no comedy, or perhaps the humour of screaming rows conducted 20kHz above normal speaking range is lost on me. Makino's house had always been noisy in all versions, but there's only so much conversation the human ear can bear to hear at 100 decibels. ARGH.

There's so much about this drama that pisses me off, and I don't think I'm walking in on it unfairly. From character inconsistencies like Makino screaming and yelling all the time to suddenly crying without a fight when she's bullied; to the stupid "Oh. My. GAD." quirk of the three sisters; to the ridiculously overdone bullying - oh sure, AS IF it's not going to plastered across the headlines if a student at the MOST BLOODY PRESTIGIOUS SCHOOL jumped off the roof AT THE SCHOOL, COVERED IN FLESH WOUNDS NOT ACQUIRED FROM THE FALL.

I've never been (still not) a huge fan of the plot itself, and I thought the TW version was pretty good when I first watched the Jap version...whose Doumyouji and Rui I hadn't liked when I saw the pictures. The Jap version has its own flaws, but nothing quite interprets the story like the culture that bred it.

Wow, I haven't been so pissed off at a piece of entertainment for so long. I mean Twilight was just amusing.


mayoraasei: There is no such thing as coincidence (Default)

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