Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Drama Reviews, Pt. 2

Boys Over Flowers

Man, it's embarrassing to admit that I watched this. Not only did I watch it, I finished it. All 25 episodes.

To be fair, I watched it way back in the fall of 2010, which was the beginning of what would be my two-year stay in Korea. I had no idea what was popular here, so I just did some quick research and went for the drama with the most buzz.

Boys Over Flowers makes NO SENSE. The characters are ostensibly high school students in contemporary Seoul, but the universe they actually live in defies laws of physics, chance, behaviorial logic, etc. They go to school but there are never any teachers or even adults around. They go home but there are hardly any parents around, and if there are, those parents are wildly irresponsible and incompetent. It's kind of like an adolescent fantasy where the world truly does revolve around 17-year olds because they are really just that important.

The protagonist, Geum Jan Di (played
by Gu Hye Sun), is the only girl in
her school who is willing to call
out the F4 for the sadistic creeps that
they are and slowly get them to
change their ways
Not that I didn't enjoy the drama, especially as an introduction to Korean pop culture. I also know it's not aimed at me because the show is about a lower-class, pretty-but-not-too-pretty schoolgirl who somehow ends up being at the center of not one, not two, not three, but four hot guys' universe.

And if you're a guy and you feel a little annoyed at this concept, imagine how every girl and woman feels when they watch, uh, every other show and movie ever in which attractive women inexplicably orbit around one remarkably ordinary male protagonist.

Oh, you may want to know the basic storyline, which is based on a Japanese manga. Geum Jan Di becomes a "charity" admit to the exclusive Shinhwa School after she saves a suicidal student from that school. Shinhwa unabashedly caters to the super-wealthy and is kind of an autocratic Lord of the Flies-esque hellhole ruled by the F4, a quartet of the wealthiest and most attractive guys at the school. Jan Di, however, is not impressed by them, and the whole show is about her butting heads with its leader, Gu Jun Pyo.

I think the drama ultimately outdid itself when Jan Di was forced to work as Jun Pyo's servant (complete in a French maid outfit) due to his mother's evil schemings...

Yes, the show doesn't even seem to try to achieve any suspension of disbelief. Yes, the soundtrack is way too repetitive and seems to becoming a running joke. And yes, the plot gets way too ridiculous at the end with kidnappings, secret arranged marriages, and the whole indentured servitude thing.

If I were to watch it now, maybe I'd actually hate it. But I have too many fond memories of it being my first foray to modern Korean pop culture, so I'm probably not being as neutral as possible here. Go watch it, ironically if you have to.

This is basically "Entourage" for tween girls

City Hunter

Based on a Japanese manga, City Hunter is about a young man who is raised by his ex-special forces father to exact revenge on the country that betrayed and abandoned his unit many years ago. Yoon Sung (played by Lee Min Ho, who was also in Boys Over Flowers) grows up in the forests of Thailand amidst outlaws, and his father, Jin Pyo, trains him to be a lethal and remorseless killing machine. When he comes of age, he is sent to Seoul so that he can hunt down and kill all the high-ranking officials who were responsible for that failed military operation.

What City Hunter does superbly is sell the desire for revenge. Without it, the whole premise of the drama would be undercut and we'd just be watching a murderous father-son team with whom we can't sympathize. But the first episode gives real meat and weight to Jin Pyo's bloodthirstiness. It also humanizes him, because you realize that he needs this revenge because it's all he has left after having lost his best friends and his faith in serving his country.

Of course, Yoon Sung doesn't actually become a murderer, and his disillusionment with never-ending revenge becomes another point of conflict as he has to fight back against his father.

The question of who the antagonist actually is in this drama is never fully resolved, even at the end, and I think that's what made this show compelling. Is Jin Pyo a ruthless psychopath, or do the corrupt government officials and captains of industry deserve to be brought down? The storyline also benefits from its episodic nature: Yoon Sung has five targets to kill, so every few episodes, a new and easily identifiable goal is apparent. This prevents the drama from becoming lost in its objectives and sagging in the middle.

In his defense, Superman was even lazier with
his disguise
The drama also scores high because of its quality action scenes. It's obviously not at the level of a blockbuster film, but it doesn't seem cheap, cheesy, and obviously fake. Lee Min Ho may have played a foppish rich boy in Boys Over Flowers, but he's fairly convincing as a lethal weapon here.
Oh, and the soundtrack is awesome and varied as well. Yim Jae Beom and Kim Bo Kyung sing two of the drama's main songs, and there are some well-done orchestral/instrumental pieces, which lend to the drama's cinematic feel.

There are hardly any negatives to this drama. One minor quibble is that Lee Min Ho's wardrobe seems to get progressively more outlandish. It's hilarious enough that he's supposed to be an MIT-educated computer genius with that kind of K-pop hairdo. But then he starts wearing pink pants and unnecessarily ornate jackets, and I was, like, "Come on."

Oh, and it's kind of ridiculous of nobody knows the identify of the "City Hunter" when it's CLEARLY Lee Min Ho in a surgeon's mask. I mean, he doesn't even bother to ugly up his hair.

But I'm just taking potshots right now. This is an excellent action drama that's genuinely free of any stooopid factors. Characters behave in believable and motivated ways, and that's what makes the difference.

Elephant = Meaning business

Secret Garden 

I never got into Secret Garden, which was an epic mega-smash back in late 2010, early 2011. You couldn't go anywhere without hearing its signature ballad or seeing some version of the infamous track suit that Hyun Bin's character wears in the show.

Joo Won (played by Hyun Bin) in his running joke of a track suit, and
Ra Im (Ha Ji Won)
The drama is well-written, and its cast is uniformly excellent. Hyun Bin may not be the most versatile actor in the world, but he's pretty unbeatable when playing the cold, rich jerk who's actually kind of a dork behind all the fronting. And there aren't many Korean drama actresses who could convince me that she was a professional stuntwoman, but Ha Ji Won is one of them.

I think I just wasn't captured by the classic "love square" format that was reminiscent of all the classic Korean dramas. The characters are pretty
stock as well, with the wealthy guy and the poor girl. There is an element of fantasy when the notorious body switch between Joo Won (Hyun Bin) and Ra Im (Ha Ji Won) happens, but for the most part, the drama is the classic love square story. No matter how funny or sharp the drama was, it felt a little too familiar and stale.

Cue that Baek Ji Young theme ballad that was everywhere in late 2010 and early 2011

You're Beautiful

There are a couple of problems with the basic plot idea of a girl pretending to be a boy in order to fit into a group. In You're Beautiful, Park Shin Hye plays a girl who needs to pretend to be a boy in order to join a famous band so that she can be reunited with her long-lost family.

First, it's just very hard to believe that anybody would mistake Park Shin Hye for a boy, especially if they are around her for a long time. You can't hide that kind of pretty! Plus, you know, the abnormally high-pitched voice for a dude? It's like how Coffee Prince was almost made completely silly by the notion that someone as hot as Yoon Eun Hye could be mistaken for a dude just because she had short hair.

Yeah, I totally watched Les Miserables and Amelie thinking that Anne Hathaway and Audrey Tautou's characters were both men.

But okay, maybe you could argue that while their feminine features may not make them look like men, their features make them look like little boys, especially since they're shorter than the guys around them. That brings us to the second problem: then why the hell are these male characters hanging around those whom they genuinely believe to be little boys?!

There were other problems that prevented me from liking this drama too. For example, the main male character (played by Jang Geun Suk) was just way too unpleasant at the beginning. There's First-Male-Lead-In-A-Korean-Drama jerkiness, and there's Just-Plain-Jerk jerkiness. He was more of the latter. And his bandmates were just irritating. There's your typical supremely boring manservant of a second male lead (played by CN Blue's Jung Yong Hwa) and the overacting "comic" relief whom you just want to shoot with a double-dose tranquilizer (played by FT Island's Lee Hong Ki).

I never went past the first few episodes, and I won't go back to this one.


  1. Did you watch IRIS? Better than City Hunter imo. And the original Japanese version of Boys Over Flowers (Hana Yori Dango) is way, way better. My first introduction to Asian dramas was actually a Taiwanese drama but I think the first two Korean dramas I watched were Autumn Tale and Full House.

    1. Hey Emily! No, I haven't watched IRIS, though I know it was kind of a phenomenon a few years ago. I generally don't like action dramas that much.

      I'm also aware that both the Japanese and Taiwanese versions of Hana Yori Dango were much better than the Korean one, haha. Maybe if I have time, I'll watch them just to compare.

      I watched Autumn Tale and Full House too! I could never take Autumn Tale that seriously though because the guy clearly had incest issues. Just because you find out the girl whom you've grown up with as a sister turns out to not be blood-related doesn't make it okay, lol! I enjoyed Full House too, thought it was kind of simplistic. It's remarkable how much more sophisticated Korean dramas have become in just the last few years.

  2. You should watch Iris it's very good drama and try watch Reply me 1997. Once you watch both you can understand why I prefer watching kdrama instead of american series. Its much more entertaining in so many ways. Oh and check out "Nine" too its worth it.

    1. Yup, I covered "Answer Me 1997" in Drama Reviews Pt. 1.

      I haven't seen "Iris", mainly because I'm not too into action dramas. But I may give it a shot one of these days.

      I greatly enjoy American TV (ahem, "Friday Night Lights"), but Korean dramas do have something that American shows don't.