Monday, August 26, 2013

Park Ji Sung makes triumphant return to PSV Eindhoven

The 2012-13 season was probably the low point of Park Ji Sung's decorated career. He moved from Manchester United to Queens Park Rangers, a team that on paper looked to be on the rise with a lot of new signings and a new high profile manager in Mark Hughes. Park even got the honour of being named captain, which was the first for an Asian player in the Premier League.

Well, the season was kind of a monstrous (and expensive) disaster and QPR ended up being relegated. Having seemingly lost his motor and energy, old "Three Lung" appeared to be washed up and it looked as though his European career was over. Perhaps a cash-motivated stint in the Middle East was in order before he would quietly retire.

Then he got loaned out to his old club, PSV Eindhoven. For those of you who don't know, PSV was where Park began his European career shortly after he impressed at the 2002 World Cup. He and Lee Young Pyo were the two Korean players that Guus Hiddink took with him to PSV. Lee Young Pyo had a fine European career himself, enjoying stints at clubs such as Tottenham and Dortmund, but Park was by far the more successful player with multiple Premier League titles, a Champions League medal, and cult hero status at Old Trafford. But before all that, it was at PSV where Park made a name for himself and proved that a Korean player could make an impact in the modern European game.

Park's most famous goal at PSV, scored against AC Milan in the Champions League semi-finals in 2005

And on Saturday, Park was able to turn back time and pick up right where he left off at PSV, scoring a late game equalizer against Heracles Almelo in a Dutch league match.

So after a rough year, it looks like everything is going Park's way: he's back at his old favourite club, he's scoring goals, and he even has a new girlfriend.

Cute couple: Park Ji Sung's girlfriend, the TV announcer Kim Min Ji

As for how the other Korean players in Europe are doing, Kim Bo Kyung played a big part in propelling newly-promoted Cardiff City pull off a huge upset of Manchester City this weekend. Son Heung Min has gotten off to a fine start at his new club, Bayer Leverkusen, and has a goal already. Koo Ja Cheol is back at Wolfsburg after spending two great seasons at Augsburg, and he is doing well. Ji Dong Won is unfortunately still stuck in go-nowhere Sunderland despite a great half-season loan spell at Augsburg last season, but hopefully he can recapture his form and impress his new manager, Paolo di Canio. Park Joo Ho moved up from the Swiss League to the Bundesliga with his new club FSV Mainz. He has started all 3 matches and his team is in 4th place right now.

Not all news is great though. Ki Sung Yueng is in a bizarre situation at Swansea right now and looks to be on the verge of a loan. This is very strange because he was signed for a record fee last season and did very well since coming over. And the very talented Lee Chung Yong is still mired in the Championship with Bolton, the team with no luck (they just lost Stuart Holden again to a serious injury). This guy deserves to play at the highest level, so somebody pick him up!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Classic Drama Review: Attic Cat

Having first aired in 2002, Attic Cat is pretty dated by now. In terms of visual technology, it looks almost like someone's home video, at least when compared with modern Korean dramas with their cinematic sheen. Also, fashion-wise, the show bears a lot of distinctly '90s iconography such as bucket hats, wide-legged pants, and flashy-coloured fabrics. If it weren't for the strong characters and sympathetic realism of the show, these factors may have rendered Attic Cat unwatchable today.

I watched Attic Cat many years ago, sometime around 2004 or 2005, I think. And still to this day, I haven't watched a Korean drama that depicts a relationship between two young people with as much honesty and empathy as this show does. The characters are refreshingly plain: Jung Eun (played by Jung Da Bin) is a young woman with only a junior college education who's trying to just find a full-time job, and Kyung Min (played by Kim Rae Won) is a struggling law student who can't quite devote himself fully to his classes and exams. There are no heirs/heiresses, or orphans with convoluted tragic backstories, or celebrities-in-disguise...

The plot is relatively simple as well. Jung Eun wants to rent a small place of her own in Seoul, but her down payment money gets stolen. Kyung Min, who comes from a more financially secure family, offers to lend her the money because he wants to impress Jung Eun's friend whom he has a big crush on. A few misfortunes later (e.g. gambling debts), Kyung Min finds that he has nowhere else to go but Jung Eun's little rooftop apartment, to which he claims partial ownership since he made the down payment. So the two of them end up unexpectedly (and secretly) living together out of sheer mutual desperation.

Not your typical Korean drama glamour
And things get complicated.

The show is essentially an observation of two young and broke people who aren't ready for relationships trying to make things work, often with horrible timing. Both of them have a lot of growing up to do, in opposite directions: Kyung Min is spoiled and selfish, while Jung Eun lacks self-confidence and doesn't know what to do with her life. It can sometimes be frustrating to watch 16 episodes of them making false starts in terms of personal growth, but that's the realism that I enjoy so much. People, especially young people, don't develop in consistent and linear fashion; rather, they grow in spurts, then regress, or remain stagnant in doing the same dumb things over and over again that harm themselves and those around them.

It's clear that Jung Eun and Kyung Min have a lot going for them as a couple, but their youthful shortcomings and naivete often sabotage their chances. It's both very amusing and aching to watch.

But here I go, making it seems as if Attic Cat is some super serious character study into contemporary Korean youth culture or something. It may be some of that, but it's also damn funny. Most of the best humour comes from the fact that Jung Eun and Kyung Min have to keep their living arrangement a secret, especially from their very conservative parents and grandparents. Obviously, in a society where most young people live at home until they get married, an unmarried couple that lives together will have a lot of explaining to do.  The cultural and generational clashes between the young main characters and their parents and grandparents are handled with just the right touch of slapstick comedy and serious drama.

The chemistry between the two leads is excellent as well. They constantly fight due to their polar opposite personalities (she's the hard-working ant, while he's the fiddle-playing grasshopper), but it is through these fights that you can get a sense of how much they care about each other and what the other thinks. I also think that Kim Rae Won does a great job of balancing out his character's immature self-centeredness with enough earnest thoughtfulness and goofy charm so that the audience can see why someone like Jung Eun would fall for him despite his many flaws.

Yes, the show bears many of the standard cliches of classic Korean dramas: the love square, the constant misunderstandings that are usually caused by accidental eavesdropping, the very repetitive soundtrack, the evil stuck-up second female lead, the saintly second male lead who just can't spark enough chemistry with the heroine, etc.

The theme song: "Come Back To Me"

But Attic Cat executes these familiar elements perfectly. For example, the soundtrack is repetitive, but the music is chosen very well so that it doesn't become irritating. The theme song has just the right blend of upbeatness and a tinge of bittersweetness that underlines this drama. And the second male lead isn't some wimpy lovesick fool, but rather, more of a mentor figure who's truly a nice guy instead of a Nice Guy™.

Often with Korean dramas, we're witnesses to a fantasy full of wealthy men, poor but beautiful women who'll have multiple handsome men fighting over them, wicked in-laws, celebrities who mingle with lucky commoners, time-travelling royals from the Joseon Dynasty, and so forth. But occasionally, we're treated to a gem like Attic Cat that tries to portray what it's like to be young, foolish, broke, and regrettably in love with someone whom you can't help but fight with every other night.

I wish there were more dramas like this.