Saturday, November 30, 2013

Drama Reviews, Pt. 3

There was a great article on Slate about why we should watch more foreign TV shows. I think it's a bit unrealistic because of how much of a time sink TV shows are. I can barely scratch the surface of American shows, let alone foreign shows. But it's a great ideal.


Shut Up Flower Boy Band

tvN is quickly becoming my go-to network for quality dramas. They were responsible for Answer Me 1997, and now we can credit Shut Up Flower Boy Band to them as well. On paper, these dramas shouldn't be that good since their casts are usually young and unproven. Even worse, some of them are, gasp, pop stars! In Answer Me 1997's core cast were pop idols Jung Eun Ji (A Pink) and Hoya (Infinite), yet the former did a great job carrying the show as the heroine and the latter did a very good job of portraying a conflicted supporting character.

But at least that show had some major adult characters that were played by veterans. It didn't rely 100% on its young and inexperienced cast to make or break the show. On the other hand, SUFBB (initials will be used from now on) seems to do that. The story is entirely focused on teenage characters, many of whom have absentee parents. School is a major setting in the show, but it's one of those only-in-TV schools where teachers don't really exist (except to appear out of nowhere to bust the chops of the main characters).

Everyone looks cooler in sepia tones

SUFBB works because as in Answer Me 1997, it finds enough dramatic tension in the everyday lives of its young characters. As it tells the story of a high school rock band that has a chance to make it big, it's a little more glamorous than, say, the story of a teenage girl obsessed with a pop group. But for the most part, the story is still centered on the friendships between these 5 kids with dim prospects who don't have much support outside of each other. It becomes clear that they don't play music in hopes of becoming rich and famous, but because being in a band lets them be part of a family that they lack at home. Music is really just the method of bringing them together.

That's the real key to making high school shows work. You have to strike a delicate balance between making high school seem like everything, but also nothing. Take Friday Night Lights for example. On one hand, the stars of the Dillon Panthers are treated like gods and kings during their prime playing years. But even though a character like Tim Riggins is this star jock who does whatever he wants and gets all the girls, FNL still conveys the sense that he's still kind of a loser with no future, which makes it easy to root for him.

Jo Bo Ah as Im Soo Ah, the female lead. So cute!

SUFBB does the same with its main characters, who are these good-looking guys who get a chance at stardom. Yet they're still kind of pathetic and pitiable in their own unique ways, so it doesn't just look like it's the cool kids winning at life.

As you can probably tell by this lengthy review, I really enjoyed this show, even though I'm probably not the target demographic (just look at its title!). Even some of the songs the band comes up with are pretty catchy.

This song is called "Jaywalking," and is featured as the band's breakout hit

Queen Inhyun's Man

Another tvN show! On paper, Queen Inhyun's Man sounds ridiculous: some guy from the Joseon Dynasty 300 years ago gets a mystical talisman that allows him to jump time into present day Seoul, where he meets the woman who could be the love of his life. Generally speaking, time travel is one of my least favourite story devices because it's often lazily and sloppily done, which results in a lot of self-contradiction and plot holes. It also feels like a literary cheat code that lets writers take shortcuts to solving complex real-life problems. But surprisingly, Queen Inhyun's Man stays quite grounded in its fantastical elements, and as outlandish as the premise of time-travel love is, it admirably abides within its parameters so that the time-travelling rarely feels like a crutch or a gimmick. 

My main issue with this show is that there's not a whole lot of dramatic tension because the attraction between the two leads is so apparent from the beginning (in fact, the actors are now dating in real life) and they profess their feelings quite early on. I can at least give credit to the show for not pointlessly stringing along the "Will they, won't they?" storyline beyond its realistic lifespan, as a lot of Korean dramas tend to do. While it's undoubtedly fun to watch the relationship between the scholar-aristocrat Kim Boong Do (played by Ji Hyun Woo) and the modern-day actress Choi Hee Jin (played by Yoo In Ah), there is a noticeable lack of real tension. They just seem to be two attractive people with good lives who have some relationship barriers to work through before living happily ever after.

Awwwwww! You'll be saying that a lot in this drama.

Maybe that's being a bit unfair because the threat of being permanently separated by 300 years is a real barrier, and towards the end, this danger is really amped up. But Kim Boong Do is such a badass that it's hard to doubt that he'll come up with a solution. In fact, his character is a real pillar of this show because he's not like most typical Korean drama male leads. He's not the prickly and selfish first lead, but he's also not the saintly but spineless second lead. The best parts of the drama are when he and Hee Jin make fun of each other, because as high-born and intelligent as he is, he's still absolutely clueless about modern life (though he's a fast learner).

It's a well-made fantasy romance though, so if you're looking for that, this is one of the best. The chemistry between Yoo In Ah and Ji Hyun Woo is worth watching. 

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