Saturday, December 21, 2013

Drama Reviews, Pt. 4

So I've been back home for 5 days now but thanks to a final paper and a mysterious illness/allergy, I've been indoors-bound for almost all this time. So that means watching a lot of TV.


Sigh... Shin Hye, you're my favourite girl, so why can't you ever be in something that I like? You're Beautiful was annoying, Heartstrings was pointless, and Flower Boy Next Door was promising but so slow in the beginning that I couldn't keep going.

I really wanted to like Heirs, so much so that I was willing to completely overlook its excruciating first couple of episodes that largely take place in California. I will give credit to the show in that physically, the on-location shoots look beautiful. At least the superficial aspects are top-notch. But throw in some really bad non-Korean actors and Lee Min Ho's, um, inadequate English and suddenly, this lavish and expensive production seems cheap.

Lee Min Ho and the Castoffs of "Laguna Beach"
I'd never want to be one of those people who jumps on foreign actors for not being fluent in English. God knows how terrible Hollywood actors would sound if they had to speak Chinese or Arabic. It's just a totally unearned luck of the draw that they happened to have been born into speaking the lingua franca of the world, so it speaks nothing to their personal merit or talents.

But it's still a jarring experience when you see the main character, the one who has been exiled from Korea since childhood and seems to hang out with mostly with blonde Californians, speak perfectly fluent Korean while reciting English phonetically.

As I said though, I was willing to overlook all that because I understand how difficult language barriers can be. What's less acceptable is that the story doesn't improve much when the setting shifts back to Korea. There's a whole lot of nothing. Wait, that's not true. There's a whole lot of overwrought, swelling music when characters we don't really care or know about stare at each other. Intensely. That we have plenty of.

An everyday girl with the everyday problem of being fought over
by multiple hot rich dudes for no readily discernible reason
What's weird is that the cast consists of pretty much an A-list of all the popular young stars and starlets in Korea. It's the equivalent of a Hollywood movie starring Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Robert Pattinson, and Miley Cyrus. Yet nobody really acts young. It's like taking a young and energetic cast and making them behave as if they're in Days of Our Lives. What's the point then?

The one thing that I really liked was Krystal's character, who's this very clingy and self-centered brat but she's adorably and sincerely so.

By around episode 6, the story was just rehashing Boys Over Flowers, and there wasn't much more to hope for. So that's when I stopped.

Answer Me 1994

I loved Answer Me 1997, so I was both excited for and wary of this installment in the series. The thing is that the original drama was never expected to be a hit, so I was skeptical of this sudden decision to expand the franchise. It seemed as though they were just trying to quickly capitalize on unexpected success, as opposed to telling a story that that they actually wanted to tell.

Some of the symptoms of the former are here. For one, the flashback narrative framework is back again, including the whole, "Who's the mystery husband?" riddle. The parents are played by the same actors, which would be great if they weren't the exact same characters in behavior and temperament. The up-and-down relationship between the dad and the daughter was funny and fresh the first time, but this time, we've seen it all before so the effect is much more muted.

Maybe I shouldn't have stopped when I did, because from the reviews that I've read, the show is very good. But I don't know, it was just too familiar and wasn't compelling enough in its own right. Even though many of the characters between 1997  and 1994 were similar, I still vastly preferred the ones from 1997. I liked Jung Eun Ji's version of the stalker-fan teenage heroine more than Go Ara's version of the stalker-fan teenage heroine, and so forth.

The Prime Minister and I

After giving up on Heirs, I was in search of a new show. And since History of the Salaryman was my second favourite drama of all time, and its star was Lee Beom Soo and he was also in The Prime Minister and I, I figured that there was a decent chance that I'd like this show too.

And I do! The Prime Minister and I takes a familiar plot concept—the fake, contractual marriage—and puts its own spin on it by pairing the much older Lee Beom Soo with real-life pop queen Yoona. It's a coupling that put me off at first, but the show makes it work by recognizing the incongruence of such a pairing. In the drama, Lee Beom Young is a Mr. Smith-type of politician, one who is feverishly committed to principles and doing right, often at the expense of other things such as his own family. Yoona is a tabloid journalist whose main concerns have to do with celebrity relationships and scandals.

Naturally, they're just made for each other, right?

Lee Beom Soo has moved up in life, going from a lowly and unskilled
wage-earner in "History of the Salaryman" to a prime minister now
The circumstances that force them to enter into a fake relationship-then-marriage aren't terribly realistic, but the actors play the characters with enough emotional investment that it's believable enough to sustain the storyline.

Now, Lee Beom Soo is a great actor whom you'd always expect quality performances from. But here, Yoona actually does a good job as well. Her character is fun, charming, ambitious, self-aware, and a little bit devious, almost reminding me of a heroine from a Miyazaki movie. It's also great that I don't have to fear that she'll suffer from TV-land stupidity, which is when characters (often female ones) are made to act bizzarely or irrationally just to prolong the story or maintain the drama's tension.

Yoona makes hipster clothes look cute instead of insult-inducing
At this point, there've only been 4 episodes, so I can only hope that this drama's quality remains as high as it is now. And while it's fun watching opposites like the Steel-Rod-Spine Prime Minister and the Frivolous Tabloid Girl begin to shed prejudices against one another, I don't know if I want them to end up together. It's not that bigger age gaps haven't been overcome in real life, it's just that I don't want this drama to be the one where the middle-aged guy gets with the pop princess half his age. But I will be impressed if the drama has me rooting for the couple towards the end.

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