Friday Drama Review – “Dae Jang Geum”

A Jewel in the Korean Drama Scene

 

daejanggeum2Another drama from 2003, Dae Jang Geum is a historical classic that had been sitting on the “To Be Watched” list long enough. Tackling a 54-episode drama may sound daunting, but some dramas need to be seen for their historical significance. Although based on a true historical figure, not many details are really known about Jang Geum’s life and story. Under the direction of Lee Byung Hoon, a record-breaking drama was born. The fictionalization of her life was inspiring, and the story was captivating.

 

 

Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 8/10

Dae Jang Geum, also known as The Great Jang Geum or Jewel of the Palace, is the story of a girl, orphaned at a young age, who overcomes many difficulties to become the Royal Physician to King JungJong. Her parents were fugitives, hiding from the crazed palace political scene that sought their lives for one reason or another. An unfortunate remark by the young Jang Geum cost her parents their lives and brought her happy childhood to an abrupt end. Cheerful and resourceful, Jang Geum made her way into the Royal kitchens where she served as a Court Lady for years until political maneuvering triggered her exile. It was fortune itself that landed her in the pharmacy of a strong-willed female “Physician Lady” who trained her as a means of making her way back into the palace to seek revenge.

 

Script/Acting: My rating 7/10

daejanggeum1The vast majority of the script (and there is a lot of it!) was well written. A major complaint would be the repetitiveness – either of scenes or audio lines. While it would make sense to use repeats to refresh the viewers’ memory of something that occurred much earlier in the series, (which did happen necessarily – the drama was, after 54 episodes!) all too often the repeating happened within 3-10 minutes of the original scene or sound bite. As the repetition increased it began to seem like a tool to fill time.

The acting, however, was enjoyable. Lee Young Ae was endearing as Jang Geum, even when scenes were a bit over-dramatized. The character she played was appealing and believable. The young Jang Geum was played by the delightful Jo Jung Eun. This little Little jang geumdarling’s acting was entirely captivating.

While historically it is unlikely that Min Jung Ho, a.k.a. Sir Min, had any love interest in Jang Geum, his character was the perfect archetype for her leading man. Ji Jin Hee is dashing leading man material indeed, and pulled off the character with sincerity and passion.

Enter the Dragons: Park Jung Soo as Head Lady Park Yong Shin, Hong Ri Na as Choi Geum Young (a dragon with soft teeth, but a dragon, nonetheless), Kyun Mi Ri as Court Lady Choi Sung Geum, Geum Young’s evil scheming aunt, and Lee Hee Do as Choi Pan Sool, Lady Choi’s wealthy, powerful merchant brother. The four, with help from powerful political allies, wrought havoc throughout the drama for their own gain, be it prestige, wealth, or secrecy.

dae_jang_geum_264985 dae queenThe Royal family were well-cast as well: Im Ho as King JungJong, good hearted but somewhat impotent during much of his career, a richly complex character by the end of the drama; Park Jung Sook as the powerful, yet empathetic Queen Munjeong; and Eom Yoo Shin as Dowager Queen Jasun.

There was a wide range of superb characters. Kim Yeo Jin as Jang Duk, physician lady from Jeju, paradisiacal land of exile, played an irascible character upon which (I’ll wager) her character in “Flower Boy Next Door” seemed to be based. Park Eun Hye was Lee Yeon Saeng, Jang Geum’s Dae jang 3best friend, loyal throughout, who become concubine to the king. Yang Mi Kyung was Court Lady Han Baek Young, best friend to Jang Geum’s mother, and Jang Geum’s mentor in the kitchen, whose genuineness and love become a driving force in Jang Geum’s life. Im Hyun Sik played Kang Duk Goo, Jang Geum’s comical adoptive father and the hilarious Geum Bo Ra played Na Joo Daek, Duk Goo’s wife. The two added much needed comic relief to the series with panache. The entire cast was outstanding, bringing to life characters that changed and grew as the drama progressed.

dae jang geum 2

 

Cinematography: My rating 8/10

Stunning. Simply stunning. Words can scarcely describe how the masterful use of the natural beauty of Korea’s landscape created a spectacular backdrop for scene after delightful scene. The costuming was lavish and detailed. The food was mouthwateringly tempting. The sets became so iconic that they have been recreated lock, stock and barrel, in a Dae Jang Geum theme park outside of Seoul that are used to film historical drama today.

 

Music: My rating 7/10

The theme song was reminded me of old TV series theme songs. It has a rather dated feeling to it, rather than a period feel: “Chang Ryong” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VGbs88kJtM

Theme used often and sung with a chorus. Lovely and appropriate. “Onara”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4H-Qrd1gTQ

Grand. Operatic. “Hamangyeon” Safina http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qclaqU7ua-o

Piano instumental. “Apna” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTmmFNbsrok

Haunting. “Yun Do” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vLTePSnLYU

 

Overall Charisma: My rating 7/10

Wow. How could such an epic drama receive such a score? To be brutally honest there were parts that were exasperating slow. And the repetition nearly drove me insane. If it weren’t for the great characters and wonderful cinematography it might have been difficult to watch the entire 54 episodes. But the story and characters were compelling. In the end it was more than worthwhile viewing and definitely a must-see for any Korean Drama Enthusiast. I know many who tell me they only watch the “short” dramas – 16-20 episodes are more than plenty. But some stories cannot be told in 20 episodes. Some tales are can only be done properly by thoroughly exploring the convoluted narrative and diligently developing the myriad of characters essential to the story – nay Epic Legend. Such a saga becomes necessary to do justice to the content. Belay your fears! Conquer the epic drama!

Happy Drama Watching!

JangGeum&Min

  

Created by Kim Yeong Hyeon

Chief Producer: Jo Joong Hyun

Director: Lee Byung Hoon

Writer: Kim Young Hyun

 

Friday Drama Review: “Incarnation of Money”

Is Money the Root of the 7 Deadly Sins?

 

Incarnposter1 The eternal battle – winning at all costs verses leading a righteous life.

A story of the redemption of some, for others, the inability to redeem one’s self.

And money. Lots of money. BIG money. The kind of money that incites enormous greed and induces people to abandon their convictions and sense of moral responsibility in order to acquire it.

 

Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 7/10

“Money is God”, Lee Kang Suk’s father tells him at a young age. A bright child raised in a wealthy household with a doting mother, attentive staff and proud but often-absent father, Kang Suk is a confident young man with a bright future ahead of him. The fairy-tale future crashes around him when his father’s mistress, Eun Bi Ryung and right hand man, Ji Se Kwang conspire to kill his father and frame his mother. Stripped of his family and wealth, the young Kang Suk discovers the truth and becomes the target of twisted cruelty.

Injured and suffering memory loss, Kang Suk is discovered by the powerful, politically connected loan shark Bok Hwa Sool and her quirky daughter Bok Jae In, who christen him with the name Lee Cha Don. They eventually place him in an orphanage, but provide funds for the best education.

incarnation castA hero who is beautifully flawed, imperfect – gasp – even criminal! Lee Cha Don grows up to be a conceited, self-assured, money-hungry extortionist. Not your average Prince Charming, to be sure.

Jae In, our heroine, is a conceited, self-assured but approval-seeking, food-hungry, overweight over-eater. Not your average Princess.

The story revolves around the struggles of the conspiracy group who killed Kang Suk’s father and conspired to keep everything secret and their rise to powerful positions with the help of the money stolen the family, and Lee Cha Don’s (Kang Suk’s) discovery of his own identity and battle to set things right.

Script/Acting: My rating 7/10

As an actor who appears equally comfortable dressed in a fashionable three-piece suit and dressed in drag as a dynastic queen, Kang Ji Hwan is remarkable to say the least. His acting style is amusing and engaging. His performances are honest. His portrayal of Lee Cha Don/ Kang Suk was, for the most part, credible.

Hwang-Jung-Eum-incarnation-of-moneyHwang Jung Eum played Bok Jae in, the wealthy loan shark’s daughter with an unusual personality. Although her character in this drama was not very appealing, whether it was the actress or the script is debatable.

The script called for Bok Jae In to be grossly overweight, a theme that’s been used successfully in dramas like Dream High and less effectively in dramas like Romance Town. The make up work is outstanding. It’s difficult to see where the real actor ends and the artificial pudge begins. The question becomes whether or not the weight issue is necessary or if it is being used rather gratuitously and/or abusively. In Dream High, the weight issue was vital to IU’s character. In Incarnation of Money, not so much. The character of young Bok Jae In was unpleasant and unappealing even without the weight factor. Using weight for gratuitous purposes felt like a cheap shot throughout the series.

The other issue it caused was the implausible nature of the romance between Lee Cha Don and Bok Jae In. Lee Cha Don thoroughly disliked Bok Jae In when she was overweight but began to love her after plastic surgery (cheater!) Nothing in her personality changed at all, yet viewers are supposed to believe that Cha Don loves Jae In for who she is. There was nothing in the script to support this premise, so the romance always felt artificial and was a major detraction from the story.

Incarnation-of-Money-6Take out the romance, though, and a fine Machiavellian tale emerges of lust, greed, avarice, wrath, pride and envy. (For those wondering, that’s 6 out of the 7 Deadly Sins. Perhaps Jae In’s gluttony was included to make a perfect set?) Park Sang Min was entirely believable as the sleazy prosecutor cum murderer Ji Se Kwang. Oh Yoon Ah as Eun Bi Ryung, mistress, abandoned lover, and not-so-intelligent businesswoman, was required to play a huge variety of emotions and character iterations and did so with style. The other major characters in the evil cadre, Lee Seung Hyung as Go Ho and Lee Ki Young as Kwon Jae Kyu added depth and drama. The loan shark, Bok Hwa Sool, played by Kim Soo Mi, was a delightfully witty character. Her descent into dementia was treated with dignity and humor, and acted with soul.

There were, to be sure, a few unbelievable gaffes – like the evil chief prosecutor Ji Se Kwang goading Cha Don by telling him their plans as a fait accompli in writing via email. Pure silliness.

Cinematography: My rating 6/10

While my preference would have been to leave out Bok Jae In’s weight problem, the make-up work was very well done. Filming for some stunts was also nicely done, others were kind of cheesy. Cinematographic themes that began at the onset were not carried out throughout the drama, making it feel almost as if a new cinematographer was introduced at some point.

Drama clichés: Same old prison, same sets as seen in many others; shower scene (thank you, Kang Ji Hwan); little bit of a turnaround as we have a rich girl, poor boy (who should have been a rich boy, alas).

Incarnation_of_Money_OST_Part_2Music: My rating 7/10

Final song “Up and Down” EXID extremely fun, catchy (But then, I’m a big EXID fan…): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7qFVs4RbC8

Be-boppy fun. “Chance” Kim Ji Soo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PV5Ge9zf0Q

“Memories of You” IVY http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jbjf2mOqHM

The main theme: “Money” P-Type feat. Kang Min Hee of Swings http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uN376rQW5TQ

“You Are the Love” Seo In Young http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGc41fdoDp0

Great Song! “The Day for You” Jang Jae In

Overall Charisma: My rating 6/10

I debated long and hard over what kind of overall rating to give this drama. There was so much to like in this drama series! The general concept was good. The acting was good. The music was good. The cinematography was fine. The biggest problem was that the romance in the drama was so implausible that it was a difficult hurdle to overcome, and it colored too much of the drama. Had the romance had been downplayed, perhaps I could have scored the drama higher. But even the ending rested on the culmination of the romantic pairing, in the worst possible context, in the least probable way. Better characters were left unaccounted for and instead the focus was placed on the least gratifying aspect of the series.

Other aspects of the drama ended pretty well. Conclusions for the ‘axis of evil’ while not entirely explained, were at least appropriate. I find it interesting that directors and scriptwriters feel that romance (at any cost) is more important than a good story.

 

 Happy Drama Watching!

drag queen

Production Company: JS Pictures

Chief Producer: Han Jung Hwan

Director: Yoo In Sik

Screenwriter: Jang Young Chul, Jung Kyung Soon

 

‘Asian Pacific Heritage Month’ Events in San Diego

9th_poster

Coming up soon in celebration of Asian Cultural Month will be the 9th annual San Diego Dragon Boat Festival  Saturday May 4th from 9am — 5pm at the Playa Pacifica in Mission Bay Park. Along with the race, this free event will include a festival featuring performers, artists, and potters of SD’s Potters’ Guild.

ACF_waterdragon_logo_small

Also, San Diego’s Asian Cultural Festival will be held on Saturday May 11th from 10am — 5pm at the NTC Park in Liberty Station. This will be a free event including martial arts, cultural dances and exhibitions, cooking demos, entertainment, games, and food!

Check out the trailer for this event:

564886_210612239059848_1132821131_n

KKONNECT at last year’s Asian Cultural Festival!

Holy Hotteok! It’s Honey Hotcakes at H-Mart!!!

 Hotteok3

Holy Hotteok! It’s Honey Hotcakes at H-Mart!!!

Let’s start this post off with something controversial, I am not keen on Korean Sweets. Colorful Jellys or glutinous rice cakes do not seem appetizing for a person raised on glazed doughnuts, a plethora of pies, and 31 flavors of Ice-Cream.  Perhaps I do not have a “sophisticated palette”, but the phrase glutinous gives me gastro-emisis .

Today I went to a grocery store called H-Mart and after a making a food sample circuit around the store (asking questions like “so you call these dumplings? Never heard of it…nom nom) I took a stroll to the hot foods section and saw a peculiar piece of paper taped on the wall, with a drawn on message “Honey Pancakes 2 for $3.  Honey Pancakes aka  Honey Hotcakes aka “Hotteok” is a Korean Street Food typically filled with honey, chopped nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon, cooked on a griddle.

I demanded a double-stack from the employee behind the register and waited.  Looking to the other side of the store I saw Paris Baguette and was a bit concerned that I was going to get some wannabe European-Style dessert. The employee came back and I was presented not with two pieces of fancy pants crepes, but with two pieces of thick glorious American-Style flapjacks.  After a few blinks of astonishment and an exhale of surprise, I sauntered to the cafeteria and sat down to admire the Honey Pancakes.

The warmth radiating from the flapjacks titillated my senses, the fragrance of sweet batter so comforting, I cut a triangular piece and saw a thin layer of honey, and crushed nuts nestled between two  buttery stacks of soft pancakes.  A quick bite and I began to whimper at how delicious and enjoyable the Honey Pancakes were.  I then called them “Ohm” Pancakes, as in “Oh My Gosh These Pancakes are Flippin’ Awesome!”. Afterwards, I aptly rushed to compliment the chef in his efforts.

Apparently, Honey Pancakes are the first in what will be a series of “Korean Street Food” that will be served at the H-Mart in Mira Mesa. This KKonnect Writer is excited to see what is coming next.   Next in line will be a Hazelnut Chocolate Hotteok, so give up on losing weight for the next few months.

-Fateh K.

(above image from supkorea.blogspot.com)

Fateh banner

 

Soju DramaQueen Movie Review: “Abigail Harm”

abigailposterIt comes to earth, removes its robe, and bathes in the water. If you hide its robe, it follows you home; if you care for it, it loves you; and as long as you keep its robe, it will never leave you.

 

Presented this week by the Pacific Arts Movement Spring Showcase in San Diego, Abigail Harm is a vanguard film that confronts the stereotypical images and ideas of love. What is love? What is real love? What is love not? Director and writer Lee Isaac Chung brought to life an old Korean folk tale about a woodcutter and a faun, giving it a unique twist. Starring veteran actress Amanda Plummer as Abigail Harm and Tetsuo Kuramochi as The Companion, the story is intriguing in its honesty, refreshing in its ingenuity. Their outstanding performances were honest and poignant.

Abigail is a woman who exists on the fringes on society, one of the invisible people, rarely making eye contact, in fact, most comfortable with the blind. She makes a living reading to the visually impaired, and lives her life hidden in her apartment, watching life go by from the sidelines. Her only living relative, her father, is dying. The mixed emotions that she exhibits as she continues to insist that she needn’t come to his side, are telling of the difficult and complex relationship she has with her father.

AH tubWhen Abigail rescues a mysterious man on the run, he offers her an unusual reward for her kindness – the love and devotion she has never experienced before. Embarrassed and confused, she declines at first, but finally seeks out his intriguing advice.

“The creatures still gather in this location. It comes to earth, removes its robe, and bathes in the water. If you hide its robe, it follows you home; if you care for it, it loves you; and as long as you keep its robe, it will never leave you.” Doubt and disbelief soon give way to hope as she makes her way to the designated location where she is confronted with a beautiful young man. He reclines in a tub. The robe lies on the floor. She quietly slips forward, snatches the robe and is away. Life changes.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE“Are you real?” Her voice carries a pleading tone. “Are you real?” Faced with the idea that the creature loves her but is “tied” to her, Abigail must grapple with her own concepts of love. The death of her father jolts her into another dimension of reality and she finds herself questioning what she wants from life and love.

What makes love real? Is love conjured with a potion real? Is love that develops between two people tied together through fate real?

It comes to earth, removes its robe, and bathes in the water. If you hide its robe, it follows you home; if you care for it, it loves you; and as long as you keep its robe, it will never leave you.

The robe. The metaphorical tether that ties one person to another. To tie your love down.

 

Happy Movie Watching!

abigail

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month and has been celebrated as a month long event since 1992 to commemorate Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States.

 May_APAHM

In 1978, a joint congressional resolution established Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. The first 10 days of May were chosen to coincide with two important milestones in Asian/Pacific American history: the arrival in the United States of the first Japanese immigrants (May 7, 1843) and contributions of Chinese workers to the building of the transcontinental railroad, completed May 10, 1869. In 1992, Congress expanded the observance to a month long celebration as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month was signed into law.

How you can celebrate it! (whether you’re Asian or not):    

1. Visit an Asian community. Los Angeles has many areas such as Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Tokyo, Thai Town & Filipinotown, but here Kearny Mesa is where everything comes together in San Diego. “Convoy Street” has become San Diego’s own Asian community. If you picked up this magazine from any of the restaurants or markets from that area, I’m sure you’re on the right track!

2. Taste a new cuisine or food. Have you ever tried Filipino, Thai or Mongolian food? Maybe you can try a new dish you’ve never considered having at a restaurant, or better yet, find a recipe online and take a shot at cooking it at home.

3. Research more about the culture or religion. You can visit the Chinese Historical Museum in Downtown which exhibits the life Chinese people had here. Did you know that the location of this museum also used to be where San Diego’s Chinatown was? There is also the Mingei Museum and Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park. Additionally, you can spend a great deal of time online learning about the diverse cultures of Asia and Asian Americans in San Diego. Even if you don’t consider yourself a very religious person, try attending an Asian temple or church and see how their system differs from your own.

4. Learn a new language. Even if it’s just basic greetings, try learning one of the many languages spoken in Asia. If you’re up for a challenge, maybe you can even learn the writing system and how to write your name. I recommend attending a language meet up where you can meet other people studying that language or people from another country who would be happy to teach you about their culture & language.

5. Talk to someone of Asian descent. Whether it’s a relative, friend or an employee from a restaurant, listen to their stories about the obstacles they faced as immigrants coming from Asia or as Asian Americans who were raised here. Find out what it is they follow in life and how it differs from an American’s ideals or lifestyle.

6. Listen to music or watch a movie. You can learn a lot about another culture through their entertainment industry and its content. Have you ever seen a Bollywood movie or heard the latest hits from Vietnam? While they may seem difficult to find, we’re fortunate to have sites like YouTube where you can find almost anything, and the San Diego Asian Film Festival which showcases many movies. AMC Fashion Valley also has been frequently showing popular films straight from Korea’s theaters!

7. Reflect. If you are from or were raised in an Asian country, are of Asian or Pacific Islander descent, if your friends are, or even if you don’t have an ounce of Asian blood in you, take this time to reflect. Think about how your ethnicity affects your daily life and of those around you. Look back into how Asians have impacted our community and the contributions they have made in the United States.