Friday Drama Review – “Queen of Ambition”

QoAPoster1Monarch of Madness? Perhaps Not. 


Ambition. Passion. Revenge. The series “Queen of Ambition” wrapped up its final episode with much weeping and nose-blowing, but all plot-lines were neatly tied up and finished. It felt, when all was said and done, that all 24 episodes were needed to fully develop the nefarious tale and all its sordid details. Indeed, each emotionally charged episode left the viewer anxiously anticipating the next installment.

Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 8/10

“Queen of Ambition” is the beguiling story of a woman whose ambitions leave a trail of death in her wake. Joo Da Hae spent part of her formative years in an orphanage (where she met her best friend Ha Ryu Oppa); the other part of her childhood was spent fending off the attentions of her pedophilic stepfather. Ha Ryu and Joo Da Hae met again years later as adults and Ha Ryu dedicated his life to making Da Hae’s happy: he worked hard to support her while she studied to get into college. He worked even harder to send her to college. Their common law marriage seemed to be a match made in heaven, if somewhat impoverished, and was blessed with a beautiful daughter they both adored.

The tale turns when a wealthy young man, Baek Do Hoon, falls for her, unaware that she has a family. Stoking Da Hae’s craving for a better life, She dupes her husband into footing the bill for her to follow Do Hoon to the United States to attend graduate school.

The story continues with deceptions and schemes. Half of the cast of characters ran intricate cons, half was seeking brutal revenge. Some were doing both.

QoAcastScript/Acting: My rating 8/10

The strength of this drama was in the script and acting. The Ambitious Queen, Joo Da Hae, portrayed by Soo Ae, had just enough humanity to make her frighteningly real instead of psychopathic. At issue was the audience’s ability to empathize, however reluctantly, with the emotions that drove this woman to the lengths she went. She was almost never completely without empathy or remorse.

Sidebar: I found Da Hae’s character to be completely American in nature. She describes herself as having to “step on others” before she got stepped on herself; “hating others” before she, herself, was hated. She pursued her goal with a single-minded “me first” ambition, very much in keeping with the American ideal of “rugged individualism” and not in keeping with the Korean, Confucian concept of doing things for the greater good. Is that to say there are no social-climbers in Korea? Obviously not. But the clash between these two ideals is a major concept behind the drama.

QofA Back MusclesKwon San Woo not only put in an excellent performance as Ha Ryu (and his twin brother Cha Jae Woong), but the script afforded him the opportunity to show off his very well-toned body as he worked hard at a host bar as “Mr. Back Muscles”. Gratuitous eye-candy for the ladies? Partly, I’m sure, but the display had a serious function as well and was an important part of the plot. The characters of Ha Ryu and Cha Jae Wong were emotionally engaging in the extreme, albeit a little one-dimensional when compared to the character of Da Hae. The acting was consistent and stirring, leading one to empathize with Ha Ryu at the gut level throughout the series.

yunhoYunho (from TVXQ), who played Baek Do Hoon, was a little less consistent in his acting: sometimes excellent, moving, credible, at other times, a tad amateurish and a wee bit off. Do Hoon’s character was sweet, unsuspectingly gullible and naïve. The genuine way in which he portrayed the slow change from complete trust and belief in his wife, to desperately wanting to believe, to the final demoralized submission to the truth was nicely done.

Baek Do Kyung’s (Kim Sung Ryung) big reveal was pretty easy to guess. The character, however, was a delightfully complex woman: strong, female head of the household and key player in the family business, but emotionally cold and lonely. There was an understated vulnerability in the character that appealed for empathy despite the cool exterior.

Best couple award of the year: Sung Ji Roo as Uhm Sam Do and Lee Il Hwa as Hong Ahn Shim. Both turned in amazing performances.

Kwon-Hyun-Sang-02And a special “Always-The-Bridesmaid, Never-The-Bride” award to Won Hyun Sang as Yang Taek Bae. This young man is a fine actor who always seems to play the best friend, always seems to have secondary roles. His performances are consistently great and he has a charming way that should carry him much further than he seems to be getting.

DaddyKissMePark Min Ha was a complete darling. The scenes where Kwon San Woo playfully pretended to ‘eat her up’ mimicked what the audience longed to do to this little sweetheart. I do want to add that throwing dead children into the script is using incredibly unfair emotional tactics against sensitive women.

Drama clichés: Orphans (yet again), Kpop star feature (Yunho of TVXQ), twin mixups. Most of the clichés, however, were cinematographic.

Cinematography: My rating 6/10

ridingQueen of Ambition” had many, many, many familiar sets and settings: the stables from “Boys Over Flowers”, the very recognizable walkways and streetlights from “Missing You” and others, the park from “Personal Taste”, apartments from – well – everything! Yes, many dramas use the same filming locations, the same sets, props and costumes. It sometimes gives me the feeling that Seoul is actually quite small geographically, that there are so few spots in which to film. And there is apparently only one police interrogation room and one prison in all of Korea, and everyone goes to the same bar and coffee shop. Or am I the only person distracted by these things?

Stunts shots ran the gamut. Some were extremely impressive, like the car accident scene where Yunho flew through the air (a stuntman, I would presume!) Other stunts were not so well presented. The twin scenes, however, were well executed.

There seemed to be an unusual number of places where the editing was choppy, or there were abrupt changes in scenes and/or music. There were also a few noticeable inconsistencies. I often overlook these, but one odd instance included Da Hae leaving Do Hoon’s car without briefcase she’d stolen but having it later. I find it worth mentioning only because I had believed Do Hoon to be in possession of it, but it appeared with Da Hae a few scenes later.

 Music: My rating 7/10

The soundtrack included a really nice instrumental electric guitar song, although tracking down the title was unattainable using the usual sources (and a few unorthodox ones, as well!). YouTube had a limited selection and nothing is available on iTunes yet. The music was quite complimentary to the drama. In general, and this is not a fault of this drama in particular, SBS, KBS and other Korean broadcasting stations, while aware of their international appeal, do not appear to be interested in marketing to that populace.

“Ice Flower” Ailee

“Tears Rain” Fat Cat

“You Don’t Know” Kim Nam Gil

“There Is No Love” Lim Jae Wook

“I Love You I Hate You” Lee Jin Sung

Overall Charisma: My rating 7/10

The skillful development of Da Hae’s persona was the crowning achievement for this drama. When I found myself in tears when faced with her eminent demise I was honestly surprised (and a little aghast!) Yet I realized that Da Hae represented that seed of greed and envy that exists in all mankind, the small green monster kept  tethered and tamed as best we can so as to appear as civilized human beings. Da Hae cannot not be dismissed as a psychotic or an outlier in society, because it is far too easy to identify the many Da Haes around us. Ambition. Passion. Revenge. It’s not a new story, but “Queen of Ambition” packaged it nicely.

 Happy Drama Watching!

wedding photo

Soju DramaQueen Movie Review – “Oldboy”

An Intense Psychological Thriller

oldboy1I really don’t watch as many Korean movies as I should and I don’t know why. The instant gratification factor is sure there, so when a friend recommended that I watch “Oldboy”, a 2003 psychological-mystery-thriller directed by Park Chan Wook, I decided it was time to expand the old horizons again. Watching “Oldboy” comes at a great time because Spike Lee is set to release a remake October 11 of this year (according to IMDb, which couldn’t be wrong, right?), starring Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen. It’s always a good idea to watch the original first and in this case, the original is a must-see. But please, adults only, yes?

 Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 9/10

Oh Daesu is pathetic drunkard who can’t even make it to his little daughter’s birthday party on time. After being bailed out of jail by a friend, he is mysteriously kidnapped, framed for murdering his wife and locked up in a room with nothing but a television for companionship for 15 years. As mysteriously as he is kidnapped, he is suddenly released. He now has 5 days to find his captor and seek revenge.

oldboy-octopusScript: My rating 9/10

Disturbing. Voyeuristic. Violent. Intensely visceral. “Oldboy” contained amazingly gory scenes that made the viewer cringe, but were completely necessary to the plot. This is by far the most sexually explicit Korean film I have ever viewed, but there was nothing gratuitous about the sexual content. Every dark, gritty scene was critical to the development of the story. The script is intense and well written. Although there are many gruesome parts (it may be awhile before I can go back to the dentist and eating octopus is totally out), the overall feel is that of a fast-paced mystery thriller. The timing throughout was extremely well done, providing a few ambiguous clues here and there, allowing the uncertainty to deepen.

oldboymidoThe storyline was attractive not just because of the characters, and certainly not because of the brutality, in and of itself, but due to the ability of the writer to honestly depict human nature. The disturbing qualities avoided creepiness by being genuine. The idea of a revenge fantasy is common to human nature, so the concept appeals at a visceral level, but the intensity at which the fantasy is played out is what makes “Oldboy” a satisfying, if sadistic pleasure. There were scenes that touched something much deeper within, as well. Just after Oh Daesu is released he saw his first human being in 15 years, a man about to commit suicide. The momentary intense, physical interaction between the two conveyed all the anguish of 15 years of no physical contact, unbelievable yearning and disbelief in his own senses.

The movie was deliciously surprising at all turns. The ending was delightfully ambiguous. In no way did the ambiguity detract from the finale – the ending was perfection.

 Acting: My Rating 10/10

oldboy2How do you play a half-mad man imprisoned for no apparent reason for 15 years? Choi Min Sik made is work Oh Daesu in such a convincing manner that it was easy to get wrapped up in the story. He apparently went through a grueling routine of gaining and losing weight, depending on the film schedule in order to create an authentic character. Kang Hye Jung played Mido, the young girl that Oh Daesu falls in love with after his release. Her vulnerability contrasted sharply with the psychotic violence rampant around her. The evil mastermind behind the imprisonment was Lee Woo Jin, played by Yoo Ji Tae. The alarmingly creepy voyeur of the film, Yoo Ji Tae finessed smaller the role into something memorable. All parts, major and minor, were credible to the extreme. It was impossible not to become invested in the characters created.

 Cinematography: My rating 9/10

The cinematography is very edgy, so much so that I have to remind myself that this is a 2003 film. Scenes are very bold and brutal. Filmed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, viewers are left stunned at every turn.

 Overall Charisma: My rating 9/10

“Oldboy” is more of a powerful experience than a movie – a dark, throbbing, enigmatic, primitive experience. A film that makes your pulse race, your eyes bulge, your thighs twitch. The grit of this movie appeals at an instinctual level, entangling the viewer in its demented web. While I know this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, the fact remains that it is a brilliant piece of film making.

It will be interesting to see what Spike Lee does with this film. Good luck, man.

Happy Movie Watching!


Friday Drama Review – “That Winter, the Wind Blows”

winter1Classic Melodrama – Prepare to Cry.


High-tension melodrama may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but add a few gangsters, throw in a spunky, in-your-face wanna-be girlfriend, exploit great cinematography and put it together with fabulous music and you might even entice the most hard-core melo-haters. Superb performances by Song Hye Kyo and Jo In Sung were icing on the cake.

Here is a remarkably well-done trailer for your viewing pleasure:



Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 6/10

wintercoupleIt doesn’t get much more melodramatic than this: Oh Soo (Jo In Sung) grew up in an orphanage having been abandoned in the cold, hard winter by his mother. He leads the life of a playboy gambler with little self-esteem, but with great loyalty to his friends, Park Jin Sung (Kim Bum) and another friend coincidentally named Oh Soo (Lee Jae Woo). Oh Young (Song Hye Kyo) is an orphaned, wealthy heiress who was tragically left blind at an early age. Although Oh Soo (Lee Jae Woo) confides in in friends that he’s actually the only son of a chaebol (wealthy conglomerate) family, they don’t believe him until circumstances lead his sister, Oh Young to come find him. Brother Oh Soo is tragically killed just before meeting his long lost sister, but friend Oh Soo, hounded by death threats from debt collectors, steps in to try and fill his shoes, at least long enough to scam the blind sister. Tragically, he falls in love while attempting to implement his devious plan.

Script/Acting: My rating 7/10

Now while my synopsis may sound tongue-in-cheek, the writing for the script and acting were actually quite good. Jo In Sung, back from an extended hiatus, has proven that his absence did not in any way dull the edginess in his acting style. Voice and gestures carried details that made each scene dramatic and memorable. He cries very convincingly, too. Song Hye Kyo is one of my favorite actresses, even if I do question the mental stability of any woman breaking up with Hyun Bin, but that is another story.  I loved her in Full House. I loved her in Worlds Within. I also really liked her in this drama. I read an article where she talked about the challenges of playing a blind person, not being able to look Jo In Sung in the eye, having to watch scenes after they were shot to gauge their effectiveness. She was amazingly convincing as a blind person and amazingly convincing as cute couplethe emotionally closed, psychologically complex Oh Young. Kim Bum also did a decent job. His character was rather one-dimensional, although rather sweet and sometimes comical. Jung Eun Ji, on the other hand, is really beginning to come into herself as an actress. Moon Hee Sun was an intriguing, character with a mind of her own. Jung Eun Ji expressed her personality well and fashioned what could have been an antagonistic persona into a strong-willed character with whom we could empathize.

The script did have issues: hopelessly twisted character plots that were not successfully resolved, a weak ending, and characters that ended out of character. While redeeming individual people is standard fodder in melodrama, redeeming nearly everyone is verging on the ridiculous, not to mention the fact that it negates much of which happened previously. I can agree that the main character develops in such a way that redemption is inevitable, but trying to create happy endings all around, while viscerally satisfying to some, is completely disconcerting to me.

Drama clichés: Siblings in love, orphans (again), rain scene. I’m sure I forgot some. Help me out and post them in the comments!

 Cinematography: My rating 8/10

cottoncandykissThere were some really epic scenes. Love the snowy mountaintop with the windchime sound of the icicles in the trees. Love the, now somewhat iconic, ‘cotton-candy-kiss. Love the repetition of the bell that Oh Young cherishes and the tinkling of the bracelet Oh Soo wears. Love the masterful use of close-ups. Loved the wardrobe, by the way, but then this main foursome would probably look good in most anything. Overall, the general impression was impressive. Great shots, dramatic filming. In tribute to Siskel and Ebert, “Two thumbs up!”

Music: My rating 7/10

The soundtrack and ballads were quite memorable.

“And One” Taeyeon (Girls’ Generation)

So sweet… “Snowflake” by Gummy –

“Tears Falling” Kim Boa

An outstanding ballad: “Gray Paper” Yesung (Super Junior)

One of the best ballads I’ve heard in a long time: “Winter Love” The One

 Overall Charisma: My rating 6/10

I give this drama high marks in acting, music and cinematography. I was pretty engrossed throughout the entire series, too, right up until the last episode. Unfortunately, last impressions are kind of important to me and if there is one area in which many Korean dramas fail, it is going to be the endings. Now a friend of mine and I will voice the same opinion with different reasons. She likes a happy ending, I need endings that make sense and are in keeping with the tenor of the drama in general. In “That Winter, the Wind Blows”, two things happened that didn’t work. (I’ll try hard to make my point without too many spoilers…) One – they tried too hard for a really dramatic twist at the end that would have been more in keeping with a dark drama, than the touching, sweet melodrama it had been until this point. Two – too many characters were wrested from the personas that had been developing throughout the drama and were taken in a totally different direction, purely for the sake a tidy ending. Ugh. So much potential…

Despite the poor ending the rest of the drama is definitely worth watching. Indulge in your fantasies and create your own ending if you, like me, find yourself dissatisfied after the final episode. Lets share notes later, shall we?

Happy Drama Watching!


Friday Drama Review – “City Hall”


Kim Sun Ah for Mayor! Hurrah!


Whenever your mood is in need of a pick-me-up, any drama casting Kim Sun Ah in the lead is sure to the remedy. In terms of comedic timing, few actresses today can touch her unique vocal style and physical comedy. “City Hall” is a great example of silliness at it finest. Certainly, no one will mistake this drama for serious political commentary.

Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 7/10

“City Hall” takes a humorous look at the political workings at the local and national levels. Jo Gook (Cha Sung Won) is a relentlessly driven political machine, the illegitimate son abandoned by his powerful, mysterious, politically connected and well-respected father BB (for Big Brother). His aspirations lead him to the small, rural town of Inju where he is sent to do some dirty work: remove the current Mayor and set in place a ‘puppet’ Mayor. Plans go awry when the ‘puppet’, Shin Mi Rae (Kim Sun Ah) not only begins to pull the strings, but grabs ahold of Jo Gook’s frayed ‘heartstrings’, as well.

Script/Acting: My rating 8/10

The script is witty. While I would definitely classify this firmly in the comedy genre, there was enough drama and suspense to prevent it from being classified as inane. The plot and the characters are not so memorable that this drama consistently floats to the top of the list when making recommendations, but I have to admit I forgot how much I enjoyed it, when I sat down to re-watch it recently. The dramatic tension and plot twists keep viewing pleasurable worthwhile, even the second time around!

Kim Sun Ah is comedic genius. How can anyone not appreciate using tactics straight out of a Greek comedy to bring her recalcitrant Directors back in line. One look at the pool scene with her shimmies and “Ooooh!”s and you’re hooked!

2013-02-03 17_53_14
Original gif thanks to

Cha Seung Won was deliciously suave, charming and complex Jo Gook. His acting skill is apparent as he brings to life a driven but care-worn, strong but wounded, psychologically complex character. The transformations and changes in direction were credible and dramatic.

Min Joo& LeeAn interesting character in the drama was Director Lee (Lee Hyung Chul), who acts as her conscience, forcing her to look at the moral implications of what she does at every major step in the drama. The sometime dramatic, often comedic, relationship between him and him politically active wife Min Joo Hwa (Choo Sang Mi) was an interesting side story.

lee Joon HyukOur Jihoo character? (“Boys Over Flowers” – the nice guy who doesn’t get the girl.) That would be the intense, thoughtful, not-as-ambitious-as-his-boss Ha Soo In, played by Lee Joon Hyuk. A nice character, but one of the few that was underdeveloped in the drama, for the potential it held.

Throughout the drama, the slapstick-style comedy made the juxtaposed tender moments all the more heart-warming.

Drama clichés: crying in the rain, back hugs, covering people with blankets who are slumped over desks, hick (poor) girl & sophisticated (rich) guy, shower scene, over-the top romantic gestures, nice guy who doesn’t get the girl (or any girl for that matter). There were no Kpop star cameos, but a fun dance performance of Super Junior’s “Sorry, Sorry” by the City Hall Staffers.



Cinematography: My rating 7/10

Pretty scenery. Nice special effects when necessary, but not overused or overdone (like when Shin Mi Rae is imagining what she’s like to do for Inju’s future from the top of the hill.) Many of the locations filmed, both indoor and outdoor, are locations that have been used in many, many dramas. I can appreciate, however, the fun (the challenge?) of filming multiple actors and actresses amidst piles of herring on a fishing boat.

Music: My rating 6/10

There were a few songs that appealed to me in the OST, but I cannot classify this tracklist as earth-shattering.

The theme song is cute: Okay, I’ll Believe In Myself by Jung In (feat. Bizzy)

The best love ballad: Uncertain Love by Horan of Clazziquai

Smile by Chae Dong Ha of SG Wannabe (feat. Amen)

This Love – Let Go of This Love by Position (Lim Jae Wook)

Night Falling on Street by Han Sul Hee, Kim Jung Bae

One Dream by Seo Moon Tak

Overall Charisma: My rating 7.5/10

One of the most important considerations in making a comedy successful is timing and pacing. I think that “City Hall” is a classic example of how to do it right. Just when things start to get really silly – BAM – dramatic tension occurs. And just before the pace begins to bog down – WHAP – a burst of silly slaps you upside the head. Nothing earth-shattering in terms of dramatic accomplishments, but completely enjoyable. Delightful characters. Nice wrap-up at the finale with all loose ends neatly tied with a bow on top. What more is needed? Well – maybe some fried chicken and a beer….

Happy Drama Watching!

the dance

Friday Drama Review – “Flower Boy Next Door”

Flower-Boy-Next-Door-Poster-1Won’t You Be My Neighbor?


Park Shin Hye fans rejoiced! Another drama at last! And one in the “Flower Boy” series, to boot! What fun! And with Yoon Shi Yoon?  Bonus! I was right there with the rest of the crowd, fan-girling at the thought of another Flower Boy drama and excited to see Park Shin Hye in action again. The results were definitely entertaining and well worth the time spent watching, but I will admit to a few disappointments as well.

Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 7/10

The story revolves around Go Dok Mi (Park Shin Hye) who, after a traumatic school experience, becomes agoraphobic (afraid to venture outside the home.) She has shut herself off from the world physically and emotionally. Her next door neighbor, Oh Jin Rok (Kim Ji Hoon), a webtoon artist is completely obsessed and in love with this mysterious woman next door. Go Dok Mi, however, has developed a voyeuristic attachment to the man in the building across from her – and ends up meeting his younger brother, Enrique Geum (Yoon Shi Yoon), who decides to draw her out of her shell – literally and figuratively.

 Script/Acting: My rating 7/10

First the bad news: While conceptually, the script idea is not bad, I found it problematic that Park Shin Hye’s character was able to overcome a long-standing, deeply-rooted mental illness with so little trouble. The transformation was so unrealistic that it became a distraction, and detracted from the dramatic confrontations in later episodes. It also seemed rather improbable that the two men, Oh Jin Rok and especially the vibrant Enrique Geum, would be so attracted to the dour, gloomy, agoraphobic Go Dok Mi. Yes, you argue, but Park Shin Hye is so pretty! I agree, but in the drama she dresses all frumpy, and her hair is unkempt, no makeup, no attempt to be attractive whatsoever. Far-fetched, I say!

flower-boysThe good news: If you can get past the implausibility of the mental-illness thing, and ignore resultant inconsistencies in the character of Go Dok Mi, the drama was well acted and entertaining. The character of Enrique Geum was especially appealing and was, in my humble opinion, the bright shiny spot that made the whole drama worth watching. His character was sweet, goofy, loveable, energetic, caring and completely charismatic. I mean, just check out the panda dance:

Kim Ji Hoon’s character was also well played – a webtoon artist with a mysterious past, sweet, awkward, shy. The rapport between the two men was an interesting study of contrasting styles and ideals. And every good drama needs a nemesis. Park Soo Jin played it up as the haughty, scheming Cha Do Hwi. This is an actress who plays so many different personas so well! She does hateful brat really well!

managerNewcomer Kim Seul Gi was hilarious as the webtoon company manager. Go Kyung Pyo also did a fine job as Oh Jin Rok’s roommate and fellow webtoon artist, Oh Dong Hoon.


Cinematography: My rating 8/10

The sound and visuals were well-done throughout. There were fun special effects scattered throughout the drama, especially related to the webtooning. It was also nice to see filming done in a location that hasn’t been used over and over again in other dramas! The main buildings (apartments) were unfamiliar to me. Wow!

Music: My rating 8/10

There are some really nice ballads here – definitely iPod worthy! (At least, they’re going on mine, to be sure.

“Wish It Was You” Lee Jung

Sweet!:  “I Want to Date You” Yoon Shi Yoon

Love this one, too: “Talkin’ Bout Love” J Rabbit

“Pitch Black” Park Shin Hye

“You Wake Me Up” Kim Seul Ki

 Overall Charisma: My rating 7/10

There were so many good character in this drama that it is definitely worth seeing. I am disappointed that writer decided to deal with the mental health issue in such an off-hand manner, and feel they would have been so much better off not trying to create those implications with the character at all. Ah well. I still enjoyed it. It was still fun. It’s worth it just to see the quirky people and the fun antics. I’ll probably watch it again.

Happy Drama Watching! two men

Soju DramaQueen comes to Kkonnect!


OK, so the Soju DramaQueen has been here for some time now, but my secret identity has been kept a tightly held secret – until now! Cadawley is actually – The Soju DramaQueen. To celebrate, check out the new video!



It’s an addiction, pure and simple. <grin> So what is it about Korean dramas that makes them so danged addictive?

  • The standard for romance is very, very different in Korean drama verses American drama. (And when I refer to ‘drama’ it encompasses Romantic Comedy, Historical Drama, Action Drama, etc.) In American films romance is no longer sweet. It moves fast. We go from ‘Hey, there’s a cute girl’ to sleeping with her in under 30 minutes. Korean drama focuses on building the relationship slowly, usually with very divergent characters. Building up to the first hug is huge – and it’s followed by a shy “I like you” which is pretty much equivalent to the way Americans throw around “I love you”. Saying “I love you” in a K-Drama is akin to a marriage proposal. The first kiss is usually a small peck on the cheek or the forehead. And a first kiss is a huge deal, as is your first love. Korean dramas are extremely romantic.
  • Korean dramas are conservative. If you’re looking for hot sex on film, go someplace else ‘cause it’s not going to be in a K-drama. That said, these K-dramas can get really steamy. Remember back in the day when things were left to your imagination? (OK, you young things may have no idea what I’m talking about…) Some dramas do a fantastic job of ‘suggesting’ what’s about to happen and then allowing you to let your imagination run wild (until the next episode! Lol) OK, there are some real epic fails, too, but we can talk about those later. <g> All in all, it is a marvelously refreshing venue.
  • Unlike American ‘soaps’ which go on for years, K-dramas average 16-20 hour-long episodes which seems to be an ideal length of time to really develop a story line and characters and come to a satisfying conclusion. A few have second seasons, but not always with the same cast of characters.
  • The acting is incredibly good. I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of acting I have seen. Honestly, I was expecting something cheesy – like American soap operas – but no! These are high quality dramas! Think of them more as extended movies. Sets and costuming are usually really excellent as well. Some of the cinematography I have seen is outstanding. Music production is one of the best features – most have excellent music, using top stars, much of which can be found online – iTunes is carrying more every day!
  • Insight into another culture: For non-Koreans (like me) it’s very cool learning so much about Korea and it’s history and customs. I am even picking up some Korean. We eat Korean food and have even made our own Kimchi. We have a favorite Korean restaurants we frequent. We go to Korean concerts. Heck, I’m even working for a Korean newspaper now. How cool is that?


Friday Drama Review: “World Within”

UThe-World-That-They-Live-In-Poster1aka “The World They Live In” – Hidden Jewel Among Dramas

[Soju Drama Queen] Review of “The World that They Live in 그들이사는세상”

Falling under the heading of “How in the heck did I miss this one?”, ‘World Within’, also known as ‘The World That They Live In’, is a hidden gem, to be sure. It wasn’t on anyone’s ‘Must See’ lists. It wasn’t on’s ‘Most Shared’ list either. Yet it stars Hyun Bin (Mr. Gorgeous, himself) and Song Hye Kyo of ‘Full House’ fame and now starring in the new drama ‘That Winter, The Wind Blows’.

 Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 7/10

Ok, so it’s a drama about making dramas, which in and of itself can be somewhat tiring as a theme. The writer, however, took off in a nice direction: “Live Your Life Like a Drama.” Focusing episodically on different characters in the drama production company, the writer (and actors) were able to make truly interesting characters real. Had it just been a story of how dramas are made and the stresses involved, the drama probably would have been a flop. This however, was about character development.

 Script/Acting: My rating 8/10

Those now familiar with my peculiar tastes, may know that I have a particular fondness for Castgreat characters and good character development. This drama sported some unusually complex characters. Painstaking attention to detail was used in creating realism in the characteristics of the players. Our heroine learns to love and respect countless personalities that she (and the audience, to be sure) despises at first blush, by coming to understand the human side of their nature rather than just the surface characteristics. Take Bae Jung Ok as actress Yoon Young: at first glance a promiscuous, shallow and completely unlikable persona develops into a rich, complex, intelligent, strong woman who knows herself well, including her weaknesses.

hyun binThere are frustratingly realistic relationship woes – people so wrapped up in their own twisted feeling that they can’t express what they really feel. Frustrating in the sense that we can empathize with the feelings, not that it creates dissatisfaction in the viewing. Even the people we see as total jerks or idiots in the beginning (sorry, Uhm Ki Ju and Daniel Choi) become real human beings by the end of the drama without sacrificing their personality traits one iota in doing so.

The relationship between Jung Ji Oh (Hyun Bin) and Joo Joon Young (Song Hye Kyo) was also convincing and captivating. Real love, real fights (about real issues), real break-ups and make-ups. Nothing seemed forced or inauthentic.

The cast, by the way was stellar: Along with those mentioned above – Seo Hyo Rim (Sungkyunkwn Scandal, Scent of A Woman, Me, Too, Flower), Kim Yeo Jin (Can You Hear My Heart, Road Number One), Lee Joon Hyuk (City Hunter, Secret Garden, City Hall, Equator Man) and veteran actors like Kim Gab Soo (Sungkyunkwn Scandal, Cinderella’s Sister, Chuno), Kim Chang Wan (Coffee Prince, Iljimae, Queen of Reversals), Kim Ja Ok (Coffee Prince, High Kick Through the Roof), Lee Ho Jae (Goong, Flames of Ambition), Na Young Hee (Rooftop Prince, Baby-Faced Beauty, Style), and the inimitable Yoon Yeo Jung (King 2 Hearts, Unexpected You, Can Your Hear My Heart, What’s Up Fox).

 Cinematography: My rating 8/10

The cinematography for a drama about dramas would be expected to be exemplary. I will admit that I was not disappointed. Fun and interesting tidbits enticed my sense throughout the series. The retelling of an old story was acted out ‘Broadway-stage-style’ by the main characters with spot lighting and stage set-up. The directors’ imaginings were dramatized using pencil/pastels for one director, photo-shop style for another. Great special effects abounded – fun (or sad, as the case may be) dissolves as fantasies faded, etc.

The locations were limited but put to good use. Great lighting and sound.

Music: My rating 6/10

While the music was appropriate to the drama, there was nothing that I’m going to go running after to put on my iPod.

The ballad is really nice, though: ‘Care’ sung by Sung Si Kyung

“It Was You All Along” Kim Jo Han (Spanish subs was all I could find!) (

Overall Charisma: My rating 8/10

There was an ineffable quality to this drama that made everything work. I loved the characters. I loved the tensions. I loved the theme. I loved the realism. The writer did a remarkable job creating memorable people that I wanted to empathize with. Not something I can say about every drama.

Put this one on your ‘To Be Watched” list!

Happy Drama Watching! huggy


Friday Drama Review: “Romance Town”

Bad Title for a Good Drama

330px-Romance_TownThis drama had been on my “To Be Watched” list for quite some time as I had seen it on a few ‘Must See’ lists, but I’d been postponing because the synopses I had read did not seem that intriguing and the title gave it more of an American soap-opera feeling than I was comfortable with. I definitely needed more to entice me. – is an excellent source of information for dramas, actors and actresses, etc. Their synopses, however, vary from extremely detailed to terse. For Romance Town, the drama was described as ‘The story of domestic help who work for rich households.’ The rest of the description said little more to lead me to believe this was anything more than a gossipy group of maids, one of which become involved with the son of the household.

This drama sat at the bottom of the pile for a while.

However, at some point I was in the mood for something light and entertaining, so I pulled this from the ‘Watch List’ and began; and learned once again that another person’s synopsis can be very deceiving.

Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 8/10

‘Romance Town’ is the wrong title for this drama. While romance was part of the picture, it was not the main theme as the title would suggest. Interestingly, I thought perhaps the English title might be off the mark, but the actual title in Korean is the English words “Romance Town” spelled in Hangul! No help there!

romancetownep14previewphotoThe drama revolves around the lives and social issues of five housekeepers and one lottery ticket. A big one. A huge one, in fact. If you have ever wondered how your life might change, or how you might change if you were to suddenly become rich (or suddenly become poor), this is a drama that explores that very subject. All in all, a somewhat unique theme!

Script/Acting: My rating 6/10

The five housekeepers Sung Yu Ri, Min Hyo Rin, Park Ji Young, Lee Kyung Shil, and Kim Ye Won carried the show. The intense interactions between these characters and between the housekeepers and their employers are what made the drama come to life. Sung Yu Ri was No romance-town-33Soon Geum, the heroine of the story, was a believable and appealing character. She played the part of a kind, loyal and upright person faced with difficult moral dilemmas authentically. There were scenes where Lee Kyung Shil could be accused of over-acting the scene, but her character is written as being very high-strung. The interesting story of their friendship and how it evolves under the influences of peers, bosses and, ultimately, wealth is what makes the drama a success.

The men in the drama were somewhat weaker. This may have been partly due to the script, but the character of Kang Gung Woo played by Jung Gyu Woon seemed more pathetic than empathetic and his mood swings did not seem to make much sense. The character of Kim Young Hee (Kim Min Joon) was more consistent, but not terribly intriguing. The best written, best played male character was Hwang Yong played by Jo Sung Ha. Great part, great actor.

The romantic side stories between characters were really just that: side stories that gave the drama a little depth and breadth to fill in the edges around the main theme. But note there were interpersonal side stories that did not involve romance as well, adding extra dimension to the drama.

Cinematography: My rating 6/10

While there was nothing spectacular about the cinematography, there was nothing distracting, either. The sets were nice, but virtually everything was filmed in a very limited number of locations. The island scenes were nice – not exotic, but a refreshing change of scenery. The editing was good. There was not a lot of boring fluff added, no endless flashbacks to kill time.

Music: My rating 8/10

M favorite song from the drama is “Smile Goodbye” by Alex. (Note that it goes by a number of similarly translated names…)  It is a  fabulous song and is played in a number of versions throughout the drama. This is my ‘go-to’ happy song:

“Because Tears are Overflowing” is an beautiful ballad sung by Jessica of SNSD:

“It’s Only You” by Tei is the theme song:

“Only You Look” by HowL

The soundtrack/OST is difficult to find, but 4 songs above are currently available on iTunes.

Overall Charisma: My rating 7/10

The tension between the maids, the families and the ‘couples’ all served to keep this drama lively and interesting. It’s unfortunate that the chemistry between the main couple was not as believable as it should have been. I believe the problem was that pinning down the actual character qualities for Gun Woo seemed to be an impossible task.  Because his demeanor shifted and changed so frequently, he always seemed ‘out of character’. Other than that, the drama was unexpected enjoyable and I watched it straight through, forgoing my other dramas!

On a side note, before I end: One of the households on the block was a man with his wife and mistress all living together as man, wife and second wife. Now, this is something I haven’t seen before, except, of course, in historical dramas. To an American viewer it seemed extremely odd that while the maids resented dealing with two bossy women, it didn’t seem that weird to anyone – at least, no one seemed be bothered much. Passing this kind of situation off as conventional in an American movie or drama would seem absurd, at best. Am I missing something? Comments, please!

 Happy Drama Watching!

RomanceTownred shoe

“Countdown to Lee Min Ho” Drama Review: “Faith – The Great Doctor”

Faith-the-great-doctor-aka-faith-32024424-1280-720Excitement builds. The countdown is concluding. Sunday, March 10th, I will meet Lee Min Ho, up close and in person. The car is gassed up. My wardrobe is selected. Cameras and phone are charged. Extra memory cards ready to go. Voice recorder in my purse. The final installment of the ‘Countdown’ will now commence.

Following the fine tradition of saving the best for last, we end this Lee Min Ho series with “Faith” also known as “The Great Doctor”, Lee Min Ho’s latest and greatest drama, and for him, yet another genre conquered. This time we have a historical drama, or perhaps we should call it historical fantasy drama? Here’s a trailer for the series:

Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 8/10

Set in both the Goreyo period and the present day, ‘Faith’ is primarily a historical drama with a fantasy twist. Lee Min Ho stars as Choi Young, general of the king’s personal elite Woodalchi army. He is sent forward in time 700 years to find a ‘divine doctor’ to save the dying Yuan Princess (Park Se Young). Thinking he’s been sent to ‘heaven’, he retrieves plastic surgeon Yoo Eun Soo (Kim Hee Sun) bringing her back in time to save the princess and promising on his honor as a Warrior of Goreyo that he will return her to heaven.

Of course, things never go quite as planned.

A heavenly person is, of course, a far too valuable pawn to a newly crowned king. Securing his power in a country dominated by the Yuan dynasty in China, and threatened by other royalty in the family tree becomes the background plot upon which the drama is set. The story evolves as the king struggles to find (and keep) his place, the doctor struggles to return to her own time while falling for the charismatic Choi Young, and Choi Young struggles to not fall for the person he is honor bound to return.

Script/Acting: My rating 8/10

LMH dreamThe script is very well written, with few slow-moving moments, excellent characters (and character development), a nicely flowing plot line and a conclusion that made a satisfying, consistent and logical culmination to the story. Especially impressive was the continuity found throughout the drama. Many dramas begin storylines and metaphorical themes and then either lose track of them or drop them altogether. A perfect example is Choi Young’s figurative dream lake, used through the drama to steal a look into the man’s inner struggles and state of mind.

Faith-2I also found it refreshing that more than one major nemesis was introduced during the series. Threatening characters abound, so the source of menace shifts throughout as the drama while continuing to build on the dastardly devils already in play. Again, there was no loss of continuity, and the flow, to and fro, from one evil opponent to the next felt authentic and natural.

The mixture of fantasy elements was surprisingly well done, given the high level of supernatural elements added to the storyline: magical abilities, time-travel, etc.

The is one drama where I cannot really think of a single actor or actress that ‘dragged down’ the show. The acting was superb. Lee Min Ho gave a superior performance as the understated hero, Choi Young. Kim Hee Sun, as Doctor Yoo Eun Soo did a remarkable job of evolving from a hilariously irritating, Faith-5shallow, scared plastic surgeon to a brave(r), compassionate, and introspective woman. Her effusive personality was the perfect foil for Choi Young’s stoic character.  The chemistry between these two kept viewers drawn in throughout the drama.

Faith-6The development of the characters of the king and queen was also extremely well done. The parts were played by Ryu Duk Hwan as King Gong Min and Park Se Young as Princess Nogook. Again, wonderful chemistry contributed to the beautiful love story between these two.

Faith-3Amongst the good guys, a special shout out to Lee Philip as Doctor Jang Bin, the royal Goreyo doctor, and friend to Eun Soo. Lee Philip always seems to do a great job, but this was a particularly good role for him and Doctor Jang was one of the best characters in the drama. Word has it the story was changed when he incurred an injury to his eyes demanding eye surgery and his withdrawal from show. Sadly, his character was withdrawn from the last few episodes. Kim Mi Kyung is one of my favorite veteran actresses and she once again shows her inimitable style as Court lady Choi. I can only imagine she must have enjoyed this role – the first I’ve seen her employing swordplay!

The super-villain, Yoo Oh Sung as Ki Cheol, also with magical abilities (what great villain pledged sibswouldn’t have them?) was flawlessly evil while creating retaining characteristics that humanized him. His magical cohorts put in excellent performances as well: Sung Hoon as Cheon Eum Ja, the mystical flute player (who looks pretty darn good with gray-white hair, by the way) and Shin Eun Jung as Hwa Soo In, sexy fire-lady supreme. I could go on, and on, but suffice to say, there were many, many excellent performances and many well-crafted multidimensional characters! If I waxed poetic about every character I loved, this review would go on forever.

Cinematography: My rating 9/10

Great stunt fighting. Cool, magical special effects. Gorgeous settings and stunning scenery. Fabulous costuming. Music meticulously cued in to the scene and action. A beautiful musical score was created for the drama. As stated above, the fantasy elements were incorporated seamlessly. Although I read there were budget cuts during the filming of this drama, they are not evident in the cinematography.

Music: My rating 7/10

Although I tend to focus on the vocal pieces featured in dramas, the instrumental pieces accompanying them are often excellent as well. The musical scoring for ‘Faith’ was really well done. The vocal pieces, while not in my all time “Top 40 Hit List” are also nice.

Probably my favorite ballad: ”Carry On” AlI

”Because My Steps Are Slow” Shin Yong Jae (4MEN)

”Bad Person” Jang Hye Jin, MC Sniper

”Teardrop” Younha

”Look At You” Seong Hoon (Brown Eyed Soul)

”Wind’s Song” Young Joon (Brown Eyed Soul)

”Love” Rumble Fish

”Because It’s You” One Piece

Overall Charisma: My rating 9/10

There are so many emotionally draining scenes. If you need cathartic release, you’ll definitely find it here. With so many good characters to follow and so many great storylines that mesh surprisingly well without getting messy or tangled, the overall charisma for this drama is very good. This is not a series that tires you out or is difficult to follow. The chemistry is so good between all of the actors that everything seemed to gel.

Overall, “Faith” is definitely my favorite of Lee Min Ho’s dramas to date and, I feel, his best effort in dramatic performance. It has action, fantasy, drama, romance, and mystery. It has me thinking like a kid again – what superhero powers do I wish I had? 😉

Happy Drama Watching!

Faith romance

“Countdown to Lee Min Ho” Drama Review: “I Am Sam”

IAMSAM~1Less than a week remains to the big event! I’ll be heading to the Legendary Park Plaza Hotel for the 4 hour Lee Min Ho Fan Meeting event Sunday, March 10th.

And now for something rather interesting. Many may have never seen this drama as it is one of Lee Min Ho’s earlier works. Viewers beware: there are some really bad copies out there on the ‘net. Drama Fever has is a good source. I originally watched on a channel that mixed up sections and left out entire portions…

Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 7/10

The stage is set in a high school with standards a bit below average. The focal homeroom classroom is comprised of most of the miscreants of the school as well as a few of the smarter and middle-of-the-road students. Mr. Jang is the mild-mannered, painfully awkward homeroom teacher seems to actually care about them all. Enter the gangster’s daughter, an off-the-wall personality who has no interest in home-schooling and little aptitude for it. She meets Mr. Jang and decides that perhaps attending the local high school might be fun. The amusement begins.

The official trailer:

IASLeeMin Ho Script/Acting: My rating 6/10

Yang Dong Geun was a bit weak as the leading man, Teacher Jang Yi San (“Sam”). His lumbering, stammering character lacked the charisma to be truly appealing. Still, his unbelievable optimistic, uncomplicated character makes for really hilarious lines: A teacher, remarking about yet another teaching quitting due to incorrigible students: “If it weren’t for the weapons, that female teacher might not have quit.” Teacher Jang (in a droll voice): “Yes, but the fact that they could make weapons means they’re really intelligent, right?”

Top i am samMany of the lesser characters were over-played, over-acted – and sadly not really in a fun, campy manner. The second female lead, Teacher Shin (Son Tae Yeong) was also too inane, weak and one-dimensional to be appealing. I think many of these characters are meant to be funny or goofy, but somehow miss the mark.

The saving grace for this drama was a cast that sported some really great actors and actresses. The talents of these few carried the show and made the drama worth watching despite the issues. Park Min Young (City Hunter’s Kim Nana) performs in her first real lead as Yoo Eun Byul. It is easy to see why she became a rising star thereafter. Her performance is sweet, funny and memorable. T.O.P also made his acting debut in this drama and his dark brooding character fit him well. Lee Min Ho, while not a leading character, became a scene-stealer whenever on-screen as Heo Mo Se, the heart-throb son of the principal. The following clip is one of the silly, but fun scenes:

iasTOPCinematography: My rating 3/10

This drama is from 2007, but even forgiving its age the feel is rather low budget and simplistic cinematographically. Really bad special effects open the drama and set the tone for a lower-than-standard quality. Episode 1 features a few really strange scenes. Although the gangster dad is small in stature he unrealistically lifts and tosses a man across the room in one scene and in another, fires a shotgun putting a smoking hole in his study door. That in itself wouldn’t be odd, except Yang Dong Geun reacts as if a loud rapport has gone off next to his head yet the gun shot was miraculously silent. Hm. (Yeah – I replayed it a few times to be sure I didn’t miss something!) Shortly thereafter there’s another silent explosion and Park Min Young oddly and very unrealistic flys across a room. Sound effects and action are not the forte of this drama. In fact, leaving them out altogether might have been a real improvement.

Music: My rating 5/10

The musical scoring was limited but somewhat cute. The main track, “Only Me” has kind of a 50’s-ish beat that works well with high schoolers getting into shenanigans.

“Only Me” Paran

“I Do” Genie

”Love You” Byul aka Star

Overall Charisma: My rating 6/10

I am glad I had the opportunity to see this drama, although one viewing will probably be enough. (OK, it’s actually twice since I had to re-watch most of it on Drama Fever to see what I missed the first time around!) It’s worthwhile to see some of these top stars early in their careers. While the plot line limped along at times, in general, the story was worth following and several characters captured my attention.

Happy Drama Watching!

ias couple