[Get Drama] Friday Drama Review – “What’s Up”

What'sUpAnd on to the genre of Musical Dramas.

 

An absolute sleeper of a drama, “What’s Up” definitely has some great vocals, given that Kang Daesung, main vocalist for Big Bang has a starring role. Due to an unusual number of setback and struggles, the drama was finally aired months after the final episode was produced, but with a notable lack of fanfare. To this day, the drama is relegated to the discount bin, forgotten and unseen by most. What a shame. Well worth viewing, “What’s Up” was robbed of the accolades it richly deserved.

 

Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 7/10

Unlike other musical dramas whose plot-lines are thinly constructed covers for the music they purvey, “What’s Up” features a real plot, real characters and a story worth following. And for good reason, too: well-known script writer Song Ji Na stretched her wings and wrote something for young people. A variety of misfits find camaraderie, love and purpose as they struggle together through their first year as students in the Musical Theatre department of a university.

What'sUpcastHa Do Sung (Daesung) is the shy, hidden child of a politically connected woman. Seething with natural talent, he yearns for the approval he knows he can win from appreciative audiences, much to the dismay of a family who want to hide him as a shameful secret. Jang Jae Hun (Im Ju Hwan) has a chip the size of Montana on his shoulders. He’s a bit older than the general student population, having spent a few years rough-housing on the streets before deciding to straighten out his path and pursue his newfound passion – the theatre. Oh Doo Ri (Im Joo Eun) is a big personality trapped in the conformist trappings set forth by her domineering stage mother. College is her opportunity to bust loose. Eun Chae Young (Jang Hee Jin) is well known actress whose career is faltering and, before she crashes and burns, decides to take a break and go to school. She’s definitely one of the ‘cool kids’, though. Park Tae Yi (Kim Ji Won) is a character. Goofy. Scattered. Sweet. Her father is killed in a tragic car accident and she is trying to fend for herself in a world for which she’s not entirely ready. Kim Byung Gun (Jo Jung Suk) desperately wants to be a musical theatre actor but suffers horrible stage fright.

The cool guys? Teacher Sun Woo Young, for one. Played by Oh Man Suk, he comes to epitomize what we want great teachers to be: creative and caring. He does, however, have issues of his own. On the cool student list: Lee Soo Hyuk as Lee Soo Bin, songwriter extraordinaire, with a cult following all his own, even though he’s only a sophomore in college.

 

Script/Acting: My rating 7/10

daesungThe plot is on the dark side, with main character, Jang Jae Hun, trying to escape from, and eventually atone for the mistakes of his past. The story intertwines characters’ stories in an expert fashion, bringing them to a ‘coming-of-age’ culmination that heals and redeems. The teacher, Sun Woo, in need of redemption of his own, grows and changes along with the kids in the story.
It came as no surprise that Daesung used his epic voice to belt out glorious tunes. Kim Ji Won’s voice, however, was a pleasant surprise in it’s sweet, freshness, with a beautiful alto range as well as a clear, natural soprano. Jo Jung Suk also has an amazing voice. Note, however, that as the soundtrack is mysteriously unavailable, even though the drama was released in 2011, there is no way of verifying who, exactly, sang the musical numbers in the OST.

 

Cinematography: My rating 6/10

Fun dance numbers, including a few American vintage tunes are notable. Costuming was adequately done. While nothing stood out as overtly outstanding (in terms of cinematography, that is) the general impression was one of a well-balanced, well-timed drama with focus resting squarely on character development.

 

Music: My rating 8/10

For the most part, the music is Impossible to locate. Only the Daesung sung, “Lunatic” appears to have been released and is readily available.

Dub-steppy background music. I love the silly, funky music that plays whenever Park Tae Yee is Lost and/or confused.

A scene from episode 18 features a montage set to the music of “What’s Up”, The character of Doo Ri sings at the beginning and the end, but the original soundtrack (4 Non Blonde) is fused into the middle.

The OST tracklist the following music, but as I’ve stated, it appears never to have been released.

”Lunatic”  Daesung

“Look Upon Your Path”  Vois Sur Ton Chemin

“This is the Moment”  Daesung

“Those Magic Changes” Jo Jung Suk

“Stupid Cupid” Kim Ji Won

“You & I”

 

Overall Charisma: My rating 8/10

Despite the fact that the drama was so highly anticipated, that it had a fabulous writer (Song Ji-nah of Sandglass, Story of a Man, and Legend), and an incredible cast, it had an incredibly rocky path on its way to airing. First SBS canceled its timeslot which delayed things for a few months as the producers scrambled to find another home view time, then Kang Daesung got into the car accident that caused a motorcyclist’s death, which despite Daesung’s resultant innocent verdict, caused inevitable delays and more than a little scandal.

Perhaps the bad luck surrounding the drama account for it’s low ratings and resultant descent into obscurity.

Regardless, the drama needs to be resurrected from the shadows and brought back out into the daylight where it belongs.

 

Happy Drama Watching!

 WhatsUp couple

 

Director: Song Ji-Won

Writer: Song Ji-Na

Friday Drama Review – “Vampire Prosecutor”

Suffering serious culture shock, the Soju DramaQueen segued from Classic Historical Drama last week to edgy Crime Sci-Fi Fantasy this week.

Vampire-Prosecutor3How exactly does one adequately transition from Dae Jang Geum to Vampire Prosecutor? It’s a valid question.

The two dramas could not possibly be more different. Honestly, I was really expecting to not like these dramas. In fact, I never intended to watch the second season, but lo and to my astonishment, my expectations were, well, wrong.  I watched both seasons back-to-back, not stopping for a breath.

Having refused (for many years now) to succumb to the whole “Twilight” saga thing, the overdone vampire concept does not hold much appeal for me. Remarkably well conceptualized and visually appealing, Vampire Prosecutor and Vampire Prosecutor 2 were surprises. They had the same slick, sexy sci-fi presentation that makes American dramas like “Fringe”, “Supernatural” and “Warehouse 13” appealing – just credible enough to be engaging instead of tacky, enigmatic instead of preposterous.

 

Vampire-Prosecutor-2-Poster-2Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 8/10

The format is quite unusual for a Korean drama in that each episode is somewhat standalone – in other words – each tells its own little story, quite similar to American crime dramas like “CSI”, “Criminal Minds” or “Bones”. Like the American dramas there are thematic plot lines following the main characters from episode to episode making sequential viewing preferential, but not entirely essential. The thread of mystery, the titillating back-story surrounding our Vampire Prosecutor imparted piecemeal in each episode is part of what keeps the viewer waiting for the next episode.

vampireprosecutor2The premise is simple: A prosecutor (who happens to be a vampire, albeit reluctantly) and his team of non-vampire associates solve various well-scripted crimes. The hook? Being a vampire gives Min Tae Yeon (Yeon Jung Hoon) an edge in crime-solving because tasting the blood of the victim allows him to experience the victim’s death. Painful, to be sure, but he is often able to determine the main culprit(s) instantaneously. His faithful sidekick and confidant is Detective Hwang Soon Bum (Lee Won Vampire-Prosecutor12Jong) who serves not only as an essential crime-fighting team member, but also as ‘big brother’ to the troupe. Prosecutor Yoo Jung In (Lee Young Ah) is the new member to the team and seriously wants to know what secret her boss, Prosecutor Min is hiding from her. Rounding out the team is Kim Joo Young as Choi Dong Man, the young intern eager to win approval and full-time status with his lab skills.

 

Vampire-Prosecutor-2-2Script/Acting: My rating 7/10

It’s frustratingly unclear why the detective, Hwang Soon Bum, knows about Min Tae Yeon’s dark secret from the beginning. There are a few people with inside knowledge, convenient to be sure, but the fact that we didn’t know why throughout was distracting and somewhat annoying. Some, of course, turn out to be vampires themselves!

Vampire-Prosecutor-2-5The first season featured sexy coroner Soo Hee (Kim Ye Jin). Dong Man and Soon Bum spend much time vying for the best view of her – ah – attributes. There is a priceless scene involving Soo Hee demonstrating how the killer stabbed the victim using Dong Man as a stand-in. Dong Man is miming ecstasy as she wraps her arms around him from behind.

Coming fresh off of watching “Dae Jang Geum,” I found it amusing to find references to the drama in episode 8, when it is discovered that a person they are interrogating is named Lee Young Ae. (But whose appearance is hilariously in contrast to the beautiful idol.)

vamp09-00011Vampire Prosecutor 2 had the same team minus the sexy coroner, adding in her place a grandfatherly figure, quickly beloved by the staff: Lee Kyoung Young as Jo Jyung Hyun. Vampire Prosecutor 2 also had more substantial plot lines focusing on the main characters in the traditional K-drama fashion, (definitely requiring sequential viewing) rather than the American style crime drama format of the previous season. An important character carried over from Season 1, the faceless villain vampirebad vampire, is unmasked early in Season 2 – Kwon Hyun Sang identified as “L”. As if to counteract the dastardliness of the villain, teeny tiny sweetheart Kim Ji Young was added Ji-Ae, the staff’s ‘adopted’ daughter. This pint-sized sweetie was amazingly convincing in her heart-wrenchingly tearful scenes.

Quick note 1: Vampire Prosecutor 2 Episode 6 is a direct rip-off of “Miss Congeniality” with Prosecutor Yoo made over by a flamboyant stylist so she can infiltrate a fashion show as a model. It was, however, entertaining none-the-less.

Quick note 2: A massive cliffhanger at the end of Season 2 demands a Season 3, which is apparently in OCN’s 2013 lineup, but no set dates have been confirmed.

 

Cinematography: My rating 8/10

Edgy. Visually exciting. Unique scene transitions – excellent pacing. Cool slow-mo fight scenes showing off the superhuman strength of our fanged hero. A minor distraction was that the same video clip of blood cells, internal organs, etc. was used every time Prosecutor Min ‘sampled’ a victim’s blood. What was cool the first time was old by the end. Overall, though, the cinematography was excellent.

 

Music: My rating 7/10

Great musical tracks. Fun, upbeat guitar music – against all odds!

From Teasers:

Skrillex Feat. Sirah “Bangarang”

Season 1:

Joseph Feat. Rhino – “Dont Cry” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjxiNmue-go

Lee Jung – “Crazy for Love” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUEOt9xyLb4

Songs featured in episodes: “Camper” Albert Kick Feat. Jason Rene, “Stronger Than Me” Amy Winehouse, “Hot N Fun” N.E.R.D Feat. Nelly Furtado, “Rhythm Of Love” Plain White T’s, “Like A Dream” Midnight Boi

Season 2:

MC Sniper – “Danger” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJ1mru14crM

Songs Featured in episodes:  LMFAO “Sexy and I Know It”, H.O.T. “Warrior’s Descendants”, H.O.T. “Candy”, S.E.S. “I’m Your Girl”, Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe”, David Guetta Feat. Usher “Without You”

 

Overall Charisma: My rating 8/10

While thematically vampirism is certainly overused, at least it was used somewhat creatively in this series, and not as the main point of the drama. The hip cinematographic style, contemporary music and unusual format made viewing quite satisfying. The creation of good characters that viewers wanted to empathize with and pursue made the series worth following. Excellent acting added to the appeal.

Overall, my surprise at the intensity of my enthusiasm for this drama mirrors my initial surprise at the appeal of Korean dramas in general. I guess they will never fail to surprise me with unusual quality and fascination. At least, I (bloody) hope not. 😉

Happy Drama Watching!

 

Vamp2_2

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 – “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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3_FnVfVQR8

“Tears Rain” Fat Cat http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVaWACCsM-o

“You Don’t Know” Kim Nam Gil  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SiLUacdgYI

“There Is No Love” Lim Jae Wook http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=beoQPnzsBOk

“I Love You I Hate You” Lee Jin Sung http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0dUE-WZfbw

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

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) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAi6wIilOWQ

So sweet… “Snowflake” by Gummy – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjfrsvOrhLo

“Tears Falling” Kim Boa http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GULDAXrJX1s

An outstanding ballad: “Gray Paper” Yesung (Super Junior) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1l0o5Pl5tlA

One of the best ballads I’ve heard in a long time: “Winter Love” The One http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEhQKr6VCMU

 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!

tender

Interview with Bernie Cho, Executive Producer for DFSB Kollective

Marketing Genius & King of Music Promotion

 

BernieChoBernie Cho is an interesting man. Raised and educated in the U.S, he moved to Seoul in search of a graduate degree. What he found instead was a serendipitous offer to work for MNET and MTV(Korea), which he did for a few years, becoming a Senior Producer Manager. At some point he saw the Korean music scene had a niche that needed filling and he promptly took on the task.

The DFSB Kollective began in 2008 focusing on exporting Korean music to the world. Within the first year they had signed distribution contracts with Apple’s iTunes and began full-scale international promotion of their artists’ music. His company has since been responsible for launching literally hundreds of Korean artists and groups into the international arena.

DFSB_iconlogoTheir mission is simple: They want to be an artist-friendly music service that artists the best profit percentage in the industry. They want to provide the most efficient solutions for selling music worldwide and provide expert promotional services. The service encompasses protecting the artistic rights to the music, as well, and the DFSB Kollective has successfully shut down the largest Kpop piracy sites worldwide, collecting over $1 million in judgments and settlements from offenders.

Bernie Cho is a man who appears to be passionate about his mission. He believes live music is where the potential lies. There are a lot of great Korean artists and he wants to protect and promote them. The genres covered by the Kollective span everything from Indie Punk to Gospel.

seoulsonicThat passion takes him on tour annually with Seoulsonic, a live tour that began in 2011, bringing Korean Indie rock music to the U.S every spring. Indie music has a big market in the America. It goes without saying that rock is big here. Bernie feels that the strength of Korean music is its diversity with an emphasis on originality. The live experience is irreplaceable, and bringing the musicians to the U.S. is great experience, not only for the eager audiences, but for the musicians, as well. The artists learn to be comfortable expressing themselves to a larger audience in a foreign language. They begin to realize that Americans are ready to embrace them and are happy to hear them, even if their English isn’t perfect – in fact, less than perfect English endears them to their American fans.

No BrainSeoulsonic seems to be gaining strength each year as its fan base grows. This year with stops that included performances at SXSW in Austin, the Korean-American Film Festival in New York (KAFFNY) and Toronto, Canada for Canadian Music Week, the tour is force to be taken seriously. High energy acts like Goonam (2012 Korean Music Awards : Modern Rock Album of the Year – Nominee), Lowdown 30 (2013 Korean Music Awards : Rock Album of the Year – Nominee), and No Brain (2007 Korean Music Awards : Band of the Year – Winner) definitely draw crowds. Ask a fellow Korean if they know No Brain and they’ll likely respond in the affirmative. No Brain has been around since 1996 when they began in the Hongdae region of Seoul, famous for producing indie bands. As an added bonus, traveling alongside Seoulsonic this year were 2011 Seoulsonic campadres Galaxy Express, whose album “Noise On Fire” won Best Rock Album at the 2009 Korean Music Awards.

So what’s the future of Korean and music and the DFSB Kollective? “Wide open”, says Bernie. With the diverse and incredible talents coming from Korea and social networking opening the path wide, the need for marketing, protecting and promoting will remain in high demand. Live music will always be a huge draw. The time is ripe for bringing acts that already have internet-based international devotees into the heart and homelands of their waiting fans.

And they’ll certainly generate a few more K-disciples along the way.

UPDATED! [Interview] Galaxy Express at the Void

galaxy-express

UPDATED with newly rediscovered exclusive interview – now available as PodCast!

 

If you weren’t there, you missed the Super Psychedelic Rock N Roll Party

Wednesday night, Galaxy Express, award-winning Korean indie band, rocked El Cajon Boulevard for an enthusiastic crowd of fans, old and new alike. With fist-pumping, foot-stomping energy, this rock-till-you-drop band kept the mood electric from start to finish.

Masters of rhythmic dynamics, their music keeps you moving and the tempo constantly surprises you. And the vocals are excellent: guitarist Park JongHyun and bassist Lee JuHyun harmonize and sing counterpoint to one another throughout giving lie to the idea that indie punk is just a lot of screaming. Wildly screaming guitar licks are another story: JongHyun has total control over the six-string beast he calls ‘guitar’. Mad, complex bass lines scream from JuHyun’s side of the stage, too. Kim HeeKwon’s powerful drumming keeps everything on track and that’s no mean feat – Galaxy Express’ musical style takes great joy in mixing up the rythyms – keeping the listener/participant on their toes, literally and figuratively. Don’t underestimate their stage presence, either – these guys know how to entertain. Jonghyun’s humorous, easy-going banter with the crowd and their lively stage style are attention-grabbing and entertaining.

GEtourGalaxy Express has managed a North American tour in the Spring for the last three years. San Diego was one of the final stops on their Wild Live Tour 2013. The tour began in San Francisco on March 7th and has taken the energetic young men to Texas for SXSW, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and finally, back to California for back to back wind ups in San Diego, Fresno, Oakland and Los Angeles. They have taken the Korean indie band scene by storm, winning Album of the Year at the 2009 Korean Music Awards with “Noise On Fire” and Musician of the Year in 2011.

Traveling by bus and camping in KOA campgrounds, the men have had a grueling schedule with little time for sightseeing. They were, however, able to stop off and see Hoover Dam on the way over from Phoenix: “It was really big!” and then see the Grand Canyon. “It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It was so huge! Impressive!”

Their last U.S. performance this year will be at the Dim Mak Studio in L.A. tomorrow night (Saturday April 6) for die-hard San Diego fans wanting to make to trek. Those unable to make it there may have to suffice with buying the albums on iTunes. Turn the volume up and get ready for some head-banging, soul-pounding sound. Just make sure your headphones and speakers are up to the task.

 

Friday Drama Review – “City Hall”

City-Hall-Poster2

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 http://dr-myri-blog.blogspot.com/2013/02/my-top-5-swimming-pool-scenes.html

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) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5bpLjADBDc

The best love ballad: Uncertain Love by Horan of Clazziquai http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vyfJyFUUhnI

Smile by Chae Dong Ha of SG Wannabe (feat. Amen) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2da9fw5GVR4

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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oHt0FwoICY

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  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLlQS5zJZFU

Sweet!:  “I Want to Date You” Yoon Shi Yoon http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yza-0dn1u8

Love this one, too: “Talkin’ Bout Love” J Rabbit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOJRAdJASiE

“Pitch Black” Park Shin Hye

“You Wake Me Up” Kim Seul Ki http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IG7HM0BNUlQ

 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

F(x) and Anna Kendrick on “Funny or Die”

funny_or_die_logo-ae716c9b496206e42e3f7bfbf772890bWow – Should Anna Kendrick join F(x)?

 

Check out this fun collaborative video and you tell me!

 

http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/78b1d27dab/anna-kendrick-goes-k-pop-with-f-x

 

Thanks, Dani, for the heads up on this one!