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.

www.KoreanDrama.org – 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:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-PU0NqxhUQ

“Because Tears are Overflowing” is an beautiful ballad sung by Jessica of SNSD:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=feg3yqvnHFc

“It’s Only You” by Tei is the theme song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-4PXPTim5U&list=PL117F07ECBA769C8E

“Only You Look” by HowL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69lVSStn47g

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

Friday Drama Review – “Hong Gil Dong”: Nearly Caused My Demise

HongGilDong 셰릴씨의 ‘드라마가좋다’ – ‘홍길동’

그녀가 최고로 꼽는 사극 중 하나인 ‘홍길동’의 평을 들어보자

Quite some time ago now, I had decided it was time to conquer a new genre of Korean drama and, never having seen a historical drama, I set about reading synopses. Hong Gil Dong looked to fit the bill — a Korean Robin Hood? Perfect. Our Robin Hood stories are fun and adventurous so this was sure to be great fun. Yeah. :-/

I will begin by telling you that this is, to date, one of my favorite historical dramas. However, I also experienced at least three days post—drama trauma, being reduced to a sobbing, blubbering mess. OK, I may be a little emotional.

Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 8/10

Hong Gil Dong is a mythical figure is Korea as well known as Robin Hood or King Arthur is to English speaking people. Understanding his story and myth was one of the reasons I wanted to watch this drama as references are made to this character as colloquially as we do with our mythical figures.

The story in set in Joseon times and revolves around a man born illegitimately to a high-ranking official with mad skills in the martial arts. Although initially a happy—go—lucky drifter, he is inspired to fight for justice for the common people. While the Hong Gil Dong is indeed a Robin Hood sort of figure, the character quickly evolves, and the story becomes something more along the lines of “Braveheart”, than the lighthearted Robin Hood adventure tale the synopses led me to believe.

Script/Acting: My rating 8/10

Kang Ji Hwan stars as Hong Gil Dong and Jang Geun Suk as Prince Lee Chang Hui, a young man with the best of ambitions, wanting to protect his people well and seeing the value of Hong Gil Dong. Sung Yu Ri is Heo Yi Nok, a sweet, innocent, but not terribly bright young woman loved by both men. The trio creates a dynamic connection with each other Hisand with the viewers. Jang Geun Suk’s performance was stellar and, in my opinion, one of his finest performances. Kang Ji Hwan also shone, but I have yet to see anything of his I have not liked (yet?) There were a fleet of fabulous, extremely well-written and well-acted characters aside from the main three as well: a mad king played by Jo Hee Bong, Choi Ran as Lady Noh, the ever-present guardian to the prince, as well as the many wonderful oddballs in Hong Gil Dong’s tribe of misfits.

The script itself is a delightful mix of fantasy, comedy and ultimately heartrending, gut—wrenching drama. The characters are built and developed thoughtfully throughout. Although set in the Joseon period, period language is not used, but modern day language, including modern slang.

Cinematography: My rating 8/10

Fun special effects, silly props and great sets made for seriously good viewing. Hilarious costuming that literally looks like badly patched bathrobes alongside spectacular period costumes constantly tweaked the viewers’ sense of propriety. Somewhat distracting are the odd sounds not filtered in many quiet indoor scenes. The following scene is Yi Nok and Hong Gil Dong’s first comical encounter:

Music: My rating 8/10

I think it must be mentioned that only now, over a year later, can I finally listen to Park Wan Kyu’s “Fate” without weeping. Lovely sad songs abound, and the vast majority of the music is more than worthy of listening to more than once. Track lists are available online although not as popular on American music venues.  ”Yun“ is a haunting tune, ”Alone“, heartbreaking, ”Back To You My Tears“ evokes a sense of yearning, ”What If“ beautifully romantic (and sung by Tae Yeon of SNSD).

The real fun, however is the wild mix-ups thrown in here and there. For example, the opening scenes feature a Lord’s extravagant party complete with entertainment that suddenly becomes break-dancing to a thoroughly modern R & B track. One would have thought Shinee and the Wonder Girls dropped in. Moments later it’s a fast-paced fantasy martial arts extravaganza. The music throughout is a wild mixture of modern and period.

Overall Charisma: My rating 9/10

Again, for a drama where to American sensibilities, everything’s is just totally messed up at the end, it was in fact, refreshingly honest, humorous, dreadful, and real. The fact that it evoked such strong emotions is evidence in and of itself that it was drama at its’ finest.

I was intrigued that despite the fact that everything went horribly wrong in the end and my mind was screaming that it was just NOT HOW THINGS SHOULD GO, surprisingly, it all made perfect sense. The final decisions, while sad, we’re inevitable and correct. In an American drama, something ridiculous probably would have happened to make everything turn out all right, but not so in a Korean drama. The fact that it all ended horribly was — well — OK. In fact, it was really the perfect ending for the story. A happy ending would have nullified everything that happened before.

So much more like real life, don’t you think? Dang. That’s kind of depressing. Better go watch something happy now.

Happy Drama Watching!

jang geunsuk