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5 reasons to watch Circle: Two Worlds Connected

While Circle wasn’t a perfect show, I’ve got to admit that it’s one of the stronger sci-fi kdramas I’ve run across. And as such, I do think it’s worth your time if you’ve got it to spare. Just remember you’re probably going to need to take a break every now and then—things can get intense.

1. It’s only twelve episodes.

The worst tragedy is watching a story desperately over-expand to try to fill up the space it really just isn’t meant to take. Or worse, endlessly recycle plot points or going off the rails because they have to use up every single one of their weeks because the next show literally hasn’t started filming yet. The writer, director, network, and anyone else involved in calling the shots on the length for this show made an excellent decision to limit it to just twelve episodes. Any further, and it would have required pointless plot twists or lumbering B-plots to take up air time. Circle knew where it wanted to go, and it went there in a timely fashion, for the most part. Continue reading “5 reasons to watch Circle: Two Worlds Connected”

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4 hopes for Avengers Social Club

Still no word yet (that I can find) about whether or not this will be licensed somewhere, but I’d like to watch it. It has been a long time since I’ve watched a kdrama centered on middle-aged ladies, and I’m always a sucker for a well-deserved revenge, so this could be exactly my thing. If, you know, someone picks it up. In the meantime, here are four things I hope will happen:

  1. Jung-hye and Mi-sook will leave their husbands. Look, life’s too short to waste it telling yourself a piece of trash will cease to be a piece of trash, and I am exceptionally done with kdramas were male relatives/lovers/whatever are forgiven for basically everything under the sun. Once these two get their revenge (for “betrayal” and domestic violence, respectively), I want them to get the hell out of Dodge. Permanently.
  2. We get lots of social commentary about the expectations of women in society and how they intersect with class. Jung-hye’s the chaebol daughter who did her best in a business marriage as a housewife, Mi-sook’s a housewife and an orphan whose husband has a respected career, and Do-hee sounds like she could be lower middle class/working class as a widowed fishseller at a traditional market. This setup is ripe for an exploration of feminist and classist issues, and I hope the writers go headlong into it.
  3. The ladies become BFFs. Okay, maybe this is gimme with this setup, but I’m paranoid, okay? They don’t have to like each other right away, but by the end of this, I want the three of them to totally be ready to bury bodies for each other and provide alibis.
  4. Soo-kyum doesn’t overtake the narrative. I’ve only seen him in one poster, so I hope he stays in a similarly small portion of the story. I’m worried that he might overtake Jung-hye’s revenge scheme considering they’re targeting at least one of the same people. Let her shine, Soo-kyum. You can help her out, but don’t take over her status as the lead.

Will you be watching the show? If so, what are your hopes for it?

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5 reasons to watch Splash Splash Love

Despite the high praise of basically all of my mutuals, I didn’t get around to watching Splash Splash Love until this year. I’m so glad I finally did, because this drama special is funny, heartfelt, and just two hours long. You should definitely put it on your list this fall/winter, for when you need a little pick-me-up. Here are five reasons why I gave this drama special my highest rating category:

1. It focuses on the heroine’s personal journey.

Splash Splash Love is all the better for the fact that the heroine’s good ending is mostly focused on her personal growth and return home than it is its youthful romance (though more on that one later). It’s always refreshing to see a heroine who has a life independent of her romantic relationship with the hero, and it isn’t often that a heroine chooses home and family over a life that would have probably been good for her but wouldn’t have been able to assuage her homesickness.

On top of that, Dan-bi’s happiness couldn’t be achieved until after she had conquered her own trial: building up her confidence and skills in math. Not the most common of goals, but fulfilling that point really is what makes our heroine fit a lot of the old Hero’s Journey milestones (complete with death threats if she can’t math well enough). I’ll never get tired of ladies leveling up and doing things that once were hard for them. Continue reading “5 reasons to watch Splash Splash Love”

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5 reasons to watch Naked Fireman

Don’t lie now—you know that the title of this drama special totally caught your attention. I originally went into this show expecting the absurd. And while I got that in spades, I also got a heaping dose of believable romance, found families, and an exciting thriller. Here are five reasons you should watch Naked Fireman the next time you have a spot open on your to-watch list:

1. The prickly, jaded heroine and innocent hero fall in love.

I love it when prickly ladies fall in love and are loved in return without having to completely wipe and rewrite their personalities. Jin-ah is blunt, clever, and utterly determined to solve the mystery of her parents’ murders. Even though she is still very traumatized over the whole thing (and is receiving treatment for it, and not shamed for needing it!), she throws herself headfirst into investigating based on the clue she recently remembered via therapy. And while she goes from distrusting Cheol-soo to being deeply in love with him in just four episodes, the incremental thawing of her heart and budding belief in his innocence is magnificent.

Cheol-soo, in the meantime, is a comedic slacker, who isn’t always quick on the uptake but nonetheless has a good heart and more courage than he probably should. Yes, he’ll trust his con artist and thief of a friend with basically everything up to in and including his life, and he’ll also put himself in embarrassing situations to help his father figure receive life-saving medical treatment. He’s the hero with a heart of gold who rises to the occasion and falls head-over-heels for the rich woman who is only supposed to be spending time with him to draw him shirtless. Continue reading “5 reasons to watch Naked Fireman”

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Closing – 4 hopes for Save Me

Now that the drama is over, it’s time to review how it held up against my original expectations.

We get a ton of social commentary. The drama did surprisingly well in that regard. Instead of pausing every couple of episodes for self-righteous speeches about the corruption of those in power, the injustices that were perpetrated were instead an integral part of the story. From Sang-mi being trapped in the Guseonwon to Dong-chul’s imprisonment to police officers who looked the other way to believers being milked for cash, we got to see failure after failure of the system and society. Perhaps the most reaffirming part of it all was that the good guys didn’t try to excuse their own family members’ complicity—they called them out on it instead, repeatedly.

Sang-mi’s trauma isn’t played to motivate the boys. I’m so happy about how this played out. Yeah, sure, the boys answered the call to help her, and they often expressed sympathy and were upset about her plight, but at no point did any of them take her suffering and make it about them. The boys suffered for her, because they understood that the Guseonwon was a shitty, dangerous, evil organization, and they could not help her unless they helped her bring the entire thing down.

Jung-ki is terrifying. Yep. He was. He was terrifying in his soft-spoken, I-have-half-a-dozen-people-willing-to-die-and-or-commit-murder-for-me way, and the grip he had on the Guseonwon members’ lives was absolutely awful. The man was a charismatic predator with a silver tongue and an ability to inspire fanatical devotion. His stolen wealth let him rub shoulders with the local elites and gave him absolute control in his domain. It has been a long time since I’ve seen someone who deserved to be set on fire as much as he did.

Give me an optimistic ending. Thank you. Despite the murders and the continuance of the splintered Guseonwon group, Sang-mi got her happy ending with her mother and was able to go out into the real world, just like she wanted. Dong-chul was able to start reconnecting with his father (here’s hoping he has a spot in an recovering alcoholics program), and Sang-hwan got the miracle of his mother waking up. The world is still populated with evil, corrupt people, but this time the young people won, and I’m so grateful they did.

Save Me exceeded my expectations, and it has cemented its spot near the top of my 2017 ranking. What did you think of the show?

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4 Hopes for While You Were Sleeping

Park Hye-run is back with two actors she has worked with before: Bae Suzy and Lee Jong-suk. My excitement levels are high, though they are tempered a little with some specific-to-me disappointments about Pinocchio and my wariness of kdramas in general this year. Nonetheless, I have been looking forward to this ever since the drama was first announced and these two people were cast. Here are my four hopes for the show:

  • Jae-chan is kind to Hong-joo. It’s such a low bar, but it’s amazing how many heroes refuse to clear it. I’m not asking for him to instantly believe Hong-joo’s prophetic dreams or even like her (though clearly he needs to like her at some point if there’s ever going to be a romance), but I am beyond tired of guys being unnecessarily rude/outright antagonistic for the smallest, pettiest reasons. Is it so hard for an adult to be polite to another adult?
  • Hong-joo’s dreams obey rules (that we can learn) and do not break them. I got burned bad by W: Two Worlds in this regard, so I’m hoping that PHR paid attention to what went wrong with Song Jae-jung’s writing (and learned from her own world building problems in Pinocchio) and will make the effort to provide a consistent narrative with a satisfying ending.
  • Hong-joo gets to have a close relationship with her mother. I need more good mother/daughter relationships in my entertainment, and since Hong-joo lives with her mother, that’s the perfect opportunity.
  • Hong-joo and Jae-chan become a real team. None of this she-has-the-dream-and-he-runs-off-to-solve-problems-without-her thing. I want them to work together to prevent the catastrophes she sees. I want them to depend on each other and to value one another. Is that too much to ask?

Will you be watching While You Were Sleeping? What are your hopes for the show? Let me know!

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4 kdramas for new watchers

Everyone’s got to start somewhere, right? Boys Over Flowers, Coffee Prince, City Hunter–those were some of the big gateway shows for my corner of the internet. (Coffee Prince was my first ever kdrama, thanks to Crunchyroll, though it was a different show that got me hooked.)

I was thinking today about what shows I would recommend to someone new to kdrama. Which shows did a good job with tropes I would later come to recognize as staples of their genres? Which ones are good enough that they’ll hold up to viewing after the new and shiny have worn off? I finally settled on four dramas (not listed above) that I thought would be a good jumping off point for people who are just starting out:

#1 – School 2013

Why it’s a good beginner drama: This drama has a bit of everything you’ll need to be familiar with if you’re interested in teen/youth-oriented shows: school violence/bullying, ridiculous academic pressure, societal despair, etc. You’ll learn fast that there are a lot of shit adults in the world–and also some who will go out of their way to help a lost soul or two. A strong ensemble cast and multitude of interweaving (and emotional) plots keep the viewer engaged. It’s ultimately a hopeful story about high school students gearing up to face the adult world in the near future.

#2 – Flower Boy Next Door

Why it’s a good beginner drama: This slice-of-life contemporary romance provides a good look at the common romance roles (heroine, hero, second female lead, second male lead) and some of the standard plot roles they tend to fill. However, in a fun twist, it’s the hero who is the bubbly bit of sunshine while the heroine is more reserved. You’ll get a taste of frequent twenty-something plots, like career issues, uncertainty about romance, sorting out what life means to them, etc. Also, point to this drama whenever anyone tells you that asshole male leads must be tolerated in romantic kdramas. NOPE.

 

 

#3 – Arang and the Magistrate

Why it’s a good beginner drama: I know a lot of hardcore sageuk fans will poo-poo the notion that fusion is a good way to start historical dramas, but one of the benefits of this show is that you literally do not need to know anything about the Joseon era in order to dive into it. While a wide range of historical figures either feature directly in or are major background players to a lot of sageuks, the king and all of his assorted palace drama are so far away he never appears on screen. A new viewer can get used to the historical outfits and character types (shaman, loyal servant, corrupt local officials, etc.) without needing to pause and look up political factions, historical events, and impending massacres.

#4 – Heartless City

Why it’s a good beginner drama: This fast-paced cops vs. gangster drama will thrust you deep into the seedy underground of Seoul, and you might never want to leave. You’ll get to see some of the best versions of character archetypes, from kingpins in well-tailored suits to loudly dressed (and accented) minions to sexy femme fatales to undercover and corrupt (and corrupt undercover) cops. This will serve as an excellent entryway into the Korean gangster movie genre, too, if you want a whole lot more violence and a whole lot more sex once you’ve got the basics down.


Apparently my golden age was 2012/2013. Those are my four recommendations for beginner kdrama watchers. What would make your list? Let me know!

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4 kdramas that I wish had a second season

I know, I know—second seasons are a mixed-to-terrible bag in dramaland. Franchises seem to work better overall (see: Flower Boys series, School series), but there are a couple of dramas that I think had enough story potential for a second season. When I reviewed my completed dramas, I was actually surprised by how few of my top ten dramas (I need to update this…) made it on this list.

Then again, a lot of my top tens are top tens precisely because they completed the story they wanted to tell and I was satisfied with the ending. And while my fangirl heart might want sixteen episodes of domestic bliss and skinship, I can concede that it probably wouldn’t be the best business decision. Nevertheless, here are four dramas I would be very interested in getting a second season for, though I know it’ll never happen. Beware of show-ending spoilers! Continue reading “4 kdramas that I wish had a second season”

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4 Hopes for Save Me

Okay, I’m just going to be honest: I’ve grown increasingly fascinated by religious cults over the last couple of years, so the moment I heard about Save Me, I knew I needed to check it out. I also have a soft spot for Taecyeon, ever since Dream High, so it’ll be nice to see him again. I don’t know a whole lot about this show, the original webtoon, the cast, the writer, or the PD, so my expectations are pretty low. Nevertheless, I still have some:

  1. We get a ton of social commentary. I want to talk power, corruption, religious fervor, complicity, apathy, etc. Give me a vicious skewering of all the ways people turn a blind eye to evil for the sake of keeping the peace and holding on to their power and prestige.
  2. Sang-mi’s trauma isn’t played to motivate the boys. I’ve seen precisely two trailers, so I’ve got a fairly good idea of where this could wind up. Don’t go there, show. Sang-mi is the one who is trying to escape the cult—let her retain her emotional arc instead of just using it to upset the boys. Do I want them to care about her? Yes. Do I want them to help her? Absolutely. I just don’t want whatever happens to her to be taken over by manpain.
  3. Jung-ki is terrifying. I want him to be kind and charismatic in one moment and a hundred percent terrifying in the next. The actor, Cho Seong-ha, did a fantastic job of playing a two-faced character in the few episodes I watched of The K2. I want to see the charisma that is able to attract fanatical followers and the menace that keeps everyone else under his control.
  4. Give me an optimistic ending. The kids can suffer and have their illusions shattered about the world, but I still want them to pull off something other than a downer ending. I want them to triumph despite all the obstacles in their paths and resolve to do better than all of the people who failed them. Pretty please?

Will you be watching Save Me? What are your hopes for the show? Let me know!

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4 hopes for Criminal Minds

I have a soft spot in my heart for Criminal Minds though it has been literal years since I’ve watched an episode. I’ve got high hopes for the kdrama remake, for two reasons: 1) I adore Moon Chae-won and Lee Jun-ki, and 2) the writers had over a decade of American material to use and/or adapt as needed (or use some of their own country’s notorious cases). Surely they have made excellent decisions on which cases to use and which ones to skip over! I know I’ve got some unsubs that I would love to have pop up again.

In any case, I’m excited for this show. Here are the four things I hope will happen:

  1. Romance won’t get in the way of catching criminals. I don’t even know if there are going to be any love-lines (though please keep the Derek/Penelope-esque banter, I always adored that, though I am upset they didn’t get a plus sized actress for the Penelope role). And while I would be all over a MCW/LJK pairing, if that does happen, please restrict it to the downtime between cases.
  2. The victims aren’t women all the time, and their personhood is respected. Abused/raped/murdered women are all over the place in procedurals. It’s an unsavory part of the genre, I know, but an unrelenting wave of female victims just makes me ridiculously tired, especially when the bodies are used to titillate or the victims aren’t respected. I’ve dropped shows for this nonsense before, and I’m hoping that this remake will carry over some of the best compassionate moments from the original (and ditch the exploitative ones).
  3. Ha Sun-woo isn’t the only one to change in order to work well with Kim Hyun-joon. The cold + logical/hot + impulsive archetype is at least a century old by now. I love it when it’s done well—when two opposites realize that they are better together, when one person’s strengths complement another person’s weaknesses and vice versa. When two men fill these roles, they’re almost always allowed to stay within their archetypes while still meeting in the middle. When a man and a woman are cast in those roles, the woman’s position is often undermined (or flat out demonstrated to be wrong by the narrative), and she is forced to change to suit the man. I am fine with a character arc, as long as Hyun-joon gets one, too, and if she doesn’t have to get a personality transplant.
  4. I want the profiling team to feel like a family by the end of it. Honestly, the camaraderie among the team members was one of the best parts about the U.S. version. I loved how they cared about each other and depended on one another and how they really just worked well as a cohesive unit. I want this new team to have those same fire-forged bonds by the end of it.

Are you going to watch Criminal Minds? What are your hopes for the show?