Thursday, May 30, 2013

Coffee Prince: The Most Rewatchable Kdrama?

I have made sweet, sweet blog love to Coffee Prince more times than I can count.

My relationship to this drama has progressed much in the way actual romances do: It started with love at first sight. I watched episode after episode in rapt, starry-eyed euphoria, unable to believe how much I liked everything about them. Then came the honeymoon period. Things were still pretty amazing, but Coffee Prince was starting to edge its way off the pedestal and my obsession with it was becoming more manageable. In the doldrums of our relationship, I came to notice my beloved’s failings: the second half was packed with tension-killing filler, and the concert scene sure was silly. Nowadays, Coffee Prince and I are like the cozy-looking elderly couple I sometimes see holding hands as they walk through the park in front of my office. We’ve been through a lot together, and it’s a comfort to know that my favorite drama will always be there, just waiting for me to hit play.

Although the sizzling passion of our early days has burned itself out, I think I may be better able to appreciate Coffee Prince now, in the advanced stages of our love. When I first saw this show everything about it seemed impossibly new and original. But all the many hours of Korean television that I’ve watched since have given me another perspective: Coffee Prince is actually just as derivative as most other Kdrama romances. It uses the same raw materials as all those other shows, and might have ended up being the drama equivalent of a suburban American mall, a cookie-cutter entity virtually indistinguishable from every other member of its species. But because its creators were smart enough to twist their common elements and use them in unexpected, thoughtful ways, Coffee Prince ended up being something more like the Taj Mahal—it uses the most earthbound of foundations to make something etherial.

Last week I watched Coffee Prince for the fourth (fifth?) time. In honor of another seventeen hours of my life down the drain, I thought I’d try once more to crack the mystery of what exactly makes this drama so spectacularly rewatchable.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

All About Me, Courtesy of the Liebster Awards

Liebster awards have been popping up all over the dramaweb lately. They’re an informal way for bloggers to appreciate the work of other bloggers—there’s no governing body or even a list of all the nominees. I’ve been nominated twice, once by Chunkemonkeeato at Musings of a Chunkeemonkeeato and once by Indigo at Between Worlds. These are two of the blogs I’ve been keeping up with forever, which makes it extra cool that they thought of me for a nomination. (Thanks, guys!)

I thought I’d use this opportunity to create an About Me page for this blog. I apologize in advance if this post makes you fall asleep—I’m one of the world’s most boring human beings.

First of all, a few notes about how things work around here: I try to post something new twice a week. Most Tuesdays I talk about currently airing shows or drama-related things I’ve been thinking about, and most Thursdays I post a new review of a completed drama or movie. I also post in the “Random Thoughts” sidebar whenever I have...wait for it...a random thought. These are eventually included in the final review I write about whatever inspired them.

You can also find me on Soompi, where I sometimes post about drama topics. I keep track of what I’ve watched at MyDramaList and collect my rare fanfic at And to hammer the final nail in the coffin of my social life, I’m also on both Tumblr and Twitter.

On to the awardy stuff!

The rules for receiving this award:
List 11 random facts about yourself.
Answer the questions designated by the blogger (s) who nominated you.
Place YOUR nominations for the Liebster Award! Nominate five (or more) other bloggers that have less than 200 followers. Make sure to notify them via comment/email, etc.
Make up a set of questions for those nominated bloggers to answer.
Display the Liebster award badge on your blog!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Extremely Short & Extremely Random

My normal schedule of posting a new review every Thursday has been upset by a series of busy weekends and a foolish, long-regretted belief that I could power through a 58 episode show in a few weeks. (Ha!) Being stuck mid-drama leaves me without anything to post about, so I’ve been filling in with movie reviews lately. It’s just not the same, though: I really do prefer dramas for their extended running time and meatier storytelling. In light of this problem, I give you some random notes in place of your regularly scheduled programming.

• I’m still slowly working my way through Ojakgyo Brothers. This drama may be super long, but it hasn’t lost my attention—almost all of its leads have compelling storylines, and their plots are moving quickly enough to keep everything interesting while still allowing the characters time to breathe. (I could live without Dad, I must admit. The guy who plays him seems to have confused “acting” with “exaggerated blinking,” and the script isn’t helping matters. The show has no idea what to do with him, so he’s just bitching at the female lead for not helping his wife on the farm...even though he’s also not helping his wife on the farm, in spite of having no job of his own.)

• I watched the first few episodes of Coffee Prince with an old friend last week. The thing that shocked her the most? How often the guys were shirtless. I told her that CP is amateur hour when it comes to beefcake, and I’m hoping we have a new convert. On the other hand, by episode 12 she’s demanding that I fast forward through all the second lead maybe not. In honor of this possibly momentous occasion, I give you the above image. (No need for thanks.) I think this is Gong Yoo at his most handsome—nowadays he’s so skinny and muscular it makes him look kind of drawn.

• I haven’t watched many dramas as they were airing, and the jury is out on how much I like doing so. It’s great when I fall in love with the show, ala Flower Boy Next Door, but Jang Ok Jung is really killing me: The plot isn’t particularly interesting and the characters aren’t compelling enough to keep me coming back. Every time a new episode appears on Drama Fever’s main page, my first response is something along the lines of “Ugh. I actually have to watch that now.” If I were marathoning the show, I think the momentum would be enough to keep me relatively happy, but seeing it in dribs and drabs gives me enough time between episodes to realize just how meh everything about it is. I’m thinking of jumping ship, at least until Jang Ok Jung finishes airing. The ending has a lot of potential—I suspect it will be tragic, like the actual historical events it’s ever-so-slightly related to—and I’m interested to see how the writers maneuver their characters to where the big finale needs them to be.

• I’ve been reading blogs forever, but I only just discovered the existence of sites like Bloglovin and Feedly. (I’m well aware that this makes me something of an idiot—it’s like living somewhere for a decade before you figure out where your mailbox is.) Both sites make it incredibly easy to keep track of posts at blogs you like, turning the whole of the Internet into a Tumblr-esque dashboard. Check out my profile page for the list of Blogs that I follow on Bloglovin, or start following Outside Seoul here.

• I usually watch dramas through my Google TV, which is truly the drama lover’s best friend: it has a full browser, so you can go pretty much anywhere on the Internet right on your TV. What it doesn’t have is the ability to play videos on the websites of most networks, so you can’t watch some things that are available on regular computers. That’s annoying, but the Apple TV set-top box I got for Christmas solved the problem completely. Now I can stream from my MacBook directly to the TV and watch everything from downloaded dramas to current episodes of The Vampire Diaries, the one American TV show I’m keeping up with even in the depths of my Kdrama obsession. Technology is truly my boyfriend.

• I finally broke down and joined Twitter. I like it for the people who use it, but as a service it’s not my favorite. After the deliciously madcap world of Tumblr, it feels like some kind of sensory deprivation pit. Where are the pictures of Kdrama abs? The naughty gifsets from random Asian movies I’ve never heard of? The giant, footnoted rants about Eurovision and the song snippets that have been reblogged 150 thousand times? Not on Twitter, that’s for sure.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Kdrama Couples: A Field Guide

At the heart of every Korean drama is its lead couple. But just what kind of lead couple is it?

This brief guide to some of the most common manifestations will help you know for sure.

The Romeo and Juliet
(Coupleum impedimenticum)

As seen in: That Winter the Wind Blows and I’m Sorry, I Love You

Natural habitat: Verona

Distinguishing features: Longing glances, infrequent kisses, discussion of reincarnation, death

Whether it’s different class backgrounds, an age gap of a few (hundred) years, or the fact that they may actually be siblings, this classic Kdrama couple faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Recent evolutionary adaptations, presumably in response to global warming trends, have forever changed this unique species. Nearly all field research since 2006 confirms a remarkable lengthening of their lifespans: Once guaranteed a tragic ending with a high body count, nearly all Kdrama Romeo and Juliets are now managing to survive—together—to old age.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Movie Review: Silenced (2011)

Grade: B

Silenced is difficult to watch, and it should be.

Based on a novel that was inspired by real events at a Korean boarding school for deaf children, Silenced follows a well-meaning teacher who joins the school’s staff only to discover that his employers have a long history of brutal abuse against their charges.

The movie’s running time is neatly split split in two. As creepily atmospheric as any horror film, the first half is set in a world of unsettling shadows tinged with the unnatural. From the uncanny likeness between the principal and his twin brother to the otherworldly glow of the jellyfish in his office aquarium, nothing at the school seems quite right from the very beginning. Silenced’s second half morphs into a brightly lit (but no less troubling) courtroom thriller charting the legal struggles to end the cruelty at Ja-ae Academy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A not terribly long list of short latter-day lists

When I first started this blog I was exploding with Kdrama commentary, but everyone in my life greeted the concept of Korean television with a raised eyebrow and a deep sigh. So of course I took to the Internet, the world’s greatest bastion of geekish obsession.

Many of my early posts here were in the form of lists, because everything about Kdrama was sensory overload—so new and astonishingly different that I could barely synthesize my thoughts into actual articles. It recently occurred to me that it has been a long time since I put together one of those lists—which of course inspired this today’s post.

Song Joon Ki, all groomed up with nobody to marry. Take care of that problem for him, will you?

Three difficult but rewarding ways to get more hits for your Kdrama blog
1. Move to Korea. (750 hits. Who doesn’t love a fish-out-of-water blog post?)

2. Once you’re there, be cast as the token Westerner in a drama party scene. (2,000 hits. Behind-the-scenes gossip always draws crowds.)

3. After meeting Song Joon Ki while filming said party scene, marry him. (10,000 hits. Wedding pics!)

Three shockingly unshocking Kdrama plot twists
1. Amnesia. If real life is anything like dramaland, Koreans should be required by law to wear helmets at all times.

2. Birth secrets. While most Kdrama leads can barely manage a kiss, their parents tend to be randy libertines who leave trails of illegitimate children in their wake. (This usually includes the person the lead is trying to kiss, so maybe it’s just as well.)

3. The return of the first love. As soon as a lost love is mentioned, it’s only a matter of time until he or she shows up on screen.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Move review: Cyrano Agency (2010)

Grade B+

Have you ever wished a drama production team would make your life perfect—choosing your outfit, compiling a soundtrack, manufacturing reasons for you to spend time with your crush, and even giving you the perfect script for the occasion?

Well, some of the lucky characters in the 2010 Korean movie The Cyrano Agency have almost exactly that.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Out of Sync

Lots of things affect how much I enjoy the dramas I watch. Some of them are objective, like the production values and the quality of the acting and the plot. My preferences are also colored by subjective things, including how much I like the actors and whether I find the drama’s topic interesting.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about something else that influences how much I like a show: how much other people like it. Now that I’m watching some dramas as they air, I spend the wait between episodes reading what bloggers have to say about what’s going on. Sometimes this extracurricular consideration has a positive influence, like when I was watching Flower Boy Next Door. The online discussion of every subtle detail and tiny shading of motivation encouraged me to slow down and really appreciate the show as a stand-alone work of art, not just another in the long string of Kdramas I’ve glutted on during the past year.

People on the Internet also really like Jang Ok Jung: Live in Love, the series I’m watching now. Everywhere I go, someone is squeeing about the chemistry between its leads, its beautiful scenery (inclusive of said leads), or its clever re-imagination of historical fact. Even the blogger at The Vault has some not-entirely-negative things to say about it, which is practically unheard of when it comes to fusion sageuks.

In spite of all the good buzz, most of this show has been at best okay for me. Nothing about it is terrible: the cast is doing fine work, the visuals are wonderful, and the story is moving forward at a decent clip. My gripes are more with the spirit of the thing than its execution.

Kdramas always start out extra punchy and high concept to grab viewers’ attention, so I didn’t worry when the first few episodes gave me whiplash by veering between dark melodrama and fluffy impossibilities. But after the hard work of making a strong impression was done, the show settled into standard-issue sageuk territory. It lost its distinctive voice to the same ten guys in fake beards who plot world domination in every sageuk. The people who made Jang Ok Jung decided to turn recorded history on its ear by recasting a traditional villain as their leading lady, so why didn’t they go all the way? As a counterfactual history of a maligned woman, the story seems awfully content to follow the standard, guy-centered sageuk tropes. Early on, at least Jang Ok Jung got to stretch beyond the boundaries of being someone’s woman: The show played with anachronism by allowing her to design the kind of Western-style summer dress you could buy at the mall today. But now she’s just stuck in the palace, walking through the same plot lines featured ten years ago in Jewel of the Palace. 

And the fast moving-plot comes with its own failings, too. Instead of using events to show us its character’s hearts, the script relies on easy exposition. Jang Ok Jung says she makes clothes to make men fall in love, but we see no evidence to this effect. She says that clothes are like armor when she speaks to the King, and then the drama wastes the perfect opportunity to show us this when she dresses like a boy in a subsequent episode. It never bothered to give the experience a soul, skipping over all the slow and boring parts like putting those clothes on and coming to realize just how much power they had over the person within them.

Last week’s episodes took a big step toward becoming what I hoped this drama would be all along—a powerful, doomed romance between a commoner and a king who feels the heavy weight of his crown. But having abandoned the playful essence that set it apart from every other drama on the subject, I worry that it’s all downhill from here.

Jang Ok Jung isn’t the first drama I’ve reacted to differently than most of the drama community, and I bet it won’t be the last. Here’s a rundown of a few other shows I missed the memo about.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Trip to Hmart: Eats Edition

I bought Choco Pies (but not quite a hundred,
unlike in this episode of the 2007 drama Thank You).

Because my recent trip to HMart was just too much excitement for one post, I give you further exploits from the road.