Thursday, February 28, 2013

Drama Review: Thank You (2007)

Grade: A+

Romantic melodrama

What it’s about
After his girlfriend dies, a hotshot surgeon gives up his career and relocates to the countryside, where he meets a hardworking single mom who’s weighed down by the responsibility of supporting both her senile grandfather and her young daughter. He rents a room in her house and slowly becomes part of the family, bickering all the while, but their burgeoning love story is complicated by an unexpected bit of shared history—his girlfriend accidentally infected the little girl with HIV while giving her a blood transfusion.

First impression
After the cotton-candy insubstantialness of Cheongdamdong Alice, I’m in the mood for something meaty and melodramatic. This show ought to be just thing: it’s written by Lee Kyung Hee, screenwriter of both Nice Guy and I’m Sorry, I Love You. She specializes in gritty tragedies with horrible male leads who end up spectacularly redeemed (and dead) by the closing scene. Based on this show’s summary, it will be more of the same. I’m clearly in for a world of hurt. (Yipee!)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A selection of ways in which my life is different from a Korean drama

Flower Boy Next Door: That looks cozy, Enrique! (Or not.)
Items required to sleep comfortably. . .

  • None. Kdrama characters can sleep anywhere, anytime, whether they’re on a moving bus, sitting on a bench in a public park, or lying on the floor of a stranger’s bedroom.
My life
  • my own bed
  • a hair tie
  • a box of tissues
  • my carpel-tunnel wrist brace
  • Non-binding pajamas suitable for the room’s ambient temperature
  • a Pandora-enabled clock radio tuned to the solo piano genre station (sleep timer set at 30 minutes)
  • nightlight in the next room burning, but turned to “dim” setting

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Drama Review: Cheongdamdong Alice (2013)

Grade: C

Romantic comedy with a side of light cultural commentary

What it’s about
After a life of unthinkable privation (oh, no! She can’t afford a Birkin bag?!?), a hardworking Kdrama girl vows to do whatever it takes to marry into Seoul’s posh Cheongdamdong neighborhood. Various degrees of soul selling ensue.

First impression
Ah, the perils of really loving a currently airing show: all I want to do is watch the next episode of Flower Boy Next Door, but I have to wait an entire week for it to air. In the meanwhile, shows that might seem perfectly acceptable under other circumstances just won’t do it for me. Take Cheongdamdong Alice: it feels slick and spendy, but ultimately hollow when compared to lived-in, contemplative nature of FBND. Park Shi Hoo is cute and Moon Geun Young is as darling as ever, but the design-wannabe storyline is starting to feel awfully threadbare. Barring an injection of depth and humanity in the near future, Cheongdamdong Alice isn’t looking like a winner for me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bedtime Stories

According to last week’s poll on the subject, I seem to have a mandate to post a snarky, quippy rundown of the probable bedtime prowess of some of my favorite Kdrama characters.

No matter how many people voted, the ratio always stayed about the same: 90 percent of visitors were in favor of me besmirching my soul with naughty discussion on the topic of lovemaking and the Kdrama male, and 10 percent were not. (What kind of funny math Google uses in its Blogger polls is another issue altogether.)

To the 10 percent: I apologize. And to the 90 percent, I also apologize.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Drama Review: It Started with a Kiss (2005)

(Note: I think I may have finally fallen under the spell of Tumblr. Every time I go there, it’s like the best party ever—people only talk about things I want to hear about, and I can attend in my pajamas. Sometimes I even post things, if you want to visit.)

Grade: B-

Category: Taiwanese Romantic comedy

What it’s about
A sweet-hearted girl who’s awful at everything follows her dismissive crush—a total babe who’s perfect in every way—through high school and college. The fact that her dad is best friends with his parents makes it all the easier to stalk him (especially when they move into his house).

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Apples and Oranges: Korean and Taiwanese Drama

Playful kissing in Taiwan...
...and Korea

When I first fell down the rabbit hole of Kdrama, I never expected that my viewing habits would expand. One country at a time, I thought when I found myself faced with literally a hemisphere worth of shows to catch up on. But I kept hearing about dramas from other countries that were too good to miss, and adding them to my queue anyway.

At this point I’ve only watched a handful of Japanese and Taiwanese dramas. I’ve enjoyed them all, but like my early days of watching Korean drama, I’ve started off with the cream of the crop—the shows that are good enough to make people remember them and talk about them years after they air. They’re the Coffee Princes and Autumn’s Concertos and Nobuta wo Produces.

At first, I expected dramas from around Asia to be alike in the same way programs produced in America and Canada are alike. I watched the entire pilot episode of the show Rookie Blue without even realizing that it was set, filmed, and produced in Canada. And no matter how many times I watch Property Virgins, I can never guess if the ongoing house hunt is taking place in Chicago or Toronto. Thanks to hundreds of years of close proximity and shared history, television shows made in Canada and America are pretty much interchangeable.

By extension, it seemed to me that thousands of years of co-existence would mean that Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese shows would also be similar. In some ways, they are: most Asian dramas have short, finite running times, unlike shows in the West. The love triangle is king. And raw materials regularly cross national borders to find new audiences. Since its release in the early 1990s, the Japanese manga Itazura na Kiss has been the basis for four live-action dramas in three different countries: Japan’s Itazura na Kiss, Taiwan’s It Started with a Kiss (and its sequel, They Kiss Again), and Korea’s Playful Kiss.

The differences between shows from different Asian countries are even more significant than their similarities, though. Japanese dramas seem to downplay over-the-top romance in favor of profound friendship; Korean dramas tend toward cozy, homey storytelling that revolves around the dinner table; and Taiwanese dramas often incorporate zany comedic elements. And even when content is borrowed from another country, the settings, details, and names are always replaced with local equivalents.

I can’t imagine that any other national television will eclipse my love for Korean shows. They specialize in all my favorite themes—swoony romance, insane melodrama, and character-driven stories that focus on people in all their fallible wonder. Taiwanese dramas have their own appeal, though: they feel more organic, and the relationships they depict are often less formal than those in Kdramas. They also have a way of telling longitudinal stories that take advantage of the passage of time to keep shows feeling fresh from beginning to end. (Korean time-skips, on the other hand, rarely have an impact on the plot beyond providing an epilogue.) Taiwanese dramas even present believable kissing and skinship, in contrast to the more modest approach to relationships taken by Korea’s network shows. And it’s always interesting to see Asian dramas that treat actors who on the heavy side as characters rather than freaks. 

The three Taiwanese dramas I’ve watched actually have parallel Korean versions, whether the similarities are intentional or not.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Drama Review: Ma Boy (2012)

Grade: A-

Gender-bending school dramedy

What it’s about
The new girl at school is assigned a mysterious roommate, who happens to be a famous star of television commercials. (And a boy pretending to be a girl.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Dok Mis and Me

Enrique: You like being home that much? Doesn’t it feel suffocating to stay indoors like that all the time?
Dok Mi: It doesn’t feel suffocating. I like it, and I feel at peace in my tiny place.
I’ve always been an introvert, someone who values solitude and contemplation and doesn’t necessarily need a lot of people around me to be happy. (Extroverts, in contrast, find their natural habitat in large groups of people, where they thrive on interaction with others.) If you’re reading this, I bet you’re an introvert, too—watching enough Korean drama to develop a blog-reading habit seems like a fairly reliable litmus test for the mindset.

Another person who’s almost certainly an introvert? Go Dok Mi, the lovely, reserved heroine of Flower Boy Next Door. Or that’s my hope, anyway—Kdramas tend to see any deviation from the beloved cheery, outgoing character type as a sign of damage and weakness.