Thursday, June 27, 2013

Drama Review: Capital Scandal (2007)

Grade: B

Action romance

What it’s about
During Japan’s occupation of Korea, a na├»ve, uncompromisingly idealistic bookseller joins the underground resistance movement. She befriends a colorful cast of characters there, including a tough gisaeng and a ladies’ man who bets his friends he can turn her into a modern woman—in spite of her conservative values and the traditional hanbok she always wears.

First impression
I can’t say that I love this show’s opening. The action is cartoony and the costumes look like they belong on stage at my local high school’s talent night. I’m optimistic that it will get better as it goes along, though—I’m a big fan of its playboy-redeemed-by-the-love-of-an-upright-girl theme. And how can you go wrong with something that’s based on a novel by the author of Coffee Prince’s source material?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Review: Crazy Rich Asians (2013)

Kevin Kwan’s novel Crazy Rich Asians is a beach read with the soul of a Korean drama.

Its premise even sounds like a novelization of Boys over Flowers: Hardworking Rachel, a second-generation American of Chinese descent, visits her boyfriend’s family in Singapore only to discover that they’re insanely wealthy and powerful. In fact, the Young family is so loaded they even put Goo Joon Pyo to shame—after seeing their family compound, a stunned character theorizes that they must be “richer than god.”

Once upon a time, sex-and-shopping novels from authors like Danielle Steele and Judiths Krantz and McNaught were all the rage. Crazy Rich Asians is definitely a throwback to this era, but with a modern twist: it’s a shopping novel. There’s hardly any sex—the only lust to be found in its pages is inspired by bespoke suits, real estate, and thirty-carat jewels. Which, in its own way, is also reminiscent of Kdrama.

The novel’s opening scene says it all: A group of these crazy rich Asians arrive at a posh British hotel only to be treated with racist disdain by the manager. Within the space of a paragraph, the hotel’s owner arrives with the news that he’s just made a mint by selling the place to a nice family from Singapore. As you might expect, the crazy rich get their room and the manager gets his walking papers.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Drama Review: The End of the World (2013)

Grade: A

Medical thriller

What it’s about
Korea’s medical professionals and scientists struggle to cure—and contain—M, a deadly virus that has the potential to destroy humanity as we know it.

First impression
This tense procedural thriller is exactly the Kdrama that the American network AMC would make if it were in the business of making Kdramas. It’s a cross between CSI, The Walking Dead, and The Killing, and doesn’t suffer from any of the exaggeration or broadness that are a key part of the DNA of most dramas. It’s a real pity that JTBC isn’t doing a better job reaching American markets, because I could really see this show being accepted by people who would normally be turned off by the quirks of Kdrama.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Unicorn Dramas: 2013 Wish List

I think I’ve finally found the perfect gateway Korean drama for people who don’t like romances: The End of the World, a tense medical thriller about fighting a deadly plague outbreak. It has danger, excitement, and intrigue (and even a little romance), but doesn’t dwell on the kind of things that can make our love of Kdrama so difficult for outsiders to understand. Instead of idling along with broad comedy or aegyo antics, The End of the World’s approach to storytelling is spare and swift, with a well-constructed plot and lots of conflicted, nuanced characters.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to actually recommend this drama to civilians. Like many programs that originally aired on Korea’s JTBC network, The End of the World is not widely available with English subtitles. It’s one thing to send someone to Netflix or Hulu to try a show, but I can’t imagine many people seeking out a relatively obscure fansubbing website, signing up for a membership, and then having the patience to watch the show on their computer instead of on their TV.

And The End of the World is by no means the only Asian series that’s effectively out of reach because of technical issues. My dramalist is full of shows I would like to watch but haven’t been able to find online.

This post is devoted to a few of these unicorn dramas—shows that are intriguing but currently unavailable through legitimate English-language streaming sites.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Drama Review: A Love to Kill (2005)

Grade: A

Revenge melodrama

What it’s about
Bok Gu is a rough-and-tumble fighter who’s spent his entire life at war with the world. When a failed romance with a celebrity drives his brother to attempt suicide, Bok Gu vows to avenge him. But even as he plots to destroy his brother’s former lover, he can’t fight his own burgeoning attraction to her.

First impression
This drama by Lee Kyung Hee, the screenwriter of Nice Guy and I’m Sorry, I Love You, seems to be following in the footsteps her earlier shows. Taking Rain as its grimy anti-hero, it brings together a cast of unlikely characters—some members of Seoul’s criminal underclass, others privileged cogs in the celebrity machine—and explores the unexpected ways their lives intersect. So far it’s bombastic fun, but feels more like a cheesy throwaway than an example of Lee’s best work.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Monstar Alert

I’m writing today to warn you about a serious peril now faced by the Kdrama community: Monstar. This series is violent(ly addictive) and should be considered extremely dangerous—approach with caution.

Upon sighting Monstar, keep your wits about you and immediately seek shelter in an area free of Internet service. Otherwise, you risk contact with its highly toxic venom. Early symptoms of exposure include toe-tapping, daydreams about plaid skirts making a comeback for the over 20-set, and an unquenchable thirst for high-school drama. Signs of advanced affliction include reading Soompi’s entire Monstar thread in one sitting, trolling Tumblr for gifs to reblog, and downloading the show’s OSTs. In some extreme cases, episodes may even be rewatched.

As many a horror movie has taught us, it is important to know our enemy. So in the interest of public service, I give you a brief list of some of Monstar’s most terrifying traits.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Drama Review: Ojakgyo Brothers (2011)

Grade: B

Category: Family drama

What it’s about
The Hwang family struggles to keep their small farm after a young usurper appears with a written promise saying it actually belongs to her. Secrets, lies, and four separate love stories develop from there.

First impressions
As my membership lasts for three more weeks, I’ve decided to tackle another of its rare gems. This 58-episode weekend drama has a cast of thousands, including my current honey, Joo Won. Like Family’s Honor, the only other home drama I’ve watched, Ojakgyo Brothers actually seems to be a collection of mini-dramas that revolve around individual family members and are connected by a central storyline. In spite of occasional forays into the lives of its older generations, the four Hwang brothers are clearly the stars of this show, with their assorted love stories playing out against the backdrop of the family’s fight to keep their farm.

Final verdict
Another blogger often writes with disdain about shows intended for housewives to use as background noise while they’re ironing. There’s no doubt that Ojakgyo Brothers fits this bill; it’s casual and breezy and unspectacular in most every regard. Even as someone who doesn’t speak Korean, it was possible for me to follow the story with one eye while I did other things. (Not ironing, though. I would never iron. Life is too short for bad housework.)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Your Loss, World.


I recently watched Coffee Prince with a Kdrama virgin. While she enjoyed the show enough to pack all seventeen hours into one week of viewing, it was clear from the beginning that she would never become a helpless Korean drama addict like me.

Which of course got me to thinking about all the many things that she—and the rest of the non-drama-watching world—will never understand.