Thursday, September 26, 2013

Drama Review: They Kiss Again, 2007

Grade: C+

Taiwanese romantic comedy

What it’s about
This sequel to 2005’s It Started with a Kiss follows Zhi Shu and Xiang Qin as they settle into married married life and try to find their places in the world.

First impressions
They Kiss Again starts off a lot like its predecessor—add one part goofy, I Love Lucy-style antics; one part adorable, fanficy love story; and one part taciturn male lead, and you’ve got it exactly. Playing spot-the-grin is quite fun—Zhi Shu might not be fully domesticated yet, but he obviously finds his new wife to be quite amusing. He keeps hiding smiles whenever she does something silly.

Final verdict
The first half of this drama was a pleasure to watch. Its setting and characters were cozy and familiar, and it did a great job of surrounding its lead couple with a constellation of family, friends, and colleagues who provided interesting, almost free-standing, plots for each episode. It was funny and silly and cute, and the couple scenes featuring Zhi Shu and Xiang Qin made my heart go pitter-patter.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

An open letter to Kim Eun Sook, screenwriter of Heirs

Dear Kim Eun Sook,

I know we’ve had our differences of opinion in the past. For example, you probably think you’re a good screenwriter, while I do not.

After sitting through approximately 1.5 of the dramas you penned, I vowed to never again watch a program you’d been involved with. It was for my own sanity—I’m not sure how you did it, but in both Secret Garden and Gentleman’s Dignity you found a foolproof recipe for combining characters I hated, copious amounts of misogynism, and frustratingly go-nowhere plots in such a way that made me want to scratch my eyes out with a spork rather than continue watching.

Lots of people disagree with me, and even I admit that you have some strong suits. You write funny scenes well, and your female leads are reasonably capable. (When your male leads aren’t around, anyway.) Based on my limited experience, you also tend to write men who are passionately involved with the pursuit of a woman, which is kind of cool—when it doesn’t involve physical intimidation or aggression, anyway.

I’ve been thinking about you as I await the premiere of your awkwardly named new drama, He Who Wears the Crown, Endure Its Weight—Heirs. (Are they paying you by the word or something?) The dramaweb has been abuzz with talk of this show for months already, and it’s definitely going to be what everyone is watching this fall. Even I intend to give it a try: my love for high school stories and Park Shin Hye just barely outweigh my distaste for your work.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Book Report

As hard as it might be to believe, I’m even more of a book geek than a drama geek: I live for used bookstores and have a whole bookcase full of things waiting to be read. Of course my two great obsessions overlap, which means a lot my reading list is related to Korea in one way or another. In honor of Eleanor and Park, a sweet, swoony romance I tore through (twice) last week, I thought I’d share some titles that are on my radar.


Eleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell. This novel geared toward young adults is only tangentially related to Korea, but it’s still the perfect read for drama fans who are into coming-of-age love stories. As the only (half-)Korean kid in his middle-American high school, Park never feels as if he really fits in. When he strikes up a friendship with the new girl at school—heavyset, crazy-haired Eleanor—Park realizes just how lucky he is. Eleanor is bullied by the other kids for being strange. Plus, her home life is a nightmare. She hates her abusive stepfather and her mother is too broken to care if Eleanor is happy, or even safe. Park and Eleanor fall in punk-rock misfit love over comics shared on the school bus, and the rest of the story deals with their attempts to be together. If you read this book I promise you will laugh and cry. You’ll almost certainly also perv over the delicious Park, who’s described as all honey-colored skin and sharp cheekbones.

Since You Asked, Maurene Goo. The heroine of Since You Asked, another YA novel during the dark days of high school, is torn between modern American life and the traditional Korean values of her parents. She writes a snarky article for her school newspaper that’s accidentally published, and the book explores the aftermath. This one is near the top of my wish list, but I haven’t gotten my hands on it yet.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Mock-Heroic: Kdrama’s Hidden Antiheros

Boys over Flowers: Cake wreck in 3... 2...1...
With the American TV series Dexter and Breaking Bad ending, there has been a lot of talk in the entertainment press about antiheroes. Korean drama tends to shy away from the leads quite as unsavory as the ones in these two shows—one a “good” serial killer, the other a meth-cooking drug kingpin.

But Kdrama does traffic in antiheroes. There’s the recently wrapped Cruel City, which by all reports was peopled by drug dealers and prostitutes. Essentially every male lead written by Lee Kyung Hee obviously fits the bill, from tricksy former gigolo Ma Roo in Nice Guy to I’m Sorry I Love You’s dirty, mean Moo Hyuk. And you can also find a cache of antiheroes in an unexpected place: romantic comedies and melodramas.

What else can you call a character like Boys over Flowers’s Joon Pyo? He doesn’t eat orphans for breakfast or spend his spare time torturing kittens, but he’s certainly no hero. Instead of being morally upright and sympathetic, he’s self-centered and devoted to making people miserable. When a girl with a crush on him gives Joon Pyo a cake, he throws it in her face in front of their whole school. And when somebody offends him, they’re marked for destruction by Shin Hwa’s entire student body with the dreaded red card of the F4.

But the drama never really acknowledges that his behavior makes him something less than desirable. He goes about his business without remorse or repercussion, with girls falling at his feet wherever he goes. He’s rich and powerful and handsome, so naturally they want him. The fact that he would be happier to crush you than look at you is never really discussed—by the drama, or by us. Nobody writes about Joon Pyo as anti-hero, because we’re so wrapped up in Joon Pyo as babe.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Drama Fiend: A Personal History

Korean drama and I are celebrating our two-year anniversary this month. I’m prone to random pop-culture fixations, but this one might be the most unexpected—and educational. In the course of watching a truly embarrassing number of Kdramas, I’ve learned more about Korean language and culture than I ever thought possible.

So in honor of this auspicious occasion and my constant curiosity about other people’s drama biographies, here’s a brief rundown of the chronology of my obsession.

Summer 2006—The first drama. What international fan can forget that first Korean drama they watched? Funny or tragic, good or bad, it opened a door into a new world. My introduction to dramaland was a DVD box set of My Lovely Sam Soon that belonged to the friend of a friend. When it finally found its way to me, I watched all 16 episodes over the course of one summer weekend. I loved the actors, the show, and the finite length of the series. But back then Kdramas were hard to find in the rural outpost I call home, so I made a mental note to keep an eye out for more of them and carried on with my life.