Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Still more swooning for Secret Love Affair

You know that feeling when something you’re looking forward to doesn’t live up to your expectations? Well, the first two episodes of Secret Love Affair made me feel the exact opposite.

I watched and admired both A Wife’s Credentials and End of the World, the other recent dramas made by the writer and director behind Secret Love Affair. But this new show is the first time I feel as if they’ve set out to do what I really want: Tell a love story. Those other series were great, but they were primarily about bigger things, which meant that their romantic plotlines had only secondary importance. This time around, the relationship between female lead Hye Won and young pianist Sun Jae feels as if it will be the driving factor behind most everything that happens in the show.

In some ways, this is a case of the right drama at the right time: I’ve watched a lot of fluffy romantic comedies lately, and they’ve left me hungering for something darker. SLA is exactly that, both literally and figuratively. It takes place in a drab world of blacks and grays that are only sparingly punctuated with warm, buttery yellows. Its every scene feels like an epic battle between how things look and how they really are.

All the details in this drama feel lovingly constructed and intelligently conceived—from the camera angles to the amazing lighting to the telling set direction and wardrobe. Its storytelling is sophisticated and reserved, but even two episodes in it’s easy to see that the groundwork has been laid for a narrative roller coaster ride full of great, surprising things. Like A Wife’s Credentials, this is a show that will play with our expectations of Korean drama, taking the kind of insane, over-the-top plotting we’d expect and wrestling it down to earth through a deeply felt script and naturalistic performances.

And oh, the performances. The people behind Secret Love Affair have a repertory theater thing going on—they’ve already worked with many of this show’s actors. The actresses behind female lead Hye Won and her assistant played sisters in A Wife’s Credentials. Park Hyuk Kwon, here playing Hye Won’s bratty husband, has actually been in both of their other dramas—in A Wife’s Credentials he played a philandering jerk, and in The End of the World he teamed up as an evil bureaucrat with the man playing Secret Love Affair’s chancellor (i.e., Coffee Prince’s Mr. Hong). Thanks to their obvious comfort working together and the capable direction of Ahn Pan Sook, the actors are doing the kind of nuanced, unaffected work you hardly ever see in Korean dramas.

While the younger actors are newbies to the team, they will more than do their characters justice if Yoo Ah In is any indication. His hotness is certainly one reason why I can’t tear my eyes away whenever he’s on screen, but another reason is that he’s giving this unassuming, boyishly naive character enough gravitational pull for a planet. It’s no wonder Hye Won will fall in love with him—what woman could be unmoved by his stirrings of puppyish devotion?

It’s a bit early to know for sure what this drama’s end game will be, but for now Secret Love Affair is a riveting exploration of passion, connection, and the perils of living something other than a genuine life.

I was disappointed to realize that Dramabeans isn’t recapping this show. I could really use their help understanding a drama this subtle, and I always love having their general impressions of each new episode before I can watch it. Alas, it is not to be, and I certainly can’t recap it myself. I just don’t have the time or the skills (I’d write a thousand words about somebody’s hair and then miss key plot points). But out of respect for this show’s layered storytelling, I’ve highlighted some of my favorite scenes from the premiere episode and tried to pull apart their many levels of meaning.

(Spoilers to episode 2.)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Drama Review: I Need Romance 3 (2014)

Grade: C+

Workplace romance

What it’s about
This light melodrama revolves around a chilly, no-nonsense career woman who experiences an emotional awakening thanks to a younger man from her past. Sharing the spotlight are her two coworkers—one the office newbie, a wide-eyed innocent who’s uncertain about her romantic and professional future; the other a man-eating career woman who ends up with an unexpected personal life when a no-strings-attached relationship results in pregnancy.

First impression
Our relationships with dramas really are like romances. You can spend forever with someone but never feel anything for them, while other times just a glimpse of a stranger can make you swoon with the force of your attraction. These polar opposites pretty much sum up my response to The Prime Minster and this third installment in tvN’s I Need Romance series. The Prime Minister just isn’t my type—it’s a typical Kdrama with a painfully obvious plot and not even the vaguest correlation to any person, place, thing, or emotion in the real world. On the other hand, just two minutes of I Need Romance leave me giddy with love for its strong voice and naturalistic environs. (Also, its leads have totally amazing chemistry even before he has graduated from diapers.) I’ve always been a fan of the frank, realistic INR dramas, and I’m pretty sure this one will be no different. So you’re on hold for now, Prime Minister. See you in 8 weeks when my new boyfriend leaves town.

Final verdict
Downplaying the strong female friendships that anchored the first two installments in the I Need Romance series, this show turned out to be a slightly sexier version of the standard-issue Kdrama love triangle. There are some interesting things here, including an oblique challenge to prejudice against single mothers and an insanely cute male lead with all the emotional intelligence of a second lead. But beyond that, INR3 was a whole lot of meh.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

An open letter to the creators of Secret Love Affair

Dear creators of Secret Love Affair:

How dare you?

As of this writing on Saturday morning, your show is more than 48 hours from premiering in Korea, and subtitles probably won't be available for more like 72 hours. And yet, you’ve already driven me to the brink of obsession.

First there were the posters, which were burnished and glorious. Then there was the 30-second teaser, which was dramatic and sexy. And then you killed me dead with the 22-minute preview. At first I swore I wouldn’t watch it, not wanting to spoil the Christmas-morning experience of seeing the drama’s first episode. But of course I gave in, and of course now I can’t keep myself from hitting play again and again. 

The preview is intense and sexy, piano porn complete with a healthy dose of human erotica. Everything about it is perfect—from Yoo In Ah’s awkwardness to the way the leads’ faces reflect in the piano’s polished surface to the intimate, bedside glow of the lighting.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Musical Interlude

Thanks to an epic plumbing fail in my condo’s only bathroom, I’ve spent the past week with relatives who have spotty Internet access. This means no drama, no Tumblr, and no blog. My withdrawal symptoms, as you can imagine, have been nightmarish.

To tide us over until I can make a real post again, I thought I’d share some of the Korean music that I’ve been listening to lately. I’m no fan of the slick, rap-influenced K-pop mainstream, but K-indie is a good fit with the indie-folk and chill music I usually prefer. (Although if you asked me to define either K-pop or K-indie, I would literally have no idea how to go about it. Maybe K-pop = song with choreographed dance; K-indie = danceless song?)

My primary source for Korean music is the website 8tracks, a free streaming service full of user-created and curated playlists. It’s much more international than competing sites like Pandora, and it has a bigger, more varied library of songs.

Here are a few of the playlists I’ve loved lately.

My cafe in Seoul
Mellow and jazzy. An ideal soundtrack for reading on a rainy afternoon.

40 k-indie songs
There’s a lot of variety here, but it tends toward the up-tempo. Excellent background music for writing.

A collection of mostly gentle, low-key tracks from the band 10cm.

Intro to k-indie
Just what I always needed! This mix includes lots of lovely songs from the go-to artists in the genre, including Standing Egg, J Rabbit, and Urban Zakapa.

Mellow korean indie
Warm, cozy songs that are mostly acoustic. (Good luck deciphering their titles and artist information, though—most of them are actually in Korean.)

Sweet time
Delicate, gorgeous, and just a little sleepy.

Just a little bit
A playlist devoted to the band Urban Zakapa, a group I love for their fabulous, Backstreet Boys-esque harmonies and smooth production.

This prominent contributor to the Spring Waltz soundtrack is perfect for all your cheesy instrumental needs.

Check out the complete list of my liked mixes here.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Drama Review: My Love from Another Star (2013)

Grade: B

Supernatural romantic comedy

What it’s about
Chun Song Yi seems to have everything: In spite of her reputation as an airhead, she’s a top actress. She’s got an angelic best friend, a closet full of designer clothes, and a kind, well-mannered chaebol heir who desperately wants to marry her. But everything begins to fall apart when she’s implicated in a suspicious death, reminding Song Yi that her life wasn’t so perfect in the first place. When sparks fly with her mysterious, dreamy next door neighbor—a younger man who happens to be from another planet and have unusual set of skills that include teleportation and freezing time—Song Yi finally finds true connection. Which is when her troubles really begin.

First impression
Just five minutes in, I can already tell I’m going to love this drama. From its cinematic opening to its mournful piano score to the chilly nonchalance of its male lead, My Love from Another Star is just what I’ve been yearning for.

Final verdict
While moving this post’s Random Thoughts from their original home on my Tumblr account, I was surprised by how much I started out liking My Love from Another Star. I watched this show as it aired, which means that almost three months passed between seeing the premiere and the finale. During that time, I became increasingly jaded about its trajectory. It started out with a bang—its big-budget presentation was tempered with thoughtful characterizations and an intriguing central concept. But by the time episode 21 rolled around, I felt the same way I always do when I watch a Kdrama romance with a supernatural aspect: Why’d they bother?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Coffee Prince: The End

I think we can all agree that I’ve watched Coffee Prince an insane number of times. After my maiden voyage, though, I always marathoned the entire series over a long weekend. This is a extremely different experience from watching the show slowly. I was always exhausted by the time I got to the finale, which means that I couldn’t fully appreciate the explosion of happiness that is the last episode of Coffee Prince.

This time around, I took my time. Over two weeks, I watched the show from beginning to end. This post is the result: an opportunity to have some fun with the finale, an hour of television that I’ve always rushed through in the past. In a perfect world, Viki would allow user-specific timed comments so we could essentially watch the episode together. But in this world, I give you lots of screen caps and short discussions of the things depicted in them.