Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Things I wish existed: Fangirl tours

Have you always wanted to visit Korea? To order an overpriced Americano at Coffee Prince, troll for handsome chaebol sons in Cheongdamdong, or pretend to be a cross-dressing Joseon scholar on the campus of Sungkyunkwan University?

Well, Fangirl Tours is here for you. Established in 2014 by a sad American who feared she would never again leave her homeland, it takes the stress out of international travel for the timid television-lover, ensuring your visit to Korea will be unforgettable. See all the important drama sites, from Sam Soon’s kissing steps to the exact cable car where Jan Di and Joon Pyo spent their first night together.

Every tour group is led by a pair of Korean nationals who receive executive-level pay not to laugh at you when you attempt to do things like speak a language other than your own, count Korean money, or eat spicy foods. Your companions will be carefully screened to encourage maximum fangirling: before signing up for a Fangirl Tour of Seoul, every participant must pass a spectacularly difficult drama quiz.

Enjoy the sounds, sites, and tastes of one of Asia’s most bustling cities alongside like-minded drama fans—and rest assured that our company’s first priority is having you back at your hotel in plenty of time to live-watch whatever show you’re currently obsessed with. Best of all, every fangirl tour includes at least one drama set visit, giving you a chance to watch Korea’s hottest actors and actresses at work.

Other highlights of our standard 10-day tour include:

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Drama Review: Secret Love Affair (2014)

Grade: A++

Romantic melodrama

What it’s about
On the surface, Oh Hye Won is an elegant professional who works at a ritzy arts organization, living a life filled with luxuries that anyone would envy. But in truth, she has more dark secrets than she knows what to do with: She has sacrificed her soul to a loveless marriage and a morally bankrupt workplace, giving up on her true love—music. When she meets Lee Sun Jae, a handsome young piano genius, his dazzling talent, idealism, and adoration of Hye Won leave her reeling. Will Hye Won sacrifice everything to have him, or will she keep fighting for status and success, even at the expense of his love?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Goodbye, my Love

Do you think they were trying to tell us something with this shot? Like maybe the ending?

For the past two months, I’ve lived in the world of Secret Love Affair. Now that I’m reawakening to real life, I feel a little woozy and hungover.

Part of my insane fixation on this show probably arises from how I watched it: devouring episodes as they aired in Korea, then suffering through a never-ending week for the next installments. There’s no doubt that I would have liked this series even if I marathoned it in one big gulp, but I definitely wouldn’t have taken the time to savor it in the same way. And this is a show that deserves—nay, requires—savoring. If you go into it thinking it’s just another zany Korean drama that will be a shallow diversion, you’ll be disappointed. It’s probably possible to watch SLA casually, but any viewer who is less than fully engaged will miss the best things it has to offer. From sly narrative foreshadowings and clever thematic connections to deliciously oblique dialogue, Secret Love Affair isn’t predigested for our enjoyment. Instead, it’s carefully crafted to stimulate our minds.

A lot of Kdramas remind of this weird little segment of book publishing in America. It’s called “high interest,” and it focuses on titles meant to motivate kids who are reluctant readers. These books are about exciting topics, and their language is intentionally simple and straightforward so shaky readers won’t feel challenged. The point is to draw readers in and make them realize that books are incredible, not to force them to fumble through big words and difficult grammar that they don’t understand. The drama equivalent of these books are shows that rely more on spectacle than insight. The Moon that Embraces the Sun is a prime exampleit broadcast every motivation in voiceover lest anyone lose the plot thread or actually be required to think. I’d also put family dramas and shows like I Need Romance 3 in this category, as they’re designed for easy, non-demanding titillation, not thoughtful viewing.

But there are also plenty of Korean dramas that aren’t afraid to be intricate and complex, or to ask that we invest something into understanding them. They can be difficult and literary, and they don’t dumb-down their stories for superficial viewers. Shows like Nine, The End of the World, and even the rom-com Queen In-hyun’s Man fit this bill. And Secret Love Affair just might be their queen. It takes incredibly traditional Kdrama tropes—a noona romance, shocking traffic accidents, back hugs, and corporate intrigue—and grafts them into the world of a moody, thoughtful indie movie. Like most Korean dramas, its primary goal is eliciting emotion in its viewers. But instead of being driven by events, its plot is driven by its characters and the way they grow and change as they come together.

Refreshingly sophisticated and mature, Secret Love Affair isn’t for everyone. But then again, how could it be, when it was so clearly created just for me? Indulge me for one final post devoted to the things I loved about SLA, hopefully to be followed by a more balanced review on Thursday.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Drama Review: Majo no Jouken (1999)

Grade: A-

Japanese melodrama

What it’s about
At twenty-six, Hirose Michi’s life seems perfect. She teaches high school math and has responsibility for her own homeroom class, and her longtime boyfriend has just proposed to her. But in truth, Michi feels trapped. She’s overwhelmed by her job and isn’t in love with her boyfriend. It isn’t until she forms an unexpected bond with a troubled student that Michi realizes that happiness is a possibility in her life. In spite of his bad behavior and even worse reputation, Kurosawa Hikaru is actually a sweet boy who’s eager to see what’s special in the world around him. The love that grows between Michi and Hikaru will destroy their lives—and save them.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What Now?

Will Secret Love Affair’s finale live up to Tokyo Tower’s fantastic Parisian hug?

When this post goes live, I will be watching the final episode of Secret Love Affair. (Yes, I’m so obsessed that I’m taking vacation time to watch the last two episodes when they air in Korea, which is 8:50 am my time.)

We drama fans often talk about the sorrow that comes with the finale of a show we really loved. The finite nature of Asian dramas can be a double-edged sword on this front—they almost never outstay their welcome and are able to tell a single, central story without dragging it out indefinitely. But when they’re done, they’re done forever. There’s no new season, no continuation on Netflix, no second generation or The New Class to look forward to. This can feel like a real blow when you’ve ushered a group of characters into your heart and spent months contemplating the state of their souls.

What’s worse is that Secret Love Affair is a drama that engaged me emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. (Hye Won would say that I’m being excessive, but this statement is nothing more or less than the truth.) And now that it’s ending, I’m at an utter loss—What do I do with all the energy I’ve been devoting to this series? Here’s a short list of things I’ve been considering:
Taking piano lessons
Laundering money
Reading Secret Love Affair’s favorite books, Aimez-vous Brahms? and Sviatoslav Richter: Notebooks and Conversations
Hooking up with a man (boy?) who’s young enough to be my son
Breaking beer bottles in threatening ways
Getting a massage
While each option has its own pros and cons, I think we all know what I’m really going to do next. And that’s watch another drama.

There are lots of newish series out there, but I don’t find any of them incredibly appealing. For one thing, they’re all really boy-centered, which is not my thing when it comes to television. I watch Kdrama for the great female characters, and I hate when they’re shunted to the side so the male lead can be the show’s star. Then there’s the subject matter. I guess the proliferation of cops and doctors in this drama cycle is better than the herd of shoe designers that were foisted on us a few seasons ago, but not by much.

I’m definitely going to watch something new, but I could use some help deciding what. Here are the shows now in the running.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Secret Love Affair: Winding to a close

“All good things must come to an end” is one of the cruelest—and most accurate—expressions in the English language.

Unfortunately, it definitely applies to Secret Love Affair. The ending is creeping ever closer, although there is some controversy about just when it might happen. Most English-language database sites say SLA will be twenty episodes long. But then again, they also say that the series Yoo Na’s Street will start airing in its place on Monday, May 19. That would mean a total of sixteen SLA episodes, which feels pretty likely. That’s the traditional (if increasingly uncommon) length for Kdrama miniseries, and it matches the running time of A Wife’s Credentials, this production team’s previous show.

With the home stretch in sight, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to happen in SLA’s remaining episodes. I trust the creative team to stick the landing on this one, but here are some thoughts about how they could do it.