I love Koreatown in the springtime…

Wherein I blog about all things Korean in Los Angeles

Sang Doo, Let’s Include a Plot March 26, 2008

Filed under: kdramas — Raven @ 3:18 pm
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Yesterday I finished watching the kdrama Sang Doo, Let’s Go to School (상두야,학교가자!), starring Bi/Rain and Gong Hyo Jin. It had a promising setup: guy working as a gigolo in order to pay his daughter’s hospital bills meets a girl from his past who has no clue what he’s up to now. Naturally, she was his first love and he’s still in love with her. As cliched as the whole “first love” thing is, I thought it worked here. But someone needs to tell the writers of kdramas that it can’t all be about the love story. Dramas really work much better if the characters have external goals beyond getting together.


The characters played by Bi and Gong Hyo Jin have no external goals, and the plot is further watered down by the addition of love interests for each of them. I suppose the love interests are intended to increase the conflict, but there would have been plenty of conflict if the writers had come up with a storyline that forced Bi and Gong Hyo Jin to come into constant contact with each other whether they liked it or not. He’s ashamed of his present life and they both have secrets from their past that they’re hiding, so in terms of emotional content there’s already plenty. I would have liked to see the writers do something like have Gong Hyo Jin set up an amateur sting operation to catch Bi and/or his uncle (also a gigolo). Based on the first episode, the drama could totally have gone that direction. It just didn’t.

There was nothing wrong with the acting. I particularly like Rain when he’s doing sad scenes. This drama didn’t make me cry, but it did have some poignant moments. But ultimately I foresaw virtually every plot twist, and it felt like most of the stuff was being added in to fill up the full 16 episodes. The only thing they didn’t put in? You guessed it, a plot. I wanted to like this drama, but ultimately it was a disappointment.

P.S. On the bright side, this was the first kdrama I’ve seen where a character gets a nosebleed from working too hard and lack of sleep and doesn’t end up having leukemia.

P.P.S. Also on the bright side, I’ve now learned how to say “gigolo” in Korean. I’m sure this word will stand me in good stead…


The Korea of Old December 5, 2007

Filed under: kdramas — Raven @ 4:46 pm

Historicals seem to be my thing lately, at least where kdramas are concerned. Wait, let me clarify. I haven’t had a whole lot of time recently, so I’m only averaging about one new drama per month. And since my most recent new drama was the wildly popular Dae Jang Geum, which comes in three volumes, I feel as if I’ve been watching historicals for a long time, but it’s all the same drama.

Dae Jang Geum is so popular that apparently there’s a theme park dedicated to it in Korea. There you can tour some of the set and try on some of the costumes. If you ever wanted to look like a Korean palace kitchen lady, here’s your chance! In all seriousness, the sets and costumes in Dae Jang Geum are awesome. But even more interesting is the glimpse into the palace kitchens. An acquaintance pointed out that this portrayal may not be the way the kitchens actually were at all, but I’m choosing to believe it is. It’s partly the kitchen setting that makes this drama fascinating for me. The story is okay, but a bit slow and episodic, and if this were set in modern-day Korea I might sometimes be yelling at the screen in frustration. But in the historical setting it works.

I love the dynamics of the kitchen ladies and the royals. I love watching the food prep, and I’m just waiting for Jang Geum to get in major trouble for getting friendly with one of the royal guards. How dare she? All palace ladies must preserve themselves for the king, although in fact most of them don’t end up as his concubines.

I’m not even halfway through the three volumes, so I’m sure I’ll be blogging about Dae Jang Geum again.


Winter Sonata: The Verdict November 6, 2007

The verdict was life’s too short to watch a kdrama you’re not that into, even if it would be good for your Korean. And anyway, a drama you *are* into would probably be better for your Korean because you’d actually be inclined to watch it! So I sent Winter Sonata back and am now waiting to see what Tiger Cinema will send me next. It’s never the next thing on my queue. Don’t get me wrong, I like Tiger Cinema. But they still never send me the next thing on my queue.

In the meantime, I’ve been rewatching My Lovely Samsoon, also known as My Name Is Kim Samsoon. The first time I saw it I thought it was about average, but I’ve now realized that you have to skip half the parts with Jung Ryu Won and all the parts with Daniel Henney, and then it becomes great. I know I’m going to make enemies among the Daniel Henney camp by saying so, but there it is. Virtually every time he appears onscreen the conflict goes bye-bye, and who wants to watch a drama that’s conflict-free and is all about being happy and cheerful and finding out where your mom grew up on Jejudo? Not me.

But when Kim Sun Ah (Samsoon) and Hyun Bin are onscreen, it’s amazing, especially when they’re together. Loads of conflict and sexual tension. Both of them can do more with a look than most people can do with ten sentences.

Also, the more I rewatch this drama, the more I like Samsoon’s outlook on life. She’s realized life’s not all romance and flowers and love rarely lasts forever. I love the way this drama ends, too. Oh, and it’s fun to watch the restaurant scenes and see how baking is integrated into Samsoon’s life and worldview.

So there it is. If you’re tempted to watch Winter Sonata, go watch My Lovely Samsoon instead. Just remember that on first viewing it may seem so-so, but on second viewing if you skip the Daniel Henney scenes you’ll appreciate this drama’s true greatness.

P.S. For the many of you who have been reading about the upcoming Korean film festival, I’ll probably be posting updates in the days preceding it and will definitely be blogging about it while it’s going on.


A Case of Too High Expectations October 22, 2007

Filed under: kdramas — Raven @ 9:06 pm
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Winter Sonata is the quintessential kdrama, right? The huge hit, the most popular kdrama ever, etc.? I should be blown away by it, right?

I’m not.

Granted, I’m only on Episode 4. And maybe part of the problem is that I’ve already seen bunches of kdramas that were made later and probably copied the classic, so I already recognize the tropes and they don’t seem fresh. But you know what it’s missing? A throughline. Er, aside from the obvious one of Bae Yong Jun and Choi Ji Woo falling in love and after many trials and tribulations ending up together, as I’m sure they will. Or else dying in each other’s arms or something. Or another heartbreaking possibility that I don’t want to say because it might spoil some of it for those of you who haven’t seen it. Or one of them getting cancer. I swear, if somebody starts getting nosebleeds I’m turning it off.

Okay, I probably won’t turn it off, but I have to say at this point I’m watching it more out of a sense of duty (how could I not watch Winter Sonata now that I’ve finally gotten hold of it?) than because it’s compelling. And that makes me sad. I had such high hopes.

That was probably the rest of the problem.

P.S. Nobody spoil the ending for me, please.


Wearing Glass Slippers While Marrying the Mafia August 24, 2007

Today’s post is about Lee Ki Young. Mostly it’s about him because I just saw him in a movie yesterday and was startled to recognize him from the kdrama I’ve been watching, and this way I can talk about both of them in one post. And also it’s because I’ve been impressed by his acting.

Upon looking up his filmography last night, I realized I had seen him twice before without realizing it. He played the coach in Marathon, which I only managed to see half of, and he was in A Prince’s First Love, an eminently forgettable kdrama in which he played a resort manager (I take it back, I only wish I could forget this drama, that’s how bad it was despite its cast, which also included Cha Tae Hyun of My Sassy Girl fame). I have to say, the role of the manager in particular was so unlike what I’ve been watching Lee Ki Young in recently that I totally would never have recognized him. Guy’s got range. And here I thought they were pigeonholing him as a mafia boss.

A mafia boss is what he was in the movie and drama I mentioned above. The movie, in which he played only the small role of an opposing don, was Marrying the Mafia (not hard to guess there were some gangsters in that one), and it proved to me once again that it’s wiser not to go into a movie with high expectations. It had its moments, but the emotional turning point for the main character was sparked by a tired old cliche of a scene which kind of ruined it for me. I won’t say what it was, but trust me, it should be stricken from the canon of Korean screenwriting.

The same goes for a lot of the kdrama, which is Glass Slipper (DramaWiki calls it Glass Slippers). I mean, seriously, it’s sad when you find the secondary characters in a drama more interesting than the main characters. Glass Slipper started out by setting up some promising characters and situations, but then it advanced everybody fifteen years (I knew that was coming), introduced a new love interest that I really didn’t care about at all, and proceeded to launch into tired, seen-it-a-million-times kdrama territory. Ho hum. However, Lee Ki Young is one of the few interesting characters (there are about three of them, and I perk up whenever any of them show up onscreen). He plays a mafia boss with a heart of gold, which I grant you may not be the most original type possible, but he brings life to the role. His character went against his conscience to get where he is, and we know it (well, okay, partly we know it because we saw him do it in the first few eps, but he did a great job of showing us how it felt). Now I’m waiting with bated breath to see if he redeems himself in the end. I can’t believe I’m actually going to watch all 40 eps of this thing just to find out, but I am. 40 eps. *sigh*

Come to think of it, he brought life to the role of the resort manager in A Prince’s First Love as well, bad though the writing was in that drama. It’s sad when the material doesn’t live up to the actors in it.

Lee Ki Young is also slated to appear (or already is appearing, since I guess it’s currently airing or may have just finished airing) in this year’s much-awaited drama Time Between Dog and Wolf, starring Lee Joon Ki. I’ll be watching this for the two Lees, since I know they both can act. Don’t disappoint me, guys. I’m so tired of being disappointed.


Popularity Contest August 12, 2007

Filed under: kdramas — Raven @ 12:27 am
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I’m still… well, reeling isn’t exactly the word, but I’m still in the emotional grip of my latest kdrama, which I finished this evening. This is the first historical drama I’ve watched.

The drama is called Damo and stars Ha Ji Won, Lee Seo Jin and Kim Min Joon. DramaWiki bills Kim Min Joon ahead of Lee Seo Jin, but I think Lee Seo Jin should be first based on his role in the drama. I’m pretty sure he gets more screen time, and even if he doesn’t, I think we get to feel his emotions more.

The first thing you notice as you launch into the drama is that the music is pop. I’m fine with that, although I understand some might (and have, I think) found it jarring. I actually wasn’t just fine with it, I loved it. Historical action against a contemporary soundtrack? It really really worked here. What didn’t work so well for me was the wire fu. It was incredible, in the sense that it wasn’t credible. To be fair, I don’t think it was supposed to be. I mean, most of us know it’s impossible for a normal person to fly over walls, keep up with a speeding horse, or run across water. But these people do it. So yeah, you’re not supposed to believe it. But I found it took me out of the story just a little too much.

Having said that, I will now say there wasn’t much else that took me out of it. The drama started strong and stayed strong. I was worried as I got near the end, because some of the dramas I’ve really liked at first go off and do something weird at the end. But this one didn’t. A little melodrama, yes, but that was to be expected. One thing that happened in the final episode had me really crying (a few things previously had produced isolated tears, but this produced a flood). Anything that can make me cry that much leaves me impressed.

The story basically follows Chae-Ok, who is a low-level female police investigator, but she’s mixed up with the police commander and a rebel chieftain. Want to know how? Watch the drama. I loved the characters of the two main police officers. They each had their personalities and were subtly acted. I found the older one a little annoying and cowardly at first, but he grew on me, and by the end I loved him.

Now we get to the popularity contest. One thing I liked about this drama was that neither love interest outweighed the other. Chae-Ok was torn between them up until the end, and legitimately so. They were both good men, both fighting for what they thought was right (total gray area there; which is really right? there’s no easy answer), and they also both had flaws. I happen to have a preference for one of them, but you could make a good case for either of them. Well, there’s a reason why you can’t actually make a case for one of them, but let me leave that shrouded in mystery.

I realized after watching Damo that I’d seen Lee Seo Jin in Freeze, but I totally didn’t recognize him here. It must’ve been the hair and clothes. In terms of acting, I liked Lee Seo Jin well enough in Freeze, but I thought he was awesome here. Okay, okay, I gave it away. He’s my fave character in this drama. I found I sympathized with him the most.

It may have been partly Kim Min Joon’s character that made me sympathize with him less. I don’t always get the brave rebel leader thing. I think I’m a monarchist at heart. Or maybe I just don’t understand idealists.

Anyway, Damo is an awesome drama and I give it five stars.

P.S. As an aside, I have to say there’s something about historical costume, long hair, and swords that’s really very attractive.


A Love to Kill: The Verdict July 22, 2007

a-love-to-kill-2.jpgA Love to Kill is one of those kdramas where you get caught up in the story and while you’re watching it it works, but after it’s over and you’ve had time to think about it you realize that, um, it shouldn’t have worked.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still one of the few kdramas I’d consider buying instead of renting… And yeah, for some reason the huge long post I wrote got cut off here when I tried to post it, don’t ask me why. Thanks, WordPress. Maybe I’ll come back and try to recreate it later. Meanwhile here’s the short version: Rain did a great job, the love story needed a believability boost in the final 6 eps or so, and I loved the soundtrack. Click here for my fave song, 이 죽일 놈의 사랑 by Lee Soo Young.

Oh, and Shin Min Ah, the female lead, also stars in The Devil, a kdrama from this spring that I’m eagerly awaiting on DVD. Also in The Devil we’ve got the hot Uhm Tae Woong (in my age range, always a plus) and Joo Ji Hoon, the male lead from Goong. If they’re as good as they’ve been in the past, it should be worth the wait.

I guess I don’t need to come back and try to recreate this post after all. The short version works.

P.S. My post about Rain’s concert in LA is still generating hits, presumably for the hot pic. I still can’t get over the fact that they wouldn’t let him go onstage and say hi to his fans even if he wasn’t going to be allowed to sing.


Rainy weekend in LA July 14, 2007

Filed under: kdramas — Raven @ 10:46 pm
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Okay, I’ve figured out why Jeong Ji Hoon calls himself Rain. Because it’s just so much fun to make puns on the name! I mean, why else could it be? Now my alias, Raven, doesn’t lend itself to puns so well. The only thing I’ve been able to come up with so far, raven lunatic, is neither flattering nor spelled correctly. But I digress.

This weekend we (and by we I mean I) are watching A Love to Kill, which stars Bi/Rain. This is the first time I’ve seen him in anything. There are some minor difficulties with the DVD version I’m watching, namely that the subs are REALLY bad (Tiger Cinema said they were average quality, but I’d say they’re poor quality) and in some of the eps the picture is on a two- or three-second delay, so you get the sound before you see the actors’ lips move, or whatever. But neither of those problems are the fault of the series.

This series is darker and also more mixed up chronologically than some I’ve watched. Granted, kdramas do tend to go dark at times, but so far I haven’t come across any other protagonists as dark as this one. Maybe that’s because I’ve mostly watched relatively lighthearted romantic dramas. In terms of chronology, I’m used to flashbacks, but this drama does some weird things with time, especially at the end of the first few episodes, and the flashbacks it uses are extensive. I think it’s working, though. I’m kind of enjoying the weird chronology and the darkness of it all. What can I say, the protag is a tortured soul. Those are the best kind.

Maybe I’m also enjoying taking a break from being lighthearted. And it helps that the protag has a strong external goal that drives the story. That’s a refreshing departure from some of the kdramas I’ve seen where there’s not really anything propelling the story.

I haven’t finished it yet, so we’ll see what I think after I find out how it ends.


Tomato July 10, 2007

Filed under: kdramas — Raven @ 1:47 am
Tags: , , ,

I can’t recall ever having tomatoes at a Korean restaurant. However, they’re featured prominently in my latest kdrama (although most of the time they’re growing instead of being eaten). I resisted this drama for the longest time because I was irrationally prejudiced against the title. I thought, “Who calls a drama Tomato? I mean, c’mon.” However, I now see why they did it. The theme is represented by the tomato. Tomatoes are exactly what they seem. Nothing is hidden. If a tomato is green on the outside, it’s green on the inside. If it’s red on the outside, it’s red and ripe all the way through. This is absolutely NOT the case for some of the characters in the drama.

This drama also features Kim Hee Sun (last seen by me in Goodbye My Love), which I didn’t know until I started it. I really should look at the actors before I start watching. Although, on the other hand, why should I? Does it matter? What matters is the quality of their acting and of the drama as a whole.

As an amusing side note, the extras on the DVD were called Side Dishes. That’s perfect.

Okay, now I’m gonna go eat pasta with tomato sauce. Seriously, has anybody who’s reading this ever eaten tomatoes as part of Korean cuisine? Just curious.


Korean blog June 8, 2007

Filed under: kdramas — Raven @ 10:14 pm
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I might as well just go ahead and say this is a blog about all things Korean. My Korean posts seem to garner the most interest anyway, and I know there are enough of them. Speaking of which, here’s one more!

I need to share my impressions of the most recent kdrama I’ve watched, namely Success Story of a Bright Girl (Korean title: 명랑소녀 성공기). The English title does leave something to be desired, I admit. I guess it’s also been anglicized as A Bright Girl’s Success Story, which is better. But whichever, I don’t watch them for the title.

I didn’t go into this with high hopes. It starts out predictably enough, rich guy/poor girl, some standard coincidences to get them in contact and keep them there. But very soon it moves into a strong story that manages to evade most of the annoying kdrama cliches. I admit there were a few times when I was afraid it was going to fall into the trap of using one; I could just see the story building up to it, but then it took a different turn and twisted the cliche into something more original.

Another thing this drama has going for it is the strong external story. It’s not just about getting the two leads together or keeping them apart. The villain has a goal that’s much more than that, and in fact, at the risk of a minor spoiler, I’ll just say he doesn’t really care that much whether they get together or not.

Also, the chemistry between the two leads (Jang Hyuk and Jang Nara, both pictured to the left) is excellent. Not to mention Jang Hyuk is pretty damn hot AND he’s actually in my age range! Not that that matters particularly, but it doesn’t hurt either.

I can’t give this drama a full five stars, though, because there were some things I didn’t like about the ending. Some of it worked very well, but part of it didn’t. I’ll say no more. So the drama gets four and a half stars in my book (or in my blog, as the case may be).

If you’re interested in the theme song music video (the theme song, which is called Love Song, got in my head and won’t get out), check it out on YouTube here. But be warned, if you don’t like spoilers you might not want to watch it, especially since there is one fairly major one in there (granted, it’s in Korean with no subs).