I love Koreatown in the springtime…

Wherein I blog about all things Korean in Los Angeles

Bittersweet movies November 25, 2007

Of all the movies I saw at last week’s film festival, I’ve now identified my clear favorite. But first I have to say I didn’t hate any of the movies I saw, although there was one that wasn’t completely my thing (it’s not a movie any of you recommended, so no fears there). I was delighted that I finally got to see My Wife Is a Gangster, and I can’t figure out why MWIG 2 is so readily available while MWIG 1 doesn’t seem to be available anywhere, even on Tiger Cinema the last I checked (shame on you, TC). MWIG 1 didn’t disappoint, although I was prepared to be disappointed since I’d been dying to see it for so long. High expectations, you know. But no. Hilarious movie.

But not my fave.

Trust me to go dark and pick a totally non-comedy gangster semi-redemption pic for my favorite film. The Raven Favorite Award for KOFFLA 2007 (that’s the festival’s abbreviation) goes to A Bittersweet Life.

If you haven’t seen this movie, SEE IT. But if you hate antiheroes, don’t see it, because Lee Byung Hun’s character is an antihero extraordinaire. But after years of being a ruthless, conscience-free mob enforcer, he suddenly encounters a situation where his conscience won’t let him follow orders, and the movie follows his journey from there. Dark, bloody, tense, and awesome. It can be hard to portray an antihero sympathetically and get into his mind so we can understand him (witness Michael Clayton, which I just saw… oops, I can’t talk about that here, it’s not Korean), but A Bittersweet Life manages it.

Not to sound shallow, but Lee Byung Hun is also total eye candy. But he could have been hot as all get out and I still wouldn’t have liked the movie if it had worked less well.

Also in the movie were Shin Min Ah and Lee Ki Young, both of whom have been mentioned here before. Lee Ki Young even got a whole post dedicated to him here. Despite what I said about him then, he clearly does get shoved into gangster roles a lot. And as for her, well, all I can say is she pulls off the sweet and innocent act with grace, but c’mon, how often do real gangsters end up with sweet, innocent mistresses? Of course, real gangsters probably don’t look like Lee Byung Hun either. Her character was necessary for the story. It worked well enough. I let it slide.

P.S. The photo is from english.chosun.com.


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.


Koreatown Weather Forecast September 2, 2007

The weekend weather forecast for Koreatown, as for all of LA, is: really frickin’ HOT. Sweltering, even. I think today, at 98, is the worst of it (I hope so!). Today after lunch, having no desire to go back to our AC-deficient apartments, a friend and I headed over to the Koreatown Plaza to enjoy the cool indoors. Granted, it wasn’t all that cool. I have a feeling that since folks in LA so rarely need to use their air conditioning, they don’t end up with powerful units like you’d have in, say, Phoenix. As a result, the only place where we really felt cool was the frozen food section at the plaza market. However, it was better than being in a building with no AC at all.

Here’s how the folks at the K-town Plaza were dealing with the heat. The Olive Bakery, located on the lowest level next to the market, was having a special on pot bing soo, and they were being taken up on it big-time. I think a lot of people were doing exactly what my friend and I were doing: gracing the mall with their presence in order to beat the heat. The mall was more crowded than I’ve seen it before. The coffee shop, like the bakery, was doing a lively business in pot bing soo. And cold noodles seemed to be a highly popular item. I exerted my will power and didn’t actually buy anything, although the green tea ice cream was tempting.

I have to say, although this heat really sucks, the vendors at the plaza are probably happy about it.

P.S. I didn’t take any photos. It’s hard to take photos of heat. Sorry.


Popularity Contest August 12, 2007

Filed under: kdramas — Raven @ 12:27 am
Tags: , , , , ,

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.


It doesn’t rain in LA July 2, 2007

Filed under: music — Raven @ 11:03 pm
Tags: , ,

Bi/Rain’s concert in LA on Saturday got canceled because the producers messed up, or something like that. According to rumor (this rumor was found at soompi.com), at the last minute he wasn’t going to be allowed to use the equipment he’d brought along from Korea, and supposedly the show couldn’t go on without the effects it provided. I think there’s actually something else going on behind the scenes. In any case, it was very bad luck for the folks who flew in from Asia for this concert (and for everybody else who had tickets and was looking forward to it). Rain wasn’t even allowed to go on stage to say hello to his fans. 😦

There’s an article about it here. The same article says we have about 200,000 Koreans in LA. I understand we’ve got the largest concentration outside of Korea.

They should have warned Rain not to get his hopes up. It doesn’t rain much in LA, especially in the summer.


Korean blog June 8, 2007

Filed under: kdramas — Raven @ 10:14 pm
Tags: , , ,

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).