Sunday, October 27, 2013

I'm Scared to Review This... (School 2013)

Now, to be clear, I haven't finished School 2013. I'm on episode 10. I would be a lot farther, had my computer's internet connection not gone all screwy on me this weekend - primarily today. Hopefully, I will finish episode 16 before Saturday so that I can review it then.

That is, if the three other dramas I am watching, my schoolwork, and my family don't prevent this from happening.

The sooner I finish School 2013, the sooner I can review it and begin Sungkyunkwan Scandal and try to make some progress in Five Fingers whilst keeping up to date with Soul (watching it for this Kdrama chat...) and Heirs.'s my problem:

I realized about half-an-hour ago that it's going to be very difficult to be objective in my review of School 2013. It's only my second review, so I'm not extremely experienced in organizing my thoughts in this particular manner. There's also the simple realization that I've been spending a lot of my viewing time being bombarded by FEELS. I can pay attention just fine if the scene involves anyone else, or if it excludes you, but...

Lee Jong Suk. I can't handle you...I really can't...

Man, even when you're partially a jerk, you still make me squeal every time you show up on my screen.

(This makes me think that I might have to let go of my indecisiveness when it comes to picking a favorite actor...might. That freaking oppa.)


Saturday, October 26, 2013

I Was Not Expecting That - My Sunshine Girl Review

(Okay, it’s time for my first Kdrama review! Let’s see if this goes well…and if I spoil anything. :P I’ll try not to, though. The screenshots look bad, though, because I had to take pictures of my computer screen with my phone...I'm just warning you ahead of time. This was written before I discovered how to take screenshots on my computer.)

From January to March of 2012, My Sunshine Girl / My Shining Girl / Glowing She aired on KBS N Drama.

This drama is about the events that happen in a broadcasting company. This drama also focus on the love triangle between the three main characters. Kang Min (Kim Hyung Joon), a top star in the Korean entertainment business who is a bit temperamental. No Yong Woo (Park Kwang Hyun), a well-known producer and Jun Ji Hyun (So Yi Hyun), a newly minted scriptwriter.

As it's currently not available on Viki ("not available in your region") or Dramafever, I watched it on a website that basically just shows the Youtube-uploaded episodes. Yes, it's not subbed on Hulu/Viki/Dramafever right now, but I was intent on watching this drama, despite only knowing these two things:

1) Kim Hyung Jun plays one of the male leads. He is going to be that rich jerk.

2) The female lead and the other male lead are writers.

Now, it's a cable mini-series, so I was aware that it wouldn't be all that similar to the dramas on the better-known channels. However, the only cable drama I've seen as of yet is Flower Boy Next Door, so I was expecting cute (due to the belief that it wouldn't be as dark as some of the other cable dramas I've put on my TBW list recently). 

However, I was not expecting that, within the first two episodes, three people would find out they have HBV and that there would be two make-out/foreplay scenes, one of which involves Kim Hyung Jun on a bed with one of the girls he infects with HBV.


And it's not the last time we see him without a shirt on. This setup: 

See, I told you the picture quality wouldn't be that great. very prevalent in the last few episodes. The director knew who would be slaving over their computers to watch this drama, apparently; and I doubt that any of us Kim Hyung Jun fans really mind...

I've seen shirtless idols in dramas before, but this is the first drama I've seen in which sex is implied TWICE within the first 55 minutes. Not only that, but talk of sexual implications and of the physical intimacy itself occurs a LOT. Needless to say, I was not prepared for that... Actually, in South Korea, they had rated My Sunshine Girl as 19+ (kind of like America's "M," I guess... *shrug*) before deeming it suitable for people 15+. Okay, now I feel less like a rebel.

Glowing She is different from other Kdramas. It's not just the make-out scenes that make it so; the female lead and one of her friends are two prime examples.

Meet Jeon Ji Hyun, the female lead played by So Yi Hyun. She dreams of being a writer for educational programming, but she's around 30/31 years old and still has found neither a steady job nor a husband. Not only that, but her new place of work forces her to be a junior writer for variety shows under her ex-boyfriend (No Young Woo, played by Park Kwang Hyun), whom she dated for five years before he married - and divorced - one of her best friends.

Ooooooh - scandalous!

What her job ends up mainly entailing is that, aside from helping with the writing, she has to convince Kang Min (Kim Hyung Joon) to participate in the programming. He's one of the most famous singers in South Korea. What other better way to boost ratings than to have a top star appear?

She also has an annoying older brother who's only tolerable when he gets drunk. Seriously, that man cannot act cute without irritating me. But back to his dongsaeng.

Jun Ji Hyun is not your typical kdrama heroine. In fact, she is probably the farthest thing from it. She gives everybody an attitude, no matter to whom she's speaking to. She does not take crap from anybody...until the last few episodes, during which she sometimes just bows her head and tries to forget about her first-and-second-male-lead dilemma...and a couple times early on - but overall, Ji Hyun is an aggressive female lead whose mannerisms remind me of Joan Cusack.
Seriously, I noticed their similarities within the first ten minutes. Maybe not necessarily in appearance as much as in facial expressions.
You don't often see such a selfish, non-passive female lead in Kdramas. She grows into a more caring person - mostly when it comes to the two male leads - by the end, but she holds onto her inner feminist.

However, that doesn't mean that the Yoo Young Eun and Son Min Soo (the writers) neglected to include the female doormat. Kim Kkot Min, say hello and pout.

Kkot Min and the other best friend annoy me.

Kkot Min just mopes around and pouts for the whole series. Near the end, she becomes just a tad less pitiful, but she's still an overall boring character. Part of that is her lack of expression. Yes, the actress tries to cry and look jealous, but she just comes off as pathetic.

Young Hee (on the left) isn't much better. I don't even care about her budding relationship with one of her co-workers, despite the sweet aura he gives off. She's just a very boring actress.

Actually, most of the story is work-based, so maybe that's why I think of parts of the show as boring. I didn't really care about most of the conflicts that arose, because I didn't have enough of an incentive to care about who was going to succeed in the primary and secondary plotlines. Yes, I understand that there are only twelve episodes; however, movies are able to do this, and they only have a couple hours, not 11-12.

Most of the supporting characters aren't as energetic as the female lead. At first, I just thought that they all acted somewhat like a normal person, and that So Yi Hyun was severely overacting; I later realized that almost all of the actors don't bring much life to their roles, and that she's actually trying.

Even one of the male leads, No Young Woo, is not immune to this. Sure, he grows as a character from being a condescending jerk towards Jeon Ji Hyun at the beginning to protecting her as if she's a child, but...there's not a lot of range. His nice-guy energy near the end just seems like exhaustion. The drama is only 12 episodes, and he doesn't even show up that much until the last five or so episodes!

At least Kim Hyung Jun exhibits some competence in expression as Kang Min for...most of the drama. I dislike how obsessed his character is with the female lead, but it fits with his bratty persona.

 "He's such a child!" I whisper-shouted at my screen in almost every one of Kang Min's scenes.

However, and this may be due to me being a fan of Kim Hyung Jun, I enjoy watching him. The character is immature, selfish, cocky, and rude, and I find his annoyed faces adorable. 

And his vocal inflections are fit for a top star who's "a bit temperamental." (Psh..."a bit"?) It gives off his "I'm a brat who doesn't give a crap" attitude.
"What's wrong? You should apologize when you bump into someone!"
He's still a child at the end. A persistent, obsessed child.

I guess that's his main weakness,  as well as the weakness of most of the cast. You can blame it on the fact that the series is only 12 episodes, but that doesn't entirely excuse the lack of growth for the characters. Jeon Ji Hyun may be a little nicer by the end, but she's still rude and disrespectful. The same goes for Kang Min, as much as I squeal over his cuteness.

Speaking of Kang Min, and returning to No Young Woo, one of the main plot devices in the series is the familiar love triangle. The concept itself was somewhat interesting. Will the single woman choose the safer man who is her age, but broke her heart? Or will she choose the risky romance with a younger man who doesn't respect her? Both are jerks at the beginning. Both vie for Jeon Ji Hyun's affections and try to protect her from the backlash of her scandal with Kang Min. But who will win?

I don't know. This is probably considered a SPOILER, but it's true: it's never clear with whom Jeon Ji Hyun ends up with. The writers hint at it, but it's done in a confusing way, especially if you combine the hint with the last shot of the last episode. Could that mean that she chooses one guy, but is still able to work and be friends with the other guy? Maybe. Probably. But the conclusion is foggy and unsatisfying all around; if the writers had scrapped those last thirty seconds and just stopped at Jeon Ji Hyun's self-encouragement, the ending wouldn't have been that much better, but still. 

Viewers don't like implicit conclusions. At least I don't. So I'm warning the few people who will read this ahead of time.

Here's another frustrating aspect of the writing, though this is mostly the director's fault, I guess: the transitions. The tones of scenes, and the tones of the episodes themselves, often change quickly, sloppily cutting away from one storyline to focus on another without a lot of fluency.

The soundtrack usage is plagued by this as well. Now, I like some of the songs on the soundtrack; granted, most of the songs that are played are the four the Kim Hyung Jun recorded, so that's part of it. His songs are used the most often, and even before I began watching My Sunshine Girl, I thought they were sweet. I still do. However, the transitions from song to song, or from scene to scene-with-song, are abrupt. Maybe that's just because my personal preference is that the specific music being used starts off subtle at the beginning of a scene before moving into the chorus. Instead, a calm, music-less (or less musically...loud) scene suddenly ends and flashes to a different scene and starting off with  the loudest part of the song.

I think I've attacked the show for long enough... There's more for me to negatively talk about, but I feel like some credit should be given to other aspects of the show besides the heroine that stands up for herself, the slight character growth, and the cuteness of Kang Min.

While the humor may have just been me feeling a little uncomfortable, it's still there. I laugh at the sexual jokes (...this is where the uncomfortable humor lies...keep in mind that I'm a teenager with a weird mind). Kang Min's incessantly combined wardrobe of sweaters and ripped jeans is funny in that secondhand-embarrassment sort of way. 

Then there's this guy, the president (I think) of the station No Young Woo and Jeon Ji Hyun work at:

Seeing the president and Kang Min's managing team squirm is...interesting, to say the least. I especially enjoyed the sarcasm throughout the series, primarily in the scene the screenshot above is from.

Also, I said earlier that Jeon Ji Hyun is not the standard, passive heroine who doesn't stand up for herself. Seeing her scoff at anyone who looks down on her is a breath of fresh air in the world of Kdramas. While watching the Kdrama, I felt the need to applaud the character in her crusade against those who look down on her.

In the end, My Sunshine Girl features female empowerment and sexual humor that is not often seen in Kdramas. However, the lack of life in most of the actors and of more than a few compelling story, added with strange scene and soundtrack transitions might be enough to turn you away from the cuteness of Kim Hyung Jun's capable approach.

-Pamela (Phew, my first review's done...I will improve, I promise.)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday the First: Boys Over Flowers

We’re talking about first Kdramas here  – the programs that lure us into the enchanting cauldron of witchcraft that is the Korean Drama Fandom.

Wow, I’m enjoying crafting metaphors for this more than I thought I would…

No matter what you choose to call it, something about Kdramas seems to force you to remain in front of your computer (or the TV, if you're cooler than me). But I’ll go in-depth into that phenomenon at a later date.

Admit it; we are obsessed. We want to share the obsession with our friends in order to have someone within the immediate vicinity to debate over plot points, fangirl over second-hand embarrassment, sexiness, or sheer cuteness – I’m looking at you, Lee Jong Suk. I’m fortunate enough to have friends whom also watch Kdramas, but I also wish that I had the ability to convince my less Asian-biased friends to jump into the magical, seemingly inescapable pot of Kdramas.

We can briefly mention dramas when a part of a conversation relates to one, but we need to reveal some of the reasons why THIS drama or THAT drama is the one that fits as the hypnotizing – or at least eye-opening – first Kdrama.

So, let’s get started with what was my first Kdrama; I’m sure that this was the first for many others as well.

Now, this post is just my personal opinion about what about this drama made me stick around. But first, I’m going to tell the uninteresting story of why I started the first episode at all.

After I began to become a bigger and bigger fan of K-pop, I thought what any rational fan of anything would think: “If I’m going to be a K-pop/[insert franchise/genre] fan, I might as well learn about Korean culture and media.” Now, I’m sure that’s the natural progression for most K-pop fans (or Kdrama fans as well, I guess, if it’s the other way around). However, I wasn’t ready to watch all of the Kdramas I had bookmarked on my laptop.

Because the episode lengths scared me. So I started with movies.

So, I watched Sad Movie (and let me tell you, it certainly was sad at the end), and then I watched The Crucible (or as it’s known on Netflix, Silenced). Then I watched The Man From Nowhere; okay, now I’m rambling.

Anyway, right around the time I began watching bits and pieces of 200 Pounds Beauty, I decided to start a Kdrama. Out of the ones that were bookmarked at the time, I wasn’t sure which one to start out with, so – and I kid you not – I just flipped a coin.

*me* Hello, Boys Over Flowers, how are you?

*BOF* Well, Pamela, I’m going to initially annoy you in the first five minutes because of Geum Jan Di’s facial expressions; but after you turn away and go on with your life, you won’t seem to be able to forget me, even with just those five minutes – and nothing else – to go by.

*both* And so it began.

But what about the other people out there who have no interest in watching Kdramas, and who just want to stay in their little American/British/French/Spanish/[insert nationality here] bubble? What about the drama might possibly convince them to watch one? And what makes Boys Over Flowers an adequate choice for that first taste of South Korean television?

Well, let me start the official list.

1)  It’s popular…amongst Kdrama fans...

(Yes, this is a picture from KCON 2013 that I looked up, but it’s still applicable…)
Need I say more? Most of the current viewers of Kdrama have at least heard of and likely watched this drama. This’ll give the prospective viewer less validity in saying that “no one’s seen this show.”

2) There are so many clichés/standards introduced within the 26 episodes that most other dramas are more frustrating/easier to withhold frustration/easier to award creativity points to.

-Car accidents/amnesia

-Douchey rich-boy male lead falls for poor female lead that ends up being a doormat.

-intrusive parent that tries to break up Rich-Boy and Poor Girl

-repetitive soundtrack (Note: this really annoyed me at first, and I thought that it was just a lack of musical originality. But when I was told that this is normal practice in Kdramas, I was able to sit back and enjoy – yes, enjoy – most of the music. I still have “Paradise” on my phone because I like it.)

-Second. Male. Lead. Syndrome. *cue cross-cuarto-computer-catapult* (Yes, I did just include the Spanish word for “room” just to make the alliteration work.)

These are just a few of the clichés and standard practices in the Kdrama world that are conveyed in Boys Over Flowers. By watching the series, you are introduced to most of the ones that are vital knowledge for any avid Kdrama viewer. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that if you watch it later on in your Kdrama experience, it will just seem like tens and tens of commonplaces that have been done millions of times instead of a learning experience.

3. Them.

One of my early thoughts that persisted throughout the series was this: these boys look good. (Personally, I thought Kim Hyun Joong and Kim Bum looked the best, but that’s just me – and it honestly has nothing to do with the Goo Joon Pyo Poodle Hair.)
I do have to say this, though: “Yo, what’s up, bro?” That is Kim Joon’s most significant legacy from playing the role of Song Woo Bin. But that’s just me.

4) The crazy writing, the wooden acting (*cough* Kim Hyun Joong *cough*), the ‘meh’ soundtrack integration, and the moments that make you want to throw your computer across the room allow whatever you watch next to have a higher chance at seeming somewhat good or great.

For me, it was Playful Kiss; and I think it’s obvious why – or for whom – I chose this. It’s implied by the man in the picture. His acting seemed to improve a little…or maybe that’s just because he chose a role that fit, and even relied on, the overall lack of expressive acting expertise that some overlook just to watch Kim Hyun Joong for over 16 hours.

 5)  Despite the crazy writing, the wooden acting, the ‘meh’ soundtrack integration, and the moments that make you want to throw your computer across the room…it’s kind of cute.
There’s just a certain…something…that makes so many come back for more.

And yes, I do realize that these all contain Lee Min Ho – it just turned out that way. I didn’t plan it, but this is what happens when you search “Boys Over Flowers cute scenes” on Google Images.

There, *sigh* all better.

This may or may not be of any help to anyone...

Disclaimer: Pamela is not responsible for any arguments, addictions, loss of social lives, increased understanding, or ridicule that may result from this post.