27 September 2012

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Arang vs. Faith, Part III: The Male Leads

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on September 27, 2012
We're 7 weeks into both Faith and Arang and I'm getting increasingly annoyed with the former and am falling increasingly in love with the latter (if that's even possible). Yes, you can call my biased - but I promise to be as fair as possible while I continue to compare various aspects of the two shows.

After posting about the female leads (arguably the epicenters in both shows) I would like to do something similar for the male leads: the characters of Choi Young and Kim Eun-oh or 'Sato'.

Kim Eun-oh & Choi Young
At first glance, the two have nothing in common: Eun-oh, the illegitimate son of an influential nobleman (who, as we find out in episode 1, can see ghosts), is rather selfish and rude and ends of stuck in a small town as Magistrate because of his quest to find his mother, who suddenly disappeared on him. The desire to find his mother (whom he actually hates, as he confesses later) is the only thing that drives him (at least initially). Choi Young is the young leader of the King's Woodalchi (personal bodyguard). He is dead inside because he lost everybody he ever cared for, so he just sleeps and fights. The only thing that drives him (at least initially) is his honor as a warrior. Ah, and Eun-oh is absolutely, breathtakingly badass and awesome when he fights, and Choi Young is not; he sucks big time. But that's not the character's nor the actor's but the PD's fault and having a blackbelt in Taekwondo obviously helps with most-awesome-fight-scenes-in-KDrama-ever :)

At second glance, they do have something in common: Both of them are fundamentally changed by their interactions with the female protagonists. That's a classical KDrama thing, but in both shows, it goes beyond the standard 'rich-jerk-becomes-man-with-heart' or any variation of it. Its fundamental changes in the sense that they fix something that was severely amiss in these male protagonists: Choi Young learns to live and love again, whereas Eun-oh learns to care about others.

In both shows, the transformation has been slow - in a good way. The character growth never felt rushed and was always believably executed (I have many issues with Faith's writers, but the character of Choi Young is not one of them). But even though they might be going through a similar type of change, it affects them very differently.

Choi Young has the far better deal - he is falling in love/is in love, and this transformation is thoroughly good and positive for him. He is 'thawing' - and even though there is heartache ahead (their love is challenged by hundreds of years of time-difference after all), he has been saved from the destitute shadowlands of black despair. Even if he should lose her, he has been saved from the quasi-dead. She eases his suffering - he can smile again. That is truly sweet and I do care for this character; however, I don't care very deeply. I blame the lack of emotions displayed in the first few episodes (or rather, the total blankness and phlegmatism) for that - though he is becoming more and more engaging, I still feel a strange detachement from Choi Young; he's just not my kinda guy.   

Eu-oh on the other hand has been forever changed from a seemingly cold, detached bastard into a passionate and caring person (or, rather, Arang has unlocked what was always there, but was deliberately buried), but this very change is the source of his deep suffering. We are not getting the classical KDrama angst in this drama. Yes, there’s jealousy and yes, there’s confessions that have an angsty undertone – but the all-embracing emotion is the absolute certitude of loss. Once you not only know but also accept that someone is going to ‘die’, angst evaporates. You just want to make the last days meaningful for this person; you want to give them everything you can (like shoes, peaches, clothes … but also friendship, or love, or both). He said several times that he is ‘sending her off’ – it’s not a sending off because she is going on a journey, but it’s the last possible sending off 'to heaven'. It’s the final goodbye, and it is unconditional and completely selfless – this is the purest kind of love you can give somebody - and its absolutely heartbreaking to watch.
Eun-oh is doing everything right: he doesn't deny his feelings, he doesn't push her, he doesn't force her, he is honest, he is sweet, he protects her ... he is doing everything right, but suffers great pain, which is oh-so-palpable. There is no detachement here: this character sucks you right in and doesn't let go. Eun-oh, and how he is portrayed by Jun-ki, has now officially become my favourite KDrama character of all times.

Though Arang wins over Faith once again, both Choi Young and Eun-oh are great characters because they let us truly care for them. They're not just spoilt brats that need to be given a few clips round the ear, but deeply scarred psychologically by what life has thrown at them. They deserve a better life and they deserve to love and to be loved. Currently, I can imagine (and believe in) a happy ending of sorts in Faith, but not in Arang. Obviously I'm still hoping for one - but the writers have not given us the slightest bit of hope. In fact, they have persistently destroyed all possibilities for a happy ending, the deeper in we get and the more of the mystery unravels. It's probably time I brace myself for the buckets of tears that will come rushing out of my eyes soon.

24 September 2012

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Arang vs. Faith, Part II: The Female Leads

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on September 24, 2012
Both Faith and Arang have strong female characters as their leads. In fact, both shows are fundamentally about these two women. While it is not at all uncommon in KDramas (particularly RomComs) to have female characters take the center stage, I like both characters so well because they are somewhat different from most of the KDrama-women I've come to know.

Sure, there's a fair share of sassy, independent (usually poor) women in KDramaland - often confronted with the typical male lead, who is super rich, but morally and emotionally flawed. The sassy woman saves the flawed man through love - and the previously-flawed man saves the previously-poor woman from misery through wealth (and love).

This formula works oh-so-well and I never grow tired of it - but Eun-soo and Arang are particularly great, because they are different.

Eun-soo
Eun-soo and Arang are both much more than just sassy and independent. They are true fighters, with an additional touch of fierceness, strength, and independence that is much to my liking. Add cheekiness to that. And humor! Both are thrown into male dominated worlds and constantly threatened by these worlds (be it by political intrigue in Faith, or by bully-ghosts and Gods in Arang), but both deal with these threats well enough on their own, be it with "heaven's speak" and big and small lies, or with their fists and a big, fearless mouth. Also, they do not easily fall in love (for different reasons) and it is not going to be their male counterparts that will save them. If they get saved, they will save themselves.

That said, I am curious to see how (if?) the budding romance in both shows is going to change them - and whether the writers will be able to keep them as strong and independent once the romance(s) get going (if they get going). Because one of the big issues I have with in-love female leads is that they usually become mere shadows of themselves when united with their OTP.
Arang

In this department, the shows are on different tracks. There is no heartache in Faith (yet) - the two leads are getting steadily closer, it's a sweet babystep kinda romance that is nudged along by Eun-soo. The drawing closer is great to watch (and Lee Min-ho's acting is at its best in these scenes), and it seems much too early to bring up obstacles ... though I bet one of them will soon realize that time-travel and romance have a tendency to not go together well. It is a fairly conventional road to love, though probably slower than some, and that's why I do fear for Eun-soo's independence. The worst that could happen to this character and the entire show would be a change in the power-balance between the Doctor and Choi Young. I do have faith (chuckle) in the acting abilities of Kim Hee-Seon, who is doing an excellent job so far, but I do not entirely trust the writers of this show. Please, writers, don't make her go all soft and gooey! I'd mourn the death of a great character, I truly would.

Arang is an entirely different case. Goodness, there is heartache in Arang (Lee Jun-ki's pained eyes last week! I cannot forget them)! While the (soon?-)couples in both shows have an issue of limited time/borrowed time, Arang's writers have been super cruel to make this the center of the romance-trope and have nothing better to do than constantly remind us of the hopelessness of this love *sob* The male lead has accepted that their time together can only be short, but he doesn't care ... or he might have hope that it’s somehow not true, that they can somehow make it work beyond the one month they have left. He is human after all and has always been (though on borrowed time) and human beings have that sad tendency for hope – and also for denial, because of hope (come to mama, Lee Jun-ki, I will hug you!!!).
 
Arang, on the other hand, has no memories of her previous life and she has a limited time on earth. She has no past and no future. While she cares deeply for Eun-Oh at this stage, she is keenly aware that if he admits his love (to himself, firstly, and to her, secondly), he will suffer great, great pain. It is his pain that she cares about, not hers - and that is why I think she will try to keep her distance from him.

Both noble idiocy and terminal illness (or, god forbid, amnesia) are classic obstacles in KDrama and I hate them both or any combination of the two with a vengeance. In the case of Arang, however, the fundamental dilemma is super-well executed (like everything is well executed in this show) and her reaction is a logical consequence of how her character is written. She has no hope. None at all. She is matter of fact and unemotional about her deal with the Gods and hasn't once doubted that she will have to go to either to heaven or hell in a few weeks. A being with no hope simply cannot fathom the kind of love that came their way (and she cannot know what she is turning down). It has been great to see her character grow from an emotionally stunted, very self-centered being in survival-mode to one with a grand heart, that cares deeply for another. It is exactly this slow transformation (and Shin Min-ah's exceptional performance) that makes me have no fear at all for Arang's character in the future. I see many, many, MANY possibilities for buckets of tears ahead, but simply none for messing up one of the finest female KDrama characters ever. 

22 September 2012

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Alright!

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on September 22, 2012
I just re-read my old blog entries and I am amazed at how funny I once was (if it really was me who posted them, cause I have no recollection of those times). Was it the being grateful at least once a day? Or was it the not-yet-watching of Korean shows??

Yes, I realize now that there was a time before KDrama. When I watched Supernatural and Vampire Diaries and True Blood. These days, I just watch KDrama.

And Supernatural and Vampire Diaries and True Blood.

Ha! I bet that came as a surprise! So let me say this, in passing: True Blood is the dumbest show ever! It really, really sucked last season!

Anyways, writing about Korean shows is not something funny. It's very serious business - and people take it very seriously. There's fangirls that get so vicious when you say something potentially bad about their object of admiration (Lee Min-ho has many, by the way) that you just want to go hide under the table.

So, don't expect this stuff on here to be funny. 
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Arang vs. Faith, Part I: Expectations vs. Reality

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on September 22, 2012
When these two shows were announced, I was super-excited ... in the case of Arang because the story (or rather, the folklore) inspiring it sounded intriguing, because it was Lee Jun-Ki's comeback drama after 2yrs of military service and because Shin Min-ah is one of the Korean actressess I admire (I admit I have a slight bias towards liking Korean actors more than their female counterparts) - and in the case of Faith because of the fantasy twist, the time-travelling and Lee Min-ho, whom I simply cannot not like, even though his acting is ... well ... more on that later.

And then, the trailers ...



Hell yeah! 

And then, they even started in the same week, and I just knew it was going to be KDrama heaven; two shows = Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays = weeks and weeks of bliss ahead. 

Now, we're 12 episodes or 6 weeks into both shows and the truth is that Arang delivers everything it ever promised and much more, whereas Faith isn't at all what I expected. It isn't an outright disappointment, but constantly frustrates me because it could have been So.Much.Better; and I don't mean the other Faith that could have been (with Kang Ji Hwan) but this Faith right here. The story is halfway decent, there's surprise, there's beautiful men, there's a smart villain, there is romance, there even is mystery ... If only there was some decent directing and if only the show didn't look ... cheap. 

The difference in directing becomes most apparent in the fight-scenes. While I rewatch every Arang fight-scene at least 20 times (and still want mawwwwwwwr), I close my eyes when there is one in Faith. Yes, it's that embarrassing. In terms of production value, everything on the Faith set looks brand-new and newly painted (classic mistake in period drama) and the costumes (particularly the Woodalchi armour) look like costumes from your average costume shop. Poor Woodalchi are wearing plastic! The lighting is totally off at least once in every episode. The music is grand and I've caught myself whistling the tune, but it's not much more than a Pirates of the Caribbean remix. 

In Arang, on the other hand ... everything is beautiful: the overall choice of color, the set, the scenery around the village (the river!), the Hanbok, Lee Jun-Ki, the music (MC Sniper!!!!), the flowers, and did I mention Lee Jun-Ki? His acting in this show is simply otherworldly. No, Arang isn't perfect ... but it's fast climbing the ranks to become one of my all-time-favorites.

Nonetheless, I'll keep watching Faith - because it is halfway decent, becaues the story keeps surprising me, because I want to know who Hwata is and how the Doctor will get back to modern-day Seoul AND because watching Faith means watching Lee Min-ho. 

Lee Min-ho ... who is supposed to be the leader of the best of the best, a 'General', a leader of the King's elite bodyguard ... just looks and feels so young, so proper, so boyish, so ... totally miscast. And yet, strangely, he is one of the main reasons I'll continue watching Faith. I've seen every drama he's been in since Boys over Flower - and his phlegmatic acting never fully did it for me. The funny thing about it is that I never cared that he just ... isn't that good. And it's not because of his looks only, though they certainly don't hurt. No, I think it's because of how earnest and hard he tries in each and every drama. He might not even have half of the gravitas his current role would actually require - but without him, Faith wouldn't be special, it would just be a bad drama.
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Arang vs. Faith (prologue)

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on September 22, 2012
Okay.
I'm really gonna do this!

I've recently become a rather active member of the Dramabeans community. While I've always read their wonderful recaps, it took a change in my viewing behavior to turn me from 'lurking in the background' into 'engaged and commenting'. Until about mid-year, I used to mainly marathon shows - or at least start watching after a large junks of episodes were available. 'A Gentleman's Dignity' (신사의 품격) changed that. These days, I'm actively watching three KDramas as they come and loving it: 'Faith' (신의), 'Arang and the Magistrate' (아랑사또전) and 'Vampire Prosecutor 2' (뱀파이어 검사 2). And I can barely stop myself from delving into 'Nice Guy' (차칸남자) (though I tend to stay away from Melodrama).

While writing some rather long posts on Dramabeans, I realized that there is so much more to analyze ... and that I really want to analyze it. So, I'm really gonna do it. On here, soon. Keep watching this space!

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