31 October 2012

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Random Thoughts on ... The Beauty of Lee Jun-ki

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on October 31, 2012
Allow me to do some basic and stupid fangirling from time to time. All these analytic blog entries are giving me a headache.

I came across new post-Arang-and-the-Magistrate media pics of Lee Jun-ki today. He just has the prettiest eyes ever. Well, probably not ever, but they are very, very special. But why does he look so young?!

Jun-ki, I hope you get an exciting new drama project soon! One with lots of fight scenes, because I like you in fight scenes best. Sure, if you want to do a RomCom ... fine with me, too. But no movies, hear me? It's been bad enough waiting for Park Shi-hoo's return to dramaland, can't have that with you. And: don't forget to eat well and have some fun from time to time. Lee Jun-ki, hwaiting!


30 October 2012

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Farewell to ... Faith

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on October 30, 2012
Faith, now that you are over, a new era starts ... a faithless one, obviously, but also one that is less stressful, I hope. This summer was truly drama-crazy, and it is taking its toll on me: I am so far behind on all the KDramas I'm watching, it's not funny. Or, put differently, real life is constantly interfering with my drama-watching, which is even less funny.
To be frank, Faith was a mediocre drama at best. The directing, that is well established and acknowledged by quasi everybody now (even by vicious die-hard Lee Min-ho fans), was bordering on criminal, the editing was often choppy and felt rushed, the story was going in circles or even backwards more than forwards, and many of the characters were just plain redundant.

And, would you believe it, this show has done it again: simply removed one of the central characters in the most anticlimactic way possible, this time major bad-add-for-some-episodes Deok-heung. So he just went to Yuan in episode 22 and that's it?! Another wasted character and very, very bad writing. Is it that hard to properly send your characters off, show, if necessary by having them killed? So why did you kill two of the lovely Woodalchis then? I seriously don't get it.
And still ... I kept watching. Even more astounding: When I had only one hour to spare on drama-watching and I had to make a choice between Faith, Arang, Nice Guy, and Vampire Prosecutor, I most often chose Faith. Why the friggin hell?? What is it about this drama that makes it ... special and kept me invested, despite its countless faults?

The most obvious answer (you might have seen this coming) is Lee Min-ho.
Though I wasn't happy about his acting for a long time (before he grew on me so much I just got used to it) and still think he failed at convincingly portraying a general with superior leadership qualities, Lee Min-ho made this drama a special drama despite its mediocrity. And it was also him that made the romance in this drama a special type of romance.

It came on slowly, but sweetly, grew naturally, and was never forced. These two people just came to love each other in such a tender and comfortable way despite their differences and despite the immense obstacles they were facing. It is this romance and how it changes the two protagonist that I found the most engaging and enjoyable aspect of this drama. And though Kim Hee-seon obviously has a part to play in this, I think it is Min-ho that makes this noona-love seem so natural.
Certainly, there are other aspects and scenes that I will remember fondly. Lady Choi, for one, and the great performance of the King and the Queen. The Woodalchi with their endearing comradery. The police shield. Or the scene where Choi Young eats all of her rice soup without noticing. A totally confused/baffled Choi Young in Seoul. The secret glance through the screen into her room, when she bares her leg (ok, that belongs to the romance bit). Her insistence that they meet every day at the same pavilion to tell each other about their day (okay, that too). When she walks into the Woodalchi headquarters with short trousers. When he just looks at her in his, hm, Lee Min-ho way (it has been called eyeloving by some ladies I know). The various appearances of the Aspirin bottle with the yellow flower in it (oups, romance again). Ki Chul's derp faces. When he tells her to say "Daejang" again (=romance, yeah, I know). When Choi Young goes to steal the royal seal. Kim Hee-seon's hair color. Eun-soo's out-of-placeness. When all the Woodalchi enter together, after the King puts on his Goryeo clothes.

And even though I am absolutely not sure this show did something logical with the time-travelling-thing.. wait, no, I'm actually pretty sure it made a total illogical mess out of it, I still also liked the ending. It feels ... very good. I am satisfied.
(Though I can say with absolute certainty that I do not like Lee Min-ho with facial hair. It makes him look like Orlando Bloom in a really creepy-weird way).

29 October 2012

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(a very short) Farewell to ... Dol-bae

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on October 29, 2012
Nooooooo! Faith!!!!! Why! Why did you ice-die Dol-bae tonight! I had such high hopes for this one ... and he had such wonderful abs! But his love and loyalty for his Daejang was bigger than his love for life ... *sobbing uncontrollably*
Drama, I actually don't care all that much what happens to Choi Young and Eun-so, but please don't kill any more Woodalchis! Just be over and let my favorite boys live a happy life after the whole kerfuffle.
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Why Big Bang makes me sad

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on October 29, 2012
Yes, I'm very jealous. For weeks, no, months! the blogosphere has been abuzz with excitement about the upcoming Big Bang concerts in the US.
I, myself, have never even listened to a single Big Bang song. Yeah, sure, I know of TOP (because I saw him in IRIS) and of G-Dragon (because everybody knows him). So I'm obviously not jealous of, you know, people going to their concerts to listen to their music.

But...
 
Many of my blogo-friends are actually going to meet each other. And I don't mean online. No, in meatspace, real-life, corporeality. There's feasts and noraebang outings set up, and shopping sprees, and ahjumma film nights, whipped cream and soju drinking and ... I feel so left out.

Americans already have Dramabeans and Hulu and access to Viki ETC., while we Europeans constantly need to fight for our daily KDrama fix. And now, the Americans also have Big Bang and will meet other KDrama-addicts - that they have previously known online - in person. While I am struggling, forever alone, to find at least one person in my close vicinity that travels the road of KDrama addiction with me.

Yes, life is that unfair sometimes.

28 October 2012

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My Top 5 ... Snow Scenes

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on October 28, 2012
Inspired by the currently falling snow hereabouts (why, why, why??), I've decided to pick five memorable snow scenes from KDramaland.
I made this myself today. A true beauty!
This time round, the "Top 5" also include horribly sad scenes, so it's not Top 5 wonderful Snow Scenes, but just 5 Snow Scenes that I can remember. If there happens to be KDrama-snow-experts among you, my choices may seem odd, because some of the obvious snow dramas are not represented (like Winter Sonata or Will it Snow for Xmas). Yeah, that's because I haven't seen those... Also, at least two out of the five are snow scenes filmed in Japan. Does Japan have the nicer snow than Korea?

1: Love Rain

Let me admit right away that I haven't fully watched Love Rain. In fact, I skipped through about half of it and that's it (despite of Jang Keun-suk). The Diamond Snow scene in Episode 5, however, was truly beautiful. If this is how director Yoon Suk-ho and screenwriter Oh Soo-yun depict snow, then I'll probably have to watch Winter Sonata after all. 

The legend has it that two people who see the Diamond Snow together will fall in love (and get married happily ever after). The question of fate is always a strong theme in KDrama: In Love Rain, however, the two children of an ill-fated couple find love because they do not believe in fate, nor in history repeating itself. 

I don’t believe in fate. Whether it’s Diamond Snow or Wet Fog, the reason why we were able to see it together was because we were together. I want to see a lot of things with you. Not because of fate, but because we look for each other.
Seo Joon, Love Rain, Episode 17.

2: A Love to Kill

There seems no way around this drama and my trauma caused by it. I guess that's why I keep mentioning it all the time. For those of you not yet familiar with this piece of autobiography: I swore to stay away from all melodrama after (accidentally) watching it. Seriously, I was just hunting down all things Rain-related!! And what am I doing now? Watching Nice Guy by the same writer, knowing exactly how it will end (=tremendously sad). Oh, and would you believe it? Lee Kyung-hee also wrote Will It Snow for Christmas. Either they love snow, or they don't, these writers ...

Anyways, this is about two lovers who cannot be together, but are finally united in death. Which may sound ok, but really isn't. The saddest part about the ending is how he tries to carry her to safety (he finds her half-frozen, because she cannot live without him, though she has promised), but has to stop because of the snow. So he just hugs her tightly, and they both die in the snow. 

3: Queen of Reversals

Park Shi-hoo again?! And I am not even doing this deliberately. There is this very cute scene in Queen of Reverals (Episode 24) when Yong-Shik (Park Shi-hoo) and Tae-Hee (Hwang Tae-hee) get lost during a business trip (there's a Top 5 list to be made about business trips that bring lovers together, too), and play in the snow. On their way back on the bus, they exchange tangerines with each other’s facial expressions on them (he draws a smiley face  for her, and she draws a frowny face for him). Both put their tangerines on their nightstands to be reminded of the other. Awwww, it's so cute ...

4: Fermentation Family


This is the drama that constantly made me hungry and, to this day, makes me crave the kind of Korean food that they show. Which I will most likely never have. The setting of Kimchi (or Fermentation) Family was so stunningly beautiful that I yearned to go there, eat the food, and find peace. I don't remember when exactly winter comes in the drama, but the cold outside makes the warmth within so much more powerful. A beautiful drama.

5:  IRIS

Yeah, IRIS ... Another drama I didn't finish. However, I have a lasting memory of the one scene in Episode 6, when the beautiful North Korean spy (Kim So-yeon as Seon-hwa) hunts down the sexy South Korean spy (Lee Byung-hun as Kim Hyun-jun) in Akita, Japan. She follows him up a lonely mountain, through the deep, fresh snow with her sniper rifle on her back, ready to kill him. It's the loneliness of that mountain and the tiny figures of the two enemies that made this memorable.

27 October 2012

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My Top 5 ... Sidekicks

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on October 27, 2012
Sidekicks play crucial roles as the companions of heroes, being their support in difficult times or serving the purpose of comical relief. Some very famous sidekicks are Robin (from Batman), Doctor Watson (from Sherlock Holmes), Sam (from Lord of the Rings) or Sancho Panza (from Don Quixote). As different as they are, they have one thing in common: sidekicks are always less talented than the hero (thus, they are often called the 'idiot friend') and they are never truly equal - though there might be (and often is) friendship between sidekick and hero.

KDramas are full of sidekicks - I doubt there is a single one without one or even two (one to the male lead and one to the female lead) or several (yes, they come in hordes, see in i.e. Rooftop Prince). Well, I'm not sure that also goes for all sageuks, though. However, most often, sidekicks are there for comical relief, and they are often stereotypical goofy best friend characters. Frequently, they take the form of secretaries to the (chaebol) hero in modern day dramas. They may also provide a specific place for meetings between hero and heroine, i.e. when they are owners of a restaurant (like in I Do I Do).

Below is my personal sidekick hit parade:  

No 1: Im Ji-Kyu as Kang Woo (in Queen of Reversals)

 
Queen of Reversals is a drama I most certainly wouldn't have watched if it didn't have Park Shi-hoo in it. But it has. And he is so incredibly wonderful in it. Ah, I miss him so!!! Sorry, off-topic. Next to Park Shi-hoo, who plays a chaebol-son dickhead (Yong-shik), is his secretary, Kang Woo. If you've seen the two, you'll agree with me: Kang Woo deserves the gold medal in the category of sidekick, forever and ever. The way they banter and frolic and snap at each other is pure delight. No other secretary-spoilt brat pair has ever gotten close to them.

Sample Dialogue 1: 
KW: You’re an outcast. Do you have any friends, other than me? 
YS: Are you my friend? You work for me! 
KW: (pause) Mmm-hmm. Yep, no friends at all.
Sample Dialogue 2:
YS (infuriated): Did you get my new cellphone?
KW: It slipped my mind. Today was a busy day.
YS: I’m firing you first!
KW: Ooooh, scary. The world really is about alphas and betas…
YS: Don’t say that!

No 2: The Three Ducklings (in Rooftop Prince)

Rooftop Prince was very good when about time-displaced Crown Prince Lee Gak (Yoochun) and his three retainers, aka Ducklings (Choi Woo-shik as Do Chi-san; Jung Suk-won as Woo Yong-sul, and (the other) Lee Min-ho as Song Man-bo) and less good when about murder and intrigue in the company. The three ducklings might not be the most archetypal sidekicks, and they come with diverse characteristics each, but they gave this drama a comical and heartwarming undertone, which makes it unforgettable. Such a shame the upcoming Yoochun drama is most certainly a tearjerker ... not going there!

No 3: Lee Jun-hyuk as Na Jung-do (in City Hall)

This is a surprising choice, even for the one - me - who made it. In fact, I only remember Lee Jun-hyuk's character vaguely ... but the vague memory comes with a distinct feeling of "this guy is awesome". City Hall is the first drama I saw Lee Jun-hyuk in (City Hunter the second, ohhhh, why did you have to die??) and he left a deep mark. He plays the trusted right-hand man to Cha Seung-won's ambitious bureaucrat, and if I remember correctly, he often is the voice of reason. 

No 4: Park Jung-Ah as Jeni Ahn (in Prosecutor Princess)

Oh wait, another Park Shi-hoo drama?? Jeez, I really DO miss him, do I? Park Jung-ah, a former member of girl group Jewelry, plays a female friend to Park Shi-hoo's revenge driven Seo In-woo. They met in the States, when he came to live with an adoptive father and enrolled in her middle school (she is also an adoptee). Both are lawyers. For somebody who has seen many Kdramas, the big surprise was that this character was never more than just a friend. There is absolutely no romance between the two, and I really, really appreciated that. She helps him to find justice and in the end, she helps him to make amends with the daughter of the man who (accidentally) killed his father. She is absolutely self-less, almost like a good fairy. True, she isn't a typical sidekick either, because she isn't in any way inferior to him - but she is his little helper throughout the drama.

No 5: Kim Jong-moon as Oh Dae-man (in Faith)

Yay, at least one typical sidekick in my list! Dae-man is Faith's cutest Woodalchi and also one of the cutest sidekicks of all time (did you notice how smartly I sneaked in a picture of Lee Min-ho here?). I love how he jumps and runs (like a computer game character) and his acrobatics are a lot of fun, too. He is very shy and stammers, and often pulls his crazy hair when embarrassed (which is often). And as the classical sidekick that he is, he is utterly devoted to the hero.

26 October 2012

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Lee Jun-ki and ... the Hanbok in Arang

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on October 26, 2012
I have recently noticed that there is not enough Lee Jun-ki-(pretty)ness on this blog. Just because Arang is over doesn't mean it (and thereby, he) shouldn't receive equal treatment. Meaning: if Lee Min-ho gets to show off his clothes in Faith on here, then Lee Jun-ki must get the same chance for his drama.  
* I am sorry, but I really can't do a Jun-ki hair thread ... if there is one thing (and it's the only thing) I don't like about Jun-ki, then it's his hair in most of his dramas and movies.
 Arang and the Magistrate was visually beautiful also or probably even mostly because of the colorful Hanbok that they used for costumes. As this is one of the best planned and most tightly written shows I've seen in a long time, I'm pretty sure some or even a lot of thought also went into the colors of the costumes. Let me try and second-guess the costume designers. And because this show cannot be reduced to Lee Jun-ki, I will look at the Hanbok worn by him, by Arang, and by Joo-wal.

Arang

We first meet Arang as a ghost with no memory, who has been wearing the same tattered dress for three years. It's a (formerly) white and pink Hanbok. She also wears trousers with colorful stripes; I wouldn't mind owning a pair of those, actually. She asks Eun-oh to give her new clothes to go 'see' her former fiance, and he complies, since he wants to help her regain her memory (because he believes that's the key to finding his mother). Yeah. What follow is "the measuring scene" ...*swoon*.
The new clothes turn the dishevelled ghost into a woman ghost (gulp moment for poor Eun-soo) and it's her first step on the road to redemption. Unfortunately, the prettiness doesn't last ... she is attacked by a band of ghosts almost immediately after putting on the new dress and before being able to 'meet' her former fiance. Poor Arang: She doesn't own anything but this dress, and it is taken from her so quickly.  
In fact, Arang constantly needs a new outfit because they are either destroyed by fights or destroyed by blood (usually hers) or taken away from her by the Gods (when she goes to see Jade Emperor in heaven, she is stripped and 'reborn', emerging from a lake, completely naked). All in all, she "dies" three times after being reborn, and each time, a set of clothing gets ruined. The often bloodied clothes of Arang are a reminder of her un-humanness and of the violence that always surrounds her. 
The Dress she is killed in the first time she is reborn
The Dress she falls off the cliff in

The Dress she gets her neck slashed in
The Dress she gets stabbed by Evil Mom in
Her body cannot be destroyed, but the outer human shell, the clothes, can. Therefore, giving her new clothes to appreciate her humanness becomes such an important trope. The way to this woman's heart is through food (particularly peaches) and clothes, which both signify life to her, things she couldn't have when she was a ghost. 
Arang, like Eun-oh, wears pastel colors, mostly in blue, pink, and violet hues (with just one skirt in orange). There also is a lot of white on her. Her colors never clash with Eun-oh, except when she wears the orange. In fact, they often are "color-coordinated" - and the closer they get, the more their dresses also harmonize.

Eun-oh

Initially, we get to know Eun-oh in a light and dark blue Hanbok, which he is wearing for the first four episodes. It's a beautiful blue-on-blue combination, but I did start to wonder why this nobleman didn't have any other clothes ... It is the set of clothes that are the most flashy and bright, and I think he is wearing them until he starts changing as a person with no heart to a person with a lot of heart. 
The more he gets entangled in the story, the softer the colors get for him. His arrogant and rough demeanor doesn't change the fact that he is hiding a very kind and vulnerable personality, which is expressed in the soft, harmonious colors he gets to wear (when not in his Magistrate's uniform, which he first wears with reluctance, and then with more and more ease).
He is mainly wearing variations of blue and variations of violet, and often close variations on top of each other (mauve and violet, apricot and French rose, light blue and dark blue, etc.).
In Korea, blue symbolizes integrity. It is associated with the moon and is passive, yielding and receptive. It also represents death. The opposite, red, represents the passionate energy of life - the magistrate's uniform and his favorite blue color Hanboks are clearly opposites of each other. While he is dead to the world in the beginning (blue), he becomes more and more alive and engaged with the world (red).
The longer the show progresses, the more he (and the other two) wear purple, which stands for spiritual awareness and physical and mental healing. All of them indeed become more and more aware of the stakes in the game. Arang and Eun-oh also accept their fate - which is a type of healing.
He also is the character we see most often in white (apart from Jade Emperor, of course!). In Korea, white is worn for weddings, new years celebrations and funerals - to celebrate the journey to the afterlife. While the color white symbolizes purity, innocence, peace, it therefore also has a lot to do with death (and mourning). The first time he dons a white dress is when he holds a funeral for Arang's former self, Lee Seo-rim.
Thereafter, we often see him in his white undergarments. These scenes are the ones where he is the most vulnerable, because he is stripped bare of his protective layers, and the signs of his nobility. And death is always present - for both of them live on borrowed time.

Joo-wal

In stark contrast to Eun-oh, Joo-wal’s hanbok are of vibrant, strong colors. He’s the young master from a respectable family and this is how yangban show off their status. He almost only wears complementary (clashing) colors: green and orange, purple and yellow, mint and pink, etc. Outward, this is the image of a confident, flashy, and arrogant person. However, the loud and 'clashing' colors can also be seen as a symbol for a torn personality with no inner harmony.
Even when he also wears purple in episode 17, there still is no harmony. His healing isn't happening. Or rather, his healing (or his memories that are coming back) are the source for his immense suffering.

Joo-wal is also the only one apart from Big Bad (and Hades and the Grim Reapers, of course!) that is wearing black in this show. It is obviously an assassins's color that makes him invisible at night - but it also signifies the darkness that is swallowing him up. Maybe he dresses the most colorful and the most brightly because he tries to somehow keep the black evilness that has such a strong hold on him at bay.

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