Monday, August 18, 2014

Review:// A New Leaf

A New Leaf poster

Legal drama, A New Leaf, had so much potential. With Kim Myung Min as the brilliant cold lawyer Kim Suk Joo, opposite Park Min Young as the adorable intern, Lee Ji Yoon, the scene was set for explosive chemistry. However, this drama had a knack for disregarding my expectations completely.

Judge Jun Ji Won watches as Ji Yoon wrestles Suk Joo out of the reception hall. / Ji Yoon covers her face in horror.

In a strong start, Suk Joo and Ji Yoon meet in confusing and hilarious circumstances while Jun Ji Won (Jin Yi Han), whom Ji Yoon had been wanting to impress, looks on curiously. My Expectations: Ji Yoon would continuously astound the iceberg Suk Joo, getting them into silly situations that would turn out for the best in the long run. Suk Joo would start to melt, though would it be fast enough to keep Second Leading Man, Ji Won, in check? Did it happen? Not at all. The pacing and tone of the drama did not remain consistent, there was no satisfying melting, and I don't think Second Leading Man was a role that existed at all.

Kim Sang Joong 김상중 as Cha Young Woo and Ji Yoon stare in disbelief as Suk Joo dispenses advice at the hospital.
As the top lawyer in a ruthless firm, Suk Joo made a lot of enemies. It was no surprise that he suffered an attack, resulting in amnesia. When his boss, Cha Young Woo (Kim Sang Joong) and Ji Yoon see his bizarre (for him) behavior at the hospital, they can't believe their eyes. My Expectations: Suk Joo continues to show a surprising side of himself, which Ji Yoon can't help but be drawn to. However, the fact is that his attacker is still out there, so there is some urgency for him to regain his memory. Did it happen? While it's true that another side to Suk Joo invariably surfaced, it wasn't very entertaining to watch. Not that Kim Myung Min did a poor job; he's always great in his roles. The script was just very one note and a dry one at that. As far as a sense of urgency, it wasn't to be found anywhere.

Kim Myung Min 김명민 as Kim Suk Joo and Park Min Young 박민영 as Lee Ji Yoon work together at the law firm. / Suk Joo lends Ji Yoon his jacket.

Ji Yoon proves to be a naive, but competent intern with a promising future. As the only person besides the CEO who knows about Suk Joo's amnesia, she works closely with him to keep the secret from clients and the rest of the firm. My Expectations: this couple would get closer despite a strong and sweet Second Leading Man in the mix. Did it happen? At best you could say that Ji Yoon came to understand Suk Joo more. I soon got the sense that she wasn't what you could even call a Leading Lady. She seemed more like a cute side character that kept popping up to advance the plot here and there without any real growth or meaning to her.

Suk Joo turns after passing Chae Jung Ahn 채정안 as Yoo Jung Sun at the firm.
When a woman from Suk Joo's past present shows up, he has to decide whether or not to reveal his amnesia. My Expectations: things get complicated, and Ji Yoon's twinges of jealousy help her realize what her true feelings are. Did it happen? HA! I mean, no, no it didn't.

Jin Yi Han 진이한 as Jun Ji Won speaks with Ji Yoon in the neighborhood. / Ji Won gives advice to Ji Yoon.
Ji Won, as a judge, was valuable as a mentor for Ji Yoon, but living in the same neighborhood could also give them opportunities to get to know each other on an informal level. My Expectations: Ji Won's softer side would appeal to Ji Yoon, and her goofiness would win him over. Did it happen? Nooo it did not. Really, they could have cut out all their scenes together and it would not have made a difference to the plot or their relationship.

Suk Joo and Oh Jung Se 오정세 as Park Sang Tae play video games on the couch. / Sang Tae feels Suk Joo's forehead.
Perhaps the most fulfulling pairing of the drama is the bromance between Suk Joo and Park Sang Tae (Oh Jung Se). They went to school together and now they work at the same firm, but have opposite personalities and approaches to life. Sang Tae is charming, funny and indulges in his hobby of auditioning to be a performer. It would have been nice to cut out some of the dragging legal action to spend more time with him. Finally some chemistry!

Ji Yoon's father, Lee Min Hyuk 이민혁 as Lee Ji Hyuk and Ahn Sun Young 안선영 as Lee Ae Sook
Other side characters weren't treated as well. Ji Yoon's father and aunt were tied to the legal aspect of the plot, but weren't really utilized as more than a sidenote. Her cute mischievous brother could have popped up here and there to stir things up being the brat that he is. It's a shame he only appears a few times. I guess it makes sense, though, seeing as how Ji Yoon herself was treated as an underused side character.
Ji Won sits as a judge while Suk Joo and Ji Yoon demonstrate their case. / Kim Suh Hyung 김서형 as Lee Sun Hee.
As a legal drama, the courtroom action was at times gratifying, but mostly just lukewarm. Though Ji Yoon's earnestness and prosecutor Lee Sun Hee's (Kim Suh Hyung) passion did incite a bit of interest, for the most part, I didn't care about the cases. Suk Joo functioned well even without his memory, so there wasn't a need for him to recover for his clients' sakes. And where you would expect there to be resolution, it's not provided. The drama being cut by two episodes might have had something to do with it, but since I wasn't all that interested anyway, it was merciful that they spared me from having to watch two more hours of mediocre writing.

Suk Joo with Choi Il Hwa 최일화 as Kang Shin Il.
In the end, it seems that Suk Joo's amnesia was the best thing that could have happened to him, but it all plays out in such a subdued manner. He and his estranged father (Choi Il Hwa) both have such non expressive personalities that their nuanced facial expressions have much to communicate. Though writer Choi Hee Ra could have done so much more with the events of their past, at least they made more progress than any other relationship in the drama.

I was hoping A New Leaf would be a legal thriller with gripping courtroom action, danger that would have me screaming for Suk Joo to recover his memory before it was too late, an unlikely but touching romantic triangle and at times excruciating comic relief. Well, there was comic relief, anyway. The script just wasn't smartly written, and I have a feeling that the legal and banking aspects of it were oversimplified or just not authentic. I know procedures differ between countries, but how can someone out on bail be allowed to leave the country, and who doesn't know that Forex trading is extremely risky?

What started out so charmingly, turned into hours of increasing disappointment, and finally ended with loose strings that I didn't care about anyway. In fact, I preferred that the drama end sooner, rather than make me sit through wrapping everything up properly. The only thing holding this series together was its excellent cast who I hope make better decisions about what projects to be involved with in the future.

Friday, August 1, 2014

First Impressions:// It's Okay, It's Love

Posters for It's Okay, It's Love 괜찮아, 사랑이야

It's Okay, It's Love is a romantic comedy with a psychiatric theme. Director Kim Kyu Tae, and writer No Hee Kyung also paired up together for Padam Padam and That Winter the Wind Blows, so expectations are high, especially considering the caliber of the cast. Not surprisingly, the series has the gritty, serious feel of a melodrama, despite the presence of silliness and charming comedic scenes.

Gong Hyo Jin 공효진 as Ji Hae Soo, consulting as a psychiatrist, and having drinks after work.

Ji Hae Soo (Gong Hyo Jin) is going through her first year fellowship in psychiatry. She has intimacy issues which impacts her relationships and she can't seem to work through them, even with therapy. She's flawed, but fun, and cares about her patients even if she may not quite understand them.

Jo In Sub 조인성 as Jang Jae Yul in It's Okay, It's Love.

Jang Jae Yul (Jo In Sub) is cocky and arrogant; he's like an incarnation of Oh Soo from That Winter, The Wind Blows, incidentally also played by Jo In Sub. Not that I mind, I like his evilly smug smiles and the fact that he has the smarts to back up his attitude. Jae Yul is a radio DJ and popular author which gives him celebrity status, not to mention, lots of money.

Ji Hae Soo and Jang Jae Yul on the set of the television debate.

Hae Soo and Jae Yul meet on a talk show where they have a debate on topics pertaining to his book; crime, justice and human nature. Jae Yul is condescending towards Hae Soo as he plays to the audience. Hae Soo is annoyed, but confident as she counters him.

Hae Soo: He has a personality disorder who thinks that the sun rotates around him.  Jae Yul: That woman... She never produced the love hormone oxytocin.

After the show, their opinions of each other are less than flattering. Luckily they probably won't cross paths again, right? Actually, their paths do more than cross, and the fighting that ensues is just the right precursor for the love that is sure to follow.

Despite the absence of romance in the first two episodes, the presence of romance is made abundantly clear with the soft light infused close ups in key scenes. The photography is really outstanding in the drama which gives it a movie-like quality.

Sung Dong Il 성동일 as Jo Dong Min and Lee Kwang Soo 이광수 as Park Soo Kwang in bed, watching a broadcast, touching butts, and doing breathing exercies while Jae Yul looks on in confusion.

The beloved duo of comic relief are a doctor/patient team who also happen to be Hae Soo's housemates. Jo Dong Min (Sung Dong Il) is a psychiatrist and Hae Soo's sunbae. He's a bit crude, but is the voice of reason in the house. Park Soo Kwang (Lee Kwang Soo) is a cafe worker and patient, suffering from Tourette Syndrome. Together they are funny and endearing, and have a very organic and affectionate dynamic with Hae Soo as a kind of oddball family.

D.O. 디오 as Han Kang Woo plays with Jae Yul after the book signing.

On Jae Yul's side, well, he's got some complicated relationships in all aspects of his life. It's enough to evoke compassion for him even though he seems impossibly pompous. Then there's Han Gang Woo (D.O.), a student and aspiring writer who follows him around everywhere. Apparently he's abused by his father and Jae Yul treats him like a little brother. There's something that feels a little odd about their relationship, and seeing as how this is a psychiatric drama, I get the feeling that Gang Woo is actually a part of Jae Yul's personality that he's become disassociated with. At least that's how I would write it.

Yang Ik June 양익준 as Jang Jae Bum attacks Jae Yul, Jae Yul and Hae Soo chase a schizophrenic patient, a fast car chase on the freeway.

The first episode felt a little gimmicky. We get right into a violent attack that wasn't intelligently carried out, but served to raise questions about Jae Yul's past. There's also a foot chase and a car chase that weren't vital to the story, but seemed written in as if to fulfill a checklist of "exciting elements" to include.

However, the rich characters and delightful interaction between them all are really the charm of It's Okay, It's Love. Though it follows the basic formula, something feels different about this drama. It's a quirky rom/com in melo clothing with a lot going on without being overwhelming. The writing got better in episode two, and by the looks of the previews, it seems that things will continue to improve as the drama unfolds.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

First Impressions:// Fated to Love You (Korean)

Poster for Fated to Love You 운명처럼 널 사랑해 on MBC.

The Korean remake of Fated to Love You has certainly retained the spirit of the original. The one glaring difference fans of the Taiwanese version will notice is the change in the male lead's personality. While Ethan Ruan played a more serious iceberg, Jang Hyuk is flamboyant and dramatic. It's quite a twist, but it works, and helps to give this remake its own voice.

Jang Hyuk 장혁 as Lee Gun getting undressed by two men in his hotel room. / Lee Gun getting a report from two stylists.

The story is about a man who keeps getting propositioned by male couples. Okay, not really, but there were a few scenes in the second episode that got my imagination going.

Jang Hyuk 장혁 as Lee Gun striking sexy poses with his shampoo.

Lee Gun (Jang Hyuk) is an eccentric chaebol heir with great abs, which he so graciously displays repeatedly.  He's exaggerated, diva-ish, and you never know what he's going to do next. Having only seen Jang Hyuk in dramatic roles lately, I was delighted to see him perform such comedic antics. He's definitely upped his game from his past comedies.

Lee Gun speaks at his family meeting to two rows of executives.

Seeing that our leading man is getting older without securing an heir, the family puts considerable pressure on him and his grandmother, Chairwoman Wang (Park Won Sook), to get him married as soon as possible.

Jang Na Ra 장나라 as Kim Mi Young and Chen Qiao En 陳喬恩 (陈乔恩) as Chen Xin Yi with post-it notes stuck to them.

Kim Mi Young (Jang Na Ra) is the "Post-it Girl" played similarly by Chen Qiao En in the Taiwanese version. Too nice for her own good, she gets taken advantage of at the office where people pass work onto her via post-it notes.

Lee Gun and Mi Young run from a rottweiler with Lee Gun pointing the dog towards Mi Young. / Mi Young runs seriously while Lee Gun strikes a dramatic pose.

Lee Gun and Mi Young's first meeting turns into something hilarious, with Lee Gun alternating between failing to be a gentleman, and going into chaebol mode. Mi Young is meek, but with an inner strength that briefly surfaces. This start to their relationship is a nice anticipatory appetizer.

Lee Gun and Mi Young enthusiastically pound rice in a cloudy sky.

Now if you've seen the Taiwanese version or read the synopsis of either, it's not spoilerish to say that these two end up having an accidental one night stand. Though much of the leading lady's forays into Imagination Land from the Taiwanese series are cut out, we still get the benefit of silly symbolism and animation in the Korean drama. Cheesy? Yes, but it fits right into place.

Lee Gun stares appreciatively at Mi Young.

Though Lee Gun is an over the top type of guy, Jang Hyuk also brings subtley and tenderness to the role. Jang Na Ra is beautifully adorable as usual, and the two of them have a great rapport and undeniable chemistry.

Jang Hyuk as Han Gi Tae and Jang Na Ra as Cha Yang Soon in the 2002 rom/com, Successful Story of a Bright Girl 명랑소녀 성공기
It doesn't hurt that they've already established themselves as an endearing couple in the 2002 rom/com, Successful Story of a Bright Girl. Since then, they've both enjoyed much success in their busy careers. Seeing them come back together as more refined and complex actors is amazing.

Choi Jin Hyuk 최진혁 as Daniel plays with kids at the orphanage / poses as a DJ / Wang Ji Won 왕지원 as Kang Se Ra

Choi Jin Hyuk is Daniel, and if the script sticks to the original where he's concerned, Daniel will be our sweet and caring Second Leading Man. We don't get to see very much of him in the first two episodes, but he seems like a pleasant scoundrel so far. Wang Ji Won is Kang Se Ra, Lee Gun's ballerina girlfriend who has been avoiding marriage due to her career.

Jung Eun Pyo 정은표 as President Park (soap factory owner) and Im Hyung Joon 정은표 as Mr. Choi (Mi Ja's husband) strike a determined pose.

And then we have the men who are trying to stop Lee Gun from closing their soap factory and putting everyone out of work. Jung Eun Pyo and Im Hyung Joon make a perfect comedic duo as President Park and Mr. Choi (who also happens to be Mi Young's brother in law).

Jang Hyuk 장혁 as Lee Gun and Jang Na Ra 장나라 as Kim Mi Young stand at a railing.
It took two episodes to tell the story that the Taiwanese version told in one. Being that there are 24 90-minute episodes in the Taiwanese series compared to 20 one hour installments in the Korean drama, I'm guessing that a lot of extraneous storyline and dragging action from the original will be pared away to create a more concise and satisfying story.

Monday, June 23, 2014

First Impressions: Nobunaga no Chef

Poster for Nobunaga no Chef based on the manga by Mitsuru Nishimura and Mitsuru Nishimura

Ken (Tamamori Yuta) a modern day chef, suddenly finds himself in 1568, the volatile period in Japan's history when Oda Nobunaga was working towards the unification of Japan. As if that's not problematic enough, he has lost his personal memories. While he retains his cooking skills and knowledge of history, he doesn't know who he is, or how he slipped back in time.

Nobunaga no Chef is based on the ongoing manga written by Nishimura Mitsuru and illustrated by Kajikawa Takuro which began publication in 2011. Though the drama plot follows the same path, its divergent in the details, presumeably to include more action and intrigue right from the start, and to expand the role of the female lead. While the manga's story has more integrity, the live action is still entertaining, so I try not to compare the two too much.

Oikawa Mitsuhiro 及川光博 as Oda Nobunaga stands in battle gear over Tamamori Yuta 及川光博 as Ken 玉森裕太 (たまもり ゆうた) who is laying in a battle torn street.

Ken is thrown right into the thick of things as Oda Nobunaga (Oikawa Mitsuhiro) defeats a horde of soldiers in the street around him. The action throughout the episode is done well and Oikawa is very believable as the ruthless and autocratic Oda.

Shida Mirai 志田未来 (しだ みらい) as Natsu and Gori ゴリ as Kinoshita Tokichiro Hideyoshi watch as Ken looks through ingredients

Ken gains help from the swordsmith, Natsu, who is masquerading as a man being that she lives alone. I'm not a big fan of Shida Mirai. She plays Natsu exactly as she played a high schooler in 2010's Hammer Session. I understand that she's not supposed to have any feminine charm in this role, but while her overly exaggerated facial expressions and silliness could work for an annoying teen girl, the same is not appropriate for a swordsmith in the Warring States period.

Nobunaga and his warriors consider Ken and Natsu in the forest after battle.

Though the events that led to Oda's retainment of Ken in the drama are not as natural as those that occured in the manga, the story is still believable knowing Oda's love of innovation would make him curious about Ken's wondrous cuisine.

Ken resolves to use Natsu's knife as his weapon.

Ken realizes that his life is in danger and he must fight using his cooking skills. The situations he finds himself in are inconceivable to his modern mind, but he stands by his convictions.

During Ken's first cooking challenge, he fries duck breast, flambays it, peels, dices and cooks persimmon.
The food porn portion of the drama is underwhelming. I was hoping for more interesting preparations filmed at romantic angles, but this can be overlooked...
Ken's duck breast dish with mountain ingredients is something never seen before.
... in part because the final products are beautiful and the tasting is satisfying to watch. Ken's mastery of cooking techniques, unheard of in that era of Japan, put him in good stead with Oda who realizes that Ken can be put to good use as more than just a personal chef.

Nobunaga holds a sword to Ken's neck.

That doesn't mean Ken has carte blanche, though. Being in close proximity to those in power brings danger from all directions. Tamamori Yuta expresses Ken's maturity well as he rises to meet each challenge and struggles to regain his memories.

The moon rises over a Japanese castle

Visually, the sets and establishing shots do ensconse the audience into the past authentically. I was hoping for a more epic feel similar to Jin, another time travel drama, but it seems that Nobunaga no Chef  has a lower budget with their limited locations. Nevertheless, it is still visually pleasing.

Ken boils konpeito down to make a spun sugar bloom in both live action and manga panels

While it's best not to compare the storyline details of the manga and the live drama, if you have read the manga, it's fun to see how certain scenes are brought into motion. If you've been meaning to read the manga, I'd suggest waiting until after you've seen the drama since the manga is the more serious of the two.

Nobunaga, Ken and Luis Frois sit together in a drama scene and manga panel.

The best thing about time travel dramas is getting to glimpse history and perhaps the fictional way our hero may have influenced events. Episode one features the meeting of Oda and the Portugese missionary, Luis Frois, who gifted him with a bottle of konpeito while seeking permission to spread  Christianity in Japan.

Inagaki Goro 稲垣吾郎 as Akechi Mitsuhide sticks his face into Ken's
Other prominent figures that are established in the first episode are Kinoshita Tokichiro Hideyoshi (Goro) whom Oda refers to as Saru, and Akechi Mitsuhide (Inagaki Goro), one of Oda's vassals who later rebelled and brought upon his death. I'd suggest reading about them briefly. Brushing up on the history of the time may be spoilerish, but enhances the entertainment value overall. Stop rolling your eyes, Batzy-chan!
Ultimately, Nobunaga no Chef's entertainment value outweighs its faults and gives us two Johnny's boys as a bonus. It aired from January to March of 2013 and brought in a decent Kanto average rating of 10.8. On 10 July 2014, a two hour special will air in which Ken regains part of his memories and finds a way back to the present.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Review:// Bride of the Century

Bride of the Century 백년의 신부 poster with Lee Hong Ki 이홍기 as Choi Kang Joo sitting on a throne and Yang Jin Sung 양진성 as Na Doo Rim and Jang Yi Kyung standing on either side of him.

At the heart of this drama is a 100 year curse that claims the life of the first bride of each first son of the Choi family. Of course the Choi family is extremely affluent, as they run Taeyang Corporation, the largest conglomerate in South Korea.

Serving women gather to gossip about the curse. / Yang Jin Sung as a traditional bride with her new groom sit at a table after the wedding ceremony.
We start in the past with servants gossiping about the curse that will soon claim their master's new bride. Meanwhile in the newlyweds' chamber, Yang Jin Sung plays a bride, who presumably will have a connection with a one of her modern day counterparts.
Na Doo Rim peddles in the street to a crowd / Choi Kang Joo walks through his department store with his entourage as saleswomen bow.
Our present day leads come from two different worlds. Na Doo Rim (Yang Jin Sung) is a hardworking country girl, beloved by everyone. Choi Kang Joo (Lee Hong Ki) is the rich chaebol son, stepping into his father's CEO position.

Jang Yi Kyung and Shin Eun Jung 신은정 as Ma Jae Ran scheme to beat the curse.

Our villains come in the form of mother/daughter team Ma Jae Ran (Shin Eun Jung) and Jang Yi Kyung. After discovering Na Doo Rim who looks exactly like Yi Kyung, they devise a plan to beat the curse and save their company in the process. The two women are a perfect pair; cold and ruthless with flickers of humanity. Dim flickers.

Choi Kang Joo watches in shock as a tomato heads towards him, while Jang Ah Young 장아영 as Lee Roo Mi stands stunned and Doo Rim moves to block.
Doo Rim is thrown into a world that she doesn't really fit into, between the iceberg, Choi Kang Joo, and his suspicious assistant, Lee Roo Mi. Second Leading Lady? Yes indeed. Jang Ah Young plays the cold and poised daughter of decent pedigree, and who has an earnest heart, in a way that evokes both resentment and sympathy.
Kang Joo scolds Doo Rim / In the ovie theater, Kang Joo gives Doo Rim a look.
The chemistry between Kang Joo and Doo Rim is the best thing about this series. Doo Rim's mistakes and bright bumbling personality get under Kang Joo's skin which Lee Hong Ki expresses in such a gratifying way. His exasperation, wrinkled brow, looks of disgust and fits of frustration are all steps on a familiar path that we all know and relish; kdrama love!
Kang Joo kicks up his legs after getting kissed.
The funniest kiss I've ever seen in a Korean drama, or any drama for that matter, is received by Kang Joo, whose sound effects are not to be missed. 

Sung Hyuk 성혁 as Jang Yi Hyun eats with Doo Rim / Doo Rim fixes Yi Hyun's tie / Yi Hyun stares after Doo Rim.
Jang Yi Hyun (Sung Hyuk) is our sweet and protective Second Leading Man. Though the situation may be a little on the weird side, you have to love a man who really only cares about the person on the inside, ignoring everything else.
Jang Yi Kyung and Na Doo Rim stare at each other across a reading room.
Yang Jin Sung played both the good and evil archetype so well, it's hard to believe this is her first leading lady role in a drama. I really saw her as two different people, despising Yi Kyung and adoring Doo Rim. The different makeup styles had a part in it, but Jin Sung has a separate aura and look in her eyes for each character that is undeniable.
Kim Ah Young 김아영 as the spirit stands with a bright light and wind at her back / Park Jung Hak 박정학 as the shaman, gives a reading in front of his altar / Jun Jin Seo 전진서 as child Kang Joo leans against the spirit.

Getting back to the curse, the supernatural element of the story is portrayed with lighting and wind. Nothing fancy, but it does set the tone satisfactorily without detracting from the story. The spirit attached to the family provides mystery and suspense which gives rise to more questions. However, it all makes sense in the end.
Kim Ah Young 김아영 as Sung Joo Shin, standing with other members of the Choi household more than 100 years in the past.
A shift back in time is shot beautifully and gives us insight and understanding as dots are connected and karma is generated. Even after everything falls into place in the present, the past makes one last appearance to complete the puzzle and you just have to wonder how boring life would be without misunderstandings.

Jung Hae In 정해인 as Choi Kang In smiles and winks
As a bonus, we have eye candy in Jung Hae In who plays Choi Kang Joo's idol brother, Kang In. He is a bit like Doo Rim with a positive attitude and indomitable spirit. While our leads give us plenty of comic relief, Hae In provides breath-of-fresh-air relief. Hopefully his part will be bigger in The Three Musketeers which starts filming next month.
The cast and crew of Bride of the Century pose for a group photograph.
The cast is well rounded with subplots that are tended to, and come to fulfilling conclusions. Together with a ballad rich soundtrack, beautiful locations and soft focus photography, Bride of the Century is a decidedly romantic drama with a heavy dose of intrigue.