Monday, April 28, 2014

Review:// God's Gift - 14 Days

God's Gift - 14 Days 신의 선물 - 14일 poster.

God's Gift - 14 Days started off as a clever suspenseful mystery that gripped the audience right from the start. The cast was outstanding, but Jo Seung Woo stole the show with his charming portrayal of the roguish private investigator, Ki Dong Chan.

The mother and Goddess of Night meet in the forest of dead trees against a purple background.
The story starts out with the animated depiction of a fairy tale that foreshadows the quest Kim Soo Hyun (Lee Bo Young) will undertake to save her daughter. It's beautiful, chilling, and the perfect prelude for what is to come.
 Lee Bo Young 이보영 as Kim Soo Hyun, examines the area Saet Byul was held before her murder.
The introduction to Soo Hyun's family dynamic with husband Han Ji Hoon (Kim Tae Woo) and Han Saet Byul (Kim Yoo Bin) is thoughtfully portrayed. Life is less than perfect; it feels so normal and organic that it makes the suspenseful aspects of the series even more disconcerting.
Soo Hyun lays on the lake floor while her surroundings start to glow green.
It's advisable to pay attention to each event leading up to Saet Byul's kidnapping and murder because after Soo Hyun goes back in time 14 days to save her, the second timeline will be compared to the first every step of the way. Differences will be pondered, more of the first timeline will be revealed, and fate will be frustratingly tenacious.
The method of time travel used isn't really explained, and it's acceptable for it to be considered a gift from God. It happens at a crucial moment when Soo Hyun and Dong Chan are in the same place, and thus they both go back in time to discover their connected fate and try to set things right.
Kim Yoo Bin 김유빈 as Saet Byul in a cute pose. / Saet Byul and Baro바로 (Cha Sun Woo 차선우) as Ki Young Gyu rock out at a Snake concert.
Kim Yoo Bin is growing up with the role of rebellious Saet Byul. As the daughter of broadcast writer mother Soo Hyun, and human rights lawyer Ji Hoon, she is independent and a girl who knows her own mind. This can lead to parent-child clashes, but far from being a simple brat, Saet Byul has a kind heart and tries to take care of the people around her.
Jo Seung Woo 조승우 as Ki Dong Chan stares at a mirror behind which Soo Hyun is being held captive.
Soo Hyun and Dong Chan work together, as they are the only ones with memories of the first timeline. Dong Chan also has urgent issues to attend to, though the true gift of time travel for him is the clarity he achieves while he strives to help Soo Hyun save her daughter.
As the driving force of the plot, this couple creates a powerful synergy. However in the last half, their intelligence seems to drain away and they bring to mind chickens running around without their heads. It was frustrating to see them take leave of common sense and lose ground for no good reason whatsoever.
Jung Eun Pyo 정은표 as Ki Dong Ho stares at the noose waiting for him.
As time goes on, more lives are at stake, and things aren't always as they seem. Layers of the past are revealed and connections are made that show fate to be quite frightening. This is God's Gift's strength.  Conversely, the overuse of red herrings becomes tiresome and brings down the drama's level of sophistication.
Ki Dong Chan fights a mysterious opponent on a dark and rainy night.
Even with its flaws, the dialogue, premise, action and cinematography were enough to make this drama one of the best of 2014 - until the last episode which took it down several notches. It was as if the production ran out of money and didn't have time to shoot the ending, so they left it to the audience to imagine the ending for ourselves.
Installment 16's editing was patchy, and the retribution I had been anticipating was never acted out, only referred to. Resolution was provided in a few seconds-long scenes for some of the characters, while others were never attended to at all.
Worst of all, they ended with a gimmick. Instead of having a definitive ending that we could either smile or cry over, the writer decided to make it ambiguous so we could decide on our own - lazy, anyone? The last note was so abrupt that the production just felt unfinished and unfulfilling.

Spoiler Alert!

Highlight the white text below for comments on the finale.

In episode one, the mysterious café owner tells Soo Hyun, "Sometime in the near future, you will lose what is most important to you. You will be chased by a fate you can't avoid, and such a fate will only end when one of two disappears. So don't avoid it - fight it."

In episode 16, Dong Chan is tricked into believing his mother has killed Saet Byul and he carries her into the lake. It's revealed that he is the one who ultimately killed Saet Byul in the first timeline. In the second timeline, Soo Hyun is there calling out to him, and Saet Byul grabs his shirt alerting him that she's still alive. Dong Chan realizes the prophecy didn't pertain to his brother and Saet Byul, but to himself and Saet Byul. He steps forward and we hear a splash, but are never shown what happened. We are left to conclude that he drowned himself.
However, due to the fact that we are nothing but misled throughout the entire drama, it seems that this conclusion is too obvious to be true. Having either Dong Chan or Saet Byul die doesn't fit into the logic of the plot either. If Dong Chan drowned Saet Byul, he would also die because Ji Hoon had him killed for it in the first timeline, and he would do so again. If Dong Chan had died earlier on, Myung Han would still have had Saet Byul killed in order to protect the president's son. So one dying does not save the other.
The prophecy did not say that anyone had to die, it just said that one of the two must disappear. I choose to believe that it referred to probabilities. There was #1, Dong Chan drowns Saet Byul, and #2, Dong Chan realizes she's still alive and doesn't drown her. Once #2 occurs, #1 disappears and they all escape the original fate that happened in the first timeline. Therefore, the splash at the end was Soo Hyun entering the water. Besides, if Dong Chan had drowned himself at that point, he would be dumping a drugged Saet Byul into the water too and I don't see him doing that.

Leaving the ending to the audience's imagination is such a lazy and unsatisfying gimmick, it's especially disappointing when the series is as engaging as God's Gift - 14 Days. After becoming emotionally invested on a 16 episode roller coaster ride, the viewers want to see the villains get what's coming to them. We want to be giddy over a happy ending or cry over a tragic ending, but either way, we want to SEE the ending.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review:// Emergency Couple

Emergency Couple 응급남녀 poster image.

What started out as an excruciating War of the Roses type of torture, turned into the highlight of my week. Emergency Couple delivered on so many levels that it was easy to forgive the shortcuts it took. After getting through the set up of the first episode, this drama's charm grew as it went along, creating an unexpectedly sweet atmosphere.

Song Ji Hyo 송지효 and Choi Jin Hyuk 최진혁 as bride and groom.

"In Buddhism, it's said that a husband and wife meet each other after 7000 'gup' of fate. 'Gup' means the time it takes for a single rain drop of every thousand years to pierce through a rock as big as a house. So marriage is something of a miracle."

We start off with a pair of medical students, Oh Jin Hee (Song Ji Hyo) and Oh Chang Min (Choi Jin Hyuk), getting married without friends and family present, as theirs is a marriage that has not met with approval. Specifically, Chang Min's family is so against it that they cut him off, derailing his future as a doctor. This misfortune, added to the couple's immaturity, leads to destructive and just plain mean behavior culminating in divorce.

Chang Min grabs Jin Hee's arm in confrontation. / Chang Min hugs Jin Hee from behind in a vulnerable moment.

Six years later to their dismay, the two reunite as interns in the same emergency room. Jin Hee is the underdog as the initial impression she makes is quite poor, and everyone focuses on her age, whereas Chang Min is regarded as a golden boy.

As expected, the relationship of divorcees is a complex one, especially when they readdress their true feelings from a more mature perspective.  Ordinarily I would be against a recoupling because it's impossible to recapture magic when enough hurt has extinguished it. But Choi Jin Hyuk's portrayal of Chang Min was just so touching, it gave me hope, when realistically there would be none.

Choi Jin Hyuk making various over the top facial expressions.

Speaking of Choi Jin Hyuk, I absolutely loved him in this comical role. He was really able to let loose and get crazy in way I've never seen him do before. Whether he was being subtle or over the top, he won me over as he got all the proper emotions across.

Choi Jin Hyuk lifting weights / taking a shower.

There were many sexy and touching headshots to make any fangirl happy, but the eye candy scenes definitely had me sit up and take notice. Were it not for the weightlifting shot, I would not have realized just how buff Choi Jin Hyuk's arms are. And although the shower scene was too short, it's in there, and that's all that matters. Fangirls rejoice!

Jin Hee stares up from the floor at the circle of colleagues staring back down at her.

Song Ji Hyo was perfect for the contradictory character of Oh Jin Hee. Strong yet vulnerable, silly yet competent, Jin Hee found herself in a variety of humiliating circumstances, yet she managed to prevail in spite of it all.

The cast of side characters was quite complimentary to the plot, and though their own storylines were not well developed, they did serve to further demonstrate the main couple's growth through their issues. There was even a Second Leading Lady, who didn't get as entangled as I would have liked, but she made a meaningful contribution to the story.

The stigma of divorce is also addressed in a compassionate light, which is something I've been seeing more of in recent years. Hopefully this is a reflection of a changing attitude in South Korea toward divorcees. It seems that women especially become persecuted, not just socially, but professionally when it comes to this issue, so I'm glad it's being given consideration through the entertainment industry.

Song Ji Hyo as Oh Jin Hee and Lee Pil Mo 이필모 as Gook Chun Soo with his head on her shoulder as they ride the bus, her falling into him at the hospital, and her cleaning gum off of his pants in an awkward position.

Second Leading Man, Gook Chun Soo (Lee Pil Mo), played a humorous straight man, and by "straight" I mean the serious one in a comic duo. He got surprised and shaken by the happy accidents that occurred with Jin Hee, and developed albeit in baby steps, though them.

Writer Choi Yoon Jung played it just a bit too safe with this couple. I think if she had taken things a little further, it would have upped the tension and made the drama more impactful. Though it would have also increased the suffering of everyone involved, including the viewer, so perhaps it all worked out for the best.

Kwon Joon Young 권준영 as Kim Gook stares up at Lee Mi Young 이미영 as Jo Yang Ja. / Park Joon Geum 박준금 as Yoon Sung Sook looking young and stylish.

I have to take a minute to acknowledge the mothers and Baby Gook (Kwon Joon Young) because they were so entertaining. I'm not sure if it was a just an adorable coincidence every time the fluffy-haired Gook stared wide-eyed at whomever was speaking, but he was hilarious and enhanced every scene he was in.

Jo Yang Ja (Lee Mi Young) and Yoon Sung Sook (Park Joon Geum), Jin Hee and Chang Min's mothers were heartfelt, protective and aggressive, and had a wonderful chemistry with everyone they interacted with. And I swear neither of them has aged in years!

Kang Gary 강개리 and Song Ji Hyo give thumbs up on the set of Emergency Couple 응급남녀.

The Monday Couple was reunited with Kang Gary's delightful cameo in episode six. There were many great cameos as well including DickPunks and Narsha. For those not familiar with Running Man, Kang Gary and Song Ji Hyo have been cast members on the variety show since 2010.

Oh Jin Hee and Oh Chang Min on the roof of the hospital with a view of the city behind them.

Emergency Couple was beautifully shot, including artsy lighting, focus and location shots that pulled the audience into the story on another level rather than distracting from the plot. Though the medical situations seemed to be superficially covered, the action was followed well. There was shifting focus at times lending itself to the realism of an emergency room documentary, but the bright lighting gave it a dreamy, pleasing aesthetic.

Both playful and tender, the soundtrack played an effective role in portraying the emotions of the series with artists such as Im Jung Hee, Park Shi Hwan, Joo Ah, 3rd Coast, and yes, Choi Jin Hyuk.

"Right and wrong answers co-exist in every decision. Wise people make a choice and make it the right answer. Foolish people regret the decision and make it the wrong decision. There is no right answer in life. There is only the process to make it the right answer."

Emotions expressed though feet sticking out of the blanket; one set of toes splayed, while the other are curled in.

I laughed out loud throughout the drama as fresh humor was expertly portrayed in ways that I wasn't expecting. Through it all, the characters developed, gained wisdom, and moved towards a satisfying resolution. Thinking back on it, I can't recommend Emergency Couple enough; it's just that good. And be sure to watch the bloopers at the end of episode 21!