Tuesday, August 26, 2014

First Impressions:// My Secret Hotel

Poster for My Secret Hotel 마이 시크릿 호텔
tvN's rom/com mystery is light and charming, with the possiblity of being clever, depending on how the mystery aspect is handled. The first four episodes were written by Kim Ye Ri, who also penned Lie To Me, which started out strong and ended up crashing about midway. Sadly, she lost her battle with cancer in March. Script duty has been taken up by Kim Do Hyun of Goodbye Dear Wife. Director Hong Jong Chan also worked on Tamra, the Island, which I enjoyed, so I have hope that My Secret Hotel will deliver on its promises.

Jin Yi Han 진이한 as Goo Hae Young and Yoo In Na 유인나 as Nam Sang Hyo look at each other in shock for the first time in seven years.
Our divorced couple are shocked to see each other after seven years. Goo Hae Young (Jin Yi Han) happens to be getting married again at the hotel Nam Sang Hyo (Yoo In Na) works at, and she has to plan the wedding. It's obvious that their parting was due to a misunderstanding, and it's also obvious that they aren't going to clear the air anytime soon. Instead, more misunderstandings are added to the mix, and you have to wonder if it's because they really aren't meant to be.

Goo Hae Young leans back on a couch in a dramatic pose / Soft closeup of Hae Young's face
After his sexily stoic role as Tal Tal in Empress Ki, and his disappointingly limited stint in A New Leaf, a comical, tempermental, emotional leading man role is just the right fit for Jin Yi Han. It's gratifying to see him wear his heart on his sleeve, gesture and yell, and let frustration get the better of him.

Nam Sang Hyo painfully watches Hae Young / Sang Hyo cringes
Yoo In Na gives an acceptable performance, but she's not a complex actress. She can do one emotion or another, but isn't genuine as she makes transitions. It seems that she's more of an intellectual performer, following directions, but not feeling the emotions.

Sang Hyo struggles to hold back her fist that wants to punch Hae Young
Our main couple does have chemistry, which is built up through comedic scenes of animosity driven by heartache. Sang Hyo seems to have an uncontrollable arm that punches of its own accord, and it's quite amusing to watch her keep it in check - or not. You can feel their history, confusion and pain, which allows for sympathy for both sides.

Nam Goong Min 남궁민 as Jo Sung Gyum listens to Sang Hyo's worries
Jo Sung Gyum (Nam Goong Min) is the hotel's director and our Second Leading Man. He's amused and sympathetic towards Sang Hyo, though as of the first two episodes, he isn't full swing into SLM mode yet. He's poised and charming, and would be a calm and grounding haven for Sang Hyo's brand of neediness.

Kim Bo Mi 보미 as Heo Young Mi, Ha Yun Joo 하연주 as Jung Soo Ah and Uhm Soo Jung 엄수정 as Yang Kyung Hee
I'm excited to see Kim Bo Mi get her evil on as one of Sang Hyo's staff members. I'm not sure if she's a real villainess or just the sour girl in the office, but it's nice to see her step out of her sweet and innocent supporting role. I'm rooting for her to be a leading lady one day, and this will hopefully get her one step closer.
Jung Soo Ah (Ha Yun Joo) is Hae Young's ditzy fiancee, though I suspect she could have a shrewd side to her. One has to wonder why Hae Young would agree to marry her in the first place as she is perfectly annoying, but I suppose there were circumstances that we will hopefully be made privy to.
Then there is Yang Kyung Hee (Uhm Soo Jung) who seems like the perfect assistant, but she's got something going on in her personal life, and possibly an edgier side to her personality.

Hotel workers speculate as they see Lee Young Eun 이영은 as Yeo Eun Joo in the lobby with Sung Gyum who is holding a drunken Sang Hyo
Sang Hyo shares a rivalry with colleague, Yeo Eun Joo (Lee Young Eun), especially for Sung Gyum's affections. Hopefully this has a chance to escalate because the comic dynamic between them is really entertaining.

Kim Byung Choon 김병춘 as Hwang Dong Bae and Choi Jung 최정우 as Lee Moo Yang confer in a dark room
The mystery at the hotel is tied to the death of Sung Gyum's father. The only two people who are still around from that time are manager Lee Moo Yang (Choi Jung Woo) and the delinquent worker, Hwang Dong Bae (Kim Byung Choon). They seem shady, but that could be misleading. I'm looking foward to seeing history revealed and how everyone is tied together.

Hae Young stands in front of a bloodied corpse as guests flee the wedding hall
And then of course, there's the corpse which really sets things into motion at the end of episode two. There's real potential for wacky humor, a smart plot, and poignant romance. The cast is certainly up for it, I hope the writer is too.

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.