Drama Review: More than a Rumor, “Grapevine” Is A Winner

Originally published in the “Korean Quarterly.”

What if Romeo and Juliet or any other star-crossed lovers took charge of their destiny? Forget vials of poison in the crypt and tragic endings, if they were as intelligent and motivated as the protagonists of the dark comedy “Heard It Through the Grapevine,” they might just have ruled the world!

From the punchy opening chords of the electric keyboard from “Heard a Rumor,” by Jang Kiha and Faces, used as the opening title song, to the scenes of the elegant and expansive Han household being run like clockwork, viewers should immediately be aware that they are not entering into the typical family drama. The atmosphere is one of money, but also of care and attention. The visuals of this drama are one of the most impressive, with a quality usually scene only in the cinema, and that’s particularly appropriate as the drama stars actors who have made their names in the cinema and use their talents wisely and well.

Cast of Heard It Through the Grapevine

Ah Sung Go may be a young actress, but she has an impressive film resume to her name, including the recent “Snowpiercer.” As Seo Bom, the radical Juliet of the drama, she deftly portrays a character that is practical, but with the ability to dream big, passionate, but with an ability to plan. And she is a fighter, ready to take on any challenge. She will need to be, because the drama opens to introduce her as a fully pregnant, unwed teenage mother and (by necessity) a high school dropout, living with her family in their cramped and worn house in a working class part of Seoul. Continue reading

Drama Review: Not Your Average Next Door Neighbors

This review was written for the Korean Quarterly.

A young woman observes the neighbor across the way far too intently. A small dog may come to harm. A wedding ring goes missing. No, that last sentence is just a joke, this is not a remake of Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” it’s the romantic mishaps of the a group of young neighbors in manga-inspired “Flower Boy Next Door!”

The third installment in the Flower Boy series (“Flower Boy Ramen Shop” and “Shut Up Flower Boy Band” preceded it) proves that the Korean cable network TvN has a successful franchise on their hands with the flower boy conceit. Take a cast of attractive young men, add a central heroine to the mix, and spin a romantic tale. The one thing that the three dramas have done very well is to deliver well-cast stories that illustrate an understanding of human behavior. They’ve all succeeded exceedingly well in portraying some very genuine and touching emotions. The writers have captured the humor and the angst, as well as the vulnerabilities and egos of their characters. Furthermore, beyond the great casting work in selecting memorable lead performers, they have created supporting roles that mesh as successful ensembles.

Let’s meet the neighbors in question.

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Review: Arang Fights Heaven and Hell for a Good Cause (and Saves the Universe)

This review was written for Korean Quarterly and appears in the 1st quarter 2014 issue.

Here is some advice before viewing the fantasy period drama, “Arang and the Magistrate”: let the story unfold like any good ghost story told before a crackling fire on a dark and stormy night, but pay attention! There are hundreds of little plot details that are laid out in each episode. In fact, this drama unfolds like a complex mystery novel, or perhaps a better analogy would be painting a picture. You begin with an initial sketch and the composition is interesting, it tells a story, but as the layers and layers of paint are added the image becomes richer and more nuanced. As each incremental piece of the tale is revealed, you become more and more engaged in it, wanting to know why someone is a particular way and what will happen next… and then bam! You get the answers, and they shock you!

In an opening that is reminiscent of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” in which the reader is told that it’s important to believe that Jacob Marley is dead (or else you won’t believe in the miraculous tale that unfolds), the drama begins with a similar explanation. There is something odd about things these days; the barriers between the living and the dead have altered and now ghosts roam freely amongst the living. Oh, and ghosts have the advantage of being able to see humans but not the other way around. Except for one person, that is: a young man by the name of Eun-oh.

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Drama Drama Review: Cinderella Meets Her Prince (But There’s a Catch)

This review was written for and appeared in the Korean Quarterly.

In “Rooftop Prince,” the SBS network entered another drama into the 2012 time-travel sweepstakes* and came up with two-thirds of a cracking good story.

Our first introduction to the drama’s protagonist takes place one traumatic evening in 18th-century Joseon; Crown Prince Yi Gak, played by Micky Yoochun (who also goes by Yoo-chun Park), awakens to find himself alone in his bed, no sign of his princess. The alarm is raised and soon grim news is brought, news that sends him racing through the palace. Shockingly, a body is floating in the pond and it is that of his princess.

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Drama Review: Second Chances at Living (or Dancing the Darkness Away)

This review was written for and appeared in the Korean Quarterly.

When we take stock of our lives and how we’re living, sometimes it’s pleasant to fantasize about what we’d do if we could run away to a desert island. Who would we take to keep us company – no rules, it could be your Hyun Bin or Tae-hee Kim because this is just make-believe. What would we bring? Favorite books? Music? What foods would sustain us?

This is a harmless diversion, but what how would your list change if Fate handed you a different playbook? What if you were told you had just a short time to live? How would you live that last chance at life on your terms? This is the premise for a beautifully produced melodrama that first aired in fall of 2011, “Scent of a Woman,” in which one woman learns that there are indeed second chances at living life.

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