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Monday, July 11, 2016

Number 1: Day 19

Drama That Started Your Bias



I NEED ROMANCE 3

I said in the introductory post to this series that "The ten I've chosen are going to be listed more or less in chronological order." We've had the nine less, here's the one more.   

When it comes to my bias's fandom, I'm the ultimate outlier. I am the wrong age, the wrong gender, in the wrong country and speak the wrong language. I am, in short, just plain wrong.  Despite all of that, I AM  a fan, and as such will gladly seize any chance to sing her praises.

This was a challenging category to answer  because my crush on my bias did not start from Dramas. I fell hard for Ms Wang Ji Won (yes, that is her NAME, Google Translate) by following her on her first Instagram account. Before being hounded out of SNS  her Instagram showed a young woman with an irrepressible sense of fun, who loved being silly, with a  killer pout that captured an old man's fan heart "with a wink and a smile".  Add in the cat she rescued from a freeway and doesn't torment  for SNS fodder, and she had my vote before any Drama. 

A big part of that SNS fun also revolved around the first of her Dramas that really did cement her as my bias. The cast of I Need Romance 3 spent a lot of time together in social settings, and continued to get together as often as possible long after the Drama had ended. Following her IG at the same time as watching the Drama was a double whammy of cute and pretty, with a  large side order of fun. It also foreshadowed "the start of a beautiful friendship" with the scene below being re-enacted endlessly on Twitter by two fans of the actors involved:



fight


If INR3 was the Drama that came closest to being the start of my bias, Fated To Love You was the one that sealed the deal. The Taiwanese original featured a bad actor playing an awful character, a ballerina. The Korean remake featured a better actor playing a less horrid character, and was played by a real ballerina. Ji Won's story of building a new career after the injury that put her in a wheelchair for 6 months and ended her 17 year ballet dream was a big part of what made me such a fan, seeing her dance again, even fleetingly, in FTLY ,  completely shattered any chance of my escaping the thrall of of my bias. When she first shared the clip below, of her practicing for the FTLY role,  she said it had been 5 years since she'd danced ballet. I can't help thinking it may have  been a bittersweet moment for her


Many of the people I follow on Twitter get to tweet enthusiastically and  at length about the aesthetic appeal of their male biases. When one's bias is both female, and a second lead, such opportunities are rare. A sign of how low profile my bias is can be seen in the way Google treats her name. Of seven actresses I know called Ji Won, she is the only  one whose name is not recognised as such, and a youtube clip entitled "Wang Ji Won ballet", actually features a compilation of several Ji Wons, much to my annoyance, So the missing piece of the "cement my bias" puzzle was finally supplied by the web Drama Immortal Goddess. The whole Drama was built around Wang Ji Won, with the key plot point being "Wang Ji Won is really ridiculously good looking".  





She got to do things  she's never done  onscreen before, including throw up, get piggybacked, and laugh.




 FINALLY, I got to have the pure fan service experience so many of my Twitter friends get so often, and it was, as the lady herself might say, "wangderful". While looking forward to her first movie role, a lead in a con film One Line,  I'll close with some of my favourite shots from Immortal Goddess,  ones that highlight the Wang Ji Won I will always support:



And now it's done. Thanks again to Indigo/Helena for her truly excellent Drama Challenge and for the chance to challenge myself by writing ten positive pieces. Incredibly self-indulgent they were, and that may have been off-putting to some. As a gracious host AND hardcore Wang Ji Won fan, to any who have waded through my waffle and now feel worse for wear, I will let my beautiful ballerina bias convey my sincerest regrets: 





Number 2: Day 28

Top Three Drama Sisterhoods

Otona Joshi
Three working women in the circa 40 age bracket, good friends for years, each with their quirks and foibles, strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows. At various times in the Drama I got annoyed with the lead (centre) and the one on the left in this screencap, but the working single Mum on the right was all kinds of cool, as attested to by the harshest critic possible, a teenage son. As he said  after she had proved the point yet again, she really was


It was the sisterhood that won me for this show. From my perspective, they seemed like real friends, with no Drama nastiness and a solid connection that survived the sorts of up and downs any friendship has. A feel good favourite in which the bond of the three women proved more of an appeal than the OTP for me. 




It's back to another Japanese favourite for sisterhood number two. The clip above nicely illustrates the relationship between these three. They were  part of a "marriage club" formed at the school they all taught at, and despite different ages, personalities and life stages, they became very close friends. The clip above shows the faux combativeness of their friendship. They claimed to be rivals, who would prey on each other if needed to get their man, but in fact they were very supportive and loyal. One more reason to give this excellent low key Drama a look! 




OFFICE GIRLS

Office Girls is an interesting Drama. There's A LOT wrong with it  - stupidly overlong, with a tiresome "comic" side character, a truly vicious second female lead, and far too much drawn out melo. The main reason it works is the quite astonishingly magical chemistry between the leads, Alice and Roy. The other consistently good point in its favour is the bond between Alice's and Yao Yao's characters, shown above. Roommates and workmates, they were a reliable source of positive vibes, even when the Drama was in its tedious low points. For helping make the long journey to the end worthwhile, they round out the top 3 for me. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Number 3: Day 25

Drama Character You'd Actually Want To Date


As a happily-married man, I used this entry to celebrate female characters who appeal for their authenticity, the sort of characters I might want to date were I single. The fact that there's zero chance they would want to date me is happily irrelevant.

The clear winner here is the remarkable woman above. And what makes her such an attractive person is the self-awareness summed up in that screencap. She was called Ms Temper by others and the mental images people had of her ranged from this:

To this:


but the reality is she was neither, and both. Ok Da Jung was a woman who knows herself, and that is very attractive. She owned her past mistakes and had learned from them. She refused to bullied and cowed, and it's that lack of servility that earned her the Ms Temper tag from the chauvinist men she worked with, who all either struggled to, or were completely unable to come to terms with a competent, confident woman who was good at her job and who knew it. She confronted incompetence and the patriarchy head on, every time, usually at the same time:


I really enjoyed the progression of her character throughout the Drama. She was not a one-dimensional Superwoman. She had a fractious relationship with her mother, and having been divorced several times, she had a wariness of emotional closeness. Again, she knew and accepted these things about herself, and tried to change them when she saw a need.

In terms of the Drama Challenge category there was a similar progression. The "I'd like to date her" went from the perhaps predictable attraction felt by a (very) beta male for an alpha female to the attraction felt by an adult who saw another adult. That sense of grown up realism is exactly what I'd be looking for, and the end of the Drama was perfectly in tune with that reality. Too bad that I know for a fact I'd be at the back of a LONG line of people wanting to date this awesome woman!


Option B 

Hayako Sensei

Not a runner up, since she's also someone I'd be happy to date in this hypothetical alternate reality.  I tagged the image Hayako Sensei because being a teacher was at her core. Like Ok Da Jung, she was very good at her job, and knew it. She was thoroughly committed to her job too. The whole Drama was about her looking for someone she wanted to marry, but when she found one, both their respective jobs were put first, and the marriage was left as an assumed future event. 

Again like Ok Da Jung, the 34 year old Hayako knew herself quite well, except when it came to love. Towering above everyone else in the Drama, "awkwardly gangly" would also be a good description of her personal interaction. Seeing her get advice from her married and pregnant little sister showed her uncertain hesitancy in understanding her own feelings. Staying at home all her life to help and support her parents and pouring herself into her work as an elementary school teacher had been her focus, leaving her uncertain and awkward in dealing with romantic love. 

Another woman who knew who she was, in terms of her strengths and weaknesses,  Hayako had a sweet heart, and a disarming diffidence. Like the Drama she was in, she was a no-drama person. Her description of what constituted her ideal marriage gelled very nicely with mine, perfectly summed up here:


Two women with much in common and some significant differences. The hypothetical harabeoji would be happy to date either one.  Such a pity that one is far too alpha, and the other far too tall! 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Number 4: Day 21

Favourite Ajeossi Romance


"It takes one to know one" - that age old childhood taunt explains why I feel uniquely qualified to tackle this category of the Drama Challenge. I am an ajeossi, nicknamed 나쁜 아저씨 by one acquaintance, a badge I wear with amused pride.

If  I'd done the 30 Day Drama Challenge a year ago, I'd probably have picked My Spring Days as my favourite ajeossi romance.  But  a new Drama has come along to claim this coveted prize. It's so good that I'm risking The Fates by awarding it while it's still airing. So if it tanks in the last four and becomes so bad it looks like the bastard spawn of Dr Jin  and BoF, y'all will know who to blame. Sawwry!

I put a 90 second clip at the start of this piece because it so perfectly captures why this Drama is a great ajeossi romance. The 15 year age gap simply doesn't exist, all we see are 2 people having a GREAT time in each other's company. The onscreen chemistry between 38 year old Namgoong Min and 23 year old Minah is simply superb, a surprise and a delight.

The other thing that marks this Drama as different from other ajeossi Dramas I've seen (so far!) is that there's no looming end to the OTP. In both Marriage Contract  and My Spring Days, the beautiful young girl had a terminal health condition, generating a melo air, and guaranteeing a downbeat ending of one sort or another. Here, the only one likely to die IS the old man, at his young girlfriend's hands!


choke

As natural and unselfconscious as the chemistry is between the pair, the age gap is not hidden. One scene in particular had me in stitches precisely because I'm an ajeossi. It was built around the (at time of writing) current Korean SNS trend to append the  (ng) character to words for "cute" or "aegyo" effect. Barely two weeks before the scene below aired, I'd made a jokey comment on SNS playing with this trend, so it scored a direct hit on my funny bone. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! 



KAMSAHAMNIDANG


There are plenty of flaws in Beautiful Gong Shim, but it's still a fun watch, lit up by the performances of the two leads, their great onscreen chemistry, and the rarity of a non-tragic ajeossi romance. It's been a great display of comic acting, especially by Namgoong Min, long typecast as evil psychopath type characters. And Minah has been a wonderful surprise for me, one more young idol whose acting has been a delight to watch. I hope both of them get to show off their comedic skills in future Dramas, and  I really, really hope that it stays like this for the 4 episodes that haven't aired as I write this. Stay beautiful, Gong Shim! 

Number 5: Day 20

Favourite Non-Romance Drama


Those who follow my twittering know that I'm an out and proud brony, not ashamed  to bawl at sad scenes (e.g. K-FTLY)  and swoon over cute OTPs (too many to mention). So non-romance Dramas don't figure prominently in my viewing list. Of those that did, the one that really snuck in past  the rainbow arch and marshmallow gates and made a permanent home in my heart was Punch.

The Drama is the story of an estranged couple, and the ex-wife of one of them.  That line was too easy for me to omit, but for all its lazy jokiness, it does touch on one of the key features of the Drama. The relationship between  pragmatically corrupt prosecutor Park Jeong Hwan (Kim Rae Won) and his mentor Lee Tae Jun (Jo Jae Hyeon) might have seemed like that between Anakin and Palpatine, except that there was a very real, very deep mutual affection. One of the best bromances I've seen in a K Drama, very well-depicted and so strong that jealous  resentment of the bond was a driving force for another character.

For me the show did so much right, in both plot and characterisation, that I have no real quibbles (aside from miraculous neurosurgery that left KRW's hair unscathed), but I want to single out one truly remarkable element. PPL.

PPL is a necessary evil in K Drama production of course, and the source of much tired amusement from long-suffering fans. We all know that there is a subway on every corner in Korea, and apparently even in domestic kitchens  and military tents in one recent Drama. Generally the words "subtle" and "thoughtful" are not well-suited to describing PPL insertion in K Drama: "You must be hungry" "I am, you know what feel like?" "A sandwich"  That more or less verbatim dialog from a currently airing Drama I like helps explain why I'm in awe of the way the Punch team inserted PPL into the Drama. They made it fit, and made it integral to the storyline in a way that actually made sense!

What makes that all the more remarkable is that the PPL in question was  for a smartwatch/phone combo. Smartwatch PPL is generally really bad, cringingly awful shots of a character paying for something by waving their watch or laboriously crafting a message on a watch, when both actions would've been done in half the time by normal people using normal devices. In Punch the smartwatch and phone's pairing was exploited sensibly, in a way that served the needs of the manufacturer to promote their product by actually showing how the pairing could be used productively in a situation where other methods would not work.

Of course, I didn't watch the Drama for the PPL, but the fact that they were able to insert it so intelligently is an example of the skill and craft that went into the making of the Drama. From the dual "it's complicated" relationships of the lead (with ex wife and ex boss), to the "no looking back" Smeagol-Gollum  conversion of the jilted wannabe lead second, this Drama did everything right. Including the way it kept characters true to themselves to the end. Jeong Hwan may have ended up more or less fighting on the side of the angels, but he never was one, And then of course there's this - a remarkable scene in which dramatic tension came to a  surprisingly tiny conclusion:


The subset of  "people who will read this" who are also "people who haven't seen Punch"  is likely to be very small, but I urge both of you - WATCH IT! 



Silver Medalist

Achiara's Secret, about which I've raved here and here.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Number 6: Day 18

Favourite Second Female Lead

한고은 Han Go Eun 

This was a REALLY hard one to write up. Two strong candidates, but in the end,  Ms. Han wins for the role above, for the reasons outlined below. 

In Capital Scandal Ms Han plays Cha Song Joo, a high-profile gisaeng, Beautiful, sophisticated and whip smart, she is the best friend of the lead Seon Woo Wan, played by Kang Ji Hwan. It's one of the many strengths of her character that theirs is a strictly non-romantic relationship. Genuine platonic male-female friendships are vanishingly rare in K Dramas, especially when they sizzle like this one does:


Capital Scandal by inorogbarbatesc

Cha Song Joo plays mentor and confidant to Seon Woo Wan, teaching him about love and life. The latter is where her role really shines. More than just a pretty face, she's a resistance fighter, who turns out to have hidden depths. It's almost certain that anyone reading this has seen Capital Scandal but just in case any reader hasn't, I won't give any spoilers. This post is about what makes her character and performance so special, and that is her independence and drive. Cha Song Joo stayed true to her character from beginning to end. She was never an accessory, never a damsel in distress and never suffered the dreaded love lobotomy so common in K Dramas, when a once competent independent woman becomes a simpering simpleton who can't do anything except pine for Oppa. There was none  of that with this character. She did fall in love, hard, but she remained the same strong, intelligent and capable woman throughout. Her story arc was meaningful and satisfying, and I'm sure Ms Han considered it a role to die for.  . 


Runner-Up
채정안 Chae Jeong An

When the Drama opened the lead female in 용팔이 (YawnPal) was in a coma. Long before it finally it ended, many of its viewers were. This is another instance where I find myself praising something I really liked about a Drama I really disliked.

Chae Jeong An plays the sister-in-law to the comatose lead, and like Ms Han's character in Capital Scandal, hers is a confident, intelligent, independent woman. Also like Ms Han's gisaeng, Ms Chae's character plays up the superficiality of her beauty, pretending to be an empty headed piece of pretty fluff, all the while playing her own game. She was on no one's side but her own, as the screencap above nicely captures, and her character revelled in the ambiguity and uncertainty she generated, as in this clip. The bright pink jacket and sunny yellow skull another nice example of  the duality of her character.


yawnpal by inorogbarbatesc

After lauding Ms Chae and her character so much, why did I end up awarding her only the runner up position? Because of a critical flaw that was absolutely no fault of hers. In Capital Scandal,  Ms. Han's character stayed true to herself right to the end of her arc. Sadly, that did not happen to Ms Chae's character. In an inversion of what happened to her Once Was A Romcom character, the "writer" of this Drama, with about four episodes to go,  gave her character the love lobotomy I mentioned earlier. Gone was the acerbically funny, clinically self-focused and ever guarded super second. In her place, a simpering, helpless waif who would do anything to "save her man". The evisceration of her character made no sense, and Ms Chae did what she could with the hollowed out remains of her character, but this sadly familiar tragic end to a promising second lead denied her the win. The late stumble allowed Ms Han to steal first place by virtue of her character's consistency. In the event that Ms. Chae  ever sees this, it is my hope that memories of her pay cheque from the Drama may at least slightly take the edge off the bitter taste of defeat. 

Number 7: Day 17

Your Favourite Sidekick Character in a Drama

Henry 

I stated in my introduction that I was doing this series to focus on the positive, so it's ironic that I keep coming back to Dramas I didn't like, The clear winner of this category is another example. Oh My Venus  had a couple of good points, including an almost unheard of maturity in its approach to the concept of people falling out of love and then in love with someone else. It happened, and when it did, it didn't make them evil people - by  K Drama rules, that's blasphemy! For me, though the Drama overall was Oh Meh, Venus,  Except when Henry was on screen, then it became  Oh Ma'am Venus

The Drama was my introduction to the sickeningly multi-talented, multi-lingual Henry Lau, one more Canadian tiresomely flaunting his all round awesomeness on the world stage. His impact on this Drama was such that I've breached one of my few cardinal rules about Drama watching.  I normally rant against the use of actors' names to refer to the characters, but I neither know nor care what his character's name was, he's just Henry.

Some people found his character's sweet silliness too much, but for me, it was a treat. He was the perfect "sidekick" character. He had no dark back story, no crushing emotional or psychological baggage, he was just a genuinely sweet, fun kid, like a cute clown, one that didn't give little kids nightmares.

The other reason I'm sticking to using Mr Lau's real name is because of the huge distance between him and his character. Fluently quadrilingual and musically talented in both performance and composition, Henry Lau is clearly the antithesis of his laid back, leisurely comic relief character. His performance is one more example of something I've been tweeting about a lot  - how hard good comedy is, and how under-rated, at least in K Dramas. To consistently come off as happy-go-lucky, sweet and smiling for the duration of a gruelling live shot K Drama strongly suggests that Mr Lau's talents as an actor (in this genre at least) match his others. I hope to see him get many more chances to show off his skills. Until then, enjoy three minutes of Henry happiness!







Honourable Mention 

이시언 Lee Si Eon


In  Falling For Innocence, Lee Si Eon plays Oh Woo Shik, the loyal sidekick to Jeong Kyeong Ho's chaebol-with-a-change-of-heart. Right from the start he never hesitated to offer his boss and friend forthright good advice, as in the screencap above. More than just a straight shooting confidant, though, like a true sidekick he provided moments of light relief to break the melo tone, as here


wooshik by inorogbarbatesc

And of course, he was part of one of the ultimate noona/dongsaeng, alpha female/beta male pairs. Jo Eun Ji's performance as the wonderfully written Wendy was so good I struggle to remember her real name, and the STP that formed between her and Woo Shik was a big factor in his clinching the honourable mention award in this category. Enjoy the heartwarming start to their epic romance!



Thursday, July 7, 2016

Number 8: Day 13



Western Series You Think Could Be Adapted Into A Drama


When I started the 30 Day Drama Challenge, I expected Day 13 to be unlucky, too tough to answer. In fact, it was easy to answer. So easy that I came up with two good candidates:

J-Dorama: Black Books 

This is not an excuse to plug two of my favourite comedies. Well, not just an excuse to plug two of my favourite comedies. Watching the compilation above solidified my conviction that a Japanese adaptation could really work. The slightly surreal nature of Black Books antisocial vibe seems a better fit for Japanese Drama than Korean, I think. Also, the 9-11 episode run of a J-Dorama would be ideal, allowing the show to stay sharply funny to the end, without running the concept dry.  I started off with a very clear image of who should play the Dylan Moran character:












Odagiri Joe would be great, I think, and his Drama Juhan Shuttai features Yasui, a character who embodies A LOT of Bernard Black, as in this clip:



Another Japanese character who reminds me strongly of Bernard Black is Takumi, the  unforgettable male lead character from one of my favourite comedies, Date. Smug, insular, hard to like and burdened with a crushing superiority complex in the fields of literature and movies, there is a lot of Bernard Black in Takumi. 



Not only does Takumi display many of  the key Bernard Black characteristics, but I think Higashide Anne's  performance in Date shows she could pull off the Fran character. She showed herself capable of  displaying the right mix of desperation, fragility and silliness, I think:


So there you have it: Take the bitter, jaded  cynicism of Juhan Shuttai's Yasui, the bookish reclusiveness and neuroticism of Date's Takumi,  meld them into the smoky bemused detachment of Odagiri Joe's Iokibe, and you have a viable J-version of Bernard Black. Besides Higashide Anne, Matsushita Nao's earnest, amiable awkwardness in Hayako Sensei  suggests her as a possible  Fran. I haven't seen enough J-Doramas to have a clear picture of a J-Manny, so I'm very open to suggestions. 


K-Web Drama: The IT Crowd





One thing that struck me about Juhan Shuttai  was how curiously analog Japan still is in many ways. Korea, on the other hand is possibly the most wired country on Earth. I think a short web series would be the ideal setting for a Korean version of The IT Crowd, and based on his performances in Beautiful Gong Shim I'd love to see Namgoong Min in the Roy role. Choi Siwon could probably pull it off too, going by his She Was Pretty  performance. Lee Dong Hwi seems like a potential Moss, while Lee Yeol Eum or Dasom could work as Jen - especially given Web Dramas tendency to cast idols. There is another possibility, one I offer very reluctantly, solely in the interests of being ruthlessly objective.Wang Ji Won is older than my other suggestions, nearer Jen's age, and is capable of displaying the sort of fish-out-of-water naivete and credulity that marks Jen. 

I would love to hear your views on this, dear (putative) readers: Do you think either or both of these would work, and if so, who would you cast? 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Number 9: Day 8

Worst Case of Second Lead Syndrome You've Experienced


Aptly enough, this is a dual winner category. Also, I went with a broader definition of SLS. In neither of these cases did I want them to "get the guy" or "get the girl", but in both I strongly felt they were way better than the lead.

 Winner Number One 

최시원 Choi Si Won

The photo above relates to the Drama for which Mr Choi wins this accolade, She Was Pretty. Append the word "mehdiocre" to the title and you'd have a perfect summary of the Drama, though Go Joon Hee was VERY pretty. Choi Si Won's second lead stole the show. Probably best known as part of Super Junior (one of Ariel Lin's two favourite members thereof) his was almost the only role worth watching, as he rose above the  many weaknesses of the tired, unimaginative script to deliver a stellar comic performance. K Dramas tend to disdain real comedy, thinking something's only funny if there are rivers of tears, so true clownish comedy is rare. As the reason I stuck with the Drama to its end, Choi Si Won earned his place on my Drama Challenge list, by showing he has a  gift for comedy. Some may have thought that last line was a segue.If so, I'd hate to disappoint:







 Winner Number Two

채정안 Chae Jeong An

Sometimes, a Google image search turns up a result for which the only response can be, "the level of perfection is too high". The photo above is a great example. Ms. Chae shrugging her shoulders in bemusement at being stuck, quite literally, on second floor in her career.

I first saw her in Coffee Prince , but it was the next role of hers I saw that cemented her in my mind as a super second. The Drama  총리와 나 (Once Was A Romcom) distinguished itself by taking a surprisingly strong, vibrant OTP, full of genuine romantic chemistry and comedy, and sucking the life out of both the characters and their arc. Which is why I only ever use the more accurate English translation of its Korean name. Ms Chae's character though, went in the exact opposite direction. As Seo Hye Joo, she morphed from a clichéd clingy second, nursing unrequited love and bitterness toward the female lead,  into a strong, independent and self-assured character, master of her own destiny, and slave to no zombie spouse.


The next Drama in which CJA showed her super second skills was one featuring Joo Won and Kim Tae Hee as leads, but I'll be writing more about that one in a later post. For now, suffice it to say that though she's ten years younger than I am, I  happily use the hashtag conferred on her by a longtime fanboy. She definitely is #AwesomeNoona  — sheer magic!



Number 10: Day 3

Actress(es) That Proved You Wrong About Their Acting Abilities



이열음 Lee Yeol Eum

It's perhaps a little misleading to say  this young woman "surprised me" about her acting ability. That implies I thought she was a bad actress and was pleasantly surprised to find that she was not.  In fact, she simply surprised me, period.

Student Stalker

She appeared on my Drama viewing radar very suddenly in King of High School Savvy, playing the clingy, borderline psychotic-stalker wannabe girlfriend to Seo In Guk's lead character, and dongsaeng to Lee Ha Na's female lead.  She was playing more or less her own age, and delivered a credible performance for her first major supporting role. The character's arc was predictable, going from crazy stalker to revealing hidden vulnerabilities, but her performance did not strike any false notes with me.



Office Maknae

Just eight months after KoHS ended, she was back in another supporting role, as the office maknae in Divorce Lawyer in Love. A certain stunner in a blue dress excepted (stay tuned), DLiL was NOT a good Drama, but Ms Lee's performance was one of the few bright spots. Her character was worlds away from the high schooler she portrayed in KoHS, as shown in the clip above. Despite the obvious age gap, her character was very much the alpha in the pair. Once again, I did not ever find myself thinking that she was out of her depth or lacking credibility in the part. Her best was yet to come, though. 


Little Lolita Lost

lye2 by inorogbarbatesc

I raved about Achiara's Secret in  more general terms  elsewhere, so this time I'm focusing on Ms Lee's performance. This Drama came just four months after DLiL,  but was worlds away in tone from it. No fragile clingy high school crush here, nor a matter-of-fact young office worker. She was back playing a high schooler, but this one was a bully and a scheming manipulator who made a concerted play for someone who turned out to be very much off limits. Her character was not "nice" by any means, but she was definitely a victim. Despite the magnitude of her sins, she turned out to be very much more sinned against. As the clip above shows, she thought she was a big bad wolf, but was nearer to being Little Red Riding Hood.  I thought Ms Lee handled the challenge of portraying the differing yet closely connected facets of the character well.

Onward and Upward


After Achiara,  Ms. Lee secured her first lead, as the young version of the lead character in Monster. Fifty episode revenge melos are really  not for me, so I didn't watch it, but it's an important part of the reason I chose her for Day 3 of the challenge. She is a very hard-working young actor. While both DLiL  and Achiara  were airing, she had a small part in a KBS daily, Save The Family,  and she maintains a very astutely thought out and ruthlessly managed presence on Instagram, helping to maintain and grow her public profile. She is in short, a young lady who is clearly serious about her chosen profession and works hard to grow her skills and challenge herself by taking on a variety of different roles. In a world where more famous faces get cast as leads on debut despite reservations about their talent, it really is  a pleasant surprise to see an actor "doing her time" as it were, working her way up by diligent practice in honing her craft. I look forward to seeing her in other  roles and will not be at all surprised if she becomes a big name in the future.


Addendum: Two others I considered strong candidates for this category were Dasom for her work in Shut Up Family  and  Eccentric Daughter-in-Law  and Minah for her great performance in Beautiful Gong Shim

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Drama Challenge Top 10


Last month, the estimable K-ent blogger Indigo launched a 30 Day Asian Drama Challenge She shared the challenge on Twitter, where she is Helena Aneleh and got a very good response. A lot of people have taken up her challenge, which I think is testimony to how thoughtful and well constructed the daily categories are. I also took up the challenge, the first time I've tried something like this. Thank you very kamsa, Helena!

Like many who participated, I simply posted each day's answer on Twitter, with the full list graphic as above. As the end of the challenge draws near, I decided to celebrate some of my choices by giving them more than 140 characters.  I wanted to examine some of my choices in more depth, share clips and reactions, as well as publicizing some of them more effectively, and hopefully invite comments and feedback.

With just three days left in the challenge, I decided to pick my top  ten. The selection criterion was simple: No carping, no sniping. So even though there were several interesting and  thought-provoking "negative" questions, I'm going to challenge my cynical self by focusing only on the positive.

The ten I've chosen are going to be listed more or less in chronological order, starting tomorrow. Stay tuned!


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna






"Last updated April 2013" - tempes really DOES fugit! So why am I revivifying this moribund blog, other than as an excuse to use words like revivifying? Because the time is right. I don't really like goodbyes, which is one reason why I chose the song above - the lyrics are perfect, and it's from a film that I REALLY, REALLY  dislike. An apt summary of the reasons this blog went to sleep.

I started this blog primarily to write about my reaction to Hindi films. I still love OLD Hindi films, but as the big mainstream releases moved further and further from my tastes, I found my enthusiasm waning. In the nearly three years since I last updated this blog, I've seen only two Hindi films during their cinematic runs, PK (an OK if slightly preachy Aamir vehicle) and Bajrangi Bhaijaan (a brazenly manipulative Sallu tearjerker that worked), and caught up with only a few smaller films post-release, most notably The Lunchbox and Patang. both of which I thoroughly enjoyed and enthusiastically recommend.

As my interest in current Hindi films waned, so did my already fragile motivation for bloviating about them. Thus did this blog end on an aptly funereal note, with the last post being a tribute to a  favourite female singer of yesteryear, Shamshad Begum.  Except it turned out that it wasn't quite dead, just pining for the fjords.

It was reading a spate of "year end" blogs that sparked the urge to blow the cobwebs off this old Frankenblog and see if it still worked. I needed somewhere to celebrate my new consuming enthusiasm. East Asian Drama,  and the incredible people I follow on Twitter who have enriched the experience so much.

Within two weeks of writing the last post here, I watched my first ever K Drama. That count now stands at 124, along with 16 Taiwanese Dramas, 3 Chinese and 15 Japanese, plus 14 K Dramas dropped at varying stages. I'm an unashamed addict! I'm also a real fan boy, stretching that last word rather more than nature intended. I'm a fan of East Asian Dramas, but I'm an even bigger fan of the amazing Asiaphiles I follow on Twitter. This blog post is really for them.

Asian entertainment fandom has its fair share (he coughed euphemistically) of irrational obsessive fans who act like children, regardless of their age. Through an incredible stroke of good fortune, no one I follow is anything like that. Everyone I follow is intelligent, thoughtful and mature. The diversity of ages and backgrounds and biases is broad, as is the range of tastes and preferences in Dramas and music. On my Twitter feed are people with very different tastes in both performance and performers. Yet the spirit remains one of fun mostly, and civility always. Whenever discussions shift from lighthearted banter to serious exchanges of differing views, the conversations never become nasty, even when very vigorous disagreements are being aired.

Above all, this outstanding group of people taught me to "just let it go", to remember that entertainment should be entertaining, and that there's no need to rain hate on someone else's parade. OTT ranting can be fun, but friendly banter is even more fun, and much less tiring. To the many exceptional women and tiny group of Most Unusual  men who've educated, entertained, and enlightened me,  y'all know who you are and all y'all are 대박, 진짜 대박, take a bow!

When I first stumbled into the Wonderland of an adults-only corner of K-ent Twitter, many (read: almost all) of my mentors prophesied that my obsession with K Dramas would lead inevitably to a slide down the rabbit hole of K-Pop, I scoffed and said the word one should never say. Never.

This year saw me fall hard for Mamamoo. I would seriously love to see them perform live, even though I'd be the ultimate outlier, demographically.  I've also stopped pretending that my interest in KPop stops at Davichi, and now accept that liking many songs from Girl's Generation , T-Ara, Red Velvet and others means I'm more of a sitting duck than a standing egg.

Giving in to K-Pop was not the only noteworthy event in my fanboy life this year though. I got to actually talk to Nandita Das - a very  brief and prosaic exchange, but still! Later in the year, I did something else I never expected to do, and sent a fan gift. That turned into quite an adventure, full of laughs, frustrations and misunderstandings. It turns out that being fond of wryly self-deprecating wordplay in English is, er, let's say, sub-optimal for maintaining clear communication with non-native speakers. Despite the hiccups along the way, when my very own "K-Drama" ended with me being called "my lovely fan", the facade of adulthood was completely melted away from the gobstruck, hyperventilating, utterly incoherent adolescent fanboy within.

I also dabbled in blogging thanks to the generosity and tolerance of the excellent women at Couch+Kimchi.  It was fun sharing my views on K Drama, and now that I know many of them are Bollywood fans I might even see if they'll let me back for a post about my first Asian addiction.

Another discovery this year was that someone whose writing I admire is also a  K Drama fan. Madhulika Liddle not only writes with skill and passion about pre-1970s Hindi films, she writes thoroughly absorbing and meticulously researched historical mysteries set in Mughal Delhi. To have been able to share a mutual fondness for K Drama with a real writer was an unexpected delight. If anyone reading this likes historical fiction, crime fiction, India, or any combination thereof, do yourself a favour and read her books, all of them!

What am I looking forward to in 2016? More thoughtful, fun fan exchanges on Twitter, more  K Dramas, more K-Pop and more time being a VERY happy harabeoji. It's also the year when I find myself with no choice but to master at least enough Korean to follow the gist of a movie without subtitles, since Made In China isn't going to get subbed any time soon. I  hope too that everyone who actually read all of this finds MUCH better ways to spend their time in the new year. May 2016 be everything you wish for and more, and for every single person I interact with on Twitter, this one's for you:









Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sangeet ke liye shukriya, Shamshad!

Other people much more qualified have written moving tributes to Shamshad Begum, who died today at 94. I have nothing to add to the praise rightly poured out, except to say that ever since I became interested in Hindi cinema, I have loved her songs, and felt that she was undervalued while alive. This is not a biographical paean, just an inadequate expression of my gratitude for all she gave us, and my sadness at her death.

My introduction to the legends of Golden Age playback singers set me on a different path to many in terms of appreciation. I first heard Lata in films from the 90s, by which time her falsetto was a hideous, torturous screech, physically painful to listen to, made all the more so by being paired with actresses young enough to be her great-grandchildren.To this day, I've been unable to complete my plans to watch more Karishma Kapoor movies because my ears recoil in pain when Lata's screeching fills the air. I have since heard and come to love many of Lata's earlier songs, but in terms of a place in my affections, those 90s films as an introduction guaranteed that she would never take first place

Lata's sister, on the other hand, I first heard from her heyday, and she remains my favourite female playback singer. After her comes Shamshad, whose distinctive voice makes it easy even for me, with all the musical perception of a dead fish, to jump up with excitement when watching a film and hearing a new song saying "Hey, that's Shamshad!". Here is the first song that I reacted to in that way:


I've subsequently been educated by several Hindi film buff friends  in the many grievous flaws of that film, but all I really remember is all the lovely Shamshad!

Being a fan of both Asha and Shamshad, watching Naya Daur was a real delight for me when reshami salwar started and I realised that my favourites were singing together. When I heard the sad news of her death, this song was the first one I turned to, to remember them both, in what was not their only "drag duet". The colourised version is an offence to the eyes, but their voices are still beautiful enough to distract from the garishness:


A highlight of the film Tanu Weds Manu for me was when Kangna's character dances to a song I had not previously heard. Now that I have  seen the original picturisation for kajra mohabbat wala I understand why it's top of so many people's lists of Shamshad songs, and I know that I need to see Kismat. My two favourites together again, once again blurring gender lines:


Since this is a celebration of Shamshad's impact on my experience of Hindi cinema, and a look at why her death literally made me shed a tear when other "bigger" names have not, I will conclude this brief tribute with the song that started it for me. The very first time I ever heard Shamshad's voice made an instant impression, in no small part because in the picturisation of this magnificent qawwali, she "won" the sing-off against the singer I still resented for hurting my ears. I can think of no better way to remember the unique treasure that was Shamshad than by letting her beat Lata one more time, in untainted monochrome - khudaa haafiz, begum:



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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Gattu

Gattu        Rajan Khosa                       fiftyfiftyme2013: Major



I got this film primarily because it was produced under the auspices of the Children's Film Society of India while Nandita Das was chairperson. It was a tangential connection to my filmi favourite, but seeing her listed first in the "Special Thanks" made me feel good. So did the film.

Some synopses have used phrases like "The story of an orphan chasing his dream". That might make it sound like this film is going to be unbearably twee or saccharine. It isn't. In fact, for the first twenty minutes or so, I was wondering whether Ms Das's involvement actually meant that this was doomed to be some sort of Dickensian horror that ended bleakly. Happily, it wasn't that either.

I  found Gattu to be a great children's film. Uplifting with a positive tone fitting for its audience, and with a clear moral or message, but devoid of sickly sentimentality. The first twenty minutes or so in particular reminded me that the world of Indian children like Gattu is more remote from my experience or comprehension than Mars will ever be. The candour of the film in showing the world of its orphan hero was never overwhelmingly grim, coming across as more matter-of-fact, "this is how it is" than any "slum porn" glorification or romanticising of hardship. 

The casual and accepted use of violence and humiliation as disciplinary tactics by authority figures was another reminder that this was another world, but the film strove to show that the people doing these things were not sadistic bullies, but people who meant well, for the most part. 

The characterisations were the strength of the film, especially Gattu. A very focused young boy, his dream of conquering the seemingly invincible patang known as Kali is the core of the story. Everything he does is about trying to beat the unknown flier of the black kite with a legendary status in his town. His determination to beat Kali sees him steal a uniform to gain access to a local school, whose roof is the highest point in town. 

An illiterate orphan child labourer breaks into a school whose motto is satyamev jayate - it probably doesn't take a degree in film studies to work out where this goes. Indeed, the inevitability of the outcome resulted in a mildly jarring transformation in a couple of the characters, a slightly rushed revelation of their better natures that seemed a bit implausible. The ending of the film with children singing saare jahaan se achchaa also struck a false note with me as a somewhat manipulative display of nationalism. Then again, this is an Indian film for children, funded by the Children's Film Society of India, a part of a government ministry, so nationalist propaganda and a happy ending that seemed a bit convenient were not deal breakers.

This was another film in a similar vein to Stanley ka Dabba and I Am Kalam. I enjoyed all three  very much, and while Gattu did not wow me as much as the exceptional Kalam, like them it did draw me into to its sweet tale and make me care about what happened to its hero, primarily thanks to a great performance from its young lead. If you're looking for a child-friendly film with a good message and engaging characters, Gattu will not disappoint.


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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi

Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi   Bela Sehgal     fiftyfiftyme2013: Major



The skies above the frozen fires of Hell are thick with billions of pigs taking wing. This must be so, for I find myself obliged to say nice things about a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film.

I rented this film for Boman Irani, and for the promise of a very rare type of story in Hindi films, a mature romance. I had no idea that the film was written by a director whose work I generally abhor, and directed by his sister. I am pleased I didn't know because in the end, the film was more hit than miss.

The misses in the film were its music and some of its comedy routines. The music was banal and bland, and didn't not identify with the distinguishing characteristic of the story, the age of the protagonists. I don't blame SLB too much for the banal, trite music, since such is the norm in 90% of Hindi films these days, and the songs in this film were no worse than the pap that pads out so many films. Nevertheless, they were too numerous and together they accounted for a sizeable chunk of the two hour run time. Had all but two been cut, the film would have been tighter and less saggy.

Many of the comedy routines were similarly uninspired and cliched. Most Hindi films derive much of their humour from mocking those who are different, and in this film the message is apparently, "Parsi are paagal". From Uncle Feroze with his unrequited crush on Indira Gandhi to the flintlock pistol wielding loon from Shirin's Baug, too many of the comic elements of the film were too loud, unsubtle and long. As with his own overblown and self-indulgent films, so too in this one SLB demonstrates that he holds no truck with the concept of "less is more". The comic parts of the film were not all failures, though. The scene with the "swallowed" diamond ring was one of several that made me laugh, and also demonstrated the strength of the film - the relationship between Shirin and Farhad.

It was this feature that drew me to watch the film, and it was the reason I had to end up giving the film a passing grade, in spite of myself. As writer, SLB deserves credit for penning a story of a sort almost never told in Hindi cinema, a tale of first-time love between two people in their forties. With Shah Rukh, Saif and Salman all tirelessly pretending there's nothing at all creepy in romantic pairings with actresses barely half their age, the age setting of this film was truly refreshing. I've never seen Farah in a major role, and was pleasantly surprised at how well she did, given the inconsistencies in the writing.

The film did an OK job of addressing the issue of never-married forty somethings in a marriage-obsessed culture. The most successful comic elements and the most believable drama came from their interactions, as they both sailed into uncharted waters. The film was definitely not without flaws, but I applaud the Bhansalis for venturing into the undiscovered country of mature romance, and hope that the film's non-failure will encourage other writers and directors to follow suit. If SFKTNP opens the door for films that facilitate the return of actresses like Juhi, Madhuri and (I can dream!) Nandita, then this surprisingly unawful film will have been even more worthwhile.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ferrari Ki Sawaari

Ferrari Ki Sawaari   Rajesh Mapuskar                   fiftyfiftyme2013: Major



From No Country For Old Men through everything Tarantino's ever done,from Rowdy Rathore to Agneepath and Gangs of Wasseypur  it seems that the one prerequisite today  to being lauded as a work of cinema is violence - lots of it, and the more graphic and realistic, the better the artistic merits of the film. Reviewers wax lyrical and in-depth on the creative artistry and beauty of the violence in films like these. I am not one of those reviewers, and Ferrari Ki Sawaari is not one of those films.

I have a vanishingly low tolerance for violence, which means that most of the films that get raved about I choose not to watch. It also means I end up watching films that are treated dismissively by those who feel that what bleeds should lead. Watching Ferrari Ki Sawaari reminded me that I'm fine with all of that. I am not pretending that Ferrari Ki Sawaari is a work of cinematic genius or even of lasting import. But one of the best things about the film is that it doesn't pretend that either. A Twitter friend described it as a "ladoo+gulab jamun combo of cuteness and saccharineness", and that's not only a perfect description, it sums up what  the film is proud to be. That honesty redeemed the film for me.

The story is tissue thin and the plot, or at least its outcome, is predictable in the extreme. Devoted single Dad (widowed, of course) raising cricket prodigy son needs an unattainable sum of money to send his son to a cricket camp at Lord's. I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say that the ending is very definitely Lagaan, not Mother India. It's not the journey, but the refreshing spirit in which it's taken that won me over. Boman Irani is great as the gruff, embittered Dadaji with a tragic past, and Paresh Rawal once again demonstrates that he was born to play villains, even light comic ones like his character in this film. Vidya Balan lights up the screen in her special appearance, looking like she's genuinely enjoying herself.

As Hindi cinema increasingly apes the West with its obsession on  portraying only darkness seriously, and insisting that anything else is done "ironically", this film was a pleasant surprise. It's cloyingly sweet, and it knows it, and it doesn't apologise for it. It's a Disney-style fairy story, offering its viewers the chance to laugh and enjoy the ride, without having to view it through the prescription lenses of pretension. If you need anger, angst and bloodshed to enjoy a film, avoid this one at all costs. If you want a break from that for a couple of hours, and feel like getting a major cinematic sugar rush, take a ride in Sachin's Ferrari. 

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