Feeling conflicted about The Longest Day in Chang’an

I’m about 10 episodes into The Longest Day in Chang’an and I’m of two minds (at least) about this drama. On the one hand, it’s visually stunning, with every episode like a quality piece of cinema, with tension and creative storytelling. On the other it makes me uncomfortable, very uncomfortable, because it feels like there is a subliminal plot cooked up by the CCP to justify ongoing policies in Xinjiang and other provinces regarding ethnic minorities. Is that a stretch?

The plot revolves around finding and disrupting a terrorist plot by a gang of ethnic outsiders who look and dress unlike the ethnic majority of Chang’an. The police force and then ‘armies’ are called upon to take all means necessary to round them up. The threat of terrorism by Uighurs and other ethnic minorities is one of the main justifications given for the programs to forcefully homogenize and assimilate minorities.

Dramas and movies have long been used as propaganda pieces, this is nothing new, but when a piece is so visually seductive as what I’ve seen in this drama, I feel somehow especially more manipulated than usual, when in comparison with the amusingly jingoistic Arsenal Military Academy (also recently finished), where everything is much more surface level/gung-ho in its presentation.

Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll continue with this one, for these reasons. What do you think? How do you feel about blatant nationalism versus more subtle propaganda in your entertainment? What are the dramas that most come to mind when this topic is raised? I’d love to hear your opinions.

#commentary, #the-longest-day-in-changan

Rookie Historian, Goo Hae-ryung – Series Impression

Yes, I’m clearing up my in-progress back-log in this holiday lull and Rookie Historian, Goo Hae-ryung had been in limbo at episode 6 for too long and deserved a speedier completion. Although it suffered from a slightly split personality tonally, there is a lot to recommend about this fantasy piece (because after all, it is a fantasy to think that a female, let alone a historian where she to exist, would ever be permitted the free rein to speak and act as our heroine does in a Confucian society, but let’s not let facts get in the way of our enjoyment, okay?)

It took me a while, but I’ve come around to really enjoying Shin Se-kyung’s work, and as our heroine Goo Hae-ryung she shines. I particularly like the timbre of her speaking voice which is low and melodious. She’s nobody’s patsy or plaything and an independent woman with a mind of her own. She’s got no time for romance novels, such as the drivel written and published anonymously by the youthful Prince Dowon (played by Astro vocalist Cha Eun-woo, he of the sparkling dark eyes and innocent face and coltish limbs). She wants to learn things that mean something, like astronomy or medicine or history, so when the chance comes to sit for a civil service exam given for women in a ploy by government officials to keep secrets and weaken the current regime, she does what any girl needs to do. She works out a deal with a prospective bridegroom and skedaddles!

This is a large cast of regular characters, what with the 4 women chosen as historians, the 10 or so main male historians (including Lee Ji-hoon as the 2nd in seniority but of his status), the royal family, including older brother crown prince (Park Ki-woong) and father, grandmother, etc., and the key manipulative ministers, and so on, but they all tie in… eventually. I confess, the plotting for the throne part is fairly predictable so you have my blessing to fast-forward to your heart’s content. You’ve seen one coup plot you’ve seen ’em all, but the scenes with Shin Se-kyung and Cha Eun-woo are sparkly good fun.

He’s still green as an actor and it shows, but in a way that’s kind of okay because he’s playing a 21-year-old naive and sheltered baby prince with a loving heart who wants to be loved, who’s living in virtual isolation. She’s older than he by about 6 years in the story and has a lot more life experience so it’s perfectly logical that she should be more forceful and better able to control most situations in which they find themselves. They are so appealing together that it’s not hard to imagine that they could find each other attractive.

It’s also relatively interesting to imagine the ‘what ifs’ of a court that would allow women to have any kind of role of this importance, and what it might have meant to government structure. While some women have over the course of time played influential roles, they were far and few between.

Some of the other characters of note are those played by Park Ki-woong as the crown prince, caught between a rock and a hard place — or many rocks and hard places (cruel father, wife he cares nothing for because she’s daughter to his ministerial enemy, etc.). He’s underutilized in this role, but it’s nice to see him back in dramaland. Lee Ji-hoon as the moral and honorable historian sonbae gets a little more meat in his role as the brother-in-law to the crown prince and son of the villain of the piece. He’s proving to be a versatile actor too, handling drama and comedy equally well.

I think they could have trimmed some of the subplots and had a tighter, more cohesive story, and in a way if they’d not gone a little too far into progressivist history (just saying that of all the radical insertions of modernistic takes on aspects of the plot, the ending could never, ever happen) it would have potentially had more skin in the game, emotionally speaking because the risks would have been more grave, more realistic. If it were tonally more consistent it would have been a better drama, but I’ll recommend it (with judicious use of fast-forwarding) on the whole, and mainly for Shin Se-kyung.

#cha-eun-woo, #heo-jung-doo, #kong-jung-hwan, #lee-ji-hoon, #park-ki-woong, #rookie-historian-goo-hae-ryung, #shin-se-kyung, #sung-ji-ru

Extra-ordinary You – Series Review

This has been a year of ups and downs when it comes to drama creativity, and onscreen chemistry, but how nice to have a few series to think back on that bring both, and in spades. I’m going to put Extra-ordinary You in that collection.

Art class with Haru and Dan-oh

Because high school is many years ago for me (sob), there are times I just can’t get into dramas set in that age bracket and will often take a pass on dramas that others rave about, but there were some compelling arguments for giving this one a look/see and I’m so glad that I did. What first intrigued me was the premise; the characters were inhabiting the arbitrary world of an in-progress manhwa (or manga) and the main characters in the drama are not the main characters in the on-page story, but supporting characters — extras. This was a fresh take on the school setting and allowed a lot of unusual things to take place that introduced both creativity and urgency to the plot.

Eun Dan-oh, played by relative newcomer Kim Hye-yoon, is frustrated by her character’s nonsensical besotted behavior in the presence of her intended fiancé, Baek Kyung (Lee Jae-wook), who does the surly teen thing proud (he has his reasons, of course, for the attitude), and the fact that her character has been given a heart condition that is likely to be terminal in the course of the story. This irritation, and strange elements around her lead her to becoming “aware” of her surroundings. Her off-page character is feisty and energetic and determined to not take things lying down. If she can change her story and her future, she will do so.

Baek Kyung’s growing jealousy

A tall, almost mute fellow extra (so unimportant he doesn’t have a name) catches her eye and is instrumental in saving her in a situation; this leads to her becoming curious about him and how he seemingly has this ability to alter the course of the plot. She pursues a friendship with him and in doing so, gives him a name: Haru. Played by the extremely TD&H Rowoon of the group SF9, Haru slowly becomes more integral to the story, and the love of off-page Dan-oh’s life, to the increasing chagrin of Baek Kyung.

The problem with changing the plot without the unknown writer’s intention is that the so-called “butterfly wing effect” occurs. Things go askew in other aspects of the plot, and not always with the happiest of consequences. Complicating matters, it turns out the writer has been a little lazy when it comes to building characters and plot triangles in her/his works, and there is precedence to much of what will happen to Dan-oh, Haru, and Kyung, thanks to this “recycling” of concepts and characters.

This is a romantic little fantasy, and very gratifying in that regard. It’s not as mature in its fan service of kisses, etc., as Her Private Life, for example, but then it is a young adult-plus drama. Watching Haru be so protective of Dan-oh is lovely to watch (don’t we all have a thing for the tall protective male and the petite female in his arms?) and frankly, those glowering looks of Kyung as he seethes with anger towards his father’s on- and off-page actions and grows increasingly jealous of the relationship between Dan-oh and Haru are worth the price of admission on this drama. He’s another one of the reasons I chose to watch this drama; I enjoyed his work in WWW:Search so much I knew I wanted to see more and he did not disappoint. As sweet and lovely as he was in that prior drama he was angsty and sulky in this one. And, it turns out, he was filming them simultaneously, so talk about your mood swings!

I’ve seen some complaints online about the plot bogging down about the mid-point, but I did not find that to be the case for me. I was fascinated by the worlds created and wondered all the time how the drama writer would get them out of the plot holes created by story disruptions and the manhwa writer. I spent a ridiculous amount of time just admiring the “visuals” of the drama (oh, the dimples!) and really came to enjoy the plucky Eun Dan-oh.

Definitely recommended!

 

#extra-ordinary-you, #jung-gun-joo, #kim-hye-yoon, #kim-young-dae, #lee-jae-wook, #lee-na-eun, #lee-tae-ri, #rowoon

Onscreen versus Real Life Dramas

You might have noticed that I’ve been off-site quite a bit for the past month or so, but I’ve entered into a period of life we all face at some point in time — coping with the illness of a loved one. The real life dramas that accompany that have cut into my available time to escape into the onscreen variety, and selfishly, I miss the latter and my time to unwind and lose myself in those other worlds.

Instead of being able to see what happens next with heart patient Eun Dan-oh in the intriguing Extra-ordinary You, I’m spending time with a real life heart patient, and it’s a lot less fun (though I don’t begrudge the time spent, nor would I do it any other way).

This means that I’ve got a lot of things started (and I am have enjoyed them and will finish them), but no time to share my impressions and while away an hour or two nightly. So, please don’t think that I’ve abandoned y’all, or my love for dramas – I’ll just be away more than I’d like for a few weeks more (fingers crossed).

#extra-ordinary-you

Ticking Off Another In the Done Column: Abyss

This photo sums Abyss up for me: it’s two likable young actors in search of a better plot. You could also say that the Ahn Hyo-seop’s oversized jacket on Park Bo-young fits her as well as the pairing of these two. I wanted to like them together, I like them individually just fine, but when all is said and done there were just too many times that I wasn’t convinced that they fit well together.

Her character is a little too bossy and abrasive and fails to grow as a person in significant ways* and his youthful boyishness is not quite in keeping with that of a slightly older man his original persona was — though to be fair, as the man (boy) who was pretty virginal (due to his natural homely looks), appearing to be younger and more innocent works better with the premise of the ‘back to life matching your soul’ concept than does hers.

I wanted to like this; it started out with enough plot to be different and intriguing, but by the 4th or 5th episode I began to feel the plot wearing thin already. I sat it aside for a good long while, but I resolved this week to finish it (with a healthy dose of fast-forwarding, I confess), though I can’t exactly say that I’m glad that I did.

Where are my issues with Abyss? The biggest one is the whole murderer(s) hunt back and forth business episode after episode, with relatively little progress and the same kind of mistakes and near misses happening over and over. Will Cha Min’s ex-fiancée tell the truth or betray them? Was it 3 or 4 times that the result was the same? I lost count and interest and fast-forwarded thru a good chunk of her scenes. Was there a good reason for the murderer(s) to act the way they do? There’s no real answer to this (sorry if this is a spoiler) other than “they are evil people” (unless I missed it in fast-forwarding thru scenes that looked pretty repetitive.

I did enjoy the work done by Lee Si-eon as the detective used by Park Bo-young’s character to get to the bottom of things, and the actress who played the real Mi-do, once she was part of the Scooby Gang. In her small way, Song Sang-eun as the cosmetically changed Mi-do, added some vitality to the sagging repetitions of the plot.

Overall, I wanted more and got less. I found the junior cops and pseudo science of He Is Psychometric more enjoyable and a better use of my time and yours.

*Character-related spoiler follows, after the break.

Continue reading

#abyss, #ahn-hyo-seop, #kwon-soo-hyun, #lee-si-eon, #lee-sung-jae, #park-bo-young, #series-review, #song-sang-eun

This Watcher Finished “Watcher”! – Series Review

I began Watcher soon after it started airing, but I could tell that it was one I’d want to pick and choose my time to watch and savor its plot-twisty story, so I put it on hold until I could finish it in as big a gulp as I wanted (the final 9 hours worth in 2 days), and it didn’t disappoint.

Seo Kang-joon plays one of the 3 central protagonists; Kim Young-goon is a young police officer* with the unhappy past. He was the sole witness to his mother’s death at the hands of a murderer and for years he’s thought that person was his father, a top detective in the police force, suspected of corruption. His driving ambition is to discover the truth behind his mother’s death, his father’s presumed guilt, and the reasons why he cannot fully recall the traumatic events of that day.

*He’s not just a police officer but a former elite Army ranger, which means that he’s had lots of training for the tough fight sequences to come.

Han Suk-kyu (who I’ve always admired in his films and drama work) is the veteran detective, Do Chi-kwang, formerly of Internal Affairs and before that a member of the same squad that was headed up by Young-goon’s father. As a result of causing some heartburn with HQ brass because he tried to take them down for corruption, he’s been tasked with a seemingly dead-end position as the director of an Anti-Corruption unit, with one assistant (who’s likely a spy), and soon the angry young man Young-goon.

The third protagonist is the troubled former prosecutor, Han Tae-joo, played by Kim Hyun-joo. She was the prosecutor for the murder case and worked with Young-goon to testify. Unsatisfied with the evidence, she’s prompted later to try new technologies to root out the truth and this leads to the string of violence that forms the basic plot that drives the story forward — there is indeed corruption and collusion in the police and prosecutorial offices and these three form an uneasy alliance in doggedly pursuing the truth, no matter the risks or costs.

This was a very satisfying drama to watch, even if the subject is murder and mayhem because I rarely knew exactly who was involved and who was trustworthy. Well, you knew that Kim Young-goon was trustworthy because this is his journey towards truth and justice (and he was a child when his mother was murdered), but you’d also know because Seo Kang-joon played his role so transparently. Anger looks very good on Seo Kang-joon, as does mistrust, and mistrust he does because Han Suk-kyu’s Do Chi-kwang is one complicated man, one who seems eminently pure and driven and noble and trustworthy… but may not be!

Equally motivated, equally canny, and equally given to pursuing her own agenda (which may or may not support the team’s), Han Tae-joo is a bundle of controlled PTSD nerves (with good cause). I can’t blame her for her seemingly double-dealing ways because they helped keep me and everyone else on our collective toes. Plus, I always applaud female characters who are well-written and complicated heroines of their own lives. She defends those who are loyal and takes down the rest. I could happily watch a sequel with her as the lead.

In fact, OCN could do a sequel with this cast, and may have hopes of doing so, thanks to the (relatively) open-ended finish to the story. I would also like to see if Do Chi-Kwang holds to his mission, and how Han Suk-kyu would portray his hero’s (anti-hero?) journey.

Note: this drama includes scenes of violence that result in regular digit amputations (thankfully blurred), so if you’re squeamish at the thought of that, this might not be for you, but if you do like complex, character-driven mysteries about police corruption most definitely give this one a try.

#han-suk-kyu, #hey-sung-tae, #joo-jin-mo, #kim-hyun-joo, #park-joo-hee, #seo-kang-joon, #series-review, #watcher

Why I’ve been MIA lately…

The past few months have seen little of me on the site, and for that I’ll say “mianhae.” But the truth is, it’s not because I’ve been in a viewing slump (just the opposite), or because I’m not interested in our drama world (again, couldn’t be further from the truth), but because I’ve been more interested in reading than writing. In fact, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, especially since my decision to officially retire from the workaday world of Instructional Design this spring!

That means that, in addition to my nighttime forays into delights such as WWW: Search and Rookie Historian: Goo Hae Ryung (and the reality show The Barber of Seville) to name just a few of the titles I’m currently juggling, I’m enjoying a pretty darn nice summer on my back porch reading something fun. A lot of these are from Asian authors, so they fit in nicely with #kdrama, #cdrama, and #jdrama vibes, and in fact many of them would make really good foundations for serialization. One of them is actually in production and will air in 2020 on Netflix, so keep your eyes peeled for The Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo.

In case you’re wondering what some of the other titles are, here’s a selection of the most recent ones — mostly in the YA and Fantasy genres (the mysteries and biographies are not listed) — and I highly recommend Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik in the audiobook format.

  • Uprooted + Spinning Silver, by @naominovik
  • The Bird and the Blade, by @meganbannen
  • Descendant of the Crane, Joan He
  • An Ember In the Ashes, by @sabaatahir
  • Shadow of the Fox + Soul of the Sword, by @jkagawa
  • The Invisible Library, by @genevievecogman
  • Spin the Dawn, by @lizlim
  • The Magic of Unkindness, by @dalekevan
  • The Witches of New York, by @sideshowami
  • Nevernight + Godsgrave, by @misterkristoff
  • Sorcery of Thorns, by @marrogerson
  • The Poppy War, by @kuangrf
  • The Night Tiger + The Ghost Bride, by @yangszechoo