Crash Landing on You – Episode 1

In this episode…

We meet Yoon Se-ri, a clothing and accessories entrepreneur who uses her charm and looks to keep her brand public in the minds and imaginations of consumers with a celebrity-like lifestyle. She’s estranged from her family (2 good-for-nothing brothers with requisite greedy spouses, a sour-faced mother, and shady-ish CEO father), but has made something of herself since leaving home 10 years ago. In testing out new products, she is caught up in a storm and finds herself across the border in No Man’s Land — North Korea. There she meets Captain Ri Jung-hyuk, out on a routine patrol on his last day in the sector before a shift change. He’s got a reputation for being a by-the-books stickler, looks damn fine in uniform, and has command over a small squad of goof-ups. Now, how can she get back across the border?

Impressions…

Son Ye-jin and Hyun Bin are going to make one exceptionally appealing couple; and they hit the ground (pun intended) running with their immediate chemistry. It helps that they already have had a chance to explore that chemistry in their film The Negotiation, even if they had little face-to-face acting time, but the way she boldly plays him and he, in turn, focuses those knife-sharp cheekbones and laser-like evaluating eyes on her worked for me from the start.

While it seemed initially as if Se-ri was somewhat frivolous and shallow (setting up a faux-celebrity romance with an actor – cameo Jung Kyung-ho – for publicity purposes), it seems like they’ve put some thought into her character and are giving us tidbits to build on and perhaps form a backstory of our own with the conversations with her family. She’s the one who walked out of the family, doesn’t take handouts, and there appears to be some deep, longstanding issue with her prune-faced mother (who, to be fair, is the only one who looks sick as a dog when Se-ri goes missing). I liked the fact that she’s fully invested in the success of her business, wanting to be there at the forefront, confidently trying that paraglider to demonstrate its placement in her sporting goods line. Son Ye-jin, standing on that hill with a smile on her face, excited by the experience to come, looked 10 years younger!

As for Captain Ri (which would be Lee or Yi, south of the border)… I’d like to know how his uniform (and him in it) looks ever so much finer than the South Korean counterpart’s, because it does and he does. His brief encounter with the apparently-venal State Security Officer played by the nicest guy, Oh Man-suk, was a fairly predictable set-up (especially in light of what we learn later in the episode about that guy at the end of the episode) to establish Jung-hyuk as a “Dudley Do-right” kind of guy, the type who excels at everything he does, and always stands by his principles. I like that he’s stern but tolerant of his squad’s foibles and shares the blame when things go a little pear-shaped. He also appears to be a pretty fine mentor to his young squad member (letting him deactivate an old landmine). Oh, and tolerant even of the one on guard tower duty who was distracted by a scene from Stairway to Heaven (yes, I recognized that scene with Choi Ji-woo and Kwon Sang-woo)!

This is Storytelling Set-up 101 kind of stuff, introducing characters and their worlds in quick, broad strokes, but it’s done with a light touch and a big dose of quality in terms of casting, costuming, sets, camera-work, and direction. Sign me up for more!

Episode 2 >

#crash-landing-on-you, #hyun-bin, #kim-jung-hyun, #oh-man-suk, #seo-ji-hye, #son-ye-jin

Looking Back at 2019’s Dramas

Most people do their year-end summaries at the start of the new one, but my January was a mixed bag of one never-ending mutating cold virus requiring lots of time indoors doing nothing (but watching more dramas, of course). Better late than never, perhaps, are my thoughts about my drama-watching experiences of 2019.

Winners

I’m giving the nod to Search: WWW for my favorite drama of the year. I didn’t write a review for it due to laziness on my part, but I loved it all the same for it’s portrayal of intelligent women who are able to focus on their work even in the face of dramas in their personal lives. It introduced me to new actors and let me spend time with those more familiar favorites in new settings and I enjoyed it from start to finish.

I know, I know… Her Private Life was the ultimate in fan service for many of us with its extensive scenes of our attractive lovers, but come on, it’s a long overdue opportunity for Kim Jae-wook to shine as a romantic leading man and he lived up to and exceeded expectations! Park Min-young was a lovely counterpart, a woman who’s not afraid to get into a good kiss scene. I never mind when a story focuses on the hows and whys of attraction, and friendships in the support of a plot, and this one satisfied on all counts.

A number of other dramas really hit their marks last year, including Ever Night and The Watcher. The hero’s journey tale told in the former never lagged and had me sucked into the story of the young hero and his true life partner (even if I did fast-forward through some of the repetitive evildoers posturing stuff). I’m sad that Arthur Chen won’t be back in part 2, but I hope for the best. In the latter, I was fully engaged in the struggles of Seo Kang-joon (he excels in dark and story roles) and the rest of the cast, and for a crime/mystery drama it was well done, with plenty of suspense.

Japanese dramas and Viki (and correspondingly me, the viewer) were winners too, for finally bringing more content to us. I thoroughly enjoyed Overprotected KohakuCaution: Hazardous Wife, and Pretty Proofreader, plus Tokyo Tareaba Girls, for starters. Over on Netflix, I took in the second season of the charming Midnight Diner and enjoyed it as much as season 1.

The other big winners were some attractive new faces, with Lee Jae-wook at the top of the list. This busy young man was in three major dramas in 2019, with Memories of the Alhambra, Search: WWW, and Extra-ordinary You. He also had a supporting role in the movie The Battle of Jangsari. Even more remarkable was the fact that he was filming the latter 2 dramas simultaneously, playing the earnest young actor in one and the tormented school bully in the other.

I would also add the names of Rowoon (from group SF9 and the drama Extra-ordinary You) and Kim Kwon (from the drama He Is Psychometric) to the list of young faces adding to my viewing enjoyment!

Losers

For me, there was one clear-cut “winner” in this category, the Chinese drama Well-Intended Love. I should have dropped it like a hot potato after the big reveal of the big plot point about episode 11 which was so infuriating but I did not just because I wanted to see if there was any possible way they could make sense of it all (and not waste the efforts of two attractive leads). Nope. What’s more remarkable is that they’ve filmed a sequel, due to drop soon. Cue the head scratching…

I would add Before We Get Married to this list too, but I’ve had a really hard time pushing the play button on it. Love Jasper Liu but the tone of the first few episodes made my skin crawl a wee bit too much. I doubt I’ll finish it.

Let me know what you think in the comments below, and check out my complete 2019 viewing list here!

 

Arsenal Military Academy – Series Review

Arsenal Military Academy was one of several popular Chinese dramas in 2019 and it’s one of the titles that I chose to close out the year and it was a pleasant diversion for a number of reasons, but primarily because of the performance of Bai Lu as Xie Xiang, the young woman who takes her deceased brother’s assignment to a military academy in order to fulfill his dreams. Is she a convincing young man? Of course not, but total props to the actress for going all out to behave like a boy to the best of her abilities; a real tomboy with courage.

The other reason to spend time with the idealistic soldiers in training is the manga-come-to-life actor Xu Kai, playing the rebellious bad boy Gu Yanzhen who torments his new roomie (Xie Xiang), learns her secret, and becomes her protector. (Can it really be a spoiler to tell you all this when it’s a preordained trope of all cross-dressing dramas? I don’t think so!)

When it’s not focused on the drills and training at the academy, the hazing and schooling, and game-playing, the story is all hot on Japan’s incursions in mainland China, and their evil oppressiveness, foreshadowing the role of these future young soldiers in training will play in kicking them out of their country. Surprisingly, they allow these kids access to the arsenal, so to speak, in a number of deadly operations, so it’s not all school-based, kids in love hi-jinx.

In addition to our main couple, we have another suitor for Xie Xiang in her feminine form, another classmate, Shen Junshan, played by Toby Lee (who looks like a young Eddie Peng). He is pursued in turn by a young woman who has a foot in the Japanese camp (Gao Yuer, who looks like a sister to Korean actress Han Yeseul). There’s another romance between an actress and Shen Junshan’s older brother, so in between the training, there’s plenty of couples bickering and making up.

Truth be told, the story is a little lot jingoistic in tone with some of the ‘we will overcome’ messaging, and some of the acting is a little very broad, but the main characters have an appealing chemistry, a carryover no doubt from previous dramas in which they costarred. Enough so that I’d say yes, give this one a whirl.

 

#arsenal-military-academy, #bai-lu, #gao-yu-er, #liu-si-bo, #toby-lee, #wu-jia-yi, #xu-kai

The Untamed – Series Review

There aren’t too many dramas that start off by killing off the main character, are there? Or show him (apparently) steeped in swirling black clouds of demon magic amidst all hell breaking loose, but that is how we are introduced to the unforgettable character of Wei Wuxian, aka Wei Ying, aka the Yiling Patriarch and the hero of The Untamed.

This drama, even with its flaws, has been one of the more exciting dramas I’ve watched in recent years, for two reasons: the first is the coming of age of Xiao Zhan, playing Wei Wuxian, as this production rests completely on his youthful shoulders. No offense meant to his costar Wang Yibo, but barely a scene goes by without long dialogue sequences and interactions requiring Xiao Zhan to play the heart and soul of the drama and he delivers. The purity and truthfulness that he bestows upon Wei Wuxian is a sight to see. I know, I think I took hundreds of screenshots to try and capture just how much he gave to every second of his portrayal.

I will also give kudos to Wang Yibo, playing the correct and proper Lan Wangji, aka Lan Zhan, aka Huangung Jun, and Wei Wuxian’s true friend (they are Wei Ying and Lan Zhan to each other, so those are the names I’ll use to refer to their characters’ actions), or soul mate in the BL original story. He’s required to be the near-silent, stone-faced foil to the irrepressible (“Shameless!”) Wei Ying, but still convey the bond he feels with this brash counterpart. In interviews the two have a clear bond and mutual admiration society; Xiao Zhan has said that he thinks Wang Yibo had a harder role even with so few lines because he was called upon to act so subtly, with few facial expressions, and there is a great deal of truth to that. Unfortunately, as this is a dubbed drama we do not hear his voice in the production, nor Xiao Zhan’s (though his voice actor does an excellent and much closer job matching Xiao Zhan’s voice).

The other reason this drama worked for me is the successful (IMO) reworking of the tale to remove the BL elements that the censors would block and still tell a story of brotherhood and indelible bonds and make people care what happens to these two young men and want to see them never separate. (As for the BL purging, the production team does manage to get in a few subtle nods to the source material, such as the ‘bonding over bunnies’ references; apparently there is a rabbit deity that has been adopted by the LGBT world).

The drama tells the story of Wei Ying; adopted into the Jiang clan and “brother” of sister Jiang Yanli and brother Jiang Cheng. He’s not treated with universal love in the household, but he grows up to be talented in talisman work and swordplay. The three youths travel to another clan’s holdings for training and clan bonding exercises and there he meets Lan Zhan, the second son of the clan leadership and sparks fly. Lan Zhan’s older brother encourages their friendship because he sees in Wei Ying the characteristics his younger brother is missing and needs.

Unfortunately, this tentative friendship is cut short when a rival clan gets all greedy over accumulating wealth and power and territory (total world domination kind of stuff) and wants to use an evil demonic talisman to obtain their hearts’ desires. The upright Lan Zhan and anti-bullying tyrants inclined Wei Ying are challenged to prevent this mayhem. Things, shall we say, do not always go as planned. But don’t they look great setting out together?

I won’t get into the plot details too heavily so as to avoid spoilers, but I’ll address some where they highlight strengths and weaknesses of the drama. The major weaknesses first: some of the CGI for the ‘worlds’ they travel to are pretty cheesy. And some of the cast are given to highly melodramatic face acting, such as the green actor playing Jiang Cheng (the often jealous and thoughtless ‘brother’ of Wei Ying), and most of the villains of the show, particularly the characters Xue Yang and Meng Yao. The latter is very clearly playing his role as if this is a full-on BL drama.

There are some cheesy demonized zombie looks that drag down the beautiful costumes worn by Wei Ying in particular, and others (and can we talk about the hair?) In particular, the actor playing the loyal Wen Ning gets the short end of the costume stick, but he doesn’t let that get in the way of a few pivotal scenes that he has late in the drama. I heart Wen Ning.

There are so many things that the story does get right though, that this is a drama worth seeking out. It’s on Viki and Netflix, but you might also look for the Special Edition packaged on YouTube by Tencent with a more satisfying ending edit. (Not to say the Netflix/Viki edit ending is bad, but the Special is better.) Then, once you’ve finished The Untamed, you’ll want to dive into Joy of Life and any other Xiao Zhan content you can find because you will be obsessed. Oh, and BTW, he’s a pretty fine young singer too!

#bl, #li-bowen, #liu-haikuan, #meng-ziyi, #mo-dao-zu-shi, #song-jiyang, #the-untamed, #wang-haoxuan, #wang-yi-bo, #wang-zhuocheng, #xianxia, #xiao-zhan, #xuan-lu, #yu-bin, #zhu-zanjin

Robin’s 2020 Viewing List

Completed

  1. C – The Untamed ❤️❤️❤️
  2. C – Guardian ❤️
  3. K – My ID is Gangnam Beauty
  4. C – Bu Bu Jing Xin (Scarlet Heart) (R)
  5. K – Hotel Del Luna ❤️❤️❤️
  6. K – Another Oh Hae-young (R)
  7. C – The Ghost Bride
  8. K – Stove League (aka Hot Stove League) ❤️
  9. C – Joy of Life (part 1) ❤️❤️❤️❤️
  10. C – The Untamed Special Edition ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️
  11. K – Dear My Ex (aka XX) ❤️❤️❤️
  12. C – Dr. Cutie
  13. K – Oh! My Emperor (Xiao Zhan ❤️❤️)

Currently In Progress

  • C – My Roommate Is A Detective
  • T – Some Day Or One Day
  • K – Tale of Nokdu
  • C – Under the Power
  • C – Longest Day in Chang’an
  • K – Crash Landing on You
  • C – Love and Destiny
  • C – Love Yourself
  • C – Fairytale Lovers
  • K – The Lies Within

I’ll update this list throughout the year!

#2020, #viewing-list

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