If you are a fan of Signal you will really enjoy this one. I’m up to Ep 10 and can honestly say that each episode has been amazing!!
Shin Sung Rok does it again..He plays the arrogant creep very very well but at the same time he is able to be so vulnerable and your heart goes out to him when you see him in his agony..I love the way he goes from a short tempered, mean, arrogant man to an emotional, grieving shell shocked one as he deals with the kidnapping of his daughter and subsequent tragedy. I love the way he is able to stretch himself as an actor and he makes it work so well.
I’m a great fan of time-travel dramas and whether, as in Nine (our hero goes back 20 years) or the audience is taken back a mere month, makes no difference at all. I buy into it immediately even though I honestly have an issue in following the intricacies of the plot. One thing is consistent though… if you change the past you also change the future and never more than in this drama except our hero has a partner in crime to do it for him.
There are strong performances by all supporting cast as well..including our adorable little girl. Big thumbs UP — hopefully it will hold till the end..which I expect will contain a few holes like all these types of dramas do..but it really doesn’t impact on my enjoyment at all…
2020 was, for me, the Year of Xiao Zhan. He captivated me in The Untamed (and yes, I watched both the Netflix version and the special edition version — more Xiao Zhan/Wang Yibo scenes), made me catch my breath with his cliffhanger role in Joy of Life, broke my heart with the traumatic negativity and cyber harassment to which he was subjected, and tickled my fancies with each musical appearance and small sighting on Weibo or Douyin (Tiktok), so there was no question that when The Wolf was released in one surprising all-in-one upload (rather than weekly installments) that I was going to watch it. Sure, it was his first major role, he’d expressed concerns about how nervous he was to have people see him as such a novice and judge him for his inexperience, but baby, he had nothing to worry about!
Oh, and note: I’m going to avoid specific spoilers in this review, but there will be some comments that indicate a direction or two in the plot that are minor hints of outcomes. Feel free to read on without risk of having things ruined egregiously 🙂
That’s not to say that this is a perfect drama, a perfect drama, even a pretty good drama because, to be frank, it’s got some rocky moments. It’s also important to note that technically, Xiao Zhan is not the lead male character — Darren Wang is the titular Wolf — but for a number of reasons, for all intents and purposes, you could argue that he is the male protagonist, the one who truly walks away as a survivor, just as he has at the end of this horrible year.
The story is a hybrid fantasy, star-crossed lovers mish-mash that was not helped by the scissors of censorship; originally the Wolf in question was intended to be more of a werewolf (per early trailers), along with his loyal pack, er, team of the “Night Fiends” (members of a sort of a crack paramilitary squad), but with the cuts came a loss of character depth and plot for Darren Wang’s part of the story. He’s now just a human raised by wolves (but with the benefit of being hyper in-tune with nature and being shockingly strong and vulnerable to a certain herb that brings out the beast in him). He meets the lovely, strong, brave, and often naive daughter of an important member of the court, head of an important army supporting the king of Yang. She’s played by Li Qin (you may remember her from Joy of Life, or Xiao Zhan’s movie Jade Dynasty). They frolic and live a happy life exploring the mountains of her hometown, until things go wrong and suddenly they don’t. Misunderstandings and tragedy happen and the big, bad Emperor of Yang is at fault. Said big, bad Emperor of Yang is played by a familiar face, Ding Yongdai, who was the big, bad emperor in Nirvana In Fire. In fact, there is a lot of his performance that feels like he was just channeling that previous (better) performance.
He’s captured wolf-boy (yes, that’s how he’s called by his sweetie), tamed him, made him a tool of war, and even adopted him, making him Prince Bo. But this is never an easy task; just as in all court scenarios, there are ambitious other princes/misunderstandings/tragedies/suspicions/etc. and Prince Bo is often called upon by his adoptive father and Ruler to do his dirty work. This dirty work involves an engagement to his former playmate Ma Zhaixing (Li Qin) in order to keep the army loyal to her under control even though he now hates her/loves her. I did say big, bad Emperor was involved in cooking up some misunderstandings and tragedies, right? Well, he did a number on Ma Zhaixing, but because he’s put the blame on a neighboring kingdom, the Jin, she’s unaware of the truth and labors along under various misconceptions. “Why does he look just like Wolf Boy? Why does he hate me one minute and is nice to me another?”
Into this mix comes a rough-and-tumble brash bounty hunter, Ji Chong (Xiao Zhan), who is captivated by Li Qin and works hard to be her friend and supporter. He’s the one who stands behind her when Prince Bo is treating her badly, and is a clever and resourceful ally. And he’s easily the best-looking of the men in her circle, in spite of the fact that the shooting conditions where rough, causing Xiao Zhan eye problems and skin issues (but we love the stubble the director encouraged him to grow). The minute Ji Chong enters the story things pick up, in part because he’s not part of what must have been the werewolf part of the original plot and therefore his storyline is not as choppy, but mainly because he just brings a freshness and visual honesty to his performance that is lacking in his love rival’s. The open, observant gaze of Xiao Zhan’s Ji Chong is so much more realistic and appealing than the often shifty, squinty, surly gaze of Darren Wang’s Prince Bo. Ji Chong’s emotions and intelligence is right at the surface level; when he’s feeling something, you know what it is and it’s not overplayed. When he’s not speaking in a scene, he’s acting his role as the listener too and frankly, it’s no wonder that when Ma Zhaixing is delivering a speech the camera is often on Ji Chong capturing his reactions! I wonder just how much they changed the story to give him more screen time when they saw how much the camera loved him…
Another person who is just loved by the camera (in spite of the absolutely atrocious hair and costumes given her character — and let me add that the costumes in general for this show look like they were constructed from the scrap yardage bins at the local fabric shop, opting for shiny and/or frayed and/or netting whenever possible) is Xin Zhilei, playing Yao Ji, a sort of hybrid priestess/healer/maybe ex-werewolf? and rival/frenemy to Prince Bo. She was the lovely Haiting Duo Duo in Joy of Life and she has a luminous quality to her performance. I think she outshone Li Qin on a number of occasions; for all her beauty, Li Qin often looks fragile and brittle, but as that’s not out of keeping given what traumas her character endures, it’s not a negative against her looks, but at times her performance is as brittle as she looks. Being a dubbed drama, it’s hard to know how much of this is the way lines are delivered on set versus in dubbing, but it’s clear that she does not have the fluidity of Xiao Zhan’s delivery, nor of more seasoned actors, such as the one who plays the King of the Jin.
Is this drama worth 49 episodes? IMO, if Xiao Zhan were not in it and he did not deliver the performance that he did even as a rookie, I would have to say “no, no it’s not.” There are some good moments, but very few very good moments, and a lot of meh or even borderline laughable moments, but definitely not enough to put this drama in the must-see category. (Of course if you’re a Darren Wang or Li Qin fan, have at it!) I spent a lot of the non-Ji Chong scenes with my finger on the fast-forward button — watch a minute to get the plot advancing gist of the scene and zip to the next — and I’m not in the least bit sorry!
Robin, I checked out the site that you recommended and was happy to find one drama which I couldn’t find elsewhere – the new one with Yoo Inna and Eric Mun — a pleasant surprise. Don’t know how good the actual drama is but I always enjoy watching her… I’ll think about getting the trial month, probably when I have more time to explore better. Luckily this drama is free, with the usual commercial interruptions.
There is another drama that I’d heard a lot about called The World of the Married. I was interested because someone wrote that it had a Doctor Foster-like plot and I did enjoy Doctor Foster. I was hoping to find it there…no luck. Unfortunately it only seems to be available on Netflix US and not on Netflix Canada — hopefully it will be available here soon but I’m not keeping my fingers crossed. Such a pity not all Netflix sites are created the same. I got excited for a second until I realized that fact!!
It is with no regret that we bid goodbye to 2020 and await 2021 with hopeful patience but hopefully there were some good memories we can take away nonetheless!!
Dramas do present a nice escape from reality..even for a little while. So..just sharing some comments about a new drama that I just started.
It had been ages since I’d checked out a Taiwanese drama and I was curious about the actor Jasper Liu whom I’d heard about but never seen. I found a drama on Netflix called Before We get Married which looked interesting so I checked it out.
I’ve only seen about three episodes but so far I’m enjoying it. First of all, to my relief, there is only one annoying over the top character so that is a good thing. I really like the heroine (Puff Kuo), she’s a beautiful, classy actress and she has great chemistry with Jasper.
The storyline is pretty simple — both are in relationships..she is happy looking forward to marrying her boyfriend — they have a plan about their future, even to small details… how much to spend daily… when she can sleep over (only Saturday night), etc, etc. He is in a 10 year relationship with a girl but it looks like it’s a “duty” relationship since he promised her mom that he would take care of her. There’s pity there but definitely no romantic love.
She loses her purse which contains her diary, he finds it and (of course) reads it and sees how planned out her life is and he challenges her on it and that’s the beginning of a rocky relationship, but it’s also the beginning of great tension filled scenes. It’s also the beginning of self exploration on her part..is the plan she’s following HER life plan or HIS life plan which she has no say in..he is the perfect representation of temptation as he pursues her but he graciously accepts her denial and refusal..telling her that they just met each other too late..but of course that doesn’t mean that emotions go away does it? Her boyfriend is the usual sweet but boring guy…though lately they’ve made him really dumb which is an obvious ploy to give her reason to become disatisifed with her life..I don’t know what’s ahead and I hope it doesn’t falter too much but so far I’ve been enchanted with Jasper and his ridiculously cute dimples..lol..and..though I really dislike bangs I have to admit that she really is the exception to my rule…a cautious thumbs up.
Call it a coincidence, but it’s a strange thing to start The Queen’s Gambit at pretty much the same time as Hikaru No Go, but the result is that I’m now seeing game patterns everywhere! Eh, not really, but two simultaneous game-playing dramas is a lot, but in a very good way. Chess versus Go (or Weiqi in Chinese), it’s amazing how the directors could manage to create dramatic tension in scenes involving placing pieces on squares on a board, but hats off to both productions!
This review is about Hikaru No Go, so I’ll leave comments on the other drama to others’ opinions (though I liked it), so without further a-do… And, this is a generally spoiler-free review, with no major plot points revealed unless marked as a spoiler!
This series (available with English captions on the iQIYI app as well as on their YouTube channel) is adapted with the author’s permission from a very popular Japanese manga and anime series. I’m not familiar with either, but have seen generally favorable comments re: the adaptation to give it a more Chinese setting and feel (other than some jingoistic ‘wasn’t the handover of Hong Kong back to China wonderful’ scenes at the start of the drama to give it a time/place setting which may seem heavy-handed to some viewers). In particular, the praise is given and due to the cast of the live-action adaptation, particularly in the roles of the accidental prodigy Shi Guang (Hu Xianxu) and the spiritual (literally) weiqi mentor Chu Ying (Zhang Chao). The cast of secondary and supporting characters also satisfies in all aspects, notably Shi Guang’s friends Hong He, played by Zhao Haohong, Gu Yu (Ji Li), Shen Yi Lang (Sun Can), and Shi Guang’s rival Yu Liang (Hao Fushen).
The story introduces us to car-obsessed 9-year-old Shi Guang, raised in a single-parent home, which leaves him plenty of unsupervised time to goof off, play around, and live a normal boy life. Mucking around in his grandfather’s attic, looking for something he might be able to sell to finance his model car addiction, he comes across an old weiqi board and, through the mysteries of fate, triggers the resurrection of an ancient master of Go, Chu Ying. Equal parts freaked out and intrigued, Shi Guang comes to accept the appearance of this ghostly persona and learns about his new seemingly companion. Chu Ying is in this interim afterlife because his quest for the perfect Go move was unfulfilled and he’s looking for the person he can mentor to find it — in this current lifetime it appears to be Shi Guang. Shi Guang sees this as a chance to win money from his grandfather (who likes weiqi), and agrees to let Chu Ying guide him through some games. They search for an opponent and come across a club, part of the holdings of the current champion Go master Yu Xiaoyang (played by Jiang Baichaun), the father of Yu Liang. Raised to be a super-Go nerd/future champion, young Yu Liang is playing in the club and, thinking that it would be best to play a peer, Shi Guang challenges him to a match. The unhappy outcome devastates both boys in ways that haunt them, but results in Shi Guang fleeing the responsibility to help Chu Ying. It takes a bullying incident in high school to reunite the two, and set the stage for the future/present (albeit still the past) growth of Shi Guang in the study of Go.
As mentioned, there is a lot of time devoted to the placement of black and white stones on the Go board in this series, and yes, that could be boring, but somehow the characters and settings do keep it lively. The friendship between Chu Ying and Shi Guang is as real as the more ‘normal/earthly’ ones with Hong He or others in his school circles, or the uneasy rivalry/almost yearning for friendship thing he has with Yu Liang. That’s a tribute to the young actors, especially Hu Xianxu. They’ve chosen to have Shi Guang converse directly to/with Chu Ying as if he’s physically in his presence most of the time, but on occasion it’s an internal conversation taking place in his mind — one might ask if all conversations really happen in the mind, or if Chu Ying is a manifested presence most of the time and this just lets us “see” him too because most of the time no one looks twice at Shi Guang when he’s doing something like talking to Chu Ying as he’s walking down the street — either way it doesn’t really matter as much as the bond they demonstrate in the story.
What I found very interesting (and a little bit shocking) was that Shi Guang was allowed to leave school to enter the Go Academy (and it made me think back to Im Siwan’s character in Misaeng, who was on a similar path), rather than get a diploma. Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket! This is such a high burden proposition, especially as Shi Guang moves from taking direction on where to place the stones to taking responsibility for his games himself (though still being mentored by Chu Ying outside of official games). The professional and emotional risks are high as this is now his chosen career and he still is trying to help Chu Ying find his special Go move (and, one could say, find meaning to his life and move on in the afterlife). The miracles of online Go play have a special role in this drama (though a huge part of me snickered to think that online games and connectivity — especially connectivity! — could have been anything like that reliable back in the mid-part of the first decade of this century… right?)
In addition to the successful casting of the characters and the generally thoughtful adaptation of the story, the look and feel of the drama is also of a high quality. It’s fair to say that some of the best looking contemporary pieces in Chinese dramas this year have aired on iQIYI, which is why I’ll be keeping this streaming service next year too. There are a few scenes in the last few episodes leading up to the series’ dramatic final scenes in the two story arcs (Shi Guang and Yu Liang’s relationship as rivals and Chu Ying’s mission) that drag a little, but I don’t begrudge the series these brief lapses when we get touching characters like the loyal Hong He making his own life choices. The rewards are many in Hikaru No Go, and it’s one of my favorites in 2020.
For all of us Christmas this year is so different from any other but the spirit of Christmas remains the same and now more than ever we are in sore need of kindness, patience and generosity… not for presents but for contact. We can’t hug each other..we can’t even see ourselves smiling at each other but let us smile with our eyes instead and give with our words and time. We look forward to next year with more hope than we did a mere few months ago and that’s a good thing.
Lastly, I’m so pleased to pass on my review of the kdrama that I just finished. 100 Days My Prince which was an unexpected but delightful surprise. I confess that the only reason that I checked it out was because I wanted to see more of Kim Seon Ho whom I’d just discovered in Strongest Deliveryman but I discovered the charm of the main couple and loved them to death. Though it’s historical and it had a bit of politics it was not heavy which I really appreciated. And the possibilities of shenanigans that arose when you have a haughty prince who has lost his memory but not his arrogance is a hoot. For various reasons he finds himself foisted with the wrong identity and a new wife and he struggles in all ways — of course he does!! He had great chemistry with her — the boy has amazingly piercing eyes…the side characters weren’t too annoying and I still go to see the charming Kim Seon Ho dressed in all his finery… thumbs up from me. It’s not perfect really..there are lots of little things..one of which is the inconsistent use of the “face blindness” issue which irked me but nothing major at all!
Started watching the short novela” Pajaro Soñador” at the recommendation of my long time coworker. It’s actually a Turkish novela, but is on Unimas in Spanish. It’s fresh, funny, different, and the leads are great, although they’re both just too beautiful for words, lol. She’s an aspiring writer who is mandated by her parents to get a job before they marry her off. He’s a worldly photographer, who takes over his father’s company due to his Dad’s health problems. His brother, who’s been with the company is not too happy and engages in behind the scene hijinks in order to sabotage his brother—— at least I think so, since my Spanish a little bit “iffy.” This one is dripping with “beautiful” people, but interesting characters and a pretty good storyline.
The chemistry between the leads is off the charts though—— and did I mention it’s funny! Episodes are on Unimas’ website if anyone is interested, or looks for something different in the future
This post was inspired by a Twitter conversation; the poster had just started Crash Landing On You (first k-drama experience) and no IRL friends were watching and able to dish. The next question was, what can I watch next?
The limitation is Netflix (for now), but I thought, let’s go through what’s on offer on the site and discuss what I think is a solid choice, and why… so let’s go!
From this batch, there are some clear winners and interesting choices, beginning with It’s Okay to Not Be Okay and Crash Landing On You. Both feature attractive leads (though with K-dramas, it’s safe to assume this will always/mostly be true), strong ensemble casts (ditto for this being a truism in K-dramas), and interesting and fresh stories. Okay touches thoughtfully on mental illness (a rarity in Asian topics) while the couple learns the truths behind their connection to each other. Crash flirts playfully with a NK/SK romantic entente and has fun too with life on the other side of the border. Boys Over Flowers is one to watch for its archetypal formula (hey, it’s been adapted at least 5 other times that I know of!) It’s not the best version (I prefer the Japanese and Taiwanese iterations), but it put Lee Min-ho on the map and its even more of a Cinderella tale than the cute Cinderella and Her Four Knights (which has an appealing ensemble of swains for the leading lady). Romance Is a Bonus Book isn’t perfect, but it’s a pleasure to have two leads with acting talent pine in a book-world setting.
If we’re going to talk about books, Rookie HistorianGoo Hae Ryung is a contemporary twist on the historical genre, with a sassy, smart, career-minded heroine and a sensitive author prince. Strongest Deliveryman is a little guys against the big, with a likable cast and it makes for easy watching (unlike The Winter the Wind Blows with a charismatic cast wasted in an unpleasant story). Hospital Playlist is from the same team as the “Reply” dramas and offers up a smart, ‘you feel like you know these people’ ensemble storyline. There are others in this group worth a look, but later, okay?
This grouping features some titles that started really well but lost their way at the end; I have my eye on The Uncanny Counter because I read good things about it daily, but for my money, the winner in this group is BecauseThis Is My First Life. The old ‘contract roommates’ trope is done right with this smart cast. I may also be one of the few who likes Cheese In The Trap, but the casting worked for me and I appreciated the difficulties of navigating university and love lives.
Oh My Ghost is a winner on 2 counts: not only does it feature one of my favorite leading men in a fun story, but one of my favorite actresses in a very amusing and touching turn as the virgin ghost in question. Kim Seul-gi makes every drama better. Hello My Twenties is a solid ensemble cast going through pretty normal romantic and not-so-romantic issues, but the young women who share the house get thru things together. Mr. Sunshine is not a sunshine-y story, but its setting in one of Korea’s troubled points in history and a top-notch cast make it work a look. Just a reminder: Korean dramas do not always believe in HEAs for everyone. Which leads me to the strongest title in this grouping: My Mister. When the cast was announced I was in a quandary: I adore the male lead and like the work the female lead has done, but I really, really did not want them in a romance. The good news is that this is a love story, in many ways, but not a conventional one where they are concerned. We’ve written a lot about this drama on this site (which is searchable), so I won’t go on too much about it, but suffice to say, this is deep, dark, complex, thoughtful, and lovely (not to mention at times heartbreaking).
When the Camellia Blooms is one of the few chances to enjoy the work of Gong Hyo-jin on Netflix, but she’s always won me over and this ‘found family’ drama is charming. I don’t know if it’s everyone’s cup of tea, but The School Nurse Files is an almost recommended one for its quirky but incomplete story. Save Me is Dark, so definitely not for all, but if you’re into stories of cult-like religion, try it!
Seriously, I don’t know why you haven’t watched Stranger (there are now 2 seasons) yet — what are you waiting for? This is complex, Korean politicking and corruption and murder mystery-ing at its finest, and lead actors Cho Seung-woo and Bae Doona are incomparable together. This is another I’ve written about in detail, so search here for more. I am also very fond of the history-driven, winning ensemble casts of the ‘Reply’ dramas: Reply 1994 and Reply 1988. The mixture of ‘who ends up with whom’ and the period details formula works in all 3 settings. (And btw, note the Xs on some of these non-K-dramas, some are even dreadful!)
Misaeng, this remains one of my favorite K-dramas of all time, for its perfect casting (Im Siwan and those Bambi eyes…) and the slice-of-life setting in the workaholic business world in Korea today (aka Hell Joseon). Much more info is available about it on this site. Also, I didn’t highlight Hymn Of Death because it’s on the war/bad things happen spectrum, but it is well done if you’re curious, and it’s short. [An aside, when searching for Korean dramas on Netflix you’ll see recommendations for other titles, often Chinese. I enjoyed the Love O2O drama and movie adaptations, even though I’m not into gaming.]
I hope you’re still reading, because there are some real winners in this grouping! Another Miss Oh has a couple with Chemistry in its leads, and it feels very contemporary in its telling of a couple who think they’re doomed because of misunderstandings. She’s also very good in (not pictured) Let’s Eat 2 (aka outstanding Korean food porn disguised as a romance, like the first Let’s Eat). Reply 1997 is the first of the ‘Reply’ series (in spite of the year) and is a fun start to the formula, touching on the early days of Korean music fandoms. Finally, don’t sleep on the writer-with-a-haunting problem in Chicago Typewriter with its excellent cast and a house all of us envy.
Some really good dramas are really great bromances and Prison Playbook is that (as is the yellow boxed Chinese drama The Untamed). An unconventional setting and an unforgettable cast are always a winning combination in my playbook. The other I’ll recommend is Dear My Friends for its focus on the difficulties of making life and love work and dealing with older relatives and friends as they age. This is a great introduction to some of the best mature actors in Korean television if you’re new(ish) to the genre. Every single actor in this drama has a long resume of great works.
That’s all for this post! There are many titles available that I did not discuss — some because it’s kinder to say nothing at all (and hey, some people may like them) and in some cases I’ve not yet seen them and/or they’re not my cup of tea. But there are so many choices that are very much worth your time — I hope that you have a lot of fun exploring them and discovering what tickles your fancy!
There might not seem to be many things to celebrate this year, but I know that, in spite of the challenges we face, I do have things to be grateful for, and to anticipate.
I’m grateful that I still have the resources to create a holiday meal, though I’m aware that I am fortunate in this regard; many do not. I’m grateful that I have interests that keep me mentally engaged and positive, even when there are some days that blur one into the next. I’m grateful that I have the inner resources to find things that bring me joy and stimulate my brain, and that I’m never bored (and <i>that</i> is saying something!)
One thing I’m particularly grateful for is having stumbled on <b>The Untamed</b> and the world of MDZS and its authoress, and the talents of its young cast. This was the year I discovered just how many talented people are out there writing fan-fiction, and holy-moley, there are some amazing fics out there inspired by this work! I’ve read some that I would hold up to many heavily-touted and praised published works (and if you’re looking for recommendations, hit me up).
And above all, I’m grateful for you, my friends, who share your enthusiasms and interests (and disappointments, because let’s be frank, not everything will be a winner), even when I’ve been less active on this site this year. I’m making a very late new year’s resolution (or very early one) to do better — scout’s honor!
Here’s hoping that we all have many things more to be thankful for today, and all the days to come.