July 18, 2012

Can Love Become Money? – Episodes 8-9 – Korean drama review

Ma In Tak kicks Da Ran's con man ex, while Da Ran looks on in shockCan Love Become Money? is turning out to be far more thought-provoking than I ever would have expected from watching without subtitles. Let that be a lesson to me! Episodes 8-9 address bullying in its many varieties and degrees, a hot topic in Korea right now. (If Koreans figure out how to reconcile the contradiction between inclusiveness and hierarchism, they might just pave the way for the rest of us.) The writers display sophisticated and compassionate insight into the origins of abusive behavior. When Ma In Tak despises Da Ran’s “weakness,” they show us that his extreme measures to make his point arise from his own abandonment issues, and the vulnerability they make him feel. This is one of the major points of departure between American and Korean drama. It’s a given that the behavior is not the person. Transformation is always on the table.

Da Ran walks towards the camera, wiping tears from her face, while In Tak looks after her, stunnedDa Ran has deeper flaws than your average Spunky Heroine. Anyone with a heart would empathize with her situation, but her judgment leaves a lot to be desired. She can be superficial, vain, self-serving, and even mean. However, when she articulates her pain and indignation to In Tak from the heart, she touches us as well as him. And he, for all his deficiencies, has the capacity for self-examination and to recognize truths, even unpleasant ones. He has a way to go in understanding his own behavior towards Da Ran, though!
In Tak lies propped up in an enormous bed with his arms crossed, thinking over what Da Ran has said to him
I’m particularly intrigued by the bully-on-bully interactions. There are plenty to choose from – everyone in Can Love Become Money? is after something, and pretending to be something they’re not to get it. Thanks to one con man, Ma In Tak has already seen his own behavior in a new light. What can we expect when yet another con man faces off with a lovelorn rapist loan shark?
a table is laid with many dishes of colorful and attractive food
Despite all of this deeper meaning, it’s still Korean drama, so there is eating, beating, silliness, and tears. And a gay joke! Oh, and let’s not forget kissing that appears to produce actual enjoyment for both parties (and their bodies touched, not just their lips!). Not between our primary couple, of course. They constrain themselves to romantic bandaging. Da Ran carefully bandages In Tak's knuckles, while he gazes at her
That is, until…

Also with Yeon Jeong Hun:

More Can Love Become Money? reviews
Vampire Prosecutor (Season 1) reviews

March 17, 2012

Hon | Soul - mid-series Korean drama review

Soul, aka Hon (혼), Possessed, and Ghost, is a 10-episode 2009 MBC Korean drama series. Since I’m on a Lee Seo Jin kick, it was a natural choice for my next drama (on DramaFever it’s called Soul). I couldn’t wait to see what Korean drama did with the horror format.

After 5 episodes, I can report that there are plenty of horror staples in Soul – angry dead people with zombie make-up and gravity-defying locomotion, lots and lots of blood, baby-faced psychopaths, mirror tricks, innocents in white and villains in black, and, making a late entrance, religious references.

For the first couple of episodes, I wasn’t sure I’d continue watching. From the opening scene, the story is disjointed, leaping from dream to hallucination to reality (or is it?), and across multiple, seemingly unconnected storylines. The timeline jumps around too – flashbacks, flash forwards, alternate timelines, you name it. We are never quite sure who is who, or what is what.

I wondered whether the multi-episode drama form could sustain the customary horror tension over such a span. It does, not only with the non-sequential elements mentioned above, but through a pervasive sense of isolation and alienation. Although Soul is set in an urban environment, the streets are often curiously empty, or when there are bystanders to witness abnormal behavior, they glance and move on. Authorities are conspicuously absent.

I was initially unimpressed with Lee Seo Jin in his role as a renowned forensic psychologist. After LSJ, self-loathing vampire, and LSJ, self-reforming gangster/lover, LSJ as a successful professional seemed superficial, too normal. I actually thought his ability to delve into inner conflict was wasted. Hah! By episode 5, I was ROFL at the irony of my earlier impression. This may be his most twisted character yet. Whereas the vampire and the gangster knew they had issues, and were inspired to confront them when an innocent was endangered, this LSJ has a different reaction to “purity,” as he calls it, and justifies to himself some very immoral and unethical behavior indeed. Watch out, LSJ – don’t become that which you seek to destroy!

And yet, the morality of this series is complicated, and that is really what it has to offer. It tackles issues like the boundary between mental illness and spiritual experience, between law and justice, and most importantly, between growth and innate personality. It’s no accident that of the several Korean words that translate as “soul,” “hon” refers to “inner character.”

So it won’t surprise you to hear that Soul is not light entertainment. I’m not sure it’s entertainment at all. But if you are interested in Korean culture, or in what makes people tick (or both), you will find it fascinating. One character says to LSJ, “The world is a giant mental hospital. No one’s sane. There’s no need to be smug about being less mad.” As the series progresses, we’re not at all sure that LSJ IS less mad. But how sane is it to let monsters walk the streets?

There’s no genre like horror to reveal a culture’s collective subconscious, and Korea clearly has some major guilt about prospering on the ashes of unavenged ancestors, and similarly neglecting present-day victims. So far, neither law nor vigilantism is a satisfactory solution. Will Hon offer us a third path? Stay tuned. (Review Pt. 2)

P.S. – Note to Lee Jin: when your BF gives you a demonstration on helplessness by holding a knife to your throat, RUN! Don’t EVER come back! Seriously, girl!