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April 21, 2013

Terror Taxi with Lee Seo Jin - Korean film review

Gilnam grins from behind the wheel of his new cab in Terror TaxiTerror Taxi or 공포택시 (2000) is not the B-horror film I expected from the title. Although it opens with a gravity-defying hit and run murder, we know nothing about the victim or the reason for his death. He is soon forgotten as we meet Kim Gilnam (Lee Seo Jin), a happy, extroverted young cabbie. Gilnam is moving up in the world, having just purchased his own car, and is planning to propose to his girlfriend (Choi Yoojung).

It was refreshing to see LSJ playing such a normal guy, since his roles tend to be deeply conflicted and/or repressed characters, often with severe anger management problems. He has said that MORE…

December 28, 2012

Arang and the Magistrate – Korean drama review

Arang the ghost sits on a roof in brightly-colored Korean traditional dress;Arang and the Magistrate (아랑사또전) is a 20-episode MBC drama that aired in the fall of 2012. I LOVED the first few episodes. Arang the amnesiac ghost (Shin Min Ah) is an agile imp with absolutely no respect whatsoever for authority – in short, my kind of gal :)

The drama is a sageuk-fantasy fusion – my first. The fantasy element manifests as a whimsical, eclectic melange of religious and folk traditions. Upon a floating island in the clouds, traditional Asian (Yoo Seung Ho) and Greek (Park Joon Gyu) deities play Go (바둑 or baduk in Korean) with the lives of mortals. Yeah, Ingmar Bergman did it first, but did he think to embellish the scene with a flower-backed goat? He did not. MORE…

August 17, 2012

KBS Drama Specials – Butcher Barber, Gate of Truth, Re-Memory & Don’t Worry, I’m a Ghost

KBS is keeping the one-act Drama Specials coming. Here are four more that I watched recently:

Butcher Barber (aka Knife Barber) – A battered woman tries to hire a killer to free herself from her vile husband, a loan shark whom she has married under duress. She approaches three former thugs who have been pointed out to her. Two are butchers in a shop owned by the third, a barber. They reside together in an apartment above the shops, and insist they are now living peaceful and ordinary lives. However, they succumb to her combined desperation and persistence, and help her out by giving her a job and a place to stay. Soon they learn just how dire her straits really are, and she learns their lives are not quite as ordinary as they seem. She and the barber begin to fall in love. He has another secret, and has to weigh his commitments and risks.

The outcome is pretty predictable, but it’s still worth watching how they get there. Park Sung Woong, last seen in Young Love Jae In (read my review on Drama Fever), once again performs well as a man of contained passions. There are a couple of violent scenes – both turn out not to be as they initially appear, but the second one is a bit hair-raising all the same. At least, if you, like me, cringe at straight razors!

Korea really needs to get a handle on the loan shark problem, even if it means the end of Korean drama as we know it. I’m prepared to make the supreme sacrifice and watch nothing but sit-coms to free the Korean people from this terrible scourge. Is it really necessary to barge into homes and businesses, beat people up, break their stuff, and force them into unwanted marriages and pornographic videos? SO uncouth. Why can’t their predatory lenders just garnish paychecks and ruin credit ratings, the way they do in the U.S.?

Don’t Worry, I’m a Ghost – Korea has a bit of an amnesia problem too. Shall we send specialists? They can’t possibly have enough to treat all the cases that occur in dramas. Perhaps they could persuade a few plastic surgeons to switch specialties. I suppose treating an amnesiac ghost, like the one in this drama, would be a challenge, unless she happened to be haunting a neurologist. Don’t Worry, I’m a Ghost started out as a nice, if convoluted, little romance, but just when a satisfactory conclusion was in view, catapulted us into one of those moral quagmires where a decent person takes way too much responsibility for events he couldn’t possibly have controlled. A big “huh?!” from me.

Gate of Truth – I kinda liked this one, primarily because most of it takes place on the grounds of a scenic Buddhist temple, where the illegitimate daughter of a monk’s fall from grace is growing up. It’s not a bad life, but she longs for real parents, and is crushed when her dad, back on the path of non-attachment, passes through and refuses to engage with her. She carries her bitterness about this into adulthood, until she watches the lengthy flashback with us, and realizes she has taken it all too personally. I don’t really get the point of living an indifferent life, and neither does she, but she learns she was better loved than she suspected, and finally respects her dad’s struggle to live by his chosen values. A rare window into the Buddhism which provides an intriguing counterpoint to Confucianism in Korea. Both perspectives inform most dramas, but not usually in a way that is discernible to westerners.

Re-Memory – This story revolves around a woman with severe prosopagnosia (more commonly known as face-blindness), an intriguing real-life condition that I happen to be familiar with. A museum staffer who can’t recognize faces is assaulted, and her assailant is killed in the struggle. She can’t identify the man who rescued her, and can’t quite remember what happened either (what did I tell you, amnesia everywhere). As she grows closer with the investigating officer, who has reasons of his own for being interested in the incident, moral quagmire again ensues, and they learn something about themselves and each other. This was an icky mix of gratuitous female helplessness, vengeance quest, and romance. Not entirely unlike Knife Barber, come to think of it. There is a twist at the end that redeems it partially, but it’s still icky.

KBS Drama Specials deal with ordinary people in extraordinary situations. I wish they’d trust the viewers a little more, and give us ordinary people in ordinary situations instead. Writers like to pose the question “what if?” What if nobody died, developed major health problems, or lost everything? Are there other stories that would interest viewers? Try us.

Other KBS Drama Special Reviews:
For My Son
The Most Glorious Moment in Life
Amore Mio, Crossing Yeongdo Bridge, Park Huisol: Maiden Detective, and Strawberry Ice Cream