September 3, 2015

Korean Politics: Fair Wind from the West

Korean politics is (are?) complex. While issues may seem similar to those found in other modern industrial cultures, positions and affiliations are often rooted in ancient conflicts and alliances. But even a Korean political novice like me can tell it’s significant when Park Gun Hye goes to China to attend the 70th anniversary celebration of their WWII victory, and Kim Jong Un doesn’t.
The Chinese and South Korean flags side by side connected by a short chain
This follows an unprecedented (in my paltry 4 years of Korea-watching, at least) apology from the north for crossing into the South Korean side of the “demilitarized” zone between the two countries – which is, of course, bristling with weaponry on both sides – and planting land mines. Two South Korean soldiers were maimed.

Of course, the north promptly turned around and denied that expressing “regret” constituted an apology. Um, OK. But that is not the only sign of diminished belligerence from North Korea. MORE…

July 1, 2012

KBS Drama Specials - Korean short drama reviews

KBS regularly airs short dramas with 1-5 episodes under their “KBS Drama Special” umbrella. They used to be buried in late night/weekday day timeslots, but KBS World recently added a Saturday afternoon timeslot that makes them more accessible to working viewers. I’ve reviewed a couple of these previously – For My Son and The Most Glorious Moment in Life. Here are some others:

Amore Mio

This 4-episode drama is a great partner to Love Rain, for a grittier version of the same era of Korean class struggle and political unrest. Jeong Woong In delivers a fabulous dual performance as his younger self, and as a present-day dad, in the most convincing portrayal of the same character at different ages that I’ve ever seen. The youthful character was so unsympathetic that I stopped watching the drama after the first episode. [It aired in January, before I’d caught on to the Kdrama convention of showing characters at their worst before transforming them.] However, I came across the series again at episode 3 and got pulled back in to the story.
Jeong Woong In and Dana walk away from a confrontation with a man from their past
True to the title, there is a romance at the heart of Amore Mio, and the requisite supreme self-sacrifice for love, which Jeong Woong In sells well. There is also violence – be warned. If you are only interested in Kdrama as entertainment, you may find Amore Mio too raw, but if you want a window into 1980s Korea, check it out.


Crossing Yeongdo Bridge

My memory of this one-episode drama is a bit hazy, but I thought it was a well-acted story about a troubled father-daughter relationship. As often occurs in Korean dramas, drinking is semi-recognized as an issue without really being understood in its full implications as alcoholism. Deals somewhat more frankly with sexual matters than many dramas.

Park Hae Sol, Maiden Detective

The quaintly Victorian title of this drama caught my attention – when’s the last time you heard the word “maiden” in casual conversation? It sounded promising – young woman uses psychometric gifts to solve crime. Psychometry is a favorite with Koreans, though here it’s more like aura-reading.

Alas, this 4-episode drama was so slight that it wasn’t even worth recording, much less staying up late for.


Strawberry Ice Cream

I watched this one-episode romance last night (new to me, but it was a re-broadcast of a 2011 drama), and appreciated the writing as well as the acting. It’s a sad but ultimately hopeful story of a woman who doesn’t fully appreciate her boyfriend until after she breaks up with him, and has to come to terms with some major guilt and regret. Eom Hyeon Kyeong carries many scenes without dialogue, and ably projects emotion that could have easily become maudlin or repetitive in the hands of an actress with less range. Kim Yeong Hoon also delivers a nicely understated performance, as the boyfriend who “gets” her, even when she is not at her best. Their chemistry is charming.

A language note may be useful to non-Korean-speaking viewers of Strawberry Ice Cream. Korean sentences don’t necessarily include pronouns. KBS World helpfully adds them to the English subtitles, but that’s a little confusing for this drama. Just bear in mind that the Korean sentence translated as “I miss you” literally means “want to see,” without any specifics about who wants to see whom. Also, questions are formed by simply making a statement with an upward inflection at the end – there is no rearrangement in the word order. This means that the exact same sentence would be used to express “let’s meet,” “I miss you,” and “do you miss me?” Other sentences are similarly flexible.

Drama elements can seem a bit heavy-handed in the KBS Drama Specials – perhaps because they are packing a series-sized story into a smaller number of episodes. Nevertheless, some of these short dramas are of high quality. Don’t overlook them just because they are aired outside of primetime.

June 10, 2012

Love Rain – Romance vs. Family in Korean Drama

Yoona and Jang Geun Suk huddled together under a yellow umbrella walking across a leafy summer campus in the rain;I stumbled across Love Rain (사랑비) on KBS World, and hopped on over to DramaFever where I watched all 20 episodes in 2 days (or was it 3? it’s a bit of a blur).
SPOILER ALERT – Quit now if you haven’t seen it yet.

May 20, 2012

Vampire Prosecutor Season 1 – Episode 10 Korean drama review

men and women arriving with suitcases at a rural resortWe’re back to TV satirizing TV. Ahh. This time it’s a surprisingly compatible hybrid of finding-love reality show and English country house murder. The Vampire Prosecutor (Yeon Jeong Hoon) gets called away from the crime scene early in Episode 10, leaving Prosecutor Yoo (Lee Young Ah) and Detective Hwang (Lee Won Jong) to work the case on their own.

They’ve finally started to bond – she praises his interview technique and offers to follow his plan. He recognizes her persistence and thoroughness. They rib each other about romantic experiences, and we learn his sexism is fueled by an early disappointment in love (this is rot, of course, but Lee Won Jong is so likable he can get away with it).
Prosecutor Yoo and Detective Hwang listen closely to a witness
However, despite the growing camaraderie, they aren’t making much progress solving the crime. There are cameras all over the grounds, and the alibis all check out. Even the special insights of the Vampire Prosecutor aren’t much help.
SPOILER ALERT – stop here if you haven’t seen this yet.

February 13, 2012

For My Son | For the Sake of My Son - Review

아들을 위하여 (For My Son), or “For the Sake of (My) Son” is a 4-episode KBS drama that first aired over 4 weeks in December of 2011. Part of the story is set in North Korea, and all of it revolves around dastardly doings by denizens of that country. Kim Jong-il died on December 17, right in the middle of the series (his death is briefly mentioned in what must have been a hastily inserted extra scene). After initial high anxiety about what this meant for South Korea, overtures towards talks have been made on both sides. Which may explain why the January re-release of the drama on KBS World took place in the middle of the night, under the generic name “Drama Special” in the TV listings. [Update: This turns out to be the normal time for the KBS World Drama Specials, which typically air in the US 2-4 weeks after they air in Korea, and have 1-5 episodes.]

The again, maybe it’s just because it isn’t very good. If you’re a fan of Choi Soo-jong or Hwang Soo-jeong, or would like to see a mid-life romance for a change, the actors offer enough redeeming value to stay up late for. Indeed, KBS awarded Choi Soo-jong a prize for best actor in a one-act special for the series (though “For My Son” doesn’t quite seem to fit the category). However, if you demand any degree of verisimilitude in a plot, this series will not meet your expectations.

SPOILER ALERT – if you haven’t seen it yet and plan to, stop here.

February 12, 2012

Gag Concert Review

Gag Concert is a Saturday night comedy program on KBS World. It’s a little off-topic for a blog about Korean drama and learning Korean, but it’s my blog, and I’ll digress if I want to.

As I’ve mentioned before, KBS is government-owned, and some of its programming – documentaries on culture and Korean life, for example – are reasonably analogous to programming on US public TV.

Not Gag Concert, however. Gag Concert might be more comparable to Saturday Night Live. MORE…

February 8, 2012

Sageuk Review - Emperor of the Sea

Emperor of the Sea, also known as Sea God, Hae Shin or Haesin (해신), is the highly fictionalized life story of Goong-bok, or Jang Bogo, an 8th century Korean historical figure. There is almost no surviving historical record, and most of what there is was written centuries later, so author Choi In-Ho had a free hand for poetic license in the novel upon which the book is based. And he used it. MORE…