Show Me the Romance

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Archive for the category “Monday Romance Review”

TV Series Review: Sungkyunkwan Scandal

Sungkyunkwan Scandal
TV Series (20 episodes, complete and available free on Hulu.com)
Korean historical drama starring Park Yuchun, Park Min Young, Song Joong-Ki, and Yoo Ah In.

It’s K-drama time again! And this time, it’s a historical drama about a girl living as a boy so she can attend an elite university at a time when women could be killed for such an offense. There’s humor, rooftop flying, swordfights, an archery competition, and lovely characters. The elaborate costumes may look a little funny to Western eyes, but beautiful fabrics are still beautiful, and since this is one historical drama with a happy ending, romance fans should queue it up on Hulu pronto.

L-R: Geul-Oh, Lee Sun Joon, Kim Yoon Hee, and Yeo-Rim

The Premise

It’s the 1790s in the kingdom of Joseon (Korea), and women aren’t allowed to have jobs or go to school. Clever, self-taught Kim Yoon Hee (played by Park Min Young) disguises herself as her sickly younger brother, Kim Yoon Shik, and takes odd writing and copying jobs  to support her brother and widowed mother. She is so desperate for work that she compromises her principles and takes an assignment helping would-be scholars (only successful scholars can become high-ranking court officials) cheat on their university entrance exams. When exceptionally bright exam-taker and nobleman’s son Lee Sun Joon (Park Yuchun) catches Yoon Hee in the act, he realizes this “boy” has talent. Instead of turning Yoon Hee in, he “blackmails” her into taking the test as herself. Yoon Hee passes with flying colors, and suddenly she’s attending a great university as no girl could ever dream, knowing they’ll cut her head off if she’s caught. Meanwhile, there are political intrigues running rampant, plots to hatch, and ideals to follow–and there are those who suspect this small, pretty boy is not a boy at all.

Geul-Oh and Yeo-Rim

The Pain

The guys and Yoon Hee all walk around wearing mesh versions of pilgrim hats. With beads hanging from the brim.  But that appears to be historically accurate for yangban, or noblemen, so you just have to accustom yourself to that costume detail and move on. As the hero character, Lee Sun Joon is kind of stiff and hard to like in the first few episodes, but as the series goes on, that becomes part of his charm.

The Payoff

No impossibly far away plot device, yay! No scheming hell-bitch, yay!** I adored all three of Yoon Hee’s best guy friends in the series: Yeo-Rim (played by Song Joong-Ki) is slippery, charming, and funny; Geul-Oh (Yoo Ah In) is the wild child of the bunch, the best fighter and the most tortured soul; and finally Lee Sun Joon, who shows adequate fighting skill in one scene, but who really displays his heroic qualities through the dramatic and brilliant application of his brain.

Kim Yoon Hee and Lee Sun Joon

Yoon Hee is a truly likeable heroine. She’s smart, she’s got a spine of steel, and she has real motivations and fears you can’t help but understand. The main kiss scene is a good one and the ending is truly one of the best, most satisfying endings I’ve seen in any J-drama or K-drama, so from beginning to end, I wholeheartedly give this romance five arrows.

Rating: 

5 out of 5 arrows

**see my review of You’re Beautiful for my rant on both of those.

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Book Review: Wrapped

Wrapped
 By Jennifer Bradbury

Since I’m thinking about making my next project a YA Regency Romance (or YARR) (Mateys!) (Sorry, couldn’t resist), I’ve been trying to read every example of that genre I can get my hands on. The first one I read–The Season by Sarah MacLean–was so frustrating and condescending it made me wonder if the genre was fundamentally flawed, the casualty of tailoring a Regency Romance to fit YA expectations. Next, I whipped through a couple of chick-litty Regency YA novels by Meg Cabot that read well and didn’t reek of pandering to a younger reader (unlike The Season), but the tone wasn’t quite what I had in mind for my own novel.

Then I found Wrapped — a YA mystery regency romance with Egyptian themes. It’s pretty good, and suddenly I don’t think the YARR is so flawed after all. (YARR!)

The Premise

London, 1815. When Agnes Wilkins discovers a strange jackelheaded figurine in the wrappings of a mummy featured at a high society party, her first instinct is to hide the figurine as her own little secret. But then a series of robberies and murders begin to plague everyone who had contact with the mummy, and Agnes decides she isn’t about to wait around and let the so-called “curse” rifle through her wardrobe. She’s going to crack the secret herself . . . with the help of an attractive young Egyptologist who has a few secrets of his own.

The Pain

In addition to some historical inaccuracies and a suspiciously magical performance from an inanimate object (when the book’s world is a non-magical one), the book suffers from a slow start (I’m already seeing a YARR trend here  . . . starting the book with the heroine complaining about being fit for a gown) and doesn’t really get rolling until the first murder happens. But isn’t that par for the course in mysteries? Also, I knew who the villain was from the beginning, and I’m Ms. Oblivious. Whoops. Good thing this blog isn’t called “Show Me The Mystery”.

The Payoff

The hero isn’t a Duke! Or a Marquis, or an Earl, or even a Sir. Shocking, I know. As a museum assistant, aspiring Egyptologist Caedmon is decidedly below Agnes’s rank socially, but even if he’s a bit rough, he’s also capable and clever–and unlike most Regency Romance heroes, he hasn’t been under half the skirts in London. The romance isn’t all that strong, so I couldn’t bump this up to a four arrow. Still, Agnes and Caedmon are cute together, and combined with an ending I enjoyed (even if it was a *mite* improbable), I think I can safely say this one is a three-arrow grinner.
Rating:

3 out of 5 arrows

Back in the Saddle after Break

I took a bit of an Easter break the last week–I’m realizing now that I should have announced it beforehand, but since it just kind of happened, and then went longer than I expected, here I am.

I’m queuing up some new shows, movies, and books I want to cover in my Monday Review space, but I would love to get some suggestions for something else I should watch/read.

On a particularly brief note, the original movie version of Fever Pitch (1997, staring Colin Firth and talking about soccer instead of baseball) is on Netflix now.

I watched it.

It had some okay observations on the nature of sports fan-dom and relationships in general, but it was not romantic in the least. If I did a full review for SMTR, it would get a one-arrow.

TV Show Review: Mary Stayed Out All Night (2010)

Mary Stayed Out All Night
TV Show (16 episodes, complete and available free on Hulu.com)
Korean romantic comedy starring Jang Geun Suk and Moon Geun Young.

When I last reviewed a Korean drama, I complained about the “scheming mean girl rival” and “go abroad at the end to provide more complications” plot devices used so frequently in Korean and Japanese dramas. The very next show I watched uses neither! Let’s hear it for Mary Stayed Out All Night.

The Premise

Wi Ma Ri (Mary, as everyone calls her) is cheerful, practical, and accustomed to having to dodge the loan sharks who are always hounding her dad for money. But when her dad strikes up a deal with his wealthy childhood friend to marry her to his friend’s son, Mary knows she’ll have to do something drastic to avoid marriage with a complete stranger–like pretend to marry the handsome rock singer she met last night.

The Pain

I feel like Mary Stayed Out All Night takes quite awhile to hit its stride, which might make it hard for some people to get into the story. Preposterous situations abound, but that’s kind of par for the course in these dramas. Ultimately, male romantic lead Kang Mu Gyul isn’t as hilarious as that actor’s character in You’re Beautiful, so it took me awhile to warm up to him and appreciate the more subtle layers in his personality.

The Payoff

A GREAT kiss between the two leads. Asian dramas can be rather hit-or-miss when it comes to realistic kisses, but when Wi Mary and Kang Mu Gyul finally kiss for real, it’s fantastic. I truly enjoyed some of the music in this show, most of all Kang Mu Gyul’s marquee rock song “My Bus.” The story is more emotionally mature as well, especially since the beautiful actress who struggles with her jealousy over the relationship developing between her ex-boyfriend Kang Mu Gyul and Mary actually seems like a real person. Sometimes she succumbs to her bitterness, but more often she rises above it–making her one of the few romantic rival characters I actually admire.

Rating: 

4 out of 5 arrows

Movie Review: No Strings Attached (2011)

No Strings Attached
Movie (108 minutes, R)
Starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher

Two “friends have casual sex and–oops–fall in love” rom-coms came out in 2011, but unfortunately, the more highly regarded one (Friends with Benefits starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake) is not available on Netfix’s streaming service. So how does the other one stack up?

The Premise

Adam and Emma (Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman) have known each other off and on for years when they finally reunite as adults. Adam is still stinging from discovering his ex-girlfriend is now dating his father, and as a full-time resident at an area hospital, Emma has no time, no interest, and no faith in romantic relationships. They decide to distract themselves with casual sex, laying a number of ground rules to keep them from becoming emotionally involved. We all know that won’t last, so the primary entertainment is in seeing how they go from “friends with benefits” to a real couple.

The Pain

This film is unnecessarily raunchy in places. There’s no real nudity, so the R rating rests solely on the dialogue and one rather awkward sex scene. The funniest parts were not even the crude ones. On a larger scale however, the movie fails to really show why Emma is so deathly afraid of emotional intimacy. She keeps turning away from what seems to be a no-brainer relationship with the wonderful Adam, and simply saying her parents divorce fifteen years ago turned her off of love doesn’t cut it. Maybe it turned her off marriage…but dating, too?

The Payoff

Some of the dialogue is fun, and it’s hard not to love Adam’s character. Especially the way he throws himself in headfirst, refusing to let uncertainty rule his decisions the way Emma’s fear paralyzes her. The romance between them works–barely, but it works.

Rating:

3 out of 5 arrows

Book Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel
 By Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Many modern adventure stories owe a severe debt of gratitude to Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel. Blackadder has parodied the character. Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation novels function on the assumption that not only was the old Scarlet P a real person, he eventually retired and his flower-named pupils continued spying for England. I love both Blackadder and the Pink Carnation, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

The Premise

To imitate the book’s language…
It’s 1792. The Reign of Terror has Paris in its grip, and the guillotine drinks deep of France’s noble blood. A league of young English gentlemen dash back and forth across the Channel, rescuing French aristocrats from a revolution that has lost its way. Their leader calls himself the Scarlet Pimpernel—he plots every move and slips like a wraith through the French authorities’ fingers.

Now the French government has their best agent on his tail. He intends to blackmail Lady Marguerite Blakeney into helping him unmask the Pimpernel. If she doesn’t, he’ll have her beloved brother killed. Marguerite moves in the highest English circles thanks to her fabulously wealthy, incomparably stupid husband, Sir Percy Blakeney, but even she doesn’t know the secret that makes her part in betraying the Scarlet Pimpernel so awful: she’s married to him.

The Pain

Although I love the fact that Marguerite is a strong, active heroine who tells almost the entire story from her point of view, the overwrought palpitations of her heart will probably be off-putting for anyone with a low threshold for melodrama. That being said, the book is more than a century old and it gives me a happy ending, so I throw it a bone.

The Payoff

Percy, Percy, Percy . . .  you care for nothing, yet you watch your wife with incredible longing. You make the world think you’re an impeccably dressed buffoon—all so you can save innocent people from the barbarism of the guillotine. You laugh like an idiot, plot like a genius, and love like a starving man. You are worthy of Marguerite’s love, and you make the novel. Bravo.

Rating:

4 out of 5 arrows

Miniseries Review: The Moth (1997)

The Moth (1997)
BBC Miniseries, 152 minutes (3 fifty minute episodes)

based on the novel by Catherine Cookson

Have Downton Abbey withdrawal? A bunch of BBC miniseries by Catherine Cookson appeared on Netflix recently, and since I’m an absolute sucker for costume drama, I went trawling the web for some tips on which one to try. By all accounts, The Moth (set in 1913, Northumbria, England) got the highest marks, and away I went.

The Premise

When his father dies, carpenter Robert Bradley (Jack Davenport) takes a job offer from his uncle, a furniture maker in rural England. But Robert’s handsome face and charming ways soon land him in hot water with his uncle’s family. Wrongfully accused of getting his cousin pregnant, Robert leaves the family and takes the only job he can get: an odd-job servant position on the local landowner’s estate. There, he strikes up a friendship with ‘The Moth’—the gentry family’s wandering, childlike daughter—and engages in a war of longing looks with the girl’s older sister, Sarah (Juliet Aubray).

The Pain

Multiple subplots get lost in forgotten-ville, and the production values are not the greatest. Don’t go into this expecting Downton-caliber writing, sets, or acting, and you should be pleasantly entertained.

The Payoff

Get ready for a dose of delicious ‘Brits in love’ restraint, complete with stolen glances, and a steamy forbidden kiss that lands this one solidly in three arrow territory.

By the way, once you’ve watched the miniseries, treat yourself to reading this hilarious screen-cap rehashing by someone far more British, and far more witty than I. Bairnsketballs indeed.

3 out of 5 arrows

Book Review: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride
S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure
By William Goldman

You’ve seen the movie, oh, about a thousand times, so reading the book seems pointless. Do it anyway.

The Premise

This is like trying to write the premise of Star Wars. True love, Buttercup and Westley, Prince Humperdink, the Cliffs of Insanity, the man in black, Fezzik the Giant, Inigo Montoya, “Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line!” “As you wish!”, Rodents of Unusual Size, the Fire Swamp, Miracle Max, the six-fingered man, the Dread Pirate Roberts, and happily ever after. Imagine watching the movie, but getting more of it, because the experience of reading the book is just like watching the movie—complete with asides by the author, who claims to have first heard the story as a little boy.

The Pain

I wouldn’t go so far as saying the book is better than the movie. There are some jokes that work much better as visuals, but where those fall flat, Goldman has plenty more zingers that just never made the cut to the screen. You could say the pace is not as tight because the author takes the time to go back and give Fezzik’s story, and Inigo’s story, as well as more details behind the other characters. Anyone who wants to be a novelist or a screenwriter should read this book because you can clearly see what parts Goldman cut (he adapted it for the screenplay as well) and why, and how it was tightened, and how they made some scenes work when they had to cut lots of expository information to fit it all into the movie. Both the book and the movie work brilliantly, so this, my friends, is how it’s done.

The Payoff

I used to scoff at the idea of having a favorite book—there are so many I love!—but after reading The Princess Bride, this is officially my favorite book. There’s more of Westley and Buttercup’s romance in the book than there was in the movie (not a lot more, but a little!). I read slowly, savoring every turn of phrase because I was having too much fun experiencing it for the first time. The adventure is both old and new. It has everything, and it’s told in such a delightfully satiric and warm-hearted vein that I know I’ll want to read it again. And again. And probably read it to my children one day.

Rating:

5 out of 5 arrows

TV Show Review: You’re Beautiful (2009)

You’re Beautiful
TV Show (16 episodes, complete and available free on Hulu.com)
Korean romantic comedy starring Jang Geun Suk and Park Shin Hye.

You know you’ve always wanted to see a show about a nun-in-training who has to impersonate her twin brother and join a Korean boy band. Man, I love these shows.

The Premise

Go Mi Nyo (family name Go, personal name Mi Nyo) is a sister-in-training at the convent that’s been her home for most of her life. She hasn’t seen her twin brother Go Mi Nam in years when a spastic talent manager bursts into her life, saying her brother has finally achieved his dream of joining a boy band. Unfortunately, for (spectacularly) contrived reasons, he can’t perform in their concert and is about to forfeit his contract unless Mi Nyo pretends to be him. This eventually entails living with three guys for the better part of two months. You see where this is going.

The Pain

Okay, more obvious problems notwithstanding (like how the actress who plays Mi Nyo/Mi Nam is adorable and no one would ever mistake her for a boy) I wish Korean dramas wouldn’t rely so heavily on the scheming hell-bitch motif to draw out the romantic tension between the hero and heroine. And why…why do they always use the “oh no, I might have to go Somewhere Impossibly Far Away for Years” plot device?” I’m on a mission now to find a k-drama without it.

The Payoff

Park Shin Hye is (as I said above) adorable, which is really saying something when you consider she’s playing the idiot/klutz heroine type, a.k.a. Too Stupid To Live. At least Mi Nyo’s convent background explains her naivety, and she has such a big warm heart, I couldn’t hate her. As for Jang Geun Suk, his Tae Kyung is a master class in combining unappealing quirks to make an irresistible hero. He’s a moody rockstar germaphobe with night blindness, bad hair, and the lonely soul of a poet. His first smile is worth the wait.

And their romance makes me a grinning fool.

Rating: 

4 out of 5 arrows

Movie Review: Possession (2002)

Possession
Movie (102 minutes, PG-13)
Based on the A. S. Byatt novel of the same name.
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart,
Jeremy Northam, and Jennifer Ehle

So I waded into the wilds of Netflix last night, intent on finding a good romance to share on this blog. Unfortunately, I failed miserably. Possession isn’t a bad movie per se, it’s just a bad romance.

The Premise

American research assistant Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart) toils in the dusty backrooms of British libraries and museums until he finds a never-before-discovered love letter from a famous (fictional) Victorian poet named Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam). He soon discovers that Ash—famed for his fidelity to his wife—was actually having an affair with another poet, Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle, of 1995’s Pride & Prejudice). He enlists the help of fellow scholar Maud Bailey (Gwyenth Paltrow) to uncover the whole story of their affair. The movie flows seamlessly between the modern world and 1850’s England.

The Pain

Notice how I don’t mention much of a romance between Paltrow and Eckhart’s characters. That’s because there isn’t really one. They look at each other with awkward attraction, their kiss is kind of out of the blue, and nothing between the two leads me to believe that this attraction between them will last much beyond the inevitable publication of their findings. The scenes of passion and longing between the two Victorian poets resonates with far more authenticity, but again, since I don’t find affairs romantic, that didn’t really float for me either.

The Payoff

The poets’ words—shared while the modern characters read their letters and the poets think them—are quite beautiful and sound authentic to the era. I’m enough of a literary nerd that I enjoyed the process of tracking down these lost letters and the way the characters extrapolate clues from the diaries of people around Ash & LaMotte. Calling this a romantic thriller is a stretch on both fronts, but it’s my understanding that the book succeeds better on both counts.

Rating:

2 out of 5 arrows

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