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Archive for the tag “TV”

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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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

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

TV Show Review: Once Upon a Time (2011-present)

Once Upon a Time
TV Show (11 episodes to date)
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Jared S. Gilmore and Robert Carlyle.

I wrote a full-length review of ABC’s Once Upon a Time pilot episode back in October, so if you’re looking for more in-depth analysis of the show itself, click here. Of course, that was based only on the first episode, and since then, I feel the show has gotten even better. The romance, however, is not this modern fairy tale’s strongest suit.

The Premise

When Snow White and her Prince Charming win their happily ever after, the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla, below) is very put out. She curses all the fairy tale characters, banishing them to a terrible place where all their happy endings are ruined—a small town in modern-day Maine. It has been more than twenty years since her coup, yet time does not pass in Storybrooke, and none of the characters remember who they were. Instead, they think they’re normal people. A teacher. A sheriff. A psychiatrist. Even Ms. Evil Queen herself comes to Storybrooke to rein over her minions as Mayor For Life. But just like rules, curses are made to be broken.

The Pain

Each episode features a real-world storyline and flashbacks to what those featured characters did in their past lives as fairy tales. I enjoy the format, but it can be confusing when trying to sort out what parallels between the two worlds are meaningful, and what is just there for the sake of a good story. Also, the campy, Bob Mackie-esque costumes favored by the evil queens/witches/fairies in the flashbacks are either awesome (my opinion) or embarrassing (entirely valid opinion held by many other people). Finally, I’m not convinced yet that the romances in the show tug the heartstrings enough to give this one a four or five arrow rating, as much as I enjoy the show itself. Lately, the romance between Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) and Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) has begun to feel like an affair, and I never find cheating romantic.

The Payoff

I’m sure the executive producers (Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, writers of Lost) have many more peaks and valleys in store for viewers over the course of however-many seasons, but for Once Upon a Time they have professed a dedication to telling a good story instead of always going for Twist Value. The acting is pretty good, the costumes are memorable, and any time you get to see dry, modern wit share the screen with daring deeds and princes on horseback is just fine in my book.

Rating: 

3 out of 5 arrows

New episodes air Sundays at 8/7 c on ABC

TV Show Review: Farscape (1999-2004)

Farscape
TV Show (4 seasons, plus a 3 hour miniseries to wrap it all up)
Starring Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Virginia Hey, Anthony Simcoe, Gigi Edgley, Wayne Pygram, and the Jim Henson Creature Shop)

For anyone who looks back to the days of the original Star Wars with longing–swashbuckling adventure, quotable dialogue, and a crackling romance among the stars–please do yourself a favor and check out Farscape. There’s a wonderful inventiveness about this series that takes all our jaded ideas about space stories and throws them out the air lock. Science fiction need not be relentlessly depressing to be compelling (hear that Battlestar Galactica?). Bring on Harvey!

The Premise

American astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) gets sucked through a wormhole and shot into really, really deep space. A shipful of escaped convicts captures him, but before long, they decide he won’t be much help in their mission to clear their names. As intelligent, funny, and attractive as Crichton might be to the rest of us, his shipmates decide humans must be a hopelessly substandard species. No one shares that opinion more than Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), the hard-as-nails warrior chick from a genetically engineered species. She’s their enemy until her own people brand her as irreversibly contaminated by contact with the convicts. With Crichton grappling with the unimagined wonders around him, and Aeryn despising him and everyone else on board Moya (think giant, space-going whale-like creature with convenient accommodations for passengers), the adventure begins.

The Pain

Although the entire series benefits from its overarching storyline, there are a few random episodes that do nothing to forward the story, and are even a little boring. Also, bear with the antagonist in the first few episodes–a far, far better villain shows up at the end of season one. Scorpius (Wayne Pygram) is on par with Darth Vader–and actually, he’s better.


The Payoff

Chemistry: John and Aeryn has it. Their roller-coaster romance takes a nice long time developing (thanks to Aeryn’s genetic programming to avoid love at all costs), suffers some soap-operaish melodrama halfway through Season 3 and early in Season 4, but gets back on track in plenty of time to finish strong. Cheer, laugh, skip a heartbeat...it’s all fair game for this fearless series.

Rating:

5 out of 5 arrows

Anime Review: Special A (2008)

Special A
Anime series
(24 episodes with English subtitles)
To watch, go to http://www.watchanimeon.com/anime/special-a/

I wish American television producers would take a cue from their Japanese counterparts when it comes to giving us programs with pre-written, overarching storylines scripted for a set number of seasons. Anyone who endured the amnesiac Battlestar Galactica writers winging their way through 4+ seasons of “what if we did THIS?” knows the pain of seeing a golden cast and premise ruined by writers with a sandbox complex. When I want to watch a TV show with a satisfying beginning, middle, and end, I turn to anime. And when it comes to romance anime, Special A isn’t a bad way to go.

The Premise
Overachieving high school student Hikari dreams of beating her number one rival: Kei, the boy who’s beaten her at everything she’s tried since they were kids. Both Kei and Hikari belong to the “Special A” class, a group made up of the seven best students in their high school (other classes are referred to as A, B, C, etc). Through the Special A’s hijinks and misadventures, Hikari is so busy trying to out-smart, out-race, out-wrestle the unbeatable Kei that she doesn’t see the most important thing: Kei loves her.

The Pain
Any one who’s watched shojo anime knows what to expect: meddling adults, naive heroine, over-the-top explosions, exaggerated reactions and implausible secrets…at least some of it is funny.

The Payoff
This series has charming characters and some truly beautiful artwork. Hikari may not know a thing about love, but she’s pretty kickass otherwise, and it isn’t hard to see why Kei loves her. As for that beginning, middle, and end I mentioned earlier? All right here.

Rating:

3 out of 5 arrows

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