Sunday, March 29, 2009

Little Bit on Emperor of the Sea

I watched Emperor of the Sea two years ago now, but thanks to a recent re-run, there has been renewed interest in my very first Korean Drama – the one I had so desperately wanted to discuss with someone, but no one shared my fever.

I like my endings happy and it certainly would have been more satisfying if that little pig Yang Kim would have been gotten cut to pieces, and Jang Bogo had grown old with his wife and children, and if Jung Hwa had finally opened her heart to a redeemed Yeom Moon and given his life the meaning he lacked. As a team, Yeom Moon and Jang Bogo would have done great things for the world.

I found that of the little I know about the history of Jang BoGo was that he got a little too involved in politics and Yeom Moon did kill him. So it would seem that the writers were trying to keep that part of the story real. This isn't Hollywood and this tale has all the markings of a Greek tragedy. The bad guys won. Well, sometimes they do. But can we find any positive message in the way our beloved characters died in the end?

I want to tackle this from a little different perspective. BoGo was stubborn to a fault – he expressed that to Yeom at one point. Was he doing the right thing? He wasn't going to compromise himself. It could be said that that unrelenting "morality" was going to bring war upon countless thousands of people. There was going to be blood and a lot of innocent people were going to die. I suppose that in the end, he recognized the risk, his people agreed with him and they were all willing to die rather than live in a world where corrupt nobles bought and sold them like chattel.

Yeom Moon wanted to spare everyone all the bloodshed. I don't think that's a less noble position. He walked into the lions den in order to change BoGo's mind. Just bend this little bit – we can save people – you and your family can still live. You can do more good things if you only live. Brilliant as well, Yeom discerned BoGo's reaction and was prepared for that. He warned BoGo, "If you don't climb off this wall, I'm going to have to kill you." Not particularly admirable to you and me and it tore him up because I think he so loved and admired BoGo. He thought he was doing the right thing though, and he did it.

Yeom did have one guiding principle in his life. His love for Jung-Hwa. He was unable to be with other women because of her, he defied Master Lee because of her and risked his life saving her life countless times. His love of her was the principle that he couldn't compromise. And I think he DID redeem himself in the end – he saved Jung-Hwa, but he also saved BoGo's child.

So maybe more the message is, even if you lose, you win. BoGo and all the inhabitants of Cheon-Hae were slain – but for a brief shining period of time, they lived as they wanted to live. Free and equal. They died for that ideal. Yeom Moon died for his ideal too. He died saving Jung-Hwa and was finally released from his life of pain. Beautiful, conflicted and tragic - he achieved his long sought peace in death. In the end, the good guy didn't win. He doesn't always win in real life either. But I'd like to think that the takeaway is - be the good guy, even if you have to die doing it. There's honor in that.

It's a testament to the writers and the actors of the series that we cared so much about these characters. We loved them and wanted them to win. We grieved when they were gone. The chemistry between Choi Soo-Jong and Song Il Guk was incredible. Song Il Guk is a superb actor – you could feel all the conflict without him saying a word. You pulled for Yeom Moon, you hated Jung Hwa for not loving him, and you wanted so much for Yeom and BoGo to be friends. I don't know how many actors could have pulled that off. Song Il Guk is the one that kept me coming back night after night. Very powerful.

I really hated the ending too – I wanted my Hollywood ending. But the story of these historical characters didn’t have a happy ending either. Since I didn't get my happily ever after, in order for me to make sense of the series I needed to at least come up with some reasons why it was redeeming in the end. I spent countless hours watching it – I had to justify it somehow.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Blurry Trees

A little foggy this morning in Falls Church, Virginia but the sun is shining and burning it off.  Got an early start - I walked Buddy before the birds were even up, went to mass and came right to the office.  Always makes the commute lighter in the Land of Traffic.  Anyway, I grab my Starbucks tall half caff from the kitchen to to take to my office space.  There is a wall of windows right in frofoggy treesnt of me (I always thought windows were overrated in an office setting.  I'm usually too busy to look up or out, but I've enjoyed these, since the view is all trees).  The dawn is up and shining diffused that wonderful golden light through the fog.  The trees, all black and blurry  through the fog, are lacy in a creepy and beautiful Tim Burton way.  I watch the blur burn off and the trees become more defined, with the glitter of last night's rain starting to sparkle on the branches.  The sun gets brighter and brighter and more branches sparkle.  

I think I love early spring mornings nearly as much as late summer dusk. A beautiful way to start a morning.  Gonna be a good day.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pride; A J-drama Review

Too Much Love Will Kill You - Queen

Watched Pride, a 2004 Japanese Drama a few days and enjoyed it immensely. It’s the story of a Japanese Hockey player.

Ponder Angst – EXCELLENT! Not once in eleven episodes did I want to stick a samurai sword in my gut, or breathe in the ocean - 15 points.

Love “ – “ Angles – Mostly a straight and lovely horizontal line, but I have to say a triangle, since Architect comes back demanding what is his – Aki. At 4 points an angle, that’s 12 points.

Sizzle – Mmmmmmm, we sizzled like a Benihana hibachi – takes a while for Halu and Aki to give in to their attraction, but the hot looks and the chemistry of the characters - yummy – 20 points.

Physical Intimacy – Oh my did we have physical intimacy. This was not Korean Drama by any means. 20.

Tragic Heartwrenching Disease and/or Character Death from Same – Halu’s coach Anzai dies of what I think is cirrhosis of the liver – because he’s a drunk. Personally, I think the glimmer we get of him is obsessive and twisted, but cirrhosis is as good as constipation in my book -10 Points.

Tazza Factor – I enjoyed the series and looked forward to each episode. 10 points.

Bin-Sunah Factor – Our leads had a lot of chemistry and they acted really well. Slightly less sparkle than our beloved Bin-Sunah. 10 points.

Going to the Beach – No suicide attempts that I remember particularly. 0 points in the bonus round.

97 points for Pride! Quite good – I enjoyed this series very much and it is highly recommended. Start watching it for the hot goalie, stick around for the awesome soundtrack by Queen and the incomparable Freddie Mercury, finish it up with the lovely romance.

Monday, March 23, 2009

JDrama; Pride

i was born to love you - queen

I have watched a little Cantonese Drama, and I’ve taken a peek at Mandarin Drama. I’ve even watched a few Bollywood movies. Recently, I took my first walk down the Japanese Drama path and I’ll tell you, it was lovely.

pridePride debuted in Japan in 2004. Five years ago, I still lived in upstate NY, I was still in my 30s and if you told me then that today I’d be watching a television series about Japanese hockey, I’d have nodded my head and backed up slightly, silently vowing to avoid you for the rest of your life.

Time brings change.

So yeah, anyway, Pride is about the Blue Scorpions and the boys who comprise the team. Our proud hero is Halu Satonaka played wonderfully by Takuya Kimura. His romantic interest is the gentle Aki Murase, also well played by Yuko Takeuchi.

Halu is the Captain of the Blue Scorpions. Deeply affected after having been abandoned by his mother when he was in kindergarten, Halu has walled up his heart. Romantic relationships are “ a game” to him, and the game of hockey is his love – a mistress to whom he is devoted. Driven and gifted, he barely tolerates those who do not push themselves to exhaustion for her.

Aki is a gentle young woman who works for the same corporation that owns the Blue Scorpions. Years ago, she fell in love with an architect who left for New York to study. He promised to return and asked her to wait, which she does devotedly, pushing through her suspicion that Architect may never come back. Every Sunday for two years, she returns to the bridge Architecht designed and waits for him to return.

As our show begins, our protagonists meet in a local hang out. Halu and his friends make bets on which women they will bed. Guys will be guys will be guys. Girls are slightly more complex. Girl 1 just wants to live life now and get herself a hot athlete. Girl 2 grew up poor and wants to hook up with a guy so rich he spits nickels and Girl 3…is Aki.

Girl 1 winds up with the rich playboy hockey boy, Girl 2 winds up with the desperately poor goalie (his name is Yamato Hotta, and baby, he’s Hotta) and Aki winds up with the Captain of the Team -Ice in His Veins - Wunderkind of the Puck - Halu Satonaka.

Halu doesn’t really want a girlfriend – he’s devoted to hockey and Aki is still telling herself (and anyone who will listen) that she’s in love with her absent Architect. Our main characters enter into a “contract relationship”. (Parenthetically, I’d like one of my Asian readers to explain this concept to me. I’ve seen this in countless Korean Dramas and then Halu tells Aki, “That’s how they do it in New York.” No. No Halu, they don’t. I lived in New York for 40 years and I’ve never had a contract relationship and none of my friends ever had a contract relationship and no television show I watched growing up outlined the details of the New York contract relationship. So I need a little help.)

pride2 Anyway, this arrangement seems to work for the two of them; after a frank discussion, Halu tells Aki that love is a game for the “iceman”, and Aki admits that she is devotedly waiting for Architect. Of course, that’s precisely the sort of stoic compulsive behavior that touches Halu – he thinks a good woman is one who loves single-mindedly – unlike all the other women in his life.

But the title and what I think is supposed to be the overarching theme of the play is PRIDE. In case you weren’t sure, we are reminded constantly:

"He's got too much pride. It’s as high as Mount Everest.”

“You need to get revenge, its a matter of pride.”

“Halu, you are faster and stronger. Don't lose to anyone, don't bow to anyone. That's what hockey is. The pride of an iceman.”

“The only difference between humans and animals is that humans have pride.”

“I wont' be defeated by loneliness, that is my pride.”

These quotes were all from the first episode. I stopped noting after that.

See, I didn’t think the series was about Pride at all, so maybe I missed something. I thought it was more about forgiveness, enduring love, and time bringing change. Halu gets an opportunity to forgive his yeastly slattern of a mother and others in his life so that he heals enough to put his ice trawling gift into perspective and enter into a healthy relationship with Aki. Aki over time recognizes her strength and her character and understands what love really means.

Overall, this eleven episode series was lovely. I haven’t watched enough j-drama to make a truly informed opinion, but Takuya Kimura reminded me of Jang Hyuk. I was never taken out of Halu’s character for a moment – his acting seemed effortless and casual – to me, a mark of a gifted artist. Indeed, most of the performances were nicely done.

A delightful side car to the whole series was the sound track, which was positively immersed by one of my favorite groups of all time, Queen. “I Was Born to Love You” opened every episode and some of my favorite songs were infused into the program; “We Are the Champions”, “Fat Bottomed Girls”, “Too Much Love Will Kill You”, “Take a Little Piece of My Heart”, “Find Me Somebody to Love” – simply simply wonderful, and for me, a nice backdrop to a very good show.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Irish Rovers; The Unicorn Song

selfdrive_st_patrick OK, OK, OK, it’s 8:24 pm on St. Patty’s Day. I’m a little late, but not TOO late. And so you know, I’m violating several rules this evening. Part of my Lenten sacrifice has been to stay off the computer after 8pm in the evening. Yeah, I already said it was 8:24. But then, I’ve been out, I’ve had a few beers (NOT green, NOT Guinness, but beer, and dark.)

They’d play this song on WGY every year on St. Patrick’s Day. My Dad would sing the song with us as he drove us down to the bus. It made him happy, it made us happy. And it’s making me happy to listen to it now and to post it.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. God Bless you all. Go kill a snake. I bring you the Irish Rovers. Enjoy.

The Unicorn Song - Irish Rovers

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Goong (Princess Hours) : Review


Goong, or "Princess Hours” was a madly popular series in 2006.  I’m guessing that the targeted demographic was 13 – 17 year old Korean girls.  They probably loved it.

Ponder Angst – Not too bad, not too bad.  The art of the backward ponder was done well in this series.  I wasn’t perpetually ffwing.  20 points.

Love “ – “ Angles – A square.  Crown Prince loves Chae Gyeung, Chae Gyeung loves Crown Prince.  Yul loves Chae Gyeung with the heat of 2.5 million stars and the Ballerina Yesoya loves the Crown Prince, who used to love her but doesn’t anymore.  20 points.

Sizzle – You know, the boys in this series played achy well.  Joo Ji Hoon, played the part of immature entitled can’t express his emotions well and Kim Jong Hoon’s affection for Chae Gyeung was touching, until it became selfish.  I’m certain the teenagers watching this series went berserk.  The overall chemistry kept me coming back so I’ll give it a 10.

Physical Intimacy – The kissing scenes were sweet.  And due to some nausea at the end we know one couple has conceived.  10.

Tragic Heartwrenching Disease and/or Character Death from Same – Dad the King has some kind of wellness issue that keeps him from reading.  I assumed it was some sort of aneurism potential, though it wasn’t clear to me.  Shame he didn’t die…might have made the character more likeable.  Jerk.  0 Points.

Tazza Factor – I was not spellbound by this series, though I did watch an episode or 2 a day.  But this is about my level of excitement for a series and since it doesn’t measure up to Tazza - 0 points.

Bin-Sunah Factor – This metric is about the chemistry between the lead couple, a la Kim Sun Ah and Hyun Bin.  Uhhhhhmmm, they were OK, I liked The Prince and The Poor Girl when they were on screen together, so I’ll give this a 5.

Going to the Beach – Ballerina Yesoya took a bunch of pills in a bid for attention and Hose Bag Yul’s Mom attempted suicide a few times in the series.  While not technically at the beach, she did try to kill herself in her tub, so there’s water.  15 points in the bonus round.

So Goong gets 80 points.  Not bad.  Cute.  I was sufficiently entertained as I watched it.  You’ll really like it if you’re a kid.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Goong (Princess Hours); Thoughts

“If I’m not more careful I might let a pigeon poke at a falcons heart.” – Hose Bag Mom of Royal Prince Yul.

That was just a great line.

princesshours This series seemed wildly popular (you don’t get 2000 pages on a soompi forum that easily), and I’ve considered watching it for a while.  Since I stopped watching Terroir and I’m waiting for additional episodes of When it’s at Night to become available, I decided to give this a try.  It’s popularity recommended itself to me.

goong1 Princess Hours is an 21st century alternate reality story of a Korean monarchy (there hasn’t been one since the Japanese took over back in the earlier part of the 20th century and it never came back)  and Shin Chae Gyeong (played sweetly by Yoon Eun Hye) – commoner.  Poor Girl.  SCG is a high school girl (she’s 19 – high school must last longer in Korea) attending a private institution.  She wants to be a fashion designer and has the clichéd k-drama young poor girl spunk.  Against her will, she is betrothed to…

Crown Prince Yi Shin (Joo Ji Hoon).  The Crown Prince isn’t too happy goong02 about all this.  See, Dad the King is ill, more than likely dying, and it is decided that the prince should marry, perpetuate the species, all that good stuff.  Kicker is, Crown Prince is in love with Yesoya (Song Ji Hyo).  Sorry, she has another name, but she played Yesoya in Jumong, so she is Forever Yesoya in my mind.  Yesoya is a ballerina with a toe shoe and a dream who doesn’t want to be smothered inside the castle, so she rejects the Prince. 

After the marriage, it is decided that since CG and Prince are under age, (yes, much stricter laws) that they should not engage in the conjugal act.  This suits our couple since they, in another cliché, can’t stand each other.

goong3 Enter Yi Yul (Kim Jeong Hoon).  Yul is Crown Prince Shin’s cousin.  He was originally the Crown Prince, but he and his mother were banished from the castle.  See, her husband, the first crown prince died and the second in line assumed the title.  Apparently, Yul and his Mom were banished because by 21st Century Alternative Reality Law, only one Crown Prince could live in the castle at a time.  Personally, I think it’s because Yul’s Mom was bangin’ her brother in law (the current King).  Yeah, like any good kdrama with a palace backdrop, it gets pretty complex, but anyway, they get booted out.

As coincidence would have it (every polite self-respecting k-drama always has the karma of evil coincidence) EVERYONE is going to the same high school.  And they are all 19. 

The Prince and the Poor Girl get married.  Poor girl eventually falls in love with her husband the prince.  Prince still has feelings for Yesoya
Ballerina.  Yesoya Ballerina regrets her decision not to marry the Prince and wants him back.  Yul falls in love with Poor Girl, wants her, wants his god-given position as Crown Prince back and wants to bring back Korean Cultural treasures back to their homeland. 

On the side, we got Queen Gramma, who is just as sweet as can be – she loves everyone in her family and mourns the fact that they aren’t all in the same castle.  The King, is a rigid, pedantic son of a b*tch who is all holier than thou, which we realize is a cover for his lurid affair with the hose bag of a sister in law, Yul’s Mom.  Yul’s Mom is a psychotic freak show who wants her son to sit on the throne and wants back in the castle and doesn’t care how she gets it.  We have the uber-b*tchy frigid queen (couldn’t stand her) who only wants her son Yi Shin to sit on the throne (it’s always the mothers who want their boys to be king.  The boys never seem to care a whole lot until their mom’s twist their little bellies up).  Then there is Prince’s older sister, sweet and gentle, the only voice of reason in that castle of The Karma of Evil Coincidence. 

It’s pretty busy.

The series was too young for me.  I’ve come to prefer characters that are a little more adult, since I am a little more adult.  But for all the immaturity in the characters I enjoyed the series overall.  The character development was rather slow, but the scenes with Poor Girl and the Prince getting to know each other, the palace attempt to “make a baby crown prince”, and their burgeoning attraction was sweet.  I really liked Yul for a while and felt badly that he suffered so for his unrequited love. 

I loved the Queen Gramma.  Asian cultures treasure the older members of their family and she was a delight.  She just loved everyone and her family came first.  She was always doling out good advice: “You have to go through everything you should at your age in order to get old properly.  The most important thing is not the fact that you made a mistake, but that you realize your mistakes and gain courage to fix your mistakes.” She was lovely.

I did not like Crown Prince’s Mom.  I couldn’t stand the obsessive love of Yesoya Ballerina toward Crown Prince Shin.  Move on already.  I up loathing Mr. “If I hadn’t been kicked out of the palace wrongly, I would have been the one to marry poor girl” Yul.  Shuuuut up.  Geeeeet over your bad self.  I really couldn’t stand the hose bag Yul Mom – Queen of Palace Machinations. But I reserve all my bitterness toward that Faithless Ass Hat King who favored the son of the hose bag, simply because she was the hose bag.  That rigid, condescending nasty waste of a man constantly placed the blame where it didn’t belong, railing all the while about shaming the monarchy and the family and blah blah blah blah blah.  Just stroke out already.

I think the eventual moral of the piece was that The Karma of Evil Coincidence persists until someone has the courage to break it.  The Hose bag and King Fling-with-the-in-laws set the bad karma in motion creating the the desperate unrequited love that Hose Bag’s son Yul felt for in law.  So Yul was punished for the disordered affection that occurred 14 years before.  He could have continued on the path, but then he decided to do the right thing and break the cycle of the evil karma.  He walked away and let our protagonists be happy and so he could start his life clean.  “Sins should be written in sand.  Forgiveness should be written in stone.”

The Prince and The Poor Girl.  It seems that k-drama writers think the more emotionally abusive they can make the guy, the more touching it is when he melts with love.  And the more perky they can make the girl, she will have a Cinderella ending. The Prince was nasty.  Even after he declared his love for The Poor Girl, he was cold and shut her out.  To be fair, Poor Girl didn’t manage the relationship with Yul as she ought to have done, causing a whole lot of confused feelings and pain. 

The message there for our youth – Girls: Persist in submitting to your abusive F-Stick of a boyfriend, he’ll change.  Boys: Treat your women like sh*t.  They aren’t going anywhere.

I enjoyed the angsty moments that Crown Prince Shin exhibited as he began to fall in love with Chae Gyeong.  My yardstick of achy begins with “Full House” – an emotionally abusive young man and perky girl format, at the end of the yardstick – annoying me with it’s immaturity.  The yardstick ends with Coffee Prince – another rich boy perky girl with a lot of angst but the performances were so much better and so the series was more moving. 

This was not a great drama by any means.  Full of cliché.  A typical kdrama cookie cutter series.  But overall, I was entertained.  In that,it was successful.  Oh.  And the bears were cute.

Goong5 goong6

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