Posted tagged ‘kdrama’

Drama Smackdown (Part 3): Iljimae (SBS, 2008) vs. The Return of Iljimae (MBC, 2009)

April 9, 2010

Pretty Boy Wonders: The Iljimae Smackdown!

Part Three

by Ender’s Girl

[Read Part One of Smackdown]
[Read Part Two of Smackdown]

The Plot & Narrative Devices

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Iljimae:

Take away the sageuk setting, cheesy outfits and uber-fanciful swordplay, and you have a typical K-drama outline, supersized and with everything on top: the OTP-since-freakin’-childhood premise, the amnesia, the son swap, the pseudo-incest, the revenge angle. The revenge motive vastly limits the whole story, and so you slog through all 20 episodes of Iljimae running around at night, breaking into mansions to find The!Sword!With!Funny!Markings!

Even worse is the drama’s confused tone and style. It isn’t just the portrayal of Iljimae that’s bipolar, but this whole drama is too. No, make that — multipolar? Hahaha. My best friend appraised it perfectly: “So the makers of Iljimae threw everything at the wall, hoping it would stick.” What stuck was this unsightly pastiche of weepy K-drama conventions, vaudeville histrionics, juvenile adventure hijinks, and stinky splotches of toilet humor (laxatives, bare butts and primitive contraceptives, oh my!).

Click to read MOAR!!! MOAR!!!

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Drama Smackdown (Part 2): Iljimae (SBS, 2008) vs. The Return of Iljimae (MBC, 2009)

April 8, 2010

Pretty Boy Wonders: The Iljimae Smackdown!

Part Two

by Ender’s Girl

[Read Part One of Smackdown]

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The Leading Lady & the Romance Factor

The thing about these masked adventurer stories is that there’s room for only ONE superhero, just ONE dude who fights crime and does all that manly, maaaanly stuff. Ergo, behind every costumed crusader is — a damsel who needs rescuing! And even if all this ever does is perpetuate evil sexist stereotypes, sometimes all you want the heroine to do is look pretty and scream prettier until the hero saves her. These types of stories, I don’t look for female empowerment and gender sensitivity and all that wet-blankety stuff (lol). Sometimes you just want a Good Escape. And don’t these swashbuckling tales make for great fantasy fodder, after all? I mean, screw real life: Hero need woman! Woman give hero sexy time! Bad guy capture woman! Hero save woman! Woman give hero sexy time! Bad guy capture woman!… And so they go, and so they go, these bold and sensational archetypes for the ages.

Click to read MOAR!!! MOAR!!!

Drama Smackdown (Part 1): Iljimae (SBS, 2008) vs. The Return of Iljimae (MBC, 2009)

April 5, 2010

Pretty Boy Wonders: The Iljimae Smackdown!

Part One

by Ender’s Girl

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It was my best friend who suggested I do a sageuk superhero smackdown — a challenge I’d love to take on, but one that will require a re-watch of Hong Gil Dong and Strongest Chil-woo to jog my memory and thus enable me to be more objective in comparing all four sageuks. But for now it’ll just have to be about these bonny bandits, aka the two Iljimaes.

Iljimae (SBS, 2008)

The Cast:
Lee Jun-ki, Han Hyo-joo, Lee Young-ah, Park Shi-hoo, Lee Moon-shik, Kim Sung-ryung, Lee Won-jong, Ahn Kil-kang, Kim Roe-ha

In a Nutshell:
An insecure king signs the death warrant of one of his closest friends when a prophecy links the nobleman to the monarch’s downfall. The noble’s son, Geom, survives after witnessing his father’s murder and his mother and sister’s enslavement. Though the trauma erases his memory, the boy is rescued and raised by a peasant couple whose own son has been sent to live with the court official Byun Sik, also a party to the conspiracy. As an adult, Geom (now called Yong) vows to avenge the death of his father when his memory suddenly returns, his only clue a specially engraved sword used by the unknown killer. Outwardly he remains the happy-go-lucky village slacker he has been since the childhood trauma, but nights find him transforming into the deadly thief whom the people have dubbed “Iljimae,” for the plum tree paintings he leaves in each house he has robbed.

The Return of Iljimae (MBC, 2009)

The Cast:
Jung Il-woo, Yoon Jin-seo, Kim Min-jong, Jung Hye-young, Lee Kye, Park Geun-hyung, Park Chul-min, Kang Nam-gil, Lee Hyung-woo

In a Nutshell:
Born of a nobleman and a slave girl, Iljimae is taken from his mother and left to die in the icy waters of a creek. In several twists of Fate and Providence, the infant is found by a beggar, rescued by an old monk, and later raised by a wealthy Manchu family. Upon reaching manhood, a revelation about his past spurs Iljimae to leave his adopted homeland for Hanyang in search of his true identity — and the unknown mother who birthed him.

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A Tale of Two Cuties: Iljimae vs. Iljimae

Two impossibly pretty K-heartthrobs. Two sets of smooth, blemish-free cheekbones made for… rappelling. Two rival television networks. One Korean folk hero… with a strange penchant for plum blossoms.

As they say, comparisons are inevitable — hence this Smackdown. So when push comes to shove, which Iljimae version prevails — in terms of narrative flow, character development, production values, and other benchmarks? Which Iljimae portrayal is more convincing? Is it the Man in the Iron Mask, or Ninja Assassin? (Or, in Star Wars terminology, is it Darth Vader Iljimae, or the Return of the Joseon Jedi? heh heh)

Based on the criteria provided below, let the Clashdance — er, Smackdown begin! *gonnnggg!!!* First of three installments.

Click to read MOAR!!! MOAR!!!

Drama Review: Hong Gil Dong (KBS, 2008)

December 14, 2009

Jazzing Up Ye Olde Sageuk

by Ender’s Girl

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The Cast:
Kang Ji-hwan, Sung Yu-ri, Jang Geun-seuk, Choi Ran, Jo Hee-bong, Kim Ri-na

In a Nutshell:
This is a re-imagining of the life of Hong Gil Dong, Korean folk hero: a man who rises from obscurity to liberate his homeland from an evil monarch and help restore the rightful king to the throne — and in so doing, becomes the very stuff of legend.

(SpoilLert: Shockingly benign!!! No spoilers AT ALL!!! Because I am wise and compassionate!!! But mainly because I do not wish to deal with the PAIN by revisiting *certain* parts of the drama! In fact, I’d much rather pretend they never happened at all!!! Yes, yes, that’s it! That must be it! There are NO spoilers, because the “events” in question never happened at all!!!! *maniacal laughter*)

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At first glance, the bare bones of the story are elements of a more traditional period drama: a low-born Hero with a Hidden Destiny! an Evil King! corruption and treachery at the highest echelons of power! secret cabals and shady netherworld dealings! high adventure and derring-do!… But don’t be fooled!!! You realize early on that this ain’t your garden-variety sageuk… How in the world can it be–with the pop-tart dance routines! the snazzy camera shots! the trendy tinted glasses! the blaring house music and heavy metal riffs! the anime-like sound effects and MTV-inspired editing! the hip (???) costumes! and let’s not forget… the FOG MACHINES!!! The opening sequence alone is straight out of some noontime variety show, replete with break-dancing extras, pounding club beats, and, well… uninspired shimmying from Sung Yu-ri, if I may say so (wow, hard to tell she used to be part of a girl band, with her stiff, Vogue-strike-a-pose “dance” moves).

The first act of Hong Gil Dong feels like a light and breezy romp in the park. I immediately took to the rollicking, madcap humor, the witty dialogue, the outrageous, tongue-in-cheek situations, and the assortment of truly nutty characters. In short, I was enjoying myself TREMENDOUSLY. Act One lays the groundwork for the whole story, and primes the viewer for the character-molding domino sequence of events to come in later episodes — by starting out with the kind of man Hong Gil Dong was before his journey from, er, Zero to Hero.

Enter, Ye Olde Wayfarer… Click to read MOAR!!! MOAR!!!

Drama Review: Capital Scandal (KBS, 2007)

November 16, 2009

Not Much Brain, But Plenty of S(e)oul

by Ender’s Girl

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The Cast:
Kang Ji-hwan, Han Ji-min, Ryu Jin, Han Go-eun


In a Nutshell:

A thoughtless wager among friends pits the Capital’s most notorious dandy against its most infamous prude! A gisaeng concealing a deadly past and an even deadlier cause matches wits with a detective harboring (ta-daaa!) a secret identity! This being a K-drama, paths inevitably cross. Sparks inevitably fly. Hearts are won, and then broken. Oh, and yeah, all this is happening while an underground independence movement struggles to overthrow a cruel occupation force through blood, sweat, tears, and all that jazz.

(SpoilLert: Couple of big ‘uns down the bend!!!)

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Well. Love and revolution during the Japanese annexation of Korea? The blurb was interesting enough, and oh boy was I psyched! It didn’t take me long to do the math: Kang Ji-hwan in normal clothes! (yep, paisley vests and satin bowties are NORMAL compared to those horrible Salvation Army cast-offs he wore on Hong Gil Dong) + the jivey dance routines! + the heady romanticism of a period drama! + the danger and suspense while resisting a powerful oppressor! + the general goodwill from fans the (Soompi) world over! = One vastly entertaining period rom-com!!!

I suppose the best way to enjoy Capital Scandal is to NOT take it too seriously. Despite the politically incendiary backdrop of the time (fraught with danger at every turn!!! NOT), it remains just that — a backdrop, a canvas against which Wannie (Kang Ji-hwan) and Yeo-kyung’s (Han Ji-min) love story unfolds… and soars. Forget the countless atrocities committed by the Japanese imperial government against the Joseon people from 1910-1945. Forget the indoctrination of Korean education and history using Japanese revisionist propaganda. Forget the relentless crackdown of the Japanese military on Korean freedom fighters. Forget the suppression of free speech and the rampant violation of human rights. Forget the debasement of an entire people straining under the yoke of a colonial master. None of these come to the fore in this drama.

Instead, what we have is a cartoon… with live actors! The only thing this show has in common with similar-themed movies and dramas is the Liberty!Equality!Fraternity!Death to (insert foreign power of choice)! springboard. Unlike other works touching on the same subject matter, Capital Scandal ditches the somber mood and inherent complexities of such a geopolitically sensitive setting — in favor of oversimplified, feel-good situations and a heavily bowdlerized approach to storytelling. The whole tenor of the drama is as two-dimensional as the cardboard facades and set pieces that serve as the Capital’s cityscape. The Japanese officials are portrayed as either cold-blooded automatons (well, helloooo, Choi Philip, aka The Second Coming of Yonsama!), or indulgent but impotent buffoons (well, helloooo, Dude Who Played Minister Seo on Hong Gil Dong!). Plus, the collaborator cop and subordinate of Ryu Jin (ahhh, Ryu Jin and that ratfink, what a fine pair they make! the Tool and the Stoolie! lol) is likewise shown as a sadistic weasel whose general idea of Being Badass is to perennially scrunch up his face, squint evilly, and snarl threats at his fellow Koreans — while his hair drips with cheap pomade. Puh-leeeze. This facile characterization of the “bad guys” only underscores the drama’s inability to transcend such lazy stereotypes. NOT a sign of good writing in any corner of the universe.

Click to read MOAR!!! MOAR!!!