Sunday, December 2, 2012

Review: 19

Nineteen is one of those “in-between” ages that just kind of passes by without anyone noticing. For most people, 19 is simply another bump in the road between 18 and 21. There’s just nothing really special about it…and that’s essentially what defines it.

Nineteen is that awkward stage in one’s life that is no longer childhood but not yet adulthood. It’s when you still depend on your parents but also want as much freedom from them as possible. It’s when you’re figuring out your future and who you ultimately want to be.

That’s what South Korean film 19 (2009) is all about. It follows three 19-year-olds who get caught up in a murder and are forced to run away together. As fugitives, they learn important lessons about life, love, and friendship, and they also face the problem of being at an age where they’re technically adults but still treated as kids.

What I really liked about this film was how relatable the characters were. Each of them came from a different walk of life, and thus had his or her own problems to deal with. One was a sheltered rich boy who had yet to pass his college entrance exams. One was in college but was majoring in something that “wouldn't get him anywhere,” thus rendering him useless in the eyes of his family members, and the third was struggling to feed herself while paying for her dying mother’s medical bills.  For me, the relationship between these three characters really made the film.

Another neat thing about the film was that two of the leads were played by Big Bang members Seungri and T.O.P.  Both displayed their musical talents in the film, giving it a sort of star quality that showed the k-pop artists outside of their normal field of work.

What I didn’t love about the film, however, was the execution of the story. While the premise of the film was interesting, the execution of it left something to be desired. Some things in the film just didn’t make sense while others had too much of a deus ex machina feel. For example, when the leads were trying to figure out who the real murderer was, one of them just happened to have captured the culprit in his stalkerish photos of the victim, and he only happened to notice it just then. It’s like the writers of the script got lazy and threw in the simplest solutions they could think of.

Overall, I’d say this film is an interesting watch, but certainly not a “must-see.” It’s entertaining while it lasts, but doesn’t leave a strong impression.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

3 Things I Love/Hate About the Holidays

Christmas Break:
Since I’ve been in college, I’ve grown to appreciate the comforts of home a lot more.  When I’m at school, I eat horribly, sleep horribly, and just feel plain stressed most of the time. When I go home, however, I get to eat home-cooked meals and sleep in a big, comfy bed. I’m miles away from the pressure of exams and homework, and I get to spend time with my family and close friends…for an entire month.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great things about college, too, but by the time finals week rolls around and I’ve been up until 3 or 4 a.m. every morning studying for exams, Christmas break is like a gift from the heavens.

Cold Weather:
Winter is by far my favorite season, and part of that is simply because I love cold weather. Cold weather means cozy sweaters, hot chocolate and apple cider, and gathering around the fireplace with family. The landscape looks beautiful and surreal when everything is covered in frost, and it's refreshing to feel cold air on my face while the rest of me is bundled up in layers of clothing. 

Pumpkin Spice:
I think we all know what I’m talking about with this one: that heavenly elixir Starbucks puts out every winter. My holidays would not be complete without it.

Black Friday:
Nothing quite says “Happy Holidays” like fighting off hordes of crazed shoppers. I went to the mall with my mom and sister this past Black Friday, and the first thing my mom said before we left the house was, “Do you have your taser ready?” Nuff’ said.

Fake Santas:
I can’t be the only one who thinks there’s something a little creepy about that man in the mall with the unsightly white beard and red suit who holds people’s children and asks them about their deepest, darkest desires. Okay, I may have exaggerated that last part, but there are definitely some questionable things about this holiday tradition.

Christmas Commercials:

I don’t know if I’ve just never noticed it before or if this year is particularly special, but recently I’ve seen a plethora of bad Christmas commercials that essentially equate Christmas to receiving gifts. I’m looking at you, Famous Footwear and Radio Shack. I would hope Christmas means more to our society than presents, but then again, we have shows like "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" and "The Housewives of Insert Big City Name Here."  In such a materialistic culture, I guess I shouldn’t set my expectations so high.

And with that, I would like to wish everyone a happy holiday season. J

Friday, November 16, 2012

How to Effectively Watch Kdramas

1. Find a reliable streaming website. I would recommend either DramaFever or hulu because they stream good-quality dramas...legally. The downside to these sites is that there are going to be ads during the show (unless you buy premium membership on DramaFever), but for me the quality is worth it. I particularly like using DramaFever because it provides ratings and reviews for each drama on its website, so it’s quick and easy to pick ones you want to try out. In addition, if you make an account, the site lets you put dramas in a “queue” so that you have a list of all the dramas you’re interested in. It also keeps track of which episodes in a particular series you’ve already seen.

2. Have an open mind. Don’t watch a Korean drama expecting an Asian version of American TV. While South Korea’s entertainment culture is similar to that of the United States, there are still a lot of cultural differences between the two countries. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and accept what happens without questioning it too much. The more dramas you watch, the more accustomed to South Korean culture you’ll become, and the easier it’ll be to appreciate the dramas.

3. Learn to read subtitles. A lot of people cannot stand subtitles, so they are discouraged from watching anything foreign. All Korean dramas are going to be in...well...Korean, so you can expect some juggling between the action onscreen and the subtitles below. I usually handle subtitles by quickly reading the entire line of text and then watching the actors do whatever they’re doing. That way, I can have in my mind what they’re saying while still being able to enjoy what’s going on in the scene. Of course, sometimes you’ll miss things, but with enough practice and patience, dealing with subtitles is a breeze.

4. Marathon-watch. Whether you want to or not, you will probably develop a habit of locking yourself in your room with a stash of empty bottles (think Aviator) and a mini fridge in order to watch hours of kdramas uninterrupted. I prefer marathon-watching because sometimes I forget certain details if I have to wait a week or two to catch a new episode. Also, in a week's time any excitement or suspense over a cliffhanger has usually somewhat dissipated. In general, though, I'm oftentimes just so intrigued by a drama that I simply can’t stop watching it. You may think that sounds crazy, but if you start watching kdramas you’ll quickly see what I mean. They’re addicting.

5. Embrace clich├ęs because kdramas have a lot of them (I’ve already made a post about one). There are going to be many marriage contracts, awkward co-ed living situations, blind dates, “surprise” kisses, and wealthy heirs with horrible American accents. It’s kind of like how you get a bunch of side dishes (banchan) with any meal you order at a Korean restaurant—it’s a package deal.

      6. If you haven't already...stop reading about watching kdramas and go watch some!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review: Vampire Prosecutor (2011)

I recently completed the original Vampire Prosecutor, and my initial reaction after finishing the show was simply: wow. I wrote a first impression of the show a few weeks ago, and now that I’ve finally finished it, I can say that it did not disappoint.

The drama follows Prosecutor Min Tae Yeon and his special investigation team as they solve various crimes in the city. The catch is that Prosecutor Min is a vampire, and he uses his vampire abilities to help him solve seemingly unsolvable cases. As the drama progresses, some of the cases seem to be linked to the existence of other vampires in the area, and Prosecutor Min works to not only find these other vampires but also to find the truth behind his own mysterious vampire past.

What first grabbed me about this drama was the unique way in which it was shot. The cinematography in the show is highly stylized, and it remains that way throughout the series. With a fancy smorgasbord of reverse action shots, image superimposition, and flashbacks, viewers will witness something that’s rarely seen in kdramas—innovation.

Some neat shots:

Now, I know what you’re thinking when you see the title Vampire Prosecutor:  “UGHHH not another Twilight.”

I have to admit that I was a little skeptical, too. I’ve gone through my fair share of vampire books and movies, and I was not too keen on picking up more of the same thing, but Vampire Prosecutor is completely different. In fact, the vampire elements in the show play more of a background role. The drama puts more emphasis on the various individual crimes than on the overarching vampire "whodunit" story.
Prosecutor Min in vamp mode
Of course, this changes near the end of the drama when some of the elements from the vampire story begin to come together, but the drama mainly sticks to the crime scenes.  

In addition, these vampires are not your relatively benign, Twilight vampires.
These vampires kill…a lot.

If you have a weak stomach, then this show is probably not for you. There is a generous helping of fairly graphic scenes in the drama, and while the protagonist himself does not drink blood from living humans, the other vampires in the show do. There’s also a lot of blood in general associated with the crimes they investigate. For me, though, those elements just added to the realism of the show and made it all the more intriguing.

Another great thing about the drama was the characters. Not just the main group of investigators, but also the side characters and enemies all played an important role in the drama. Even though many characters were only around for one episode, the storyline fleshed out their stories so beautifully that I felt I knew them almost as well as the protagonists.

The only negative thing I have to say about Vampire Prosecutor is that the ending did feel a bit rushed, but everything else was spot on.

Overall, I would highly recommend checking out the series, especially for horror/mystery fans. You will not be disappointed. 

Happy watching!  

Friday, November 2, 2012

Common Tropes in Kdramas: The Evil Mother/Grandmother

We’ve all had one. That one relative who’s always breathing fire down our necks because we’re not good enough. The one who criticizes what we eat and who we date. The one who thinks that the only people good enough for us are those of equal or higher social status. The one who meddles in our affairs and sets us up on blind dates. Yes, dear readers. I’m talking about that person: the evil mother/grandmother in the family. Or maybe that’s just in Korean dramas.

I don’t know what possesses all the mothers and grandmothers in the Kdrama world, but there is almost always an evil mother/grandmother in any given Kdrama. I have no idea if that’s a cultural thing or just something Korean drama producers picked up and went wild with, but in any case, it makes me glad I don’t have one.

These mothers and grandmothers aren’t just mildly unpleasant or grouchy, either. They’re downright sinister. Perhaps one of the worst cases of evil mother I’ve ever seen was in the drama Secret Garden, a romantic comedy about a rich male heir and a poor stuntwoman who swap bodies and fall in love with each other.

...I know that storyline sounds like somebody was snorting something illegal when they wrote it, but it’s a really good drama...I swear.

In the drama, the male protagonist's mother despises the fact that her son has fallen in love with a stuntwoman, and she pulls repeated antics throughout the show in order to separate the two. She even threatens to destroy her own son’s career. If that isn’t the definition of an evil mother, then I don’t know what is.

I do not come across evil grandmothers as often, but they’re still lurking out there. One of the most recent ones I came across was in the drama Rooftop Prince. The male protagonist's grandmother ends up working with the evil daughter/sister in order to get rid of her grandson’s love interest, Park Ha. In the drama, the evil grandmother is somewhat subsumed by the even more evil daughter/sister, but the grandmother is still controlling and oppressive throughout the drama.

So there you have it. If you didn’t learn anything else from this post, you at least now know that all the evil mothers and grandmothers in the world are located in South Korea.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Review: Arang and the Magistrate

As most kdrama fanatics probably know, the popular drama Arang and the Magistrate just finished airing last weekend. A historical fantasy about a female ghost searching for her killer, this show essentially combined all of my favorite things.

It had drama, romance, action, mystery, magic, suspense, folklore, comedy, and Lee Jun Ki…need I say more?
The man in command

In terms of story, Arang and the Magistrate did a fantastic job of leaving viewers guessing while still giving up enough clues to keep the story engaging. Nearly every episode ended with a nail-biting cliffhanger, and even when I thought I had everything figured out, there were still twists and turns in the plot up until the very end.

What really made this show for me, though, were the intricate relationships between the characters. There was, of course, the main relationship between Arang and the magistrate, which slowly developed into a full-blown love story by the show’s finale.

There was also the endearing bromance between the magistrate and his manservant, as well as a romantic side story between the manservant and shaman Bang Wool.

In addition to those, we had the truly heart-wrenching and tragic story between Arang and Joo-wal, who was Arang’s love interest while she was alive.

We also had the touching relationship between the magistrate and his mother, which was a relationship I think most people can relate to. 

There were certainly more relationships in the drama than these, but that’s just to give an idea of how important characterization was in this series. There were no “throw away” characters. Each one contributed in some way to the overall plot development.

I have to be honest and say that Arang and the Magistrate came across as more of a melodrama than a historical horror/comedy in the sense that there were many heartbreaking moments filled with passionate sobbing. This was not just limited to the female characters, either. More than once I saw Lee Joon Ki’s crying face…and it was not the most attractive thing in the world. It was nice, however, to see the actors really get into their roles.

Overall, Arang and the Magistrate is by far one of the best dramas I’ve seen, historical or otherwise, and I would highly recommend it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bibimbap and Macaroons

I went home this weekend from college (home for me is about a 2 ½ hour drive away) and decided to drive up to my not-so-local Asian market, a place I frequent whenever I’m back on breaks. I call it the “Asian market,” but it also includes insurance, dental, and law offices for the local Asian community.

Usually when I visit the Asian market I only go to the bakery and the Super H Mart (a huge grocery store with a very strong, fishy smell). The bakery is probably my favorite place to visit because it sells a variety of drinks, like bubble teas, as well as sweet, fluffy breads, which are often filled with bean paste. The bakery also has a glass display case filled with cakes, macaroons, and loaves of bread, and the bakery itself has a really nice, relaxed atmosphere.

Today, however, I changed things up a little by checking out a Korean BBQ place called Omi Korean Grill and Bar, a restaurant that serves a variety of authentic Korean dishes.

Now, before you decide to go hit up your local Korean BBQ, there are probably a few things you should know. First, pretty much everything you order is going to come with a variety of “banchan” or side dishes, as well as rice and soup. I didn’t realize this before ordering, so it came as a bit of a shock when the waitress came with not only my main order, but also a ton of other mini dishes as well.

These side dishes include things like kimchi, which is a staple in the Korean diet, noodles, and cooked vegetables. I tried each one, and they were all very, very good (and spicy). Evidently, you can also get free refills on any side dish.

Secondly, the utensils used for traditional Korean meals are a bit different from American utensils, and each utensil has a specific use. The utensils we received at Omi included a pair of chopsticks, a large spoon…and that’s it. If you go to a Korean restaurant and only see these two items, don’t panic and wonder how the heck you’re going to eat your food. They have forks for the less-skilled among us, but in general, the spoon is used to eat the rice and soup, and the chopsticks are used for the side dishes and main meal. I used the chopsticks. :) 

The main dish I ordered was “Bibimbap,” a popular Korean meal that includes meat, rice, a variety of vegetables, and a fried egg. The food came with the vegetables and meat already in a bowl, so all I had to do was dump the rice in, mix it up, and add the sauce, which is the traditional way to eat the dish.

Overall, I had a great experience at this restaurant. The food was delicious and very flavorful, and the service was decent. I would definitely go there again.