Be forewarned: I’m making liberal use of the word “great” in this post because this is one drug whose high is nothing if not great.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who don’t have a clue what Hallyu is or what’s the significance of the Endless Love series, then good for you and quickly, quickly, QUICKLY–get the heck away from this webpage! (For those of you who just want to find out more about the three kDramas listed in this post’s title, look below for the reviews.)
If there’s one thing that can and will suck up all your time into the web black hole, it’s Korean drama.
I had meant to avoid this topic altogether but after trying to wean myself off of these time sucking 80-proof web intoxicants that is Korean drama, I’m back in full force watching three Korean dramas simultaneously: Arang and the Magistrate, Reply 1997 and The Great Doctor.
I’m also shameless in trying to get others hooked on these things, bad as they are for your health (in particular, your circadian clock).
Korean dramas have been subject to distinct stereotypes and must-haves:
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I could go on forever but kDrama is not always about the stereotypes.
There are great series like Sand Glass 모래시계, a fictionalized account of true events during the 70s and 80s, following a handful of students during the time when then South Korean president, Chun Doo-hwan, sent in the military to quell a student uprising at the Chonnam National University ending in a full scale massacre with casualties estimated at upwards of thousands of students and residents of the university city of Gwangju. About a decade later, Doo-hwan was sentenced to death for his crimes against humanity during what was to be known as the Gwangju Democratization Movement. Like some bad screenplay though, he beat the rap and to this day can be spotted swinging the club on some of the most elite fairgrounds in South Korea.
Another great series is The Great King Sejong 대왕 세종, about the fourth king of the Joseon period during the 1400s, who oversaw the renaissance of the sciences and technology, advancements in military warfare, the development of the Korean alphabet, Hangul (한글), that opened the door to literacy for the lower classes, and what I consider his crowning achievement, breaking class barriers. Against protests from officials and the noble class Sejong brought Jang Yeong-sil (장영실) who was from the slave class into the royal palace. Sejong recognized the talents of Yeong-sil, who eventually became a prominent inventor, scientist and astronomer.
I could go on and on about great Korean dramas like Slingshot 남자이야기 (aka Story of a Man), a great story showing the nuances of good and evil starring Park Yong Ha (박용하) in what would be his last kDrama before his suicide; Family’s Honor 가문의영광, a modern take on Confucian values and the class divide that showcases the way kDrama can rip your guts out and cut you to the knees with scenes to get you crying whether at the police station or at a funeral (male lead, Park Si Hoo (박시후), plays angst like nobody’s business) and makes your jaws drop like when the lead girl gets up on the stage and sings like somebody crawled into a cat’s hairball that’s about to be puked out and the lead man is flabbergasted and lovin’ it all at once.
Okay, I should stop.
But before I do, I really should say a little something about the three kDramas I’m watching now that caused me to dash off this post.
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Arang and the Magistrate 아랑사또전 / trailer (trailer subs from kpopandasubs @kpopanda.wordpress.com)
I found most of this from Wikipedia but I gotta tell you, there’s some spoilers here so just stop reading already.
The story is based on a folktale about Arang, a young, beautiful, kindhearted magistrate’s daughter raised by an evil caretaker who hatches a plan to have her raped and ruined by a servant, only Arang puts up a fight and ends up getting stabbed and left to rot in the woods.
Her dad thinks she eloped with the lower class guy so he slinks off with his tail between his legs thinking only of the shame, the shame. How the heck can he continue being a magistrate, oh, the shame.
Subsequent magistrate wannabes take office but whenever Arang, now a ghost, shows up to tell them her sob story, they keel over and drop dead outta fear of the dead getting all up in their faces.
So one day, this young guy comes into town looking for his mom. As it turns out, he’s used to talking to ghosts and doesn’t keel over at the sight of her. And it’s not out of the kindness of his heart that he takes on the mantle of magistrate to help Arang avenge her death; no, there’s another reason behind it…
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. . .
Now, the first reason I’m all excited about this series is because the lead actress, Shin Min-ah (신민아), hasn’t done any projects since her 2010 My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox 내 여자친구는 구미호 gig also based on an old folktale; here she plays a fox that can turn into a human form. Min-ah played it so well she was awarded Best Actress for it. If you’re new to all this, you may be thinking what’s with all the fantasy and folktales–first the fox and now a ghost. Well, Min-ah isn’t a one trick pony. She’s had her share of drama in the sense of bring-out-your-box-of-tissues like when she starred in the series, The Devil 마왕, or the movie, A Bittersweet Life 달콤한 인생. She can play characters that feel real whether in indie films like Sisters on the Road 지금, 이대로가 좋아요 or beyond belief, offbeat movies like Volcano High, so she’s got solid, all around acting chops. In Arang–as in My Girlfriend–she’s all spunky and mischievous which is way, way better than a lot of other Korean actresses who get stuck in or don’t know how to venture out of the meek, model Asian women stereotype.
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The second reason I had to watch this series was lead actor, Lee Jun-ki (이준기), who, like Min-ah, plays goofy here. Like Min-ah, Jun-ki has been around the block–a lot of noise, favorable noise, was generated when he took on his first leading role in the movie, The King and the Clown 왕의 남자, which became one the highest grossing South Korean movies where our pretty boy, Jun-ki, played an effeminate street actor/clown during the Joeson period who along with his other troupe members are arrested for treason for mocking the king but as luck–or unluckiness, really–would have it, the king falls for our pretty boy which doesn’t go well with the Queen and concubines. The king’s character was based on a real king, Yeonsan-gun (연산군), who was violent and sexually depraved so you can probably guess the movie’s not going to go down well for Jun-ki’s character; it was one of those “not a dry eye left in the theatre” types of movie. His first lead in a series, action drama Time Between Dog and Wolf 개와 늑대의 시간, netted him a Best Actor award. So you know where this is going–he’s the kind of eye candy that can act.
The third, fourth, fifth and so on reasons I’m watching this series is because it has an ensemble of solid actors that give it more substance; several of the actors have starred in their own series, good ones at that.
I really hate long posts so I’m going to stop here (didn’t I say that already?).
Oh the heck with it, I’ll just give you some tidbits about the other two kDramas I’m watching (all are still airing in Korea as of this post date):
Reply 1997 응답하라 1997, is another great ensemble drama–this time with young, fresh actors, several of them k-pop singers trying their hand at acting for the first time and doing a good job and I’m not just saying it. I especially like the lead gal, Jung Eun Ji (정은지), who’s kind of like a bully here in her singleminded idolatry of boyband H.O.T. in this story about extreme K-fan culture that emerged in the 90s.
I’m not too sure The Great Doctor 신의 is all that good–I’m only watching it to see if the modern day doctor, Kim Hee-Seon (김희선; she played the Korean Princess in Jackie Chan’s The Myth) who time travels back 700 years to the Goryeo dynasty will cause any disturbance in the force and make some solid contributions to medical history or if she’s gonna continue being just plain annoying. Lee Jun-ki was originally cast for the lead but he had to do his mandatory military stint so Lee Min-ho (이민호) of Boys Over Flowers 꽃보다 남자 fame
lucked out got the role, but so far, I’m not enthralled… then again, it’s only been 2 episodes out of 24 so we’ll see (update 9/30/12: seen more eps and thank the powers that be that Lee Jun-ki is in Arang and the Magistrate instead of this trainwreck; notice how I struck through “lucked out” because this will not be something Lee Min-ho should be bragging about).
00 – introduction
01 – pick your ePoison
02 – plug in or be obsolete
03 – eJunk in the trunk
04.1 – once upon a time in YouTube/episode 1: IN THE BEGINNING
04.2 – once upon a time in YouTube/episode 2: STRANGE MISSILES
04.3 – once upon a time in YouTube/episode 3: HUNGER
04.4a – once upon a time in YouTube/episode 4a: ANOTHER DIMENSION
04.4b – once upon a time in YouTube/episode 4b: SPOTTED!
04.5a – once upon a time in YouTube/episode 5a: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS
04.5b – once upon a time in YouTube/episode 5b: SEE WHAT I SEE?
04.6a – once upon a time in YouTube/episode 6a: DARKNESS
04.6b – once upon a time in YouTube/episode 6b: LIFE AND DEATH
04.7a – once upon a time in YouTube/episode 7a: LIFE IS SUFFERING
04.7b – once upon a time in YouTube/episode 7b: FREE WILL
04.8 – once upon a time in YouTube/episode 8: LAY IT ALL OUT/FINALE
05 – kDrama: Arang and the Magistrate/Reply 1997/The Great Doctor
06 – jDorama: Iki mo Dekinai Natsu
07 – the evil that lurks behind the web curtain
08 – back to the future: The King of Dramas 드라마의 제왕
09 – of turkey and vampires: Let the Right One In vs Twilight
Sand Glass 모래시계/fictionalized account of the Gwangju Democratization Movement
The Great King Sejong 대왕 세종fictional depiction of the fourth king of the Joseon period during the 1400s
Slingshot 남자이야기 (aka Story of a Man)/Park Yong Ha’s (박용하) last (and best) kDrama before his suicide
Family’s Honor 가문의영광/a modern day take on Confucian values and the class divide in South Korea
Arang and the Magistrate 아랑사또전/based on a folktale about a young woman who is unjustly murdered
My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox 내 여자친구는 구미호/based on a folktale about a fox who can turn into a human
The Devil 마왕/a detective investigates murders that seem linked to his past
A Bittersweet Life 달콤한 인생/existentialism in the Korean mob
Sisters on the Road 지금, 이대로가 좋아요/estranged sisters meet after the death of their mother
Volcano High/8-times expelled student finds equally troubled peers where off the charts, sans reality based superpower martial arts determines who survives and rules at a dystopic high school
The King and the Clown 왕의 남자/based on King Yeonsan-gun (연산군) and a fictional relation with a street performer
Time Between Dog and Wolf 개와 늑대의 시간/about the trials and tribulations of an undercover cop
Reply 1997 응답하라 1997/about the extreme K-fan culture that emerged in the 90s
The Great Doctor 신의/a modern day doctor time travels back 700 years to the Goryeo dynasty
Boys Over Flowers 꽃보다 남자/Korea’s take on the Japanese hit series about one girl’s relationship with an elite school’s gang of bullies