Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Androgyny: Andrej Pejic

Andrej Pejic is not a woman.

Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 in K-dramas

2010 for me was a year that I re-forged a personal connection with the K-drama. For me 2009 was all about the family drama ("Assorted Gems," "The Son's of Sol Pharmacy House," & "Suspicious Three Brothers") and it was spent accordingly with the family watching those dramas. "City Hall" was the only drama I watched beginning to end by myself, and that was largely due to Kim Sun Ah and Cha Seung Won being cast as the leads. Oh, and I'm forgetting about "The Man Who Can't Get Married."

Anyway, back to 2010.

In 2010 watching became less of an activity in and of itself and rather a companion activity to exercising on the treadmill/elliptical, which really facilitated both the endeavors of K-drama consumption and fitness through exercise. I had an incentive to get on the machine, and I could sustain movement of my my limbs for an hour or so while my mind was sufficiently distracted by drama. Exercise became less of a chore and more of a treat, although I confess that I wasn't exactly exercising rigorously, but half-assed exercise is certainly better than no exercise.

Also in 2010 I really started reading the content over at and it's given me great insight into the process of watching K-dramas. There is no doubt that I love K-dramas, and they are a staple of my media consumables. So for the closing of 2010 I thought I'd take a cue from dramabeans and do a review of the K-dramas that made up my year.

Pasta (MBC): 01/04 - 03/09

So the year started off with great anticipating for "Pasta." I confess, I am a huge sucker for food dramas. I love the contrived pseudo-conflict of food competitions. Generally, "contrived" and "pseudo-conflict" are not terms with great connotations when it comes to dramas, but I love it in the context of food. (I think it derives from being part of the generation that grew up with "Iron Chef.")

Anyway, love for potential food competition aside, another big draw to this drama came in the form of Lee Sun Kyun ("Coffee Prince," "My Sweet Seoul") whose deep voice to me is like soda to a bee. And paired with Mr. Voice was Gong Hyo Jin, who surprisingly I had never seen in anything. I'm not exactly sure how I missed her considering she's been around and has always gotten rave reviews for her acting skills.

Diving right into the drama review, I have heard everyone complain that nothing happens in the course of its 16 episode run. True. It's true. There just wasn't a lot of drama in this drama. The plot was weak. Nothing happens that significantly rocks the boat, and what did happen was predictable, but I don't think that takes away from its inherent charm as a romantic food story. (What is a food story? I'll have to do a more involved post about it some other time but it's basically when food is imbued with enough emotional significance that it becomes a character in its own right.)

Gong Hyo Jin and Lee Sun Kyun had great chemistry together. The whole relationship dynamic was oh-so-cute, and there was just so much aww to go around. While they were cute, I didn't find them cloying, and I guess that's mostly due to Lee Sun Kyun. His character wasn't exactly the cutesy type and the lovely timbre of his voice did nicely to neutralize the potentially sickly sweetness and/or cheesiness of some situations.

I also had a soft spot for Suh Yoo Kyung's (Gong Hyo Jin) personal style. I loved everything she wore in that drama. I had major wardrobe envy, and in particular for that fluffy scarf thing she wears to the sea and one certain long lavender knit piece with rosettes she wears in the elevator scene. Bohemian hobo winter wear is undeniably one of my favorite sartorial styles.

And a short note regarding a personal preference to a particular K-drama trope: I loved the trio of sidekicks a la "Coffee Prince" and the pony-tailed one in particular.

tl;dr - Pasta was romanticized, love was romanticized, and it was charming.

Coffee House (SBS): 05/17 - 07/27

As simple as it is the only thing that drew me to this drama was the word "coffee" in the title. It is surprising to note that since "Coffee Prince" the word "coffee" has been anointed with such a positive connotation that it would alone influence me to watch a drama. I'd like to add to the record at this time that "Coffee House" really is an bad title for this drama. It is as fitting a title inasmuch as "Hotel Lobby" would've been been for "My Name is Kim Sam Soon."

Seriously, I knew nothing about it when I started watching it. I was pretty much unfamiliar with all the actors and actresses, although I did recognize Park Shi Yeon from her bitch role in "My Girl." I didn't even know that Ham Eun Jung was an idol star from T-ara. It's sad, I know.

When I started watching it I was initially entertained by the hijinks and the toilet humor in particular. (I'm simple like that.) But on a more substantial note I was interested in the character of Lee Jin Soo (Kang Ji Hwan), the two-faced writer. Firstly, I have a general interest in the creative process that is writing, so a writer is naturally interesting. Secondly, the two-faced nature of his character that charms in public and offends in private and his philosophizing regarding the rational behind it all was intriguing. I could relate to him as a person with a completely rational and neurotic mind.

I'd like to mention at this point that while I found Kang Ji Hwan as Lee Jin Soo generally appealing, I had a bit of a problem with his wardrobe. They dressed him up like a Euro-dandy in horn rims and argyle, which was fine except for the white pants. I really really don't like white pants, and there were many an episode where he was dressed in white pants.

Anyway, continuing, white pants aside...

The main character Kang Seung Yeon played by T-ara idol Ham Eun Jung was the kind of character I dislike the most: the effervescent, bumbling female lead with no clear skills or talent whose only redeeming quality is her persistence and undying optimism. I really could do without these characters in my drama landscape. What I found enjoyable was that Lee Jin Soo, the writer, clearly did not care much for this type of character either. He dislikes her for the very same reasons I do and he clearly thinks he can set her right and make her see the reality of things. How I do love this idea of breaking the eternal optimist, although it never ever does work out in the realist's favor in Dramaland.

Plotwise it wasn't exactly "on the edge of your seat" exciting, but it did have it's moments. Most of the drama in "Coffee House" arose from character-driven internal conflict with the self instead of arbitrary externally plot-driven conflict. In that way it felt true to life. Usually I find myself willing to overlook at lot of failures of plot if the characters are robust and compelling. Lee Jin Soo clearly was from the get go, and Suh Eun Young became one as the story went on. Everyone else was just a gimmick. (Now that I think about it, anything that involved Ham Eun Jung was really just a farce.)

Romance-wise I found myself really really rooting for Lee Jin Soo and Suh Eun Young to be together. Their relationship wasn't trivialized because the reasons that kept them apart seemed real and believable, and both parties had their own way of rationalizing their apartness. Their relationship was complicated and therefore interesting, and it really was the heart of the drama.

tl;dr - I enjoyed watching a neurotic writer bury some of the skeletons in his closet to become only slightly less neurotic.

Baker King Kim Tak Gu (KBS2): 06/09 - 09/16

In contrast to the seemingly character driven "Coffee House," "Baker King Kim Tak Gu" was clearly plot driven. Generally fast-paced, it was a makjang drama that clearly pushed the characters to ridiculous ends to accommodate the plot. In this drama there was hardly any room for nuanced interpretation. Everything was pretty clear and laid out. Good was good, and bad was bad. Easy-peasy. Nothing about the story was new, and it didn't even try to be innovative, but it had all the makings of a solid, easily watchable drama with a familiar story, likable lead, and warm, fuzzy message.

Like I mentioned before I have a real weakness for food dramas. I really hoped that "Kim Tak Gu" was going to be on par with "ShikGaek/Gourmet" in terms of mood and feel, but it didn't turn out to be that way. Both stories are about food and feature an easy open man-child with a heart of gold as the main character. Both really play with the idea of inborn genius versus honed skills. Both feature a kindly, wizened mentor and bubbly, tenacious female sidekick/love interest. There are a lot more similarities between the dramas than I initially realized, but the fact remains that "Tak Gu" was a makjang, and as a makjang it had the over-the-top drama that gave it its own flair.

I don't really like makjangs because they tend to overdo it on the intensity of the drama and make it heavy, but I think "Tak Gu" had a levity about it because it had the things that "Shikgaek" had. I'd say it wasn't really a hardcore makjang.

Eugene gave a knock-out performance with her portrayal of Shin Yoo Kyung, who is an idealistic young woman that grew out of an abusive childhood and dreams of a better world in the arms of an endlessly optimistic man and is crushed by the twists of fate and driven to near madness for want of revenge. Those scenes in which she reeks havoc on her mother-in-law are pure guilty pleasures. But that character has to be one of the saddest ones I've encountered in a long time.

The one major complaint I have about "Tak Gu" was that there really wasn't as much bread baking as the title would suggest. There was bread, but not as much as I would've liked. The food story kept getting interrupted by the makjang plot.

On a sartorial side note, the baddy step-mother has a kick-ass decadent wardrobe.

tl;dr - All the guilty pleasure of a makjang with the levity of a good food story.

Mary Stayed Out All Night (KBS2): 11/08 - 12/28

The real thing that keeps me watching to the end is my want to have the entire story replayed with Jang Geun Suk and Kim Jae Wook recast as each other's role. Kim Jae Wook would have made a better indie rocker with soft silky hair, and I would've liked to have Jang Geun Suk portray someone other than a jaded musician. Plus, he could've retained that styling he had in "You'
re Beautiful" which I believe suits him much better.

There really isn't much else to say about this drama. The plot is a mess. The couple is cute. Wi Mae Ri's boho winter clothes and styling is enviable.

tl;dr - Kim Jae Wook IS an indie rocker!

Secret Garden (SBS): 11/13 - ?

This drama undoubtedly comes out on top as the winner of best drama of 2010 in my book. I think it had a bit of everything that liked about all the other dramas I watched this year, minus the food. Sadly, no food.

The whole body-switching thing that got me interested in the drama in the first place seems to have been a bit of a gimmick but that's yet to be seen since the drama isn't exactly quite yet over.

I'm going to put off my review of this drama until it actually ends and I actually have some time to get over the high of the series and consider it objectively. I want to do a bit of a more in-depth review of it than I can and am willing to do at this point.