Friday, October 11, 2013

Heirs Episode 1: English is as English Does

I watched the first episode of the new Korean drama Heirs. It has been hyped a lot because it has Lee Min Ho in it. He plays a rich teenager (teenager?) who gets sent to America to get out of his family's hair. Park Shin Hye plays a poor teenager whose sister in America lies that she is in college and marrying a wealthy man. There are various other rich mean kids who go to an elite high school. Its sort of like Boys Over Flowers except Lee Min Ho isn't Goo Jun-pyo in this one. His older brother is. Mostly I liked it, and they do say that you have to give a new show a trial of a few episodes before you pass judgement, but Really?  It is taking place in America - and the worst part of it is the Americans.

The people playing Americans are awful. You cringe every time they open their mouths. You'd think a show filming in the US could have found some reasonably good English-speaking actors. Apparently not. The worst offenders are the annoying surfer dude and the abusive boyfriend. Although random beach-goers are not immune. What does this say about Korean casting directors? They totally cannot tell?!?

DramaFever co-produced the show with Hwa and Dam Productions. DramaFever being an American company, you'd think they would like us to look good. Maybe someone is making a statement, though. Nampyeon says that when he lived in Japan years ago, most of the Americans he saw (guys in the US navy) made him cringe. They were loud and rude; dressed loud and talked loud. And rude. Gave us a bad name.

Someone wrote a review of Rooftop Prince which claimed that in Korean dramas you can either have good acting or good English but not both. That show featured a Korean girl who was raised in the US and her American friends who visit Korea. They were good actors when speaking Korean but their English lines were a joke. Very stilted. Heirs has the same disease.

I enjoyed hearing the Koreans speak English. We don't hear Korean accents very much. Foreigners are allowed to speak with accents. Accents are fun. Usually. Rachel the Fiancee has very good English. They can have her talk all they want. The mean girl played by  Krystal Jung should be able to speak well; she was born in California.

I was happy to come across some favorite actors from other dramas, notably Court Lady Choi. I'll go look up her name for you: Kim Mi-kyung. She's great wherever she shows up. She probably won't get to sword fight though. Another one is the charismatic gumiho from the backstory at the very start of Gu Family Book. He's playing Lee Min Ho's bossy older brother, Jun-pyo. Then there is one of the two teens from Gentleman's Dignity who pretty much stole the show. And the cute messy-haired drummer from Heartstrings.

These are all high school kids, huh? Trying to cash in on the teen market before Lee Min Ho gets too old? News for you: he is already too old. But he will be even older when he comes back from the army, so if they are going to do this it has to be now. Oh well, Tom Welling was pretty old to be playing Clark Kent in high school. How long was Michael J. Fox playing teenagers?

Waiting for Episode 2. Fighting!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Second Lead Syndrome

This is a term I hadn't heard of before I began watching kdramas, but it happens quite often: the second lead is more appealing than the lead actor. This usually means that you ship the female lead and the second male lead. (Shipping means you root for a relationship.) For example, in Boys over Flowers why didn't the girl like Blondie, who was much nicer to her than Curly Hair? He was more her friend, and you'd think she wouldn't have hung out with him so much if she didn't like him. Although he couldn't act. But Curly Hair Guy had intensity going for him.

In Sungkyunkwan Scandal (a story about a girl dressing up as a boy to get into a boys' school) although the two main characters did get along together well, I still liked Robin Hood better than Rooftop. He was mysterious, a tough fighter, and above all, possessor of The Mane of Glory, which is supposed to be a sign of the hero. He was smart; he had read all the books in the library. Besides that, he was often to be found hiding up on top of a roof or posing tastefully in a tree.

A gumiho is a nine-tailed fox from Korean mythology that can turn into a person. The one in My Girlfriend is a Gumiho falls in love with a human and wants to become human and stay with him. A  half-goblin man (who is much more beautiful than anyone else) is sent to catch her and decides to help instead. You wonder if she will  stay with him or the human.

Greatest Love is another one. An arrogant, very famous actor thinks he loves a has-been singer because when he hears her sing his heart beats faster. The real reason is that he heard her songs while having heart surgery (however logical that is). The singer meets a cute acupuncture doctor and has to choose between them. The doctor is nicer than the actor and moreover doesn't have an evil weird cackle.

Prosecutor Princess is about a fashion-crazy prosecutor gradually getting to be effective at her job, being coached along by a (seemingly) friendly lawyer.  Nampyeon and I liked a male prosecutor (the Reaper from Arang and the Magistrate) as much as the lawyer, and the Princess has competition from another female prosecutor who also likes him.

In Secret Garden the male lead was pretty mean for much of the show, although he became nice later on. It was our first kdrama and we didn't know that this is a common plot ploy, so we resented it more than we would now. When the director of the stunt school seemed better than Rich Boy, Second Lead Syndrome hit. He was reticent but kindhearted. Then Rich Boy's cousin began to grow on you and SLS hit again. Oof. Twice in one show.

In general I like lots of good secondary characters, and I like more good guys than bad guys. But do they all have to like the same girl? Sometimes everyone pairs up and they are all happy, but a lot of times they don't. There's just a little tendency towards melancholy in Korean dramas. But who knows what will happen? The second lead in You're Beautiful didn't get the girl, but they paired up later in Heartstrings and got a second chance. Although it turned out a little dull.  Now I need another show with Cousin Oska from Secret Garden in it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dealing with Korean Names in Dramas

Some time has gone by and I have gotten into Korean dramas a lot more. I have lurked around blogs and sites, googled "best kdrama" for ideas, and read lots of recaps. I have had unexpected fun discussions with random family members and people in cafes, and compared suggestions of what to watch.

I even revisited that show about the rich high school bullies. Largely because I read that it was a very popular show, and you can understand half the kdrama jokes on the internet if you've seen it. So yeah, it was Boys Over Flowers, and only the first couple of episodes were that bad. The story was about four cute rich boys and one poor spunky not-as-cute girl. Turns out to be a Cinderella plot.

One thing that is hard to get used to is the Korean names, which are just a lot of nonsense syllables to us. And they expect you to remember both the actor's name and the characters name?!? Here and there you get a Philip Lee, which is recognizable, but mostly you get things like Jung Il Woo or Lee Min Ho. (Which actually you start to remember because you see it so much.) However, Nampyeon and I have fallen back on other ways to refer to the characters. Usually we call them by their profession, like The Architect in 49 Days. The other guy is The Bad Guy, and the two girls are The Coma Girl and The Depressed Girl.

In the case of Boys Over Flowers, you have four boys, two of which are easy to distinguish, and two of which are too similar to tell apart at first. This reminded me of the four hobbits in Lord of the Rings. I remembered a review that described them as Frodo and Sam and "two indistinguishable background hobbits." Therefore the main characters of BOF became Curly Hair, Blondie, and two indistinguishable background hobbits dubbed Hobbit #1 (the one with the bigger part, the pottery guy) and Hobbit #2 (the other one, who seems to have had his storyline cut). We didn't learn Lee Min Ho's name until we had watched him in a couple of more dramas.

We got into this type of nomenclature when we watched Sungkyunkwan Scandal. The leading lady was The Girl. The leading man was Rooftop because we had already seen him as the prince in Rooftop Prince. If I tell you we dubbed one of his friends Robin Hood, you will know immediately who it was, if you've seen the show. The scruffy guy who does martial arts. We were in a quandry as to what to call the fourth main character, who is quite the pretty boy. We tried a few things before hitting on Peter Pan, which stuck.

Names carry over to other dramas. When we watched Arang and the Magistrate our favorite secondary character was a Grim Reaper and we simply called him The Reaper. He showed up later in Prosecutor Princess, and we continued calling him The Reaper. This got more complicated when we watched 49 Days (which was our favorite drama ever) and came across another reaper. If we remember, we call him the name from that drama, the Scheduler; but usually he is The Reaper too, even when he shows up in Flower Boy Ramen Shop. Blondie from BOF appears in Playful Kiss (which you have to be about 13 years old to enjoy) and he is still called Blondie, although he is not blonde any more. Hobbit #1 is also in The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry.

The fact that Korean names have the family name first and then the given name doesn't bother us. It's trying to remember it at all. Even if we learn a name while watching the show we quickly forget it again after we finish. Except for Lee Min Ho. Finding English nicknames helps a lot.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Korean TV

Nampyeon (husband) and I don't watch regular television much anymore. It is too full of violence, crude language, and immorality. I don't like that sort of thing going on in real life, and I don't want to watch it on my television. We got tired of turning shows off halfway through. I had high hopes a few years ago for a spin-off show of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. We loved the movie, but someone got a hold of it between the movie theater and the tv station, and the tv show was crude. Bleh.

We have been watching carefully selected movies, and reruns of Star Trek; but now we have something new to watch. Korean drama.

My daughter-in-law watches them and has favorites. The selling points were that they were interesting and clean. The drawback is that you have to read subtitles, but you get used to that.

We started with her favorite: Secret Garden. It is a fantasy about a rich man falling in love with a poor woman who does stunts for movies. He tries to get her to go out with him, she tells him to get lost, magic happens, and their spirits switch bodies. It has really funny parts, sad parts, and interesting secondary characters (an important feature in a show). We enjoyed it a lot and I recommend it to anyone who can read fast.

When we finished Secret Garden we looked at some other Korean shows that are on Netflix. They are not all created the same. One was about some very vicious rich high school students who are extremely rude and bully anyone they don't like. There didn't seem to be any teachers or adults around to make them behave. Double Bleh.

Now we have started watching Heartstrings, also suggested by the daughter-in-law. It is about two college students, one studying traditional Korean music, the other studying western music (specializing in rock). This one also looks fun. I will let you know.