Sunday, March 15, 2020

Veteran of Seven Years of Asian Dramas!

Spring Turns to Spring

It's the Ides of March again, and now it's been seven years of watching Asian dramas. This year it turned out to be 20 Korean dramas and 16 Japanese, with one Chinese movie. That doesn't count all the ones we tried and dropped! There were a lot of good ones this year.

Korean Dramas

Spring Turns to Spring: Two women are given a drug that copies their DNA to each other. In effect, they turn into the other person. They try to keep this a secret and impersonate each other, which is hilarious because one is a shy retired actress, the other is an outgoing news anchor. The news anchor is one of three orphans who happened to come to an orphanage at the same time, and were named Il Bom, I Bom, and Sam Bom (One Spring, Two Spring, and Three Spring). Mostly very funny, drags a little in the last third. ****

Romance is a Bonus Book: A woman returning to work after a divorce is hired at a publishing company where one of the editors has had an unrequited crush on her since his teen years. She does well but gets in trouble for having pretended that she had no degree and been hired under a trainee program. I did not like her, partly because she seems selfish and partly because she has a child who she shipped off to boarding school and is never talked about again.  ***

Touch Your Heart: An actress has a chance to play a lawyer in a drama if she works in a real law office for a few months. She seems to be a real ditz at first but then she improves. This is fun partly because it's a reunion of Yoo In Na and Lee Dong Wook, who were together in Goblin. Park Kyung Hye was a hit as a lawyer who specializes in divorces. ****

Her Private Life: This show starts as a cute love story between Park Min Young and Kim Jae Wook but disintegrates into a sad backstory in the last few episodes. She is a curator at an art gallery and a big fan of an idol singer in her off hours. He is an artist who has quit painting and now runs art galleries. Would have rated higher except for mopey ending. **

My Fellow Citizens: Choi Si Won plays a con man who marries a woman who is, unbeknownst to him, a police officer. He spends a lot of time trying to keep her from finding out. He has conned a loan shark whose daughter comes after him for revenge. Her big idea is to have him run for office so she can have a tame congressman. Kim Min Jung steals the show as the loan-shark daughter. *****

Chief of Staff: This came in two seasons. It started out good with the story of a man who is chief of staff for an assemblyman, and tries to get justice for the oppressed. But we got tired of the main plot of more and more people becoming corrupt. After watching a couple of episodes in Season 2, which starts by killing off one of our favorite characters and then recycles that main plot too many times, we skipped to the last episode to find out what happens in the end. **

The Secret Life of my Secretary: This should have been called The Secret Life of Veronica Park, because she was more interesting than the lead. The main plot is about a businessman who is face-blind, and his faithful secretary who helps him cope. There are waaay too many dramas about face-blindness. Veronica is a selfish rich girl with heart. ***

Designated Survivor: 60 Days: This is a remake of an American show of the same name. In an alternate universe, a terrorist bombs the main government building in Seoul and kills the president and all the senior officials. The only cabinet minister who is left, who has little political experience, becomes president. This had good suspense and good characters. We admired the newbie president, and Secretary Cha became a favorite. ****

Rookie Historian Goo HaeRyung: A saguk in an alternate universe in which a group of women become historians in the palace. One of them falls for the prince. The side stories about things like combatting smallpox lifted the tone of the drama. This was very watchable and the characters were
likable. ***

Melo Is My Nature

Melo is my Nature: A quiet, sometimes melancholy but very strong drama about three women friends who support each other through thick and thin. One is a drama scriptwriter who, we find out through little hints, is writing the drama we are watching. The second one arranges product placement for dramas and has a young son. The third is a producer who loses her husband and falls into a deep depression, so her brother and these two friends move in with her to help. Possibly the best drama of the year. *****

Search:WWW: Three women who were friends since school, work for search engine companies. The plot about the ethics of their business highlights the strength of these women. It is better than the side plot about the love stories, which only ends well for one of the women. Scarlett is awesome, and you need to see the scene with the baseball bats! ****

Extra-ordinary You: This is a story about high school students who discover that not only are they all characters in a manga, but they have been recycled from a previous saguk manga. It starts out great with a perky lead girl and some mystery. Some early scenes hilariously parody Boys Over Flowers. Unfortunately the story fell apart in the latter half and the ending was indeterminate. ***

The Fiery Priest: Kim Nam Gil is alternately awesome and hilarious in this story of a priest who had once been a special agent. The first episode is quite heavy ground to get over, as they kill off someone in order to bring the priest to the point of deciding to clean up the town. His fight scenes are great though! This is another contender for best drama of the year. *****

The Tale of  Nokdu: This saguk starts out as a lighthearted story of a man dressing up as a women in order to investigate a suspicious widow's village. Halfway through, it morphs into a political story of murder and revolt against the king. Still interesting, but not what we signed up for. Kim So Hyun does well as the archer girl, and Jang Dong Yoon wows us with his fan dance. ***

Hotel del Luna: This story about a hotel for ghosts had a hard time getting up to speed, but the world building was great and IU with an attitude and an amazing wardrobe was stunning. At the hotel, the ghosts are supposed to rest and let go of their resentments and regrets and be ready to pass on to the next life. Some ghosts learn to forgive,  but those who can't manage that get dissolved into sparks by the Reaper. I thought about this theme a lot after I finished the drama. The bell-hop and the half-ghost girl were cute. *****

Live Up to Your Name: This is a time-travel saguk in which a Joseon-era doctor appears suddenly in modern times and gets to know a female surgeon. They cross over the time periods several times and come across a mystery of another time traveler. He learns that there are as many corrupt rich people in modern times as in his own, and she comes to appreciate his traditional methods. ****

My Holo Love: This is quite a successful story about the limitations and worth of artificial humans. A woman gets to be the beta-tester of special glasses that let you interact with a holographic companion. The hologram is kind and helpful and of course she falls for him. The genius designer of this program is hard-nosed at first, but she softens him up. They run into seemingly insurmountable difficulties, but pull it out of the fire and give us a good ending. ***

Crash Landing on You: Son Ye Jin plays a super-rich South Korean woman who goes hang-gliding and gets swept over the border into North Korea by a freak storm. Very freak. Hyun Bin, as a North Korean soldier, discovers her and tries to get her home again. Our favorite characters are the village ahjummas who support each other through thick and thin, and the squad of soldiers who can take anyone on in a hand-to-hand fight but are terrible shots . ****

Stove League: An off-season look at professional baseball in Korea. A new general manager tries to deal with the problems of the last-place team, while the owners are secretly trying to get rid of the team and throw all kinds of stumbling blocks in their way. Namgung Min outsmarts everyone as he copes with bribery, bullying, money shortages, and army service issues. The story stays strong most of the way through but has a weak last episode. ****

Japanese Dramas

Sumika Sumire
Sumika Sumire: A magical cat (who can turn into a man) befriends a 65-year-old woman who has never been allowed to make her own decisions. He turns her 25 again and helps her realize her lifelong dreams. They run into troubles and hard decisions (and another magical cat). Very cute. ****

Time Taxi: A magical taxi takes its passengers back in time - for a fee. The first episode is a giant shock, the second is rather dull. The rest are pretty cute, some humorous, some more serious. At first they are episodic and then the stories begin to link together. A fun watch. ****

Osaka Loop Line: This is an anthology of stories about things that happen along the rail line in Osaka. There are three seasons; we saw the first. Some are mildly interesting, most not so much. **

Stay Tuned: A radio station in Hokkaido hires an inept girl just to see how creative she is and if she can shake things up. She does, more than they expected. Made for the anniversary of a real-life station, and shows the workings of the radio station. Entertaining. ***

May I Blackmail You? People who have been wronged and can't get redress in a normal way, hire a blackmailer to get their money back or get revenge. We dropped this one at the end of Episode 3 because it ended in an illogical way, but picked it up again later.  It proved to be interesting as we got to the underlying plot of what's up with the family of the rich girl who has offered to give out money if people bypass the blackmailer. We also discover the backstory and goals of the blackmailer. ****

Good-by, Enari-kun: A goblin follows a woman around and possesses the bodies of various men who date her and causes them to be complete jerks. She learns to recognize this, and is able to sprinkle the goblin with salt and make him leave. *

Your Home is My Business: A slightly obsessed real estate agent claims that she can sell any house, and can find a house for any customer. The case she handles in the first episode doesn't make sense, but the others are engaging. She copes with difficult customers as well as slacker staff, and often surprises everyone with her solutions. ***

In Time With You
In TimeWith You: A man and a woman who have been friends since high school make a bet about which of them will marry first. They start out both interested in different people and then start to realize they actually like each other. Pretty cute show except it drags on too long and has rather an open ending. ***

Takane and Hana:  A woman refuses to go to an arranged marriage meeting, so her high-school age sister takes her place. The man in question is intrigued by her because she's the first girl he's met who didn't pander to him for his money. Hana is spunky and keeps thinking she's gotten rid of Takane, but he keeps turning up! ***

Erased: When dangerous events occur around him, a man involuntarily jumps back in time a few minutes, which allows him to prevent it from happening. Finally one day when his mother is attacked, he jumps back 18 years to his childhood, where a series of child murders is going on in his town. This is well done but quite dark and suspenseful. ***

Tuna Girl: This is a movie about an intern at a scientific institute trying to devise a way to breed tuna commercially. She is clumsy and inept at first, but slowly learns what she is doing. This is kind of like a documentary and kind of like a Disney film for kids. **

Ramen Shop: A Japanese chef whose mother had died when he was a child, travels to Singapore to find out more about her family. He locates his grandmother, who initially doesn't want to see him. This is somewhat like a documentary too, about high-end ramen. **

When One Day I Will Sleep: This is about a high school girl who is in a bus crash during a school trip. She meets a grim reaper who tells her she has to resolve her regrets about three people before passing on: a friend, a boy she likes, and her grandmother. This is thoughtful and sweet, and somewhat predictable until the big surprise in the last episode that will make you view the whole story in another light. ****

Hoping to Give You a Big Hug Tonight: A kind of convoluted love triangle between a college student and her long-lost first love and several other people - something, something, I forget. *

Secret Unrequited Love: A high-school age couple have liked each other since their childhood. Unfortunately he has a bad heart and decides to avoid her so she won't be so upset if he dies. The girl doesn't know how sick he is and overtly pursues him. Their moms as well as another girl who also has a bad heart, try to separate them. Rather open ended. **

Chinese Movie

Railroad Tigers
Railroad Tigers: I watched this on Chinese New Year, and it's the one Chinese thing I finished this year, a 2016 Jackie Chan movie. It's a romp, not meant to be taken seriously, and a fun watch. During the Japanese occupation, a Chinese resistance group tries to blow up a train bridge. ***

There you have it, the seventh year of dramas! The ones we are watching now are I'll Go to You when the Weather is Nice and Hi Bye Mama. They will undoubtedly start off next years' list.