Author: write2stephanie

Rise of the Phoenixes

I’ve learned nothing!

I began a Chinese drama last week, longing for a world vivid, lush, and extreme. But, I didn’t check the episode count first. Somewhere around the 20th episode, wondering how much longer there would be until a kiss, I looked.


So I got what I was looking for, albeit too much. And considering my admittedly obsessive tendencies, ended up spending entirely too much of the weekend in front of the TV.


Which doesn’t mean that my new health goals fell by the wayside. Thankfully I have all kinds of new sand ball gadgets and exercises that need only a chair or some such, but it was all pretty funny reading subtitles upside down.

Rise of the Phoenixes, thankfully for all that trouble, was well worth watching, although I want to be careful to say that what hooks me, may be quite different from what others are seeking.

  • There was a great deal of 3 or more layered strategy, some of which required a great deal of patience to play out. I found that rewarding.
  • In some of the non-historical Chinese dramas I’ve seen, writers have been hesitant for the hero figure not to win each time, but this was more complex, perhaps due to being based on a well-loved book.
  • Considering how many ‘princes battling for the throne’ story lines I’m familiar with, it is not easy to surprise me at all. I was often surprised. ūüôā
Kun Chen, via Pinterest, from “Flying Swords of Dragon”

I was mesmerized by Kun Chen‘s beautiful, yet somehow odd, face. Or, maybe it was the way his face was so different from moment to moment, which is hard to find captured in still shots.

I know this because I did the terribly difficult labor of searching for quite a while. >ahem<

Almost all the actors in this series were fantastic. I’ve gotten too used to watching shows that hang off of one or two main super talents I think, because I kept stopping to consider just how good the side characters were.

From Xin Zi Yan to Ni Ni (who is also, incredibly gorgeous), each showed themselves multifaceted through several shifts and character transformations.

Ni Ni, via

If I could change anything, I would smooth out the pacing, distribute the energies more evenly. The first half was slow to show its hand, but the last several episodes felt like a different drama due to trying to fit too many plot lines and character shifts in before the clock ran out. This meant that although I have no qualms with the ending itself, I felt just okay when sending these characters off into the void.

And maybe more kissing. ūüôā

If you’d like a more thorough ‘recap’ type post, I enjoyed this one.

2018 – my year in Korean TV

Mr. Sunshine
(screenshot captured from 8days)

I dropped a lot of shows this year, which I’ve never done before. Almost on principle, I usually see dramas through to the end if I liked the first two episodes, even if that means fast-forwarding. However, in the shows I did keep, I see definite patterns. For instance, nothing I kept in 2018 was light or ‘silly’.

I longed for a good historical drama this year, and Mr. Sunshine came closest. I loved the experience of watching this over the weekends as it aired on Netflix, because it was released so reliably, allowing me a ritual break while in paralegal school during the week. The slowish pace that frustrated some viewers suited me extremely well, since there were plenty of beautiful scenes to linger on. Kim Tae-Ri is a wonderful actress; I was captivated by her performance, and Lee Byun-Hun is growing on me, which is kind of funny considering he is Korea’s best known actor in America. There were some problems with the drama, and a few problematic portrayals.

Hyun Bin

Memories of the Alhambra 

Of all 2018’s dramas, this is the one I’d recommend to someone who hadn’t seen this type of show before. In fact it may be the only one, because it feels (still airing as I type) modern outside of a few trope-ish annoyances and is pulling off an augmented reality story line extremely well. Plus, Hyun Bin, who is always a reason to see something.

Toned down, Character driven

Just Between Lovers was a huge surprise. Such a sad story, yet the developing bond around shared wounding hooked me deeply. By no means is that theme a unique one for Korean TV, but I’ve been delighted by the pared down emotionality writers and directors have been going for recently, which feels more genuine and relatable.

Twelve Nights

Twelve Nights too, was in this vein. There was no deep trauma involved here though, just the sorts of basic pain everyone goes through in deciding whether or which dreams to pursue, and forgiving parents and/or ex-lovers along the way. I especially loved the dancing woven into the male lead’s storyline, however spare.

Should We Kiss First felt experimental and strange, but I liked that, and I liked the subtlety shown by the older actors. The back story that eventually emerges was executed rather well, but the only thing I cared about really, was the dynamic between the two main characters, especially portions where there are mixed signals or anti-romantic moments.

Fairly Traditional

Familiar Wife wasn’t uproarious, but could be funny and quirky. The real charm was the story at core of a rough patch between two main characters. Similar to Go Back Spouses last year, a partner is sure their life would have been better had they made a key choice differently in the past.

The Beauty Inside would have been a pass for me, except that the lead actors drew me in. After his performance in my favorite of last year’s offerings, Because This Life is My First, I wanted to watch Lee Min Ki again. As it turned out, the drama, which was based on a quite charming film by the same name, was enjoyable enough that I only fast forwarded a little.

Encounter (Boyfriend)

Encounter (Boyfriend) [for those that don’t know, K-dramas always have two or three alternate titles due to being widely translated] is still airing as I write this, and I have no intention of dropping it nor fast forwarding. It isn’t an incredible drama, but it definitely has its charms, and flips the usual narratives upside-down just enough to be interesting. I wonder if Koreans will flock to visit Cuba, the way they traveled to Canada after The Lonely Shining Goblin aired.


What a surprise Money Flower was. It took me a few years before I started intentionally watching melodramas. It just felt a little too close to what I remembered soap operas being when young. But friends were watching this and talking about it ceaselessly. As it turns out, for good reason. Twisty, puzzling, over-the-top in the right ways.

The same could be said of Misty, except that the protagonist, or anti-hero in this case, was almost entirely what made the show compelling. There are few female roles like this one, where the character is overtly ambitious and possibly corrupt, yet as a viewer you want them to ‘win’ against the system anyway.

Lastly, The Smile Has Left Your Eyes was… I’m not sure what to say, without giving away the whole thing. Was it a melodrama? I guess? Did I like it? Yes? I think so? Was it different and interesting? Definitely. Is Seo In Guk a terrific actor? Yep.

Burning (Beoning) 2018

After quite a bit of searching, finally, I caught this film at the nearby Art Cinema. There was a larger crowd than I thought there’d be; half of the theater like me, were people attending alone. This is the kind of crowd I love to see such a film in, because specific reasons, possibly highly cultivated reasons, almost certainly brought them there. 

For me it was Yoo Ah In  at first, but then my reason changed. As I read more about the reception at Cannes, and the origin of the screenplay as based a short story by Haruki Murakami, I began to prepare myself for a theater experience that would be an entirely new to me. 

"Jong-su, Hae-mi and ben, strange love triangle.  A film that would have deserved the Palme d'Or."  From the site Telerama.Fr
GORGEOUS PHOTO – from the site Telerama.Fr

I love to read Murakami just for the moods he sets, and that he brings the reader so well into a sort of suspended space of no particular attachment to specific ends. This makes it hard to rest, but also very restful, because one has to go along. 

Or at least that’s my experience of reading Murakami. So when I knew that Burning was based on one of his short stories, I began to anticipate in a different way. First of all, I felt that I could read more about the film ahead of time without worrying too much over spoilers, because no spoiler can give away mood. Someone can go on and on analyzing the plot points and the elements of a story that happens, and cannot touch what I most value about Murakami.

Second, I began to prepare myself to see a different actor than the one who had drawn me there, by which I don’t mean an actor not Yoo Ah In, but I began to prepare to see a different Yoo Ah In

I did. And I admire him all the more for what I saw.

(slight spoiler ahead)

Which was a stripped-down, no-shine, Yoo Ah In. What I am reminded of by way of comparison, are conversations I’ve had with my son about modern art. There are some artists he doesn’t ‘get’ yet, because he doesn’t want to. He can’t see the complexity in the simplicity they exhibit. In many cases, this is because he hasn’t seen previous works, so there is no belief in restraint, or the difficulty that may have been at play, not to show off. 

I’m sure that this is in large part due to the Director, Chang-dong Lee,
who is obviously masterful, however I have not seen his other films. One thing for sure is that he embodies Murakami, or at least I felt so, in the long scenes especially, set in the least stereo-typically inspiring environments. I will one day own this film just go back and linger in these moments. 

Other than that, I won’t say much more for now. I noticed that Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t even have “approved quotes” for the film, which means the studio has managed to maintain a bit of mystery. I’ll respect that. ūüôā

On a lighter note. should I survey most local friends, Steven Yeun might be one of the few Asian actors they know by name. However, having never seen The Walking Dead, I had 0 familiarity with Yeun before this film. I’m glad for the introduction.

I was also so moved by Jeon Jong-seo‘s portrayal of the character Haemi. Just this week a brilliant journalistic story broke from the Miami Herald, which was about many Haemis. To say more would give away this string of the film, contradicting my determination above, but I may come back later.

Of Secrets and Love Affairs


I like to watch some shows over and over again, gleaning from another  angle each time, paying more attention to one character or another, or revisiting questions I had before.  And I like sexy shows.  One might not immediately think of Korean TV as sexy as compared with American TV, but it is, especially in its quality of withholding.

An obvious example is Secret Love Affair, which has one of those titles I’m embarrassed by – just so cliche’.¬† Yet, it’s a beautiful drama, touching deep questions about what is important in a life and how people change over time, choosing different things.

Also, piano.  Piano runs through the drama as also metaphor for passion, as it has in various films in the past, films that are no longer really made.  The very reason I was drawn to Korean TV was nostalgia for a kind of film that seems no longer of interest in America; high quality romantic films like Notting Hill, or conflicted, sexy films like The English Patient.

Also, Yoo Ah In¬†is the most complex actor I’ve encountered in a very long while.

I searched for a clip of an award acceptance speech for a Six Flying Dragons, but couldn’t find the one I was looking for, in which he played emotions across his face, unapologetically exuding an instrument many actors seem hesitant to show, or can’t.¬† So in that sense, he fits especially well the character in this drama, who is a hardly-contained and naturally gifted Artist.

I have friends who cannot stand ‘adultery dramas’ – who boil them down (imo) too far, and I respect those friends.¬† However, perhaps because I’ve lived so much of my life as an observer of sublimated happenings, picking up on dynamics people try not to show, I’m especially drawn to them.

She seemed restless.

In the summer of …

the whole of London was restless

in the face of the coming storm.

(lines from The End of the Affair screenplay)

lonely goblin

I picked up Lonely Shining Goblin and Legend of the Deep Blue Sea at the same time, but only Goblin felt truly inventive.  It was brooding and patient (occasionally too much so), and Lee Dong Wook’s grim reaper was reminiscent of another drama I liked, although it didn’t quite reach its potential, Blade Man.

For me, the best thing about this drama is the mood.



Highlighting Lee Dong Wook as an actor isn’t to imply that it wasn’t great to spend time with Gong Yoo on the small screen again, but as much as I hate to say so, Gong Yoo’s gravitas may have overgrown the TV medium.   Although he did well embody the longing one might expect from a goblin who had brooded for 500 years, reflecting on tragedy and injustice, suffering without intimacies.

Yet having seen him in films like A Man and a Woman, I couldn’t shake the feeling that a mature partner for him would have been more appealing.

Kim Go-Eun did move my heart in scenes, even out-shining her more seasoned costars.  Especially, her capacity for anguish was startling for one so young.  But the ultra light-and-girly way her character was written didn’t allow for deep enough chemistry between the two.  By contrast, her Cheese in the Trap character held to a grounded center.  I much preferred her there.

Overall, I was pleased with facets of time and memory, overlap and questioning of identities, virtue and vice, even though some connections weren’t quite made.  Long episodes were appropriate, fitting to the desired epic scale.

Appreciating Old and New

Although Korean dramas have lost some of their addictive quality (thank goodness, sleep is important too!), what emerges from a slower watch is sometimes far more interesting, comparable to a whirlwind romance that later settles into a more familiar and comfortable rhythm.

The downside is that I’m not all that driven to write about the new dimensions, but that may change if another Six Flying Dragons comes along.

For now, I’m slowly watching The Lonely Shining Goblin,¬†and for the third time, My Name is Kim Sam Soon.¬† Both are meaningful, but the contrast between the new show and one of the oldest I’ve seen is striking.¬† Even with plain sets, common dilemmas, and bad hairstyles, Sam Soon feels emotionally resonate and enduring in a way Lonely Goblin does not.

I’m not so sure there has been emotional benefit to K-drama popularity across the world. Couldn’t they have just made their way to me, without adapting much otherwise? ūüėČ

My Name is Kim Sam Soon

What I notice, is how much freedom the actors were given to find the most sensitive places in themselves – not just for a few scenes, but for most.¬† There seems also less emphasis on physical perfection, allowing for a wider range of expression. They weren’t afraid to include ‘ugly’ in the range of human emotion.

With newer dramas, one can too often see the gears moving from inside the editing room. Rarely can the audience lose sight of calculations in pace, or suspend the tendency to predict when peak moments are about to occur.

Even so, I’m taken in¬†by the metaphors in The Lonely Shining Goblin,¬†and the way high notes are played in non self-serious ways,. It can be moving in the way one is touched when a live musician adds little surprises to a song you thought you knew very well.

that reason knows not of

A compelling reason to write again, having reached the second to last episode of This Week, My Wife is Having an Affair!



This Week, My Wife is Having an Affair¬†has not been an enjoyable watch exactly, not light nor fluffy, but¬†neither has it been predictable or dishonest.¬† What the writers seem to want to say is along the lines of, divorce isn’t something that something that happens only to ‘bad’ people, or to people who married for the wrong reasons, or to people who aren’t kind and loving, well-prepared, or who have no support.¬† It happens.¬† It is usually horrible and sad, and can be made harder by relentless judgments about others’ lives from the outside.

Here, this is well displayed by internet commenters who become more caught up in Toycrane‘s life than their own, who try to work out their own dramas through his. And there are bystanders–people hurt without any involvement in blame.

I found that impression to be thoughtful, lasting.

Although the writers show compassion for the wife’s longings and her difficult, mostly-silent struggle, they don’t leave¬†the affair as an option.¬† Yes, it is obviously an option because it happens, but it is something they¬†can never take back, which has effects simply because it has effects… just like a death is something one can’t undo… fundamentally changing everything, and one’s view of everything, both forward and backward.

The show so far seems to be saying that there can be no recovery, but we’ll see. I myself can imagine scenarios in which a new relationship, but with the same people, is possible.

[ending spoilers ahead]

I like that the show gives other relationship examples, and shows change of personality when someone experiences a sudden loss, coupled with the abandonment of beliefs they may not have even realized they were operating¬†in.¬† Even for a¬†character very much led by mere excitement for other women, sex doesn’t seem to be the driving force, but rather a fundamental misunderstanding within himself.

That string also touches on a recurring theme in K- drama, ways in which extreme wealth can affect sincerity or motivations.

Continue reading “that reason knows not of”

small update

Having been swept up in a wave of post US election re-framing of my entire world, not much attention has been directed here. I did finish a few shows, Jealousy Incarnate (liked!), and On the Way to the Airport, which a browse through my previous posts might have easily predicted my appreciation for.

I want to write about the questions about relationships and time these dramas bring up, but alas, time keeps happening…

on the way to the airport

Moon Lovers (Curtain Closure)


It is a good feeling… to find a finale subbed early in the day. Before reading anyone else’s thoughts, I can rush to this page and first give a bow of thanks for all that was right, before tempering that thanks with just a few¬†comments to show I didn’t partake¬†obliviously.

Although, I may have suspended¬†disbelief more than most. ūüėČ

What matters to me when dust has settled, is whether Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo conveyed something unique… imparted an emotional experience. And it did. The story itself was told in a substantive way that gave textures to contemplate and carry forward.


Continue reading “Moon Lovers (Curtain Closure)”

Hard Pill

[Spoilers, Cheese in the Trap re-watch: episodes 13 Р16 (Final)]    CiTT posts in order 

I’m not sure when this turned into recaps when I never meant to do such a thing, but it has been a good tool to work through unarticulated impressions, with distance from the first viewing.

I’m not going to go through all the scenes that get us to the high and low points of the next few episodes, which in many ways felt flimsy.¬† Basically, there are a number of ‘testing’ situations… Seol setting limits, Jung defaulting to usual patterns, and Seol dealing with In Ho’s now openly expressed feelings.

Ready to be dropped off a cliff?

Me neither but here we go.

Continue reading “Hard Pill”