Category: Media

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. 🙂

On a lighter note. should I survey my local friends, Steven Yeun might be one of few Asian actors they know by name, along with Sandra Oh. However, having never seen The Walking Dead, I had 0 familiarity with Yeun before this film, and 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.