Tag: TV

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.

Via Soompi.com

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. šŸ™‚
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 scmp.com

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. šŸ™‚

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

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,Ā and for the third time, My Name is Kim Sam Soon.Ā  Both are meaningful, but the contrast between the new show and one of the oldest I’ve seen is striking.Ā  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? šŸ˜‰

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.Ā  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, oneĀ 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 inĀ by the metaphors in The Lonely Shining Goblin,Ā 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.

Sometimes I, Even I…

[Spoilers – re-watch episode 11]

CiTT in order.

I am now so sucked in, so invested, that I’m scared to have forgotten what I know about the drama on the whole. Am I about to be blindsided again? I can’t help myself – the character study is intricate, and episode 11 especially, hits me right in the gut. I find both Seol and Jung too deeply relatable and am projecting on them full speed ahead, myself an introverted only then oldest child, raised in a small and fragmented family.

When Seol finally erupts at the unfairness of treatment by her parents in comparison with her younger brother who has priority of resources as a male, it is one of the drama’s pinnacle moments. Ā  Ā  Ā  Ā Ā  Continue reading “Sometimes I, Even I…”

Who Exactly, Are You?

[Spoilers for re-watch, episodes 8, 9, 10]

CiTT in order.

It might have worked a number of ways, actually. Here in the middle episodes we may have been able to shift away from Jung/Seol for a while, and to consider In Ho/Seol. We could have been honestly torn, and come to accept a change of heart, or have backed up enough from both to see them growing up in parallel through unique challenges.

However, for In Ho to supplant Jung in Seol’s affections, the writer would have had to start solving Jung for us in another way by now…


Continue reading “Who Exactly, Are You?”


CiTT in order.


The texture of time in the storytelling has a lot to do with what makes Cheese in the Trap resonate. In the webtoon also, inner dialogs and flashbacks serve to paint what experience is really like for people: we generally don’t make sense of things by linear data gathering; we take in flashes of time and are rather mosaic, perceptions flickering in and out of awareness.


Of His Own

[Spoilers for re-watch of episodes 5 (cont.) – 6]

CiTT in order.

With Jung and Seol, things develop slowly. Although he has dated far more, and, as In Ho tells Seol, broken the hearts of “trucks of women”, with Eun Seol JungĀ finds an innocence he knows isĀ preciousĀ andĀ tries to protect that.


Episode 6 holds one of the most tenderĀ scenes in the drama ifĀ you’re on Jung’s side, because while at Seol’s house, comfortable and curious,Ā he easily begins to share the core of struggle that for everyone else is a lock box mystery.Ā Trust between them becomes much easier.


Still trying to make sense of hisĀ change toward her, and to make peace withĀ earlier instincts and events, SeolĀ also seizesĀ the opennessĀ to ask, when that happened. We get to see the wayĀ he came to understand her walls as likeĀ his own, began to recognize her kindness and sense of personal responsibility, so important to Jung who has been groomedĀ not to complain when taken advantage of… always to do and give more, to let things be taken, since he has so much. Ā  Ā  Ā  Ā  Ā  Ā  Ā  Ā  Ā  Ā  Ā  Ā  Continue reading “Of His Own”


[This is a re-post, originally written Jan 15, 2016]

I trust my fixations. When there is something I am drawn to strongly there is little that Iā€™ll let divert me from pursuing that course of inquiry. Sometimes it is difficult to justify, and sometimes it is like some passive-aggressive tax I extract for not drawing stricter boundaries with other areas of life. More often it is neither of those things but rather a wind of inspiration leading into a place I couldnā€™t have known myself well enough to realize would be needed or liberating.

So right now, Iā€™m re-watching a not-particularly-lauded series, Valid Love. It isnā€™t as gripping as it was the first two times when I found myself breaking apart at every other scene, but still profound.

beckon love

It has confused me that this drama wasnā€™t widely embraced, aside from the obvious, that Korean audiences tend to take a very strict view of adultery and divorce. Valid Love does not romanticize adultery, but Koreans are less separate from their society than Americans, I think, in the way of difference between growing up in a small town daily intertwined with oneā€™s own and othersā€™ families, as compared with growing up in a city so large that within even the same high school it is possible to change groups of friends several times without too much upheaval. My own life has been one of constant reinvention in a way that would probably be less possible in a smaller country more rooted in history and tradition.


[Valid Love spoilers] Continue reading “Both”

Spoilers Darling

This page is for me. Well, they are all for me, but this one uniquely caters to an experimental view that might not be as enjoyable for others as it will be for me writing it. Time will tell, but the reality is that one would have to have a deep familiarity with Korean drama to get the references and names to follow.

I’ll probably revise a lot, over a long period of time. The trouble is always where to start. There is just so much! AndĀ no real way to trace back to beginnings.


The first scene to float up is an image of Valid Love‘s Carpenter Kim, whose unusual, alien-like beauty makes him seem almost unreachable. When Il Rae catches sight and smell of Carpenter Kim she is immediately taken aback – we are too – and I believe that what appears to unfold later actually happens entirely in that moment. Another man had never entered Il Rae’s mind before, and this one appears with a beautiful, restful world, steeped in lineage – a place out of time and space.

The two are immediately nesting, and the sighting scene presents a whole reality that shows up at once, simultaneous to the one she is in, and still makes complete sense. Later at the police station, after Tae Hoo and Kim Joon have fought, and she is asked which man she will take responsibility for/who she is the guardian of, she answers “both.” Which strikes us as the truth.

I love sighting scenes, like Ko Dok-mi’s first sight of Enrique at the window, in The Flower Boy Next Door, or Dokko Jin’s surprise at finding Au Jung inside of his fortress-like house, holding his underwear (or rather, “panties!”), and discovering later that his foolproof pass code was easily guessed.

Enrique is an intrusion into Dok-Mi’s personal space, her dark apartment, even without entering. He is bright and unapologetic, and ignores only her false boundaries, even hearing thoughts she doesn’t share. And Au Jung stubbornly shrugs off Dokko Jin’s bravado, seeing the ordinary person along with his larger-than-life image. Yet she doesn’t choose between them, nor want him to.

Imagine sunshine coming through the window where the plant grows. The sun is not saying, ‘Please open the window I need to talk to the flower. Maybe the flower does not want me to shine on it.’ The sun has none of these doubts, nor does the flower.”
-Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

There are flavors of ‘imaginary friend’ in these encounters, in the sense that the bonds are choiceless, bound to occur. K-drama writers seem to understand this as rich ground. In Its Okay That’s Love, Hyde Jekyll and Me, and Kill Me Heal Me, where second, third, even fourth fifth sixth and seventh selves can’t be leashed by the safest and most acceptable-to-the-world personae, life is determined to fully live, and is indeed what happens when we are busy making other plans. (Thanks, John Lennon)

We must lose composure. We must “always be drunk” as Geu Rae learns in Misaeng. Tae Hoo must be brought down by the “sea anemone-like punk” and Seo Bom’s inlaws must give away the trappings they value most to be raw enough to love (IHTTGV).

Geu-rae: Be drunk. You must always be drunk. Everything lies in that; it is the only problem. To avoid the detestable weight of time that makes your shoulders give and makes you fall to the ground, you must be incessantly drunk. Whether it be on alcohol, poetry, or virtue, be drunk. Wherever you are, wake up from the hindering loneliness. If you get lost, just ask ā€” the wind, water, stars, birds, time, everything that passes, everything that feels sadness, everything that runs, everything that sings, everything that talks ā€” what time it is. They will reply. Now, itā€™s time to be drunk.

And now I’m sleepy, and want to post this although I’ve not nearly finished nor polished. The closing image is Hee Soo, dancing in the hospital corridor even as she lays in bed unable to move or speak, beginning to desire again – to dance, to eat. Il Rae may be the only real witness to Hee Soo’s rich inner thought life, and certainly her closest friend, again naturally crossing “impenetrable” boundaries. And again it isn’t that she chose her – it is what life itself decided.

In a cafe scene days before this one, Il Rae knows the taste that Hee Soo prefers and touches the foam of it gently to her lips. She makes sure to show her the beauty of the presentation, and to place her at the best vista. She lives inside of her, with her. It is love, and who gives to whom? Hours of my Life and Ando Lloyd face a similar contemplation: what is the value to a life that is not useful? What is the place for those who cannot earn their keep?

Hee Soo is the epitome of grace, class, and composure. No one asks her if she is able to give that away. There is no relief for her, no pay off. If there is a consolation prize, it is imposed, because we can’t bear the idea that there might be no justification at all.

“Hope?” she asks, “Give that to the dogs.” Even so, she dances.

hee soo