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Reviews

The Judgement
(2018)

It means well, but it isn't ready for primetime.
The Judgement is a 13 episode 2018 TV series from Thailand, currently airing on Netflix. It's another Asian drama about the life of young school kids. Unfortunately, it has a lot of problems.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Here's your basic story: Young college girl's dad gets in a car accident and is in a coma. This leaves her alone with her stepmom whom she doesn't get along with. In order to get some breathing room, she (Lookkaew) goes to a party where she gets drunk, passes out, and is raped by her boyfriend. Somebody filmed the incident and uploaded it to the internet and her school chat boards. So yeah, things aren't going too good for her. Following the assault, it's a matter of Lookkaew dealing with the aftermath and eventually healing and moving on.

There are several side stories as well that primarily entail other students dealing with their own problems of assault, shame, fitting in, bullying, sexual orientation, etc...some of these stories work well at times, but only rarely. Overall, I really like what they are trying to do here with the stories they are telling, but this show is vastly hindered by everyone working behind the scenes on this production.

Unfortunately, it is clear that the director and production crew working this show are either VERY inexperienced and/or VERY incompetent, and that is a huge problem. The budget here is small, and that's not uncommon for similar shows of this nature, but that's no excuse not to have somebody on set who knows where to place a boom mic. I can't believe I'm watching a show in 2018 that can't figure out how to properly record sound; incredibly, they seemed to have put microphones on shoes and in student's backpacks because I can hear every foot shuffle across a floor and every backpack whooshing up against a wall, but, a person speaking more than a meter away from the main conversation is barely audible. And that's not the only production related problem with this show.

I don't mean to be rude, but this entire effort frequently looks like it was put together by first year film students who've never been on a production set before. Aside from the inexplicable sound issues, this show is very poorly directed as a whole; scene pacing is frequently abysmal, there are numerous long pauses and lots of extraneous scenes and shots that serve no purpose, and the director provided little in the way of direction to the cast. Editing is equally terrible...forget sharp and snappy cuts, this show can't even get the basics of Editing 101 down, for example; when a scene is supposed to start/end by having a character enter/leave a room, it shouldn't look like someone is standing or wandering around waiting for the director to yell "action" or "cut"...not so here, as it often seems everything that was filmed makes it on screen.

As for the plot and writing; the overall story lines aren't bad at all, but the dialogue and screenwriting is a bit lacking for the bulk of this series. A second unit writing team would have certainly helped, but this department is the least of this show's problems.

Acting; I don't recall seeing any of these actors or actresses prior to this show, and I've seen numerous recent productions from Thailand. Some of the older actors portraying the parents and school officials are really bad (like "they need to find another profession asap" bad). The lead, numerous students, and the one crusader teacher, fair a little better, but they too are often lacking. It's hard to blame them for their performances though; they are young and inexperienced and need guidance and DIRECTION, but, they just aren't getting much of any of that here. I would like to see several of them given other opportunities in better productions before judging their acting abilities.

Summary: This series is not ready to compete on Netflix with recent similar shows like On Children & Girl From Nowhere. It wants to tell a meaningful timely story about teens/young adults, but just doesn't really know how to do it. The director and entire production team needs to up their game A LOT if and when they ever get another shot at this. In the meantime, their efforts on this particular show results in the rating it deserves.

Bottom Line: Alas, 5 out of 10 stars. Come on Thailand, I know you can do better than this!

Girl From Nowhere
(2018)

Sometimes, teens learn life lessons the hard way.
Girl from Nowhere is a 13 episode 2018 TV series from Thailand, currently airing on Netflix. It's one of many recent Southeast Asian life lesson dramas centered on the lives of various high school kids. All of these types of dramas are somewhat similarly themed, and they range from cute and lighthearted accounts, to practical and more realistic versions, on up to darker and more devious takes, on the important issues kids face these days. This show definitely resides on the dark side.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Here's your basic premise: Each episode is its own self-contained story set against the backdrop of a different high school, where the mysterious new transfer student (known only as Nanno) soon arrives. Nanno quickly interjects herself into the lives of certain students at each new school, and begins helping them with their teen issues; issues that range from grades, bullying, social standing, fitting in, sexual assault, depression, teen pregnancy, creepy teachers, suicide, and worse.

As each story unfolds, Nanno punishes the outright wicked by whatever means necessary, while she tempts other kids in order to test their morals. Nanno preys on their insecurities, and being the young impetuous high school kids that they are, they are easy to persuade and frequently make impulsive decisions that they'll soon come to regret. All the while, Nanno endeavors to bring out the worst in them, then revels in the chaos that ensues. Once Nanno accomplishes her goals at a given school, it's on the next, then repeat this process until the series is over.

It's never made clear who, or rather what, Nanno actually is. Is she a ghost with a vengeance, a shared figment of everyone's imagination, the devil? There is a backstory episode at the end of the series about what happened to her when she was a high school student, but that doesn't explain her current existence or why she's intent on causing so much trouble to random students across the nation.

Chicha Amatayakul gets the lead role as Nanno (i.e. the titular "Girl From Nowhere"). I've never seen this actress before, but she's pretty effective throughout this series; her maniacal laughing can be a bit much at times, but she is rather impressive otherwise. Aside from the lead, there's a ton of other young actors and actresses involved across the various episodes, and the vast majority of them perform quite well in their assigned roles.

Each episode is roughly 35-45 minutes, and I believe they were all produced and written by the same team. There is a different director for most every episode however, and every episode contains an entirely new cast with the exception of the central character. The varying direction makes for a nice change of pace; every episode is some form of a psychological thriller, several are bloody and brutal, others are darkly humorous at times, and there's one involving a young thief that is somewhat sweet and endearing. Overall, both the writing and direction is good; some stories are better written and/or directed than others, but all are fairly interesting. Don't expect any huge production values or special effects though; Asian TV productions typically have limited budgets, but as is usually the case, they frequently make up for it with better storytelling.

I can't really think of any show being produced in the west that Girl From Nowhere compares to. It is indeed a show about the life of teens and their modern problems, but it's too down and dirty for mainstream Hollywood to make. There's no nudity and the show isn't overly sexualized, but there is a good deal of violence and adult themes; murder, gang rape, suicide, and so forth, are all fair game here, so viewers should be advised.

Summary: This series is really well done overall, and it's very entertaining. It's a quick and efficient morality tale in which everyone involved learns something about themselves and life; sometimes though, you learn these lessons the hard way.

Bottom Line: 8 out of 10 stars. Very Well Recommended.

On Children
(2018)

Mommy...Can't I Get Some Love?
On Children is a 2018 Taiwanese TV Series currently airing on Netflix. It's probably best described as a family drama with some fantasy and horror elements, and it makes for a terrific blend of melodrama and craziness.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

This TV show (I guess you'd call it sort of an omnibus miniseries) essentially consists of 5 different movies that are about 90 minutes each. Each episode/movie is its own self-contained story, and they each have a different cast (although several actors & actresses appear in different roles in more than one episode/movie). You can watch any episode/movie on its own, or in any order; it doesn't matter as they aren't really interconnected in any way. However, they do all share a common thread that's based on mothers wanting a better life for their children and/or themselves, and the effects this has on everyone involved (for better or worse; mostly worse).

I imagine this series would resonate better in Asia than in the West, but the general message translates very well anywhere; after all, doesn't any "loving" mother on the planet want their child to succeed? And as such, many parents will spend a great deal of time, money, and effort in order to accomplish this, and this is particularly true in countries like Taiwan and Southeast Asia in general. The overall goal is for parents to improve their children's lives and futures, and this is obviously a good thing (in theory). But is that what they're really doing, or are they doing it for more selfish reasons? And, are these parents actually causing more harm than good to their children with the ever increasing pressure they put on them to do better?

This series explores the consequences of this "try/work/study harder at all costs mentality" via several themes that are actually quite common, such as; tiger mom syndrome, families trying to rise out of poverty or improve social status, confused young kids trying to cope, parents counting on their children in the future, or controlling or living vicariously through their kids, etc. These are all rather simple stories at their core, and if you didn't know anything about this show at first, you might mistake it for a quaint or semi-serious drama about mostly high school kids and their families, friends, first loves, etc.

Each episode primarily focuses on a mother and her prized child; fathers are only occasionally relevant to these stories. It's clear from the start that most everyone involved has problems and relationship issues, and this often leads to the child or parent being depressed, falling behind in school, getting divorced, losing face, going crazy, committing suicide, or worse. The mothers come across as rather unlikeable in most every instance; too demanding, too controlling, and too self-centered. They view their offspring more like a property investment that must produce dividends, as opposed to a child that also needs some fun and love every now and then.

While watching these stories unfold, you're often momentarily lulled into forgetting that this "melodramatic family mini-series" also happens to be VERY dark and surreal much of the time. It is excellent at mixing melodrama and sci-fi/fantasy genres together very effectively, as all of these stories are each set against the backdrop of a dystopian future, a parallel universe, a world that has a wish granting animal or a time altering remote control, and so forth. These settings and circumstances serve to augment the main story lines, and this series did a terrific job of weaving its way back and forth between simple or serious (and sometimes endearing) everyday moments, to the often bizarre and crazy fantasy world that it coexists with.

Each episode was well written and directed, and all of them were quite effective. The actors were very good in their roles overall, and some the younger ones were outstanding. Production values aren't lacking either; Taiwan doesn't have "Hollywood money" to throw around, so don't be expecting a lot of super-duper special effects or CGI, but nothing looks cheap at all (except for maybe the goofy Stormtrooper dudes of the future). In fact, this show is shot and framed very well, and the bulk of these episodes look downright gorgeous with their wild imagery and use of various visual themes (from sterile white environments, to a variety of hues, on up to some extremely vivid color palettes).

This show/series does many things well, but storytelling is what it does best. And, in typical Asian cinematic fashion, it often blurs the line between protagonists and antagonists, and you never quite know which direction a story will go. Maybe things will work out for everyone, or someone, or maybe nobody; Good Luck trying to figure out what will happen to the primary characters in any given episode, and how each story will be resolved.

You might not quite understand some of the customs and differences of another culture (if you're not already familiar with it), but it's not so "foreign" that you can't understand the overall theme and story. And yeah, you'll have to read subtitles to watch this (if you don't know the language). NOTE; there may be an option for you to watch this dubbed in English (or another language), but DON'T DO IT! If you cannot watch a foreign production from any other country in their native language (with subtitles as/if needed), then you are wasting your time; you will just miss out on the nuances and subtleties of the actor's performances that post-production voice over artists simply can't replicate.

Ratings: No sex or nudity whatsoever. Some blood and occasional violence. Occasionally creepy. Not for little kids. Do your diligence otherwise.

Summary: This is a highly entertaining genre mixing project that combines common timely themes with some creative storytelling and a good dose of the bizarre to great effect.

Bottom Line: VERY GOOD! 8 out of 10 stars.

YG Future Strategy Office
(2018)

Very entertaining mockumentary about the K-Pop entertainment industry.
YG Future Strategy Office is an 8 episode Korean TV drama from 2018. It is a droll mockumentary about an incompetent group of Korean entertainers forced to come up with ideas to help better the future of the company they work for. It is currently airing on Netflix as of this review, and it's pretty funny on its own, but is absolutely hilarious if you're familiar with the individuals involved and the Korean entertainment industry in general.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

First, I want to point out that this is not a Korean drama, nor is it a variety or talent show, and I don't recall ever seeing anything like this come out of the Korean television industry. The closest show I can compare it to in tone is the British/American show 'The Office', as it is filmed in a similar way, with a lot of dry humor, awkward situations among a bunch of doofuses, people talking or looking into the camera, and no laugh track.

Here's some background if you aren't familiar with the basics: YG (YGE) is a real Korean entertainment company, formed by Yang Hyun-suk about 20 years ago. Yang Hyun-suk was originally a dancer during the birth of K-Pop, started YG afterwards, and has been very successful ever since. His company has mainly focused on producing idol groups and artists (such as BIGBANG, 2NE1, BLACKPINK, IKON, and others). He doesn't perform anymore, but you'll see him occasionally judging a talent show or in some cameos. He's a busy man though, particularly since he's been trying to expand his empire beyond the music industry into TV, movies, sports, etc. This TV show is one of his company's new endeavors.

Story: YG has created a "future strategy office" (which is probably a real division within the real YG, but one that is most certainly not comprised of the moronic characters portrayed on this show). The staff of this mock office consists of a cast of several actors/comediennes/variety show regulars/K-Pop stars/etc. The newly assigned head consultant to this office is actual K-Pop star, Seung-ri (who is the youngest member of BIGBANG). In mockumentary style, he is anxious to make a good impression running this division and win renewed favor within the mock YG company. What he doesn't realize though, is he just got sent to a dead end job as punishment/abandonment because he's not holding up his idol image and his career is fizzling out.

What makes all this so amusing is that Seung-ri's mock predicament is not all that different from his own reality. In the K-Pop world, there is an expected image standard that basically boils down to two rules: 1) Don't embarrass yourself/company/family/country by getting caught in compromising positions or scandals, and, 2) Don't get old or irrelevant. Alas, Sueng-ri has now violated both rules in real life. His Rule 1 violation was because he failed to avoid having some pics snapped of him with some lovers he tried to meet in private. Seung-ri violated Rule 2 simply because he's now in his late 20's, and that's pushing the expiration date for being a K-Pop idol without transitioning into something else in your life/career. On top of that, Seung-ri has always been considered the least relevant member of BIGBANG, and the rest of them are older and either off getting married, completing compulsory military service, or getting in trouble with the law. Seung-ri has little to do by himself at the moment other than work on a potential solo album, and better prepare himself for the future.

So, this show is basically making fun of itself for making fun of Seung-ri's situation in real life. You'd feel really bad for Seung-ri if this were all real (which it sort of is to some degree, and that's what makes it so funny). Don't feel too bad for him though, as he'll be OK, and he's certainly not the only one on this show that gets this treatment. In fact, all of the characters are written as if they don't want to be involved in any of this; from the entire strategy team that hates their jobs, to the newer company idols who don't want to associate with "sinking ships", to the "old-timers still roaming the YG halls looking for work", to the guest stars looking to overcome their own past scandals and get working again, on up to the CEO wondering why he is still employing some of these idiots.

It's all one big joke and everyone is in on it. I'm surprised that everyone was willing to play along though, knowing that some of it must have "hit close to home" for several of them, but I applaud them all for participating. Aside from Seung-ri , there's the regular strategy team that consists of other YG artists, a few extras and company staff, and a ton of guest stars that come and go; most everyone plays themselves (or rather, some mockumentary version of themselves), and most all of them did a fantastic job at both understanding and implementing the entire concept. Good job everyone!

Writing and Direction was pretty sharp; there's a good bit of witty dialogue and biting commentary throughout the show, and everything is paced well and kept on track. There are plenty of skits, jokes, and suitably ridiculous circumstances as well, only a few of which miss the mark. Production values are workable, but limited (because the producers didn't want to spend a lot of money on this experimental project, and it actually makes it more humorous if they don't). Editors and post-production teams clean up the rest.

Summary: It takes about 4 hours to watch the entire series, and it is very enjoyable (even if you know nothing about the Korean entertainment industry at all). And, if you are familiar with this industry, then it's almost mandatory viewing. I loved it, and would like more please!

Bottom Line: 8 out of 10 stars.

Produce 48
(2018)

An Entertaining Korean Idol Survival Show!
Produce 48 (i.e. Produce 101; Season 3, Summer of 2018)

The basic premise of this show is to gather up a bunch of aspiring young singers and dancers and train them up to ultimately form "a new K-Pop/J-Pop idol group".

This Korean idol group survival competition show is currently into its 3rd season with what they're now calling 'Produce 48'. Season 1 consisted of 101 girls from various Korean entertainment agencies trying to make their debut. Season 2 was the same thing, except it featured all boys instead. Both seasons led to some relatively successful idol groups and various breakout stars.

Season 3 is back to all girls, and it's still the same standard singing, dancing, popularity, elimination contest format it's always been, except this year features a Korean trainee vs. Japanese idol angle. There are 96 contestants involved; 50 some Korean idol trainees, and 40 or so girls from the existing Japanese idol Group "AKB48".

AKB48, and their various sister/sub groups, consists of hundreds of girls both past and present, and they've been successful in Japan for quite some time. Basically, they're a manufactured cute girl group that performs catchy pop songs, does some light dancing, makes colorful party and story videos, and provides lots of fan service. I suspect various current and former members also act some, model, etc. Are they the greatest musicians, singers, or dancers on Earth?...No!...but they are quite good at what they do, and it's not hard to see why they're so popular, whether you like this type of stuff or not.

There's not much more AKB48 can really accomplish in Japan however, so they've decided to go overseas in search of more fans and fame. They're already somewhat well known outside of Japan, but not to the degree of global success that numerous Korean idol groups have enjoyed. So what better way for them to gain more exposure than to collaborate on an already popular Korean idol TV project?

If you didn't know any better, you might think it unfair to have an established idol group compete against trainees, and, you'd be right; the Korean idol making machine is a ruthless and highly competitive environment that few members of AKB48 are accustomed to, or prepared for. There are plenty of similarities between the two idol industries, but Korea places far more emphasis on vocals, dance, training, and practice, practice, practice...it's precisely why they're so good at this stuff! Japanese idols are nowhere near as technically proficient as their Korean counterparts, and it shows when they have to compete against them. AKB48 also has the disadvantage of being on foreign soil and dealing with the language barrier and cultural differences. However, they do have much more on-stage experience in front of the public, a decent amount of talented and determined members, and a pre-existing fan base to vote for them in what is essentially a popularity contest...so, let the show begin!

The show gets under way same as always...all the girls/groups nervously arrive and give an initial performance, and are then assigned starting grades. Then, it's off to dorm room/boot camp life where the girls get to know one another while various dance and vocal trainers put them through their paces nonstop. Soon, it's review/performance/evaluation/voting/elimination time...then, repeat this process until we have the last 12 girls standing. Several trainers/judges are back from previous seasons, along with a couple of newbies who fit right in. They're a nice mix of accomplished K-Pop industry talent that provides both good advice and harsh critique to the girls.

And as usual, the public (sort of) gets to determine who the winners are, but the show's production team can easily sway opinions, change the voting rules, and manipulate the outcome if need be. By the end of the show, you can bet the resulting idol group will be one the producers are happy with. The goal here is to put together a group they think will appeal to as many people in as many countries as possible. This might not completely align with public sentiment however, and there are bound to be plenty of angry fans rooting for various contestants who didn't make the final cut.

If you are unfamiliar with the Asian idol industry, you might find this show to be somewhat exploitative in nature, both in how it appears to sexualize young girls and for the demands it places upon them. The former is kept in check as best as possible, but the latter is what makes these shows so fascinating. This show openly revels in how harsh the journey towards idol stardom is, and almost every aspect of it seems designed to make the trainees just give up. Most of these girls won't quit however, and there's something rather charming about watching them bond together and hang on to each other throughout their mutual struggle (even though they're all rivals). Many of them will breakdown throughout the show, but they just keep coming back for more... call it determination, pride, sisterhood, fighting spirit, or whatever you want, but it is does make for some good television.

Through it all, there will be a TON of melodrama and tears, the girls will try their hardest and will get better, and eventually we'll have a newly formed idol group. Along the way, there will be some good stage performances, and plenty of endearing moments to make it all mostly worthwhile.

Summary: It ain't easy being a K-Pop idol (or a J-Pop idol), but the road to becoming one sure is often entertaining to watch.

Bottom Line: 7.5 out of 10 stars.

Produce 101
(2016)

A very watchable show about forming the latest KPop girl idol group!
Produce 101 is an 11 episode KTV show from early 2016. The premise is simple, yet ambitious; gather together 101 young KPop girl idol wannabes from various agencies, let them battle it out with song &/or dance performances each week, then have the public vote to whittle them down over time until only 11 girls remain that will debut as the next KPop girl idol group.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Not much to spoil here. This show isn't all that different from previous & current versions of the "making of the next K-Pop artist/star/girl idol group/etc." i.e. shows like KPop Star, Girl Spirit, The Kara Project, Sixteen, et.al. It is part variety show, part drama, and part popularity contest, while the girls compete to win some singing/dancing/musical performance survival competition.

Before watching this show, the first things you should know (if you don't already) are:

1) There is apparently no end to the number of Korean girls & guys who are trying to become KPop stars every day.

2) Koreans are emotional by nature, and this is amplified when KTV shows throw 101 young girls into the spotlight and train them to perform to the point of exhaustion...so, expect a lot of ups & downs and smiles & tears throughout.

3) KTV show editors are excellent. This is a double edged sword though, as these editors tend to manipulate viewers into seeing and feeling what the powers that be want you to see & feel. Some of the girls are featured more than others, some are portrayed only in a negative or positive light, some are made to be felt sorry for, and so on.

4) I don't believe any KTV show that states/implies the public will be left SOLELY responsible for selecting the winners of a talent related contest. I'm not saying these shows are necessarily changing the public votes after the fact, but people as a whole are easily manipulated by a number of creative means...see item 3 above as a prime example. It's obviously in this show's best interest to "give the public what they want", but do not think for a minute that this public voting didn't go hand in hand with some back room maneuvering & politicking from the start, and along the way.

As the show begins, girl after girl from roughly 30-40 or so talent agencies arrive to compete in this contest as one giant collective group. Some of them are really young and just starting off on their journey to become a KPop star, while others are on the opposite end of the spectrum as they are getting older and are running out of time to chase their idol dreams. The girls are then assigned to live in various dorm rooms where they train night and day to prepare for one stage show after another. Sometimes they have to work together, while other times they compete against one another. Every two weeks or so, a bunch of girls are voted off until we finally arrive at the final 11 girls that remain standing at the end.

I knew exactly what was going to happen when this show began; pit a bunch of Korean girls against one another with the same dreams and goals and what do you get?...A stressed out semi-unified monster of Korean female fighting spirit, bonding, and a little bickering along the way. This is KTV though, so don't expect screaming matches or hair pulling fights to break out amongst the girls (at least on camera anyway), and they are all trying to appease a Korean public that expects/demands a practically unreasonable level of politeness and respectfulness from their idols (at least in public anyway).

Along their journey throughout this competition, the girls get trained and judged on a weekly basis by the 5 female coaches who each have a particular specialty (i.e. dancing, rapping, vocals, etc...). These 5 women are experienced older idols who are now coaching up the next generation to follow them. They are not always easy on the girls, but that is a necessary evil in order to get them up to snuff and weed out the weak. Their words of encouragement are few and far between, but it's clear they like them and want them to succeed as this show rolls along. Aside from the 5 female coaches, there's also the sole MC who handles the entire proceedings nicely, along with several auxiliary trainers who teach the girls better diet & exercise habits and the like. All of these people did a really solid job in their designated roles.

In the end, you get your newly formed idol group who is to debut for a one year (as they are essentially on loan from their talent agencies), but I guess their agencies didn't want to wait that long to capitalize on this show's popularity as they've already started placing their girls in their own groups. And although many people felt that several of the 11 who were chosen didn't deserve to make the cut talent wise in the first place, that's not the point of this show. Instead, the goal was to monitor who the public wanted to see most, and that's exactly what this show accomplished.

Summary: A lot of the 101 girls are quite talented already, while others still need some improving, and there's a few that should just give up asap. Some of the overall performances they put on are really good though, and, this show is more than worth watching for that alone. Of course, every girl wants to be one of the eventual 'chosen ones' and become a star, but watching them ferociously compete against one another while simultaneously helping each other out is what really drives this show. And those girls that didn't make the final cut got a lot of recognition &/or benefited greatly by competing, so, don't feel too sorry for them.

Bottom Line: I liked this show a lot. 8 out of 10 stars!

Cheongchunsidae
(2016)

Girl power themed K-drama that is Quite Good!
Age of Youth (aka Hello, My Twenties) is a 12 episode KTV show from the summer of 2016. The premise consists of 5 college aged girls/women living together in a rented home while they go about dealing with their lives, loves, families, jobs, and studies. It's a straightforward ensemble drama that will most likely grow on you pretty quickly.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Not to stereotype them, but the 5 girls can basically be best initially summarized as follows:

1. The sexy girl who's not shy about sleeping around. She cares mostly about herself, her looks, and how she can use those looks and her body to get various guys to be her sugar daddies.

2. The cute girl who's desperate to be loved but won't be until she can bring herself to break up with her loser boyfriend and find some self-esteem & maturity.

3. The serious girl who works hard to get ahead but can't ever seem to do so. She's had an unfortunate life, but her overly sullen personality isn't helping her in any way.

4. The fun loving party girl who tries so hard to get a man to like her and see her as a woman, but always ends up getting stuck in the friend zone.

5. The youngest and newest tenant. She's shy, has never dated, and is mainly concerned with just trying to adapt to the big city college environment and fit in with her new roommates.

The girls are mostly somewhat strangers to one another, but they get to know each other over time, bicker some along the way, make up with one another, and generally just learn to get along and support each other as best they can. They do bond together and stick up for their housemates when called for though, and they clearly care for one another, even though they don't always know how to show it or what to do to help one another.

Collectively, the 5 girls make a very nice mix of various personas & personalities, and this is one of the show's best attributes. They are all imperfect creatures for sure, and they each have their own back stories, a secret or two, and reasons why they act the way they do, but this only adds to their appeal as relatable characters, and you'll soon start rooting for all of them to succeed, grow, move on, or whatever it is they are each trying to accomplish.

Though not hugely famous film or TV stars as of yet, each of the 5 primary cast members is VERY good in their assigned roles here, and they consistently work well both together and separately throughout. This is a credit to both them and the director, and this is augmented by the oft smart screen writing throughout the show. Each of the 5 gets fairly equal screen time and story lines, so don't be fooled into thinking otherwise based on the first episode or two alone (which primarily focuses on the young new girl).

Aside from the writing, directing, and acting, one of the other things I really like about this show is its maturity. In a K-drama, you don't often see a woman nonchalantly ripping off her bra as soon as she gets home, or someone hoping her comatose brother would just die so she can get out from under medical bills and finally get on with her life, etc...The show was rated for age 15 or older to watch, and I think that's appropriate, but it has a very mature feel to it compared to most of the K-dramas I've seen of this age rating.

There are plenty of other things to like with this show as well; in-character Q&A epilogues after each episode fit neatly within the concept of the story without seemingly being tacked on for filler or for no reason, the story lines are varied and nicely thought out, the show bounces back and forth between glee, sadness, and a common middle ground with ease, and so on. There's not much in the way of super fancy production values to speak of, but you don't really need them to be in a drama like this, and everything looks fine.

The male actors in this show are basically all secondary characters; they do what's required of them well enough when needed within the framework of the overall story lines, but that's all they are there for. There are also several K-drama staples, clichés, & tropes thrown in as expected; debt collectors, some talk of a ghost, a stalker type guy or two, sick/dying/dead people, etc...however, none of this takes away from the theme of the show, which is simply watching the 5 girls continuing their daily lives regardless of any man, side story, or anything else that's taking place around them.

Overall, this is a really well done show. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay it is that it never wears out its welcome; the 5 lead characters, while you may not always like them or their life choices, well, they will be missed. Future KTV programmers, writers, and directors everywhere should take a lesson from this show, and that is: Always Leave the Viewer Wanting More!

Summary: I wasn't even planning on watching this because the premise didn't seem to be initially appealing to me. But, I caught a few early episodes, and I was hooked. It's witty, well written, engaging, and efficient. I will take a story like this anytime over the flashier and more popular, yet often predictably unfulfilling, ones that follow the same basic K-drama premise time and time again. It probably won't be a big hit with the masses, or crowds that are mostly interested in "Cinderella gets doted on by a bunch of rich young hot guys" stories, but it is quite good.

Bottom Line: Personally, this is my favorite K-drama of 2016 to date. I'm giving it 9 out of 10 stars accordingly...Totally Recommended!

The Return of Superman
(2013)

One of the cutest reality/variety TV shows you'll ever see!
The Return of Superman (aka Return of Superman aka Superman is Back) is a Korean variety/reality show that began in autumn of 2013 and is still airing as of this review. In honor of this show's upcoming 2 year anniversary and 100th episode, let's review, and pay homage to, what is quite possibly the simplest & sweetest TV reality program ever made.

SPOILERS AHEAD!... these types of shows aren't really spoilable though. It's just a show you follow along with weekly that doesn't have a linear story, cliffhangers, or a climax.

Premise: Four celebrity dads return home to take care of their real life kids for 48 hours each week without any help from their wives (who normally handle the kids and household in their stead). These guys all often work long hours in the entertainment industry and rarely get much home time. So, an idea was hatched to give 'em a chance to spend some time with their kids, film the events around the clock, and make a reality show out of it. Awesome!

The dads aren't exactly expertly suited to run the household and take care of the kids; they try their best though and they aren't terrible at it, and in many ways, they all resemble the "everyman" first time father, who's made a decent single living for themselves, but now has to deal with the ups and downs of marriage, raising kids, and so forth. These dads do some pretty dumb stuff sometime, but they don't really ever endanger their kids in any way (and there's likely some type of nurse/nanny/child expert on location if some occasional intervention or supervision is needed). The dads are mostly left to their own devices to accomplish whatever a parent and their kids should be doing on a given day (which, depending on the kids' ages, consists of simple newborn things like feedings and changing diapers, on up to getting the kids off to school, family vacations, and so forth). The results of the dad's interactions with their kids range from mundane to hilarious to heartwarming, and it is all enormously entertaining to watch play out.

The cast of dads originally consisted of an MMA fighter (Choo Sung Hoon), an actor (Jang Hyun Sung), an MC (Lee Hwi Jae), and a hip hop artist (Tablo), and their respective families, although I recall there being another family in the original pilot special in place of Tablo's family. There's been some cast changes as the show has gone on too, but the premise remains the same throughout, i.e. you get to know more and more about these dads, their kids, wives, friends and family, while generally just observing these people going through their everyday lives. That's the entire show formula, and although this concept may sound utterly boring, I assure you that is not the case.

This is a laid back show however, so don't expect a whole lot of flash & sizzle. You are basically just watching kids grow up here, while observing their interactions with their parents and some occasional guest stars and such. And, unlike a lot of American variety/reality shows, there's no effort to interject overly contrived situations and there are no unlikeable characters here. The majority of these Korean variety/reality shows are mostly just free flowing and upbeat programs that are designed to leave a smile on your face at the end of the day, and they excel at accomplishing this.

It doesn't take long to decide if this show is for you or not; the first few minutes of episode 1 are very indicative of what the show will be about, and by the 35-40 minute mark (when Jang Hyun Sung's youngest son finally gets the hang of riding a bike), there's a good chance you'll be hookedI

Why does this show work as well as it does?...Well, the cast is great (and that includes the dads, the awesome moms/wives, and what are the most adorable little munchkin kids you'll ever see). The general public participates as well, and as usual with these shows, they fit right in and are often as entertaining as the stars themselves, and seem so at ease with being involved; perhaps it's just a cultural thing, how stars present themselves in the public eye, a combination of a small country with a huge entertainment industry where it's hard to avoid stumbling into a production of some kind, or something else entirely, but it's nevertheless amazing how well Korean citizens seem so comfortable being on TV or interacting with "show-biz" entertainers.

The other thing going for this show, and others like them, is their production teams. They are top notch, and consist of various PD's, writers, VJ's, editors, etc. Together, they can make an exceptional variety/reality show based on virtually any concept you can literally think of; dating, camping, forming music idol groups, jungle survival, games, popularity contests, military service, etc. There are shows that don't work and are eventually dropped of course, but, there are many others with the proper components and accompanying rhythm that are just stellar!

No show is without some problems though; this one can drag along on occasion, and its entertainment value is VERY dependent on the kids and parents reactions to various circumstances, so some episodes are much better than others. It's also in Korean, so it helps if you understand the language some (or are able to "absorb" English subtitles in lieu of that), know a little bit Korean culture, are familiar with the cast of characters and how these shows work, etc.

Summary: Keep watching American variety/reality programming if you want. As for me, I'll keep watching the best variety & reality shows on the planet, and the majority of them are continually coming out of Korea...If you don't believe me, see for yourself, then tell me I'm wrong!

Bottom Line: 8 out of 10 stars!

Byeolnan Myeoneuri
(2015)

A modern Korean TV drama that's pretty lacking in many aspects.
The Virtual Bride (aka The Eccentric Daughter-in-Law) is a 12 episode KTV drama from the summer of 2015.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Story: A struggling young idol agrees to star in a variety show in order to gain popularity for her and the girl idol group she's a member of. This "fake" variety show involves her going to live and work with the mother of the guy she's "pretend" dating, along with said guy, and their extended family.

This shows stars Kim Dasom (I don't know what her actress name or real life name is, but she's a member of the idol group "Sistar"). I am familiar with Sistar and who Dasom is, but this my first exposure to her as an actress. She has participated in two other TV dramas prior to this, but they were both well over 100 episodes, and I have neither the time nor inclination to watch shows of that length. The first thing you should know about Dasom is that she is SMOKING hot (just like all of her Sistar idol mates). The entire group is built (ahem) to be as sexy as possible, while still trying to exhibit a cute and fun appeal at the same time; go watch some of their music videos and you'll see what I'm referring to. Can Dasom act though?, and, is this show worthwhile?...well, let's find out!

As our story begins, Dasom's character (Oh In Young) makes her way to the variety show set (which takes place in a farm/home setting which prepares various traditional Korean food & sauces for restaurants & other buyers). This is a place that requires you to work hard and get your hands dirty. In Young, however, loves her high heels and skimpy flashy outfits and she's ill-suited for this environment at first. As such, the family she's moved in with disapproves of her right away, but they've agreed to do the show, and if it's well received, their business will prosper (and so will In Young and her idol group & company). Over time, the show becomes popular as In Young fits in a little better, and starts slowly winning over the entire family and their ever discerning family matriarch. And of course, she and her nerdy but handsome "fake show love interest costar" begin to have actual feelings for each other.

You'll immediately notice this show has a pretty low budget. That's OK, but you must compensate for fiscal restraints by having some combination of a good story, solid writing, proper direction, and stellar acting performances. Unfortunately, this show doesn't really do any one of those things very well. You know you're in for some pain and suffering when the first couple of episodes consist mainly of a midriff baring lead having multiple gassy/fart problems, followed by the introduction of several stereotypical self-centered & annoying Korean cinema mothers, followed by a bunch of mama boys that need to grow up, followed by younger female characters who are searching for self-empowerment. YUK!

The second thing you'll notice about this show is that it resembles a long running day time Korean soap opera that's been compressed to 12 episodes and played on fast forward. Almost every scene consists of a one or two minute interaction between one or more cast members, then it's on to the next one or two minute scene. The way it's scripted and framed doesn't help matters either; it consists mainly of a close up shot of Character A reading a single line, then a close up of Character B reading a single line, then repeat some back and forth like this until the end of their short scene. At the end of each scene, someone references or mentions something about a 3rd party not involved in the current scene. Then, cut away to said 3rd party having their own short scene, then continue this formula FOREVER until the show eventually concludes.

Because of how the scenes are written, there never seems to be any personal interaction or meaningful communication among any of the character. It feels like everyone is just reading lines and nothing more. All of the characters involved are supposed to "evolve" over time, but it's a very cumbersome & repetitive process along the way; someone accepts someone, then turns their back on them, then accepts them again; this pattern of behavior is repeated often throughout this show between multiple characters, and, it really becomes tedious and just plain absurd as the show drags on. As a result, this show is severely lacking in any depth, and it fails to ever build any suspense, tension, or momentum.

The cast does what they're asked, and they mostly do OK (but just barely). There are several insufferable performances though, and no standout ones. The cast's star power and /or acting prowess (or lack thereof) isn't the problem here though; where this show fails clearly lies at the feet of the writers and the director. Good K-dramas build towards their climax and include multiple important scenes where you can't take your eyes off the screen, which in turn, engages the viewer to invest in the story, care about its characters, and look forward to the next episode. Sadly, this show doesn't ever accomplish any of this.

As far as Dasom's performance goes, she did all right with what she was given to work with. I doubt she'll ever win any best actress awards, but she could likely make a decent living in this field if given the chance to be aligned with shows that have better stories and some decent writing and direction. Until that happens though, she shouldn't quit her day job with Sistar (which she is excellent at)!

Summary: Unfortunately, I have to drop the hammer on this show; it's neither interesting nor intelligent nor original. This is clearly a project that was just designed to quickly fill a time slot and nothing more. In short, it has no heart and no soul. Don't waste your time with this.

Bottom Line: 4 out of 10 stars!...Not recommended!

Surplus Princess
(2014)

Where do I apply to become a writer for South Korean TV dramas?
Surplus Princess (aka The Idle Mermaid) is a 10 episode Korean TV drama from late 2014. It's a pre-teen oriented Korean TV fairytale type romance drama that you'll probably have to be both very young and very female to enjoy...and, even then, you might not like it. It was supposed to be 16 episodes, but the viewing public said otherwise and it was called off after 10 episodes. Obviously, a show that can't fulfill its 16 episode time slot due to poor ratings is not going to be receiving a glowing review from me!

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Story: A pretty mermaid has a crush on a handsome human. She hastily drinks a magic potion to become human for a while in order to be with him. Unfortunately, she didn't realize she now has only 100 days to find her "true love" before she downed this concoction, lest she disappear from this world forever.

This is another K-drama that was basically only airing on my TV for the viewing pleasure of my young nieces. It was rated for 15 years old, and that's basically the age range it caters to. It's not very well done though, due to its relentless predictability, lack of intelligence, and overall immaturity.

Perhaps I'm just getting too old to even review a show such as this anymore, but with age comes wisdom, and I can easily recognize when a youthful show of this nature is basically just half-assing their way through a lazily written story solely for the sake of watching pretty young people try to find themselves, love, the meaning to their existence, and blah, blah, blah. This show is awash with walking hairdos and abs trying to figure out how to be men, and doe eyed cuties trying to figure out how to become a woman. I have nothing against the main cast, and I actually rather like several of them from their present and previous works. The problem here is all of these performers are too old to be acting as if they're still relationship stunted middle school students (which is frequently how they are portrayed).

The immaturity factor cannot be overstated here; the male lead (who's playing a college aged grad or thereabouts, despite the fact that he's roughly 32 years old in real life) cries at least once in 6 different episodes (Yes, I counted). I have long since become accustomed to "men" crying in these K-dramas, but that is a 60% crying ratio per total episodes, and that is simply UNACCEPTABLE! There's also no shortage of scenes where he's generally just sulking or moping around as if he were a petulant child. The female lead/mermaid is assigned to play an aegyo factory that fluctuates primarily between elation and despair throughout the production. As expected, this leads to her basically being either super cute, or super annoying, with little room in between. Both characters are likable enough during the few instances where they're acting like "normal/regular" young adults but this (sadly) occurs far too infrequently. Much of the supporting cast suffers the same fate. i.e. there's lots of "I'm so sad", now "I'm so confused", now "I'm so happy" approach to storytelling here.

This entire dichotomy of having the cast act like pre-pubescent teens one minute, then hot young adults the next, just doesn't work very well. This show would have been much better served to either employ a younger cast or be more thoughtfully written to allow the actors & actresses they've hired to be more diverse and well-rounded people, and a little more mature overall. Even the older actors & actresses on this show are often subjected to this immaturity, and it is painful to watch.

The production values are good enough for a fantasy TV K-drama, but the writing just sucks. As an example of this; the dude the mermaid has a crush on suffers from prosopagnosia (which is a disorder where you can't recognize other people's faces), except, sometimes he apparently doesn't suffer from it at all. It's a bizarre and obscure character trait to include to begin with, but worse is the fact that it serves no real purpose to the overall story, and it's occasionally brought up then dropped again several times throughout the show. The lead mermaid character seems more concerned with clubbing, making friends, goofing off, getting a job, and so forth, as opposed to concentrating on NOT DYING within the 100 day limit she's allotted! Toss in some bad '80s American music and entertainment references, an early overuse of post-edit screen captions, cast members breaking out selca shots and song & dance routines out of nowhere, pointless brief cameos from K-Pop idols (as well as an industry wannabe who has no business being in front of the camera), and on and on it goes.

This show is frequently disjointed. and yet it is incredibly predictable at the same time. There were many times where I questioned what the hell was going on, but there was never a doubt regarding who would ultimately be with whom, and what would basically occur to the entire cast of characters over the course of its run time.

Summary: I try to be as objectionable and fair in regards to any review I write for these K-dramas (regardless of the audience they're aimed at), and I have seen numerous youthfully oriented shows which I've rather enjoyed. But this ain't one of 'em. It has a few worthwhile moments here and there, but not nearly enough of them. As such, I can't recommend this show to anyone (regardless of how old you are)!

P.S. My 13-15 yr old nieces (and their similarly aged girl-friends) ultimately thought this show was just silly nonsense. And, if they thought it was immature (as did I), then your show got some problems!

Bottom Line: A very generous 6 out of 10 stars, and I'd have a hard time defending even that high of a rating if pressed.

Oh Naui Gwishinnim
(2015)

It's 'Pasta' meets '49 Days' in this pretty enjoyable K-drama.
Oh My Ghost (aka Oh My Ghostess) is a 16 episode 2015 KTV drama. The story involves a lowly kitchen worker who wants to become a chef, the head chef as the romantic interest, and a ghost who wants to settle her grudge. There's also a murder mystery angle involved.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Our story revolves around 2 young women; one is a lonely restaurant assistant who has a crush on her boss, but is too shy to act on it. She also happens to have the ability to see ghosts, which ain't helping her any in her personal or professional life. The other woman is a ghost who can't find her way to the afterlife because she's resentful that she died a virgin. She can't remember how she died and doesn't really care at first., she's just looking to inhabit any living woman she can in order to lose her virginity so she can finally leave this world. Ghost girl meets living girl and discovers that the chef she has a crush on is one of the few living men who can handle her "supernatural sexual powers". Thus, ghost girl plans to quickly enter living girl's body to have sex with this chef in order to satisfy her desires before departing earth forever.

What happens here is ghost girl periodically inhabits living girl in order to accomplish her main goal (i.e. getting laid). This creates all kinds of problems for the living girl, as she can't remember anything that occurs when the ghost girl takes over her body. Furthermore, these two women are polar opposites in terms of their personalities; living girl is timid and lethargic, and ghost girl is an aggressive loud mouth. Thus, everyone around living girl now thinks she's suffering from some multiple personality disorder as she switches back & forth from quiet & reserved to boisterous & outgoing (depending on whether her body is being occupied by the ghost girl or not).

Unfortunately for ghost girl, this chef she's trying to seduce has old fashioned values and wants to take the slow approach to a relationship. She just wants to hop in the sack with the guy, but he won't acquiesce, and this frustrates her to no end. Left with few options, ghost girl and living girl team up in order to find a solution for each of their separate problems; ghost girl helps living girl blossom as an all-around woman and win over the man she likes, and living girl allows ghost girl to continually try to accomplish her goal while also helping her out in other ways. It doesn't take long before these two girls become BFF's while also balancing out each other's personalities.

Everything is going according to plan, but problems eventually arise. Ghost girl starts falling in love with the chef over time (which was not her intention), and living girl discovers that ghost girl's grudge may not be related to being a virgin at all. There's also an attractive career woman vying for the chef's affection that must be dealt with, and someone who might be inhabited by an evil spirit that eventually represents your main antagonist on several fronts. From there, it's just a matter of following along with the story to see how everything will play out.

As usual, you need to give these K-dramas some breathing room to see how they evolve before casting judgement. The first few episodes are a little rocky but the story does settle in quickly, and it's mostly entertaining for the bulk of its run time.

There's a lot to like about this story and this show, and it's helped greatly by the performance of the two lead actresses. I'm quite familiar with Park Bo-young (who portrays the living girl, and is the main star of the show), and she just kills it in a role that requires her to start out acting on opposite ends of the spectrum and slowly blending them into some middle ground over time. Kim Seul-gi plays the ghost girl, and this isn't the first time I've seen her play a bit of a manic character in a supporting role, but she's quite good at it, and somebody needs to give her shot at as a lead actress asap. These two actresses drive this show from start to finish, and they interact so well that you'd think they've been working together for years.

Jo Jung-suk plays the chef and lead love interest. He's fairly likable and effective (especially when compared to the asshole head chef character portrayed in 'Pasta') and, of course, he's pretty easy on the eyes. The rest of the cast of characters not mentioned above consist of the "ghost catcher" lady with a soft spot for the ghost girl, an assortment of fit subordinate chef dudes ranging from reasonable to obnoxious and that get shirtless for no reason (other than to obviously appease the female viewers), along with a few others of import.

This show utilizes several cooking related segments throughout, and a few ghostly special effects as needed, and while both of these of aspects are employed rather sparsely, they do serve their purpose. Production values are solid enough for this type of show, and it's competently written and directed as well (though you'll have to excuse the lack of rules of what a ghost can or can't do). There is a bit of lag during some of the middle episodes, but not so much that it doesn't comply with my number one rule for any K-drama (i.e. "Don't Be Boring!").

Summary: Is it great?...Of course not!. But there are a number of things to like here. It does ultimately work quite well for what it is, it's also pretty well paced, and there's a nice mix of drama, humor, poignancy, suspense, love, etc. Personally, I thought it was very nicely done!

Bottom Line: 8 out of 10 stars on the K-Drama scale!...Solidly Recommended!

Three Days
(2014)

An 'Iris' type clone that ain't perfect, but ultimately gets the job done quite well.
Three Days is a16 episode KTV drama from early 2014. It's a show that's all action/political espionage/suspense virtually all the time. It's bereft of any humor or playfulness, and it's extremely sparse on the romance & love interests (i.e. there is basically none); there's simply very little time for that stuff, as the top priority here is for bad guys and good guys to continually face off until only one group is left standing. As such, this is probably not a show that most typical K-drama female viewers would likely gravitate to for obvious reasons.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Story: Someone is trying to assassinate the President of Korea, but why?...(SPOILERS) As it turns out, the President worked for an arms manufacturer in his youth before transitioning into politics. In the past, the future President and several other now politically important and/or rich powerful people had concocted a plan that would make them a lot of money through arms dealing. This plan went awry and everybody involved subsequently covered it up. The President now wants to come clean years later and make amends for his past actions, while everyone else involved (i.e the Bad Guys) wants to keep it a secret, so the President must be silenced no matter what.

Standing in the way of the Bad Guys are the President's Secret Service agents and a few aides & confidants. The Bad Guys, in turn, have an endless amount of henchman, firepower, wealth, informants, tech, political clout, and double agents at their disposal. It becomes increasingly apparent to the President that he can trust almost no one except one Secret Service agent (who is the primary male lead), along with his small town cop sidekick (who's the primary female lead), that saved his ass during an initial assassination attempt.

You figure the trusty Secret Service agent & small town cop are going to be the focal point of this show, and they sort of are; they are played by Park Yoo Chun and Park Ha Sun respectively, and they both do a fine job. This is somewhat of an ensemble piece however; one that sees loads of other characters sharing the limelight, chipping in, and/or playing important roles throughout. The two most prominent of these roles belong to the President himself (played by Son Hyun Joo), and his primary Bad Guy adversary (played by Choi Won Young), and the two of them turn in some impressive K-drama performances as they have a battle of wits and wills to see who will come out on top. They each have their opposing demeanors and styles; Son Hyun Joo generally portrays a very measured and wise & weary older man who's resolve to now do what's right is unwavering, and, Won Young makes for an excellent opponent as his former protégé who has long since devolved into psychopathic lunatic bent on crushing anyone who gets in his way. These two rarely appear on screen together, but their individual actions and reactions to one another are THE highlight of this show.

The storytelling approach is basically as follows: offer up some back story and follow it with an intrigue/suspense scene, action scene, character introspection scene, and an occasional downtime scene. Then, repeat this same formula until the story is resolved. Won Young, and his army of cronies, spies, and foot soldiers continually try to either off or destroy the President, the secret service and the other good guys try to stop them and, and a WHOLE LOT of people die along the way before the show reaches its conclusion.

This show is action packed on numerous occasions, and the action is above average for a KTV show, but it's not anywhere near current Korean movie quality, due to time and budget constraints. Overall, the productions values are more than acceptable. There are some occasional pacing issues, but they aren't glaringly painful. Direction and writing are fairly solid as well (again, from the prospective of this being a K-drama), and both of these departments do effectively bring this show to its eventual climax (which is awesome).

This show could have used some additional trimming (and by that I mean it probably would have been better served as a 12 episode block or thereabouts), but, I say that about virtually every Korean TV drama I watch. There is a lot to like about this show though for what it is; there were several fine performances by some established older actors in their supporting roles, it avoids any silliness that doesn't really belong in a drama of this nature, and (most importantly) the story is fairly tight and efficient. There's also a good deal of melodrama involved (which is a hallmark of these types of shows), the limited implementation of the awkward budding romance between the 2 younger leads is quite sensible in regards to the overall scheme of things, and the Chaebol connection/honor & justice/foreign involvement/etc angles are as equally effective as they are predictable.

Summary: It takes a while for the viewer to really get invested in this show, and I didn't really like it all that much at first. It's certainly not w/o some occasional problems here and there. But, it is quite good overall for an action/suspense K-drama when all is said and done. If you like this genre, stick with it, and you will be rewarded with a right fine KTV show in the end.

Bottom Line: 7.5-8 out of 10 stars. A well recommended K-drama once it hits its stride, but bear in mind that it's mainly geared towards dudes!

Hyakuen no koi
(2014)

Sakura Ando turns in a stunning performance in this life growth/boxing flick.
100 Yen Love (2014 Japanese movie). Premise: A lazy and aimless woman in her thirties finally finds her passion for life through amateur boxing.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Our story begins with our heroine to be (Ichiko) living at home with her parents. She's slovenly and lethargic, and she's also jobless, never had a boyfriend, and has zero ambition or desire to accomplish anything. She's portrayed as a shut in type that mostly stays in her room eating junk food and playing video games. Her mother is fed up with this routine, and she and Ichiko sort of mutually agree that it's time for Ichiko to start experiencing life on her own. With a few bucks in hand, Ichiko sets out to find a place to live, and takes the graveyard shift at the local convenience store she frequents where everything costs 100 yen. On her way home from work each morning, she passes a local boxing gym that soon begins to draw her interest. She eventually approaches this gym for some boxing lessons one day, and from there, she's off on her journey from awkward un-athletic girl to a more confident and fit woman. Along the way, she finds herself, and a boyfriend (sort of), and generally starts to emerge from her shell overall while experiencing life's ups and downs.

I suppose one could compare this movie to a female version of the original 'Rocky', or something similar. This isn't really a sports themed movie though, as the boxing aspect really serves as just a metaphor. More than anything, this movie is one of those meandering life growth stories that the Japanese film making industry specializes in. And although the boxing element does eventually play a big part here, this film is more tonally aligned to other semi-recent films from Japan such as 'Breathe In, Breathe Out', 'Sawako Decides', 'Funuke, Show Some Love You Losers'. None of these films are the same by any means, but they all share similar dramatic elements with '100 Yen Love', and they all tend to progress at a very unhurried pace which are occasionally punctuated by periodic instances of humor, quirky characters, weirdness, and pivotal moments, until they reach their climax.

Sakura Ando plays the lead as Ichiko, and, everybody else is basically a supporting character. I've seen Sakura Ando in a number of roles over the last decade, and she's always gotten the job done quite well in my opinion. This is a head turning performance though, and one that is well deserving of some best actress consideration. She doesn't really say a whole lot throughout, as she mostly lets her expressions, mannerisms, and body language, do the talking instead; she utilizes these physical traits to speak volumes though, and this is one very effective portrayal of emotional and physical development within the framework of the story.

This is somewhat of an odd and uneven film, and at times, it almost feels like two entirely different films smashed together. It can be equally as dull as it is exciting, annoying as it is funny, heartwarming as it depressing, and so on. I'm not sure I would've even liked it if the lead actress wasn't so imminently watchable (regardless of what was happening on screen). This is a front & center role that requires a good deal of nuance and subtlety until it's time to let it fly athletically, and Sakura Ando owns every bit of it from start to finish. And although I suspect there was some early use of a body double and/or prosthetics (in order to make her initially look a little more out of shape than she actually was), it's obvious she put in some serious workouts in order to get lean and toned when the time came to step into the ring. If you tuned into to watch only the first and last 10 minutes, you'd have a hard time reconciling the fact that it was the same actress playing the same role in the same movie. I'm really not sure if that's a good or bad thing, but it is a decent indication of both the lead's incredible diversity, and the movie's ambition.

PROS: This film is pretty solid and enjoyable overall, the lead actress is outstanding in her role, the movie is very appropriately scored to suit varying moods & themes (including the insanity inducing background music that is perpetually played at the 100 Yen store, which perhaps explains why every employee & regular customer there is a bit "off"). It features a simple, and often easy going, story w/o any frills, and it utilizes a minimal budget effectively in order to produce an entertaining life growth/semi-boxing movie that's also fairly well shot, written, and directed. So, not much to dislike here!

CONS: This story won't work for everyone and many people may find this film to be a bit boring (particularly during the first half). The movie is disjointed on occasion and the transition of the lead from shy dork to determined boxer girl could have been smoothed out in order to be a little more seamless & cohesive (so that the movie would not appear to be broken down into two distinct halves quite as much), and there was one early scene regarding the lead character's virginity that did not seem appropriate to the tone of the story at all (although I suppose one could consider such an event to be an entirely relevant possibility under the circumstances).

Summary: I loved it for the most part! Clearly not the best movie I've seen from 2014, but definitely one of my personal favorites from that year. Be forewarned though, it pays to have a lot of patience and/or some prior positive experiences with these types of Japanese movie productions in order to get the most mileage out of it. Worth it alone though, just to watch Sakura Ando's mesmerizing performance.

Bottom Line: 8 out of 10 stars.

Infinite Challenge
(2005)

Arguably the best, and most influential, variety show of the 21st century.
Infinite Challenge (aka Infinity Challenge, or Muhan Dojeon in Korean) is a 400 + episode and counting Korean TV variety show that began in 2005. It is awesome!

SPOILERS AHEAD!...But, as usual with these types of variety shows, there is nothing to really spoil.

Premise: A regular cast of 6 guys (+/-) get together each week to provide comedy/variety/reality show entertainment, while taking on an infinite amount of demanding and/or ridiculous challenges. Said challenges usually take place over the course of several episodes or more until finished. These challenges range from idiotic to difficult to amusing to dangerous to just about everything you can think of; racing cars, song & dance performances, various comedic skits, exhausting work, etc. You name it, they're doing it! And, they are always doing it in the most entertaining way possible.

The Korean entertainment industry does a lot of things really well, and one of the things they do better than EVERY other country on the planet is provide variety show entertainment. I started watching the typical studio panel based variety programs well over a decade ago. They were good and I was particularly drawn to the overall sense of humor, audience interaction, witty banter, guests, games, and so forth. At some point however, somebody came up with the brilliant idea of bringing these variety shows out of the studio and essentially taking them on a nonstop outdoor road tour. Infinity Challenge (IC) is the first show that truly embraced this idea to its fullest, and the Korean variety TV world has never been the same since.

It took a while for IC to really take shape and settle in, but it has a lot going for it once it found its comfort zone; the primary cast members are all terrific variety show entertainers who work very well together, the creative producers & writers and the "behind the scenes crew" are all fantastic, and everybody involved on this show works REALLY hard to make it all work. It does so many things so well that it's hard to single out what it does best. However, the one thing I really love about this show (and all similar shows that followed), is how often regular citizens are involved in the proceedings. The cast must often attempt to accomplish their tasks in full view of the public, and this frequently results in numerous surreal & humorous interactions between celebrities and average citizens going about their everyday lives. This unique symmetry that exists between Korean stars and the general public is incredibly endearing, and it's not unusual for common people to be an integral part of this show.

The easiest thing for me to do is compare IC to another more recent Korean variety show called Running Man (RM), because both shows are quite similar. While I dearly love RM, I think IC is a better all-around show, and it's clearly the more intelligent and diverse of the two. IC is the more popular for the most part in Korea, but RM is much more well-known worldwide. My Korean friends can't understand why RM gets more attention overseas than IC does; they often utter comments such as: "RM is just a knockoff of IC" and "RM is for children, whereas IC is for adults", etc... I can't totally disagree with them, but I think RM is more embraced internationally due to some combination of the following: A) RM follows a simpler and more approachable fun & games format that requires less attention from week to week, B) RM more regularly features young idol guest stars, and many foreign markets are crazy for all things having to do with Korean idols, and, C) Timing is everything, and RM came along at just the right time to ride the crest of the Hallyu variety show wave.

Unlike some other Korean variety show programs, you have to be willing to devote yourself to IC a little more than usual. It obviously pays dividends to get to know as much about any variety program you're watching, but IC requires an extra level of devotion by comparison; you need to watch season after season of this show to get to the point of understanding why it, and its cast (and crew), is so beloved. And, you'll also have to often watch multiple episodes in a row just to see the culmination of any one particular challenge. It's worth it though, as this show is frequently hilarious, occasionally heartwarming, and almost always entertaining!

I have very few complaints with this show at all. Yes, some of the cast members can get overly annoying on occasion; there's a few in particular that would drive you insane if you spent all day with them while in full variety shtick mode, but they're mostly a likable bunch of resilient dudes who will do virtually anything to entertain audiences on a weekly basis. Some of the challenges might not be to your liking, and sometimes they'll sit around talking about challenges excessively before actually getting around to doing them...but otherwise, what's not to like here?

Summary: If you're a fan of any of these types of modern Korean "out-of-studio" variety shows, you owe it yourself to watch IC. This is a groundbreaking and free-wheeling show that could hardly be funnier or more charming if it tried. Shows like RM, Family Outing, Heroes, Real Men, Roommate, et.al. wouldn't even exist if not for IC. It's a terrific show on its own merits, but its impact on the past, present, & future of variety show programming cannot be overstated.

Bottom Line: One of the most enjoyable and innovative TV shows ever made 9 out of 10 stars!...HIGHLY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

P.S. Don't pay too much attention to the "cast" members listed on this IMDb page. Half of them are just single episode foreign guests who have little to do with this show overall.

Peurodyusa
(2015)

An intelligent and unconventional K-drama that's as terrific as it is polarizing.
Producer (i.e. The Producers): 12 episode 2015 Korean TV drama centered on the backstage efforts and personal lives of various Korean variety & reality show producers, writers, and stars.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Story: This is an innovative and unusual show; it's a K-drama at heart, but, it's also partly an inner workings glimpse into Korean variety/reality TV programming, and part self-parody of that world. The story follows 4 main characters; two show Producing Directors (PD's) in their mid-thirties, a younger PD intern, and a young singer-idol, that all work in the Korean entertainment industry in some capacity. The show follows the personal & professional lives of these people, and those people around them, while mixing comedy, romance, and drama amongst them.

'The Producers' starts off a little unevenly but everything settles in quickly enough, and this show really takes off during episodes 3-4however, it is important to mention that this show also changed directors around this time (in what has to be one of the most ironic cases of life imitating art I've ever seen). There is a change in tone that comes with the change of directors, but it's not unusual for K-dramas to have tonal shifts like this anyway. I rather liked the basic groundwork the first director implemented, but I really enjoyed where the second director took the story once the baton was passed.

The main cast is great. The 2 older PD's are played by actor Cha Tae Hyun and actress Gong Hyo Jin. The young PD intern is played by actor Kim Soo Hyun, and the idol-singer is played by idol-singer IU. If you don't recognize all 4 of these people, you're not paying nearly enough attention to the Korean entertainment industry as you should be. Tae Hyun & Hyo Jin are both highly experienced and seemingly so at ease with any role they are tasked with; as expected, they each do very good work here, both separately and together, and they play off one other extremely well. As for the younger stars; all the Korean girls know who Soo Hyun is by now, and every Korean under the age of 50 knows who IU is at this point. I particularly enjoyed watching these two play mostly against type; he as the shy & awkward guy, and she as the alter ego version of her own public persona.

Supporting cast is rock solid, as is the story, writing, direction, production values, and just about everything else going on with this show. The soundtrack is terrific and very well implemented, and the endless amount of guest stars, cameos, name dropping, career stories, inside jokes, and so forth, is nothing short of spectacular. The camera angles can be a bit off putting at times due to the purposeful intent to portray a typical K-drama as some sort of reality show about people working on reality showsit's often reminiscent to how the British/American show 'The Office' was shot in this aspect.

The last K-drama I can think of that was similarly hyped as 'The Producer' was 'You Who Came From The Stars', and ironically, both shows feature Kim Soo Hyun in a leading role. Both shows share a common quality aside from that actor though, and that is they are each somewhat polarizing "Love It or Hate It" type shows. I wasn't particularly a fan of 'You Who Came From The Stars', though I didn't outright hate it nor did I give it a scathing review. I've heard and read a lot of comments from many viewers who loved 'YWCFTS' (and similar type shows) however, that just do not like 'The Producers' at all; they find 'The Producers' boring, not melodramatic enough, don't like how Soo Hyun's character is portrayed, etcthey don't think 'The Producers' is as good as everyone thinks it is. But, these people are wrong, because 'The Producers' is goodreally good.

This show seems not to care which direction the audience wants the show to go in...it's going to tell its story the way they want. Of course, if the ratings would have stunk, that wouldn't have been the case. I like this approach A LOT and I'd like to see it done more often. It pleases me greatly that this show was well received by many viewersnot just because I liked it and want others to agree, but because Korean TV desperately needs dramas like this to be successful. I've always felt that more diversity was in order within the K-drama world, and this show is quite different from the norm in so many ways. It still retains a K-drama feel and format, but I think this could be a pivotal show in helping change the industry for the better. Not every K-drama show needs to be (virtually) the same story over and over again in order to be accepted, and KTV land might find an audience they never even knew existed if they continue to try taking a more intelligent and adult approach to some of these shows. As for those of you who didn't like the show for the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraphGet over it!...There are hundreds of shows that fit your preferred criteria both past & present, and I can assure you that's not going to change (nor should it) anytime soon.

Summary: Personally, I loved it!...There's no question it's quite well done overall, and it is jammed packed full of extra goodies for long time fans of the Korean entertainment industry. And, if you happen to like both Korean variety/reality shows & K-dramas, it's a real treat. It might not work all that well for the younger generation or those expecting a traditional K-drama format; it is often dialogue heavy, story driven, and very light on the flashiness and epic love story melodrama. In the end, it's just different, and that is perhaps its greatest attribute.

Bottom Line: 8.5 out of 10 stars!...VERY WELL RECOMMENDED!

God's Gift: 14 Days
(2014)

Interesting, yet convoluted, K-drama with a terrific ending.
God's Gift - 14 Days: This is a 16 episode Korean TV drama from 2014. It is primarily a mystery/thriller with a touch of a fantasy element.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Story: A seemingly perfect husband & wife's young child is kidnapped and eventually found dead. The mother is distraught and tries to drown herself, but she fails. When she awakens from her unsuccessful suicide attempt, she finds she has traveled back in time 14 days prior to her daughter's death. Events from the previous 2 weeks start repeating themselves, and she soon realizes she better figure out what's going on in order to prevent the future death of her daughter from happening again.

The initial premise of the show is set up quite well. It's not clear why this woman was sent back in time or why she's the only one who's aware of the events to come. It is apparently due to "God's gift", but this is never fully explained and there are very little religious overtones here. In fact, this time travel plot often gets lost in the scheme of things, except mostly at the beginning of the show, and at the very end; it does pop up occasionally, but this show spends a considerable amount of time focusing on its mystery and thriller elements instead. And surprisingly, there are very few romantic, comedic, or familiar melodramatic aspects to be found at all. It makes sense to not include these standard K-drama motifs in a show like this though; after all, what couple really has time for romance and fun with their costars when their daughter is about to be murdered?

While I appreciate the effort to avoid typical K-drama themes for a change, the absence of these themes does create some problems when you have 16 hours to fill with nothing but one continuing mystery/thriller plot line. As such, this story is often unnecessarily byzantine during its run time; once this show hits its stride, there's a bevy of characters introduced who may or may not be the eventual kidnapper/killer, or who may be connected to the crime in some way. Each week it appears they might have finally caught the actual bad guy(s), only to find one more layer of the onion to peel back in next week's episode. The show is good at keeping you guessing who the culprit(s) is/are, but this rinse and repeat approach to storytelling does becomes tedious when you have to keep it going for much longer than is really practical.

Aside from a few missteps, production values are satisfactory for a K-drama for the most part, though there are a few scenes (and one glaring one involving a car skidding out of control) where the editing and CGI departments didn't quite get the job done. There's only so much these departments can do on a TV show though that airs twice weekly.

Writing is pretty solid, and the writers did pen an interesting & intricate story that they clearly worked very hard on. You'll have to pay attention in order to start connecting everything together down the stretch run, and this isn't always easy when you're a K-drama binge watcher like I am (who also likes to have a few drinks along the way). The story is not really complicated, but I often prefer my K-dramas to require as little attention as possible while viewing, and this is a show that really doesn't afford you that opportunity.

Acting is mostly solid, but there are a few insufferably annoying characters on this show that will make you want to punch your TV. And as usual, you have to view everybody's performances here under the guise & understanding of how these K-dramas roles are typically portrayed. Lee Bo-young is fantastic throughout in the lead role of the desperate mom who'll do anything to save her daughter's life. Cho Seung-woo is solid as the main costar portraying a washed up cop trying to help Bo-young's character & her daughter while also trying to save his retarded brother on death row, heal past wounds, & reconnect with his family. There's various other important starring &/or supporting characters that are too numerous to mention in great detail (i.e. Bo-young's husband, the police squad leader, various potential bad guys, etc), but, I must give some credit to the 8-9 year old girl (Kim Yoo-bin) who plays the young daughter; she's tasked with portraying a number of traits and emotions of a typical girl of that age, while acting opposite adults. Her character is also forever getting kidnapped, threatened, and put in harm's way by a host of menacing bad guys; this would seem a bit scary to me if I were a little girl, but Yoo-bin just rolls with it all like a pro.

And while there is no real humor to speak of, there is one thing (which recurs time and again) that I found particularly amusing; the husband and wife's baffling lapses in remembering that practically everyone in Korea is trying to kidnap & kill their little daughter. They both love and want to protect her, and often go to great lengths to save her, then they just let her wander off again, or leave her in the care of some incompetent weirdo or stranger or someone they know holds a grudge against them. I guess you need some means by which to keep the daughter in continual peril though.

Summary: It's pretty good, but it has some faults and probably should've been pared down to the 12 episode range. I liked it overall, but I would have rated this at least a point lower than I did, if not for how it concluded. You'll have to sit & sift through A LOT in order to get the finish line, so the final payoff better be good when you eventually get there, and it is!

Bottom Line: 7.5 to 8 out of 10 stars. Very Well Recommended (if you can overlook its flaws).

Boarding House Number 24
(2014)

Absurd and often barely watchable, but it does have some charms.
Boarding House Number 24 (aka Boarding House on 24th Street) is a 12 episode KTV drama from mid-late 2014. It is a fairly standard tale about young adults living together, becoming friends, bickering, growing up, falling in and out of love, etc... It's unbelievably silly and immature on several levels however.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Story: A former playboy in his youth has just learned that he fathered a child 24 years ago. He wants to meet his child, but first must figure out which of 6 possible candidates is actually his offspring. So, he invites/tricks all 6 of these people to stay at his boarding house until he can figure out which of them is his son or daughter. The six consist of 3 single handsome dudes and 3 single pretty girls. Thus, you can expect hi-jinks and relationships to ensue between them until we find out who the child is.

I'm not gonna sugar coat it: this show absolutely STUNK to start with, but it does improve some over time. The first of the problems is the story itself, specifically, why don't these people just take a DNA test to learn who the child is? There's some half-assed excuse as to why this can't be done, but the real answer is there would be no reason for this ridiculous show premise to exist at all if they didn't completely sweep that simple solution under the rug. This show is also very cheaply made, the six young stars are mostly all random K-Pop idols thrown together and told to "act well with each other immediately", and the comedy primarily consists of bathroom humor, kicks to the crotch, and slipping on banana peel jokes. Some of the humor on this show is so bad that the PD's decided to tack on an audience laugh track during editing (in an apparent attempt to let you know these jokes are supposed to be funny), and, as a result, this show plays more along the lines of a inane American sitcom than it does a typical K-drama. It's reminiscent of something along the lines of 'The Brady Bunch' or 'Friends' (complete with simple misunderstandings, life lessons, canned laughter, and the like).

The show gets better once everyone realizes they should just let it be exactly what it is (i.e. absurd, goofy, nonsense). The humor improves too as the cast & crew become more relaxed and familiar with each other; the comedy rarely approaches anything that can be considered biting or witty or high-brow, but the laughs are more numerous beginning around episode 4-5 or so.

The story places all of its focus on the house owner and the seven twenty year olds (consisting of the six potential children plus the niece of the house owner). There aren't really any recurring auxiliary or secondary characters to speak of, and antagonists here are basically nonexistent. Most of the characters on this show share a fairly equal amount screen time, although I suppose the house owner (played by veteran character actor Kim Kwang Kyu) gets the most. The rest of the cast is made up of an assortment of various KPop idols with differing amounts of acting experience.

All of the young cast members do OK enough acting wise (some better than others), but these aren't very nuanced or textured roles; they're all primarily tasked with just fooling around most of the time. Of them all, Min Do Hee (in her role as the shy shut in that comes out of her shell with the help of her housemates) does have a bit more focus on her compared to the others. Min Do-Hee is freakin' adorable, and she's not half bad as a young idol crossover actress based on the two shows I've seen her in thus far. The rest of them are all pretty/handsome young idol stars as well, and while their characters can be annoying on occasion, it's hard to dislike these or any other young idol themselves; they all work hard, they're endlessly polite, and they all manage to never act like arrogant jackasses in public. As a side note, the idols use their own names for the characters they play on this show, which is quite helpful in familiarizing yourself with various young idols that you might not know all that well yet.

One of the most amusing things about this show is when some of the cast members inadvertently start laughing &/or flubbing their lines during shooting. This happens several times, but the PD's decided some of these scenes were good enough to air anyway; at first blush, this almost appears to be a brilliant and innovative idea to slyly imbed comedic bloopers & outtakes into the story & show itself. But, it quickly becomes clear that the PD's were rather just thinking: "Screw it. That take was good enough. Let's move on to the next scene!" This was hilarious!

As for who the house owner's child is: who cares?...this is essentially irrelevant, and I knew who it was going to be in the very first episode anyway. This show is much more about watching young people find their way into adulthood while forming love lines and getting involved in various frivolous circumstances along the way.

Summary: No way I can recommend this show. It's brazenly lazy, extremely low budget, frequently stupid, & very childish. It rarely ever attempts to even be a semi-competent production, and, it's severely lacking in any depth or intelligence. Nevertheless, I'm almost ashamed to admit that I did kinda like it a little when all was said and done, and there were several episodes throughout that I did end up enjoying. If you're looking for a well written, epic, or even halfway decent K-Drama, you'll need to look elsewhere, but if you want to watch a bunch of young attractive K-Pop idols (plus one old dude) basically goof off for the better part of 10 hours, then have at it!

Bottom Line: 6 out of 10 stars!

Detectives of Seonam Girls High School
(2014)

A decent, but silly, life lesson KTV melodrama for young girls.
Detectives of Seonam Girls High School (aka Seonam Girls High School Investigators): 14 episode 2014-2015 Korean TV drama show. Premise: Five female high school students form an after school detective club, then solve "crimes" while providing numerous life lessons for young teen girls.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Story: This show rarely has anything to do with crime solving...instead, what it mostly does is serve as a medium to deliver episodic Public Service Messages to young teenagers. The general plot has the "detectives" helping their classmates overcome various dilemmas that any young girl might soon encounter (i.e. dealing with school grades, bullying, problems at home, teen pregnancy, depression, suicide, sexual orientations, etc.). The rough layout of the show consists of an episode or two devoted to one particular "mystery" for our detectives to solve; they sleuth around and figure out what's happening, then they try to help whatever school girl that's involved to solve their problems as best they can. Then, repeat this formula until the show is over. The mysteries aren't very difficult for a viewer to understand or follow along with, but they aren't meant to be; solving mysteries is really just a means by which to discuss and explore several topics teen girls face these days.

The detectives consist of 4 freshman girls until they incorporate the reluctant transfer student as their 5th member. Jin Ji-hee plays the primary character as the transfer student. Ji-hee has been in many productions since she was a child...she's an experienced teenage actress now, and makes a perfect fit in her role as the level headed high school girl dealing with tiger mom and creepy teacher issues, and she is very effective at playing the part. The leader of the detectives, played by Kang Min-ah, gets the next meatiest part. While not as experienced as Ji-hee, Min-ah is quite impressive in her role as well, as she tries to keep the detectives together while dealing with her own puerile recurring love interest side story. Both of these young actresses performed very well overall, and I'm sure you'll be seeing more of them as they get older.

The other 3 detectives are played by relative newcomers, and as such, they are each assigned more of a supporting role while working on their acting chops; they are primarily tasked to just supply aegyo or be slightly odd, until they are called upon to have a scene of some significance. I recognized only 1 of these actresses offhand due to her popularity as K-pop star, another must be a model of some kind due to her height and strong facial features, and there's another interesting young actress among them, and the three of them represent themselves OK enough while they gain some experience in this field. Together, the five detectives make for an eclectic mix of personalities, abilities, and quirks that are often equal parts likable and annoying; they aren't overly one dimensional, but they aren't too dissimilar to how a K-Pop idol group is portrayed (i.e. there's a clear intent to peg each specific girl as the normal one, nerdy one, smart one, goofy one, etc).

Most of the adults and male characters on this show are portrayed as caricatures that are either: A) an idiot or weirdo, or, B) a character who's relatively non-essential to the story. This is a show for young high school girls, so it's not surprising that anyone who is not a young high school girl is usually shown as nothing more than a complete buffoon, or is used as an occasional plot device. I kinda felt bad for these actors and actresses, because these are some pretty crappy roles for an adult.

Direction, writing, and production is often hit and miss, but workable. The show has a very limited budget, but it does manage to avoid looking cheaply made. The writing and dialogue is satisfactory enough and rarely outright terrible, and the show was paced well overall. There's also a series of interludes throughout that are sometimes interesting and sometimes just strange; from recurring 1st person Q&A sessions with the lead character, to actors playing multiple parts as various extras, to semi commercial tie-ins involving the detectives, and so on.

Overall, there's some decent stuff to be had here (even if you're not a teen girl). It does have some problems though; It is frequently childish, serious issues often get too easily resolved to the tune of "everyone can learn & grow & live happily ever after", and the underlying & continuing "murder" mystery involving the primary character and some weirdo teacher is TERRIBLE!; this story line eventually results in the climax of the show, and, I absolutely hated it! it is by far the worst part of this show, completely unnecessary, poorly handled, and takes away from the single episode life lesson feel of the show.

I would have never watched this show if it weren't for the fact that my 13-15 year old nieces wanted to check it out and required some adult supervision. This show was certainly geared towards them, but, I surprisingly didn't hate it myself. It actually made me chuckle several times, and it did have some occasional semi-poignant moments. I also rather appreciated its efforts to broach some important & relevant topics that all young girls should know or be ready to start thinking about. It is somewhat baffling how it will go from ultra-silly nonsense to dealing with serious topics at the drop of a hat however.

Summary: I'm not really sure how to rate this (because I'm not a girl or Korean, and it's been many years since I was a teenager), so I'll average my nieces ratings instead (because they are fairly reasonable for their age and they are the target audience). They liked it well enough. Their biggest complaint: not enough hot guys on the show who weren't idiots or creeps.

Bottom Line: 6.5 to 7 out of 10 stars. Cannot really recommend this for adults, but it does sorta work for what it is!

Miseuteo Baek
(2014)

A sweet, but ultimately unsatisfying, Korean TV Drama!
Mr. Back (aka Mr. Baek) is a16 episode KTV drama from late 2014. This is a standard Korean TV melodrama show that tilts towards those looking for a mostly breezy romantic fantasy drama without a mega overdose of melodrama & angst & despair involved. It stars people in their late twenties to mid-thirties, and that's also the age of the primary audience it's targeted for, though it is suitable viewing (age wise) for just about anybody. It's sweet and decent enough for what it is, but it's a bit unsatisfying when all is said and done.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Story: A dying 70 year old scrooge type rich man is given a chance to relive his youth via some mystical means. The result is he gets turned back into his 35 year old self, yet retains the life experience & knowledge of a 70 year old. This man (with his newfound youth) now has a limited amount of time to change his regrets in life, find love, reconcile with his son, save his family & company legacy, and so forth. Basically, if you mixed the 2013 Korean film 'Miss Granny' with the 2012 Korean TV show '49 Days', and substituted the main female protagonist with a man, the end result would be a close approximation of this show.

How the lead character transforms himself into the younger version of himself doesn't really matter. This is a fantasy themed K-drama, and as usual, these shows often play fast & loose regarding the rules of aging, switching bodies, the afterlife, time travel, aliens, etc. For what it's worth, (SPOILERS), I believe the lead character accidentally swallows a meteorite that becomes lodged in his heart somehow and magically makes him younger (Yep! It's ridiculous!). What will happen going forward, & what can be done about it, is basically at the whims of what the directors & writers think will work best ratings wise as the show progresses.

Shin Ha Kyun stars in the lead role as the man given a new lease on life. He's been a favorite Korean film actor of mine for years, and this is the 2nd TV drama I've seen him in recently. He's always effective because he can do a wide range of things, and, he can act. What he isn't though is either subdued or restrained, so if you like your K-drama leading men stoic and silent, he may not be your cup of tea. Jang Na Ra stars as the primary female love interest. She's equally adorable as she is adept at portraying what is a fairly stock Cinderella K-drama role (i.e. she's the pretty, unassuming, & honest/normal/poor/kind girl that soon finds herself having not one, but two, rich handsome dudes competing for her affections). I thought these two leads worked well together here and were likely the best part of this endeavor. They are both solid performers.

All the supporting actors and actresses were capable or better as well. I recognized most all of them and I have zero complaints with any of their efforts. Fortunately, pointless, underwritten, and/or obnoxious side characters who simply annoy the crap out of you every second they're on screen are in short supply here. The writing & direction isn't bad either; this show mixes various tones quite well, and, it often gravitates from sweet to sad to dramatic to silly to romantic quite effortlessly. The written/spoken dialogue can also be quite funny &/or poignant at times as well.

Additionally, this show does many of the other "little things" fairly well. It doesn't drag on forever (i.e. 16 episodes is awesome), and the director & writers keep things moving along sufficiently enough. It also has all the expected earmarks of any respectable modern K-drama (i.e. an appropriate soundtrack to suit the show's varying moods, a competent pre and post production team doing a rock solid job, set designers and stylists on hand to make everything look vivid and colorful and everyone look stylish & pretty (or old, as the case may be), etc... These "behind the camera" people that work on these KTV shows are regularly undervalued & under-appreciated in my opinion, and, they often make the difference between how good (or not so good) a show actually is when all is said and done.

On the down side, this show takes a while to find its rhythm; maybe 4-5 episodes or so. And, it's a bit unfulfilling & disappointing down the stretch run. It's so very close to being an outstanding KTV melodrama overall, but, it's ultimately just lacking that illusive extra missing ingredient/magic to make it truly stand out among the crowd. Is it worth watching though?...I'd say Yes (if you're a fan of these types of K-dramas)...I've seen several better KTV shows in the past that were similar in nature, but I've also seen a CRAP TON of similar KTV shows that were far, far worse than 'Mr. Back' is.

Summary: I have no problems recommending this show. It is often rather charming, and everybody involved accomplishes their tasks quite well for the most part. I just wish it had a little more time to be a little better overall than it actually was. I long for the day when writers of K-dramas are regularly given the freedom to tell a story without being slaves to time constraints and viewer ratings. Some of these shows would be really, really good if that were the case. Alas, such is life for modern day Korean TV melodramas.

Bottom Line: A right solid 7 out of 10 stars on the K-drama scale.

Heartless City
(2013)

A grim KTV drama crime story that's fairly effective overall.
Heartless City; 20 episode KTV drama from 2013. It can mostly be described as a crime-drama love story told via typical Korean melodramatic means.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Story: A female detective is killed while tracking a drug cartel. This detective's partner/fiancé, along with her younger sister, vow to destroy the cartel and avenge her death. Along the way, the partner/fiancé uncovers a complex web of corruption within the police force, and the younger sister has conflicting feelings for the crime boss she's sent to get closer to on an undercover mission.

This show is appropriately named, as there are a considerable amount of darker themes that permeate the entire proceedings; prostitution, drugs, murder, rape, and general violence & despair are rampant. I can't recall what its recommended age rating was, but this show is clearly not for someone too young to be watching. So, some "viewer discretion" is probably in order here. It is a K-drama though, so don't expect too much gore or any nudity.

There are a lot of characters to be introduced and fleshed out in this show, so you'll have to pay attention. The show plays more like an ensemble piece compared to the standard format for Korean TV. As the show begins, you're introduced to the main players on both the law & criminal element sides; basically, they consist of the crime task force leader and his fiancé detective, the main crime boss, a hostess bar owner, and a few other characters of varying significance.

The detective's younger sister is soon thrust into the limelight as well. She too is part of this ensemble cast, but it takes a while before she even becomes an integral figure. She is rushed into the proceedings haphazardly though once called upon; she goes from aimless part time convenience store worker, to police academy prospect, to undercover agent, seemingly in the matter of a few days. This character is completely unprepared and ill-suited for this task, and it seems rather absurd that sister's fiancé/main task force leader would want, or allow, her to do this. Nevertheless, off she goes to seek justice, and/or become too enamored with the people she meets in the underworld, and/or fall in love with crime boss that may or may not have murdered her loved ones. Follow along to see how it all plays out for her and everyone else involved from there.

This show does some things really well, and others not so much. The writers did a real nice job with the detective and younger sister plot point in regards to story building, and a lot of K-dramas could learn a thing or two regarding how to implement this scenario from Heartless City. Basically, the detective/older sister (SUPER SPOILERS) is killed and the younger sister takes her place. However, the detective/older sister is the main character on this show for a number of episodes, as opposed to the usual approach of a character who gets a brief 10 minute intro &/or whose story is told solely via flashbacks. You actually get to know this character before she's unexpectedly killed, so it's much easier for the viewer to sympathize & identify with the motives of the loved ones she's left behind going forward. Additionally, the ensemble storytelling approach was a welcome change from the standard format, and so too was the way the "love story" between the young sister and crime boss played out in an unusually reserved method I was not anticipating. Plus, (SPOILERS AGAIN) multiple important characters actually die on this show, and that's a good thing, because if there's no risk to any of the characters in a story like this, there's no tension or suspense either.

On the down side, this story is much more convoluted than is necessary. There's a wealth of characters that aren't who they seem to be and/or change sides & allegiances throughout. Additionally, the action and fight choreography scenes often leave a lot to be desired. This is a KTV drama show though, so you can't regularly expect too much from this department (i.e. there's lots of "cap guns" and "people flailing around" type of action). Production values are mostly adequate, but just barely. It's a nominal K-drama shot on the fly with a sparse budget, so they do the best they can with the limited resources at hand.

Writing is sometimes hit & miss, but it's mostly above average concerning both dialogue and storytelling, particularly when considering the time constraints inherent to this genre. And the director and production crew keep the show moving along at a nice clip. The acting is mostly satisfactory, but that's about as far as I'm willing to give praise in regards to this department. There's no real current star power involved and no one was worthy of any awards. There are a couple of recognizable faces, and a few decent performances, but the cast is rife with a few fading stars and some young &/or middling actors trying to improve upon their craft, breakout, &/or just make a living. I'm not going to insult anyone involved in particular because they most all got the job done, but some performances were clearly better than others.

Summary: I am going to recommend this show if you're old enough and looking for a somewhat grittier K-drama that's often quite sad. It's certainly not without problems and could have been better, but given the 20-episode block it had to fill with a crime/action/love story KTV melodrama, it ain't half bad. All in all, it's fairly effective for what it's trying to accomplish in this genre. As usual though with many K-dramas, you'll have to take the good with the not that good and overlook a few flaws here and there to enjoy it.

Bottom Line: A respectable 7 out of 10 stars on the K-drama scale.

Bride of the Century
(2014)

A sloppy and mostly unsatisfying fantasy melodrama.
Bride of the Century aka Hundred Year Bride is a16 episode KTV drama from early 2014. It was billed as a fantasy romance melodrama with a supposed horror element to it. It is not very good, mainly because it's too generic (despite its supernatural theme) and it's too hard to overlook its oft incoherent storytelling.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Story: A generational curse haunts a family where the eldest son's first wife will be killed on their wedding night. This family is rich, and another family wants to marry their daughter into it to consolidate their power base, however they too know about the curse. The daughter to be married off doesn't want to die, so her mom and her concoct a plan to find an identical looking woman to pretend to be the first wife so she'll get killed instead, and thus the original daughter and mom can swoop in and marry into the money & power they seek.

The girl they get to play the stand-in to the bride to be looks exactly the same, but the 2 girls are total opposites in personality. Forget all the supernatural stuff; this show is the same story these K-dramas tell all the time, i.e. poor girl meets rich guy, rich guy can't stand her at first, poor girl eventually wins everybody over with her kindness and spirit, rich guy falls for poor girl, they're in love but can't be together, rich guy sulks, poor girl cries, everything works out in the end because they were "fated to be together". It's an endlessly rehashed tale that only works well if you put some actual thought into the story and writing, and this show does neither of those things very well.

This story is also severely lacking in any creativity...Dual secondary love interests?: Check! A half dozen characters faint or have heart attacks at some point?: Check! Rich manipulative evil people?: Check! Everything is destiny?: Check! Everybody's family is endlessly intertwined with everybody else's?..Check! Check! Check! I've seen it all a hundred times before, and seen it done better many, many times.

The supernatural aspect really adds nothing to this show of any benefit. In fact (SPOILERS), there is no family curse at all, but nobody knows this at first. There is a ghost though, who wants revenge or peace and/or something depending on the daily script re-writes. As for the overall storytelling and writing, it's hard to forgive the numerous instances of how nonsensical it is at times. I can accept many flaws in logic with fantasy themed K-dramas, but I have to draw the line somewhere. Consider these simple questions that pretty much make the writers look like fools should anyone bother to ask them:

1) Why doesn't the one family just move out of the haunted house? 2) Why doesn't the bride to be just simply not marry into the cursed family? 3) How does the mom and daughter plan to pull this charade off when there will be an identical dead body leftover to deal with?...What about marriage license, ID's, fingerprints, the fact that they've committed conspiracy and fraud, etc?

The show either tries to answer these questions (and others like them) with only basic curt explanations which make little to no sense, or it doesn't even bother trying to answer them at all. There are gaping plot holes everywhere, and none of the writers seem to even care. There is no effort spent in explaining why the poor girl would even fall for the rich guy; he's basically an ass towards her, then all of sudden she's in love with him so much that she's willing to die just to be with him for one night? Really? And, in the writers' haste to give everyone the growth and resolution treatment at the end of the show, they seem to have conveniently forgotten the fact that several of these characters were perfectly willing to kill our heroine on several occasions. What are they thinking trying to generate any pathos for these characters ? The writing and storytelling is so illogical that it's utterly laughable at times.

Obviously, I don't have a whole lot of positive things to say about this show. I will however say that it's shot and produced well, and it smartly keeps to a minimum run time. I did mostly like the 2 leads as well:

Lee Hong-gi gets the role of chaebol heir bachelor. I liked him OK here, though he is given a typical part I can't stand on these shows, i.e. he goes from smug to angry to sad to in love, with little to no room in between. Star struck teenage girls might find these roles appealing, but they are extremely limited. Fortunately, Hong-gi's character does get the opportunity to eventually show some more range, and he's not bad when given the chance.

Yang Jin-sung plays the female lead in a dual role as greedy construction company daughter and poor girl who plays her sacrificial double. Actually, she plays several other parts on this show as well in historical flashbacks. This is the first time I've seen her in a lead role, and I thought she performed rather well considering all the varying personalities she had to portray.

Summary: I cannot recommend this show at all. The plot is as equally clichéd as it is absurd and the writers seem convinced it's a good idea to shoehorn every mood and genre theme into this show to cover as many bases as possible. Unfortunately, they are in no way creative or intelligent enough to pull this off successfully. If you're going to make a crazy murderous supernatural love story, then stick to your guns and go for it. Don't vacillate between that and a formulaic growth/heal/love story where "even murderers deserve love in the end", because you'll just end up with slop like this show.

Bottom Line: 5 out of 10 stars!

Good Doctor
(2013)

An Enjoyable Modern K-Drama!
Good Doctor; 20 episode KTV drama from the late summer of 2013.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Story: An autistic young child named Shi Ohn is orphaned and partially raised by a doctor at an early age. This doctor soon realizes Shi Ohn's autism allows him to absorb and retain all sorts of medical knowledge that a normal person couldn't. Shi Ohn is encouraged to learn and study everything he can until he grows to adulthood, wherein he's given an internship at a children's hospital to see if he can put his extraordinary mind to use in real world practice.

Unfortunately, the autism that makes Shi Ohn so knowledgeable in the first place, also makes it difficult for him to communicate with people and grasp the nuances of social interaction in an imperfect society. He can't express his emotions properly, has trouble understanding his own feelings, and can't comprehend why people act and do the things they do (much less understand lies, jokes, ulterior motives, etc). Since he's both incredibly book smart and socially awkward, he's as equally resented as he is feared by his contemporaries; his genius might be able to solve problems they cannot, but he also might do something incredibly stupid that would put lives and careers at risk. Thus, a tentative relationship is born between Shi Ohn and everyone that now surrounds him to see if he can begin to fit in to society and be of help to the hospital and its patients.

This is a little bit of an unusual show for a K-drama. It's more of a straight forward drama about the growth of an autistic man, and those around him, more than anything else. It does retain many familiar elements of this genre; there's some melodrama, antagonists, character growth, a little humor, and somewhat of a romantic angle, but if you're looking for some juicy or outrageous or angst ridden makjang drama, this ain't the show for you.

Joo Won is the star of the show in his portrayal of Shi Ohn. This could not have been an easy part to play, but Joo Won is up to the task and remarkably believable throughout. He's got all the autistic mannerisms and ticks down pat, but more impressive is the way he's able to convey his emotions in such an effective manner without breaking character. He has to deal with a lot; being bullied, reconciling with his estranged parents, sorting out his first feelings of love, living on his own, making friends, handling disappointment, and overcoming his disability, all while he's trying to prove himself as a capable doctor and basically just get by in life. Joo Won really drives this show with his performance, and the more things progress, the more you can almost sense what he's thinking & feeling without him even uttering a word. Nicely done, Joo Won!

Joo Sang Wook & Moon Chae Won fill the other 2 most prominent parts; Joo Sang Wook plays the head doc in charge of the children's ward, and Moon Chae Won plays the prominent young female doc in the wing. Both of them were quite efficient at portraying opposite ends of the spectrum that help Shi Ohn in their own way. He's demanding and won't approve of Shi Ohn until he's satisfied, and she's kindly and supportive of Shi Ohn at almost every turn. The rest of the cast is rounded out by some hospital trustee/upper management types, the kids in the sick ward, and the rest of interns & docs & nurses; they were all effective enough in their roles portraying an antagonist or benefactor or side story character or what have you.

Writing, direction, and production were solid. The story is relatively well told, and it does make its way from start to finish rather well without ever getting too bogged down. And, of course, it all looks great on screen; this is modern day HD KTV after all, so that's almost a given with any show that's provided at least a modest budget.

If I have any complaints to level against this show, it would be the attempt to (SPOILERS) incorporate a love angle between Moon Chae Won's character and Shi Ohn; this show probably would have better off without that aspect, and, instead just stuck to its overall motif of overcoming adversity and character growth. I suppose I could complain some about some of the annoying young hospital kids, and the standard drive by method of giving short shrift to various medical terms & disorders, but young kids usually can't act very well anyway, and, you can't expect the writers & cast to be experts in the medical field when considering the inherent time constraints involved with airing these shows.

Summary: It isn't going to work for everybody, but I must admit that I quite enjoyed this show for the most part. The story is better than decent, there are several good performances (Joo Won, in particular, is outstanding), and, I thought everything was fairly well executed overall. It's ultimately a fairly sweet K-drama tale about a disadvantaged man coping with life, and, the realization that he's not really any better or worse at accomplishing this than any "normal person" trying to do the same. I actually found this to be a somewhat unique & rather heartwarming show (and, I'm saying this as a jaded, long-time viewer of KTV melodramas).

Bottom Line: Well Recommended! 8 out of 10 stars on the KTV Drama Scale!

Roommate
(2014)

A frequently boring Korean variety show that is somewhat oddly appealing!
Roommate is a 20 episode KTV variety-reality show that began airing in early 2014.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

The premise here is to just watch 11 random Korean celebrities come together to live in one awesome coed house. Cameras are located everywhere in the house and they record the goings on of the cast members 24 hours/day. The cast is mostly left to their own devices as they're filmed interacting with one another, going about their daily personal & professional lives, etc. Then, the production crew edits the footage that results as best as possible, and gets the show on the air on a weekly basis.

This show is somewhat similar to a Korean mirror image of the older American show 'Big Brother'. The premise is the same, except each show takes the form of what their own country's unique take is on what qualifies as suitable "reality" TV entertainment. Both shows do share a common theme, but 'Roommate' is very congenial by comparison, so don't expect in-fighting, shacking up, and the like, to occur here. The other difference between the 2 shows is that the cast of 'Roommate" is likeable and actually has some talent.

"Roommate" has all the earmarks of any similarly themed modern KTV variety-reality show. There are a few typical variety show games to be played, some trips to visit various places, insights to different members' "working lives", a few guest stars along the way, etc. And, as usual, it's not "reality" at all; the show is partially scripted and pushed in certain directions on occasion for dramatic purposes when needed. It can be very haphazardly directed at times though, and, any viewer interested in watching this show should be forewarned that it can be rather dull on occasion; each episode is lengthy and slow paced, and I doubt this show was a huge ratings success (though I haven't verified this).

Ironically, this show's oft relaxed pacing and lack of direction is perhaps its most appealing aspect. As strange as it may seem, this show is at its best when it's doing absolutely nothing at all (other than just observing the daily lives of these people who must live & work together). Seldom are all of the cast members actually all together in one place, as everybody is constantly coming and going to their drama sets, overseas concerts, etc. Yet, they all eventually make their way back to their "roommates" at various points, where they bond over late night chats, sharing meals, doing chores, and so forth. Everybody is generally just very nice to, and supportive of, each other as well, and that always a plus for me when it comes to any type of reality show.

The "roommates" are comprised of an assortment of male & female celebrities with various skills & credentials; they range in age of early 20's to mid-40's. Some are more famous than others, and most are there to partly further promote themselves, but they all have credible merit. I was somewhat familiar with most all of them from the start, and while I do think that's helpful, it's not a requirement by any means. You're sure to find one or more of them to like as the show progresses. Opinions will vary of course, but I found both the oldest and youngest cast members to be my personal favorites of the bunch; the eldest is a modern day renaissance man (i.e. a rugged good looking guy who can sing, act, cook, fix & build stuff, rides a Harley, etc). He's also very laid back and reasonable, and he regularly looks after the rest of the "roommates" (since he's their senior). Dude is 100% awesome! The youngest is an aspiring MMA fighter who resembles a Manhwa (Manga) character that's come to life; she's a rough and tumble tom boy type who's often un-lady like, and yet she's also impossibly cute and seemingly baffled by the fact that people would find her attractive in any way. As the least experienced cast member, her interactions with her more polished entertainment industry "roommates" do result in some fairly amusing moments, and, the episode devoted to the lead up to her eventual pro fight debut is arguably the highlight of this show. Girl is 100% awesome!

I actually found myself liking this show. This baffles me however, because the show does have several problems: 1) It's often boring. 2) it's not sustainable over time since everybody has to get on with their careers at some point. 3) It's horrid at dealing with some cast member departures that occur (i.e. they just vanish without explanation, and the show takes the absurd approach of pretending they just never existed at all). 4) It's yet another Korean TV variety show that falls victim to a lack of pre-planning in order to pump out content, and it does have some trouble finding its way and figuring out what it does best as a result.

Summary: It ain't great, but it sort of works. "Season 2" is underway (as of this review) and includes half original cast and half new comers, plus a leftover dog. We'll see how it goes! This show does need some refinement however; perhaps a perpetual semi-rotating cast who'll commit to a 16-20 episode block/season, and, it's in DIRE need of some better direction, pacing, & writing.

Bottom Line: Not 'Must See' I liked it OK enough to give it some leeway to see if it will develop into a quality show. 6.5 out of 10 stars!

ADDENDUM (5-22-15). I watched half of Season 2 before giving up. It started OK enough, but many original cast members end up coasting along, and several of the new cast members became more obnoxious and annoying over time. Pacing, direction, and writing all got progressively worse. The show became a complete mess and was canceled as of this writing, and, deservedly so!...Watch Season 1 if you want, but don't get your hopes up if you invest in Season 2.

Gwaenchanhah, Sarangiya
(2014)

Pretty solid Korean TV melodrama!
It's Okay, It's Love: 2014 Korean TV melodrama,16 episodes.

Story: Relationship adverse psychiatrist meets popular playboy novelist. They are seemingly mismatched for one another, but they end up having to live together as roommates due to some contrived circumstances. They soon start to develop feelings for one another, and thus, another K-drama love story is underway.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

If the story sounds familiar to you, well, of course it does; many of these K-drama shows invoke the same basic story being retold again & again with just slight variations. This show involves two thirty some year old leads that fall in love and try to stay in love, overcome obstacles along the way, and eventually try to find some peace or happiness at the end of it all regardless of what happens. For these shows to work, all you really need is some experienced leads and some decent writing, and, you need to keep the show at a minimal number of episodes that include enough interesting auxiliary characters and side stories to keep everything moving along when the lead love story isn't the focal point. This particular show, while nowhere near the best K-drama I've seen, accomplishes enough of the aforementioned ingredients to be above satisfactory at the very least.

Aside from the love story, the overall theme of this show focuses on the general healing of past & present emotional wounds among the characters. Along with the female lead, 2 of the secondary cast members are also psychiatrists, and many of the side stories occur in a hospital dealing with random patients that need some help. The psychiatrists aren't much better off than some of their patients though, and the same goes for everyone else on this show, as they all have their own deep seeded personal problems to reconcile (some more than others). Most of the interaction with the patients is just window dressing & filler, as the docs diagnose a different disorder for each weekly new patient, then fix 'em up and send them on their way. Don't expect to gain any deep insight about the field of psychiatry when you watch this show; it's pretty clear the writers and cast are just winging it as best they can after briefly perusing a Psychiatry for Dummies book.

Jo In-sung & Gong Hyo-jin are your two leads. Neither is a stranger to this genre, and they've each played similar characters many times before. Jo In-sung has long since mastered playing the suave & smug handsome guy who comes complete with a past tragedy and stoic underlying intentions. Gong Hyo-jin is an expert at portraying the attractive & caring, yet somewhat flawed & vulnerable woman that just needs to find that one special guy that truly understands her. They work very well together, but it's not so much that the two stars have some searing on-screen chemistry, as it is that they're both just real solid pros who know what's needed to play these parts. In an indication of how professional these actors are, Gong Hyo-jin doesn't delay or disrupt the series at all when she breaks her arm off set in an accident; she just shows up for work as usual, the writers hurriedly fit this mishap into the daily script re-writes, and the show doesn't miss a beat.

The rest of the cast is all right. No complaints really. There are number of solid veterans on hand, along with several other interesting characters, and two younglings who get the resident flower boy and snotty hottie roles while they work on their acting chops. A lot of these side characters have their own relationship and or emotional issues to deal with as the show progresses. There are really no secondary love interests that compete for the leads' affections though; one dude tries to "re-involve" himself with Gong Hyo-jin occasionally, but she ain't having none of his nonsense. This character also serves as somewhat of antagonist, albeit a very meek one, in a story that has very few of antagonists at all...the only true antagonist in play is Jo In-sung's older delinquent brother, who's soon to be released from prison and is determined to cause some trouble with his family secret & desire for justice. This show doesn't really put its focus on love triangles or ridiculously mean/evil peopleit's much more about relationships and healing and that sort of thing.

One thing I really liked about this show, and deserves special mention, is its idea of giving Jo In-sung's character a "hidden alter ego" (so to speak). I can't say too much about this without spoiling things because it's somewhat crucial to the story. It won't take you long to catch on to it though if you're paying attention, and, eventually it's made blatantly obvious later on. This story line could have even been better implemented if more time was allowed to think it through a little more, but this is KTV "on-the-fly", so I must commend the writers for even trying to implement it and for pulling it off as well as they did.

Summary: I don't really have many complaints with this show to be honest...Everything is pretty good, and it makes for a pretty decent & solid K-drama overall. Probably best suited to late 20's-mid 40's viewing crowd, but there's very little vulgarity or violence as usual, and no sex; so, just about anyone can watch it and not be overly offended.

Bottom Line: 7.5-8 out of 10 stars on the KTV drama scale!...I'll recommend it!

Nain: Ahob Beonui Shikan Yeohaeng
(2013)

An overlooked KTV drama!
Nine Times Time Travel is a 20 episode Korean TV show that aired in early 2013. This is another modern Korean fantasy drama, albeit one that it is unusually understated and low key in comparison to most of its more melodramatic &/or romantic brethren.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Here's your basic story: A man receives a visit from his older brother shortly before said brother passes away. The older brother appeared to be insane during the visit and was claiming he had found a way to alter time. The man goes to retrieve his older brother's body and investigates his death, and he soon finds that his brother was not crazy at all; he actually had discovered the means to travel back in time via some magical incense sticks. The younger brother collects the remaining incense sticks (9 of them), and thus now possesses nine chances to alter the past. Light a stick and you'll go back in time to an exact set date for 30 minutes until the incense burns out, then you're zapped backed to the present day (where whatever you've just done in the past is instantly reflected in the present).

The story focuses primarily on the young brother, who experienced a family tragedy when he was a teen that forever impacted his life and everyone he loves. He therefore decides to use the time travel incense to change crucial events in his family's history in order to prevent this tragedy from happening in the first place. He has the best of intentions, but altering the past soon becomes much more complicated than he imagined. Every change he makes for the better in the past creates unexpected future results, and he soon finds that various friends & family members lead vastly different lives or no longer recognize him in the present. As such, he keeps going back to the past to try to undo the unintended future changes he created, but things only seem to be getting worse and soon are spiraling out of control, and, he's quickly running out of magic incense sticks to rectify the situation.

From there on in, it's just a matter of seeing if this guy can somehow set things right before time runs out. Moral of the story: It's probably best to not mess around with the past no matter what your intentions are.

Lee Jin Wook plays the lead and primary focal point of the show, and he's quite good in what is an understated role. Everyone else is mostly a supporting character, and they're pretty good in their roles too (particularly the love interest in the present, and the younger versions of everybody in the past). Although, I must say I could've done without some of the overacting from the evil scientist dude and the lead's doctor friend...and, while I'm on the subject, I've never understood why the directors of some these KTV shows would want or allow actors to perform in this manner. In this medium, overacting occurs far too often with the some of the side characters; constantly flashing a clumsy menacing stare or wildly waving your arms around does not help make a character more evil or funnier, respectively. It doesn't work and its distracting more than anything else, and you usually end up occasionally chuckling at the supposed bad guy and growing annoyed of the guy who's supposed to be the friendly comic relief. A lot less brooding & mugging, and a little more subtlety for these 2 particular characters is definitely in order here, as is also true with many other non-protagonist characters on many other Korean dramas.

This show doesn't seem to have a whole lot of money to throw around, but it never looks overly cheap; productions values are solid for its given budget, but there is very little excess in any form or fashion to be had here. It's paced well enough, and the story & writing is quite good as well; it almost seems that this was written in advance (and, not "on the fly", like most K-dramas are). The interactions across time, between the younger and older versions of the same protagonist, are quite well done in particular.

There's definitely a minimalistic feel to this entire show (which I found to be somewhat refreshing for this genre), and this approach extends itself to the story as well; it retains many familiar melodramatic elements & themes & story lines that you'll find in this genre, but it does so w/o love quadrangles, meticulously styled auxiliary antagonists, etc. For Korean TV, this is basically a no frills drama about the implications of trying to change your past, and overall, it is quite good at accomplishing this.

Summary: This is a subdued, and rather well done, KTV time travel melodrama that I rather enjoyed for the most part. Yeah, it's got some flaws, but what K-drama doesn't? I can see that it might not play all that well to some of the masses that most K-dramas are geared towards, as it's just neither a very flashy, sexy, or romantic soap opera type of show. There's nothing wrong with flashy/sexy/romantic K-dramas, and I like some of those shows too, but if you don't necessarily need or want a show like that, while still getting your K-drama fix on, this show might work quite well for you.

Bottom Line: 8.5 out of 10 stars!Very Well Recommended!

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