Tag Archives: romance

Capsule film reviews: Foreign LGBT movies (part 4)

‘The Way He Looks’ (Brazil)
Release Date: April 10, 2014
Director: Daniel Ribeiro
Starring: Ghilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi and Tess Amorim
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of Vitrine Films.

“The Way He Looks” is actually a wonderful, creative coming-of-age movie. It centers on Leo (Ghilherme Lobo), a blind Brazilian high school student, who longs to gain his independence and study abroad in the United States despite the fears of his overprotective parents. The solid relationship he has with his best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim) is challenged when he begins pursuing a romance with Gabriel (Fabio Audi), the new boy in school. This interesting story is a breath of fresh air for the coming-of-age/gay teen romance genre. There are so many things “The Way He Looks” does well. The budding young love is perfectly paced, and the awkward jealousy between best friends when one starts dating is beautifully illustrated. Even Leo’s parents are well-written, complex characters that offer depth to the story rather than serving as stock characters to further the protagonist’s plotline. The film handles both Leo’s blindness and his sexuality tactfully, and it results in a really well-done, believable film.

‘Velociraptor’ (Mexico)
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Director: Chucho E. Quintero
Starring: Pablo Mezz, Carlos Hendrick Huber and Alan Aguilar
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Fantasy
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of TLA Releasing.

I have been looking forward to watching “Velociraptor” for a long time: a Spanish-language gay drama set against the backdrop of an apocalypse? That is right up my alley. And I’m so glad that the film exceeded my expectations. In “Velociraptor,” Álex (Pablo Mezz) and Diego (Carlos Hendrick Huber) are best friends spending some casual time together as the end of the world creeps closer and the people around them react accordingly. For Álex, who is gay, it particularly bothers him that he’s never found a guy he trusts enough to go all the way. And Diego is a really (really, very, very) supportive friend. “Velociraptor” greatly succeeds because of the amazing chemistry between the two leads, who are (for the most part) the only real characters in the entire movie. The characterization is believable and the tangible sexual tension is captivating. The storyline is excellent and super unconventional, which makes “Velociraptor” such a valuable contribution to queer cinema. I also love the well-executed flashback scenes that add depth to the story, as well as the voiceovers reporting on the status of planet Earth. “Velociraptor” will make you think about friendship and the ways people limit themselves in order to fit into society. Definitely one to check out.

‘How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)’ (Thailand)
Release Date: Feb. 8, 2015
Director: Josh Kim
Starring: Ingkarat Damrongsakkul, Thira Chutikul and Jinn Jinna Navarat
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

Photo courtesy of Wolfe Video.

On the eve of Thailand’s annual military draft lottery, now-21-year-old Oat is haunted by memories of his childhood and his first experience with the drafting process. The majority of the film takes place in flashbacks to Oat (Ingkarat Damrongsakkul) as an 11-year-old orphan growing up in the outskirts of Bangkok with his aunt, younger sister and older brother. “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)” shows Oat beginning to lose his innocence and grow up as his brother Ek (Thira Chutikul) prepares to face the draft lottery and the corrupt system that is stacked against them. While Oat trains himself to beat Ek at a game of checkers so he can finally be allowed to accompany him to the gay bar where he works as an escort, the young boy also learns how adults “win” at real life: by doing whatever it takes. Although I would have liked to see more development of adult Oat in the present-day sequences, I think “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)” is a great, well-done film. I enjoyed the characterization of Oat and Ek, as well as several supporting characters, including Ek’s more privileged long-term boyfriend Jai (Jinn Jinna Navarat) and their friend Kitty (Natarat Lakha), who is exempted from the draft because she is transgender.

‘Jongens’ (aka. ‘Boys’) (Netherlands)
Release Date: Feb. 9, 2014
Director: Mischa Kamp
Starring: Gijs Blom, Ko Zandvliet and Stijn Taverne
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C+

jongens

Photo courtesy of Pupkin Film.

“Jongens” (translated from Dutch as “Boys”) is all right for a quick little teen angst/romantic drama. Fifteen-year-old Sieger (Gijs Blom) lives with his single father (Ton Kas) and rebellious older brother Eddy (Jonas Smulders) after his mother’s death. He and his friends spend most of their time training as key runners on the local track team. When he is chosen as one member of a relay team that will compete in an important upcoming race, Sieger begins developing feelings for Marc (Ko Zandvliet), another boy on the team. Blom’s acting is pretty good: he does an impressive job conveying a lot of emotion with minimal dialogue, often by exchanging pointed glances with Zandvliet as Marc. The scenery is nice, and the accompanying soundtrack is a good complement to the storyline. Unfortunately, the plot is not particularly captivating or original, and the ending of “Jongens” is disappointingly ambiguous and anticlimactic. I didn’t dislike the film at all, but I probably wouldn’t watch it again. I would recommend this film, but I would recommend it to someone who hasn’t seen many films about gay romance yet, so the story may still be intriguing and new.

Check out more capsule film reviews of foreign LGBT movies here, here and here.

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Film review: The Handmaiden (Agassi)

Kim Tae-ri and Kim Min-hee star in “The Handmaiden.” Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

It’s always been interesting to me how deeply twisted and delightfully macabre Korean cinema can be — in sharp contrast to the conservative cuteness in popular television dramas. And no one has mastered the perverse and gory in this genre like director Park Chan-wook, who brought the world “Oldboy,” “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and, most recently, “The Handmaiden.”

His latest creation takes place in 1930s Korea, during the Japanese occupation of the country. Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) is a beautiful but frail heiress living on an expansive estate with her tyrannical, book-collecting uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong). When she hires Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) to be her new maid, she has no idea that the woman is secretly a double agent, raised from childhood as a pickpocket and chosen by a conman (Ha Jung-woo) to help him seduce the heiress and steal her fortune.

Although it runs for nearly two and a half hours, “The Handmaiden” never seems to drag and each scene keeps the audience anticipating more. The first half of the film moves along at a pleasant pace as Sook-hee and Hideko begin to get to know each other. The building sexual tension between the two women is masterfully executed, and Tae-ri is particularly charismatic in her role as the endearing criminal-with-a-heart-of-gold.

handmaiden

Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

When the film finally reaches its peak of excitement, it never relents. There are nonstop twists that constantly change the audience’s perception of the characters’ alliances, as well as flashbacks and revelations that reveal deeper levels to every element of the story. It’s a thrill to watch and try to keep pace with the film’s progression.

And when it gets grisly (because of course it has to), it does not disappoint. The climactic conclusion is absolutely satisfying and every bit as fucked up as is expected of Park Chan-wook.

“The Handmaiden” is also filmed beautifully — each scene is a pleasure to observe. The scenery is complemented with skillful framing and camera angles that complete the film’s artistic aesthetic. “The Handmaiden” is a great thriller and pleasing to the eye as well.

I love the kind-of feminist focus on the powers of the two female heroines, as well as the unique love story that develops between them. My only real complaint about the film is that the lesbian romance is so completely shot for the male gaze it’s a bit cringe-worthy in parts. The entirety of “The Handmaiden” is pretty kinky, and it’s clear a straight male director was behind the helm.

But, hey, no one could claim this film is not aesthetically exceptional, and the story is quite an exhilarating ride. I highly recommend “The Handmaiden.”

‘The Handmaiden’
Release Date: June 1, 2016
Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo and Kim Tae-ri
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Capsule drama reviews: The Secret Message, The Lover, etc.

‘The Secret Message’
Starring:
Choi Seung-hyun, Juri Ueno and Yoo In-na
Genre: Romance, Drama
Episodes: 18

secretmessage

Photo courtesy of CJ E&M and Amuse, Inc.

Like “EXO Lives Next Door,” “The Secret Message” is a quick web series comprised of short episodes that are each only 10-20 minutes long, which is such a wonderful format. Unlike “EXO Lives Next Door,” “The Secret Message” is pretty sophisticated, well-written and well-executed. Sorry about it.

The show takes place half in Korea and half in Japan. Juri Ueno plays Haruka, a Japanese woman who is staying with a friend in South Korea, trying to deal with the end of her first romantic relationship. T.O.P plays Woo-hyun, a Korean filmmaker working in Japan on a documentary about love who is, himself, still hurt from a recent breakup. When Woo-hyun accidentally texts Haruka’s phone number, the two begin communicating despite the distance and language barrier between them.

The cinematography and scenery showing off the beauty of both Korea and Japan adds a really nice touch to “The Secret Message.” And, although the show tries to take the subject of moving on from a lost love pretty seriously, T.O.P’s goofy personality, interspersed jokes and references to Big Bang keep it cute and entertaining. But “The Secret Message” is kind of a big exercise in product placement. The show originally aired on Line TV and is clearly sponsored by the Line messaging app — quite a lot of the communication takes place through the app, and the trademark Line characters appear throughout. That being said, “The Secret Message” totally makes me want to download Line. I mean, if there’s a possibility T.O.P will accidentally text you and fall in love despite the odds… Well played, Line.

‘Twenty’
Release Date:
March 25, 2015
Director: Lee Byeong-heon
Starring: Kim Woo-bin, Lee Junho and Kang Ha-neul
Genre: Comedy
Rating: Not Rated

twenty

Photo courtesy of Next Entertainment World.

I got quite a kick out of “Twenty.” This is a raunchy coming-of-age sex comedy/buddy movie — just like “Superbad,” only funnier and with better-looking actors.

The story follows three best friends who have just turned 20 and are at a crossroads in their lives. Chi-ho (Kim Woo-bin) is the spoiled rich boy whose only aspiration is to have sex with as many women as possible. Dong-woo (Lee Junho from the idol group 2PM) dreams of being a comic book illustrator, but has work part time jobs instead of attending art school after his family’s bankruptcy. Kung-jae (Kang Ha-neul) is a preppy college student who falls in love with a smart upperclassman in the stock market club.

“Twenty” is awfully entertaining. Each of the lead characters is charismatic in his own way, and each individual plot arc is interesting. Although “Twenty” is decidedly a comedy, there are some well-done dramatic moments that add a lot of depth to the story. Even the cinematography is interesting — the film features some well-placed surrealism (the group of friends arriving at a literal crossroads in the dirt) and a solid soundtrack to enhance key scenes. It’s a bawdy, laugh-out-loud funny movie (seriously, it is), but it’s also slightly tragic. Basically, “Twenty” is a great movie that perfectly toes the line between soul-searching melodrama and dudes making dick jokes.

‘Oh My Ghostess’ (aka ‘Oh My Ghost’)
Starring: Park Bo-young, Kim Seul-gie and Jo Jung-suk
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Romance
Episodes: 16

ohmyghost

Photo courtesy of tvN.

“Oh My Ghostess” is a fun show to watch — it’s a kind of sexy romantic-comedy that slowly turns into a murder mystery. With solid acting from all of the cast members, this show just gets more exciting to watch as it progresses. It’s, at times, funny and dark with an action-packed conclusion led by the show’s cool group of heroines.

Shin Soon-ae (Kim Seul-gie) is a ghost who is unable to cross over until she resolves her grudge: that she died a virgin. Unfortunately, in order to resolve her grudge, she has to find and seduce a “man of vitality” who is able to withstand sex with a ghost without dying (she learns this the hard way). Na Bong-sun (Park Bo-young) is a meek assistant chef whose shaman grandmother enables her to see ghosts, making her body the perfect vessel for opportunistic spirits. And Kang Sun-woo (Jo Jong-suk), the handsome celebrity chef who employs Bong-sun, seems to be full of vitality, if you know what I mean.

“Oh My Ghostess” is very amusing, and Park Bo-young especially does an excellent job portraying both shy Bong-sun and gregarious, sexually liberated Bong-sun-as-possessed-by-Soon-ae. The budding romance is cute, and the relationship between Bong-sun and her coworkers at the restaurant is sweet. However, the show really gets interesting when Soon-ae’s memories of her life begin returning and she starts to question the suspicious circumstances of her death.

‘The Lover’
Starring:
Oh Jung-se, Ryu Hyun-kyung and Jung Joon-young
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Episodes: 12

thelover

Takuya Terada and Lee Jae-joon star in “The Lover.” Photo courtesy of Mnet.

“The Lover” is kind of a stupid show, but I just couldn’t stop watching it once I started. Although it starts out highly ridiculously (there are entire long episodes hinged solely on double entendres, innuendos and sex jokes), the characters become relatable and, suddenly, the plot of “The Lover” seems very serious. I even cried a little during the last episode!

The show follows four different couples in the same apartment building who are — scandalously — living together before marriage. The primary focus is on Oh Do-si (Oh Jung-se) and Ryu Doo-ri (Ryu Hyun-kyung), who are both in their 30s and have lived together for two years. In the next apartment over lives Ji-nyeo (Choi Yeo-jin) and her cute guitarist boyfriend Young-joon (Jung Joon-young), who is 12 years her junior. On the seventh floor lives Joon-jae (Lee Jae-joon), a quiet homebody who is quickly falling in love with his Japanese roommate Takuya (Takuya Terada from Cross Gene). They get very little screen time, unfortunately, but their story arc is the most tense and compelling. And, finally, on the fifth floor lives Hwan-jong (Park Jong-hwan) and Seol-eun (Ha Eun-seol), an engaged couple who just moved in together.

Some of the couples are more entertaining than others: Ji-nyeo and Young-joon are adorable, hilarious and touching, while Hwan-jong and Seol-eun are awkward and lack chemistry. “The Lover” is definitely worth watching, though, for its amusing, in-your-face portrayal of cohabitation, sex and love in Korea (without marriage!), and its focus on more unconventional romantic pairings. Plus, it has a pretty sufficiently satisfying ending for everyone. “The Lover” even presents the happiest ending I’ve seen for gay characters in a k-drama so far! I’ll take it.

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2015

‘It Follows’
Release Date: March 13, 2015
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist and Daniel Zovatto
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language.
Grade: C+

itfollows

Photo courtesy of RADiUS-TWC and Dimension Films.

“It Follows” has definitely been one of the most-hyped horror movies this year, but it unfortunately doesn’t live up to those expectations. In the grand tradition of sexually-transmitted monsters in horror films, “It Follows” is about a girl, Jay (Maika Monroe), who has sex with her boyfriend and then realizes that by doing so, he has passed a curse onto her. There will just be a creepy person that only she can see walking steadily toward her at all times. If it catches her, she dies, and the only way to distance herself from it is to pass it on to someone else. Bummer deal. The film is shot well, and some of the scenes of “it” following her are genuinely creepy and unsettling. The movie begins to fall apart at the end, though, as Jay and her friends attempt to defeat “it.” The movie doesn’t have a strong conclusion at all, which leaves the audience feeling dissatisfied after watching.

‘Spring’
Release Date: March 20, 2015
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker and Francesco Carnelutti
Genre: Horror, Romance, Sci-fi
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

spring

Photo courtesy of Drafthouse Films and FilmBuff.

I enjoy horror-romance almost as much as I enjoy horror-comedy, so I was excited to check out Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s “Spring” (they also directed 2013’s “Resolution,” which I enjoyed). “Spring” is quite good as well (with a few caveats). After his mother’s death, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) takes a spontaneous finding-himself trip to Italy, where he starts working on a small farm and meets a beautiful woman named Louise (Nadia Hilker) that he begins dating. Of course, there has to be a catch when beautiful, exotic women show an interest in down-on-their-luck American dudes, and Louise’s hidden secret is both creepy and intriguing. “Spring” is Lovecraftian in its horror, but it’s mostly romantic. Which is my main complaint: I just don’t buy the romance. There is no way Evan is the best person she’s ever met. No way! Louise is such a complex, interesting character, but his main redeeming quality is that he still really likes her even when he discovers her grotesque secret. Eh, she could do way better.

‘Creep’
Release Date: June 23, 2015
Director: Patrick Brice
Starring: Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice
Genre: Drama, Horror
Rating: R for brief violence and language.
Grade: A-

creep

Photo courtesy of The Orchard.

I actually got quite a kick out of “Creep.” It’s a simple, independent found-footage horror film featuring only two actors. Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass not only star in the film, they also wrote the story. Additionally, Brice directed and Duplass co-produced it alongside Jason Blum of Blumhouse fame. This creates a real personal touch to the movie and allows the audience to really get to know the strange two characters. Duplass is excellent in his role as Josef, a man who places an ad on Craigslist for a videographer to help him film a message for his unborn son. Brice is less impressive but still alright as Aaron, the unlucky artist who answers the ad and becomes involved in Josef’s life. There are some really tense quiet moments, but overall, the film is pretty amusing with sarcastic jump scares and the increasingly absurd connection between Josef and Aaron. The conclusion is absolutely perfect, and I definitely recommend this movie.

‘Cooties’
Release Date: Sept. 18, 2015
Director: Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion
Starring: Elijah Wood, Alison Pill and Rainn Wilson
Genre: Action, Comedy, Horror
Rating: R for horror violence and gore, language including sexual references, and some drug use.
Grade: B-

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Premiere.

Elijah Wood has produced and starred in some great horror movies in the past few years — “Grand Piano,” “Maniac,” “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” “The Boy.” He also produced and stars in “Cooties,” a goofy horror-comedy in which infected chicken nuggets served as school lunch turn elementary school students into zombies across the nation, leaving a group of teachers to fight for their lives. Wood is pretty funny as Clint Hadson, a substitute teacher who would rather be working on his novel than working with children. The movie definitely has some failed attempts at humor — the same run-of-the-mill stuff you’d see on “Saturday Night Live.” But it’s overall pretty entertaining to watch the mismatched group of teachers fight their way through the monstrous children. “Cooties” is a satisfactory movie, but it’s not going to become one of my favorites.

Capsule film reviews: Even more foreign LGBT movies

‘Night Flight’ (South Korea)
Release Date: Aug. 28, 2014
Director: Leesong Hee-il
Starring: Kwak Si-yang, Lee Jae-joon and Choi Jun-ha
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A-

nightflight

Photo courtesy of Finecut.

“Night Flight” is a very well-done story of loneliness and survival. It follows three former friends who have grown apart during high school. Gi-taek (Choi Jun-ha) uses comic books to escape from real life where he is bullied by his classmates, Gi-woong (Lee Jae-joon) tries to distance himself from everyone and expresses himself only through fighting, and Yong-ju (Kwak Si-yang) is realizing his sexuality and the feelings he’s had for Gi-woong since middle school. The seeming hopelessness of overcoming the teenage experience is always achingly sad, and it’s particularly well illustrated in this film. “Night Flight” is perfectly paced and thoroughly explores the relationships between each of the characters. Although it’s quite upsetting and violent throughout, it provides a satisfying ending. The least successful element of the film is its odd and out-of-place soundtrack — especially during the end credits, where the poignant final scene is cut off with the jarring sound of some jaunty indie folk song for some reason unbeknownst to me.

‘Blue is the Warmest Color’ (France)
Release Date: Oct. 9, 2013
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Starring: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Salim Kechiouche
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: NC-17 for explicit sexual content.
Grade: A-

blueisthewarmestcolor

Photo courtesy of Wild Bunch.

“Blue is the Warmest Color” has been one of the most critically acclaimed LGBT films in recent years, and it’s really pretty good. It’s a great, long (long, long) movie with the world’s longest, most in-depth sex scene. It’s almost comical how long and in-depth the sex scenes are in “Blue is the Warmest Color,” but it’s fitting because every scene is quite long and in-depth. I know it’s a very American thing to emphasize, but, damn, this movie is long. The story follows Adèle’s (Adèle Exarchopoulos) coming-of-age. She begins as a 15-year-old high school student struggling to convince herself she’s interested in boys, but eventually realizes she’s much more interested in an older, blue-haired painter named Emma (Léa Seydoux). The film artfully and thoroughly follows Adèle and Emma through the highs and lows of a first love. “Blue is the Warmest Color” is realistic — often harshly. It’s a well-told story with a strong ending, though, so it’s obvious to see why it’s become so beloved since its 2013 release.

‘Schoolboy Crush’ (Japan)
Release Date: Aug. 6, 2007
Director: Kôtarô Terauchi
Starring: Yoshikazu Kotani, Atsumi Kanno and Yuuki Kawakubo
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: D

schoolboycrush

Photo courtesy of TLA Releasing.

Wow, what a wild ride. Although “Schoolboy Crush” bills itself as some sort of sexy, twisted romance taking place in an all-boys boarding school in Japan, it’s actually more like three entire seasons of a soap opera condensed into a brisk 88 minutes. Not to be confused with the gay porn of the same name, “Schoolboy Crush” follows Aoi (Yoshikazu Kotani), a teacher who discovers that an escort he recently slept with is a new student in his class. To say that literally everything happens in this movie is not even that much of an exaggeration. There’s some kidnapping, suicide, bullying, stalking, prostitution, blackmail, love triangle, comas, tragic family backstory, marine biology… There’s even a very exciting scene where somebody gets beaten with a candelabra inside the church. So much zany stuff happens, but “Schoolboy Crush” is still remarkably boring because they hardly even get to the actual romance that was supposed to be central to the plot. At least, I think that’s what the movie was supposed to be about.

‘Free Fall’ (Germany)
Release Date: May 23, 2013
Director: Stephan Lacant
Starring: Hanno Koffler, Max Riemelt and Katharina Schüttler
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: D

freefall

Photo courtesy of Edition Salzgeber.

“Free Fall” is a German film about Marc (Hanno Koffler), a police officer in training, who begins having a secret relationship with a fellow officer despite living with his pregnant girlfriend. I feel like I should keep this short because you’ve surely read this review before. Everybody has seen this movie before. It plays out exactly as it always does in these kinds of movies: Marc is very conflicted about his newfound feelings for men. He tries to deny them, but is unable to resist. He acts like an asshole to everybody. His girlfriend becomes upset. So does his boyfriend. Everything eventually unravels. It’s made well enough, but “Free Fall” is super predictable and doesn’t have anything new to offer. The lack of diversity and creative storytelling in queer movies continues to frustrate me. Why bother continuing to make the same movie over and over again? If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Skip “Free Fall.”

Capsule drama reviews: Healer, Little Mom Scandal, etc.

‘Little Mom Scandal’
Starring: Hwang Jung-eum, Im Sung-uhn and Song In-hwa
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Episodes: 16

Photo courtesy of CGV.

“Little Mom Scandal” is an awesome drama if you’re looking for a story with many strong female characters and a straightforward look at female sexuality and sex work. It’s rare to see these issues presented at all on television — let alone as well as they are covered in “Little Mom Scandal.”

The show is split into two eight-episode seasons, and it tells the story of Hye-jung and Sun-hee, two high school best friends. Hye-jung is super smart and rich, but struggles with some real daddy issues that have led her to become a prolific sugar baby, dating rich older men. Sun-hee is such a typical teen girl: she just cares about finding a cute boyfriend and getting him into bed with her. The girls befriend Sung-sook and Hyo-won, two employees of the local gentleman’s club, but things go south when Sun-hee finds out she’s pregnant.

“Little Mom Scandal” has so much going for it. It’s really a great drama with a shockingly realistic, honest and unbiased depiction of sex work from many different perspectives. It also really gets into the truth of teen pregnancy and, later, teen motherhood. And what’s more! It also features a ton of multifaceted, interesting female characters all pursuing their individual dreams. Highly recommend “Little Mom Scandal.”

‘A Werewolf Boy’
Release Date:
Oct. 31, 2012
Director: Jo Sung-hee
Starring: Song Joong-ki, Park Bo-young and Lee Young-lan
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Rating: Not Rated

werewolfboy

Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

“A Werewolf Boy” is one of the most successful Korean melodramas of all time, and it is no joke. It is a beautiful, bittersweet story of ill-fated young love — the best and most painful stories to tell. And it features the best and most relatable of all the movie monsters— the romantic werewolf.

The film begins in the modern day: Kim Sun-yi has traveled with her granddaughter back to Korea to sell her childhood home. When she arrives, she remembers her time spent there as a chronically-ill teenager — particularly a darling feral boy named Chul-soo she and her mother discovered living in the surrounding woods and adopted into the family.

Song Joong-ki gives a fantastic performance as the sympathetic wolf boy with huge, expressive eyes. Likewise, Park Bo-young’s emotional delivery as Sun-yi is stellar, and the two actors create excellent chemistry in their scenes together. The first half of the film is very well crafted, funny and sweet as Chul-soo learns to become more “human” and forms a bond with Sun-yi and her family. The film’s weakest points revolve around the cartoonish villain Ji-tae (a random rich asshole thrown in there to advance the plot with his rich asshole behavior) and the weird secret-government-experiment werewolf origin story that’s thrown in unnecessarily. Really, the movie’s success rests solely on the intense connection between Sun-yi and Chul-soo.

The ending of “A Werewolf Boy” is like getting your heart run over by a train, though. I sobbed loudly. Those last 20 minutes will knock you on your ass. I’m just warning you now. It’s a deeply heart-wrenching conclusion that is fitting for the star-crossed lovers’ overall story, but that doesn’t make the tragedy any easier to bear. It’s actually perfect and thoughtful and so, so sad — it’s the kind of poignant conclusion that you’ll be thinking about for weeks after finishing the film.

‘Healer’
Starring:
Ji Chang-wook, Park Min-young and Yoo Ji-tae
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama, Thriller
Episodes: 20

healer

Photo courtesy of Kim Jong-hak Productions.

Action-romance is done right in “Healer.” It’s a winning combination: a cast of strong and likable characters, a murder mystery storyline that doesn’t let up on the excitement even toward the end, a substantial and complex villain backstory, sweet fight scenes, even sweeter wardrobe changes, and an incredibly darling male lead. For real, Ji Chang-wook might be the most attractive actor ever to appear in a drama. He is unbelievably gorgeous, and his felon-with-a-heart-of-gold “Healer” persona doesn’t hurt one bit.

The show centers on Seo Jung-hoo (or, as most know him, Healer), a “night courier” who is known for his martial arts skills and an illegal business of breaking-and-entering, petty larceny and the like. He is planning to save up enough money to live alone on a deserted island as the only person he has any connection to is an ajumma he’s never met in person who serves as his hacker accomplice. Unfortunately for him, he takes a job from a famous television anchor that sets him on a path toward unraveling the mystery of his father’s death in 1992 and its connection to his present.

“Healer” really is great. Even the wild, unbelievable puzzle pieces that perfectly come together are presented so well they aren’t even too ridiculous, which is a sign of a remarkable drama. “Healer” is also one of the rare dramas that doesn’t lose momentum halfway through its 20 episodes. I wish there were more so I could continue being thrilled by each new revelation and, of course, admiring Ji Chang-wook all the while.

‘EXO Lives Next Door’
Starring:
Moon Ga-young, Park Chan-yeol and Do Kyung-soo
Genre: Romance, Drama, Comedy
Episodes: 16

exonextdoor

Photo courtesy of Naver TV.

I am so pleased to live in a world where actual famous boybands are required to act out bad fanfiction on camera for our amusement. What a time to be alive. “EXO Lives Next Door” is all the standard self-insert fanfic tropes you may remember from LiveJournal circa 2006, but with the adorable, accommodating boys from EXO at the helm.

“EXO Lives Next Door” is a short web drama that packs a lot of zaniness into 16 quick episodes. Ji Yeon-hee is an underachieving 20-something who lives with her mother and younger brother and has never had a boyfriend because her face turns unnaturally red and she is unable to speak when faced with cute boys. Conveniently, several members of the 10-piece k-pop group happen to move into the house next door to her and immediately begin fighting over her, as this is how fanfiction usually goes. First, she slips on a banana peel and tosses her pads at them in the dark. Embarrassing! Then, she breaks into their house and chokes on rice cakes. Oh, no! At one point, Sehun and Baekhyun catch her spying on them with binoculars, so they decide to make out with each other to freak her out. Who even wrote this script? I’m not entirely convinced they didn’t just lift it from some 13-year-old’s FanFiction.net profile.

The best thing about “EXO Lives Next Door” is that the episodes are only 12-15 minutes long, which is exactly my attention span. The next best thing is that it’s completely ridiculous. Yeon-hee is not an interesting or likeable character at all, but no fanfiction heroines ever are (see: Bella Swan). The storyline, however, is so ludicrous it’s amazing. Personally, I’d stick around just for Sehun’s unlikely bromance with Yeon-hee’s kung fu-obsessed brother.

P.S. How can I get a job writing for one of these?!

Capsule drama reviews: Pinocchio, Nineteen, etc.

‘Mary Stayed Out All Night’ (aka ‘Marry Me, Mary!’)
Starring: Moon Geun-young, Jang Keun-suk and Kim Jae-wook
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Episodes: 16

mary

Photo courtesy of ACC Korea.

The bad news first: “Mary Stayed Out All Night” has the worst soundtrack. The show is supposed to be about indie rock, but all of the music is just terrible. The songs keep getting worse as the story progresses. If I had to listen to “My Precious” one more time, I was going to freak out. But the good news: Kang Mu-gyul looks really cute singing them. He looks really cute doing everything. He is the cutest. So I somehow managed to endure the soundtrack — even though that chorus of “She’s Mine” (“My woman, she loves me so very much! / My woman, she says I’m the greatest man she’s ever met!”) continues to haunt me.

The story follows Wi Mae-ri, who is out partying with her friends in Hongdae when she accidentally runs Mu-gyul (the stylish lead singer for a local indie band called Absolute Perfection) over with her car. They decide to get extremely drunk together and become fast friends, as you do when someone runs you over with their car. However, Mae-ri’s horrible deadbeat father has secretly arranged for her to marry a wealthy family friend, Byun Jung-in, and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. So, Mae-ri enlists Mu-gyul’s help to pretend that she is already married — just until her father calls off the nuptials. As you can expect, hijinks ensue.

The first half of “Mary Stayed Out All Night” is much better than the second. I enjoyed the fashion and the bohemian aesthetic; I enjoyed the growing chemistry between Moon Geun-young and Jang Keun-suk; I enjoyed looking at Jang Keun-suk a lot. But the show became more frustrating as it went on: Jung-in was never fully fleshed out as a character, Mae-ri’s father never showed any redeeming qualities, and I was just sick of everybody’s inability to communicate. Ultimately, though, I still thought this was a really good find. But that awful music…

‘Nineteen’
Release Date:
Nov. 12, 2009
Director: Jang Yong-woo
Starring: Choi Seung-hyun, Lee Seung-hyun and Huh E-jae
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated

nineteen

Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

“Nineteen” just so perfectly captures what it’s like to be 19 — the first of many years spent in the limbo between childhood and adulthood. It’s beautiful.

The movie focuses on three 19-year-olds from different walks of life. Seo Jung-hoon is kind of a slacker, satisfied with living at his parents’ house and working at a café. Park Min-seo is the meek rich boy who has a hard time interacting with other people and feels like he’s failed to live up to his parents’ expectations by not getting into a top college. Cha Eun-young just lost the hair stylist job she was using to support herself and her terminally ill mother in the hospital. The three of them are brought into the police station for questioning when a mutual acquaintance is found dead. They all feel as though the police aren’t listening and aren’t taking them seriously and are treating them like kids, so they miraculously escape police custody at the same time on go on the run together across South Korea.

It’s a fun adventure, and it’s infinitely relatable. What do you do when you’re on the run from the law? Compete in a rap battle and spend all your money on flamboyant sunglasses? Well, yeah, when you’re 19. It’s a pretty silly movie, but, at the same time, it speaks to the Millennials’ anxieties of growing up and finding a place in the world. And T.O.P performs a couple of goofy raps, so there’s that.

‘Pinocchio’
Starring:
Park Shin-hye, Lee Jong-suk and Kim Young-kwang
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama
Episodes: 20

pinocchio

I laughed really hard at this scene on the bus. Photo courtesy of iHQ.

“Pinocchio” is a romantic drama with a very heavy-handed overarching message about truth. Sort of like an Ethics in Journalism class with a romantic subplot.

For allegorical purposes, the story takes place in a world where a “Pinocchio syndrome” exists that makes those afflicted hiccup when they lie. Choi Dal-po and Choi In-ha are adopted siblings (more or less) who both aspire to become TV news reporters for different reasons. In-ha — a Pinocchio herself — wants to follow in the footsteps of her estranged mother who has a reputation for being a heartless but powerful news anchor. Dal-po wants to get revenge on the reporter who destroyed his birth family by spreading a sensationalized story that blamed his firefighter father for the deaths of many of his colleagues.

The drawn-out, Hamlet-style revenge-seeking and uncovering of the past was the most intriguing part of “Pinocchio.” The actual romance was neither exciting nor really charming. Although, I do believe I am the only viewer who is in strong opposition to Dal-po and In-ha as the endgame “darling couple.” I was really rooting for Seo Beom-jo —the spoiled rich boy who actually showed tremendous character growth and was one of my favorites throughout. He learned so much, and, although he struggled with it, he was always a good guy at the end of the day. And he was not related to In-ha at all, which is a plus.

‘Flower Boy Ramen Shop’
Starring:
Lee Chung-ah, Jung Il-woo and Lee Ki-woo
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Episodes: 16

flowerboys

Photo courtesy of tvN.

“Flower Boy Ramen Shop” is part one of the three-part “flower boy” series of dramas that also includes “Shut Up Flower Boy Band” and “Flower Boys Next Door.” This one is okay. I wasn’t that into it, but then I began to find Jung Il-woo very endearing, so I had to finish it.

It takes a while to even get to the ramen. At first, Yang Eun-bi is studying to become a teacher, but she quits after her father dies and leaves his ramen shop to her and some mysterious narcoleptic stranger he apparently wanted her to marry. Which she figures is just as well because teaching was getting weird considering the strange affair she was carrying on with one of her high school students, Cha Chi-soo, who is also (naturally) an extremely wealthy heir whose family controls the school. At the ramen shop, she and the creepy stranger who inserts himself into her life take a group of cute misfits from the high school under their wing to revamp the restaurant’s image.

First of all, I find it very annoying that Eun-bi just lets Choi Kang-hyuk burst into her life and make himself at home, despite all of the Very Binding Legal Documents That Are Clearly Written In Crayon he produces to prove his ownership. It’s not a very well-made drama, the acting isn’t that great, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. Nonetheless, I guess I must be a sucker for cute rich boys learning the harsh realities of the world or something, because I still really wanted to observe Chi-soo’s personal growth and ensure that he and Eun-bi lived happily ever after.