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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.

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Capsule drama reviews: My Love From Another Star, etc.

‘My Love From Another Star’ (aka ‘You Who Came From the Stars’)
Starring: Jun Ji-hyun, Kim Soo-hyun and Park Hae-jin
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama, Sci-fi
Episodes: 21

mylove

Photo courtesy of HB Entertainment.

I laughed hysterically. I cried uncontrollably. I craved chicken and beer. “My Love From Another Star” has been my favorite drama to date.

The show is about Cheon Song-yi, a down-on-her-luck movie star, and her next door neighbor, Do Min-joon, the 400-year-old alien who falls in love with her just months before he’s finally due to return to his home planet. This is a great example of how excellent a show can be when it centers on a fully-realized female character. Song-yi has been my favorite drama heroine to date — she is funny, exuberant, glamorous, sympathetic. She has so much personality, and she’s so adorable, it’s very hard not to fall in love with her and consider giving up your home planet. I understand completely.

Everything about “My Love From Another Star” is actually pretty great. Pretty stellar, as it were. The fashion, the cinematography, the script, etc. The supporting characters are also notable — particularly Shin Sung-rok as the cartoonishly evil villain Jae-kyung and Park Hae-jin as the rejected suitor Hwi-kyung, who recovers gracefully and proves to be a real friend and a stand-up guy in general. This show is fantastic.

‘Bungee Jumping of Their Own’
Release Date:
Feb. 2, 2001
Director: Kim Dae-seung
Starring: Lee Byung-hun, Lee Eun-ju and Yeo Hyun-soo
Genre: Romance, Drama
Rating: Not Rated

bungee

Photo courtesy of Cineclick Asia.

This movie really weirded me out. And it’s not particularly easy to weird me out.

It begins with the love story of In-woo and Tae-hee, who meet at university and quickly become inseparable — until Tae-hee is killed in a car accident. In-woo moves on with his life, marries, has a baby, and becomes a high school teacher, which is working out well for him until he becomes convinced that Tae-hee has been reincarnated as one of the underage students in his class. From there, the movie becomes wholly unsettling as In-woo creepily grooms the boy, calls him up the middle of the night, and tries to convince him that they’re soulmates.

It’s, at least, an interesting challenge of gender and heteronormativity springing from a religious standpoint, but “Bungee Jumping of Their Own” is very uncomfortable to watch. And it ends with the unpleasant message that it’s kind of romantic to kidnap a child that reminds you of your dead ex-lover. I can’t really hang with that.

‘Answer Me 1997’ (aka ‘Reply 1997’)
Starring:
Jung Eun-ji, Seo In-guk and Song Jong-ho
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Episodes: 16

Reply-1997

Photo courtesy of tvN.

Unfortunately for me, the vast majority of the in-jokes, pop culture references and celebrity cameos that make “Answer Me 1997” so amusing were pretty lost on me. Much more entertaining if you have a basic understanding of Korean life in the 1990s. However, I still enjoyed the show as a quick and interesting coming-of-age story about a group of high school friends.

The show is framed with the story of Shi-won, a 30-something writer, attending a high school reunion and reminiscing with her friends and former classmates about growing up in the ‘90s. She reveals that she is now married and pregnant, but leaves the identity of her husband open for interpretation as the narrative bounces back and forth between the present day and her final year of high school in Busan.

“Answer Me 1997” is the most down-to-earth drama I’ve watched so far. It’s honest and candid about premarital sex, homosexuality, erotic fanfiction about boybands… All the real issues that teens deal with every day. The pacing is great, the throwbacks to the ‘90s are refreshing, and the teenagers are really accurately depicted. Also unique is the setting in Busan and the distinction made between hailing from a big city like Seoul and growing up anywhere else in the country.

‘Shut Up Flower Boy Band’
Starring:
Sung Joon, Jo Bo-ah and Lee Hyun-jae
Genre: Romance
Episodes: 16

shutup

Photo courtesy of tvN.

While I’m cruising around, living my life, I keep wondering what that song I always have stuck in my head is. Turns out it’s “Jaywalking,” the song that propels Eye Candy to fame in “Shut Up Flower Boy Band.” Damn, that’s an unexpectedly good song — super catchy hook, rhythmic back beat, rough rock ‘n roll guitar, and the romantic lyrics Byung-hee wrote about his muse before his untimely death at the hands of the high school bullies.

“Shut Up Flower Boy Band” follows the five-piece band of outcasts as they pursue their dreams of sharing Byung-hee’s music with the world. Will girls and money tear the band apart? Will they ever get through a live performance without something chaotic happening halfway through the single? Only time will tell!

Both the music and the aesthetic are consistently enticing. The boys are all pretty compelling individual characters, especially Do-il (the mysterious, long-haired drummer who is the son of a mobster and is ridiculously good-looking), Hyun-soo (the tormented guitarist, played by Kim Myung-soo from Infinite), and Ji-hyuk (the newly-appointed lead singer who takes Byung-hee’s place as the group’s leader). Less compelling is Jo Bo-ah as Soo-ah, Ji-hyuk’s love interest/Eye Candy’s general muse. But the unconventional music drama and the cute rocker boys more than make this show worth watching.