Awl: Piercing Through

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An awl is a long pointed instrument used often for piercing holes in leather or wood. This drama certainly unexpectedly pierced through my long k-drama drought. With a flavor similar to Misaeng, Awl is based on a webcomic and true story about a 50 (500?) day sit-in that occurred in 2007 at a e-mart retail store. Lee Soo-in, our awl, is the kind of person who has to do the right thing no matter what. From childhood to being in military school, this temperament has gotten him many punishments. Yet, he can’t help himself, but be the whistleblower wherever he is stationed.  Currently employed as a manager in a supermarket, operated by French businessmen, he had planned to live the simple life where all rules are followed and everything is status quo.His straight-laced military style personality often puts him at odds with his employees and he lacks friends at work. One day, his boss orders him to fire all his temporary employees. Of course Lee Soo-in refuses to unfairly dismiss his employees just so that the executives can make an extra buck. Soo-in becomes the target of Gaston, his French boss, and his employees suffer with him. However, Soo-in decides to create a union with the help of Goo Go-shin, a labor law consultant. Creating a union is no easy task as he faces difficulties recruiting as well pressure from higher ups. However, slowly, but surely, Soo-in and the employees gain momentum.

Realistic dramas pique a certain interest in me. Whether that be it connects on an emotional level or that I have experienced such situations before. Living in country where unions are commonplace, seeing the opposite in S. Korea does put a different perspective on things. As we know, countries often outsource labor to other countries where laborers are not protected just to make extra profit. We often hear “this union is doing a sit-in” or “that union is not coming to work”, these sensationalist stories on the news. However, rarely do we look at the reasons WHY the unions are doing those protests. It is because some rules are made unfairly or people are not being treated decently. Unions are to protect the laborers from the employers unfair actions.

Ji Hyun-Woo often plays righteous characters, yearning to make a difference in an often unfair society. His rigidness is endearing in the drama, and the rare moments where true victory occurs just lights up his face. Ahn Nae-sang delivers a truly passionate act as the labor consultant. His speeches are inspiring and his perseverance is admirable. In a world where power and money is everything, he fights the lone man or underdog’s fight. The drama also inserts flashbacks artfully and not repeatedly. This is something we don’t often see in Korean dramas. The flashbacks are given in bits and pieces, just to outline a character’s actions and past. Furthermore, I do enjoy the constant metaphors, voiceovers, and graphics that intermittently occur. The drama is very well-made and delivers the stark reality that is reminiscent of Misaeng.

PS. Can I just say, a Korean mart is amazing. Full staffing and all lanes of cashiers open? Where can I find this kind of service in the US?

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Return of the Heiress / 千金归来 : Lies and Betrayals

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Since I am really enjoying Li Qin’s acting in Return of Happiness, I decided to check out more of her works. This brought me to the melo-revenge piece she did….called Return of the Heiress. She sure likes to make these “returns of”. This drama ALSO feature birth secrets, but fake amnesia. About 16 episodes in, I finally paused long enough to write this first impression! Return of Heiress is about Changqing, heir to Shen Shen Enterprise. When Changqing was young, her mother had died a mysterious death after a long period of ailment.  At the time of the mother’s death, a mistress appeared who goaded the poor woman into asystole and most probably did some nefarious dead to propagate the ailmet in the first place. Although Changqing’s father was stricken at his wife’s death, he was pleased that the CEO position of Shen Shen came to him because Changqing can’t manage a company at such a young age. He also decided to bring the mistress into the family home along with a daughter he had out of wedlock. Changqing’s father had been having extramarital affairs. Thus, this supposedly “happy” family of four lived for over 10 years without any issue. Meanwhile, the mistress and her daughter had ulterior motives to push Changqing out of the family. They often manipulate naive Changqing who really believes that she has a nice stepmother and stepsister. However, they have been secretly poisoning her all along. It comes to a point where she actually became hospitalized and was declared dead. With her “death”, the stepmother and stepsister became afraid of what they had done. Little did they know that Changqing miraculously came back to life under the white sheet and became privy to all their manipulations.

After learning how they had betrayed her so deeply, she decided to get revenge on them. In order to do that, she pretended to have amnesia and a complete personality change. She was able to mostly convince her step-family and her father that she had forgotten everything that had happened. Her father was in an unfortunate position where he feels bad that he had treated his extramarital family so poorly and wanted to make reparations while still supporting his revived daughter. They all hope she does not get her memory back and are suspicious at her every move. Changqing must always be very careful in her words and actions. It becomes a battle between her manipulative step-family and her at every turn. She has to prevent the mistress from marrying into the family. Meanwhile, one of her favorite uncles gets into an unfortunate accident and dies. As she was very close to this uncle, she was extremely upset. Little did she know, this uncle was actually her real father due to a drunken event on her mother’s wedding night (father dearest had gone to see the mistress). Her fake father, CEO of Shen Shen already knows this and is only catering to Changqing to keep his foothold in the company. Upon knowing that her father had something to do with her uncle’s death, Changqing must also battle with her fake father as well.

Luckily she meets one of her childhood friends who will help her along the way to mature into a smart and career woman. He is a doctor and tries to help her achieve her goals in any way he can. The other male lead in her life is a rich and financial guru who has a prickly exterior. He doesn’t take any nonsense which Changqing fires right back at him. This definitely peaks his interest in her and her ambitions.

Li Qin looks incredibly different in this drama versus the current Return of Happiness. However, her acting is still very good, but definitely a different style. Of course Li Yi Feng as our doctor friend is adorable and heartbreaking his pining for his childhood friend. They evoke such feels together and he brings such joy in her life when everyone else has betrayed her. There is also a certain fire between her and Jin Rui, a more mature relationship based on wit and prickliness. Also I do feel obligated to warn you that Shin Min Hee who plays second female lead will annoy the guts out of you. She overacts in the department of cutesy, contrived, pouty, clingy, etc. You will want to poke your eyes out and hers! I am excited to see how this drama pans out I really like the angsty parts that have happenedd and hope there are more yet to come.

Return of Happiness/幸福归来 : Back to the Sea

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I do feel like I have been on a Chinese drama binge lately! Yet another one has caught my attention. Even though it feels like your run of the mill chaebol + Candy storyline with amnesia/birth switcheroo, I enjoy it for the great acting (actors who I have actually never watched before)! Return of Happiness focuses on You Wei, a passionate seafarer who loves to go sailing due to her upbringing near the sea. However, in the beginning, she was actually the precious daughter of a rich family. One day, she explored too near the edge of a cliff and fell off. This resulted in her losing her memory. In an effort to keep the money in the family which the father was going to donate to charity, the aunt searched high and low for the missing girl. Instead of bringing back the lost daughter when she found her, she brought back another ailing girl in her place. The aunt then places the real daughter with the family she took the girl from 10 years later so that the girl is more unrecognizable. She intends to keep this as her leverage in her bid for more company power. Therefore, the lost daughter takes on the name of You Wei and lives her life by the sea while her counterpart works at the family company when she grows up.

You Wei grows up to be your super-Candy, hardworking, bright, and working 5 jobs to support her little (pseudo) brother’s education. Her dream is to be able to sail yachts for a living. She applies for a job on a sailing team, gets it by winning a sailing competition, but loses it due to misunderstandings when she meets Hao Min, the CEO of the company. Hao Min is actually a childhood friend that You Wei grew up with, but now can’t remember. However, not to be deterred, she manages to get another job with maintenance of sailboats instead….before getting fired again due to another misunderstandings. Through these events, she is gradually and unknowingly coming in contact with key players of her childhood life. Hopefully one day she will recover her memories and set things straight with the help of Hao Min.

So far, the drama is breezy and light. Willing suspension of disbelief is a must in these kind of dramas or our lead lady would have died a couple of deaths already. For example, when she falls off the cliff, drinks two bottles of Hennessy Cognac by herself, and gets whacked in the head with a stick (why didn’t that bring back some memories?). And I guess they aren’t in the practice of getting more DNA samples and can’t recognizing their OWN daughter (we will give credit to the mother who has a gut feeling that her current daughter isn’t hers)? While the plot may be hole-y, I am still attracted to this drama due to the crackling chemistry between our leads. The moments where You Wei angsts are particularly good and Hao Min puts on a good comedic flair without being slap-stick. May I just say, I just realized the past 3-4 leads in the Chinese dramas I’ve watched all had pixie short hair!

EDIT: I am quite addicted! And what a wonderful OST!

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Bromance: Cheesiness, but Amusing

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While the cheesiness is off the charts in Bromance, I am amused. I don’t know how long I will be amused by these cliches, but so far the idol drama has kept me entertained. As a genderbender drama, Pi Ah Nuo is a girl who has lived as a man for the past 25 years of life due to the suspicions of a fortuneteller. On her 26th birthday, she would have passed her “dangerous” time and can return to live as a female. However, before then, she must keep her gender a secret from everyone. One day, she happens to rescue a mob boss named Du Zi Feng and his sister due to his fast reflexes and fighting skills. The sister falls in love with Ah Nuo, who is actually a girl. Ah Nuo is considered a “flower boy” and is especially popular amongst the ladies. Due to the sibling’s mother’s manipulations, Ah Nuo becomes Zi Feng’s sworn blood brother and future son-in-law prospect for her daughter. Throw in Ah Nuo’s cousin, who is acting as his girlfriend, we have all sorts of misunderstandings happen as the cousin tries to set up Ah Nuo and Zi Feng together as she of course knows that her cousin is a girl. As the motley crew boards a cruise ship for vacation, we see more situations where Ah Nuo’s heart flutters in proximity to Zi Feng while Zi Feng just likes to tease Ah Nuo for being so delicate. With her 26th birthday approaching, I wonder how Ah Nuo will be able to solve her situation.The drama is so chalk full of fangirl-y bromance moments, that sometimes it does give me minor goosebumps and makes me wonder how oblivious the main male lead could be. I guess I am just waiting for the period where she will need to decide whether to reveal her feminine side or just be more comfortable with her masculine side.

Youth Assemble: Line Up!

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After my bingeing on Destined to Love You 2015, I was hungry for more military style dramas. Therefore, I took a peek at Youth Assemble, a drama set in military school during modern times. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t take even after 6 episodes. This drama is about a group of freshman who attend military academy for various reasons and learn to grow through overcoming obstacles. The story mainly focuses on Duo Duo and Ren, two complete opposites who butt heads inside and outside of school. Duo Duo is a independent and headstrong girl who is academically strong, but hot-tempered. She loses the chance to study abroad in the US due to her hot temper during a visa interview. She absolutely hates the idea of going to military school since her father had died a pilot. However, her mother manages to trick her into attending. Meanwhile, Ren is a soldier at heart who cares about honor and serving the nation. Unfortunately, he was not able to pass his pilot training not due to flying ability, but rather a health issue. His dream is to join the military and the school was his chance to prove himself worthy. With their different personalities and outlooks on life, these two do not get along very well on a daily basis. However, they did prove themselves able to work together when it comes to solving problematic situations of civilians. Joining them at the military school will be a variety of different people such as the girly-girl, the one that came to lose weight, the geeks, the rich son, etc. These youths will need to learn discipline and grow into mature versions of themselves.

While the plot sounds quirky and fun, I just really couldn’t get into it. I think that the main problem for me was Duo Duo. She really grinded my gears with her personality. She is very arrogant and thinks herself a genius because she writes well. She turns down an opportunity for higher education because of her temper and just blows it off saying she didn’t need it anyways. She just doesn’t have a purpose or ambition and thinks its okay to live off her mother until she hits it big with her writing. This drama also breaks the 4th dimension where she talks straight at the camera at times. This gives the drama a disjointed feeling for me even though it is trying to make the drama more like her “diary”. While I know her immaturity is a point where the drama is going to make her grow, I really couldn’t drag up the courage to continue. So while for me it is mainly a character problem that is keeping me from continuing, I am sure that watching the rest of the youths overcome their obstacles and achieve their goals will be interesting. Don’t be put off if you can tolerate Duo Duo!