Empress Ki: Two Kingdoms

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This is it. This is the longest Korean drama that I will ever watch at 51 episodes. I had put this one off only because of the length for quite some time, and only recently decided to brave it. I am totally glad I did as it is turning out to be one of the best dramas I have watched in awhile. It has all the fixings of a saguek that I love. Ha Ji Won plays Suenyang, a Goryo born woman who lost her mother during her childhood as they were being hauled off to be the Chinese Yuan Kindom’s concubine tribute. After seeing mother and daughter being beat badly, young crown prince of Goryo, Wang Yu, attempts to free them. However, in her attempt to escape the slave caravan, her mother is shot down by Tanqishi, son of the all powerful Regent of China. Seungyang ends up crossdressing as a boy for most of her life to hide from the authorities and to have more independence. She ends up working for Wang Go, uncle to the Goryo Crown Prince, but secretly undermining him as he is the one fueling the concubine trade. She passes along information to the royal officers to take him down. She and her loyal group of followers manage to thwart Wang Go’s plans with the help of the now grown up Wang Yu. However, she does not know he is the crown prince. They end up forming a brotherly bond as they help each other out. Wang Yu is portrayed as a handsome and passionate man who tries to follow the just path. As they go their separate ways after, she manages to find her long lost father who is a General for the royal family. During her stay with him, they are tasked with making sure the exiled Crown Prince of China would stay alive and lately return back to China. The current Regent of China was El Temur, a brutal tyrant who was trying to obtain all the power for himself by killing off the Crown Prince of China in Goryo lands so that he can also oppress Goryo. Two birds with one stone. The Crown Prince of China is Ta Hwan, who will name as baby emperor as all he does is cry, whine, and pout. He is scared for his life and cowers whenever there is a fight. He manages to escape the Regent’s first attempt at killing him off because he was hiding and ends up being shunted to an isolated island for his protection.

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The K2: Bourne

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Watching this simultaneously with Empress Ki is like watching two Ji Chang Wooks. One that is a cowardly wimp versus another one is a Jason Bourne style badass. Or in a way, we are reprising a upgraded level of Healer who has become more deadly. Wook plays Je Ha, ex-special forces soldier who seems to be on the run and working menial jobs to lay low. He meets our lead lady, Anna, in Spain where he seemed to be finishing up a mission.

Anna is the illegitimate daughter of a assemblyman who is trying to run for presidency. Anna’s mother seemed to have died through mysterious means and Anna is sequestered in this monastery to keep her out of the way or hidden. However, she is constantly trying to run away since she believes the people who have her captured are villainous. In one of her escape attempts, Je Ha manages to help her for a bit, even though he is injured. However, it was for naught when she is recaptured and he ended up returning back to Korean in order not to get involved with foreign police.

Back in Korea, we get a peek into the assemblyman, Se Joon, and his wife’s tense relationship. His wife, Yoo Jin, is not the mother of Anna, and seems to be in a contract relationship with Se Joon. Yoo Jin is the daughter of a powerful conglomerate and it seems that Se Joon is using that power to back up his candidacy. However, they don’t have a loving relationship at all and seem to be sabotaging each other. Se Joon keeps on having affairs while Yoo Jin tries to catch him at it. She is calculating and manipulative deep down and tries to keep a mask of innocence and romanticism for the public. Unfortunately, Je Ha becomes involved in their power struggle when he takes on a banner fixing job at Yoo Jin’s company. He sees things that he shouldn’t have and now is being hunted down by both parties for recruitment or worse.

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Whirlwind Girl 2: Let’s Kick it Off!

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Hip Hip Hooray for the second installment of Whirlwind Girl………BUT with some integral changes. While our main character is still Bai Cao, the actress playing her has now changed. However, I actually really enjoy this new actress and even feel like she suits the role better than the original one (but hey, that is just me). MOST IMPORTANTLY and UNFORTUNATELY, one of my favorite characters, Ruo Bai, is no longer part of the drama, in a physical sense. At the end of the first season, it is clear that the Ruo Bai and Bai Cao was the largest ship and sailing quite nicely until Ruo Bai ended up in the hospital during her competition. However, because neither the actor for Ruo Bai nor the one for Bai Cao were able to film the second season, there were changes in the story. Ruo Bai is “ambiguously” dead in the second season. I say ambiguous because hints are still dropping that he may be alive and coming back at the end of the season. In the beginning, Bai Cao is unwilling to accept that Ruo Bai is dead even though everyone is telling her that he has passed away. She still thinks that he is angry at her and will come back if she makes it into the international women’s competition. Poor Ting Hao, international champion, is still madly in love with her, but she doesn’t give him the time of day. Nobody can take the place of Ruo Bai in her heart. However, since Song Bai is without an instructor, her senior who is still doing medical research in the states invites Chang An to teach at the institute. Chang An had abandoned his previous institute that was famous for its brutal and cruel ways of training their students. He brings this same training style to Song Bai and implements it to the dismay of the students. However, Bai Cao is eager to comply to even the harshest of trainings because she believes it will help her in the competitions. Ting Hao is furious at Chang An’s tactics as he had endured them himself when he was at Chang An’s institute in the past. These tactics had caused the death of his young friend in the past which is a sore point for both Chang An and Ting Hao. With the dual training of both masters, Bai Cao improves with leaps and bounds.

While some people may not enjoy the major shift in characters and new actors, I really like it! Korean actor Ji Chang Wook plays almost an extended version of his Healer character in the beginning as he is being chased and hounded by his old institute. As Chang An, he is brutally cold and no nonsense as he trains Bai Cao ruthlessly. However, he is not without feeling as Bai Cao’s perseverance continues to move him just as it had moved Ruo Bai. In essence, he is playing an extension of Ruo Bai. For the new Bai Cao, I find her less annoying than the previous one and just as fierce. But for Fan Tin Yi, Ting Hao’s sister, she is just as jealous, spoiled, and frustrating as before. She really makes my lips curl in hatred. As for poor Ting Hao, this man is fighting a loosing battle. He can not gain her love no matter how he tries. He is even losing the battle against the new instructor! While I do miss Ruo Bai, I have one foot on the Chang An and Bai Cao ship right now!

A Final Word on Healer

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Not very often do I find a perfect drama, but I must say Healer hits all the spots for me. Finding brilliant gems such as this drama is what keeps me watching Asian dramas!

Plot: Healer does a wonderful job using a tight plot. What was seen at the beginning of the drama with what seems like a simple courier job is eventually connected and part of the intricate overarching plot. Loose ends are tied up, birth secretes are solved, and generations of family are reacquainted.

Characterizations: Fleshing out characters is an important part of a drama and makes us feel connected to the material we are watching. Healer, himself, is very complex. His past sufferings made him who he was, but at the end, he rose above it. While starting out working alone, he learns how to work with others and reintegrate into society. He is the flawed hero that decides to work on his shortcomings. Chae Young Shin is the definition of spunky, not your usual Candy type, but endearing and earnest. It was a joy seeing her rise above her own past sufferings and bounce back. For our support actors, Moon Ho and Ahjumma, they are also very fleshed out with their pasts and their motivation for what they do now. Even minor characters are introduced well and given meaning to the drama.

Acting: The acting is definitely A++ with all characters. Since this is my first Ji Chang Wook drama and knowning he has not produced too many other ones yet, I am astounded at the expressiveness of his acting. Flipping between his two roles of Healer, Bong Soo, and Joon-Ho, you can see the clear differences between each, but also how each of those characterizations is still himself. Park Min Young is still as cute as ever and also a lovely actress. I have never had a problem with her acting and am glad that it is still shining through in this drama. Yoo Ji Tae, veteran actor, does a great job supporting his younger counterpart. His restrained anger and inner pain made a great contrast to Ji Chang Wook’s action first, talk later. Our group of older radio broadcasters did a great job connecting our younger generation with the convoluted past.

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Healer

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Oh yes! This has definitely healed my break in kdrama addiction. While waiting for Korean cable channels to pump out a measly one episode per week of Bad Guys and Dr. Frost, this wonderful drama will tide me through! This drama can be seen as a cross between action thriller, makjang, and a tiny bit of procedural, well as least for now.

In the beginning, we are introduced to a mysterious man, codenamed: Healer. His line of work is to act as a courier, but not your usual UPS/FEDEX man. Instead, he employs high-end technology and the street-smart/combat skills more akin to an intelligence operative. He’ll take any job as long as it doesn’t involve murder. In return he is saving all the money he has earned for a chance to live in isolation on a tropical island he hopes to buy soon. Hmmm, I wonder what type of trauma he has endured in the past to yearn for such isolation. On the other side, we have a famous and well-loved journalist, Moon-Ho, who actually has a humanistic side and side-steps censoring on broadcast instead of acting like a good little puppet. This is where the makjang comes in. We can see he has issues with his older brother who is married to a woman he respects a lot. However, that woman grieves over her lost daughter which the Moon Ho uses the Healer to try to find. Of course, there seems to be some mystery as to how the child was lost and why Moon Ho seems to resent his brother.

Finally, we have Young-Shin, our plucky heroine who is an aspiring reporter and whose idol is of course Moon Ho. Young-Shin, a bit eccentric, is our shining star in the sky of broodiness made up by Moon Ho and Healer. Employed by Moon Ho, the Healer has no choice, but to get closer to Young-Shin, who is of course the long lost child, in order to find out more information about the case….while also being pinned for a murder from a previous job.

With only two episodes in, I am excited to see how the Healer’s double life will work out and to find the reason behind Young-Shin’s rough childhood. Sign me up!

-phoenix