Black: Grim Reapers

Black_(Korean_Drama)-P1.jpgI came into this drama with fairly low expectations, but I was blown away. Dark dramas are my thing, but not always supernatural. However, the interesting pairing of leads here got me interested. After all, OCN has never let me down. Black tells the story of Ha Ram and Han Moo Gang/Black, well I guess more of Black. Ha Ram grew up with a unique gift, the ability to see death before it happens. She sees it as a black shadow next to the victim who will die soon. The black shadows are actually grim reapers waiting to reap the souls. Unfortunately, her skill isolates her in society and she is afraid to look at people knowing what might happen to them. Moo Gang, a average detective manages to get entangled with her after a case. He begins to believe in her skill and tells her its not a curse. He says she can use it to save people from their deaths. Coincidentally, he was also her first love when they met in childhood. However, after they decided to start saving imminently dying people, Moo Gang gets shot in the head. He effectively “died” and his body was taken over by a Grim Reaper who was out to hunt down his runaway partner. 444, the reaper, renamed Black, has a completely different personality than Moo Gang. However, Ha Ram doesn’t know that Moo Gang is already dead and that the person before her is just the possessed one. She is unable to see the black shadow in him as he wears all black and part of the reason why she uses sunglasses in order to not see shadows. Black tries to convince her to help him find his partner. However, he doesn’t know what he got himself into as he realizes the body he possesses is already involved in a complicated situation.

Song Seung Heon and Go Ara have never really amazing actors in my book, decent and tolerable. HOWEVER, their roles this time played to their strengths and it is perfect. Song plays Black, who is awkward, deadpan, and a grim reaper who is not used to the human world. His limited expressions is funny and his change of personality is hilarious to watch as well as the reactions of his fellow detectives. Meanwhile, Go Ara is great as the fragile girl who is so lonely due to others shunning her. Watching them try to work together is really interesting. However, I can see a harsh betrayal coming soon when Ha Ram finds out that Black is not who he says he is and has been using her all this time. Though I’m sure, he will soften and probably catch feelings. Oh what a complicated puzzle that will create. I hope I won’t have too much heartbreak here.

Train to Busan: Full Loaded

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For me, one of the most frightening apocalypse type events is bio warfare or a bio-accident. Disease that is hard to control coupled with it potentially having no cure or one that can’t be developed fast enough is just horrid to even think about. Train to Busan is not only an amazing horror/thriller zombie movie, but also one that portrays humanity in a time where it is survival of the fittest.

In the movie, Seok Woo is a fund manager who has a young daughter and is divorced from his wife due to him being a workaholic. In the beginning he is portrayed as a dad who is too busy with his job to spend quality time with his daughter. His daughter ends up guilt-tripping him into sending her back to her mother in Busan, a day earlier than she was supposed to go for her birthday. Fortunately, they catch the train to Busan where they just manage to avoid the imminent bio-apocalypse that is to befall the city of Seoul.

On the train, they meet Sang-hwa and his pregnant wife Seong-kyeong, a high school baseball team, rich but selfish CEO Yon-suk, elderly sisters In-gil and Jon-gil, and a homeless man. Just before the train departs, another wounded woman jumps into the train as well. She seems to have a wound on her leg that is infecting the rest of her body fast.

Meanwhile, Seok Woo has fallen asleep on the train, while his daughter wanders the rest of the compartments out of curiosity and the need to use the bathroom. Soon, the wounded woman succumbs to the bite and starts to seize. A stewardess comes to check on her and in the process becomes the first victim to the now zombified woman. The bite and turning is fast and relentless as one person becomes affected after another. The compartments are small and there is no where to run.

Passengers start to panic, and soon only one compartment of the train is left with no zombies in it. Hope seemed to be in the near future as the passengers are asked to get off at another city that is fortified by military. However, by the time they get there, the military has already lost to the city of zombies and have turned themselves. Their numbers are halved even more as they must run back to the train as soon as possible. Unfortunately, in the chaos, not everyone boarded the safe compartment. Our main characters are hiding in different ones and must battle through the zombie infested compartments to save their loved ones and make it to the safe head compartment. It becomes a long arduous process that shows the different sides of humanity. Every action becomes a choice of saving yourself or help for the good of a group.

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W-Two Worlds: Fiction or Not?

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A very interesting concept! How many times have we imagined our favorite fictional characters coming to life and being able to interact with them? Oh Yeon-Joo is a cardiothoracic resident whose father pens a popular webtoon called “W”. The main character is named Kang Chul, a handsome young man with revenge in mind. In Kang Chul’s world, he is a Olympic sharpshooter who also runs a multi-billion company. The company is a front for an investigation show where he tries to find the killer who murdered his entire family and framed him for it.However, her father is planning to end the series by killing off Kang Chul. After a couple of odd disappearances of her father while he is trying to write out the last scenes of the webtoon, she decides to investigate what is going on. As she rummages in her father’s drawing studio, she is somehow pulled into the drawing tablet by a bloody hand. It turns out that she is literally dragged into the webtoon by Kang Chul. She manages to save his life by giving emergency treatment, but then is dragged back to her own dimension after seeing the words “to be continued…” appear in midair. In her world, the webtoon is writing itself now and she is now including in the drawings. Everything that happened in the other world is drawn as is and published on line. At first, her friends do not believe her and even her father, who reappears, tries to ignore it. The father knows what is happening which is why he is trying to end the series and kill of Kang Chul, who he believes has become a monster. However, the webtoon has now a life of its own and will write it’s own story no matter what the father draws. Yeon Joo ends up being pulled several times into the webtoon in order to help Kang Chul. However, she has a hard time getting back to her own world each time. She goes out of her way to “surprise” Kang Chul like slapping him or kissing him out of the blue in order to create a cliffhanger event to end that episode. Kang Chul is intrigued by this “crazy” women, but knows that she is the key to his life.

YES YES, another Lee Jong Suk drama please! I really adore and have watched all of the dramas he was in. He is a very versatile young actor who has put out several popular shows within the last few years. The character Lee Jong Suk plays is your typical Mary Sue with all the workings, tall, popular, good looking, smart, strong, and rich. However, it seems like he has a darker side as he shoots Yeon Joo with his gun just to test his theory that she is not of his world. I also feel bad that his character endures several out of context events that keep on trying to kill him. Meanwhile, although I like Han Hyo Joo, her role in this drama is a bit awkward at times. She is almost a little ditzy and is incredibly a bad liar. Then again, I would probably be as confused as she is if I was pulled into a webtoon which I had only read about. I suppose I had expected her to have more of a strong woman role like the actual heroine of the webtoon. Nonetheless, I am at the point where Kang Chul is starting to cross over to her world so I am eager to see what happens then!

Psychometry: Hands That Save

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It’s not often that I am completely satisfied with a Korean movie, but this one hits the mark! With action and a dash of supernatural, Psychometry or Gifted Hands is the perfect flick for me. Yang Choo-Dong is your mediocre detective who doesn’t get much results in the force. However, he has a special affinity for missing children cases due to his past. One day, he by chance meets a graffiti artist who sprays him in the eye to escape. Later on, he finds that the mural that the artist painted depicted a crime scene that was found weeks later. Curious and suspicious how this artist, Kim Jun, would know what the crime scene of the missing girl looked like before police did, he begins searching for the young man. After he finds him, they get off to a rocky start as the detective thinks he is the perpetrator. However, Choo-Dong realizes that Kim Jun can perform pscyhometry which is a supernatural talent where a person can gain memories form touching an inanimate object. For Kim Jun, he can see memories of what happened in the past by using his hands. However, through a freak accident, his mom died after he touched her hand and he never forgave himself for the incident. Furthermore, each “viewing” puts strain on Kim Jun’s body to where he gets nosebleeds and even vomits up blood. However, after reconciling, Choo-Dong gets Kim Jun to help him find another little girl who went missing. Unfortunately, the police didn’t believe in this supernatural power and arrested Kim Jun as the kidnapper and murderer. Choo-Dong of course rescues Kim Jun from this predicament and together they try to find the real suspect.

Not a very complicated plot, but it gets you in the feels for its suspense and bromance feels. Kim Kang-Woo who also played in Missing Noir M, is perfect as the rambunctious detective who has a good heart. Kim Bun plays the broody Kim Jun who isolated himself from society because he thought his hands brought death. However, they develop a brotherly bond together through these investigations. I very much enjoyed these bromance moments and had wished the movie was longer or had a sequel. It would have been fun to see more crimes solved this way!

Sirius – Shine Bright

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So intense. Usually for a 4-episode special, I would have just gone ahead and finished it before writing about it. However, just with the first episode and a half, I had to pause to take it all in. This short suspense thriller has hit the trifecta for me, strong acting, great soundtrack, and tight plot. In this drama, Do Eunchang and Do Shin Woo are a pair of twins who are as different as night and day. Eunchang is the lively and charming boy who does not take hits lying down. Meanwhile Shin Woo is the quiet, bookworm twin who gets bullied every single day. They share the same face to the disappointment of both, but you can clearly tell that they care deeply for each other still. Eunchang is constantly defending his brother and even beating up his bullies for him. However, Shin Woo hates himself for being so defenseless. Unfortunately one day, things go too far and Shin Woo’s bully falls off the school roof in an accident while fighting with Eunchang. Eunchang had went to his brother’s school in place of Shin Woo to teach that bully another lesson. This lands Eunchang in jail for 8 years while their mother blames everything on Shin Woo. She even requests that Shin Woo go to jail in place of the other twin as she clearly has Eunchang as her favorite son.

With his brother in jail and him in a glass prison at home, Shin Woo forces himself to study hard for the bar to make something of himself. Shin Woo becomes Chief of a police force while his twin becomes a delivery boy when he comes out of jail. Their mother had died of a drug addiction from missing the other son so much. Because of this, he is very focused on going after drug busts. Furthermore, years of suffering under the insults of a crime that his brother committed and having to endure watching his mother fall apart made Shin Woo bitter towards his twin brother. He wishes that Eunchang didn’t exist as he thinks that is all everyone ever see compounded with them having the same face. Eunchang is still the cheerful person he was before jail and understands that his brother does not want anything to do with him. Unfortunately both of them become involved with a drug ring and chaos ensues. Chief Shin Woo is trying to chase down the mob boss, but gets into a horrible car accident. Eunchang is forced to take Shin Woo’s place as Chief of the police by the mob boss in exchange for his younger brother’s life. To worsen the situation, Shin Woo does not know that Eunchange is trying to save him rather than being one of the boss’s cronies. Poor Eunchang feels so helpless in this situation. It is a complete turn around from when they were younger.

The actor who plays the younger version of the twins and the one that plays the older set are SO AMAZING. Park Hyung Shik, a relatively new idol turned actor is busting his melodrama chops to deliver such a great performance. Might I also say that ZE:A, the kpop band he was in has churned out three amazing actors so far, Park Hyung Shik, Yim Si Wang (Misaeng), and Kim Dong-Jun (Girl K). Anyways, Park Hyung Shik playing the younger set of twins is very moving in his angst and torture of being the one ignored and unwanted in the family. He strives for recognition from his family, but is always overshadowed by his older brother. Now the older set is played by Suh Joon Young is also quite wonderful and pairs really well with the younger version. His acting of both twins is so great that at one point, I really thought they were two different actors!! Not even half-way through the drama, my heart already hurts for these two brothers. I really hope I get to see them reconcile or at least be on the way to patch up their past misunderstandings and hurts. It is so clear that they care deeply for each other and have a connection no one can break.

EDIT: I finished this drama and now I feel empty. I wish it was longer! It was such a joy to watch both younger and older set of twins played by these versatile actors! I also can’t believe how underrated this special was! It is truly a gem to be discovered!

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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Time Between Dog and Wolf

Original Title: 개와 늑대의 시간 / Time Between Dog and Wolf

Episodes: 16

Year: 2007

Country: South Korea

Channel: MBC

Theme: Action, Suspense, Thriller, Mystery, Romance

                Plot: Time Between Dog and Wolf, a 16 episode drama, is a mask upon a mask upon a mask. In the beginning, Soo-Hyun, the protagonist of the story is traumatized as a child when his mother was shot right in front of his eyes by a gangster named Mao in Thailand. Luckily, he was quickly adopted by Jung-Ho’s family and grew up together with his son, MIn-ki in Korea. The two children grew up to be NIS agents following their father. By a twist of fate, Soo-Hyun manages to reunite with his childhood first love Ji Woo whom he had first met when he lived in Thailand. However, his normalcy was soon shattered when one of his missions ended in failure due to resurfacing of memories of his childhood trauma. Vowing personal revenge against the Mao, he ignored his superior’s orders and was subsequently fired.

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White Christmas

Original Title: 화이트 크리스마스 / Monster

Episodes: 8

Year: 2011

Country: South Korea

Channel: KBS 2

Theme: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Melodrama, Artistic, School

             Plot: White Christmas, an 8 episode drama, is a psychological thriller that coldly portrays the different facets of human nature and morality. At Susin High School, a private elite academy that only takes the top 1% of the students in the country, Winter Break approaches and all go home except for 7, well and a surprise 8th,  students and one proctoring teacher.

However, these aren’t just any students, all of them had received a mysterious black envelope with a chilling fragment of poetry that threatens murder. As a result, all of them stay behind that break to find out who wrote these messages to them. To introduce the core students, there is Moo Yul, the second smartest student in the school with an inferiority complex. Next, there is Young Jae, a hotheaded bully who hides his cowardice by teasing Kang Mo and Yoon Su. Kang Mo is a hearing impaired student who has a complex about his disability and uses a hearing aid. Yoon Su is a traumatized young man suffering for psychological problems that has him downing drugs to control his hallucinatory spirals. He is constantly afraid a blue “corner monster” and nicknamed the Angel because his family is rich. Jae Kyu seems like Moo Yul’s right hand man and friend, but a little socially awkward. Eun Sung, the only female to stay behind rarely smiles, seems to have frozen over and has a complicated past with Yoo Mul and an intense love/hate relationship with Young Jae. Then we have Chi Hoon who is a genius, but apathetic to his peers.

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