Sunday, November 24, 2013
In my previous piece about strong female characters in Korean drama ([HanCinema's Column] Strong Drama Women - The Norm), I talked about how the main female characters found in series, particularly of the romantic genre, suffer from gender stereotypes and trope limitations. This is not to say, however, that other types of female characters are not found. Be it in main, secondary or supporting roles, they are there. The question is, how are they presented? In order to consider their existence significant as viewers, it has to be considered significant by their creators and conveyed as such.
But in order to find the characters with potential, realized and unrealized, we have to give 'strong' a definition. The problem with the word itself is that it can give the wrong idea about the type of character we are talking about. 'Strong' is not necessarily a personality trait of the character as a fictional person. By saying 'strong female character', I do not mean just brave, tough, feisty women with good jobs, positions of power and money. Those women are "strong" within the world they exist. Now, while this is one type of strong women worth mentioning, their strength is often skin-deep and would more likely discourage women from aspiring to be like them.
Full Article: [HanCinema's Column] Strong Drama Women - The Definition.
Korean drama is not the medium for surprises, it has to be said. Predictable plots, character stereotypes and even similar dialogues are a large part of what gives it its identity. But every once in a while, a series will come out that will, in smaller or bigger ways, break the drama mold. 'Salaryman', which is helmed by director Yoo In-sik and written by Jang Yeong-cheol and Jeong Kyeong-soon-I is mostly definitely such a drama. The trio behind hit melodrama 'Giant' and 'Incarnation of Money' (with the two writers also having 'Empress Qi' on their track record) is all about using a similar central idea in different ways.
Their three series have one thing in common. The corruption and ugliness of big institutions (corporate world, politics, judicial system). While 'Giant' is a heavy melodrama and does feature a lot of the same cast members as 'Salaryman' (Lee Beom-soo, Lee Deok-hwa, Kim Seo-hyeong and many more), the latter is what could be described as a lighter, comedic take on that theme. The series opens with a murder mystery, before the two main characters are arrested as the suspects. Cue visual travel back in time, to where the whole thing started and we get to meet our characters.
Full Article: [HanCinema's Drama Review] "Salaryman".
Sunday, November 17, 2013
When Kim Joo-won wore his Italian hand-made sequined tracksuit, it became an instant hit and buyer favorite. When the cappuccino kiss took place, selcas with foam mustaches flooded the internet. 'Secret Garden' is undoubtedly one of the most popular romantic Korean dramas of the last few years and the way in which it cemented itself into pop culture and skyrocketed the careers of many in its cast make it a milestone for the industry.
The premise of 'Secret Garden' is quite a cliche, at parts, but also quite refreshing for its time. Gil Ra-im is a poor, but capable stunt woman who dreams of having an international career. Kim Joo-won is an arrogant rich man who is trying to run his business and function despite his crippling phobia of riding in elevators. Through a misunderstanding and finding their work lives meeting up, they form an attraction-hate relationship. During one of their meetings, they find themselves lost in the woods and arrive at a small tavern. It is here where things take a turn for the fantasy genre, as they wake up the next day having swapped bodies, complicating their relationship. But the mysterious tavern owner who gave them the potion that caused the switch seems to know something about the people they targeted and their fate.
Full Article: [HanCinema's Drama Review] "Secret Garden".
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Hong Jeong-eun and Hong Mi-ran are names any drama fan would probably know. Having produced hit series time and time again ('My Girl', 'You're Beautiful', 'Master's Sun'), these two ladies are nearly a sure bet for those who like the romantic comedy genre. While not without their problems and mistakes ('Big' mistakes), they are popular and profitable. They are also known for their 'Candy' (a term they themselves seem to love) characters. Poor women finding themselves in the arms of the usual rich and complex-ridden men. With 'Fantastic Couple', the Hongs went for a reversal of this, producing what could be their most habit-breaking work.
'Fantastic Couple' is a remake of the 1987 film 'Overboard', starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. Jo Anna is a rich and very mean woman who keeps everyone at a distance and puts fear in them merely by being present. She is spoiled, cruel and indifferent to everyone, including her husband. Jang Chul-soo is a hardworking and well-liked in his community man. Being the sole guardian of his three nephews, he is always short on money and takes on any repair work he can find. After a few meetings ending in these two becoming enemies, Anna falls off her yacht and loses her memory. Chul-soo ends up in the hospital next to her and gets a pretty nasty idea. He lies to her about their relationship and brings her back home to make her work her debt to him off, all the while trying to convince her this was her life before the accident.
Full Article: [HanCinema's Drama Review] "Fantastic Couple".
Sunday, November 10, 2013
If there is one trope that one could use to describe Korean drama with, especially in the rom-com genre, it would be the rich man/poor girl one. Go ahead and look at your drama list or remember the series you have watched. Chances are, most of those series in it will have that premise.
'My Fair Lady', written by Kim Eun-hee and Yoon Eun-kyeong ('When It's at Night', 'The Prime Minister and I') and directed by Ji Yeong-soo (Triangle), offers a rare reversal to that mix, giving us a rich and spoiled female lead and a poor man with street smarts. Seo Dong-chan is a hardworking man with a loud personality, who is trying to make money in order to pay back loan sharks. He is living with a good friend and her mother who run a flower shop he works at as one of his part-time jobs. Kang Hye-na is an immature and bratty heiress to her wealthy grandfather and his company. She does not want to bother with earning her keep and likes to oppress people for fun.
Full Article: [HanCinema's Drama Review] "My Fair Lady".
Most fans of Korean drama, no matter their culture or background, would all agree about one thing. This is not the medium one turns to for realism, variety and representation. Korean series and the romance genre in particular are riddled with overused and limited tropes, making it possible to predict how most plots and characters will evolve based on that cookie-cutter method the industry is clawing onto.
And with those tropes come some character stereotypes that often feel anything but realistic or respectful. Let's face it; drama does not particularly love all kinds of people, men or women. If it does, its refusal to represent them is quite the weird way of showing it. So we end up with the same arrogant, but traumatized rich men and bubbly, but persistent poor women living on rooftops and destined to serve their mothers in law. We end up with rich parents/grandparents who have nothing better to do than meddle in their kids' romantic lives. We end up with a ton of clichés we all know and could each comfortably form a list of.
But since this is a type of entertainment which mainly produced and enjoyed by female audiences, it is imperative that the real wants, needs and nature of those women, as well as their representation are taken into account.
Full Article: [HanCinema's Column] Strong Drama Women - The Norm.
Saturday, November 2, 2013
'Damo' is a series a lot of people will know. Being quite a popular title and undoubtedly one that helped Ha Ji-won rise to fame, it is an important piece of Korean television for many reasons. 'Duelist' has some things in common with it. Both movies are based on the same manhwa and both star Ha Ji Won as the female lead. However, that might very well be where their similarities end. The format is different, one being a drama and the other a movie, but 'Duelist' being a work by Lee Myung-se means it is also an unapologetic art film. This makes it more of a fusion sageuk, as many elements, from wardrobe to the music, take creative liberty and are simply not consistent with the era the movie is set in.
'Duelist' opens with Namsoon (Ha Ji-won) and Detective Ahn (Ahn Seung-ki) investigating a money counterfeiting case that points to political corruption and plotting against the king. A mysterious assassin, only known throughout the film as 'Sad Eyes' (Kang Dong-won) is their only lead. Through their conflicts, Namsoon and Sad Eyes find themselves drawn to each other in a way a detective and a suspect should not be.
Full Article: [HanCinema's Film Review] "Duelist".