My Week in Dramas 21 September 2023
It’s taken us a while but we finally sat down to the first two episodes of D.P. Season 2. D.P. is not everyone’s cup of tea but the series is undoubtedly one of the best K dramas ever made just from the storytelling and characterization alone. This is not the kind of show that anyone is “entertained” by but the quality of the writing is undeniable. Season 2 picks up where the first season left off. At the start of the second installment, it’s obvious that nothing’s changed from last we saw the ensemble. The systemic abuse of new recruits and privates in the South Korean military continue despite the tragedy that occurred at the end of the first season. No one who can make a difference has learnt anything constructive from it. It’s highly lamentable then to see yet another target coming to the end of his tether and letting loose to much media fanfare. As long as the culture of bullying is tacitly approved of by the brass, nothing will change.
The addition of Ji Jin-hee to the cast is an unexpected move. I’ve never seen him in a role like this before so I’m looking forward to what he brings to this already busy table. Already I sense a change in the wind for the men who are caught between a rock and a hard place. The 6-episode drama also manages to bring back all of the main cast (Jung Hae-in, Koo Kyo-hwan, Son Suk-kyu and Kim Sung-kyun) who are at various places in their journey.
The recent South Wind Knows is an exemplar of the kinds of problems that I’ve been ranting about in C dramas. In all fairness it is marketed as a “melodrama” which is normally code for “soap opera for family dysfunction”. Many of us have been anticipating it for over two years now after enjoying the leads’ chemistry in Stand By Me. During this time Cheng Yi and Zhang Yuxi have been seen in other productions but this was the one that was supposed to be out before those presumably because of all the trailers that came out soon after Stand By Me aired. But due to what seems to be largely censorship issues, it’s been delayed and finally saw the light of day earlier in the month.
South Wind Knows comprises of a fairly generic plot involving an idealistic doctor and a pharmacological researcher who first knock heads in a unknown location obliquely referred to as Country M while searching for that botanical motherlode that would change the course of medicine. And perhaps even the fortunes of Lingtian Pharmaceuticals. Through their interactions in the jungles of Country M, the duo eventually fall in love. Fu Yunshen (Cheng Yi) rushes home to China on hearing about a family emergency and Zhu Jiu (Zhang Yuxi) heads back to Heidelberg in Germany where she was previously working in a hospital and doing research.
Trouble is brewing for Fu Yunshen back home because his big find — the Perdo plant — is no longer his to do with as he pleases. In fact it becomes a conflict of interest. The family business and board want this plant for their exclusive use and development while he prefers that the medical non-profit that Zhu Jiu is attached to in Country M be allowed to research it and develop it as a treatment for the local population. In the background to all that is the animosity between his half brother and his mother who are competing for dominance in the company. Yunshen couldn’t care less about who takes over the family business but older brother Xizhou who is furious at how his mother has been treated by the Fu family plots his revenge. His downward slide sees him agreeing to a one-sided marriage to Gu Ruanruan who has been keen on him since their high school days. It’s a case of history repeating itself in terms of how his father married Fu Yunshen’s mother to prop up his family’s fortunes.
As far as melodramas go, it’s not bad although it suffers from technical issues like odd editing choices and awkward uses of ADR. Considering how it was delayed for over two years, it’s possible that censorship played a part and undoubtedly reshoots and further edits had to pass the sniff test for public consumption. Trailers have been available since before the end of Stand By Me so the producers have shown their determination to ensure that this project would see the light of day.
All things considered it’s a watchable show. The leads are good in their respective roles and the chemistry between them is the show’s greatest drawcard. There’s enough humour that the “melo” in the drama doesn’t depress with everything that’s going on with the leads. There are purposeful character contrasts and parallels but nothing you won’t see in your average soap opera. It won’t win any awards so I’m not going to oversell it. For me it’s about the Cheng Yi and Zhang Yuxi collaboration. They’re a likeable pair, the banter is cute and I’m sufficiently curious about how they achieve their happily ever after with the line up of roadblocks which include family infighting and Yunshen’s disability. Unlike others I don’t really mind the so-called “evil” older brother and his relationship with their childhood friend. At least their motivations are clear and they are playing out the consequences of misplaced priorities. Besides, all melodramas need antagonists to generate conflict and drive the plot forward.
On the downside there’s quite a lot of filler. Lengthy scenes of people hiking across the jungle. Scenes of people strolling around the same set and the corridors of large buildings. Secondary characters that disappear in and out of the narrative. I’m fine with meaningful conversations that’s meant to fill in the gaps but there are characters that don’t seem to do a lot in this except to support the leads in their romance. At this point I’m wondering how they’re going to fill up the remaining 23 episodes when the focus has largely been on romance and the usual toxic family dynamics so far. I’m also wondering if we’re going to suffer through any more bloodless backstabbing and tearful Cheng Yi blood-spitting angst before it’s all finally over.
Parallel World came up on my Viki feed and I was elated to see the Bai Yu - Ni Ni combination helming this. As far as chemistry is concerned, the casting is right on the money. I’m not entirely sure what I’m watching 6 episodes in but I’m happily intrigued. There are many aspects of this production that remind me of the Tomb Notes franchise. I was reliably informed that the writer is a fan of the Candle in the Tomb series and from a fanfic developed his own Indiana Jones style story. I’m not sure if it’s sci-fi, paranormal or a whodunit at this point. Perhaps all of the above. It’s definitely a character driven piece and very much dependent on its charismatic leads to deliver the goods.
Bai Yu plays Chang Dong who is living incognito as a shadow puppet operator. Two years earlier he led an expedition to the mysterious Yumen Pass ( yu men literally means Jade Gate) a stretch of desert that connects to the Silk Road. 18 people including his fiancee died in a freak sandstorm and their bodies were never recovered. For some unknown reason he was the only survivor. A hustling girl boss type who calls herself Ye Liuxi (Ni Ni) shows up one day with a photo of his dead fiancee and offers him an opportunity to recover her remains. Still haunted by those deaths, Chang Dong jumps at the chance to bring the missing home to grieving relatives.
Ye Liuxi’s agenda is simple. She wants him as her guide to the desert because she has no memory of why she was there a year earlier and somehow managed to survive a hangman’s noose. Tagging along is Fei “Fatty” Tang an old associate of Chang Dong who is on the hunt for antiques as business back home is not going well. On the way to their destination they come across a group of treasure hunters and all kinds of weird happenings beset the team. Before long there’s talk of ghosts and unaccounted for vehicle tracks. Eerie singing by entities unknown and things go bump in the night are just par for the course.
For someone like me who enjoys history, it’s a compelling show that offers different storytelling possibilities due to its geographical location. From what I’ve heard romance is definitely on the cards and there’s plenty of banter to back that up. But the adventures in the desert have their own pull as the characters navigate the hostile environment. Chang Dong is good at what he does and knows his way around the dunes. He is meticulous in his preparation and documentation. He also acts as the show’s de facto detective. Liuxi, on the other hand, hustles to finance the trip and is able to take care of herself in general. Ni Ni is a standout as tough girl Liuxi who not only has something to prove but a whole lot of mysteries to recall.
It doesn’t happen very often but occasionally one stumbles across an Asian time skip show that actually attempts to explain the time movement mechanics scientifically. Or at the very least deploy the right kind of jargon like “Moebius strip”, “teleportation”, “magnetic field” to make a show of the fact that what is in the realm of fantasy can be grounded in scientifically based speculation. My Deepest Dream, a drama starring Li Yitong and Jin Han from last year, attempts to do just that with mixed results. Similar to shows like Reset, 365: Repeat the Year and Kairos, where the protagonists who are witness to terrible events are given multiple opportunities to plough the past to alter the future. Wu Yu and Tan Jiao first meet on a cruise ship where it’s likely love at first sight but find themselves inexplicably moving back and forth their shipboard homeground misadventures to solve a series of murders involving people they care about.
It’s actually better than I expected but I can’t guarantee everyone will feel the same. I suspect that one’s feelings about this will boil down to two things — whether you buy into chemistry/romance and secondly, if you can follow the narrative shifts regardless of the gobbledegook which is far less important in making sense of what’s going on. The secondary romance is also a plus because of the actors although in the scheme of things, not really necessary.