What else I'm currently watching: 9/11/2021
As I can’t feasibly blog on every single show I’m watching with depth, I’m starting what I’m hoping will be an ongoing series here providing snippets of ongoing dramas that I’ve foolishly taken on in a fit of boredom.
Luoyang (Chinese title: The Wind Blows in Luoyang) is currently the best historical drama that I’m watching and easily blows all the K drama ones out of the water with a complex plot and intricately formed characters. When the mainlanders get their act together with a decent script, they can usually pull off a sophisticated piece of storytelling with flair and intelligence. This is one that keeps the main thing the main thing… so far at least. There’s romance in the air but it’s largely relegated to being the support act which suits the show’s pacing and rhythm. This political-crime thriller is set during the latter days of Her Majesty, Wu Zetian’s reign. This Empress Wu is portrayed outwardly a dignified, shrewd and reasonable operator but not everyone agrees. Not everyone’s content with the status quo and it’s hardly surprising considering what she did to grab power and hold on to it. A series of seemingly unrelated murders kick start the narrative and soon the broad strokes of a conspiracy are uncovered by three individuals — Gao Bingzhu (a former marshall), Wu Siyue (an officer of the Inner Palace guards) and Baili Hongyi (a well-known gourmand and engineer) who have their own reasons for embroiling themselves in mystery, murder and mayhem. Gao Bingzhu played by Huang Xuan is perpetually the wrong man in the wrong place (he has serious timing issues) but is doggedly after revenge for his fellow ghetto dwellers. Song Qian is Wu Siyue who is drawn to the murders and to the ruggedly daring Bingzhu to the chagrin of her older brother, head of the Inner Palace guards. Baili Hongyi (Wang Yibo) begins his journey as a somewhat irresponsible, remaining son who is forced into an arranged with Song Yi’s Liu Ran. Accustomed to living the high life, the sudden death of his father throws him out of his well-ordered existence and into a world of backstabbery and scheming. It’s high time that the nerd grows up and see that the world is more than eating and tinkering with gadgets. (14/39 episodes so far. 9/10 rating)
Jirisan is the K drama that apparently everyone was anticipating but seems to have left most disappointed. Not me, however. It probably suffers from a severe case of high expectations because of the writer’s reputation having penned the critically acclaimed Signal and Kingdom. I, on the other hand, have enjoyed it from the start, editing, night lighting issues notwithstanding. Even if the fantastical elements don’t always mesh well with the emergency rescue side of things, the ambition of this project is still admirable. Despite its flaws, the show, it seems to me, should be lauded for attempting to break into new territory. What works very well for me and is what I appreciate about Signal and a show like Life on Mars, is how the narrative incorporates the supernatural, the historical and the human in a delicate balancing act. I’m positioned not just as a viewer but a tourist, a bystander and an outsider. There is another side to metropolitan, 21st century South Korea there’s being explored here. Mount Jiri is that focal point where the ancient meets the modern; the past meets the present; superstition is pitted against the rational and the spiritual clashes with the secular. For someone like me it’s a feast for the mind because of that clash of worldviews playing out on this sacred mountain for the locals. Jirisan, much more than just spiritual landmark, is also the stage from which the battle of good evil and evil is enacted.
Ju Ji-hoon, who brings a delightful boyish energy, is great here as the former military officer turned ranger. He is the man with the calling not just to save lives but to find the killer. Oh Jung-se, of course always delivers even in a more understated role like this. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say I dislike Jun Ji-hyun’s performance, she often gives the impression that she would rather be somewhere else. Maybe she would. :D
Not so surprisingly perhaps the serial killer aspect is the least interesting part of the show. It’s true purpose is to imbue the mountain with a god-like personality that’s a force for good despite inherent dangers. There’s an evil lurking amidst the beauty and the mountain is fighting back against it with its chosen instruments to cleanse itself of this blight. Science and human ingenuity must work in tandem with the esoteric to seek the answers that undoubtedly have their roots in the past. (Seen 10/16 episodes so far. 8.5/10 rating)
A show that I picked up this past week is The Psychologist (Chinese title: Female Psychologist) , a C drama starring Yang Zi and Jing Boran. (I caught a cold from the children) While I like the leads and their dynamic, I am certain that the way the show handles mental health issues and the therapeutic process here will offend many. However, I am less offended because the intention here, it seems to me isn’t about realism but about propaganda — an attempt at de-stigmatizing mental health issues and create public discourse around related social taboos. And push sufferers to get the right help from somewhere. Despite how convenient everything feels, it’s a useful glimpse of how psychologists work — strategies and techniques but more importantly this is about garnering some needed compassion for one’s own fellow humans. What doesn’t work, in my mind is the arc of the show’s ubiquitous villain, Ye Jiahui. His bad guy plot is ridiculously elaborate and tonally very out of step with the rest of the show. No doubt he is being set up as being antithetical to the leads but it’s as if he’s in his own drama and occasionally meets real human beings for meals. He broods and plots revenge in his secret chamber. He ingratiates himself with the leads and their circle. He undermines He Dun’s counselling efforts with clients because she’s close to her old professor that he has some kind of grudge against. He is a practiced stalker, eavesdrops on every critical conversation and yet he is the least interesting part of the show. He wears black in most instances and has practically no personality except as a skulking evil that cracks the occasional smile.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Qian Kaiyi, the idealistic happy-go-lucky radio broadcaster who wears Hawaiian shirts and is the epitome of optimism. His romance with He Du began earlier than he remembers but slowly as the duo spend more time together as co-hosts of a nighttime radio show, he falls for her. Much humour is made of his clumsy attempts to woo her but eventually his sincerity breaks through.
(Seen 26/40 episodes. My rating: 7.8/10)
I started watching Idol: The Coup last weekend for no other profound reason than I love Kwak Si-yang. The guy is the total package and even if he plays a jerk CEO, he is still the most likeable, fascinating person in the room. Although I enjoy a good underdog story as much as the next person, this one doesn’t start off in promising fashion. Although I’ve raised girls myself, it’s a hard ask to sit through the relentless histrionics of the initial episodes. Thankfully there’s something called fast-forwarding that can make such experiences almost bearable. Essentially this is a low budget makjang about the K pop industry so yeah, keeping expectations ankle-high where plot is concerned won’t hurt in the slightest. Still it’s been worthwhile persevering through the 10 available episodes so far to oogle over Kwak Si-yang doing his loveable grumpy tsundere shtick. He is the single best thing in a swamp covered in various shades of mediocre acting and why I even rate the show a grudging 6.5 out of 10. Despite their trope-infested dynamic, I even root for him to be with the female lead as well.
I’m still very much on board the Chimera train and I hope that all ends well for the team now that we a much better idea of who’s related to whom. It’s probably the best thing OCN’s put out this year although sometimes I don’t think K dramaland make crime shows inasmuch as they make soap operas with murders in them. It continues to be a slick whodunit with a great cast and even though I didn’t get past middle school chemistry, it’s been fun to see how things can blow up in so many different ways even if MacGyver’s not in the room. (12/16 episodes. 8.5/10 rating)