What I've been watching 14/03/2022
My mantra when I’m watching A Business Proposal is “Don’t think too hard.” I recite it as often as I need to remind myself of what this is. Actually I don’t think that hard. In fact I don’t have to. Everything’s so glaringly obvious… so calculated which is why so little of the humour and/or slapstick lands for me. It’s so by the numbers. Despite that, I’m still watching although I must be one of a handful of people watching it who isn’t that taken by it. Still I’m gradually warming up to it although I can’t in all honesty say I like it yet. But it’s still hovering around in “watchable” territory. Right now I must conclude that Ha-ri is the clumsiest female lead out of K dramaland and Tae-moo, the most clueless male lead who until the end of Episode 4 was still doing his Margot-Kidder-Lois-Lane impression.
The thing is… I used to watch Hollywood screwball comedies and enjoyed them. Maybe I was younger then. But in this show I spend a lot of time asking “Why” although much less in the last 2 episodes. I’m also a bit grumpy that many of Ha-ri’s worst moments are designed to bring out Tae-moo’s sweeter side. On a happier note, he’s falling for her fast and the cat that contained her dual identity is now out of the bag. In general I’m more impressed with the women than the lads. Ahn Hyo-seop is much better probably when he’s being the considerate boyfriend than the angry hard-nosed cad — fake or not. Grandpa (Lee Deok-hwa) who’s poised to nag Tae-moo all the way to the altar (and beyond) is terrific.
The Autumn Ballad. Sigh. What else can I say that I haven’t already? It’s always a downer when a show with so much potential takes a bit of a nosedive in the final act and then really crash and burn in the finale. The showrunners must have gotten blowback on this as they’re issuing mea culpas on online for their sins. Apparently they have been under the impression that audiences like crazy twists 15 minutes before the end and a short separation before they reunite at the very last minute of the drama. I don’t have a problem with character deaths or some kind of separation as a rule but the way they’re abused by C drama writers is perverse to say the least. A lot of it feels gimmicky and does little to enhance the resolution.
Still hats off to Jeremy Xu and Qiao Xin. Hope they work together again on another project. I wouldn’t say their chemistry was wasted but it certainly wasn’t given full flight. It did put a grin on my face for 27 episodes however.
We did it. We finally finished Bulgasal: Immortal Souls after I’ve-lost-track-of-how-many-weeks. 10 episodes or under would have done it because it did get repetitive and grindingly slow after a time. The only episodes I really liked were the first and the last. Even after 16 episodes and finding out the true backstory behind the curse, I still think Kwon Nara’s character was stock standard annoyingly optimistic female lead that felt out of place most of the time in this bleak tale of catastrophic human error. The camera work and the makeshift family dynamics were undoubtedly the best things about this fantasy melodrama.
Royal Feast is still something I look forward to each weekend. The distributors are very stingy about the weekly episode release so I end up watching trailers a lot. It still surprises me how little time is spent on the leads’ “will they, won’t they” dynamic. Except now it has turned into “will they, won’t they consummate their union”. I’m okay with a bit of “play hard to get” but it can get old if that button gets pushed once too often. The show as advertised is predominantly about food while the other stuff — family feuds, eliminating barbaric concubine practices, plots to usurp the throne and the main romance — are all in the background playing second gu qin. The attention to detail in this drama never fails to impress.
The bigger surprise though has been how impressed I am with Xu Kai’s understated performance as the emperor-in-the-making especially when it’s contrasted with Wu Jinyan’s more innocuous portrayal of Yao Zijin. The chemistry is present but I think the push and pull does it some disservice. I’m considering putting this on hold until all the episodes are complete.
I did want to say something about Sword Snow Stride when I was done with it but it slipped my mind the last time. It’s certainly not my favourite thing of Zhang Ruoyun but it’s undeniable that he and a couple of other characters like Hu Jun’s Xu Xiao and Qiu Xinzhi’s Li Gangchun made it more interesting that it might have otherwise. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that it feels like a set-up for something more substantial to come but there’s far too much information that no one is going to remember for later installments unless they’re hardcore fans. I also don’t find his romance with Teresa Li that convincing especially when I think about his other female co-stars from other projects. The chemistry there feels all over the place. Part of it could be that Teresa Li isn’t a comfortable fit for the role and her delivery is not in sync with everyone else. I frankly thought he had more romantic chemistry with Jiao Junyan in Dr Qin which wasn’t supposed to be a romance at all.
I am of the view that this drama is a genuine progeny of the wuxia genre. It contains many wuxia elements including the most basic one of a male lead who picks up different styles of martial arts as he travels jianghu. The show certainly subverts many of tropes and expectations but there’s little doubt that Xu Fengnian is on a wuxia hero’s journey with many stops/scenarios along the way that he has his own reasons for meddling in. During these pit stops, Fengnian often has these long chats that bring the flow of the story to a grinding halt which is most likely a directorial issue. The pacing plods along… unnecessarily… in my opinion.
There is a single arc running through this series and it was about two-thirds or half way when it dawned on me what Fengnian’s real agenda was. I also thought that Liu Duanduan’s quirky adversary to Fengnian was underused and pretty one-note. I remained unconvinced all throughout that he was all that driven to succeed. I’ve liked Liu Duanduan whenever I’ve seen him but in all honesty this role here wasn’t of the same calibre. The idiosyncratic nature of the character didn’t feel consistent with his stated ambitions.
It’s not a bad show with a fascinating premise but I don’t really think I enjoyed this particular ride as much as the Joy of Life. The execution, I believe, didn’t shine as brightly as its predecessor.
The show that has impressed me the most so far this year is definitely the police procedural Through the Darkness which concluded yesterday. It’s well-made, well-written and the acting overall ranges from good to stellar. I’m planning to write a fuller review of it at some stage. The consistent quality from start to finish (even with a slower start) has me thinking that this may end up being one of the year’s best. I don’t think that is a premature call as some are already talking about Baeksang nominations. Unless The Good Detective 2 completely eclipses this, it could be the year’s Beyond Evil for me.
In a similar vein within the broader category of crime is Juvenile Justice, a Netflix original starring the always reliable Kim Hye-soo as a judge of the juvenile court who in her own words, “detests juvenile offenders”. Her partner-in-crime here is the softly spoken Kim Mu-yeol, who is fellow judge Cha Tae-soo. Philosophically he’s a different beast, taking a far more sympathetic approach to the young offenders. The two are like yin and yang but they clash far less than one would think considering their differing attitudes to the job but I’ve only seen two episodes so far. It’s not bad and I am heartily enjoying the courtroom theatrics. I suspect though from the little I’ve seen so far that this is less an accurate depiction of the legal processes than it is a social commentary on why crimes among the young are not only the rise but becoming more heinous.