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What I've been watching 19/01/2022
It’s only occurred to me after 10 episodes of Bulgasal that what I’ve signed up for is a makjang with monsters. The fantasy elements are meant to facilitate the web of ill-fated human connections but the story is really a manichean power struggle rooted in family dysfunction that is often the staple of weekend family dramas. The lesson for all here seems to be that monsters aren’t born but made and that might be good news because it means that monsters could be unmade. Not easily perhaps but theoretically it can be done… with canisters of milk of human kindness.
Deep in an overgrown muddy patch of backstories and repeated flashbacks lies an interesting story that could simply be told in less than 16 episodes. It’s beautiful to look at and for the sake of the actors who are throwing themselves into their roles, I want to like it much more. It could be far more immersive. While not bad, the snail pace and the clunky storytelling does prevent this from being on par with Sweet Home or even Uncanny Counter. It certainly doesn’t have the warmth of the latter despite dealing with similar sorts of things of the supernatural kind. Perhaps it’s the overuse of conflict and distrust that’s keeping everyone from connecting. Here, reincarnated humans and monsters run amok in present day South Korea because of some kind of twisted karmic connection centred around a cursed Bulgasal, a monster that cannot die. It’s confusing for the 600 year-old Hwal who is confronted routinely by the gallery of familiar faces now taking refuge with him while trying to affect indifference.
I'm changing my mind about the female lead (Kwon Na-ra) -- I can see why all that guilt would lead to confected optimism and an overabundant responsibility for other people's welfare. It seems to me that she and the male lead (Lee Jin-uk) are cut from the same cloth but they play out their guilt very differently. He on the other hand does it with indifference and stoicism. That said, I don't think any kind of romance is necessary in this show.
I personally don't find the primary villain all that sympathetic even though Lee Joon is putting a great performance. He is someone that shows very little remorse. Yes, he feels bad when it suits but it feels like even after 1000 years he hasn't learnt his lesson or why he was cursed in the first place.
Despite its flaws, Bulgasal, like many a makjang, has an addictive quality. Once you’re caught up in that world where the ruthless hand of karma plays its hand, and the intrigue sets in, one feels obliged to go the distance to see if a happily-ever-after is indeed possible after all the blood-letting. (Episode 10/16)
More my speed is Bad and Crazy a police procedural which thrives raucously on an insane premise with surprisingly serious, dark undertones. I like Lee Dong-wook in these sorts of idiosyncratic, comedic anti-hero roles and was reminded of his turn in Blade Man from all those years ago. It’s hugely entertaining when he’s allowed to go full flight on a whole gamut of bewildered and indignant facial expressions. Equally amusing is Wi Ha-joon, who has got to be the sidekick from the bowels of hades, “K”. He’s Yu-seol’s complete opposite. Yu-seol is the titular “bad” and K is the “crazy” that comes packaged with steroids. The combination is the stuff of the buddy cop tradition and it takes a while for two incompatible personalities to find a way to co-exist. As the star of what’s the equivalent of Internal Affairs, Yu-seol is an inveterate social climber and an unconscionable weasel but for some reason I can’t despise him because he really does know his way around an investigation. And from time to time his conscience works its magic… with a little help from K and other colleagues.
The show has a knack for keeping the audience on their toes with all kinds of twists and turns in the narrative. For the seasoned consumer of cop shows some developments won’t be entirely unexpected but the storyline does take unpredictable turns. Despite the appearance of madness the storytelling is actually wonderfully coherent and so far, the showrunners have managed to keep a sharp eye on the ball juggling an ensemble cast that adds to the body count. It’s been a while since I laughed this much in a K drama. (Episode 6/12)
Luoyang finished a couple of weeks ago not really with a bang but a whimper. Up to the second last episode, the drama was pretty good to decent. The last episode seemed a bit rushed, more telling than showing which was a tad disappointing. Still overall it was a good watch and something I’d certainly recommend.
I was put on to Reset recently, an ongoing 15-episode C drama that’s getting a lot of praise. How rare is that? What that means for viewers however is a tightly woven plot and terrific pacing. The leads suffer from a bad case of Groundhog Day with the prospect of untimely death in the offing. It stars Bai Jingting from last year’s hugely popular You are My Hero and Zhao Jinmai from Reborn among a whole gallery of familiar veterans. They play a couple of youngsters who find themselves in a perpetual time loop featuring an exploding bus, a possible accident at a major intersection and a swath of fellow suspicious passengers. It is a proper police procedural but none of the investigators believes their incredible story when they try to tell the truth. Like Bill Murray’s Phil Connors, they continuously wake up to roughly the same moment. Getting no help from anyone, both rack their inexperienced brains to try to find a way to avert a man-made disaster and out of a possible loophole. Although both leads are good in their respective roles, I have to give Bai Jingting kudos for being a completely different beast to Xing Kelei. He really shines in this part psychological thriller part character study on the nameless folk that make up contemporary Chinese society. (Episode 10/15)