K-DRAMA REVIEWS: The Suspicious Housekeeper (수상한 가정부)

Every now and then you come across something that is an instant classic with you personally. You know what I mean: it’s nearly perfect, though not quite perfect, and even its imperfections are familiar and loved friends by the time you’ve finished watching/reading it.

That’s how I felt about The Suspicious Housekeeper by the time I finished the first episode. I still feel like that. It’s far from perfect, but even those imperfections are an integral part of what I like about this odd-ball, not-this-nor-that South Korean Drama.

What is unusual about me loving this drama so much is that it deals with a couple of things that I will almost never watch, but found were dealt with in a beautiful way. In fact, there were a lot of things about it that, had I known in advance, would have stopped me from watching it altogether.  Themes such as adultery, suicide, teenage rebellion carried to extremes, and little children in emotional pain are not things that I would typically watch for amusement. The Suspicious Housekeeper does them in such a way, however, that I found them not only surprisingly moral, but enthralling.

The title refers to a Housekeeper hired by father Sang Chul after his wife dies, to look after his children and the house. It’s not, you understand, that she is suspicious of someone (though she is, later on). It’s more that everyone finds her suspicious. But really, it could go either way and work just fine.

The plot

-ish. It’s kinda hard to condense HOW MUCH FLAMIN’ PLOT there is in these 20 eps down to a paragraph or two. The essentials, however, are as follows:

*Sang Chul’s wife died in an accidental drowning before the beginning of the drama–or did she? The children are reeling from her death already, though Sang Chul is less sad.

*Sang Chul is less sad because he wasn’t really ever in love with his wife, and had, in fact, been having an affair. Normally, this would have stopped me watching the series immediately. This time it didn’t, because knowing a little bit about K-Dramas now, I was very well aware that in a drama of this calibre, cheating would never be shown to be okay, or rewarded. I was right, and I’m happy I was right, because this show is so worth watching!

Sang Chul’s mistress. Oh, I hated her! Her ending, however, I completely loved. Well done, the writers.

*Basically, by the end of the first couple episodes, everything is on fire. The children are no longer sure of anything. They know their dad cheated on their mother. They don’t know whether or not he loves them because he’s a truthful (if wishy-washy) man, and can’t commit to tell them he loves them when he isn’t sure he is.

*The children take over the house and refuse to let Sang Chul back in until he agrees that he will never again meet with his lover. This is, again, something that would normally make me stop watching something: I have no love for children being taught that it’s okay to dishonour their parents. But again, the way this drama dealt with it was so poignant and beautiful that I can’t really fault it.

*Toward the middle, after Bok Nyeo has more or less settled things with the children (if not with Sang Chul) we meet with a VERY SCARY MAN who Bok Nyeo is sure she knows, but that man is supposed to be dead. This is where the drama goes from family drama into psychological thriller, including a crooked cop, a stalker, and layer upon layer of conspiracy. The children by this point are firmly on Bok Nyeo’s side, and fiercely love her, so there is the constant threat of danger to them as well as Bok Nyeo.

That’s all I can say without major spoilers, so on to the characters!

The Characters

This is Bok Nyeo. She doesn’t smile. She very rarely shows any emotion, as a matter of fact, even guilt. When Sang Chul asks her how she could do a certain thing that she’d done, and asked her didn’t she feel any guilt/responsibility, her response is: “I threw that away somewhere.”

What Bok Nyeo does do is cook exactly like the childrens’ mother did, keep the house impeccably clean, and…follow orders. I mean, really follow orders. Without hesitation, without second thought, without remorse, and without ruth. (Yeah, I could have said ‘ruthlessly’, but it wouldn’t have matched, okay?!)

This, with the four children also giving orders, could and does become dangerous. And yet, each time, when I hoped for the best from the children, they invariably showed me their best (after a little while in the case of some of them).

Bok Nyeo is a truly amazing character, played by a truly amazing actor.

Sang Chul, the childrens’ father. His life is unravelling, one awful lie after another. Weak, wishy-washy, and yet absolutely truthful with his children once the biggest, dreadful truth is out there. It’s like he lied to himself and everyone else so much that now he won’t even lie when his children want to hear that he loves them and he doesn’t think he does love them.

Eldest daughter Han Gyul. Angsty, bereft at her mother’s death, and furious with her father for cheating, she is an explosion of bad decisions waiting to happen. I actually kinda disliked her for a long time, but I could really see why she was behaving the way she was behaving, so I was willing to give her some slack.

As the eldest girl, Han Gyul gets not only a big part in the proceedings (both family drama and thriller), but her own little story-line complete with a couple of love interests (one of whom manages to be even MORE ANGSTY than she is, which is, frankly, incredible.) Kim So Hyun was as amazing as ever in this part, but then, I’ve never seen her anything but amazing.

Eldest brother Doo Gyul–AKA, my squishy. I loved this kid! He was my favourite of all the kids, despite me loving clever cookie Si Gyul and adorable Hye Gyul. I actually started out by hating him: mostly because he slapped Bok Nyeo, and that really got up my nose. Before too many episodes were over, however, I had begun to love this messed-up little kid.

Doo Gyul actually makes this face (or variations thereof) A LOT. That’s because he’s always doing something daft.

Why, you ask? A number of reasons. The first and foremost of these is because of his big heart. The second is his stupidity. He rushes in where angels fear to tread, stuffs things up majorly, and tries his stupid best to protect and serve the people he loves. Mostly he does this by doing groan-worthy things that a moment’s reflection might have told him were bad ideas, but that just made me love him more. He’s quick-tempered, hasty, and really not very bright. The thing that cemented my love for him was the scene where he and the other children sneak up on Bok Nyeo at the amusement park, where she has a meal set up for someone else. Doo Gyul sits down angrily, grabs one of the burgers, and stuffs it in his mouth, saying: “These are ours now!” He’s just adorable.

Clever cookie Si Gyul. Oh, this little baby! He’s dealing with mum’s death, bullies, and the fact that he has to pass his tests. He made me cry. This whole drama made me cry so many times, but Si Gyul was the first who made me cry happy tears because I was so proud of him. That’s right, I cried because I was proud of A TOTALLY IMAGINARY PERSON. Si Gyul is such a little darling.

Darling, pig-tailed Hye Gyul. An emotive little girl who just wants someone to love, and a stable family. Hye Gyul made me cry heaps because she’s always getting knocked down and having to get up again–always having to deal with things that are far too big and old for her to deal with.

Bok Nyeo doesn’t show much emotion, but when she does, you can guarantee that Hye Gyul is the cause of it, somehow.

Honestly, most of the tender Bok Nyeo moments were because of Hye Gyul, and Hye Gyul is the primary mover in Bok Nyeo’s eventual restoration.

Hye Gyul is the one who brings back fear, love, slight happiness, and tenderness into Bok Nyeo’s scarred, cold life. When Bok Nyeo’s freakin’ scary stalker sees them together, in fact, the first thing he does is go off into a mad rage: “I saw a mother’s look on her face again? Why is there a mother’s look on her face?”

Which brings us to scary stalker guy, Seo Ji Hoon. This guy legit terrified me. Gorgeous face, and the most frightening eyes I’ve ever seen. He creeped me out every time he appeared on the screen, and he just got scarier and scarier as the episodes went on.

One of the scariest things about Ji Hoon? His ability to portray absolute fragility.

His utter ruthlessness in going after what he wanted, his boy-like adoration, his terrifying tenderness–this guy just really freaked me out. First rate job, Song Jong Ho. You’ll always be my litmus test for creepy stalker guy.

You’re never in any doubt that this man is a Very Bad Man, but you can’t stop watching with your mouth open.

Flaws…

I loved this so much, guys. I really did. Go out and watch it, and you’ll see why. You’ll come to me with tears on your face saying: “W.R., why?? Why all the feels?? Why did you make me cry?”

And yet, it wasn’t perfect. I’ve come to the conclusion that perfection in this case might have made me love it a little less. I love this imperfect, messy, emotion-tugging drama.

And yes, okay: the camera does tend to pan over each of the children’s faces to get each of their reactions every time something particularly bad or good happens. It’s campy but the kids are such good actors, and it’s done so often that it’s more of a quirk than an actual flaw. Maybe a quirky flaw.

And it’s too long. Well, not exactly too long. But the storyline doesn’t quite know what it is–is it a family drama, a psychological thriller, or a story of redemption through pain?–and this means that it has three rather uneven acts. Again, it’s more of a quirk than a flaw, and I admire this story for pushing out of the mould and being what it wants to be. It also means that you get satisfaction on all counts and all threads: the family drama is brought to a close, the thriller ends with a bang, and the redemption is lovely. It’s just…odd.

I’ll leave you with this pic. It’s what I like to imagine the family looks like now. I love that they’re all smiling, even Bok Nyeo.

HEY HEY IT’S THE MONKEES!

I’m ridiculously excited.

I probably told you guys this ages ago, but tonight is the night I go to see The Monkees. So I can’t concentrate to write, or study, or do anything, in fact (except rewatch The Librarians S2 with me Ma). It’s also a chance to dress up, so that’s nice.

Because I LOVE an opportunity to dress up!

Because I LOVE an opportunity to dress up!

I’ll let you know how it went when I get back…

…OKAY, I’M BACK AND GUYS IT WAS BRILLIANT AND THE MONKEES ARE BRILLIANT AND I HAVEN’T HAD SO MUCH FUN IN AGES.

*Deep breath*

Okay, first things first. I am delighted to announce that Peter Tork still does the adorable prancing thing while he plays (guitar, banjo, or keyboard). AND IT IS STILL JUST AS FLAMIN’ ADORABLE. He can also pick a really mean banjo and has a delightful sense of humour. Mickey Dolenz is still as brash and fun and loud as ever, and has more energy than I do on a good day!

The whole thing, in fact, had so much energy and vibe and fun to it that I don’t think I’ve been to a live performance I enjoyed more. The supporting musicians were absolutely wonderful, and both to frame and accent the Monkees performance beautifully.

AND GUYS. GUYS. I GOT TO DANCE TO THE MONKEES, LIVE.

Who got to dance to the Monkees, live?? This girl, that's who!

Who got to dance to the Monkees, live?? This girl, that’s who!

(If I’d have been a bit quicker I would have got to shake Peter’s hand, too, but I can live without that 😀 )

They came back on the stage ‘cos we made such a noise when they left, hooting and yelling and clapping, and played Pleasant Valley Sunday. Then they played as a last thing, I’m a Believer (reminding us with a twinkle in their eyes that they played it before Shrek), and some people started to go up the front and dance.

Well. I knew I’d never get another opportunity to dance to the Monkees, so of course I left my seat and danced!

I only took three photos (I tend to soak things in instead of taking pics) and they’re all very bad ones, but long story short, if you’re wondering whether the ticket was worth the price, then YES, many times over.

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My two favourite Monkees, Peter and Mickey <3

Now I just need to wind down enough to sleep….

(In related news, I’m slowly slowly getting replies to my inquiries about using lyrics from The Monkees’ songs in Bright as the Eyes of You, though I still don’t yet know if I’ll be able to afford to do so. Meanwhile, lovely beta readers are reading BatEoY and I’ve already had some very useful feedback, so things are still progressing for a late-this-year/early-next-year publication.)

Some Deliciously Disturbing Singing

I’m particularly fond of the Johnny Depp version of Sweeny Todd. Not only are the words terrifyingly insane and strangely beautiful, but the music is whimsically, intricately good. Stephen Sondheim is one of my favourite composers. Sweeny Todd, in particular, is gruesome, mad, and hilarious all at once, the cleverness of the lyrics wrapped in a beautifully haunting series of melodies and harmonies.

In short, I never thought I would find anything so deliciously disturbing as Sweeny Todd.

And then Rebekah Hendrian (who, BTW, is also responsible for my new-found love of B.A.P.) posted this video on Twitter. Of course I watched it.

Disturbing? Yes.

Delicious? HECK to the yes.

I think this may be the first time I’ve ever fallen in love with a Voice. And what a voice! I haven’t heard such quality of tone since listening to Ivan Rebroff.

Through the first video, I found the second song (part of the same musical).

These videos are my new Favourite Things, which means I will watch them over and over and over again. And when I finally manage to chivvy Mr.G over to Korea, I want to see this musical– or at least Hong Kwang-Ho in whatever musical he happens to be in. Because I want to hear that voice live.

And now I live in hope that someday there will be a soundtrack of these guys doing this musical, so I can listen to it on repeat.

In the mean-time, I have my soundtrack of Sweeny Todd…

These are a Few of My Favourite Things: FLOWER BOYS NEXT DOOR

Welcome to THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVOURITE THINGS, the KDrama edition!

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FLOWER BOYS NEXT DOOR

I’ll say right now that FLOWER BOYS NEXT DOOR contains pretty much everything I love about KDrama, and most things I love about the best T.V. shows–and, in fact, story-telling as a whole–within its bright little bubble.

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The description of this KDrama interested me straight away (a free-lance editor with agoraphobia is set upon by a boy-puppy type hero and chivvied out of her comfort zone? yes please!) and when I learned that the female MC was played by Park Shin-hye, it was a no-brainer.

The Players

Go Dok-mi (Park Shin-hye)

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I love Park Shin-hye. I love the fact that she’s not horrendously, unhealthily skinny. I love that she’s always adorable. I love watching her act. I’ve also found out that she has a gorgeous singing voice (she’s actually part of the soundtrack for Flower Boys Next Door), so there’s that too.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that I absolutely adored her character in this. Go Dok-mi is a freelance editor who, as a schoolgirl, was so much bullied by both enemies and (supposed) friends, that she almost tried to kill herself, and ended up as an agoraphobic shut-in. From her small apartment, she watches the world outside (and particularly the guy next door, with whom she has fallen in love) with her bright yellow binoculars.

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I love Go Dok-mi’s frugal cost-saving measures. I love her infrequent, nervous trips Outside, when she can’t put them off any longer. I love the fact that although she doesn’t care for herself, she has an incredibly caring nature, and will always do the kind thing for others. I love her quiet, undemanding, unrequited love for the man next door. I love her humble self-knowledge.

One of my favourite Dok-mi moments? When, after seeing her through 5 or 6 episodes where she won’t put the heater on to save electricity costs, wearing multiple layers to keep warm, and sleeping with hot water bottles (which she uses, when cold, to flush the toilet)– when Enrique says thoughtlessly upon entering her apartment “Oh! So cold!” we see her turn on the heater immediately. It’s the trademark of this beautifully written drama to place such quiet, effective moments in the most unexpected places.

My other favourite moment is when she tells Jin-Rak: “You had it wrong the whole time. I’m not the princess. I’m the witch who locked her in.”

Enrique Geum (Yoon Shi-yoon)

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Okay, this was only the second KDrama I watched (after something like 10 KDramas) where I didn’t get 2nd Lead Syndrome. That should tell you something about how delightful Enrique was.

How to describe Enrique? Well, he’s a world famous games designer, but the first word that springs to mind is puppy. This little puppy of a hero is warm, and kind, and enthusiastic. He doesn’t give up, he’s teachable, and he has a heart that is just as kind as Dok-mi’s. His unrelenting bouncing around Dok-mi’s seemingly impenetrable facade of untouchability is just delightful to watch–as delightful, in fact, as watching him fall in love with her all unknowingly, and her falling in love with him with barely greater knowledge.

As much as I love each character separately, I love them as a couple even more. I don’t know if there’s an actual age difference between them, but Enrique’s bouncing youthfulness combined with Dok-mi’s decidedly womanly dignity is a truly gorgeous dynamic. (Guys, he calls her AhjummaAhjumma!) And it’s not just his relationship with Dok-mi that is heart-warming: his relationship with Jin-rak is also a huge highlight of the drama.

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Oh Jin-rak (Kim Ji-hun)

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Oh Jin-rak. Some of the best comic moments in this drama come from Oh Jin-rak. He’s been in love with Go Dok-mi ever since he first saw her at their shared apartment building.

Remember I said that I didn’t get 2nd Lead Syndrome with this drama? I didn’t, but that’s not because Oh Jin-rak, the 2nd boy of Flower Boys Next Door, wasn’t an awesome character.

He totally was.

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For starters, he’s a writer. How could I not love him? Not only was he a writer, but the very nature of this drama (wherein Jin-rak is part of a team who write a webtoon based on their life) means that the fourth wall is constantly being broached in the most delicate and delicious manner. Jin-rak is the source of most of this assault on the fourth wall–the rest coming from the Editor–and he is one of the most self-aware characters I’ve had the joy of watching. Plus, he’s a Facilitator, and if you’ve read my posts on KDrama, you know how much I love Facilitators.

Despite that, I was very happy to see him not end up with the girl. (Oh, yeah, SPOILERS).

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A big joy for me in the character of Jin-rak was how much we got to see of his personal growth and shenanigans. This was followed closely by the joy in the relationships grown between him and Enrique, and the even sweeter seonbae/hubae, hyung/dongsang relationship between him and Oh Dong-hoon. It’s so rare for a western show to focus on brotherly love that it was a constant refreshment.

Oh Dong-hoon (Go Kyung-pyo)

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This kid is another actor I’ve loved in everything I’ve seen him in. As Oh Dong-hoon, he plays an impoverished kid who is bunking with Jin-rak while co-writing a webtoon with him. Their hyung/dongsang relationship is sweet and hilarious to watch, and it’s not Jin-rak alone who grows over the course of the drama.

Even sweeter is the budding (yet entirely practical) romance between Dong-hoon and the Editor. I loved seeing those two together.

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Editor (Kim Seul-Gi)

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I’m quickly gaining new favourite actors, because Kim Seul-Gi is sheerly hilarious. All the quiet incursions of the fourth wall that Jin-rak isn’t responsible for, the Editor is, and as I’ve said before, her relationship with Dong-hoon is just perfect.

The Editor is (obviously) the editor of Jin-rak and Dong-hoon’s webtoon. She gets four hours of sleep per night, and therefore spends the remainder of her time with the cutest panda eyes I’ve seen, and a raging case of bipolar disorder that is even cuter than her panda eyes.

OBVIOUSLY she’s a favourite character.

Cha Do-Hwi (Park Soo-jin)

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Blurk. Cha Do-Hwi is your requisite bad guy gal who used to be a friend of Dok-mi’s in school, and then both betrayed and bullied her to the point of suicide because Cha Do-Hwi fell in love with the teacher who seemed to be falling in love with Dok-mi.

My biggest fear was that Jin-rak would fall in love with her, because I really hated her.

She’s unpleasant and highly toxic, and never actually gets to the point of admitting total fault. What I like about this character is, that although you never see her change, exactly–well, you never see her change. And that was oddly satisfying. Because although Dok-mi was able to grow beyond her boundaries, by the end of the drama you could see that Cha Do-Hwi would never change, and that, to my justice-loving mind, was punishment enough.

Also, I hated her clothes.

Watanabe (Mizuta Kouki)

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This kid was basically there to look pretty and be a plot device, though he was a pleasant one and rounded out the group nicely. Watanabe is a Japanese boy who is cooking his way around the world. There’s not too much to say about him, but he fit in with the whole drama beautifully, and he’s a constant thread through it.

The Plot

Well, I’ve already really told you most of the important stuff. There’s other stuff going on, of course: the residents picketing their apartment for better terms, the mystery of who really owns the apartment building, the packing up and leaving of Dok-mi’s one-sided love from the apartment across the road, Enrique’s first love– not to mention a totally sweet, budding romance between one of the older, female residents of the apartment building and the elderly security guard.

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Then there are the mobster-looking types who are following Jin-rak around, and the scurrilous goings on within Enrique’s gaming fandom…

The Writing–oh my goodness, the WRITING!

I don’t remember the last time I actually squealed in glee while watching a movie or tv show. With Flower Boys Next Door, I was doing it constantly.

The metaphors, guys! The subtle, beautiful metaphors, in both dialogue and situation.

The constant, delicate encroachments upon the fourth wall.

The downright lovely, delightful characters!

I’m actually so overcome with how amazing the writing is that I have almost no words to describe it, and after watching Flower Boys Next Door I just sat in my chair saying to Mr.G: “I will never be able to write like that!”

I loved the comedy. I loved the way they played with viewer expectations, and the way they subverted those expectations.  Oh my goodness, I LOVED how they directed and obscured the narrative, and then tore the rug out from under my feet in the most hilarious and heartwarming ways!

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You’ll see what I mean when you get to this part. And then, like me, you will laugh until you cry at what they’ve done with your expectations.

*Breathe, WR, Breathe*

Okay, you can probably tell I loved this one to bits (it’s one of my top 4 KDramas that I can rewatch over and over again) so go out and watch it already before this blog post runs beyond its already ridiculous word count as I try to convince you.

The best part? I get to watch it over and over, and it’s STUDY, GUYS, because I’m learning Korean.

 

 

 

These are a Few of my Favourite Things: MAIRELON THE MAGICIAN

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Mairelon the Magician by Patricia Wrede

Mairelon the Magician. What can I say about it? Well, it’s by Patricia Wrede, which almost guaranteed that I’d like it, even if I hadn’t, you know, liked it. It’s Fantasy. But it’s Regency. Well, it’s a Mystery, though. Oh, and also Adventure. Comedy. Did I mention it’s a Regency?!

There aren’t that many Fantasy/Regency blends out there–well, not many GOOD ones, anyway–so when I find one that’s good, I tend to enjoy it a great deal and re-read it often. Mairelon the Magician (and its sequel, The Magician’s Ward) are no exception to that rule. They’re two of the best Fantasy/Regency books you’ll find, and are even more enjoyable than the rather better known Fantasy/Regency blend Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer.

“What have you done with the Sacred Dish?” Jon grated.

“Lost it in a card game,” Meredith said.

Things I like about Mairelon?

Well.

There’s a street urchin boy who is actually a girl. That’s always a winner with me. (It’s not a spoiler, you know in the first page–relax). Maybe it’s because I wanted to be a boy when I was a kid, or maybe it’s because I always wanted to be a street urchin: whatever the reason, I’ll almost never say no to an MC street urchin girl-pretending-to-be-boy.

There’s a plump-faced, magician, main character (Mairelon himself, in case you were wondering) who is delightfully irritating and deceptively ineffectual. He is SUCH a fun character. He has me laughing the whole way through every re-read.

Oh. And Mairelon has a henchman called Hunch. I’m not sure why I find this so incredibly satisfying, but I do. I find it even more satisfying that his henchman called Hunch has a mustache–and I can only hope it’s a handlebar one (we are told that he frequently chews the ends of it, so I’m gonna believe what I want to believe).

Avid Heyerites will recognise many familiar words, phrases, and themes. Even the structure will be familiar. Despite that, the whole thing has an original feel to it that is very hard to achieve with anything that can (and will always) be compared to Heyer. It’s madcap and ridiculous and just outright FUN. You should definitely read it.

“Not Only Happiness…”

“Nothing lasts forever. Not only happiness, but also sadness will pass by, too…”

I’ve been watching this Thing.

It’s a wonderful, glorious, hilarious, sweet Thing. It is, by turns, a vast, overarching saga of corporate espionage, a tale of revenge and redemption, a supernatural thriller, a murder mystery, a deeply sweet and funny love story, and a triumph of the new man over the old.

Telling you all that probably makes it sound very dramatic and sweeping; and it is. But it’s also one of the funniest shows I’ve ever watched.

It’s a Korean Drama by the name of Beating Again; or, if you want the literal translation, Falling for Innocence. This post isn’t titled as one of my These are a Few of My Favourite Things blog posts (mostly because I love the quote above and wanted it to be first), but just in case anyone mistakes, I’ll put this right here:

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Because Beating Again is not just one of my Favourite Things when it comes to movies and tv: it is probably my FAVOURITE THING out of them all. I’m serious. It’s that good.

You look at the description and you think, Oh, rom-com. Well, I did, anyway.

“After enduring both business and family upheavals, a ruthless investment director has a heart transplant and finds a new way to look at love and life.”

FFI all three

Then you look at the opening credits and that impression is strengthened, along with an interest in the dude with the crazy hair, a faint interest in the one with a pretty face, and a brief worry that this cutesy-faced girl is going to be one of the annoyingly childish heroines who can’t make up her mind. (Spoilers: she’s not. She probably my all time favourite female tv character. EVER.)

It’s not rom-com. It’s a very deeply plotted tale of corporate espionage and redemption and love.

I will say this now: there are very few movies and tv shows that will make me cry. It happened when I was a kid and Matthew died in Anne of Green Gables. It happened a couple of years ago when I watch Guillermo del Toro’s Mama. It hasn’t really happened (that I remember) between those two instances. Maybe a slight sniffle toward the end of Princess Caraboo and a few throat-catching moments in The Hunger Games (you know when).

I cried twice during Beating Again.

So. The Premise.

As a boy, Kang Min-Ho saw his father displaced as chairman of the Hermia Company. He saw his uncle take his father’s place after charges of corruption and embezzlement. He saw his mother fight a losing battle to win back the honour of her husband; and, having failed, he came home at the age of ten to find his mother hanging from the ceiling of their house. That was twenty-five years ago. Now Kang Min-Ho is back…for revenge. The only thing that may stop him is his weak heart–and perhaps Kim Soon-Jung, a secretary of Hermia who doesn’t so much serve the chairman of Hermia as she serves the company itself.

Recurring threads to the base plot-line of Hermia’s gradual take-over by Gold Partners are a murder, Min-Ho’s swiftly failing heart, and the shenanigans at Hermia’s main factory. Also of great interest is the instant animosity between Min-Ho and Joon-Hee.

mad hair and beautiful face

As Min-Ho is battling to take over and sell Hermia from under his uncle, his heart fails at last. He manages to faint on Kim Soon-Jung (he does that quite often, actually: a bit tropey but fun, nevertheless) who rushes him to the hospital. Kang Min-Ho gets his new heart–and a heck of a lot of new emotions that he never expected.

Suddenly the heartless businessman has a heart. Emotions. Perhaps even a conscience. Is he going to be able to finish what he started? Does he want to finish what he started?

And why does he feel so sick whenever he sees Lee Joon-Hee’s beautiful face? Is it just because of Soon-Jung, or are there other reasons?

The Players.

Ma Dong-Wook

I list him first because I love him the most. He’s just sheerly wonderful. Okay, to be honest, if you smile like this, you don’t actually have to do anything else to make me fall in love with you:

Ma Dong Wook smile

But Dong-Wook does so much more. He’s the fiance of Soon-Jung, who is a secretary at Hermia. He’s a detective, and he is currently very interested in knowing who is behind the leaking of certain classified materials from Hermia (or the creation of fake documents, as the case may be). He’s also interested in beating up people who upset Soon-Jung, being a lovable guy, and what he calls ‘photosynthesizing’ (aka, sunbaking):

Ma Dong Wook photosynthesising

Ma Dong-Wook is full of odd sayings and solid wisdom for today. There is no tomorrow, he says. Today is all there is. He and Soon-Jung are possibly my favourite screen-couple ever, and are a couple for whom I break my ‘if-you’re-already-together-at-the-start-of-the-movie-I-don’t-care-about-you’ rule. Their chemistry is undeniable and completely delightful.

Kim Soon-Jung

soon jung

She’s the character (apart from possibly one other) who has the hardest time in this series. Soon-Jung is a secretary (pretty much THE secretary at Hermia). In one of the most amazing female power-scenes I’ve ever watched, she faces up against Kang Min-Ho and his cohorts by bowing and very politely asking where their visitor’s badges are. When they attempt to force their way past her, she simply holds up one hand in the most pleasant way imaginable, whereupon alarms go off and a bunch of Hermia’s heavies come out to Take Care Of Things. She does it without raising her voice, losing her cool, or becoming unladylike. And at the end of a very unpleasant scene, where one of the other secretaries asks her if she’s ok, she simply shrugs and says: “Why not? I even got a sticker.”

She is an anomaly. An actually, morally good female character. In her quietness and her reserve, as much as in her straight-talking, she does what is right. I don’t think I’ve ever loved a female character this much.

Evidently neither have either of the male leads in Beating Again, because both Crazy Hair Man (Kang Min-Ho) and Beautiful Face (Lee Joon-Hee) are in love with her.

not only happiness

Kang Min-Ho (aka, Crazy Hair)

FFI 1

It’s so hard to know where to start with this character. He’s such a beautiful, pitiful mess. I disliked him intensely when I first saw him. I thought he was going to be one of those really annoying K-drama ‘heroes’ who was a hero simply because of his scornful face and bad treatment of the heroine.

I’m so SO glad I was wrong!

We meet Kang Min-Ho as he is arriving in a party of one of Hermia’s majority stock-holder, Gold Partners. They are coming to call in loans and appoint a dispatched director, prepatory to taking over Hermia and selling it off. Min-ho is with them because he is seeking revenge on his uncle. When we first meet Min-ho, he is brittle, dangerous, and more than a little insane. He is also very fragile.

As the story progresses, we get to see the gradual changes that overtake his character. His fragility remains, but it is overshadowed by his growing emotions, and the transparency of those emotions–particularly when it comes to his newly budding love for Soon-Jung. Jung Kyoung-Ho, the actor who plays Min-Ho, has done such a stellar, nuanced job of this part, that all you can do is gasp at his completely child-like confusion as he experiences new things and grows in ways that he didn’t even realise existed before he was given a new heart.

The idea of new hearts, redemption, and the new man triumphing over the old is a very precious one to me, as a Christian. It’s a huge part of what I live and believe. And it was so refreshing to see it portrayed in this way. Make no mistake, I don’t believe this to be a Christian show. But this part of it in particular really resonated with me.

When you're tired

Lee Joon-Hee (aka, Beautiful Face)

FFI 2

So, so pretty. And you know right away that he’s Boy #2, a consistent K-drama trope. Boy #2 very rarely gets the girl. But he’s so pretty, and his suits are really lovely, guys!

Lee Joon-Hee is a director of Hermia, and at first it’s very clear where his loyalties lie.

The problem with Joon-Hee is that although we know he’s in love with Soon-Jung, and that he’s a company man, we don’t know whether or not he’s a murderer. That can be rather unsettling, because we watch all his tender moments and his insecurities and his triumphs. And all the time it’s in the back of our minds that this beautiful boy could be a murderer.

He and Kang Min-Ho do not get along well, but I suppose that’s to be expected since one is trying to bring down Hermia, one is trying to save it, and they are both after the same girl. This leads to one of my favourite scenes from Beating Again:

head smak 1 head smak 2

My one complaint: subtitles.

Guys. They translated stuff wrong. GUYS. I HATE THAT. I’ve seen enough of K-dramas now to recognise certain words, and to have learned their meanings. I have an affinity for languages, and I love learning them, so I try to pay attention when I come across shows I love in new languages.

And guys. They put swearing in where there wasn’t any. GUYS. This bugs me! Not only because it was an incorrect translation, but because seriously, if you think you have to put in swearing to appeal to a western audience–you don’t!

I ignored it because: a.) the original writers didn’t intend it, and b.) there was only one really bad swear. So if you’re someone who hates bad language, just watch out for the first episode where there’s one f-word randomly in the subbies, and don’t worry too much about the rest.

All in all:

My grateful thanks to Jung Kyoung-Ho, Kim So-Yeon, Yoon Hyun-Min, Jin Goo, Lee Si-Un, Jo Eun-Ji, Ahn Suk-Hwan, Nam Myung-Ryul, and a totally amazing writer, Yoo Hee-Gyeong. The acting and writing combined to make this a completely mesmerising sixteen hours of television.

And guys, I KNOW. It’s SUCH A LONG BLOG POST.

BUT I LOVED IT SO MUCH, GUYS. YOU HAVE TO LOVE IT, TOO.

(Also it’s on Netflix, so what are you waiting for?)

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things: AUSTENLAND

Screenshot (45)

 

Today, the Favourite Thing I want to tell you about is AUSTENLAND.

“Ah,” you say, nodding and looking wise. “Ah. But which AUSTENLAND? The book or the movie? Because the book is always better than the movie.”

To you, I say: “Not in this case, matey. Not. In. This. Case.”

Because, quite frankly, AUSTENLAND the movie is something special. (So is the book, but we’ll get to that later).

“Ah,” you say, nodding and looking wise. “Ah. It’s a movie with great underlying themes and fantastic acting, a positive boon to art and existence. It speaks to the human condition.”

To you, I say: “–Pahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Um. No.”

“Okay. So what is so special about AUSTENLAND?”

To you, I reply–oh, stuff this. The thing is, AUSTENLAND is not great literature, nor is it lofty film. What it is, is entertaining. Oh my goodness. Endlessly. Entertaining. I’ve watched this movie about six times since it came out, and I’ve laughed my way through the entire thing every time. The book, I’ve read about three times. This is not because the book isn’t great. It is. But the film–oh, the film is something else entirely.

Austenland movie coverWell, the director, Jerusha Hess, described it as a period comedy. That alone should have you interested. Apart from A KNIGHT’S TALE (also pretty funny, but nothing like as funny as AUSTENLAND) I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of a movie described as period comedy. Period drama, yeah. Historica drama, yeah. Not period comedy.

It’s at the same time irreverent of Austen and deeply appreciative of her. It’s somehow American: an American look at period British living. And it’s flamin’ hilarious.

It’s ridiculously over the top.

I mean, insanely, ridiculously over the top. And the actors have such fun with that. Part way through the film we have actors who are playing actors who are in a setting, acting a play. It’s the inception of Austen. And somehow, all that over the top-ness totally works.

It’s sweet. It’s so, so sweet. Austenland book cover

The romance is just so delightful. I love the two main leads, and as for their dialogue–throughout, but particularly
toward the end–is simply sigh-worthy. Keri Russell gets some of the most piquant lines, but J.J. Fields gets a few really wonderful ones as well. They’re an on-screen couple I can see every bit of the chemistry for.

All in all?

Oh, just go out and buy it (but be careful, ‘cos Miss Elizabeth Charming is going to bowl you over, one way or another). There were a few naughty references, but nothing too over the top (unlike the acting). Enjoy this one, and then put it away for next time, because I guarantee you’ll find more to delight in next time you watch it.

(Oh, and look out for the fake lamb and the fake pug. And definitely watch the Q&A session with the actors afterwards.)

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things: THE HILLS IS LONELY by Lillian Beckwith

I found a book in an opshop one day. That’s not unusual, of course. I’ve found many books in many opshops around Australia (and a few in America). It was in one of my book-binge shops, where I ended up with a whole plastic bag full of books at 10c each, paperback and hardback alike.

That book was THE HILLS IS LONELY by Lillian Beckwith. I picked it up sheerly because I liked the title, but the blurb on the back really sold it. The blurb read:

The Hills Is LonelyWhen Lillian Beckwith advertised for a secluded place in the country, she received a letter with the following unusual description of an isolated Hebridean croft: ‘Surely it’s that quiet even the sheeps themselves on the hills is lonely and as to the sea it’s that near as I use it myself everyday for the refusals…’

Her curiosity aroused, Beckwith took up the invitation. This is the comic and enchanting story of the strange rest-cure that followed and her efforts to adapt to a completely different way of life.

It sounded wonderful, and I’d been meaning to read more non-fiction anyway. THE HILLS IS LONELY seemed like a good place to start.

It was. I’m not sure exactly how much of it is from Lillian Beckwith’s actual experiences and how much of it is made up (she writes fiction also), but whatever the breakdown is, the whole of it is enchanting. She has such a way with words, and such a fine hand for characters that you can’t help feeling that you’re there, and that you never want to leave.

“I like the way you townfolk seem to be able to dance on your toes,” panted my partner admiringly.

“You’re dancing on them too,” I replied with a ghostly chuckle that was half irony and half agony.

“Me? Dancin’ on me toes?”

“No,” I retorted brutally, “on mine.”

“I thought I must be,” said Lachy simply, and with no trace of remorse; “I could tell by the way your face keeps changin’.”

Hebrides

photo from visitscotland.com

I’ve a link here for the Kindle Version of THE HILLS IS LONELY, though I really recommend getting the paperback. This is one of those books that you’ll want to feel in your hands and smell the scent of as you read it.

But whichever format you prefer to read, just read this one. I promise you, you’ll want to go on to the next, and then the next…