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01 June 2020

K Movie Review: A Millionaire's First Love

I try to watch Hyun Bin's films and dramas alternately. Ideally, I would prefer to watch everything chronologically but I also need a breather from watching dramas.

Next on my Hyun Bin list was his film A Millionaire's First Love released in 2006, prior to the release of The Snow Queen.

Story


Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Millionaire%27s_First_Love

The story revolves around Kang Jae-kyung (Hyun Bin), the grandson of a rich hotel owner who has passed on already. Jae-kyung's parents died in a car accident and he was raised by his grandfather. He became a troublemaker and his grandfather's will stated that he had to move to a remote province and finish high school there if he wanted to get his inheritance. 

Jae-kyung had no choice but to relocate. He wanted to stir trouble at his new school so he could move back to Seoul right away. However, he grew fond of his new friends eventually. And he fell in love with his classmate Choi Eun-hwan (Lee Yeon Hee). It's revealed later on that Jae-kyung and Eun-hwan were actually childhood friends. The two fell for each other. But problem was Eun-hwan had an incurable heart problem. The couple tried to make do with the little time they have together. Unfortunately, Eun-hwan passes away even before their graduation. 

Cast/Character

Apart from action, restrained drama, pitiful, and pacute/kilig scenes I mentioned in my CLOY review, one other thing that Hyun Bin does really well is playing the jerk/asshole character. He makes a very credible asshole. We've seen this in Kim Sam Soon. But that was quite an extreme/over the top case of being a jerk. In this film, we see just the right amount of cockiness. Jae-kyung was an asshole without being extremely abusive. He did have some harsh words to say against Eun-hwan but they paled in comparison to how harsh he was to Sam Soon. 

I adored his lovesick moments here. Making girls' hearts flutter definitely comes naturally to Hyun Bin. Here we get a glimpse of those kilig stolen glances that we loved so much in CLOY. 

I loved how Hyun Bin handled his role as Capt. Von Trapp in the orphanage's adaptation of The Sound of Music. It was so amazing to see him act while acting. I'm not sure if I'm making any sense here. I'll try to explain. Eun-hwan played the role of Maria. During the play, I just saw Eun-hwan. I didn't see her acting the part of Maria. But when Jae-kyung came on stage, I totally forgot that he was Jae-kyung. He internalized and brought to life the strict persona required by Capt. Von Trapp's character. It was as if I was watching a two-layered acting. 

Lee Yeon Hee had the right amount of cuteness to play the role of Eun-hwan. She was mostly sweet and gentle but firm when needed. Her patience with Jae-kyung was admirable. And she should really be commended for helping Jae-kyung find his purpose in life. I felt her fear of dying and her desire to spend more time with Jae-kyung. 

The other actors were okay. The doctor in The Snow Queen had a few scenes here as Jae-kyung's friend. The tall guy friend of Jae-kyung reminded me of the ballerina dude in Spin Kick (I checked and they were different actors). 

What I Liked

The actors were perfect for their roles. They didn't go the overacting route as I mentioned above with how Jae-kyung's cockiness was handled. This is what I was saying about The Snow Queen where you can be a bitch without yelling too much. Or you can show a jerk without being extra abusive. 

Sorry if I keep comparing this to The Snow Queen. But it's the most recent one I've watched so I can't help it. I also preferred the way they handled the medical aspect here. I complained about how The Snow Queen tended to be too technical about the medical stuff. Fortunately, this film did not make the same mistake. They just stated Eun-hwan's condition without going into the details. Very few people would understand and be interested in it anyway. 

As I noticed with other Korean films, music was used here sparingly too. Perhaps they want to maximize the limited time they have by using dialogues instead of wasting it on music. K dramas on the other hand probably use music as  a filler in addition to helping evoke emotions in its viewers.

What I Didn't Like

The film was not that bad but it was not good either. One reason I feel this way could be because the story had a lot of similarities with The Snow Queen - rich-poor couple, rekindled relationship from their childhood, an illness, death. It was just all too familiar and too recent for me that I didn't really see anything new and interesting in this film. 

But my bigger problem was the confusing transitions the film had. I understand that everything had to be squeezed in to two hours. But I felt that the transitions were quite rough. One scene Eun-hwan is terribly ill and has to be brought to the hospital then she'd look completely fine in the next one. One moment Jae-kyung is yelling at Eun-hwan and asking her to leave, then on the next scene, Jae-kyung is giving up his inheritance so he can get cash to buy the orphanage for Eun-hwan. 

As much as I really, really love Hyun Bin, I’m hesitant to be in a relationship with him. His on-screen girlfriends all seem to have issues - mental health problems in Ireland, cancer in Kim Sam Soon and Snow Queen, then heart problem here. Perhaps we can take our relationship off screen just to be sure. :) 

Over-all, I find this film just okay. I'd watch it because of Hyun Bin but probably not because of the story. 

31 May 2020

K Drama Review: Crash Landing on You

Originally published on April 26, 2020

I'm writing this after finishing Crash Landing on You (CLOY) in just a week and watching 5 episodes today. You can just imagine how puffy my eyes are right now. It's almost 3 in the morning but I need to do this now if I were to function properly as a wife, mother, employee, and teacher this week. :D

I know I'm late to the party. I started seeing CLOY posts on my Facebook feed around December. I knew it must have been a good one because a lot of people were raving about it. But, I hate being a bandwagoner. And it was around the busy Christmas season so I didn't watch it right away. I knew I was going to watch it eventually but I still had a lot of shows on my to watch list. And being a stickler for lists, I cannot allow CLOY to cut the line. :D Then Taal happened. Then COVID.  I was about to lose my sanity from staying home everyday and reading all these horrible news and getting tired of being part of so many chat groups for buying different stuff for delivery. I decided to finally skip the line and watch CLOY but only after watching Parasite. I wanted to watch something that was really good to make it worth my time and to help me regain my sanity. And based on the posts I've been seeing, these 2 were legit. I went to Netflix and found out that Parasite was not there. Haha. I wanted something I can watch on my phone so I had to skip Parasite as well and headed straight to CLOY. And that was probably one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life.

I don't regret watching CLOY late. My low EQ would have killed me if I had to wait for a week for the next episode.

Honestly, when I started watching CLOY, I was doubtful that it was as good as advertised. I found it quite slow. Captain Ri (Hyun Bin) did not strike me as a good looking one RIGHT AWAY. He reminded me of Jake Cuenca and Chito Miranda. Haha. Se-ri (Son Ye-jin) was pretty. But I found the first episode so-so. I decided it was still worth watching because of the North Korean references. Then things picked up eventually. I guess I got hooked when Se-ri was caught hiding in Captain Ri's underground food storage and he introduced her as his fiancee. There was no turning back for me from that point forward.

The story is basically about South Korean heiress Se-ri who got into a paragliding accident and crash landed on North Korea where Capt. Ri rescued her. He and his team did their best to hide and protect her and get her back to the South safely. Of course, there were many twists and turns in between. But the essence was Se-ri and Capt. Ri fell in love with each other in a way that is probably comparable to a modern day Romeo and Juliet.

Capt. Ri grew on me. Yes, I did not find him that dashing in the beginning. Probably it had something to do with the military style haircut. I found him more adorable in his Seoul hairstyle. When I looked for his old photos, I realized that well, Capt. Ri is probably the best version of Hyun Bin. I must say that he is aging so so well. For him to still look good at his age means he must be doing something right. And he's not just good looking. Some behind the scenes videos show that he's also musically inclined. He guessed the notes Son Ye-jin played on the piano. 

As with most Korean actors, Hyun Bin got me with his eyes. They spoke volumes. He was the quiet type and his eyes said so much more than his words could ever say. I felt his wistfulness, pride in watching Se-ri shine, anger, competitiveness, softness, and of course, his love. I loved his fight scenes. And I adored the way he'd pout like a little boy when he felt bad. And who can forget how he had his way with words. Yes, he was mostly silent. But when he spoke, I absolutely melted. Telling Se-ri he'd protect her as long as he's within her sight. Calling Se-ri her woman. And telling Se-ri he wants to marry her, see her with gray hair and wrinkles, and have kids and grow old with her. Those things made me really bawl because I knew theirs was a very complicated love story.

I would have to say that Hyun Bin is a very good actor. He was able to balance the tenderness and softness with firmness and strength when needed towards Se-ri. He'd act like he didn't care but he was decisive and in-charge, when necessary. The scene that captured this for me was when Se-ri went back to her paraglide balloon (?) in an attempt to go back to South Korea. Capt. Ri looked indifferent but when the troops were almost there, he decisively hugged Se-ri and jumped with her. Where can we buy that kind of man? Haha. (Although it still boggles me where they landed and how the soldiers were not able to see that huge and colorful balloon.)

Another scene would have been Se-ri's supposed departure to join the North Korean track team. Capt. Ri did not even want to give her a hug. But he secretly followed her in his motorcycle and rescued her in a very astig and good looking fashion. *sigh*

Now I'm confused if I'm in love with Hyun Bin or just Capt. Ri or RiRi's love story. I would need to sort that out one of these days. :D 

Se-ri was pretty and adorable. I loved how she projected a bitch image but she was really a softy and a good person inside. I like how her character developed throughout the show. Hers was a sad life. It was ironic that probably some of the happiest times of her life were spent in an unknown, unfamiliar, and unsafe place. She deserved to be happy. She deserved a happy ending after all the heartaches she had to go through. 

Apart from the main characters, I also loved Capt. Ri's men. Park Kwang Beom (Lee Shin Young) was so good looking. He would probably make it big in future K dramas. I loved how his character was quiet but among the 4, he was the most loyal to Capt. Ri. He was very thoughtful and would always check on him. Thus, it's no surprise that Capt. Ri probably trusted him the most.

Kim Joo Muk (Yoo Soo Bin) was the K drama addict who helped bridge the gap between Se-ri and his comrades. He was funny and I felt that he genuinely cared for Se-ri.

Keum Eun Dong (Tang Joon Sang) was the baby of the group. I loved how he grew throughout the series. From a naive and shy young soldier, he evolved into a confident one. My heart broke for him when he was in South Korea. He seemed to really love his experience there and probably, if it were not for his family, he would have chosen to stay.

Pyo Chi Soo (Yang Kyung Won) was the funniest of the four. I enjoyed his love-hate relationship with Se-ri. He was super vain and believed that he was good looking. I'm proud that he got promoted to captain when Capt. Ri left.

I also adored Se-ri's girl gang in Capt. Ri's military housing. They were loud, funny, and annoying at times but I know that they genuinely cared for Se-ri.

Although their scenes were limited, I had so much love and respect for the mothers of Capt. Ri and Se-ri. I loved how they carried out their roles with such quiet dignity and how they supported their children's complicated love story. 

The villains were so despicable, especially Cho Cheol-gang (Oh Man-seok), Se-ri's second brother and his wife.

There were exes and other characters. In some instances, I felt that their storylines were unnecessary. But I guess the show had to balance things a bit too. If it were all Capt. Ri and Se-ri, I would have been crying the entire time while watching the show. These other characters made things a bit lighter, giving me some sort of reprieve from bawling. And I appreciate how the show still strove to depict character development even if their roles were not as important as the main characters. 

And of course, I ended up loving the story. Even the slow start worked out well because it was a good build up for the succeeding episodes. I had this vague memory of reading somewhere that someone was going to die at the end. For people to be talking about it, I assumed it was either Se-ri or Capt. Ri. I didn't bother finding out through spoilers because I wanted to find out myself. So I had this ending in mind. I'm not sure if this affected my over-all appreciation of the show. I was so sure it was Capt. Ri. But when Se-ri was shot, I felt it could be her too. This probably contributed to why I was so emotional while watching this show.

There were many, many scenes to love. Every kilig Capt. Ri and Se-ri moment was memorable of course. Like their first kiss when Capt. Ri was hospitalized (official lovey kiss, I mean, because their first kiss was on the boat). Or their kiss when Se-ri crossed the DMZ and Capt. Ri followed her. I was secretly hoping he would defect with her. But that would have been boring, I guess, hehe. I love how K dramas don't overdo kisses. Mas kilig tuloy when they do it. I just wanted a proper date for Capt. Ri and Se-ri and I felt so bad that they were not able to do it in North Korea. I guess it would have been difficult to execute there. I'm glad that they finally got the chance to do that in the South and in Switzerland. And of course, who can forget the ring episode. *sigh* And the programmed messages Capt. Ri sent to Se-ri even if he were already back in North Korea. And how he filled up her ref and cupboard with notes on how to cook stuff. (*desperately searching for a clone on Amazon*) 

Episode 6 was a turning point for me. I realized how big the problem was of sending Se-ri back home and how it could have repercussions for Capt. Ri and his men. The show became heavy for me from this point. Crayola sessions na every episode.

It was a nice plot twist to bring the rest of Capt. Ri's men to the South. But I felt that it took them an unnecessarily long time to find Capt. Ri and Se-ri. Their reunions were just so heart warming. I'm glad these guys were able to visit South Korea. Their brotherhood was truly admirable. Their loyalty, love, and respect for Capt. Ri, which they extended to Se-ri as well, were just amazing. They skipped the bus to return to North Korea, risking their lives and their families, in order to protect Se-ri. They gathered around Capt. Ri when the Military Director was about to ambush them. Where can we ever find friends like that? 

I loved how this show tried to close the loop on everything. I was afraid that Se-ri and Capt. Ri would go their separate ways without knowing that they met in Switzerland several years ago and that Capt. Ri composed the song that Se-ri loved. Even minor things like Capt. Ri and Eun Dong playing video games against each other was given closure. So yes, I think the show did a good job and I personally don't see any need for a season 2. Sure, we love Se-ri and Capt. Ri but I'm afraid that prolonging the show might do more harm than good. But on second thought, my mushy self says it would be nice to know if they'd finally settle down and have kids and grow old together. 

I also loved the historical bit. I felt sad yet hopeful everytime they mentioned the unification of the 2 Koreas. It was very apt for Se-ri to say that the complications her love story with Capt. Ri faced were not because of any personal fault but these were due to a sad history. I especially loved how Capt. Ri and his men cheered alongside South Koreans while watching a football match against Japan. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but for the families separated, I guess it would be nice to see the 2 Koreas united again.

Although North Korea was obviously more unsafe and not as modern as the South, I felt that the scenes the cast had in North Korea were more genuine. They were happier perhaps because life there was simpler. I also found the scenes there more exciting probably because of the danger that came with them.

I’ve always said that music is one of the strengths of K dramas. CLOY was no exception. But I admittedly overlooked it here because everything else about the show was great - the story, visuals, setting, characters, cast, storytelling, etc. But I definitely fell in love with Capt. Ri’s song for his brother that I coerced my husband to turn it into my ring and text tones. After finishing the show, I listened to the OST and it’s really fantastic. All the songs brought back memories of the show and evoked feelings from deep within. *sigh*

There were some flaws in the show but I would rather not dwell on them. I'd gloss over them because over-all, the show was fantastic. It was about a love that knew no boundaries (literally and figuratively) and lovers who were willing to risk it all for the one they loved. The endless goodbyes were becoming exhausting at some point. But as Se-ri's mother said, you still need a proper goodbye even if you've said it numerous times already and you feel that you've said enough. Who knows it might really be the last one already.  

In the end, Se-ri and Capt. Ri both lived. They didn't die, contrary to the spoiler I saw. They almost died several times but they made it. Honestly, I would have been okay with them being separated for the rest of their lives as long as they were both alive. I know that would have been sad but it would have been worse if one died and the other had to live in sorrow. But CLOY wanted to make up for all the tears they made me shed while watching the show and they rewarded me with a happy ending. Capt. Ri and Se-ri eventually found their way back to each other. They deserved to be together after all the pain and suffering they had to go through. Two weeks a year together might seem insignificant but for 2 people who thought they would never see each other again, I guess that would already be like heaven. I can only hope that they can finally live their happily ever after. :)

*edited a few days later to gush more on Hyun Bin, haha. I might just watch this again because I am honestly having a hard time moving on from it. Perhaps I’d appreciate it even more now that I know how it will end. :D

Thoughts After Watching it a Second Time

In the past, I vowed not to re-watch shows or movies or re-read books. It was a waste of time for me to do something that I've already done before. I also vowed not to go crazy over actors and actresses when I didn't hear from Lea Salonga after sending her numerous snail mail when she was in London doing Miss Saigon (I was probably 10 years old at that time). But we live in different times right now. CLOY and Hyun Bin helped tide me over during this pandemic/quarantine. I felt so invested in the story that I made a u-turn on the vows I made in the past. I re-watched CLOY, this time with my husband. And I'm going crazy over Hyun Bin. Haha. 

I thought of just editing the earlier review I made but I guess that would be unfair. I need to segregate my emotions from the first time I watched it. So I'm adding this as a sort of epilogue. :)

I believe I need to revisit my earlier declaration of Hyun Bin as a great actor. Watching CLOY the second time made me realize that yes, he is good but I should stop gushing. He is definitely not perfect acting-wise. He still LOOKS perfect to me but I'd have backtrack a bit on his skills as an actor. He handled the cute parts really well - showing off his dimples, pouting when he's jealous or he does not get what he wants, stealing glances. He's perfect for the action/fight scenes too. He's a credible soldier/fighter. After watching some of his earlier shows and movies, I would say that his past characters prepared him well for his role as Capt. Ri. He did taekwondo in Spin Kick. He was a bodyguard in Ireland. He was a boxer in The Snow Queen. He was a rich kid in Kim Sam Soon. So yes, the Capt. Ri character was perfect for him. But I would have to admit that he is not that good in handling drama scenes. He's okay with the restrained drama with just a bit of tears rolling down his eyes. But heavy drama is something he needs to work on. This was very evident in his scene after Se-ri was shot. It looked awkward. 

My husband said that it was Se-ri who carried the show. This time around, I would have to agree. Yes, the show demanded a lot from Son Ye-jin acting-wise. She had to show a plethora of emotions unlike Hyun Bin who had to appear tough and fine most of the time (probably the reason why his drama scenes hurt me so much because I knew it must have really been breaking point for him already when he showed his raw emotions). 

But with regard to their love story, I would say that it demanded so much more from Capt. Ri. He was the rock that made their love story solid and possible. I loved his quiet yet steady presence. I already mentioned in my first review that he was very decisive. I loved how well he planned things.  I wonder if he planned joining the national symphony orchestra to have a bigger chance of meeting Se-ri again. Probably he just didn't let her know because he didn't want her to expect and be disappointed if the plans don't push through. 

Another major take away I had from watching CLOY again was that Se-ri was the sadder character between the two lead stars. Yes, she was rich and pretty. But nobody really loved her. There was no one for her. As I mentioned above, it was ironic that she was probably happiest and most loved in an unfamiliar and unsafe place. Yes, Capt. Ri lost his brother. But he had his parents. His men loved him. He was a well-respected solider. He's well-off. Even his love life was taken care of, albeit in an arranged manner. So he definitely had a happier life compared to Se-ri. 

This realization led me to ask my husband if he would prefer living in North Korea where you're loved and happy but not free or in the South where you're safe, rich, and free but unloved. My husband replied that it was a matter of perspective, depending on what you value more as a person.  

And he's right. It's all about what is more important to you. It was like the tough decision that Capt. Ri and Se-ri had to make that was narrated when Se-ri was in coma. Se-ri said that even if she knew how things would end, she would still pick the dangerous and sad choice because she still wanted to fall in love with Capt. Ri. Capt. Ri on the other hand said that he would wish that he never met Se-ri so that she can continue living a safe and healthy life. So yes, they both loved and deeply cared for each other but they had different ways of showing that. 

This is also similar to the question Se-ri was thinking about just before she met Capt. Ri again in Seoul. She wondered if love meant she should wish for Capt. Ri to be miserable because he missed and loved her or if she should want him to be living a happy life away from her. I guess in love, there is no right or wrong answer. Both choices have their own pros and cons and you should never be blamed for picking one over the other. 

While reading CLOY reviews, I came across a comment that really struck me. CLOY is great because it spoke of a mature kind of love. Something that oldies like me would probably relate to. Young love, while it is cute and sweet and romantic, tends to be clingy and selfish and irresponsible. 

This mature kind of love was very evident when Capt. Ri, despite professing his great love for Se-ri saying he didn't want to go back and he wants to stay to marry, have kids, and grow old with her,  still chose to go back. It must have hurt him a lot. It was the more difficult choice to make. But it was the responsible choice. He knew that staying would have dire consequences on his parents and on his men and their families. And that's how mature love should be. It is selfless. It's acknowledging that the world does not revolve on just the lovers alone. That you have to be considerate about how your decisions will affect the people around you. 

And mature love is patient. It waits. It finds ways no matter how long and tough the road ahead may be. Capt. Ri captured this perfectly when he said that they should live as if they would see each other the following day. You hope and wait. But not in despair. You still need to continue living your life. Because it's your responsibility to live a good life. You owe it to yourself and the people around you especially to those who depend on you. And as Capt. Ri said during Se-ri's birthday, he would still be grateful for her birthdays even when they're apart because it means the person he loves was born and is breathing somewhere out there. You need to live well because there is still that teeny tiny chance that the thing you're hoping for, no matter how impossible it may seem, can still happen. 

This mature kind of love was also evident in the Gu Seung-joon and Seo Dan love story. Dan loved Seung-joon even if she knew that he was a criminal. She was willing to wait for him to give him a chance. And Seung-joon wanted to fix himself and live a better life so he can be deserving of Dan. 

This leads me to another major realization. I was wrong to dismiss this second love story as boring or unnecessary when I first watched CLOY. I was too fixated on Ri-Ri that I was unable to fully appreciate the beauty of this other love angle. And I'm grateful that I watched it again because I can now see how special it was as well. Sure it didn't call for crossing borders but it was a bold kind of love in its own way. Loving a criminal when you're an uptight girl like Dan must have been very difficult. And risking your life when you've been selfish all along was just heroic for Seung-joon. So yes, apart from giving me a breathing room from crying, this second love story was also beautiful and necessary. 

My husband pointed out that Kim Jung-hyun (Seung-joon) was actually a good actor. And I agree with him. The sleek way he handled the girls was really impressive. Even Dan's mother loved him. And he was really bad ass when he rescued Dan. 

I'm glad that the couples ended up that way. Capt. Ri and Dan were both so serious, formal, and uptight. Life would have been very boring if they married each other. But when they were with Se-ri and Seung-joon respectively, they smiled, loosened up, and looked genuinely happy. 

Some other nice things I noted:

  1. I loved how they juxtaposed the scene where Se-ri was shot with the scene where Capt. Ri's men promised him that they will protect her at all costs. It must have been heartbreaking for them to see her shot because they failed her and they broke their promise to Capt. Ri. 
  2. The scene where Eun-Dong (the baby soldier) was in Seoul and he bought clothes that resembled a school uniform was quite sad for me. Although he was already a soldier, he was still a kid who was probably forced to grow up fast to support his family. 
  3. That flatline ending in episode 15 showing both Se-ri and Seung-joon fighting for their lives was brilliant. I totally missed that during the first time I watched. I would have gone crazy if I watched that episode and had to wait for 24 hours before finding out who between the two died. 
  4. I loved the montage of the best Ri-Ri moments shown after Se-ri was shot. It was a wonderful way to look back at how much they've gone through in the short span of time that they were together. 
I thought I already loved CLOY the first time I watched it. But I've come to love it even more after watching it again. I watched it slower this time. I didn't watch a lot of episodes in a row so I was able to focus on even the minor details. I avoided missing the little things. I knew how it was going to end. So yes, it was a more relaxed viewing experience for me. But don't get me wrong. I still cried and laughed a lot, but this time, ahead of the drama or funny scenes because I already knew what was going to happen. The feels were still there but probably in a more controlled manner. After watching CLOY the first time, I felt so lost and down because I wanted more. I seriously needed a debriefing. A friend even said I would probably need to watch it three times before I can  move on. But this time, I think I'm okay. I don't feel the urge to watch it a third time (not yet, anyway). I'm at peace with how the show ended. And although I would still think of Ri-Ri and their great love story, I'd be happy watching other Hyun Bin  shows in the meantime. 

Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin are nominees for best actor and actress at the Baeksang Awards (Korea's version of the Oscars). Of course, I want Hyun Bin to win but I have a feeling that Park Seo-joon's character in Itaewon Class might have more depth than Capt. Ri. I have not watched Itaewon Class yet but I've asked a friend and my sister who watched the show and they both felt that Park Seo-joon might win this over Hyun Bin. Oh well, not that it would change the way I feel about Hyun Bin. :D And I read an article comparing Hyun Bin's Capt. Ri and Park Seo Joon in Itaewon and prediction was Hyun Bin will win this one. So, yes, there's still hope. :) 

In relation to Baeksang, I read that Hyun Bin has never won a Baeksang Best Actor award. He's had a number of nominations and the first one was for The Snow Queen. 

As of now, CLOY is still number one for me among all the K dramas I've watched. And Hyun Bin is my favorite actor at the moment. I'm so happy that he's been tapped to endorse two Philippine brands so I can expect to see more of him. As I mentioned earlier, I will forever be grateful to CLOY and Hyun Bin for helping me get through this pandemic/quarantine. They've been very fruitful distractions for me. Now, back to ticking off more things in my Hyun Bin watch list. :) 


30 May 2020

K Drama Review: The Snow Queen

After watching My Name is Kim Sam Soon, it was Hyun Bin movie time for me. His filmography had Daddy Long Legs next on my list. I watched it but Hyun Bin's appearance there was too short so I won't be reviewing it. I'd say I didn't have enough basis to analyze how he acted there. :D

Next on my list was The Snow Queen, a drama released in 2006. This will always be a special one because this is the first K drama that my husband watched and completed with me. We started watching Crash Landing on You first but since we're only watching that on weekends, we're not done with it yet. We watched The Snow Queen every night and he only missed one episode (because I watched it in the afternoon, hehe). He was guilt-tripping me the entire time so I had no choice but to stick to our nightly schedule so he won't miss any more episodes. Never mind that I'd catch him sleeping through some parts of the show then he'd wake up and ask me what happened. :D

Story

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Snow_Queen_(South_Korean_TV_series)

The show is about Han Tae-woong (Hyun Bin), a math genius who comes from a poor family. His mother has an illegal noodles stall on a sidewalk. Tae-woong made it to the Korean Science High School for senior high. There he meets an obnoxious math genius, Kim Jung-kyu (Lee Seon-ho). Jung-kyu was so threatened with and envious of Tae-woong that he accused him of plagiarizing a math dissertation. They end up friends anyway and developed a special bond. That is until they had to compete against each other in an international math competition that Tae-woong won. Jung-kyu resented it, especially since his father pressured him a lot. Tae-woong was hurt by Jung-kyu's harsh words that he told him he didn't need a friend like him. This pushes Jung-kyu to the edge that he commits suicide.

While still enrolled in school, Tae-woong saw a little girl berating their librarian because she wanted to buy a book from the library. Later on, Tae-woong rescues the same girl who was being bullied by other kids. They became sort of friends and the girl gave her beeper to Tae-woong. The girl wanted to go to Lapland, the setting of her favorite book, The Snow Queen. She wanted Tae-woong to help her buy a ticket at the airport so she paged him. Unfortunately, the airline personnel didn't believe her and she was unable to leave for Lapland. The girl and Tae-woong ended up running across the airport runway and then they went off to the amusement park. They promised to meet again and the girl promised to tell him her name. Tae-woong found a copy of The Snow Queen so she paged the girl to meet him at the amusement park. The girl waited for Tae-woong and even had to escape the hospital where she was scheduled to undergo a surgery. Tae-woong never showed up because that was the day his friend Jung-Kyu died.

Fast forward to eight years later, we find out that Tae-woong dropped out of school and ran away from home. He now lived in a boxing arena and he changed his name to Han Deuk-gu, the name of Jung-kyu's favorite boxer. Deuk-gu was training to be a boxer and he was also in-charge of cleaning the arena. He never got over Jung-kyu's death because he felt that it was his fault. He no longer wanted to study and was contented with bumming around.

While visiting a friend at the hospital, Deuk-gu pacifies a hysterical woman who was threatening to kill herself. He meets the woman again at the mall when she was castigating Deuk-gu's friend who was a salesperson. The woman who happens to be the daughter of the mall's owner had Deuk-gu's friend fired. Deuk-gu went to the woman's house (I don't know how he found out where she lived) to beg her to let his friend be reinstated at work. The woman ends up asking Deuk-gu to drive for her as she went to visit a grave. Deuk-gu initially thought it was the grave of the woman's mother. We find out that the woman's name is Kim Bo-ra (Sung Yu-ri).

Bo-ra comes from a rich family and she's very ill-tempered. She yells at everyone. She attempts to commit suicide again near the grave (her brother's) that she visited with Deuk-gu. Deuk-gu miraculously finds her there and stops her again from killing herself. Bo-ra's dad is so grateful for what Deuk-gu's done that he offers him a job as Bo-ra's driver. Deuk-gu had to borrow money from Bo-ra's family to help his mother pay off her debts.

I know that's a very long back story but that's how it is. The story revolves around how Bo-ra and Deuk-gu end up falling for each other. It's revealed that Bo-ra has myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disorder. Bo-ra initially dates her doctor, Seo Geon-ho (Im Joo-hwan), before she realizes that she actually likes Deuk-gu. But things become complicated when they find out that Bo-ra is Jung-kyu's brother and Deuk-gu was Tae-woong, the friend that they were blaming for Jung-kyu's death. Bo-ra's father was against the relationship. Bo-ra was supposed to leave for Lapland but a page from Tae-woong makes her stay. Bo-ra was kicked out of their house and she lived with the boxing arena director's family. Although it was difficult for Bo-ra, she endured everything because she loved Tae-woong. Things worsen when Bo-ra is diagnosed with a late stage thymic cancer. She leaves Tae-woong because she didn't want to burden him with her illness. Of course, Tae-woong finds out eventually. Bo-ra undergoes one round of chemotherapy but in the end, she does not make it.

Tae-woong went back to school and got a doctorate. He went to Lapland by himself and he studied in the US for three years before going back to Korea.

Cast/Characters

This isn't one of my favorite Hyun Bin characters. He did not look like a boxer but I guess that's understandable because boxing was just a side gig for him. My husband says he didn't look like a math genius either. His acting was okay. Quite reminiscent of his bodyguard character in Ireland. He had a number of pitiful moments here. My husband was complaining that nobody seemed to love him - his mother, his friends, Bo-ra, Bo-ra's dad. They all took turns hating him for things that were beyond his control. I don't like Hyun Bin here because of the way his character was written. It was just a very confused character for me. So, it's not his fault that this was a blah show for him. He didn't really have much of a wiggle room and you can't expect him to properly execute something that was so poorly written to begin with.

Sung Yu-ri as Bo-ra was adorable. I might be biased here because my husband really found her pretty. But she was really perfect for the role. She was effective as a yelling (oftentimes bordering on abusive) rich girl. But you would also sympathize with her when she's feeling down. I just wish they softened up her character a bit. I don't think the excessive yelling/hitting was necessary. You can be a bitch without shouting all the time. But again, this was a writing problem for me and Sung Yu-ri did the best she could given the material.

Im Joo-hwan was okay as Seo Geon-ho although I found him too pretty at times. I wish they put some "fight" in his character though. He was portrayed as a martyr/push-over who would do anything for Bo-ra even if it meant hurting himself.

The other friends were okay. The boxing guys looked the part, especially Dong-pil. They really looked like the guys you'd find in Elorde. Seung-ri (Yoo In-young) played her part as the director's daughter who was in love with Tae-woong really well. She was annoying but cute.

Deuk-nam (Jung Hwa-young), Bo-ra's sort of friend and the daughter of their housekeeper, was probably one of the really likeable characters in the show. At one point, when all of the characters were doing crazy stuff, my husband said that Deuk-nam was the only one thinking in the show. Her character made things possible for the others.

The math professor who helped Tae-woong rediscover his love for math was adorable. His math and life lessons were interesting. I'm sure he'll remind you of an old professor/mentor you had in school.

One actor I really didn't like was the one who played Bo-ra's father (Chun Ho-jin). Apart from Bo-ra and Tae-woong (or it can even be argued that even more than the two of them), his character was probably the one who should have the most "feels." His wife left him, he lost his son because he pressured him a lot, his daughter was gravely ill, and his daughter fell in love with the guy whom he blamed for his son's suicide. Surely you'd be going through a lot of emotions if you find yourself in such a situation. But all this actor could give were big eyes. He's angry, you get big eyes. He's sad and melancholic, you get big eyes. He's curious and impressed with Tae-woong, you get big eyes. The character was a multi-dimensional one but the actor failed to deliver big time. And it was truly disappointing.

Did I Like It?

The show had some good points. Music was nice again, like your typical K drama.

I liked how they attempted to show the ill effects of pressuring kids to do well in school. I'm not that familiar with the Korean educational system. But judging by how most actors I've encountered so far have university degrees and based on what I saw in Angry Mom, I would say that they do have a competitive culture similar to what you see in Japan and Singapore. So it's nice that they tried to cover a topic that is most probably controversial in their country. They might have shown an extreme case that led to suicide but if that's how they want to get the message across, then I'm fine with that.

I also appreciated how they showed the two sides to a rich person's life. Yes, she lives a comfortable life but that is not enough to make up for the other things she lacks - a loving mother and brother, friends, a present father, good health, etc. She was wealthy but she lived a very sad life that even pushed her to attempt to kill herself. To talk about mental health in 2006 is being ahead of its time. This issue is something that should be revisited and discussed more these days with the number of Korean stars committing suicide.

What I really didn't like about the show was how the story was written and executed. While I was writing the summary of the story, I realized that the story in itself was not that bad. It's actually interesting. But the way they meshed things together was just not effective. It was confusing most of the time and it left me wondering why things turned out that way.

The first episode gave away the ending. It was so predictable. Tae-woong was in Lapland by himself. So as the show progressed, it was easy to guess that Bo-ra was going to die and Tae-woong would go to Lapland to fulfil her dying wish. There was a slim chance that that Lapland trip was just a dream, but I don't think the show would waste that much money to send Hyun Bin to Lapland for a dream scene. I'm not so sure though which would be lamer - a dream scene or a give away ending.

The show went too deep into math. Yes, I get it, Tae-woong and Jung-kyu were math geniuses. However, I don't think it was necessary to go so much into it. I have no way of confirming if the things they were talking about were accurate and that in itself makes me suspicious.

The medical aspect was also overdone for me. I understand that Bo-ra had a lingering illness. But there were times when they were going into so many details that I felt were unnecessary. Grey's Anatomy and House are medical shows but they are able to present the medical stuff in an interesting manner in layman's terms. You don't need to go all highfalutin to be impressive.

The show left a lot of loose ends. Tae-woong's mother left around episode 14 to stay with a relative in the province and we never hear about her again. I guess she might have needed to leave the show earlier due to some personal reason. But Tae-woong spent a lot of time looking for her after he ran away from home. He worked so hard to get her to forgive him. They were trying to start over again and rebuild their relationship. She was so happy that Tae-woong found the love of his life. Then she leaves. And she does not even call when she arrives in the province. Or we don't even find out if she hears about Bo-ra's death. They built her up only to let her go that easily. If the actress was no longer available, a simple letter or pretend phone call could have at least provided closure for her character.

Same goes with the boxing arena's director. He was instrumental in helping Tae-woong have some semblance of life after the Jung-kyu tragedy. Tae-woong had so much respect for him. He worked hard in persuading Tae-woong to go back to school. But we don't even see him in the final episode. it would have been nice to at least see him bask in pride for what Tae-woong has accomplished.

Bo-ra's mother was another out-of-place character. In the beginning, Bo-ra believed she was dead. But during her brother's funeral, she finds out that her mom is still alive but she left them and has a new family. She'd pop in once in a while throughout the show. After a difficult confrontation with Bo-ra, she visits her ex-husband and tells him that she'll be more visible in Bo-ra's life. And guess what? We never see her again after that.

The build up to some storylines were quite rushed for me - like how Tae-woong fell in love with Bo-ra. Sure, she was pretty. And maybe they spent a lot of time together because he was her driver. But did he really love her or just the memory of the little girl Bo-ra that he ghosted several years ago?

For two people who were strongly connected because of Jung-kyu, I just found it odd that when Bo-ra and Tae-woong finally decided to be together, they did not bother visiting Jung-kyu's grave. It would have been a nice touch to see them there now that they were already aware of their identities. It would have been a dramatic gesture to let Jung-kyu know officially that the two people he wanted to introduce to each other ended up together. This was definitely a missed opportunity.

Bo-ra's death was hastily covered. As my husband pointed out, it's as if the show realized that they were already on the last episode so they had to do a lot of things at the same time - make Bo-ra well enough so she can have one more vacation with Tae-woong then just kill her. It just didn't make sense to me that she was gravely ill, they're rich, and her dad and Tae-woong obviously wanted her to live, yet she goes out of town without any nurse or medical professional who can attend to her in case of an emergency. Yes, maybe they were just waiting things out. But for people like Bo-ra's dad and Tae-woong who had a hard time moving on from Jung-kyu's death, it was more logical for them to give Bo-ra a fighting chance until the end.

The Lapland scene was also poorly executed. Tae-woong was obviously there because of Bo-ra. The show could have made it more dramatic by showing flashbacks of Bo-ra and Tae-woong's moments together. Instead of having that, we see Tae-woong exploring Finland and Lapland like a tourist. And their dramatic way of showing us Bo-ra again was by making her appear like a ghost in her university's basketball court where Tae-woong is playing. I found that more creepy than sentimental.

So yes, over-all, I didn't really like this show. It was probably a forgettable one for Hyun Bin. But if you're a Hyun Bin fan like me, it's still worth watching because he definitely gets a lot of screen time here. Bonus is seeing a geeky side of him (plus boxer and basketball player versions too). I would have to say though that this show might have the unfair disadvantage because I watched it alongside my second round of Crash Landing on You (which I'm loving even more). But I'm happy that I get to tick off another show in my Hyun Bin list. On to the next. :)

P.S. I just found out that Hyun Bin is close friends with the guy who played Harvey in the Korean version of Suits. Now that I've discovered Hyun Bin, I'd say he would have been a better fit for the Harvey role. Imagine having Hyun Bin and Park Hyung-sik in one show, wow, what a concept! :)