On my current K-drama series playlist

K-drama series on Viu are my companion these days. I can now put a tick on Goblin: The Lonely and Great God. Done. The story reverberates with truly unique characters – the Goblin, of course, and, a departure from grim reapers of old, the uncannily handsome and domestic Grim Reaper – that are smoothly threaded in to the world of humans. Living among humans day after day meant that human vulnerabilities would gradually rub off on them, and it did. By opening themselves to the human experience, it made them a whole lot better in the end. Better deities. As for the humans…ah, well, love is a destiny.

As I’ve just gotten into watching K-drama, I don’t know many Korean actors, and deciding which series to watch next is based mainly on the actors from previously-watched dramas. The actor Lee Dong Wook was the reason I watched Goblin, because he was the actor of My Girl the first ever K-drama I saw and liked. So, after Goblin I decided to go for dramas in which the actor Kim Go Eun starred in. Hence, Cheese in the Trap.

The drama is a poignant portrayal of university life, youthful romance, and issues affecting young people such as family, mental health, and self-direction. There are also plenty of quotable quotes in there that especially convey what young people are going through:

Baek In Ho: Who studies on the subway? What do you want to become?

Seol:  I just want a job. I don’t want to be unemployed.

Baek In Ho:  What are you worried about? You’re a college student.

Seol:  That’s what I thought, too. When I was in high school I thought I could be anything when I went to college. Now that I’m in college there are many difficult questions. I envy those people the most (gestures toward a couple of men in business suits).

Baek In Ho:  What’s the envy? They look like corpses.

The close of the series brought to mind David Foster’s Just For A Moment (theme song from St. Elmo’s Fire) which floated in my head. I did shed a tear or two. Good news though! There’s a movie adaptation coming out this year! Plus there’s a webtoon of the series which it turns out is the original material.

Afterward, I decided to branch out to dramas of the actor Park Hae Jin, the male lead in Cheese, which led me to Doctor Stranger. I’m now currently watching Episode 9. Incredibly good so far. The story has most everything- spying (North and South Korea), geopolitics, professional rivalry, romance, that involve, well, doctors. But most especially the operating room scenes look very real!

In between, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’m also watching Bride of Ha Baek (The Bride of the Water God) originally a manga series of the same title. I’ve seen the male lead Nam Joo Hyuk in Cheese in the Trap and Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo that I watched in February. After the first three episodes, I already liked Bride of Ha Baek because Shin Se Kyung‘s female lead’s story arc is so relatable. She has lots of things going on in her personal life, meaning, she’s not as happy, which keeps her, she’s a psychiatrist, from being fully present with her clients until… the series is now on Episode 8. The queer identities that have suddenly popped up in her life are starting to show who or what they really are.

 

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Movies and TV dramas to watch this year

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Last year, I was able to watch only five movies and two TV dramas. Not bad though. There were years when I hadn’t been able to watch anything at all. This year, my work schedule permiting, I’ve lined up the following initial list to watch:

  1. Oro (‘Gold’ in English) is an independent film by award-winning Filipino director Alvin Yapan, based on true events about a small-scale gold miner (Elmer) who finally decides to establish a life of his own separate from Kapitana (village chief) his employer and benefactor. Elmer’s plan is disrupted with the arrival of an armed group, Patrol Kalikasan, who call themselves environmentalists. This turn of events finds Elmer and other small miners in the village turning to Kapitana who tries to secure a work permit in order to protect her employees from harassment by the armed group. Meanwhile the group settles down in the village with the plan to take over operations of the mines. The controversy over the alleged dog killing during filming however which caused the movie to be temporarily taken off cinemas and stripped off it’s FPJ Memorial Award has taken the spotlight away from the compelling story.   
  2. Die Beautiful. Another Filipino independent film, by Jun Robles Lana, about Patrick whose homosexuality is the reason his father eventually disowns him. Transforming into Tricia, he wins the title of Ms. Gay Philippines. His stint is short-lived however as he suddenly dies of brain aneurysm. Everyday during her wake, his make-up artist best friend works on his corpse transforming it to look like various Hollywood and Filipino celebrities to the great amusement of visiting family members, friends and guests. Patrick/Tricia is played by Paolo Ballesteros well-known co-host in the country’s longest-running noontime variety show Eat Bulaga! He won the Best Actor award at the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival for his role as Patrick/Tricia. He also recently gained international acclaim for his unbelievable transformations with the use of make up into well-known celebrities. I am a fan of his ability! A great grandson of national artist Fernando Amorsolo one of Philippine’s greatest painters, Paolo Ballesteros is finally digging deep into his heritage.
  3. Saimdang: Light’s Diary. These days, TV is the new cinema. A good thing because compelling stories, beautiful cinematography, and astounding effects are now accessible every day right in the comfort of our living rooms or even bedrooms. I know of a bank executive who has two TVs inside the bedroom- one for herself and the other, her husband’s. They each have different TV viewing preferences and habits and neither wanted to give these up. Acquiring another TV was the most rational solution. In this case, I agree. Ha ha!  Anyway. Thanks to a positive first experience of South Korean drama (My Girl), I have now started to consciously choose shows from there. Like Saimdang, also since I love history. Shin Saimdang, according to an article at Korea Times, is the country’s wise mother icon at the same time artist, writer, calligrapher, and poet during the Joseon Kingdom. A woman ahead of her time. The drama plot begins with art history lecturer Ji Yoon discovering the diary of historical figure Shin Saimdang, and thereon “unravel(s) the secret behind a historical painting and unearths the unbelievable truth behind one of history’s biggest mysteries.” It’s not everyday that stories of Asian women who contributed to their countries’ histories are widely broadcasted through this platform. 
  4. Goblin: The Lonely and Great God. Local Kdrama fans have been raving about this show. Goblin, though? In Filipino folklore, goblin is duwende whose dwelling place, mole hill or at least that’s what it looks like, our grandparents warned us from disturbing if we didn’t want bad things happening to us ie. warts or itchy skin. (I once defied my grandmother’s warning and kicked the mound at the foot of the caimito (star apple) tree in my grandparents’ frontyard. Just to see. What does a goblin look like? An army of big fat fiery red ants came out at me. I recall running off like the devil itself was at my back.) Curious if Goblin is anything close to my fiery “duwendes“, I read up about the drama online. Synopses I read essentially say ” a supernatural love story between a Goblin who wants to end his immortality by finding himself a human bride and while at it makes friends with a Grim Reaper.” Twilight with a death wish? I recently went on Youtube to know more and tried episode 15 which had just finished showing then. I recognized at once Gong Yoo from Train To Busan which was received well here and Lee Dong Wook from My Girl! Their characters, Goblin and Grim Reaper, make an interesting study especially that it may have been the first time that the grim reaper character is explored in length on screen. Normally, it’s grim reaper=angel of death. End of story. But not this grim reaper apparently, who makes friends with humans, feels deep sorrow over a love that could’ve gone better, and so dreams for himself a better job and happier ending. A vulnerable grim reaper. That accessibility alongside power is why he has become popular with humans, I guess. It was how vampires suddenly became quite the steal. I also thought the lines clever, alight with subtle humor, and right on spot. I laughed when the Grim Reaper urges the Goblin to return the Mummy, one of several portals the Goblin has been using to enter/exit countries he was touring, because otherwise “it might cause an international dispute.” The installation of a comfort woman statue in front of the Japanese embassies in Busan and Seoul which recently opened age-old wounds between South Korea and Japan flashed across my mind. And for non-believers of predestination and reincarnation, this story will show in a lovely way how these concepts work. I will definitely take time to properly watch this drama.
  5. The Blacklist. This is the only long running TV drama that I continue to watch. Liz Keene is back. The show’s now on season four which goes to show the story’s amazing.
  6. Sherlock.  The famous detective is portrayed anew in this BBC series. Cumberbatch as Sherlock is riveting and otherworldly which is nearer to my imagination of the iconic detective.
  7. Jackie. Years after the demise of the former First Lady, the world is still keen on who she really was. But just as I won’t ever tire of re-makes on the life and person of Princess Diana, so with the former US First Lady’s. The movie review on Variety says, “it’s Noah Oppenheim’s remarkable screenplay, not drawn from any credited sources, that takes the most startling liberties with Jackie’s fiercely guarded privacy. Even at her most emotionally riven, she’s portrayed here as a woman in canny control of her identity, switching between different masks for press, public, and associates, and wearing none only when truly alone.” I’d like to see that interpretation come alive on screen. And Natalie Portman who I admire as an actor is superb for the role.
  8. The Handmaiden is an internationally-acclaimed and winning film by South Korean Park Chan-wook, which Variety describes as “a bodice-ripper” about “a pickpocket who poses as a maid to swindle a sequestered heiress” and “boasting more tangled plots and bodies than an octopus has tentacles.” My curiousity is piqued.
  9. Wonder Woman. It’s a shame the United Nations “dropped” the Marvel heroine as ambassador, after “45,000 people signed a petition protesting the selection” citing “a large-breasted white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit with an American flag motif and knee-high boots” is not an appropriate spokeswoman for gender equity at the United Nations’. But this is the sort of justification or reasoning that marginalizes further certain groups of women already perceived as “bad”. Aren’t these perceptions, by women at that, a negation of ‘gender equality’? What do we mean when we say ‘woman’? Do we refer to just a certain class of women ie. the “good” ones? Those who cover themselves up to their necks and down to their ankles, with flattened breasts, and who never went swimming? If so, we should re-think ‘woman’ again. The ‘wonder’ in ‘woman’ is perhaps that we’re a diverse lot but at the end of the day, whether we’re prostitutes or nuns, we face common concerns and issues of our gender. Who do we turn to? It’d be a tragedy if women cannot be ‘wonder woman’ to one another. Methinks we’re (women) weirdly afraid of the wonder woman potential in each one of us ie. of “a large-breasted…woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit…and knee-high boots” who readily appeals to the opposite sex and so put a lid on it. Well, Linda Carter was my childhood heroine so I’m going.
  10. La La Land. Who knew Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone would make an award-winning pair on screen? The musical is a breath of fresh air (just as Donald Trump was to American voters!) after years of the same franchise and rehashed storylines. It’s why TV’s High School Musical was such a hit. Moviegoers haven’t seen a good musical in quite a while.
  11. Your Name. This is a Japanese anime box-office hit by Makoto Shinkai who’s touted as up and coming Miyazaki, about “high schoolers Mitsuha and Taki who are complete strangers living separate lives. But one night, they suddenly switch places. Mitsuha wakes up in Taki’s body, and he in hers. This bizarre occurrence continues to happen randomly, and the two must adjust their lives around each other. Yet, somehow, it works. They build a connection and communicate by leaving notes, messages, and more importantly, an imprint. When a dazzling comet lights up the night’s sky, it dawns on them. They want something more from this connection—a chance to meet, an opportunity to truly know each other. Tugging at the string of fate, they try to find a way to each other. But distance isn’t the only thing keeping them apart. Is their bond strong enough to face the cruel irony of time? Or is their meeting nothing more than a wish upon the stars?” This one I plan to watch with my kids, complete with flowing rainbow-colored popcorn.

There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.

– Werner Herzog