Into the Woods (2014)

MV5BMTY4MzQ4OTY3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjM5MDI3MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_ Overview:

A witch tasks a childless baker and his wife with procuring magical items from classic fairy tales to reverse the curse put on their family tree.”

— IMDB, vague as usual

Plot: 2/5 (4/5 without all the plot holes)

To be fair, the IMDB description isn’t wrong, it’s just really vague. Here’s my go at it:

To reverse the curse of barren-ness placed on his family tree, by an inconsistently wicked witch neighbor (who, in turn, is under the curse of ugliness placed upon her by her mother) a Baker and his wife set out to find “a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold”. These objects must be collected by midnight in 3 days time so the witch can reverse both her curse and his- mostly because the curse is his father’s fault- he stole magic beans from the witch, and her mom’s curse only kicked in because the beans she held so dear were no longer in the witches possession, which if you ask me means she should have kept them in a much more secure location than right up against the fence to her vegetable garden. These items are collected from Jack (as in “Jack and the Beanstalk”), Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel (who is the Baker’s sister, taken by the Witch for his father’s treachery and locked in a tower, something that only bothers the Baker for the duration of the first song then he completely forgets), and Cinderella.

If I had to describe this movie in 2 words, it would be “Aggressively OK”, and that’s pretty much all there is to say. Like, that’s the only way I can even think to describe “Into the Woods”.

I think it can also be summarized as a musical version of the movie “Brother’s Grimm” (I know, “Into the Woods” came first, it’s just for the sake of comparison, OK). It’s a stage musical brought to… well…. something resembling life.

I’m trying to think of how to describe it all without spoilers, and it’s really difficult. The movie is painfully long- that scene where you think everything is done, that’s like the midpoint. If the whole second half hadn’t happened it would be a better movie, just because that’s the last time the movie makes SENSE.

I’ll tell you what- I’ll post my spoiler review of the plot at the very bottom, and I’ll do some general stuff up here. The movie jumps around a lot, so I will do the plot review by character, for a change.

Jack and the Beanstalk- This side of the story was pretty good. I think in the whole movie Jack’s character was the most consistent. He’s a kind of spacey little boy who is tricked by the baker into trading five petrified beans (the very same stolen from the witch who he doesn’t even bother mentioning them to even though it might help ease the tensions with her if not help break her curse entirely) for his barren cow- on the condition that Jack can buy it back. My issue with Jack’s story is the timeline just is ridiculous and doesn’t fit with the main story. Around mid-day on Day 1, Jack gets the Beans. By around evening he gets home, his mom throws them in the garden, and overnight the beanstalk grows. At dawn his mother wakes up and they discover the beanstalk. Skip ahead around an hour or two and Jack is waking up the baker with these massive golden coins to buy back the cow with, he’s climbed the beanstalk, met a giantess, had dinner, hung out for a while, almost been eaten by her husband, climbed back down to drop off treasure, and gone searching the woods for the baker. Even if you make the argument that time runs differently up on the beanstalk world, it makes no sense.

Nor is it ever explained how a massive beanstalk appears not far out of town actually, stretching all the way into the sky to the point where it should be very visible from the castle, and not a single person goes to have a look. Even after it’s chopped down and causes a big earthquake throughout the kingdom. And it totally has to- because of spoiler things.

You've already looked at this picture longer than Johnny Depp was in the movie (Thank. God.)

You’ve already looked at this picture longer than Johnny Depp was in the movie (Thank. God.)

Red Riding Hood- Again, I like this character, she’s fun, but her storyline is weird and she really has no purpose other than to be a sounding board to explore the other character’s personalities, which is a shame, the actress was great. Red goes off to her grandmother, the Wolf (really just Johnny Depp with cheap-ass fake dog ears and fuzzy gloves singing a song about pedophilia) runs the opposite direction of the cottage yet still beats her there and eats the granny, then puts on her clothes even though when the Baker comes along and cuts Red and her granny out of the wolf’s stomach Granny’s still fully clothed. Then Red only shows up to convince Jack to climb up the beanstalk again and continue his crime spree in the giant kingdom (I’ve always had issues with that story. I saw “Jack and the Beanstalk: The Untold Story” as a kid and it kind of screwed me up for the entire myth, good mini series though). She appears again at the end of the movie, again doing absolutely nothing. She also— wait. Spoiler. OK, I’ll save it for the end.

Cinderella follows the real story, not the Disney kid-friendly version, just be warned, this is NOT A MOVIE KIDS SHOULD GO TO (hint: it involves amputations). She’s a girl bullied by her stepmother and step sisters, physically abused, and yet for some bizarre reason her wish isn’t to get away from the stepmother, to have a home of her own, to find happiness, nope, it’s to go to a 3 day party for no reason other than it would be a change. Legit. If you’re unfortunate enough to watch the movie, that’s pretty much it. Her wish is granted by what I’m assuming is the spirit of her dead mother who has inhabited a golden willow tree Cinderella planted at her mother’s grave. And yet, even though they say she went there “so often and cried so much that her tears watered the branch until it grew into a magnificent tree”, her mother only appears this one time when she wants to get her groove on. She goes to the party all 3 days, and all 3 days she runs away from the prince at midnight and he spends the entire night searching for her- because putting 2 guards on the door for when she flees is too mainstream, he’d rather coat the steps in pitch so she sticks. He’s really not the brightest cookie in the crayon jar.

The Baker and his Wife have the only storyline that even kind of makes sense (well, it’s great up until the *spoiler* where she *spoilers* with the *spoiler* because of *spoiler* and then *spoiler* and he *spoilers* because THAT somehow makes sense).

The witch is just annoying because her character is like rewritten every time you see her. She just kind of wham-bam’s in at the beginning of the movie out of nowhere with this quest and a very very very thin reason for doing it then keeps popping up to yell at them for no good reason all because she “Can’t touch the objects for the potion” and yet somehow that also means she can’t help out like at all??? For someone who’s so fixated on ending this curse, she’s incredibly passive about it.

This movie has so many loose ends I’m not even sure it’s got one tight one to use as a comparison.

Acting: 4/5 (And AA for Pine)

That’s what gets me about this movie: the acting is REALLY GOOD (except Depp, but he dies like 10 minutes in and no one talks about his character again, whatever they paid him, it was a waste of money, a chorus guy probably plays him or doubles as another character in the stage play, it redefines minor part). Emily Blunt (Baker’s Wife), Anna Kendrick (Cinderella), James Corden (Baker, and CRAIG FROM “DOCTOR WHO”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), Daniel Huttlestone (Jack, and Gavroshe from “Les Mis”, you’re welcome, that was gonna bug you the whole movie), Lilla Crawford, and Meryl Streep were excellent, I’ve got no issues with them.

The ones who weren’t so great though–

Rapunzel (doing nothing to end the dumb blond stereotype) with the Witch.

Rapunzel (doing nothing to end the dumb blond stereotype) with the Witch.

He was probably sick or it was a bizarre and unexplained aesthetics decision- but Chris Pine looks WASTED in every scene. His eyes are unfocused, he looks like he was pulled out of a bar and slapped into costume, and he just seems glazed over compared to how he usually appears in movies. I’m like 85% that it’s the make up and wardrobe team’s fault, but either way he’s more Prince Sloshed than Prince Charming. There is also one REALLY bad song between him and his brother, the other prince who is never named and until that moment you didn’t even know they were related, where Pine is overdoing the lip synching to a degree way beyond satire (I blame the Director for that though, it’s supposed to be over the top, but he made it so over the top it’s in orbit).

Mackenzie Mauzy (Rapunzel). Now, she wasn’t in a lot of scenes, she did a great job with the scenes she was in, but she was just kind of vacant. There was nothing there to make me give a crap about Rapunzel’s problems. Also, now that I’m thinking about it- the Prince sees her in her tower, and by like 2 hours later when the Baker’s Wife finds her and starts chatting with her she’s like “Yeah, that’s how my boyfriend visits me” even though he really would have only had time for a gallop-by “Hello”.

GOD, THE TIMELINE OF THIS MOVIE IS ANNOYING.

As for Billy Magnussen (Prince Charmingly Drunk’s little bro, I’m guessing)- his character makes little to no impression and what the prince does at the end of the movie calls the entire thing into question and he literally rides off with Rapunzel (got all the way to the last look through of the edit for this post before I realized I’d typed “Rumpelstiltskin” instead. Spoiler- he does not ride off with Robert Carlisle, though that would have been hilarious) out of the story and neither is heard from again even though *spoiler* is happening and they should really be concerned.

Age Recommendation: 15+

It’s probably fine for kids younger than that, but they won’t be interested in this for the most part. It’s WAY too long and jumps around a lot- sometimes mid-sentence. As for the violence and such- like I said, this is the raw form of some of these fairy tales which means:

  1. Red Riding Hood is eaten by the wolf and hacked out of his stomach while he screams
  2. Rapunzel’s prince is thrown headfirst into a wall of vines by the witch and his eyes are pierced by the thorns
  3. Cinderella’s stepmother cuts off one daughter’s toe and the other’s heel and forces them to walk in the gold slippers to trick the prince into marrying one. One literally passes out from the pain, but that isn’t enough- like a minute later, when she’s got her happy ending going, Cinderella calls down a flock of birds to rip out their eyes.

While I like that they chose to go with the original tales, it’s dark as hell, and when I saw it there were little kids in the theater who I thought were going to like start having panic attacks at the Cinderella part especially.

Spoiler-ie Complaints for People Who Know the Plot or Don’t Care About Spoilers

Finally, the muzzle is off my fingers… OK, it makes more sense if you don’t picture me as sitting at my desk typing all of this and think of it as me speaking instead (Female voice, mid-range , and I’ve been told several times it’s soothing, if that helps your imagination. Oh, and American accent but like mid-American, not southern or too northern.)

The Baker (FROM DOCTOR WHO) and his wife, who really are an adorable couple and you should just walk out of the theater at Cinderella's wedding scene. It ends there. Nothing more to see. Just get out while you can.

The Baker (FROM DOCTOR WHO) and his wife, who really are an adorable couple and you should just walk out of the theater at Cinderella’s wedding scene. It ends there. Nothing more to see. Just get out while you can.

Oh, plotty thing you need to know for these rants– the middle of the movie, what feels like the first ending, everyone has what they want- Rapunzel is marrying the Prince, Cinderella is marrying a drunk prince (not literally, he only looks and acts like it), the baker and his wife have a baby (and if you listen closely in the scene where she’s wham-bam pregnant, I think you can hear her rib break), and Jack and his mom are financially secure, a female giant comes down a second beanstalk and begins destroying everything, demanding Jack be brought to her to pay for his crimes- mostly because he murdered her husband, which is a legit reason to be upset, but the whole group decides rather than talk to her and try to find a solution they should really just kill her- and the best time to do that is literally 2 seconds after singing a song about how sometimes people make bad decisions because they are angry or upset and you should forgive them and give them another chance.

This movie makes zero sense on a case-by-case basis:

Jack and the Beanstalk- In the span of 3 days Jack goes up the beanstalk like 4 times, each time having a big adventure, stealing something new, and coming back with it. KLEPTO. Plus, it makes no sense with how often he pops up in the story. He also goes running off to hide and leaves behind his mother who he then freaks about about because she’s not standing like right there when he gets back. He also gets over her death pretty quickly like “Damn, I’m mad! *everyone sings about forgiveness and understanding, then kills someone who they actually legitimately wronged* Aw, you’re my new daddy!”

Cinderella- the prince turns out to be a douche and she decides to end the relationship- even though we just saw them on their wedding day in front of the whole kingdom and you really can’t just do the “Oh well, see you around” thing with that…

The Baker’s wife, devoted to her husband the entire movie suddenly decides to snog the prince and then falls off a ledge that was only around 5 feet high when we saw it but is later referred to as a cliff and she fell to her gruesome death, even though Jack is wearing the scarf that was around her neck and it’s totally clean and not even wrinkled, let alone torn up or bloody, though the Baker’s wife’s face was so fucked up he didn’t recognize her to tell the Baker, even though he’s seen her A HALF DOZEN TIMES ALREADY.

Red Riding Hood shows up after the giantess has destroyed all the landmarks in the woods and everyone is lost, looking for her grandmother because the village collapsed (which I take it means her mother might be dead but they never really go anywhere with that thought). Then, about 5 minutes later, she’s decided granny’s gone too and she needs a new family. Without bothering to check.

The Witch turned back into a beautiful old lady for a few minutes, tried to kill a child, then went bonkers and started throwing a hell of a lot of magic beans around while singing something no one was really paying attention to and instead of turning into an old hag, she turns into… a tar pit? And no one is confused by this?

The giantess gets pelted with a bunch of pebbles that would literally have to be around the size of the head of a Q-tip and she’s mildly annoyed, but Jack throws one that hits her around the hairline and she tips over and dies… THE FUCK WAS THAT???

The Baker decides the best place for story time is in the shadow of the corpse of the woman they just killed. Literally. If you’re ever unfortunate enough to see the movie you’ll see I’m not joking- they literally sit on a piece of the tree the giantess fell on, holding a baby and with 2 small kids sitting on the ground in front of him, and starts with the “Once upon a time” bullshit.

I swear to god, “The Last Airbender” had more shit together than this movie. And that movie was, literally, shit.

Books That Would Make Great Movies: “Darkangel” by Meridith Ann Pierce

41CJUaBQHxLStory:

The Darkangel, a vampire of astounding beauty and youth, can only summon his full power when he finds his 14th and final bride. But for Aeriel, whom he kidnaps to serve his brides, there is something about him- something beyond his obvious evil- that makes her want to save him rather than destroy him.”

— Unsurprisingly Uninformative Amazon Info

The back of the book is just as bad though, it doesn’t give you an idea of the story.

Aeriel is a young slave, ungainly and not particularly brave or attractive. One day she is helping her mistress pick rare flowers from a mountaintop when her mistress (who she grew up with) is kidnapped by the Darkangel (who, for simplicity, I’m going to call Icari from now on).

The Icari is kind of like a half-vampire, but with 12 black wings. Icari are created when an evil witch (or Lorelei) kidnaps a young boy, usually as a baby, but in the Darkangel’s case as a 5-6 year old (significant detail), kills him, drinks his blood, and basically spends the next decade mentally torturing him until he becomes as twisted and evil as she is. There is also some kind of sorcery she uses to make the boys evil.

The Darkangel is then sent away from the Lorelei for 14 years to take a bride, one a year, and contain the brides souls in little lead vials, which are then given to the Lorelei as tribute. Once this is done, the Lorelei sucks out whatever is left of the Darkangel’s soul, turning him into a full Vampire (but not a vampire like we know, this is more dangerous, more vicious, and drinks souls more than blood).

A prophecy exists saying if the Lorelei can turn 7 boys into Darkangels, then she will be able to take over the world and control it, plunging the inhabitants into a world of death and decay. Aeriel is unaware of most of this when she attempts to kill the Icari who took her mistress, and in return is kidnapped herself.

Aeriel is forced to weave for the wraiths- terrifyingly skeletal and addle-brained corpses who are all that remain of the Icari’s first 13 wives. Aeriel must take care of the women to avoid the wrath of the Icari, who hates the sight of his now horrific, but once beautiful, wives.  All the while, Aeriel is working with the Duarough, a dwarf-like humanoid who lives in caves under the Icari’s castle and who possesses a prophecy detailing how to defeat him and stop the Lorelei in her tracks.

This isn’t like “Twilight”- it isn’t some shitty love story between Aeriel and the Icari, it’s about evil sorcery, dark secrets, murder, betrayal, and finding the strength to save your enemies rather than kill them.

Movie-Ability: High, but as a mini-series

There are 3 books in the Darkangel trilogy, each seems to have a pretty hard outline for a part 1 and part 2, so you could make a great 6-part mini series (hey, Sy-Fy (or whatever they’re calling themselves today) did it for “Children of Dune”, so it’s not unprecedented for a mini series to be that long). It’s fantastically engaging, has enough horror elements to keep viewers entertained, and the ending is exciting!

The series itself is a great read, I’m in the middle of going back through it now, and each book is maybe a day read, tops. So it’s quick, it’s fun, the story and characters are extremely well thought out, and there is no point where it feels abrupt or confusing, so I’d say it deserves mini-series transformation with little to no changes (maybe minor ones to clarify some stuff that is stated later on but not really explained earlier).

The Losers

MV5BMjU3MTU0NDI4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTE0NDMyMw@@._V1_SX640_SY720_Overview:

“The Losers centers around the members of an elite Special Forces unit sent to the Bolivian jungle on a search-and-destroy mission. But the team – Clay, Jensen, Roque, Pooch, and Cougar- soon find that they have become the target of a deadly double cross instigated by a powerful enemy known only as Max. Making good use of the fact that they’re now presumed dead, the group goes deep undercover in a dangerous plot to clear their names and even the score with Max. They are joined by the mysterious Aisha, a beautiful operative with her own agenda and capable of scoring a few points of her own. If they can take down Max and save the world at the same time, it’ll be a win-win for the team now known as the Losers”

— Surprisingly accurate jacket synopsis from the DVD!

Plot: 2-5/5

Let me explain the range in score: It’s a solid 5- entertaining, action-packed, humor-packed, clever, everything you want in an action movie. It’s brilliant. The issue I have with it is the release. This is why:

Someone tried to challenge one release with another, and it made for a mini clone-war in cinemas in 2010. “The Losers” came out first, April; Next was “The A-Team” in June, then 2 months later, “The Expendables”– ALL HAD BASICALLY THE SAME EXACT DAMN PLOT. I don’t know who started it, but the fact that those three came out with SO MANY similarities around the exact same time says that one movie was announced (I’ve never figured out who was green-lit first), and two other studios decided to release their own film to steal the thunder. “The Losers” is my personal favorite from that cluster, but like I said, they all pretty much have the same plot: Active or retired military special ops gets framed in some way by either an actual member of the CIA, or a renegade agent, or a guy who is never really identified as CIA or not (Max in “The Losers”), but he definitely has ties. The special ops team goes in to take them out, and saves the world from some form of terrorism at the same time. Just watch them, they really are very very similar…

My personal favorite scene: Jensen (Chris Evans) uses his "psychic powers" to hold a group of security guards hostage (the dialogue is HYSTERICAL)

My personal favorite scene: Jensen (Chris Evans) uses his “psychic powers” to hold a group of security guards hostage (the dialogue is HYSTERICAL)

Anyways, back to “The Losers”. It’s got a GREAT balance of humor and action. The storyline is easy to follow, and easy to enjoy. There are some FANTASTIC fight scenes, and some bits where you can only look at the screen and think “really? we’re going with that cliche?”, but it’s all in good taste. The humor isn’t the usual crappy slapstick stuff (what I call “American Humor”), it’s more situational and helps with the flow of the movie. I usually am not the action-movie kind of person, I like storylines and it’s just really hard to find one in most action movies, but I did like this one a lot.

Acting: I DIDN’T KNOW HE WAS IN THIS/5

I love this movie for the cast. They do a great job, there are no weak links, and most of all: For nearly every major character my reaction at seeing them was “Heeeeey!”. You’re main comic relief is Jensen, the kind of goofy member of the team who really doesn’t quite fit personality-wise with the others, but he’s still fun and loveable– and who is played by Chris Evans (Captain America). Roque is Idris Elba (Heimdall in “Thor” and the colonel in “Pacific Rim”), Clay, the leader of the team is Jeffrey Dean Morgan (John Winchester in “Supernatural”), Columbus Short plays Pooch (Harrison on “Scandal”), and Aisha is Zoe Saldana (Neytiri, the main girl in “Avatar”).

All of those are talented actors who really go a long ways to making this movie a solid on the acting line. You don’t get to see it in the “Avengers” franchise much, but Chris Evans is EXCELLENT with comedy, and he pulls out all the stops here!

"The Losers" begins with the special ops team barely avoiding being blown up along with 25 children. They go after Max for revenge.

“The Losers” begins with the special ops team barely avoiding being blown up along with 25 children. They go after Max for revenge.

Age Rating: 15+

There are some steamy scenes (nothing too steamy though), and from Jensen you can expect quite a bit of cursing, but otherwise it’s pretty easy. There is violence, but not really any gore, until the very end at least. It’s an easy watch, but younger kids would probably get bored, you kind of have to pay attention to the story to get what’s happening.

Fun Trivia:

The film is based off of a DC comic book (Chris Evans, cheating on Marvel…)

Max wears either a white or black glove on either his right or left hand. This was to pay homage to the fact that in the comics, Max was actually twins, not a single person. In the film, however, it’s because of a scar he wishes to keep covered.

This is the first movie to show military personnel using digital camouflage, a newer type of camouflage that is supposed to be exceptionally difficult for drones to get a lock on, compared to more traditional camouflage. It’s becoming increasingly common among military uniforms.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

captain_america_winter_soldier_movie_poster_by_alvincapalad-d5af6nfOverview:

“After the cataclysmic events in New York with the Avengers, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, is living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intreague that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with the Black Widow, Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off professional assassins sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon. However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy- the Winter Soldier.”

— The website for my local theater.

Plot: 5/5

They filmed this movie over last summer, but it fits really well with a newer antagonist style championed in “Frozen”- that of the ambiguous enemy. Yes, there is a huge conspiracy around S.H.I.E.L.D. that the Captain and Black Widow are trying to navigate through, but the Winter Soldier is really the big antagonist (as you can probably tell from the title).

Normally, I would just say one of the big things that complicates the story and, basically, why I say it’s an ambiguous enemy, because I thought everyone knew this, but it completely threw my parental units for a loop in the theater, they apparently didn’t get the memo, and because of that they LOVED the twist and it ramped up the excitement tenfold, so I won’t say.

Anyways- the Winter Soldier (Oh my god, I just realized how hard the “Acting” this is going to be… OK the “Acting” review is going to be half-under a cut, so if you read this from the main page, you can avoid spoilers as to the actor identity and therefore the Winter Soldier’s identity), the Winter Soldier is this mythic assassin no one believed existed, no one except for Natasha (The Black Widow).

Natasha faced the Winter Soldier once when she was supposed to be protecting an Iranian nuclear physicist, but the Winter Soldier managed to best even her, and left her with a huge bullet wound in her stomach (he shot the Physicist through her). Natasha is willing to break allegiance with S.H.I.E.L.D. high command in order to protect Steve and try to finally beat this baddie down.

The Winter Soldier's metal arm allows him to catch the shield, whereas everything else it hits get at least a severe dent. The very definition of "Bad ass".

The Winter Soldier’s metal arm allows him to catch the shield, whereas everything else it hits get at least a severe dent. The very definition of “Bad ass”.

I really do like this story. It deals pretty heavily with Steve’s troubles adjusting to life in the future (modern day) and his second guessing even his decision to be a soldier, though he seems resigned to his role. That side of things never seems to be resolved though, so I think in “The Avengers 2” we’ll see Captain really really struggling with the question of if he wants to be a soldier or not.

One plot element that really kind of drove me crazy (OK, it drove me REALLY crazy, someone in the theater actually yelled at the screen when it happened): One of Captain’s sounding boards when he has his doubts about S.H.I.E.L.D.? Peggy Carter, his girlfriend from the first movie, who is now bedridden and has probably advanced Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. You find out she did marry one of the former comrades of the Captain from his elite squad back in the 40s, but that’s it!

You don’t get to see them reunite for the first time (kind of, she has an attack of Alzheimer’s or whatever in the middle of their conversation and it’s like she’s seeing him for the first time and finding out he’s alive), but I don’t understand why Marvel didn’t give us the Captain deciding to track her down and see her again and reuniting with her. That just annoys me, it would have been such a great moment, even with the dementia, but we miss out.

Acting (the non-spoiler one): 6/5

Chris Evans (Captain America) and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) have worked together in the past, both in “The Avengers” and as (rather unbelievable) romantic leads in her movie “The Nanny Diaries” (from around 2 years before she took up the role of “Black Widow”). While they didn’t make great lovers in that movie, they DO make excellent partners in crime. The big issue with “Nanny Diaries” was that they seemed more friends than a romantic couple, and that is a huge asset here.

Chris Evans expands his range VASTLY in this film, and I loved it! He was good in Captain America, but his character was, in terms of acting, relatively one-dimensional the whole film- super patriot! Yes, we got a bit of good, old fashioned emotional acting when Buckie died, but it was such a short bit before he goes after Hydra and, ultimately, does his suicide run in the plane.

Anthony Mackie, the (regrettably, according to him) spandex-free Falcon.

Anthony Mackie, the (regrettably, according to him) spandex-free Falcon.

In “Winter Soldier”, mostly due to the thing I’m not spoiling, you get to see probably about as wide a range as you can get emotionally in a movie, and Evans nails it. He finally gets to show off what he can do, and he doesn’t disappoint.

Marvel’s promised us a “Black Widow” movie eventually, and after seeing Scarlett here, I’m really looking forward to it! She kicked it out of the park as Black Widow, as always, and keeps a lot of the same fun and wild side as she had in “Iron Man 2” (not so much “Avengers”). I’m excited to see what she brings to the table in the next several films!

Someone else who earned a mention (a non-spoiler mention) is Anthony Mackie, who plays “The Falcon”. But- and this is a big but- they don’t ever outright name his character in the movie. The most you see is a case file that says “The Falcon”. He’s Steve’s buddy who he kind of gets to know doing his usual run around the monuments as exercise. The relationship starts off as funny and joking, but they do develop  a great friendship. Anthony isn’t an actor I’ve seen before, at least not that I recall, but he absolutely holds his own against the other superstars and has made a place for himself in the Marvel Universe.

Also, check out his promotional interviews, he’s HYSTERICAL. Warning though- he’s often paired for interviews with the Winter Soldier, so that could be spoiler-y. My favorite quote from him was that Marvel wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret if “The Falcon” was in “Avengers 2”, because he’d run through Time Square in New York City, buck-naked, with “Avengers 2” tattooed across his chest. It’s fun to see fan-boys get to live their dream!

Age Rating: 13+

I’m going to agree with the MPAA here and say that’s a good place to set the rating, though, as always, judge it for yourself as to what you think your kids can handle. I’ve got a friend, older than me by 6 months, who can barely handle “Pirates of the Caribbean”, but I was an Au-pair one summer for a 6 year old who watched “Queen of the Damned” no problem (his mom was fine with that).

There was probably some language, nothing that really comes to mind though, and a LOT of violence, but not a whole lot of gore. You see a guy with his hand cut off at the forearm, and it’s kind of corny and definitely not realistic, so you don’t have any worries like that.

The Captain decides it's best to pick on aircraft from a motorcycle.

The Captain decides it’s best to pick on aircraft from a motorcycle.

Fun Trivia:

The Falcons metal wings have a Stark Industries logo. Following that thread, when the evil targeting device that’s going to kill 20,000 people who S.H.I.E.L.D. infiltrators see as a threat, Tony Stark is selected almost immediately.

Apparently the scenes where Captain America wanders through a whole museum wing dedicated to his history, as well as that scene with Peggy that annoyed me so much, was all originally filmed for “The Avengers” (so Steve looks a bit younger), but it was cut and held for this movie.

Natasha, throughout the film, wears a little silver necklace with an arrow charm on it, a reference to her Avengers teammate and (more outright stated in the comics) lover Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye.

Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson wrote their own dialogue for many of the Black Widow/Captain America scenes.

This movie featured a throwback to a dying form of cinema: They actually used special effects, not CGI, for nearly everything. Anthony Mackie (The Falcon) revealed that if they could build it and film it in real life, they did, they minimized green screen as much as possible.

There is a great “Avengers” reference in the movie made by Nick Fury: he says that Stark (Iron Man) made several changes to the propulsion units after he got “an up close look at them”. This is referencing the scene where the Captain and Iron Man have to manually re-start one of the propellers and Iron Man accidentally gets trapped inside one and is thrown around before finally managing to get himself tossed out.

Google “Captain America To Do List by Country”- Steve keeps a list of pop culture things he needs to learn about or catch up on, and the list actually changes from country to country. So far someone has compiled 11 different lists from different countries, like the UK, Russia, Mexico, Italy, France, and other places.

The Captain and the Winter Soldier square off for the first time. OK, so I just chose this picture because Chris Evans looks like he's going to pee himself.

The Captain and the Winter Soldier square off for the first time. OK, so I just chose this picture because Chris Evans looks like he’s going to pee himself.

The actor who plays the Winter Soldier (You can read the spoiler on IMDB, I Don’t know why I’m making this so hard on myself) didn’t know he was the Winter Soldier. When he got the call for “Captain America 2”, he was confused until they explained his character was TWS.

The actor who plays the Winter Soldier (Goddammit) was so excited to film a scene with Robert Redford (who plays the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. command), he actually walked into a refrigerator on set.

Black Widow mentions “Department H”, a Canadian Agency. This is a reference to “X-Men”, specifically Wolverine, who was experimented on by that agency, where he received his adamantium frame.

Seemingly counter-intuitive, Anthony Mackie (The Falcon) was actually upset with the modern version of his costume- he was looking forward to wearing the red spandex.

Hayley Atwell actually did return to her role as Peggy Carter- filmmakers used a combination of makeup and CGI to age her.

The Winter Soldier (or rather, the actor) had to deal with some hardships in filming– the character has a solid metal arm, meant to replace a severed one. To make the arm look realistic, a three-piece metal unit was crafted to the exact specifications of the actor’s arm and slid on so it fit snugly. To accommodate this, every day the left arm of the actor had to be covered with half a jar of lube and the metal was slid up piece by piece. Now, they filmed this movie in the middle of the summer, just imagine how PAINFULLY hot that must have been…

There are several iterations of any of the Marvel heroes, comic series of Captain America were begun and ended nearly a dozen times, with different storylines featuring different endings for different characters. Now, I’m not sure if this is something that’s a common theme, because I like Superhero movies but I’m not into the comics, but apparently The Winter Soldier eventually takes up the mantle of Captain America himself.

Again, I don’t know the circumstances, all I know is that the similarities in fighting styles and how the Winter Soldier can use the Captain’s shied and catch it and all that are in tribute to that plot point from the comics. I don’t know if the Captain retires or dies, but the Winter Soldier takes over. Though, it is worth noting that there can be a range of endings for characters within different comics, and not all of them have Winter Soldier replacing Steve as Captain America, but from what I’ve heard, Chris Evans isn’t going anywhere, at leas through Avengers 3, so don’t expect Capt. to die anytime soon, if ever.

There are multiple theories on what “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” means with the title. “The Winter Soldier” is an expression originating in the Vietnam War to describe a soldier who has kind of given up and is questioning their role even as a soldier. In the case of the movie it can refer to the character “The Winter Soldier”- who came out of Siberian Russia in the dead of winter, or it can more directly refer back to Captain America, describing HIM as a Winter Soldier, since he’s lost his sense of purpose and loses faith in his role as a Soldier and what he is fighting for under SHIELD.

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미남이시네요 (You’re Beautiful)

The group "A.N.JELL"- L-R: Lead Singer Taekyung (Jang Geun Seok); New member Go-Mi-Nam/Go-Mi-Nyeo (Park Shin Hye); The loveable if slow Jeremy (Lee Hong-Ki); and ultra-perceptive and quiet Shinwoo (Jung Young-Hwa)

The group “A.N.JELL”- L-R: Lead Singer Taekyung (Jang Geun Seok); New member Go-Mi-Nam/Go-Mi-Nyeo (Park Shin Hye); The loveable if slow Jeremy (Lee Hong-Ki); and ultra-perceptive and quiet Shinwoo (Jung Young-Hwa)

Overview:

“Taekyung is A.N.JELL’s arrogant and inssuferable lead singer. Guitarist Shinwoo is too perceptive for his own good, and happy-go-lucky drummer Jeremy is just plain slow on the uptake. Into the boy band mix comes A.N.JELL’s bumbling newbie, Mi-Nam. But what the fans don’t know is that he’s actually a she! Roped into posing as her twin brother, Mi-Nyeo has to hide her true identity. Bust secrets have a way of coming out, especially when her bandmates start falling for her!”

–Amazon.Com

Plot: 5/5

I really love this drama, I think I’ve seen it all the way through 3 times, probably more! It’s wonderfully quirky and Hong-Ki as Jeremy offers the perfect comic relief!

For the story you have Mi-Nam, a boy who has trained for years to become famous so that he can find his mother or father, who abandoned him and his twin as very young children on the steps of an orphanage, the idea being that if he becomes famous enough, she’ll regret giving her children up and come find them.

As part of his quest for fame, he undergoes in secret double-eyelid surgery (it’s a really common plastic surgery thing in Korea where they have their eyelid surgically altered to look more like Westerners, I don’t understand it either), but there are severe complications and he has to remain in the hospital for several months. His manager enlists the help of Mi-Nam’s sister Mi-Nyeo, who is a nun with the dream of going to Rome to work in an orphanage. She agrees to pose as her brother after much praying and different things, then goes to the entertainment company dressed as a boy.

Fairly early on, ShinWoo, the guitarist, figures out she’s a girl, but he doesn’t let her know that, how else could he casually make her fall for him? TaeKyung is the group’s leader who is on a destructive spiral, and he hates Mi-Nam. It has to do with his mother, who was too famous to ever bother with him- she even refused outright if anyone ever asked if he was her son, so he grew up bitter and hateful.

Mi-Nam (or, rather, Mi-Nyeo) brings out the better side of TaeKyung bit by bit, and he starts to fall in love with her. He, too, realizes fairly quickly she’s a girl, but doesn’t draw attention to it, lest the entertainment company President, a very friendly and laid-back guy, force her to leave. The only one who doesn’t realize by the end of like ep 2 that Mi-Nam is a girl is Jeremy, who resents the attention the new baby of the group is getting (I’ll explain in a minute), and who starts to find himself attracted to her as well!

It’s a love story,  and a comedy. The writing is perfect, the story is always quick in pace and there is great music! I highly recommend checking it out, as I said, I think I’ve watched this more than any other Korean drama!

Please read through to the “Fun Trivia” section, I’ll explain some Korean cultural themes that come up that will probably clear up a lot of confusion if you were to just jump into the story. I lived in Korea for a time, so I know how tough it can be, figuring out the culture, and this story is heavily entrenched in the Korean entertainment culture especially, which is VASTLY different from the Western music scene, it’s very interesting 🙂

Acting: 9/5

A.N.JELL led by group-leader TaeKyung, 6+ feet of walking, talking mommy issues.

A.N.JELL led by group-leader TaeKyung, 6+ feet of walking, talking mommy issues.

Park. Shin. Hye. She’s incredible. Every drama I’ve seen her in, she plays a different type of character, and she’s ALWAYS perfect. I’d have to rank her as one of my all-time favorite actresses (the all-time favorite actor being Lee Min Ho, who actually co-starred with Park Shin Hye in “The Heirs”, which I will review as soon as I finish watching it!!!). She rocks it as the lead Mi-Nam/Mi-Nyeo, and is really entertaining to watch!

Jang Keun-Suk plays TaeKyung, the male lead, and he is HYSTERICAL! Taekyung slowly transforms from an outright jerk to a rather impish guy under Mi-Nam’s influence, and Jang Keun-Suk plays that wonderfully. He is funny when he needs to be, a jerk when he needs to be, and emotional, all at the right moments. This is more of a comedy than a romance (relatively, it is very very strong on the comedy, and very strong on the romance, so it’s not a chick-flick-esque show).

I think this was the acting debut of Jung Yong-Hwa, who is a singer for a group called C.N. Blue (I think this show came out as the group was debuting, actually), but if it was or wasn’t, he gives a truly incredible performance as the second man. Lee Hong-Ki, the lead singer for F.T. Island (a kind of brother group to C.N. Blue with the same type of makeup but different music style) is HYSTERICAL as Jeremy. He’s played bad guys, he’s played good guys, and while Jeremy’s hair style choices make no sense, Lee Hong-Ki brings an extra layer of comedy to the performance without over doing it. And whenever Jeremy gets serious, Lee Hong-Ki plays that beyond perfectly.

It’s an all-star cast, even if some of them were relatively new names, and there isn’t a single lacking performance.

Age Rating: 13+? 10+?

It’s not a high-tension show, there isn’t any sex or much (if any) cursing, so if you can focus on the subtitles, then it’s fine for your age group. It is really a very simple and brilliantly done show.

Fun Trivia/ Korean Culture Explained

Trivia stuff first:

There are 3 professional singers in the show: Lee Hong-Ki (From F.T. Island), Jung Yong-Hwa (From C.N. Blue), and Uee, who plays the female antagonist, who is from the group “After School” (or at least she was when this was airing, I don’t remember if she’s rotated out of the group yet, the older members started being replaced with younger ones a couple years ago).

Mi-Nam and Mi-Nyeo’s surname is “Kko” (I think in the drama they use the spelling “Go”). It is a play on words that other characters sometimes tease Mi-Nam/Mi-Nyeo for. Go-Mi-Nam is Korean for “Handsome Boy” and Go-Mi-Nyeo is the same for “Beautiful Girl”. The literal translation, if it comes up, is “A boy/girl with flower-like beauty”.

Mi-Nyeo's tendancy to push on her nose when she is stressed quickly earns her a nickname and mascot from TaeKyung, which he takes his frustrations out on whenever he does not want to confront her--

Mi-Nyeo’s tendancy to push on her nose when she is stressed quickly earns her a nickname and mascot from TaeKyung, which he takes his frustrations out on whenever he does not want to confront her–

The title of the drama is a REALLY clever play on words: In Korean it can be “You’re Beautiful” (Or, perhaps more accurately “You are becoming beautiful”), where the word for “beautiful” is “Mi-Nam”. Mi-Nam can be slang for “beautiful” or, more accurately, just “attractive” (it’s not “beautiful” in the same sense as English, where the word is more commonly referring to something feminine). In Korean, “Nam” means “Boy”, and “Yeo” means “Girl”, so Mi-Nam and Mi-Nyeo’s parents named them “Beautiful Boy” and “Beautiful Girl”. When you take that into account with the title, and break it apart as if “Mi-Nam” were referring to the character instead of the word “Beautiful”, it goes from saying “You’re Beautiful” to “Becoming Mi-Nam”, like the sister is becoming her brother to help him out.

Well, I find that kind of stuff interesting at least.

KOREAN CULTURE EXPLANATION

You’ll come across a lot of confusion if you don’t know this kind of stuff, so I recommend paying attention. I had my Korean friends explain some of it to me when I watched the drama.

Hyung– Korean guys call guys older than them this. It literally means “Older Brother”, but unless it’s preceded by “Chin” (meaning “Real”), it’s just referring to any guy between a year or 8 years older than them. Beyond that they use the world “Ahjussi” normally (meaning “uncle” literally, or just any old man).

Oppa– The girl form of “hyung”. Only girls refer to older boys by that title. You’ll hear “Hyung” a hell of a lot more in the drama, but whenever someone says “Hyung” or “Oppa”, the subs will just put the name of that character. In Korean, the titles take precedence.

Maknae– Korean culture is centered around a strict age hierarchy. The eldest is the most respected, but to a degree the youngest, or “maknae” gets away with murder. The “Maknae”, as the youngest, gets kind of taken care of by the older members of the group- they buy the Maknae snacks or just treats them really nicely. The Maknae, in return, does the same for the rest of the group. The main duty of the Maknae is called “Aegyo”, it means “Acting Cute”, basically, in the drama it’s why Jeremy acts like a child. The cute act is supposed to cheer up the elders, give them something to laugh at when things get stressful.

When I lived in Korea, I was the Maknae (or one of them, a few of us were the same age, but in a group of 40, there are a lot of Maknae) of our Study Abroad program. I was always the Maknae of the Americans, but often I was younger than all the Koreans too, or the same age as the youngest by Korean standards (they use the lunar new year as a dividing line, so, for example, I had a roommate who was one month to the day older than me, but because lunar new year comes between our birthdays, I had to refer to her as if she were one year ahead of me). As Maknae, I just had to be bright and cheerful. It’s really not as hard as it sounds. The elders could pick on me, but never anything mean, it’s a lot of joking. You see it in the drama with Jeremy becoming jealous of Mi-Nam’s status as the new group Maknae.

Noona– I don’t think this comes up much, but just FYI. Like how “Hyung” is the Korean term for an older male (only said by a male, remember that), “Noona” is the title for an older female.

Unnie- Again, exactly how “Oppa” is what girls call older boys, “Unnie” is what girls call older girls.

-- the most recognized character from the drama: the Pig-Rabbit. You can buy these anywhere in Korea, I have one keychain-size and a little doll. TaeKyung creates it as a joke for Mi-Nam from a bunny and pig stuffed animal sent to the group by fans. After his "Emergency Transplant Surgery", TaeKyung emerges with this.

— the most recognized character from the drama: the Pig-Rabbit. You can buy these anywhere in Korea, I have one keychain-size and a little doll. TaeKyung creates it as a joke for Mi-Nam from a bunny and pig stuffed animal sent to the group by fans. After his “Emergency Transplant Surgery”, TaeKyung emerges with this.

The Entertainment Scene

In the US, you make a group, get “found” by a manager for a record label, and rake in the dough (ideally), but in Korea it tends to be a VASTLY different process. You actually audition at a talent agency, singing, dancing, or playing an instrument, whatever, and then they basically put you through singer bootcamp to weed out the weak. And it’s a wide range- it can take a few months to get placed in a group, or it can take 7-8 YEARS of near-daily training, and if you miss your window, there are a hundred others in the company ready to take your place.

Once you get into a company, you have to take extensive lessons in dance, singing, acting, and whatever language they want you to take. Eventually, you end up on a “team” of other trainees. You might go from one “team” to another for YEARS before you are settled, and then, the favorite “Team” is chosen to debut as a band. So, bands rarely pre-form, they are carefully crafted by the record labels themselves and put through every test imaginable to make it even to the shadow of debut. Most can’t stand the strain and quit, or fall into obscurity. There is a lot of trading between companies.

So when you see the group reacting so negatively to Mi-Nam/Mi-Nyeo, it’s because they’ve probably been together for nearly a decade, including training time, and putting in a new member can sometimes mean someone is being pulled out and released. There are lots of cases where that doesn’t happen, but it’s still a touchy area for most groups.

You also see the President of the company as being very very hands-on. That’s because most presidents of Korean entertainment companies are former singers themselves, and I believe he was supposed to be one as well. That’s why nearly every scene where they are training or preparing takes place within the company- it’s how things work there.

Also, in Korea, a singer doesn’t just release a CD. Releasing the CD is just a small part of promotions. The group HAS to be able to perform it live. If a group can’t do live EXACTLY as it sounds on the CD, they get swept off to the side. One way groups “compete” in this area is through numerous weekly live music programs where they get up, perform 1-2 of their songs, and then the fans can vote. Most of the voting is done through chart sales, whoever sells the most albums tends to win, but there is also a small online and on-site voting from the live fan audience. The winner gets the weekly trophy.

Fans can be pretty intense in Korea- they’ll camp outside of the dorm the members of the group live in (Companies basically buy the band members an apartment to share, so that their sense of unity stays strong. This starts in their trainee days) and follow them, though those fans are known as “crazies”, more or less.

The most popular group of Korean singers are known as “Idols”, they’re the ones in the bands on the music programs, for the most part, and tend to be younger groups (for example, Psy of “Gangnam Style” fame (and 6 years previous worth of music) wouldn’t be considered an “Idol” singer). “Idols” are held to the standard of their name- Korea is hyper-critical of their behavior and they have to be perfect at all times, so kids can idolize them and they are someone parents will allow their children to idolize- so no heavy drinking (Korea has a drinking culture, but no drunkenness where fans can see), no smoking, be nice to EVERYONE, and absolutely, positively, WHOLEHEARTEDLY NO DATING OF ANY SORT DON’T EVEN LOOK AT A GIRL/BOY TWICE. That last one is more fan-enforced, but it can put major strain on a group if that kind of “scandal” erupts.

Also, even though it is only true for like 15% of Korean singers, ABSOLUTELY NO PLASTIC SURGERY. Not like it matters, but if it comes out a singer or actor had plastic surgery, the “Anti’s” (or anti-fans) get FURIOUS. That’s why Mi-Nam had his eyelid surgery in such secrecy. Korean netizens will actually hunt down baby pictures of celebrities to compare and see if they had plastic surgery. Though, fun trick, if you see a Korean with a pronounced nose bride, like how a westerner has (Korean noses tend to flatten near the top so it’s less pronounced), it means 95% of the time that they had a nose job. The only actors/singers I can think of who have the nose-bridge and are “safe” in terms of plastic surgery are all ones who got into horrific car accidents and basically had to have their noses re-set anyways, so see if you count that.

That ugly side of Korean entertainment explains the relationship between TaeKyung and his mother, so it’s a biggie.

So that’s pretty much what you need to understand what’s going on! Most of it you’ll pick up in the drama just by watching, but if you’re ever wondering “Why the hell???”, hopefully this has explained that.

시티헌터 (City Hunter) – Series Review

시티헌터 진표 윤성 포스터 인쇄용Overview:

In 1983, South Korea sent an undercover military unit to North Korea on a top-secret mission. On their way home, they were mercilessly killed as part of a cover up. Years later, the missions sole survivor Jun Pyo and adopted son Yoon Sung return to South Korea to exact revenge on the five men behind the betrayal.One by one, City Hunter exposes his targets’ crimes and delivers them to dogged prosecutor Young Joo. Jun Pyo, however, is out for blood, putting father and son at dangerous odds as the stakes rise and the targets hit closer to home.”

— Amazon

Plot: 5/5

The Amazon review leaves a bit to be desired, but it’s definitely giving you a decent idea of what the story is about, though it’s lacking in crucial details. Let’s see if I can fill in the blanks for you.

  • Jun Pyo’s “adopted son” Yoon-Sung is the son of Jun-Pyo’s best friend who is gunned down with the military unit sent to North Korea. He kidnaps the child and raises him to believe his mother abandoned him and left him to die, and that Jun-Pyo saved him.
  • Yoon-Sung and Jun-Pyo differ in a key respect: Jun-Pyo wants to slaughter the men who betrayed his military unit, while Yoon-Sung doesn’t want to kill them, only to destroy them in the eyes of the people, since all of them are prominent figures (one is even the President). Yoon-Sung was raised in the Golden Triangle, and he abhors killing because all he believes it will do is create more copies of himself- children deprived of the love and affection they need and who are instead consumed by bloody revenge for those who were taken from them.
  • As Yoon-Sung and Jun-Pyo fight over how they think the situation should be handled, they end up dangerous enemies. Jun-Pyo attempts to manipulate and twist Yoon-Sung’s mind to match his own by lying about the boy being kidnapped (he claims his mother abandoned him) and many other crucial details.

There is also a side-story that flavors the whole show: Kim Na-Na is a young woman who has worked her ass off since she was 17/18, when her mother was killed in a horrific car accident and her father wound up in a vegetative state. Not willing to give up on him, Na-Na has done everything she can to keep their small apartment and pay the massive medical bills. Including taking out several jobs at once.

Back in the Golden Triangle, before coming to Korea, Yoon-Sung saved and befriended the kind-hearted Bae Man-Duk, a compulsive gambler (in like 1 scene only) who was on the wrong side of the Thai mafia. Man-Duk loves Yoon-Sung as if he were his own son, and is willing to do anything for him, but when they return to Korea he has just one wish- protect Na-Na and help her in any way he can (it isn’t revealed until late in the show, but Man-Duk has a past with Na-Na, and is in some part responsible for what happened to her parents).

Jun-Pyo and Mu-Yeol before the North Korean attack.

Jun-Pyo and Mu-Yeol before the North Korean attack.

Yoon-Sung puts on the act of being haughty, arrogant, and uninterested in the world around him, but despite the act, he will do anything to keep Na-Na safe and happy. When he first arrives, her father is suffering from a terrible illness in the hospital, and they are refusing to perform a life-saving surgery because of his vegetative state and Na-Na’s mounting medical debts. Yoon-Sung cannot stand to see this happen, so he pays off the medical bill in cash and allows Na-Na to pay him back by performing little favors like driving him when he’s drunk or bringing him coffee.

Na-Na is also in the sights of Prosecutor Young-Joo (they say “Prosecutor”, but I think the American equivalent is Detective), who may initially admire the City Hunter for helping to bring down overwhelmingly corrupt officials, but who quickly grows to hate him for his illegal methods and strongly suspects Yoon-Sung of being involved.

Oh, and Na-Na is a bodyguard for the President of Korea, the former security officer who had sent Jun-Pyo and Mu-Yeol’s team to North Korea in the first place.

There is a lot of really great tension in the story, and plotlines overlap in interesting new ways. It very much is like a modern day “Count of Monte Cristo”, and it is expertly pulled off. Every time you think you know what’s coming, things change abruptly and naturally, it never feels like something came out of left field.

I really love this drama for the incredible action and dialogue scenes, as well as the ever growing gap between who Jun-Pyo demands his stolen son be and who Yoon-Sung wishes to be- namely, free of the revenge business. Yoon-Sung spent so long building a face for the world so he could appear anything but who he was, that as the mask cracks, he learns how to handle himself and protect those he truly loves..

Acting: 10/5

Lee Min Ho. I know you saw that name with the strike through it. As I said in my “Boys Over Flowers” review, he’s my favorite Korean actor, and this role takes him to a whole new level. No more is he the bratty teen learning his place in the world (though it’s fun to note that Yoon-Sung’s uncle and his “Boys Over Flowers” character share the Jun-Pyo name), this is his first foray into a more masculine role, one he meets perfectly.

As tensions rise between Yoon-Seung and Jun-Pyo, he presents an ultimatum: He may not be able to threaten his foster father, but he can threaten to harm himself, should his father kill those he has come to love.

As tensions rise between Yoon-Seung and Jun-Pyo, he presents an ultimatum: He may not be able to threaten his foster father, but he can threaten to harm himself, should his father kill those he has come to love.

What I love about Lee Min Ho’s acting is that he can go from cold to warm in half a second without a seam. His performance is well nuanced and you can tell exactly what his character is thinking, when he wants you to. He makes the show brilliant, and I think this will go down, so far, as his best role.

Park Min Young nearly steals the show as Kim Na-Na, and she does a phenomenal job as well! Na-Na is fun-loving and kind, but also deeply scarred by her parents tragic death and the ten years of suffering she has endured since then, trying to hold together a family she knows will never exist again (she constantly says she has to keep the house neat and ready for her father to return, and talks to her mother’s picture whenever she has troubles). Min-Young can play tragedy and comedy with equal deftness (is that a word?) and really brings a brilliant performance.

King Sang-Joong (Jun-Pyo), Kim Sang-Ho (Yoon-Sung’s best friend and father-figure Bae Man-Duk), and Lee Joon-Hyuk (Prosecutor/Detective Kimg Young-Joo) all deserve kudos for their work. Jun-Pyo is mostly just ruthless and angry, but he does show a surprising tender side for Kyung-Hee as she unwittingly re-enters her sons life upon his arrival in Seoul. Bae Man-Duk is mostly just carefree and loveable (with a potentially catastrophic addiction to the Home Shopping Network), but he harbors a dark secret when it comes to Kim Na-Na and his almost paternal desire to protect her and help her. Finally, Prosecutor Young-Joo begins to lose his honorable nature as he becomes more and more desperate to catch Lee Min Ho’s “City Hunter”, and the case drives him beyond obsession and, arguably, to the brink of complete mental breakdown.

Again, every performance is brilliant, and the show never feels rehearsed or over-acted. It’s believable in every way, and a definite must-watch.

Age Rating: 15+

That’s the official Korean rating for it, and I think it works out. There is a lot of violence, a surprising amount of blood for a Korean show, and quite a bit of cursing during the more intense scenes, though I’d even say you could probably drop that rating to 13.

The most graphic violence you see is someone digging a bullet out of their own shoulder, and that’s not up to par with the worst I’ve seen on American TV, so it shouldn’t be too traumatic. Someone’s leg gets blown off, but you just see the explosion and it never focuses exclusively on the wound, so it’s pretty mild, I think the worst you see is the stump wrapped in bloody cloth, not like any gooey bits.

Fun Trivia

Prosecutor can never seem to catch the "City Hunter", but he catches enough glances to begin to recognize Yoon-Seung's eyes.

Prosecutor Young-Joo can never seem to catch the “City Hunter”, but he catches enough glances to begin to recognize Yoon-Seung’s eyes eventually.

For his role in “City Hunter”, Lee Min Ho (Main character Yoon-Seung) was awarded the Special Drama Top Prize at the 2011 SBS Drama Awards, an endorsement deal for the Hyundai Veloster in China (he drives the car in the show), and even recognition in 2012 by the Seoul Prosecutor’s office when he was named “Honorary Prosecutor”.

“City Hunter” was also used to promote the donation of bone marrow, due to several scenes in the show where (SPOILER ALERT: SKIP TO NEXT TRIVIA IF YOU WANT) Yoon-Sung goes through the bone-marrow donation process (genetic testing, the extraction, and recovery) to save his mother (so she can live and he won’t feel guilty for hating her because he still thinks she abandoned him), who is dying of Lukemia.

FUNNIEST TRIVIA THAT SHOULD BE KNOWN WHENEVER WATCHING THE SHOW:

The Korean name for the drama- 시티헌터 is the Konglish form of “City Hunter”. The characters literally translate to “Shiti Heonteo”, pronounced EXACTLY like “Shitty Hunter”.

It’s especially fun to remember whenever Yoon-Seung makes a mistake in his fight against corrupt officials- that he is, indeed, the “Shitty Hunter”.

궁 Palace/Princess Hours (Korean Drama)

The main characters L-R: Song Ji-Hyo (Other Woman Hyo-Rin), Joo Ji Hoon (Crown Prince Lee Shin), Yoon Eun-Hye (New Princess Chae-Kyeong), and Kim Jung-Hoon (as Ex-Crown Prince Lee Yul)

The main characters L-R: Song Ji-Hyo (Other Woman Hyo-Rin), Joo Ji Hoon (Crown Prince Lee Shin), Yoon Eun-Hye (New Princess Chae-Kyeong), and Kim Jung-Hoon (as Ex-Crown Prince Lee Yul)

Overview:

Set in an alternate 21st century reality where Korea posesses a royal family, since 1945 to present (So, reinstated after the Japanese invasion and WW2), this show revolves around the lives of the Crown Prince Lee Shin, and his new bride, Chae-Kyeong. The series starts off with the news that the King, Shin’s father, is very ill. With the grim outlook on the King’s health, the royal family scrambles to find a wife for Shin, so as to allow him to take over the royal throne if the situation requires.

Despite being in love with another girl, the ambition and talented ballerina Hyo-Rin whom Shin initially proposed to (she rejects him to pursue her ballet dreams), Shin eventually marries a commoner to whom he was indirectly betroled by his late grandfather in an old agreement with the girls grandfather.

Shin marries the headstrong yet loveable Chae-Kyeong after Hyo-Rin’s rejection. Despite initially feeling nothing for Chae-Kyeong, love eventually blossoms between the couple as time passes.

In the meantime, however, matters are further complicated with the return of Prince Lee Yul and his mother Lady Hwa-Young, who was once the Crown Princess before the death of her husband, the late Crown Prince, elder brother to the current King. Yul and his mother were chased out of the palace somet ime after the death of his father, and it is later revealed that this was due to the King’s discovery of an affair between Yul’s mother and the current King, who was his father’s younger brother.

Yul’s mother had returned with a sinister motive in mind: to restore her son back to the throne, which would have been his eventually, if his father had not died. A series of events befall the palace with the schemes Yul’s mother carries out, and is further intensified by the various scandals involving the royal family, which are inclusive of Shin’s continuing relationship with his old flame Hyo-Rin, and the budding love Yul develops for Chae-Kyeong, his cousins new-found bride.”

–Amazon.Com

Plot: 5/5

There is a recurring relationship between Chae-Keyong and Alfred, a teddy bear who acts as Lee Shin's only friend, given to him when he reached an age where his parents deemed him old enough to be treated as a royal prince and restricted his parents contact with them.

There is a recurring relationship between Chae-Keyong and Alfred, a teddy bear who acts as Lee Shin’s only friend, given to him when he reached an age where his parents deemed him old enough to be treated as a royal prince and restricted his parents contact with them.

That’s a surprisingly in-depth description from amazon! But don’t go there, the show costs over $100 and I’m fairly positive when I bought it from YesAsia (who now only sells the Region 2 box set) it was only $30.

One key feature of the plot that it does not mention revolves around that line from the description “indirectly betrothed”. The actual agreement between Chae-Kyeong’s grandfather (a bestie of the King) and Shin’s grandfather was that Chae-Kyeong would marry the son of the Crown Prince. The wording was VERY particular.

What this means (and what is an undertone of Yul’s whole relationship with Shin and Chae-Kyeong as a couple, is that she was technically engaged to Yul, who was the son of the crown prince at the time of the agreement, but his father died not too long after.

I really like this drama, because it presents a monarchy trying to stay afloat in a world that has kind of moved away from monarchies. It’s presented nearly identical to the British royal family, with Shin being compared often to Prince William (who in the show he is best friends with, though you only see “Prince William” maybe once).

Chae-Kyeong isn’t in any way, shape, or form open to the idea of an arranged marriage. She only agrees to it after intense protest when her poor family is set upon by loan sharks they are in debt to. She only agrees to marry Shin when it is pointed out that, to preserve the dignity of the royal family, Chae-Kyeong’s family debt will be paid off by the royal family and her little brother can go to a nice school. She strongly dislikes Shin and vents her frustration out on a pillow she makes in the shape of a human to which she attaches a picture of Shin.

Lee Shin meets with the Dowager Empress, his grandmother.

Lee Shin meets with the Dowager Empress, his grandmother.

Chae-Kyeong and Shin both go to an arts-based high school, I believe he is in either the music or movie-making department, and she is in the fashion department. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the show, I’m about to re-watch it, so I’m not 100% on the fashion major.

The big champion for Chae-Kyeong within the palace is Dowager-Empress Hye-Ja, wife of the King who made the deal with Chae-Kyeong’s grandfather. She takes a shine to the girl and is slow to issue negative judgment in the case of scandals, she tries to figure out why Chae-Kyeong responded to situations as she did and help her understand how to avoid such situations in the future. Eventually even Queen Yoo-Seon, Shin’s mother, begins to champion her daughter-in-law, though she’s extremely slow to do so since she hates that her son was forced into an arranged marriage (really though both kids had to agree, they just regret their decisions later).

Along the lines of fashion: This movie is worth watching if only for the traditional Korean outfits they wear. The costume design is stunning, as is the architecture!

Acting: 5/5

Even as Shin and Chae-Kyeong begin to fall for one another, the constant scheming of Yul's mother and the pressures of royal life send Chae-Kyeong into a spiraling depression.

Even as Shin and Chae-Kyeong begin to fall for one another, the constant scheming of Yul’s mother and the pressures of royal life send Chae-Kyeong into a spiraling depression.

You’ll find with Korean dramas that they don’t screw around. The acting is always 100%. Leading the cast is Yoon Eun Hye as Chae-Kyeong. Eun Hye has starred in multiple ratings-topping Korean dramas over the years, this one in particular came out around the same time as “Coffee Prince”, arguably her most well known. She’s perfect as Eun Hye, with no awkward spots or over-the-top performances.

Throughout the story, Chae-Kyeong grows more and more depressed as she learns more about the aspects of her life and friendships she will have to give up. It isn’t a dramatic transformation, which is why it’s noteworthy as a brilliant performance by Eun Hye. Slowly, over several episodes, Chae-Kyeong stops smiling, stops laughing, and stops being as care free and fun loving as before. Shin must then step-up to try and help his bride.

Kim Jeong Hook, Prince Yul, is also A+. He speaks some English in the show, and he does an amazing job, though he hasn’t appeared in many of the major ones to come out of Korea since Palace (he has done some movies though).

The only actor not A+, really, is Ju Ji Hoon, Crown Prince Lee Shin. He’s good, but not great. His character is mostly just moody most of the time, it gets kind of tedious. He does end up falling for Chae-Kyeong and “fights for her”, but it doesn’t really feel natural.

Age Rating: 10+

It’s a bit of a romantic comedy, so younger kids won’t be interested most likely, but if they are, it’s safe to watch. There is a lot of intreague and scandal brought about by Chae-Kyeong adjusting to her new life as a Crown Princess, but nothing bad. Her and Lee Shin are indeed married, but it is decided unanimously by the adults that their marriage does not need to be consummated to be official, since they are both still in high school (I think they’re 16/17, it’s not exactly said).

No sex, very little language or violence, it is safe to watch.

Fun Trivia:

Goong (another name for “Palace/Princess Hours”) is based on a Korean graphic novel of the same name by Park So Hee.

The company wished to make a sequel almost immediately, but there were numerous conflicts on the part of the managing company and the cast withdrew, loosing faith in the production.

Goong was, instead of a second season, given a spin-off, which features a new storyline and characters that are supposed to be un-related to the Goong storyline, but a show of the same type– royalty and commoners adjusting to life in a palace or on the street. I haven’t seen Goong-S, the one more commonly referred to as “Princess Hours”, but when I was living in Korea someone tried to describe the plot and said either one of the characters or the parental unit of one of the characters is supposed to be (SPOILER ALERT: Shin and Chae-Kyeong’s offspring).

That’s all the trivia I know for “Palace”, the only other thing I know of, even regarding the cast, is that the actor playing Lee Shin (Ji-Hoon) was arrested for drug use/sale of Ecstasy and Ketamine- though it was noted by the judge he had been clean for over a year at the time of his arrest. He did 6 months in jail and, not long after being released, he went in to the Korean military for his mandatory 2 years. He has since re-emerged scandal free in the Korean drama scene with both comedies and more serious shows, he also debuted in the Chinese drama scene.

꽃보다 남자 (Boys Over Flowers)- Full Series

The stars of the show L-R: Kim Joon (Reluctant mobster Woo Bin), Kim Bum (arts heir Yi Jung), Lee Min Ho (F4 leader Jun Pyo), Gu Hye-Sun (heroine Jan Di), and Kim Hyun Joong (F4's only nice member, Ji Hoo).

The stars of the show L-R: Kim Joon (Reluctant mobster Woo Bin), Kim Bum (arts heir Yi Jung), Lee Min Ho (F4 leader Jun Pyo), Gu Hye-Sun (heroine Jan Di), and Kim Hyun Joong (F4’s only nice member, Ji Hoo).

Overview:

Unassuming high school girl Jan Di stands up to- and eventually falls for- a spoiled rich kid who belongs to the school’s most powerful clique”

–Netflix

Plot: 5/5

The Netflix description is awful, let me elaborate for you:

This story takes place in a South Korea where only the richest and most elite citizens attend the disturbingly prestigious school chain known as Shinhwa Schools. It runs from Elementary schools through colleges, all based around one massive campus. The school has such clout that the show says employers will even put up restrictions on who they wish to hire by giving priority to Shinhwa High/University students.

Jan Di is the daughter of a hard working family that runs a dry cleaning shop. She is sent out to deliver a student uniform to a student at Shinhwa, and in trying to deliver it she finds the student, bloody and badly beaten by his fellow classmates, ready to jump from the roof of the school. She finds out that the student got on the wrong side of Goo Jun Pyo, the leader of the F4, the four richest and hottest guys at the school. When pissed, the group issues a “kill card” that signals to the other students to do their worst. The boy is at the end of his rope and, despite Jan Di’s urgings, jumps from the roof. He is saved by Jan Di, and the incident is caught on camera, which turns into a PR nightmare for the school- reports of bullying, and the people’s rage over the elite school run rampant, and the school is forced to bring in Jan Di (vehemently against her will) as a special scholarship student.

That’s the first 5 minutes.

Jan Di starts at the school, bitter about being forced to go to a place where the cafeteria is staffed by 5-star chefs and rich skanks. During her struggle to adapt, she befriends Ji-Hoo, the  shy grandson of a Korean President (who is most likely Austistic in some way) and falls in love with his prowess with the violin, only to find out later that he’s the right-hand of F4 leader Jun Pyo and second-leader of the F4. She is also befriended by Min-Ji.

The F4 meets Jan Di, who is defending a new friend from Jun Pyo's wrath. He ends up wearing that ice cream she's holding.

The F4 meets Jan Di, who is defending a new friend from Jun Pyo’s wrath. He ends up wearing that ice cream she’s holding.

The big inciting event (I know, it’s a big description, bear with me) is when Min Ji falls and accidentally drops her ice cream on Jun Pyo’s shoe as the F4 walks by. He demands she get on all fours and lick it clean, or risk his wrath. Jan Di, to stand up for her friend and give a big F-you to the guys who have been bullying the students, shoves her ice cream across his jacket and face. Oh, guess what? He’s the heir to Shinhwa group, the corporation that owns the school.

Naturally, a red card is thrown against her by the F4. She endures the tortures and torments of the other students, which grow increasingly violent, and is protected somewhat by Ji-Hoo, who falls for her. When Jun Pyo organizes for her to be attacked in the school swimming pool (sort of, he tells the students to scare her, they get far enough that I’m fairly sure they would have raped her, and Jun Pyo is PISSED when he finds out, he did not endorse an assault), and then he spreads a rumor among tabloids that she is a slut and pregnant, Jan Di snaps. She marches to the kind of club house that the F4 meets in and round-house kicks Jun Pyo in the face.

Thus starts the love story. Jun Pyo decides that Jan Di attacked him because she didn’t want him to believe she was a slut, because she is in love with him secretly. He also decides that he will let her experience what it is like to date a rich man. Jan Di hates his guts, but she endures being dragged around by Jun Pyo only when Ji-Hoo is also present, because she has a crush on him.

The story is about Jun Pyo learning how to be a normal, non-arrogant person, and Jan Di slowly begins to love him in return, though she always maintains a very close relationship with Ji-Hoo, who loves her desperately. The other members of the F4, Ji Young (who’s family owns most of the art museums in Korea) and Woo Bin (son of a powerful Korean mob boss who most students are afraid of) fall under Jan Di’s spell and everyone learns how to be better people and, in the case of Woo Bin, separate themselves from what their family wants for them and what they want for themselves.

The main antagonist of the story is Jun Pyo’s mother, who immediately goes on the offensive once she realizes her son has fallen for a poor student. She does everything she can to ruin the family and drive them into the ground, but to no avail, due to the scheming of Jun Hee, Jun Pyo’s elder sister who hates her mother and the rich prat her brother was and loves Jan Di for changing him.

Jun Pyo (Lee Min Ho) is a ruthless jerk, initially, with distinctive curly hair (I don't know why, apparently every version of the show has the Jun Pyo character with curly hair)

Jun Pyo (Lee Min Ho) is a ruthless jerk, initially, with distinctive curly hair (I don’t know why, apparently every version of the show has the Jun Pyo character with curly hair)

I know, it’s a lot to remember, and it’s set up within an episode or 2 excellently. The show makes a GREAT comedy, and holds a spot as a ratings legend. It ran for 2 seasons, rather unusual for Korean shows which usually tell the story and are done,  but it’s worth it. Why? Excellent writing, and pretty men. The story avoids cliche events- like when Jun Pyo and Ji Hoo both go for Jan Di, there is no big fight over it, they just decide she will be the one to choose and do a bit of a competition, but they’re still best friends.

Acting: 5/5

This is the big debut of Korean actor Lee Min Ho (F4 leader Jun Pyo), who won a newcomer award for his performance. I’m a huge fan of his, the acting is always A+++. What is most impressive, in my opinion, is the transition from snobbish rich guy who is just playing around with Jan Di, to a man who actually genuinely loves her and wants to be the hero in her eyes. You really can’t tell when it starts, and not once does it seem awkward or forced. He’s brilliant in every show and it is definitely worth watching anything his name appears on.

Ji-Hoo comes off as very stiff and awkward, but I think that’s his character. He mostly stares at Jan Di looking vaguely surprised, and he has trouble speaking to others. If I didn’t watch some of the actor (singer Kim Hyun Joong) in variety shows or appearances with his band, I would think he wasn’t acting, but the difference is night and day. It is what leads me to think his character is autistic, along with other clues given in the show. Fellow F4 member Ji Young is played by Kim Bum, who gives another impressive performance- his character comes off as charming and cute one minute, and dangerously dark and cruel the next. His character is slowly tempered by Jan Di’s best friend, but that’s mostly a season 2 thing. Woo Bin (actor Kim Joon (and singer, I think)) is another brilliant character, though he seems more one-dimensional than the others. I blame the writing though, they went so deep into side stories that there really wasn’t room for one of his own. He is a bad boy who doesn’t want to be bad, and Kim Joon plays it to the max.

Also worthy of her own paragraph is Jan-Di herself, actress Gu Hye Sun. Again, she’s absolutely perfect. Her character doesn’t take shit from the F4, and she’ll smack someone if they deserve it, which is refreshing for Korean dramas. Hye Sun doesn’t let her character play the damsel-in-distress, instead she turns her into a damsel who may be in distress, but most of the time she can get herself out of it and is willing to dig her heels in and out last the stubbornness of Jun Pyo’s wicked mother.

Age Rating: 13+

The students at the school take any opportunity to try and force Jan Di out, for example, outright attacking her and knocking her out. Jun Pyo intervenes (I believe this was following a false claim she had cheated on him).

The students at the school take any opportunity to try and force Jan Di out, for example, outright attacking her and knocking her out. Jun Pyo intervenes (I believe this was following a false claim she had cheated on him).

There are some situations in the show that might not be advisable for younger children. I think the original Korean rating was 15+, and that seems rather reasonable. Like I said, early on there is a scene that implies the intention of rape, though the show makes it clear that Jun Pyo never ordered nor endorsed the action (he threatens to have the perps, who Ji-Hoo caught, red-carded and their families forced into bankruptcy, which his family has the power to do). There is also a bit of violence, and a LOT of bullying of Jan Di by the other students in the school, the girls especially, who resent Jun Pyo’s attraction to Jan Di.

Preview before allowing younger kids to watch, but I think most will be OK with it. It’s a great show that any age range will love- I think my mother has watched it more than I have (she’s a devout Lee Min Ho fan).

Fun Trivia

I don’t have anything for you here. Something to watch for– there is a gag reel (Koreans refer to it as an NG- for a “No Good” take, so you might have to google it by that).

“Boys Over Flowers” has been made 3 times (at least). There is the Korean version, a Chinese version (I believe that title is “Meteor Garden”) and a Japanese version. It is also a manga.

“Boys Over Flowers” is taken from an Asian expression (I think Japanese, Chinese, and Korean all have their own proverb for this) meaning someone doesn’t see the garden for the boys- like the boys are more beautiful than the flowers. It is also a play on words in Korean- 꽃 (Kkot) being the Korean word for “Flower” is also the first syllable in 꽃미남 (Kkot-Mi-Nam) meaning a handsome man (literally a flower-like man, or a beautiful man. there is another word for “handsome”, but the terms express the same thing).

 

To the Beautiful You/ Hana Kimi (Korean, Taiwanese, and 2006 Japanese Versions)

**Note: All 3 versions of this show have the same plot and just about the same setup. When I review the Japanese version, I am talking about the ORIGINAL (2006 or 7), not the 2011 re-make.

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“To the Beautiful You” main characters. L-R: Male Lead 1 (Min-Ho), Male Antagonist (Ha-Neul Kang), Female Antagonist (Kim Ji Won), Dorm Leader (Seo Jun Young, I think), Female Lead (Sulli), Random Friend (Hwang Kwang Hee), and Hopeless Love Triangle Member (Hyun-Woo Lee).

Overview:

“A high school girl who’s enthralled with a gold-medal pole vaulter devises a scheme to attend his all-boys school to be closer to him.”

–Netflix (though, I’d like to point out that he’s actually a high-jumper, I don’t know what Netflix is smoking).

Plot: 4/5

There are, as I said 3 different versions of this show, all with pretty identical plots. I’ve only watched the Taiwanese and Korean in their entirety, but I’ve seen the first half of the Japanese show. To make everything easy on you, I’m going to give universal names to the characters so you can more easily follow what the hell is going on, instead of slamming you with all these character names that change depending on which edition you’re watching.

FM1 (Female Lead 1) is a high school student who grew up overseas in America after her father died and her mother re-married. Her experience in America was a rather lonely one. Regardless of which version you watch- she was picked on by the American students and never really had friends. She was depressed and had no drive in life, that is, until she saw ML1 (Male Lead 1) compete in his track event (I think it’s always high-jump, but I’m not 100%, it’s been a while since I saw the Japanese and Taiwanese versions). His inspirational quotes and his story were taken to heart, and she turned her life around- becoming the fastest runner at her high school.

After winning a major track award (I think only the Koreans have him winning at the olympics), he is involved in a car accident and injures his leg. It appears he will never jump/do his sport again. FL1 then decides to cut her hair and forge her transcripts to say she is a male, and return to the country of her origin to attend his all-boys high school, majoring in track like him (in pretty much most Asian schools you choose a major in High School and most of your courses focus around that, we don’t have anything really equivalent in America).

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The Japanese cast… NO I AM NOT NAMING ALL OF THEM. The female lead is the one in the middle, directly under the blonde. I don’t know anyone’s names or which ones were the male leads…

She gets to the school and immediately ends up on the bad side of ML1, who is bitter and angry at pretty much everyone. Oh, and then it turns out she’s his new roommate. A friendly neighboring student, HLTM (Hopeless love triangle member), falls for her immediately, but thinking she is a guy it makes him question his sexuality, since he just can’t get her out of his head. The story revolves around her trying to help ML1 find the courage and drive to return to his sport (now that he’s fully healed) while maintaining her cover as a boy, her friendship with HLTM, and the strange/quirky school doctor, who figures out her secret pretty damn quick but lets the madness continue. The story takes a great turn early on when ML1 figures out that his “male” roommate is actually female, but he decides to keep the secret (and I think the Taiwanese version has him using his knowledge to put the girl in awkward situations he finds funny). Oh, and of course there is a rival for ML1 who tries to sabotage his return to the sport.

All in all, it’s actually a very funny show (differing degrees based on which version you watch). The plot is universal, pretty much, maybe tiny differences between them like which sport the male lead does, but I think in every case HLTM is a soccer player, and FL1 is a track star. They are surrounded by a quirky/fun group of friends who live in the dorms, and the dorm leader, who also does what they can to help out. The Korean version has a kind of female villain, I don’t remember one in the Taiwanese version or Japanese version, but they’re not important.

Acting:

Korean Version: 4.5/5

I really enjoyed the Korean version, starring SHINee’s Min-Ho as ML1 and Sulli (from SHINee’s sister-group Fx) as FL1. There are a lot of singers in this show, I couldn’t name all of them since when I was living in Korea I think most of their groups were just coming to the scene. The only actor I’m counting off here is Hwang-Kwang Hee, who is a member of the group of dorm friends. Everyone’s performance is very down-to-earth and realistic, but his character tends to go over-the-top a lot.

Also, though it could just be an issue with the writing, I can’t tell if his character is supposed to be gay and wants HLTM (Lee Hyun Woo) to turn out to be gay as well, or if he’s just angry about something I’m missing. There is definitely something I’m not following and that’s throwing off the acting score for me, but most likely it’s the acting. Also, what is his character’s obsession with chapstick???

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The Taiwanese Leads. L-R: Male Lead 1 (Wu Chun), Female Lead (Ella), and Hopeless Love Triangle Member (Jiro Wang, who makes the show HILARIOUS).

Taiwanese Version: 5/5

Another primarily singer-led cast. Ella Chen of S.H.E. plays FL1, who became a track star and overcame her obesity, inspired by Wu Chun (ML1). I think the Taiwanese version is the only case in which the FL1 was anything but just generally bullied? Not positive, but yeah. There are two reasons the Taiwanese version is my absolute favorite for this show:

Wu Chun (ML1) and Jiro Wang (HLTM) are buddies in real-life and (former?) members of the group Fahrenheit. I don’t know most of the groups music, so it’s not just singer-fangirling, but it gives a whole new dimension to the relationship between ML1 and HLTM. You can tell they are friends and most likely have been for a long time, and that helps add dimension to the story that is just lacking with the Korean version, where ML1 (Min-Ho) just generally seems to hate everyone. Also worth noting: This version contains Dansen Tang, who is my favorite Taiwanese actor, as the head of the dorm. So I love it even more.

Another person who deserves special mention is Tang Zhi Ping, who plays Mei Tian, the school’s health official. He figures out the girl’s secret by like the second episode in every version, just BTW, and keeps the secret. But while in the Korean drama he is just like a friend to ML1, in this version he is a fierce ally of FL1 and she often comes to him when she is having trouble. The reason I love his character so much? He’s gay and, while usually you can’t tell (it isn’t like he’s walking around in a dress), he will go WAY OVER THE TOP whenever he needs to distract someone or just wants them out of his office. I love how he is always vaguely perverse and loves to creep people out 🙂 It’s worth a lot of laughs!

Japanese Version: 2/5

Let me preface it with this: Like I said, I’ve only seen the 2007 version, not the re-made 2011, so I’m talking about the ORIGINAL cast.  I don’t remember a lot about this, I think I made it like 5 episodes in, but I just really don’t like the Japanese version. It’s over-the-top, and that goes for the acting too. It feels like it is way too exaggerated, especially in, well, EVERYTHING.

I won’t call out specifics, because like I said, it’s everyone, it’s probably just the style of Japanese shows (i’ll elaborate on that later), but… Yeah, all I have to say is it’s too over-the-top.

Age Rating:

Korean: 10+

The Korean version is relatively serious. While there are some funny bits, for the most part it’s rather grave. There is no cursing, but a wee bit of violence (the female antagonist likes to hit the HLTM on the head and act like he’s attacking her). It could probably be shown to younger kids, I just rated it higher because, compared to the others, it isn’t as exaggerated and funny, it’s a bit heavier, so younger kids probably won’t be interested.

It should be noted, however, that there is one series of scenes where a guy who figures out the girls secret lures her out into the middle of nowhere and it makes it pretty clear he’s intending to rape her. It doesn’t get far at all before ML1 comes in and kicks his ass, younger kids might just think he wanted to beat her up all along, but yeah, be warned about that. That’s the only scene like that and it doesn’t last very long, but he’s definitely a perv.

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The Korean leads.

Taiwanese: 7+

Again, I just set it lower to demonstrate how much younger kids will like it. Taiwanese shows tend to be a bit over-the-top, not a lot, but definitely less serious than Korean shows of the same age range. Not saying the Koreans are funny, by over-the-top I mean, if someone gets hit on the head in the Korean, there are appropriate sound effects, the Taiwanese version is more likely to have some sort of comic “boink” noise when it happens. Stuff like that, it’s more the reaction to comedy is more overdone.

No scenes of concern here that I remember, but it’s been a few years. I just figured if i was going to review “To the Beautiful You” I might as well review all 3 versions, since I’ve seen them.

Japanese: 6+

Just because 5 year olds wouldn’t find this interesting. The reason I stopped watching the Japanese version was because it was too over the top. Remember what I said about how the Taiwanese version would have a “boink” sound effect for someone being hit (not always, but it’s more likely), the Japanese version would probably have a “boink” then little birds flying in circles while the person stares off into the distance with their head waving side to side.

I won’t make a generalization on Japanese shows, this is the only one I’ve seen so far, but compared to the Taiwanese version, it seems EXTREMELY over-the-top. Younger kids will LOVE it. Think the reactions characters have in shows for kids around 5-6, and that’s pretty much it. I didn’t like it, but that’s for you to judge yourself.

Fun Trivia:

Um… OK, not really sure what to put here…

Um…

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The Taiwanese Leads, including extra dorm members who make up Female Lead’s group of friends.

Sulli and Minho (the leads in the Korean Version) are from F(x) and SHINee, respectively. Their groups are considered brother/sister groups, since they debuted consecutively (SHINee first) and SHINee helped promote F(x) when they were first getting started. Also, rather comical, Sulli’s character (FL1) is supposed to have grown up for a while in the United States, but 2 members of her group (Amber and actress Krystal) are from the US and speak perfect English, while Sulli and Luna are Korean, and leader Victoria is Chinese.

The Korean version is the only one to use a western actor (Canadian-Korean Julian Kang) as the brother. Most asian shows, I’ve noticed, have “Americans” who are actually Russian or Swedish actors trying (and failing) at an American accent. Julian Kang is Canadian/French (and adorable).

Ella and Wu Chun (the leads in the Taiwanese version) either were dating when the show was filming, or started dating as it was filming, or dated after filming, either way, the on-screen chemistry translated into an off-screen relationship, which makes them the most believable match of the three shows. That relationship ended and Wu Chun announced late last year he had a secret wife and a 3 year old, with another child on the way (he quit Fahrenheit to focus on acting and his family).

Yeah, that’s pretty much all the trivia I know, and I’m not 100% on the Ella/WuChun dating thing, it was heavily rumored in Taiwan when the drama was airing, and I’m fairly positive it was confirmed at some point.

Warehouse 13 (Series 1)

71VfDc4V57L._SL1181_Overview:

“After saving the life of the President in Washington D.C., a pair of U.S. Secret Service agents are whisked away to a covert location in South Dakota that houses supernatural objects that the Regents, an Authority above and outside any government, have collected over the centuries. Their new assignment: retrieve any lost objects and investigate reports of new ones.”

–IMDB

That’s pretty good, for once. But let me clear it up a bit.

The show follows Myka and Pete, the Secret Service agents, as they work for Artie, the quirky head of the Warehouse. They never explain how, but Artie was an NSA agent who hunted down artifacts- those objects with the supernatural abilities- along with a team, but something happened and now it is just him, Pete, and Myka (even though in flashbacks there are usually close to a dozen people who work for the Warehouse).

The Regents are not major players in the story– you see them near the end and they are that presence that is referred to but never really seen. The link between the Regents and those in the Warehouse is Mrs. Frederic, a mysterious woman able to appear and vanish at will (they never explained if this was a power or if she is merely really sneaky).

Also involved in the story is Leena, owner of the bed and breakfast that houses all Warehouse agents. Leena appears to also be an agent to some degree- she confers with Artie within the warehouse regularly and seems to have some kind of psychic power.

The rest of the plot is rather simple– Artie sends Pete and Myka out to investigate, and they bring back the artifact.

Early on the show revolves around a theme of someone from the outside who they gradually become aware of- someone who is hacking the Warehouse database and seems to have a personal connection to Artie. Without giving away the story, it’s the introduction of another new figure to the Warehouse- Claudia Donovan, a snarky young tech genius who has a vendetta against Artie, initially.

L-R: Claudia Donovan (Allison Scagliotti), Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek), Myka Bearing (Joanne Kelly), Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock), and Leena (Genelle Williams).

L-R: Claudia Donovan (Allison Scagliotti), Artie Nielsen (Saul Rubinek), Myka Bearing (Joanne Kelly), Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock), and Leena (Genelle Williams).

Plot: 3/5

What really hurts this show is just how dull the first five or six episodes are. Strangely, and potentially fatally for any show, the pilot is easily the worst episode. It doesn’t help that the characters of Pete and Myka, while thoroughly developed, are rather shallow images and do not give any real depth. The only way I can think of to describe it is only going to be understood by “Stargate SG-1” fans– they’re pretty much the same as Mitchell (Ben Browder’s character who replaced Richard Dean Anderson’s Jack O’Neill)– thrown together hastily with a thin back story and no real depth.

That could also be the acting, but mostly the characters are just… annoying.

What really helps pick up the pace (and the only reason I kept watching the show) is Claudia Donovan, the hacker I mentioned earlier. She has a very rich back story and it helps add feeling into the show and drive the plot. I was honestly more interested in her fate with the Warehouse than Myka or Pete and their antics.

Something rather annoying with the show is how they’ll present extremely well-known facts like it’s something amazing they just happen to know that professionals don’t. For example- one case they work on involves people mysteriously being aged 80 years. The connection is made when the coroner finds some implants on one of the bodies and Pete shocks him with the revelation that implants actually have serial numbers that you can track– something any doctor knows (and anyone who watches cop shows).

The story picks up halfway through the season. The cases become more interesting, and a lot of them feed in to an overall story about a rogue Warehouse agent thought long dead who is collecting artifacts to sell and who is working some grand scheme around the Warehouse.

Claudia is forced to fix all the damage she did to the Warehouse during a break-in.

Claudia is forced to fix all the damage she did to the Warehouse during a break-in.

Other than that there isn’t much to say about the plot– it’s extremely episodic, for the most part you could watch it in any order. You kind of have to watch the first four in order though– just so you get the intro of the characters and get to know Claudia (who appears in episode four), because she’s in the show a lot after that.

Acting: 1/5

Oh my sweet lord, IT’S AWFUL. I said I like the character of Claudia and what she adds to the show, but the truth is that she is the only main character who acts. Saul Rubinek does a wonderful job as Artie, but I’ve seen him in a few other shows and he always plays the exact same character, and within “Warehouse 13” he is pretty much the exact same, so it’s hard to get a read on him. But Allison Scagliotti (Claudia) deserves an award for her performance- she can do emotional as well as snark without any issues, and it is a breath of fresh air to the show.

I place most of the blame for the horrible acting on the shoulders of the show’s leads- Eddie McClintock (Pete) and Joanne Kelly (Myka). While it is rare that I go “what????” when watching, their performances are par with minor guest stars, not leads. There are many episodes where the guest stars outshine them, and that really brings down the whole story.

Speaking of the guest stars, by the way, this is one thing the show does right. “Warehouse 13”, when it premiered with abysmal ratings, started scrambling to establish itself as a sister-show to the successful program “Eureka”. Because of this the most popular actors from “Eureka” appeared as guest stars in “Warehouse 13”, all but one of them did *not*, however, appear as their “Eureka” characters.
Also on the guest list is, of course, the incredible, amazing, and seemingly infinite Mark Sheppard (just look him up on IMDB, he’s probably been in nearly every single show you watch at least once). Tia Carrere (Cassandra in “Waynes World”), Roger Rees (The Sheriff from “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”), and other major names also appear in Season 1. Season 3-4 see an onslaught of some of the biggest names of Sci-Fy television appearing alongside the main characters.
Artie leads Myka and Pete into the Warehouse for the first time.

Artie leads Myka and Pete into the Warehouse for the first time.

Age Rating: 10+

Some of the stories might scare kids, but for the most part it is PG. The effects are rather toony in season 1 (as is usually the case with Sci-Fy shows), so they won’t be fooling anyone. There is some light cursing, but nothing major and not often. Preview a couple episodes to see if it’s OK for your kid, but it will probably pass the test.
Fun Trivia
As previously stated, early on they tried to pull up the ratings by linking the show to “Eureka”. Saul Rubinek (Artie) appeared in Season 1 of “Eureka” as a rather nutty scientist, but that is not meant to be linked to the show. Before deciding to make the two sister-shows three other “Eureka” actors appeared in “Warehouse 13” as other characters: Erica Cerra (Jo Lupo) and Niall Matter (Zane Donovan) appeared as a married couple (a move to attract “Eureka” fans as their characters were an on-off romantic couple favored heavily), and Joe Morton (Henry) appears as a prisoner in a maximum-security institution. Allison Scagliotti (Claudia) appeared in “Eureka” once as her “Warehouse 13” character following an appearance by Neil Grayston (“Eureka” troublemaker Douglas Fargo). Grayston returned to “Warehouse 13” for another episode in a later season.
A recurring joke in season one is centered on one of the questions Artie gives Myka and Pete on their first case that he claims is a way to detect artifacts- “Do you smell fudge in places where there is no fudge?”. Later on, when trying to navigate boobie traps in the Warehouse, Artie asks Claudia “Do you smell that?” and she immediately smells fudge. They discover invisible mines shortly after.
The hall that connects the front door of the Warehouse to Artie’s office is actually a hallway in a hospital popular with shows filming in Vancouver (I believe in a commentary for “Supernatural” they mention it is currently abandoned). Allison Scagliotti, in an episode commentary, revealed that is the same hospital where, many years before, Saul Rubinek’s (Artie) father passed away. Later on in the season they filmed a scene where Artie appears to die in the very same hospital.