Women Ahead of Their Time?

The inspiration for this post was a question that occurred to me toward the end of 2015: Are there any Korean films of the 60s and 70s that feature  strong women making their own choices in lead roles?

The Korean Dramas I watch almost all reflect the male-dominated, chauvinist hierarchy of traditional Korean society. The phrase “male-dominated, chauvinist hierarchy” applies with equal force to traditional Indian society too, which is precisely why the three films I’m briefly looking at here really stand out for me.

Two of these were made in the 60s, and the other  in the 70s. One I like,  I really like, one I really don’t. But all three seem almost anachronistic in their depiction of the female leads, hence the title of this post.

GUIDE (1965)

The blurb on my DVD of this film says that Waheeda was told she was committing professional suicide by taking the role of a woman who left her husband to pursue her dream of being a dancer, aided by her manager/lover.

It really was a remarkable story for 1965 India, and Waheeda made the role her own, with her dancing skills and nuanced portrayal of a woman’s journey of self-discovery,  coming to believe that she could choose to live her life on her terms.

TEESRI KASAM  (1966)

Another Waheeda starrer, this film has many similarities to Guide. Once again she plays a dancer living life on her own terms, or in this case on terms she has chosen to accept. In Guide Dev Anand’s character was initially her guide into independence, helping steer her to fame and fortune. In Teesri Kasam she has neither fame nor fortune, and the man who enters her life is no smooth-talking guide, but a very simple bullock cart driver.

What I love about this film is the way Waheeda’s Hirabai deals with the reality of her life. Others may see it as demeaning and sordid, but whatever, it is her  life, and she will be the one to accept or reject its constraints. She may not have been an empowered woman, but she was not powerless, and demonstrated that her dignity was her business, no one else’s

SEETA AUR GEETA (1972)

This film is named for the two female lead roles, only one of whom qualifies for consideration as an independent,self-assured woman.

Seeta is a meek, downtrodden Cinderella character, not unlike the Candy trope of East Asian Dramas.  Her  separated-at-birth identical twin sister Geeta on the other hand is a real gem. After the opening twenty minutes of the film establishing how miserable Seeta’s life is, Geeta’s introduction is a welcome change of mood. She enters singing “life’s a game” in the song above, and the rest of the film shows her keeping that spirit.

Geeta’s character shines for simply refusing to accept the kind of treatment her society and culture considered both normal and proper for women to receive. Confronted with routine physical and verbal abuse, degradation and oppression, she gives as good as she gets. Especially noteworthy is the climactic fight scene at the end, in which she is an active, vigorous participant. No demure heroine waiting to be rescued, she plays a major part in saving herself, and helping the hero.

Another thing these films have in common is that the actresses were both famous for their dancing skills. All three films reference the low esteem female dancers were held in, and it’s central to both Guide and Teesri Kasam.  Perhaps being part of a contemned (and often condemned) profession played a part in the characters’ resilience?

Like Waheeda and Hema, my bias  Wang Ji Won came to acting from dance. So did several other actresses I follow, including Han Ye Ri, whose major was in Korean traditional dance. Unlike Waheeda and Hema, I’ve never seen any of the Korean dancer-actresses I follow in a role involving dance in a truly significant way, though Ji Won played a ballerina in Fated To Love You. So now I have two questions:

First, are there any Korean films from the 60s or 70s that feature similarly independent, self-assertive women? Second, are there Korean films or Dramas about dancers or featuring dance prominently and starring actresses who are or were dancers? I look forward to your responses, gentle readers.

Every Rose Has Its Thorns

This piece is a summary of my reaction to my first Pakistani drama, Zindagi Gulzar Hai. The title is usually translated “Life is a Garden” but the first half in particular was such a painful watch that I couldn’t help thinking of thorns.
My favourite film ever is Pyaasa, and one of the main reasons I love it is the artistry of the Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi who wrote the lyrics for the film’s songs. Watching this drama had me singing one line from one of those songs over and over again, “Hamne toh jab kaliyaan maangi kaanton kaa haar mila” – “Whenever I asked for flowers, I received a crown[1] of thorns”. Here are the flowers and the thorns I found in Zindagi Gulzar Hai.

FLOWERS

The language

I love the sound of Urdu. After Italian, it’s probably my second favourite  language in terms of aural aesthetics. I love the blend of Indic structures and Persian/Arabic vocabulary that makes it both familiar and different. And, although I can’t read it  I simply adore its beautiful script, as in the Drama’s title above. It was a delight to enhance my Urdu vocabulary by watching it with  subtitles so that I could learn the Urdu equivalents of familiar Hindi words, while getting more from the dialogues than subtitles alone can give.  If I watch another Pakistani Drama, it will be primarily a learning experience, like this one was.

 

Kashaf

The female lead was without question the Drama’s rose. Appropriately prickly, she was a great character. Intelligent, independent, hard-working, stubborn, pessimistic, angry  and slow to both trust and forgive, she was a well-rounded, believable and likeable human being.   She worked tirelessly to support her Mother and her younger sisters, and her fierce self-reliance was a delight to watch. She was also incredibly self-righteous and short-tempered. No perfect “Candy” here, that’s for sure.

I also really liked her Mother and sisters.  Rafiya was a great role model as a woman and a mother. Abandoned by her husband for bearing only daughters, she set her three girls an example they all followed in the value of education and self-reliance. She also demonstrated (for the most part) great deftness in negotiating the tricky waters of life as an independent working mother in a VERY male-dominated society.  Which brings me to

THORNS

Zaroon

The picture above nicely captures my reaction to at least 60% of this character’s screentime. Reviews of the Drama describe him with words phrases such as  “charismatic”, flirty yet sensible” and other similarly complimentary terms. I would describe him as arrogant, hypocritical and rage-inducingly chauvinist.

For the first fourteen of the Drama’s twenty-six episodes he was breathtakingly awful. So astonishingly brazen and unashamed of his hypocritical misogyny it left me speechless. His attitudes on the roles and rights of men and women made the cartoon stereotype of the hair-pulling troglodyte seem rabidly liberal.

This character insisted that he was always right in everything because of being male, and that he had the right to bully, harass and abuse the female lead because she wasn’t.  A systematic campaign of deception and degradation was not only OK, it was the right and proper thing for him to do, because she was committing the unforgivable sin of not acknowledging his innate, all-encompassing superiority.

If I hated the character so much, why did I stick it out? Because of my experience with East Asian Dramas. I’m used to the trope of a jerk lead growing and becoming a better person, often “transformed” by the power of the female lead’s love.  So while ranting and cursing and filling my Twitter with ragetweets about what a contemptible chauvinist he was, I was also expecting to see some character development. I assumed he would grow into something resembling a reasonable, moderate human being. I was wrong.  Over the 26 episodes of the Drama, his character DID  move forward, but he did so  less than any continental shelf did in the same time period.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this was in the climactic conflict between the two leads. He went ballistic with rage at finding out that she had been proposed to by someone else, and never apologised for his astonishing reaction, even when others pointed out that her rejecting that proposal and accepting his should have made him happy.  He then  proceeded to start secretly texting and even meeting up with his own ex-fiancee. To the end, he insisted there was nothing wrong with this, and that his double standards about what was acceptable were right and proper because he’s a man. In the end, predictably, his wife Kashaf gave in. Contrary to the show’s intentions, I did not  find this to be a happy ending.

As bad as I found his character to be, I do not fault the writing. Someone on my Twitter timeline said watching the Drama was informative, and I tried to keep that point of view.  Pakistan is a religiously and socially conservative country, and the attitudes of the male lead always seemed authentic. Even while I found his words and actions repellent, I knew they were credible. I also applauded the writer(s) for the depth of the female characters. Kashaf’s Mum  was another good example of this. Besides the strong points I highlighted earlier, she was shown as having a fundamental weakness, an inability to say no to the husband who abandoned her, even when he asked her to take in the son he left her to have!

I also salute the writers for the way they integrated the presumably mandated religious content. With the exception of the closing scenes which were accompanied by direct sermons of praise from both leads, the integration of Islamic culture and theology into the Drama seemed organic and believable for the modern day . Right down to the presentation of the lead as someone who saw the inside of a mosque only a couple of times a year.

In summary, this garden had plenty of beauty in the cast, and plenty of pain in the characters. I loved the sound of the words even when I hated their content. I learned more about a country and culture I really should know more of, and I (hopefully) amused my Twitter timeline with my ragetweets. If you’re looking for something different in the way of Dramas, check this one out and see if you find more roses than thorns. For reading this all the way through, shukriya, Khuda hafiz!

 

 

  1. [1]“haar” is “necklace” or “garland” but given the amount of Christ references in the film’s imagery, “crown” seems to fit here

2017 Resolution: Let’s Tidy up Around Here

The islands of Aotearoa are  much separated from the rest of the world, not merely spatially but also temporally. I’m taking advantage of this by posting at midnight NZDST on January 1st, thus ensuring this will be the first unread blog post of 2017.

In my end of year post, I mentioned hoping to tackle my backlog of unwatched  Korean and Japanese Dramas. Writing that prompted me to see exactly what Dramas I had waiting to be watched.  I was surprised to find that the queues are shorter than I expected.

Unwatched Korean Dramas

Unwatched Japanese Dramas

The lists from China and Taiwan are MUCH shorter:

Taiwan
Black and White

China
Gong
Lan Ling Wang
Ode To Joy

Twenty-seven Dramas in total, a manageable number.  Checking out each and every one of them is one of my New Year’s resolutions. Another of my resolutions applies not only to them but to Dramas coming up in 2017, and entertainment choices in general:

If entertainment doesn’t entertain, DROP IT

That seems so obvious as to be axiomatic, but it’s taken a long time to reach the required ruthlessness. When I started watching East Asian Dramas, I wanted to watch as many as possible as quickly as possible. Now, I’m older and  a little less naive.  Hence my resolve not to waste leisure time finishing a Drama that is not entertaining me.

The same resolve applies to my reading. My 2016 Goodreads Challenge was a particularly humiliating failure, so the first item on my reading agenda is to get further into each of the books on my “currently-reading” list. I really want to read 50 books this year, finishing these eight would be a good start.

Most of the books on  my currently-reading list and my “to-read” list are non-fiction, things I want to read for fun and mental exercise. That mental exercise is important for two reasons: (1) It’s a lot more fun than the physical variety,  and (2) I have to seriously contemplate getting my brain in shape for tackling Korean and Japanese this year.

Here is where “the Native hue of Resolution Is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought”. I want to at least try to pick up enough Korean to be able to follow the gist of a Drama or movie even if unsubbed. This is VERY important to me in 2017 because it’s the year that Wang Ji Won‘s debut movie gets released, hopefully. The odds of it getting subbed are not great, so if I want to watch it, I must learn to follow more spoken Korean. That will take time, hence the need to be ruthless about dropping Dramas if they don’t earn their keep by entertaining me.

The idea of even starting Japanese gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies. Any language that can say to itself, “hey, you know what? Having three writing systems is boring baby stuff, let’s add a fourth”  is certainly a Satanically sadistic Sprache.  But again, desperate times call for desperate measures. Increasingly, when I consider the  “absolutely LOVE IT” Dramas I’ve seen, more and more of them are from Japan, a country whose approach to sharing its Dramas with the world can be summed up thusly:

Since Japanese Dramas are often not subbed, if I want to enjoy the short, sweet romcoms they seem to do so well, I may have no choice but to at least give it a try. The punster in me finds it  apt that the phrase “morituri te  salutamus” starts with  a word that sounds vaguely Japanese.

Now that my resolutions and wishes are on record, what are the chances any of them will see completion? Any suggestions on how to tackle them will be VERY gratefully received, so please feel free to share your responses: Suggestions for which Dramas to tackle first, language learning resources for über-Dummies, opening a betting pool on how many of my resolutions last as a long as a week, you name it.

To any who read this, thank you! I wish you a satisfying and successful 2017.  2016 was a mixed year in many ways, including the quality of its Dramas, but it did save one of the very best for last. The excellent and under-appreciated Night Light  features as a theme song for its male lead a song by Dire Straits. That song seems like the perfect way to conclude this post, some melodious good advice in the face of an uncertain future.

Annus Horribilis – An Aotearoa Ajeossi’s Antidote

Few would argue against the view that 2016 was a bleak year. So I’m going to celebrate  Dramas that provided moments of relief. On Twitter and Instagram I’m a Happy Harabeoji, here are some of the highlights that helped me stay that way.

This is NOT a “Best of” list. These were my “Happy Pills”. Some were flawed, one was  mediocre (to be kind), but I loved them all for making me smile, and laugh, and swoon.

Contentment

Yeah, That’s How It Is

I’ve already waxed rhapsodic about this outstanding unseen gem, so won’t repeat myself too much. It tops this list because it provided a special kind of pleasure. There were funny scenes, most courtesy of a stellar comic turn by Wang Ji Hye, but the overall feeling it generated was quiet satisfaction, the contentment of knowing that “Yeah, that IS how it is”. 2017 WILL see a rerun of this Drama in my household.

Aesthetics 

Immortal Goddess

NOT a classic for the ages, but still a real highlight of my year. I am even more fond of my beautiful ballet-schooled bias than I am of alliteration, so an entire Drama built around showing just how beautiful she is was addictive ambrosia. The only complete Drama I’ve watched unsubbed from beginning to end, but I understood everything I needed to.

Jimi Ni Sugoi (Pretty Proofreader)

Ishihara Satomi may not have the greatest range as an actor, but she is really, really, really, ridiculously good-looking, and when she smiles, dazzlingly pretty. So a Drama that played to her strengths was a guaranteed winner. Much like Immortal Goddess, the Drama is built around showing off its lead’s beauty. The English title really is a good description of the Drama, it delivers exactly what it says. And that is definitely cause to smile.

Adorable Age Gaps

Beautiful Gong Shim

In a year dominated by Korean Dramas’ repellently creepy ephebophilia fixation, one of the biggest shots of happy came from a Drama with a big OTP age gap but without the female lead either in or eligible for a school uniform. Beautiful Gong Shim suffered from bloat toward the end, but the pairing of Namgoong Min and Min Ah was pure magic. A true ajeossi romance, the thirteen years between them disappeared onscreen, replaced by irresistible fun.

We Married As a Job

This Japanese gem is now my firm favourite in the contract marriage genre, thanks to the leads. Hoshino Gen’s Hiramasa is frustratingly low on self-esteem and awareness, but his gradual awakening is satisfying to watch. Aragaki Yui shines as Mikuri, a gangly bundle of sweetness looking for fulfillment in life and love, and Ishida Yuriko’s Yurichan is all kinds of awesome, a role model for the fifty-ish everywhere. Even the end sequence deserves special mention. It may be the best I’ve ever seen. It’s definitely the most FUN end sequence I’ve ever seen.

Joie De Vivre

Juhan Shuttai

Joie de vivre is literally the very essence of this nearly flawless Japanese Drama. The lead character exudes joy at being alive. It gushes out of her so irrepressibly that it infects everyone she comes in contact with, both characters and viewers. A rare 10/10 in my personal Drama list, there were no villains, but there was a heroine, and watching this cute, perennially happy bear cub grow was a recipe for uncomplicated joy. I am 99% certain that the clip below describes the reactions of 99% of this Drama’s  viewers.

Lame Humour

The Gentlemen of Wolgyesu Tailor Shop

This fifty episode Drama still has sixteen episodes to go, but even though the requisite conflict is starting to seep in as we enter the final third, I don’t recall ever laughing so much through a weekender. I look forward to each new week with almost as much eagerness as I did for Yeah That’s How It Is. Up to this point, it has been a lowkey laughfest The OTP is similarly rare, a slow-burning, muted merging of two very quiet characters. The remove from Drama stereotypes is highlighted by the male lead’s love of puns and similar wordplay, the “lame humour” referenced above. Throw in the unique talents of Ra Mi Ran, and the implausibly cute Lee Se Young and the result is a gentle confection, the Drama equivalent of a hot chocolate with marshmallows. I hope that it ends similarly, leaving me with a warm smile, like the ones it features so prominently.

 

 

 

 

Besides the Dramas above, the biggest Drama-related source of happiness for me has been my bias, Wang Ji Won. 2016 began with her shooting her first film, and ended with her getting a new agency, one I hope will support and promote her much better than her last one did. 2016 was also the year she got her first magazine cover article, which meant that 2016 was the year I bought my first 400 page magazine in a language I don’t know. Letting my bias know I’d bought a copy earned me a second DM from her, which made it a very worthwhile investment. Making a sizeable contribution to a very well thought out gift package was another highlight of my fanboy’s year, and as I look forward to her movie releasing early in 2017, I’m already considering gift options for THAT milestone in her career.

Another reliable source of smiles this year has, once again, been my remarkable Twitter timeline. While 140 characters is not optimal for nuanced and complex conversations, it is a great medium for fun and frippery, and my diverse Twitterati have supplied plenty of both all year, thank you all. A professional polyglot man of mystery with an adorable niece, a pharmacist with a cute nephew, a salty film student in a VERY complex long distance marriage, an itinerant Aussie and a friendly Frankfurter are among those who deserve special thanks for having provided many smiles through the year as victims of my maliciously bad wordplay.

An end of year post traditionally references the year ahead, and my Drama calendar for next year includes checking out two sageuks, a development so shocking I’m surprised Dispatch didn’t break it as front page news. I am interested to see how Lee Young Ae’s return to acting goes in the fusion sageuk written specifically for her, Saimdang. I am also keen to check out the upcoming Hong Gil Dong sageuk, mostly for the talented and beautiful Lee Ha Nui. Fingers crossed she plays the gayageum in it! 2017 might also be the year I finally clear my backlog of both K and J Dramas waiting to be watched.

Other things that have brought this Aotearoa Ajeossi happiness this year have included seeing a lot more of Aotearoa, and getting to play Harabeoji a lot more often. I hope that any who read this have had real life joys and seen Dramas that provided entertaining distractions too. It is a festive time of year, so I sincerely wish everyone a happy, safe and satisfying holiday season. May you be snowed under with happiness, or baked brown with bliss, according to your hemisphere. Ka kite ano, noho ora mai!

In Support Of The King 왕지원

저는 왕지원의 팬입니다

The phrase above is the background image for my Twitter profile.”I am a fan of Wang Ji Won”.  The use of the deferential form of “I” maybe grammatically incorrect, but the choice was very deliberate. This post is to celebrate her, and reflect on my experiences as an international fan.

As mentioned here, I started following Wang Ji Won a couple of years ago on Instagram. Her posts were pretty, cute and fun. At the time she was second lead in the drama I Need Romance 3. Many of her Instagram posts feature the cast of the drama having fun together, and I fell for her impish smile and ridiculously cute pout. But it was reading a translated interview in which she talked about her background that converted me into a hard-core fan.

4

Learning that she had spent 17 years devoted to ballet, including attending the Royal School of Ballet and earning a place with the Korea National Ballet before a pelvic fracture put her in a wheelchair for six months and ended her ballet career gave me a new perspective on this young woman. It showed that behind her cute, funny, impish smile was a character of determination, diligence and drive, someone who could still exude fun after having her life’s dream taken away. The trajectory of her post-ballet career has further demonstrated  those characteristics.

ballet1

Becoming proficient at ballet requires years of practice, lots of intensive physical exercise and sheer hard work, with a lot of pain. It has been similar for Wang Ji Won in her career as an actress. She started modelling and doing some advertising work around the time she was with the Korea National Ballet. Some of her earliest commercials also provide an excellent example of the depth of my fanboy’s commitment. They feature an actor of almost legendary fame, whom I have never seen in anything other than those commercials. So when people talk about him, he is to me “that guy who was with Wang Ji Won in those ads”.

 

Her first drama role was in the 120 episode Shut Up Family in 2012 . I watched this drama a few months ago to complete her canon, and recorded the time and duration of every one of her scenes in the entire drama. Following Shut Up Family, her next drama was the 2013 Good Doctor, which happened to be the first drama I watched while it was airing. After that came a very brief cameo in the mega smash hit The Heirs before she secured her first second lead in I Need Romance 3. One of her closest Korean fans recently said something like “don’t worry she’s not Oh Se Ryeong (her character in INR3)” I smiled and thought “but I like Se Ryeong”. And I did. The best friends to frenemies to best friends again arc was well executed by Wang Ji Won and the lead Kim So Yeon.

In 2014, Wang Ji Won got her first lead role in the web drama Another Parting . Effectively an hour-long MV for the eponymous title track, Another Parting was another step forward in her career, especially thanks to her high profile male lead Seo In Guk. It also featured a scene that made my blood boil when I learned later it was filmed in -9°C!

After Another Parting, her next second lead was a role that got me really excited. It was a remake of the Taiwanese drama Fated to Love You. I hated that drama, including its female second, who deliberately caused the lead to miscarry. The second lead character in the drama was a ballet dancer, but sadly the actress playing that character in the Taiwanese drama had no experience in ballet and was not a very good actor. So I was super excited when my ballerina bias scored the role in the Korean remake. Seeing her dance again even briefly remains a highlight of the drama for me. That her character was significantly less awful than in the Taiwanese original was a nice bonus.

Her next drama role was in 2015 as second lead in Divorce Lawyer in Love. I will be polite and describe the drama as underwhelming. As a very committed fan, I was hugely disappointed at the way her character’s role faded in significance and screen time in the last half of the drama, to the point where she was effectively absent. Nevertheless, the drama did give me many treasured memories of my beautiful bias looking very beautiful.

bluecomp18

In a recent interview for her first cover article in a magazine, Wang Ji Won mentioned (according to Google translate) that 2015 was a bit of a slump year for her. I found that candour endearing. Happily 2016 has been much better . Not only her first magazine cover but a short web drama that was effectively all about her, Immortal Goddess. These however are the appetisers for what makes 2016 a very special year for Wang Ji Won and her fans. She completed filming this year on her very first film role , a con artist caper film with Im Si Wan , One Line. It hasn’t come out yet, but when it does, this fan boy will be raving, again.

This brief recap of her career showcases her focus and determination. She has worked her way up slowly, from commercials to small parts on to 2nd leads and web dramas and now to a movie role. She has candidly acknowledged the role luck has played, but she’s also seized the opportunities presented and made the most of them. And it has not all been smooth sailing.

The same social media that cemented my attachment to her as a fan also caused her significant pain. She suffered serious verbal abuse from people who refuse to recognise that public performers are entitled to private lives. Performers need to a space to perform, and they need an audience.  Social media interactions provide both. Sadly some mean-spirited people attacked her repeatedly over a long period of time, to the point where she withdrew from social media. That low point in her public life also taught me the truth of the adage “never say never”

When I started getting into Korean dramas, I could not understand why fans would send expensive gifts to their biases, who obviously have a lot more money than their fans. Yet last year, when I learned the extent and nature of the abuse that Wang Ji Won was suffering from unkind people, I was moved to respond by sending a fan gift. Not solely as a fan, but  primarily as someone who wanted to express sympathy. That fan gift mission turned into quite a saga itself, with its own ups and downs and crises,(and even its own playlist) but in the end I got what every fan craves, acknowledgement from my bias. Since then, as her career has continued its upward arc, I have contributed to fan gifts on two further occasions. Never say “never”!

Being a hard-core fan of an actor with a lower profile has its advantages. Her fan base is not that large at the moment, so she interacts with many of them. For a few months, she even followed me on Instagram. This was, of course, the highlight of my social media existence. Any performer’s public social media presence is in large part about performance, publicity and promotion. No one shows all of themselves on SNS, and not for a minute do I think that Ji Won’s  public SNS shows all of her, but it what it does show, I like. Her interactions with her Korean fans on Instagram always present the same picture – that of a warm, friendly and genuinely fun young woman, who enjoys chatting with her peers. From her unobtrusive fondness for her cat, whom she rescued from a freeway, to her unfeigned anguish at being almost 30 (Korean age) and her constant willingness to simply goof off, there is nothing not to like. If I had a ₩ for every ㅋㅋㅋ in her comments and replies, I could afford to learn Korean in Korea. Which would certainly make my fan life a whole lot simpler.

There is a clip from Sesame Street I’m fond of using to express my relationship with the rest of Wang Ji Won’s fandom. The overwhelming majority of her fans are Korean, female, and under 30. I am emphatically none of those things. I cannot speak Korean, can barely read Hangul, and live 13,000 km away, in addition to being more than 20 years older than my bias and the majority of her fans. Despite all this, I have been made to feel very welcome as part of her fandom.

I am especially indebted to the fan who has the closest connection to Wang Ji Won. For her star, this young woman is a truly devoted fan, a friend, and a fierce protector. Their exchanges on SNS are always a joy to read, even through machine translation, good natured banter between friends. This fan has a fan in me. Despite already spending countless hours producing beautiful fan vids, and constantly being on guard  to shield Ji Won’s SNS from those who wish her ill, she has shown extraordinary patience and helpfulness in facilitating my fandom by sharing information with me and translating it for me. Her tireless loyalty is worthy of its own tribute. I have been deeply moved by her willingness to offer me the opportunity to participate in fan events, even when the realities of distance, differing timezones and my  lack of Korean eventually precluded my participation.

The title of this tribute is a dig at Google Translate. The name “Ji Won” is not uncommon among Korean actresses, but Wang Ji Won is the ONLY one whose name Google refuses to treat as such, instead translating her name as words. With her star seeming to be on the rise, I hope to see this change soon. All the signs are that this beautiful,  hard-working, talented, determined and beautiful young woman is starting to reap the rewards due her effort. I’m sure that in the not too distant future, many more, including Google, will know her name. When that time comes, and she shines to others as the star she already is to me, I will be cheering and clapping and smiling.

It’s every fan’s dream to meet their bias, of course, even when we know it won’t happen. Aotearoa is so far away from anywhere it famously doesn’t even show up on many maps. And my little corner of this little country is off the tourist track (except for wine buffs). So when I see photos of  my bias meeting fans, I feel very, very happy for them, and just a tiny bit wistful.

If the unimaginably improbable happened and I did meet Wang Ji Won, what would I say?

“감사합니다! 진짜 , 정말, 감사합니다!” ” Thank you for sharing your talent, grace and beauty.” “Thank you for making me smile and gush. Thank you for keeping the teenager in me alive and well.”  “Thank you for being a good person.”

As I watch this lovely young woman’s career from afar, I will continue to be proud to say, “I’m her fan” And when she’s the big name star she deserves to be, I’ll still keep treasuring  the words and images of a young woman who loves iced Americanos from Starbucks (sigh!), who gushes like a teenage fangirl over her favourite Dramas and anime, who rescues stray cats, who has kind words for strange old fans far away, and who has a smile and a pout that no tribute can do justice to. There may be many Jiwons, but for me, there can be only !

Owl Be Back

A few days ago I was called close-minded, for having no interest at all in historical dramas. My initial reaction was to feel insulted and offended. It is, after all, hardly a designation many would treasure. The offence quickly morphed into amusement that something as trivial as a difference in entertainment tastes could be seen as evidence of close-mindedness.

It was also, as the saying goes, “funny ‘cos it’s true” – when it comes to the world of Asian dramas I am an extreme outlier more often than not. Period dramas bore me rigid, and with almost no exceptions, I am utterly uninterested in the aesthetic appeal of male actors. A podcast urging its listeners “not to be THAT noona” further drove home to me my position outside the mainstream of Asian entertainment consumers. Not simply because it is not biologically possible for me to be any sort of noona without major surgery, but also because the podcast was mostly about KPop, another field of entertainment which generally leaves me  underwhelmed.

I may not care about historical dramas at all, or about KPop very much (Mamamoo excepted), but it is always a joy to hear from those who do. Listening to people talk about the things that interest them enlightens and delights me. I have a physical intolerance to alcohol, but love listening to my sommelier best friend talk at length about the wines which are his world. I have a degenerative disability, but always really enjoy listening to a young friend talk about her work as a personal trainer and about her surfing. Reading tweets and blog posts from people waxing lyrical about the things which excite them and stir their passion always makes me smile. As I was composing this I thought of the group EXID, and especially Hani. I feel like I know something about her, and of their music, thanks to the devoted commitment of one of my Twitter followers. Her tireless efforts to share her fandom have made sure that whenever I think about EXID, I feel good (Sorry Emily!)

Thus, reflecting on the pleasure I get from reading and learning about other’s passions, I’ve decided that when it comes to the muddled, contradictory, senescent voices in my own head , I’m going to follow the old advice : “What say they? Let them say.” The adage “blog like no one is reading” is close to being the literal truth in my case. That not even spammers visit is actually liberating. As with my very lengthy tribute to a drama  (almost) no one watched, I will rave about what I want to rave about, and, on the rare occasions when I care enough to overcome my aversion to the effort needed, I will rant about what I want to rant about. I’ll indulge my obsession with multilingual wordplay, even when much of the (putative) audience won’t get it, as in the owl theme on this blog. Anyone who does read this can expect to find my support for a former ballerina to feature prominently and for South Asian (or more specifically, North Indian) films to once again be bloviation fodder. Noho ora mai rā.

The Best I’ve Seen? 그래, 그런거야

This is the first time I’ve been moved to write a review of a single K Drama. It’s also the first time I’ve cried when a drama ended. I didn’t cry because of how it ended, but because it ended. That’s a mark of how very special Yeah That’s How It Is has been for me. Before I get into the reasons why, I’m going to start with a lament.

Ratings show that this exceptional drama was watched by almost no one in Korea. It was watched by even fewer international viewers. I have a very strong aversion to watching dramas streamed. I will only watch dramas streamed as an absolute last resort, if they are not available at all for download, and assuming the streaming sites will even let me – the two biggest don’t. It seems the overwhelming majority of international viewers take the opposite position. The only way most international viewers will watch dramas is if they are streamed. If a drama is not streamed they will not watch, period. This means that for them, if a drama is not streamed it effectively does not exist. In a guest piece for couch-kimchi I wrote about taking the road less travelled, but on my Twitter timeline of over 400 , I was 50% of this drama’s audience. That really was the road less travelled. It saddens me that no streaming sites picked up this drama, consigning it to the abyss of nonexistence for all those international viewers who will not download dramas to watch.

My fan’s lament out of the way, onto the celebration. And there is so much to celebrate. Of the 160 or so K dramas I’ve started, Yeah That’s How It Is is probably the very best I’ve ever seen. It did pretty much nothing wrong. Ironically, my aversion to watching dramas streamed is partly rooted in the inability to fast forward them, while this drama which I downloaded required almost no use of fast forward at all. The big ratings winner among weekend dramas during the period that Yeah That’s How It Is aired was Five Children, which had many, many fans on my timeline. Many of them also tweeted advice to skip certain storylines or fast forward through sections. This is standard practice among experienced viewers of K Dramas. We all know that in many cases, K Dramas are unwatchable without the a significant use of the fast forward function. Not so with Yeah That’s How It Is. There was one character whose loud ranting dialogue I did fast forward at times, when I was not in the mood for noise, but in the end those apparently unbalanced rants proved to be yet another example of the drama’s excellence.

Yeah That’s How It Is is a slice-of-life drama. I would say it is THE slice of life drama. There is absolutely no makjang. There were no cheating spouses or exes, no birth secrets, no amnesia. The only thing that happens in the 54 episodes of the drama is life. Ordinary, everyday, relatable life. All of the characters are believable as real people, even the one who seemed most like a cliched OTT bullying drama Mum. Im Ye Jin’s character was hysterical and screaming a lot, and when watching the drama in the wee small hours of the morning I would often fast forward her scenes simply because I couldn’t handle the noise. She seemed so OTT it was like she was off her meds. As it turned out, she literally was. Her character turned out not to be another one in the endless conveyor belt of shrieking harpy K Drama Mums, but rather someone with a diagnosed and treatable medical condition, whose behaviour changed when she resumed taking her medication. That’s life.

Every character in the drama was very well written, and easy to accept as a real person. There are two main age groups represented in the drama. Three brothers and their wives in their late 50s to early 60s, and a group of half a dozen cousins and friends in the thirtysomething bracket. With my own age being neatly between those two groups, I found both very relatable. I also loved the simple genuineness of the relationship between the grandparents. The ever-reliable Lee Soon Jae and Kang Boo Ja gave me an aspirational image of what I hope my own marriage will be like in another 30 years.

I know that not many people will read this. I also know that because of the “no download” rule, of the  few who do, even fewer will watch the drama. So I’m going to take some time to celebrate some of the standout individual performances from this exceptional ensemble. Not a recap, but a tribute to excellence, a public shout out to hard-working professionals who’ve had some of their very best work almost completely overlooked. It is the very least I can do to express my gratitude to the writers and cast. I will start with the character who was the most fun:

Continue reading “The Best I’ve Seen? 그래, 그런거야”

Two Worlds: Two Episodes, Two Views

One of the hottest K dramas at the moment is W -2 Worlds. My Twitter timeline is full of tweets singing its praises. I had planned to avoid the drama completely because of my aversion to the actor playing the male lead, but decided to check it out in the interests of objectivity. This is my reaction to the first two episodes.

watch yeah that’s how it is

The basic concept of the drama is one that had real potential. A murder mystery blending elements of The Truman Show and Stranger Than Fiction. Both those films feature actors I’m not particularly keen on but whose performances in those films impressed and pleased me. Despite my aversion to Mr Lee, I went into this drama prepared for the possibility that something similar could happen. So far it has not.

watch yeah that’s how it is

For me the pacing of the drama has been all wrong. It has not spent any time investing its characters with enough emotional depth for me to care about them. Instead of building an emotional connection by showing its characters as people to whom I could react, the drama has been hyper-kinetically frenzied. The lead character is accused of murdering his entire family, but no time yet has been spent on his character, his personality. Trauma doesn’t come much bigger than this, but you wouldn’t know it from the shallowness of his reactions, at least as shown to us. In both The Truman Show and Stranger Than Fiction the emotional impact of their situation was clearly obvious on the characters, and it was easy to care about them as people within their worlds. After two episodes, this drama has completely failed to do that. This failure is especially noticeable in the case of the female lead.

watch yeah that’s how it is

When I decided to watch at least four episodes of this drama, I expected to dislike it because of the male lead. I did not expect that the performance of the female lead would be my biggest single complaint by far. She has not yet been injured in the two episodes I’ve seen, but I suspect that if you cut her, she would bleed Red Bull. I have only seen the actress playing the lead in one other role, Shining Inheritance, and I liked her in that role. Here, she is literally tiresome to watch. I really hope it is primarily the fault of poor direction, and that does seem possible. The impression I have after two episodes is of a drama that is afraid to slow down and let viewers connect with the characters, instead feeling compelled to just keep running. It’s tiring to watch, and boring. I say boring because without being given a reason why I should care what happens to the characters, all the frenzied drama really isn’t that dramatic.

watch yeah that’s how it is

I play up my role as a cranky contrarian on Twitter, but giving this drama a try was not solely driven by some atavistic hipster urge to Snark about something that many, many people really like. I am genuinely happy that so many people are finding great pleasure in this drama, and the unusual degree of consensus did play a part in my deciding to give it a chance.

watch yeah that’s how it is

If I dislike it so much, why keep going? Given  my very negative reaction to the first two, why watch two more? The  reason I’m pressing on with episodes three and four is because of my experience with Doctors. I started that drama because someone whose tastes are often similar to mine and whose opinion I highly regard recommended it. The first 10 episodes were awful – tedious, unimaginative, clichéd, K drama 101 . Then all of a sudden it picked up in episodes 11 and 12 . The two leads started having conversations which surprised me by their maturity and reality. The drama went from a tedious chore to something I’m actually interested in. Perhaps something similar can happen with Two Worlds. I really don’t think it will, but if and when I drop the drama, I will know that I had given it a fair shot, and so will any who have read this.

watch yeah that’s how it is

I spent a week on Twitter endlessly raving about what is possibly the very best Korean drama I have ever seen, one that almost no one on my timeline is watching, or will watch. It makes me a little sad that an astonishingly well-written and well acted drama is so overlooked, but I didn’t tweet about it hundreds of times to try to persuade anyone to watch it. I did so simply to share my joy and delight and surprise at having found such a treasure, and to express my profound gratitude to the patient persistence of the person who endlessly urged me to give it a try. It’s been a long time since I felt that way about a drama, and even though the ravings of a self-styled cranky contrarian won’t end up persuading even one other person to watch it, praising it is something I have to do and will keep doing.

watch yeah that’s how it is

That’s also why I celebrate the enthusiasm of all who are enjoying Two Worlds. Instead of snarking about it endlessly, giving it a fair shot and explaining my reaction to it seems like a kinder, more mature way of celebrating freedom of speech, diversity of opinion and respect for others’ passions. Rather than rain on others’ parade, I’ll settle for being able to say to those who say “you don’t know what you’re missing”, “Yes I do. Not much.”

Waldorf_and_Statler_2

 

watch yeah that’s how it is — PLEASE

Number 1: Day 19

Drama That Started Your Bias

 

 

I NEED ROMANCE 3

I said in the introductory post to this series that “The ten I’ve chosen are going to be listed more or less in chronological order.” We’ve had the nine less, here’s the one more.

When it comes to my bias’s fandom, I’m the ultimate outlier. I am the wrong age, the wrong gender, in the wrong country and speak the wrong language. I am, in short, just plain wrong.  Despite all of that, I AM  a fan, and as such will gladly seize any chance to sing her praises.

This was a challenging category to answer  because my crush on my bias did not start from Dramas. I fell hard for Ms Wang Ji Won (yes, that is her NAME, Google Translate) by following her on her first Instagram account. Before being hounded out of SNS  her Instagram showed a young woman with an irrepressible sense of fun, who loved being silly, with a  killer pout that captured an old man’s fan heart “with a wink and a smile”.  Add in the cat she rescued from a freeway and doesn’t torment  for SNS fodder, and she had my vote before any Drama.

A big part of that SNS fun also revolved around the first of her Dramas that really did cement her as my bias. The cast of I Need Romance 3 spent a lot of time together in social settings, and continued to get together as often as possible long after the Drama had ended. Following her IG at the same time as watching the Drama was a double whammy of cute and pretty, with a  large side order of fun. It also foreshadowed “the start of a beautiful friendship” with the scene below being re-enacted endlessly on Twitter by two fans of the actors involved:

 


fight

If INR3 was the Drama that came closest to being the start of my bias, Fated To Love You was the one that sealed the deal. The Taiwanese original featured a bad actor playing an awful character, a ballerina. The Korean remake featured a better actor playing a less horrid character, and was played by a real ballerina. Ji Won’s story of building a new career after the injury that put her in a wheelchair for 6 months and ended her 17 year ballet dream was a big part of what made me such a fan, seeing her dance again, even fleetingly, in FTLY ,  completely shattered any chance of my escaping the thrall of my bias. When she first shared the clip below, of her practicing for the FTLY role,  she said it had been 5 years since she’d danced ballet. I can’t help thinking it may have  been a bittersweet moment for her
Many of the people I follow on Twitter get to tweet enthusiastically and  at length about the aesthetic appeal of their male biases. When one’s bias is both female, and a second lead, such opportunities are rare. A sign of how low profile my bias is can be seen in the way Google treats her name. Of seven actresses I know called Ji Won, she is the only  one whose name is not recognised as such, and a youtube clip entitled “Wang Ji Won ballet”, actually features a compilation of several Ji Wons, much to my annoyance, So the missing piece of the “cement my bias” puzzle was finally supplied by the web Drama Immortal Goddess. The whole Drama was built around Wang Ji Won, with the key plot point being “Wang Ji Won is really ridiculously good looking”.

 

She got to do things  she’s never done  onscreen before, including throw up, get piggybacked, and laugh.
 FINALLY, I got to have the pure fan service experience so many of my Twitter friends get so often, and it was, as the lady herself might say, “wangderful”. While looking forward to her first movie role, a lead in a con film One Line,  I’ll close with some of my favourite shots from Immortal Goddess,  ones that highlight the Wang Ji Won I will always support:

 

And now it’s done. Thanks again to Indigo/Helena for her truly excellent Drama Challenge and for the chance to challenge myself by writing ten positive pieces. Incredibly self-indulgent they were, and that may have been off-putting to some. As a gracious host AND hardcore Wang Ji Won fan, to any who have waded through my waffle and now feel worse for wear, I will let my beautiful ballerina bias convey my sincerest regrets:

Number 2: Day 28

Top Three Drama Sisterhoods

Otona Joshi
Three working women in the circa 40 age bracket, good friends for years, each with their quirks and foibles, strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows. At various times in the Drama I got annoyed with the lead (centre) and the one on the left in this screencap, but the working single Mum on the right was all kinds of cool, as attested to by the harshest critic possible, a teenage son. As he said  after she had proved the point yet again, she really was
It was the sisterhood that won me for this show. From my perspective, they seemed like real friends, with no Drama nastiness and a solid connection that survived the sorts of up and downs any friendship has. A feel good favourite in which the bond of the three women proved more of an appeal than the OTP for me.
It’s back to another Japanese favourite for sisterhood number two. The clip above nicely illustrates the relationship between these three. They were  part of a “marriage club” formed at the school they all taught at, and despite different ages, personalities and life stages, they became very close friends. The clip above shows the faux combativeness of their friendship. They claimed to be rivals, who would prey on each other if needed to get their man, but in fact they were very supportive and loyal. One more reason to give this excellent low key Drama a look!

OFFICE GIRLS

Office Girls is an interesting Drama. There’s A LOT wrong with it  – stupidly overlong, with a tiresome “comic” side character, a truly vicious second female lead, and far too much drawn out melo. The main reason it works is the quite astonishingly magical chemistry between the leads, Alice and Roy. The other consistently good point in its favour is the bond between Alice’s and Yao Yao’s characters, shown above. Roommates and workmates, they were a reliable source of positive vibes, even when the Drama was in its tedious low points. For helping make the long journey to the end worthwhile, they round out the top 3 for me.