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.

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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 !