Queendom, Kingdom, Prey
First and foremost, congratulations to WJSN for winning Queendom 2, though the real winner of course was Taeyeon, filling in for Lee Da-hee. I got into Girls’ Generation a bit sideways, so I’m only now reconciling with the scope of Taeyeon’s celebrity. For anyone else who doesn’t fully understand, Taeyeon is an idol for idols. I’ve seen a number of other idols talk about how cool it would be to one day meet Taeyeon, and I saw Bomi all nervous before being in the same room with her. That’s one thing I’d love to really get, the X factor of knowledge that might come from growing up with all that pop culture. The implicit things like Taeyeon’s godliness or what do Koreans reference in their day-to-day? I’ve picked up on some of it, like references to White Tower or The World of the Married? Anyway, speaking of K-dramas, what was interesting about Queendom 2 for me was Bona’s return of the king, where she joined her group after having missed more than half the show due to Twenty-Five Twenty-One.
I can’t really watch these kinds of competition shows. If I have a horse in the race, it’s all too suspenseful. In this case, when Queendom 2 was announced, Loona was the only group I knew. Thanks to Twenty-Five Twenty-One, I’m now getting into WJSN. I know they were doing just fine before Bona came in, but I like to think she was just what they needed to secure the crown. I’ve also been getting into Oh My Girl (contestants on the first season of Queendom), and actually not because of that recent Moonbyul video — though let me tell you, that was sweet, sweet love kernels. Moonbyul finally made good on an ancient troll she’s been running on Solar about making her own YouTube channel, and now she’s taking her idol friends out camping (including Solar, who was rather surprised at having to do all the work). I woke up one morning to find Instagram full of photos and stories of a camping trip with Seulgi, Moonbyul and Hyojung (of Oh My Girl), and prayed there was a video to go along with it. I hadn’t known about Moonbyul2da before that, and I was quite thankful to see it. Moonbyul and Hyojung were making fun of Seulgi for misinterpreting “making a fire,” but I thought the exact same thing, Seulgi. That’s another lovely idol friendship, though I learned it was once bigger. (Maybe still is — don’t know).
I’ve just now finished season two of Kingdom and, my God, it’s fantastic. Fantastic. I watched the first season last year and then stopped for some mysterious reason, despite the enormous cliffhanger. I think that the first season is probably better overall, but the two make up one continuous story so it’s barely worth making the comparison. Knowing in advance that the director was stepping aside for season two (returning for Ashin of the North), I was getting True Detective vibes, and I may have imputed some deficiencies that weren’t really there. I didn’t really understand why characters would end scenes by looking straight into the camera — except for the payoff of the very last shot, of course. And writing-wise, I was noticing how on-the-nose a lot of the dialogue was. Characters just shout their motivations at each other, and they’re sometimes so simplistic, like “I’m doing this because I want power.” I understand a lot gets lost in translation, but Kingdom was so often positively compared to big hitters like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead — and I like that, so I want it to be unimpeachable. Meanwhile, Bae Doona’s character makes some odd choices, or is forgotten, abandoned by everyone else. I never know what to think about the fumbling magistrate, the nephew guy. I like him, but the show seems to think he’s a better person than he is. It took mass execution for him to think, “Hmm, maybe that’s enough.”
But every time one of these complaints surfaced in my brain, something amazing would happen. Talk about that final battle on the ice, my word. And the opening battle, which maybe should’ve been the climax of the first season. I don’t know if it’s true, that feeling the stakes of each conflict make these battle scenes so effective, or if it’s just that the battles are staged and shot well enough to be effective regardless. Either way, they’re so thrilling, and season two was knocking off characters left and right, including my favorite guy, who died in the snowy forest. I’m not sure what the use was of letting us think the protagonist had died in the end, but whatever. I’m glad Ju Ji-hoon is sticking around. Not only is he a great actor with a great character, but I read up on him and he had a big scandal back in 2009. That’s got to be difficult to come back from, and Kingdom of course is a hell of a comeback. But speaking of personnel, I noticed that the writer Kim Eun-hee actually has a public-facing presence when it comes to Kingdom. She was a household name before, with hits like Sign and Signal, I believe, but my experience with the creative on K-dramas has always left me wanting.
I’ll end up writing about this later, but where on Earth is Kwon Do-eun? I’d love to read interviews with her and get a sense for her process. Kim Eun-hee shows up in the Kingdom behind-the-scenes featurettes, and she’s been written about in Western news sites. Again, I realize that Kingdom is one of the biggest TV shows, where Twenty-Five Twenty-One was only one of the biggest K-dramas, but still. It just makes me wonder, because an article I read with Jun Ji-hyn seems to suggest that Kim was responsible for casting her in both Kingdom and Jirisan, which I’d like to watch next. I still have Kingdom: Ashin of the North, which I’m very excited about. That’s described as a “special episode,” so I think Jun Ji-hyun is gonna turn her chair around and rap at me about making better decisions. It’s the reason why I started Kingdom in the first place, because I saw a stray trailer and thought it looked cool. Imagine my bemusement then, that Jun Ji-hyun, the reason I was watching these two seasons, only shows up at the very last scene.
The problem now, though, is that Kingdom has yet to be renewed by Netflix for season three, despite that Kim Eun-hee has plans for about ten seasons. Netflix has been earning a reputation as late for canceling beloved shows, and it seems like that’s always the “safer” option given the unstable business models these streaming platforms have adopted. From what I can tell — and I’m no expert — the acquisition of IP is more important than anything else, so a new show will always be more valuable than a returning one? That’s just my theory based on what I read from other non-experts online crying about how Netflix has no good shows. Well, they have one, and it’s called Kingdom. So let’s hurry up and get that third season greenlit.
In the meantime, I do have Predator 5 on the way, aptly titled Prey. I think instead I’m just gonna think of it as Amber Midthunder’s Predator, because the marriage of those two things brings a tear to my eye. This is the first time a Predator movie has been headlined by a woman, and Amber Midthunder’s a great choice — she kicks ass. The trailer has me all atwitter, though it’s not one of those masterpiece trailers I’ll watch obsessively like Star Wars: The Force Awakens. God, that was something. With horror and with Predator especially, you have to “hide the monster,” and I begrudgingly accept that. My only concern is that this is billed as the Predator’s first visit to Earth, which has me worried there’s gonna be any concern for the greater lore. I don’t mind lore, but Predator works best with isolated episodes, I think. Like the first movie? That’s why the attempts at fleshing out the Predator world were so ruinous in The Predator and to a far lesser extent Predators. All I need to know is that these guys are crazy hunters and they kill stuff. Anything else automatically distracts from the focus, especially when the Predator is a Super Predator — goddamn, that movie was terrible.
So despite everything else going on, I’m a Happy Camper these days. Jun Ji-hyun, Amber Midthunder, politics, Predators — it’s good. I’m also playing Predator: Hunting Grounds, and let me tell you, I do not make a good Predator. No Machiko I. Surprisingly, there’s a lot of people still playing it, and they’re often very effective Predators. Stella and I stole away with one win in, like, ten attempts tonight, although I died before getting to the chopper. A shame, because my soldier dude is sick. This is the first loot grind I’ve ever understood, because I just want to give her more accessories and gun options. Must say, the Predator mask variety is underwhelming. There’s a ton of them, but they’re missing the Celtic mask, which is my favorite.