K-Drama Report: Inspector Koo

Little by little, I’m getting a sense for the geography of South Korea. Of course, there’s metropolitan Seoul and Busan. You land in Incheon, a major city to the east. Jeju is a popular vacation spot. Irene and her accent come from Daegu. Now we have the setting for K-drama Inspector Koo, Tongyeong, a destination on the southern coast which CNN praises for its “fresh seafood, picturesque seascapes and quaint fishing village charm.” After only two episodes, I desperately wanted to visit. Who knew a murder mystery could be so flattering for a city, but every chase scene, every surveillance detail is another opportunity for a wide shot or roving camera showcasing the mountains or festivals or public gardens. This is a regular feature of the genre as I’ve witnessed it, that K-dramas are always selling something, and in total present the shiny artifice of a country at its best. How is it that every male lead is at least six feet tall and every female lead is five-foot four? And take a look at this black bean noodle – doesn’t sound appetizing, but it looks amazing. How about that sunset on the skyline? There’s a beach in everyone’s backyard here, but you fall in love on the bridge over the river. … More K-Drama Report: Inspector Koo

Gianna Jun | The Last Vampire vs. Ashin of the North

Like all those books with straightforward titles like How to Learn JavaScript, I’ll note in this introduction that “This is not a book on how to learn JavaScript,” and in this case, I won’t be summarizing Gianna Jun’s career between the films Blood: The Last Vampire and Kingdom: Ashin of the North — not exactly. But I chose these two movies because together, they suggest something about how stars are made. … More Gianna Jun | The Last Vampire vs. Ashin of the North

Your Guide to the History Behind Twenty-Five Twenty-One

The Korean drama Twenty-Five Twenty-One begins in 2021, a couple of years into the COVID-19 pandemic, before flashing back to 1998, a year into the “IMF crisis.” Director Jung Ji-hyun noted this parallel in a press conference, confident the historical event would resonate with modern audiences. Based on the show’s ratings and buzz, at the top of the charts week after week, it appears the analogy clicked – as but one gear in a clicking machine so engineered by Jung and screenwriter Kwon Do-eun. Twenty-Five Twenty-One is a beautiful television series, artfully composed and thrillingly performed. It’s the kind of production that inevitably spins out of passion, and maybe even mission. There’s a lot being said about Korean history and culture, so what were those events that inspired this story? … More Your Guide to the History Behind Twenty-Five Twenty-One

Top 10 Action Movies of the 2000s – Follow-Up

If I get my stuff together and turn this into a feature, I’ll properly revisit this list when I do the 2010s, but in the meantime, I cannot believe I forgot about a number of even personal favorites from the first attempt, including two critical omissions. So this is what the revised list will look like, as of now, forehead sweaty. … More Top 10 Action Movies of the 2000s – Follow-Up

Top 10 Action Movies of the 2000s

Writing that review for Unleashed, this question really stuck in my head: what were the action movies of the 2000s? It really was a rancorous time, despite being a very solid decade for movies overall. It saw Spirited Away, Children of Men, Lady Vengeance, City of God, No Country for Old Men, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Korean New Wave came into its own, David Cronenberg reinvented himself, but action and horror were a way’s off from their own resurgences. We were mired in their episodes of blockbusters and remakes respectively, reinforcing the creative depletion surely at the heart of either. I can’t say there was a truly great “pure” action movie made in the span of 2000 to 2009, between the highs of Hard Boiled, The Matrix, and T2 on one side and The Raid, John Wick, and Inception on the other. … More Top 10 Action Movies of the 2000s

The Princess Mononoke and I

What’s the best Hayao Miyazaki movie? You don’t know how much it drives me crazy that my answer is Spirited Away and not Princess Mononoke. Yes, the one about the little girl who gets a job at the spa, while the fantasy epic about war and gods doesn’t crack my Ghibli top five. How I wish it did! It’s the kind of movie I hope they make every time, but each successive adventure seems to shrink in scale, down to bean level. I’ve seen Princess Mononoke three times now, at different times in my life, and I’ve sat with the same conclusion each time: I just don’t like it that much. Very, very crazy. … More The Princess Mononoke and I

Those American Godzilla Movies Strike Again

Who would’ve thought we’d make it to the year 2021? More that such a number could ever be real than those of us who’ve survived ought to ask this question. Because aside from the considerable turmoil of history in a perpetual state of climax, that number alone is the stuff of science-fiction. Blade Runner took place two years ago. Johnny Mnemonic takes place this year. I know that millions of Americans quit their jobs over the summer, including myself. I returned home to New England after six years in Los Angeles. A natural arc, we might say, but to me, 2021 is an afterlife. It’s too many years after the logical terminating point. We stopped seeing each other, stopped making physical contact; we have to process the world through literal filtration. It’s a world of screens and constant mediation. Even the movies don’t feel real. … More Those American Godzilla Movies Strike Again

K-Drama Report: My Name (2021)

I’m three episodes into My Name and already desperate to continue. On paper, it’s tailor-made to my sensibilities, those which I’ve struggled to communicate on this blog. My only remotely successful With Eyes East YouTube video is a wild-eyed plea to Hollywood, or Indonesian Hollywood, or anyone with a camera and a gallon of fake blood, to cast Julie Estelle and contribute to her undoubtedly skyward journey. I hardly got this point across in the video, but Estelle represents, to me, a new kind of action star. Where the Hong Kong heroines from the ‘60s through the‘90s were simply working with a different sort of market — less bloodsoaked and crazy, with notable exceptions — and modern actresses dip from time to time into action with mixed results, say Kim Ok-vin or Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the image Julie Estelle has built for herself so far has the potential to stay gory at the intersection of Indonesia’s auteurs and the international market’s appetite. … More K-Drama Report: My Name (2021)

Three More the Korean Way: Wow, Cool Capitalist Critique!

One of the stranger experiences I have on Twitter is witnessing non-Koreans speak in defense of Korean pop culture against the clutches of Hollywood, as it’s both heartening to witness and not something I completely agree with. The assertion is that America doesn’t understand what made these originals so great, that X factor unique to the culture. Admittedly, we have a proven track record, from The Uninvited to Oldboy, to still easternmore scars like Death Note and Ghost in the Shell. And yet, we say that a film like Parasite is distinctly Korean but universally understood. Train to Busan is better without a remake despite that remakes are a cornerstone of the zombie subgenre. And then there’s our Squid Game, and if you must take what little remains, hey, The Running Man is good! Believe me, I get the concern that American adaptations won’t capture what the originals are saying — but what are they saying? … More Three More the Korean Way: Wow, Cool Capitalist Critique!

Madame Antoine: The Love Therapist | Recommended Korean Drama

As is customary with the “Recommended K-Drama” feature, I’ll explain my choice, though as always, I’d really rather not. “OMG, actress X” is one thing, but just wait. See, I first heard about Madame Antoine via YouTube, mentioned in a video essay about sexual assault in K-dramas. I’ll be sure to link the video in the future, but not in the context of this post. Specifically, the video discussed female perpetrators, for example the “ajumma” trope, where middle-aged women flock together and harass the young male lead. The problem, the video emphasizes, is that these scenarios are comedic. These women have no compunctions about inappropriate touching, and the usually strong man can’t speak against it because of Korea’s social hierarchy. A cultural thing, but this should ring familiar to anyone well-acquainted with American pop culture, where sexual assault is funny when a lady’s doing it. Accordingly, the video cites a moment from this show Madame Antoine: The Love Therapist, where a girl — a noona, not an ajumma — forcefully kisses a guy under the guise of helping him practice kissing the girl he’s actually attracted to. It’s also a “no becomes yes” scene, for anyone playing trope bingo. Please understand that when I say what I’m about to say, I’m not winking. Sexual assault is always wrong, and that’s a baseline for membership into human civilization. But the truth is, I proceeded to watch Madame Antoine because this scene sparked in me a perverse desire. … More Madame Antoine: The Love Therapist | Recommended Korean Drama