딴따라 (Entertainer Ep.1-2)

I read an article that Korea’s power couple Ji Sung and Lee Bo Young once predicted that,then rookie actor Song Joong Ki will become a huge star in the future. That time has come and Ji Sung felt it firsthand as Song Joong Ki’s Descendants of the Sun Special Episode crushed his Entertainer premiere in the ratings game. I chose to watch the latter though. Of course, Ji Sung did not disappoint, but sadly, the rest of the drama did.

After seeing the TvN drama Signal, it would difficult to go back to watching a run-off-the-mill story such as this one, but it’s not as bad as what most Korean netizens think. Their comments are pretty harsh. In my opinion, Come Back Ahjussi is even cornier, but it’s funny since its strength lies in its cast’s chemistry. Entertainer is a one-man show.

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Just when I thought that Ji Sung might have reached his acting limit after playing seven different characters in Kill Me Heal Me, He was like, ” But wait… there’s more!”

Although there are still remnants of the energetic ahjussi, Perry Park and the handsome glares of bad boy Shin Se Gi, Ji Sung played Shin Suk  Ho perfectly : with just the right balance of ingeniousness and obnoxiousness. He acted so well that no matter how big of a jerk his Shin Suk Ho character was, is and will possibly still be.. I sympathize with him on his downfall and root for him to slowly climb his way back to victory.

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I was worried about casting Hyeri as the lead opposite Ji Sung. Sure, I loved her in Reply 1988. The whole franchise made us all fall in love with its heroines but in the case of ’88, most of the weight of acting was actually carried by the veteran actors. So Hyeri goes back to Hyde Jekyll Me level as Entertainer reveals her lack of versatility. Her portrayal of Geu Rin is exactly the same as Deok Sun, I had to google her character name because it was that forgettable. It’s a good thing Park Bo Gum declined when the lead role was offered to him, because people aren’t over him being Choi Taek and it would only cause much difficulty in Entertainer’s dissociation from Reply 1988.

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CNBlue’s cute drummer Kang Min Hyuk plays Hyeri’s brother. Or is he really? I also think they have more chemistry as high school sweethearts instead of siblings, so I agree with the speculations that they might not actually be blood-related. I have two younger brothers. I’ve never done that much aegyo just for noodles and my brothers certainly don’t look at me that way. Min Hyuk is adorable but if it were your real bro, that’s creepy. He and Hyeri completely fall behind Ji Sung’s seasoned performance. I feel like I’m watching a bland version of Oh Ri On and Oh Ri Jin.

The story’s predictability goes on til Episode 2. By this time we’d see how Suk Ho would build Ha Neul up and how his own scandals wouldn’t make it easy for him to do so. And as early as now, we can already tell who the real sexual offender is and what motivation the girl has to falsely accuse Ha Neul.

The disparity among the leads’ performance level continues.  Ji Sung might seem like he’s overacting his character but that’s just because Hyeri and Kang Min Hyuk are giving the same limited expressions each and every time. Sad when the only person who’s actually salvaging the show is the one who looks out of place.

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태양의 후예 (Descendants of the Sun Final)

For non-Korean viewers, we have to wait another day to see the episode with subtitles. Since there are many speculations about the Descendants of the Sun‘s ending, it’s better to stay away from the internet to avoid spoilers. I chose to hear the spoiler though. I’m an online English instructor for Koreans and one of my students happen to work behind-the-scenes. She was also generous enough to send me pictures from their reunion party.

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Big Boss

Knowing the ending did not affect my feelings about the final episode. I wasn’t too disappointed since I know that there’s no way the series could ever top the intensity of its Uruk arc. The ending was a little far from epic but it’s the one that everyone would most likely approve of: the happily ever after. But I personally think that a death of a character brings much more depth and a bit of sadness in this illogical, product placement heavy, saccharine episode. Until now, I couldn’t forget Eun Shi Kyung’s death (Jo Jung Suk’s character in King 2 Hearts). I was worried that Seo Dae Yong would meet the same fate. I won’t be happy if he did but I would surely remember it for the rest of my Kdrama-watching life.

Descendants of the Sun ended with a nationwide rating of 38.8% which says a lot about its popularity. Since it is pre-produced, it is also aired simultaneously in China via the video streaming site iQIYI with an average of 2.5 billion views per episode, according to a report by Chinese media. Many people would probably say this is overrated but I don’t think so. I’m not gonna go around singing high praises about it either. The drama has flaws everywhere but if we were to count the good and the bad, there are things to like in this drama that I could somehow disregard its glaring plot holes and unrealistic characters just as I did when I watched Secret Garden and My Love from the Star.

I’m not a fan of Kim Eun Sook but if there’s a formula for getting viewers hooked and turning lead characters into household names, then she certainly knows it. There’s Kim Joo Won, Kim Tan and now, Yoo Si Jin. I read the news that Song Joong Ki wasn’t actually the first choice for the role. Director Lee Eung Bok stated in an interview that they initially wanted a brawny, more tough-looking actor. A-listers Kim Woo Bin, Jo In Sung, Gong Yoo, and Won Bin were all considered for the role but they declined the offer for various reasons. So the writer and the director tweaked Yoo Si Jin’s character a bit as befits Song Joong Ki.

The whole alpha male and pretty boy humor with Joong Ki’s romantic voice and acting ability contributed to the making of this perfect dreamy character. All of a sudden, the Korean nation forgot about the Choi Taek-Jung Hwan shipping feud. I’ve been waiting for Joong Ki’s comeback but I didn’t expect that it would be this big. His success is long overdue and totally well-deserved.

It’s quite unfair that Song Hye Kyo didn’t get as much attention as Song Joong Ki when she’s 1/2 of the drama’s main OTP. Her youthful face and petite frame makes Joong Ki look mature despite his babyface and their real age difference. She isn’t one of the best Korean actresses for me but we have to admit that when it comes to romance, she can effortlessly generate chemistry with his leading men, some of which even led to real life relationships.

I like seeing Kang Mo Yeon’s character development. She went through a bigger change compared to Yoo Si Jin who’s confident but not arrogant and consistently resolute about keeping peace and protecting justice.  Kang Mo Yeon seemed to have more personal struggles like being indecisive about what kind of doctor she’d like to be and about the kind of man she’d want to be with.

I love dramas where female characters shine as much as the male leads. And aside from  Kang Mo Yeon, Descendants of the Sun has Yoon Myeong Joo.

Kim Ji Won is young and beautiful but I’ve seen her play snotty roles (To The Beautiful You,Heirs) and she was really good at it. I was worried that the usual Kdrama love triangle will suddenly appear in the middle of the show and I’m so glad it didn’t. After that hilarious Temptation of Wolves parody in the previous episode, I liked that Yoo Si Jin said he and Dae Young would never fight over a girl. If they were to fight, then they would fight on the same side. The bromance is strong on this one. Jin Goo is an award winning actor but quite unknown to international fans and now he’s receiving praise and recognition thanks to his awkward and adorable but equally badass character.

There were rumors about a Descendants of the Sun sequel. I’m sure it’d be difficult but if there would really be a sequel,then I’d love to see a Seo Dae Young – Yoon Myeong Joo spin-off. I’m emotionally invested in watching their relationship more than Yoo Si Jin and Kang Mo Yeon’s.  I love how they bicker but love each other in sometimes the most indirect but totally heartfelt ways. Even Lieutenant General Yoon’s tough dad personality can’t separate these two. Literally, only death could tear them apart as I believed that Dae Young and Myeong Joo was an ill-starred couple right from the start so I had mixed feelings that they got a happy ending. Mostly glad about it of course.

I also love the supporting characters especially Lee Chi Hoon and Kim Ki Bum. Onew’s acting talent was a huge surprise. Although his storyline was pretty stretched, I felt his sincerity and I unconsciously cried with him as he questioned himself as a doctor when he faced a life/death situation in Uruk. I think we all had that one moment in our lives when we doubted ourselves on whether we’re doing the right thing or not; on whether we should get going or choose a different path. I was able to relate with his character on that.

I love Kim Ki Bum’s relationship with Seo Dae Young and how their encounter has changed the former’s life. I’m not saying I’m eager to see Dae Young get killed. I love his character so much. I just thought he had the makings of a tragic hero who lived earnestly and will pass on his legacy by changing a young delinquent’s life and turning him into a great soldier just as he was.

More than just the beautiful cinematography; the series relied heavily on its actors, their characters and the relationships they’ve built amidst the conflict in their jobs’ principles and responsibilities.

The finale wrapped up loose ends with cuteness, kisses and unfortunately, excessive product placements. I was also a little bit disappointed with breaking the fourth wall. I thought that scene was unnecessary since the “volcano disaster in Vancouver” idea was absurd and the acting was like a scene from a gag show.

Convoluted storytelling and fluffiness aside, I loved Descendants of The Sun for making me look like a crazy person when I’m watching. It made me laugh out loud when I haven’t even wiped my tears from the previous scene. The hospital staff thinking Yoo Si Jin’s ghost was eating his memorial offering was so hilarious, I replayed that scene three times. Dae Young and Si Jin dancing and fanboying to Red Velvet was just epic.

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Yes!

Descendants of the Sun was made to entertain and entertain it did.

染谷将太 Sometani Shota 2015

I watched three Sometani Shota movies last weekend; all of which were released last year.

Strayer’s Chronicle is based on the novel by Takayoshi Honda, author of Five Minutes to Tomorrow; distributed by Warner Bros. and included in the 9th Japan Cuts: The New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema. I was excited to see Masaki Okada and Sometani Shota together in one movie but I didn’t set high expectations since the trailer simply looks like an X-Men rip-off. Their characters Subaru and Manabu lead two opposing teams of teens with special abilities acquired from experimental mutations. Much like the conflict between Professor X and Magneto, Subaru protects peace while Manabu protects the mutants. But they eventually work together when they found out about their past, discovered the side effects of being genetically engineered and so they tried to stop the rapid genetic mutation that could cause their death.

This movie is written by Kohei Kiyasu of the critically acclaimed The Kirishima Thing and is made by the production team of Death Note and Gantz live action films, but unfortunately, director Takahisa Zeze’s Strayer’s Chronicle didn’t live up to the hype. The trailer looked action-packed but the movie is all mopey, and is full of teenage characters who are constantly repeating the fact that they have to die so young.

Months before Strayer’s Chronicle, Soredake was released in theaters. Directed by Gakuryu Ishii and featured in the 39th World Film Festival, the film ranked number 7 in the 25th Japan Film Professional Awards’ Best 10.

Sometani Shota plays Samao Daikoku. While searching for his lost identity, he stumbled upon some important piece of information contained in the hard disk that he found in a locker.

Just like Strayer’s Chronicle, Soredake‘s trailer looked promising but the entire film failed to meet my expectations. It has the whole sepia-toned indie vibe, an energetic intro with action cameras in shaky running scenes, and blaring Bloodthirsty Butchers song in the background. Soredake succeeded to present the aesthetic of its urban backdrop failed to establish a coherent plot the same way Strayer’s Chronicle failed to develop its sci-fi world with one too many super powered characters.

The first half of Soredake includes unnecessary torture scenes with unrelatable evil characters and the second half simply turned into another clichéd revenge action film with a questionable ending.

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All Esper Dayo! cover.jpegEiga Minna Esupa Dayo is Sometani Shota’s 8th movie in 2015,prolific director Sion Sono’s 5th for that year and their 3rd time to collaborate in a movie.  They worked together 5 times if we’d include the Minna Esupa Dayo‘s live action series and SP. The film is based on a Japanese sci-fi comedy seinen manga series written and illustrated by Kiminori Wakasugi, author of one of my favorite comedies, Detroit Metal City.

Shota Sometani plays Yoshiro Kamogawa, a typical awkward hot-blooded teenager, whose life changed when a cosmic phenomenon occurred in the middle of one lusty night. Hence, he acquired the ability to read people’s minds: a super power that he initially used in trivial situations but he later on learned to utilize to find the girl of his destiny and save the world from evil ESPers.

The actors from the series reprised their roles except Kaho who played Miyuki Hirano was replaced by Elaiza Ikeda. I think Kaho is definitely the better actress but it seems that this movie doesn’t really require acting skills from its supporting cast, so I guess Elaiza’s curves would suffice.

Eiga Minna Esupa Dayo, also known as The Virgin Psychics, is like a compressed version of the series- just cheesier, racier and totally unapologetic. I’ve seen Sion Sono’s previous works and Shota in a comedy is quite a rare sight. The series was actually quite funny but Sono went overboard with the upskirt and hard-ons in the film. And while the series was able to flesh out its main ESPer characters, the movie’s focus is on panties more than substance. None of the ESPers weren’t even able to use their powers against the main villain whose motives were also unclear. There was just too much raunchy mess going on that has taken away my appreciation for the endearing moments in its final act.

At 22 years old, Sometani Shota has already appeared in 50 films; but just because he makes a lot of movies, it doesn’t mean that he accepts just any kind. He is included in the cast of Bakuman, the Number 1 film in the 25th Japan Film Professional Awards’ Best 10. His role as the young genius mangaka, Niizuma Eiji, earned him a Japan Academy prize nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  He was named Best Actor in the 25th Japan Film Professional Awards for his role in Kabukicho Love Hotel, a pink film directed by Ryuichi Hiroki that was shown in several film festivals including the New York Asian Film Festival where Sometani’s 2014 Tokyo Tribe movie directed by Sion Sono was also included in the New Cinema for Japan category. At the same time, Sometani Shota received his Screen International Rising Star Award. 2015 was definitely one remarkable year for him.

怪盗 山猫 (Kaito Yamaneko Final)

Playing KAT-TUN’s Unlock as I type this post. It’s an upbeat, feel good song that perfectly matches Yamaneko’s energetic personality.

Kaito Yamaneko is an entertaining series although at times it goes a little overboard on the cheese. There are some exaggerated comedy and overly dramatic confrontations here and there but what I love most about it is its actors and their characters’ relationships, particularly the bromance between Yamaneko and Katsumura.

Kamenashi Kazuya and Narimiya Hiroki have surprisingly good chemistry.

I’m afraid I have always been quite indifferent when it comes to Kame. I’ve seen his previous dramas but I ended up focusing more on his co-stars. Even in this one where he totally owned the Yamaneko character, I still care about Narimiya Hiroki more than him. When I wrote about the first half of this series, I mentioned that I enjoyed Hiroki’s natural performance more than Kame’s theatrical one. Kame is oozing with sex appeal when he utters his “Fantastic” catchphrase but he just doesn’t move me emotionally. It’s totally different from how I felt when Hiroki’s tears dropped after he ziplined his way out of a hospital and prior to the big plot twist, when he cried while watching Yamaneko singing, albeit out of tune. The Chameleon revelation was a total WTF moment since Hiroki made me see Katsumura in the most unsuspecting way. I know he’s awesome at playing a psycho but he’s too versatile to be typecast in such character. He has done a bunch of extremely different roles which somehow made me dismiss the idea that he’s going to be a baddie again.  When the whole birthday surprise for Katsumura took place, I knew that it is foreshadowing a life-altering event in their relationship. It made me worry that Katsumura might take a bullet for Yamaneko and die for him or something. I never would have guessed that he’d be the one to pull the trigger. (Or maybe I knew but it’s just me hoping that he won’t betray Yamaneko. I wanted that bromance for real.)

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Just like Nanao’s character, Kirishima Sakura, I don’t really have a good eye for men. I like Narimiya Hiroki as the clumsy Katsumura Hideo but I just fell in love with him all over again when he turned into Chameleon since it reminded me of that time when he played J in Bloody Monday.

For me, Yamaneko and Chameleon’s final face-off was more exciting than unmasking Yuuki Tenmei. I love how they just coolly lit their cigarettes and just talked things over before attacking each other. Chameleon previously admitted that he has a crazy habit of getting to know his victims before killing them. He just never expected what would happen when he finally meets an equally crazy target who’s already aware of his intention but would still give him a chance to change. Chameleon could have stayed as Katsumura Hideo forever if he wanted to but I guess assassins have their principles too. While Yamaneko tries to avoid killing someone, Chameleon wouldn’t back down on his mission either.

Yamaneko’s past that was briefly introduced in the first episode was finally revealed. Considering the circumstances, it was quite easy to predict Yuuki Tenmei’s identity– like he’s too old to fight or he’s already dead. Either way, Yuuki himself can’t actually have a final showdown with Yamaneko. It would only lead to one conclusion: someone would take his place and fight in his stead – someone like Sekimoto! Unlike Katsumura, he’s been shady from the beginning, going back and forth between Yuuki and Yamaneko’s sides.

I was swooning the moment Kame held a katana since we could all see his uncanny resemblance to Sato Takeru who played Himura Kenshin. His final confrontation scene with Sekimoto was just as preachy as the previous episodes. It would have been better if Yamaneko just continued the whole samurai action but the scene dragged on with Sekimoto yapping about how Yamaneko is just a mere criminal who’s unaware that his actions are all going according to Yuuki Tenmei’s plans all along.

A distraught Yamaneko finished Sekimoto but the latter’s words really got into him. As he reached the point where he thought he doesn’t have any purpose in life, Mao saved him the same way he saved her in the first episode.

Hirose Suzu is really good at delivering stirring monologues but if there’s one thing I didn’t like about Kaito Yamaneko, it’s its excessive dramatic speeches that happen in almost all episodes.

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After all is said and done, the police arrived but Inui and Kirishima didn’t find anything as both Yamaneko and Sekimoto mysteriously vanished into thin air.

Open endings seem to be a trend these days. While others were totally unsatisfactory, Yamaneko’s open ending is more promising. Chameleon is still alive and I wonder how he would live his life again after being a part of the Wild Cat team. Sekimoto assures that Yuuki Tenmei continues to exist and Yamaneko has to battle injustice again. As Mao and Rikako await his return, I’m also looking forward to a second season, a movie, or at least a Special Episode for this series.

美人鱼 (The Mermaid)

The Mermaid has just become the highest grossing Chinese movie of all time and I’ve read mostly good reviews about it. Looking at the trailer made me curious as to why this film’s been getting generally positive feedback regardless of its all-too obvious-fairytale story line and amateurish CG.

It’s been a long time since Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. I thought I must have outgrown Stephen Chow’s comedic style when I watched Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons and didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. But I guess one can never be too old for a Stephen Chow movie. With simple storytelling, he proves his signature filmmaking skills could still draw millions of people into the theaters. Millions turned to billions thanks to its Chinese new year opening day and use of “hunger marketing”.  Chow kept the filming in secret, limited the trailers and prohibited critics from seeing the film before it actually opened in theaters, thus creating curiosity and generating a lot of buzz among the audience.

He is quite a gambler too. He took a risk and chose a 19 year old newcomer with very little acting experience to be “the mermaid”. Lin Yun, who plays Shan, looks like a mix of a young Barbie Hsu and Shu Qi. She still has a long way to go in terms of acting but her innocent charms totally helped turn this movie into the big blockbuster hit that it is now.

The mermaid Shan, is tasked to assassinate Liu Xuan (Deng Chao), a business tycoon who uses sonar technology to get rid of sea life and at the same time destroying the merfolk’s health, even causing their deaths. But the unexpected happened when the two fall in love.

Shan’s half man-half mollusk uncle played by the ever energetic Show Luo won’t allow it. He may be simpleminded but he takes this “Operation: Kill Liu Xuan” mission seriously to the point of allowing the mutilation of his own tentacles so as not to blow his cover in an extremely funny yet uncomfortable kitchen scene. It is, however, different from the discomfort felt in the latter part of the  film when humans aggressively ambushed the mermaids, reflecting just how cruel men have been treating the sea and its creatures in reality.

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The Mermaid has a nice mix of simple love story, laugh out loud comedy, a musical number, compelling drama and even a bit of horror. When one too many genres get thrown in together,there is a tendency to suffer from incoherence, but Stephen Chow knows how to make a movie that would make people disregard its flaws by going “all-in”. And if the box office results could speak,it’d say, Chow just won the game.