|I went to the Grand Canyon. Recommended.|
As I mentioned before, I have been really focused on my BTS education lately. Remarkably, I am headed to their concerts in Los Angeles in November and December and I feel weirdly behind on my BTS "homework" since these concerts have come up so suddenly. I am almost done with the BTS variety show series Run BTS (episode 152of 153!) which has brought me a lot of joy. It's apparently going on hiatus for a long time and I'm a little sad I am finally catching up...only for it to be ending. Also their summer vacation series In the Soop is back for another season so I am prioritizing all that. I mean if you want my thoughts on that, message me. I have endless BTS feelings right now.
As for K-dramas, things also got kind of messy when Kim Seon-ho's scandal broke and I was in the midst of watching his show Hometown Cha Cha Cha which I had been enjoying but now cannot bring myself to finish. It also really poisoned my enjoyment of 2 Days 1 Night and I don't know what that show is going to be in the future. The last few episodes have been them pretending he's not standing right there and cutting him out of the frame as much as they can.
I have been slowly making my way through Hospital Playlist 2, but I also went away (FINALLY) in October. I went to Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. I visited places like Mesa Verde, the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. It was all quite wonderful. After nearly two years of being stuck in my apartment, it was freeing to be somewhere else! And to be somewhere beautiful was extra special.
While I was traveling ended up rewatching Rookie Historian. I needed a little comfort food watching and I had forgot what a pleasure that show was.
This is a lot to say I don't have much in the way of coherent K-drama thoughts on very many shows for September and October. I've started some shows I'm enjoying (Jirisan, The King's Affection, Yumi's Cells). So I hope to have more thoughts at the end of November.
This bleak af six-episode series is really remarkable for its subject matter, visual style, and the harrowing depiction of bullying in the military. Based on some real-life incidents and the original webtoon writer's own experiences working in DP (Deserter Pursuit), the show explores toxic masculinity, physical, sexual, and mental abuse, and the complexities of mandatory military service in Korea.
Private Ahn Joon-ho (Jung Hae-in) finds himself assigned to the military police deserter pursuit unit. He keeps to himself and doesn't say much. He is haunted by some experiences of violence as a child. His partner Corporal Han Ho-yul (Koo Kyo-hwan) grew up in comfort and has a more easygoing attitude.
While I've seen Jung Hae-in play sweet, romantic characters, this role is a major departure from that. His softer features hide an unexpected rage beneath. Everything about this show is meant to be slightly destabilizing and I found his casting served that well. Time shifts between past and present.
The series holds moments of past and present together sometimes to show Joon-ho's interiority. It's so effective. Abuse, trauma, bullying, and tragic mistakes are like ghosts haunting these characters.
The show also goes straight for the jugular at times. There's a powerful directness here. Not a lot of shying away from ANYTHING. We see a seedier underbelly to Seoul. We witness acts of sexual humiliation. We are forced to witness acts of cruelty in the military units but also in life. And the series threads this emotional deterioration into structural cycles of abuse. There is no aspect of society here that is not tinged with some level of hierarchical/patriarchal abuse--family, military, workplace, relationships. We see who has power, who uses it, who abuses it. And it's all so systemic.
Even the deserters are given vignettes of why they are each so desperate or why the people around them are, further coloring in the societal issues that have left people this way.
The show asks the question: "Why didn’t you do anything?" when these acts of cruelty and abuse are witnessed. And every single character is complicit in this silence. We as the audience have to ask ourselves the same question in our own lives.
6 episodes is about all I could handle of this show. They quickly establish characters in monumental pain, we watch them endure pain and abuse over and over again, and then graphically shows the outcome of this particular explosive formula. It's not an easy watch but it's one of the most direct shows I've seen dealing with abuse and violence.
It plays like a howl into the universe. Will anyone listen?
River Where the Moon Rises
After a bullying scandal got the lead actor from this show removed (Jisoo), they ended up replacing him with another actor Na In-woo. The show was well-received so they went back and reshot al the earlier scenes with Na In-woo. With this history, I was very curious about how the show turned out. If you didn't know that there's nothing that would have alerted you to it. It was all quite seamless.
Yeom Ga-jin (Kim So-hyun) plays a reluctant assassin who cannot remember her past but comes to discover she is Princess Pyeonggang. She meets On Dal (Na In-woo) who's famous father, a famous general, was killed trying protect Princess Pyeonggang's mother, the Queen, from being killed. The King was manipulated into believing his wife was having an affair so he ordered her death. Due to his efforts to save the Queen, the general's entire village was wiped off the map and they now the survivors live in hiding in the mountains. On Dal and Ga-jin end up tangled up together and she tries to turn his peaceful quiet self into a warrior like her. He agrees in an effort to protect her.
I liked the unexpected gender roles here, with the woman being more militant and the man being more pacifistic. Na In-woo plays On Dal as a galumphing sweet fool. There are also some unexpected narrative twists. Although it certainly is not the first K-drama where a weak king kills his wife for a perceived slight that is of course never true and he then regrets his rashness. And as there often is, there's an irritating Iago to the shitty King of Goreyeo's Othello.
But eventually it becomes a plot of rebellion against the King's manipulators for control of Goreyeo and that's when I lost interest. I made it to episode 16 of 20 but the romance and relationship get pushed aside for these political issues which were less interesting to me.
Hometown Cha Cha Cha
Hometown Cha Cha Cha has a lovely ensemble of Korean character actors. You get a central romance alongside a sense of community and how others in this small town are struggling in their relationships. It's full of cute countryside atmosphere and quirky characters. But the romance does get quite cloying once the couple comes together. I found the icy leading lady melting into something goopy less than compelling in the later episodes. And I was not always as deeply invested in the other stories. Though a clueless police officer trying to learn how to be romantic was actually quite sweet.
But after Kim Seon-ho's scandal I could not bring myself to watch the last few episodes.