Showing posts with label Korean. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Korean. Show all posts

Thursday, June 9, 2016


Monday, February 2, 2015

January Wrap-Up Videos

In case you missed it, here's my reading wrap-up videos for January.  I titled this set "Killers and Eastern Sorrow" because, well, that's what the month came to reading-wise.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Bleak Surrender

This may be a Southern thing, but remember when you'd play limbo and chant “how low can you go?“ Okay, well the same applies to Chang-Rae Lee’s The Surrendered. How low and how bleak can this novel go in its tapestry of pain and suffering? Now, just because I would describe the novel as low and bleak doesn't negate how amazing (if sometimes trope-cheating) the book actually was. Really, I loved it; any book that keeps me anxious until the very end is a winner. Nonetheless, as stated, there were some problems along the way.  However, a few of those problems are so precise that should I even attempt to shed light on them I would spoil the story. I don't want to do that. I absolutely can't, as it'll make some of those “problem” areas all the more dissatisfying.

Therefore, I'll give you just a little bit of what I liked and didn't like about The Surrendered

While The Surrendered opens up during the Korean War (1950-1953), it’s a post-war novel. “The misery of life after war times” is the surface overture of the novel, as three protagonists guide you along their desolation through securely interlacing stories.


The first character is an orphaned Korean teen named June Han Singer. Her journey escaping North Korea during the war opens up the novel. Struck by tragedy after tragedy, she is forced to forge her own path after the loss of her family. She’s all that’s left of the Singers. 

June's story jaunts into the future, particularly in 1986 where we find June in her late forties living in New York. Here, she’s an antiques dealer, clearing away the remains of her estate (apartment, business, etc.) to seek out her long-missing son, Nicholas. One year Nicholas went overseas and never returned home. However, through a stream of letters and postcards, June has managed to keep in contact with her son. Troubled by guilt for her lack of involvement in his childhood (except for her lying about his father, I didn't see June as a distant mother to her son), June decides to hire a private investigator to help her locate Nicholas; suspected somewhere in Rome. However, that’s not all. June is dying of stomach cancer, which brings urgency to her cause. (I found this line of plot as sort of the backbone of the novel.)

Then there’s June’s savior, Hector Brennan. Hector once worked as a GI in the Korean War. Explosive and easily agitated, Hector was released from his military duties after frequent entanglements with his superiors. The fun part is that we get to jump back into his past, his childhood. As a teen, Hector spent much of his time watching over his veteran father, who spent his time in bars drunk and searching for fights. Aside from watching of his troubled father, Hector also spent time exploring his sexuality with various neighborhood girls as well as the wives of military soldiers. One day, this exploration comes with a price. Nevertheless, after his discharge, Hector is seen wandering around Korea until his discovers young, starving June. Hesitate by her experience, June eventually takes Hector’s invitation to follow him to a local orphanage where he finds himself work as a resident handyman.

I could imagine Sylvie like this
The last protagonist, and probably the brightest of the three, is a missionary wife and daughter named Sylvie Tanner. With her own disastrous–and I mean disastrous–past trying to control and pull her back into its darkness, Sylvie’s struggles lead her to the same orphanage June and Hector arrives at. Working alongside her missionary husband, Sylvie finds herself beloved by the children at the orphanage. So much so that they all wish she'd adopt them before her journey leads her elsewhere. However, while all that innocence softens her inner, controlling demons, it’s the presence of June and Hector who inadvertently pokes at it. The two fight for Sylvie’s love, comfort and affection. Each desperate to silence their inner turmoil through the other.


So as you can tell by now, the structure of The Surrendered jaunts back and forth in time and space, guiding each of the characters' journey through nuggets and clues given early within their stories. From there, either those answers are answered through a jaunting look into the past or future. As for the setting itself, the novel jumps mainly between Korea and America during the late 1950s and 1980s (some chapters are even earlier than both). The leaping back and forth in time and space was something I did like about The Surrendered. I can understand why some readers might not appreciate the non-linear way the story is told, but I loved it. I liked it mainly because–as mentioned–it nuggets and cliff-hangs you along. And it surprises you as well. An event summarized in sparse, inscrutable detail will suddenly come to a conclusive edge only a few chapters later. Frustrating sometimes when you stop and beg the author to give you more details, but a delight when you find out that Lee didn't just leave you hanging.

Additionally, I liked the jaunting and jumping because somehow it worked with my engagement with the book. I was forced to maintain and track the unfolding of its story. I didn't tag along sheepishly. I was a part of it, much like a mystery novel where the reader has to engage and maintain elements dispersed throughout the book to find satisfaction in its conclusion.  I came into The Surrendered looking for a great story, and I really did receive it.  Even if down to the way Lee told the story.


However, I think that what really became my issue was how Lee kind of over-pushed the bleakness through the various deaths of secondary characters. So much so that I found some deaths scenes a little too forced, a little too orchestrated and would've appeared challenging if these characters’ fate would’ve been opposite to the one they were given.  Removing the many troubled, but brighter characters took away some of hope.  It also left these characters in a someone prop-like status used to further the inner ugliness of the main characters.  Additionally, it made matters inescapable how this novel would never “see the light.” It also made me, as the reader, question some of the intent of the book. Should we never believe in silver linings? Should we never have faith there is always good somewhere down the road long after the punishment of war? I just don't know with this one. All I can say is that some characters’ death took me out of the novel for a moment, and into a writer’s uncertain objective.  (What should I do with this character to increase the hardcore drama?  Oh, yeah.  Kill him!  He'll be another notch in the misery.)

The Surrendered was a gripping read no doubt. It was the book I found myself most invested in this month. I'm torn between the bleakness and the engaging execution of the story.  And while the more I read the more I realized the character's weren't necessarily going to "brighten up", it still didn't change how valid their stories were.
I think that’s enough talking about this book. We could go on all day, but I highly recommend The Surrendered.  Although I wasn't feeling Lee's debut, Native Speaker, I have to say that The Surrendered has definitely compelled me to try his debut again.  Or better yet, just go nuts on Amazon and order all of his books.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The KDrama Factor

Boys Over Flowers.  The obsession begins!
I've wanted to share this for quite some time, especially because next year I want to use this blog to step a little further outside of books and more into my other interests.  So it’s probably a known fact by now that I absolutely love Korean dramas, or Kdramas.  I became transfixed by them about four years ago when I watched Boys Over Flowers on Netflix one summer.  Despite a frustrating and sluggish middle area within its 25 episodes span, I loved and adored its spin on the Cinderella story involving a less fortunate girl gaining the attention of a super rich and popular schoolmate.  From there I alternated between Netflix and Hulu to get my fix (mostly Hulu because they have some currently running dramas as well as a large library).  And I've seen plenty these past years; found favorites and hated only a few.  

Already having a general (well, a lot more than general) interest in Asian culture, it just seemed appropriate that these dramas of love, corruption, bitch-slapping-mothers, and fine manners had the power to effortlessly yank all of my time and attention.  After all, I am convinced that I was an Asian woman in one of my past lives, somewhere bent over in a rice paddy field decking a bamboo hat.  Furthermore, that conviction kind of ties into my affinity for stories/books featuring Asian protagonist, written under the thumb of a writer with matching ethnicity and experience.  Nonetheless, most of that is neither here nor there when I forgot to mention the load of beautiful (dang near flawless, if there were such a thing) Korean actors and actresses featured in these dramas.  Of course, plastic surgery is a supremely high percentage and considerable factor that can't be denied as it pertains to their looks.  Nonetheless, beautiful looks are sometimes enough to keep watching as I revel in being in many of their characters' romance situations.  

Saying all that, on to the Top 4 Favorite Kdramas currently (that's currently–as in now) airing.

1.  The Greatest Marriage
Cha Gi-Young, a highly admired and self-sufficient top dog Korean anchorwoman for a popular news station, develops a brief and steamy relationship with Park Tae-Yeon, a handsome heir and son of a news corporation head. Partly unlike the driven and determined (and even callous) attitude Cha Gi-Young employees, Park Tae-Yeon is slightly her opposite as he’s a little less focused and mellower. With his family’s fortune, he can afford to take a few chances, and he has proven so by leaving business school to pursue his dreams of culinary arts and food reporting. 

While working on adjacent sets, one where Cha is delivering the news and the other where Park is featured on a cooking show, the two eventually cross paths (however highly confrontational) and begin their relationship. Neither seems interested in marriage, but when the couple accidentally becomes pregnant, Park’s immediate reaction is to wed the mulish Cha in order to save face (remember this is an Asian drama). Uninterested, and further discouraged after a vile altercation with Park’s powerfully rich and upper-echelon parents, Cha decides to go her separate way and raise the child on her own as a single mother. This soon brings her a batch of criticism, humiliation and hate from her peers and society as a whole. Suddenly, Cha is no longer on top, but refuses to cave in to a quick marriage nor place her dwindling career before her child.

Why you may want to watch it? Because with all the drama and comedy (and there is plenty also) aside, it’s the story of an accidental feminist flipping society and cultural norms by deciding that she would much rather be a single mother than marry. All of this very much announced to the Korean public. The criticism and backlash she receives is startling. In one instance her company peers yanks her off the set.  They continue to sabotage her career as a means of both saving the face of the news station, but also as a means of them expressing their own dislike of her. Even the higher ups comes for her. Furthermore, the actual hospital where she has her child gives her crap. While in labor, she couldn't even be admitted without the written assent of a man! And even further, she has to legally protect herself and her child from the likes of the father's family because they are within their rights to take her child away from her–especially because it’s a boy heir. Oh, damn. I also forget to mention how Cha's mother threatens to commit suicide to save her own face. Currently 12 episodes out of 16 in, I’m hoping this drama ends well.  Other than that, I drop everything once The Greatest Marriage updates.

2.  Birth of a Beauty
A sweet, overweight woman named Sa Geum-Ran finds herself conspiratorially murdered and later resurrected as a bombshell Korean-style beauty (re)named Sara. However, before this incredible transformation, Sa Geum-Ran lived a painful life as the wife and daughter/sister-in-law to the Lee family–her husband being Lee Kang-Joon. While Lee Kang-Joon is away in the US for seven years, and keeping up an affair, Sa Geum-Ran is busy taking care of his mother, sisters, grandmother, and father. While the latter two actually treated her decently, Sa puts up with a lot from Lee’s spoiled and nasty sisters and mother. Horrible comments aimed at her looks and weight, and passive displays of abuse are the most common. 

However, these do not deter Sa’s loyalty and love for Lee. So, while he’s far off in America, she plays her role without a hitch; swallowing her anger while always presenting her good Korean manners. Then Lee shows up after those seven years away, and Sa discovers his affair. Upon that discovery, an upset Sa flees in her car only to be ran off the road and into deep waters. Later, the assumption is that she committed suicide, but the truth is that she was murdered. Well, not so much murdered as she manages to swim out of her death and seek out a plastic surgeon (he’s featured on a reality show) who completely transforms her with a full-body makeover. One in which she uses to seek revenge and take down several members of the Lee family.

I was up late watching another drama when Birth of a Beauty popped up. Sure it was two in the morning when I decided to forget about sleep and watch those first two available episodes. I've been hooked ever since. Now, the drama was confusing in the beginning. It almost drops you in the middle as you're introduced to Sa Geum-Ran’s other, Sara, initially. Slowly, the hyper-unusual back story fills in, and after that first episode you're kind of good to go. The drama blends comedy, romance (which is always my favorite ingredient), melodrama, and that not so unordinary requirement that you suspend your disbelief regarding its events and Sa Geum-Ran's transformational lease on life.  There’s also the conspiracy behind her death, and a secondary running story that ties into her vengeance against the Lee family. I'm still not quite sure how concise focused the show is, seeing that it takes on the subject of beauty standards and acceptance.  All that aside, I find the actress who plays Sara incredibly adorable in her role–especially when she pulls into a karate stance.   So it's not to be taken too seriously, I suppose.

3.  Mr. Baek
Another Kdrama that ties in the subject of transformations, vengeance and second chances is Mr. Baek. 70-something-year Choi Go-Bong is tenacious, greedy, egotistical, and just plain ole mean. He’s been this way most of his life, so some can deal and some can't. Nonetheless, his obsession consists mostly of building his wealth–which he has done (and continues to do despite his age) by successfully manning a powerful hotel corporation. The price, however, comes in the form of an irresponsible and spoil son who’s impartial to the hotel business’s future. And if that wasn't enough, Choi has to tend to a few of his shifty, money-grubbing siblings waiting to attach themselves to his position and deep pockets.

Almost by accident, Choi ends up meeting a young woman name Eun Ha-Soo. At a retirement village, they stumble upon one another where her kind words deflect and disarm his normally mean spirit. And they find themselves crossing paths once more during a meter shower where both of their vehicles tumble into a sinkhole. In a last stance for survival, Choi reaches for his spilled medication and unknowingly swallows a piece of a meteor. This, in turns, reverts his body to that of his 36-year-old self. With a few more lessons to realize and learn, this gives Choi the chance to fall in love, rescue his company from inside corruption, and, perhaps, find a relationship with his son and heir.

I found myself enjoying Mr. Baek right away. As I mentioned, some dramas I have to warm up to. Thankfully, that didn't happen here. I think what drew me in the most is how it hit home with me regarding parents and their relationships with their children. Parents often wish they could turn back time to be there for their kids, or correct some of the mistakes they felt they'd made. Watching that unfold in Mr. Baek–in its own way–rings familiar to me. We're all the product of our childhood in a sense. We all wish our parents done at least one thing differently that we feel may have empowered us to lead better adult lives. Now that's despite owning the grown-up ability to make decisions based off whether or not we'll allow that "disempowerment" from the past to hurt our present and future. So yeah, Mr. Baek is about second chances and making wrongs right, and also honoring our responsibilities. But while all that is true, I also love the comedy and conspirator elements of the show. As for the romance....  I'm a sucker for the romances involving a girl who manages to capture the heart of a man and change him for the better. The twist with Mr. Baek is that Choi's having his heart changed by the girl whom his son longs for to change his own. I have yet to tell who will she stick with at the very end.

4.  The Perfect Insider (Jdrama)
Based off Japanese mystery writer Hiroshi Mori’s novel All Becomes F comes the Jdrama The Perfect Insider. The show takes on a crime-of-the-week format (to be exact, each crime span two episodes). However, the protagonists are unchanging. One is an architect student at Jinnan University named Moe Nishinosono. The other, Saikawa Souhei, is an associate professor and mentor within the university’s engineering department. These two are the active sleuths, in which their intelligence combines to crack each case. At the same time, they get a hand or two from the local police and a few other associates who stumble through.

As for their first case, the two head to a research institute on the suggested request of a professor in the same department as Saikawa. The research institute holds a laboratory where low temperature -20 degree experiments are conducted. (Don’t ask me what for, as I'll have to rewatch the episode to actually understand the science so heavily involved in this series.) A final experiment is underway, and a host of students and professors are present to watch their research come to a conclusion. Two of those students–who happen to be lovers–launches the last experiment by donning protective gear and stepping into the multi-room depths of the laboratory. The two seemingly come out of the lab one-by-one, as others monitor their progress from the outskirts. But when neither shows up to the celebratory party, questions naturally arise and a search party is formed. Behind one locked door the body of the female student is discovered, having been stabbed in the back. She lay inches from another door in which the male student is also found stabbed in the back. An emergency exit is unable to open from the outside, and a steel service door has a blown motor. This, in turns, creates a locked room double-murder mystery.  Stamped with science, physics, a touch of romance, and creepy murders Japanese style, comes the 10 episode series The Perfect Insider.

So many places I can start with how excited I get watching this drama. The immediate thing I want to share is that I love the music composition so much that I recently ordered its score straight from Japan. Like, I needed it. There’s a specific melody that plays when Nishinosono is theorizing a case of events that strokes the writer in me. I get excited when the beat plays, and boot up my laptop to see if I can construct my own scene. I'm hoping once I get the score I'll actually get back into writing, though. The second thing that comes to mind is how I absolutely love watching Japanese actors at work. Their acting is so aligned with the hard cuts, beats and blunt ends of their spoken language. There’s a certain staccato-ness in Japanese speech that I adore watching in motion through acting. 

As for the actual show, I love it because it’s about puzzles and how to unfold one with a basis in subjects such as science, computers and physics. There’s another level of consideration to the murders beyond just the deduction of the suspects. Elements such as room temperatures, air pressurizing, and what I think are called key frames, all play a part in one case or another. And with all that said, I just love the characters.  Nishinosono has this innocence, bravado, and curiosity for puzzles and murder.  Seeing a beheaded body did anything but cause her to scream, as her mind immediately snaps into unraveling the cause.  And Saikawa is one of those saggy intellectual Japanese babes that stay calm, cool, and trustworthy under pressure.


And this concludes my Top 4 Favorite Currently Running Dramas.  Maybe once they're complete  I'll review them.  Wait.  That'll take forever.  Like this post.  Nevertheless, if you've watched them, please share your take on them below.  Chime in! 

Next I want to do a post about a few currently running Kdramas that I’m on the fence about.  These are the dramas I'm into–but not into.  And I'll tell you why.  Hopefully, I'll get to that soon.  

Don't have an Hulu account?  Well, should you decide to try out Hulu, I'll pass on my referral link here: 

Total Pageviews