Frights of fancy

An unbridled imagination, it goes places. Just ask me.

So three days ago I was watching Episode 5 of Tree With Deep Roots. Rather listlessly, I confess, because I was still bummed about a certain someone’s exit the previous episode. Friends raved about Han Seok-kyu’s acting and how it was helping them to be, you know, more forward-looking about the drama. Backward-looking me, however, didn’t think his King Sejong was exceptional; he was solid as expected, nothing more and nothing less. I also found the characterization of the two Sejongs to be so disparate as to be jarring. Yawning even though the night was still early, my drowsy mind half-contemplated two thoughts: Bail now. Bail after Episode 6.

And then it happened. A flashback that jolted me awake.

Kang Chae-yoon (and I wrote about my first impressions of him here) is remembering a day in the past when he was much darker and angrier. In a forest with other grungy-looking men, he is slashing every enemy in sight; blood is splattered all over his face. An old man appears, one possessing otherworldly pugilistic skills. Chae-yoon begs the old man to train him as a disciple, so that he can one day be skilled enough to avenge his father’s wrongful and untimely death. The master refuses. So now Chae-yoon is screaming and sobbing and totally freaking me out.

The scene reminded me of one in Chuno where Jang Hyuk also plays a character about to burst the blood vessels in his brain and eyes. So enraged is he, his nostrils are flaring, spit is flying, his dentist’s handiwork is on full display.

Like many things about Chuno (the other day I walked two blocks racking my brain the entire time trying to remember the drama’s ending), I could not remember why Dae-gil had gone berserk in that particular scene, but that did not matter.

What gripped me were not the whys of the character’s fury but the actor’s wherewithals. With what means did the guy summon up so much (facial) power in order to look this incensed?

So that was how my mind began to wander, ambling off on a journey that I would soon regret.

Hmm, I wondered, does Jang Hyuk always look this mad in his dramas? He certainly did in Chuno and now again in Tree With Deep Roots, but how about the dramas before that? So I looked among my stash of old dramas and lo and behold found Thank You, his first piece of work after completing military service. Vaguely remembering that his Dr. Min character was pretty crotchety in the opening episode, I decided to revisit that episode and see for myself if his rage came anywhere close to his sageuk portrayals.

Yuck. I had completely forgotten about THAT.

What else had slipped my mind since watching the drama four years ago? Plenty, including this (gratuitous) scene.

And another one where a patient’s mother is so anguished she pulls Jang Hyuk’s pants down accidentally (or perhaps deliberately), thus giving the camera an opportunity to show us a close-up of his (hairy) legs. The good doc is of course suitably irked. But then again that should not surprise us; even in front of the most important person in his life he can look angry enough to want to bite her head off.

Funny how I remember to this day Jang Hyuk and Choi Kang-hee’s sizzling chemistry but do not remember that their love also involves (or necessitates) expressions such as this one.

She is so precious to him she can make him so furious. She is so precious a future without her in it is simply unfathomable to him.

I watched some more, savoring all their scenes together. His fears. His fervent hopes.

That episode came to an end and it made me sadder than I wanted to be. So I steered my mind away, to another drama whose title I had happened to see as I was searching for my old Jang Hyuk dramas. This one I had abandoned in 2009 after just one episode. This one I had wiped clean from my memory.

So the opening scene came as a shock.

But at least So Ji-sub’s expression is serene as he lies there on the sand, given up for dead. The sight did not freak me out, as bloodied faces usually do.

Bloodied hands, too.

Encouraged by my derring-do, I continued watching. Which was how I saw Shin Hyun-joon’s surgeon character proceed to dump, most gleefully, a bottle of hot sauce on the head of a patient. And then massage, in an extremely rough manner, that sauce into her hair.

Ew, Show. No thanks for reminding me of one of the reasons why I bailed so early.

In her comment on a congratulatory post that I was privileged to be part of, javabeans said:

It’s amazing how when you love what you do, the numbers just sort of creep up on you; and when you look back the glow of satisfaction really comes in seeing how everyone shares the same affection and passion and addiction for this thing, this culture, by which I mean not Korea but the culture of consuming art… (emphasis by thundie)

Since reading that comment about a month ago, I’ve been thinking about how we, collectively and individually, consume this art that is kdrama. How we watch it, think about it, talk about it, write/blog about it. The hours some of us spend, is it not true that it consumes us as much as we consume it? And sometimes it consumes us in ways that we do not expect, transporting us to places that are more frights than flights of fancy.

So, what have you been watching lately? And where has it taken you?

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78 thoughts on “Frights of fancy

  1. thundieeeee how i love thee!!! (okay sorry spazzing moment)

    Iove your introspective posts like this, as always. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to catch up on any new ones except casually following A Thousand Kisses – which really, is one of those filler dramas for me, but not a bad one – but I’ve heard tons of rave reviews about ToDR and I’m really hoping to be able to catch Princess Man soon. All the not-watched-yet pile notwithstanding, dramas as a whole definitely elevate me to someplace, some hidden recesses in my mind where I allow myself to be idealistic in the ways of say, love (despite how over-the-top it’s usually displayed in Kdramas). Can’t say I’ve been on frights of fancy though, more flights of fancy.

    Okay imma just shut up now cos I don’t think this comment is making any sense. Just dropping in to say hello really :p

  2. All definitions from Merriam-Webster…

    We consume dramas:
    1. to enjoy avidly
    2. to engage fully
    3. to utilize as a customer

    Dramas consume us ????:
    1. to do away completely
    2. to spend wastefully
    3. use up
    4. to utilize economic goods

    I don’t know anything about the kdrama production world. How does that world see us, the collective audience, the individual viewer, the fan, the consumer?

    And then this ephemeral thing itself, the audio-visual “art,” how doe this consume us? It envelopes us, pulls us into its world? Is the relationship between us and the drama equal?

    I haven’t been watching, thoroughly, any Korean dramas lately. I’ve been longing to watch them, though, so I can be taken along with them into their world.

    Dramas in the past were able to create “fancies” in my head and one of the best fanciful worlds were in my dreams. I think the dramas and characters help my mind create places I have never been to and people I have never known in real life. Through them, I experience a huge range of emotion. Very guttural and very realistic. And very traumatic. Sometimes those emotions stay with me all day, jealousy, pain, and utter grief.

  3. I see that your mind works a little like mind, one thing leads you to another and pretty soon you are watching something and wondering exactly how you got there.

    “This one I had wiped clean from my memory.” And right up until I saw that screencap of SJS I thought I had also managed to forget that horrible waste of two of my favorite actors. Now I have to go bleach my brain again. In fact, I may have to go watch Kiss Me, Kill Me again to remove the thought of SHJ in that show. That will probably lead me into another bout of watching various of his movies. Then I’ll end up somewhere and wonder how I got there exactly. 8-)

  4. Ehh… weather is all sorts of shiteous out there, so as all drama devotees do, I decided to cuddle up to some drama. I tried… I really tried… to get into If Tomorrow Comes buuut.. WTF was that again…?? I had so been looking forward to this season, most of its offerings seemed so full of promise.
    Alas, yet another bloated, farcical offering this year!

    I need to shut up about Daemang already but it really was a decent watch, I was concientious about Blue’s warning, saying that she gave up after the halfway mark (but then Blue hates boring dramas… I luuuuurve boring dramas), and yes, there was a dip in quality at that point, but all in all, I really liked it, it was SO worth the effort. And the show still managed to retain some of that 90s magic from the PD-Writer combo (that I was so craving) before they kind of lost it, post ’00ies…
    I kind of grew really attached to an ethereally pretty Jang Hyuk in it, his character was written a little black and white, but he does has range. He can pretty much pull off ANY character he puts his mind to. Mad love.

    But keeping with the topic at hand, after the fright that was the new Seo Woo, Goo Doo-shim show, I went through some saved dramas and found Joseon X-Files (2010 FTW!) and decided to rewatch it, it was just what I was in the mood for, until Choi Deok-moon appeared in episode 3 and I squeeeeed! And then remembered he was in yet another Drama Special the week before last! So I’m downloading that right now. Weee…

    I’m going to hang on in there with Tree, I’m enjoying it enough, it seems to have picked up again– um, hopefully… And Sejong in episode 8 was… O_0’! Oh Han Seok-kyu, must you? Must you really, be prying that performance-of-the-year accolade from Choi Min-soo’s firm grasp?

    Kdramas aside, Jdoramas are really promising this season… really, when was the last time a daily drama was THIS beautiful? Loving Ohisama so far.

      • Just googled it. One one hand, a WWII-era drama with Inoue Mao, my all time favourite j-actress? Yay! On the other… 156 episodes. Oy.

        Have you finished it all? What did you think?

        • Bu..but… It’s only 15mins per episode, so it’s still very do-able for any long series-phobe! And the subs are almost complete (they’re upto episode 132).
          I’m still in early episodes when they’re still kids so Mao and Hikari(!!!!) have yet to make their appearance, but so far so amazing, and have heard it only gets better. Definitely gorgeous and definitely tearjerker territory.

    • This is what I wrote on March 6, 2009 after finishing Episode 1 of Cain and Abel (posted on Jisubaddicts.com):

      I wasn’t going to post my comments until I had watched Episodes 2-4, but with subbing duties and all, looks like I won’t get to those until next week. So here are some random thoughts on the first episode. I will be brutally honest.

      Episode 1

      Have not seen this side of Jisub since the days of Three Men, Three Women. He wasn’t even this cute and boyish in We’re Dating Now and Thousand Years of Love. Which means… IT FEELS WEIRD.

      On one hand I really, really love seeing him this happy. Haven’t we gone on our knees (after MiSa) to beg that Jisub’s comeback drama role will be a giddily happy one? Yes, we did. And now that our wishes are granted, at least in Ep 1, what does thunderbolt do? WHINE.

      Because… (is the coast clear?) that cuteness and boyishness feels unnatural somehow. Like he’s so bright, and he smiles so much… it isn’t realistic. It feels put on and “acty,” which is my feeling about Shin Hyun Joo and Han Ji Min as well. I’m with Dahee in that I prefer a “gloomier” Cho-in.

      With everyone being acty, I actually like Chae Jung Ahn in Ep 1 where her character is more restrained and contemplative. And I really loved that song she sang, and the way she sang it. Moments like those feel like much-needed breathing space for me, the viewer.

      As for Sun-woo, his feelings shift too abruptly. I didn’t like that we’re introduced to that “darker” side of him so quickly. Transition between events needs tweaking, definitely. Otherwise the scenes don’t resonate with us, because we’re not privy to the characters’ inner thoughts. I would like pacing to slow down, but maybe the intent is for Ep 1 to be action-packed to keep us hooked. It didn’t work for me, alas, because my overwhelming feeling watching this episode was detachment. I remember checking the time and thinking, “Twenty-five minutes gone. Isn’t it time for me to feel something, at least?”

      It was just so obvious from the opening scenes that Cain & Abel would overdose on the dramatic plot devices. I want to feel absorbed and transported, lost/immersed in the drama and the acting. I don’t want to be reminded every minute that this is a DRAMA, but that’s exactly what C&A is doing to me. Hitting me on the head with the DRAMA. In that regard it reminds me exactly of the first episode of East of Eden.

      Another thing was the ATTACK OF THE GIGGLES. In that reunion scene between the two brothers (as they were walking on opposite corridors), I couldn’t stop laughing. That scene was so cute… and so childish. When they hugged on the rooftop, that was also when I had the ATTACK OF THE GUFFAWS. Whatever poignancy there was present in that scene was lost on me.

      And then the surgery scenes. Ewww. HATED those. Just spare us the close-ups in those scenes, puhleeze. White Tower was a medical drama (the very best, too) and I don’t remember seeing much blood. C&A is like Thank You. Brutal bloody scenes that make you want to throw up three days’ worth of sustenance.

      Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike the first episode. I LOVED watching Jisub… and every second he was on the screen my heart wanted to burst. But that’s me reacting to him as Jisub, not as Cho-in. The other characters I don’t particularly care about at this juncture. Shin Hyun Joon’s eyelashes distract me; I want to ask him for curling and lengthening tips. Han Ji Min is way OTT in the few minutes of Ep 1 that we saw her; she’d better be less acty SOON. But I’m looking forward to the sparks between her character and Cho-in. That should be fun.

      With East of Eden I just didn’t want to watch anymore after Ep 1. Too much angst and protracted melodrama. With C&A I still want to keep watching… to make up for that four-year lull after MiSa. Incidentally I’m watching Rough Cut (have not finished it) and Jisub is absolutely a joy in that. His acting is awesome and I was going, “Wow, wow!” every few seconds. But I need to see Jisub in a drama, and I’m confident he will settle into his Cho-in role quickly and give me that same “Wow” in C&A.

      **********

      Somehow I never found the time (or the urge) to continue watching. Someday… :D

      • Forgot to add that I received some crap (criticism) after I posted that opinion piece. How dare thundie diss So Ji-sub?! So perhaps that indirectly put me off the drama as well. Life also got busy.

        • Haha, thundie, I’m surprised you received criticism, because you were actually in the majority. Most people hate this series… but for me? It was total.. utter… cra… ck!
          So bad for my wellbeing, but I was so addicted, I couldn’t tear myself away. If nothing else, So Ji-sub looked his most attractive yet, especially in the glorified photoshoot showreel that was the stretch of episodes in which he’s sporting facial hair and hanging around with North Korean defectors in China or the grimey jail scene. Plus he had nice chemistry with Han Ji-min once she toned things down.
          Cain and Abel’s main problem was that it was trying to be too many genres all at once, but turned out to be heaps of fun — unintentionally.

          • First, sorry for my poor enghlish, I am russian^^”

            I really don’t understand you ^^
            Yee… Maybe just because C&A is one of my favorite dramas (alongside with IEA, Alone in love, Giant and Comrades)… That I am forgiving it all silly moments. But you know, for me this drama has some kind of atmosphere, that I can’t find in any other drama. I was so addicted to it, that couldn’t stop watching. Really, can’t explain it with words. It’s kind of my “soulmate-drama” which rips my soul into pieces. So I just closed my eyes on some plot problems and enjoyed the show.

            And you know, the odd scene in 1 ep with drill happened in reality.^^ It,s amazing, I think.

            And the most amazing mv for C&A http://rutube.ru/tracks/3418114.html?confirm=2c8d22ce60c3b0728ba7e3a15208713e&v=b0b24007f0fea2c3f77609851514f6c6

            • Awrr….”enghlish” >< Sorry…

              And just one more. I really like Kim Hyung Sik's works. And I feel the same atmosphere in "Surgeon Bon Dal Hee" and C&A. Like his dramas without any special reasons…

              And comparing C&A with Time between dog and wolf…. Sorry, but I prefer C&A. Yee, Lee Joon Ki is amazing, Kim Gab Soo is just wow! But for me Ji Sub is much better and the drama is more intense. Or maybe I was just blown away with the fantastic C&A OST…

  5. Love your post. I saw it earlier today but I hadn’t seen TWDR ep 5 yet. Now that I have…

    I have to agree that 5 was not nearly as good as 1-4, and not just because of the missing Song Joong-ki. I actually really like the grown-up version of Sejong. He’s super adorable and funny, and was my favourite part of episode 5. It was just very talky and I felt like each piece of information was repeated at least three times to different people. I realize this is so we can get straight exactly who knows what, but it was a bit tedious. Plus, I’m one of those annoying people who rolls their eyes at martial arts moves that involve flying up into the air, or killing someone with a single drop of water (Really?).

    Jang Hyuk was amazing in full-on angst mode though. Actually he’s awesome walking, talking, sleeping or even just breathing, so I guess that’s the fangirl in me showing herself. But I too wonder where he gets the inner reserves of rage he shows in his roles. Does he have some tragedy in his life? Poor guy.

    Your question about where kdrama takes us… it’s so true that it consumes us as much as we consume it. Perhaps more. For every hour we watch, how many hours do we spend recapping, discussing, writing and thinking about it? Truly great dramas transport us to a place we have never been before and couldn’t have reached on our own, which somehow also bring us face-to-face with eternal truths about ourselves and the world. It’s that mixture of fantasy and reality that makes the magic of kdramas so potent. They’re sort of modern fairy tales: they run along familiar tropes which are so cliched, and yet so integral to the human condition that they will never stop being relevant.

    I have to be honest, nothing on the kdrama scene has really grabbed me since Can You Hear My Heart. I’ve seen a lot of entertaining fluff but nothing that really speaks to my heart. But I am loving how intelligently written TWDR is. The dialogue is so smart and suspenseful. Also, King Sejong is my new hero. A king who puts his people first, AND loves language so much he goes around getting people to bark like dogs? Not to mention how he curses at politicians. Love him, and I love the way we’ve been dropped into a mystery which keeps presenting us with more questions than clues. *goes off to download episode 6*

  6. Cain and Abel is not worth your time (even for So Ji Sub since he honestly is not good in this). The script, the direction, the acting are all bad. You know the feeling when a drama is shortchanging you? Treating you like you are a person with no mind who can be herded into emotions just by watching a pretty face/hot body and you don’t need anything else (like a good script?) ? Well Cain and Abel is that sort of drama. Of course I watched it until the end (it didn’t get any better only got worse and worse with each episode) since I actually paid for the stupid thing. Stay away. Save your time and money.

  7. Sometimes I start a drama for the pretty, but stay for the story. A scene or two with that character can push me through hours of those. In WBDS, little and big Yeo Un managed to eclipse most of (Someone needs to Kill-a) Hong and Dae Why isn’t he-dead? Ung. Sandglass was fascinating without but necessary>/i> with sighable Lee Jung Jae.

    Usually, characters and their hidden stories drive my consumption. I am happiest when the dramas have a character or two who attract all my focus when on scene. I like looking for clues to why they act like that. This includes every character in WH in Bali. In Time Between Dog and Wolf, Soo-hyun /Kay. In La Dolce Vita, Lee Joon Soo. In Que Sera Sera, Kang Tae Joo. I would even add Park Hae Young in My Princess since his motivations weren’t terribly clear through out.

    OK, I just noticed ALL of these fascinating characters are pretty.
    That is NOT my fault.

  8. This was such a wonderful post to read. Jang Hyuk is my favorite actor in all of kdramaland, mostly because he’s just SO INTENSE. And that moment in episode five where he started to pour his heart out? I was sold so quick. If I had ever wavered in that drama, that scene brought me back.

    I do totally agree with you about Han Suk Kyu, too. But maybe my jaw never picked itself back up off the floor from Song Joong Ki’s episodes.

    • I totally get the meh reaction about Sejong changing hands. SJK really stepped up to the challenge, and it would be interesting to see how he interprets a nearly 50 year old man later (Sejong’s age in the story?) On the other hand, HSK doesn’t seem the type to play that relationship between actor and camera, that accounts for the allure most of us on the other side of the TV screen prefer (for catharsis, justify our time, give a toss, etc xD.) The 2 Sejongs scene in Eps. 8 is an example: he plays for the dynamics between characters (and in relation to rest of story as a whole), not for immediate overpowering of audience through the screen. Watch SJK only with HSK’s half covered up, then watch HSK only with SJK covered. Older Sejong is adding to the menace from the figment of his younger self, by his scurrying away in fearful avoidance, denial of his pandora’s box. It’s pretty crazy (or audacious) he plays Sejong’s inner world as a Gollum-type gnarled by ambition, making SJK a mirror showing his ugliness. Ludicrous to the hilt, as much as Hamlet spitting at his ghost dad! (though I’d only fault the music for being redundant since the scene is hardly comatose.)
      Also I see the netizens’ praise are much tied to a performance matching their idea of the historical Sejong, granted in a fictional story (and a rather bungled one at that according to actual history?) Previous adult Sejongs by Shin Sung-il, Kim Sang Kyung, and Han In soo are their yardstick, not the continuity from this younger self.
      This disparity that’s a problem for some of us, may be SJK and HSK both played their own ideas of fictional-historical Sejong. Different loyalties made “worse” by different emphasis in style and approach;)

      • P.S. the “catharsis” point I feel is important. Or in the case of HSK, you could say anti-catharsis is his thang. Another actor by the scene’s end, would throw around the props in a way we get some release vicariously – in Really. Destroying. Sh!t. He doesn’t. Instead it’s ineffectual, pathetic Sejong being feeble-limbed, even after exposing himself as totally undignified in private. This can get people angry (I was *not* pleased), but it serves a point…albeit an academic one (that’s not really good for TV purposes, ie. wish fulfillment etc.)

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