Sunday, August 9, 2015

Faith or The Great Doctor - 2012


Faith or The Great Doctor is a Korean Drama series that aired in August 2012.  It was not a very big hit but seems to have acquired quite a cult following now.

It starred Lee Min Ho as Choi Young and Kim Hee Seon as Yoo Eun Soo.

The story goes as follows.  It is close to 1350 AD. King Gongmin is on his way to Goryeo (Korea) with his queen Noguk.  King Gongmin has been held hostage in China ever since he was a child.  He is now married to the Chinese Princess.  He is expected to rule over Korea as a vassal of Chinese King.
Queen Noguk and King Gongmin
He is accompanied by Choi Young, a Captain in the army. Choi Young and his men are responsible for the safe return of the King.  On the way, they are attacked by some bandits.  Fearing further attacks, Choi Young takes refuge in an inn and seeks to defend his king. 

As expected by Choi Young, the bandits return in a larger number.  He tries to drive them off and almost succeeds.  He is not able to prevent an attack on the Queen who gets her neck slashed. 

Royal Doctor
The Royal Doctor, Jang Bin, is at hand.  According to him the slash on the Queen's neck will prove fatal in time.  He cannot do much for such injuries.  The issue is complicated as the Queen is also a Chinese Princess.  It is quite likely that the King will face the wrath of the Chinese monarchy if she dies.

Jo Il Shin, the King's caretaker since his childhood, talks about a holy place nearby.  In ancient times, there was a great doctor called Hwa Ta who disappeared into a pool of light.  He has faith that anyone who steps into the pool of light can bring back Hwa Ta.  Choi Young volunteers to step into the pool of light.

He finds himself in an unknown world.  There are high-rise buildings and bright lights everywhere.  The portal he stepped into has actually brought him to current day Seoul.  He seeks directions from a passing monk.  He is directed to a Doctors Conference going on close by.  He walks into the conference and is taken for a dressed up actor from a film shoot.

He runs into a lecture being conducted by Dr. Yoo Eun Soo.  When being chased by the security guards, he takes the redhead doctor hostage.  He forces the doctor to demonstrate her skills on stitching up a cut similar to the one the Queen has suffered. He picks up some things that he deems necessary for the doctor and carries her back into King Gongmin's time.

The reluctant doctor does not understand what is going on.  She thinks there has been an accident on a film set and they want her to stitch up the patient so there would not be a scandal.

Soon she realises where she is.  With a sinking heart, she learns that a return will not be immediately possible.

 An injured Queen is not his biggest worry, King Gongmin finds.  There is the Queen's uncle, Ki Cheol, who controls the purse and the army of Goryeo and is in no hurry to relinquish it.  He also possesses super powers and is a formidable enemy.

He is flanked by his pledged brother and sister. Eum Ja can blast people's insides by playing his flute, while his sister, Hwa Soo In can invoke fire and burn people.

She is a Dolores Umbridge sort of a character, who smiles and says witty things while casually hurting people.

In the middle of all the court intrigues and danger, Choi Young and Yoo Eun Soo fall in love with each other.  Their love is not easy.  She is thought to have come from Heaven, and is keen on returning to her time.  Choi Young cannot follow her, he is tied to his king.  The more she stays on in his world, the more embroiled she becomes in the intrigues of the times.

Ki Cheol is very interested in the Heaven Doctor and wants to go to Heaven along with her.  He holds some evidence regarding the original Hwa Ta. When the relics of Hwa Ta are put before Yoo Eun Soo, she goes into a deep shock. Why does the original Hwa Ta write in Hangul, the script she is familiar with?

Will the love between Choi Young and Yoo Eun Soo ever be allowed to flower?  Who was Hwa Ta? Will Yoo Eun Soo ever go back to Seoul? Will the King Gongmin survive the various conspiracies against his regime?

The series are spread over 30 episodes of one hour each.  They are available on youtube with English subtitles at the moment, which is not the best way to watch them, but I do not know how to procure a proper DVD here in India.  

Almost all the episodes are very gripping and often end with a cliffhanger.  The plot is meticulously worked out.  There are elements of fantasy in this historical drama. It combines romance and action in an equal measure as well.

The acting is very well good all around.  I instantly crushed on the gorgeous Lee Min Ho.  I found the Royal Doctor played by Philip Lee very cute.  The flute playing villain Eum Ja played by Sung Hoon is good eye candy as well.  The ladies are equally good looking.  You can depend on K-drama for providing cute and good looking actors always.

The Lady of the Court played by Kim Mi Kyung reminded me very strongly of Lalita Pawar.

Although this is a historical drama, the series does not go overboard with too many costume changes. 

 Lee Min Ho has three makeovers in the series and wears the same clothes most of the time. 

 Kim Hee Soon is also dressed mostly in blue and white as befits a doctor.  

The other characters also stick to uniform dressing.  It is less distracting and is easy to recognise a character based on the dress.

The sets are all old Palaces and open fields which is very apt.  The palaces and living areas are very well depicted.  I am not an expert on the era, so I cannot vouch for its authenticity, yet nothing rankles.

I do not understand Korean, but I found that even in intoning the dialogues a lot of meaning is conveyed.  It is easy to recognise a playful, angry, worried, tearful voice and get the drift about the goings on,  Then there are the subtitles to help you de-code the situation.

This was my first K-Drama but it is not going to be the last.  Happy viewing to me!

readmore »»

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Love Hurts - 1992-1994


Produced by BBC
Created by Maurice Gran, Laurence Marks
Starring: Zoe Wanamaker, Adam Faith, Jane Lapotaire and Tony Selby.

This TV series aired from 1992 to 1994 and had 3 seasons of 10 episodes each.

Tessa and Frank

Zoe Wanamaker plays Tessa Piggot who has, at the start of the series, just been royally dumped by her married boss and lover for a younger woman.  She is furious and hurt and swears off all men.  She is also at a loose end, suddenly without a job or a place to live.  She goes home for a little while for recuperation.  Her mother advises her to work for a charity firm.  She speaks to an old college friend, Diane Warburg (Jane Lapotaire) who is a director for SEED, a charity outfit.  They cannot pay as much as Tessa has been earning, but the work is more meaningful.
Diane Warburg

Her life slowly gets back on rails as she moves into an apartment and starts working.  She runs into Frank Carver (Adam Faith), a plumber, when her flush breaks down.  Frank is no ordinary plumber as Tessa thinks.  In fact, he answers Tessa's desperate call for a plumber as a lark.  He used to be a plumber but is now a big financial wheeler-dealer who owns several companies. He falls rather hard for Tessa and chases her around for a date.  Tessa is still recovering from her break-up, also, Frank is not her type. She is college educated and Frank seems rather lacking in that department.

I have gone through about half of the entire series, fifteen episodes, so to speak.  I am totally in love with it. It is basically about relationships, of course.  The main tussle is between Tessa and Frank who have a roller coaster ride with their relationship, they are either kissing or clutching at each others' throats. Apart from them, Tessa's parents, Diane Warburg and Max (Tony Selby - who plays Frank's Man Friday) also face problems in their relationships.
Max, Frank's Man Friday

Despite this plot-line, and the opening sequence which is overly cheesy, there is nothing too syrupy about the series. The main protagonists are in their forties and adults.  They deal with their needs and wants in a very forthright and an adult fashion.  They are both strong personalities.  Tessa is a professional, completely dedicated to her work.  There is not a patch of 'doormat' on her.  She may be in love at times with Frank Carver but at no point does she bow to him.  Their relationship is on an equal footing.

Tessa and Diane - Strong women

In fact both the women in the lead, Diane and Tessa are strong women with their own goals and missions in life.  Romance is not the primary need that they are out to fulfill.  It is the men who have to measure up to them.

There are several other elements in the story, for instance, the professional travails of the four major characters, that keeps the proceedings interesting.  The characters keep making trips to Gambia, Russia, and other countries as they are involved in providing funding to developing nations. This change of scene from time to time is quite refreshing.

The acting is superlative all around.  Tessa is a spunky woman and is played brilliantly by Zoe Wanamaker. When I watched the series way back in the 90's, I feel in love with Tessa.  I love all the 90's fashions on her, Hobo bags, blunt cut, and baggy clothes.
Loose clothing, Hobo Bag, Ombre hair

Adam Faith's Frank Carver is a slightly childlike character.  He is a wheeler dealer and always has an eye out for an opportunity. He does not hesitate to zoom in for an advantage, whether with Tessa (initially) or with some financial dealing.  He is always beside Tessa and never ever brings her down.

Diane Warburg is a director in the charity firm that Tessa runs.  She is also a Rabbi.  And a mother of three young sons.  Diane is always hard pressed for time which leads her marriage towards a breakdown.  She is also a very self-assured woman committed to her jobs.  She cannot compromise on them for the sake of her relationships.  It is the man who has to understand that.

It is for these characters that I love this mushy sounding series called Love Hurts.  Because they really know how to depict a modern woman.

readmore »»

Monday, May 18, 2015

My cousin Rachel - 1952


My Cousin Rachel was written by Daphne Du Maurier, a lovely noir romance about a femme fatale who could be murderous as well.  It was made into a Hollywood film starring Olivia de Havilland as Rachel and Richard Burton as Philip Ashley.

Philip Ashley
I had an inkling that Hollywood would mess up with this story and spent a major part of my day reading the book.  It was a page turner and I had no problem in reading it at a stretch.  Here is my review of the book.

Philip Ashley (Richard Burton) is a young orphan brought up by his older cousin, Ambrose. They live together happily on their estate in Cornwall.  As he gets older Ambrose Ashley finds he cannot bear the Cornwall winters anymore and goes to Florence.  On one such visit, he meets his cousin Rachel there and after a short courtship, gets married to her.  Soon after his wedding he falls ill.  He sends some letters home accusing Rachel of trying to kill him. 
Is that poison in my tea?

Another murder?
A distraught Philip goes to Florence but finds Ambrose dead and buried.  His wife has gone away from Florence for some unknown destination. Philip is convinced that Rachel had a hand in Ambrose's death.  When Rachel visits Cornwall, Philip invites her to stay with him and wants to have a showdown with her.   Rachel disarms him with her charm and wins him over. He is soon eating out of her hands.  But should he beware of her?

Olivia de Havilland is good as Rachel though she does look a little placid and matronly in places. Rachel needed someone sexy and mysterious. Richard Burton  is perfect as the impetuous Philip who is drawn to Rachel yet cannot help suspecting her of murder.
Rachel and Ashley

What is a big let down is the script which fails to follow the book to the letter and loses out. I am mystified about the reasons the makers of the film had to alter the end. The end of the book was so much better and the film would have been so much better if they had stuck to the same end.

readmore »»

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pride and Prejudice - 1940


This is the 1940 movie version of Pride and Prejudice made by MGM and directed by Robert Z. Leonard.  It stars Laurence Olivier as Fitzwilliam Darcy, who is the man I have a serious crush on at the moment.  I became a recent entrant to his fan club after I watched him play the delicious Maxim De Winter in Rebecca.

I saw him years ago in The Prince and the Showgirl, and I am afraid I did not like him much in that movie.  I revised my opinion after I saw Rebecca and am currently hunting for any Laurence Olivier movie I can lay my hands upon.

Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet
We know the story of Pride and Prejudice well enough,  If you have not read the book, I expect you have seen the famous 1995 BBC series starring the Mr. Colin Firth.  This 1940 version differs from the novel quite a bit.  It is much higher on comedy and wit.  Not much of a surprise, as it was based on a stage adaptation of the novel by Helen Jerome.

Mr.Collins proposes to Lizzy
This version sparkles and has the viewer smiling constantly at the witty repartee and the uppity manners of Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley and the silly antics of Mrs. Bennet and her younger daughters.  Lady Catherine De Bourgh and her daughter, Anne, Mr. Collins also get a comic makeover.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Laurence Olivier has to look very haughty but manages to smile and exchange light-hearted repartees with  Greer Garson who plays Elizbeth Bennett.

Mr. Darcy being attentive to Elizabeth at Rosings
The first ill-worded proposal by Mr. Darcy

The happy ending in a lovely garden.

A purist may frown at the liberties taken with the script.  The overall effect of the movie is not spoiled, in my opinion.  Some events were completely chopped, like Elizabeth visiting Pemberley which was such a major part of the novel. Lady Catherine is not so villain-ish here.  I learn that the novel was set a little later in time so the characters could wear more ornate dresses.  The clothes that the Bennet girls wear belie their reduced circumstances. 

The movie is well made and completely entertaining. Greer Garson is wonderful as Elizabeth Bennet and Laurence Olivier looks very dashing as Mr. Darcy.

The actors are perfect in their role,   I always felt Mrs. Bennet should be a very attractive woman as she is the mother of such lovely girls.  I was glad to see a very attractive Mary Borland excel at playing Mrs. Bennet. Edmund Gwenn delivers the witty lines of Mr. Bennet with aplomb. In fact, it is hard for me to pick one favorite actor here, they are all so good.

Here is a list of the cast of the movie for the reader's reference, picked from the Wikipedia page of the movie.

readmore »»

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Wuthering Heights - 1939


This 1939 film version of Wuthering Heights, directed by William Wyler, is more like an abridged version of the book. The story is limited to Cathy and Heathcliff, some parts tweaked to make the tale simpler and more palatable. Emily Bronte's novel is complex, with much coming and going between Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange as the story progresses. 
The movie opens with Mr. Lockheed (Miles Mander) arriving at Wuthering Heights on a stormy night and finding that he has to stay there perforce as his landlord, Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) will not allow anyone to escort him back to Thrushcross Grange, which he has taken on rent.  At night, he is shown to Cathy's (Merle Oberon) old room and as the readers of the novel expect, there is a knock at the window in the middle of the night. Mr. Lockhead cries for help as he spots someone at the window.  Heathcliff throws the window open looking for Cathy and later, rushes out into the night crying her name.

The housekeeper at Wuthering Heights, Ellen (Flora Robson), then sits down to relate the strange tale of Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff. The movie goes into a flashback, and we see Mr. Earnshaw returning from one of his travels with a dark, ragged boy by his side.  Cathy takes to him readily and dreams up stories about his exotic past.  Hindley, her brother, is not happy with the new entrant into the family and beats him up at any opportunity he gets.  When his father dies, he banishes Heathcliff to the stables.

Cathy and Heathcliff run off to the moors at every opportunity they get and spend time together. They profess love for each other and are happy together. One day, Cathy hears music being played at Thrushcross Grange and goes over to the house to explore.  She is delighted by the sight of beautifully dressed ladies dancing.  She is thereafter torn between the genteel charms of Edgar (David Niven), the heir of Thrushcross, and the wild passion of Heathcliff.

Who does Cathy choose?  How does Heathcliff turn into a moneyed gentleman from a ragged stable boy?

I was eager to see the film as it starred Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff.  It was a treat I did not want to miss. I was not disappointed, Olivier Laurence's dark good looks make him very suitable as Heathcliff.  He does full justice to as much of Heathcliff as he is allowed to portray. Of course, the script does not allow him the full scope of the diabolical Heathcliff of the novel, which is sad.

 I have never seen Merle Oberon but have heard a lot about her.  She is a pretty girl, no doubt about that. She makes a lovely Cathy.   David Niven cut a dashing figure as the gentle Edgar. Geraldine Fitzgerald put in a spirited performance as Isabel, Edger's sister.

The movie is beautifully made and beautifully acted by all. It does not do full justice to the book, which is one my favorites. I can see how hard it is to depict three generations of Earnshaws and Lintons in a movie.  On the other hand, a trilogy (a la Lord of the Rings) or a TV series would have been a better vehicle. 

readmore »»

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Miss Austen Regrets - 2007


BBC Production - 2007

Gwyneth Huges imagines the last few years of Jane Austen's life in this BBC movie of the year 2007.

The movie starts with the big occasion that Jane supposedly looks back upon, the time when she accepted and then refused, the very next day, the proposal of marriage from Mr. Harris Bigg-Wither. We know when we learn what Mr. Bigg was really like, that Jane was right to refuse him. Her principled stand caused her to live in poverty for the rest of her days. It befits the writer of the best romance novels ever, to decide in favor of love and forgo thoughts of material comforts.

This is also the advice she gave Fanny Austen Knight, her niece when asked for her advice on whether or not to accept a proposal of marriage. She writes, "having written so much on one side of the question, I shall now turn around & entreat you not to commit yourself farther, & not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection".

Jane Austen remained single all her life. The movie imagines her last year and tries to work out whether she felt any regret at refusing Mr. Bigg. The movie also imagines a more suitable suitor for her, the one who could not wait and wonders if she felt any regret for having refused him.

It is a lovely script. It does not stray too far from the facts. There is a lot of witty dialog in here worthy of Jane. She admits that a man as perfect as Mr. Darcy can only be invented.

Olivia Williams does a wonderful job as Jane Austen, as does Greta Scacchi as Cassandra. Fanny Knight, whose quest for a partner is also a theme of the movie, is very effective. It is through her eyes that we get to take a look inside Miss Jane. We get to see dishy men like Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Bonneville too, for can we be far away from dishy men when we are reading Jane Austen?

readmore »»

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Aah - 1953


Aah is a Raj Kapoor Nargis romance, a journey that began with Aag and ended with Chori Chori.  These movies have a very intense romance at its heart, a Heer Ranjha kind, where the hero and heroine are prepared to die for each other.

These movies were also an example of a very polished cinema, good story, interesting situations, lovely songs and lots of glamour.

Aah begins with a picture of an industrious Raj Kapoor, as Raj.  He is the son of a rich businessman, but loves to work.  He is busy on a building project that keeps him in an idyllic spot, full of lakes and waterfalls and greenery all around.  His father is eager to see him married to a girl that his mother ear marked for him. A Miss Chandra (Vijaylakshmi), who belongs to a well-to-do family.  Raj wants to know the girl better before he can commit himself, so he writes to her.

Chandra is not pleased.  She does not want to go and live in a jungle, and asks her younger sister Neelu (Nargis) to write on her behalf.  Neelu is charmed by the poetry in Raj's letter.  She responds warmly, and soon they are corresponding with each other.

Neelu and Raj decide to bring their story to the notice of Neelu's father and set things right.  But Raj fails to make an appearance on the appointed day. Neelu is distraught and nearly turns mad.  She feels even worse when Raj appears in her house, but as the beau of her sister, Chandra.  Will she be able to survive this cruel blow to her heart?  More importantly, why is Raj behaving this way?

Nargis, Raj Kapoor and Pran own their parts.  These actors acted in so many different movies, but even so, they allow themselves to inhabit the identity of the Neelu, Raj and Kailash completely.  We are carried along the story, and moved by it.  Even though it takes a melodramatic turn here and there, and we are on tenterhooks about certain characters being on verge of death.  For a while I was sure that the film was going to go downhill after the first hour was up, but the plot threw a googly at me and I was riveted.

Unlike so many movies of that era, where the songs were the only saving grace of the film, in this film the songs complement the movie, instead of being the only stand out point.  And what lovely songs these are:

1. Aaja re, ab mera dil pukara
2. Raja ki aayegi baraat
3. Raat andheri
4. Jaane na nazar, pehchane jiga
5. Jhanan Jhanan ghoongarwa baaje
6. Ye shaam ki tanhaiyan, aise me tera gham
7. Chhoti si yeh zindagani re
8. Sunte the naam ham

Here is a link to a jukebox filled with the songs of Aah.

Vijaylakshmi as Chandra also acquits herself well, she gets to sing the beautiful Sunte the naam ham. Pran plays the role of Kailash, Raj's best friend and companion.  He has very few lines, but as he is privy to all the drama that is going on, his sympathetic silence is very evocative.

The plot of the movie is very uncluttered.  There is no comic sub-plot, and the main story has enough twists to carry the film on its steam.  It is a very good example of a strong script that is the most important thing in a film.

A lovely film from the 50s that should not remain unseen.

readmore »»