Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Secret Garden - 2010

After watching two excellent K-series, Faith and Boys Over Flowers I was wondering which series to latch on to next.  I was recommended Secret Garden by my fellow blogger and friend, Dustedoff. I did not really know the lead actors in this series but was familiar with Lee Philip who had an important role in Faith.  I had loved him there and was eager to watch him once more.

Secret Garden starts with montage shots of a pretty garden and a rather magical looking rain with lightening in the background.  We zoom into the high-class home of Kim Joo Won (Hyun Bin). Kim Joo-Won is the CEO of a very high-end departmental store called Loel.  His grandfather owns the store and he is next in line.
Kim Joo Won
He is a pragmatic fellow, very arrogant and likes to speak his mind.  His family has arranged a match for him.  He tells the girl, Yoon Seul, straight away that he does not believe in love and is happy to let the family find someone for him.  Yoon Seul (Kim Sa Rang) is perplexed by this.  She wants to marry Kim Joo Won too and puts up with his abrupt behavior.
Yoon Seul
Yoon Seul has a secret.  She once dated Kim Joo Won's cousin, Oska (Yoon Sang-hyun).  She was badly jilted by him and is in a vengeful mood.  Oska is a Halayu star and has many followers.  But his popularity is fading.  He is the mascot of Loel Store.  He is short tempered and prone to throwing tantrums and getting his way.  He is a compulsive womanizer too.  He is forever getting into trouble for dating and dumping women.  He had been very serious about Seul though.  He had dumped her because she had gone off to the USA with another man.
Oska with a girl
Oska has fallen foul with a girl he has just jilted.  She claims to have pictures of them both and is threatening to expose him by giving a press statement against him.  Oska asks his cousin Kim Joo Won to go and find the actress Park Chae Rin (Baek Seung-hee) and detain her so she may not be able to go to the press conference.  When Kim Joo Won reaches the shoot location, he is pointed to Gil Ra Im by mistake.  Gil Ram Im (Ha Ji Won) is the stunt double for the heroine.  Kim Joo-won takes Gil Ra Im away with him,
Gil Ra Im and Kim Joo Won

Gil Ra Im is creeped out by Kim Joo Won but is tempted by the promise to meet Oska whom she adores.  Kim Joo Won is captivated by Gil Ra Im but cannot figure out why.  He is the scion of a rich family.  He is just too upper-class to like a tomboyish, shabbily dressed girl like Gil Ra Im.  He is dismissive of his feelings but is drawn to her anyway.  He continues to outrage Gil Ra Im by his high-handed arrogant behaviour.

Im Jong Soo
Im Jong Soo (Lee Phillip) is a stunt director.  He is very protective of his team in general and of Gil Ra Im in particular.  He is in love with her completely but being her boss he does not want to seem exploitative by dating her.  He is very jealous of Kim Joo Won for hovering around her and tries to make him back off.

Gil Ra Im is an orphan and has to work very hard to make ends meet. She lives with her friend Ah Young (Yoon In-Na) who works as an attendant in Loel Store.  She is besotted by Oska and listens to his songs to keep her spirits up.  She is both fascinated and repelled by Kim Joo Won.   

On a trip to Jeju Island Gil Ra Im and Kim Joo Won are stunned to discover that their bodies have changed.  This results in several funny situations when Gil Ra Im is grossed out by having to go to the bathroom and Kim Joo Won has to learn how to wear a bra.  They are forced to live in each others' world and wind up developing a better understanding of each other.  Their friends are puzzled by sudden uncharacteristic behavior as Gil Ra Im turns brash and manly and Kim Joo Won becomes polite and well-mannered.

Despite the body change, Kim Joo Won and Gil Ra Im are still not ready to fall in love.  Most times Joo Won is very blunt with Ra Im which is very insulting to her.  She keeps kicking him when he annoys her. Poor Director Im hovers in the background, unable to say anything to Ra Im.  Oska is the only one who is gallant towards the girl.  He becomes friends with her and always treats her very nicely.  At one point, Oska brings Ra Im home in his car and flirts with her sweetly while Joo Won and Director Im watch from the sidelines.  Despite the example, they do not stop being gruff with the girl.

It is much later in the story that Ra Im finds that she is indeed in love with Kim Joo Won.  She decides to take matters in hand and go and talk to Kim Joo Won.
Gil Ra Im dances with Kim Joo Won
The path of their love is not easy, thanks to the disparity in their backgrounds. Kim Joo Won's mother is NOT pleased about the development and tries to do all she can to keep the couple apart.  They also have to deal with this strange situation where their bodies are suddenly interchanged.

Oska finds he is still in love with Seul.  She is not easy to please and Oska must make major changes in himself before she thaws.  Oska has to grapple with his failing popularity and tries to claw back to the top slot.
Rock Star Oska
The plot uses several fairy tales to illuminate the story of the lead characters.  At one time, Gil Ra Im is Alice who has stumbled into the wonderland of Rich People's World.  At another time, she is the Little Mermaid who cannot fit into the life of the Prince.  Then she is Cinderella who gets to spend time with her Prince with the help of a Fairy Godmother (Oska).

The series are beautifully shot. The scenes are well arranged and directed.  The acting is superlative.  Ha Ji Won is a complete winner in each scene.  She is amazingly pretty and very expressive. Hyun Bin scores with his faultless portrayal of a Rich Boy puzzled by his feelings for a Poor Girl.

I was captivated by Oska's character.  He is childish and spoilt.  But he has a warm heart and is the only one to treat Gil Ra Im with such respect.

Lee Philip as Director Im, a boss too grim to propose to his protege, was as delicious as ever.  It would have been so simple, I felt, if Ra Im had fallen back in love with her Director.  They would have really got along well.

The series dragged majorly in the middle.  It was as if the couple would never fall in love and the story would not move a centimeter. I nearly gave it up then.  I was prevailed upon by my mother to stick with it and I am glad I did.  The story recovered its zing in the 14th episode and from then it was all fine.  There was a satisfactory explanation about why Kim Joo Won was so afraid of elevators. His past story was brought up and explained which added a lot of meat to the plot.  The starting episodes and the final ones are very lyrical and beautiful and take away the sting of the slightly draggy middle.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Boys Over Flowers - 2009

 Geum Jan-Di (Ky Hye Sun) is not very well off.  Her parents run a Dry Cleaning Store.  She helps them with deliveries.  She also works at a porridge shop and goes to an ordinary school.  

One fine day, she goes on her bicycle to deliver a dry cleaning to the famous Shinwa School where the creme de la creme of Seoul study.  She is amazed to learn that her client Lee Min Ha is on the verge of flinging himself off the roof of Shinwa School.  She tries to talk him out of jumping off the building.  When all else fails, she leaps up to grab him when he jumps.

This incident brings Geum Jan-Di instant fame.  She is plagued by paparazzi and featured in magazines and on television.  This puts pressure on the Chairman of Shinwa Group to reward her as the student's attempted suicide has been attracting bad press for School.  As a reward, Geum Jan-Di is awarded a scholarship to attend this top notch, pricey school.

Chairman, Shinwa Group
Before leaping, Lee had told her about the dreaded F4.  Any student who falls foul of this group has to suffer untold misery and often leave school.  After joining the school, Geum Jan-Di finds herself facing the F4.

Gu Jun Pyo (Lee Min Ho) is the leader of this dreaded group.  He is a scion of the famous Shinwa family.  He is the richest man in Korea. He is spoilt beyond words, selfish and completely insensitive to others.  
Gu Jun Pyo

Yoon Ji Ho (Kim Hyn Jung) is the second most influential member of the group.  He is artistically inclined, plays violin and is madly in love with Min Seo-hyun (Han Chae Young) a famous model and his childhood friend. 
Yoon Ji Ho
Min Seo Hun
So Yi-jung (Kim Bum) is a skilled potter and is extremely rich as well.  Song Woo-bin (Kim Joon) is the fourth member of the group.  His family owns a large construction company and has links with the mafia.

So Yi Jung and Soo Woo Bin

Geum Jan Di

Geum Jan-Di falls for Yoon Ji Ho initially.  She finds him sensitive and caring.  But he is deeply involved with his girlfriend so Geum Jan-Di draws back.  She values his friendship and he bails her out of several difficult situations and eventually falls in love with her.

Gu Jun Pyo

It is Gu Jun Pyo that Geum Jan-Di has her spats with.  His arrogance rubs her up the wrong way and she usually lashes out at him, unafraid of the repercussions.  During one such face-off, Gu Jun-Pyo decides that Jan-Di is particularly fiery with him because she is actually in love with him, deep down. 

This leads to a lot of mirth amongst his friends who egg him on because they enjoy watching these spats between Jun-Pyo and Jan-Di.  Gu Jun Pyo tries to make Geum Jan Di confess her love for him.  In the process, he falls for her.

Geum Jan Di confused by Jun Pyo's soft side
 Geum Jan Di is confused by the softer side of Gu Jun Pyo and is not certain if she can love him.  Gu Jun Pyo tries to integrate into her world by hanging out with her family and going on double dates with Geum Jan Di and her best friend Ga Eul (Kim So-Eun).  He even takes her off on a group holiday with Ga Eul and his friends. 

 One day Gu Jun Pyo waits for her despite bitter cold and snow.  This impresses Geum Jan Di and she begins to fall in love with him too.

 The path of their love is not easy.  Gu Jun Pyo's mother is an influential woman and can do anything to prevent her son from forming and undesirable alliance with an ordinary girl.

Most times the series see-saws between a rift between the two and then, at times, sweet and romantic encounters.

As time passes, Gu Jun Pyo finds himself changing for the woman he loves.  Geum Jan-Di also becomes mellower and begins to value Gu Jun Pyo for his constancy, his will to better himself, and his loyalty towards his friends.

Ga Eul
In a sweet little sub-plot, So Yi-Jung falls for Ga Eul and mends his playboy ways to win her over.

There are a lot of people who try to cause a rift between Gu Jun Pyo and Geum Jan Di.  Most notably, his family tries to fix his wedding with the daughter of another influential Korean business family.

Through all her trials and tribulations, Geum Jan-Di relies more and more on the advice and support of Yoon Ji Ho.  He falls in love with her, but stays in the sidelines, mindful of his friendship with Gu Jun Pyo. There are many times that he could have turned Geum Jan-Di from Gu Jun Pyo and towards himself.  But he plays a selfless lover and friend and always assists Jan-Di and Jun Pyo.

Yoon Ji Ho
The series has 24 episodes of one hour each.  It is very light hearted initially.  It becomes a little more serious later.  I found it a little tedious as the end neared.  But it picked up its pace again and chugged off to a good finale.

This is one of the most popular K-Dramas that contributed to a worldwide Halayu.  It popularised the term 'metrosexual' for men who groomed themselves meticulously.

Initially, I felt that the series seemed to promote a consumerist culture.  But soon, it settled down to promote good values like hard work, sensitivity towards fellow humans, love and friendship.

All the actors have put in great performances.  It is lavishly mounted and well produced.  Ky Hye Sun as Geum Jan Di totally owns the series.  She is cute and fiery and brings the lead character to life with her bravura acting.  This is the series that established Lee Min Ho as the leader of Halayu.  He became a rage and a heart-throb of countless fans across Asia.

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 Chinese Empress' brother, 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 24 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!

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.

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.

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.