October 2023 BREAkdown
- 16 films/series total (not including Hallmark films)
- 14 foreign films/series
- 1 TV series
- 1 re-watch
Biggest Disappointment: Homme Fatale
Favorite Discovery: Tree With Deep Roots
Pride & Prejudice (1995) -It was such a pleasure to review this childhood favorite after many years. I’ve seen several versions of Jane Austen’s story over the years and can’t pick a favorite, but I do have favorite things about each. For me, this adaptation has the best Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy thanks to wonderful performances by Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. And with six episodes, it also is able to delve into more depth and detail than other films and series have. It’s definitely a classic for a reason.
Foreign Films & Series
The Swindlers (2017) – In a story about a swindler who cons other swindlers, this one has lots of twists and turns. The first half has a very slow setup, kind of like the uphill climb on a roller coaster, but then it really lets loose. Hyun Bin (of Crash Landing fame) is the mastermind swindler who is out to revenge himself on his father’s killer. He teams up with an influential prosecutor who is not all he seems. I loved the twist at the end that reveals who all the players really are. I did have to suspend my disbelief on some things, particularly how the hero became so proficient in his work. Otherwise, this was a fun ride, but not an overly memorable one.
Love 911 (2012) – I’m pretty certain I’ve seen this film before, but could barely remember it. I wasn’t too crazy about the female lead for a good portion of the film. She’s an arrogant and callous doctor, who needs the help of the hero firefighter and sets out stalking him in order to persuade him. I don’t understand how Asian dramas think stalking can ever lead to romance but it’s a trope I see fairly often. At least she ends up showing some character growth in the end. I struggle to believe the hero could actually overcome his grief at losing his wife and fall for her, but they have a fairly cute ending together.
Accidentally in Love (2018) – Meh…there’s not much to say about this co-ed romance between a famous idol and a beautiful heiress who goes undercover as a poor ugly girl. The conflict sparks between them before they eventually become friends and then a couple. I did appreciate how the male lead falls in love with the unattractive version of the heroine and that he prefers her that way. That’s a unique twist. The second male lead was my favorite character; honorable, smart and thoughtful. This is cheesy fluff without much depth and is impossible to take seriously. But it wasn’t entirely painful to watch either.
Boys Over Flowers (2009) – This is junk food entertainment in all its’ glory, full of just about every cliché and trope out there. Despite the fact that I know I shouldn’t consume it, I can’t help but binge it anyway because it’s just so addictively entertaining. I fell in love with the cheerful, spunky heroine who’s not swayed by status or material things and who isn’t afraid to stand up to those who have them. The relationships of the guys in F4 was also a highlight, their loyalty and genuine care for each other contrasting with their coldness and bullying towards others. I love the fact that they all pretty much adopted the female lead once she earned their respect and had their own friendships with her outside of her romance with the male lead. So cute. It’s kind of like she tamed them all. I admit to having major second male lead syndrome especially as he seemed to understand the heroine best and was always there when she needed him. He was so selfless when it came to her. But the bickering chemistry of the main leads was a lot of fun to watch. On the downside, there were so many things, events and circumstances in this series that were completely illogical and made it hard for me not to roll my eyes. I found the physical violence in early episodes very disturbing. Also twenty five episodes was waaaay too long for a series this silly and ridiculous, but I have no regrets.
Red Sleeve (2021) – It’s been a while since I’ve seen a strictly historical drama. And this one is both an artistic and visually beautiful production. It features the complex relationship of a king who is in love with a palace maid. I adore how the series explores the conflict she feels between love and remaining true to herself. Her fight to retain personal agency is not one often explored so well on screen. The actress does a fantastic job portraying the emotions that cannot be expressed through the dialogue. It is very romantic how much the king loves her despite the fact that she does not verbally reciprocate. But I can completely understand her hesitation in giving up everything she is for a man who is duty bound as a king and can never truly belong to her alone. I do wish the show had given a bit more time to their happiness together. Instead there is a gloriously tear-jerking ending to their relationship. Aside from that, watching this really felt like stepping back in time as it seems to be fairly historically accurate. But above all, it’s just a deeply moving story of love, duty and personal sacrifice.
The Veil (2021) – What an exciting and wild ride! This spy thriller gave me some Jason Bourne vibes in the beginning. The protagonist is a black ops agent who returns after a year away with no memory of that missing year, but with a plan to find who is responsible for betraying him and his team. The pace is fast, intense and completely unpredictable. Every character is suspect at some point. Namgoong Min is fabulous as the deadly agent who is controlled and stoic and who must sift through a constantly shifting minefield of information. As the protagonist he is unreliable since his memories are missing and his perspective continues to change with each new revelation. His rapport with the newbie female agent assigned to him is natural and it is her belief in him that keeps his character centered. Another highlight of this series is it’s exploration of the moral issues those in secret intelligence must wrestle with as well as the ramifications to both their physical and mental health. Such a fascinating watch.
Destined With You (2023) – After finishing this rom-com with a dash of suspense, I was thoroughly in love with it. But upon further reflection I realized that there were some things that just didn’t hold my interest such as the heroine’s co-workers, the hero’s verbally abusive father, and the mean girl bully. I especially detested the crazy stalker part of the story line. However, the pluses very much outweighed the minuses for me. I ADORE romances where someone is compelled for some reason to love another against their will and this one was so well done. The two leads had fantastic chemistry whether they were being antagonistic or sweet and mushy together. They completely sold me on their relationship and will be on my list of favorite couples for this year. The love triangle they had with the secondary male character was so well done, that I sometimes found myself shipping him with the heroine. I also really loved the male lead’s mother. She was just so genuine, a rarity in Kdrama land.
The Throne (2015) – Since I just finished watching The Red Sleeve which is about the son and grandson of the main characters in this film, I thought it was high time to finally watch this story based on Korea’s Crown Prince Sado who was sentenced to death by his own father. I’m not sure about the historical accuracy, but it is a gripping tale. The performances by the two male leads, particularly Yoo Ah In as the tragic Prince were mesmerizing. The film’s title quietly conveys the reasoning behind the horrible actions taken by the king towards his own son, as he chooses to place his duty above his personal relationship. It was a difficult watch but also an extremely compelling one.
Extra-ordinary You (2019) – I got hooked on this one pretty quickly. It has a quirky premise set in a comic book world with characters who become aware they are characters but who can then begin to act on their own volition. The female lead was adorable, so cheerful and determined to change her fate as an extra character. And her developing relationship with another nameless character was so sweet it almost gave me a toothache. Her friendship with the second male lead was also so refreshing and one of the better male-female friendships I’ve seen on screen. The plot began to get a bit repetitive after a while as the characters wrestled against the fates assigned to them by the writer and I started to lose interest towards the end. I think it could have been shortened a few episodes without losing anything valuable to the story,
Homme Fatale (2019) – I found this film disappointing, mainly because it wasn’t anything like I was expecting. The trailer made me think it would be more of a comedy. Though there were a few funny moments, overall it was slower paced and more bittersweet than I anticipated. It used the story of a male courtesan to try to explore issues of class and gender, but didn’t really go deep enough to make its’ message meaningful enough.
Intense Love (2020) – This is another one of those Chinese dramas that relies heavily on the unabashedly romantic moments of the two leads to carry the series. It’s a love story between a popular actress and an introverted genius doctor (who’s eyebrows are on point!) I’ve seen this actress in a couple other series, including Love at Night which I liked much better. Her character in this one is sweet but a bit over the top. I’m finding these Chinese romances are hit or miss with me, with so many of them lacking depth and substance, which doesn’t always have to be a drawback. But there are other things that I can’t precisely pinpoint that are lacking as well which cause them to just fail to hold the viewer’s attention.
Wok of Love (2018) – What an off beat little show this is. The story meanders a bit and certain characters and plot points are dropped, but the quirky characters, and their relationships are the saving grace of the show. Plus there is a talking horse, which is something I never knew I needed. (Don’t ask, it just comes across as whimsical.) With a restaurant kitchen setting, the three main characters are a chef in search of revenge, an heiress who finds herself broke when her father is arrested and a gangster trying to go straight and help his gang live normal lives. This is probably one of the best love triangles I’ve seen as each of them truly care for and respect the others and are open and honest with each other as well. I absolutely did not like a few of the supporting characters including the heiress’ mom who remained self absorbed and a snob to the end. The food scenes were works of art and considering I hate to cook, extremely interesting to watch. It gave me a new appreciation for the work of chefs.
She Would Never Know (2021) – Slow and sweet, this romance took it’s time developing the main couple, giving me time to fall in love with them together. Honestly, I’m not sure why it took so long for the female lead to fall for the hero, because he was pretty much perfect; patient, gentle and unashamedly in love with her. But the secondary couple of his sister and their boss almost stole the show from them. I loved the portrayal of the boss/CEO as a kind man who is a bit of a goofball at heart. I also enjoyed seeing their work at a cosmetics company and how well their team got along and respected each other.
A Tree With Deep Roots (2011) – Based on the history of the development of the Korean alphabet, this turned out to be an engrossing drama. I was easily lured in by the first few episodes, thanks to the many showdowns between a father and son pair of kings. I could have watched them lock horns for much longer. Each episode ended up being full of intrigue and mystery and never boring. For once I thought the political debate was actually fascinating and relevant. Seeing the creation of a written alphabet is pretty awesome, especially all the thought that goes into it, the challenges such an undertaking faces and the sacrifices that are made. As someone who is a firm believer in the pre-eminence and power of words I appreciated how debates about the alphabet emphasized this. Language has always been a battle ground, and this series accurately depicts why. All the main actors gave great performances, especially Han Suk Kyu who portrays the king and creator of the alphabet. I got so invested in each person involved with this historical mission that I actually cried over some of them, which shows just how much I cared about these characters. Even though it’s a longer series for me at twenty four episodes, it was worth every minute of my time. It raised some important questions and left me with quite a few things to ponder.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006) – It’s been a while since I revisited this one last and I still enjoy it just as much as ever. In my mind, it’s a classic. The performances are iconic and even though the fashion is now dated, it’s still eye catching.
Hallmark – A Very Venice Romance, All For Love, Winter Love Story, The Magic of Ordinary Days, Retreat to You, Where Are You Christmas?