Monday, September 29, 2014

내 생애 봄날 (2014): 6회 미안해요..좋아해서..

"I'm Sorry... for Liking You..." is pretty much what defines this episode and the resulting fallout. Bomi gets a bit obsessive about Dongha's injury. Dong-uk gets jealous. When Bomi comes calling, Dongha reveals that he doesn't want to see Bomi any more because he has feelings for her.

Myeonghui shuts down the hospital kitchen using the meat sourcing scandal as an excuse to get Bomi out of work, make her look better to Myeonghui, and Bomi's marriage back on track. Dongha tries to help give Bomi a chance to work again by taking over the hospital cafeteria and gets his offer rejected. Then Bomi struggles with giving up her career for her family and marriage.

After Bluesea gets Bomi and Dong-uk to take them out on a picnic, Dongha tells Bomi to pursue her passions. Bomi discovers her loss of affection for Dong-uk, announces her desire to get back to work and breaks up with him. Upset and rejected, Dong-uk reveals the truth about Bomi's heart to Dongha.

This episode gets pretty dragged down by a great multitude of musical flashback montage scenes. In only once instance does the show provide a progressive montage, otherwise it's really nothing more than time filler. We also get a scene at a police station that pretty much just repeats the same rant that Bomi has about how Dongha get hurt because of her and adds nothing to the episode except maybe about five minutes. The resulting pushback scene where Bomi rejects Dongha's offer also seems like filler dialog since it doesn't add to or advance the story, especially since the action was back and forth without repercussions.

Perhaps the episode needed it since it was burning through its plot points. When Dongha asks Jiwon to take over the cafeteria to give Bomi a job, and to keep it a secret, Hyeong-u spills the secret the very next scene. Instead of taking advantage of the development, the writer decides to just move along to yet another scene where Bomi sits with Dongha and there's a rejection. While I normally like that the show doesn't dawdle on stupid conflicts that could easily be resolved if someone just says something, this is a rather terrible case as it still makes no sense at all that Dongha doesn't fill in Hyeong-u on the fact that he's trying to keep away from Bomi and then trusts him to handle the business when he knows from experience that Hyeong-u is going to disobey in an attempt to play matchmaker.

Ultimately, while Donga revealing his feelings for Bomi and discovering the truth about Bomi's heart are big deals, as is Bomi's realization that she's not into Dong-uk anymore, but these three things are basically the only things that happen in the entire episode, since Bomi's career essentially returns to status quo and is more a convenient plot point than a real character element. The rest of the episode are just stalling and delaying tactics, in complete opposite of the character of that show in its early episodes that drew me in.

The thing is, Bomi's realization of her loss of affection for Dong-uk could have been better drawn through, you know, action. Stuff happening, testing the characters and their affections and having them have epiphanies from these moments. But Bomi's shift in affection is demonstrated by a shifting in attitude without showing cause. I do like that we watch Dong-uk's jealousy drive some possessiveness in contrast to Dongha's concern for Bomi's career, but so much of the episode squanders the time that could actually be used to push story reasoning behind this that much of the episode simply seems like a waste.

In fact, it's kind of a waste that the show didn't build up her career more so it was a bigger deal when she lost her job. As it stands, the sixth episode takes My Spring Day on a path of shallow storytelling, stuffed full of filler. And it was really painful to watch as a result. It also really limits the potential for the rest the series. If Dongha and Bomi get together soon, then we are essentially looking at a new storyline and what will be the main driving dramatic conflict then? With all the talk of Bomi's health, I'm guessing it might be that. And that's almost never a good road to travel down, especially since we're already looking at a widower.

Also, I'm really wishing that we didn't have so much fate and Sujeong's ghost business going on because it's more meaningful if characters get to choose what they do and how they feel. I don't mind characters thinking that it's fate or ghosts so long as its clear that their decisions are the ones that matter. But I'm not going to judge those future episodes until I see them. While episode six was almost as big a disappointment for the series as I could imagine, with a possible closure to the love triangle, maybe the show will be able to find something better in the coming episodes. 4/10.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

내 생애 봄날 (2014): 5회 이거 세상에 하나 뿐인 팔찌 맞아요

In "This Is Definitely the Only Bracelet of Its Kind in the Whole World" we learn that the titular bracelet on Bomi's wrist is indeed the bracelet that Dongha made for Sujeong and that Bomi got it as a reward for finding and returning the lost Puruen. The next day Bomi goes to hang out with Pureun but runs into Dongha too and helps Dongha with his presentation to Pureum's class. Meanwhile, Jiwon struggles with a decision she has to make between Dong-uk and advancing her career and makes a choice. After the presentation Dongha tells Bomi to back off and reveals that he'll be continuing to see Jiwon.

Dong-uk gives Bomi an engagement necklace, but they also encounter their first setback as Bomi lets it slip that she's wondering if it's fate that she and Dongha be together and that Bomi seems even more upset that she can't hang out with Dongha and Pureun than she is happy about getting married to Dong-uk. At the hospital, Dongha makes a brief show with Jiwon to continue the appearance of seeing each other. Hyeongsun discovers that heart-transplanted Bomi is Dong-uk's fiancée and then calls off the wedding, not wanting another sick daughter in law.

Finally, a disgruntled former beef supplier starts a ruckus with the kitchen staff and threatens their safety, upon which Dongha appears and gets himself sliced while trying to contain the guy with beef. Bomi gets especially upset at this, but Dong-uk comes in, asks Bomi to leave, and then expresses his fear, doubt, and anger about Dongha's closeness to Bomi. Seeing how much it upsets Dong-uk, Dongha pushes Bomi away more.

I find myself only half disappointed that Bomi and Dongha had encountered each other a long time ago when Pureun was a little kid. I'm disappointed for two reasons. First of all, that neither Bomi nor Dongha recognized each other despite that moment being so critical, seeing that they looked the same. I'm also disappointed because this adds an additional and completely unnecessary element of fate into a story that already has so much going on with Sujeong's ghost/heart driving Bomi and Dongha together. So fate is simply not needed.

But, I'm also somewhat mollified because the show isn't really pushing the fate angle--the coincidence is influencing the behaviors of Dongha and Bomi as they think of it as possibly fate, but aside from the characters thinking of it as fate, we don't see any other indicators that the show is selling it as such. I can only hope as the characters grapple with the coincidences, even if they might start to wonder if it's fate, that the show doesn't really push such a thing on us. It's already a bit contrived since we have Sujeong's ghost/heart driving the plot.

I don't appreciate that Bomi came close to the truth by failed to surmise it. I mean, I understand that she's not terribly bright, but this is teasing the audience--better either not go down that road or have her figure it out.

It's also really hard to understand why Bomi went to visit Pureun at school and how she found out where Pureun goes to school. And even if there was a good reason for this weekday visit from which she'd have to take time off of work, it doesn't make sense why she went at midday instead of after school since Pureun would be in class. This is the first instance in My Spring Day where a character defies logic just to force a coincidental meeting and while I'm impressed that it took five episodes to do it, that's a really low bar that I'm setting for the show. It's also a stretch to believe that Dongha would have trouble presenting to a class of kids when he has no problems presenting to a full board room. It feels like this characteristic was forced onto Dongha just to have Bomi help. Again a contrivance.

I also don't understand why Dongha doesn't tell Hyeong-u that Bomi is Dong-uk's fiancée. It would save him a lot of headache. I thought perhaps he was subconsciously dancing around it to keep some avenue of hope open, but at this point, it also just seems contrived in order to maintain Hyeong-u's role as matchmaker. If he's going to go as far as to tell Bomi that she needs to back off from his kids and himself, then wouldn't getting his right-hand man in on the plan be an obvious step to take?

Jiwon again ends up being the weak character in the show as the decision she struggles with totally inconsequential (as her removing a condition from Dong-uk's contract that wouldn't be kept by the hospital anyway accomplishes nothing) and seems only done to show that she'll throw Dong-uk under the bus after lying to him to curry favor with President Song.

In terms of direction, we finally encounter some filler in the series as we have the characters do a music montage brooding over something that happened just earlier in the episode. Before, the series was really good about pinpoint flashbacks typically to earlier episodes, but it seems like the show is starting to run out of gas as we are put on a hamster wheel for a couple minutes.

Again, I still appreciate the relationships in this show and the moment between Myeonghui and Hyeoksu is a rare glimpse into the marriage of Bomi's parents. I also like that the Gang brothers have some realistic balance of affection and tension, like neither are happy that they fight over the same women, helping to make it obvious that they were closer before Sujeong and Dongha got together.

Overall, this episode struggled a bit. My Spring Day is starting to lose the naturalness of its previous character direction and starting to force the matter more and more. Unfortunately, My Spring Day doesn't use the one plot element of Sujeong's heart-ghost that it established early on, but instead not only introduces an element of fate, but also just throws in contrived coincidences, neither pushing the former or latter supernatural elements, cluttering the story with logic holes. Now, I'm not writing off the mentions of fate yet, because the writing has been fairly deft at not pushing it as a point-of-view, but instead using the coincidences to have the characters wonder about fate, but I don't like where it may lead.

On top of that, the episodes brightest moments were built on contrivances, like Bomi's visit to Pureun's school, and so they didn't sell well. I am glad that the show got to reveal Bomi's heart surgery to Hyeonsun so we don't have to dance around that anymore and, aside from the one in-episode musical flashback montage, the episode did keep chugging along, so that's a plus. But the episode was also filled with so much non-substance that it's hard to get behind either. As such, I find that the show is starting to go downhill. It's still tolerable at the moment, but there are now too many unwieldy elements introduced that can't be undone that I'm losing hope that it might return to the good form that it started with. 6/10.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Boyhood (2014)

To say that Richard Linklater's Boyhood is an ambitious film is a bit of an understatement. It took twelve years to make and utilized the same primary cast for most of those years. In that sense alone, it's a rare cinematic experience as you watch the cast grow before your eyes in a span of over two and a half hours. The only close analogues are the British documentary series, Seven Up!, some of the films of François Truffaut about Antoine Doinel, and Linklater own series of films following Before Sunrise, but all of those are each individual works in series. Of course, if the time lapse nature of Boyhood were the only thing about the film worth talking about then it could still make for a poor or frustrating moviegoing experience. But while Boyhood doesn't deliver on a traditional storytelling experience, what it manages to do with its extended running time and episodic narrative is to capture an honest portrait of life. And that is what I think sells the overall experience.

The film opens with Coldplay's "Yellow", immediately setting the time period back to the 2000's. From there we follow the family of Mason Evans, Junior (Ellar Coltrane), the core including his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) along with frequent visits by his father, Mason Evans, Senior (Ethan Hawke). We check in with Mason, Sam, and Olivia in Texas about once a year as Mason goes from first grade to his first days of university and witness the challenges they face as well their more happy moments.

The first thing that you need to know about Boyhood is that it completely eschews Aristotelian dramatic arc, so it's not about any particular conflict or point. If you go into Boyhood wanting or expecting that kind of traditional storytelling experience, the film is going to disappoint you and, most likely, bore you. While it's presented in a series of twelve annual episodes, even the individual episodes do not necessarily follow traditional storytelling techniques, although there are a series of narrative arcs built into the film around the different moves that Mason and family have to make around Texas.

But what Boyhood does manage to do well is to capture pictures from the life of Mason Junior. We get to see him grow up before our very eyes. And, in the end, we can see many of the components that contribute to the young man he becomes. In many ways, this is as deep a look into the life of one person as you can really get in a single modern length feature film experience and the use of the same actors over the years is no gimmick. It really adds an impressive sense of continuity throughout the film in terms of performance with time itself becoming part of the performance as the years wear on Arquette and Hawke while Coltrane and Linklater grow up before our eyes.

And that's what Boyhood provides that is so compelling: the ability to see a genuine picture of a boy--and his family through his eyes--that traverses time. It's not necessarily because the boy undergoes the traditional coming-of-age conflicts and plots that we see in many other coming-of-age films, but that we actually see him come of age while seeing the moments that are part of who he is as he comes of age. It's like looking at the individual parts of a house and, when the film is done, we see the whole house, being able to reminisce on the individual bricks and breams that compose it. It is the experience of growing up burned into celluloid and presented in a little under three hours.

And it's not only the boy, but we see the world around him change as fashion, technology, as well as his relationships and the relationships of his family changes over time. In some ways, this focus on capturing essence makes Boyhood almost more akin to studio art over storytelling narrative arts, using temporal narrative as a means of capturing a picture of Mason over time rather than to introduce and resolve dramatic conflict. But that also raises the challenge that Boyhood faces: it never seems to go anywhere and for an unsuspecting viewer, they will find the film meandering or pointless, at least until they catch onto the fact that Boyhood isn't trying to tell that kind of dramatic story. And if this kind of captive experience isn't what is appreciated, then Boyhood will only disappoint.

So I write this review in part in appreciation for what Boyhood does accomplish--perhaps a unique feat in narrative fiction feature film--but also as a warning to those that might be drawn to check out of the film by the near unanimous critical praise: it is not a traditional story nor a traditional film, despite its status as a coming of age story. And Boyhood does not provide dramatic engagement. So in many ways it's more akin to studio art or documentary film, while still being narrative fiction and not blurring lines into those other mediums and genres. But if you know what to expect or are at least patient or adventurous with your moviegoing habits, then Boyhood might prove to be an impressive and eye-opening experience. 9/10.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

내 생애 봄날 (2014): 4회 겁이 나. 또 형한테 뺏길까 봐

On the episode titled "I'm Scared. I Might Lose Her to Brother Again", we pick up right where we left off, with Dong-uk and Bomi revealing that they're engaged. The show comes up with a little bit of hospital politics around Dong-uk's contract renewal and a reluctance to open up an Organ Transplant Center that Dong-uk desires. We also get further into the business of Dongha's matseon, which gets Bomi upset and then, we Dong-uk learns that it's Jiwon that's meeting Dongha, he gets upset at Jiwon too.

We also learn that Bomi is prone to getting sick if she gets too stressed and matchmaker Hyeong-u arranges a covert date for Dongha and Bomi. Hyeonsun encounters Bomi and discovers that she's had a heart operation, even if she doesn't know who Bomi is. Dong-uk unleashes his romantic proposal to Bomi before having to abandon it for work. And Dongha and Jiwon have their blind date where they agree to fake seeing each other and proceed to share a few drinks and words. Finally, Bomi shares a story about a lost little girl she helped return to her parents.

The show continues showings its strength at portrayal of relationships. Again, it's the little moments that sell these relationships, like Hyeoksu's "You're the only one for me" aside to Dong-uk during Dong-uk's contract negotiation. I like that Myeonghui isn't made out to be an evil villain, but is acting in what she believes to be Bomi's best interests and that, even when their relationship is tense, Bomi still tries to be somewhat respectful, like when the door slams on the way out after arguing with her mother, she comes back in to sheepishly blame the slamming on the wind.

And then the little moments of honesty that the four main lovers share with each other are nice. I'm glad that this show isn't about hiding many secrets, with every episode so far filled with revelations.

But it's not all rainbows and sunshine for My Spring Day in its fourth episode. On a minor note, we have the first instance of a wrist-pull in this episode between Dong-uk and Jiwon and their relationship is honestly taking a turn for the annoying as Dong-uk forbids Jiwon from seeing Dongha twice. I don't know if it's out of jealousy or genuine concern for his older brother (or perhaps both), but Dong-uk's reaction is a bit too cruel. Likewise, I'm getting a sense of manipulation from Jiwon in how she instantly tells Dong-uk about their fake arrangement and Dongha's interest in Bomi (no matter that Jiwon should have little reason to think it was Bomi)--but if she's willing to go there, we really don't have any reason for her not to try to clear up her own past with President Song. I am glad that she doesn't use dating Dongha as a weapon against Dong-uk, but that's like slapping me and telling me that I should be glad that I wasn't punched.

And then there's the whole story of Bomi rescuing a lost little girl. There is no doubt in my mind that this girl is Pureun, which is tremendously disappointing because it's a degree of coincidence that is actually unsupported by the story's setup and appears to have been needless inserted into the story to suggest that they were fated to be together. It's utterly needless because having Sujeong's ghost work her magic on the two is plenty to suggest a Dongha and Bomi pairing and we really don't need any additional factor like a coincidental past encounter. Especially something that's possibly as gross as Sujeong meeting the girl to replace her and bequeathing upon her a bracelet. It really adds nothing of merit to the story and only serves as a distraction since this story isn't about fate. "Fate" in Korean drama is a truly overly abused notion that almost always serves to distract from the real human story at hand because it's in choice that actually drama lies.

I foresee this being a real problem with the drama as, if Bomi's attraction toward Dongha comes from Sujeong's heart beating within her and manipulating her feelings and impulses, it's not a genuine attraction. Now this could be an interesting chance for the show to explore our ability to choose to love someone after we get to know them, but the presence of fated love is kind of taking away that power, if this show chooses to continue going down this road. Then we just have double the forces (Sujeong and fate itself) pushing Bomi down this path and no matter how much she feels it, it's no more a genuinely earned love and, therefore, not a particularly interesting one.

Combine that with the rather petulant path that both Dong-uk and Jiwon are on and I actually have concerns for this show after this episode. On the plus side, besides the fate derailment, the show still manages to move along at a good clip with economical storytelling. And based on the way the characters choose to interact with each other (aside from Bomi's attraction to Dongha), there still is hope that the show won't go full tilt madhouse melodrama, but instead find the warmth in the character relationships resisting that pull and resulting in a more believable series. But this lost little girl story and ending on both the disappointing Dong-uk/Jiwon interaction and Sujeong's pulling Bomi's hand to Dongha really sank the episode a bit. 6/10.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

내 생애 봄날 (2014): 3회 집에 인사시킬 사람이 있어

This episode, "I Have Someone for You To Meet", is mostly about the resolution of the altercation between Bomi and Dongha that started the whole mess and moving forward the love triangle. We also get to dig a little deeper into the histories of the Gang brothers as well as Dong-uk and Jiwon's story. Bomi also carelessly rejects an offer by Dongha to supply the very meat to the hospital that she was originally trying to buy at a good price and is forced to go back to Dongha to get the offer back. Dong-uk plans to introduce Bomi as his fiancée to Dongha and Bluesea while we also get some marriage stipulations business between Bomi's mother and Dong-uk's mother, Na Hyeonsun (Gang Buja) with Myeonghui hiding the nature of Bomi's condition to Hyeonsun and then asking Hyeonsun to at least see about getting Dongha on a matseon (a blind date with intention to seek marriage).

The episode starts amusingly enough and sets the comedic tone well with Bomi and Dongha in full bicker mode and then having a pile of revelations crash onto Bomi's head like a bag of bricks as Dong-uk reveals himself too. I'm not going to lie, the moment was quite amusing, but if this is the payoff for the previous episodes constant misdirections, it's still not enough. However, I mostly forgave last episodes dirty storytelling tricks thanks to the overall fun-level of this episode.

Jiwon isn't turning out to be all that likable as a character not because she's some scheming villain, but because her lying to herself and the people around her about her feelings and the truth is like wallowing in a trough of self-pity. It's very one-dimensional and the problem only exists because she simply won't speak the truth even though she has nothing to lose for it and everything to gain. Dong-uk on the other hand doesn't go all the way into the world of insecurity and I really like the tension that he and Dongha have, even if it's just on his side because he does clearly love his brother but at same time is both jealous and fearful of him.

Again, the relationships on this show are one of its highlights. Little moments like when Dongha and Pureun argue about snoring and farting waking up little Bada are truly adorable and really give a sense of a genuine family. Likewise, I'm still enjoying how Hyeong-u is playing up the role of eager henchman and matchmaker of Dongha and Bomi and while I was annoyed that Dongha didn't try to dispel that he and Bomi had something going on at first, I've come to respect that Dongha doesn't wave it away because he does have affection for her, made especially clear by the over-the-top scenes of romantic fantasy generated by the two of them. Granted, it's all a little much for me, but I can see why many might enjoy the high (and literal) cheese factor.

Even Bomi and Dong-uk's interactions are quite cute, like how she mischievously hangs up on Dong-uk at the end of a call and sticks her tongue out at the phone or when she swears up and down that she wasn't sleeping while he knows her well enough to know that she was. Although storms are obviously brewing, they are cute enough together that you can't hate that they are together.

I also appreciate how simply some of the complications resolve themselves. I like that Dongha doesn't try to force the labors of Hercules on Bomi in order for Bomi to get back the contract with his company that she thoughtlessly discarded. Also, the show chooses not to drag out the fact that Dong-uk and Bomi are set to marry each other and we get to it by the end of the episode, opening the door for further conflict. It's not entirely clear where the show is going to go although having Gam Useong do the voiceover and inserting the story about Alphonse Daudet's "The Stars" suggests that he is the main pairing with Bomi. However that spring is still a passing season suggests that perhaps it's not something that lasts and Bomi herself might face a medical setback in the future and rallying around her might play into resolving the differences between the Gang brothers and helping Dongha to improve as a father.

But that's all speculation. Unlike last episode, this one moved along quite well and good pacing means a lot. Jang Sinyeong's Jiwon is turning out to be weak link in the drama as the episode really needed to show why she isn't trying to do both the easy and sensible thing of clearing up Dong-uk's misunderstanding of her and fighting for her man. But that's perhaps the only weak point to an otherwise fun episode which ends on a solid revelation and conflict. I hope future episodes continue this show's current pattern of having definitive plot hooks at the end. I also hope we continue to progress forward on the various plots and that the secrets that are being kept, like the truth about Bomi's heart, are all slated for revelation in sooner episodes, instead of being kept as tools to draw out the story and bring the angst. It's much better when the conflict is about the characters having to make difficult choices with all the information present.

Anyway, this is a good episode. I'm glad the show recovered from last episode's fumble and look forward to the fourth episode. 8/10.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

내 생애 봄날 (2014): 2회 대표이사 강동하라고 합니다

So after the first episode's strong start, I'm looking forward to seeing what episode two will bring. Let's get right into the episode summary:

This episode, entitled "They Call Me CEO Gang Dongha" begins with a flashback. It seems like younger brother Dong-uk had a thing for his childhood friend Sujeong, but while he was away at school, Sujeong and Dongha ended up falling in love and decided to get married. And Dong-uk had no idea.

Back in the present we pick up with Dongha getting upset at Bomi for wearing his late wife's dress after thinking he saw Sujeong. This of course leads to another altercation. And Pureun adorably scolds Dongha again after which Bomi welcomes Pureun into womanhood by giving Pureun her necklace. More bickering into dinner leading to Bomi paying Dongha for room and board.

Meanwhile at Dong-uk's favorite bar we learn that Dong-uk and hospital Secretary Bae Jiwon (Jang Sinyeong) were previously in a serious relationship. And that Dong-uk believes that Jiwon got together with President Song Byeonggil (I Giyeong) in order to advance in her career, a notion that Jiwon doesn't disabuse him of while she clearly still carries a torch for him.

Back at Gang family dinner, Dongha learns that Bomi really was a hospital dietitian. After a dinner with a lot of stifled communication and bonding between Bomi and Bluesea, Bomi continues to bond with Bluesea, even reading to them the story that Sujeong would read to Pureun the same way that Sujeong used to. And wearing Sujeong's dress it has quite the effect on Pureun.

Later, when Bomi starts searching for a signal on her phone outside, she runs into Dongha, who is hiding behind a rock and drinking. Bomi asks Dongha to be Pureun's friend and the two of them bond and realize that in this instance, they resemble the characters of Alphonse Daudet's "The Stars". Which is what Sujeong used to say too.

In his sleep, Dongha dreams about Sujeong's death, the hurried rush to the hospital where Dong-uk wasn't able to revive her. We learn that Dongha was primarily responsible for raising Dong-uk, not unlike how Puruen is raising Bada and then return to the events of the first episode where the heart transplant occurs. Then a strange thing happens in the dream--perhaps now a shared dream--as Bomi walks out of the operating room, encounters Sujeong without recognizing her and watches as Sujeong reaches out to comfort the distraught Dongha by petting his head as she often did. In her sleep, Bomi pets the also sleeping Dongha similarly, calming him and ending the dream.

The next day Bomi wakes up realizing that they had slept beside each other after passing out drunk and tries to make a clean getaway, but not without getting spotted by Gildong.

Back at the hospital, we learn that Jiwon wasn't actually in a relationship with President Song but that she's letting Dong-uk believe it. Bomi's parents also get the paperwork on Dong-uk's past, without mentioning Jiwon or the fact that he's related to Bomi's heart donor. But they do find out that Dongha is a widower with children. We also during this meeting that Dongha is the CEO of the beef company that he and Bomi originally fought at.

On Jeju, this leads to a visit by helicopter from Bak Hyeong-u (I Jaewon), his right hand man at the beef company. Apparently Gildong has loose lips so Hyeong-u also knows about Bomi's sleeping with Dongha.

Back in Seoul, Dong-uk arrives to pick up Bomi, but runs into Dongha instead. It's clear that their relationship is a bit distant, but Dongha is warm to Dong-uk anyway and Dongha asks Dong-uk to visit before leaving. On his way out, Bomi asks about her heart donor and Dong-uk lies about not being on Udo at the time, but brings up food which cheers Bomi up and she hugs him just in time for Dongha to see Dong-uk receiving a hug from some young lady. At Beef Headquarters, Hyeong-u waxes excitedly about Dongha's apparent one night stand. Meanwhile Bomi and her older friend Ju Sena (Ga Deukhui) discuss the same matter. Dongha calls and the two have a brief talk filled with miscommunication while their attendants try to eavesdrop.

Dong-uk checks in on Bomi's health and suggests that he introduce her to Dongha and Bluesea while telling her more about them. Dense Bomi doesn't make the connection. Bomi later calls Dongha at home to chat with Pureun, but Pureun dodges the call, feeling guilty that Bomi's taking the spot of her mother.

The next day, Dongha arrives at the hospital to properly apologize to Bomi. Bomi, very belatedly figuring out that Dongha was the crabby meat vendor thinks she was deceived and understandably gets upset and kicks him, not realizing that he's the CEO. And then Dong-uk arrives making it clear to an alarmed Bomi that they are also brothers.

And that's the end of the episode. On the plus side, it never really feels like the full hour-plus that it is, which means that the show is moving forward at a decent pace, but the second episode doesn't hold up nearly as well as the first. One element of the first episode, particularly when Dongha prevents Bada from telling Bomi about the anniversary of their mother's death leaks into the second. This cutting off of significant information happens throughout the entire episode and no small amount of misunderstanding occurs because of it.

If it was just once or just on one topic, it might have been fine but characters constantly cutting each other off, losing the will to talk about what they ought to be talking about without good cause, or getting distracted by something else is quite frustrating. It means that all this information that could have been revealed is intentionally being delayed for later, but the very fact that it comes up is quite the tease. And a little teasing is bearable, but a machine gun loaded with teasing is not. In an episode that otherwise moves forward pretty well, it's a rather ugly mark.

I'm still enjoying how amiably the relationships in the show are portrayed, including the newly explored relationship between Dongha and his right-hand man who appears to be a bit of a fanboy too. And I also appreciate that the episode doesn't go by without at least revealing a few things at the end, like the relationship between Dongha and Dong-uk as well as Dongha being both a CEO of the beef company and the guy that Bomi got in a fight with. I don't mind that some secrets will likely be kept until later, like Bomi's heart condition as well as the identity of Bomi's heart donor, since there are understandable reasons for which Bomi and Dongha keep those secret. But the moments where information just doesn't get out by misdirection feel quite cheap and forced.

Aside from that, I'm still enjoying the rest of the show's elements and if it doesn't have to keep it's characters artificially dancing around dramatic irony, I think I will enjoy it a little more. Let's hope that's true of the next episode. 6/10.


Monday, September 22, 2014

내 생애 봄날 (2014): 1회 봄이가 자기 심장이 어디서 왔는지 알까요?

The last Korean drama that I fully watched and covered on Init_Scenes was a full on recap and review of City Hunter and that turned out to be a little too much for me to handle in more than one way. However, now that I'm knee deep in the middle of Korean drama and romantic comedy research for my own work, I started toying with the idea of covering Korean dramas here on Init_Scenes again, but this time using the less intensive format of individual episode reviews, followed by a series review.

For the first of these reviews, I have elected to cover a melodrama called My Spring Day. I was particularly drawn to My Spring Day because of the lead actor, Gam Useong, who I've appreciated since seeing him in The King and the Clown and, more significantly, Alone in Love, which happens to rank as one of my most beloved television series of all time. I wouldn't say that Gam Useong is alone reason enough for me to watch a show, but I found the first episode pretty good when I checked it out and I heard that the series actually contains a plot device that is relevant to my own current work, so I decided to give the series a shot.

Please note that because I am reviewing full episodes of a serialized drama, there will be spoilers present throughout the reviews, including full synopses, although nothing is all too surprising so far.

The first episode is entitled "Does Bomi Know Where Her Heart Came From?" and the setup is a little complicated. I Bomi (Choe Suyeong) is a young woman who got a second chance at life five years ago, when she received a heart transplant that saved her life. While she's not the smartest, she is highly determined and passionate about both her work as a hospital dietitian and trying to live life fully out of gratitude to her heart donor. When a patient makes a special request for gomtang, Bomi tries to buy her meat at a discount from a particular beef retailer and ends up in an altercation with Gang Dongha (Gam Useong), who works there and refuses to let her buy more than their sale limit of two packages per person.

The altercation results in a scuffle and Gang Dongha throwing some rough words Bomi's way and in this age, it gets all over the internet. This is a headache for her mother, hospital's chair Jo Myeonghui (Sim Hyejin), and the hospital's director, I Hyeoksu (Gwon Haehyo). The hospital is trying to retain the services of its star surgeon Gang Dong-uk (I Junhyeok) while hoping to open up an international medical wing to increase revenue.

That star doctor, Dong-uk, also happens to be Bomi's fiancé. He is also alluded to being the brother-in-law of her heart donor, Yun Sujeong (Min Jia). And, exactly five years since she received her new heart, Bomi decides to take a trip to where she received it, Udo, to thank her donor in person.

You see, Sujeong was Dongha's wife, so Dongha too is on Udo with his daughter Pureun (Hyeon Seungmin) and Bada (Gil Jeong-u) for Sujeong's memorial. It's this memorial on this tiny island of Jeju that Bomi happens to spot and, not being terribly bright, she takes Dongha to task for littering and then gets friendly with Pureun and Bada (here on called "Bluesea" when together).

Then Bomi goes and holds her own memorial service for her donor only to be interrupted by Dongha as the tide is rising and she happens to be standing in a rather dangerous part of the beach. It proves dangerous enough as when Bomi tries to get down, she slips and falls into the sea, rescued by Dongha's heroic swimming and a gentle push from below by the ghost of Sujeong. After reviving her, Dongha and his hometown buddy Jo Gildong (Jang Wonyeong) rush her to a hospital where she is declared fine and after more bickering, they leave Bomi to her own devices.

Of course, Bomi finds herself trapped on Udo due to unpredictable troublesome waves and Dongha, learning this from Pureun, ends up coming back to eventually take her back to his place after Bomi, ignorant of small island life, tries to find lodging. There, Puruen offers Bomi her mother's dress while Bomi's clothes get hung out to dry. And then as Bomi decides to pick flowers, Dongha returns to see the visage of his late wife Sujeong, picking flowers as she used to. Except that it's Bomi.

The first episode takes its time setting up all the characters and their deeply interwoven relationships, but it never feels long because the episode never repeats itself but keeps moving along. By the end of the first episode, we'd already had our leads collide with each other multiple times and, since they started off on the wrong foot and have complementary personalities, they have an amusingly antagonistic relationship. Furthermore, the show doesn't seem interested in drawing out any mysteries at all, quickly drawing up all the relationships between all of the characters where a lesser show might intentionally obfuscate the relationship between Dong-uk and Dongha for "extra impact".

What I especially appreciate in the plotting is how well the story avoids many true coincidences. The careful choice to have Dongha and Dong-uk be Udo natives and for Bomi to get her heart from fellow Udo native Sujeong means that the odds of Dongha and Bomi running into each other on Udo on the anniversary of Sujeong's death make perfect sense, given that it's a small island community. Similarly, with Dong-uk following Sujeong's heart to Bomi means that their meeting was never a coincidence either. These are all quite deliberate choices made on the part of the writer to bring the characters together in this world and I like that it's baked into the story rather than forced.

Another nice thing is in how the many relationships between the characters are drawn. For example, the relationship between Director Lee and Dong-uk is surprisingly warm for future in-laws and instantly comfortable. Likewise the Gang family unit all have their place with Pureun taking the mantle of house matron in the absence of Sujeong and nagging the prickly Dongha while caring for Bada. But the show doesn't leave the characters one-note either as Dongha is both tough on Bada at one point, but also consents to sing Bada his favorite song as well, showing the common family love-hate dynamic.

The setup is clearly ripe for melodrama due one man's late wife's heart giving life to the other man's current love, but given the characterizations of the relationships in the show and the overall lighter tone, I'm actually not worried that it will travel down an overly melodramatic path of backstabbing and villainy. The supernatural element of Sujeong's ghost might as well play a part in a show, but the presence so far seems subtle enough that I'm wondering how necessary it is. It does trigger a reaction in Bomi with her tears at seeing Bluesea and I imagine that it will be used as a device to draw Bomi to Dongha. I can see some interesting questions being asked about the sincerity of emotion on Bomi's part if part of why she feels drawn to Dongha is because of the physical presence of Sujeong's heart in her.

In terms of direction, the show seems pretty straightforward, although there was a weird solarization going on at the top of the episode and I couldn't tell whether it was an encoding issue or artistic choice. And if the latter, I didn't like it. But from there the episode was handled fairly subtly, letting the characters do most of the storytelling.

In terms of performances, Gam Useong is dependably good in playing his common crabby ajeossi type while giving space for Dongha's more loving side to show too. Suyeong is nowhere near as subtle, really hitting her Bomi straight on. Fortunately she doesn't really go over the top and her youthful character is also fortuitously accomodating of her performance as well. Special cheers to Hyeon Seungmin for her capable performance as Pureun, doing well for a young actress. Gil Jeong-u doesn't fare as well as little brother Bada at least at first impression as his performance seems quite forced.

In concert, I think My Spring Day actually fares quite well. I enjoyed the light and natural tone. The pacing of the episode was perfect, flowing from scene to scene without backtracking or grinding time. Every moment in the episode worked to illustrate characters and their relationships and the comedic moments all hit their marks. I can't say that's at all indicative of whether the show will keep it up, but having a solid first episode is a challenging hurdle and I think My Spring Day cleared it well. While only time will tell whether the show can continue at this level, as far as opening episodes go for a show of this genre, it's really hard to ask for more. 9/10.