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As is my habit these days, I came to the party late. The Forest of Secrets party. I can see why the show was a hit. I gobbled up the last episodes compulsively, swept up in its drama. But you know what? I very nearly gave up at Episode Two.

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Right off the bat, the show set its tone meter at “dramatic” and just never let up. The super-portentous soundtrack. The sheer seriousness of it all. I felt pounded.

Also, the horrible (Netflix) English subtitles. At times, I simply lost the plot and I could not quite tell whether it was because the plot was over-convoluted, or because the subtitles were so awful. The subs pained me particularly greatly as I used to burn weekends editing fansubs with loving obsession.

But eventually I came round to it all. At some point I reconciled myself to The Relentlessness. Also, I was really enjoying the cast. I have not watched Jo Seung Woo since his amazing Marathon many years ago – where has he been hiding since? – so I was mesmerised by his off-the-charts charisma (also, it appears that playing Hedwig is some kind of K-actor catnip, I can’t seem to resist actors who play Hedwig). I was also shocked that Bae Doo Na could actually act (I’ve only seen her in a fluff romcom role, co-starring with the execrable Park Shi Hoo).

I like that the show ventured a little into the moral grey areas, rather than sticking squarely to the black-or-white. I didn’t like so much that some plot points were rather improbable and don’t bear thinking about too much, but that applies to a lot of television so I’m willing to give it a free pass. Anyways, I appreciated the cracking pace, plot twists, and general excitement. On the whole, the show is Thumbs Up.

One quibble. Because no review of mine is complete without a quibble. And it’s a brain science quibble. Surely emotions are far too complex to be located in one part of the brain which can simply be removed. And even if this were possible, then the result would not be low-EQ Hwang Shi Mok who feels exasperation (that’s an emotion), anger (that’s an emotion), and regret (likewise), and keeps offending people by failing at pleasantries. Rather, surely someone who is super smart and lacking any emotional impulse would be good at faking well enough to maintain good superficial workplace relations? Anyhow, I quibble. We shouldn’t look to television for our science, much less brain science.

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(I know this is a rather short review. But life is too short for long reviews!)

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As a devotee of the work of Director Ahn Pan Seok, there was no way that I was not going to check out Something in the Rain. Director Ahn is responsible for what I rate the best K-drama of all time, i.e., the frighteningly suspenseful and realistic End of the World (JTBC, 2013), as well as the very fine and atmospheric A Wife’s Credentials (JTBC, 2012). His more recent work – Secret Love Affair (JTBC, 2014) and Heard It Through the Grapevine (SBS, 2015) – has not been as outstanding, but still a cut in quality above your typical K-drama. So, the pattern has been, sadly, downward. And the reviews of the show hadn’t been great. I plunged in with low expectations, fearing the worst.

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So. Ok, the show is not rubbish. But it’s not magic either. Maybe Director Ahn is running out of ideas? Maybe he’s just going through the motions now, generating the same old mood? I know he is a master of the pensive slow-burn and is anti-hysterical, but this show just felt slow. I appreciate that Director Ahn that doesn’t hit me with manic Things Happening All The Time, but with this show it just felt too often as if things were not happening at all. The actors (the reliably adorable Son Ye Jin and the revelatory Jung Hae In) were firing on all cylinders, acting their good-looking socks off and creating chemistry like mad scientists on crack, but I was mostly bored. Perhaps the fault lay in the new scriptwriter Director Ahn was working with. I felt that there was enough plot for maybe six episodes, not sixteen.

One thing bothered me hugely. The soundtrack. Which is shocking because usually Director Ahn’s soundtracks are sublime. His song choice used to stand out for being unusual and yet fitting (e.g., the Monkees’ Daydream Believer in A Wife’s Credentials). This time, I came to dread the onset of the soundtrack songs. If  I hear Tammy Wynette’s Sometimes It’s Hard to Be a Woman one more time, I think I shall scream.

Could Director Ahn have (no! don’t say it!) … jumped the shark?

Strangely, though, I enjoyed the ending. Which is surprising because the ending is usually something to dread if a show hasn’t been compelling and has had an issue with pacing.

Spoilery reflections on the ending after the jump..

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I had to rescue my review of Friend, Our Legend on Thundie’s Prattle. This was a no-brainer. Just who else is going to write a review of this by-now obscure, under-appreciated, dark show about gangsters? Starring Hyun Bin, in his least appealing but most compelling character of a brutal and brutalised man? I found it hard enough to watch – not because it’s bad (it’s brilliant) but because it’s depressing – let alone write a coherent review about such an angst-fest.

Rescuing my photographs from Photobucket.com (Damn you photobucket!) I am struck afresh by the palette — shabby brown, and dark. This pretty much sums up the aesthetic of the show. To go with the psychological darkness, the depths, the wringing of the heart… Oh! Oh!

Watch this if you dare. I promise you, you will never see Hyun Bin the same way again. When you see him phoning it in as another wish-fulfilment cardboard hero in another piece of lazy fluff, you’ll just want to knock his head and shout at him, “What are you doing, man! Has it come to this? Are you prostituting your talent now?”

It’s a no-brainer. Of course I must save my precious Mawang review in Thundie’s Prattle from the ravages of Photobucket. Dang, it may be time for a re-watch, of the drama that sucked me in, broke my heart, blew my mind, and hooked me into the world of k-drama.

 

Re-watching Thank You and revisiting my review in Thundie’s Prattle, I realise to my horror that all my beautiful, painstaking screencaps have disappeared from our earlier posts on Thundie’s Prattle. *Waves fist at photobucket*. It’s not the end of the world. The graphics are still in photobucket. But it’s pretty painstaking to pull them off photobucket and insert them into wordpress, one by one. This calls for a real-life exercise in evaluation – which reviews are worth saving? Which are worth polishing for posterity?

Sorry, Sungkyunkwan Scandal, you were crack and I loved you, but you are not significant or important. Neither are my grumpy snarky reviews of Road Number One worth saving. What’s worth saving?

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Comrades. I was thinking about Comrades the other day, when the theme song rolled up on shuffle. What a great show. It was awesome. It was devastating.

I wrote my review on Thundie’s Prattle having watched just four episodes, but it never let me down. It just got better and better. Watching it was an incredible experience. The ending had me feeling broken-hearted and shell-shocked for days, as no other show has done. You should have seen us on Twitter, having a collective melt-down, and having to give each other virtual hugs. (Ah, good times!)

Why don’t they make k-dramas like that any more?

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She’s alive! And blogging!

Yes, it’s amazing. I’ve popped up again, after more than three years during which I have not once gotten the urge to blog. Which may have something to do with the fact that these days I watch maybe a couple of k-dramas a year. (By the way, any recommendations for me, from 2017?)

Then a few days ago I was sorting through my stuff when I came across Thank You (MBC, 2007) and decided to give the show a re-watch. Big mistake. Down the rabbit hole I went, marathoning over a few days when I should be doing other things, having a pleasurable weepfest. Yes, I cried. But I also rolled my eyes and LOL-ed a lot. Then I read my TY review for Thundie’s Prattle and rolled my eyes some more – gosh I was besotted by the show! And dang, did I need some fierce editing, lol! To be fair to myself, that was my very first k-drama review. But I’m a bit embarrassed now by how many free passes I handed the show. I must have been very much in love with Jang Hyuk!

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When my non-K-drama-watching living-in-Europe friend mentioned Running Man (SBS) to me, that was the moment I realized that Running Man was a Phenomenon. Admittedly, she read about Running Man while on a trip to Asia. But, still. “Goodness,” I said, “You’ve heard of Running Man? That’s really hardcore Korean television. Even I don’t watch Running Man!”.

That, of course, was before Running Man finally lured me into its vortex with its diabolically clever trick of guesting actors. Sooner or later, your favorite actor is guesting on Running Man (Oh Man Seok! Oh Man Seok!) and you have no choice but to check it out. Then you find yourself intrigued by the group dynamics and all the in-jokes that everyone else finds so hilarious. You find yourself watching more episodes to try to figure out what on earth is going on. And before you know it, you are totally hooked and devouring old episodes (hopefully selectively, not watching all 200 back issues).

Oh Man Seok on Running Man

I console myself by noting that I’m not the only person on the planet afflicted by Running Fever. What makes Running Man such compelling viewing? What is this evil time-sucking creature called the “variety show”, anyway?

Basically, it’s a form of reality television. And don’t we all have a love-hate relationship with reality tv?

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