Sci-fi With A Heart: Circle: Two Worlds Connected (써클: 이어진 두 세계) (2017)

If you have a chance to erase all the painful memories stored in your brain, would you? I wouldn’t, but probably members of the Cult of Happyness would give it a go. “They said they wanted to be happy. They said all they wanted was happiness. That’s what I gave them”, said Park Deong Geon (Han Sang Jin).

The cinema has long been fixated on the mystery of memory, especially when it’s manipulated. “Memento” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” are my two personal favourites and both are mind-blowingly brilliant (though for me, “Memento” is the first and the last for Nolan). Circle unavoidably gave the first impression of drawing its inspiration from the latter. I even had to re-watch the movie just to see how much of its ideas the drama adopted.

Circle, or Circle: Two Worlds Connected (써클: 이어진 두 세계), is set in two different times and is divided into two parts. The first part, “The Beta Project”, shows college student Kim Woo Jin (Yeo Jin Goo) investigating odd cases prompted by the arrival of alien on Earth in 2017. His twin brother, Kim Beom Gyeon (Ahn Woo Yeon), believes that it’s the same alien that used to live with them 10 years ago. The second part, “A Brave New World”, is set in the year 2037, where future Seoul is divided into the “Smart Earth” where people’s emotions are controlled and no crimes or illness exist, and the “General Earth” where people still suffer from rampant plague and lawlessness.

Not only it draws similarities with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but the synopsis and the utopian-dystopian society theme that it carries are also a slight reminiscence of the Divergent series, in which one of the factions is called “Dauntless” or “The Brave” (which again, I decided to watch too, just because). In Divergent, set in a futuristic dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave) and Erudite (the intellectual). The remaining population is the Factionless, who have no status or privilege in this society. While in Circle, as a result of severe pollution, people emigrated to Smart Earth, so places on Normal Earth have become very hollow. As a result, the crime rates have significantly increased. But Brave New World is completely different from the Dauntless faction. It’s even an irony because in this so-called brave world, some people are even afraid to face their painful memories.

[SPOILER ALERT]

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Byul (Gong Seung Yeon)

Whether it’s a coincidence or not, both Circle and Divergent suggest a way to store people’s memories which later can be viewed in video format. In Circle, Byul (Gong Seung Yeon), the alien, was able to completely analyse a human brain. She was able to store her memories in a video file format and could use that in order to block out memories. She could choose which ones, too. While in Divergent, they inject trainees with a serum that stimulates the part of one’s brain that processes fear. It induces a hallucination, and then the transmitters in the serum allow people to see the images in the trainee’s mind. Though terrifying, it is not impossible to see this happening in the future, as we have seen some ideas in older movies have been brought to reality or currently being developed. And of course, in this severely corrupt world that we live in, the villain would abuse the technology to serve his/her own greed, or in Circle’s case, his/her illusion of the greater good of mankind. What kind of good can one brins if he or she forgets his/her faults?

But thankfully, that’s just as far as the inspiration goes. Circle, of course, is not as thought-provoking as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind nor is as sophisticated as Divergent in terms of the production neatness, which makes it even more interesting. As the first (claimed) sci-fi drama in the K-drama land, the lack of visual effect sophistication makes the year 2037 look more feasible and visually real. Remember how the 60s-80s movie’s portrayal of what the 2000s look like? Well, we’re in the 2000s now, yet nothing seems to change much since the 90s. We still don’t ride on a capsule car on an overpass literally hanging in the sky.

The writers’ decision to make this drama run only for 12 episodes was a smart choice, because it allows the writers to create intricate plots that are tight, effective and efficient with twists and cliffhangers at the end of every episode, in both parts, keeping the audience’s eyes locked to the screen the whole time. Probably the first of its kind in the K-drama land. No room for nonsense dragging drama as they carefully packed each episode with new findings and revelations while keeping the intensity high at the same time and carefully calculating the timing of when to emerge both worlds. Clever!

Not a critical note, but I just want to acknowledge the impressive job the casting department did. Certain characters in the present, which also appear in the future do share facial feature similarities.

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Twins Kim Woo Jin (Yeo Jin Goo) & Kim Bum Gyun (Ahn Woo Yeon)

Circle is not perfect, nor flawless. There were tiny holes here and there, but I couldn’t grab what they were as the story moved fast and gave the audience no time to catch their breath, even for a short moment. None of the actors gave a stellar performance (I do like Yeo Jin Goo and Ahn Woo Yeon, too bad Ahn seems so underrated), but still good enough to create a great ensemble, though for a second Kim Kang Woo (Kim Joon Hyuk) stole the scene for me in episode 11. Also, it’s good that Gong Seung Yeon has been constantly selective about her projects as most of them, especially the recent ones, have been one great drama after another, but she really needs to step it up a notch.

What Circle does very right is blending the perfect dose of sci-fi, suspense, drama and even threw in a bit of cheesiness element into it, to deliver a sci-fi with a heart, something that K-drama have (almost) always done right. It’s not the end of 2017 yet, but Circle is definitely one this year’s best.

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Kim Joon Hyuk (Kim Kang Woo)

I feel that the open-ending gave a hint of a sequel’s possibility. Maybe exploring the ‘cloning’ theme brought in the last episodes? If that’s the case, I’d be excitedly waiting to see what they have in store for the next installment.

 

Friendship, Romance And Beyond: Chicago Typewriter / Sikago Tajagi (시카고 타자기)

Chicago Typewriter 1

 

Writer and revolution. It’s something that I have to see. Literary and history have become the subject of my interests for several years now, so this type of premise caught my attention right away. Well, to be honest, it was more because of Lim Soo Jung’s return to the small screen. Her last drama was 13 years ago and she has since acted more in movies and been dubbed as one of South Korea’s A-list actors, starring in different genres and scales, from romance to arthouse, from indie to blockbuster.

Though I was never really impressed with her acting, but she did fit some of the roles as if they were tailored to suit her. A delusional young woman who thinks she’s a cyborg in Park Chan Wook’s ‘I’m A Cyborg, but That’s OK’ probably is the best example. Throw in Yoo Ah In and Go Kyung Pyo in the picture, the more reason to watch, though I am never a fan of Yoo Ah In and I never get the hype, but I don’t dislike him either.

I'm A Cyborg But That's OK
Lim Soo Jung in ‘I’m A Cyborg But It’s OK’

Chicago Typewriter‘s story revolves around writers who lived in the 1930s’ Japanese occupation of Korea, and are reincarnated into the present as a best-selling writer in a slump, a long-time fan, and a ghostwriter. Using flashback narrative, the story’s going back and forth between the present year and the 1930s, with our heroes keep getting flashing images of their past lives in the present time.

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Yoo Ah In, Lim Soo Jung, Go Kyung Pyo

[SPOILER ALERT]

In the previous life, Han Se Joo used to be Seo Hwi Young, a writer who was stuck writing third-rate romance novels as under Japanese colonial regime’s watch, writers didn’t have the freedom to write anything they wish. Hwi Young quit medical school to pursue writing, but he was blacklisted because his writings brought up the social and political themes. Hwi Young was best friend with Shin Yool, who decided to just quit writing and ran a club called Carpe Diem (Seize The Day) instead of writing third-rate novels (whatever that means), where they formed camaraderie with Ryu Soo Hyeon. Soo Hyeon was left alone by her father, who chose to commit suicide than getting arrested by the Japanese soldiers, when she was a kid. The adult Soo Hyeon then became Joseon Youth Alliance’s sniper.

In 1930s, the three were youth revolutionaries of the Joseon Youth Alliance, bound together by the same freedom and independence dreams. Furbabe wrote a very detailed and meticulous historical background of these Korean independence movements, including the resistance groups, and even historical figures, which the drama loosely based upon. Unrelated to the topics, but personally it’s interesting for me to learn that most of these figures were leftist activists (I see so many similarities with Indonesia’s history as both countries were entangled in the same wars), which seems to leave almost no trace in the present South Korea. Quoting from @_Jessee’s analysis, “In the opening sequence, the typewriter is likened to a machine gun that uses the Korean alphabet as bullets. It is especially poignant in the context of Korea under the Japanese rule. Leftist writers who believed literature should serve the cause of class liberation founded the Korean Artists Proletarian Federation (KAPF), which was eventually forced out of existence by the Japanese in 1935.”

In 2017, they meet once again. This time Seo Hwi Young has reincarnated into Han Se Joo (both played by Yoo Ah In), an idol-like best-selling writer who finds himself trapped in a long-term writing drought, or as they like to call it, a slump. Se Joo meets Jeon Seol (Lim Soo Jung), an ex-shooting athlete turns veterinarian and his long-time hard-core fan who is willing to jump at any chance to get close to him. The story later reveals that Jeon Seol is the reincarnation of Ryu Soo Hyeon (also played by Lim Soo Jung). Then there is Yoo Jin Oh (Go Kyung Pyo), a mysterious guy who suddenly appears in front of Se Joo and claims to be Se Joo’s ghostwriter, who is literally a ghost writer. He was trapped in the in-between world not being able to rest in peace because he didn’t know why he died, or what we Indonesians call it, hantu penasaran. The three then work together to finish a novel which will supposedly can help Yoo Jin Oh to discover the cause of his death.

The first eight episodes are quite a drag to be honest. Only after the past lives story takes over most of the plot, the drama gets more interesting. Too bad that it had to take eight episodes for the drama to finally pick up its pace. To make it worse, the present story feels underdeveloped compared to the past lives’ story.

Lim Soo Jung’s performance unfortunately is a big disappointment. She seems lost in figuring out how to portray these two different characters. Both Jeon Seol and Ryu Soo Hyeon come across as weak characters, which is ironic since both are shooters, so I expected they would have some sort of tenacity as well as versatility and resilience, but instead she looks like a fragile glass doll.

Same case with Go Kyung Pyo, especially since he only had to play one character. In his hand, both Shin Yool and Yoo Jin Oh fell a little bit flat. Shin Yool was supposed to be Hwi Yeong’s Fitzgerald to Hemingway, Lee to Capote, Yin to Yang. Unfortunately Kyung Pyo’s performance couldn’t match up to Ah In’s, making him look more like a subordinate rather than a comrade.

Now Yoo Ah In. I finally get what the hype was all about. He does exude this so-called ‘star’ aura. Though I find his acting is always a bit too theatrical, it kind of works for this drama. He’s the only one of the three that sort of successful depicting both characters given to them. Han Se Joo is a kooky and awkward writer hiding behind his palace of fame and fortune, while Seo Hwi Young is the leader of an independence movement hiding behind his third-rate author identity. It still doesn’t impress me that much, but I finally get him. Slightly off topic, I even think that he’s probably one of the very few of South Korean celebrity that can pull off the 80’s oversized slouchy trousers trend while other failed miserably (even Gong Yoo and Lee Dong Wook looked ridiculous in them). The other one being Bae Doo Na in ‘Secret Forest’. Further analysis of Han Se Joo/Seo Hwi Young’s characterization and backgrounds can be read here, though it’s Yoo Ah In’s biased (since it’s a fansite).

 

While the show is far from being flawless, but the details (especially the past era parts) are commendable. For me, the highlight of the show is the relationship that goes beyond friendship and romance. It’s a camaraderie shared for the love of motherland and freedom, to achieve a higher purpose, a sovereign nation. It’s heartwarming, though unavoidably heartbreaking in the process.

A Familiar Formula Yet Well-Executed Drama: Tunnel / Teoneol (터널) (2017)

Tunnel 1
Choi Jin Hyuk, Lee Yoo Young, Yoon Hyun Min

It seems like that time-slip is K-Drama’s favourite plot this year. After the success of last year’s ‘Signal’, several dramas soon following its step and use the same concept with different themes. Earlier this year we have ‘Tomorrow With You’ (which slightly reminds me of ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’), a fantasy wrapped in a love story. And then there is also ‘Chicago Typewriter’, which relies on political history to be its background as well as part of its plot, though it’s not exactly a time-slip drama. I guess this trend won’t end any time soon as several upcoming dramas have revealed that they will also be using the time-slip plot, like Deserving The Name.

Using a familiar plot or theme is not an uncommon practice as plagiarism is unfortunately still prevalent in South Korea. From little observation I did of the K-entertainment industry, what usually happens is that they “borrow” other work’s ideas and than recreate it into new works, which then makes it morally vague to be called plagiarism.

Take New World’ for example. It is South Korea’s take on the classic ‘police-triad moles in both organisations’ theme, popularised by Hong Kong’s ‘Infernal Affairs’ and later remade by Hollywood’s ‘The Departed’. Does it bring anything new to the equation? Nope. Does it do this formula well? Yep. Way better than the over-hyped Hollywood version even, I’d say.

Or ‘My Palpitating Life (My Brilliant Life)’ (2014) which I can’t help but be reminded of ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ (2008). My Brilliant Life was based on Kim Ae Ran’s 2011 novel of the same name, while Button was loosely based on the 1922 short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Now on with Tunnel. I once said when talking about ‘Marriage Contract’ that “not bringing anything new to the table doesn’t mean that something will instantly fail. Sometimes it’s a matter of execution,” and this is also the case with Tunnel (as also with New World’).

Tunnel is the latest drama to draw its inspiration from the “Hwaseong Serial Murders”, proceeded by Bong Joon Ho’s masterpiece, ‘Memories of Murder’ (2003); Jung Byung Gil’s ‘Confession of Murder’ (2012); and tvN’s ‘Gap Dong’ (2014) and ‘Signal’ (2016). It was accused of alleged similarities with ‘Signal’, not to mention that the story also revolves around detective life, but if we look at it closely, looks like it might be a combination of ‘Gap Dong’ and ‘Signal’’s plots and characters.

In Tunnel, Detective Park Gwang Ho (Choi Jin Hyuk) desperately tries to catch a serial killer in 1986. He chases after the serial killer and goes through a tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel, Detective Park Gwang Ho finds himself in the year 2017. The serial killer has resumed the killings that began 30 years ago. Detective Park Gwang Ho works with Detective Kim Sun Jae (Yoon Hyun Min) and Professor of Criminal Psychology Shin Jae Yi (Lee Yoo Young) to catch the killer.” [Asianwiki]

While in ‘Gap Dong’, “Moo Yeom’s (Yoon Sang Hyun) father was a suspect in the “Gap Dong” serial murder case. Because of the detectives’ oppressive investigation, Moo Yeom’s father killed himself. 17 years later, Moo Yeom is a police detective who spends his career chasing dead ends and helping juvenile delinquents. After the statute of limitations on the case expires, Moo Yeom becomes resigned to the belief that Gap Dong is dead. But then a series of incidents occur in the town that bear an eerie resemblance to Gap Dong’s crimes. Yang Cheol Gon (Sung Dong Il), who was a police inspector at the time of the original murders now a well-decorated officer, has recently transferred back to Iltan, and to his dismay, Moo Yeom joins his investigation team to catch Gap Dong once and for all.” [Asianwiki and Wikipedia]

I haven’t watched ‘Gap Dong’ so I can’t be firmly sure in comparing both dramas (and I don’t intend to watch it in the near future yet), but from the synopsis alone, I guess I can say that there are three characters in Tunnel who seemingly are the development of Gap Dong’s characters, and they are:

  • Park Gwang Ho (Choi Jin Hyuk) =  Yang Cheol Gon (Sung Dong Il)
  • Kim Sun Jae (Yoon Hyun Min) = Moo Yeom’s (Yoon Sang Hyun)
  • Shin Jae Yi (Lee Yoo Young) = Maria Oh (Kim Min Jung)

I also found a few similarities in the plot twists which I’m not going to reveal since spoilers might ruin the thrilling sensation of watching those detectives attempts in unraveling cold cases.

So is it original? No. Is it plagiarism? Grey area. Does it work? Very well, indeed.

Tunnel’s strength is definitely its solid story development. It is neat and intense as each episode almost always ends with an unpredictable twist. Sure, it’s not as intricate and as multifaceted as ‘Signal’, but every episode is as carefully planned to keep the revelations suspenseful from beginning to the end. While ‘Signal’ also touched the social and politics subjects, Tunnel chose to stay true to its crime-fantasy path.

There are of course some flaws and loose ends like how the drama fails to maintain the consistency of Park Gwang Ho’s time-leap formula. The three lead actors, though are good, sometimes do come across a little theatrical, especially Lee Yoo Young with her doll-like wide-eyed flat expression. Yes, she was supposed to have that cold exterior look to her, but it’s just too predictable and one dimensional. Same case with Choi Jin Hyuk & Yoon Hyun Min’s all dense and steely personae, though Choi’s gesture as a father when he suddenly found out about it is quite commendable.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Tunnel 2
Choi Jin Hyuk, Yoon Hyun Min

Though the chemistry and dynamics between the two main leads are undeniably charming (Gong Yoo – Lee Dong Wook successors FTW!), it is Kim Min Sang who plays Mok Jin Woo that captivates me the most. He brilliantly evolves from a nice guy and a detailed forensic expert into one creepy psychopath killer.

 

All and all, Tunnel is a very well-crafted drama that will glue eyes to the screen despite bringing nothing new to the table.

It Might Be Possible That Life Itself is Without Meaning: Re-encounter / Hye Hwa, Dong ( 혜화,동) (2010)

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Hye Hwa (Yoo Da In)

This is the English and updated version of ‘Re-encounter’ movie review. The original post in Bahasa Indonesia can be read in here:

“It might be possible that the world itself is without meaning.”
(Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf)

What happens if at the end of the day, our lives turn out to be nothing but a meaningless journey and that is all there is to it? In the age of #selfmade and hyper-positivity, many will probably drown in a sudden depression or find themselves lost in hysterical wailings, longing for the glorious life that was once a #lifegoals, but ends up in… nothing. This is the feeling I just cannot escape from ‘Re-encounter / Hye Hwa, Dong (혜화, 동)’, that maybe, just maybe, life itself is without meaning.

‘Re-encounter‘s’ opening scene shows Hye Hwa (Yoo Da In) riding her motorbike to pick up an unwanted dog. Over the years, she has developed some sort of obsession to save them. She even runs a dog grooming salon for a living, right next to a vet clinic. It could be possibly be part of the clinic too. Besides taking care of the dogs, sometimes (maybe most of the times) Hye Hwa also helps the vet to look after his son who she seems to have a close relationship with. Her relationship with the child and her dog-rescuing actions look like a manifestation of redeeming whether her guilts or her losses or even both, as a result of ‘failing’ to save her own baby who died not long after she was born.

At least that is what’s planted in Hye Hwa’s memory for the past 5 years. Until one day, her ex-lover and the father of her child, Han Soo (Yeo Yeon Sook), who ‘disappeared’ before the baby was born, suddenly reappear in front of her and tells Hye Hwa that their daughter is still alive.

The re-encounter then brings the “what ifs?” The lethal question.

What if Han Soo’s words are true? What if their daughter is in fact is still alive and was not dead like what has been planted in Hye Hwa’s memory for years? Hye Hwa can’t escape herself from the “what ifs” that for a moment she and Han Soo are trapped in a delusion Han Soo created. Like opening a pandora box.

If we only read the synopsis, ‘Re-encounter’ might sound like like an uber-melancholic drama, but it seems director Min Young Geun wasn’t interested to turn it into a tear-jerker movie but instead he chose to explore and depict the hollowing loneliness and nothingness of people’s lives. The adult Hye Hwa is now living alone, accompanied by her saved dogs. She still keeps the cuts of her clipped nails in an old roll film tube. Probably a metaphor of keeping and preserving parts of herself that were once uncontrollably and involuntarily thrown away. Or maybe, just like what my friend Ninin said, Hye Hwa is still keeping her love and holding onto to her past in those polka dot nail cuts. Her aging mother now has to holding on to a string of raffia rope whenever she needs to go to the bathroom. She weakly mumbles the deep-seated anger towards her cheating husband, which left her with no choice but to take the ‘illicit offspring’, Hye Hwa, into her own care. Han Soo, who is now back to living with his family, is now walking with a limp, maybe from a shot wound or military training injury.

Min Young Geun delivers all of these in a very quiet and calm manner to almost showing no sign of exterior emotions. Suppressed emotions. It does make sense, considering the kind of life Hye Hwa’s family leads. For some, they just can’t afford to be be absorbed in prolonged self-indulgent melancholia. There’s life to be lived, there’s hunger to be fed. Perhaps to some others, especially those whose lives are in the middle-upper level of Maslow’s pyramid, life should ideally be filled with dreams that are worth fighting for. Hye Hwa, obviously does not belong to this social strata. Her lives revolved around abandoned and unwanted dogs, like the lives of many others whose days are only filled with routines to make ends meet. Often times too tired to even feel their own feelings, let alone searching for life’s meaning.

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Han Soo (Yoo Yeon Seok)

There’s subtlety and finesse in Yoo Da In‘s delivery of adult Hye Hwa’s suppressed emotions, in contrast with her interpretation of the bolder and spunkier teenage Hye Hwa. This is my first encounter with Yoo Da In, and I fell in love with her instantly. In his best performance I’ve seen by far, Yoo Yeon Seok translated Han Soo into a mama’s boy who could not chase away his broken heart that he had to create a delusion in hope of healing the wounds of not only his but also Hye Hwa’s.

This calmness, loneliness, silence or whatever this almost emotionless feeling, somehow is really haunting. I have watched this movie a few times, and still I can’t grope how exactly this movie makes me feel. Maybe this is why it then led me to feel that eventually that is all there is to it to life. Just a passing time, until the day we all die. Even as I write this, the feeling is still vague. As unclear as Hye Hwa’s look in her eyes as she drove her car backwards towards Han Soo. Vague.

Update: I have watched the movie a few more times after writing the first review. Somehow it now leaves me with a feeling of hollowing sadness. The multilayered feelings that it reveals over time has set ‘Re-encounter’ apart from many Korean movies, mainstream and non-mainstream, which too many have the tendency to overpromise and underdeliver, banal and pretentious. I can’t help but comparing it to Hong Sang Soo‘s works (probably from having a similar feel?) ‘Re-encounter’, to me, even exceeds some of Hong Sang Soo‘s movies, as (I feel) his works begin to plateau. I guess it’s safe to say that ‘Re-encounter’ has now become one of my most favourite movies of all time.

2016 – A Year in K-Drama

2016 had been a year of K-drama for me. Of the 137 K-dramas aired in 2016, I gave in to 33 of it. Thirty three… that’s like… a huge waste of time *sigh* I feel I missed one drama still, Memory. I’ll probably watch it sometime soon.
[Update] “Memory” is a nice drama. Both Lee Sung Min and Junho did deliver, but the drama is definitely not as solid as other tvN’s dramas will be mentioned in the list.

Mostly popular for its romantic comedy clichés, tragic melodrama or over-the-top family conflicts and never ending feuds, much like its counterpart in the cinema world, K-drama is at its best when it touches subjects with sincerity and genuineness (that of course applies to basically any kind of work of arts).

Of the 137 K-dramas, I passed the daily and weekend dramas which are mostly equal to our daily sinetron. Think of dreading love story which includes conquering abusive mother-in-law’s (to her daughter-in-law) love, betrayal, all sorts of illnesses, from sudden nosebleed to amnesia you name it, the daily and weekend dramas have them all. But once in a blue moon there’s family drama like Five Enough which is just sweet and simple (still with a bit of touch of silly and unreasonable but tolerable conflicts, of course) like the good ol’ TVRI’s family dramas.

2016, for me, belongs to Jo Jin Woong. Underrated oftentimes and mostly played supporting roles, 2016 finally saw Jo in two strong leading roles. Early in 2016, Jo played an upright and morally conscious but heartbroken Detective Lee Jae Han in Signal and in the second half of 2016 he came back to small screen transforming into an uptight and ambitious, rough-spoken but a soft-hearted family American television series’ Entourage. And in between, he starred in the highly anticipated and critically acclaimed The Handmaiden”, a Park Chan Wook’s mesmerising erotic fantasy/thriller.

So I guess it’s only fitting to start this list with one of the dramas he starred in this year, Signal.

Next >

A Small Thought on tvN’s First Awards

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tvN just held its first tvN Awards as a celebration of its tenth anniversary on October 9, 2016, and by far it’s the best Korean awards in the Korean entertainment universe I have ever seen. It’s fun, cheery, loose, laid-back and unpretentious, in contrast with other Korean entertainment award shows which mostly are stiff, awkward with dead airs here and there, look scripted and unprepared. Not to mention the corny jokes which a lot of times are offensive.

Substance over style

Much like its dramas, tvN Awards doesn’t rely on fame and sensations (I’m looking at you DotS & Song-Song couple 👎), instead it relies on contents, hence the Content Grand Excellence Award (Daesang). Substance over style. The thing is, tvN has a lot, I mean a loooooooooooottttt of great contents (I’m referring specifically to its dramas). 2016 alone sees more tvN’s (not just good but) great dramas then the three largest national TV networks (KBS, MBC, and SBS) have combined (and it’s not even the end of the year yet); such as Signal, Reply 1988, Dear My Friends, Memory and The Good Wife. Though that doesn’t mean that its dramas are not famous and sensational. They are. But you know what I mean.

Having said that, that doesn’t mean that all tvN dramas are impeccable, but the ones that stand out are carefully planned and conceived, resulting in complex yet relatable issues with many characters are thoroughly developed and not just the leads. With a wide spectrum of themes, tvN dramas manage to keep itself away from having too many clichés, especially in the romcom department, where Cinderella-esque stories, second-lead problems, never ending misunderstandings, amnesia and other unfortunate events, etc are the norms.

This is just a rough assumption. As pointed out by my friend, Ninin, probably because tvN is a joint venture developed by Fox International Channels and CJ Media, the media’s contents feel a bit more liberal than the ones in other TV stations (especially those of the big three) and it has more freedom in exploring themes and issues. It doesn’t shy away from sex-related themes and seems to be more progressive in terms of they convey (probably) the least conservative values; such as hierarchy and stereotyped gender roles. In the sea of sickening gender biased K-dramas, most tvN dramas feel like a breath of fresh air. 

I don’t believe in any awards as I think almost none is fair and objective. Some are even used for political statement or propaganda (hello Oscar and Argo!). But in tvN Awards’ case, it doesn’t seem to focus on coming out with “The Best”. Instead, it plays it fun and unpretentious, despite having so many great dramas which makes it really hard (at least for me) to debate or argue about winners. You can hardly go wrong with anyone or any show as almost all of them are (almost) equally good.

From Soompi, here is the list of the winners, which I personally am excited for Jo Jin Woong as he is for me stood out the most in this year’s dramas.

Signal 4

Content Grand Excellence Award
“Three Meals a Day – Fishing Village Edition” (Variety)
“Reply 1988” (Drama)

tvN10 Acting Grand Excellence Award
Jo Jin Woong (“Signal”)

tvN10 Variety Grand Excellence Award
Lee Seo Jin (“Grandpas Over Flowers, “Three Meals a Day”)

tvN10 Actor’s Award
Lee Sung Min (“Incomplete Life (Misaeng)”)

tvN10 Actress’s Award
Kim Hye Soo (“Signal”)

Variety Icon
Lee Soon Jae, Shin Goo, Park Geun Hyung, Baek Il Sub (“Grandpas Over Flowers”)

Content Award (Drama)
“Incomplete Life (Misaeng),” “Dear My Friends,” “Rude Miss Young Ae,” “Nine,” “Another Oh Hae Young,” “Signal,” “Oh My Ghostess,” “Reply” series

Content Award (Variety)
“Three Meals a Day,” “__ Over Flowers” series, “New Journey to the West,” “SNL Korea,” “Roller Coaster,” “Martian Virus,” “The Genius,” “Problematic Men,” “House Cook Master Baek”

Made in tvN (Variety)
Son Ho Jun (“Three Meals a Day”)
Kim Seul Gi (“SNL Korea”)

Made in tvN (Drama)
Seo In Guk (“Reply 1997”)
Seo Hyun Jin (“Another Oh Hae Young”)

PD’s Choice
Lee Je Hoon (“Signal”)
Jung Sang Hoon (“SNL Korea”)

Best Kiss
Seo In Guk and Jung Eun Ji (“Reply 1997”)

Best Chemistry
Park Bo Young and Kim Seul Gi (“Oh My Ghostess”)

Best MC
Shin Dong Yup (“SNL Korea”)

tvN Asia Award
Park Bo Gum (“Reply 1988”)

Rom-Com King/Queen
Eric (“Another Oh Hae Young”)
Seo Hyun Jin (“Another Oh Hae Young”)

Special Acting Award
Sung Dong Il (“Reply” series)

Trending Actors
Ryu Jun Yeol (“Reply 1988”)
Hyeri (“Reply 1988”)

Scene Stealer Award
Ra Mi Ran (“Reply 1988”)
Kim Sung Kyoon (“Reply 1988”)

Two Star Award
Jo Jung Suk (“Oh My Ghostess” and “Youth Over Flowers”)

Comedy Award
Ahn Young Mi (“Comedy Big League”)
Yang Se Hyung (“Comedy Big League”)

“Slave” Award (“Hardworking Entertainer” Award)
Kwon Hyuk Soo (“SNL Korea”)
Lee Se Young (“SNL Korea,” “Comedy Big League”)

Perfect Attendance Award
Kim Hyun Sook (“Rude Miss Young Ae”)
Lee Young Ja (“Taxi”)

A Plea For Justice: Signal / Sigeuneol (시그널) (2016)

Signal 1
Lee Je Hoon, Kim Hye Soo, Jo Jin Woong

Saya nggak ngerti kenapa waktu itu saya melewatkan Signal saat dramanya tayang dan lompat dari Reply 1988 ke Dear My Friends. Mungkin karena waktu itu sibuk mengejar (drako) yang lain atau mungkin juga karena saya gak pernah terlalu menggilai genre-nya.

Signal, seperti banyak didaulat penontonnya, adalah salah satu drama terbaik di 2016. Namun dengan genre drama kriminal, sepertinya tidak banyak yang mengulas kentalnya kritik sosial politik Signal.

 

Sekilas Signal mengingatkan saya pada “Frequency”, sebuah film tahun 2000 yang dibintangi Dennis Quaid (sebagai Frank Sullivan, ayah) & Jim Caviezel (sebagai John Sullivan, anak). Jika di “Frequency” si anak berkomunikasi dengan almarhum bapaknya sehari sebelum si bapak meninggal 30 tahun lalu dengan medium walkie-talkie, di Signal Lee Jae Han (Jo Jin Woong) menghubungi Park Hae Young (Lee Je Hoon) saat Hae Young sedang berusaha menghubungi pengemudi truk yang manghalangi mobilnya di tempat parkir. Secara konsep memang keduanya mirip, tapi kekuatan Signal adalah bagaimana penulis mengelaborasi konsep tersebut sehingga hasilnya tidak sekedar menjadi pengulangan.

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Park Hae Young (Lee Je Hoon) & Lee Jae Han (Jo Jin Woong)

Park Hae Young ditangkap Cha Soo Hyun (Kim Hye Soo) karena disangka tuking kuntit seleb yang suka menjual gosip-gosip dunia hiburan. Ujung-ujungnya Hae Young malah bergabung menjadi bagian dari Cold Case Team, bagian dari tim kepolisian yang mengusut kasus-kasus lama yang belum atau tidak terpecahkan. Hae Young dan Jae Han kemudian bertukar informasi dengan medium walkie-talkie dan bekerja sama memecahkan kasus-kasus tersebut bahkan berusaha untuk mencegah agar kejahatan tersebut tidak terjadi.

Kasus-kasus yang ditampilkan dalam Signal berdasarkan beberapa kasus kejahatan terkenal di Korea, seperti kasus pembunuhan berantai Hwaseong (yang juga jadi inspirasi film “Memories of Murder”) dan pemerkosaan berkelompok Miryang. Beberapa insiden besar yang jadi latar belakang juga berdasarkan kejadian sebenarnya. Persamaan keduanya adalah bahwa keduanya merupakan hasil kejahatan manusia dimana tidak ada seorangpun terbukti bersalah dan bertanggung jawab atas insiden-insiden tersebut.

Serial kriminal seringkali tidak memiliki dimensi lebih dari sekedar dikotomi jahat dan baik. Namun dengan mengeksplorasi kasus-kasus kejahatan yang tidak terpecahkan, Signal dengan cerdas juga melontarkan kritik keras, yang bahkan hampir terasa seperti sebuah permohonan, atas cacat dan korupnya sistem peradilan dan keadilan bagi masyarakat dimana hukum hampir selalu tumpul ke bawah. Didukung dengan dialog yang tajam, Signal terasa begitu berlapis secara dimensi maupun perasaan.

“Do you know why your brother was framed? It was because he had no money, power or connections.”

 

“Hilang” sangat lekat menyelimuti Signal, baik dalam arti fisik maupun rasa. Cha Soo Hyun dan ayah Lee Jae Han yang kehilangan Lee Jae Han; Park Hae Young dan kakaknya, Park Sun Woo yang kehilangan kehangatan keluarga hingga Lee Jae Han yang (nyaris) kehilangan harapan pada sistem peradilan dan negara. Heart-breaking.

Penghilangan orang secara paksa (enforced or involuntary disappearances) adalah kejahatan yang paling banyak melanggar hak-hak dasar manusia. Bagi yang ditinggalkan, penderitaannya bisa berlangsung bertahun-tahun karena tidak pernah ada kejelasan sehingga mereka tidak tahu apakah harus terus berharap dan menanti atau merelakan. Penghilangan orang secara paksa seringkali berkaitan dengan kejahatan rezim politik dan terjadi secara struktural. Signal mampu menterjemahkan ini dengan bahasa yang non-politis dan lebih condong ke humanis. Hasilnya bukan hanya mencengkeram namun juga terasa indah walaupun menyedihkan dan membuat patah hati.

Naskah Signal ditulis Kim Eun Hee dengan amat detil nyaris tanpa lubang. Adegan-adegan kunci disebar dan diulang di episode yang berbeda namun dijahit dengan sangat halus sehingga membuat penonton berpikir “Oh, iya waktu itu kan begini…” Cantik sekali. Perpindahan kamera yang cair dan mulus dari masa kini ke masa lalu dan begitu pula sebaliknya membuat Hae Young dan Jae Han seakan-akan tidak terpisahkan oleh masa namun berada di ruang waktu yang sama. Padahal ide komunikasi beda masa ini bisa aja terjebak jadi dagelan konyol gak masuk akal.

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Namun ini tidak lantas menjadikan Signal melulu serius. Signal juga menyelipkan humor dan romansa yang terasa menyatu dan wajar, sesuai konteks dan tidak dibuat-buat. Walaupun episode terakhir sedikit terasa lepas dan kurang intens, tapi pentupnya membuat Signal menjadi utuh full circle.

 

Signal 6
Lee Je Hoon

Ini dapat terjadi tentunya juga berkat akting andal 3 pemeran utamanya, Lee Je Hoon, Kim Hye Soo dan Jo Jin Woong. Yes, Lee Je Hoon is somewhat over the top in earlier episodes. Tapi seiring episode berjalan, lebaynya mulai menurun dan gak terlalu teatrikal lagi. Somehow that almost didn’t bother me at all. Biasanya saya akan kecapean nonton yang modelan begini, tapi akting Lee Je Hoon masih terasa relevan buat saya.

Signal 7

Signal 10
Kim Hye Soo

Kim Hye Soo tampil sangat menawan sebagai Cha Soo Hyun muda yang sedikit lugu, manis dan penurut sekaligus Cha Soo Hyun dewasa yang berwibawa, tenang dan taktis. Kim Hye Soo adalah satu-satunya pemain yang berada di 2 masa dan mengalami perubahan karakter cukup signifikan di drama ini. Something about Kim Hye Soo’s face that makes her believable as both a 20 year-old and 40 year-old.

 

 

 

 

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Salah satu adegan Kim Hye Soo yang paling mengesankan buat saya adalah saat dia menyadari bahwa ingatannya telah berubah, saat itu juga.

 

 

 

Signal 8
Jo Jin Woong

Tapi buat saya Jo Jin Woong adalah jiwanya Signal. Lee Jae Han di tangan Jo Jin Woong jadi sosok yang sangat memikat di luar kesederhanaan karakternya. Lee Jae Han blas perwujudan naruni manusia yang mendambakan keadilan. Hidupnya lempeng berjuang menegakkan kebenaran walaupun dibikin patah hati melulu oleh sistem yang busuk.

Geraknya grasa-grusu, bahasa tubuhnya canggung, tapi gigih, pantang menyerah dan penuh harapan. Seperti halnya Lee Jae Han merupakan perwujudan naruni manusia akan keadilan, Signal adalah manifestasi sosok Lee Jae Han yang merindukan dunia yang lebih baik.

“Is it the same there? If you’re rich and have connections, do you get off the hook after doing shady deeds? 20 years have passed. Something must have changed.”

“But if someone committed a crime, regardless of how much money or conections they have, they must pay for it.”

Di episode pembuka, penonton dihubungkan dengan karya sutradara Kim Won Seok sebelumnya, Misaeng (yang juga bagus tapi belum sedahsyat Signal. Dua-duanya tayang di saluran televisi tvN), melalui alusi gosip (fiktif tentunya) cinta segi tiga Im Si Wan, Kang So Ra dan Byun Yo Han (ketiganya bermain di Misaeng). Sedangkan di episode penutup Kim Won Seok seperti memberikan homage pada 2 film mafia terkenal Korea karya sutradara Yoo Ha, “A Dirty Carnival” & “Gangnam Blues 1970”, dimana yang pertama Jo Jin Woong juga berada di dalamnya sebagai pemeran pembantu. I don’t know why. Mungkin hanya sekedar adegan perkelahian mafia yang umum. Begitu juga permainan aspek rasio gambar yang diregang secara vertikal sepertinya merupakan homage terhadap “Memories of Murder”. Di luar gambar, musik pun memiliki warna dan rasa yang mirip dengan Memories, gelap dan menyayat dengan lagu-lagu bernuansa masa lalu. Apalagi lagu Melancholic Letter (우울한 편지) oleh Yoo Jae Ha (유재하) yang bermain di latar setiap aksi pembunuhan di Memories juga muncul di Signal episode 10.

(Searah jarum jam) A Dirty Carnival, Gangnam Blues, Signal

 

 

Secara pribadi, saya menempatkan Signal sejajar dengan Heard It Through The Grapevine. Mind-blowingly brilliant.