The Politics of Religion: Save Me / Goohaejwoe (구해줘) (2017)

Save Me 1

No 2017 K-drama is more relevant with today’s world political situation (hail the rise of the right!) than OCN’s ‘Save Me’. Watching the show, there’s this eerie feel that I can’t seem to escape from, like that of Nic Pizzolatto’s ‘True Detective’. Both are set in somber rural towns and both explore the theme of Christianity. While ‘True Detective’ (Season 1) followed two detectives in their pursuit of a serial killer, ‘Save Me’ depicts one town’s Christian cult and its connection with the town’s politicians. Based on a webcomic Out of the World (세상 밖으로) by Jo Geum San, the timing of ‘Save Me’ couldn’t be any more perfect. Though the webcomic was published from 2011 to 2013, but South Korea recently was shaken up by a similar scandal, where former South Korea’s President Park Eun Hye was impeached last year after her bizarre political scandal with advisers, Choi Tae Min, a self-proclaimed pastor and founder of an obscure sect called the Church of Eternal Life, then his daughter, Choi Soon Sil.

Save Me 7

But if we are going to look at it from a different perspectives, quoting this article, “Many South Koreans speak contemptuously of Choi as a shaman, and rumor abounds that the Ms. Park might have held shamanistic exorcisms with Choi. But to go by the culture in South Korea, where it is still common to consult shamans and make spirit offerings at important events in life, not to mention attend these fervently spiritual church services, what the president might have done, if it is true at all, wasn’t that unusual.” Personally, when it comes to faith, it really is a grey area.

될지어다

Somber and cinematic, ‘Save Me’ feels like the small screen’s interpretation of Korean noir cinema, with dark visuals and bizarre characters. It even doesn’t shy away from gore (though of course, it is altered way milder to follow the television rating system guidance), something that the genre is really familiar with.

The story follows Sang Mi (Seo Ye Ji) and her family who move to a small town then later join the congregation, called Goosunwon, following a series of unfortunate events. The town’s cult leader, called the Spiritual Father, apparently has set his eyes on Sang Mi, the moment he laid eyes on her. Spiritual Father wants to “save” her by turning her into Spiritual Mother because “the world that we live in is full of evil and in order for all of us to get on the Boat of Salvation on the day of judgement, we need to take in a pure scapegoat.” Sang Mi, is that pure scapegoat that will allow all of them to receive salvation (Episode 8).

[SPOILER ALERT]

It is probably best described by Hong So Rin (Jeon Yeo Bin) when she said, “This is just my hunch, but I don’t think it’s a simple alliance between a religion and the political circle. Muji will be thrown upside down. Actually, it may affect the entire country” and also by Han Sang Hwan (Taec Yeon), “My father, Governor Han Yong Min, colluded with a religious cult and tried to build a sanitarium in order to obtain and launder illegal funds.”

To refresh our memory, the Holy See too was caught in the Vatican leaks scandal in 2012, where leaked Vatican documents exposed alleged corruptions. Several high-ranking officials within the Curia viewed the Vatican bank, officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), as something akin to a trust company for clandestine monetary transactions that is not only used by the Church, but allegedly also by the mafia as well as corrupt politicians and companies. For more than 40 years, the IOR, founded in 1942, has been regularly embroiled in scandals, including bribery money for political parties, mafia money-laundering and, repeatedly, anonymous accounts.

Scandals involving religion institutions are of course, nothing new and have been happening for centuries, so it shouldn’t be as shocking. But I guess, still, it’s a reality that some find it uncomfortable and disturbing to accept, especially for the devout (organised) Christians in this case. And I also guess that portraying a cult is easier to accept to some, because cult is the other.

Religions, whether they are organised religions or cults, and politics have been intertwined since the early days of human civilisation. They mutually work for each other’s benefit and goals and ‘Save Me’ got most everything right, delivering the complex relations in an unassuming narrative.

 

The bleak depictions of this sad reality are thankfully delivered by a great ensemble of well-cast actors. All of them give an enjoyable and believable performances, but for one. Unfortunately, that one is the supposedly main lead, Taec Yeon, whom parts I suspect are intentionally watered-down because of his rookie-ish performance. Instead, they bring Seok Deong Cheol (Woo Do Hwan) to the limelight, which turns out to be to be the best decision the makers made because not only he triumphs over Taec Yeon, but he also matches perfectly with Seo Ye Ji. Theatrical at times, Seo Ye Ji breathes a cinematic feel to Im Sang Mi, if that makes any sense at all. I can’t pinpoint what it is exactly with her. Maybe it’s her poetic visual and the deep, charismatic voice.

 

 

I don’t think I have ever seen Park Ji Young in any role as complex as Apostle Kang Eun Sil before (well, not in my obviously short history of watching K-dramas). A mother who lost her daughter to, guess who? None other than the Spiritual Father. But strangely, instead of leaving the congregation he built, she went even deeper in hopes of reaching the ultimate dream, the nirvana. Her vicious partner is Apostle Jo Wan Tae (Jo Jae Yoon). Though most of the times I can’t get rid of his comical image, but Jo Jae Yoon is definitely an all-round actor. He switches gestures smoothly, from obedient servant to sexual offender to the materialistic con artist.

 

 

There is also Go Joon as Cha Joon Go, who stole many scenes for me. Playing a small supporting role, he looks strikingly similar to Hwang Jung Min in ‘Man In Love’, from his facial expressions, gestures to his flowing tacky printed shirt.

 

 

The most impressive of them all is of course Jo Seong Ha as The Spiritual Father, who somehow looks like the interpretation of Benny Hinn, an Israeli televangelist, best known for his regular “Miracle Crusades” — revival meeting or faith healing summits (Spiritual Father also holds such meetings in the show), also infamous for his controversial aspect of teaching on, and demonstration of, a phenomenon he dubs “The Anointing”—the power purportedly given by God and transmitted through Hinn to carry out supernatural acts. The Spiritual Father too, thinks that he is the father of all spirits who will lead his people to the paradise. He is undoubtedly a paedophile psychopath hid in a reserved and dignified facade and a fatherly figure.

 

Save Me 5

Save Me 6

Save Me

Though I had wished for a less cliché and a grimmer ending, but I assume it’s probably considered too much for the majority of the K-drama audience. Still, it’s one hell of a solid ride though.

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]

Circle 3
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.

Circle 2
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.

Circle 4
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.

Chicago Typewriter 29
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)

fullsizephoto146186
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.

fullsizephoto146176
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 >