KDramas I’m currently watching

Japanese and Korean dramas are among my guilty pleasures. But I have not written much about the ones that I like. The first and last time I wrote about something I watched was back in 2012 soon after I finished watching Warrior Baek Dong Soo. In the past few weeks, I have been following K-dramas currently airing. Here are my top five picks:

5. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_Lovers:_Scarlet_Heart_Ryeo
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_Lovers:_Scarlet_Heart_Ryeo

Genre: Historical drama, Fantasy, Romance

One name: Lee Joon‑gi. The first teaser of this drama popped up on my radar a few months ago. And I was hooked the instant my eyes clapped on Lee Joon‑gi. I have been a fan since his stint at My Girl in 2005. There was a lot of hype surrounding this drama months leading to its first episode. I find it a tad disappointing though. With so many actors at play, there were certain episodes that it felt like the lead actor was left at the sidelines. It was tedious and heavy at some points. But things seem to be picking up lately. One thing that keeps me happy is that Lee Joon‑gi never fails to deliver.

4. Moonlight Drawn by Clouds

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_in_the_Moonlight
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_in_the_Moonlight

Genre: Historical drama, Coming-of-Age, Romantic-Comedy

It took me a while to check this one out. I decided to make a quick peek out of curiousity. I was not really expecting to get past the first episode. But I was surprised how it somehow got to me. It has all the makings of a cliche but Park Bo-gum and Kim Yoo-jung pulled it off. I stopped watching on the 10th episode not because I was no longer enjoying it. Limited time and that feeling of dread that it will not have a happy ending made me stop. But only for now. I intend to finish it when I have the time.

3. The K2

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_K2
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_K2

Genre: Political drama, Action, Romance, Thriller

I am a Ji Chang-wook fan so it makes sense that I would watch this. I also like Im Yoona so that makes two reasons already to get me curious. But the biggest draw is that its being an action drama. I am a huge fan of action, adventure, detective, mystery, and thriller dramas so there is no way I am going to miss this.

2. Woman with a Suitcase

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman_with_a_Suitcase
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman_with_a_Suitcase

Genre: Legal drama, Comedy, Drama

This one was another surprise. The curious cat in me just wanted to know what it is about. The lead actors (Joo Jin-mo! and Choi Ji-woo) are rocking it. It has an interesting cast with Lee Joon delivering like he always does.

1. On the Way to the Airport

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Way_to_the_Airport
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Way_to_the_Airport

Genre: Romance, Melodrama

The last drama that I started watching turned out to be the one I like best, at least for now. It took me a while to finally decide to see it. But it has been an INTENSE ride right from the first episode. The extra marital affairs theme is touchy. But the writer and production group seem to be pulling it off splendidly. I am into this for the rawness of emotions it squeezes out and the complexities surrounding the lives of the characters. Kim Ha-neul and Lee Sang-yoon are superb in making their characters come to life. I also love how Lee Sang-yoon does this romance thing. He has a knack of making me fall for him in every role that he plays. I am not sure if rooting for their characters to end together is bad. But that is what I have been doing from the get-go.

Strength and Vulnerability

GFB1GFB2GFB3GFB4(Screenshots from episode 20 of Gu Family Book)

I’ve been following the Gu Family Book for some weeks now mainly because of Lee Seung Gi. I enjoyed watching his previous dramas (My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, King 2 Hearts) so I decided to check out if Gu Family Book would somehow capture my interest. Since I went back to watching Japanese dramas, I find most of the K-dramas long-drawn and tiring.

So far this K-drama hooked me primarily because of good casting. Somehow, it manages to keep my attention despite some of the rehashed, predictable, and tedious parts.

The screenshots shown above depict part of half-human/half-gumiho Choi Kang Chi’s (Lee Seung Gi) training with Master Dam Pyeong-Joon (Jo Sung-Ha). The latter finally decided to train him personally after learning that only Choi Kang Chi can defeat his gumiho father, Koo Wol-Ryung (Choi Jin-Hyuk), who became a 1000-year demon following a tragic story of betrayal 20 years ago. So Master Dam is pushing Choi Kang Chi to his limits that he may become strong enough to defeat (read: kill) his father. What could possibly be more heart-wrenching than that?

Master Dam’s words reminded me of former Sanshou coaches and trainers who keep telling us trainees the same thing. It brings to mind again why I never wanted to compete despite constant urgings by coaches and teammates.

I think that self-awareness is one of the best gifts anyone could get from practicing any form of martial arts. You discover and learn more about yourself each time you put yourself into the rigorous demands of training. It was during those years of training that I realized that I was more of a defensive fighter, both in the lei tai or platform and in life. I was better at defending myself than initiating attacks. I guess deep down inside I didn’t like the idea of hurting people even if it’s just a game. I also knew myself enough to realize that my lack of offensive skills would make me vulnerable if I step on the platform to compete.

The funny thing was almost everyone I knew then, people who were close to me or barely knew me, often told me that I’m a strong person. The label has always been there before and after sanshou. I’ve always wondered why it sticks to me when I don’t even think it to be true.

For me, being strong has always been and always will be a great balancing act. Which brings me back to what Master Dam said about drawing the line between mercy and mercilessness. Being strong requires unflinching resolve to be ruthless if the situation demands it even if it causes you pain and breaks your heart.

I think I’m not that strong person many see me to be. I still need to improve on drawing the lines. But if past experiences taught me something about strength and vulnerability, it is this: you need to be vulnerable to be strong. Getting past vulnerability gives you the courage to make choices, stand firm with your beliefs, and even fight for them if needed. But most of all I learned that what Master Dam said is mostly true. Being strong makes you lonely too.

Selling the drama

There comes a point in time when you begin to question your attachments to certain things. Like drama addiction. To be more specific, Korean drama addiction.

I’ve long been a Korean drama fan. My Girl started it for me. And since then, every spare (and not so spare) time I can scrape from doing other hobbies like reading, etc. etc. are used to watching TV series. It may seem like a lame way to spend “quality” time for some people. But to each his/her own, right?

Over the years, there have been several of those TV series that thoroughly entertained and taught me life lessons I think were worth learning. Lately though, I get this strange, iffy feeling when I watch some of the dramas I’ve been keeping tabs on.

Among many reasons, the following jump at me for making me rethink my drama addiction.

  • Excessive suffering is a way of life ~ Probably 80-90% of most dramas’ several episodes are solely about a protagonist’s excessive suffering. While it’s true that suffering is indeed a great character-builder, there still has to be a limit as to how much unpleasantness a person willingly takes. Somehow, watching someone playing the martyr for almost the entire breadth of the show can be tiring.
  • Crime does pay, at least until the last part of the show ~ Following Oscar Wilde’s train of thought that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life” (The Decay of Lying, 1889), then many dramas are giving lamentable fodders to emulate. Villains who succeed at causing unbelievable lengths of despair for the best part of the series don’t exactly inspire faith in justice and fairness.
  • Rewards are fleeting ~ In the end, goodness prevails and evil falls. But since this usually happens towards the end of the series, sometimes, you can’t help but think if rewards are really as fleeting. If measured against the time commiserating with a protagonist’s suffering, the endorphin rush of seeing that person prevail immediately ends a few short minutes after when the credits roll up. Again, it seems that dramas have some twisted sense of what’s just and fair.

All this musings make me wonder what’s the difference between real and make-believe dramas. Maybe the lesson really is living life for all its worth can be the best thing to do. And that there should be a limit to selling too much drama.

So this is how TV series withdrawal feels like

(photo credit: koreandrama.org)

I finally finished all 29 episodes of Warrior Baek Dong Soo. It was a long and meandering journey, true to the historical drama that it was.

In my years of Korean drama addiction, I’ve tried to stay away from period series for I thought them to be boring. Lately though, some of the best ones I’ve watched have been one historical series after another.

Warrior Baek Dong Soo was one of my most recent discoveries. It had none of the usual drool-worthy Samsung gadgets, fashion eye-candies, and actors’ cute antics that make even the flimsiest storylines riveting. What it has, however, is a story with a lot of heart, centering on a warrior’s life. The travails and journey of a man  who aspired to become the best swordsman of his time. It’s about blood, pain, sacrifices, transformations, and the paths people choose to take.

I hated it. And I loved it.

I hated how the good people suffered or ended up dead.

I hated how the bad guys got away with seemingly endless evil schemes and plots.

I hated how Warrior Baek Dong Soo’s best friend assassin Yeo Un lived and died without anyone truly grasping and understanding all the good things he’d done.

I hated how Baek Dong Soo and his master Sword Saint indirectly caused more suffering by letting one of the baddest characters repeatedly get away with his crimes. Following the logic of one of the oldest warfare techniques emphasizing the need to crush enemies completely, said evil character should have been put to death the first time he tried to kill the reigning best swordsman in the story.

But it was all the things I hated about this drama that made me love it as well.

I loved how the story taught lessons that transcend pain. It showed that the true measure of a person’s character lies on what he’d do with power once he’s given it. That true power can be found in one’s ability to forgive.

This was how the former Human Lord, certainly one of the vilest characters who lived in this drama, found whatever humanity he has lost for so long. The warrior he vowed to kill treated him again with kindness as he was lying betrayed and left for dead by an evil “nobleman” who has used his skills as an assassin for years.

Baek Dong Soo ultimately fulfilled his master’s wish that he surpass him. As the dying Human Lord said, he indeed became Joseon’s best swordsman – even 100 times better than his master. For in changing the heart of an evil man like him, Dong Soo proved himself capable of saving everyone.

It is said that renderings of an ancient character for Budo can both mean “the way of the Warrior” and “to stop two swords from clashing”. The greatness of a martial artist is not measured by the number of opponents he has wounded or killed. Rather, it can be found in his ability to influence harmony and achieve peace despite all the evilness thrown at him.

Warrior Baek Dong Soo exemplified this story. It was painful to watch especially for someone like me who prefers rainbows and happy endings. But it was brave enough to dish out all the possible things to hate about reality. And finishing all 29 episodes with buckets full of tears, I’d say it effectively sold its story to me.

Right now, there’s this lingering sadness and feeling of loss. I feel hollow. Like I’ve lost dear friends. Maybe because for days, all their joys and pains have also been mine.