K-drama review: Uncontrollably Fond

Uncontrollably Fond poster

As all K-dramas, no matter the genre, seem to have a heavy dose of romance, I decided to check one out that is 100% romance. And oh man, I certainly got what I asked for. Uncontrollably Fond (2016) is overblown, overwrought, over-serious melodrama. But it looks beautiful. And it isn’t pretending to be anything it isn’t – the warning signs were there from the start.

The opening scene is peppered with shots of a blossom petal floating gently to the ground – a recurring motif so cliched I almost laughed out loud. But then this is a series full of cliches: secret relatives, arranged marriage, super-rich people using the poor to gain advantage, critical illness, blackmail and lots of lies. A surprising amount of this information is revealed in the first two episodes, meaning that a quick plot summary can’t be all that quick.

Sin Jun-young is a major star – actor, pop idol, model (much like Kim Woo-bin who plays him) – and we meet him refusing to film a death scene, which we shortly after learn is because he is dying of an inoperable brain tumour. He of course hasn’t told anyone this, but he has started searching for his ex-girlfriend No Eul (Bae Su-ji, better known as Suzy from K-pop group Miss A), who handily turns up on his doorstep trying to persuade him to take part in a documentary series. Directing this show will save her career, which is faltering thanks to a bribe she accepted to stop investigating a corrupt company – a bribe she desperately needed to keep loan sharks at bay.

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If she didn’t have bad luck, she’d have no luck at all

Lucky Penny cover

Lucky Penny
by Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota

As last month was pretty much a failure on the books front, I decided to turn to a medium that has helped me out of slumps before: comics. At the start of the month, Tim and I treated ourselves to a trip to Forbidden Planet, where we spent far too much on comics. This was one of the random books I picked up.

The choice wasn’t completely out of the blue. I’ve read a few things from Oni Press and always enjoyed them – Scott Pilgrim and Ivy being cases in point. Like Scott Pilgrim, Lucky Penny is about someone in their early adulthood struggling to figure out life and largely failing. But without superpowers.

Penny Brighton loses her job and her roommate on the same day and, no longer able to afford rent, decides to move into a friend’s storage unit. She talks her way into a job at a launderette and flirts with a guy at the local gym to get free showers there. She adopts a stray cat for company. She fends off would-be looters most nights. She’s surviving, but can she really keep this up? Can she turn life into something better than survival?

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K-drama review: Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo

I think this might be my favourite K-drama so far. It’s another one recommended to me as having a kickass female lead, and this time I actually agree. It’s not perfect, but it has a lot going for it.

The setting is Haneul Sports University in Seoul. Our lead characters are 21-year-old athletes from three of the university’s sports teams: swimming, rhythmic gymnastics and weightlifting. There’s swimmer Jung Joon-hyung (Nam Joo-hyuk) who would be the best swimmer on the team but he keeps getting panic attacks at competitions. There’s his ex-girlfriend Song Shi-ho (Kyung Soo-jin) a rhythmic gymnast who has just come back from the national training centre after losing her place on the national team. And of course Kim Bok-joo (Lee Sung-kyung), the star weightlifter in her year.

Bok-joo is quickly established as a good daughter, a good friend and a defender against bullies. She helps her father and uncle at the fried chicken restaurant they run and goes to as many of her father’s dialysis appointments as her training schedule allows. She spends her free time with besties and fellow weightlifters Jung Nan-hee, a very girly girl, and Lee Seon-ok, a straight shooter who tends to hide her emotions. Bok-joo herself is a tomboy, which is working well for her until her first big crush, when she becomes self-conscious about the fact that she weightlifts and doesn’t have a traditionally feminine appearance.

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At this point the territory is not yet visible to me

Brother in IceBrother in Ice
by Alicia Kopf
translated by Mara Faye Lethem

This is an odd combination of research notes and fictional diary. It appealed to me because the loose theme tying it all together is ice – polar expeditions, polar science, but also ice as a metaphor for human relationships, human behaviour. And I do love me a tale of Arctic or Antarctic exploration.

Alicia Kopf is the artist name of Imma Ávalos Marquès, a Catalonian artist who created a series of works over multiple years called Àrticantàrtic, culminating in this novel. The novel’s narrator/diarist is an artist called Alicia who has been working on a series called Àrticantàrtic. Are the essay-like chapters in this book about Scott, Peary, Amundsen and other early 20th-century explorers the real Kopf’s research notes compiled for her art? Or is that construction fictional, like the brother of the title?

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K-drama review: Strong Woman Do Bong Soon

Strong Woman Do Bong Soon

I am very torn in my reactions to this K-drama. On the one hand, I love the lead character and the setting felt more like a realistic modern Seoul than any of the other dramas I’ve seen set there, except maybe Doctors (Strong Woman Do Bong Soon first aired in Korea in 2017 so it is the newest K-drama I have watched). On the other hand, the sense of humour can be not only juvenile, but also homophobic.

And it started so well! This show juggles a few different genres and to begin with I loved the switches from one to another, but they were less well balanced in the second half. Similarly, the storylines all started strongly, but got a bit lost around the halfway point. It’s almost as though different writers took it over. It’s certainly the first time with one of these K-dramas where it hasn’t felt carefully plotted from start to finish.

Genre one is superhero, and the superhero in question is Do Bong-soon (played by Park Bo-young). She is a petite 27-year-old who didn’t do well enough at school to go to university, has never held one job for long, but dreams of designing computer games. Oh, and she has supernatural strength, which she uses to save people from danger. She’s cute and girly but also a little bolshy, which probably comes from her experience of standing up to bullies.

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Everyone’s waitin’ for the fires to start

Peyton PlacePeyton Place
by Grace Metalious

I picked this off my Classics Club list (which I’m woefully behind on). The premise – revealing what’s behind the twitching lace curtains of small-town America in the 1930s and 1940s – definitely intrigued me, but I didn’t realise quite how much would be revealed.

This is the book equivalent of an ensemble drama – there isn’t really one lead character. Metalious beautifully establishes the setting, describing autumnal New England in its colourful glory before beginning to introduce the town’s inhabitants. There are the rich elite of Elm Street, the gossiping poker-playing old men, the class-boundary-defiant teenagers, the middle-class mothers fearful that their secrets will be discovered.

“Clayton Frazier set his coffee cup down with a little click, and then he looked hard at the stranger for a moment.
‘Go fast, mister,’ he said. ‘Get over that line of hills as fast as you can go. Mebbe they got rain up to Canada.’
The stranger laughed… ‘What does rain in Canada have to do with my getting there quickly?’
‘We ain’t got rain here,’ said Clayton Frazier, turning to look out the window. ‘Ain’t had none since June.’
‘Oh,’ said the stranger, feeling rather disappointed. ‘Is that what everyone is waiting for? Rain?’
Clayton Frazier did not look at him again. ‘Fire,’ he said. ‘Everyone’s waitin’ for the fires to start, mister. If you’re smart you’ll go fast. You’ll get past the hills before the fires start.’ ”

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I have faith in the world inside the light-filled box

convenience store womanConvenience Store Woman
by Sayaka Murata
translated from Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori

This is a fascinating Japanese novella about an unusual person trying to understand the world. It’s funny and empathetic and the Tokyo setting really brought back moments from our Japan holiday.

Lead character and narrator Keiko is a convenience-store worker. She has worked there since her first year at university and is still there 18 years later because it’s the one place where she feels she belongs. But as the years pass she feels increasing social pressure to conform. And her attempts to conform are at once hilarious, heartbreaking and unsettling.

“I automatically read the customer’s minutest movements and gaze, and my body acts reflexibility in response. My ears and eyes are important sensors to catch their every move and desire. Taking the utmost care not to cause the customer any discomfort by observing him or her too closely, I swiftly move my hands according to whatever signals I pick up.”

Keiko is not just socially awkward. We are never given a formal label but she struggles to empathise with any human emotions or actions. She is alienated by her inability to truly feel and experience what others do, but she has learned to fake it by copying others. She copies how others dress, speak and react, choosing new people to copy every so often who seem appropriate for her (in terms of age and station in life). This can lead to unintentionally comically or extreme moments.

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K-drama review: Love in the Moonlight

Love in the Moonlight poster

One of the major genres of Korean TV is historical epic, so I thought I should try one out. I sampled a few before settling on 2016’s Love in the Moonlight (also known as Moonlight Drawn by Clouds). I think I was drawn to the romance element (as well as the Shakespearean cross-dressing comedy) so I perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised that this shared a lot in common with Boys Over Flowers. And I do mean a lot.

First thing they have in common: they were both phenomenally successful shows based on books – in this case the novel Moonlight Drawn by Clouds, which was serialized online in 2013 and then published as five separate books in 2015. (I would love to add who wrote the book but there is very limited info available in English and my Korean is non-existent.)

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I wish for this intrusion, I’ve hoped for it ever since I began

The story of the lost childThe Story of the Lost Child
Book 4, The Neapolitan Novels: Maturity, Old Age
by Elena Ferrante
translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein

Next week Tim and I are heading to Campania for our holiday, specifically to Pompeii and Ischia – the island that features prominently in the second volume of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, The Story of a New Name – so this seemed like a good time to read the final part of the series.

This book details the final few decades of the friendship of Elena and Lila, from their early 30s to the moment that opens the series: when 60-something-year-old Elena hears that her oldest friend has gone missing. The backdrop to their friendship is the changing society and politics of Naples, and in particular their own neighbourhood, a rough place filled with corruption.
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K-drama review: Doctors

Doctors

No, I’m not reviewing the soap opera set in Birmingham that’s been running since 2000. This Doctors is another K-drama, which might be my new favourite thing. This time it’s a 2016 series starring an actress everyone recommended I look out for: Park Shin-hye.

This is pretty much Grey’s Anatomy transplanted from Seattle to Seoul, but with what I am starting to recognise as K-drama characteristics. The thing that possibly attracts me the most is that they all appear to be a single season. They’re long seasons – in this case 20 episodes that are an hour apiece – but they are complete stories where everything gets wrapped up, unlike the usual pattern in TV where storylines get changed, delayed or sped up each time a show gets renewed.

The reason I picked Doctors for my second K-drama was that my main problem with Boys Over Flowers (aside from its addictive quality meaning I stayed up far too late watching it) was the lameness of the main female character, so I looked up lists of K-dramas with kick-ass female leads. This show quite literally opens with its female lead kicking ass, which seemed promising.

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