Monday, June 22, 2020

[Review] KBS Drama Special 2016 Full Season

And 2016 would end my succinct and mass reviews of the KBS2 Drama Special series, because 2015 was the last year I regularly watched the episodes, even though I did not write anything about them.
Fun fact - in lots of these episodes we see the rain. Nothing new, as the DS are usually shot during Summer, yet I couldn't help but smile thinking: "Oh, they shot this one along with that one".

2016 is very uneven, if I have to be honest. With a series of 10 completely different stories and made by different people, it is natural that some are better and some are less so. However even though I enjoyed some stories from 2017 and 2018 series more than others (like Dreamers, Bad Family or If We Were a Season), in total the whole seasons have been wonderful. I can't say the same with 2016, because - along with few I really liked, the rest was just not engaging enough or suffered from badly put focus and in overall it made the story meandering and not as poignant as it is usually with such format.

Episode 1: The Red Teacher:

This one I enjoyed probably the most out of the whole bunch. Part of the reason behind it is that's set in 1985, and then, at the end moves to 1987, which was a very important year for Korean people and democracy. The story is very touching, actually, if not a little heartbreaking.
The story takes place in a high school just before the finals in 1985. The Cheon Duhwan's regime comes after everything and everyone deemed as reactionary. And what is best to shift people' mind from the real problems onto the imaginary danger? Yes, you guessed that right - the North Korean threat. Every thought of democracy is met with swift reaction and people rarely come out unscathed out of it. Actually North Korea has always been a great solution to every societal unrest. Some group causes problems? Deem them as NK saboteurs! A scandal is going with the people in power? Shift the blame for NK influence.

This is why a writer who was unfolding a story set in Park Cheonghee's regime, with the actual General as the cuckolded husband was taken by the NSA and we never saw him again but a bloody trail. The story is then found and read by Taenam, a teacher in the high school, a guy completely out of touch with the real life, called Pervert by his pupils, a bit cowardish, a bit timid. The story then goes into the hands of high school girls who fall in love with the plot, but alas! - there is no continuation and the novel was cut in a very tantalizing and very dangerous moment. So, Sundeok decides to anonymously write the continuation.

The happy writing ends when NSA comes into the quiet town to find out the author of the book that ridiculed the former President. That's when Taenam's true nature will come forward to shine. And hurt. Because the brave choice he made was not known for years - and the school did everything to erase him, to the point of cutting his face out of the photograph.
That's the thing with the authoritarian regimes - they cling to the mirage of past power so much, that anything that threatens the weakening grasp is met with brute force. For them the time stands still in some golden age of their supremation and unorthodox thought is crushed.

Bonus: Park Hun as the ruthless (but not entirely) NSA agent. But the way he took Taenam's glasses off - it was chilling to the bone.

Episode 2: The Legendary Lackey

The story takes place in the high school, like the previous one, but in contemporary Korea and in Busan, to where our main character transfers. Turns out, in his previous school he was heavily bullied - hence the title. In the original we have a word "shuttle" which is a slang for a bullied kid who runs errands for the bullies (like bringing the snacks).

So he crafts his arrival very meticulously - a fame of a warrior precedes him so that no one would touch him out of fear. Which actually works. And his weary attitude towards fighting only makes guys like him even more, with the exception of the school bully - Tae-ung, who becomes his reluctant friend after many diplomatic and crafty manoeuvres Chan has employed.

Which works until another boy from his previous school shows up in his new class.
I was a little worried about the way it could end, but miraculously, they managed to play it well and happily.
This shows the problem of bullying in schools that can quickly turn ugly - we see Chan, bloody and bruised, standing on the edge of the roof, contemplating jumping. Pure luck saved him - a phone call from his mother who told him they're moving to Busan. If not, maybe Jae-u would do that as well, as he was also there and who knows - maybe then he wouldn't become the next bullying victim in Chan's place.
It proves that it takes one person willing to be the beacon of change and the rest will follow.
Now, on the YT, under the video there are comments saying people thought it was a gay drama. It is not, although there is a lot of skinship among the boys.
What is amazing is that Yi Jihun played a high-schooler in 2016 but in 2020 he played a husband after 30 with a kid.
Hyeonmu's cameo is also a nice touch^^

Episode 3: Summer Dream

Now, this is both very touching and yet a bit weird. It features an issue not always present in the regular dramas. It does not make it big - but it's there. Our protagonist, a single dad Mansik wants to register his daughter's birth so that she can attend kindergarten. And he wants the girl to have both parents, probably aware she could be bullied for not having a mother later. To do that, he's ready to participate in a process of acquiring a foreign wife - here from Vietnam. The problem is - the story takes place in the countryside and there is, in fact, a shortage of eligible young women who want to spend their life there.

And because of the misunderstanding, Mihui comes into play, a hostess in a bar, seeing a contract with Mansik as the chance to run away from this town. Yena, clingy as every kid longing for a mother, starts calling her that, either believing she's her or pretending to do so. And Minhui falls for the girl, and also for the quiet and gentle Mansik, but triggered by Chanhyeong she decides to run away and leave everyone behind her.

Little Yena is the wisest person here - she tells Minjun who comes to her crying over being bullied for having a Vietnamese mother, that they shouldn't bother their parents with such stuff, but deal with it themselves. She says THEY have to protect their parents, who try their best to raise them. In this short but deeply touching scene we see also the problem of xenophobia and treating kids from mixed marriages. And we see how this is perceived by kids - they don't see the difference unless they are conditioned to do so.

Episode 4: My Happy Home

This story reminded me the moment in "Romeo and Juliet" (rather movie) when Romeo, thinking Juliet is dead, drinks poison and with the last sip he notices Juliet is coming back to life from her stupor. This story also has such moment of belated realization that not all is lost and people can start afresh. This is a story about lies, suspicion and how they can either make or break a relationship. It's a story about the insecurity that needs to be propped up with lies, even though it does not need it. My favorite along the Red Teacher from 2016.

And we're also presented with the paradox of truth and memory - that it is a very malleable substance, depending on the circumstances, emotions and goal. Here we have few versions of the past events, and therefore few versions of the truth - Sejeong's, Seongmin's and Jia's. Everyone has their own version of the memories and past events, like in a classical Rashomon case - and probably everyone is partially right.
The tricky part comes when we realize Seongmin is a cyborg with uploaded memories, and soon the lines become very blurred.

The story is twisted, the plot leads us astray (and it's a DS, where anything can happen and unhappy endings are common), so at one point I stopped thinking whether such technology is possible but got completely immersed in the game of deceit and truth. At first the marriage of Sejeong and Seongmin seemed like a usual one, albeit OK, him being a cyborg (and we learn only late in the story why he ended up being one - it was to save his life because he saved Sejeong's) but a happy one. With time,  people from his past life start to appear, trying to make him remember, mainly Jia, his ex-girlfriend from the PhD days. The narration is neutral up to a certain point, so the claims of everyone around Seongmin feel validated and he seems to be the only person clueless, yet at the centre of it all.
The bitter rivalry between Sejeong and Jia is not only about Seongmin, although he represents an idea - of a perfect life, of possession, of status, of a happiness, of devotion, of love. During their studies life, Jia stole Sejeong's scientific project and excluded her. And that was probably the moment when the genius mind of Sejeong just crumbled - especially that she felt a genuine friendship offered her by Seongmin. The rest is history - retold, reinvented and re-forgotten.

It's a one hour story so I was left with many unanswered questions - Seongmin is aware he's a cyborg but I would like to see more of his life adjusting to the idea (and we got a quick glimpse only). How the interactions of Sejeong with her father would look like now after her transformation? Is the red light meaning Seongmin was doing something that was not in his program, that he went against?
I could probably write a whole review of this one episode with ease, because there is so much more details I'd love to address in details - like the use of mirrors. There is a lot of mirrors - some are just usual, but we have also metal shiny surfaces as well, we have water surface reflecting the world. And the mirrors here - fragmented just like the memories are fragmented themselves - show the person we fear, dread or something we fear - like the nearly last scene when Seongmin saw in the mirror Sejeong holding a glass of slightly opaque water and he was sure she would pour it on his matrix processor on the back, frying his board and effectively shutting him down for good - so he desperately held her tighter waiting for that moment not realizing it was poison for her.

Yi Sangyeob did a marvelous job with bringing a dose of uncertainty and cloaked menace to his character, he balanced between a good guy and a your worst nightmare (especially when you have an over-sensitive mind, like poor Sejeong here), so I wasn't sure until he said it. But he does nuanced characters really wonderfully. He got an award for this role, because trust me, it was worth it.
Son Yeo-eun balanced between neurotic and timid - and we see that this took a toll on her. It drove her to the point she could not even believe a genuine confession. 
Also, Taec cameos are always welcome^^

Episode 5: Twenty Thousand Won to Pyeongyang

This I had the most troubles with finishing. And it's not about the topic, because ultimately it's nothing new. It's the careless juggling of some facts without checking. So, for the main character being a son born out of wedlock from his mother and a priest was not actually the reason to be dismissed from a priesthood. However, loss of clerical state is a punishment for a grave offence and I didn't find his reason on the list. Anyhow, he left the seminary just before being ordained as a priest and drama used "defrocking" as the punishment, and I, being no expert, used internet (because seriously, directors, songwriters and ekhem, some big hit agencies have access to internet just like me, so they should use it) to learn that "the Church may sometimes "laicize" a priest, but the term "defrock" has no meaning in canon law" (source).
One day Youngjeong, a man who left the seminary and since then has been living in a perpetual hell of self-hatred, self-denial, barely quelled rage, shame and disgust meets his old friend from the seminary - Jun-young and shortly after that - Sowon with whom he spends one night in defiance of everything he was up to this point.
As he becomes more and more interested in Sowon it becomes obvious she's not as interested in him. In fact, she used him as a proxy for Jun-young and Youngjeong becomes furious when he realizes he was just used as a poor replacement, because he was the closest to Jun-young as she could get.
There was a nice talk between Youngjeong and his boss (the call-in drivers small company) when the young man asked why his boss never asked him about his story and background - the man answered that everyone who has a story ends up in his company.
And by the end we see him smiling for the first time after he brought two people together.

See, I have no issues with dramas about cyborgs, but I do have issues with lazy writing.

Episode 6: Explicit Innocence

This episode deals with sex. In one hour they uttered the word "sex" more times than in all dramas from 2016. The main characters are high-schoolers on the verge of their exams and starting studies, but the grades are not their problem at the slightest - it's sex. Or rather lack thereof.
Our main three guys are just obsessed with sex - they collect and watch porn, even though they feel like it's unrealistic, but none of them has any experience in real life. So Junho tries to persuade his girlfriend to sleep with him. She's annoyed at first but when she angrily consents and they land up in a motel - they cannot do it. Despite having condoms which Junho bought in a hurry, not even seeing that there are some in the room.
Meanwhile, in his desperate attempt to have sex before graduating, he pays no attention to what his uncle Myeongho says - that sex is not a race, that it should be a confirmation what is otherwise known in the relationship. And his words come only during the failed attempt to have sex in that motel.
I do believe such dramas are very important - it was like an hour long class on teenage sexuality (Taemin's Sexuality plays in the background. In the right version.). Teens talk about sex and are having sex so it would be better to educate them on the topic than to cover everything up and pretend no one kisses. Ever.

Episode 7: Noodle Soup Woman

See, I had a problem with this part, because the male lead is an unlikable jerk, he's the epitome of a man's entitlement to a woman he fancies. So I was actually happy it ended the way it did - with everyone going their own path and him regretting that moment he so monumentally screwed up. Oh yes, he apologized that he tried to seduce her, even though she gave him no inclination she would be interested.
His reaction to seeing a woman in the same dress as her making out with his friend snowballed into a petty and very low revenge involving his own wife. He used his wife to get back at the completely clueless woman and hurting both women in the process as Hyegyeong immediately realized he used her just to hurt another woman. Given that they slept in separated beds and he didn't want to have kids, she was right to assume his sudden affection was out of place. However, she thought he was "putting an effort" as she asked him to. So, they divorce which was actually inevitable.

The main line through the episode is writing. Jin-u wanted to become a writer but when his friend debuted before him, he cowed and didn't want to have his pride hurt had his debut been less successful. Then he becomes a disillusioned manager of an online store he's having with his wife. And the episode starts with the funeral of his friend during which he sees Mijin and becomes intrigued. He then is asked to read and review the writings left by the late Dogeun. He takes the request, seeing it as the possibility to spend weekends in the tiny rural town where Mijin lives. And not even once he mentions he's married. But thinks he has a reason to accuse HER about cheating on him.
I was so happy she didn't even see him on the street of Seoul few months later.
The cinematography in this episode though - oh, breathtaking.

Episode 8: Disqualified Laughter

It is a story about the guy who has no sense of humor. And that could be very well the end of the short info. He's also a forecast announcer, so a high level of humor was never on the requirements menu - that is until a fresh blood arrives in the form of a young woman.

The haenyeo scenes were just priceless, especially the last one.

So, to woo the young woman, Jiro tries to be a bit more funny, to the point he even attends classes on how to be funny - which in turn look more like a class on how to be a gagwoman/gagman than a genuinely funny human. And only by the end when he doesn't try to be funny - he really is, he manages to put a smile on the faces of everyone on the bus. And seeing their smiling faces, Jiro realizes for the first time what it means to be funny - it is to not only make other people happy, but himself too. Their smiles make him happy.

Episode 9: A Dance From Afar

It starts with the funeral of Shin Parang. Yet again we have such an opening.
The whole story is made up of three threads: the present as the aftermath of Parang's suicide, the past, and the play he was planning on directing. The three narrations just mix with each other and tell the story fully in a way one could never do.

There is a moment when Hyeon and Sujin talk about Parang's last day and it turns out he met with both of them and he talked with both of them. And Sujin says she didn't want to talk and when he asked her to take his hand she refused. Hyeon doesn't answer Sujin's question about whether she took it but runs away, knowing she left him when he was pleading for her company, just few hours before his death. The scene is even more horrible because when Parang's handwatch got entangled with Hyeon's hair, she simply took out the lighter and burned her hair freeing herself from his accidental grip. This left him confused, hurt and staring into an abyss that ultimately swallowed him not long after that.

The play that moves along the narration and has the finale as the real stage production, tells the story of the catastrophe that ended humanity - the Sun bloated and humanity was annihilated. Only some survived - those who were androids and as they were sun-powered, they were doing fine, but soon they started to malfunction, and the Sun cooled became cold as the Moon so the androids started to see their end as well. Three of them went on a journey to meet the last anthropologist - a database about humans - to ask him how humans dealt with the extinction, so they could implement it too.
The voice told them to dance, to dance, to dance...
The story in itself is really depressing. It paints a bleak picture of relationship and humanity as a whole.

Episode 10: Pinocchio's Nose

I honestly didn't care about whether her dad was telling the truth or not and I was feeling a Schadenfreude watching her tripping over her own project and theory about a method of uncovering a liar. Psychological murky guesswork...
The story is about lies, almost a leitmotif of this season. Namho was accused of killing his wife and went to jail for a crime that, as it turns out, he never committed. His wife's body was never found.
One day the water level in the reservoir went really low so that a car wreck was found and inside it - a skeleton. As the statue of the limitation for the murder Namho was accused of, is nearing its end, everyone tries to determine whether or not he's the murderer.

In the middle of this, Dajeong is visited by her sister and dad, which leads to her breakdown as she never told her fiancé she has a family, because she cut all the ties, being deeply convinced Namho killed their mother and she despised Darae for defending him. Inguk tries to mediate between sisters so that they could at least talk to each other and clear the misunderstandings. So when Namho is taken by the police for quetionning, she tries to implement her theory about lying that is betrayed by the body signs and is given 10 minutes to determine whether he's lying.
To her disappointment - it looks like he's telling the truth.
And then suddenly, at the police station the girls' mother appears and confesses that the skeleton in the car belongs to her lover (and Namho's friend) and he died by accident.
And that whole accident was just badly reasoned.
But the episode ended happily.