The doctor is in

Doc: Shouldn’t it be “The Doctor is JIN”?

Ha-eung: Sure, sure. There’s a 100-nyang bounty on your head, but we’re not at all worried about that, are we? Why don’t you just march to the police bureau and give yourself up? Save the officers there the trouble of hunting for you. In fact, I might as well take you there myself now.

Doc: All right, no need to flap; it was just an innocent question. Back where I come from, it’s basic courtesy to tell people your name.

Ha-eung: I don’t know what backward village you hail from, but over here you lie low and stay out of trouble, you hear? You treat the people who come, I collect the payment, and together we…

Doc: But I’m not a psychiatrist, I’m neurosurgeon Dr. Jin Hyuk!

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Mawang (or, The Devil or Lucifer) (KBS, 2007)


Mawang was my first true love. Delightful Girl Choon Hyang (reviewed here) was a mere trifle, a bitty flirtation with a spot of flimsy fun. With Mawang (also known as The Devil or Lucifer, KBS 2007), my affections were seriously spoken for. The show grabbed me and made me contemplate committing for life. Merely for the chance of watching another gem like Mawang am I now willing to endure (and have in fact endured) hours of forgettable k-drama.

In my more enthusiastic moments I think everyone must love Mawang. What’s there not to love about a gripping, well-acted, impeccably executed and thought-provoking show with a stunning soundtrack? However, I have to concede that I’m sometimes spectacularly out of alignment with popular opinion. So, I’ve devised a little test for Mawang viewer compatibility:

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My Boyfriend Is a Goose: Episode 1

You’ll hear this statement a lot in the first episode so I might as well hit you on the head with it right off the bat:

I am a gumiho.

That’s right. I’m a bona fide liver-eating fox spirit with nine tails, all of which I’ve cleverly tucked out of sight until a full moon uncoils them, very much like how a snake charmer’s pungi coaxes forth a basketful of gyrating snakes. Gaze and be amazed!

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Debating Devil

Devil (a.k.a. Lucifer or its Korean title, Mawang, 2007).

I love the title. It’s so in-your-face, instantly conjuring up something that’s dark and evil. Yet it is also cryptic, because what does it mean? Is it referring to a character? Or a mastermind behind the characters? Who is the devil in Devil?

But before we ponder that weighty question, let’s get a few trifles out of the way.

First, isn’t life funny? I fled from his first drama after 30 minutes because I couldn’t stand his wooden acting. So what if you’re a prince? The tree you’re standing under has more life than you! I didn’t know his name then and didn’t bother to find out. Now that same actor is one of the main reasons why I love Devil. His acting here mesmerized me so much I became even more catatonic than his character in Goong. Uncanny how he can command the appearance of one solitary tear whenever it is most needed. Take a bow, Joo Ji-hoon. You were fantastic in Devil.

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The Beast and the Beauty

Shin Mina is Hae-ju, a blind girl who plays the piano at a nightclub. Ryu Seung-beom is Dong-gun, a voice actor who is usually given the role of a monster since he’s so good at roaring.

In The Beast and the Beauty (2005), they first meet when Hae-ju is waiting for a cab after her work and kindly Dong-gun happens to drive by. She thinks he is a cab driver and he thinks she is the sweetest thing that ever walked on earth. Every protective cell in him springs into manly action and thereafter he is at the nightclub every night, waiting to send her home. After a while the two fall in love (how can she not be moved by his attentiveness and gentleness?) and all is roses and sunshine in the couple’s world. Until one day when Hae-ju tells Dong-gun that she is going to have an operation that will restore her sight.

That announcement turns Dong-gun’s world upside down. Instead of whooping for joy that his beloved will soon be able to see, he is chewing his nails.

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Riding the A Love to Kill roller coaster

I’ll say it up front: I have a love-hate relationship with A Love to Kill (2005).

As I was sorting through the images that I would be using for this post, I felt an inexplicable longing for the drama. Seeing how tightly Kang Bok-gu (Jung Ji-hoon a.k.a. Bi) was hugging Cha Eun-seok (Shin Mina), I suddenly missed them. The theme song, which I had not listened to for a long time, played in my head, reviving forgotten street scenes of a man walking behind a woman, quietly watching her.

Then I remembered one word which described exactly what I felt like doing after I finished the last episode. (Hint: Look at the drama’s title and pick one of its four-letter words.) My longing instantly evaporated.

I had no inkling that this was going to be a roller-coaster ride. Lee Kyung-hee wrote this, she who had written two dramas that I loved fiercely: Sang-doo, Let’s Go to School and I’m Sorry, I Love You. Whatever their flaws (a penchant for too-dramatic plot shifts, for instance), her dramas gripped me and her male lead characters were always unforgettable.

Moreover, everything had looked so promising in the first few episodes. The drama felt very different and experimental, as though I was watching an art-house movie. Disjointed scenes, flashbacks, dream sequences and breathtaking backdrops. Tree-lined avenues and leaves a riot of fall colors. It was all so achingly beautiful. The music felt very different too, that pulsating beat of the drums. I was hooked immediately.

But even as I was addicted, signs that this would be a bumpy ride were already present.

Keep reading, but beware the eggpletive-filled spoilery rant at the end>>>


Madeleine (2003) was one of my first Korean movies and I had approached it with some wariness because of Jo In-sung. My first and lingering impressions of him were from Piano, which I had watched bits of, and all I remembered were his bland acting and unusually red lips. (In Madeleine his lips aren’t red but orange. Orange lips and yellow hair… You can’t get a sunnier combination than that!) But I liked Shin Mina in her debut drama Beautiful Days and was eager to watch her again.

Hee-jin (Shin Mina) and Ji-suk (Jo In-sung) are former classmates who bump into each other about seven years after graduating from high school. She is now a hairstylist while he is a quiet and bookish university student. The two friends hit it off immediately and she suggests a one-month romance. If they fall in love with each other during that one month, great. If they don’t, they will part ways gaily. Before the one month is up, however, they can’t break off with each other. The plan sounds childish but is exactly the sort of thing that bubbly live-in-the-moment Hee-jin will think up. Not one to disagree, Ji-suk plays along.

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