The Return of Iljimae

Due to a prolonged bout of allergic conjunctivitis (non-contagious, but oh, so annoying!), I’ve not been able to do any writing. (My eyes didn’t like my last blog piece, on Chuno, and staged a mini mutiny, causing me to look like Dracula’s bride for days. That also explains why that review feels truncated; it was just too painful, literally, to continue.) Who knew the new constant in my life would be eye drops and daily pleas of “Go away, pollen!”?

I’m still watching dramas, albeit at a snail’s pace (and on the TV rather than computer; it’s kinder to my eyes that way). A few days ago, I started a drama that several pals had been raving about last year; I instantly liked what I saw.

A Kim Min-jong standing unseen outside the room of his beloved made my heart ache for some reason; I know I’m going to root fiercely for this couple. I hurt again when Iljimae (Jung Il-woo) met his real dad for the first time and was unceremoniously rejected, a second abandonment. The first rejection led to him becoming an unwitting seafarer (or riverfarer, to be more precise). In a scene so picturesque it was like gazing at a watercolor painting, our wee Iljimae floated down the river on a basket before he was rescued. I had to pause to take a screencap, so transfixed was I by the beauty before me.

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The Moonlight of Seoul

The Moonlight of Seoul (a.k.a. Beastie Boys, 2008) was an eye-opener in more ways than one.

First, I had no idea male host bars even existed. Female hostesses I had seen plenty on screen, but guys doing the same thing for a living? That was surprising. Second, I never thought my much-admired Ha Jung-woo capable of violence against a woman. But he is, here. That wasn’t a man at the receiving end of his vicious blows but a woman. Even though it was just acting, it was still shocking to watch. Third, I was expecting a movie, so the documentary-like realism in The Moonlight of Seoul caught me off-guard. I wish I was better prepared. (Note: Best not to be eating when watching this.)

Ha Jung-woo is Jae-hyun, “Hyung” to the male hosts in the movie and “Oppa” to his girlfriends. He’s a bundle of contradictions. Jovial and kindly to his underlings, he is almost paternal the way he takes them under his charge. His voice is tender with them, his manner indulgent. No wonder the guys seem happy, seemingly unaware that their nightly parade before the ladies is reminiscent of slaves in period dramas standing on a platform waiting to be chosen by their future owners.

Debonair Jae-hyun runs his stable of male hosts like a meticulous mamasan, ensuring they keep up with their “skills” and appearance. But his own life is a mess.

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Superstar Mr. Gam

Do you enjoy stories about underdogs and the tenacity and triumph of the human spirit? In these troubling times, why not watch a feel-good movie that’s not only touching but also funny and romantic?

And, don’t you want to check out a film where Ha Jung-woo speaks only one line and Gong-yoo two? The former is now critically acclaimed (and also fiercely loved by yours truly) and the latter has legions of fans thanks to a 2007 drama where coffee is the operative word. Yet in this five-year-old gem of a sports movie (based on a true story), the real star is one Lee Beom-soo.

In an interview, Lee Beom-soo said that Superstar Mr. Gam (a.k.a. Mr. Gam’s Victory a.k.a. Superstar Gam Sa Yong, 2004) is the most special piece of work for him personally and it’s easy to see why. He’s perfect here.

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