Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Review on Korean Movie: A Frozen Flower (2008)

Title: Frozen Flower (2008)
Genre: Period Drama, Romance
Duration: 133 mins
Directed by Yu Ha
In Seong Jo as Hong Lim
Jin Mo Ju as King of Goryeo
Ji-hyo Song as Queen of Goryeo

Under the virtual rule of China's Yuan Dynasty, the King of Georyo has to produce an heir to keep his position.  Unfortunately, he cannot bear to sleep with a woman and only has eyes for his loyal general, Hong Lim, who is his real lover.
Thinking that all his political problems will go away once he produces an heir, he unexpectedly asks his lover to sleep with the queen.  He assumed that Hong Lim, who has never slept with a woman before, would stay true and loyal to him even after sleeping with a woman.  He miscalculated on his assumption though and failed to consider that bonds may be formed after mating. 
Hong Lim, who had always placed the king above all else, was hesitant to perform the king's orders at first but after the king urged him to perform his order, he does so and soon, his emotions were stirred in the process of mating with the queen. 
Soon after, all three were enmeshed in a complicated love triangle which led to deep-seated rage, uncontrollable anger, betrayal, and numerous deaths. 
Complicating the situation further is the political stability of the kingdom with threats of killing the king and establishing the Yuan Dynasty as the ruler of the kingdom.
I was shocked by the graphic sex scenes between the king and his chief guard and the scenes between the queen and the chief guard as well.  What was even more shocking to me is that the sexual orientation of the king seemed to be an open-book secret.  The scenes were very graphic and steamy and at times too revealing but was never offensive.  The cast were beautiful though which probably helped maintain balance in the film.
I was deeply impressed with the performance of Jin Mo Ju and his portrayal of the conflicting emotions, feeling his deep hurt which eventually leads him to abandon his sanity in pursuit of his love for Hong Lim.  In Seong Jo also gave good performance but somehow, I felt his performance was more inclined with the steamy sex scenes rather than the scenes outside of the bedroom (and the library).
I almost felt sorry for the queen in the end but somehow, I never got there.  Although the king did atrocious acts in his jealous rage, I somehow connected to his character more and felt his pain and regrets.  He only had his eyes set on Hong Lim and has never wavered on his emotions towards the chief guard. 
However, it became apparent though that Hong Lim's emotions were not at the same levels as the king's as he wavered after he mated with the queen and fell in love with her, leading him to abandon the king and ultimately seek his death. 
I am not convinced however that he never felt anything for the king besides loyalty due probably perhaps to his hesitation to initially sleep with the queen and his undying devotion before then.  The king might not have been his one great love but I felt, there was an emotional connection between them though.  When he knew he was dying, he chose to look at the king, shed a tear and somehow, I'm not sure if it was regret he felt for denying he ever loved the king, that being his last words or was it he was confused with his emotions until the end?  There was also the scene of them hunting together which was the king's dream which leads me to doubt if he never truly loved the king at all.
The worst scene was when the king wanted to give him the stallion and waited for him until the next day and he told the king he was at the library "reading military strategies" when in fact he went after the queen and slept with her the whole night.  I felt he was asking for death then and was brave enough to stare death on the face.  At that moment, when he lied, I felt as if my heart was being gripped with the knowledge that the king knows he's being lied to and still maintaining a straight face when deep inside, he must have felt like dying.
I found the movie very interesting, moving and stimulating.  We would never truly know Hong Lim's heart and could only stipulate on the scenes on the movie.  I give this movie 8.5 out of 10 stars.

Review on Korean Movie: PORTRAIT OF BEAUTY (2008)

Title: Portrait of Beauty (2005)
Genre: Period Drama, Romance
Duration: 1hr 48mins
Directed by Jeon Yoon Soo
Kim Min Su as Shin Yun Bok
Kim Nam Gil as Kang Mu
Kim Yeong Ho as Kim Hong Do
Choo Ja Hyeon as Seol Hwa

Shin Yun Bok(Kim Min Su)keeps a tricky charade of posing as a man to maintain her status as a royal court painter under the tutelage of the master painter Kim Hong Do.  Although it was never explained why the father held a deep grudge against the master painter, he urged Shin Yun Bok to ensure that she learn everything from him and to later on surpass the master painter and utterly destroy him in the process. 
Kim Hong Do (Kim Yeong Ho) is a master painter who was greatly favoured by the king and was the envy of the other ministers.  He was so impressed by Shin Yun Bok's talent that he took her in as his apprentice even with the knowledge that her father might have planned to use her to ultimately destroy him.  Shin Yung Bok was so talented she becomes a royal painter after a year and is shown preference by the master painter which led the other painting students to hold a grudge against her and pick on her for being too effeminate and accuse her of sleeping with the master. 
Urged by her master to find her own style in painting, she started painting controversial scenes, including naked women, mating, dogs in heat, and other questionable paintings and stirred controversy in court.  In the process, she also begins her sexual awakening as she gradually falls in love with a street hustler, Kang Mu(Kim Nam Gil).  In his arms, she realized that she could give up everything just to be with him. 
Their love was bound to fail though as Kim Hong Do realized that he needed to posses Shin Yun Bok and needed more than her art.  He forced the two lovers to separate and forces Shin Yun Bok to stay at his side to save Kang Mu.  This led Seol Hwa, his courtesan lover, to be jealous of Shin Yun Bok and strived to make sure the two lovers would not be parted.  She the taunted Kim Hong Do, telling him where the two lovers are and his lack of knowledge of women and of love.  Kim Hong Do rushes to find his student, urging her to stay by his side but failing.  He then decided to force Kang Mu to abandon Shin Yun Bok.  Kim Hong Do shoots him with an arrow dipped in poison, promising to give the antidote if he would erase her from his memory, to leave and never return. Kang Mu however refuses the antidote, replying "I never loved her half-heartedly..." choosing death than abandoning Shin Yun Bok. 
It's a story of moving art, love, sexual awakening, obsessive jealousy, betrayal, sacrifice and regrets.
I found it hard to relate to the film due probably to high expectation set by the reviews I've read online as well as my connection to the drama series which led me to so much tears. Compared to the tv drama, I found the film trying too hard to show depth and failed to stir any deep connection with me as an audience.  I believe the movie was trying to do too much and failed to do an effective characterization and balancing of plots.  Perhaps, I also found the acting lacklustre compared to the excellent performance given by the cast of the tv series.  I found it hard to relate to the tragedy that befalls the main actors although I clearly understood their pains.  It even showed a scene when the young Shin Yun Bok first met the great master and was given her first brush which led a deep impression to the great master.  Later on, when she was presented by his father, the great painter showed that he recognized her but chose to keep her secret as well. 
Perhaps, I was expecting a deeper connection between the master and his pupil that goes beyond the usual but was bound for disappointment as it only showed master's lust for his student.  His emotions eventually became deep-seated jealousy and led him to kill someone.  It would have been a moving plot if only there was more care given to the character development.
The beginning of the film held so much promise but fell flat in the end.  I believe the movie tried to incorporate everything featured in the drama series which was a major flaw and led to the disappointing ending as it felt dry and lifeless.
I give this movie 4 out of 10 stars for the beautiful paintings, sceneries and steamy sex scenes which the film might be remembered by.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Review on Korean Drama: Painter of the Wind (2008)

Title: Painter of the Wind (2008)
Genre: Period Drama, Romance, Comedy
Duration: 20 episodes
Moon Geun Young as Shin Yoon Bok
Park Shin Yang as Kim Hong Do
Moon Chae Won as Jeong Hyang
Bae Soo Bin as King Jeong Jo
Lee Joon as Shin Young Bok

"What is a painting? Painting is the absence of someone or making you remember someone who is not there.  Painting is missing someone..."

In the beginning, it already gave me the expectation that it would not have a happy ending showing the painting of a woman and Kim Hong Do (Park Shin Yang) crying for the lady in the painting, talking about her as if she lives in his past. Kim Hong Do was a genius in painting, with a keen sense to details and so well-loved by the king that officials and painters envied him so much they schemed devious ways to send him away from the court.  He was sent to the mountains and was only allowed back to investigate the truth about the painting that made the queen so mad.

The woman in the painting is none other than his disciple, Shin Yoon Bok (Moon Geun Young) who was the daughter of Kim Hong Do's best friend.  It was believed that his best friend and his family were killed 10 years ago due to some big conspiracy that involves the legitimacy of the king.  When they were killed though, Yoon Bok was able to hide and evade being killed that night.
Yoon Bok was so talented that after her family was killed, she was adopted by one of the members of the Ministry of Painting, after seeing how talented she was in painting. He believed that with her genius in painting, she would be one of the royal painters someday and with this in mind, he adopted her.  He made her wear a man's clothes, and provided everything to develop her talent. At that time, women were not allowed to pursue the art of painting.  

To protect her and her identity, his brother, Shin Young Bok (Lee Joon) always followed her around making sure she's far from harm and from discovery.  Shin Young dared not confess his real feelings for her sister and preferred to exert all effort to support her and to make her happy even at the expense of his life.  To Young Bok, his adopted sister is simply "god".  He gave her unconditional and undying devotion, not sparing any thought for his well-being.  To save his sister, he would willingly lay his life for her, burying his feelings for her and watching her from a distance.

In the beginning, Kim Hong Do was  just so impressed with how talented Yoon Bok was that he could not bear to reveal that she was the one who was behind the painting that made the queen mad.  He could not bear to sacrifice losing her hand and so offered to have his hand destroyed in her stead.  He sent her away to protect her but realizing how her master would protect her, she decided to return and take the responsibility for painting the picture.  

Hearing her confess, Young Bok declared he was the culprit and begged to bear the full responsibility for the painting and to spare his sister.  Hong Do pleaded with the king, telling him that he could not bear to have this kind of talent go to waste that the king devised a plan to force the queen to cancel the harsh punishment. Instead, Shin Young Bok was sent to the place where they mixed paints.  Young Bok was more than happy to bear the consequences for his sister but Yoon Bok was distraught with guilt that her brother will suffer for her.  In her anguish, she also hit her hand with a big stone and lost her drive for painting.  

Hong Do had to carefully draw her out of the shell and make her want to paint again.  It started the journey for the master and disciple towards the pursuit of improving their craft and overcoming overwhelming odds.  Compared to the paintings at that time, both their paintings were lively-spirited, detailed and a lot were very controversial.  Shin Yoon Bok dared to confront the limits of society by painting women which were not allowed at that time.  It was believed that if they painted women, the painter would fall in love with the subject. She went to great lengths to portray every detail which made the paintings come to life and also which brought her to difficult situations for a couple of times.
After so much struggle and drama, Hong Do and Yoon Bok became the royal artists and were commissioned to paint the king's portrait to lift him to a new level. Yoon Bok was striving to please the king in the hopes that she would be able to ask the king to let his brother return to the ministry of painting to be able to paint again. Unfortunately, the paint (ink) to be used for the robe was jeopardized that Young Bok had to mix so much paint to be able to finish the king's portrait. Unbeknownst to Yoon Bok, his brother was poisoned due to mixing too much paint for her that he hallucinated and fell, dying instantly.  He visited her in her sleep and said his goodbye to her.  (This was where I started to cry...bawl was more like it)
Unable to accept his death, she tore the king's painting after hearing the ministers question the quality of the paint used in the portrait, calling it unfit and vulgar.  At that time, all paint to be used for the king's portrait had to be approved prior to being used.  This shocked everyone including the king and made him so furious he ordered to have her head cut.  

Hong Do knelt in front of the gate pleading for an audience with the king.  The king though was too angry he ignored the pleas.  Taunted by the other ministers on his sincerity for pleading for his disciple's life, he threw his precious hand into the fire to show and clamoured for the king to forgive her.  The king moved by the master's love for his disciple, decided to hear Hong Do's plea for her life. (I was just crying right when her brother fell until the final judgement was given. Longest I've cried for any scene. LOL)

This drama gave me so much pain.  I don't think I have ever cried that much for a drama it became ridiculous. I was crying even before the drama started and still crying even when the scene was no longer that dramatic. I just felt so much for the characters in the show. This show has superb cast and the leads were just awesome. 
I was initially disappointed and worried about the huuuuugeeee age gap between the leads.  I felt it would make the story awkward.  

Also, the parts wherein it showed Yoon Bok's confused towards the feelings she had for the Jeong Hyang (Moon Chae Won) made me cringe and I was almost wanted to literally grab her shoulders and stop her.  Being a genius, both artists had to struggle with so much specially Young Bok.  She was so passionate towards her art, so emotional that she unintentionally endangers everyone who loves her.    
I loved how they showed how the paintings were made and the passion the painters showed in creating their masterpieces that it actually made me want to paint...Unfortunately, painting never agreed with me.
I love his brother's selfless devotion to her, never sparing a thought for his well-being if it means Yoon Bok would be able to continue with her passion for painting.  It was an unrequited love until the end and the only consolation he got was a tearful hug he got from her when he gave her the paint that would ultimately lead to his untimely death.  Everything that Yoon Bok did that was careless was almost always because of her guilt for her brother's sacrifice.  I almost hated her for it because ultimately, Kim Hong Do would have to strive harder, offering his life in exchange for hers, time and time again.
It was evident that Hong Do loved Young Bok with his devotion and selfless offering to follow her wherever she may be.  For all the troubles she brought, she also breathes new life to his paintings and he begun to enjoy life again.   Unfortunately, in the end, all he had is the painting of her and forever be reminded of her absence and his pain.
Having seen so many Korean dramas, there are only a few actors who are able to bring so much emotion and character on screen without overdoing it.  A little quirk of the brow, a mischievous smile, expressive eyes...Moon Geun Young's acting was definitely excellent on this drama.  She brought so many emotions and so many expressions.  She really deserved to be the female protagonist for this drama.
This definitely would be one of my favourite dramas and a sure classic but I'm not sure I would recommend you to watch it unless you're prepared to shed buckets of tears.  Definitely 10 out of 10 stars for me.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Review on Japanese Drama: QUEEN'S CLASSROOM (2005)

Title: Queen's Classroom or Jyoou no Kyoushitsu (2005)
Genre: Drama
Duration: 11 episodes with 2 specials
Theme Song: Exile by Exit
Shida Mirai as Kanda Kazumi
Amami Yuki as Akutsu Maya
Fukuda Mayuko as Shindo Hikaru
Kaho as Kanda Yu
Matsukawa Naruki as Manabe Yusuke

It's the start of the new semester for the 12-year old Kanda Kazumi(Shida Mirai).  She was looking forward to making new friends and making a lot of memories of her last year in grade school. Although she's not so bright, she balances it by being cheerful and striving to make everyone like each other including her parents who seem to not really get along with each other very well, made obvious by their constant bickering whenever they are in the room together.  This year, Kazumi's class was assigned a teacher who has very rigid principles in her teachings and of life.  Akutsu Maya(Amami Yuki) values studying and intelligence above all else and believes that friendship and memories are trivial and non-essential. 

This comes a shock to Kazumi who wants nothing more than befriending everyone and enjoying her last year in grade school.  Adding to the pressure, her mom has been constantly nagging her to strive to get into a private high school which ultimately matches Maya's goal for her class. 
Maya comes to the class dressed in all black, hair pulled back, never smiles and shocks her class by showing just about how much she knows about them including their darkest secrets.  She gives much emphasis on studying that she does not even allow students to leave the room as soon as the class starts which causes Kazumi to get her second 0 in the exam and even worst, this ultimately leads her to pee on her pants.  The only reason she was allowed to leave class during exam is because her classmate, Shindo Hikaru(Fukuda Mayuko), one of the gifted ones, took pity on her and stood for Kazumi. 
Because of this outright defiance, Maya changes the rules to state that disobedient students will be the ones to do all the chores which are not limited to cleaning the classroom but other areas as well.  The students tried to get their parents to air their grievances however, this backfires as Maya wins them over to her side as most parents just want their kids to get high grades and get into private schools.  The principal and the vice principal also turns a blind eye to Maya's methodologies since they can only appreciate the so-called progress by Maya's class in terms of their lessons, their behavior towards teachers and their unceasing efforts to get into private schools.  To make matters worse, Maya also gets some students to spy for her since she anticipates that there would be students who would devise actions to defy her.  This creates more conflict in class and made it harder for students to trust their peers.
Kazumi, undaunted by the seeming helplessness of their case, strives to win her classmates over and struggles to prove Maya wrong with the help of 2 of her classmates.  However, Maya seems to always be two steps ahead of them, knowing everything they do and doing countermeasures to prevent them from achieving their goal. In the end, will the class unite and defeat Maya?  Will the class be able to make good memories before they graduate or will they just continue to live in hell?
I don't understand how some people could be unsatisfied with the ending to this drama.  I have seen shows with seemingly same plots with some varying twists (i.e. GTO,  Gokusen, etc) but this is the first show where I see the teacher who is excels in everything she does (including ballet and self-defense) but terrorizes and bullies her students to submission.  It is very evident though that the writer wanted, more than having a good show, to actually communicate a message in this show through the discussions during class. 
The reasons given behind Maya's outrageous methodologies makes one think twice whether she's wrong or not which I actually love most about this show.  I never grew to hate her character because however bad she was made to appear, it was obvious to me that she treats her job with much passion and dedication which can be easily misunderstood specially if she wants to be misunderstood. 
Maya talks about the 6% in society that is given special privileges that is beyond the imagination of the normal folks and applies the same principle in the class giving them their first taste of discrimination.  She continues that the reason why some people treat studying with nonchalance is because these people are sisies and cowards, refusing to aim for more because they fear failure thereby convincing themselves to aim for less and have more.  She bravely tackles about bullying and betrayal, which leads even the most indifferent student to participate in resolving the seemingly impossible class situation.  Her punishments include cleaning the gym, comfort rooms in school, shaming a person in front of the class, and the likes.  However, because of her unusual manner, it forces her students to re-evaluate themselves, to think on their own, meditate on their dreams and discover their strengths. 
At times, she is made to appear as the devil reincarnate but to me, she is just playing the devil's advocate.  However harsh the punishments are, if one is to evaluate objectively, you would understand that there may be a bigger picture than the one she presents.
For some reason, Kazumi seemed to always bear the brunt of Maya's ire but to her credit, she never once surrendered to Maya choosing to exert every effort to continue to trust and to win her classmates over. 
In the process, when everything was said and done, the parents finally clamouring to change the grade 6 teacher and board of education demanding her to resign, the students then realize the values that Maya has been inadvertently trying to teach them.  They realize that because they didn't want to lose to Maya, they have been improving themselves without even realizing it. 
In the end, it was revealed that Maya does not go to sleep in order to keep an eye on her students, to review their progress and to make sure that she is always prepared for her next class.  Her body ultimately gives up and she ends up in the hospital which is the first time she was portrayed as being human.
I could never be as passionate as she was about her job that she stays focused on her goal of improving her students no matter what the cost is to her which she achieves in the end at the cost of her job. 
This is definitely an "intelligent" drama and belongs to my top 10 list. I liked the characters in this drama and how it did not try to sugar-coat the harsh realities of life.  The show forced me to think objectively and to "open my eyes" (which is a fave phrase of Maya).
Queen's classroom gets 10 out of 10 for being an excellent show that is more than entertainment.