[REVIEW] Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds

Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds (Hangul: 신과함께-죄와 벌RRSin gwa Hamkke – Joe wa Beol; lit. “Together with God – Sin and Punishment”) is a 2017 South Korean action fantasy drama film directed by Kim Yong-hwa and based on a webtoon by Joo Ho-min, Along with the Gods. It stars Ha Jung-woo, Cha Tae-hyun, Ju Ji-hoon and Kim Hyang-gi.


First Impressions

I’ve seen my fair share of fantasy plots in Korean dramas, but I think this is the first time I’ve watched one in a Korean movie. Most Korean movies I’ve watched lean towards melodrama, and seem to have only one aim: make you cry buckets of tears.

Naturally, I was excited to see how this would pan out, especially since I was watching it just after the 2nd instalment had been released.

Story of the death of an ordinary firefighter named Kim Ja-hong (Cha Tae-hyun) and three grim reapers, Gang-rim (Ha Jung-woo), Haewonmak (Ju Ji-hoon) and Lee Deok-choon (Kim Hyang-gi) who escorts Ja-hong to the afterlife, where he will be assigned a public defender to represent him in 7 trials in 49 days to find out how he lived his life and where he ought to spend the rest of eternity.


The Good

Theme & plot – I’ve come to realize that dramas and movies based on web-toons are usually rather superior when it comes to the theme and plot.

Initially, you might be duped to think that this is going to be an ordinary, action-packed movie about a guy who’s trying to get reincarnated. As the movie progresses, you realize that something is not quite right – the journey is arduous, the defendant (Ja-Hong) seems to be not quite the angelic hero we once thought he was. Judgment after judgment, we began to understand the good intentions behind his deeds, but somehow it still feels a little uneasy, right?

That’s the beauty of the movie – showing all the imperfections in even the most heroic characters. Granted, it’s not a new theme, but you have to give props to the team for weaving these in so seamlessly. Plus, it’s not just one bad deed we are talking about here. It does make you wonder: is it any less heroic if our main lead is doing his best at work (firefighting) because he wants to earn money? Or is it deemed as filial piety because he sends the money home? Is it then a sin if he tries to kill his whole family (including himself) *gasps*, because he doesn’t want them to suffer?

There is no easy answer to all these questions raised, and no amount of humour provided by the characters seem to make the sobriety any lighter.

Character development – Naturally, our main lead Ja-hong’s character is well fleshed- out, and thanks to Cha Taehyun’s acting, it makes it easier for us to follow his train of thought along the plot that is, well, full of plot twists.

I don’t really feel much for the grim reapers, but I think that’s because that’s not much talked about them – yet. I expect that they will go into further detail in the 2nd instalment, so I’ll look forward to that.

There are 2 characters in particular that I wanted to highlight: Ja-Hong’s brother (Su-Hong, played by Kim Dong-Wook), and Private Won Dong-yeon (played by our favourite Kyungsoo from EXO). These two are listed as ‘supporting characters’, but are easily the showstoppers thanks to the character growth throughout the movie. One has to learn to let go of his anger and wrath; the other his cowardice and guilt.

I’m not going to give away too much here because I think this is a part that you have to watch for yourself in order to appreciate this scriptwriting brilliance, but if you have already watched this and know what I mean – well, you know what I mean haha.


The Bad

Lack of background regarding grim reapers: I know, I know, this comes in the 2nd instalment, but it really wouldn’t hurt to give a little more context. Actually, it’s not the grim reapers I’m curious about, but essentially everyone in Hell. I’m sure some of them have back stories that are worth exploring, that can help us understand a little more about why they make certain judgments, but nope, not covered in the movie at all.


 Final Verdict

This is one movie that I regretted not catching in cinemas, because it’s one heck of a ride that I would have definitely enjoyed on the big screen.

AWTG is a movie that’s well-received, and for good reason. I’m glad that they didn’t go overboard with the emotional scenes, and didn’t miss the opportunity to create a thought-provoking piece with no lack of funny scenes. It’s a great blend of humour and sadness; sin and virtue. I’m definitely putting this at the top of my Korean movie favourites.


Rating

Plot: ✮✮✮✮✮
Cast: ✮✮✮✮
Cinematography: ✮✮✮✮
Pace: ✮✮✮✮
OST: ✮✮✮

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Top 5 K-Dramas in 2018

2018 was one hectic year, but that didn’t stop me from getting my necessary dose of K-drama 😂 Find out which ones truly caught my eye!


5/ Are You Human?

This drama had sooo much going for it with such a brilliant plot, but as with most dramas, they lost it somewhere and had an ending that made me want to puke blood. Another problem is that I generally did enjoy the show, but purely because of Seo Kang Joon’s acting. Everyone else just fell a bit flat for being too extreme, in my opinion. Nonetheless, still a show that I did manage to watch till the end (a tough feat).


4/ What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim

To be honest, I enjoyed this romcom a lot more than I should, so it’s kind of like my guilty indulgence. Not a very strong plot, went haywire at some parts, but I love our leads’ chemistry. Plus, Park Seo Joon always kills it at such roles in romcoms, so I have to give it to him for his talent. Bonus points for having a very strong line-up of supporting characters.


3/ Suits

I did not watch this because I was a fan of the original American series, but I had to say that the Korean version was really a work of art. The actors were all outstanding, and I gotta give it to the scriptwriter and director for managing to squeeze so much into one season without overlooking/diluting the plot. So, so amazing.


2/ My ID is Gangnam Beauty

 

I know you might be thinking, “I bet you put this as no.2 because Cha Eun Woo“. Good-looking cast aside, I admire this show for tackling an issue that can be very difficult to talk about. We all know plastic surgery is prevalent in South Korea, but to have a drama that directly talks about the people who underwent the knife? Now that is something really new. I don’t really love Cha Eun Woo’s awkward acting that much, but I do love the OST and the plot, which firmly plants it in my top 5 list.


1/ Thirty but Seventeen

Why does this poster resemble the one above so much? HAHA.

In any case, this was one of my fav fav fav K-dramas of all time this year. I think I finished this in just one week, or less than that? It’s honestly that good. That’s little to nitpick about, except for certain parts where they fall back on our usual K-drama tropes, but nothing so bad that it throws you off.

If there’s only one K-drama from 2018 to catch, it’s definitely this!


I’m looking forward to watching more fantastic K-dramas in 2019 ~ Also big thank you to my readers, thank you for sticking around and taking time to read my reviews 🙂 See you in 2019!

[REVIEW] Thirty But Seventeen / Still 17

Still 17 (Hangul: 서른이지만 열일곱입니다RRSeoreunijiman Yeolilgobibmida; lit. Thirty But Seventeen) is a South Korean television series starring Shin Hye-sun, Yang Se-jong and Ahn Hyo-seop. It aired on SBS’s Mondays and Tuesdays at 22:00 (KST) time slot from July 23 to September 18, 2018 for 32 episodes.


First Impressions

I was actually recommended this drama, if not I probably wouldn’t have known about it. I did like the actor line-up here: Yang Se-jong was great in Temperature Of Love (I just didn’t like the draggy plot much), and I do recall watching Shin Hye-Sun’s other shows before.

The premise seemed quite promising, but also prone to using common K-drama tropes:

Gong Woo-jin (Yang Se-jong) is a 30-year-old single man who works as a set designer. Due to a trauma he experienced 13 years ago, he does not want to have a relationship with others. When Woo Seo-ri (Shin Hye-sun) was 17, she fell into a coma. Thirteen years later, she wakes up from her coma. Her mental age is still that of a 17-year-old, but she is now 30-years-old. Gong Woo-jin and Woo Seo-ri get involved with each other and fall in love.


The Good

Cast – I don’t know if it’s just me, but the K-dramas I’ve watched these days are all on a roll when it comes to casting. They’re not skipping out on talented actors, and they know exactly where these talents belong in the drama.

Shin Hye-sun (SHS)’s role was possibly my favourite character in the drama. She definitely did look the part of a 30-year-old, but what made her truly outstanding was her performance as a 17 y/o at heart. She doesn’t stoop to being ‘childish’ in order to show that she can’t identify with being an adult; instead, she skilfully shows how her character is stuck in her past memory, still believes in the good of other people, and grows to become the adult she is forced to be. I really liked her acting: very natural, very emotional, and very moving.

Yang Se-jong (YSJ) was another gem in this drama. Granted, his role was the typical ‘tsundere’ that took time to warm up to other people, but he showed a solid performance through his character’s evolution. I quite dislike how some actors try too hard to put up a cold front for roles like this, but YSJ does it beautifully. He doesn’t even look like he’s acting tbh, like he’s always guarded and couldn’t care less about what you think about him.

Just look at that getup LOL

Other actors also deserve special applause for bringing life to this drama, in particular Ye Ji-won (who acted as Jennifer). I’m sure many of us shed a tear while watching her emotional performance in the last few episodes, a drastic change from her usual robotic front.

Ahn Hyo-seop (AHS) had such an adorable role that no one could really pick on, and I’m glad that the team gave his role much more substance than just ‘the happy-go-lucky 2nd male lead’. Although we do feel bad that his first love wasn’t reciprocated, we feel better knowing that he will do fine because, well, his mantra is “Don’t think, feel!”.

Plot – It took so many episodes before our main characters finally accepted each other that I could probably fall asleep, but it’s not a bad thing!

Despite the fact that they knew each other from years back, the drama chooses to focus on how they have to grow and learn as individuals, from each other, from the people around them, before they can accept each other. It is really beautiful to watch, and when it finally happens, you know they truly deserve all that happiness.

Someone pointed out that even though YSJ’s character was 30, he was always stuck in the past because of his guilt, and never learned to move on from there. That technically makes him the same as SHS’s character. The difference is that SHS’s character was thrown into the deep end when she woke up and found herself in a world so, so foreign, that she had to learn to grow up quicker than YSJ, who was sheltered by his family. It’s a very interesting concept that you should look back on, and also one that is not very common in dramas with similar plots.


The Bad

The typical K-drama stuff: Knew each other from childhood? Check. Having certain problems resolve too easily? Check.

It seems like even some of the best, most well-written K-dramas can’t escape from using plot shortcuts in order to make the story flow, and get things going faster. It’s a bit of a pity, but I wouldn’t say that it made for a very terrible watching experience.


 Final Verdict

I would classify this as a feel-good show, but it’s clearly a lot deeper than that.

I’ll leave a quote from YJW’s character that sums up my feelings about this wonderful production:

“Even if you want to slow it down, even if you want to make it go faster, time simply goes by at its pace. Those painful times that make you feel like you just want to die will all pass one day. One day you’ll never remember the painful memories that seemed like they would never go away. Time will pass on its own. If you avoid it even before it does. the really important things will get swept away with time. By the time you regret it, it would’ve been too late.”


Rating

Plot: ✮✮✮✮✮
Cast: ✮✮✮✮✮
Cinematography: ✮✮✮✮✮
Pace: ✮✮✮✮
OST: ✮✮✮

[REVIEW] Suits

Suits (Hangul: 슈츠; RR: Shucheu) is a South Korean television series starring Jang Dong-gun and Park Hyung-sik. The drama is based on the American television series of the same name by Aaron Korsh. It aired on KBS2 starting April 25, 2018 on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 22:00 (KST) for 16 episodes.


First Impressions

I have been waiting for some time for Hyung-sik to come back with a good production, and immediately got excited when I heard that he would be acting in the Korean remake of Suits with Jang Dong-gun.

As a heads-up, I’ve never watched the original Suits, though I’ve heard bits about it, so I can’t really give feedback about whether the Korean version did justice/is worse/is better than the American one. But I consider that an advantage of sorts, since I have no bias nor expectation of how the show should flow.


The Good

Cast – All. So. Outstanding.

Okay frankly, I had a minor issue with Ko Sung-hee’s Ji-na, because she didn’t seem as naturally in-role as the other actors, but generally she was fine. She’s not a bad actress, just not exactly the perfect fit.

Park Hyung-sik and Jang Dong-geun though – just wow. These two actors had never worked before (not to my knowledge), but the bromance is definitely strong in this pair. Hyung-sik had no problem as a hardworking genius (albeit very cocky), and JDG was just suave from start to finish. I think PHS is clearly a very talented actor, but JDG really shows how experienced he is when he pays attention to tiny actions and details. They really made it feel like I was enjoying a movie rather than a drama, which is not something I’ve experienced since Goblin? I think. Someone really needs to bring these two actors together again in another production. I won’t say they carried the show because it discredits the rest of the cast, but they were the ones that truly breathed the life into this drama. I honestly can’t imagine anyone else being casted for their roles.

Mentee or replica?

 

 Plot – I’ve heard about how the original Suits has 7 seasons, and apparently they kinda crammed it into 16 episodes for the Korean one – please correct me if I’m wrong. But for all that cramming, I truly enjoyed how fast-paced the drama was. Every episode was well-timed, exciting, and truly kept me on my seat from start to end. You know how some K-dramas just drag some of the episodes out with nothing happening except like some petty squabble? You’ll have none of it here in Suits. I don’t know if I was the only one, but every episode felt like part of a long, continuous movie to me. That is exactly how tight the plot is.

There’s one thing I really, really want to highlight – the ending. I know, very typical that bad guys get their desserts served by the end of the show. But for the main lead to get the punishment he deserves too? Hold up right there. I was actually a bit shocked at how it went because K-drama scriptwriters are so good at wriggling the leads out of sticky situations (looking right at you DOTS) that I think it’s one of the rare few times I ever saw the male lead going to jail and not getting the glorified hero’s welcome. Actually, it’s probably the only time.

OST – Do check out VROMANCE’s Now, one of my favourite songs in this drama’s OST. I think it really encapsulates the drama by prompting action and tense emotions, which adds to the intensity of every episode.


The Bad

It’s one of those rare few reviews where I can’t pick any faults out.

If I had to be nit-picky, like really nit-picky, I would probably choose some of the bad guys as being – well, too stereotypical. I feel like they are very typical K-drama antagonists – downright evil, cunning, hates on the good guys so much that you wonder why. However, one saving grace is Geun-sik. Throughout the show, he’s portrayed as this annoying character who keeps trying to thwart the good guys, but you realize in the end that he’s just like any other ambitious (but sadly, severely lacking) person who wants recognition and to be on an equal footing as his colleague. I know this trope is has been used before (think Harry Potter), but it’s still uncommon in K-dramaland, so I’ll give this a thumbs-up for the effort made.

Definitely harmless.


 Final Verdict

I know the fact that it’s a legal drama can throw some people off with the misconception that it’s going to be boring, but that frankly does no justice to the fantastic plot and cast strung together by this production team. Even if you are watching this having watched the American one, I suggest to put aside your prejudices so that you can better enjoy this show for what it simply is – a masterpiece.

Anyone knows if a 2nd season might be in the works? 👀


Rating

Plot: ✮✮✮✮✮
Cast: ✮✮✮✮✮
Cinematography: ✮✮✮✮✮
Pace: ✮✮✮✮✮
OST: ✮✮✮✮✮

[REVIEW] 몬스타엑스 (MONSTA X) – 하얀소녀 (White Love)

Recently I’ve been listening to many songs & artistes outside of my usual music playlist, which is fantastic because I actually find many gems.

I had listened to MONSTA X’s songs before and loved a few of them, but never really got around to listening to more of their songs. I’m not sure what inspired me, but I got back to listening to their recent releases and actually discovered a few songs that really got me hooked. White Love (from [EP] THE CLAN pt. 2 ‘GUILTY’) is one of these songs that I found myself replaying every day ~

While the title is admittedly very controversial (it literally translates to ‘White Girl’, and not exactly ‘White Love’), it actually refers to a girl that is pure and not fair-skinned.

The tune is very catchy and definitely invokes images of a white (snowy) Christmas. The lyrics, on the other hand, are very straightforward: the unrequited love of a guy for a pure girl. If you don’t understand Korean it would be nice to just listen to the song, but reading the lyrics may make you cringe a tiny bit:

White girl I hope that you love me
White girl I wanna love your heart
White girl I hope that you adore me
White girl you are a pretty girl

Frankly, I love the vocals a lot, and it’s even more impressive that even the rappers are singing in this ballad. The MV is very nicely filmed – can I also just say that I love this pastel hue that’s been frequently seen in K-pop MVs these days? It softens the look and gives the song a nuance that comes with ‘rose-tinted’ videos.

At 2.1 million views, I think this song definitely deserves more people listening to it, so go give it a try if you haven’t!


Rating

Melody: ✮✮✮✮✮
Lyrics: ✮✮✮
MV: ✮✮✮✮
Longevity: ✮✮✮✮

[PD101 Season 2] 5 Most Memorable Performances

I finally got around to watching Produce 101 last December (yes, I’m always extremely late to the game), and I’ve honestly never felt so emotional watching a reality show. Before I actually watched it, I had already listened to Wanna One’s songs and loved them, so I thought I wouldn’t be too emotionally attached to the other contestants.

I WAS WRONG.

That being said, I do have a few favourite performances from the show, some of which are so good that I keep going back to watch and listen. I’m still in awe of how professional they are despite the fact that they are only trainees who have yet to debut. Here is a list of my top 5 favourite performances.


Downpour

(Hyunbin, Jisung, Jaehwan, Sungwoon, Minhyun)

Downpour is my favourite I.O.I song, and having these amazing vocals sing it live easily made this performance one of my favourites. Of course, it also helps that it hits you right in the feels when you look at Jisung encouraging Hyunbin (who bravely took on the vocal challenge) gently from the side. Coupled with Jaehwan’s stable high notes and a perfect blend of harmonies from all 5, there’s no way you wouldn’t love this performance.


Sorry Sorry

(Hyunbin, Daniel, Seongwoo, Jonghyun, Jaehwan, Minhyun)

Taking on this legendary K-pop song takes a lot of bravery, and this team definitely doesn’t shy away from it. This team is a fantastic combination of some of the best vocals, rappers, and dancers (maybe except Hyunbin, who is a real klutz) in Produce 101, and is one of the best Sorry Sorry covers that I’ve ever heard.


Be Mine

(Hoe Seung, Kim Chan, Hee Soo, Ji Han, Jae Woo, Ye Hyeon)

I honestly hoped that this team would win – reality, however, was that the team with more popular members won. Admittedly, I’m not familiar with all members of the team, but Hoe Seung really shone in this performance. He even reminded me (and a lot of other viewers) of Nam Woohyun, the main vocalist of INFINITE, with his stable high notes and humour off-stage. With such a powerful interpretation of an INFINITE classic, I can only lament that it’s a huge pity that none of them made it to the final 11.


Amazing Kiss

(Heeseok, Gunhwi, Dongsu, Seongheok)

In this vocal evaluation, a team that had to cover BoA’s Amazing Kiss seemed destined for failure. It didn’t help that Heeseok made an error at the beginning, but they more than made up for it by delivering a performance that earned them the most votes that day, despite not being in the list of popular contestants. Again, a true pity that despite having shown how talented they can be, none of them made the final cut.


Never

(Minhyun, Jaewan, Seongwoo, Woojin, Jonghyun, Daehwi, Guanlin)

While watching this performance, the trainers were full of praise, saying that this group looked ready to debut, and they weren’t exaggerating. Slick dance moves, impeccable vocals, precise rap, and many dashing faces – which idol group could get better than this? The irony about this is that Jonghyun, despite his stellar performance here, was surprisingly left out of the final 11.

 

[REVIEW] WANNA ONE – 1-1=0 (Nothing Without You)

Wanna One (워너원) – 1-1=0 (NOTHING WITHOUT YOU)

Release Date: 2017.11.13
Genre: Ballad, Dance
Language: Korean

Track List:
01. Nothing Without You (Intro.)
02. Beautiful *Title
03. 갖고 싶어
04. Twilight
05. 활활 (Burn It Up) (Prequel Remix)
06. 에너제틱 (Energetic) (Prequel Remix)
07. Wanna Be (My Baby)
08. 에너제틱 (Energetic)
09. 활활 (Burn It Up)
10. To Be One (Outro.)
11. Wanna Be (My Baby) (Premier Show-con Live Ver.)

I’ve been meaning to review this for some time after I bought the album, but never actually got down to doing it. I’m in fact still watching backlogged episodes of Produce 101 Season 2, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying Wanna One’s music.

The intro, Nothing Without You, is so good that it honestly deserves to be much longer. I am frankly very disappointed whenever it ends so quickly because it has a lot of potential to be developed into a longer track. The great harmonization in the intro is also a great transition to the title track, Beautiful. It’s a lovely and catchy ballad that really sticks in your mind. Personally, I really liked this track the best out of all the songs on the album. It’s a nice change from their previously sunny and energetic (haha) dance tracks on their first album and really shows how versatile this group can be.

There aren’t really many B-side tracks on this album, but my favourite one is probably Twilight. Do keep an ear out for it!

Some of the other songs (Energetic and Burn It Up) on the album are not totally unfamiliar to fans or listeners familiar with Wanna One, but their remix versions are fresh to the ears, especially after you have replayed the original versions a little way too often.

I would say that this album is a great listen from start to finish, which is often the case with albums putting in B-side tracks which sound like fillers. My only gripe (?), or rather wish, is that they had put out more original songs, instead of remixes. Fans would definitely want to hear a lot more fresh content from a group that’s contractually bound to disband this December, right?


Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Buy the album here on iTunes.