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Jikjangui Shin (2013)
Enjoyable office comedy/romance/farce with a more serious backdrop
One of my non-mainstream (being neither Asian nor living there) TV pleasures is Korean dramas - I first got hooked on the historic costume dramas (e.g. Jumong and Emperor of the Sea) about 10 years ago, and more recently have also started watching some of the contemporary ones. The local K-TV cable channel recently ran The Queen of Office (sic), a Korean adaptation of the 2007 Japanese drama "Pride of the Temp" in a late-night time slot. It's a funny, enjoyable office comedy/romance/farce, but with a serious tale of the rise of a 2-tier workforce as a backdrop. Here is the title-sequence narration:
"It's been 16 years since the Asian financial crisis. Korea now has 8 million contract workers. South Koreans' foremost dream is no longer national reunification. It is getting a permanent position. While everyone else yearns for a permanent position, there is someone who has consciously opted to be a contract worker. Ms. Kim is Korea's first ever contract worker by choice. Ms. Kim never works for free. She doesn't forge cumbersome interpersonal ties. After her three-month contract period, she always leaves Korea. But no one knows how she's come to call herself "Ms. Kim" and chosen to be a serial contract worker."
First, some comments about the more serious job-market backdrop for the series. In this fictional play, Ms. Kim does the exact opposite of what at-will employment for low pay and zero job-security or prospects of advancement generally results in - she manages to amass the kinds of experience in each 3-month stint which normally requires decades of work at a job and the kind of dedication that results from employer/employee reciprocity, the latter being a near-extinct beast in the modern 'globalized' jobs landscape. But the series does a good job conveying the financial/employment-parlousness suffered by Ms. Kim's less-exceptional fellow contract workers. The popular Naked Capitalism blog, whose motto is "Fearless commentary on finance, economics, politics and power", refers to the ever-increasing number of workers who have seen what were formerly steady jobs with decent benefits replaced by low-paid, at-will, benefit-less contract positions as "the precariat", in reference to the precariousness of their employment and, as a result, their lives in general. We can thank the global neoliberal-economic project for this trend. Is it any wonder that the world is seeing - belatedly, to be sure - a large-scale backlash against this elite-greed-driven system, in the form of things like Brexit and the rise of populist and anti-globalization political figures such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the U.S. and Marine Le Pen in France?
But, back to the merits of the TV series - because of the strong element of farce in the series, viewers expecting any form of plausibility in the relationship between the two lead characters, Ms. Kim (Kim Hye-Su) and the curly-perm-sporting chauvinist Jang Gyujik (Oh Ji-Ho, who many fans of Korean drama will be familiar with by way of his more recent serious turn in the heartrending 2016 family drama My Fair Lady, and whose character name here is a pun on the Korean phrase for "permanent employee"). Nevertheless the writers manage to balance the comedy with a slower-developing long story arc about a deeper hidden connection shared by the two leads. There are also fine performances by the supporting cast, most notably in form of the characters Mr. Mu (Lee Hee-Jun), Gyujik's extremely-reserved longtime colleague and friend at Y Jang Food Company, and Jang Ju-Ri (Jung Yu-Mi), a young female contract worker from a second-tier university hired around the same time as Ms. Kim, but whose situation more realistically depicts the lot of the temp-worker. My personal favorite episode is the one in which Ms. Kim, Gyujik and Mr. Mu are dispatched to appear in a role-playing exercise for the benefit of an audience of young schoolchildren at the nearby Soybean Paste Academy, wherein Mr. Rice Straw has an unfortunate run-in with Ms. Lump of Raw Bean Paste, and hilarity ensues. I rate this show 8/10, more on the strength of its strong physical-comedy aspects than its character relationships and dramatic aspects.
Fine Korean Costume Drama
I became addicted to this fine Korean drama series in the late spring of 2007, when I got sick of paying my cable company over $50 a month for premium service and switched back to the Limited Basic package for less than $20/month. As a result I was forced to look through some of the foreign-language-network offerings, and lo and behold, found this gem of a quasi-historical Korean epic costume drama on AZN.
Now admittedly, there is a fair bit of pretty silly stuff going on in this series (see the Minuses section below), but the good far outweighs the bad. I especially like the humorous character vignettes, for instance the Iron Chamber master Mo Palmo always cracks me up. :)
- Gorgeous costumes;
- Good acting, especially from the actors who play the following characters:
* Emperor Kumwa - The MacBeth of Jumong; carries much of the first 50 episodes of the show. Watching the actor who plays him, I can't help being reminded a little bit of Toshiro Mifune.
* Prime Minister Unavoidable - with a name like that, how can you not like this guy?
* Sorceress Yeo Mieul (I admit she took a while to grow on me)
* Sosuhno - Love those take-charge gals who can do it without being nasty
* Prince Taeso - Every great drama needs a quality bad guy, and the conflicted Taeso is a worthy foil to Jumong.
* Prince Youngpo - The feckless prince #2. I love it when he does his "evil scheming" face. :D
* Keru Troop Chief Yuntabal - Like the name says, this guy has major, um, guts, I love it when he (literally) laughs in the face of the bad guys. Also just plain a fine dramatic actor.
* Oi, Mari, Hyoppo: Jumong's 3 Musketeers. Especially like the "forbidden love" subplot involving tough-guy Hyoppo and someone from Sosuhno's Keru troop. The later addition of the reformed bandits as their 3 counterparts and oft-times rivals makes for a great ongoing source of tension and humor.
* Mo Palmo and his friend, the chief of the Guards - absolutely hilarious pair, they're like the Laurel and Hardy of Korean Costume drama.
- Gorgeous Women (I'm a guy, so I admit I was looking more at the ladies ;): Sosuhno, Ye Soya, Buyong and Lady Yuhwa are all major hotties. Even the bad girls have their moments. :) And did I mention the costumes?
- Jumong: I know I'm probably going to catch a lot of flak for his, but Song Il-Guk's portrayal just lacks something. Perhaps this is partly the fault of the series writers, but it's just not as convincing as it should be.
- Too many royal people sitting at fancy carved tables doing nothing at the start of scenes - I mean, don't these people read, or do needlework, or paint, or play board games? A missed opportunity for adding depth and texture to the series.
- Fight scenes way too unrealistic (at least for my taste) - OK, I realize you probably can't have severed heads, limbs and guts flying around without alienating a large part of the audience, but could we maybe occasionally have a little *blood*? (And not just a dab on the tip of some guy's sword). And, all these good guys fighting brutal battles and coming out without a scratch? (except for "designated manly upper arm wound guy".) Or even breaking a sweat...
But as I said, the negatives are far outweighed by the good stuff - unless you're the kind of person who insists on "realism" (whatever that means) in all aspects of a show.
All in all, excellent entertainment for the whole family - highly recommended. 8/10
Nature Unleashed: Tornado (2005)
And you thought "Roma" were the kind of tomatoes to hurl at this one...
The movie opens with a stupid guy chaining himself to a not-so-sturdy backyard appliance so he can make a home-movie doco of a CGI tornado roaring by without getting blown away himself. The winds are clearly blowing his hair *sideways*, yet he's magically getting pulled straight *upwards* (clue numero uno that this movie is gonna suck bigtime ... as if it being a "SciFi original" Saturday Nite feature wasn't a big enough tip-off). Suddenly, a shot rang out. The wife screamed. The family dog peed on the rug. And Mr. Tornado Paparazzo gets his chain yanked and gets sucked into the whirling vortex of suckiness that is this movie.
Next, we cut to a scene in which his now grown-up son is himself a professional photog, covering some completely-out-of-left-field story about Gypsies (whoops, sorry, the PC term is "The Roma") being victims of discrimination in ... New Jersey. Thus completely sending the What-the-F***-o-Meter off the scale. And unbelievable as it might seem, the movie (and I use the term very, very loosely) manages to go downhill from there.
Perhaps the only remotely interesting thing about this bizarre mishmash of the meteorological and Roma-nesque is that it stars Swiss hunk-o-cheese Daniel Bernhardt, who played Agent Johnson in The Matrix Reloaded (2003), but who is much better known to Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans for his brilliant portrayal of The Runaway karate-foo guy in Future War. ("Well, it's not really the Future and we didn't have the budget to do a War, but we did rent a whole bunch of these empty cardboard boxes for Dan to get thrown through during the fight scenes...") Wow - if I could give this one negative stars (Note to IMDb - we need black holes!) I would. About the only not-explicitly-bad thing I can say about this one is: it's a worthy sequel to "Fire: Nature Unleashed (2004)." (Well, it's not really worthy, and it's not really a sequel, but the titles *are* similar.)