IRIS

Oh my! First, I have to say that LOVE spy shows so of course this show attracted my interest. Plus it has BIGBANG’s T.O.P. in it, which is another way it was brought to my attention. And while I knew it was very popular when it aired, it was even better than expected. I finished the 20 episodes in about a week.

It’s hard to say much about it without giving something away, but IRIS really seemed to have everything. Terrorist, betrayal, love, secrets, friendship. The plot centers around the National Security Service, which is a black-ops anti-terrorism group in South Korea, and another group called IRIS, which is trying to prevent talks between North Korea and South Korea. The series covers two years and involves several twists and turns.

One thing I really liked about this series is that some of North Korean characters turn out to be “good guys” and I found myself rooting for them. Few characters in this one were cut-and-dry. There were lots of questions left unanswered and I wasn’t crazy about the ending, although I thought it was realistic given the plot line of the show.

I have to say that after this one, I think I have a new favorite male character. Kim Hyun Joon (played by actor Lee Byung Hun) is one of the main characters and I just loved him. He was loyal, loved deeply, truly believed in those he loved, smart, and sexy. He just might be my favorite K-drama male character of all time (and we’ve watched a lot of dramas over the last three years), but Kang Ji Hwan still remains my favorite actor.

From what I’ve read, they are planning a second season of IRIS. A spin-off titled “Athena: Goddess of War” aired from December 2010 to February 2011, but I have seen mention that a true season two of IRIS will begin airing in October 2011. So I’ll have to keep following this news and hopefully enjoy another season, one in which some of those questions get answered.

 

Princess Hours

Many are aflutter today over the marriage of Britain’s Prince William to Kate Middleton. While 30 years ago, the marriage of Diana and Prince Charles was so high on my agenda that I got up at 3 a.m. to watch, I must admit that I just caught the highlights of William and Kate’s wedding on the morning shows. But the whole royal hysteria got me thinking about a Korean drama.

Princess Hours cast (from Wikipedia)

There are many K-dramas about Korean royalty, most of them from a historical perspective. But Princess Hours (aka, 궁 or Goong) is different; it’s set in modern-day but in an alternate reality in which Korea’s royal family regained the throne upon the country’s liberation in 1945. The plot centers around Crown Prince Lee Shin and the woman who is set to be bride, Chae-kyeong.

The series begins with Lee Shin and Chae-kyeong being in high school together. When the king becomes ill it’s imperative for the Crown Prince to marry, which sets off the wild story that brings the two students together. Along the way, we learn of the Crown Prince’s brother who with his mother left the palace many years ago on order of the king. And a wild subplot begins to emerge.

We have yet to make it through this whole series. While we love that our library has so many K-dramas, the one drawback is having to return a series before you’re finished. That’s what happened with this one. But the parts we saw were so interesting that I want to see the rest.

So on this day filled with a royal wedding consider watching Princess Hours and what Korea could be like today if the royal line had been reinstated.

Something Happened in Bali

For those who are confused, no, I’ve not been to Bali or had anything happen there. It’s the title of the K-drama that my husband and I are currently watching. In Korean the title is 발리에서 생긴 일 or you might also find it listed as What Happened in Bali or Memories in Bali.

Here’s a short synopsis:
– Jae-Min, a young executive in the family business, is engaged to Young-Joo, a young socialite, but interested in Soo-Jung, an orphan from a working class family
– Young-Joo wants to be with In-Wook, whom she met and dated in college
– In-Wook, a working class guy who’s an up-and-comer in Jae-Min’s company, is falling for Soo-Jung
– And Soo-Jung, as of episode 14, doesn’t really know what she wants except for her life to be less hard.

Complicated? Yes. Confusing? Yep. But oh so good! We’ve got five episodes left to watch and while I’m pretty sure I know where it’s going, you just never know. This is funny and touching and depressing, sometimes all in the same episode.

As with most of our K-drama selections, we decided on this one because we found it on the shelf at our local library. I do have a list of dramas I’d like to see, but it’s easier to just go with what we find. And usually we’re not disappointed.

And there’s a language bonus with this one, if you’re studying Korean. Since there are so many different social statuses portrayed, as well as a variety of relationships and ages, you’ll get to hear all levels of honorifics spoken throughout the series. Also as some of the characters move from acquaintances to friends, you’ll see how the level of speaking changes.
Maybe it’s geeky, but I like hearing the same phrase spoken using different honorifics depending on the situation or person being spoken too. It gives me a better understanding of when and how the language changes.

Hong Gil Dong, the series

If you just say  Hong Gil Dong, it can mean a lot of things: the legend himself, the adult fiction book about the legend, children’s books, or even a feature film. But this post is about the K-drama, which was shown on KBS2 in 2008.

Hong Gil Dong, for those not familiar, is like the Korean version of Robin Hood. The illegitimate son of a government official, he’s not able to attain much in way of status given the situation of his birth. But eventually Gil Dong decides to face the injustices of the Korean society and do what he can to right things.

Although the Hong Gil Dong series is set as a historical drama, it has several modern elements too (a lot like the movie A Knight’s Tale, starring Heath Ledger), including modern music and dancing. It’s made up of 24 one-hour long episodes.

The subject interested me anyway, but I had to see this one because it stars Kang Ji Hwan, one of my favorite Korean actors. The series has action and romance, and I really enjoyed it. But, while I don’t want to give much away, the series ending left me a little confused and wanting more. Of course, that could be because I have to rely on subtitles to understand fully what’s going on and sometimes things are lost in translation. Still I would recommend checking this one out.

Update: The Grand Chef

So not long after posting about The Grand Chef on July 9, we were able to get the series from the library. And I can’t recommend it enough. It’s now one of our favorites.

Also sometimes titled, Gourmet, The Grand Chef, or 식객 (Sik Gaek) in Korean, focuses on the competitive relationship of boys who have spent the last several years being brothers. Sung Chan came to live with owners of the restaurant, Unamjang, after his father died. When inheriting the restaurant is at stake, he and his brother Bong Joo become very competitive, but not always fairly.

As I suspected, I loved that this series focused on the male leads, especially Sung Chan. This character is someone you’d love your boys to aspire to be like. No matter how much the other side cheats or tries to undermine him, he rises above and does the right thing. He’s compassionate, caring, and goes out of his way to help others.

Another bonus is that Sung Chan travels around the country and as you journey with him, you’ll see the gorgeous scenery of Korea. Of course, this is another food series so if you love Korean food be prepared to be hungry as you watch it.

Just Do It

This movie, released in 2000, is a zany comedy about an insurance scam. When one member of a family that’s down on its luck is injured, the family finds a gold mine. Or so they think. Soon every member of the family is “getting” injured and the money is rolling in.

Slightly bizarre, yet funny. My husband and I enjoyed this one.

Chunhyang

OK, here’s your chance to experience pansori, which was the subject of yesterday’s post. The movie Chunhyang, which was released in 2000, is based on Chunhyangga (a traditional Korean legend). The story, which is set in Korea in the 1700s, is narrated using pansori.

Here’s the plot: Chunyang, the daughter of a former courtesan, secretly marries Mongryong, who is the son of a governor. After the marriage, Mongryong is ordered to finish his education in Seoul, forcing him to leave behind his bride. While he’s gone, the new provincial governor becomes enamored with Chunhyang and makes advances toward her. Chunhyang remains true to her husband, even though it means suffering torture, imprisonment, and facing death.

If you read many reviews of this one, you’ll find them mixed. Some viewers can’t get past the “wailing” of the narrator. But if you can, this is a lovely story of commitment and a chance to experience some traditional Korean culture. One warning though, the movie does have some nudity after the couple are married as they are consummating their relationship.