Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mindless Dribble

Back home in the States, I think I tended to watch lots of procedural television shows, like "House" and "Law and Order." For story-related programming, I liked shows with action or drama, like "True Blood," "Boardwalk Empire," "Nikita," and the like. (I'm racking my brain to think of shows right now, and those were all the ones that popped up. I'm tired.)

Here in Korea, possibly because of the language barrier (dramatic shows tend to be harder to understand, since they have ridiculous plots that involve suing conglomerates, children switched at birth, and all sorts of legal entanglements), I like comedies, reality shows, talk shows, and romantic comedies. They are easier to understand, for me, and they have the added bonus of pop-ups. Koreans love them some pop-ups.

One of the shows that I watched even in LA (my parents watch Korean TV) was "Infinite Challenge (무한도전)." It's amusing because it's a reality show about six hapless guys that are put to various challenges (they aren't really naturally good at anything- they're mostly comedians, and mostly comic relief). I've seen them try to learn to ride a bobsled, walk on a rope hung over muddy water, race F1 cars, and so on. For the past several months, they've been learning to row, to compete in a regatta that takes place in Korea between different international universities. It was the longest challenge that they're ever tried (five months of training, I think?), and the guys really worked hard (though whining all the while). Fun and totally different from the typical American reality show.

This show is somewhat easier to understand because it prominently and constantly uses pop-ups. To make points, to push the story along, to exaggerate emotions, all kinds of reasons.

Some pop-ups are informational, like above. Basically, a synopsis of what's going on. I like seeing these, as they help with my spelling (seriously, Korean spelling is sometimes super difficult for me).
The above is a mock news piece, used to exaggerate emotion. There's a lot going on with very little screen space, I realize, but it adds to the frenetic, funny feeling of the show. Why don't America shows use more pop-ups??
Comic book style pop-ups are used, too- to make a point, to give the eye somewhere to go, to be funny- it all works. Because it's a reality show, several cameramen just follow the guys around, shooting willy-nilly. Framing, cinematography, it all goes down the drain, as the guys usually behave like five-year-olds that are in desperate need of naps. The pop-ups help with all those typical reality-show issues.

(The rowing challenge ended, by the way, last weekend. They lost the regatta (really badly), but they did well and really seemed to have learned a lot. It was heartening to watch.)

There are a couple romantic comedies that I've been watching while I've been here, and they've both ended recently. I'm totally bummed, because I see no viable replacements yet. I don't warm up to dramas very quickly, so I usually need a few episodes before I'm fully on board. I also find that in Korean dramas, the first few episodes are BORING. Character establishment, plot development- writers, PLEASE. You use trite cliches all the time, we know all of them already!

- "I Need Romance (로맨스가 필요해)"- TVN- (terrible title) a cute romantic comedy that was Korea's answer to Carrie Bradshaw. Not nearly as risque as "Sex and the City," but pretty scandalous for Korean TV standards. Its main character reminded me of Carrie in that, like Carrie, I was annoyed by her. They both tend to be whiny and self-centered, though they mean well. They love their friends but somehow make all their friends' problems about them. Not as irritating as Carrie, but almost. The subplots, the girlfriends, and the boys that came in and out of their lives- very cute and easy to watch.
I liked that the show was fast-paced, without the lengthy drawing-out of idiotic plot points. I did not at all like that the main character (girl with the Minnie Mouse bow on her head, above) worked in a hotel. Korean dramas, PLEASE stop writing your heroines as hoteliers. We're all over it. There are a lot of other, more interesting careers to depict. (Really, since there's been a drama actually titled "Hotelier," isn't time to move on?)
These three girls are best friends, and very different. In the picture above, the girl on the left is Samantha, with Miranda mixed in. The girl on the right is Carrie. And the girl in the middle is Charlotte, with a dash of Piglet (from Winnie the Pooh) thrown in for good measure (she's scared of everything, dumb about men, and the comic relief for the group).

One of the things that made InYoung (Carrie- "inyoung," by the way, is "doll" in Korean) less annoying than Carrie was that her narration actually made her a better character. Carrie's narrations always made me wonder how self-centered a person could get.
Unlike "Sex and the City," with (crazy) Pat Field and their (insane) wardrobe budget, this show didn't mind putting their characters in some zany get-ups. Their pajama parties, for instance, usually had the girls in ridiculous pajamas with either masks on their faces or wax strips on their legs.
It was a sweet little show (I think I arrived in Korea around the middle of the show, episode 8 or so, so I caught up on the first episodes online) and somewhat less fantastical than most other Korean dramas (wherein a rich and handsome prince whisks off a penniless but beautiful maid, or some other similar dribble). Not that this show didn't have its moments- the guy that's standing in the picture above was one of those rich and handsome prince types (heir of the owner of the hotel, I think).

(By the way, the show that replaced this one is about a woman golfer. Lame. I refuse to watch.)

- "Heartstrings (넌 내게 반했어)"- MBC- a cute little romantic comedy just ended this week. This one's about college students, so the scale of the drama is quite small- the biggest problems that they have are little issues, like a mean classmate, or their musical getting canceled. In the scheme of life, not a big deal. Because their problems are small (though they milk the melodrama to death), it makes for easy viewing. I'm not a fan of the overly dramatic Korean shows that are all about melodrama, with no comedy for relief.
The characters and plot are all predictable, but the actors are adorable enough to forgive their inability to act and to just watch. It's amusing, but because of the bad acting and the inane plot, I found that I wasn't able to solely focus on the show- I had to be doing something else while watching, like reading or washing dishes or brushing my teeth.
This show used the rather stupid and over-used devices of disapproving parents / grandparent and scheming mother. I did not enjoy those scenes at all, as they were forced, silly, and just filler. But I do enjoy the picture above, I think it's adorable. I love Volkswagen vans, and I love orange. And I admire men that aren't adverse to putting on white jeans.
The hero (the dude above, obviously) is in some sort of boy band (C.N. Blue? what a stupid name), so he constantly plays the guitar and sings in the show. The problem is, he has a thin, wispy little voice and isn't actually a great singer or guitar player.

The heroine (the dudette above, obviously) sang in a previous drama ("You're Beautiful," which I did not see, as the girl played twins (brother and sister), and the sister character cross dresses to replace her ailing brother in his band. Yeah. No way was I even giving that a chance.) and her voice is passable, but still not chills-down-the-arms good.

Still, despite the fact that I seem to be full of complaints, I didn't hate the show. It didn't perturb me if I missed an episode here or there, and I didn't catch up on the episodes that I didn't watch, but it was just amusing enough ... though I admit that I did channel-surf while I watched.

One of the most annoying things about Korean dramas is their tendency to use the same song (sometimes, if I'm lucky, it's two or three songs rather than just one) over and over and over and OVER again. I have these songs stuck in my head the next day because they just. won't. stop. playing. them. It's maddening! It's called a soundtrack, people, and there should be a variety of songs on it. Please, please, please stop with the incessant repetition of the theme song.

The most promising show that I've seen lately is "Scent of a Woman (여인의 향기)," not at all based on the Al Pacino movie from 1992. This drama's about a woman in her 30s (an old maid, by Korean standards) who is told that she only has six months to live. She's trying to really live life in the short time that she has.

Kim Sun-Ah (김선아), of "My Name Is Kim Sam-Soon (내 이름은 김삼순)" fame, plays the doomed heroine, and does so well. She's not the problem. I'm having trouble with the (rich, well-connected, well-born) boss, played by Lee Dong-Wook (이동욱). His character (or the actor) is so wooden and so heavy-lidded that I feel like the guy is always asleep, even when he's "angry." I watch the show occasionally, but don't remember what days it airs and don't really care. Maybe it'll pick up, since it's nearing the middle of its run (I find that I don't care about the shorter dramas (16 - 20 episodes) until about episode 8 or 9, which is usually when the plots (finally) picks up).
I tried out "Spy Myung-Wol (스파이 명월)," but the main character (Myung-Wol, a female North Korean spy) is played by Han Yeh-Seul (한예슬), who is so annoying that I can't take it. Plus, she looks like an alien and seems to be constantly wall-eyed. Google her, she has giant bugged-out eyes like an alien! (Apparently, there is some sort of furor right now because she quit the show (incidentally, who quits a show that only airs for a couple months?!) and the production company's going to sue her or something.) It's just not that interesting of a story, either- a North Korean spy trying to seduce a South Korean pop star? Meh. If they had written it from a more comedic bent, maybe, but they're going with more of a serious vibe, which just seems overly theatrical and silly.

I know that I'm not the target audience for Korean shows. I also don't know when shows air, and I don't care enough to look up times. I don't investigate what's airing, I just watch whatever catches my fancy (currently, lots of "Cold Case," which I had never watched before I came to Korea). There's also a few channels that constantly play movies, mostly American movies, which I tend to gravitate towards. After a day of working with Korean people, exercising the Korean part of my brain (it's a tiny, itty-bitty sliver of brain matter), it's nice to leave on some white noise that I understand without having to make an effort. TV is really just white noise, to me, because I don't really sit there and watch intently. There are other things that take more concentration, after all.

There are plenty of other shows that are airing, and that I watch, but those will have to wait for another post. (I need to mention "Korea's Top Model" at some point, because that is one crazy group of girls- and the hostess is WORLDS better than Tyra.)

For now, I'm trying to survive work, meet people, and soak in the motherland. (Yesterday, there was an episode of a beauty show that focused on pores. For the entire hour.) Oh, Korea, how you charm and repel me.