Oh dear, I can’t believe its been 6 weeks or so since I last posted something! To make up for such a long absence, here is Block B with their dance practice version of their latest single, Her. And as an added bonus:
Taeyang from my favourite Korean idol group, Big Bang released his first song of his new album on June 3. A few weeks later, his label YG Entertainment announced they would be embarking on a Cover Project where its artists would do covers of songs by other artists on their label. The first one being a cover of Taeyang’s Eyes, Nose, Lips.
While I am a big fan of Akdong Musician and have been playing their new album PLAY non-stop for weeks, it is actually Tablo’s reimagined version with new lyrics, which is my favourite so far. This is not surprising given I have been a long time fan of Tablo and Epik High, with them probably being my all time favourite Korean hip hop group (with Drunken Tiger and Soul Dive coming just after them).
In the last day or so, Eric Nam, who originally came to public attention by covering kpop songs on youtube, has released an english language version of the song. I doubt any of my favourite Korean indie rock groups will release a version of the song, but if they did I am sure they would also do an amazing job!
TAEYANG – original release
TABLO – Reimagined version (with new lyrics in english by Tablo)
ERIC NAM – english version of original Taeyang version
- English Title: Inspiring Generation (also known as “Age of Feeling”)
- Revised romanization: Gamgyukshidae : Tooshinui Tansaeng
- Hangul: 감격시대 : 투신의 탄생
- Director: Kim Jung-Kyu
- Writer: Bang Hak-Ki (comic), Chae Seung-Dae (ep.1-10), Park Kye-Ok (ep.11-24)
- Network: KBS2
- Episodes: 24
|Kim Hyun-Joong||Lim Soo-Hyang||Jin Se-Yeon||Kim Jae-Wook||Kim Kap-Soo|
|Shin Jung-Tae||Gaya Teguchi||Kim Ok-Ryeon||Kim Soo-Ok||Doyama Denkai|
|Choi Jae-Sung||Son Byung-Ho||Yoon Hyun-Min||Song Jae-Rim||Kim Sung-Oh|
|Shin Young-Chool||Choi Soo-Ri||Aoki Denkai||Mo Il-Hwa||Jong Jae-Hwa|
First and foremost, I loved Inspiring Generation, despite it having many, many, many, many faults and flaws. I loved Kim Hyun Joong and his character, Shin Jung-Tae. I loved the period setting, the sets and the costuming. I loved the artwork and promotional posters for the series, which are just visually stunning. I loved the young actors, who played the main characters in their youth in the first four episodes of the series. I loved the brilliantly choreographed fight scenes, despite them being quite violent and bloody. I love that the drama had a cast of thousands – well not quite a cast of thousands, but I loved that the drama was populated with so many characters big and small, which gave it a more realistic feel too it. But while there was much to love about Inspiring Generation, there was also many, many, many, many faults and flaws with the series as well. And it should be said these many faults and flaws were not inconsequential.
Based of the comic of the same name which was published in the Sports Seoul from 1985 until 1988, Inspiring Generation (also known as Age of Feeling) is set during the 1920s and 1930s against the back drop of the Japanese occupation of Korea and China. A film-noir style drama, it spans a period of more than 20 years and travels between Korea, Manchuria and Shanghai. It tells the tale of Shin Jung-Tae, a young man from a poor family, who becomes a street fighter and smuggler, in order to aid his family.
When news of Inspiring Generation first hit dramasites, I was very excited to hear that it would include two of my favourites, Kim Hyun Joong and Kim Jae Wook. It was therefore quite disappointing when Kim Jae-wook, whose character was to be the second male lead, bowed out of the series after appearing in just three episodes (with his last appearance being in episode 8).
Kim Hyun Joong has long been one of my favourite Hallyu stars. SS501 is one of my top five favourite kpop idol groups and I love his solo music. One of my favourite things about Kim Hyun Joong has always been his personality: not only does he come across as being very down-to-earth and blunt (which I love), I am a big fan of his sense of humour which can be best described as both deadpan and 4D (a Korean term for eccentric, quirky, off-the-wall personality/humour). I particularly loved watching him teamed up with Hwangbo in the Korean variety show, We Got Married, where you really got to see his hilarious and eccentric sense of humour.
Kim Hyun Joong’s first drama was Boys over Flowers, which helped skyrocket him into becoming one of the biggest names in Hallyu. Despite loving him in Boys Over Flowers and later Playful Kiss, the reality was that his acting wasn’t great. So as keen as I was to watch him in Inspiring Generation, I did approach the show with some trepidation because of this. But I think its safe to say that Kim Hyun Joong did a great job at silencing his critics and surprised us all with how much he has improved as an actor.
Unfortunately, however, despite some very fine acting from Kim Hyun Joong and many other of the cast members of Inspiring Generation, as mentioned the series had many, many problems and faults. From the beginning, the series was plagued with a seemingly never-ending series of financial and production problems. Not only were (and still apparently is) problems with actors not being paid, actors dropping out of the series (such as Kim Jae Wook who played Kim Soo-ok) there was also changes in writers. And while I love the fact that the drama was filled with “a cast of thousands”, so to speak, it also should be said that such a large cast did also contribute to creating some of the problems with the series – for example making it difficult for some characters to be fleshed out and remaining underdeveloped due to pressures to develop new characters or other characters. All of this, unfortunately impacted on the quality and direction of the drama. The initial change of writers at the end of episode 10 didn’t have as big an impact as I had original expected and for the first 14 or 16 episodes of 24 episode series, the writing was fairly consistent and reasonably good. However, towards the end of the series, the writing consistently went down hill.
Not only were there big gaps in the plot and character developments, many central characters were just left to flounder (e.g. the female lead of Kim Ok-ryeon played by Jin Se-yeon and Song Jae-rim’s character of Mo Il-wa). Other character’s storylines became confusing and nonsensical (such as Um Tae-goo’s character of Do Ggoo). Whole storylines were either put on the back burner, forgotten or abandoned, such as the backstory of the freedom fighters opposing the Japanese occupation which was one of the things that initially made me excited to watch the drama, but also the storyline around Shin Tae-jung’s missing sister (which was originally a central driving force for Jung-Tae’s actions).
But despite this and at times feeling quite frustrated with the series (especially towards the end), I still loved it. Perhaps this is because it was possible to visualise very clearly what the series could have been, if it had been able to rid itself of such faults and flaws. I think if it had been able to do that, than Inspiring Generation would definitely have shot up into being one of my top 5 favourite Korean dramas, but alas that has not been the case. I think the reason I am still able to love the series, despite all its faults and flaws, is because the writers and producers initially did such a good job with the series in the first quarter of episodes. As a result, it made it possible to retain a lot of goodwill towards the rest of the series, even as its faults and flaws began to mount up.
So despite all of this, I still would recommend checking out the drama, not only to check out Kim Hyun Joong vastly improved acting skills but because there is still a lot to enjoy about the series, including some wonderful quirky and fun characters, some terrific acting by many of the central characters (including by the young actors depicting them in their youth), the brilliantly choreographed fight scenes and much more. And hopefully, you too will fall in love with series like I did.
- Englisht title: Emergency Couple
- Revised romanization: Eunggeubnamnyeo
- Hangul: 응급남녀
- Director: Kim Cheol-Kyu
- Writer: Choi Yoon-Jung
- Network: tvN
- Episodes: 21
|Song Ji-Hyo||Choi Jin-Hyuk||Lee Pil-Mo||Choi Yeo-Jin||Clara|
|Oh Jin-Hee||Oh Chang-Min||Kook Cheon-Soo||Sim Ji-Hye||Han A-Reum|
Emergency Couple tells the story of Oh Chang-min (played by Choi Jin-hyuk) and Oh Jin-hee (played by Song Ji-hyo), who meet in their early twenties, fall in love and get married against the wishes of his wealthy doctor family, who cut him off without a cent. As a result Chang-min is forced to quit his studies as a doctor and begin work as a pharmaceutical salesman. Miserable in his job, soon his relationship with Jin-hee begins to break down. The martial breakdown is also fuelled by Jin-hee’s inferiority complex, who finds it difficult to handle the way her husband’s family treats her. Within a year, their marriage is over and they are divorced, filled with animosity towards each other. Six years later they unexpectedly meet once again as they both begin medical intern-ships at the same hospital, with Chang-min having return to medical school and Jin-hee deciding to also pursue medicine. As new interns, they are forced to work together for three months in the Emergency ward of the hospital.
I primary watched the series because, as a Running Man fan, I am a big fan of Song Ji-hyo. While I had seen Song Ji-hyo in a number of movies, I had not seen any of her television dramas, so was keen to see her performing in a lead role. I also loved Choi Jin-hyuk’s performance in Gu Family Book, so was excited to see him take on a lead role in a drama. Both actors did a terrific job in making their characters believable, fun and entertaining, however, it was Song Ji-hyo’s exploration of her characters emotional journey which gave gravitas to the series.
Emergency Couple does a good job, especially in the first few episodes, of setting up the comedic base for the series. I laugh out loud quite a few times in the first few episodes (as well as later ones). However, while Emergency Couple is in many ways your stereotypical Korean Rom Com, under its light-hearted humour and comedy, it also has a very strong social commentary running through it.
Throughout the series, a number of significant social issues and taboos are discussed. The most prominent being, of course, is the issue of divorce and how it is seen within Korean society. Also explored were the issues of: single motherhood, sex outside of marriage, sexist double standards when it comes to sex outside of marriage, the right of women to chose a career over pregnancy and motherhood and teenage/youth pregnancy. What was fantastic about the series was it dealt with all of these issues without necessarily pushing them down your throat. Instead, they were cleverly woven into both the drama and comedy of the series, while challenging the dominant existing narratives about these issues. I especially loved Song Ji-hyo’s scene when Jin-hee and the other interns discuss sex outside of marriage. In this scene, the writers do a wonderful job of having Jin-hee turning on its head the conservative analogy of a lock and key to describe the sexual activity of women and men.
The series also did a great job in giving us secondary characters which were not your stereotypical nasty, devious or jealous characters, which are present in far to many kdramas. In particular, it was really wonderful to have to secondary female characters who were not shackled with the stereotypical sexism that many kdramas give them. In the world of kdrama, there are far to many secondary female characters who are shackled with nastiness and jealousy, who are manipulative, crazy or just plain evil. However, Emergency Couple showed us that it is possible to have interesting secondary female characters without them being bound down with psychotic jealousy, manipulative cruelness or portraying them as just plain nasty, delusional or evil. Instead, Shim Ji-hye, played by Choi Yeo-jin and Han Ah-reum played by Clara were presented as strong independent women, both who knew what they wanted and who were willing to pursue what what they wanted without being manipulative or deluded. They are presented as real human beings with both strengths and weakness, who had compassion and could be vulnerable and likeable.
Similarly the secondary male lead of Gook Cheon-soo, played by Lee Pil-mo, was not your stereotypical second male lead. While at times I found him frustrating (which was more to do with some big holes in the plot, often added to by some confusing script writing, than his acting) it was good to see a secondary male lead who had more depth to his character than just being a shoulder for the female lead to cry on. Cheon-soo was clearly a character suffering his own demons and had his own issues to deal with, which was great to see.
Emergency Couple was definitely enjoyable. However, it also had its flaws, quite a few of them. The most notable was that many of the lesser secondary characters (for example Chang-min and Jin-hee’s fellow interns) were cardboard cut outs and had very little depth. At times, it seemed the show writers didn’t quite know what to do with the characters, so they floundered and flip flopped around. At times the writing for the series also seem confused and not sure where it wanted to go. And towards the end of the series, some characters story lines either abruptly disappeared or change, making the execution of their story line somewhat unbelievable or confusing.
While not wanting to give away the finale, I felt they could have done much more with it than they did. While it was enjoyable, there was no ommpf to it (and I found the constant soft music in the back ground extremely annoying and overly saccharine). The best way, perhaps, to describe the finale is “pleasant”. And again, a number of the secondary characters suffered the fate of the writers not knowing quite what to do with them and their storyline disappointingly became a caricature of what it could have been.
Special final mention has to go out to Baby Gukie. I am usually not one to coo over babies (at all!), but I fell totally and utterly in love with Baby Guk (or as he is known in real life: Kwon Joon young). I loved every single one of his screen appearances and wished there had been more. The show did a great job of using his natural reactions to the adult actors, often using them comically to highlight the emotional interactions between the adults. As a result, I was sorely disappointed that he did not make an appearance in the finale.
Despite there being a number of flaws which one can criticise about Emergency Couple, I still enjoyed the series. I particularly like that the story explored issues not explored very often in other kdramas. I also liked that it was a story of an older couple struggling to figure out what they wanted to do with their lives. It was also great that amongst the comedy and fun candy coating, there was in fact some serious social issues discussed and highlighted without people being beaten over the head. So while not being perfect, it was still a fun and enjoyable drama, one worth watching.
- English title: Master’s Sun
- Revised romanization: Joogoonui Taeyang
- Hangul: 주군의 태양
- Director: Jin Hyeok
- Writer: Hong Jung-Eun, Hong Mi-Ran
- Network: SBS
- Episodes: 17
- Release Date: August 7 – October 3, 2013
|So Ji-Sub||Kong Hyo-Jin||Seo In-Guk||Kim Yoo-Ri|
|Joo Joong-Won (Master)||Tae Kong-Sil (Sun)||Kang-Woo||Tae Yi-Ryung|
Master’s Sun is by far one of my favourite dramas of 2013. A horror/fantasy romantic comedy from the acclaimed Hong Sisters, Master’s Sun manages to blend, with just the right amount of each, horror with irony, along with a good dash of quirky fantasy and comedy.
So Ji-sub plays Joo Joong-won (his name being a play on the word, “Master”), the good looking but arrogant and stingy CEO of Kingdom, a major conglomerate which includes hotels and shopping centres. On a rainy night, on the way back from completing a business deal, he encounters the gloomy Tae Gong-shil (her name being a play on the word “Sun”). Played by Gong Hyo-jin. Gong-shil is a lonely recluse who can see ghosts and is terrified by their presence. When Gong-shil accidentally touches Joong-won, the ghosts around her unexpectedly disappear. Wanting relief from the never ending stream of ghosts haunting her, Gong-shil attempted to convince to Joong-won to be her “safe haven”, much to his debelief and initial disdain.
Also joining the cast of Master’s Sun, in the second male lead role, is Seo In-gok who plays a former soldier hired by Joo Joong-won as his head of security. He soon become the Joong-won’s rival for the affections of Gong-shil.
To be honest, I had not expected to love this drama soooo much. While the Hong Sisters are much acclaimed, I have found their dramas (at least the ones I have watched so far) to be a bit hit and miss. I loved My Girlfriend is a Gumiho with Lee Seung-gi and Shin Min-ah, although it initially took a few episodes for it grow on me. However, as much as I love Gong Yoo as an actor, I found the Hong Sister’s drama, Big, very ordinary. So while Master’s Sun looked promising, I was also sceptical. I am glad to say that any scepticism I had was quickly done away.
There is much to love about this drama – the storyline, script and acting are all superb. I particularly loved the fact that the two lead characters were, for a change, older (in their 30s). I think it added weight to their performances and the storyline in general. As much as I enjoy dramas with younger actors, including many idols, the drama can often end up being a bit to bubblegum at time.
My favourite thing about the drama, however, was the Hong’s Sister ironic and quirky humour instilled into the script and its delivery by their actors. Master’s Sun is by far the funniest of all the Korean Rom/Com dramas I have watch over the last few years. It made me laugh – a lot. In particular, So Ji-sub is hilarious as the petty CEO Joo Joong-won. I never once got bored with his character and his deadpan comedic timing was just wonderful. This is the first drama and/or movie that I watched him in and I now want to check out his other dramas and movies.
Master’s Sun marks the second time for Gong Hyo-jin has worked with the Hong Sisters, her first turn being with the rom/com, Greatest Love. While Greatest Love is still on my drama list to watch, I did enjoy her acting in Pasta, despite the fact I really hated the terrible sexual politics of both the drama and the character she played. Unfortunately, despite having Gong and Lee Sun-kyun who is I like a lot, Pasta, is one of my least favourite dramas – primarily because of the buckets of sexism, both in the script and character development. While there is certainly some level of sexism in Master’s Sun, it is nowhere near the levels of Pasta and ultimately, Gong-shil proves herself to be capable and independent woman, who realises the need to stand on her own two feet.
This time around the Hong Sisters have done a terrific job of serving up a funny, sweet and quirky drama, with just the right amount of horror and fantasy. I enjoyed the drama so much that I want to rewatch it again straight away, as I did not want to say goodbye to either Gong-shil or Joong-won. So if you enjoy fantasy with quirky humour, then Master’s Sun should be right up your alley as it does both extremely well.
Like most other die-hard fans of Running Man, I was very excited to hear that my favourite Korean variety show would be coming to film some episodes in Australia. Running Man is a Korean reality “action variety” show in which individuals and teams compete against each other in a variety of missions. The show 70-80% unscripted, which allows for a lot of fun. Running Man has 7 permanent cast members, with the cast being made up of comedians, singers, actors and other entertainers.
The show regularly hosts celebrity guests who also participate in the various missions. The highlight of the show is often the signature ‘Race Mission’ where individuals have to remove each other’s tags to become the winner.
The cast and crew are shooting in Australia this week, with the episodes screening on the 9th and 16th March.
The turn out of fans has been overwhelming and at times a little crazy. Here are some of the fan photos and videos (*my apologies for not being able to provide photo credits with all the photos. So many of the photos have been retweeted/shared with out credits and I have not been able to locate the original source).
Arrival in Australia at Brisbane airport.
Fans mob Running Man in Melbourne
- English title: Shut Up! Flower Boy Band
- Alternative English title: Shut Up and Run!/ Shut Up and Let’s Go!
- Revised romanization: Dagchigo Kkochminambaendeu
- Hangul: 닥치고 꽃미남밴드
- Year Released: 2012
- Episodes: 16
- Director: Lee Kwon
- Writer: Seo Yoon-Hee
|Sung Joon||L (Kim Myung-Soo)||Lee Hyun-Jae||Yoo Min-Kyu||Kim Min-Suk|
|Kwon Ji-Hyuk||Lee Hyun-Soo||Jang Do-Il||Kim Ha-Jin||Seo Kyung-Jong|
|(leader and vocals)||(guitar)||(drums)||(bass)||(keyboard)|
|Jung Eui-Chul||Jo Bo-Ah||Kim Ye-Rim||Lee Min-Ki|
|Yoo Seung-Hoon||Im Soo-Ah||Ye-Rim||Joo Byung-Hee|
A coming-of-age story about an underground high school rock band called, “Eye Candy”, which explores the friendship and rivalry between six “deliquent” working class boys who make up the band. Made up of band leader, charismatic, free-spirited vocalist Joo Byung-hee (Lee Min-ki); his best friend Kwon Ji-hyuk (Sung Joon), the guitarist with the band; quiet and serious drummer, Jang Do-il (Lee Hyun-jae); cassanova bass player, Kim Ha-jin (Yoo Min-kyu) and loyal keyboardist, Seo Kyung-jong (Kim Min-suk).
In the aftermath of Joo Byung-hee’s death (at the end of episode 2), the rest of the band try to come to grips with the death of their friend and begin a journey to not only honour his memory and legacy but also – unbeknown to them – also a journey of self-discovery about themselves. The drama is atypical of normal “music dramas”, with the focus actually being more on the journey of the friends, rather than the music itself.
I had not expected to end up loving this drama. I decided only to watch it because I had watched TVN’s other two “Flower Boy” dramas and because I liked Lee Min-ki as an actor and had enjoyed watching Sung Joon in Gu Family Book and wanted to check out more of his work. The drama surprised me with not only its wonderfully down to earth scripts but also characters, who were not your usual cardboard cuts outs that are often found in drama shows (both in Korea and internationally). Over all, the vast majority of the characters, both the lead and supporting, were nuanced, layered and really wonderful to watch.
While Shut Up and Run!/Shut Up! Flowerboy Band displays many of the standard kdrama tropes, it delves into them in an atypical way, bringing a freshness to many a tired trope and plot twist. This can be seen for example, in the way the drama deals with the standard triangle relationships often found in kdramas. In Shut Up and Run!/Shut Up! Flower Boy Band, there are two triangle relationships, one between Ji-hyuk, Su-ah and Seung-hoon and one between Ji-hug, Su-ah and the deceased Bung-hee. It’s the second of these two, which is the real triangle relationship that needs to be overcome. And while the focus of most k-drama loves stories are the two lead characters in Shut Up and Run!/Shut Up! Flowerboy Band , the central love story in this drama is not the love story between the lead male and female characters, Ji-hyuk and Su-ha but between the boys in the band. It is a love story about their friendship, loyalty and dedication to each other.
One of the standard tropes used in kdramas is class conflict, between working class and wealthy elite characters. What I loved about Shut Up and Run!/Shut Up! Flowerboy Band was that it actually treated the class back ground of the boys in the band as something genuine and as something that shaped their world view and actions. Often a nod is given to this in dramas, but then its ignored. With this particular series, it was a constant presence in the drama, one which wasn’t dealt with lightly or with little regard or treated as a mere plot or comedic device.
The other thing I loved about Shut Up and Run!/Shut Up! Flowerboy Band was its depiction of the female characters. Far to often in kdramas (and non-kdramas) the women characters are frustrating – often portrayed as weak and/or meek and/or shrill and/or mean and/or just there to prop up the male lead’s ego or to pander to his every whim. They often lack any real separate identity, depth or agency, which is annoying and frustrating. What is outstanding about Shut Up and Run!/Shut Up! Flowerboy Band , is that on the whole most of the female characters in this drama are realistic, have a strong identity of their own, separate from the male lead characters and have agency in spades. While some of the supporting female characters can be criticised on some levels, on the whole even they, along with the main female characters, are strong willed with a backbone and minds of their own. They are not cardboard cuts out and are shown to be independent and capable.
While I enjoyed all three of TVN’s “Flowerboy” shows, this was probably the one I enjoyed most. It stood out because not only did the series circumvent and recreate in its own image many of the standard k-drama tropes but because it was not your standard love story. And it was the atypical love story about the boys, their friendship, loyalty and dedication to each other which gave depth and heart to Shut Up and Run!/Shut Up! Flowerboy Band
Just a small selection of some of my favourite kpop songs and MVs from this year. The selection is broader than the standard Kpop “Idol” music and also includes K-hip hop, K-indie and K-rock.
*where possible/available I have included MV’s with english substitles
1. G.Dragon – Crooked
And here we are at no#1. G.Dragon starts and end this list, not only because he is one of my favourite Korean performers but because Crooked is my favourite song of his Coup D’Etat album. I love everything about this song and MV. I love that it is a sad song disguised as a more cheerful song – its indicative of the whole song, telling the tale of someone trying to pretend they are okay after a breakup, trying to have fun but not succeeding. The MV is set in London and has a great feel too it. It’s funny, amusing and sad at the same time. I particularly like G.Dragon’s costuming in the MV and also the location choices are great. Definitely at the top of my list for favourite kpop tunes and MV this year.
2. MFBTY/Drunken Tiger – Sweet Dream
MFBTY’s Sweet Dream has been one of my favourite songs all year. A collaborative project between Tiger JK, Yoon Mi-rae and Bizzy, I love both the song and the MV. Yoon Mi-rae’s voice is beautiful and I love how it weaved through the song and bring the whole song together. The video clip is not your normal MV and has a lot of great imagery and fun too it. Although I had heard some of Drunken Tiger’s material before, it was this song that really got me listening to them as well as other work by Yoon Mi-Rae and Bizzy. The song is featured on Drunken Tiger’s new album, The Cure, which is fabulous and like Lee Hyori’s Monochrome is one I have been listening too non-stop.
3. LeeHi -Rose
I fell in love with LeeHi’s voice the moment I heard it. Not only is her voice gorgeous and something completely unusual for the kpop world, the sultry jazziness of it is just spectacular. It’s hard to believe when you hear Leehi sing that she is just 16 years old (or was when she released her album earlier in the year). I live most of the songs off her album, but Rose is beautiful and suits the sultry nature of her voice. The MV is stunningly luscious, while full of romantic imagery doesn’t overwhelm the young singer.
4. Kim Hyun Joong – Unbreakable (featuring Jay Park)
Kim Hyun Joong is definitely one of my favourite male kpop singers. I loved his Japanese releases earlier in the year and was keenly awaiting his Korean comeback. Unbreakable certainly didn’t disappoint. There is so much to love about this song and video. I love the beat of the song, the hip hop elements and the feature by Jay Park. The dancing is terrific and I love that its something a bit different for KHJ. The MV is also beautiful and does a fantastic job of fusing Western and Asian cultural elements and imagery. The black and white of the clip also adds to making the clip look more sumptuous and gives it a very classic feel.
5. Junsu/Xia – 11 AM
Junsu makes the list twice! I have been raving about this song since it came out. I absolutely love, love, love it. I love the way in which it is stripped back to an accapella for the first half of the song and in the second half there is just a very simply piano accompaniment. The songs is gorgeous and shows cases just how good a vocalist Junsu really is. I also love the MV, which was shot in long live take.
6. Junsu/Xia – Incredible
My favourite kpop “dance” song released for 2013, Incredible by Junsu (aka Xia) from JYJ. A fun dance track, upbeat and catchy. Great for summer and putting you in a good mood 🙂 The MV is bright, colourful and a lot of fun as well.
7. B.A.P – One Shot
Another fairly new kpop group, which has also only been around for just under two years. While definitely a kpop “Idol” group, their music style is also influenced by hip hop and rap. One Shot is effectively a song about youth and making choices. The MV for the song show cases the group’s singing, rapping, dancing and acting ability. It is also one of the “surprise” videos of the year, so make sure you watch it through to the very end!
8. EXO – Growl
Despite only being on the kpop scene for a year and half, EXO, has already climbed to the top of the kpop world. Comprised of 12 Korean and Chinese members, Exo released several tracks in 2013 but Growl is by far their most successful release. I am more fond of the beat and the musical style of the song, than I am of the lyrics. In particular, I like that it has as hip hop beat to it, which feels sparse but addictive. I also love the choreography used in the MV, as well as the look of the MV itself, which was shot in one long take.
9. Jaurim – Twenty-five, Twenty-one
Jaurim is without a doubt my number one favourite Korean indie group. And Kim Yoon-ah without a doubt is my favourite female Korean singer. I just love her voice, range and ability. Jaurim is known for their tight musical arrangement, melodic sound and gorgeous lyrics. Goodbye Grief is their 9th full length studio album and Twenty-five, Twenty-one is one of their sadder songs. Dealing with desire and longing for love lost, the full emotional impact and depth of the song is conveyed beautifully with Yoon-ah’s soaring vocals and the song has all the melodic and musical qualities fans have come to expect from Jaurim. Beautiful, sad and heartfelt.
10. Nell – Ocean of Light
And here is no#11 – my second favourite Korean indie band ever, Nell. I just adore Nell and I just adore Kim Jong-wan’s stunning voice. Nell is known for having a more arthouse sound, with psychedelic overtones. Their songs not only explore issues of love, friendship and alienation, but also regularly explored darker topics such as depression, anger, suicide. However, “Ocean of Light” is one of their more upbeat/uplifting tracks but still brings with it both Nell’s trade mark electronica and emotional intensity.
11. Trouble Maker – Now
To paraphrase Dorothy Gale: “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. We must be over the [KPOP] rainbow!” Oh yes!! TroubleMaker – aka Hyuna (from 4 minutes) and Hyunseung (from Beast) – pulled out all stops with NOW breaking out of the usual kpop mould. This was actually the first song I had heard from TroubleMaker and I really loved it for a whole range of reasons – the first being that this is the first “sub-unit” of kpop performers I have come across which is a permanent pairing of a male and female performer and as such it gives a whole new dynamic to not only the song and music, but the performance as well. Secondly, I love this particular song, as well as the MV for it. The song is basically about a couple who are in a destructive relationship in a downward spiral, with this clearly reflected in the MV. The MV incorporates a whole lot of images (heavy drinking, smoking, sex scenes and inter racial sexual relations) which are not the usual fare for kpop videos. This has lead to debate as to whether or not kpop is becoming to “Americanised” in order to break into the US market. I don’t think this is necessarily the case, but NOW definitely pushes the boundaries of what is the norm in kpop.
12. 2NE1 – Missing You
2NE1 is probably my favourite of the female kpop “idol” groups. Out of the three songs released by the group this year, this is my favourite. A pretty ballad about heartbreak and trying to overcome lost love. What I really love about the song is the harmonies, as well as the haunting melodic feeling too it. While its not my favourite 2NE1 song ever, it is one I can happily listen too over and over, as it showcases beautifully the voices of CL, Bom, Dara and Minzy.
13 . Lee Hyori – Miss Korea
No# 13 is the Kpop diva, Lee Hyori with “Miss Korea” – a song tackling the issue of the self-esteem, plastic surgery, the beauty industry and the social pressure on girls and woman to attain an unattainable beauty image. The song title no doubt draws on reports about the widespread practice of Miss Korea contestants going under the knife to achieve a particular look and also from the fact that South Korea has one of the highest rates of plastic surgery per population in the world (while the US has the highest number of plastic surgery procedures).
In the song, Hyori addresses the issue of self-esteem and challenges the idea that women need to go under the knife to be beautiful. I love the MV, which not only includes the imaging of Hyori being surrounded by surgical instruments but also includes two well-know Korean drag performers, clearly also challenging the conservativism in Korea around LGBTI issues. Miss Korea is Hyori’s first single in 3 years and the lead track off her Monochrome album, which I haven’t stopped listening too since I got it due to the wonderful musical diversity of the album.
14. G.Dragon – Who You
Coming in at No# 14 is kpop’s boy wonder himself – G.Dragon – with “Who You?” from his 3rd solo album, Coup D’etat. I love the “feel good” feel of the song and MV (although the song is actually a breakup song). The reason for the “feel good” feeling of the MV is because the video was conceived as a “thankyou” gift to G.Dragon’s fans and is a compilation of professionally shot footage as well as video footage shot by 1000 of G.Dragon’s fans who were invited especially for the MV production. I like the conception of the video, particularly the whole “glass box” and how it relates to “celebrity” (something he also explores in the Coup D’Etat MV). And I love how all the names of the fans are listed at the end of the MV!
- English title: The Return of Il Ji-Mae
- Alternative English title: Moon River
- Revised romanization: Dolahon Il Ji-Mae
- Hangul:돌아온 일지매
- Year released: 2009
- Episodes: 24
- Director: Hwang In-Roe, Kim Do-Hyung
Writer: Kim Kwang-Sik, Woo-yeong Ko (comic)
Based on the serial comic strip “Iljimae” by Woo-yeong Ko, which appeared in the Daily Sports from 1975-1977.
|Jung Il-Woo||Yoon Jin-Seo||Kim Min-Jong||Jung Hye-Young|
|Il Ji-Mae||Wol-Hee||Ku Ja-Myeong||Baek-Mae|
A Robin Hood story set in the Joseon period, the Return of Il Ji-mae is about an abandoned orphaned boy who grows up to fight corruption and greed and side with the poor and marginalised. The story is based on a manga/comic book hero, drawn from Chinese folk lore. While the drama offers all the fun and action of a Robin Hood story, it also avoids all the usual cheesiness that often goes hand and hand with such stories. Instead, it offers a beautifully told story which explores what it is to be human.While it took me a few episodes to get into the drama, I soon fell completely in love with it.
Return of Il Ji-mae is blessed with a fantastic script, brilliant acting, gorgeous production, wonderful music, as well as reasonably positive gender politics in the portrayal of the female characters. The acting in the series is flawless, particularly from the two main leads and the two sub-leads. Jung Il-woo as Il Ji-mae is just brilliant. He is an actor I already enjoyed watching, but he has now shot up to being one of my all time favourite Korean actors. This is the first drama I have seen Yoon Jin-seo in, but her depiction of Dal-yi and Wol Hee is just wonderful. Given she is playing two characters, she has done a wonderful job of giving them their own personalities and distinctiveness. I particularly love the fact that the drama also gives the two leads a realistic love story, devoid of all the dodgy gender politics found in many other kdramas.
Return of Il Ji-mae quickly climbed into the ranks of my top 5 Korean dramas. Without a doubt, I love the beauty and wistfulness of this drama, as well as the humour, adventure and nuanced story telling and acting. Definitely a 10 out of 10! My only serious criticism of the show is in relation to the action sequences – while the fight scenes are fantastic, diverse, well executed and a lot of fun, the wire work (at least in the early episodes) is rather amateurish. But if you can look past that in the first few episodes, you will probably also fall in love with the Return of Il Ji-mae.
Opening title sequence of Return of Il Ji-mae
Original Sound Track from Return of Il Ji-mae – Place of My Dreams by Yoon Jin Suh