Category Archives: Reviews

Kdrama Review: Inspiring Generation

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  • 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
Inspiring Generation-Kim Hyun-Joong.jpg Inspiring Generation-Lim Soo-Hyang.jpg Inspiring Generation-Jin Se-Yeon.jpg Inspiring Generation-Kim Jae-Wook.jpg Inspiring Generation-Kim Kap-Soo.jpg
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
Inspiring Generation-Choi Jae-Sung.jpg Inspiring Generation-Son Byung-Ho.jpg Yoon Hyun-Min Inspiring Generation-Song Jae-Rim.jpg Kim Sung-Oh
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.

 

 

 

Inspring gen 3 in one posters

inspriing gen - tripcast costumes inspiring gen

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Kdrama Review: Emergency Couple

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  • Englisht title: Emergency Couple
  • Revised romanization: Eunggeubnamnyeo
  • Hangul: 응급남녀
  • Director: Kim Cheol-Kyu
  • Writer: Choi Yoon-Jung
  • Network: tvN
  • Episodes: 21
Emergency Man and Woman-Song Ji-Hyo.jpg Emergency Man and Woman-Choi Jin-Hyuk.jpg Emergency Man and Woman-Lee Pil-Mo.jpg Emergency Man and Woman-Choi Yeo-Jin.jpg Clara
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.

baby gookie 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.

 

J-Drama Review: Bloody Monday – Seasons 1 & 2

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save the earth - bloody monday poster   Bloody Monday 2008

bloody monday 2Bloody Monday 2010

  • English title: Bloody Monday
  • Japanese: ブラッディ・マンデイ
  • Years released: Season 1 (2008)  Season 2 (2010)
  • Episodes: Season 1  – 11 episodes / Season 2 – 9 episodes
  • Director: Shunichi Hirano, Takafumi Hatano
  • Writer: Ryo Ryumon (manga), Mitsuhara Makita, Yusuke Watanabe
Bloody Monday2-Haruma Miura.jpg Bloody Monday2-Takeru Sato.jpg Bloody Monday2-Michiko Kichise.jpg Bloody Monday2-Hiroki Narimiya.jpg
Haruma Miura Takeru Sato Michiko Kichise Hiroki Narimiya
Fujimaru Takagi Otoya Kujo Maya Orihara

J

Bloody Monday2-Umika Kawashima.jpg Bloody Monday2-Yutaka Matsushige.jpg Bloody Monday2-Mina Fujii.jpg
Umika Kawashima Yutaka Matsushige Mina Fujii
Haruka Takagi Ikuma Kano Aoi Asada

Bloody Monday is an adaptation of the Japanese Manga series written by Ryo Ryumon and illustrated by Koji Megumi Season 1 of the television adaptation hit the airwaves in 2008. After its success, a second season was screened in 2010.

Both seasons of Bloody Monday chronicle the exploits of Takagi Fujimaru, a talented and brilliant hacker known as “Falcon”. Fujimaru is recruited by the secret agency his father works for, Third-i – a branch of the Japanese Public Security Intelligence Agency – to try and stop terrorists from carrying out an attack on Japan. In Season 1, Fujimaru – who is still in high school – is recruited to try and stop terrorists from unleashing the deadly “Bloody X” virus on an unsuspecting Tokyo, while in season 2 he races against time and another brilliant computer hacker to stop the detonation of a nuclear bomb.

Both seasons of the television drama do a great job of keeping the viewer on their toes, revealing information about the terrorists and their plans on a drip feed. As the plot unfolds, we start to piece together not only the full extent of the terrorist plot, but also who the terrorists are and their underlying reasons for carrying out the attack. The script writers manage to include a good number of plot twists, many of which you don’t see coming – which is great. As a result, the scripts for both seasons are strong and offer a lot of suspense and tension. My key complaint in relation to the script, particularly in Season 1, is how many times can one character be kidnapped? (I won’t say which one, but it got a bit tedious after a while)

Both seasons star Miura Haruma as Takagi Fujimaru and Sato Takeru as his best friend Kujo Otoya, along with Kichise Michiko as hired gun/mercenary Orihara Maya and Narimiya Hiroko as the resident villain, Kanzaki Jun or “J”. Overall, the entire cast, both leading and support actors give terrific performances. While the early episodes of season 1 are marked by some over acting from some of the support actors, overall this is balanced out and kept to a minimum.

I am a big fan of Miura Haruma and he does not disappoint in either season, giving a strong, confident performance as Fujimaru. However, as much as I enjoyed his performance as Fujimaru, my favourite performance and character in the Bloody Monday series is by far Kanzaki Jun or “J” played by Narimiya Hiroko. As the chief antagonist and leader of the terrorists in season 1, “J” is a brilliant, charismatic sociopath. What is wonderful about Narimiya Hiroko peformance is that he brings a gleeful scariness to “J”, making him both terrifying and child like at the same time. While many of the other characters are portrayed as overally serious (well they are trying to stop a terrorist plot after all), “J” gets to deliver most of the witty lines in both series.

A special mention should also go to Kischise Michiko who plays Orihara Maya. While the character compliments the villiany of “J”, Kischise never lets the character drift into his shadow.  Instead in both seasons Orihara holds her own, making it clear that whatever she is involved in it is always on her own terms and never anyone else’s terms.

Season 2 of the series does a great job of building on the relationships developed in season 1, bring a depth to them that was not quite there the first time around. While I would have loved to have seen more of “J” in season 2, his role is still a crucial one and its great to see him come face to face with Fujimaru and the Third-i team once again.

While one can find some faults in this series, just as you can with many other television programs, overall it delivers. So if you are into strongly scripted, tense and suspenseful action thrillers, you can’t really go wrong with either of the Bloody Monday seasons.

** I wasn’t able to find the official trailers for either season, so here are a couple of fan made videos.

K-Drama Review: Shut Up and Run! (aka Shut Up! Flower Boy Band)

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  • 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
Shut Up Flower Boy Band-Sung Joon.jpg Shut Up Flower Boy Band-L (Kim Myung-Soo).jpg Shut Up Flower Boy Band-Lee Hyun-Jae.jpg Shut Up Flower Boy Band-Yoo Min-Kyu.jpg Shut Up Flower Boy Band-Kim Min-Suk.jpg
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)
Shut Up Flower Boy Band-Jung Eui-Chul.jpg Shut Up Flower Boy Band-Jo Bo-Ah.jpg Shut Up Flower Boy Band-Kim Ye-Rim.jpg Shut Up Flower Boy Band-Lee Min-Ki.jpg
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

K-Drama Review: The Return of Il Ji-mae

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  • 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.

Moonriver-Il-woo Jeong.jpg Moonriver-Jin-seo Yun.jpg Moonriver-Min-jong Kim.jpg Moonriver-Hye-Young Jung.jpg
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

REVIEW: Free Angela and All Political Prisoners

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(2012) Directed by Shola Lynch 102 mins.

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners is an extremely well made documentary examining the life and activism of one of the best known American radicals of the 1960s and 1970, Angela Davis. The documentary traces Davis’ political activism in the lead up to and during her trail in 1971, where she was accused of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy.

Davis – an outspoken Marxist, academic and activist – came to national prominence in the US due to attempts to fire her for her teaching job at the University of California for her political beliefs. Davis, who was an outspoken supporter and campaigner for political prisoners, black rights and women’s rights, was also a member of the Communist Party and a sympathiser of the Black Panther Party. Free Angela and All Political Prisoners documents the witch hunt against Davis and the Black Panthers by the FBI and the US government.

In 1970, Davis was placed on the top 10 FBI “Wanted Listed, accused of aiding and abetting in the murder of a US Judge, a juror and prosecutor.   The three had been killed, along with two black prisoners, in a shoot out in a car park after 17 year old Jonathan Jackson entered the Marin Court House and attempted to free the black prisoners using guns which had been purchased by Davis.

Davis, who initially went underground, was later arrested and charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy and stood trial in 1971. Remarkably Davis gave the opening statement at her own trial, rather than her lawyer. In the statement she declared herself innocent of all charges. In the wake of her arrest and trial, a mass solidarity movement was launched to defend her both inside the USA and internationally. Within a month of her trial starting there were more than 200 local committees in the USA and 67 committees internationally campaigning in defence of Davis, calling for her to be freed.

Davis was eventually found not guilt of all three charges by an all white jury. Once released from jail, Davis eventually returned to teaching and continued to be active in the Communist Party and continued to campaign, as she had done before her arrest, for the rights of political prisoners.

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners not only draws on interviews with Davis today, but also includes a wealth of archival footage and images documenting Davis’ activism in the 1960s and her trial. The documentary is also wonderful account of the broader activism of the period.  It showcases not only Davis’ dedication and commitment to social justice and revolutionary struggle, but it is also an inspiring account of solidarity and struggle in the face of overwhelming odds.