Sunday, January 29, 2012

K-Drama Review: Boys Over Flowers, episodes 1-2

Contains Spoilers for episodes 1-2

Jandi is a poor high school girl who works part-time at her parents' dry cleaning business and part-time at a porridge shop. She's a cheerful person with a can-do attitude, but her temper explodes when she is delivering dry cleaning to the exclusive Shinhwa High School and has to save a boy from jumping to his death to escape the bullying at school. It turns out that the bullying was instigated by F4, the Flower Four (really? seriously? that's what these teenage guys are allowing themselves to be called?), who are the handsomest, wealthiest, and most snobby of all the handsome wealthy snobs at Shinhwa.

Jandi is all but ready to murder JunPyo, the cold-hearted leader of F4, but she has to dial down her rage when she is accepted into Shinhwa as a publicity stunt to cover up for the almost-suicide on campus. Jandi hates JunPyo and loves his best friend JiHoo, but soon it becomes evident that super-meanie JunPyo might actually harbor warm fuzzy feelings for Jandi. A few kidnappings, makeovers, and returned long-lost loves later, and the plot really gets underway. Only 22 episodes left to go...

While watching this show, it's important to remember that Hana Yori Dango/Boys Over Flowers/Boys Before Flowers isn't just a TV show; it was a manga series that ran for ten years in Japan, then an anime film, a live-action film, a J-drama (Japanese), a C-drama (Chinese) then a K-drama, and there are other spinoffs as well. It's seriously like the Twilight of Asia, so when discussing BOF we're really discussing a phenomenon more than a story.

I didn't personally click with this show and I didn't want to watch the whole thing, but I did read recaps of all 24 episodes, just so I would know how the series ended. It seemed important to have some knowledge of this story that so many fans have fallen for. You can read a superbly detailed recap of Episode 1 over here at Dramabeans.

Things I Loved:

1. Jandi. I like her hardworking nature and the way she sticks up for the underprivileged and never actually sees herself as underprivileged. She is often a voice of reason in this really loopy world of rich people, and she stands up to JunPyo like a tough girl should. I'm also a big fan of the actress Goo Hye Sun, though I prefer her acting in other dramas to this one. Still, it's pretty impressive that she was 25 at the time of filming and easily passed for a 17-year-old without straining credulity in the slightest.

Our Heroine, Pedaling Her Laundry Bike.

2. JiHoo. I came to this drama ready to adore him, because I heard he was the good guy in the love triangle, in contrast to JunPyo's total jerk of a character. However, whether it was a result of the acting, directing, or script, JiHoo wasn't as awesome as I'd anticipated. Yes, he does wear a white suit and play a violin in the forest (so artsy-cool!), but I don't really get much emotion from the character. He falls flat, but even then I'm glad he's around, just so we have a quiet personality to balance out the explosive tempers of the rest of the cast.

Bland, but Sweet.

3. Jandi's nutty family. Her parents and kid brother are ecstatic to have her go to Shinhwa. While the average mom and dad might understand their daughter's reluctance to go to a place where the students are wealthy psychopaths, but Jandi's folks know that Jandi's status and theirs will be improved if she takes one for the team and attends the Academy of Evil.

An Intensely Practical Family.

Complaints: 1. JunPyo's hair. The actor Lee Minho is an attractive enough person, but the sideswept wave-curls don't make sense to me. But I suppose it's a testament to the bigger issues I have with the show if something as simple as an offbeat haircut can make me want to turn away from the screen.

Not His Best Look.

Although, considering the hairstyles in the original manga, I should probably be thankful for the lucky break:

2. The cartoony elements. The original manga story began in 1992, so that explains some of the overwhelming dramatic elements.  Early-90's love stories, whether in America or overseas, tended to be a little more angsty and melodramatic than they are now, twenty years later. But even knowing that this show was an over-the-top story made in the style of the comics, I still felt stunned by the lack of realism. Jandi saves a falling guy who is twice her size (and who has already jumped off a building) just by grabbing his sweater? That's not an exaggerated moment made to suit the drama--that's more like cartoon physics.

Miraculously Rescued by the Strength of Jandi's Fingers.

3. F4's evilness/non-evilness. The guys never actually beat up another student, but when they decide to "red card" somebody, the rest of the school chips in to hit and humiliate that person until they leave Shinhwa. One targeted kid gets covered in blood from these fights and ends up trying to kill himself. And our heroes drove him to do this? But then they never truly seem like fully bad guys afterward, which is confusing. I don't mind anti-heroes in K-dramas, but this takes it to an all new level of cruelty, while still somehow keeping our main characters free of all guilt.


The obscenity of wealth: I don't know if all viewers feel like this, but every time I see F4 spending their money in extravagant ways, I shudder. Jandi sees the overkill and protests it, but the show still wants to provide us with lavish costumes, exciting locations, and cool leisure activities, so the abundance keeps rolling in.

Standing up for the oppressed: Jandi is inclined to do this, and though she's only sorta kinda sometimes rewarded for her efforts, I think the audience is still supposed to see the value of her actions. It's how we know she's a true heroine.
Cultural Observances:
Hardcore college entrance exams: Normal citizens are angry that Shinhwa students automatically get into Shinhwa college without having to take the big, scary national exam along with everyone else.

New words: "Shinhwa" means "myth or "legend", which is appropriate because the high school is legendary.

Episode Evaluations: I didn't like it. I absolutely understand why BOF is popular and why other people love it, but unlike another ultra-hyped series, Secret Garden, I never caught the fire with this one. It's just not my style, what with all the kidnappings and past traumas, etc. I need something either more comedic or more realistic.

Scripture Sunday: The Book of Philippians

Philippians is always an uplifting book to read because, unlike other churches Paul wrote to, the church at Philippi does not need a lot of chiding or correcting. Despite having a few small issues related to church unity, they are a well-adjusted church who love God and love other people.

Paul's introduction shows just how much he cares for these people: "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you" (1:3) he says, and just a short while later, "I have you in my heart" (1:7). My own heart is touched when I read things like this. It really does seem like Paul views himself as their brother/father/friend, and he prays for the people at Philippi and longs to see them again. And he goes on to list his prayers for them, in a highly specific way which shows that he really does have their best interests at heart--he wants them to grow closer to Jesus and to "approve things that are excellent" and to "be sincere and without offence".

This particular letter is written while Paul is in jail, but he tells the Philippians that his imprisonment has actually worked out to help further the cause of the gospel because some people have now grown more bold about sharing their faith. Being in prison does not bother Paul very much. He isn't even afraid of losing his own life as a martyr for Jesus--in fact, he describes himself as being caught between actively wanting to leave this world and be with the Lord and wanting to stay and help care for the churches.

In chapter 2, Paul reminds the Philippians to remain united and to stand together in Christ. "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others" (2:3-4). To me, this verse describes the very core of the Christian attitude towards others; I am not better than you, and I am going to think of your needs before my own. Humility and selflessness are traits to be prized and aspired to.

The closing part of chapter 4 is my favorite part of this book, and I've tried to memorize the helpful list of things on which godly people should focus their thoughts: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." (4:8).

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Young Jim Hawkins works with his father at the Admiral Benbow Inn, and his life is normal until "the old seadog" Billy Bones comes to stay at the inn. Jim is told to look out for a man with one leg, and soon the one-legged man begins to haunt his dreams, which is a good indication of the troubles to come. The next thing Jim knows, he's off on an adventure with a poorly-chosen crew of sailors, a few decent Englishmen, a map that is supposed to lead to a hidden treasure, and Long John Silver--a quirky and charming ship's cook who wins Jim's admiration, but who is hiding quite a few secrets.

I'm reading this book again as an adult, but what I remember most about reading Treasure Island in my childhood is how uninterested I was in it. I think by the time I read the book at age 11 or so, I had already seen so many adaptations, skits, and knockoffs of Treasure Island that reading the source material was a letdown. Plain old betrayals and treasure discoveries somehow felt anticlimactic. As a kid, I also resented the fact that there were no girls in the story (except for Jim's easily flustered mom). You can't really fault a story about sailors and pirates for not having any prominent female characters, but I still find that very few dudes-only stories manage to hold my attention. To really get into a fictional world, I almost always have to have somebody as my stand-in, some significant female presence affecting the story. But despite my initial apathy, I do think there are some nice points to Treasure Island.


-- Realism. Everyone's very dirty, with ratty hair, black fingernails, jagged scars, etc. This doesn't seem to be a romanticized rendering of pirates.

--Action. Though Treasure Island is descriptive enough, it's definitely not flowery and the author doesn't spend as much time as other writers of the same period on establishing the scenery, which I appreciated.

--Jim. He doesn't seem like an especially vivid character because he's mainly the lens through which we see the fictional world, but he is notably brave and he is very action-oriented for a boy who comes from a quiet country lifestyle.

--Little details. 1. I like how "Long John" is already a nickname, but the man gets a further nickname from his crew--Barbecue, because he's the cook. 2. Long John's parrot is named "Cap'n Flint" after his old ship's captain, which seems kind of irreverent and therefore perfect for a pirate's pet. 3. The fact that Jim thinks it's totally normal to jump into an apple barrel to find an apple to eat. Doesn't really sound like a clean practice, getting your clothes and shoes mixed up with your food. But hey, whatever it takes to get to the food that wards off the scurvy...

--Memorable side characters. Dr. Livesy is pretty tough--he doesn't suffer fools gladly and doesn't think much of loud ruffians. It's also great how obsessed Ben Gunn is with cheese. The abandoned man has been fantasizing about cheese-eating for three years.

To me, Treasure Island isn't really an entertaining read, nor is it high on the list of great literary works, but it's certainly worth looking at. Most of us have experienced a culture laden with references to the book and parodies of it, so it's a nice revelation to actually read the original and find out what parts have been exaggerated or altered in adaptation. Grade: B


--"Sometimes he would call for glasses round and force all the trembling company to listen to his stories or bear a chorus to his singing. Often I have heard the house shaking with "Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum," all the neighbours joining in for dear life, with the fear of death upon them, and each singing louder than the other to avoid remark." (pg 5)

The pirates use some great slang and onomatopoeia in this story...

-"I'm not afraid on 'em. I'll shake out another reef, matey, and daddle 'em again." (pg 15)

-"Budge, you skulk!" cried Pew.  (pg 24)

Watchable bonus: Yes, it's the least accurate adaptation of the classic, but Muppet Treasure Island remains my favorite, especially because of the songs. One more time now!

Monday, January 23, 2012

K-Drama Review: Secret Garden, Episodes 3-4

Read Episodes reviwes for:

Secret Garden, episodes 1-2

Contains Spoilers for Episodes 3-4

JooWon has given up on trying to forget Raim, and now he's doing a very posh version of stalking. He managed to get some scenes for the film she's working on switched to his department store, just so Raim would have to run into him. And even after he reveals to her that he's an important CEO and not just some weird bum she keeps running into, he keeps coming to her stuntperson academy as if he's a genuine trainee. The guy's got it bad, but we're still a long, long way from achieving a happily ever after.

We finally get to meet JooWon's family in these episodes. He is praised as being a devoted son for going to his grandpa's house for their monthly dinner, to which he replies: "I'm not a devoted son. My mother's father always changes his will once a month--right after family reunions." Love it. Just when this show seemed sad and emotional, it suddenly becomes Arrested Development with competing relatives, all of whom have serious personality issues. It shows us why JooWon is such a jerk sometimes; he's a product of his raising. He and Raim have plenty of fights in this episode and he talks down to her like the snotty rich boy he is, but when she calls him on the phone, his face lights up and violins start to play. He's kind of in conflict with himself, here.

The big plot development in episode 4 is that Raim's action school of fighting extras are going to be part of Oska's new music video. And Oska and Raim are becoming friends, which doesn't sit well with JooWon.

Things I Loved: 1. JooWon. He's perhaps the most lovable yet unlikable character I've run across in a long time. He's not a good guy and we know this, but we're pretty sure he might be a good guy one day. Almost all of his virtue stems from the fact that the audience knows he must be falling in love with Raim, but he's kind of strange and inhuman even about that. But it's so cute. He even literally plays "She loves me, she loves me not" with a flower. And loses!

Stupid Flower.

2. The commentary on rich people. Almost every rich person in this show is wacky and dysfunctional to an extreme degree. For example, Seul's dad gives JooWon a present of about a dozen deer. Yes, deer. This prompts JooWon to wonder if he's supposed to kill and eat the deer. The show tells us that this is how rich people live: lounging in oversized pristine houses, giving each other presents of deer herds, and eating full-course fancy teas all alone. When Raim goes to see JooWon, she even has to ask the servants which building in a long row of fancy dwellings is his house. Answer: They are ALL his house.

3. English/Engrish humor. Raim's boss JongSoo narrows his eyes when Seul starts using really bad English to impress him. He responds with some totally brilliant English which is perfect in every respect because the actor himself is from America. Seul claps for him, then immediately switches the conversation back to Korean. To clarify, I think it's awesome when any character tries to use English regardless of how well they do, but Seul is a villainess who is intentionally flaunting her foreign language knowledge in order to sound important--but she looks bad because she doesn't know as much as she thinks she does.

Complaints: No actual story flaws. The things that frustrate me are just the natural products of the tensions among the characters. JooWon is infuriating because he spends most of the time being a total jerk, and trying to convince himself that Raim is not worth the time he spends going after her.


Money fixes nothing: JooWon thinks that by waving around money and ordering candlelight dinners for Raim, he'll win her over. Dude couldn't be more wrong. Raim is impoverished, so his lavish displays of wealth just looks disgusting to her, and she thinks he's living in a fairytale world, which is correct. She extinguishes his fancy candles with a dinner spoon and walks away.

What Goes Around Comes Around:  It's amazing how JooWon can say all these snotty, dreadful things and yet he doesn't seem hateful--it's more like you hate what he's doing to himself. He's hurting Raim's feelings, but she'll be all right eventually because she's a soldier. He, on the other hand, is just a mess of a human being, and being nasty to Raim seems to incite his panic attacks and claustrophobia. He's bringing the pain on himself. Nastiness reaps nastiness, my friend!

Complex schemes: I don't know for sure, but I think Seul is trying to court and marry JooWon just to get back at Oska, her first love. It doesn't make sense on any level because JooWon wholeheartedly rejects Seul and she doesn't even seem to like him in the first place, but hey, this is a K-drama. Somebody has to scheme elaborately and for no discernible reason, or else we won't have a hopelessly knotty conflict.

I Thought of Twelve Revenge Plots, All Before Breakfast.

Running gags: Just when I thought that they couldn't make anymore jokes about JooWon's ugly blue jacket from the first two episodes, the gags pile up even higher. And you know what? It never gets old. When JooWon reveals his rich identity to Raim, he also makes a point of emphasizing the legitimacy of his pricey tracksuit. Then he shows up at Raim's action school in another even more unsightly shiny tracksuit, this time a leopard print, as if he's trying to imitate his cousin Oska.

First Among the Things Money Can't Buy: Fashion Sense.

Cultural Observances:

Pop star protegees: Oska wants to groom a pop star to be his successor, but he's not remotely serious about his music, so it's really just a way to keep himself in the news. Hilariously, the musical prodigy he picks to be his pet is not remotely interested because he's a serious musician/singer, unlike Oska. The only real K-pop protegees I can immediately think of are MBLAQ, who were kind of trained and sponsored by Rain, the godfather of K-pop.

The value of KRW: I have trouble remembering the conversion rates for dollars to won, but currently they seem to float at around 1000 KRW=1 USD. When JooWon tries to keep in touch with Raim, he uses the fact that she owes him money as a reason to meet with her. She owes him 40,000 won for a hospital visit, which is about $35. He's filthy rich, so it's clear that this debt is just an excuse to hang out.

Employment  is a big deal: Raim's best friend Ah-Young gets a special dinner from her boss and co-workers (complete with sparklers and hand-drawn signs) celebrating her five years of work at the department store. It's hard to explain the difference between the Korean version of celebrating steady employment and the American version of an office party, but there does seem to be a lot more weight and significance attached to longterm employment with an organization in K-dramas.

Happy Five Years of Employment To You!

New words: "Omo" is like Oh dear! or Oh my! Secretary Kim freaks out and says this when JooWon suggests eating the present of deer.

Episode Evaluations: When will the body-swapping happen? I don't know and I don't care. This is awesome and thoroughly engrossing. Boyish cousin Oska is in a position to grow, what with the protege, Raim, and Seul all interacting with him. JooWon's neuroses and snobbery are revealed to come from his whacked out family, and Raim is put-upon but still great.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Scripture Sunday: The Book of Ephesians

Ephesians is a generally positive letter, since it doesn't have any specific church-related problems to address. More than anything, it seems like Paul just wants to remind the Ephesians of all the good things that they as Christians have going for them.

One of the extended metaphors Paul uses is the idea that before accepting Christ, we human beings (and Gentiles in particular) are like strangers/aliens/foreigners, but when we are redeemed by Jesus, we become the adopted children of God. As a member of an adoptive family, I have always been touched by this adoption metaphor. What better way is there to understand how a person can be a complete stranger and then suddenly be a fully accepted and 100% "real" member of the family? And we aren't just adopted--we get a family inheritance (heaven), too. The sentences in Ephesians can be a little difficult to decipher at times just because there are so many clauses strung together in the King James Version, but triumphant tone here is clear.

The power of Christ is also emphasized in this book. Chapter one mentions how God "raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come" (1:20-21). To me, this is emphasizing that "Lion of Judah" aspect of Jesus' identity. I usually think of Jesus' sacrificial aspect first, of the way he gave himself for the world, but beyond his status as the "Lamb of God", he is also ordained to rule over everything one day.

The stranger/adoptee metaphor switches to a death/life metaphor in chapter two, where Paul says that we are all like dead people until God changes us: "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ" (2:4-5). Chapter 2 moves on to describe the peace and unity available through Jesus.

Ephesians has a lot of good, practical advice as well. In 4:1-2, Paul says "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love". That's a beautiful yet heavy request. How often do we think of our faith in Christ as our calling or our vocation? And yet, the importance of whatever we do in life pales in comparison to the importance of loving God and loving others through him. That's a pretty lofty vocation, but it's also one where there's no room for self-importance or pride--it's only through God's mercy that we are able to live out this high calling.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

K-Drama Review: Secret Garden, episodes 1-2

Contains Spoilers for Episodes 1-2

JooWon is a young CEO of the LOEL chain of department stores, and he's well known for being a cold, imperious boss. Little do his employees know that his austere demeanor is a cover-up for his host of anxieties and psychological issues. His fear of small spaces is so great, he can't step inside an elevator and has to climb dozens of stair flights if he wants to reach the higher floors of a building. JooWon is busy combating his neuroses, running his company, and going on arranged-match dates in hopes of finding a lady to be Mrs. Super-Special CEO, when he meets Raim, a brusque stuntwoman who turns his world upside down.

Raim is barely getting by in life. She's a skilled stuntwoman (or "action actress", as she prefers to be called), but all her hard work scarcely pays the bills and she secretly yearns to be considered girly and pretty, not just tough and cool. Raim meets JooWon when he mistakes for the actress she's doubling for--an actress who is dating JooWon's pampered cousin Oska. Pretty soon after meeting her, JooWon is smitten, but he can't bring himself to admit that he cares for a girl with no family background and no education. Raim doesn't know how to deal with this guy who acts sweet and vulnerable half the time and prideful the other half.

When I first heard the synopsis for Secret Garden, I could not have been less interested. I heard it was sort of a paranormal romcom with mystical body-swapping between the hero and heroine. It sounded awful. Every American movie or TV show I've seen involving this premise did an awkward and unfunny job with it (okay, except for Star Trek Voyager). But after two episodes, the body-swapping hasn't happened yet and I'm so invested in the hero and heroine, I don't mind what zany places this story might take them. Now I know why this show was one of the most popular of 2010.

Things I Loved: 1. Gil Raim. She passes the Buddy Test--for me to truly care for a heroine, I have to believe that I'd want to hang out with her in real life. With Raim, I know I'd be first in line to be her gal pal. It's impossible not to love someone this cool and savvy, yet humble.

Gil Ra-Im Ain't Nothin' to Mess With!

2. JooWon. The actor (Hyun Bin) does an amazing job with this character. Just when you think he's another cold businessman character, JooWon shows off his eccentricities. And then when he's been a little off-balance for awhile, he flips back into serious mode. Interestingly, while most K-dramas seem to focus on the girl's POV or at least split time equally between the protagonists, I feel like Secret Garden spends about 2/3rds of its time with JooWon because his emotional journey is going to be a bigger one than Raim's. All she needs out of life is confidence and maybe a little more money, but he's the person who truly needs to undergo some changes.

Polished, Suave, and Slightly Crazy.

3. The JooWon/Oska rivalry. JooWon always has to outdo his popstar cousin Oska, but it isn't really that hard to do. Despite JooWon's occasional childishness, he still knows how to run a business and he's much more of a grown-up than his playboy of a cousin. These two guys are always grumping at each other and playing power games, but there's a twinge of underlying affection there, as evidenced by how JooWon is constantly asking Oska for advice, despite Oska's complete cluelessness. I don't know why he bothers.

It's Hard to Respect a Man in a Leopard-Print Scarf.

Complaints: None. The first two episodes are perfect in terms of plot, character development, pacing and humor.


Power of Words vs. Power of Actions: Seul is a powerful woman, so she gets Raim kicked out of a department store and gets Raim's friend fired from her job with just a few pointed words. Yet, when Seul's friend's purse is stolen, Seul is powerless to stop the thief while the action-oriented Raim runs down the criminal and retrieves the purse. Words and actions are both powerful, but I prefer Raim's way of getting things done.

Smart, But Uses Her Brains for the Forces of Evil.

The Divide Between Rich and Poor: JooWon is so shocked by Raim's poverty, it's like he has never even thought that any lifestyles might exist outside his own posh, ritzy one. Raim's choice of food (fried pig intestines) and clothes (baggy, worn out, dark colors) is incomprehensible to him.

Running gags: JooWon's sparkly tracksuit. I thought his blue crocodile-looking jacket was kind of strange, but I was shocked to hear so many characters in the story making fun of the jacket. And when people make cracks about his attire, JooWon always has to reply by telling them that it's a very expensive tracksuit and the sequins were hand-stitched by a craftsman in Italy! It's even funnier because he's not a runner or an athlete by any stretch of the imagination.

The Hideous Tracksuit of Sparkliness.

Cultural Observances:

Arranged matches: Joo-Woon goes on mat-seon dates, special matches arranged with women who would make good potential wives--wealthy, educated women from important families. I think mat-seon literally means "marriage meeting". It's not like a betrothal because you can back out of it easily, but it's not like recreational dating either.

Hallyu wave: After many years of being on top of the music industry, Oska's popularity is waning in Korea, but he's still big in Japan. K-pop stars like to expand their audience to other countries, particularly Japan and China, so this is an accurate representation of how K-pop extends itself to other parts of the world.

K-pop socks: They may be tacky, but it's very popular to wear socks with pictures of K-pop stars drawn on them. Raim is an Oska fan, so she wears Oska socks, and JooWon rolls his eyes at this.

Episode Evaluations: So funny and so likable. Like I said, if I have to put up with zany antics and wacky hijinks to stay with these characters, I will. When you build an incredible cast, your audience will stick with you for the rest of the ride. Bring on episode 3!

Monday, January 16, 2012

K-Drama Review: Brain, Episodes 1-2

Contains Spoilers for Episodes 1-2

At the fancy Chunha University Hospital, brain surgeon Dr. Lee Kang Hun is hated by all. Well, maybe not hated, but the dude is seriously unpleasant and he's the bane of the interns' existence because he assigns extra work to already overworked young doctors. Dr. Lee never praises anyone, never tries to soothe his patients' feelings, and he always has to be right. He comes into conflict with Professor Kim, the best doctor at the hospital, who is a man who truly cares about educating others and about caring for his patients. The Professor thinks Dr. Lee is too arrogant, and he predicts that this arrogance will lead to trouble for the patients.

Dr. Lee is actually in a slow-boiling conflict with almost every character in this show. He resents Junseok, a happy doctor who never seems to have any problems, and he's mean to Ji-Hye, the only female intern at the hospital. Dr. Lee is even in conflict with his own mother, who always tries to bring him food and fresh clothes at the hospital, but he rejects her overtures of motherliness. When you add in a lot of hospital politics and people scheming for better positions, plus plenty of cranial traumas and operation scenes, you've got a very compelling medical drama.

I have a fondness for the medical drama genre, though the only medical show I ever truly followed was House (and Scrubs, which I don't think counts--it's more of a medical surrealist comedy). So since I didn't watch ER or Grey's Anatomy or any of the other popular long-runners, I'm not aware of all the standard plot points in a medical show, and as such I get to fully enjoy Brain and all of its intensity.

Things I Loved:

1. The high-stakes atmosphere. It isn't too long before the nail-biting sets in. "Oh no, the food-delivery kid was in a wreck!" "Oh no, Dr. Lee is operating when the Professor banned him from the operating theater for a week!" Most of the conflicts are actually on the realistic side, and the tensions and problems arise from the sort of things that would naturally happen in a hospital full of overachievers. And strangely enough, the tension in the show is not focused on the patients, and I'm actually more worried about how certain catastrophes are going to affect the doctors. It's a strange displacement because I feel like I ought to be sympathizing with the patients more, but Brain rarely takes time to establish the character and personality of the patients, like some other shows do. There is really no time or opportunity to invest in the lives of the patients because we are so in tune with the lives of the doctors. To me this isn't a flaw in the writing, it's just a choice about where to put the focus of the story.

This Show Is Not About Patients. It Is About Me.

2. Layered interaction. Nothing is perfectly simple. There's so much rivalry going on, but no one is really rivals in the exact sense because the Professor is more important than Dr. Lee, and therefore they aren't in a competition. And Dr. Lee is apparently more senior than Junseok and is out of his league as well, so these two aren't in direct competition, though Dr. Lee acts like they are. There isn't a romantic subplot yet (though there will be--I'm predicting Dr Lee--Ji Hye--Junseok), but when we get it, I'm expecting that it will be layered and complex because the people involved are complex.

3. Ji Hye. This show needed a girl in it, and she does pretty well. Even though she's attractive, she's clearly not an eye-candy doctor (you know, like when they cast a supermodel as a neurosurgeon?), and she seems to be successful without being crazily driven and type-A. When Dr. Lee is being a bad boss and grumping at everyone, Ji Hye calls him out for being a jerk. In return, Dr. Lee calls her out for her sloppy work, and says she relies on others to help her out. So she's skilled but has shortcomings, which keeps her from being too perfect. Good stuff!

Is Most Definitely Not a Mary-Sue.

4. Junseok. He's so sweet! He has a good relationship with his parents, he's unfailingly kind to servants and to patients, and he's helpful to Ji Hye. He's even understanding of Dr. Lee, so I'm waiting to see just exactly what Junseok's flaws are.

You Can Keep Waiting--I Have No Flaws.

Complaints: 1. Overacting. For the most part, everyone acts like they would in an American drama--emotions cranked up very subtly into a higher register. But a few character really overact with their eyes, especially Ji Hye and the other young interns. It looks more silly than emotionally gripping.


Family Relationships reveal character. Dr. Lee's family relationships are out of balance, just like his life is out of balance. Junseok has a loving and respectful relationship with his mom and dad who clearly enjoy his company, and this balance carries over into his everyday life.

Power vs. Compassion: The Professor is more concerned with the well-being of his patients, while Dr. Lee only seems to care about patient survival as it reflects his own skill.

Cultural Observances:

The Oppa Whine:  In Korea, girls call their older brothers "oppa" instead of calling them by their names. But "oppa" his gradually come to mean more than big brother--it can mean, Close Guy Friend, Older Guy I Just Met, or Boyfriend, just depending. In most K-Dramas, one of the female characters will croon "oppppaaaa..." when she wants something, and her male friend or boyfriend will inevitably cave to her request. Dr. Lee has a teenage baby sister, so this show marks the first time I've heard the oppa-whine used from a girl to her actual brother. And in this case, it's a justifiable whine--"Oppaaaa, why won't you come home for dinner? Mom misses you."

Nicknames: Nicknames are pretty significant in any K-Drama. Dr. Lee asks an intern why he calls Junseok "Hyung" (big brother) when the intern only calls Dr. Lee "Doctor". The guy replies, "Erm, because I respect you the most!" No, Dr. Lee, it's actually because he likes you the least.

Bowing: Bowing is a standard greeting, so when the Professor snubs Dr. Lee by refusing to return his bows, it's a very harsh gesture. And it keeps happening. How many times is Prof going to snub Dr. Lee? Until he truly changes his bad attitude, I'm guessing. Bowing seem to happen in every other scene in this show or maybe I just notice it more when everyone's in white coats. When the gaggle of interns shows respect, it's like a fiesta of bows!

It's Also Great When They Walk Down the Hall in Formation.

Episode Evaluations: This is a good show. I like how it's focused on the doctors themselves, and seems to be delivering consistent storylines.

Watchable bonus: Here's a trailer for Brain.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Scripture Sunday: The Book of Galatians

This letter from the apostle Paul to the church at Galatia is an attempt to set them straight on a few important facts about faith vs. obedience to rigid religious laws. Paul has just barely dispensed with his greeting paragraph when he says to the Galatians, "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel". These people were happy to accept salvation through repentance and belief in Jesus Christ, but now they're following another philosophy entirely by trusting in their own good works to save them. Specifically, they're clinging to the old ways of Judaism and following all the intricacies of Moses' laws (ones that extend far, far, far beyond the basic guidelines of the Ten Commandments).

Paul isn't known for mincing words, and he certainly doesn't hold back when he's telling the Galatians that no one should add on to Jesus' gospel of salvation--"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (1:8). Paul is even making provision for his own human failings, here; Paul might one day fall away from the faith, but Jesus' words will still be true and should still be followed no matter what a human leader or a potential divine messenger might say.

One of the big issues in the church at this time in history seems to be the division between Jewish Christians and Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians.  The Jews are trying to make the Gentiles follow all the laws of Moses, when these laws having nothing to do with the new abundant life that Christians are supposed to have. Paul points out that continuing to hold to the religious laws is not the way to be justified (put into a right relationship) with God. "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ" (2:16). Even if a person were to perfectly adhere to the hundreds of detailed instructions in the Mosaic law, they would still be justified only through faith.

I think this Faith vs. Works debate is still a big deal in modern Christianity. Non-believers often see Christians as "People Who Don't Do Certain Stuff", and before you know it, we can start to see ourselves that way. We have a long list of bad things that we don't do, and that--combined with the long list of right things we try to accomplish--makes us feel very special. But we are not put into a right relationship with God by sticking close to an admirable list of stuff to do and not do. Justification comes through turning from your sins and trusting in Jesus' sacrifice. All the special religious rules matter very little if you don't have this part settled.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

K-Drama Review: Take Care of Us, Captain, Episodes 1-2

Contains Spoilers for Episodes 1-2

Dajin is a young Korean woman with dreams of being a top pilot, but unfortunately she graduates from flight school just in time to be confronted with her mother's death (which, ironically, happens aboard a plane). Yoon-Seong is a pilot who fails in his important responsibilities by briefly losing control of a plane. His carelessness contributes to the death of Dajin's mother, and Dajin's father also dies, leaving her to raise her infant baby sister. Timeskip ahead to seven years in the future, when Dajin and Yoon-Seong again cross paths as pilots, only he's antagonistic toward her, not knowing their unfortunate past connection. What will happen when the truth is revealed? *cue dramatic music*

You'd better prepare yourself for some soap opera-level plot points, minus the sleaziness, because this show is all about the tears and pain and twists of fate. Near crashes! Emergency flights! Malfunctioning planes! Passengers in critical condition! There's some great drama, but also some coincidences that are hard to believe and some real problems connecting with Yoon-Seong and Dajin.

Things I Loved:

1. Goo Hye-Sun. The actress, not the character she plays, because I don't connect with the character as she's written. I watched this show just because I love this actress and wanted to see her in whatever project she had going. Goo Hye-Sun is most famous for her lead role in the popular show Boys Over Flowers, which I still haven't seen, but I actually adored her performance in a much less publicized show called The Musical. There's just something about her freshness and positivity that comes through in every scene she does--she might always be playing a tiny variation on the same character, but it's a character I like. Yay for pluck and courage!

And Oh My Goodness, She's So Adorable!

2. Ji Jin Hee. Again, the actor, not the character. His character, Yoon-Seong, is an odd mix of deep wounds and implacable coldness, so it was hard to root for him. However, the actor seems like he could be great in a different drama. When he tries to convey pain, I don't buy it because the plot and motivations don't make sense to me, but the actor himself sells the emotions very well.

Plus, He Looks Nice in a Uniform.

3. The presence of foreigners! Many of the scenes were filmed on location in Australia, so you get to see lots of Australians in the plane scenes and in airports, and hear their lovely accents in the few scenes which include English.

Complaints: 1. Melodrama. Take Care Of Us, Captain jumps between good solid drama (intense emotions and meaningful problems) and melodrama (over-emoting and too many wild problems at once). It's edge-of-your-seat viewing when Dajin's mother is dying, but then after the audience has made a huge emotional investment in this one particular loss, Dajin's dad dies in a quick car accident, counteracting the serious emotional climate of the show. Two big losses so close together wind up canceling each other out. And on top of that, Dajin has to raise her sickly baby sister. And on top of THAT, Dajin's aunt saddles her with a major debt and some loan sharks kick Dajin and the sick baby sister out of their house! Oy vey at the problems. I have no doubt that some real human beings have lived through similar bouts of unending trials, but it's a little much to jam pack into the first two episodes of a TV show. And I'm not even discussing Yoon-Seong's housefire-scars, abandonment issues, and his estranged former foster family!

Themes: Personal responsibility. There's a big emphasis on how the 4 "captain bars" of an aviator's suit represent the weight of responsibility and tough choices. Dajin's dad was a pilot who made a decision to protect all 300 passengers on his plane instead of trying a risky landing immediately to save his wife, who was in critical condition.Yoon-Seong tries to accept personal responsibility for his own mistakes, but he also ladles out a healthy dose of guilt to everyone around him. I've never thought about a pilot's responsibility to passengers before, but it really is the equivalent of a doctor going into surgery with a patient, at least in this show. The title of the show is very apt, considering the angle they're taking--we really do entrust our lives to these people and Take Care of Us, Captain is focused on the life-and-death decisions made by pilots.

Piloting is Serious Business, Y'all.

Cultural Observances

Funeral hanbok: At her mom's funeral, Dajin wears a formal traditional dress.

Cremation: We have this in America of course, but a burial scene in an American TV show is almost 100% guaranteed to have a full casket burial instead of a memorial to cremated remains, as we see here.

English bonus: Dajin finds a sort-of fortune telling note that says "climb your life" in English. Then she goes on a big, exciting climb over a massive bridge in Australia. I see how the message is intended to be empowering and symbolic, but "climb your life" is grammatically incorrect. Also, the Korean pilots and air traffic controllers speak English to each other over their radios, but I would not have understood them if not for the subtitles.

Episode Evaluations: It's an interesting setup/concept, and I like the leading actors. However, the melodrama will keep me from watching any more episodes.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Scripture Sunday: 2nd Corinthians

Paul's first letter to the Christians at Corinth was pretty harsh, and rightly so--the Corinthian church was plagued by division, lawsuits, and open sinfulness and they needed to be called out for some of their major issues. But now in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul is offering some comfort. Paul also addresses some rumors and accusations against himself from people who say that he is lacking as an apostle and is unqualified to preach.

After the initial greetings in chapter one, Paul presents a contrast between consolation and suffering, mentioning that God "comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ" (1:4-5). There's no denying that there's an element of suffering involved in being a follower of Christ. Jesus himself endured the ultimate suffering, so people who love him can't expect to avoid hardship entirely. However, Paul is discussing the immense spiritual comfort that God provides whenever we are experiencing trouble. Paul goes on to discuss his own tribulations and to thank the Corinthian church for praying for him and for his fellow ministers.

Paul also explains the reasons for the severity of his last letter: "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you." In other words, he wasn't trying to berate them or emotionally destroy them, but he was speaking in a stern manner because of how much he loved them and was worried about their behavior. One particular case of sinfulness that Paul pointed out in 1st Corinthians is addressed again, and Paul says that now that the man has repented of his wrongdoings, the Corinthians should comfort him and express their love for him.

Chapter 4 shows some more of the suffering/consolation paradox, when Paul speaks of himself and of other ministers of the gospel: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed" (4:8-9). They never give up because they are working toward an eternal goal, and the rewards are far greater than the price they pay: "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory"(4:17).

2nd Corinthians also has some very personal discussions from Paul, where he talks about things in his own life that he doesn't mention (or rarely mentions) elsewhere in the letters he writes. For one thing, chapter 12 mentions some kind of physical malady that Paul has, which the Lord has decided not to heal. Some people guess that Paul had a problem with his eyes, but the exact nature of his "thorn in the flesh" is never described. Paul ends his letter by saying that he's about to come and visit the Corinthians for a third time, and I like how this shows that he had an ongoing relationship with their church. He concludes with some encouraging words: "Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you" (13:11).

Thursday, January 5, 2012

K-Drama Review: The Musical, Episodes 3-4

Read episode reviews for: The Musical, Episodes 1-2

Contains Spoilers for Episodes 3-4

Back to the world of musicals, singers, and composers! It's an intriguing place to be. Eun-Bi and Jae-Yi are a little awkward with each other because he kissed her cheek in the last episode and it kind of freaked her out (I know, I's so cute). They're working together for a competition to win a big prize and have their musical "Chungdamdong Gumiho" made public. Jae-Yi tries to hide his involvement with the show because he has made a bad impression on Yujin, the main investor of an important theater company. Yujin finds out anyway that Jae-Yi has written the songs for this new show, but it's not Jae-Yi that Yujin has a problem with--it's sweet little unknown Eun-Bi.

If Yujin's company picks up the show, Eun-Bi won't be able to sing the lead. Instead, the famous actress Kang-hee will take over the part. But Jae-Yi isn't about to let his favorite singer/mentoree/best girl Eun-Bi lose out on the part he wrote for her. Yujin says that Eun-Bi and Kang-hee can share the role, but Eun-Bi herself finds a true compromise--what if she attends an open audition for the part, and then the best person is selected? Then no one will be able to say that the songwriter showed favoritism to Eun-Bi.

By episode four, the plot is coming along nicely, with no wasted space. In the beginning, I wasn't interested in the subplot with Yujin and his business stuff, but now I'm very invested in his storyline. It may be hard to love Yujin, but he does stand for order. He's all about the money, but he isn't going to cheat to make it, and I'm guessing his moral alignment would be "Lawful Neutral". Right now, due to some nasty, underhanded embezzling of funds by his own family, Yujin has to find a musical that will bring in a profit margin of 300%, and he thinks Gumiho is that musical. He moves back and forth between moments of genuine goodness and some very cold-hearted attitudes. Keep up the character development, Yujin. You just might be one of the more compelling characters in the cast.

The suspense is terrible. I hope it'll last.

Things I Loved: 1. Eun-Bi. I want to hug her and give her milk and cookies because her scenes are so emotionally gripping. My girl Eun-Bi melts cold hearts with her sweetness, and when Yujin witnesses her sorrow, this very guy who once kicked her out of an audition is now concerned for her. Sometimes she's meek and timid, like with Kang-hee, but at other times she rises to the occasion and fights for what she needs.

Looks Like a 12-Year-Old, Fights like a Pro.

2. Eun-Bi and Jae-Yi together. It's like a cuteness overload, but in no way annoying. They even have this whole discussion about their cheek-kiss and what it meant to each of them because he doesn't want her to feel awkward. When Eun-Bi suggests that another actress might be better for the Gumiho role because she can't sing the main tunes in a high register, Jae-Yi goes "No, I wrote the song for YOU, and I'm not changing it to suit other voices".  Aww.

And on the weird side, as a dropout med student, Eun-Bi has a side job washing cadavers, and when she walks out of the building, Jae-Yi's waiting for her with coffee. He's very squeamish about her corpse-washing job and she scares him with her germy death hand. It's a great moment for them.

You Don't Want to Know Where This Has Been.

2. Plot surprises. Sometimes a new decision crops up out of nowhere and does great things to the storyline. Like Yujin's idea of double-casting the main role in Gumiho with Kang-hee and Eun-Bi splitting the part. I did not see that coming, and it made everything afterward so much more rich. 

Complaints: 1. Evil ex-girlfriend Kang-hee. She's a great nuanced villain, so the writing is excellent and I'm glad she's in the story, but ohhhh she makes me mad. She just won't let Jae-Yi go even though she has found money, fame, and a new relationship to keep her secure. It's like she enjoys the power of having another person emotionally dependent on her, and it burns her up that Jae-Yi is increasingly less affected by her and more affected by Eun-Bi. She's petty and cruel to my favorite character Eun-Bi, and she's hitting on Jae-Yi even though she's married, now! Yuck.

Wants to Have Her Cake and Eat it, Too.

2. Repeated scenes from another show. Eun-Bi punching a strong-man machine and hitting baseballs to burn off steam would have been awesomer if I hadn't seen another main character (also named Eun-Bi!) doing exactly that in Flower Boy Ramyun Shop.


Responsibility: Yujin is being held responsible for fixing his cousin's horrible financial decisions. Cleaning up someone else's mess is never fun, and Yujin is handling other people's responsibilities on a few different levels. These episodes explain Yujin's tense relationship with art, because his own dad left him in a tough spot when Dad picked an artistic life over his business responsibilities. Dad's abandonment left super-smart Yujin at the mercy of a jealous uncle who wants to see him fail.

Smartest Guy in the Family, Ironically the Black Sheep.

Heartfelt Singing vs. Vocal Perfection:  With Kang-hee and Eun-Bi, I think this show is setting up a vocal contrast something like Carlotta and Christine in The Phantom of the Opera--one woman is a diva with a perfect voice and plenty of experience, but the other has clarity and sweetness and heart. Guess who the audience is going to root for?

Love vs. Career Dreams: I really think we're going to get both things with this show. Eun-Bi says she wants to focus on the upcoming musical auditions alone, hinting that Jae-Yi shouldn't make any moves. But I like how Jae-Yi puts together what Eun-Bi really means. He doesn't press the issue, but he still notes to himself that she's essentially saying that she finds him more distracting than even musicals, which are her favorite thing in the world. In another drama, the main guy might take offense at her rebuff, but Jae-Yi just smiles to himself, knowing what it signifies.  And really, this show is more focused around "Will Eun-Bi succeed?" than "Will Eun-Bi and Jae-Yi get together?" Because we know they will. They are two wonderful people who deserve each other, but Eun-Bi's career dreams will be the harder thing to achieve.

Look at Him--He's Sold. The Fight is Over.

Mirrored scenes: Yujin watches Eun-Bi's audition tape again and again, moved by her effort and by the way Kang-hee verbally destroys her in public. Maybe he sees a parallel between Eun-Bi's situation and his own--receiving a thorough public shaming for no good reason, then being expected to succeed and excel under impossibly difficult terms.

After Kang-hee's awful behavior, precious little Eun-Bi still wants her autograph because Kang-hee's autobiography inspired her to sing. It all comes around full circle--Eun-Bi got interested in musicals because of Kang-hee's book, and now it's Kang-hee who is trying to crush her dream.

No Conscience+Loads of Talent=Spoiled Brat.

Cultural Observances:

Gumiho: The title of the main play is "Changdamdong Gumiho". This mythical creature is a bit like the Japanese kitsune, only a gumiho is always female and usually vicious, while kitsune are more mischievous.

Songs in (or inspired by) English: "If You Leave Me Now" by Chicago plays while Eun-Bi and Jae-Yi have breakfast. "Open Door" by Swedish singer Lisa Ekdahl plays as Kang-hee warms up. Eun-Bi sings the Korean version of "Roxy" from Chicago.

New words: "Ya!" is hey, or hey you, and I think it's super-informal speech, something you can only use with someone of equal or lesser status.

Episode Evaluations: So sweet, with so much emotional payoff. Very good developments, here.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

K-Drama Review: The Musical, Episodes 1-2

Contains Spoilers for Episodes 1-2

Eun-Bi is a medical student, but her heart is in musicals. She daydreams about the Phantom of the Opera and watches musicals on her iPhone when she should be paying attention in class. She hasn't tried out for any shows yet, but she entertains herself by singing at all hours.

Jae-Yi is a composer who has worked on hit musicals, but now he's burned out and he wants to write pop hits. He's a little frayed around edges, a little world-weary, and he says that money and fame are his major goals. (Uh-huh. We'll see how long that lasts.) Some of his hesitancy to compose has to do with his ex-girlfriend Kang-hee, whom he knows he'll run into if he rejoins the world of musicals. Six years after the breakup, Jae-Yi has not moved on. One night, Jae-Yi hears Eun-Bi singing one of his songs on the street and he tells she has no talent for musicals. But his insult gives her the strength to pursue her dreams.

Fast-forward to one year later, when Eun-Bi has cut her hair into a boyish bob and is working in the snack bar at a movie theater as a way to support her dream. She is faced with opposition not only from musical producers (she has auditioned 80 times with no results), but also from her dad who is tired of her taking leaves of absence from med school. Fortunately, Eun-Bi meets Jae-Yi again and he is actually impressed by her energy and her ability to memorize music. He takes her on as an apprentice because he wants to do something that will bring back the joy of music for him. Jae-Yi gives her a big opportunity--if she wants to be in a brand new musical, he'll sign on for the project as well and write the music. If she isn't ready to follow her dreams, he'll back out of the project, too. Guess what she picks?

Things I Loved: 1. Eun-Bi. She wins me over right away. How could you not love a girl who's smart enough for her third year of med school but wacky enough to daydream about musicals? I sing so much myself, I feel like she's a kindred soul. As an actress, she wins me over 100%, and makes me want to see her happy and see her achieving her goals.

Completely Devoted to Music, and Soooo Cute.

2. Eun-Bi and Jae-Yi together. When they meet again a year later, not remembering each other, it's an adorably sweet moment when he asks her to sing part of the new song he's written. You mean he's going to play pretty music while she sings it? Whee! Even in the first two episodes, these people are good for each other. When Eun-Bi's with Jae-Yi, her confidence is better, and when Eun-Bi says that music electrifies her, her attitude challenges Jae-Yi to examine why he makes music. And he's so nice. Could we possibly have a male lead who is actually an upstanding guy? Normally, the K-drama leading men are jerks at least to some degree, but this guy recommends Eun-Bi for a role in a big musical, becomes her tutor, and is generally helpful.

Nice Man. Successful Composer. Your Mother Would Love Him.

3. The stressful auditioning process. While this is not by any means a dark, gritty show, it does portray the sadness and embarrassment of failing an audition. All over the world, it's the same--you have to work, claw, and scrape to get an audition and even if you are cast, your chances of success are extremely slim. This show doesn't really try to sugarcoat the difficulties of being a struggling actor or singer, and I appreciate the lack of overt glamour.

Get Used to Disappointment.

4. Funny moments. I particularly appreciated Eun-Bi comparing her own face to Nickhun of the K-pop band 2PM, when deciding whether she could pass as a boy to win a male role in an audition.

No, Eun-Bi, You Look Nothing Like This.

Complaints: 1. Christine. She's bossy, braggy, clingy, and terribly annoying.  Christine moves in with Eun-Bi for free room and board and offers singing lessons in return, only her lessons have a negative affect. I really dislike the freeloading Christine, but I hope she may have some positive impact in the future plot rather than just being a monkeywrench in the proceedings.

Your Cutesy Act Isn't Fooling Anyone, Missy.

Themes: Love of Art vs. Love of Fame/Money. Eun-Bi loves musicals just for the sheer joy they bring her. Jae-Yi loves his art, but in order to protect himself, he has decided to focus on money. Yujin on the other hand likes his profits and only supports art as long as it's lucrative...

Yujin is an interesting character. He's the grandson of an important businessman, and he invests money in musicals. Yujin's very intelligent and knows where to put his money, and he also has a lot to prove to his own relatives, who have some major inter-family tensions. But is he a hero or a villain in this story? It could go either way.

Cold, Calculating...and Sinister?

Cultural Observances:

Korean stuff vs. American stuff: Gu Jak jokes about giving Jae-Yi a "New York style" welcome, before hugging him. Christine also says "New York style" in regard to a certain kind of singing, which I've also heard called "the Broadway belt". Jae-Yi himself went to Juliard in New York.

Soju: Jae-Yi threatens to stop buying soju for his friend Gu Jak, and the little green bottles can be seen in a few different scenes. Korea is basically the Ireland of Asia, so drinking culture is huge over there, and it's absolutely normal.

K-pop: The hit song "Roly Poly" by T-ara plays in Eun-Bi's apartment.

New Words: "Halmoni" is "grandmother", and Eun-Bi has a lot of phone calls with her grandma.

Episode evaluations: Surprisingly endearing. The show might not be very funny, but it has a couple of lead characters who I care very much about. I think I'll keep watching!

Watchable bonus: Here's the first part of the first episode, subtitled in English. Taken from Youtube.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Scripture Sunday: 1st Corinthians

1st Corinthians is the first of two letters Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth. Corinth had a lot of problems, and sometimes the believers in Christ got very far away from the truth of the gospel.

To start with, the Corinthians were dividing themselves into factions based on which spiritual leader they preferred, Paul, Peter, or Apollos. Paul points out the foolishness of this distinction in chapter 1, verse 13, "Was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" He's saying that Jesus Christ is the one we follow; Christians are not supposed to be divided into groups that follow after an idolized preacher or spiritual leader. Divisions in the church are not a good thing.

Chapter 5 deals with an even more serious situation in the church. Fornication (that's sex outside of marriage) is a problem for the Corinthians, and one person in their congregation is especially noteworthy because he's sleeping with his father's wife. And the Christians at Corinth are conducting business as usual instead of confronting this guy for his sins. Paul makes an important distinction between the way Christians are supposed to treat other Christians who are living in open sin and the way we're supposed to treat non-Christians. We are to love non-Christians and spend time with them, but when someone says they belong to Jesus and yet they live their lives in open sin, Paul says we are not to fellowship (keep company) with these people. 5:11--"But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat."

But after addressing these very difficult moral matters, Paul says some beautiful things about Christian love in Chapter 13, "The Love Chapter", which is one of the most well-known passages in the New Testament. Paul is in the midst of discussing spiritual gifts like prophesying and speaking in tongues when he says in 13:1--"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." The word "charity" in this case means "love" instead of the modern sense of "giving to the poor". Paul is saying that even if he has the flashiest and most impressive spiritual gifts, his words will be like the sound of a clanging instrument if he speaks without being motivated by love. God does not place a lot of value on people showing off their spiritual side--he cares about our hearts and whether we love him and love others. Here's the rest of chapter 13, for reference:

"2And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
4Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."

1st Corinthians addresses many painful issues in the early church, but it also shows believers the importance of truly allowing God's love to work in our hearts.