Thursday, August 30, 2012

K-Drama Review: Faith, Episodes 5-6


Read Episode reviews for:

Faith--Episodes 1-2
Faith--Episodes 3-4
Faith--Episodes 5-6
Faith--Episodes 7-8
Faith--Episodes 9-10
Faith--Episodes 11-12
Faith--Episodes 13-14
Faith--Episodes 15-16
Faith--Episodes 17-18

Contains Spoilers for Episodes 5-6

Hurray, Faith is back. I missed you, show.

Our villain Gicheol just accused time-travelling heroine doctor Eunsoo of being a demon. Kind of a lame accusation, but in this superstitious time period, the charge just might stick.

Adept at Accusing the Innocent, and Dramatic Finger-Pointing.

But King Gongmin laughs off the accusation and starts his own political battle of wits with Gicheol. The King wins for awhile, but Gicheol just won't let the heavenly maiden matter go, so the brainy Queen has to stand up and defend Eunsoo, saying that Eunsoo miraculously saved her life when no one else could. Yay for standing up for your friend! Then Gicheol starts cursing Eunsoo, and she dishes it right back to him. I love it. Modern-day girl is not going to take flak from an ancient nobleman.

Eunsoo even tells Gicheol that she remembers from her history books how he dies, but she's pointedly not telling him how, because she hates him. Then she walks out of court to tend to her patient Choi Young. I could tap-dance right now, I love this scene so much. She totally drained after the encounter, but still.

Fainting Onto the Doctor? I Think You've Earned It.

And now in sick Choi Young's dream, he's remembering his still-existing love for his dead girlfriend. I don't much care--I'm more than ready for him and Eunsoo to become a thing. Choi Young's dream about the girl is ambiguous, but I'm led to believe that she hanged herself after the incident with the evil king. Or maybe she merely left the country? Like I said, ambiguous.

We get a tad bit of Eunsoo backstory. She was a plastic surgeon in Gangnam (Oppan Gangnam Style!), but before that she trained to be a cardiothoracic surgeon, which explains her proficiency at serious surgeries. Doctor correctly deduces that she went into a low-risk job because she didn't want to watch any of her patients die. If Choi Young passes, it will devastate her because he'll be her first death.

Live, Choi Young! If Only For Her Sake.

Now Gicheol makes a personal appeal to the King, which is naturally a mere power play--will the King loan Eunsoo to Gicheol, to heal a dying member of his household? If she's really from heaven surely she can do this and if not, Gicheol can kill her quietly to save the King from embarrassment. But somewhere mid-conversation, the argument gets a little weirder and Gicheol says he wants to win the King's heart, and the King replies that Gicheol must win Eunsoo's heart first. Huh? Maybe my subtitles just rendered strangely, because it's odd to go from wantign to kill Eunsoo to winning Eunsoo's loyalty in the span of two minutes.

In the medical wing of the palace, Choi Young goes into cardiac arrest, but Eunsoo saves him, just barely. I admire her bravery right now, fighting to save a person she wounded, who is also her only chance of ever getting home.

Girl Has Been Through a Lot, This Week.

The Queen, however, is burned up that her husband would just let Gicheol possess Eunsoo for a week. I'm with you, Queen--ew. Also, the Queen wants Eunsoo to look after Choi Young, and the King wonders if the Queen favors Choir Young a bit too much; she seems to be more worried about him than about her husband. With tears in her eyes, she says she's sorry for disturbing the King and that she'll never find him and ask him any questions again in the future.

Gicheol's men go to the medical wing and take Eunsoo away by force. I hate how she's helpless against the King's order--if the King gives her to Gicheol temporarily, she can either go along with it, or die at swordpoint. Choi Young soon makes his recovery and wakes up, and his is greatly displeased that Doctor let Eunsoo be led away.

You Wouldn't Like Him When He's Greatly Displeased.

Believe it or not, the King is not the bad guy in this scenario. He has so precious few options open to him, and Gicheol presses him into the worst decisions. King Gongmin is nearly on the verge of weeping when he finds out the Choi Young has gone after Eunsoo--it means that in addition to his Queen, his best friend think he is an incompetent King who can lend him no aid. Oh, sweetheart. You are not a bad or a foolish person, you just need some guidance and support!

At Gicheol's house, Choi Young gets in a knock-down drag-out fight with the local goons. All goes well until Sephiroth pulls out his magic flute and plays the death note.

You May Joke About the Hair, But Respect the Flute.

Blood drips from Choi Young's ears and mouth, but he survives, due to his protective lightning powers. He finds Eunsoo, but Gicheol and his supernatural posse aren't far behind. Choi Young asks Gicheol to free Eunsoo before any more blood is shed because he likes her, and he can't let a woman he likes be held captive. Of course he's making this story up, but it's still pretty cool to hear him say it.

Gicheol invites Choi Young to have a drink or two with him. Choi Young samples Eunsoo's drink for poison with the excuse that it's better for him to drink the poison than her, since she can cure him anyway. At the meal, people keep trying to intimidate Eunsoo, but she just takes the wind right out of their sails. Choi Young cannot contain his mirth at Eunsoo causing trouble for other people besides him.

Finally Appreciates Her Brashness.

But Gicheol has more menace up his sleeve--he wants to take Eunsoo and make her cure the sick former king of Goryeo. Uh-oh. This had better not be the drunk molester-king from that flashback in episode 4, because we'd all like him to die. Eunsoo and Choi Young set off on a short journey to where the former king lives in exile, and she starts teasingly asking Choi Young when he first fell in love with her.

Choi Young is a bit of a brat and puts her in an armlock to get her to stop talking. But she just punches him in the chest and skips off happily, still teasing him about liking her and not letting him explain why he said that. He growls when she can't hear, "Why of all people did I have to bring that woman back from heaven? Why?" Tee-hee. Gotta love frustrated Choi Young.

Soon, They Are Bickering On Horseback.

When they arrive at the exiled king's house, it's clear that this is not the old bad king I expected--it's a king in between the bad one and Gongmin, a sweet child of about twelve who collapses into Choi Young's hug when he sees him. This scene stabs you right in the heart--the kid thinks of Choi Young as his big brother and has missed him terribly. He's also sick and living in poverty.


As Tiny King is getting his medical exam from a totally charmed Eunsoo, Choi Young excitedly describes "heaven" (modern-day Seoul) for him. Tiny King seems to have a form of cancer and Eunsoo wants to take him back to the palace for a surgery, but Choi Young tells her that he can't leave his rickety house or he'll be violating the law. Wouldn't you know it? Circumstances combine to ensure that Choi Young has to take the kid out of the house to save his life. And now he'll have to answer to the current King for it and look like a traitor. Noooo!

Things I Loved:

1. Animation. I like how Faith is keeping some artsy animation in each episode, when the story deals with dreams, flashbacks, or legends. It adds to the atmosphere and sets the show apart from other dramas.

Feast Your Eyes Upon the Lovely.

2. King Gongmin's Vulnerability. This guy's distress touches my heart. I feel sympathy for Choi Young, Eunsoo, and the Queen, but I also have complete assurance that Choi Young will battle his way out of any problem and that Eunsoo and the Queen's gutsiness and spark will see them through any challenge. But our king? I worry about him. His actor portrays him as a flawed but honorable man pushed to the brink of what he can bear, and we know if he snaps, everything goes downhill with him.

Hang In There, Your Majesty.


1. Silly Fight Scenes. They used to be awesome, but now that fight scenes involve so much overdone wirework flying, they become kind of abstract and disconnected from reality.

2. Gicheol's Villain Laugh. Possibly the most annoying laugh ever to exist.

Watch Faith on DramaFever.

Episode Evaluations: Nothing too shocking here, but we get even more character development and political complexity, and our hero and heroine get to know each other better, so it's a good pair of episodes.

Monday, August 27, 2012

K-Drama Review: To The Beautiful You, Episodes 3-4

Read Episode reviews for:

To The Beautiful You--Episodes 1-2
To The Beautiful You--Episodes 3-4
To The Beautiful You--Episodes 5-6
To The Beautiful You--Episodes 7-8
To The Beautiful You--Episodes 9-10
To The Beautiful You--Episodes 11-12
To The Beautiful You--Episodes 13-14
To The Beautiful You--Episodes 15-16

Contains Spoilers for Episodes 3-4

In the aftermath of Dorm 2's victory party, high jumper Taejoon goes a little champagne-crazy and kisses his roommate Jaehee, a girl who he doesn't know is a girl or does he?

I Think Everyone's a Wee Bit Confused Right Now.

From the shadows, someone snaps a cellphone photo. Who would want to use blackmail against either of them? Jongmin, the dude who hates Jaehee? Or maybe Taejoon's high-jumping rival, whose name I cannot remember? Anyhow, when the kiss is over, Taejoon grins like a little child, then passes out into Jaehee's arms. She has to cart him back to their dorm in a wheelbarrow.

And the Campus Pet Joins Them. Dawww.

Jaehee's best bud Eungyul is looking for her, but instead Eungyul is found by Taejoon's gymnastic stalker, Hanna. Ooh, that's a lot of belligerent dialogue between these two. Are Eungyul and Hanna going to be our secondary couple?

Interestingly, while it has seemed all this time that Jaehee was pursuing Taejoon out of a stalker-based crush, her post-kiss feelings for him remain those of innocent hero worship. While he sleeps, she whispers that all she wants is to see him high jump again. I'm kind of surprised that she doesn't seem to want him for herself--she just wants to see her glorious angel mend his wings and fly again. Huh.

Fly, My Grumpy Angel. Fly, Fly!

Taejoon doesn't remember anything, but the next morning someone sends the entire school a text message with the incriminating picture in it. Yeah, it was totally Rival Dude who sent that, because he teases Taejoon about the photo in front of everyone in the snack room (as One Direction's song "One Thing" plays in the background!). Jaehee rushes to Taejoon's defense and says that the kiss was her idea, because it's a common greeting in America. I love how in K-dramas, America always ends up sounding like this giant mishmash of endless hugs and kisses. Mwah. It's not like that, y'all!

Eungyul's falling for Jaehee a little bit, and he's wonders what this says about his orientation, but he notices that he's still magnetically drawn to attractive women, so he doesn't know what to think. He takes Jaehee on a double blind date with two girls, and everyone has a fun time. Eungyul starts to fall for his date, but she tells him she's got a boyfriend already. I think Eungyul just wants love, no matter from whom.

Won't Somebody Comfort This Sweetie?

Jaehee has a big episode in town where she goes chasing after Lettuce, the school's dog, who also ran away from Taejoon earlier. Jaehee and Taejoon find the dog and each other, then walk back to the dorms together. Taejoon saves Jaehee from getting splashed by a rainwater from a passing bus, except that he drops their umbrella to do so, getting them both even wetter. It's just an excuse for the audience to see more hugs, I think.

The weekend comes up at school, and dorm captain Seungri invites Jaehee, Eungyul, and Jongmin to come stay at his mom's beach house/inn over the break. Taejoon's Rival is coming, too, but not Taejoon himself. Heh heh--Seungri lured most of the guys to his house under the pretense of girl-watching at the beach, but it turns out that his mom needed help painting the beach house, so they're recruited to work all weekend!

Not The Way They Saw Their Saturday Going.

School Doctor takes Taejoon away from campus so Taejoon can escape an uncomfortable interview with his father. But School Doctor takes Taejoon to Seungri's mom's beach house/inn, so all our main cast are in the same place. Taejoon snaps some photos of the scenic locale and it seems like he might have a talent for photography. Is it just a hobby, or is this going to become his new passion, to replace high jumping?

Hanna also arrives at the beach, to better stalk Taejoon, and one of the inn's employees discovers that Jaehee's a girl, so conflict begins to swirl. Hanna is actually nice on this trip, though, and she makes Taejoon some cookies he used to like when his mom was alive. She has never seemed outright mean, and I'm glad to see there's a real warm side to her.

Too Bad She's Barking Up the Wrong Tall, Brooding Tree.

Taejoon does smile at Hanna and accept her cookies. They really do seem to have a strong thread of friendship under Taejoon's outward distaste and Hanna's outward obsession.

We have a series of spa-related near-misses where first Hanna then Eungyul nearly find out Jaehee's a girl. But instead we get Eungyul and Hanna having a big fight before anyone can see Jaehee. I'm starting to look forward to Eungyul-Hanna fights, thought Hanna is incredibly abusive--poor Eungyul is going to have a fractured skull before this is over. He actually does pass out in a slapstick way from all the whacks to the noggin he's received fom her.

The Entire Ensemble Cast is Quite Concerned.

Creepy inn Employee who knows Jaeehee's a girl asks her to go into town to grocery shop with him. Taejoon grows suspicious of the guy and follows them on his bicycle. Turns out that creepy employee drives out to the middle of nowhere specifically to assault Jaehee. Taejoon stops him, but not before Jaehee gets punched in the face and injures her still-healing ankle. Taejoon gives Jaehee a piggyback ride all the way back to the inn, and they get back after sunset.

The predator gets away without retribution, apparently, and everyone rides home in a bus. Taejoon is now back to thinking of his own personal drama and the rumors swirling about his high-jumping woes.

I Thought You Didn't Even Want to High-Jump Anymore?

Jaehee soon gets word that her oppa (big brother/older guy friend) from America is coming to visit her! Oppa is played by Julien Kang, a half-Korean half-French actor who also speaks flawless English. *heart flutter*

To fool her oppa who thinks she's attending an all-girls' school, Jaehee steals Hanna's school uniform. I'm still trying to process the fact that we're back to our cutesy, sneaky hijinks so quickly after such a horrible event nearly happened to Jaehee. But when Oppa takes Jaehee on the cutest shopping trip ever, I begin to forget about all the real-world issues we almost addressed.

New Hairbows Cure Old Traumas.

Oppa knows that Jaehee loves Taejoon as an athlete-idol, so when he finds out that Taejoon is doing a signing event nearby, he drags Jaehee to get an autograph. Taejoon doesn't recognize her, and all is well. Oppa leaves and Jaehee goes back to her life as a boy....until Oppa, who is a doctor, shows up at school to help Taejoon and sees Jaehee in her usual dudely clothes!

Oppa is NOT Happy About This.

Jaehee explains to Oppa that watching Taejoon jump gave her inspiration and courage in life, and she had to come here to try to pay him back. It's silly, but she means it with all her heart. Taejoon  overhears her talking about him, and also overhears the fact that she's a she. Taejoon seems deeply touched by Jaehee's support, but he decides it's best for her future if he sends her on her way back to America.

Holy cow, Minho's acting just got better! You can actually tell how much his character likes Jaehee and how badly it hurts to send her away after such a short time together. I knew he could do it! Jaehee is broken up about getting kicked out by Taejoon for, like, the fourth time in as many episodes.

At Least She Has Eungyul's Shoulder to Cry On.

She leaves school in the middle of the night, which is a total fakeout because somebody's going to stop her at the beginning of the next episode.

Things I Loved:

1. Eungyul/Hanna. Is it sad that their interaction is sharper and more interesting than much of the interaction between our lead couple? Or maybe I just prefer snappy dialogue between a pair to cold silence and longing glances, which is what Taejoon and Jaehee supply. Eungyul and Hanna's actors also seem to be having fun with their scenes.

Kind-Hearted Dork and Spoiled Princess? So Much Potential Here.

2. Sulli's Acting. Gosh, this child is adorable. Jaehee's way out on the far branches of sanity, but Sulli makes her seem real, vulnerable, and full of joy. You gotta love it.

Cute Enough to Bring a Tear to Your Eye.


1. Bad Episode Endings. Is this show catching the weird "anticlimactic ending" syndrome from my favorite sageuk historical drama, Faith? Episode 3 trailed off into nothing.

2. Too-Heavy Themes. To The Beautiful You is supposed to be made of froth and bubblegum, but then we have an attempted rape at the beginning of episode 4. I'm not against this type of plot point in general, but it feels a bit too extreme for this show. Suddenly having a sexual predator threatening Jaehee feels incredibly disturbing, and I don't know that viewers of this particular show want "disturbing" to be a part of their weekly viewing experience. We barely have time to process the awfulness before we're back to the happy-go-lucky.

Forget the Dark Themes From 5 Minutes Ago, We're Shooting Athletic Commercials!

Episode Evaluations: The settings are so, so pretty. The school, the beach, and everywhere in between is so pristine and clean and well-lit. There are lots of little giggles to be had, but no real tension because the stakes are so low all around (ep. 4 excepted). It doesn't so much matter what happens as the way in which it happens, which is very cute.

It's rather hollow at the core, but the shell is very shiny.

And yet I'm put off by the sudden hyper-serious turn in episode 4. Nothing happens, but the suggesting of rape and then its quick dismissal  is enough to make this episode hard to fully enjoy.

Friday, August 24, 2012

K-Drama Review: Faith, Episodes 3-4


Read Episode reviews for:

Faith--Episodes 1-2
Faith--Episodes 3-4
Faith--Episodes 5-6
Faith--Episodes 7-8
Faith--Episodes 9-10
Faith--Episodes 11-12
Faith--Episodes 13-14
Faith--Episodes 15-16
Faith--Episodes 17-18

Contains Spoilers for Episodes 3-4

Back to the story!

Note: I was wrong about the historical era of this show. I said it was the Joseon period of Korea (AD 1392-1897), but it's actually set in the Goryeo period (AD 918-1392). It's like the difference between Victorian England and Regency England--quite different, when you examine them.

Choi Young, chief royal bodyguard to the king and queen of ancient Korea, is undergoing surgery from Eunsoo, a female doctor from modern day Seoul who found herself caught on the wrong side of history.

In villain land, our Big Bad (Gicheol) is fuming about his thwarted attempts to kill the Queen. He talks things over with his cohort...White Hair. I'm not even going to bother learning this guy's name.

He May Also Answer to "Sephiroth".

Choi Young awakens, wincing horribly, but still moving around pretty well for a man whose liver was stitched back together only 12 hours ago. He's worried about the King, and says that everyone must leave the inn immediately, or they'll all be killed.

While Everyone Else Stands Amazed at His Not-Dead-Ness.

They all caravan onward, with Eunsoo riding in the pavilion with her sick royal highness, the Queen. Eunsoo tries to make small talk with the Queen, which is pretty funny because the Queen is sympathetic and half understands why Eunsoo is so befuddled--Eunsoo came from "heaven," but was brought by force, much like the Queen's own forced marriage and her move to Korea. Queenie is one smart chick, all told. But now her husband the King is wanting her to meet his retainers with him, which she can't very well do while still looking like she survived an assassination attempt.

So It's Eunsoo to The Rescue With Her Hello Kitty Mirror.

Eunsoo plays the unnie (언니, big sister) and does a quick makeover for the queen. I love their budding friendship so much. But the fixing-up is all for naught because when the King and his entourage walk into the capital one is waiting to greet them. The nobles are all feasting with Gicheol, who planned the party intentionally to snub King Gongmin as he returned from Yuan.

Oh, man. It's heartbreaking to see the little king (literally very small; the actor is a petite man, which adds a great emphasis to the King's vulnerability) come home to no welcome and no recognition.

Just Barely Holding It All Together.

But some older court ladies come to tend to the King and Queen, and the matter is smoothed over for the moment. Choi Young stumbles off to heal his own internal injuries with his lightning powers. Okey-dokey, I thought he was Storm, but he's shaping up to be more like Wolverine.

A flashback shows us how the King broke his young wife's heart before he even knew who she was. In the Yuan palace, he met her and assumed she was a Korean hostage like himself because of her Korean language skills. She became his confidante when he wanted to complain about awful Yuan princess he'd be forced to marry, not knowing that the woman he was falling for and the woman he despised were the same person. Eee.

The two doctors, ancient and modern, confer in the palace's medicinal herb garden. Court Doctor thinks Eunsoo should be more earnest about saving lives. She's just a little too chatty and blithe for his tastes.

Just Got A Serious Set-Down.

The King learns that villain Gicheol killed a bunch of his loyal retainers and is swaying the hearts of the rest of them. The King chooses Choi Young's advice on how to proceed over his Advisor's advice, saying that there's only one person in the world he can trust--his captain of the guard, who nearly died to fulfill his orders. To Choi Young, he says, "I'm going to treat you like my trusted friend. Can you treat me the same way?" It's so great that the King and Choi Young get grow closer this episode, just as Eunsoo and the Queen do. They should double date.

But! Choi Young produces a written order from the last king, honoring Choi Young's request to leave military service and live as a commoner after he brought the new King safely back to Korea. Ah, sweet King, what are you to do? Let your new bestie go free and lose the only man you trust, or keep him around against his will and risk embittering his spirit against you?

Set the Genie Free!

The King does exactly what he has to, and exactly what you hope he won't do. The King tells Choi Young that he must find proof of who killed all the loyal retainers. After that, the King will think about freeing Choi Young.

Next, Eunsoo goes seeking out her "patient" Choi Young to see how he's mending. Choi Young refuses treatment, and Eunsoo throws a fit--he drags her from her home and brings her to this strange place just to drop her with nothing to do and no one to turn to?

Her Complaints Are Absolutely Valid.
He blows her off and tells her to stay safe at the palace until he completes his mission. He's clearly struggling with some feelings toward her, but I think it's resentment and exasperation as much as attraction. I'm starting to think that maybe her surgery is interfering with his magical healing abilities, so when she thought she was saving his life, she was hurting him. Or is it just that he wanted to die?

Now we get some backstory on Choi Young. Before being captain of the King's guard, he was a member of a group of warriors you can only join if you have magical fighting powers. Woo. I knew he was a big deal, but it looks like he's an even bigger deal than we previously understood. Soon, we're in another animated sequence, but this one is mixed with live action.

And It Looks So Very Crisp.

It's Choi Young's memory (or dream-vision?) of his father, who cryptically asks him, "Haven't you found it yet?"

Eunsoo is back with Court Doctor, who is getting her outfitted with some functional hanbok. She's musing over how she traveled to this place--her current theory is a wormhole in space. Very sci-fi. Eunsoo also meets with the King himself, and this money-conscious girl says that she'll forget all about being kidnapped if he lets her take some antique Goryeo ceramics back to the future with her. Heh. One scene later, we see her toting around the ceramic pot she wanted. Awesome!

Valuable Ancient Vase + Captain of The Guard...What More Do You Need?

Choi Young realizes belatedly that everyone in the palace and the nearby villages is gossiping about the heavenly maiden/divine healer among them. He'll have to move her to safety before someone else decides to kidnap her or assassinate her to make a point.

Choi Young soon tells more of his backstory to the King. He was part of an elite team of superpowered warriors, but the former king sent them on too many missions and even the special warriors died. Finally, the remaining warriors were going to be honored by the king. Flashback to a live action sequence and...ruh-roh. We see Choi Young talking happily with his BFF in the supernatural unit, a female warrior who was also maybe his girlfriend.

This Probably Doesn't End Well.

They all went to see the King they'd risked their lives for, and they found him to be a drunken, reveling lout who didn't even know who they were. (This explains Choi Young's firm belief that a king should be an honorable man--he's seen the flipside.) During their meeting, the former king pulled the captain's sword from its sheath and started dancing around with it, then accosted Choi Young's girlfriend and prepared to molest her in front of everyone. The captain of the warriors stepped between the king and the girl warrior, and the king ran him through with his own sword.

This is a worse backstory than I was expecting. The dying captain made Choi Young promise to protect the king, because by protecting the king, he'd be in a position to protect the supernatural warriors. The king just laughed as Choi Young's captain bowed and died. I feel sick, just watching this. Choi Young finishes his story and King Gongmin in the present says, "That king was my older brother."

Family Ties Are Not So Noble As He Thought.

The King leaves the room, saying "Don't bow to me. I'm too ashamed to see you." Eunsoo has been hiding behind a partition, listening to the whole story. As the King leaves, Choi Young collapses and Eunsoo rushes to him, calling him "Psycho!" After treating him, Court Doctor concludes that Choi Young has no more will to live.

The King has to go ahead and officially convene court without his captain of the guard. He knows that if he plays his cards wrong, the powerful Gicheol will simply kill him and take over the kingdom. And he can't just bow the knee and fawn over Gicheol in hopes of keeping his throne, so he tells everyone the Eunsoo, God's doctor, is a sign of the divine favor falling on Goryeo. Gicheol scoffs and accuses Eunsoo of being a demon. Uh, how does he plan to prove that?

End of episode.

Things I Loved:

1. Villains. They may be a bit cartoony, but I love that we have a male villain who kills people by playing death notes on his flute and a female villain, Hwasuin, who kills with her fire powers. It's like the Goryeo Brotherhood of Mutants.

Magneto Would Be Proud.

2. Animated Sequences. I like that the influx of new art styles is a recurring part of this show.



The episode endings still have awful, anticlimactic timing. This show is full of exciting moments and story climaxes, so why can we end on a high point instead of just trailing off into nowhere? Oy.

Watch Faith on DramaFever.

Episode Evaluations: Character development abounds in these two hours, and the result is that I care about everyone. Absolutely everyone. There's not a lot of action in these episodes as we establish everyone's backstory, but I'm glad that we're getting depth from each of the key players and understanding more of the intricacies of the political conflict. Lovely!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

K-Drama Review: Faith, Episodes 1-2

Read episode reviews for:

Faith--Episodes 1-2
Faith--Episodes 3-4
Faith--Episodes 5-6
Faith--Episodes 7-8
Faith--Episodes 9-10
Faith--Episodes 11-12
Faith--Episodes 13-14
Faith--Episodes 15-16
Faith--Episodes 17-18

Contains Spoilers for Episodes 1-2

So help me, I'm trying my first real sageuk (historical drama). And I hope it's good, or I might be put off of sageuks for another year or so. No pressure, Faith. No pressure!

Some intro animation tells us the story of HwaTa, a legendary doctor who could heal any injury or illness. He used a lot of acupuncture techniques, but his methods for healing internal injuries were a lot like ours today--he removed people's organs, then healed them and put them back, good as new. He healed an important conqueror named Jojo, but then had to flee from Jojo to avoid being made into the warlord's personal surgeon.

I Don't Want To; You Can't Make Me. Nyah.

HwaTa ended up traveling through a mystic wind-tunnel time portal to get away from the general. And that's where we leave the animation and enter the live-action section of our story, in ancient Joseon era Korea, 1351 AD. Already, two big themes of the show have been established: time-travel and medicine. And possibly a third theme of freewill/choosing one's own destiny.

In Joseon, a caravan of people travel down a muddy road. It's rainy and dank and....ooh, look, is that Lee Minho in a cape?

Yep. Like a Joseon Dynasty Batman.

Actor Lee Minho is playing Choi Young, chief royal bodyguard to the king and queen. He and all the other bodyguards have to place the royal couple in a nearby inn overnight after their royal wagon gets stuck in the mud. Everything seems to be going wrong with this trip--the wagon broke, they're headed to a port but the ship is mysteriously gone, plus everyone's pretty sure that enemies have been following them and are about to attack.

But is Choi Young worried? Not in the slightest. He's remarkably chill about the bad situation surrounding him. He even lays down to nap while the other 20 guards are securing the inn/tavern and preparing for battle. Upstairs, we learn that young King Gongmin is returning to Korea after a ten-year absence. Choi Young informs the King that they'll have to move the Queen into his room, to defend them both better, even though neither of them want to be close. So...the King and Queen are at odds?

She Does Not Look Happy About Rooming With Hubby.

Night falls and with it comes ninjas! Or whatever the Korean word for ninjas is. Dozens of darkly dressed men attack the inn in a really nice action sequence. The royal guards stand upstairs and pour some kind of reflective liquid on the attackers below, so they stand out garishly in the dim inn, like partygoers at a rave. But the bad guys just keep on coming. Upstairs, Choi Young kills like 12 assassins, but one still gets past him and cuts the Queen's neck with his sword. She begins to bleed profusely.

The court physician begins to patch up the Queen, and requests that Choi Young use his "power" first. This turns out to be the magical ability to make people's heart rates slow down--Choi Young zaps the Queen with his glowing energy, and her heart rate slows, decreasing the bleeding.

Professional Bodyguard With Lightning Bolt Powers?

I like that we're seeing the magical element of the story really early on. And right now we need more magic because the Queen is from Yuan, a powerful part of China that is just looking for a reason to attack Korea and might very well do so if their princess dies. The Doctor can't help the Queen any further, because the artery in her neck is cut in half. What to do? 어떡해?

Choi Young and the King have a brief heart-to-heart, which is surprising. The vanilla milquetoast King is worried about his future, and he asks Choi Young, someone he respects, for his opinion of Gongmin as a king. After much prodding, Choi Young says that at age 21, King Gongmin seems too young to rule properly. Also, he was raised in Yuan from age 10, so he probably thinks like a person from Yuan and not a Korean--the people are unlucky to have such a king.

Lethal Warriors Do Not Mince Words.

But Choi Young adds (sweetly, for him), "However--I don't particularly hate you." Aww. It's a backhanded gesture of friendship and encouragement, which the King takes in the right spirit.

The King and a group of warriors visit a nearby heavenly portal, which is a swirly energy essence flowing within a stone doorway. This is where the legendary HwaTa was said to have entered. HwaTa apparently trains doctors in "heaven" and occasionally sends them back to help people in Korea. Someone must go through the portal to bring back a doctor to save the dying Queen.

The King is perplexed with worry. He doesn't want to send someone off to their death through this unknown portal, but he doesn't want to lose the only chance to save the Queen and his country. He merely looks at Choi Young, and their dialogue reveals their personalities and the way they approach problems:

King: "I don't believe everything my counselor says (about this portal)."
Choi Young: "Give me an order."
King: "I...I should at least try, right?"
Choi Young: "I'll go."

Man. They're leaving so much unsaid, and yet they each know exactly what the other person is saying. This is good dialogue writing, and I'm not even getting it in the original language.

And Choi Young Ascends the Stairway to Heaven.

On the other side, Choi Young encounters the modern world of Korea. So...he's just gonna stalk through the streets until he finds a doctor to drag backward in time? This should prove interesting.

Aaaand it's Rooftop Prince all over again as Choi Young is stunned by the flashing lights and death-defying traffic of Seoul. Fortunately, he soon finds a really chill Buddhist priest who determines that the heavenly doctor Choi Young is requesting must be a plastic surgeon. Heh hehehe.

He enters a plastic surgeon's convention where our heroine Eunsoo is lecturing, but he's escorted out by security. We soon learn that our heroine is being overlooked at work and is looking for career advancement opportunities for herself, such as opening her own clinic. Okay, I like her work ethic and her initiative, but not her chosen field of surgery or her whining.

I'm On the Fence About You, Heroine.

Choi Young escapes security and desperately asks Eunsoo if she can save a patient whose artery has been cut. She blows him off with an "I'd have to see where and how badly the patient was cut." Choi Young responds by cutting the neck of a security guard in the exact manner as the Queen's injury, then asking her to fix it. WUT. What did you just do? I guess this reminds us that Choi Young is no cuddly teddybear, no matter how many likable moments he has.

Eunsoo gathers her wits and performs a surgery right there. She saves the man's life, and her surgical prowess proves that she can save the Queen as well, so she gets kidnapped by Choi Young.

All in All, Not the Worst Thing That Could Happen to A Girl.

 He charges toward the exit, towing her along, when a SWAT team arrives to halt his crazy maniac ways. What does he do? Bowls them over with the oppressive force of his lightning powers, that's what! So the magic hands do more than just slow heart rates--they can be used for violence, too. Which begs the question, why didn't he use the Force instead of just his sword when the assassins were attacking the Queen? Plot hole, there.

The impact from his energy whoosh is enough to bust out the windows of the conference building and knock down the SWAT team officers standing outside, so he now has a clear path to carry Eunsoo to the mystic portal. At the portal, Eunsoo has a nervous breakdown, which is very natural, and Choi Young takes a moment to promise her that he will risk his own life to return her to her home after she saves the Queen.

Might Be the Best Deal She'll Get.

Flashback to ten days ago, when Eunsoo went to see a fortuneteller to ask where she could meet a rich, handsome man because she needs the guy's money for her research on stem cells. Um. Just because you want a guy's money for your own medical research project instead of for clothes and handbags doesn't mean you're not being shallow. You're just being shallow in an unconventional way. So our hero is a psychopath and our heroine is greedy. I can deal with that--flawed leads are interesting.

The fortune-teller says she will meet a heaven-sent man from the past--but he assumes it means from her dating past, not the historical past, so Eunsoo thinks she'll be falling for an ex. I love how the fortune teller was right in the prediction, but wrong in the interpretation. And ha! The flashbacks of Eunsoo's past boyfriends show that they were losers, but also that she was very awkward.

She Was Cute in Nerd Glasses, Though.

The fortune teller next reveals that she will be going far, far away for one whole year. Oh, goody! A year in Joseon will be awesome for her, and for our story.

Choi Young brings her back to Joseon times and takes her to the Queen. Eunsoo gets down to business and sutures her majesty perfectly.

Eunsoo's arrival has some unforeseen religious implications for the King. He asks her, since God sent her from heaven, can he still assume that God's blessings are upon Korea? Also, her presence has political implications! The King's advisor wants Eunsoo to remain with the King, to prove to political rivals that Korea is still strong, and that God supports them over Yuan. I lurve it. Soooo many possibilities for conflict, here.

Then we go meet the Joseon villains. One is into herbal medicine; one has a magic flute.

You Know. Standard Villain Hobbies.

Gicheol is the name of our Big Bad. He is surrounded by many smaller Bads, and he's plotting something serious against the King.

Meanwhile, Eunsoo escapes from captivity and runs away to a nearby village. The royal guards in the inn wake up Choi Young (who sleeps 2/3rds of every day, like a cat) and Mr. magical warrior stalks off to locate the divine healer. Strapped to his back is the clear plastic police shield he stole from the modern era! Grand.

But the bad guys find her first, and Gicheol actually punches Eunsoo in the face and drags her away.

Fortunately, Cinderella Leaves a Shoe-Clue Behind.

Choi Young learns that the ninjas are going to attack the inn again. But the hurt Queen isn't defenseless against the attackers because her royal doctor is also an energy-fighter, like Choi Young. The doctor can knock enemies out without touching them, just by channeling his life energy into a fan. A fan.

The fight ends, the good guys win, the Queen wakes up, and elsewhere Choi Young rescues Eunsoo from her captors. Eunsoo does some more emotional-breakdown talking, and Choi Young announces that since the Queen has recovered, he's taking her home. She pouts that he better not take her home by throwing her over his shoulder like a sack of flour again. He doesn't; instead he opts for a bridal carry.

Their First Romantic Moment.

This gesture could pass as no more than a common courtesy for a tired, frazzled, double-kidnapped woman if Choi Young didn't also happen to look so darned proud of himself. When he brings her to the time portal, Choi Young apologizes for the rough things she endured because of him, and he gives her a deep bow. But before Eunsoo can enter the portal, Choi Young receives a royal order (which he can't disobey) to stop her from going. As he retrains her, the portal disappears completely.

Eunsoo goes crazy and tries to stab Choi Young with his own sword. And he lets her do it! She pierces him with the sword, and he welcomes it since by following the king's order and stopping Eunsoo, he has broken his word as a warrior and is therefore deserving of death. Dang, that's harsh. It's also a lesson to Eunsoo: don't attempt to kill a man unless you actually intend to kill him.

In the inn, the newly awakened Queen points out to her weak hubby that by ordering Choi Young to go back on his promise, he sentenced his own captain of the guards to death. She's a smart, observant woman.

I Like Her Already.

Eunsoo has done a 180 in her attitude and wants to save Choi Young, so that she won't be a murderer. But the King's mean Advisor pulls the sword out of Choi Young, to make him bleed faster so he'll die and the divine healer will stop wasting her time with him. As the woman from heaven, though, she outranks Advisor and gets the soldiers to help her with the life-saving operation.

We get some good, good, good interaction between the King and Queen that explains their frostiness. She was a Yuan princess who was married off against her wishes, and now she's being taken away from her home. She's strongwilled and smart, so she dislikes bowing to the wishes of a man with a less powerful personality. The King tells her that she must get his permission for everything she does, which goes over about as well as you'd expect. The Queen stops speaking entirely.

Eunsoo proceeds with a major internal surgery on Choi Young, using precious few tools and only a primitive anaesthetic.

But She Retains Her Doctor-Goggles.

And the episode just sort of ends.

No! There must be more! I have to wait a week for more?!

Things I Loved:

1. The Opening Animation. I was betting that this drama would lose my attention within the first 30 seconds. But instead of presenting something dull and usual for the intro sequence, it trotted out this lovely animated piece in a sparse, dreamy style. Kudos to you, show.

2. Lee Minho. I couldn't even finish his most famous drama, Boys Over Flowers, but now I see what all the fuss is about regarding this guy. He's got this acting thing down pat! He switches from nonchalant warrior to stone cold killer to respectful citizen in such a way that suggests a well-layered personality. Choi Young has three dimensions in this show, and that's due to good writing and good acting in equal parts.

Also: Lightning Powers!

Complaints: Other than the fact that both episodes ended at an awkward place, with less than stellar timing...none. It is that good.


Kings Must Be Honorable: Choi Young says that King Gongmin is the 5th king in twelve years, so the people no longer even care about who rules them, but he really does care. Everyone wants to have a wise and righteous ruler making the important decisions. Bumblers, fools, and villains are decidedly not the sort of people we want in charge of us, so this show's hopefully going to portray the journey of Gongmin trying to grow from a weakling into a good king.

You'll Get There, Princeling.

Watch Faith on DramaFever.

Episode Evaluations: Made of win. Action, intrigue, mysterious legends, magical realism, sharp writing, clever dialogue that even survives translation, and characters worth getting to know! Yay, Faith. You're kind of awesome, you know that? I am so on board for the rest of this show, 24-episode run and all.