Thursday, 20 November 2014

Top 5 Japanese dramas from the 90s

In the 90s, Japanese dramas were more popular than Korean dramas in Singapore and I was a great fan. In my humble opinion, the 90s is the golden era of Japanese dramas, and it seems that the quality has dropped over the years. Now, the popularity and (arguably) quality of Korean dramas have outdone Japanese ones. Nevertheless, I would like to share my top 5 favorite Japanese dramas from the 90s. These are classics which I enjoy re-watching every time I feel nostalgic.

1. Furuhata Ninzaburo 1994

This is my all time favorite detective drama. It has spawned 3 seasons and several TV specials from 1994 to 2006. Masakazu Tamura plays the unconventional but intelligent, observant and eloquent detective, Furuhata Ninzaburo. Masahiko Nishimura plays his naive and clumsy sidekick, Shintaro Imaizumi. I like the chemistry between the duo as they solve crimes together. Furuhata's deadpan humor and Shintaro's slapstick humor compliment each other.

In every episode, there is a different crime and a different celebrity makes a guest appearance as the criminal. The celebrities are usually very famous, such as boy band SMAP, comedian Akashiya Sanma, and actress Matsushima Nanako.    

"Furuhata Ninzaburo" is different from other detective dramas because it shows the audience who the criminal is and how he (she/they) committed the seemingly flawless crime, right from the start. I am intrigued by how Furuhata manages to find loopholes to solve the 'perfect' crimes, and how he ingeniously traps criminals into making a confession.

2. Kindaichi Shounen No Jikenbo (Case Files of Young Kindaichi) 1995 

Kindaichi Hajime (Domoto Tsuyoshi) is a high school student and the grandson of the famous (fictional) private detective, Kindaichi Kosuke. On the surface, he is an easy-going and ordinary student, but in actuality, he is a brilliant detective with an IQ of 180. He solves mysteries together with his childhood sweetheart, Nanase Miyuki (Tomosaka Rie) and Inspector Kenmochi (Furuoya Masato).

Based on a popular comic series, the characters and plot are often over-the-top, but that is what makes "Kindaichi Shounen No Jikenbo" so entertaining to watch. It is a joy watching Kindaichi solve the mysteries, which often have a twist in the end. Other actors such as Matsumoto Jun and Kamenashi Kazuya have played the role of Kindaichi in sequels, but I still prefer the original version by Domoto.

3. Odoru Daisousasen (Bayside Shakedown) 1997

"Odoru Daisousasen" is a police drama which depicts the ups and downs of police officers working on the front-line, at the bottom of the organisation structure. It attempts to expose the bureaucracy of the whole police system in a light-hearted way, a bureaucracy which is inherent in many places in Japan.    

Oda Yuji plays Aoshima Shunsaku, a former computer salesman who career switches to be a police detective. He is disappointed when he discovers that the red-tapism and office politics present in the police organisation are not much different from the corporate world. Yanagiba Toshiro plays Muroi Shinji, a high flyer in the police force. Together, Aoshima and Muroi tries to fight the bureaucracy and change the system.  

"Odoru Daisousasen" is so popular that it has spawned several TV specials and four movies, from 1997 to 2012. It is a comedy which is thought-provoking at the same time. The idealistic and enthusiastic Aoshima is the 'underdog hero' that ordinary folks like us easily relate to, and want to root for.

4. Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO) 1998

Onizuka Eikichi (Sorimachi Takashi) was a delinquent and graduated from a third-rate university. He is also a high school teacher who has a great passion for teaching and truly cares for his students. Matsushima Nanako plays his love interest, Fuyutsuki Azusa, a teacher who actually wants to be an air-stewardess.

Onizuka often creates trouble for the school because of his unconventional way of doing things. For example, while all the teachers try to dissuade a student from dropping out of school to become a singer, Onizuka encourages her to pursue her dreams. When another student is upset because her parents are not on speaking terms and sleeping in separate bedrooms, he brings an ax to her house and literally breaks the walls between the rooms, so that her parents will start communicating again.

Although the students hate Onizuka at first, they are soon won over by his genuine concern for them. In a particularly touching scene, Onizuka is forced to resign and leave the school. The devastated students protest against it, and the school has to forcefully separate them from Onizuka.

At times funny and at times touching, this is an inspiring drama about a 'great teacher'.  

5. Majo No Jouken (Terms of a Witch) 1999

"Majo No Jouken" is about the forbidden love between a 26-years-old high school teacher, Hirose Michi (Matsushima Nanako) and her 17-years-old student, Kurosawa Hikaru (Takizawa Hideaki). Michi has no passion for teaching and only became a teacher because her father is a school principal. She accepts the marriage proposal from her fiance, Kitai Masaru (Bessho Tetsuya), although she is unsure if she loves him.

Hikaru is the heir to a hospital. His father passed away when he was very young, and his mother is overly protective of him. Like Michi, he feels trapped in life and desires freedom, and they connected. While Michi tries to suppress her attraction to Hikaru, he is open about his feelings for her, and tries to get closer to her.

When Michi and Hikaru finally get together, they face a lot of pressure from society and their parents. Hikaru is bullied by his classmates in school. Michi is fired from her job, arrested by the police and forced to see a psychiatrist.

A romantic and touching love story which explores issues such as the need to conform to social norms and school bullying.             

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Bad Guy 2010

Kim Nam Gil, Han Ga In
Not to be confused with OCN's 2014 drama "Bad Guys","Bad Guy" is a 2010 Korean drama directed by Lee Hyung-min. Lee also directed another favorite Korean drama of mine, "Sorry, I Love You" starring So Ji-sub. I really like his directing and cinematography style, and the use of music to enhance the ambiance in his works. And I like how he manages to make the male protagonists in his dramas exude compelling charisma.

Shim Gun-wook (Kim Nam-gil) is a dark, mysterious and charismatic man who tries to infiltrate the affluent Hong family and their Haeshin corporation, by wooing their youngest daughter, Hong Mo-ne (Jung So-min). Mo-ne is a bubbly and innocent college girl who is smitten by Gun-wook. After meeting him, she breaks off her engagement with the man her family arranged for her to marry. Her parents are unhappy because it was supposed to be a marriage of convenience, between two rich and powerful families.
Kim Nam Gil, Jung So Min

Moon Jae-in (Han Ga-in) is an ambitious art consultant who aspires to marry into a rich family. When she sees Gun-wook with Mo-ne, she mistakes him for her brother, Hong Tae-sung, and tries to get close to him. Gun-wook knows what she is up to and plays along by not revealing his true identity. When she later finds out, she is infuriated. However, they become friends when he helps her out of a sticky situation and they realize they are alike in many ways.  

Kim Nam Gil, Han Ga In

Mo-ne's father, President Hong decides to give Gun-wook a chance to prove himself. He will give Gun-wook a job in Haeshin if he can bring Tae-sung, the black sheep of the family, back to Korea from Japan. The smart and resourceful Gun-wook successfully gains Tae-sung's trust and completes his task. He also helps Jae-in get close to Tae-sung.

Gun-wook gets a job in Haeshin and he starts to seduce Mo-ne's big sister, Hong Tae-ra (Oh Yeon-soo). Tae-ra is married with a daughter, to a man her family chose for her. She has never experienced love before and she becomes dangerously attracted to Gun-wook.

Kim Nam Gil, Oh Yeon Soo

One day, Mo-ne and Jae-in catch Gun-wook and Tae-ra kissing. They are both devastated. Although Jae-in has successfully captured Tae-sung's heart, she confesses to Gun-wook that she is in love with Gun-wook. Gun-wook loves Jae-in too but he rejects her and pushes her to Tae-sung. Later, Jae-in finds out that Gun-wook's motive for entering Haeshin is not that simple.

Gun-wook has a dark and sad past. When he was a boy, he was suddenly told that he was Hong Tae-sung, President Hong's illegitimate son. He was forcefully taken away from his mother and step-father, and brought into the Hong family. Just when he finally adapted to his new family, President Hong discovered that he brought back the wrong child. Gun-wook was chased out of the house and injured seriously in the process. His parents died in a car accident while on the way to fetch him home. He almost died on the streets but ended up in an orphanage.

Gun-wook hates the Hong family for causing his parents' deaths and chasing him out cruelly. He is back for revenge and has designed an impeccable plan. He indirectly causes the death of President Hong's eldest son Hong Tae-gyun, makes Tae-ra get a divorce, turns in evidence of Haeshin dealing with slush fund to the police, and causes President Hong's health to collapse.

There is a twist in the end when Gun-wook finds out that he is the real Hong Tae-sung afterall. President Hong's wife could not accept a child fathered by her husband with another woman. She would rather raise a stranger's child and thus, she forged the DNA reports so that she could send the real Tae-sung (Gun-wook) away.

Gun-wook is full of guilt for causing the destruction of his own family. Jae-in comforts him and he decides to live a peaceful life with her. However, Mo-ne who does not know the truth and hates Gun-wook, shoots him with a gun. To protect his sister, Gun-wook disposes of the weapon and finds a quiet place to die from his wound. Jae-in, who does not know the missing Gun-wook is dead, continues waiting for his return.

Kim Nam Gil, Han Ga In

"Bad Guy" was supposed to be 20 episodes long but because Kim Nam-gil was called up for military service in the middle of filming, it was cut down to 17 episodes. Kim Nam-gil's screen time in the last few episodes was greatly reduced too. I personally love the first 14 episodes, and if not for the abrupt ending, this drama would have been perfect.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Pinocchio 2014 - Episode 1

Lee Jong Suk, Park Shin Hye
"Pinocchio" is a Korean drama about a group of rookie journalists who seek to chase after and report the truth. The female protagonist has Pinocchio syndrome, a nervous condition which causes hiccuping as an automatic response to lying. The male protagonist has a sad past in which his family was destroyed by unethical media reporting and sensationalism.   

The drama begins with students of a school gathering in their classrooms to watch a live broadcast of a quiz show to support their schoolmate, Ahn Chan-soo, the show's defending champion. Choi In-ha (Park Shin-hye) is one of them, and she is in the same class as Chan-soo. Her teacher is angry to discover that her classmate, Choi Dal-po (Lee Jong-suk) is skipping class again.

The show begins and everyone is surprised to see Dal-po as Chan-soo's opponent on this week's show. In school, Chan-soo is ranked 1st in his level while Dal-po is ranked 34th. Dal-po confesses that there are only 34 students in his level, and his nickname is 'All-zero' because he scores 0 for everything.

Dal-po has to answer 5 questions correctly before he can challenge Chan-soo. The first question is, "It is said that 1 out of 43 people has this nervous condition, hiccuping as an automatic response to lying. What is the name of this condition which is named after a popular fairy-tale character?" 

Although this is an easy first level question, Dal-po uses his 'chance card'. He has 30 seconds to ask someone in the studio for help, and he chooses Chan-soo. But instead of asking the quiz question, he asks, "If I win you, you have to let me smack you in the face 10 times. If you win me, I'll let you smack me 10 times, okay?" Chan-soo agrees. 

Dal-po turns and says to the camera, "In-ha, if I become this show's champion..." For a moment, it seems like he is going to confess his feelings for her, but he is cut off suddenly because the 30 seconds is up.

His answer 'Pinocchio' is correct and the host asks if he knows anyone with Pinocchio Syndrome. He replies yes and apparently, that person is In-ha. (*Pinocchio Syndrome is not based on an actual syndrome.)

Lee Jong Suk, Park Shin Hye

The host asks the second question and suddenly, we see flashbacks to Dal-po's past. When he was 13, his name was not Dal-po, but Ha-myeong. He and his brother, Jae-myeong appeared to be geniuses with higher than normal IQ. Their father, Ho-sang is the head of a firefighting team. 

One day, a factory caught fire and Ho-sang's team went to the scene. The factory manager said that there were 2 workers trapped inside and thus, Ho-sang's team entered the building. Later, the 2 workers appeared and the manager realized that he had made a mistake. Unfortunately, there was an explosion and nine firefighters died while Ho-sang's body could not be found.       

The manager lied to the police that he told Ho-sang that nobody was inside the building. The family members of the dead firefighters were angry with Ho-sang for ordering the team to enter the building when nobody was trapped inside. 

The police received a report from Ho-sang's neighbor saying that he saw Ho-sang alive. Nobody doubted his words because he had Pinocchio Syndrome. The police suspected that Ho-sang was hiding out of guilt. The family members of the dead firefighters directed their anger at Ho-sang and his family. 

Under the scrutiny of the media and the public, Ho-sang's family suffered tremendous stress. Ha-myeong's mother could not take it anymore and committed suicide by jumping into the sea together with him. Saddened by his family's deaths, Jae-myeong lost his cool at the journalists who were at the suicide scene, especially Song Cha-ok, an unscrupulous journalist who sensationalized the news. 

Meanwhile, In-ha's parents divorced and her father, Dal-pyeong brought her from Seoul to the countryside to stay with her grandfather. There, they met Ha-myeong, who was thought to be dead by Jae-myeong. Ha-myeong did not drown in the sea and was saved by grandfather. Dal-pyeong's big brother, Dal-po passed away 30 years ago. Grandfather, who had dementia, mistook Ha-myeong as Dal-po and adopted him. Dal-pyeong was forced to call the young Dal-po 'hyung' (big brother), and In-ha became Dal-po's niece. 

Dal-po and In-ha became close. In-ha told him that her mother often appeared on TV and she missed her. Dal-po fixed the TV for In-ha, and found out to his shock that her mother was Cha-ok, the ruthless journalist who contributed to his family's tragedy and mother's death. He turned hateful and cold towards In-ha. 

Back to the present, Dal-po successfully answers the 5th question correctly, much to everyone's disbelief. In-ha's classmate insists that Dal-po is just pure lucky. When In-ha defends Dal-po, the classmate asks if she is in love with him. In-ha replies no, and she is not hiccuping. The episode ends with Jae-myeong, who is working as a water delivery man, staring with hatred at Cha-ok on TV.  

"Pinocchio" is thought-provoking as it depicts how powerful and frightening the media can be. I thoroughly enjoyed episode 1 and look forward to the next episode.

Friday, 14 November 2014

1 Litre of Tears - Aya and Asou

Previously I wrote a review on 1 Litre of Tears, one of my favorite Japanese dramas of all time. Because I am so touched by the love story between the main characters, Aya and Asou, I decide to write a post about them.

Aya (Sawajiri Erika) and Asou (Nishikido Ryo) first met on the day of the high school entrance exam. Aya was so nervous the night before that she had insomnia. The next day, she felt so tired that she fell asleep on the bus and missed her stop. Meanwhile, Asou arrived at the exam venue, Higashi High School on time. However, he decided not to take the exam for some reason and walked away. 

The late Aya was running to Higashi High School when she accidentally fell down and knocked down a row of bikes parked on the bridge. Asou, who happened to be collecting his bike there, helped her to pick up the bikes. When it started to rain, he offered to give the injured Aya a ride to the exam venue. Because of that, he ended up taking the exam as well. 

While Aya was grateful to Asou for his assistance, Asou felt annoyed that he had to take the exam because of her. Apparently, Higashi High School is the alma mater of his father and dead brother. Ever since his brother died in an accident, his relationship with his father became strained. His father wanted him to follow their footsteps and become a doctor but he was resistant. 

Both Aya and Asou made it into Higashi High School. On the first day of school, she learnt that they were in the same class. Nobody was willing to volunteer to be the class presidents, so the teacher nominated the boy and girl whose index number were number 1 on the student's list to take on the roles. Call it fate, the boy and girl were Aya and Asou.  

One day, Aya fell down again, this time on her face and injuring her chin badly. She was sent to the hospital. There, she ran into Asou, who went to deliver a document to his father, the head of the hospital. When she asked him why he was there, he jokingly lied that he was dying of a terminal disease. Ironic, because Aya was really the one suffering from an incurable and degenerative disease, Spinocerebellar Ataxia (SCA), although she did not know it at the time.  

The evening before the summer holiday started, Aya went on a date with Kawamoto, a senpai (senior) whom she had a long time crush on. Because of her disease, she had difficulty coordinating her movements and she fell down again, seriously injuring her head. She was admitted to the hospital and ended up spending the whole summer there. Kawamoto visited Aya and was shocked to see her doing rehabilitation. Asou visited Aya too and figured out that she was suffering from SCA.  

Aya and Kawamoto were supposed to go to the zoo for a date on his birthday. However, Kawamoto had second thoughts after seeing Aya in the hospital. Asou overheard him telling his friend about it. The day finally arrived. Aya was waiting in the rain for Kawamoto. Asou ran to the zoo to tell her that Kawamoto was not coming. She thanked him and confided in him about her disease. 

After the summer holiday, Aya returned to school. She sensed that Kawamoto was trying to distant himself from her. She decided to break up with him, so as not to burden him. She approached Asou and asked him for a favour. She wanted Asou to watch her as she gave Kawamoto a phone call to say goodbye, and make sure she would not cry. Once again, Asou watched from afar, the pain and losses Aya suffered because of her illness. 

Once an active basketball player, Aya had to drop out of the team because of her condition. She started hanging out with Asou, who was in the biology club, in the biology lab. He was probably the only person who did not treat her like a sick or disabled person. 

Soon, Aya became wheel-chair bound. She was always late for class and took a longer time to take notes during lessons. Some of her classmates and their parents were unhappy that she was slowing down the pace of learning. One day, when Aya left school early, her teacher and classmates had a class meeting to discuss the inconveniences that she had brought them. When Aya returned to take something she left behind, she accidentally overheard their discussion.     

Asou felt disgusted with the class who acted nice and helpful in front of Aya, but said such things about her behind her back. He told them that they should have been honest with Aya if they thought she was a burden. If they had done so, she would have thought of ways to stop burdening them. 

Suddenly, Asou saw Aya standing outside the classroom. He ran after the sad Aya. She thanked him for always being by her side and tearfully said goodbye to him. She had made up her mind to leave Higashi High School. Asou broke down and cried too.      

Aya transferred to a special school, and Asou continued to keep in touch with her. One day, he invited her to go to the aquarium for a date. They had a great time together. 

On the way home, it started to rain. Aya's wheelchair got stuck in the mud and they were caught in the rain. When Asou sent Aya home wet, her mother got angry. She told him that although she felt grateful to him, with Aya's body condition, there were many things that he had to be careful of. For example, if Aya caught a cold, it was easy for her to develop pneumonia. It was a wake-up call for Asou to be mentally prepared if he was serious about dating Aya.  

That night, Asou received a call from Aya. Her disease was starting to affect her speech and Asou found it difficult to understand what she was saying. Aya told him that they were living in different worlds, and they should stop seeing each other. Asou felt troubled and confused after they ended the call.  

The next day, Asou went to Aya's school, and confessed his feeling for her. 

“I don't know what is going to happen in the future, but I am sure about my feelings for you now. No matter how slowly you talk, I’ll listen carefully. When you cannot talk on the phone anymore, I’ll come to see you in person. If you want to walk, no matter how slow it is, I’ll walk with you. Right now I may not be reliable. But one day, maybe I’ll be able to help.  Things can’t be the same as they were before, but there’s this kind of feeling that is linking us together. I don’t think that we are living in different worlds. I like you, probably.”  

Aya was touched and they continued seeing each other. 

Aya and Asou finally graduated from high school. Asou decided to become a doctor for Aya, and got into medical school. In comparison, Aya's future seemed bleak. Her condition deteriorated and she moved into the hospital for intensive treatment and rehabilitation. One day, she lost control of her bladder in front of Asou, the man she liked. She was embarrassed and made up her mind not to see him again.    

Aya and Asou attended the wedding of their high school teacher. She passed him a “love letter” she wrote. 

“For always being by my side and encouraging me, thank you. You have found what you want to do and are working hard at it. Seeing that makes me happy. You will gain a lot of knowledge and meet a lot of new people. You will continue to live on. Your future is expanding by infinite proportions, but it is not the same for me. Every day, I’m fighting against myself. I’ve used up all my energy trying to stay alive. The truth is, it’s painful to be with Asou. When I am with you, I keep on wanting a dream that can never come true. I envy you and I feel sorry for myself. If this continues, I won’t have the courage to live on. Thank you for saying that you like me, despite the way I am now. I won’t see you anymore.”

Asou realized that Aya was breaking up with him, and he broke down in tears. In the hospital, Aya also cried and asked her parents and doctor, 

"Will I ever be able to get married?"

For one year, Asou and Aya did not meet. One day, he finally visited her at her ward. Aya had published one of her diary entries to encourage other patients suffering from the same disease. One of them wrote her a postcard and Asou brought it along to read to her. He then told her,  

"When I first met you, I thought that it does not matter whether a human lives or dies. But now it’s different. For you, it matters. I want you to live on.”   

Aya was touched. They made up and he started visiting her often again. 

On a snowy night, there were only Aya and Asou in her ward. Aya told Asou to treasure life and “live on always". That night, she had a dream in which she could run again, and smiled in her sleep. 

6 years later, Aya passed away. Asou became a doctor and lived his life meaningfully, helping other people.  

Thursday, 13 November 2014

1 Litre of Tears 2005 - Review

"1 Litre of Tears" is a Japanese drama about a 15 years old girl who is diagnosed with Spinocerebellar Ataxia (SCA), an incurable and degenerative disease which causes the patient to gradually lose the ability to move, speak and eat. It is based on a true story, and depicts how the protagonist struggles to live her life to the fullest despite her disease. This tearjerker is so sad and touching that I cried at every single episode and used up boxes of tissues.   

Ikeuchi Aya (Sawajiri Erika) is a typical 15-year-old. Her father owns a tofu shop, her mother is a public health nurse and she has three younger siblings. Aya is an intelligent student in a prestigious high school. She is good in sports and is in the basketball team. The "senpai" (senior) she has a long time crush on has just asked her out on a date. 

Everything seems to be going well for Aya. However, her mother, Shioka starts to notice some abnormalities in her. She is getting clumsier, and she drops things and falls down more often. One day, Aya falls down on her face and injures her chin badly. She is sent to the hospital and Shioka makes her go for a check up at the neurology department.

Shioka is shocked when Dr Mizuno (Naohito Fujiki) tells her that Aya is diagnosed with SCA. She decides to keep it a secret from Aya and the family, while she seeks a second opinion. 

Aya is devastated when she is finally informed about her illness. She asks her mother, 

"Why me? I'm only 15. God is unfair." 

Motherhood makes one strong and Shioka becomes Aya's emotional support. In Aya's diary, she wrote, 

“Mother, in my heart, I know I can always trust you. Please continue to take care of me. I’m sorry for always making you worry about me.”

On the first day of the summer holiday, Aya falls down again while on a date with senpai, and ends up spending the whole summer in the hospital for rehabilitation. She starts having difficulty walking and writing, and applies for a disability ID card. She drops out of the basketball team and breaks up with senpai. 

Aya's little brother, Hiroki used to see her as a role model, and often boasts to his friends about having a smart and beautiful sister. However, when his friends see the way Aya walks now, they make fun of Hiroki. Aya's little sister, Ako is angry that Hiroki is not standing up for Aya. She gives him a piece of her mind.

 “Why are you ashamed of Aya-nee (sister)? She is amazing. She has been working hard on rehabilitation every day, optimistically. If I had her disease, I wouldn’t have her courage to leave the house. If other people gave me strange looks or said weird things about me, I wouldn’t be able to smile like her.” 

Aya overhears their conversation and decides not to go watch Hiroki's soccer match, for fear of embarrassing him. Hiroki is ashamed of himself, so he makes an invitation card to invite her to the match. When she turns up, Hiroki proudly introduces her to his friends, 

"That's my Aya-nee! Isn't she a beauty? Aren't you jealous?"    

Soon, Aya becomes wheelchair-bound. Luckily, her best friends, Mari and Saki, and classmate, Asou Haruto (Nishikido Ryo) help her a lot in school. However, the parents of Aya's classmates are unhappy that she is slowing down the learning pace of the class, and the school advises Shioka to transfer Aya to a special school. Aya is reluctant to do so, until she overhears the class discussing about how her presence brings them inconveniences. She finally makes the painful decision to leave.

On her last day of school, Aya gives a touching speech in class about how she learnt the importance of her family, friends and health because of her disease. She declares that she is going to embrace her sick body and live on with confidence. She ends her speech with, 

"To be able to smile and tell everyone this, I have shed at least 1 litre of tears." 

The class tearfully bids her farewell with a song.   

Aya adapts to the special school and makes new friends. She keeps in touch with Asou, who asks her out on a date one day. They have a good time at the aquarium, but they get caught in the rain on the way home.  

When Asou sends Aya home wet, Shioka is angry. She tells Asou that although she is grateful to him, with Aya's body condition, there are many things that he needs to be careful of. For example, if Aya catches a cold, it is easy for her to develop pneumonia. A hint that he needs to be mentally prepared if he is serious about dating Aya. 

That night, Asou receives a call from Aya, telling him that they are living in different worlds, and shouldn't be seeing each other. The next day, he goes to her school and tells her that although he is not sure about the future, he is certain about his feelings for her now. Aya is touched. 

Aya finally graduates from high school. While her friends are going to universities and planning for the future, Aya's future is bleak. Her condition deteriorates and she moves to stay in the hospital. 

One day, she loses control of her bladder in front of Asou. She is embarrassed and makes up her mind not to see him again. She asks her parents and Dr Mizuno in tears, 

"Will I ever be able to get married?"

Deep inside, Aya desires love, marriage and a normal life. 

A year later, Aya publishes one of her diary entries, to encourage other people suffering from SCA. She volunteers her body to the hospital for research purpose, in the hope of finding a cure for future patients. 

To fulfill Aya's wish, Dr Mizuno allows her to go home for a day. She picks out presents for her siblings, and writes a letter to them. 

“I’m sorry, Ako. Lately, you have been wearing old clothes all the time. Even though you really like pretty clothes, because I’m always wearing pyjamas, you can’t really say that you want new clothes, right?”

I’m sorry, Hiroki. You have been using the same sports bag since elementary school. Since you became a junior high school student, you actually want a cooler bag, right? Sorry for making you keep it to yourself.

Rika, I’m sorry too. You used up all your markers drawing pictures to cheer me up.

Ako, Hiroki and Rika, I’m sorry for always hogging mother." 

6 years later, Aya passes away. Shioka publishes the diaries that Aya has been keeping since the beginning of her disease. The book is a best seller and is a source of inspiration to many people. On Aya's first death anniversary, Shioka writes a letter to her.

"Dear Aya, 

It has been a year since I've seen you. Are you walking now? Are you eating? Are you able to laugh out loud and talk? Even though mother is not by your side, are you doing well? 

You used to ask me, 'Why did the disease choose me? What is my purpose of living?' Even until now, mother is unable to find the answers. But Aya, because of you, many people have started thinking about their purpose in life. Those patients who suffer from the same disease realize they are not alone. Even though you went through a lot of pain and suffering, even though you shed many tears, because of those tears, you have written many words that touched people's hearts. 

Over there, you are not crying anymore, right? Mother wants to see the smiling you. Just once more, I want to see you again."

"1 Litre of Tears" is a high quality drama that I can find no flaw in. I like that it does not only focus on love, but kinship, friendship and the purpose of life too. A highly recommended drama. 

Read also 1 Litre of Tears - Aya and Asou.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Mr Back 2014 - Episode 1

Jang Na-ra, Lee Joon, Shin Ha-kyun
MBC's new Korean drama, "Mr Back" achieved a rating of 14.2% for its premiere, beating out SBS's "My Lovely Girl" (5%) and KBS's "Iron Man" (4.3%) to clinch the top spot in its time slot. But I did not start this drama because of that. I watched it because my favorite singer, JYJ's Junsu sang the OST "In The Time I Love You" for this drama. XD

"Mr Back" is about Choi Go-bong (Shin Ha-kyun), a rich man in his 70s, who suddenly turns back into a young man in his 30s, and experiences love for the first time. Reminds me of the box office hit Korean movie "Miss Granny".

Choi Go-bong is a wealthy and successful CEO of a hotel corporation. On the surface, his life seems perfect, but it is not. He worked hard his entire life to get to where he is now, but he has never experienced true happiness. His son, Choi Dae-han (Lee Joon) is a ne'er-do-well prodigal. His younger siblings and their spouses curry favor with him all the time because of his money. His health is deteriorating and his doctor stops him from eating food he likes and drinking alcohol. He is an unfeeling and bad-tempered old man.

Jang Na-ra, Lee Joon, Shin Ha-kyun

One day, Dae-han gets into trouble again. He supposedly borrowed 1 billion won from a woman in Las Vegas and got her pregnant. To stop the press from reporting this story, Go-bong tries to bury it by attending a public event at a nursing home. There, he meets Eun Ha-soo (Jang Na-ra) who is doing voluntary work. Ha-soo mistakes him for one of the old folks in the nursing home, and treats him with kindness and patience. He is attracted by her.

Ha-soo has been unemployed for a long time. One day, she is elated to receive a call telling her that she has gotten an intern job in Go-bong's hotel. On her first day at work, she runs into Dae-han who is late for work and hiding from his angry father. She is doing housekeeping in a room when he suddenly barges in. Go-bong catches the two of them together and thinks that Dae-han is fooling around with an employee. He gives Dae-han a slap and fires Ha-soo.

Jang Na-ra, Lee Joon, Shin Ha-kyun

Later in the day, Dae-han realizes that he dropped his necklace with a gem in the hotel room. The gem is very important to him, so he gives Ha-soo a call. He promises to get her job back for her if she finds the gem back for him. She finds it and is on her way to deliver it to him. Meanwhile, Go-bong is on his way home.

There is a meteor shower and all of a sudden, a big hole appears in the middle of the road. Both Go-bong's and Ha-soo's vehicles fell into the hole. Go-bong has a heart attack and drops his pills on the ground. He accidentally picks up a shining blue pill and eats it. Meanwhile, the blue gem with Ha-soo starts to shine. I think it is a magical gem.

Go-bong's soul is taken away by a group of men in white. He begs them to let him live longer because he has never truly lived or felt happy before. He miraculously comes back to life unscathed when Ha-soo grabs his hand. He goes home and takes a bath. Suddenly, he transforms into a young man.

The first episode introduces the main characters and sets up the stage for future episodes, and I find it a bit boring. But I predict this drama will get interesting after Go-bong turns into a young man, falls in love with Ha-soo, and repairs his strained relationship with his son.    

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Pride and Prejudice 2014 - Episode 1

"Pride and Prejudice" is a Korean drama about a group of prosecutors fighting against injustice. Sounds cliche, which is why I did not intend to watch it at first. But I decided to give it a try when I read that it has been topping the ratings in its time slot, and I'm glad I did.

The first five minutes of the drama got me hooked. Han Yeol-moo (Baek Jin-hee) is staring at Koo Dong-chi (Choi Jin-Hyuk) flirting with another woman from afar. Yeol-moo is visibly disturbed by what she sees. Before the traffic light turns red, she quickly crosses the road and walks past Dong-chi. He catches up with her and asks, "You haven't forgotten me?" She replies, "How could I forget you?"

They start bantering as they walk into an office building, and we learn that they knew each other from before but have not met for five years. This is Yeol-moo's first day at work. She says that she applied to be an apprentice at the place where Dong-chi works as a prosecutor to take revenge. Dong-chi says that she is the one who did wrong, not him. She wants him to act as if they didn't know each other, and he agrees.

Yeol-moo soon meets the other members of her prosecution team. Moon Hee-man (Choi Min-soo) is the arrogant department head who wants results. Lee Jang-won (Choi Woo-sik) is the young prosecutor who makes the sexist statement that he hates female prosecutors who use boyfriends or pregnancy as an excuse to skip work. Prosecutor Yoo Gwang-mi (Jung Hye-seong) is the other woman in the team, who declares she doesn't like prosecutors, especially female ones. Kang Soo (Lee Tae-hwan) is the quiet and cool investigator.    

A new case comes to Dong-chi, Yeol-moo and Kang Soo. The owner of a small stationery shop, Kwon Dae-young is accused of being a flasher. He insists that he was in his shop and sold hula-hoops to a customer when the crime happened. He pulls down his pants to prove that he has a mole on his inner thigh, which the victim did not see on the flasher. He is released when the customer who bought the hula-hoops is found together with the receipt. The customer is an elementary school teacher Kang Moo-sung.

During investigation, Dong-chi makes Yeol-moo run from the crime scene to the stationery shop. The crime happened at 10:23:17 while the time-stamp on the receipt is 10:23:47. This means if Dae-young committed the crime, he only had 30 seconds to run back to the shop, remove his helmet, wear his pants and sell the hula-hoops, which is pretty impossible.

Out of nowhere, Dong-chi reveals to Kang Soo that he and Yeol-moo used to date. When Yeol-moo gets teary-eyed, he insensitively asks, "Why are you being so melodramatic?" I wonder what happened between the two of them five years ago.

They have permission to investigate inside the stationery shop. Kang Soo finds some plasters in the trash bin while Dong-chi takes off his pants and starts taking photos of himself. Later, while they are questioning the alibi Moo-sung, Yeol-moo returns to the shop and finds a little girl, Ho-jung there. Ho-jung displays signs of a sexual assault victim and Yeol-moo sends her home. However, she soon goes missing.

Dong-chi deduces that Moo-sung sexually assaulted his student Ho-jung in the shop, the day Dae-young indecently exposed himself. They become each other's alibi to cover each other's track. The prosecution team trail Moo-sung and find Ho-jung. Now they need to prove that Dae-young is the flasher in order to prosecute both him and Moo-sung.

Dae-young is being interrogated in a room. Yeol-moo deduces that Dae-young was able to commit his crime in 30 seconds because he wasn't wearing pants behind the cashier counter. Kang Soo infers that the plasters he found were used by Dae-young to cover his mole, which is why the victim did not see a mole on the flasher's thigh. Dong-chi produces the definitive evidence - Dae-young's chair in the shop leaves a mark on the thigh when one sits too long on it. Dong-chi sat on it and took pictures of the mark on his own thigh. He compares it with the picture of the flasher's thigh taken by the victim and finds the same mark.

Dae-young goes crazy and exposes himself in front of Yeol-moo. Kang Soo suavely moves to shield her. Some sparks fly between them, and Dong-chi doesn't seem too happy about it. I predict there will be a love triangle, and to complicate things, Kang Soo and Dong-chi are actually housemates and close friends.

"Pride and Prejudice" is an enjoyable drama to watch. I like the chemistry between Dong-chi and Yeol-moo. I also find the way Kang Soo protects Yeol-moo romantic. I will continue watching just to see how their relationships unfold.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Greatest Love 2011

"The Greatest Love" is a romantic comedy written by the Hong Sisters, who wrote many popular Korean dramas such as "Master's Sun" and "You Are Beautiful". I was not keen to watch when it first broadcast because I found the male lead Cha Seung-won a tad old and not very handsome. (Sorry to CSW fans!) I am not a fan of Gong Hyo-jin too because I don't find her pretty. (Sorry to GHJ fans!) However, I discovered their charm while watching this drama. Cha Seung-won is extremely charismatic and humorous, while Gong Hyo-jin has an attractive quirkiness about her.

Anyway, I started watching "The Greatest Love" after my interest was ignited by a funny clip of Cha Seung-won singing G-Dragon's "Heart breaker" in the drama. The first 2 episodes are a bit slow but trust me, once you get past episode 2, it gets addictive and you can't stop watching until the end.

Cha Seung-won plays Dokko Jin, the nation's top action star. Gong Hyo-jin plays Gu Ae-jung, who used to be part of  "National Treasure Girls" (NTG), a popular idol girl group. She is now a struggling B-list artiste after NTG disbanded and she is hit by some scandals. Yoo In-na plays Kang Se-ri, an ex-member of NTG, and a top actress now. Dokko and Se-ri used to date but broke up a year ago. However, they pretend to be still dating to avoid bad publicity.

Dokko and Ae-jung meet by chance, and become embroiled in a series of misunderstandings and misfortunes. In a nutshell, she accidentally ruins his chance of going to Hollywood and he hates her for it. However, in a weird turn of events, he falls for her one day after hearing her mobile ringtone - NTG's hit song, "Thump Thump". He had a heart operation years ago and now wears a wristband heart tracker. He notices that his heart beat increases rapidly every time he is with Ae-jung or thinks about her.

Meanwhile, Ae-jung participates in a reality show, "Couple-making", which is similar to "The Bachelor". This show is hosted by Se-ri and in it, female celebrities compete for a non-celebrity bachelor, Yoon Pil-joo (Yoon Kye-sang). Pil-joo is a traditional medicine doctor, rich, handsome and from a prominent family. He is not interested in showbiz or celebrities, but is forced by his mum to join the show. He falls in love with Ae-jung while Se-ri falls in love with him. Thus, a love 'square' is formed.

Dokko confesses his love for Ae-jung and starts pursuing her. At first, she doesn't take him seriously. Later, she is overwhelmed and rejects him due to low self-confidence. Dokko doesn't give up, and finally she is touched and accepts him. However, he suddenly finds out that his love for her is just an illusion. During his heart operation years ago, his surgeon blasted NTG's "Thump Thump", which is why his heart reacts to the song. Dokko breaks Ae-jung's heart by telling her that everything is a mistake and he has never loved her.    

Dokko feels an emptiness after dumping Ae-jung, and feels jealous when he sees her with Pil-joo. He realizes that he is actually in love with her and tries to win her back. They finally get back together, and he expresses his love for her in a live variety show. However, the public is not supportive because they feel that Dokko is too good for Ae-jung. His popularity dips but he stands firm in his love for her. As typical of most romantic comedies, they manage to overcome all obstacles with true love, and there is a happy ending.

"The Greatest Love" attempts to explore some phenomenons in the Korean entertainment industry in a lighthearted way. For example, how celebrities make use of social media for publicity, and how in turn, social media contributes to the invasion of their privacy. Look out for a cameo by Lee Seung-gi as himself, a top star who is at odds with Dokko in private, but pretends to be friendly in front of the media.

This drama made me laugh a lot and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A must-watch if you like romantic comedies.            

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Master's Sun 2013

"Master's Sun" is a horror-romantic comedy starring So Ji-sub and Gong Hyo-jin. It is written by the Hong Sisters, famous scriptwriters who specialize in the genre of romantic comedy and have written many big hits such as "You Are Beautiful" and "The Greatest Love".

So Ji-sub has been my favorite Korean actor since I saw him in "Sorry I Love You", the drama that shot him to fame in 2004. His acting in "Sorry I Love You" is amazing and he oozes charisma as the tragic hero Cha Moo-hyuk. It is an old drama but it is a classic, and definitely worth watching if you are a fan of melodramas. So Ji-sub is famous for playing intense characters and his role in "Master's Sun" is a refreshing change from his previous roles. He successfully shows us his versatility and proves that he can take on romantic comedies as well.

Gong Hyo-jin is, in my humble opinion, the queen of romantic comedy in Korea. She plays the lead in several romantic comedies such as "The Greatest Love" and "It's Okay, It's Love". She is not a typical beauty but she has a quirkiness about her which makes her immensely likable.    

"Master's Sun" is about an unexpected love story between a mercenary CEO and a cranky woman who can see ghosts. So Ji-sub plays Joo Joong-won, an arrogant and self-centered CEO of a conglomerate who only cares about money. Gong Hyo-jin's character, Tae Gong-shil, is a woman who gains the ability (or curse) to see ghosts after an accident, and is unable to live a normal life ever since. Gong-shil has been living in fear everyday until a chance encounter with Joong-won. She discovers by fluke that whenever she touches him, the ghosts near her disappear. She sees him as a savior and gets a job in his company so that she can be near him.

Joong-won suffers from a psychological condition which causes reading disability, the result of a kidnapping incident when he was a teenager. That incident also left him distrustful of people, contributing to his cold personality. Although disgusted by the clingy Gong-shil, he decides to keep her by his side after he finds out about her supernatural ability. He wants her help to communicate with his dead ex-girlfriend, Hee-joo (Han Bo-reum), in order to retrieve a diamond necklace worth 10 billion won, which was paid as a ransom in the kidnapping incident. In return for Gong-shil's help, Joong-won allows her to touch him whenever she sees a ghost.

In every episode, there is a different sub-plot as a different ghost (or ghosts) appears. Instead of being scary, the ghosts' stories are often warm and with a moral behind. As Gong-shil and a reluctant Joong-won work together to help the ghosts find closure, they find themselves falling for each other.

So Ji Sub

"Master's Sun" is a delightful and entertaining drama with a winning Korean drama formula - rich, handsome man with a sad past falls for poor, ordinary woman (except Gong-shil is more eccentric than ordinary). In this drama, there are plenty of humor, an element of horror and great chemistry between So Ji-sub and Gong Hyo-jin. Although I find the last two episodes draggy, it is still one of my top 3 favorite Korean drama in 2013. Highly recommended!