Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Korean Drama: Tom is Tempting Me Again (LOL!)

It’s been awhile since I wrote about the manic focus I had on the series “Jumong”, which was introduced to me by my friend Tom at church. For those who don’t remember, Tom is the President of a company called Ya Entertainment, and their mission is to bring Korean Drama to the United States and do so in a way that is both high quality and very accessible to the average American viewer, though the average American viewer will have to be comfortable reading subtitles, as that’s the only translation provided. Personally, I prefer it this way, because I can then hear the nuances of the original actors in their native Korean, and enjoy the performances that they did, rather than try to listen to a dubbed version.

Since Jumong ran its course (and then ran through several of my co-workers; quite a feat when you consider that this is an 82 hour franchise!), I have been jonesing for some new stuff to see, but I felt really awkward saying to Tom “Hey man, can you hook me up with another series?” without sounding like a cheapskate, but at the same time, not want to invest a lot of money on a series I may or may not be totally into. Fortunately, Tom and Ya Entertainment have given some thought to folks like us, and so Tom handed me a couple of “sampler disks” for two shows they are currently producing to gauge my opinion. Oh Tom, you are so kind, and at the same time, you are so cruel (LOL!).

So what are these two new shows?

The first one is called “The Grand Chef” and it is a modern drama that takes place in Seoul, at what is considered the premier restaurant in South Korea. The owner and head of the restaurant is the grandson of the man who was the Chef to the Last Korean Emperor prior to 1910. The story revolves around three of the chef’s in the restaurant and, in the first three episodes, focuses on the idea that the owner and master will make a competition to see who will succeed him. Will it be his eldest son and, as many would consider, his rightful heir? Would it go to a young and ambitious man who has worked his way up to being a director of the restaurant without family ties? Or would it go to the adopted son of a family friend who, up until this time, hasn’t shown much desire to really be involved at the high level of the restaurant? For those thinking “hey, this set up sounds familiar”, you would not be amiss in thinking that… when I have described this series to others, the comment back is “Wow, it sounds like “Jumong” with food!”… and in many ways, that’s exactly how it seems. I cannot help but draw parallels between The Grand Chef and Jumong, especially since Won Ki-joon is playing the role of the “middle” of the three, the same position and type of role that he played as Prince Yeongpo in Jumong (and while many of his facial features and associated elements will immediately remind viewers familiar with Jumong of Yeongpo, he is a much more assured and self-confident character, and much more proficient in what he does than Yeongpo was). The three episodes that I saw were high quality, engaging storytelling, and made me care about all of the characters. In short, I want to see more of this one.

By contrast, “The King and I” is a story that takes place in Korea’s Josun Dynasty (or the equivalent of our middle ages and colonial period). It is the story of court eunuchs, and their interaction with the throne and the government. They were confidantes, political power players, and witnesses to history, and in many ways quietly shaped that history. The story is based on Chuh-sun, described as the Josun Dynasty's most famous eunuch. From what I have read, this is the first series to actually be dedicated to this subject and this group of men and the sacrifices they made to serve the royal court. One of the treats of seeing this program's first episodes is to see Jeon Kwang Yeol (King Geumwha in “Jumong”) play the role of Jo Chi-gyeom, the head of the eunuchs. We see the court intrigues, the development of a triangle that spans generations, and the ultimate struggle that sets the stage to tell the story of these less well known figures of Korean history. One thing to be aware of... this program tells it like it is, and make no mistake, you understand very quickly what it means to be a eunuch, and what the process is. Though it doesn’t show it graphically, it absolutely makes it very clear the process, and the methods used at the time, and the reference and example made when the eunuchs carry the porcelain jars, and what they actually contain inside, definitely leaves a mental image that will not be quickly forgotten. Any time we want to think that we have made sacrifices for our goals and dreams, watch this series and you may think twice about that! Again, it was only three episodes, but wow, what an incredible three episodes it was… and yes, I want to see more of this one.

So again, thank you Tom, for introducing these shows to me… and curse you, Tom, for introducing these shows to me (LOL!). Your marketing worked, I’m hooked, and I want to see both all the way through now.

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