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Rooftop Prince or Oktab Bang Wangseja or 옥탑방 왕세자 (2012) final thoughts

rooftop-prince

This discusses the plot so if you have not seen this episode, it may be better to delay reading this.

This review now captures the rest of Rooftop Prince or Oktab Bang Wangseja or 옥탑방 왕세자 (2012) rather than focusing on individual episodes and captures my frustration with how the story develops. To clear the decks, let’s confirm this has nothing to do with time travel as understood in the West. Rather it’s a morality tale building on the notion of a supernatural power bent on establishing a balance in the karma (or the lotus root, your choice). Imagine a world in which a group of people are tied together through time. They are continuously reincarnated in relationships which are substantially the same from one generation to the next. At a critical point in each cycle, one key character has a decision to make about the fate of another. If that decision is for “evil”, the same group are doomed to rerun the scenario when they are reborn, and so ad infinitum. But in our modern age, the supernatural being grows tired of this key character always making the wrong choice. Our interventionist God therefore decides to change one of the variables.

Micky Yoochun and the crew from Joseon

Micky Yoochun and the crew from Joseon

When one of the modern characters is “killed”, Crown Prince Lee Kak (Micky Yoochun), the Joseon version, is brought forward to take his place. Ah ha! So this new player knows how the scenario was unfolding three-hundred years ago. His first problem is to understand the new culture and try to work out who everyone is. Once he’s less gauche, he can more safely begin interacting with people. But when he tries to apply his understanding of past events, it causes a chaotic response from the modern players. It takes him a while to understand he had misunderstood what was happening around him in Joseon. Obviously the court politics of the past don’t fit the culture of private wealth and the phenomenon of the chaebol — a large corporation controlled by one or more family members. This element in the series actually proves interesting as one faction in the family led by Yong Tae-Moo (Lee Tae-Sung) tries to manipulate the holders of a key block of shares to gain control. Had this been run as a straight contemporary drama, there was more than enough meat to make a highly effective thriller as one person dies and attempts are made on the lives of others. But this is not allowed for two reasons:

Han Ji-Min in modern style

Han Ji-Min in modern style

  • The initial set-up forces us into a “time travel” mode and prevents the police investigation from building up any tension. Instead, we have the Crown Price constantly trying to work out what has to happen to enable him to go back to his own time. Investigative punches are therefore pulled as our hero slowly pieces together who everyone is and how his return might be triggered. The script also leaves giant holes with no effort made to explain exactly what happens to the bad and not so bad characters in modern times. It’s a whole lot easier when the Crown Price does go back to Joseon because he can torture them, banish some, and execute the rest. Those were the days when a hero really could get things done properly.

  • Jung Yoo-Mi

    Jung Yoo-Mi

  • The series is a romance and the Crown Prince has to meet and fall in love with Park Ha (Han Ji-Min), the modern version of the woman he was supposed to marry in Joseon. This further dilutes any tension because our hero can’t do the hand-holding and gazing into her eyes bit if he’s behind bars or on the run from the police. So subject to the one major plot device, everything has to enable our couple to fall in love.

  • Ah yes, the plot device. Way back in Joseon times, the first episode shows us a view of what happened. Except it’s fundamentally dishonest! I’m not against scriptwriters allowing their characters to make mistakes. We’re all human and not immune from misunderstanding the events as they occur around us. Yet this “error” is so fundamental that it lacks all credibility! There’s no way this could have happened! Someone would have noticed and said something — unless we’re supposed to believe not only that the Crown Price had his eyes closed at the critical times, but that the bad guys had paid everyone around him not to draw his attention to this rather stunning fact. So why do the scriptwriters have to engage in this deception? Well, if they showed us the choice being made in Joseon times, it would rather give the game away as to what the choice would have to be in modern times. If the series were not being run as a romantic drama, this could have led to our watching Se-na (Jung Yoo-Mi), the key character, continue to make the decision for evil. That would have been a high-powered tragedy, leaving the Crown Prince adrift in time and our supernatural being resigned to trying to get it right the next time round. As it is, there’s no tension because although we know this couple of star-crossed lovers are doomed to part, we know they must be together so tears can be shed when the Crown Price is whisked back to Joseon.

    Lee Tae-Sung

    Lee Tae-Sung

    The modern ending is frustratingly mushy. The mawkishness comes from the instant love-at-first-sight between Park Ha and Yong Tae-Yong. Yet more frustration comes from not seeing how that plays out with the families on both sides. The control of the chaebol could be consolidated in them if the appropriate share transfers were confirmed. Worse the time travel is proved real because the Crown Prince sends a love letter to Park Ha by burying it under the pavilion by the lake. Watch out the gift of the gold medallion — that’s a real tear-jerker. Historically speaking, it seems Park Ha and Boo-Yong are going above and beyond the call of duty to protect the man they love. So, as a time travel plot, this is a disaster (why does Park Ha end up in the juice shop and Boo-Yong write an expanatory note to the Crown Price?), but it works quite well as satire and a romantic fairy story.

    For those who want to know what they missed, here’s Rooftop Prince or Oktab Bang Wangseja or 옥탑방 왕세자 (2012) the set-up and Rooftop Prince or Oktab Bang Wangseja or 옥탑방 왕세자 (2012) Episode 2.

    Rooftop Prince or Oktab Bang Wangseja or 옥탑방 왕세자 (2012) Episode 2

    rooftop-prince

    This discusses the plot so if you have not seen this episode, it may be better to delay reading this.

    Well here we go with Rooftop Prince or Oktab Bang Wangseja or 옥탑방 왕세자 (2012) episode 2, which has our time-travelling Crown Prince Lee Kak (Micky Yoochun) and his pack of three fugitives from Joseon, materialise in front of Park Ha (Han Ji-Min), our modern heroine, and when they go out on to the roof, they realise they are no longer in Kansas. Naturally they assume she’s a witch who has brought them into the netherworld. Eventually realising they want to “return to the palace”, she loads them into the back of her open truck, and drives them through the city. This is a disconcerting experience to people only used to horses. Dropping them off outside the palace (now only open to the public during daylight hours), they are completely lost when the police chase them away. Unable to relate to people and without money, they find themselves starving. Fortunately they get themselves properly arrested and this creates the possibility of food if only they can say who they are. Eventually, the clever one with a photographic memory is able to remember the licence plate of our heroine’s truck which lands them back at her house.

    All colour-coded and ready to earn a living

    All colour-coded and ready to earn a living

    Out of charity, she feeds them vegetable omelette but, when she leaves them alone, they reward her by being totally freaked out by all her gadgets which speak to them (including a teddy bear). They also accidentally set the place on fire. This is not an auspicious beginning to their relationship. So because they now owe her the cost of all the kitchen equipment, teddy bear and other items destroyed (boy is that swordsman good with his weapon), she has them working in her fruit and vegetable business to pay it off. Except, of course, the Crown Prince refuses to lift a finger and the eunuch has no strength. The most interesting cultural aspect to this is the inversion of expectation about how females are supposed to act. Even in modern Korea, there’s an expectation of deference when women relate to men. But she not only dresses them in colour-coded track suits, but then treats with with the same tender loving care as a drill sergeant major. Even the Crown Price finds himself momentarily cowed before his massive ego gets him back on Crown Price track. He does, however, fantasise about killing her and all the generations of her family he can find. Which is, when you think about it, the proper response in this situation.

    Meanwhile, it turns out that Se-na (Jung Yoo-Mi), the elder sister-in-law, is seeing Yong Tae-Moo (Lee Tae-Sung), the evil cousin. Now isn’t that a surprise, bringing all the players together into the plot. Yes, the evil sister works for the rich granny who’s lost her beloved heir — almost like a fairy story instead of a time travel adventure. It gets worse when our heroine takes the four to the hospital. The Crown Price gets to see the evil stepsister who’s the “dead” Crown Princess, and Granny sees the Crown Prince but doubts her eyesight.

    The Men in Black from Joseon when allowed to lose their track suits

    The Men in Black from Joseon when allowed to lose their track suits

    So now the combined brain power of the four has worked out they have travelled three-hundred years into their future. Since they entered this time through the rooftop apartment, they feel they have to stay there and wait for the portal to open again. Soon our temporally mismatched couple are drinking on the roof and spraying each other with cream (it’s an erotic experience when you come from the morally hidebound Joseon period). The morning ritual of teeth brushing and gargling is endearing. Once she accepts they have slipped through time, the teaching of getting on a bus, etc. is fun. Their reaction to discovering the King, his father, is on a banknote, is a delight. Their confusion about escalators is understandable and their failure to realise the lift (that’s elevator for my American readers) is actually travelling between floors gives rise to an embarrassing consequence. The effort at the car wash is an unfortunate misunderstanding, and so on. We run a good race at very gently making fun of them. I had assumed they would be shown as far more intimidated for longer.

    Of course the Crown Prince must finally meet rich Granny and confront the evil cousin who thinks he’s a successful murderer. This precipitates the standard plot with the evil cousin taking action just in case this newcomer is actually the lost heir and the evil sister sticking the financial knife into her stepsister. What makes this all the more unbearable is that this is turning into the worst kind of fantasy where everything possible is done to drag out the running time. For example, Park Ha’s friend visits from America on her honeymoon and hands over a box. No matter how distressed she is, any sensible person opens the box. But this script has our heroine flirting with opening it. She has it here, she has it there. But there’s no opening. This is just annoying and tiresome as are the extended sequence of the Crown Prince dancing in a panda costume (and our heroine not recognising this is a male not a female, even when sitting next to him and holding his hand — we can pass over her not noticing the smell of the sweat), the evil cousin going through gyrations over the cellphone found in America, and so on.

    In other words, this series has one again insulted all the conventions of time travel, and devolved into an increasingly banal rerun of all the other romantic comedies that Korean television inflicts on the unsuspecting world. My patience is already at breaking point.

    For those who want to know what they missed, here’s Rooftop Prince or Oktab Bang Wangseja or 옥탑방 왕세자 (2012) the set-up and Rooftop Prince or Oktab Bang Wangseja or 옥탑방 왕세자 (2012) final thoughts

    Rooftop Prince or Oktab Bang Wangseja or 옥탑방 왕세자 (2012) — the set-up

    rooftop-prince

    This discusses the plot so if you have not seen this series, it may be better to delay reading this.

    Well here we go with Rooftop Prince or Oktab Bang Wangseja or 옥탑방 왕세자 (2012). With some trepidation, I’ve decided to start watching another Korean time-travel drama (not Queen In-hyun’s Man or Hyeon-wanghu-ui Namja (2012) which is more seriously romantic). After Dr Jin, we’re reversing the process and instead of some metaphorical Connecticut Yankee turning up at King Arthur’s court, we’ve got some Josean bright sparks brought forward to modern Korea with predictable opportunities for mocking their complete inability to understand what’s going on. The set-up requires us to establish two parallel situations, peopled by the same cast of characters three-hundred years apart. So first of all, we’re back in the past with Crown Prince Lee Kak (Micky Yoochun) stirring in his sleep. He knows in his bones something really bad in going to happen and, moments later, a flunky comes waddling down the corridor (he may be walking funny because he’s a eunuch) to announce the body of his wife has been found floating in a nearby pool. Yes, the Crown Princess Hwa-Yong (Jung Yoo-Mi) is a goner and now he’s all in a lather to find out whodunnit. This is all dramatic stuff. Now the flashback to show the process of marrying off the young Crown Prince which involves introducing the rivalry between two sisters. Their father prefers to submit the name of the younger Boo-Yong (Han Ji-Min) because she’s more age appropriate. Naturally, the older one finds a way to scar the face of the younger, so she gets to marry the prince. This leaves the disappointed sister masked and in the background, but the Crown Price does notice she’s more intelligent than the shallow sister he married.

    Boo Yong (Han Ji Mon)

    Boo Yong (Han Ji Mon)

    In modern Korea, we have two step sisters whose ages match the earlier versions. Se-Na (also played by Jung Yoo-Mi) the older deeply resents the arrival of the younger and goes out of her way to dispose of her “rival” for her mother’s affection. Now the clock winds forward and we have Yong Tae-Yong, a modern version of the Crown Prince (also played by Micky Yoochun) eyeing a version of his sister-in-law now called Park Ha (and also played by Han Ji-Min). This is “engineered” by the device of an embroidered butterfly leaving the work “she” did in Joean time, travelling forward and landing on her shoulder while she’s selling fruit at an open market in New York. We can skip over the embarrassing attempt to fit our heroine into the American setting. Anyway the plot is that Yong Tae-Yong is heir to a Korean fortune and inline to take over the running of the family business. Yong Tae-Moo (Lee Tae-Sung) his cousin, was sent to America to persuade him to return, but they end up fighting while in the harbour. One swift and unexpected punch sends our hero into the water where he starts to sink, lost without a hope of rescue. The evil cousin wipes all his prints off the boat and swims to shore. When he returns to Korea, he reports a complete failure to find his cousin. That puts him inline to succeed to the fortune.

    Se-naa (Jung Yoo-Mi)

    Se-na (Jung Yoo-Mi)

    When our heroine returns to Korea, expecting to find her long-lost father, she discovers he’s just died. Obviously a lot is happening between these flashbacks. For Park Ha it seems there was a traffic accident, long hospital stay, loss of memory, that type of thing. Which is a good thing when the stepsisters meet at the funeral — at least I assume she’s telling the truth and doesn’t know how she came to be lost. Meanwhile back in Josean times, the court officials cover up the murder as an accidental death. To get round the problem, the Crown Prince puts together a top undercover team to find out the truth. This is Song Man-Bo (Lee Min-Ho), Do Chi-San (Choi Woo-Sik), and Woo Yong-Sool (Jung Suk-Won) a bodyguard, a “savant” and a eunuch with hidden talents. They are making real progress, eliciting evidence of poisoning by arsenic, when they are called to a night meeting. It’s a trap. As they try to escape, there’s an eclipse powerful enough to send them into the future. They had strong eclipses back them! What makes this an appallingly lazy piece of writing is that the four have been separated in the fighting, but all four travel together and end up in the same place in the future. Three of those are on horseback, but no horses appear in the future. The probable explanation is that all four were killed, but have been reincarnated as their future selves.

    The four travellers

    The four travellers

    Before they arrive, two years more have passed in the future (I hope you’re following this). The good, younger daughter from America has fitted back in with the step mother and they are selling fruit and vegetables in the market, while the older one is into spending the family’s money on fashion to give herself the right appearance while swanning around with the evil cousin. When our modern heroine goes to her apartment, it’s on the top floor (not surprisingly, there’s a rooftop patio area with potted plants).

    Well I’m relieved we have this first episode out of the way. I can almost tell the series is not going to be worth watching because we have temporal slippage thanks to an eclipse with older characters having parallel lives in modern times, i.e. it’s a fantasy fairy story with none of the rigour that’s supposed to accompany time travel. All I can hope for is that the humour of our four characters acting like fish out of water will strike a rich seam of comedy to carry us through a few episodes.

    For a brief consideration of what happens next, see:
    Rooftop Prince or Oktab Bang Wangseja or 옥탑방 왕세자 (2012) Episode 2 and Rooftop Prince or Oktab Bang Wangseja or 옥탑방 왕세자 (2012) final thoughts.

    Detective K: Secret of Virtuous Widow or Joseon Myungtamjung: Gakshituku Ggotui Biil (2011)

    December 14, 2012 Leave a comment

    Detective K Secret Of Virtuous Widow 2011

    Detective K: Secret of Virtuous Widow or Joseon Myungtamjung: Gakshituku Ggotui Biil (2011) is based on the mystery novel Yulnyumoonui Bimil (열녀문의 비밀) by Kim Tak-Hwan, and proves to be a highly entertaining Korean version of the newly emergent passion for relocating Sherlock Holmes into different environments and giving him more flaws than deductive reasoning powers. This follows in the faintly comic but adventure-based tradition now established by Guy Ritchie except, for a change, we’ve moved back in time. We’re at the end of the eighteenth century in Korea during the reign of King Jeongjo (Nam Sung-jin). The actual year is 1793 so we overlap the lifetime of Warrior Baek Dong Soo with the King’s succession, and Sungkyunkwan Scandal with the move of the capital at issue. This film focuses on a financial crisis. It seems the collection of taxes has been hijacked and, instead of vital funds flowing into the royal coffers, it’s disappearing into the hands of one or more high-placed nobles. Worse, every time anyone gets close to uncovering one of the links in the chain that diverts the money, the suspect dies from “natural” causes. Alarmed at this obvious conspiracy, King Jeongjo issues a secret order to Detective K (Kim Myung-Min). He’s to identify the mastermind(s) and bring him/them to justice.

    Kim Myung-Min looking in command of the situation as as Detective K

    Kim Myung-Min looking in command of the situation as as Detective K

     

    Our first real sight of the man confirms him as a genuine talent. Unfortunately, it’s for falling flat on his face as he attempts a martial arts entry into an arrest situation. However, when he recovers his composure, i.e. is able to stand up, we’re given a quick flashback to establish his credentials as an investigator as he deconstructs a “suicide” scene to show why it’s actually a murder. Following this chain of reasoning, he identifies the local city governor as the killer and exonerates Seo-Pil (Oh Dal-Su), the dog thief the forces of law and order were chasing. When this governor is later found dead in jail, Detective K demonstrates his talent again by being the first on the scene and finding the long needle used to kill him. The prison guards naturally run into the jail and arrest him — he does have the murder weapon in his hands. This puts him in the same cell as the dog thief who demonstrates the more useful art of escape by digging a tunnel.

    Seo-Pil (Oh Dal-Su) showing he's perfectly comfortable with dogs

    Seo-Pil (Oh Dal-Su) showing he’s perfectly comfortable with dogs

     

    After a madcap chase, our escaping duo take refuge in a barn used to store both grain and milled flour. Seeing the chances for an explosion, Detective K sends his new Watson off in search of fire while he delays all the chasing soldiers inside the barn. As he fights, he creates ever more dust in the air. When Watson returns and throws in the glowing branch from a fire, the barn is demolished and our hero is saved although crisped round the edges. Our newly minted duo are about to follow a clue into the countryside when they are diverted into a meeting with the leader of the Noron party, Minister Lim (Lee Jae-Yong) who seeks to use his influence to ensure his daughter-in-law will be treated as having died as a virtuous widow. Shortly after our duo’s arrival in Jeokseong, an area famous for growing wolfbane, they encounter Han Kaek-Joo (Han Ji-Min) who seems to be responsible for all the trade in this region. Detective K now reveals himself as susceptible to a woman’s charms (which are prominently on display) and so begins the unravelling of the heart of the mystery.

    Han Ji-Min as a merchant of considerable talents

    Han Ji-Min as a merchant of considerable talents

     

    One of the major themes running through the film is the relationship between the newly reintroduced Christianity and the long-established Confucianism, a battleground of faith that reveals the extent to which Confucian ideals were holding the nation’s development back. For all there was increasing prosperity thanks to the relocation of the capital and the introduction of the Sungkyunkwan as a seat of learning, the power of the nobility to hobble innovation remained strong. This is clear in the influence wielded by Minister Lim. It also made the politics of both Detective K and the Christians dangerous because, as a matter of conscience, they are attempting to improve the lot of the slaves out in the countryside. For the record, King Yeongjo outlawed Catholicism as an evil practice in 1758 and, despite it being formally reintroduced in 1785, there was significant persecution and martyrdom. For the local Confucians, one of the main problems was the Christian missionaries use of Hangul for translations of the Bible and religious texts. This helped spread the use of the script and undermined traditional scholarship based on the Chinese script — if you want to see the origins of the struggle over Hangul, watch Tree With Deep Roots. Interestingly, it turns out the now-deceased widow related to Minister Lim was a Christian who wanted to free the slaves on her husband’s estate. This would have given the Minister and his family a motive for murdering her.

     

    Although the themes are essentially serious, the tone of the film remains light and, at times, close to farce. The only misstep is the use of CGI to create two giant dogs. This was unnecessary. The same effect could have been achieved with ordinary dogs given the fairly token nature of their roles. I was pleasantly surprised by one twist at the end. The rest is obvious from the outset and resolved by the usual deus ex machina appearance of the King at the critical moment. This is to be expected in a period film which wants to be broadly entertaining. Kim Myung-Min is excellent as Detective K showing a man who’s not quite as clever as he thinks he is, but blessed with a heart of gold on the inside. While Oh Dal-Su as Seo-Pil is more than he seems but equally accident-prone. The Sherlock/Watson chemistry between the leads is excellent, carrying the film. Summing up, Detective K: Secret of Virtuous Widow or Joseon Myungtamjung: Gakshituku Ggotui Biil can’t be beaten as unpretentious fun.

     

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