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Posts Tagged ‘Romantic comedy’

Midnight in Paris (2011)

March 22, 2013 3 comments

Midnight_in_Paris_Poster

As always, let’s begin with a little idle speculation. Suppose we have time travel on demand. Just as we can now pay a subscription and watch the latest movies online, suppose a no doubt larger fee would enable us to go wherever we want in time. What would we use it for? As it is, I can buy a ticket and fly to Europe, rent a car and enjoy the local food and wines but, being an old guy and a natural skinflint, I hoard my money and stay home. I suspect my reaction to the opportunity to travel in time would be equally negative. Do I really want to risk all those diseases they had back then for which I have no natural immunity? And then there’s the language, the money and the food. I’ve no confidence the Latin I learned in school will come back to me if I’m lost in Rome and want to find a good place to eat. I know Doctor Who has this nice convention that everyone, everywhere and everywhen speaks standard English and always offers free food that does not give the Tardis crew gastroenteritis with all the vomiting and diarrhoea, but I don’t have the Time Lord’s scriptwriters to keep me safe. I’m thinking it would all be better if we could just be content with what we have now.

Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen in the now

Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen in the now

 

Midnight in Paris (2011) is a flawed but nevertheless rather pleasing film written and directed by Woody Allen who, I must confess, has proved a somewhat hit and miss director over the decades. When he’s hot, he produces something magical. But, over his entire career, I think he’s missed the target more often than not. This is not to say the films I consider misses are all total failures. It’s just we seem not to share the same aesthetics when it comes to beauty in film-making. What makes it all the more surprising that I should like this film is the presence of Owen Wilson in the lead. This is the first film in which I actually like his performance — probably because he’s not so obviously trying to be funny. Anyway, he plays Gil Pender, a screenwriter with left wing tendencies (by US standards), wondering whether he has it in him to write the next great American novel. He hitches a ride to Paris with his fiancé’s family and we’re immediately expected to see them as the family from Hell. John (Kurt Fuller) is a stereotypical wealthy GOP ideologue, Helen (Mimi Kennedy) is the ultimate materialist who only sees dollar signs when she considers what she finds important, and the prospective mate, Inez (Rachel McAdams) — it’s not at all clear what our hero would ever have seen in her as a person. No matter how great she may be in bed (and this is by no means certain), this is not a person up with which you would want to put for any length of time. To complete the set of ghastly characters, a friend of Inez turns up. He’s Paul (Michael Sheen), one of these pedantic twits who can hold forth with apparent expertise on everything he encounters. The fact he’s making most of it up is just one of his more endearing qualities.

 

OK so the plot dynamic is simple to state. From the outset, it’s obvious our hero should find an excuse to avoid marrying this woman (and into her family). The only question is how he will talk himself into making the break. The device adopted is that, whether in reality or his imagination, he travels back in time and discusses his draft novel and his social problems with the cream of the Parisienne art community of the 1920s. A part of the fun of the film is spotting who gets dragged into view and, once he overcomes his surprise, how he relates to all these luminaries. The most important from our point of view are Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) and Adriana (Marion Cotillard), mistress to Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo). It’s not a spoiler to confirm that, as you would want in a romantic fantasy, he makes the right decisions. Suggesting the trips in time are real, our hero finds an old book with an inscription by Adriana. This leads to a nice moment when Inez almost catches him stealing some earrings to give Adriana as a present.

Marion Cotillard, Owen Wilson and Corey Stoll in the then

Marion Cotillard, Owen Wilson and Corey Stoll in the then

 

I think the fundamental problem with the film is that it’s too simplistic. The main characters are actually heavy-handed caricatures without any real depth. Gil is self-effacingly diffident except when it comes to arguing politics with his prospective in-laws. Hence, the argument is out of character. He would either be assertive on a range of subjects all the time or he would be predominantly passive to keep the peace with his prospective family, i.e. we see the political argument only to make a black-and-white point about the incompatibility of the man and the family. Further, I don’t really believe he would have become one of Hollywood’s top scriptwriters, always in demand. He lacks that aura of confidence he would need to sell a script to sceptical producers. Worse, given the way he speaks to people, I’m not sure he would write the sentences quoted from the text of the book. No matter who or when he speaks, he never seems to have a profound thought in his head, yet his book is aspiring to say profound things about nostalgia. Finally, the film itself is somewhat superficial on the grass is always greener in an earlier time trope. That we time hop twice to make the point adds redundancy (as does the fate of the private detective).

 

Yet despite these cavils, I found the experience of sitting through Midnight in Paris quite enjoyable. The opening travelogue introduction is too long but, once we get started, we move along at a brisk pace and get where we need to go without breaking sweat. In saying this, I’m not just praising the professionalism with which the package is put together. That’s a given with a Woody Allen film. The notion of time travel for the purpose of reflection and self-analysis is rather elegant. I just wish it had been left more ambiguously, i.e. without the inscription suggesting the experience is real. I prefer to retain the possibility he fantasises the experiences of time travel while moderately drunk, critiques his own book and works out he should not marry Inez. But, as it stands, it has just enough to make it a good film.

 

Trouble with the Curve (2012)

November 3, 2012 Leave a comment

The question I’d like to ponder for a brief moment before getting to the review itself is whether a film is better if it’s predictable. Should we be allowed the gentle reassurance of the scriptwriters that everything will turn out as we expect? It’s kind of relaxing. There’s no stress or tension. No worry. Just the gentle process of confirmation as, one-by-one, all the dominoes fall in the line we foresaw from the outset. It happens in violent films like Dredd. You know the hero and the rookie will kill a large number of bad people in the name of justice and walk out of the building without a scratch. The only suspense, if any, lies in the “how” it will all work out. The same happens in romantic comedy where we have to sit through two hours of watching our couple slowly edge towards each other. In Trouble with the Curve (2012), the model is probably the older style Western in which the ageing Texas ranger and younger partner ride into Dry Gulch in search of someone who may be good or bad. They meet a bounty hunter and, together as a team, they corner the wanted one and then have to decide what to do with him.

Amy Adams mixing with the ordinary folks

 

With Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) and Mickey (Amy Adams), we have a dysfunctional relationship between a father and daughter. The daughter has an imperfect relationship of uncertain provenance with a bland attorney. She’s up for partner in her own law firm. The father is a baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves and, with the season’s draft coming up, the big question is whether to pick the guy with the best stats. The film is asking how best to judge the worth of a human being. Do you look at a computer file with all the game records properly indexed and analysed. Or do you look the beast in the eye and ask if it can play the game (or become a partner as the token woman)?

Gus Lobell (Clint Eastwood) and Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake)

 

There’s nothing very earth-shattering in this plot. It’s been recycled endlessly. The father and daughter will more or less reconcile, the daughter will dump the bland one and take up with a more feisty dark horse — Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake). She may even reach a decision about whether she wants to be a partner in the bloodsucking firm for which she works. All this is obvious within the first five minutes and the only real question is whether the gentle progress to the end will be enjoyable.

 

I suppose I’m predisposed to like this film because, as a pensioner who’s as sharp as the proverbial knife, I find it interesting to watch how similarly grey-haired oldsters are portrayed. In this instance, we have a positive parade of elderly actors proving that, if you have Clint Eastwood involved, there will be no prosthetics turning younger “stars” geriatric. Nor will there be extensive use of CGI to add wrinkles to faces. Apart from one or two young faces, almost everyone of importance is at least fifty (although only a babe-in-arms at that age, really). This is actually fun. It could have been sentimentalised but, for the most part, there’s a steady stream of bile and bad temper, of the kind of banter men have worked on and honed over decades of “friendship”. The only real sentimentality comes in the relationship between Clint Eastwood’s Gus and Pete Klein (John Goodman). But even that has a hard business edge to it. Although the Head of Scouts looks out for his “friend”, he will fail to renew the contract if the man starts to make the wrong calls. There’s too much money involved to allow feelings to get in the way of commercially necessary decisions.

Pete Klein (John Goodman) being a friend

 

So Clint Eastwood is losing his eyesight — maybe this is not acting at his age. Since his character makes his living by travelling around the little leagues looking for talent, he needs to be able to see where he’s going and watch how the young prospects play. To protect the club, John Goodman gets the daughter to go on the road with her father to look at a red-hot prospect. This is a singularly unpleasant young man who can apparently hit everything thrown at him out of the field. Obviously, these people of talent are not picked because of their likeability. If they can pitch or hit, they’re in demand even though they’re unloveable. Despite all the angst, the daughter is very knowledgeable about baseball and between them, father and daughter work out whether this youngster is actually a good prospect. It’s an appropriately ironic deus ex machina that seals the deal and sees justice done all round. It’s a shame things like this don’t happen in real life. We could all benefit from meritocratic principles applied to everyone no matter what their status or position in society. In the midst of this, another scout of appropriate age appears and the daughter is naturally interested. Well, he annoys her into being interested. So there you have it. As a plot, there’s nothing to it. But I enjoyed it for Clint Eastwood’s performance. Amy Adams was good out in the real world with ordinary folk but less convincing in the law firm with the partners. Attorneys who act like that would never be taken seriously and get trampled on in the fight to be partner — unless that’s the point. Perhaps we’re supposed to see her heart is never really in the fight for the partnership. Either way, it’s an OK performance. I was pleasantly surprised by Justin Timberlake. He made a good shot at being the “love interest” and emerged looking like a real human being.

 

Overall this makes Trouble with the Curve a pedestrian plot, directed by the numbers by first-timer Robert Lorenz, but nevertheless reasonably enjoyable because of the quality of the central performances.

 

Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — episode fifteen to end

October 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Mercifully, we’re now into the final lap to end the race to the bottom. In a crisis, Lee Sun Joon (Park Yoo Chun) fails completely to reconcile his feelings for Kim Toon Hee (Park Min Young) as a man with her reality as an attractive woman. He therefore does the only thing confused young men in this situation do. First he saves the “man” he loves through a nice piece of argument before the student council called by Ha In-Soo (Jeon Tae-Soo). He then goes round to break off the engagement with Ha Hyo-Eun (Seo Hyo-Lim), the naive woman he thought he would marry to cure himself of his homosexual tendencies, and then runs away into the hills. At this point, I need to refer to a change of law in California. For decades, therapists have been claiming success in the treatment of homosexuality as a medical disorder and asserting a “cure” is possible. This always has been a nonsense and the new law reflects this by banning gay conversion therapy. When signing the law, Governor Brown said this should consign the therapy “to the dustbin of quackery”. Obviously this news has arrived too late in South Korea to save this series.

King Jeongjo (Jo Sung-ha) meets Kim Toon Hee (Park Min Young) as a woman

In his mountain retreat, Lee Sun Jeon decides he loves Kim Toon Hee as a man. This is not an easy decision and, once made, it confirms the essential gayness of the character. When he sees Kim Toon Hee by the river, he runs up to “him” and gives him a hug — a public demonstration of affection, not caring whether it’s observed. With respect to the scriptwriters, this is not a psychological problem that can be cured by showing him the object of his affection is actually a woman. Indeed, having gone through the existential debate, Lee Sun Joon should be disgusted by Kim Toon Hee. She’s the wrong sex and not sexually attractive to Lee. Yet, of course, we now have to go through the equally embarrassing courtship as a heterosexual couple, endure Moon Jae-Sin (Yoo Ah-In) acting jealous, and despair of everyone else’s general lack of awareness. Even Ku Yong-Ha (Song Jong-Ki) is growing a little tiresome.

In the midst of all this, we discover King Jeongjo (Jo Sung-ha) has a plan to move the capital and thereby break the power of the nobility. It turns out he’s high on opium a lot of the time which explains his slightly erratic behaviour in choosing a cross-dressing woman, a gay man, a terrorist and a dilettante fashion guru of ambiguous sexuality to save his country. To give himself political cover, the king wants to recover a letter that was lost some ten years ago — a transparent McGuffin to dig a weak king out of a losing position. All the four “heroes” have to do is find the letter, discredit the nobility and prepare to run the new utopian capital city when it’s built. Not a bad day’s work for university students.

As a plot, I think the routine noble-born boy meets girl from the wrong side of the Joseon tracks would have been a better bet. When he defends the girl’s right to learn and advance herself that would have more force because everyone can see he’s going against convention. In this version, his progressiveness is masked by the gender confusion. Similarly, the political decision to relocate to what’s now Seoul could have been the basis of an interesting plot, but it’s left superficial and simply tacked on at the end to give emotional cover for the resolution of the four’s rite of passage. More importantly, an opportunity was missed in not expanding on the situation in which Cho Sun (Kim Min Seo) finds herself. She’s another of these very talented woman who’s kept in a cage.

Ku Yong-Ha (Song Jong-Ki) , Moon Jae-Sin (Yoo Ah-In) and Lee Sun Joon (Park Yoo Chun) — the future of Korea in their hands

As we have it, the whole thing comes to a head as a family squabble with the virtuous can-do young showing their fathers they will be good leaders in the future. That’s except for Ha In-Soo, son of Ha Woo-kyu (Lee Jae-Yong), the Minister of War and lackey-in-chief. They have both been portrayed as trading on their status without actually having many brains, so suffer the usual ignominious defeat. Magically, the son does finally show a little gumption. But it’s too late to earn him a reprieve.

I suppose I must forgive the scriptwriters. They are bound by the culture of South Korea and cannot yet run an honest prime-time series about gay love. So I’m completely at a loss as to why they should put themselves in difficulties by adopting the cross-dressing theme. As the series Dae Jang Geum and Dong Yi both amply demonstrate, South Korea can run a traditionally gendered story to highlight the need to reform women’s rights. Indeed, after the archery and hockey, this woman is increasingly shown as dependent on the men around her. What little spark she had seems to dim until it flickers slightly more brightly as she solves the problem of where the missing letter has been hidden. It’s somewhat ironic. She’s a lot more positive when no-one knows she’s a woman. When she has three men in on the secret, she’s a lot more needy. Frankly, Sungkyunkwan Scandal is a disaster.

For the first episodes, see Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — thoughts on the first eight episodes and Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — episodes nine to fourteen.

Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — episodes nine to fourteen

October 28, 2012 1 comment

Well as we tread heavily into episode nine of Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010), we’re into revenge as Ha In-Soo (Jeon Tae-Soo), our Student President, has been humiliated. So he frames Kim Toon Hee (Park Min Young) for theft. King Jeongjo (Jo Sung-ha) involves himself and gives the identification of the true criminal(s) as the next exam question. This pits the Gang of Four against the rest of the students. So we now get a tedious investigation that’s enlivened by one absurdity and another touching moment. As a team, they realise the record of who passed on the stolen goods to the merchants to fence would be held by the head merchant. They plan to break in. The way it works out, Lee Sun Joon (Park Yoo Chun) is the one who enters the storeroom. He’s spotted and the local law enforcement is summoned. Moon Jae-Sin (Yoo Ah-In) intercepts them in the street and while he’s fighting, Kim Toon Hee disguises herself as a courtesan and enters the storeroom to rescue him. When the guards finally arrive, they find Kim on top of Lee. Embarrassed by what they think is a routine tryst, the guards leave. Seizing the moment, our dynamic duo get over their own embarrassment in their new sex roles and find a stack of highly embarrassing records. When the guards are about to return, Ku Yong-Ha (Song Jong-Ki) persuades Cho Sun (Kim Min Seo) to parade by with her team of courtesans as a distraction. Our duo escape with keys records. This is absurd because, in the space of the fight with the guards and with no prior warning, Kim has to find a dress and make-up, and then find a place to transform herself into a courtesan, classy hair style and all. She then has to get from her changing room, past the guards and to the storeroom. Only in a Korean drama would such a thing be thought possible. The second more affecting moment comes when Moon Jae-Sin talks with the young man who physically removed the goods from the University. He says some pleasing things about the relationship between brothers. So now Lee Sun Joon has seen Kim in the “wrong” dress, he’s even more confused. Poor boy. Anyway, while he’s agonising what to do about his feelings, he must also decide what to do with the evidence they have collected which may incidentally implicate his father.

Micky Yoochun and Park Min Young as the inadvertently straight couple

We’re back into the tedious moralising rut again. The fantasy reformist version of this King has given our foursome a crash course on just how awful life is for the poor, presumably so they’ll become righteous civil servants and protect the people in the future. As Kim puts it to Jung Yak-Yong (Ahn Nae-Sang), the country has been in the hands of men and look what a mess they have made of it. All the bribes have been flowing upwards into the hands of the corrupt nobility and, starved of funds, neither the King nor the people can do anything about it. So now all eyes focus on Lee Sun Joon. What will be do with the sliver of evidence against the nobility? They are the true criminals but how does that help Kim. Indeed, if she cannot save herself, does she deserve to be an “official”?

Song Jong-Ki and Yoo Ah-In as the other couple

Ah well, all this is academic because, when it comes to the hearing in front of the King, Lee Sun Joon hands over the book showing the nobles are the real criminals and the young thief comes forward to confess. Isn’t life wonderful when everything comes out right! I now propose to pass over the island episode as terminally embarrassing. It seems Lee Sun Joon is brain dead because despite seeing Kim as a woman, he still seems fixated by the restoration of male attire. Cho Sun is quicker off the mark and takes the heartbreak like a woman of experience should. Similarly the hockey match is painful in all its aspects. The best approach is to see all this as cultural ambivalence in modern Korea about the struggle of a young man to come out as gay. By his own admission, this man has had no friends to date and certainly no sexual experience of any kind. If he now finds himself attracted to a person he has labelled as male, this fills him with guilt and, with nods and winks from Ku Yong-Ha, he has a big decision to make. Should he reject the increasingly tragic Ha Hyo-Eun (Seo Hyo-Lim) who’s throwing herself at him, or live as a friend with Kim?

The only feature which is even vaguely of interest is the plan of Ha Woo-kyu (Lee Jae-Yong), the Minister of War, to capture our Iljimae figure. He’s been paying a skilled swordsman to go round town in the same black outfit, killing merchants and lots of the royal guards. The hope is this will lure out Moon Jae-Sin to defend his reputation of an all-round nice Robin Hood figure. We then get the predictable confusion as the stupid Moon Jae-Sin goes out to confront the imposter only to pick up a wound. When he gets back to the University, our tender flower helps bind the wound. The self-righteous Lee Sun Joon sees what he thinks is an embrace and is naturally jealous. So now we finally get to the scandal in the series title. Based on Lee Sun Joon’s shocked reaction, Kim Toon Hee and Moon Jae-Sin are accused of having a homosexual relationship. Ha In-Soo convenes a special council to try them based on what he believes will be conclusive evidence from Lee Sun Joon. The only way they will beat this charge is by admitting Moon Jae-Sin is the masked Robin Hood — not a bad trap. Incidentally, the identity of the imposter going around doing the killing is fascinating. Otherwise, Sungkyunkwan Scandal continues in a downward spiral of embarrassing awfulness as the screenwriters fail to decide how to deal with the issue of homosexuality.

For the remaining episodes, see Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — thoughts on the first eight episodes and Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — episodes fifteen to end.

Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — thoughts on the first eight episodes

October 26, 2012 3 comments

Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) is difficult to review without my words sounding contemptuously patronising. So let’s bite the bullet and explain the problem. This is set in Sungkyunkwan University in the late Joseon era during the reign of King Jeongjo (Jo Sung-ha). As you might expect, despite the past role models like Dae Jang Geum, women continue to be considered nothing more than baby producers. This series plays the now well-established game of the cross-dressing woman of surpassing ability who outshines the men at their own game. This time, we have Kim Toon Hee (Park Min Young) who’s been trying to pay for her brother’s medical treatment by writing crib sheets for students seeking to enter the University. Unfortunately, her family has also borrowed money from Ha Woo-kyu (Lee Jae-Yong), the Minister of War, and a lascivious and unpleasant man who decides he would rather take our heroine as his mistress than have her pay off the debt. As a result of the usual complications involving a young man, Lee Sun Joon (Park Yoo Chun), she finds herself tricked into taking the entrance exam to the university. In an unexpected burst of honesty, she admits to the King, who’s invigilating the exam, that she’s doing so as a result of an agreement to take another’s place. Needless to say, Lee Sun Joon stands up to declare he’s proud of doing so because, wait for it, he wants to test whether the King will uphold the rules. In this case, the King’s punishment for the pair is to commit them to University and arrange for them to share the same room. As The Great Queen Seon Deok quickly learned in a barracks environment, this is not an insurmountable difficulty when all around her expect to see a man.

The F4 (Boys Over Flowers) in Josean times: Song Jong-Ki, Park Min Young, Park Yoo Chun and Yoo Ah-In

So now you see my problem. It’s the same old unrealistic plot of a woman who looks feminine at all times, passing herself off as a man to get ahead. To add the usual spice to proceedings, women found inside the University compound will be killed, tortured or generally made to feel ashamed of themselves for breaking the rules. The series therefore claims to walk a tightrope with our heroine always on the verge of being revealed, but somehow scraping by. So let’s cut to the crux of the problem with this as a plot in a romantic comedy. Since this is supposedly light and fluffy entertainment, the King is not going to attach one strong horse to each of our heroine’s four limbs and encourage them to move away. The resulting parting the ways would destroy the mood and make sex difficult for her afterwards. So there’s absolutely no suspense. There will be a marriage at the end of it and everyone will live happily every after. Such is the way of Korean drama and drama elsewhere, for that matter. Period reality is watered down and no-one will be “made an example”.

At some point, men around her will either fall in love with the appearance i.e. the men will be homosexual and so not interested in her as a woman, or the men will realise she’s actually a woman and therefore have to decide what to do about it. Obviously, openly showing affection to her when cross-dressed is going to get funny looks from a relatively intolerant society. But persuading her to admit her sex is going to be a challenge if this admission is going to get her killed. In The Great Queen Seon Deok, this didn’t matter too much because she was either training or fighting alongside the lads, and killing as many of the enemy as possible. Indeed, she died a virgin queen. But this new series is overtly sexualising the woman by having Lee Sun Joon spend time looking at her lips and, presumably, fantasising about kissing “him”. We also get the soft porn version of her undressing in candlelight and having a well-earned bath after becoming top archer, the glow of the flickering flame reflecting off the sheen of moisture on her shoulders. . . Sorry, I have to stop at this point because episodes such as this are gratuitously insulting titillation for the men watching. Correspondingly, the casting of a large number of young hunks is to keep the female viewers happy as we’re allowed to catch sight of bare chests every now and then. Just to reinforce the point, this is a prime-time show and just as there’s not going to be any torture or death, there’s also not going to be any sexual activity shown. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Except this script is actually not completely unrealistic and, in the early episodes, reasonably endearing as stories go. Despite its romantic comedy leanings, it has a slightly hard edge as events inside the University are matched by the political machinations in the Court. As always, there are conspiracies afoot. So there’s real poverty in the capital and the nobility have no real conception of the lives the common people. Into this mix comes one of these dashing masked men (like Iljimae except this time he’s called Moon Jae-Sin (Yoo Ah-In)) who bounds across rooftops like he’s attached to wires and shoots arrows with remarkable inaccuracy — he misses the Minister of War in one of his early attacks. This adds an element of mystery to proceedings because we’re not supposed to recognise which of the students is playing the role of this agent provocateur — appropriately, he’s the son of the Minister of Justice.

Jeon Tae-Soo following in his father’s footsteps as a villain

The two features of the first episodes are the discovery of the deception by Jung Yak-Yong (Ahn Nae-Sang). He’s one of the King’s men who’s been sent to work in the University for an unspecified reason. Fortunately, he has no interest in her as a woman — he’s a brains man — and, as soon as she wins the archery competition, he’s a fan. He’s also caught because everyone knows he’s been giving “him” medical treatment and therefore cannot have failed to detect her true sex. This catches him as a conspirator and he will suffer a worse fate than her for allowing the deception to continue. And, as you will have gathered, the boys have to train our girl to be an ace archer. As minor plots, we have Cho Sun (Kim Min Seo), a high-class courtesan who’s interested in our girl as a man. The Secretary of War has two children. The naive Ha Hyo-Eun (Seo Hyo-Lim) who decides she’s in love with Lee Sun Joon at first sight, and Ha In-Soo (Jeon Tae-Soo) who plays the villain as the University’s Student President. Not surprisingly he’s out to do down anyone who does not show him due respect. All in all, it’s a battle for hearts and minds as the dynamic duo preach honesty and a meritocracy rather than entrenched clan and/or class advantages. Ah ha! So this is one of these sageuks with a modern political agenda to argue for social change in contemporary society.

The archery contest itself is endlessly drawn out but, as anyone with a few brain cells would predict, the team of losers beats the odds-on favourites with our plucky girl coming through a sabotage-induced injury to beat Ha In-Soo in the final. That’s the ultimate indignity for the Minister of War’s son to bear. So now we get the romantic complexities building up. The ultimately beautiful courtesan wants our cross-dressed heroine in bed. The Minister of War’s daughter wants our hero in bed. And the circle of people who’ve had the sense to identify our heroine as a woman is growing. The Iljimae figure is now smitten — as evidenced by the continuous hiccups when in her presence. As an aside, he’s also got fantastic healing powers. He digs the arrow out of his waist, plasters on a few herbs Dae Jang Geum style, shoots a few arrows himself in friendly competition, and is completely healed the next day — Wolverine should take lessons. And Ku Yong-Ha (Song Jong-Ki) the manipulative fourth member of our little group, hasn’t made up his mind on what to do about the situation. I’m seriously considering giving up but, having come this far, I suppose I’d better see what dirty secrets the nobles are trying to hide. More to follow as Sungkyunkwan Scandal continues.

For the next episodes, see Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — thoughts on episodes nine to fourteen and Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) — episodes fifteen to end.

Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 13 to end

Well, we’re into the final episodes of Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu with Seo In Woo (Lover Boy) (Park Shi Hoo following on from Iljimae and Family’s Honor) ‘fessing up to everything — even to stealing Ma Hye Ri’s (Kim So Yun) credit cards and cell phone at the ski resort so they would meet. Jeni Ahn (Park Jung Ah) also admits to being in on the conspiracy. Now our couple must adjust to the new reality. At first, she’s into self-pity, lying at home feeling sorry for herself, not answering her phone and worrying everyone at the office. What does Lover Boy want her to do? Just clear his father’s name. He died of a heart attack in prison as a murderer. We then see the significance of the football boots. He promised to buy them for his son but was diverted and framed for the murder before he could pass them on. Lover Boy also explains that he saw Ma Sang Tae (Choi Jung Woo, continuing in father roles from Brilliant Legacy) as a child at her home. Denied help, his mother couldn’t stand being in Korea without her husband, so they went to America where she was killed in a traffic accident. Left on his own, he was adopted. Yet again, he refuses to apologise for using her to investigate her father.

Ma Hye Ri (Kim So Yun)

Angry she goes to her father. Bad Papa instructs her to quit as a prosecutor and marry the man he chooses. For once, she stands up to him. Later she finds a recording Lover Boy made for her alarm clock when he says he’s sorry for the pain to come. So we get her confronting him and demanding respect. At last, she’s trying to become a real person. This bring us to the classic line, “I love you, you bastard!” which does rather sum it up well. And then we get a kiss for real. At last she feels she can breathe freely. But instead of leaping into bed to celebrate — this being a Korean drama — they go outside and she remembers the boy who came to their house to assert his father’s innocence. She took pity on him and gave him banana milk and a cookie which, in line with his friendly character and allergy to bananas, he threw on the ground.

Seo In Woo (Lover Boy) (Park Shi Hoo)

So because there are three more episodes to go, they decide they’re not a couple (despite the real kiss) and she gets back into the investigation, talking honestly to Shin Jung Nam, the security guard who claimed to see enough to blame Lover Boy’s dad. Lover Boy does the follow-up to soften up the man. Finally, Shin Jung Nam admits he took the large sum of money that was left at the scene of the murder. When Bad Papa realised he’d been spotted, he paid the hospital to treat the guard’s son and told the guard to keep the money he’d found. Meanwhile Bad Papa realises Lover Boy has been using his daughter to investigate the murder. They meet and he accuses Lover Boy of seducing his daughter as revenge. Lover Boy offers to give up his daughter if he admits the murder. It now gets painfully melodramatic. Bad Papa apologises to his wife for being prepared to break all the rules to get out of poverty. Seeing the writing on the wall, Bad Papa agrees to confess if Lover Boy will never see his daughter again. My pain level is rising fast as Lover Boy and Ma Hye Ri continue to insist they’re not in a relationship. He apologises, again, for using her and the script writers pile on the romantic angst. The scenes with the mother add fuel to the flames of unnecessary pain. All we need is for Bad Papa to admit all and the happy couple to walk off into the sunset.

Ma Sang Tae (Choi Jung Woo)

So finally he explains how he killed the man who was blackmailing him and framed Lover Boy’s father. It was all a dirty business deal with a politician standing in the shadows to give planning permission and wave through permits. He paints it as self-defence when the blackmailer attacked him. Lured on by greed, he kept quiet, the wrong man went to jail and died there. This is wonderful but there’s a legal wrinkle. If it was an accident or self-defence, there’s a seven year period of limitations on the prosecution. This has expired. But if it was murder. there’s a fifteen year period and he could still be prosecuted. Feeling too guilty at he pain he’s causing, Lover Boy decides to stop, so Jeni Ahn releases all the accumulated evidence to the Prosecutor’s office. To add further embarrassment, Lover Boy now volunteers to be Bad Papa’s lawyer.

Yoon Se Joon (Han Jung Soo) and Jin Jung Sun (Choi Song Hyun)

With everything to play for, Bad Papa’s business starts to collapse while Lover Boy goes to talk to the corrupt politician Kim and blackmails him into giving evidence in support of Bad Papa. Predictably it’s Lover Boy who ultimately wins the day because he prepares an animated presentation, CSI-style, that convinces the prosecutors the death was basically an accident. A court formally declares Lover Boy’s dad innocent and there are smiles all round, except Bad Papa’s business collapses and creditors strip the family home of everything moveable. Bad Papa and Mum set up a bakery and, when all the guilt has subsided, our happy couple are finally free to be happy ever after. As a postscript, Yoon Se Joon (Han Jung Soo) actually proposes marriage to Jin Jung Sun (Choi Song Hyun) which proves common sense can prevail even in daft Korean drama.

This is a great shame. After a rocky start, Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu picked up speed only to die in the final furlongs. When you run a race, the pace should pick up as you reach the end and not focus on the losing horse being dragged kicking and neighing across the finish line. The ending is agony prolonged to excruciating levels. At its core this is a good but slight story. Everything could and should have been wrapped up in no more than ten episodes. Spinning this out into sixteen episodes was a catastrophic mistake. Adding to the problems were the complete lack of credibility in the primary characters played by Kim So Yun and Park Shi Hoo. Kim So Yun was a victim of the script which gave her no chance of appearing completely sane while Park Shi Hoo looks good but continues to act woodenly. I actually felt Choi Jung Woo came out rather better as the homicidal father. He did at least fight to defend his position and then made an honest confession. He actually managed a smile as the bread-maker in the new bakery business run by his wife. While Han Jung Soo and Choi Song Hyun demonstrate how difficult it is for any couple to get together in Korean culture. Life over there sure is tough when it comes to romance.

For the reviews of all episodes, see:
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 1 to 4
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 5 to 8
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 9 to 12

For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/

 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

Somewhere in England, many moons ago, the powers-that-be decided the best way to make films was to borrow the concept of the repertory company from the theatre. So, as we work our way through the Ealing comedies to the Carry On films and beyond, a template for success emerged. Essentially this involves taking a small group of well-known actors, dropping them into a “situation” and watching what happens. These victims of circumstance are usually friends, often living together in the same village or part of a city. The catalyst can be anything from a cargo of whisky washing up on shore to the need for the WI to raise money for a worthy local cause. Once the characters are established and the stimulus applied, the cast twists and turns in the wind until all the loose ends have been chased down and resolved. The film ends when as much of the inherent tragedy has been dispelled and there’s enough hope to inspire the paying customers when they leave the cinema. Never let it be said that any British film carrying the label of a comedy is anything other than a pottage of misery that ends with half a smile.

Judi Dench and Celia Imrie arrive

 

So it is with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) in which director John Madden works from a screenplay by Ol Parker based on a novel by Deborah Moggach. We start off by meeting our indomitable character actors. We find Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) two months after the death of her husband. She was married forty years, was never troubled with any decision-making and, consequently, has no way of dealing with all the debts he left behind other than by selling the flat and going somewhere cheap to live. Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy) is a recently retired civil servant who lost his lump sum when he invested in his daughter’s IT business. The initial scenes as he and Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton) look around a flat in sheltered accommodation nicely captures their despair. Murial Donnelly (Maggie Smith) was in service. She was highly competent, but when she grew old and had trained her successor, she was discarded in much the same way her employers might throw out an old washing machine. Now she needs a hip replacement and the waiting times in the UK are a minimum of six months. Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) is a retiring High Court judge who wants to return to his old home in India where he left a friend forty years ago. Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) and Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) are getting old and desperately lonely. They hope to remedy their situation by joining the others in retirement in Jaipur as the first residents of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (for the Old and Beautiful).

Maggie Smith not feeling comfortable in her surroundings

 

From the outset, we have to suspend disbelief. The hotel is run by Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel). He’s the stereotypical Wilkins Micawber, always convinced something will turn up. Unfortunately, his head is so far up into the clouds of optimism, he forgets to actually do anything to make any of his plans a success. The idea he could have advertised his hotel in England and organised the arrival of these seven guests is laughable. Equally absurd is the reaction of the magnificent seven when they discover the hotel is slightly less well-appointed than they might have thought from the Photoshopped pictures. However, we’re not to dwell on such matters. Our heroes arrive, they move in. That gets us started.

Tom Wilkinson playing a straight bat

 

The city of Jaipur is beautifully filmed and the hotel is wonderfully dilapidated. So, with one exception, they all use it as a base. Tom Wilkinson immediately sets off in pursuit of his old friend, Bill Nighy takes to wandering round and soaking up the atmosphere. Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie join the local social club and start searching for singles. Maggie Smith goes into hospital to have her operation, Judi Dench gets a job in a local call centre, advising on how to make telephone sales pitches to elderly people in England, and Penelope Wilton sits around the hotel in dark despair. As a local subplot, Dev Patel is in love with a girl who works at the call centre but her face does not fit into his mother’s plans for an arranged marriage. Continuing in the same order, Tom Wilkinson’s search is a mixture of fear and longing. The resolution of this thread is unexpected and affecting. Bill Nighy is a civil servant who has never managed to change a lightbulb. He’s defeated by practicality yet desperately loyal to his wife. In a way, both men are somewhat unworldly but do their best to fit in, no matter where they may find themselves (even if it means partaking of a little apple smoke). Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie are driven by desperation. They fear dying alone but have been trying too hard to meet people and make friends. They end with varying degrees of success.

Bill Nighy scouting the town

 

The most interesting thread is given to Maggie Smith and I find myself undecided on whether she could make the transformation we see. In England and immediately on her arrival in India, she appears to be irredeemably racist. Putting the best possible interpretation on what happens, we’re supposed to think this was born out of ignorance. Because she had never met “different” people, she instinctively feared and so refused contact with them. However, when she finally does allow herself to interact with some of the local people, she embarrasses herself into rethinking her prejudice. In a way, the result is a somewhat ironic return to her life of service. Judi Dench gives a wonderful performance as a woman relearning what it’s like to have a life. It’s a warm and, at times, amusing journey as she remembers the time she met her husband-to-be on a carousel and he put his arm around her waist to steady her on a rising and falling horse. Watching her give up the past and embrace the future is a delight. Penelope Wilton gets her way and goes back to England (and not a moment too soon). Dev Patel is also rescued from himself, so it all works out well in the end. Ah yes. Here comes the catchphrase. It does all come out well in the end. If things are not well at this moment, it can’t be the end.

 

So on balance, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is worth seeing. I smiled and shed a tear or two. It’s a classic ensemble British comedy so the tears won out, albeit there had to be a little finagling in the plot to get everything to end as it should. Without a little contrivance, life would be too dull.

 

Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 9 to 12

The Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu continues with Ma Hye Ri (Kim So Yun) getting all worked up when she finds Seo In Woo (Park Shi Hoo following on from Iljimae and Family’s Honor) has a photograph of her taken more than a year ago. Then she’s convinced that means he’s had a crush on her for a long time. But, no matter what the truth of it, safety first. She tells him to move out of the neighbouring house. Meanwhile, she and her investigators dig up evidence strongly suggesting the car accident from Episode 8 was a murder to collect the insurance. The problem is how to prove it. Ma Hye Ri invites Yoon Se Joon (Han Jung Soo) out for a meal. Unfortunately she takes him to a floating restaurant and gets violently seasick. Fortunately, he finds this somewhat amusing and they hold hands as they walk under the cherry blossom. Jin Jung Sun (Choi Song Hyun) is doing her best not to be jealous, but decides it can’t hurt to dress in a slightly more revealing way.

Choi Jung Woo as Papa Ma with Kim So Yun as his daughter

There are creepy things about Ma Hye Ri’s home — she has an unannounced visitor. When she suspects, she calls Seo In Woo who winkles out the uninvited lodger. They take him down to the police station. This prompts a change of heart. Ma Hye Ri is so grateful to have a friend to call in emergencies, she tells Seo In Woo he need not move away. Meanwhile, Seo In Woo’s long-term plans are slowly coming nearer to completion as two cases are in the prosecutor’s system: one is a case alleging Go Man Chui (Sun Woo Jae Duk) fraudulently sold the home in his wife’s name, the other alleges Go Man Chui is the director of a building company responsible for defective work. Ma Hye Ri and Yoon Se Joon have yet to realise the link. This is a trail back to Ma Sang Tae (Choi Jung Woo, continuing in father roles from Brilliant Legacy). All they have to do is recognise it. Now mother Park Ae Ja (Yang Hee Kyung) meets Seo In Woo and Ma Hye Ri spends time listing all the things she likes about him. This is deeply distressing because she sees only his sincerity and not his lies. His conscience may force him to give up whatever the plot is against her father.

Park Shi Hoo being a lawyer

He gets very drunk and has to be helped home by Jeni Ahn (Park Jung Ah) who first appeared as a lawyer in Seo In Woo’s firm early on. It now seems she knows him from America and has been in Korea for one year helping him with his plans. Ma Hye Ri has a second “date” with Yoon Se Joon where they exercise together. After hours watching video from shops along the route the murderers probably followed, she finds the key piece of evidence. When the pictures are blown up, the evidence is convincing. She goes in person to arrest the husband for the murder of his wife and is distressed when his children cry. When confronted, the murderous couple explain how they gave the woman a fatal injection and then staged the accident. Ma Hye Ri is upset her investigation will leave the children as orphans. To cheer her up, the team of prosecutors invite themselves round to her place for nibbles. We then have more sad moments as the foursome eye each other with appropriate longing.

Park Jung Ah as Jeni Ahn, a friend from the USA

Now Seo In Woo and Jeni Ahn offer a little help to drop Go Man Chui, the missing fraud witness, into the hands of the police. Ma Hye Ri is asked to share the case with Yoon Se Joon which alarms her father. Indeed, he has every right to be frightened as Go Man Chui, the intended scapegoat for the defective building work case, identifies Papa Ma as the man behind the fraud.

After the initial shock, Ma Hye Ri rushes round to confront her father who admits to knowing the man from his home town, but denies any recent connection. Nevertheless, Ma Hye Ri must withdraw from the case. When mother Park Ae Ja confronts her husband about pursuing an arranged marriage, her husband seems resigned to the world no longer working as he wants and allows his wife to proceed on the basis that Seo In Woo will marry his daughter. When Ma Hye Ri tells her team about the embarrassing involvement of her father, Yoon Se Joon takes on the case solo. Go Man Chui changes his story again and blames a man now dead. He says he only accused Papa Ma to embarrass the prosecutor. Yoon Se Joon can find no evidence directly linking Papa Ma with the fraud. To celebrate, she buys Seo In Woo a bracelet. He’s getting increasingly conflicted over all this plotting. He decides to try keeping her at arm’s length. Yoon Se Joon is slowly starting to realise Jin Jung Sun has been in love with him for years. When Jin Jung Sun confronts Ma Hye Ri, she begins to make a choice between the two men. But she finds it difficult in the face of Seo In Woo’s sudden coldness.

Equally suddenly, Ma Hye Ri is off on the hunt again when the evidence from the Land Registry finally appears and shows her father was involved in the transfer of land to Go Man Chui fifteen years ago. She goes back to the wife who first alleged fraud and asks about this transfer. With this information, Ma Hye Ri is able to link back to a murder case. When she checks the records of the police investigation she finds statements from her father, Go Man Chui and his wife. We are also allowed a flashback to see Seo In Woo doing the same research. Now Seo In Woo disappears leaving Ma Hye Ri in tears just as she has begun to choose him.

Han Jung Soo (Yoon Se Joon) and Choi Song Hyun (Jin Jung Sun) look as if they might become a family

She decides to ask her mother about her father and then confesses she misses Seo In Woo. The next day, she goes to speak to one key witness from the murder case fifteen years ago. It turns out he’s the father of the man Seo In Woo represented in the alleged assault case. The issue is whether Papa Ma bought an alibi with the land. Unfortunately, there’s no clear outcome. Then we have a resolution where she apologises to Yoon Se Joon for chasing him and insists he look seriously at Jin Jung Sun. When Seo In Woo reappears, he cuts her dead but she confronts him. At least he knows she’s not going to give up with out a fight. We now have an ah ha moment. It seems the man who was convicted of the murder fifteen years ago was not the type, but he died in jail and his family went to America. Papa Ma is now alerted to his daughter’s interest in the events fifteen years ago while Go Man Chui looks to be in a good blackmail position.

Ma Hye Ri now gets evidence showing that her father’s alibi was a lie. Except by talking to all these people, she’s also putting together Seo In Woo’s involvement. She knows he’s been meeting with all the relevant witnesses as a lawyer, writer and customer. She realises it must be his father who died in jail. Now they really do have something to talk about.

Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu has actually picked up. I was beginning to doubt whether Kim So Yun as Ma Hye Ri was ever going to be really likeable, but the character is slowly maturing and realising what’s actually important to her. For too long, she’s been living the lives given to her by her parents. Now that she’s finally on her own and involved with a completely new circle of people who relate to her as she is, a new person is emerging. She’s prepared to reject Han Jung Soo as Yoon Se Joon (who was only confused because she looked like his dead wife) and push Choi Song Hyun as Jin Jung Sun into action. Instead of trying to hide all the evidence about her father, she wants to continue the investigation. Choi Jung Woo is suitably creepy. And she’s prepared to break with convention and impliedly tell Seo In Woo how she feels. The shame showed by Park Shi Hoo is reasonably convincing. So it’s all beginning to come together in a better way.

For the reviews of all episodes, see:
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 1 to 4
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 5 to 8
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 9 to 12
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 13 to end

For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/

 

Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 5 to 8

The Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu Episode 5 continues with the case of the music teacher accused of child molestation. Seo In Woo (Park Shi Hoo following on from Iljimae and Family’s Honor) is waiting for Ma Hye Ri (Kim So Yun) outside the office and acts as her driver for the day. Well, first she bakes biscuits. Her decoration style is somewhat crude but they taste good. Then they go to the home of the young victim and, after feeding her biscuits and making clothes for her dolls, the victim slowly opens up. Now she knows what happened, the mother and girl come into the office and a formal statement is given. In due course, the alleged molester comes to trial. The girl must repeat her evidence in a closed court but with the testimony piped to the public through a video link. For this to be inflicted on a seven-year-old says a great deal about the Korean justice system. Ma Hye Ri wins the girl’s confidence by taking off her robes and doing a little dance. The girl recognises the music she’s humming as from Swan Lake. Then she gives a moving and credible account of the assault. Seo In Woo’s role is becoming even more blurry because he has secretly obtained evidence from America showing this is not the first time our violin teacher has been accused of improper behaviour towards a child. He causes this evidence to be delivered to Ma Hye Ri and this completes a very strong case. Suddenly Ma Hye Ri is hot news and the press feature pictures of her on the front pages of local newspapers. Her father, Ma Sang Tae (Choi Jung Woo, continuing in father roles from Brilliant Legacy), is suitably pleased and resumes pursuit of a suitable match.

Kim So Yun after a few extra biscuits

The next case involves a young man accused of a violent assault. It looks open and shut but Seo In Woo turns up and asks for more time. Ma Hye Ri is not inclined to give it. Not deterred, Seo In Woo investigates and finds evidence that the accused was acting in defence of a woman about to be raped. When he produces the woman, Ma Hye Ri takes a moment and then accepts defeat, reducing the charges and allowing the man out on bail. Now comes a pivotal moment. Jealous of her success, co-workers release a picture of Ma Hye Ri when she was at university. This takes us into the same territory as Ruthless People with a sideways glance at Sherman Kump in The Nutty Professor. We get to see Kim So Yun in a prosthetic fat suit as she goes through school and then into the first year at law school. She’s the most intelligent girl in the school and the top-performing law student, but deeply conscious of her excess weight. Unfortunately she misunderstands a boy’s kindness for sexual interest and unilaterally falls in love. When her “friends” mock her, “How could she possible believe anyone could love her?” she breaks down. Her mother locks her in the cellar with three personal trainers and feeds her salad until she loses weight. The reward for achieving the perfect body is that her mother will engineer her daughter’s departure from law school. So now we know why she’s so obsessed with her clothes and, more importantly, why her emotional growth has been so stunted.

Han Jung Soo valiantly fighting off womankind

For once Seo In Woo is too late to intervene. This is left to Yoon Se Joon (Han Jung Soo). He becomes like a spreading tree to her, offering shade. This is a pivotal moment because he not only gives her advice but talks to himself when he says, “You have to give up the past to make way for the future.” He’s three years into mourning and has left no room for his own future growth. Ma Hye Ri decides to pursue Yoon Se Joon but, every time she tries to get him on his own, Jin Jung Sun (Choi Song Hyun) is in the way. She decides she has to move into the same neighbourhood so that they can carpool. Ma Hye Ri stages an accident which spooks her father into allowing her to move out. Now Seo In Woo’s creepiness goes up a notch as he covertly engineers her moving into a house next to him. He’s driven by a past injustice and we await his backstory to see if it will keep him sympathetic.

Choi Song Hyun pretending to be a mankiller

Episode 7 is marking time with little forward progress. Ma Hye Ri’s next case involves bloggers libelling celebrities and she gets to see her first autopsy with Jin Jung Sun. There’s a tedious sequence demonstrating her fear of ghosts. Yoon Se Joon finally catches up with the counterfeiters from Episode 1, but as he explains his backstory and the death of his wife, he also makes it clear Ma Hye Ri makes him feel uncomfortable. We get a big hint that Seo In Woo holds some kind of grudge against Ma Hye Ri’s father. It’s connected to some football boots. We await further clarification. To try and patch things up, Ma Hye Ri invites Yoon Se Joon to a picnic but his daughter intercepts the message and he does not turn up. More fool her for going ahead without getting his agreement in advance. However, we’re left on a cliffhanger because, when he finally realises what he has missed, Yoon Se Joon runs round to Ma Hye Ri’s home only to see Seo In Woo kissing her.

Park Shi Hoo plants the jealousy kiss on Kim So Yun

Episode 8 sees Seo In Woo justify the kiss by saying he wanted to make Yoon Se Joon jealous. Ma Hye Ri is now caught up in uncertainty. She didn’t see the prosecutor and doesn’t know who to believe. She goes back and checks the mailbox. The invitation is not there so she finally gets up the courage to ask Yoon Se Joon why he did not come. He admits to seeing the kiss but says that’s her personal business. Meanwhile she’s allocated a vehicular manslaughter case and goes with Seo In Woo to investigate the site. They discover the victim was visiting a local buddhist temple and had been considering a divorce because of her husband’s unfaithfulness. On the way back, Seo In Woo injures his foot but carries Ma Hye Ri when she breaks her heel. They shop for practical things around the home and then cook together. He falls asleep while she works on the file but has a nightmare. Ma Hye Ri comforts him. The next day, she cracks yet another case because of her knowledge of high-end jewellery and celebrates by buying the team lunch. Yoon Se Joon then shows he may be jealous by warning her about Seo In Woo who’s suspected of having paid witnesses to change their stories to get clients acquitted. He challenges Ma Hye Ri to say what she truly knows of the man.

Well, this has been interesting. We’re expected to suddenly feel sorry for Ma Hye Ri because she was fat and abused. This cod psychology is extraordinary. She was stuffed with food by her mother and bullied by her father. Then her mother kidnaps her and forcibly slims her down in the cellar, so now she’s only bullied by her father who seems not a little weird. The fact she’s beginning to develop more empathy for investigating crimes and may be experiencing more real emotions about others is not changing the underlying reality that she’s severely dysfunctional. Seo In Woo is getting ever more creepy as he manipulates situations, dressing in different clothes depending on the social effect he wants to achieve. He just looks sad and rather lonely. Let’s hope he’s not a criminal as well. Yoon Se Joon has been ruthlessly exploiting Jin Jung Sun as an unpaid and unloved babysitter for his daughter. Now he’s also beginning to experience emotions again, he’s allowing a complicated situation to become worse. So the fate of this series hangs in the balance. I’m still inclined to like it but it’s testing my patience.

For the reviews of all episodes, see:
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 1 to 4
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 5 to 8
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 9 to 12
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 13 to end

For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/

 

Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 1 to 4

April 30, 2012 1 comment

Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu is playing a similar game to Hollywood’s Legally Blonde in which a girl who has always traded on her looks to get what she wants finds herself inadvertently becoming a lawyer. In neither case is this her decision, of course. In the Korean drama version, she spends two years discovering that, despite her passion for shoes and handbags, she has no talent as a fashion designer. Her real passion is wearing fashion, preferring the branded goods others have created and subconsciously copying them until her father takes away her credit cards and threatens to throw her out of the house unless she passes the bar exams. Much to everyone’s surprise, it turns out that, despite the usual association between dumbness and fashionistas, she has a brain. It may not be capable of deep thought, but it does at least enable her to win a rather important case. That of convincing her father to return her credit cards.

Kim So Yun with her real passion on display

Now let’s meet Ma Hye Ri (Kim So Yun). She’s a young woman from a family where money has been intermittently showered on her when her father allows it. She flies through the bar exams and is appointed a prosecutor except she has no real interest in the job. Indeed, instead of attending the first major orientation seminar, she takes herself off to a ski resort where she proves accident prone. Someone steals her phone and credit cards, she loses her hotel booking, and her car has a puncture. Not deterred, she attends the charity auction where she fails to buy the celebrity shoes she has been pursuing for years. The one apparently good thing to come out of all this is her meeting with Seo In Woo (Park Shi Hoo following on from Iljimae and Family’s Honor). They share the same suite and he gives her the shoes from the charity auction. Unfortunately, she looses the piece of paper on which he writes his telephone number. Fortunately, he comes into the prosecutor’s offices to discuss a case. Yes, he’s a lawyer and, not surprisingly, he wants his money.

Park Shi Hoo — the "nice" stalker

While at the ski resort she disrupts an investigation by Yoon Se Joon (Han Jung Soo), one of the prosecutors and his young assistant, Lee Min Suk (Yoo Gun). Embarrassingly, she’s to work for him. Jin Jung Sun (Choi Song Hyun) is delegated to show her the ropes, but they could not be more different. She’s obsequious and dresses as if in a convent. The result is our heroine makes a total commitment 9 to 5 but, come the secondhand clicking to quitting time, she’s gone. When challenged, she points out she’s not paid overtime. If the Government wants the work done, it’s for them to pay the staff to work longer hours or recruit more lawyers. Meanwhile she pays back Seo In Woo. He suspects she will offer him low denomination notes so angers her by bringing a machine to count them.

Now we get to see her at work on a case of alleged assault. Two women seem to have fallen out over the same man. The wife suspected the other of seducing her husband so slapped the viper. Since neither is prepared to change her story, our heroine loses interest and disappears into the toilet with a juicy case file involving celebrities to read. Unfortunately she leaves it behind. Yoon Se Joon has to explain the importance of the prosecutor’s role in compensating for lazy police officers and actually doing something objectively for justice. At home, Jin Jung Sun is getting stick for not finding someone to marry, and we catch sight of Yoon Se Joon living a lonely life. At this point, a monster case comes into the Prosecutor’s Office, forcing a reorganisation. They all decide they would rather Ma Hye Ri found another job so send her to Coventry. At first, she doesn’t realise this marginalisation. When she does, she goes out, gets drunk and is arrested. Sadly, photographs and all the gossip from the office are published on the internet. Now her father, Ma Sang Tae (Choi Jung Woo, continuing in father roles from Brilliant Legacy), and mother Park Ae Ja (Yang Hee Kyung) are on the case. Daddy is humiliated because his daughter is publicly branded a complete failure. No-one will want to marry her now. He gives her two weeks to recover her good standing or lose the credit cards again.

Han Jung Soo good looking but oblivious to all romantic overtures

Now we learn a little about the background. Yoon Se Joon has a young daughter, his wife having died. Jin Jung Sun is doing her best to attract his attention, offering some care for his daughter. It seems Seo In Woo knew Ma Hye Ri when they were children and before he went off to America. That’s why he’s predisposed to help her recover her position. He arranges for her to go into a gambling den undercover. Not wanting to reveal this to her fellow prosecutors, she fails to set up proper protocols to ensure she can be rescued should anything go wrong. Except, when it does go wrong, she’s rescued by Yoon Se Joon with covert support from Seo In Woo. Both turn out to be accomplished fighters, but Seo In Woo leaves quietly — it would be inconvenient if it became known a private attorney was helping a prosecutor.

Back at the office, Yoon Se Joon stands up for her and she’s not fired. Instead she’s given a child molestation case. Frankly this is a ludicrous decision. She’s completely inexperienced. More to the point, she’s psychologically damaged and would never be able to relate to a seven-year-old victim. Still she gives it a try and makes such an impression, the victim’s mother demands she be removed from the case. The original assault case then returns and Yoon Se Joon proves the accused had been framed by the alleged victim. To get her revenge, the innocent woman returns with cameras and publicly humiliates Ma Hye Ri whose picture is all over the internet again. She decides to run away, this time to Japan. Fortunately, Seo In Woo intercepts her at the airport and, with the subtlety of a bull rhino, provokes her into staying to face the storm. Once back in the office, Ma Hye Ri admits she failed in the assault case and refuses to file charges against the attacker for assault. She then sets off to prove the case against the alleged molester.

The prosecuting team

I find Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu fascinating in a rather macabre way. The newbie prosecutor as played by Kim So Yun is unnaturally shallow. Her obsession for clothes and almost complete lack of empathy place her on the borderline of a psychological disorder. She has absolutely no conception of what it means to be a prosecutor and completely fails in creating any kind of relationships whether with the other members of the office or the individuals whose cases she’s supposed to investigate and evaluate. More importantly, she lacks any kind of critical self-awareness. She doesn’t understand what she’s doing wrong and doesn’t realise she’s been shut out of the system. When she goes undercover, she checks out some gambling addicts and then assumes the role of a slightly deranged housewife. It’s not a pretty sight. More generally, when she fails to get her own way, she pouts and hides. Her life seems to have been based on the assumption she can wait out her father’s tantrums and then carry on as before. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work in the real world. The contrast with the rest of the prosecutors could not be more stark. They are all highly professional, but none of them want to take any responsibility for either teaching her or firing her. It’s incomprehensible. No-one straight from university would be let loose on cases without positive supervision. I feel particularly sorry for Park Shi Hoo who must follow this accident-waiting-to-happen, picking up the pieces and offering advice. This is supposedly a top-class lawyer, but we never see him earning a living to pay for his swanky office. He seems far more interested in role-playing and stalking his childhood sweetheart. That said, he does manage quite an air of casual cool which is watchable despite the creepy things he’s given to do. The only one allowed to retain any dignity in all this is Han Jung Soo. He’s at least serious-minded, hard working and good at martial arts. The fact he’s completely unaware of Choi Song Hyun’s mousey co-worker is standard in this type of drama. Without such romantic blindness, these Korean drama shows would wither on the vine.

For the reviews of all episodes, see:
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 1 to 4
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 5 to 8
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 9 to 12
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 13 to end

For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/

 

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