Research Scholar of Cultural Studies.
My work fits best within transnational American Studies and global Asias contexts. I focus on African American, Asian and Asian American cultures in popular culture and audience and reception studies.
Tuoba Jun (Luo Jin) is one of the male leads in the Chinese drama The Princess Weiyoung. He has quickly become one of my favorite characters of all time. Why? It’s not just because he’s attractive (in a C-drama, that’s a given). His character is very charming, unlike other members of the power-hungry and scheming royal family (looking at you, Tuoba Yu (Vanness Wu). It’s probably because of his disinterest in the throne that he’s able to see the positive characteristics of Weiyoung, and value her intelligence and her loyalty. What really makes his character great is his constancy. He is down for his girl Weiyoung, no matter what goes down. No matter how much evidence #TeamEvil creates to frame Weiyoung, Jun is always on her side. He was also persistent! When he pursues Weiyoung, he is not fazed by her rejection, even when she was not even trying to give him the time of day. At first he was disheartened, but then he just made up his mind that she never means what she says, and would just mess with her until she acknowledged that she liked him too! He has no problem showing her that he likes her, and doesn’t care that she’s not from the royal family. Weiyoung experiences nearly every level of society in the Great Wei, and Jun is with her no matter what. I love that man!
C-dramas are bringing us male leads that are super smart and highly attractive. Despite their socializing issues, they still manage to provide the romance that draws many of us to Asian dramas. Both Bo Jiyan (Wallace Huo) in Love Me If You Dare and Ji Bai (Wang Kai) in When A Snail Falls In Love are very good at their jobs, a little awkward with relationships and all the way adorable.
Jiyan’s interpersonal skills rank at -32 on a scale of 1 to 10. He’s a criminal psychologist who specializes in catching serial killers and even has had a run-in with one himself. He sees significance in seemingly irrelevant clues that others miss at crime scenes. He uses his powers of logic to predict the motivations of criminals and catch them, all the while making police officers look at idiots.
At the same time, he has some adorable traits that make him human. His relationships with his sidekicks are adorable. They include his particularly rambunctious pet turtle, Chen Mo (uncredited in the drama), his human friend Fu Ziyu (Andrew Lin) and his eventual girlfriend Jian Yao (Ma Sichun). While Chen Mo makes few appearances, they are always memorable. Apparently, Jiyan lets Chen Mo roam on his bed while he sleeps, but Chen Mo often ends up in other places too. In one episode, you can hear Chen Mo knocking over stuff, so Jiyan puts Chen Mo on a punishment by confining the turtle to a room (sad).
Fu Ziyu is Jiyan’s connection to people. Far more sociable, he is understands his strange friend the best. He, coincidentally, is also smart and attractive: a computer genius who also seems to be independently wealthy and has an affection for extreme sports. Jian Yao, while not a genius like the other two, brings some much-needed humanity and emotion to their world. The fact that Jiyan has close relationships with them, despite making everyone else in law enforcement feel inferior, shows that he does have a heart. Jiyan will occasionally crack a joke, but when you mess with his people, he is all business.
Ji Bai may not be a genius like Jiyan, but he has more social skills. He is respected by the members of his squad and jokes with his second-in-command. He’s also fashionable and jet-setting. He does the impossible as a cop (see the episode with the grappling hook), and knows how to solve a case using evidence and interrogate suspects. Yet, it seems that he is all cop all the time. So intense! This can put a damper on his relationships, especially with his love interest, Xu Xu (Wang Zi Wen). Initially, he takes the “I’m going to pick on you” route, which turns into romantic feelings. However, he tends to rely on their boss-not boss relationship to express his concern. This makes him s kinda socially awkward also. Like Jiyan, he shows his emotions when his people get hurt.
Both Jiyan and Ji Bai represent an increasingly popular kind of male lead, defined by their intelligence. They both have emotions, they just don’t show them, at least until they run across their respective love interests or when their people are threatened. They’ll engage in action, but the main focus of their dramas is suspense and mystery. All of this makes them super in a different kind of way.
There are many aspects of Scarlet Heart: Ryeo that make it a worthwhile K-drama to watch, but there is one that is quite annoying. Hae Soo (IU) is the female lead that drags this K-drama down. This is not a criticism of IU, who is supercute and an expert in the wide-eye closeup. This is also not an indictment of any of the actors who play the princes (Oh, I see you Wang So (Lee Jun Ki); there’s another post coming with your name on it). I know this is a remake of a very popular Chinese drama, but the female lead character was pushing all of the wrong buttons!
I’m always willing to suspend my disbelief for a K-drama, but Hae Soo pushes this to the limit. I can understand that, like any character who gets sent back to the past, there is a period of adjustment. After all, you are in an unfamiliar environment. But at some point, you just have to suck it up. You are not going back to your time period any time soon. Very often, you have two choices: either lay low or get in the middle of things. Hae Soo’s problem is that she does a poor job of laying low, and her actions repeatedly put her in the middle of things. She acts like she doesn’t know how things are going down in the palace. Girl, this is Goryeo! Get it together!
Once in the past, Hae Soo takes no responsibility for the way her actions cause harm to other people. She blames others, mostly Wang So. For example, she admits early that her grasp of ancient Korean history is spotty, yet she does not question the glimpses of “the future” she gets. She immediately believes that Wang So is going to be a villain, despite the character of the man who is actually before her. In the end, it is actually HER actions that cause a lot of the tragedy in the K-drama. It’s Hae Soo’s fault that So doesn’t just get rid of Wang Yo (Hong Jong-hyun) when he had the opportunity, which would have prevented later tragedy. She constantly tells Wang So not to kill his brothers. Guess what? Some of them gotta go. It’s Hae Soo’s fault that Wang Eun (Baekhyun) and Soon Deok (Z. Hera), aka. The Baby Couple, are killed. She just leaves all kinds of evidence out in the Damiwon for Yeon Hwa (Kang Han-na) to find. It’s Hae Soo’s fault that the Crown Prince (Kim San-ho) also meets an untimely end as a result of Hae Soo being the world’s worst supervisor. For Hae Soo, everything that goes wrong is all Wang So’s fault. Wang So is literally the only person who pretty much doesn’t kill anyone for the wrong reasons, but gets all of Hae Soo negative judgement. He, may I remind her, never killed his brothers in the way she assumed he would.
What is worse, she lets other people off. She never corrects Wang Jung (Ji Soo) for his ungrounded negative attitude towards Wang So. They were all standing there when The Baby Couple met their end, but Jung decided not to focus on the fact that Yo’s men kill Soon Deok and Wang Yo himself shoots Wang Eun with two arrows. He also seems to repress Wang Eun’s death request. His takeaway is that So caused all the bloodshed, just by showing up way back at the beginning of the K-drama. Hae Soo never tells Jung that he’s wrong. Wang Wook (Kang Ha-neul) is part of an attempted coup and is the mastermind behind the death of the Crown Prince, working in villainy with Wang Yo. Yet, Hae Soo never criticizes Wang Wook the way she criticizes Wang So. When she leaves the palace, it’s a warm hug and smiles for Wook, like they are good buddies.
On the other hand, it’s always the side-eye for Wang So. I’m not saying that he should have rolled ChaeRyung up in a rug, but I understand. And he outlines all the ways ChaeRyung has proven not to be a friend to Hae Soo, but she’s not trying to hear it. She seems to buy ChaeRyung’s “I did it for love” excuses and blames Wang So for ChaeRyung being used as a pawn by Wang Wook and Wang Won.
Others have suggested that the Korean version of this drama is pretty true to the Chinese original. There’s an online petition to get a second season. Nooooooooooo, not if the writers don’t tweak Hae Soo’s character. It’s not like Korean writers haven’t done it before when doing remakes (Boys Over Flowers, anyone?). I need Hae Soo to be “ride or die” with Wang So or Wang Wook or somebody other than herself. One true thing that Jung told her is that she needed to pick a side. She could have been an advisor to “the good brothers.” She could have been more like Ji Mong (Kim Sung-kyun). Instead of trying to be neutral (which never worked), she should have picked a side, or at least more actively tried to keep the brothers brotherly if she knew bloodshed was in their future. Instead, she’s too busy trying to kindle a romance with Wang Wook (as his wife is dying, REALLY?!!! Did we actually think that would end well?) and overlooking his opportunistic tendencies (he was shady from the start). While Wang Wook breaks promises, So is doing the heavily lifting, showing her that he likes her, being at her side and getting exiled for it. In addition, she did nothing to help Soon Deok with her relationship with Wang Eun, because, sadly, Hae Soo is all about Hae Soo if you’re not a prince.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked Scarlet Heart: Ryeo, but Hae Soo has just hit number one on my Most Despised Female Character List!
I’ve slipped into the shining diamond life with Seventeen and their repackaged album, Love & Letter! The group’s strategy is to not only use the power of the numbers, but also their unique sub-units, divided into the vocal team, the hip-hop team and the performance team. The repackage provides some delightful versions of Seventeen’s songs.
Upbeat title tracks, “아주 Nice” and “Shining Diamond” make for good material for the performance team. I really like the use of the horns on “Nice” and the pop sound of “Shining Diamond.” On the repackage album, though, other tracks showcase the vocal and hip-hop teams, including rearranged versions of previous songs so cleverly done, I didn’t even recognize the originals. The hip-hop team version of “만.세[Mansae]” has a completely different beat than the original. The vocal team’s version slow jam-y of “아낀다[Adore U]” sounds nothing like the original, and that’s not a bad thing.
I put this K-drama down for a minute, but I had to pick it back up once I realized that it had the Triple Threat!!!! First, Choi Min Soo as King Sukjong! He is one of my favorite actors, and he apparently is the founder of the School of Chill Acting. No matter the role, he’s in permanent chill mode. In Daebak, he’s mostly just chillin’ on the throne, drinking tea, incense swirling around him, peering over his glasses (is that historically accurate?) condescendingly at his lackeys. Or chillin’ in a pavilion. Or chillin’ in his inner chamber. But don’t let his laid-back demeanor fool you…he knows EVERYTHING going down in the kingdom and he is not to be trifled with! Second is another alumni from Warrior Baek Dong Soo, Yeo Jin Goo, who plays Prince Yeoning, who gets treated badly by the royal ministers because he’s the son of a water maid. Baby Baek Dong Soo is all grown up. He’s just trying to get justice for the people and perfecting his placid “I’m going to stand here and let you yell at me/I did exactly what you told me not to do” look in front of the King. I’m loving those closeups too! Third is the Prince of Asia, Jang Geun Suk as our hero, Baek Dae Gil! Goofy as ever, he’s doing a good job of playing the tragic gambler. I really need him and Yeoning to be friends.
But there’s a bonus!!! Ahn Kil Kang as old school swordsmaster Kim Chae Gun who takes on the task of whipping our titular hero into shape. Together, they are the best reasons for watching this K-drama!
I’m back with another installment of My Favorites! This time, it’s solo male K-pop artists, the Kangta and Wheesung Edition. Wait! Before you even ask, “Where is [insert Rain, Park Hyo Shin, your favorite male solo singer, your cousin], these are male artists that I like. They are also primarily solo artists, not current members of groups with solo projects (that’s another post–I see you, Taeyang and Heo Young Saeng!). #sorrynotsorry
A few weeks ago, I extolled the virtues of adults in anime. While adults (when they live) contribute to the wellbeing of children, sometimes you have adults who ACT like children. Such is the case with Handa Seishuu (aka “Sensei), who is grown man with a child’s disposition, who is forced to spend extended time with actual children in Barakamon.
“Lucky One” is one of two comeback tracks for EXO’s EX’ACT album. You know I am down for this disco-infused extravaganza! I also like the video (which opens with a shot that takes advantage of D.O.’s natural lack-of-expression) and gestures back to previous EXO concepts, including the superpowers, the EXO-planet and the team jerseys, which lends a sense of continuity. I’m not sure if the video matches the song, but I like the song and I like the video so I’m calling it a WIN!
If you’ve been a K-pop fan for a while, you might run into this problem. Sure, you have mad love for your favorite K-pop groups, but we all know that K-pop promotions run in a cycle. What do you do when your favorite groups are MIA? FIND MOAR!
The minute somebody says something about getting Kangin to leave, the mud-slinging starts (i.e. “you’re not a true fan,” “you’re an ANTIFAN!”). This is not confined to K-pop fandoms, but still. Why can’t we disagree and refrain from calling each other names? We all know this is not Kangin’s first trip to the trouble rodeo. Fans aren’t wrong when they say that his behavior has a negative effect on the team. At the same time, K-pop fans are very forgiving, and want to give him a second chance. See what I did there? That’s looking at the issue from both sides. No fans were hurt in the making of this post.
We all know the primary reason we are all over Descendants of the Sun is Captain “Big Boss” Yoo Si Jin (Song Joong Ki). He’s become one of my favorite male protagonists in a K-drama, so central to the story that he takes attention away from the female lead. At the same time, he reinforces male friendships.
Anime is usually the playground of superpowered kids, angsty teenagers and dysfunctional young adults, but the parental figures in Erased and Usagi Drop show intergenerational relationships rarely seen.
Let’s face it. Parents and guardians are an endangered species in anime. They are often absent for a variety of reasons, the most popular being some kind of tragedy. Children are either left in the care of grandparents or aunts and uncles or, most likely, they are living on their own! When anime characters do have parents, they are often off-screen and not part of the shenanigans. These kids roll as if they don’t have parents.
So it’s kinda surprising when Satoru’s mom shows up in the first episode of Erased, an anime series about a guy who inexplicably can travel back in time 3 minutes to prevent tragedies, and continues to be a pivotal figure. Satoru is a 29-year-old wannabe manga artist who ekes out a living writing and working at the local pizza shop. He’s a man of modest means, living in a small apartment by himself. He’s learned to work with his power, which he calls Revival.
When Satoru’s mom crashes his crib after hearing about his recent accident and hospital stay, Satoru’s response is basically an eye-roll. You don’t get the sense that they have a close relationship. She seems concerned about his well-being, but totally disregards his space. She takes his futon and relegates him to the sleeping bag. He seems to be used to it. At first, their relationship seems to be background for the anime’s main plot, but no! Something bad happens that sends Satoru back to his 11-year-old body and a childhood tragedy involving murdered classmates that he had mostly forgotten about.
Once he realizes what has happened, his first thought is to rush home, looking for his mother, and there she is. However, Saturo has a different reaction observing the situation with his 29-year-old mind. While he was totally annoyed by his mother showing up in his present, he cries out of relief and appreciation in his past. He realizes that he had forgotten that they were close, that she knows him much more than he realizes and that she has always looked out for him. Satoru gains a greater appreciation for his mom, which is no small feat in an anime that has one of the worst mother figures ever. Satoru’s mom is the exact opposite of Hinazaki’s mom. An alcoholic woman who is obviously with the wrong man, Hinazaki’s mom is physically abusive and a horrible person and mother. Give Satoru’s mom a trophy!
While Erased features the relationship between a fairly capable mother and son, Usagi Drop features a parental figure who has no idea what he’s doing. When 30-year-old Daikichi goes home to pay his respects in the wake of his grandfather’s death, he has no idea of the drama that waits for him. Apparently, the little six-year-old girl that seems out of place at the home is his grandfather’s daughter, making her simultaneously Daikichi’s aunt and potential charge. When the rest of the family discusses putting her up for adoption or sending her to an orphanage, Daikichi steps up to the plate and says he will take care of Rin.
Like Satoru, Daikichi is living alone in modest means. He has no responsibilities beyond himself until Rin shows up and he has little idea how to take care of a six-year-old girl. Not only does Daikichi have to figure out his parental duties, he has to also deal with a grieving Rin. Daikichi does his absolute best, makes mistakes and asks for help. He asks his sister about school and after-school care. He works out their schedule so that he can take Rin to school before work and pick her up afterwards. When his job begins to get in the way to providing quality time for Rin, he asks to be reassigned to a less prestigious position, going from salaryman to warehouse worker.
Daikichi is asked to do more adulting than anyone because he also has to deal with Rin’s narcissistic mom, some young girl who aspires to be what? A manga artist. She shows very little interest in Rin’s welfare. Daikichi has to track her down like she’s America’s Most Wanted. He also has to manage Rin’s feelings about her mother. He’s careful not to talk about Rin’s mom in front of her. Moreover, he has to deal with his disapproving family. They don’t particularly dislike Rin, but seem to be more worried about Daikichi’s prospects and future. When they see Daikichi’s efforts, they relent. Daikichi’s mom comes to grow close to Rin, treating her like the grandchild she seems to be.
It’s not that Daikichi is particularly uncaring before taking Rin on as a charge, but that role certainly brings out his nurturing side. Nothing shows this more than when Rin gets sick with a fever. The worry and concern that Daikichi shows is overwhelming. Nevertheless, he proves to be a good parental figure for Rin, giving her the stability that no other adult has in her life. (S/N: Beware the live-action movie. It’s bad, or rather, lacks the charm of the anime).
When parents do show up in anime, it can be fun to watch!
So I’m watching Kuroko’s Basketball again (don’t judge me!). The first time around I was all about my favorite blue-haired boy, Kuroko, but this time I can spend more time on other characters, including the dynamic duo of Hyuga Junpei and Kiyoshi Teppei. While their relationship is not exactly Tom and Jerry, it is definitely based on a strange dynamic. Hyuga loves remind Kiyoshi that he hates him, but he usually has to put that to the side to win a basketball game. It tickles me how long it takes Hyuga to high-five Kiyoshi after a successful play. I forgot how much I enjoyed watching their friendship develop, almost as much as I enjoyed Hyuga getting rid of his blond hair.
This brief lapse of posts has been brought to you by HARD DRIVE FAILURE. HARD DRIVE FAILURE has a long and distinguished tradition of bringing creative expression to a complete halt and is proud of that. It has cornered the market. However, I no longer find my partnership with HARD DRIVE FAILURE to be beneficial, so I will have to terminate this relationship. Let the posts resume!