The Daily Grind: Misaeng (2014)

Misaeng (2014) is a quiet K-drama that perfectly captures how a job can be soul-sucking and emotionally rewarding at the same time.

Jang Geu-rae (Im Siwan) is our intrepid protagonist, just a guy who spend a whole chunk of his life training to be a baduk player, only to find himself looking for a job after a family tragedy.  Geu-rae is very introspective (Siwan does a GREAT job staring into the camera!), so we get a lot of his internal dialogue. At first, it seems like he just isn’t the type to fight back or think that things should be better for himself. He just seems resigned to his fate. So, he looks….a long time, because he didn’t go to college (BADUK!), so he has missed out on an important credential. He takes a few part-time jobs before a family friend (why didn’t this happen earlier!), he gets a job at a company.

This is great! So you think. Sadly, Geu-rae has the worst co-workers on the planet. His fellow interns are back-stabby, and they take every opportunity to make him feel left out and inferior because he does not have a degree. Initially, they do not try to help him get acclimated. Chief Jerk is Jang Baek-ji (Kang Ha-neul), who seems to measure his self-worth by Geu-rae’s failures.  But slowly, Geu-rae’s strong work ethic and persistence wins them over (ok, some of them).  It turns out they have problems of their own. Not an excuse for them acting jerky, but at least it explains a lot. Together, Geu-rae and his colleagues show how corporate work dehumanizes individuals and forces them to make morally questionable decisions, all for the sake of profit.

Geu-rae’s supervisors make living in a cardboard box under the bridge look like a viable option. This workplace doesn’t seem to have any rules about emotional or physical abuse on the job. Intimidation is the preferred management style. Don’t get me started on the corruption.  But just as Geu-rae is the exception among his junior colleagues, Oh Sang-sik (Lee Sung-min) is the ray of sunshine. A veteran worker, he has managed to retain his humanity in this cutthroat office, even if this has meant that he has not been promoted. He is often the voice of reason among the managers. He doesn’t do things that bother his conscience. He treats the workers on Team Three well.

So you think you are just watching an office drama, but Misaeng tricks you into being all in your feelings. In the midst of the corporate shenanigans is the beautiful relationship between Sang-sik and Geu-rae. Initially, Sang-sik sees Geu-rae like others, but he is won over by Geu-rae’s persistence. He sees a chance for redemption over a mistake he thinks he made in the past. Against all odds, Sang-sik tries his best to get Geu-rae a permanent position.  Geu-rae comes to see Sang-sik as a father figure, a trajectory that starts over a drunk Sang-sik defending Geu-rae (awww). Even though people are awful at the job, Geu-rae draws close to his cubicle-mates in Team Three. So when you get to the last two episodes of Misaeng, you wonder how this little drama has you reaching for the tissues (I’m not crying, you’re crying!).

Misaeng is a delightful emotional rollercoaster that has become one of my favorite dramas of all time. Special shout-out to Geu-rae’s mom (Sung Byung Sook) and Sung-sik’s wife (Oh Yoon Hong).

Image: Top Star News. (12 Nov 2017).

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The Daily Grind: Misaeng (2014) by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Strong Women and the Men Who Love Them: Strong Woman Do Bong Soon and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo

Both Strong Woman Do Bong Soon and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo place unconventional women in the center of K-drama in ways that do not diminish them for being strong.

Interestingly, both dramas have origins in the childhoods of the main characters, where the female leads disrupt the conventional narrative by being the saviors of the young versions of the male characters. In Weightlifting Fairy, Joon Hyun (Nam Joo Hyuk) falls out of a window at school, only to be caught (or land on?) Bok Joo (Lee Sung Kyung). Instead of being appalled by her chubbiness, he ends up laughing with Bok Joo. The incident stays with him, right up to the moment when he re-encounters Bok Joo, now a weightlifter, in college. And he has the same response: he is delighted.  It’s a memory that he cherishes. Similarly, Min Hyuk (Park Hyung Sik) is saved by a mysterious stranger when the bus he is riding is prevented from swerving off the road. Min Hyuk also encounters his savior, Bong Soon (Park Bo Young), later in life, and also has fond memories of the encounter. It is also interesting to note that both male leads lack a mother figure. Min Hyuk’s mother died and Joon Hyun’s mother abandoned him to his aunt and uncle. The lack of a mother figure may factor into their tendency to accept the female leads in their unconventionality.

Throughout both dramas, the male leads appreciate the women because they are strong. Both develop into the lead couple. Joon Hyun likes the fact that Bok Joo is a weightlifter and that she’s good. He cheers her on at her competitions and takes an interest in her life, meeting her family and friends and understanding her struggles. While Min Hyuk likes to tease Bong Soon, he does not run away once he finds out about her powers. Instead, he is endlessly delighted at the things she can do, and also does all he can to try to teach her to control them (often to his own injury).

These responses differ from the way other men react to the strength of Bok Joo and Bong Soon. Joon Hyun’s impossibly talented cousin, Jae Yi (Lee Jae Yoon), may be a good doctor, but he’s clueless about relationships, ignoring the girl who likes him and not realizing the crush that Bok Joo has on him. More importantly, as a weight loss doctor, he embodies all of Bok Joo’s insecurities and is of absolutely no help when it comes to understanding her plight. He does not understand why she is so upset when he comes to her competition, and has no clue about how she feels about her appearance and the way society views her.  He’s no help at all!  Gook Doo (Ji Soo) is worse in Strong Woman. While he is equally clueless about her powers as well as her crush on him (even though they grew up together) he only sees her as helpless, and yells at her! Once he finds out about her powers, he does not respond as positively as Min Hyuk.

What I really like about the relationships in both dramas is that the women are strong, but not invincible and the men are also keenly aware of their emotions. Both Bok Joo and Bong Soon need connection to other people, despite their strength. Bok Joo undergoes the trials of being a young woman in a difficult sport for women. She also has zero experience with dating, so she struggles with her relationship with Joon Hyun. At the same time, Joon Hyun has anxiety that holds him back from succeeding in his swimming career. In Strong Woman, Bong Soon has anxiety about using her powers, thinking they will forever separate her from other people. And Min Hyuk is never more vulnerable when he pleads with Bong Soon: “Please love me.” (I’m not crying, YOU’RE CRYING!).

K-drama is almost always about emotional men, but these dramas show that K-dramas can also complicate the narrative of the strong woman as well.


girlfriday. “Bright and cheery posters for youth sports drama Weightlifting Fairy.” Dramabeans. 3 Nov 2016. (6 Aug 2017).

“Strong Woman Do Bong Soon EP 2 Recap.” Abby in Hallyu-Land.” 27 Feb 2017. (6 Aug 2017).

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Strong Women and the Men Who Love Them: Strong Woman Do Bong Soon and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Hatin’ on Hae Soo in Scarlet Heart: Ryeo

IU as Hae Soo in Scarlet Heart: Ryeo

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!

Image: 1

Daebak. . . Is On My Mind!

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!

Images: 1, 2, 3, 4

Power in Unity!: Ideal Masculinity in Descendants of the Sun

Song Joong Ki as Captain "Big Boss" Yoo Shi Jin, Descendants of the Sun
Song Joong Ki as Captain “Big Boss” Yoo Si Jin, Descendants of the Sun

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.

Continue reading “Power in Unity!: Ideal Masculinity in Descendants of the Sun”

Chief Master Sergeant Seo Dae Young. . . Is On My Mind!

Jin Goo, Descendants of the Sun
Jin Goo, Descendants of the Sun

Don’t get me wrong, I see you, “Big Boss” Yoo Shi Jin (Song Joong Ki) right there, but his sidekick Chief Master Sergeant Seo Dae Young (Jin Goo) is no slouch in Descendants of the Sun! Even though those brooding good looks may suggest that he’s an aloof loner, he’s actually great friends with Shi Jin. They seem to be good colleagues: going on special ops missions, hanging out with their respective stuffed animal dates at the coffee shop (for the record, I think Dae Young’s is cuter!), saving the youth from a life of crime. But it’s Dae Young’s constant deadpan expression that cracks me up (and Shi Jin always goes along with it!). He is also a loyal friend, always having Shi Jin’s back.

The Sons of Yi Seong Gye. . . Are On My Mind!

Six Flying Dragons
Six Flying Dragons

Six Flying Dragons keeps our attention on the shenanigans of Yi Bang Won (Yoo Ah In) and his buddies as they run around Goryeo trying to start a revolution, but let’s not sleep on Yi Seong Gye‘s other sons, Yi Bang Gwa (Seo Dong Won) and Yi Bang Woo (Lee Seung Hyo). Unlike their carefree brother, they are both members of their father’s army. Prior to the action of the K-drama, they probably spent most of their time hanging out on the battleground. However, they are no slouches. Have you ever noticed that Bang Gwa is always on “enhanced interrogation” duty? And Bang Woo can be counted on to support the wacky plans of his younger brother, even when they directly contradict his father’s wishes. But nothing shows how fantastic these sons of Yi are than when evil forces contain them (“for their protection”) while Papa Yi is forced to fight a battle he is sure to lose and that will harm the people. They both look at each other as if to say, “We’ll go along…..for now.” Of course when the order comes down to execute them, they have this look on their faces that say, “Don’t you know who we are? We are Yi’s sons! We are not going out like that!” Beatdown ensues. Even when the odds are against them, as in the ill-fated dinner at Jo Min Soo’s house, they are not going down with a fight! What good sons!

Yi Bang Won. . . Is On My Mind!

Yoo Ah In as Yi Bang Won, Six Flying Dragons
Yoo Ah In as Yi Bang Won, Six Flying Dragons

Every king has to start somewhere, and while Yi Bang Won (Yoo Ah In) is knee-deep in the foundations of the revolution in Six Flying Dragons, he makes time to give attention to his love life. I have to say I’m liking his criteria for women. Basically, it’s. . . “You see that girl over there? Yes, the one who burned down the Magistrate’s office. YES, the one who just stole my shirt. Yes, that one who keeps biting me. THAT’s my girl!” Completely oblivious to the fact that they are separated by class, Bang Won likes Boon Yi because she is strong and not down for the status quo.  She’s clever and cute, and clearly Bang Won appreciates her, even when she’s rejecting him!

Moody K-dramas and their Moody Leads

Dramatic music. Shadowy settings. Mysterious villains. This can only mean one thing: a moody K-drama! I love my romantic comedies, sageuks and melodramas, but I have a special place in my heart for the police story, especially the “special task force,” the detectives-not-detectives, the “we don’t exist” teams found in K-dramas. More importantly, I love their dramatic, moody male leads.

Continue reading “Moody K-dramas and their Moody Leads”

K-drama Characters to Love and Loathe

We all watch K-dramas to see the actors we like, but if you’ve watched enough K-dramas, you may have noticed that certain actors frequently show up in strong supporting roles. As a result, some actors gain a reputation for playing good guys, and others gain a reputation for portraying punks. Here are some of my favorite K-drama actors who play characters to love and loathe!

Continue reading “K-drama Characters to Love and Loathe”

Cha Gun Woo…….Is On My Mind!

Kim Bum as Cha Gun Woo
Kim Bum as Cha Gun Woo

And not in a good way. Dude, we GET IT! You are carrying a grudge because someone killed your girlfriend. I like how at the beginning we are reminded that this is a fictional work. Of course it is, because no one could be as angsty as Cha Gun Woo (Kim Bum) in real life! He’s more upset than the girlfriend’s brother. And this stunt in Episode 9? That would get you more than kicked off the team. And here I was just about to forgive you for that unflattering haircut and straggly facial hair!

Get a New Plan, Stan!, or How Not To Storm the Castle in Hwajung/Splendid Politics

Jungmyung (Lee Yun Hee) in Hwajung

Listen, I know life is rough as a princess in a K-drama. You’re just trying to dodge all the palace intrigue.  Sometimes, you end up on the wrong end of the stick and are forced to leave. But Jungmyung (Lee Yun Hee) needs to pull herself yourself together in Hwajung/Splendid Politics!

Continue reading “Get a New Plan, Stan!, or How Not To Storm the Castle in Hwajung/Splendid Politics”

Park Sung Woong. . . Is On My Mind

Park Sung Woong
Park Sung Woong

Team Leader Jang Moo Won (Park Sung Woong) is holding it down and too cool for school in Hidden Identity. If he told me I could fly a plane or do brain surgery, I would totally believe it. Now, if we could only get Cha Gun Woo (Kim Bum) to smile, it would be all good!

Allow me to elaborate. You see this look? Yes, THIS LOOK!! That look is the epitome of, “whatever.” It doesn’t matter what the situation is. He’s so cool about it! Pressure from the higher-ups? Whatever. Team members in danger? Whatever. Staring down some thugs in a junkyard? WHATEVER! Team Leader Jang can handle it!

He also believes in his team members. He trusts that they are handling things. In return, they trust Team Leader Jang, even when it doesn’t look too good for him. Teamwork!

This Goes Out To All My Asian Dramas That I Haven’t Finished

The Fierce Wife
The Fierce Wife

Sometimes when you start an Asian drama, it is love at first sight. You start marathoning it with no problem, eager to see what happens in the next episode. Then, there are other times when you start a drama, and you let those unwatched episodes languish in your queue. Here are some of mine!

Continue reading “This Goes Out To All My Asian Dramas That I Haven’t Finished”

Men Can Be Flowers Too: Asian Masculinities in Popular Culture

NIcholas Tse as Hua Wuque, The Proud Twins
Nicholas Tse as Hua Wuque, The Proud Twins

Every time I see articles about young Asian actors leaving behind their “flower boy” roles for more “manly” characters, I feel some kind of way. Such articles act like attractiveness and masculinity cannot go hand it hand. They might if their authors were watching what I watch.

Continue reading “Men Can Be Flowers Too: Asian Masculinities in Popular Culture”