Monday, June 17, 2013

Naniwa Shonen Tanteidan (J-Drama 2012)

In Naniwa Shonen Tanteidan (浪花少年探偵団), cute elementary school kids and their equally cute, albeit in a different way, school teacher, help solve crimes in the big city of Osaka. Wait a second...okay, now the absurdity of that should've just sunk in. That being said however, this drama is actually a lot of fun. Embrace the absurd.

Shinobu Takeuchi (Mikako Tabe), is starting her year as a part-time teacher at Ooki elementary school. As expected, she has a varied group of students in her class, with three particular young ones standing out more than others. Ikuo (Koki Maeda), Teppei (Tatsuomi Hamada), and Hiroshi (Akira Takahashi), are all good friends and they, much like their new teacher, take a liking to sticking their nose where it doesn't belong. See, Shinobu sensei loves mysteries, detective stories, etc., and the boys love it as well, so much so that they start their own junior detective group. Ikuo serves as the leader, unofficially, while Teppei and Hiroshi help in doing the leg work. Ikuo's little brother Osamu (Oshiro Maeda), also helps the junior detectives but he's not old enough to officially join their group. Kids and their rules. When an incident occurs, involving one of her own students, Shinobu sensei decides to get way more involved than she probably should (or should legally be allowed to). Handling all the cases throughout the drama are detectives Shindo (Teppei Koike) and Urushizaki (Yasunori Danta), the latter being the older, more seasoned of the two, but both equally as bumbling and incapable. Each episode is a different, "case", and regardless of what's going on; whether it be a murder, a case of child abuse, domestic violence, you name it, Shinobu sensei and the Naniwa Junior Detectives are there to aid in solving the case. Aside from all the crime-solving, Shindo starts to develop a crush on Shinobu sensei over time because he's never seen, or met, anyone quite like her. She's bold, boisterous and strongly independent. Her unique traits also grab the attention of Yoshihiko Honma (Koji Yamamato), who is in town on business. He too seems smitten by Shinobu sensei's character. Ah snap, love triangle alert! To mix things up a bit, Shinobu sensei has a rival teacher in Haruna sensei (Fumino Kimura), the cold, stick-in-the-mud music teacher that also happens to be obsessed with businessman Honma. Between dealing with the stresses of being a school teacher, helping to solve cases, keeping the junior detectives out of trouble, dealing with two love-sick suitors and an overbearing mother (Keiko Matsuzaka), Shinobu sensei doesn't have a moment to herself. Sure, she's doing the community a lot of good by helping out, but is she in over her head?   

There's not an overlying story arch in Naniwa Shonen Tanteidan, aside from the sort of love triangle between Shinobu, Shindo and Honma. Meaning there isn't one particular case that gets dragged out over the series' 12 episodes. It's simply a different case every episode, aside from episodes 11 and 12 being a two-part finale. Really, that's okay by me. The characters are what's most important in this series, not the police work, which is incredibly suspect. I've honestly never seen such questionable police work. I mean, what detective lets a school teacher and her students in on a crime scene that they have no business being at? And Shindo divulges completely confidential information to Shinobu as if she's a member of the force. I know this is more of a comedy than a crime-drama, but wow, it just strikes me as odd and a bit too far-fetched...even for a drama. The detectives, as usual for a Japanese drama, are portrayed as incompetent boobs that couldn't do their job if they were paid for it...oh, know what I mean. However, they can be amusing at times, and I suppose that's what's important here. Tabe Mikako is the real star of the show, even if the show in question is named after the junior detectives. She's playing a character here that I've never seen her portray. Shinobu is strong, smart, independent and takes no shit. She often rips other characters a new one for stupid behavior and for me, it was enjoyable to watch her in this role. She often gives a heartfelt monologue at the end of each episode that really shows her ability as an actress. The junior detectives are all cute kids and amusing enough, but again, it just didn't feel like it was their show, aside from some narration on each episode from Osamu. I actually wouldn't have minded seeing more of them. 

Not every case is that interesting in Naniwa Shonen Tanteidan, but at least most of the characters are. Fans of Tabe Mikako will love her role here and the kids aren't annoying at all, which I find to be a rarity. It's largely light-hearted fun, with some incredibly heavy, out-of-left-field moments sprinkled in the next, however as a whole, it's quite entertaining. (Lee)

Grade: B -

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Lie To Me (K-Drama 2011)

Okay, I promise I'm going to stop complaining about the number of episodes in Korean dramas...after this review. Lie To Me (내게 거짓말을 해봐) tells the story of how a small, seemingly innocent, lie can spiral wildly out of control, with inevitable chaos ensuing. Shenanigans, here we come!

Kong Ah-jung (Yoon Eun-hye), is a single woman, living with her widowed father Joon-ho (Kang Shin-il), and working for the Culture and Tourism board. She seems quite content in life, until she starts having one too many unfortunate run-ins with her "friend", Yoo So-ran (Hong Soo-hyun), a spoiled braggart who just so happens to be married to Ah-jung's school crush, Chun Jae-beom (Ryu Seung-soo). It pains Ah-jung's heart to see the two of them together and the love that never was, and it angers her to no end to hear So-ran boasting about her luxurious lifestyle (Jae-beom's a well-off attorney). However, something happens at Ah-jung's workplace which doesn't end well and she's to blame. She feels terrible about this incident and feels it might just be best to submit her resignation. She goes to drink her sorrows away, sloppily writing a resignation letter on a cocktail napkin. A young man by the name of Hyun Sang-hee (Sung-joon), is intrigued by Ah-jung's drunken behavior in the club and decides to strike up a conversation with her. Even through her slurred speech and unsightly demeanor, he's a bit taken with her and decides to keep her company. Meanwhile, Hyun Ki-joon (Kang Ji-hwan), is living on the other side of the spectrum as a wealthy, good-looking, young president of the World hotel group. It turns out that Sang-hee, the young man keeping Ah-jung company at the club, is Ki-joon's younger brother. Sang-hee had just returned to Korea from a stay overseas and Ki-joon hasn't seen him in years. You can imagine, he's a bit eager to see his younger brother again and by circumstances only a drama can create, he spots his younger brother at the club with Ah-jung. Sang-hee leaves before his older brother can get to him, but Ki-joon notices a drunken, passed-out Ah-jung in front of the club and, being the gentleman that he is, makes sure she gets to the hospital. Wanting to know as much about his younger brother as he can, he decides to stay by Ah-jung's side while she recovers at the hospital. It doesn't lead to much, but his actions leave a lasting impression in Ah-jung's mind.

After another chance meeting with So-ran and Jae-beom, (you have to understand, coincidence's are a dime-a-dozen in the world of dramas), at the hair salon, the topic of conversation turns to relationships. Ah-jung, feeling fed up with how she's pitied for still being single, lies and says she's married. So-ran can't believe it and is determined to expose this little white lie. Ah-jung then heads to the World hotel to pay Ki-joon back for his kindness in staying with her overnight at the hospital, but nothing in this world can ever go as smoothly as that, can it? She makes a fool of herself, spilling tomato juice all over the floor, but Ki-joon is there to keep her from slipping and cracking her head open. This all seems fine and dandy, but wouldn't you know it, Ah-jung's group of girlfriends just so happen to be at the hotel to see all this and thus, the rumor of her being married to the young president are off and running!

There's your rundown in a nutshell. Ah-jung's lie about being married turns into a much bigger thing because Ki-joon has a status and professional profile to maintain. His Aunt Hyun Myung-jin (Oh Mi-hee), can't believe her nephew would do such a thing, potentially hindering his role as president and complicating their relationship, and Sang-hee, having developed a small crush on Ah-jung himself, feels his older brother has, yet again, stolen love away from him! To complicate matters even further, let's introduce Oh Yun-joo (Cho Youn-hee), Ki-joon's former love, whom he was engaged to three years prior. Sang-hee was also in love with Yun-joo, and in a true sign of bro's before ho's, Ki-joon let his love go because these brother's stick together and have since their parent's passed. Yun-joo returns to Korea from time spent in Paris and yeah, she wants Ki-joon back. I mean, this guy looks good in a suit. I get it. See how messy things are getting? Well, Ki-joon annoyance with Ah-jung's marriage lie eventually turns into acceptance, only because the lie turns out to be a necessity. You'll have to check the show out if you want to know what I mean by this. Oh, and why can't Sang-hee find a girl his brother isn't involved with?

Being the honest guy that I am, I'll tell you flat-out that I only watched this series because I love Yoon Eun-hye. I told myself that after, "The Coffee Prince", that I would check out anything else she does, so that's what I'm doing here. Get it out of your mind now that this was anywhere near as good as, "Coffee Prince", because it's not. You should never even think to make comparisons. However, Yoon Eun-hye is still very charming in her role as Ah-jung, although, my God is she a total crybaby in this. I counted at least six awkward scenes where you just sit at watch her ball uncontrollably for seconds that feel like minutes. Very long minutes. I rather enjoyed Kang Ji-hwan's performance as the confident, but not cocky, Ki-joon. The way he played it made him quite easy to like. Watching Ah-jung and Ki-joon together is when this drama really shines. However, there are a lot of side characters in Lie To Me that are obnoxious and uninteresting and take away from the main two. I really can't stand So-ran, regardless of how attractive she is and her husband, Ah-jung's first love, Jae-beom, comes across as so bumbling and incompetent, you wonder how he's even a lawyer. Maybe there's a lawyer joke in there somewhere. Anyway, Ah-jung's group of "friends", also come across as possibly the worst, most-gossipy friends, you could ever hope to not have. Seriously, if these are her friends, I'd hate to see her enemies. Yun-joo also annoyed me every single time she had a scene because all she did was mope. We get it, you want Ki-joon back but Cho Youn-hee, haven't not seen her in anything else, pursued her goal of re-obtaining love in the most boring performance possible. Her face expressionless and her delivery emotionless. Basically, a difficult character to watch. Sang-hee is slightly interesting at first, when he's getting to know Ah-jung, but then he gets written off towards the second half of the series as a jealous, cry-baby who does nothing but sulk and paint all day. It's almost as if the writers ran out of ideas for him once the ball got rolling with Ki-joon and Ah-jung. I just thought there would be more to him. Oh well. I would like to point out that Hwang Suk-bong (Kwon Hae-hyo), turns in another amusing performance as the restaurant owner. I always get a kick out of him.

Lie To Me is mediocre drama that I suppose you want to be better than it is because of the two stars, but the pacing is off and the supporting cast is obnoxious. The side-stories, anything deviating from Ah-jung and Ki-joon, are simply annoying and uninteresting. The soundtrack is mind-numbing (especially that ice cream song - enjoy below!), and really, just how big is Seoul? These same characters bump into each other at every turn. I'm nitpicking on that last point, but I guess it's my semi-clever way of saying: let's try harder next time guys. (Lee)

Grade: D+

Saturday, May 25, 2013

You Are My Pet (Korea 2011)

You are a piece of...okay, you get the idea. You also probably get my feelings about this movie. You Are My Pet (너는 펫), is a gimmicky, romantic-comedy that somehow manages to forget to add any romance or comedy. Oh, but they beat that gimmick into the ground and back again.

Fashion magazine editor, Eun Yi (Kim Ha-neul), is incredibly hard-working, to the point of having little, to no, free time. She doesn't have a boyfriend, she's not married, and in fact, her younger brother, Eun-soo (Choi Jong-hoon), is the only man she has in her life; and he lives with her. Basically, she's just been unlucky in love. Her brother, working as a bartender, decides to let a friend of his, In-ho (Jang Keun-suk), crash at his sister's place, unbeknownst to her. In-ho doesn't have a place to stay and Eun-soo looks at it as an opportunity to earn some cash off a friend. Eun-yi comes home to find a complete stranger making himself comfortable in her place and after some begging and pleading from Eun-soo, she decides to let In-ho stay...albeit with some stipulations. For whatever reason, In-ho reminds Eun-yi of her dog Momo, which has passed away. With this in mind, she agrees to let In-ho stay at her place as long as he's willing to be her new Momo; her pet. In-ho decides to go along with it, keeping things light and jovial, and the longer he stays at her place, the more they actually get to know each other. Turns out In-ho used to be a talented and renowned dancer, but has since given up the art due to an incident years back where he dropped a fellow dancer, injuring her. Guilt, being what it is, keeps him from performing. Eun-yi really starts warming up to In-ho, as he does to her, all the while keeping up the creepy, "master/pet", relationship, and things start looking like they could grow into more than just friendship...until Eun-yi's first love, Cha Woo-sung (Ryu Tae-joon), comes back into her life.

Hmm, what must you be thinking after reading that synopsis? If the word, "ridiculous", popped into your mind, I certainly wouldn't blame you, because let's face it; that's exactly what this movie is. Not in the, "oh, that's silly, but it's also so cute and charming so I can overlook it all", kind of way. More of a, "really? come on...really?", kind of way. You Are My Pet forces the "pet" angle down your throat at every available opportunity. It get's to the point of just being awkward and beyond fathomable. In-ho acts like a dog, so much so, that he's hopping in her bed like a pet, resting his head in her lap, calling Eun-yi master, and just about everything else aside from pissing on the floor. For me, it was just silly, in a stupid way. Not funny in the comedic sense that was probably intended by the filmmakers. I felt practically zero chemistry between Kim Ha-neul and Jang Keun-suk, which really kills the romantic side of the film, and I know it's been said before, but Jang Keun-suk couldn't look more like a woman unless he had breasts. Seeing these two on screen together, it often looked like two women in a relationship...not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm sure all of his female fans will love his performance here though. Seriously though, I don't get the appeal but I don't think I'm supposed to. However, Kim Ha-neul looked as amazing as ever, even if her performance in this movie felt dialed in and quite uninspired. That pains me to say, as I'm a huge fan of hers. So if I'm looking for anything nice to say about You Are My Pet, I guess it would be that it looked good. The film itself looks sharp, as does all the players involved.That's it...that's all I've got.

The gimmick goes too far and for way too long in You Are My Pet, making the 1 hour and 50 minute run-time extra painful. By the time it all winds down, you'll never want to hear the word, "Momo", again. Definitely not worth your time unless you're a big fan of the two stars. (Lee)

Grade: D

Monday, February 18, 2013

Jiu (J-Drama 2011)

I keep getting myself into trouble by watching dramas for no other reason than a actor or actress that I like is starring in it. Now to most, this doesn't sound like an abnormal thing right? However, it's this kind of blind bias that has me suffering for hours. This time, Mikako Tabe did me wrong. Jiu (ジウ) wasn't all that bad, but it simply mismanages what could have been fairly decent material in the right hands.

Motoko (Meisa Kuroki), and Misaki (Mikako Tabe), are both agents working for S.I.T. (Special Investigation Team) in Tokyo. Motoko is your hard-as-nails, super-cop with an ice-cold personality to match. Misaki, on the other hand, is a soft-spoken, more level-headed agent that seems more comfortable behind a desk than out in the field. A situation arises where both women get involved; Misaki acting as a negotiator and Motoko armed and ready to take the bad guy down. Things don't exactly go as planned and Misaki is taken by the bad guy. Motoko, going hard as usual, shoots the bad guy in order to free Misaki, thus creating a public affairs nightmare for the Tokyo police force. Pictures of Misaki being held captive hit the front page news and word of Motoko's, shoot-first, ask-questions-later policy has everyone in an uproar. The fallout ends up with Misaki being sent to join detective Hiroki's (Kitamura Yukiya), team in a different department, but Motoko's actions actually end up getting her promoted to a very exclusive position; as an S.A.T. (Special Assault Team) member. The S.A.T. are a group of well-trained men that are called in whenever situations go from bad to worse. Motoko finds herself being the first woman ever to be enlisted into this boy's club and they aren't exactly the most welcoming bunch. She does find a bit of friend in Yuu (Amamiya Takashi), a man who definitely isn't all he appears to be. Meanwhile, Misaki is finding her new placement somewhat satisfying, as Hiroki informs her that they're on the hunt for a man only known as Jiu, (L). Jiu is a mysterious Chinese man with blonde hair, dressed in white, and he's responsible for various crimes; kidnapping, murder, you name it. Misaki really starts to get involved in the case, all the while developing a crush on Hiroki. On the other side of the coin, Motoko is also getting close and comfy with Yuu. Eventually, the members of S.A.T. are needed to assist the detectives in the hunt for Jiu, but as more information comes to light, it seems he may not be the mastermind of all this criminal activity after all. Who is this mysterious Jiu character? Why is he committing all these crimes? And why is his hair blonde!?

Jiu is a nine-episode series that's based off the written work of novelist Tetsuya Honda. Obviously, I haven't read this story, so I can't say for sure how faithful the drama is to the novel, but I doubt Mr. Honda had Lady Gaga's, "Edge of Glory", in mind as the main musical piece to accompany his work come to life. No kidding, this song plays at the end of every episode. In true Japanese drama fashion, there's usual a popular song placed into a drama and it plays in every episode during the last five minutes or so. "Edge of Glory", could not feel more out of place than it does here, but let's not get hung up on the song choice. Jiu could've been much, "harder", than it was. By that, I mean gritty and in-my-face. I mean, it really acts like it wants to. The material certainly lends itself to a world where bad things happen and consequences are a fact of life, but here, which is all too often the case in dramas, things are played a little too safe. I like the story; a mysterious man starts wreaking havoc in the world of these detectives; they're all suddenly left grasping at straws but the one, or two, cops that know what's going on are the one's nobody believes in. A tried-and-true underdog story of sorts. Speaking of everyone involved, it really feels like they're all playing character types instead of doing real acting here. Is it intentional? I have no idea, but Jiu, as a character, for example, feels more like he's ripped out of the pages of a manga, as opposed to feeling like a plausible villain. Motoko is cold and callous to a fault, where I wound up just finding her an impossible-to-deal-with annoyance. Misaki, on the other hand, doesn't fare much better because she's so fluffy and cute that you tend to scratch your head in bewilderment as to why she's taken seriously as a detective. Maybe just a poor casting choice? I still love you Mikako san, and yes, your character does show some progression. In terms of action, there are moments of, "damn, where did that come from!?", hardness toward the end of the series, especially in regards to Yuu, but that's also the problem. These edgy moments feel out of the norm for the series and instead of thinking it's cool, you're mostly left feeling like it was out-of-place.

Jiu is a drama that want's to act tough but ends up being lightweight. The acting is passable, but again, the parties involved are playing character types to the point of eye-rolling annoyance. Many of the plot's pieces fit together a little too conveniently and as a whole, nothing comes across as authentic. These people are far too, "pretty", to be doing what they're doing. This is strictly for fans of the cast and those who love suspending disbelief and I mean, love it. (Lee)

Grade: C