Television, Television and Film

The Heirs Review

The Heirs is the second K-Drama I have watched and my experience with this one was very different from watching my first, The Legend of the Blue Sea. The two shows share their male lead, Lee Min-ho, but that’s about it. The premise of The Heirs centers around Cha Eun-Sang and Kim Tan. Eun-Sang’s mother is the housekeeper to Kim Tans wealthy family; Eun Sang and Kim Tan meet in America when Eun Sang visits her sister in America to give her money under the belief she is getting married. Eun Sang hopes to stay in the States to find a better life, but finds her sister is not getting married and instead she takes the money and runs, leaving Eun Sang devastated.

Kim Tan watches the heart-wrenching exchange of Eun Sang fighting with her sister and after an unfortunate disaster feels compelled to help her. The two grow close over the next few days, but Eun Sang eventually returns to South Korea and treats her time in America as a dream. Kim Tan, who was exiled to America by his elder, half-brother, Won, decides to return to South Korea a few months after Eun Sang leaves. His return causes great disturbance amongst his family and for Eun Sang, once he realizes she lives in his home. He consistently pursues Eun Sang, causing much strife for her particularly from their classmates at Jeguk High, a high school filled with wealthy and cruel elites.


For all of the secondary characters in the show, the main storyline still revolves around Kim Tan and Eun Sang, which is unfortunate because outside the episodes in America, I liked their relationship the least. Their pairing, and how Kim Tan treated Eun Sang was really off-putting; it made me hate his character in those scenes. I liked his interactions with other characters, but when it came to Eun Sang he never listened to her and was just so incredibly selfish. Eun Sang kept rejecting his interest because if his family found out it would get her into trouble with her mother’s employers (his parents); Kim Tan refused to listen and lo and behold, when they got caught it caused her serious trouble. Yet even then, he just had a oopsy-daisy attitude about it, which was infuriating. Moreover, casting-wise, the actors didn’t really seem to have much chemistry. Eun Sang had more chemistry with Won than with Kim Tan and they barely shared scenes, so I think casting was a bit weak for the main two.

Beyond the lack of chemistry, their relationship bordered on the obsessive and slightly abusive. Kim Tan threatens and demeans her pretty often and its incredibly difficult to watch. His character is the definition of a ‘nice guy;’ he puts nice coins in and expects Eun Sang to answer his every whim with a smile and open arms. I really disliked him as a romantic lead. Kim Tans only redeeming qualities were his relationships with his mother (though he treated her poorly as well sometimes) and his brother. I understand that Kim Tan has had a emotionally difficult relationship with his family, but thats not an excuse to be a huge dick.

Furthermore, in the pivotal moment when his relationship with Eun Sang has fallen apart, he has the most ridiculous breakdown ever. The one moment where you feel like he might experience growth after he realizes he has essentially destroyed Eun Sang’s life with his desires, he tells Young Do “you take her.” Which is so messed up and a prime example of him treating her like an object he can give and take as he pleases. Young Do is furious with this statement and I only wish he had beaten some sense into Kim Tan as he threatened. But, alas, it doesn’t happen.

Another negative for me, was how Eun Sang was treated by Rachel, Tans fiance. Rachel is unnecessarily cruel to Eun Sang, because Tan likes her. While I felt for the tough situation Rachel was in, there was no need for her to be so vicious towards Eun Sang, especially considering Eun Sang turned down Kim Tans advances time after time. Yet, Rachel attacked Eun Sang instead of Kim Tan, which really just made her situation worse. Honestly, though this was one of the more obvious mistreatments of women by other women in the series, which is never fun to watch.

One of my last major complaints, was the ending felt really weak. I don’t like endings that leave me hanging a little bit and The Heirs writers left things a little too loose and undone for me to feel good about it.

On the positive side, I loved almost all of the secondary characters and their relationships.If you are wondering whether or not to watch the show, watch just for the secondary characters. One of my absolute favorites in the show was Lee Bo Na; she was adorable and one of the most amusing characters in the show after Myung-soo. On her own, she was wonderful and she was even better with Chan Young. Their relationship is the actual OTP of the series. Their relationship was ridiculously wonderful and was one of the only healthy romances found on-screen in The Heirs. 

The best character in this show is decidedly Choi Young Do, played by my new favorite actor Kim Woo Bin. I saw a meme on tumblr stating “I started The Heirs for Lee Min-ho, but stayed for Kim Woo Bin” and I think that encapsulates exactly how I felt about this show. Even when he was the villain in the story, Young Do was one of the most compelling characters in the story. I liked seeing his growth as a character even if it was a bit choppy and sometimes drastic. Kim Woo Bins performance as Choi Young Do was brilliant and he took an otherwise, unlikeable character and made him the star of every scene he was in.

Overall, I didn’t like The Heirs, I’d give it a 2 out of 5. I think Kim Tan was an awful character, his few redeeming qualities were easily overshadowed by his poor treatment of Eun Sang. I’m glad I watched it, because it is one of the bigger and well-known works with Lee Min-ho, whom I love, but he plays such an awful character in this show I’m going to try to forget it. The few good things that came from this disaster of a K-drama is my love for Kim Woo Bin and the other incredible secondary characters.


The Heirs first premiered October 2013 and finished December of the same year. There are 20 episodes, each lasting about an hour in length.

It has a 92% on AsianWiki and a 7.6/10 on MyDramaList.

Books

That Thing We Call A Heart Review

To preface my review, I’d never heard of this book or any reviews prior to reading the story so I was going in very blind. I saw it on the new books shelf in the YA section, picked it up and brought it home. I don’t have a long winding prologue for this review, this is all I could muster today, so I’m going to jump into the book review.

That Thing We Call a Heart is by Sheba Karim and was published May of this year. The novel follows Shabnam Qureshi during her last summer at home before college. She is at odds with her best friend, Farah, after Farah decided to wear the Muslim headscarf without consulting Shabnam. With a bleak summer ahead of her because of this estrangement, Shabnam is not excited for the season, until she meets Jamie. After he gets Shabnam a job at his Aunt Marianne’s pie shack, Shabnam beings to fall in love with Jamie, likening their relationship to the rose and the nightingale from classic Urdu poetry. As the summer progresses, begins to reconnect with Farah, but she mistrusts Jamie, which increases tension.

Generally, YA contemporary romances are more character driven novels, which is fine; this simply means the characters have to be enjoyable to read about. That Thing We Call a Heart was sorely lacking in this department. I strongly disliked Shabnam, I  felt she was selfish and uninteresting; she was a terrible friend and came across as way too immature for someone about to enter college. Jamie was also just a crummy character; though I will say I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be written this way. Part of the plot, is Farah’s dislike and distrust of Jamie, soI wondered if Jamie was written as shady to give reason for this negativity.

While this would make sense, it weakened the romance of the novel. Shabnam was all-in immediately and it felt like insta-love, which is frustrating with a romance novel. What makes this even more confusing was the general lack of romance presented. It is confusing that Shabnam was so heavily in love with Jamie when the relationship was so weak as written, it was just so incredibly unbelievable and uninteresting.

Honestly, I was going to give this book two stars because of how weak the romantic story was and the atrocious characters, but Farah and the last 20-30 pages saved it for me. As I’d noted several times, Shabnam was egocentric most of the novels 300 pages, but experienced considerable character growth during the last chapters that earned back a star. The last third of the book also had a lot more of Farah’s story (though still not much) which made things better for me.

Honestly, I wish this story was about Farah. I think there were a lot of unanswered questions that were presented about Farah’s life and we kept being told that we’d come back to it, but we never did! That drove me crazy, particularly because Farah was the only redeeming character in this story. If I could give any advice for Karim’s next project, it would be please write a story about Farah.

On a more positive side, I love how Karim presented how a devout Muslim isn’t what people often assume they are. Farah, who took her faith seriously, still smoked weed and dressed in a modest, but eclectic style, and still kept with her faith. I think seeing greater diversity in the presentation of Muslims is important as it helps people realize their is more than one way to be a devout Muslim, just as there is for all faiths.

I also enjoyed the introduction of Partition. I know little about Partition, or the division of India into Pakistan and India; it wasn’t discussed much in my history classes and I’ve almost never seen it in books. My only knowledge of this time period is from quick snippets in films I’ve watched. Karim’s discussion of it in the book and how easy it was to believe Shabnam’s lie about it, shows just how little people know about a pivotal moment in fairly recent history. It made me want to learn more about it. While I didn’t find this to be an enjoyable romance, I thought it showcased important elements of history that will hopefully have readers looking to find out more about Partition.

TL;DR: Overall, a fairly weak story, with unlikeable characters and a shoddy romance. On a positive side, presented an often unseen picture of devout Muslims, who break “from the norm.” 3 out of 5 stars.

 

Television, Television and Film

Legend of the Blue Sea Review

 

“Everything is repeating.”

Legend of the Blue Sea has two parallel storylines, one set during the Joseon Era and the other in the modern world. A major theme of the show is history repeating itself and the desperate attempt to keep this from happening. In the Era timeline, the newly appointed townhead, Dam Ryeong, releases a mermaid who was captured by the local innkeeper back into the ocean. Before the mermaid, Se-hwa, swims away, she turns around and reaches her hand to Dam Ryeong, “which he briefly holds.” This connection sets off their intertwined destiny for both storylines.

In the present world, Joon-Jae is a conman, who works with Nam-Doo and Tae-oh. After completing a large con, the three separate on vacation, where Joon-Jae heads to a seaside resort. It is here, where mermaid, Shim-Cheong, is caught up in a tidal wave and washed ashore, and breaks into Joon-Jae’s hotel room. Despite Joon-Jae’s attempt to get rid of Cheong, she refuses to leave his side.


Overall, the show kept me consistently interested. It was a struggle to have to tell myself I needed to go to bed instead of watching another episode. Most of the characters were well written and fully fleshed out. Even secondary characters didn’t feel flat, as they often can seem in shows where there are so many moving parts.

The two leads, Lee Min-Ho (Joon-Jae, Dam Ryeong) and Jun Ji-hyun (Se-hwa, Shim Cheong) had excellent chemistry, apparently to the point where rumors spread about the nature of their off-screen relationship. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know, and honestly don’t care much about. They played off of each other very well and it made their story feel genuine and increased my interest in watching the show.

Cheong was an incredibly naive character and though it often bordered on ridiculous it never wandered into being annoying. Her foolish behavior contributed to much of the comedic affect. Her friendships with a beggar and a young schoolgirl were ludicrous but fit her characters personality. I did have a slight issue with her character a few times; sometimes she appeared to be leagues above her usual maturity level, and since Cheong is supposed to be naive, the drastic change pulled me out of the story a little. Though her character did mature as the story progressed I think it bounced back and forth between innocent and mature in the beginning a bit much for my taste.

I loved Joon-Jae’s character and the level of growth he showed by the end of the show. He was an outwardly mean and selfish character in the beginning but grew to be compassionate by the end of the series. I particularly liked the depth of emotion Lee Min-ho was capable of showing, especially when it came to crying over the emotional strains his character face. It’s rare to see men crying on television over relationship trouble, whether its between family members or a significant other, on American television. This departure from my ‘norm’ was headily welcomed.

The two storylines were each distinct and emotionally compelling; though the Era storyline is resolved much earlier than the modern one, they still parallel fairly well and intertwine in a way that feels natural, instead of clunky and overdone. Though the show focuses largely on the modern storyline, I was completely swept away by the Era storyline. The passion Dam Ryeong had for Se-hwa engulfed me whole, as did his desperate need to stop their tragic story from repeating.

A negative for me, though not really, was each episode leaves off on a cliffhanger; though not typically a big one, it dropped off at a place where an important question is posed making it hard to stop watching! Which would be good, except I needed to sleep.

On the actually negative side, there were quite a few plot holes. I didn’t actually notice at first because I was so enthralled with the story, but when I started explaining it to my sister she poked a lot of holes in it. After that I definitely started to notice the gaps a bit more, but a lot of them centered around the mermaid lore. There were some questions that were never answered that made things a little frustrating but didn’t impact the enjoyment of the story as a whole.

Tae-oh was one of the supporting characters in the show, and one of my favorites. He was played by Shin Won-ho (Cross Gene) and I found him adorable, gentle and humorous. However, he also had one of the least defined backstories; I think part of this is due to him only appearing in one of the storylines, but it’s still bothersome. I wish I knew how he had met Nam-doo and Joon-Jae, but we’re never told and it just kind of hangs in the air.

The villains of the story take a while to appear in anyway that matters and when they do they did seem a little weak. Eventually, they became more serious and I did feel nervous as to a particular villain, which made things a little better. Some things that occurred in the story were pretty obvious, but that is the nature of dramas, as they depend heavily on well-used tropes. Nevertheless, it managed to keep me surprised and enthralled.

The Legend of the Blue Sea was my first experience watching a Korean or K-Drama. I had little to no knowledge as to what I was getting myself into. Yet, I loved the show. I connected with the characters and story deeply, which led to a pretty heaving weeping session towards the end of the series. As of writing this, I still haven’t started watching anything else, which is out of character for me. The show was so good that I’m afraid nothing will compare.

TL;DR Altogether, I loved Legend of the Blue Sea. The characters were well established and the chemistry between the leads both as their Era and Modern characters was palpable; the pair were well-casted. There were some weak spots, but not enough to damage the story for me. I would rate it 4.8/5 stars.


Legend of the Blue Sea was released November 16, 2016 and ended January 25, 2017. Each episode, of which there are 20, runs for about an hour give or take a few minutes. A special was also released for the show, which recapped the first half of the show, particularly focusing on the relationship between the pair.

The show has a 90% rating on Asian Wiki and an 8.3/10 on MyDramaList.

**I do not speak or write Korean, I did my best to accurately convey the names of the characters based on my research online. There were several different versions of spellings, so if the names are spelled incorrectly please let me know so I can fix them.
Books

The Crystal Ribbon Review

This book is one where I fell prey to a beautiful spine and then the gorgeous cover immediately after plucking it from the shelves. I am glad I picked it up as it expanded several horizons I didn’t even know existed.

The Crystal Ribbon takes place in medieval China and follows the story of 11-year-old Jing. She has a difficult life, in her small village of Huanan, where she is picked on by the local children for the similarity her name shares with the towns deity, the Great Huli Jing. Because her family is incredibly poor, when a wealthy family offers to buy her to be the daughter-in-law/nursemaid to their young son, her family jumps at the opportunity. Jing is against this marriage, but her cruel aunt forces her to do it anyway and her father fails to stand against his sister. Jing is sent to live with the new family where she is treated even worse than before. Despite this, Jing promises to return home and the story follows her journey to finding herself and her way back to Huanan.

I enjoyed The Crystal Ribbon a lot. Jing was a strong, female lead who stood on her own two feet throughout the story, never acting or being treated as a damsel in distress. I rarely come across novels that focus on women or young girls going on journeys to find themselves, and I loved the book for this. Jing goes through a lot of hardship, but it doesn’t make her cruel, it doesn’t harden her soul, it simply steels her will. I genuinely loved seeing this in a story. Too often, women who have struggled are shown to become vicious and that isn’t always the case. So, that was a refreshing component of the story.

I also loved how much I learned about Chinese culture from the story. Initially, I was confused by the Chinese mystical creatures, jings, because they weren’t immediately explained with great depth, but I found their role in the story compelling. These creatures play an important role in the book as they provide companionship and support to Jing during her journey. Previously, I was not aware these spirits existed or what role they played in medieval Chinese culture so this was really interesting to read.

Another shocking discovery was what tong-yang-xi was. Several of the reviews I read that disliked the book argued they were uncomfortable with the level of negativity and violence, both physical and emotional, Jing experienced. While I can understand that this may be difficult to read, it would be poor form for authors to write only about positive things. Lim wrote an honest and well-researched novel. The reality is that many young girls would experience this kind of harsh treatment from family. Tong yang xi was a very real practice in Chinese history, and not writing about it because it is difficult to read would be wrong.

Reading about Jing experiencing this was appalling, but it made me want to learn more about tong yang xi. Though I trusted Lim’s research and account of Jing’s experiences (though fictional, they are based in truth), I wanted to find out more from a non-fiction source. Indeed, I found the practice continued even into the twentieth century despite the creation of marriage laws in China, though it occurred in rural areas where it is much more difficult to police.

I think people downrating the story because they don’t like this reality is unfortunate and a little ridiculous. Though I don’t agree with the practice, I’m glad Lim brought it to light in The Crystal Ribbon. I had no idea this occurred and I’m sure I am not the only one who was shocked to learn this.

However, I do have negatives about the story as well. For this book being rated as middle grade, it seemed to have more adult themes that make me wary giving it to a younger audience. If you were to have a child read this book, I would only recommend it to kids with a maturity level greater than that of their age.

Additionally, I felt for Jing being 11, she spoke with a vocabulary beyond the knowledge and education of a child her age and wealth. This did take me out of the story a little but not enough to have a significant impact on my reading pace. Moreover, when it came to Jing’s age I had a difficult time keeping track of her aging. She started out at 11 and then suddenly she was 13 a few pages later. The progression of time was confusing and difficult to keep up with.

Overall, for a debut novel, I think the plot was well -executed, -researched, and -written. I am looking forward to reading another novel by Celeste Lim.

TL;DR The Crystal Ribbon featured a strong, female lead who goes on a journey to find herself and return home. Some of the subject material may be too mature for a middle grade audience despite being rated to them. 4/5 stars.

Books

“The Firebrand” Review

I am weak for a historical romance. When I first started reading, the only books I had largely unfettered access to were historical romances. Perhaps this wasn’t the most appropriate reading material for an 11 year old girl, particularly the more sexually graphic “bodice-rippers” that I always seemed to find. Despite the inappropriateness, historical romances hold a special place in my heart and always have. I can pick them up during any reading slump and devour them whole.

Now, this was the first time I’d ever read a historical romance by Susan Wiggs. This particular novel was the third book in a trilogy based around the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871. I hadn’t read the previous stories in the trilogy, but based on my experience with these types of novels I largely doubt not reading the others impacts this story in any serious or real way.

With that being said, shall we begin?

The Firebrand follows Lucy Hathaway, a widely disliked “New Woman” or suffragette after the events of the Great Chicago Fire. On the other side of the romance is Rand Higgins, a trusted and important banker. When the pair meet, there is a small kindling of attraction, but Rand is married and the father of an infant. While Lucy is running for her life during the fire, she passes by a burning building where a woman is trapped on the second floor. The woman tosses the child down where Lucy catches her, as the unknown woman perishes in the flames.

Jump forward five years, Lucy is now the adopted mother to a daughter, Maggie, and Rand is a father without a child and a scarred (literally and emotionally) man struggling with the loss of his daughter and wife. The pair (re)-meet when Lucy goes to the bank where Rand works.  It is there she realizes Rand’s lost child is now her beloved, adoptive daughter. Romance and chaos ensues from there.

I really like Lucy; typically when I read historical romances the only New Woman type I see just wants to be able to do things around the home without needing permission. In this case, Lucy was genuinely working towards women rights. Her efforts for women’s suffrage are an important part of her character and one I enjoyed. I particularly enjoyed the character development that Lucy goes through; her ideas on free love and equal rights in the beginning seemed to fall more on the side of weakness. However, by the end of the novel, Lucy had grown to see that equal rights means that women should be allowed to choose to stay at home, and that choice doesn’t make a women weak. I loved the growth and overall, I think her character was fully sketched by Wiggs.

Rand, on the other hand I felt was less clearly defined. He was sharply sketched on the edges, but wasn’t quite as colored in as Lucy. Several chapters were from his point of view, but even with that there was little exploration of his personality. You could tell he was a callous man, who took great pride in his appearance, and the ‘horrible scarring’ devastated him. His scars seemed to be an outward reflection of how he felt about his losses. I think I understood what Wiggs was trying to imply about Rand, but it never fully came across in the story, which was unfortunate.

The third major character, Maggie, also had a few chapters from her point of view. I found it interesting and unique to have part of the story told from the child’s perspective in this genre, but ultimately those parts of the story were the weakest for me. They were dull and Maggie’s only the age of 6 in the story, making her point of view unrealistically precocious for the thought process of a child.

I know I’ve focused pretty heavily on characters, but for me, romances hinge on characters and the chemistry they have. I really enjoyed this story despite Rand being less developed; the bond the two romantic leads shared was enough to keep me enthralled. At the end of the story, I had become so attached to Lucy and the relationship that when it seemed to be in peril, my heart was in my throat. I genuinely felt as though I would be sick if things didn’t work out. I think its this feeling that has led me to give the story 4 stars instead of 3 like so many others have.

Generally, when you read this genre, you have an assured happy ever after, but it didn’t feel guaranteed here. I realize this is a problem for some people, but it was so refreshing to sweat for their love to work. Normally, I never get nervous with historical romances but this one made me experience them like I’d never read one before. The pair did get their happy ending, but the perils of the book made me wonder, which was a welcome relief. This wouldn’t always work, but in this instance I think it worked well.

TL;DR: Of the romantic duo, one was less developed than the other. However, Wiggs took a refreshing take on the story that kept me flipping pages deep into the night.

Rate: 4 out of 5 Stars