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

“And I Darken” Review

I will say this about Kiersten White's novel, And I Darken, it has a beautiful cover. I'm not gonna lie, I'm a hypocritical reader. I often tout the age-old adage "don't judge a book by it's cover" yet here I am, a judger of covers. There were two main reasons I picked up this stunning hardback, the first because it was making its rounds on booktube and the YA reading blog-o'sphere and the second, I love a book with a gorgeous cover.

As mentioned countless times already it seems, I'm a flawed human. I love a book with a nice cover, and the best covers are the books that tend to break my heart. I am so torn over this book. Its like I didn't particularly enjoy it, but I am also invested enough that I want to read the sequel. Ultimately, I ended up giving the book three stars on Goodreads because I just didn't know what to do. I didn't hate it, but I also didn't love it, so 3 felt like a solid middle ground.

To provide some background on the story in case you don't know about it: Lada Dragwlya and her younger brother, Radu, are traded to the Ottoman empire as collateral to keep her father, the Prince of Wallachia, under control. While there, the siblings befriend Mehmed, the young and largely irrelevant, middle son of the sultan. Both of these things makes them targets in the court and their lives become a game of survival, with Radu choosing to fight with his mind and Lada, her fists.

And I Darken is the first book in a trilogy with the second novel, And I Rise, released this past June, and the finale of the trilogy to be released the summer of 2018. Its an alternative historical fiction printed in June 2016.

Now for the review: the beginning of the book was pretty dull for me; the first hundred or so pages are told from Lada and Radu's point of view when they're children and though I understand why this was used as a literary device, it was so incredibly boring. I'm honestly not sure how I finished the book, I mean I was 136 pages in and I still didn't know if I liked it yet or not. Lada is an anti-heroine in this book and I love having someone bad to root for. But Lada is annoying, and it seems as though White is trying to portray her as intelligent but she seemed largely ignorant and thoughtless. Radu on the other hand was shown to be conniving and far-thinking despite him being a bit of a weakling.

I didn't really like Mehmed, he was a primary character despite never seeing his point of view. He was selfish and irritating and much of the novel revolved around him which was off-putting. I would switch back and forth between liking him and hating him. He just sucked which to be fair he had in common with most of the characters. Character-wise, I found myself supporting Radu mostly because he was the least awful. Again Lada is an anti-heroine, but if its well written I should still want to support her that fact be damned.

White did a fairly decent job laying the ground work for their growing roles in Mehmed's political life as they grew older. I would say the book would be better served by having it split into two distinct parts. The first 200 pages would stand as part one, the introduction of characters and a making of a considerable sacrifice. Despite being catered to a young adult audience, the first half read more like a middle grade novel, whereas, the next 200 pages felt more young adult and contained most of the action and character development.

A considerable majority of the book lacked action to the point I was practically catatonic when it appeared in spades on page 376, three-quarters into the book. Unfortunately, it was short-lived. Nevertheless, the way the book ended hooked me enough to want to read the sequel, so lets hope this next book picks up before page 300. Something this novel failed to accomplish.

If you read it, what did you think?

Books

NOT For the First Time

I don’t generally reread books. At least not in their entirety. When it comes to me re-reading something, it consists of me pulling the book from the shelf and reading my favorite sections(s) then quickly returning it to its designated spot. I don’t often sit down and take a book I’ve already completed for a second or third spin.

I’m not sure when I got to a point where I stopped re-reading things but I don’t remember a time where I was ever really interested in doing it in the first place. If I wanted to deep dive into the psychology of it, I could probably explain it away. For example, I started reading for pleasure when I was in middle school somewhere around 5th or 6th grade. I definitely felt like I’d squandered so much time not reading once I got into it, that going back and reading something I’d already completed would be a waste of my time, especially considering there is so much out there. Whether this is actually the case I’m not really sure. But I digress.

Honestly, I think I just have a hard time sitting through something I’ve already experienced. I’m the same way about movies and television. I just really don’t like re-reading or -watching things.

Now there are of course exceptions to this mentality. I’ve read the Harry Potter series several times over, particularly the Half Blood Prince, which is my favorite of the seven novels. My copy of the book shows the considerable wear of my constant fingering of the pages. I’ve also read Anne of Green Gables several times and I have a feeling I’ll be perusing its pages in the near future (foreshadowing). I have most certainly watched movies again, but usually only when they come on TV. I don’t own very many DVDs and if I do, they were gifts and not something I purchased myself. I think within the past year the only time I watched any DVD was when my wifi wasn’t connected yet and I couldn’t watch anything on Netflix or Hulu.

As far as re-experiencing things go, I particularly dislike rewatching television shows. If I started watching a show, then quit it, I adamantly refuse to go back and rewatch what I’ve already seen if I choose to come back to the show eventually. It’s for this very reason it took me so long to finish Grey’s Anatomy. I kept watching the first 6 seasons and quitting. I only finished/caught up on the show when I started it from season 7. When I do watch a television show again, I treat it as I do books. I find my favorite parts and watch those several times, never the whole thing. Except for The West Wing, which is complex enough that I pick up something new each time.

Generally I just want to know if other people feel the same way I do about re-reading and re-watching things. Am I crazy for feeling this way or no?

If you don’t like re-reading, is there a specific book you are willing to read again despite that?