Abusing Jun: The Way This K-Drama Deals With Domestic Abuse Hits Different

Spoiler warning: This post contains spoilers for the drama At A Distance, Spring Is Green.

Trigger warning [TW]: This post contains mentions and discussion of physical abuse and psychological abuse.

I wrote on At A Distance, Spring Is Green when it had a mere two episodes out — and as much as I casually enjoyed it then, I had no idea what I was getting into (or how hopelessly invested I’d become). I recall thinking I was signing up for a lot of fluffy cuteness. And though we do get that in the form of basically everyone in the drama (because they’re all adorable), our story goes far deeper and darker than anything I was expecting. It’s full of smiling, beautiful faces dealing with some of life’s ugliest issues. The most obvious example, of course, being Jun.

Since episode 1, At A Distance has made no secret of the fact that Yeo Jun (Park Ji Hoon) suffered some sort of abuse as a child. As the episodes air, viewers find out more of what that looked like as well as the current dynamic he has with his family. And as truly heartbreaking as all of these scenes are to watch, I found myself struck by the rather unique way this drama presents different forms of domestic abuse and the affects such abuse can have on a family.

Have other dramas done an incredible job portraying tough subjects like abuse? Absolutely! Yet the way At A Distance does so stands out to me — particularly considering the slice-of-life story about youth that it is. Perhaps this lies in just how much of the plot revolves around Jun’s struggles with his family; perhaps it’s because we get to see how damaging psychological (specifically verbal) abuse can truly be. Or perhaps it’s how Jun’s abusive dad is appropriately humanized.

Whatever the case, what At A Distance does feels like a step forward — a road paved, a way made. It feels progressive because, honestly, this type of social problem should be talked about more in dramas so that awareness can grow and we as humans can collectively face these issues together and proactively create change.

It just hits different.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at some specific aspects of At A Distance that aid in the unique way it goes about telling its toughest storyline.

The drama calls it like it is.

At A Distance takes a stand by showing how physical and verbal abuse from his parents have negatively affected Jun’s entire life. No meek skirting around the subject and no conveniently pulling it out when a character needs some “edge.” (Forgive the calloused phrasing, but we’ve all seen it done in shows.) Instead, the drama boldly faces the issue by calling it like it is: beating up your kid and telling them they shouldn’t have been born is not okay — it’s abusive.

The abuse theme is heavily featured.

Not only was I surprised by how openly the abuse is addressed, but also by how much focus it gets throughout the drama. Typically, an abusive past in TV shows means we get flashbacks here and there, maybe some references to it when called for. But in this case, it’s a massive part of Jun’s character arc, so At A Distance fittingly tackles the tough subject matter with plenty of screen time. (To clarify, that’s screen time spent on the topic in general, whether that means the abuse is being spoken of or thought about; I don’t mean “plenty of screen time” as in literally watching Jun get abused on-screen, though of course we do see some of that as well.)

And no, abuse is not fun to watch, hear, or think about. But it’s vital to address nonetheless because it is a social problem that exists in our world. The more it’s talked about, the more awareness it accumulates. (I know I said that in the beginning of this post; I’m perpetuating the point.) Then these behaviors — these cycles of toxicity — can be recognized, called out, and (hopefully one day) stopped as much as can ever be possible. And what better way to jump-start such critical conversations than via media?

Jun’s dad is humanized, which is actually a good thing in this case.

Before you say anything: yes, the line between trying to evoke sympathy for an antagonist and trying to further understand that antagonist is a fine one, but I think Drama does a superb job displaying the latter. Allow me to explain.

We see Jun’s dad (Kim Hyung Mook) on his own just enough to allow us to see him as a human being — one Jun has a very tangible history with — but not so much as to attempt to evoke sympathy for him. Now, it’s not like we see a ton of him when he’s not in a scene with Jun; there are only about two or three scenes I can think of where that’s the case. But because of these few purposeful, brief moments, viewers get to witness more of a character arc for him. So, rather than a flat archetype, we get a husband and a father with feelings and struggles of his own. In fact, I’d venture to say he’s more developed and well-rounded than most abusive drama-dads — and I think a lot of that is due to this particular creative choice.

Take the following scene, for instance: after his wife leaves him and his domestic violence becomes public knowledge, Jun’s dad wanders around his vast home by himself and eventually gets super drunk. It’s at this point that the drama gives him a few beats on-screen by himself as his new reality sets in. He then goes to visit Jun. In the ensuing conversation with his son, he yells about others looking down on him, to which Jun astutely counters that no one else looks down on him; he’s the one looking down on himself.

To my point, this already-excellent scene holds even more weight after having just witnessed Dad wandering alone around his gigantic, empty house and drowning himself in alcohol. Suddenly, his deep insecurity and loneliness (the latter of which is completely self-imposed) can be felt a lot more acutely; suddenly, everything feels a lot more personal. Without this scene, it would have been much easier to simply view him as an angry, drunk man yelling about people looking down on him.

This brief peek into Jun’s dad’s life without Jun present didn’t suddenly make me feel sorry for Mr. Yeo. But it did help me assemble a more complete picture of the father-son relationship he and Jun have.

The drama validates how damaging psychological abuse is.

Enter: Jun’s mom (So Hee Jung). The reason this mother-son relationship is such a tough pill to swallow boils down to the fact that it’s honestly just really difficult to watch her be so severely cruel to sweet Jun. He is starving for even a morsel of affection from her and she not only withholds that from him, but also actively psychologically abuses him. It’s brutal.

One example of this occurs very early on in the drama after Jun gets verbally attacked and slapped by Dad. After her husband leaves, Mom swoops in with a gentle cheek caress and what initially appears to be concern but quickly turns into a barrage of soft-spoken, devastating verbal abuse.

It’s extremely telling, too, that this is the part where Jun’s tears start to fall — not during the aforementioned altercation with Dad.

Physical damage is simple to portray on-screen, but not so psychological. Drama does a great job showing that the words we say hold power — so, wield them wisely.

(Is it any wonder that Jun collects as many “friends” as he can get so as to receive affirmation from large amounts of people in the hopes of filling the void left by his worthless parents? And on a separate note entirely, is it possible to adopt drama characters?)

the drama shows how the abuse also affects jun’s brother.

At A Distance does a great job of showing the Yeo family dynamics as they might exist in real life; and it takes it one step further by not only showing us how things look between Jun and his parents, but also between him and his older brother, Jun Wan (Na In Woo), a.k.a. Dramaland’s Best Big Brother Ever.

Jun Wan quite literally sacrifices his entire life to keep Jun safe the best way he knows how — by keeping him away from their parents. As a child, Jun Wan was also abused (by their dad) and makes up his mind to protect Jun from what happened to him by distancing his younger brother from their family as much as possible. How does his pre-adolescent mind decide to do that? By ostracizing Jun. It’s dysfunctional and backwards — but then again, what isn’t with this family?

To add to the utter, gut-wrenching tragedy of all of this is, of course, the fact that Jun has no idea what Jun Wan is doing. He genuinely thinks his older brother hates him and even remembers Jun Wan as being the one who abused him (which is false, but we won’t get into that aspect of the drama in this post).

I was amazed at the character of Jun Wan. I had an inkling since the start that he isn’t as evil as he is made out to be by Jun (who, at that point in the drama, sincerely believes that himself). But I wasn’t prepared for how truly selfless Jun Wan is, going so far as to give up incredible job opportunities to teach at Jun’s less affluent university just so that he can keep an eye on his younger brother from afar.

If there was any pair I could have used more screen time of, it’s definitely these two; I love watching their relationship grow from so dysfunctional and damaged to — still damaged, but a little more functional…and with a lot more hope.

tragically (but realistically?), jun’s family never reconciles.

Not going to lie: this irritated me at first. No, I did not want a neatly-wrapped-up-with-a-bow happy little family picnic at the end here — but I wanted closure, which I felt never happened in regards to Jun’s family. When the drama ends, Jun’s mom is still gone and his dad’s on his way to prison. As far as we know. And to be honest, it feels inconclusive. Rather than dwell in that frustration, however, I decided to look at it as being a choice towards realism instead. It makes it a bit more palpable.

Seriously, though, Jun’s dad makes it clear in his last scene that he’s not going to change. And Jun himself (very understandably) says that he’s not sure he can ever forgive his mom. So, there’s really no realistic way this family could somehow patch things up or even get halfway decent closure for Jun — at least not in the finite span of our drama’s run time.

And remember: a significant reconciliation within the family does happen — between Jun and his brother. And I love that.

we get to see Jun open up to someone about the abuse for the first time in his life.

This was one of my favorite moments between our male leads. After recalling a repressed memory and finding out about additional abuse going on within his family, Jun asks close friend and roommate Nam Soo Hyun (Bae In Hyuk) to sit and talk. The subject: fathers. Soo Hyun shares about the hero his own dad was, then asks about Jun’s father. And Jun tells him the truth. The scene poignantly ends with Jun tearfully asking Soo Hyun: “What do I do?”

These moments are so quiet and unassuming that such a scene might have been overlooked in a lesser production. But it’s such a significant turning point for Jun because not only does he recognize that he has a trustworthy friend he can lean on, but he also releases some of the darkness that’s been holed up inside of him his entire life. It’s a beginning step to healing for Jun, and I’m grateful the drama included this moment for viewers to witness.

Before moving on to my outro, I’d like to quickly highlight the brilliant performance Park Ji Hoon gives as Jun. He’s truly spectacular, and I wish him luck in his future projects. To say he owned this role is an understatement.

I love this drama as a whole (sans the final episode, but we aren’t going to get into that right now). So many things had to come together for this project to turn out so beautifully. All of the creators involved, every actor and actress, and — of course — the original webtoon writer themself. Bravo, all, on creating something meaningful.

And in conclusion, I’d like to end on a positive note because, let’s face it, this is a really heavy post. I mentioned I don’t like the finale, but one thing I do like about it is seeing the abundance of hope Jun now has in his life. Early on in the drama, we became acquainted with a happy-go-lucky young man whose sweet, bright smile was his armor. By the end, we get to see Jun find a tightknit group of people (including his older brother) who truly love him unconditionally. And as kitschy as it sounds, someone loving him for who he is — without him feeling like he has to earn it — is what he needs most. So I love that At A Distance gives him that.

Park Ji Hoon (Yeo Jun) with Kang Min Ah (Kim Soo Bin)

I could probably talk about this drama for hours, but alas: my free time is finite, as well as is yours. So, I’ll leave it here for now. I may not be going into as deep analysis as could be done, but hey — I’m starting the conversation.

Feel free to join.

As always, thank you for reading — and happy drama-watching! Until next post.

Would you rather listen? Check out my podcast: i dream of dramas

Or, you can follow my blog, Twitter, or Instagram accounts (also linked in my bio) to stay updated and also get some extra thoughts of mine that don’t necessarily always make it into my blog.

Familiar Yet Refreshing: 7 Reasons ‘At A Distance, Spring Is Green’ Is The Perfect Watch For K-Drama Fans

I was excited for this drama back when Seo Kang Joon was in the works for a main role. However, as the years passed, I eventually forgot about it. So, when I saw it had begun airing — with tons of fresh new faces — I couldn’t hit ‘play’ fast enough.

…And I’m already head-over-heels.

Alright, I’m excited to start talking about it. So grab your favorite drama-material-reading beverage of choice (mine’s coffee), and join me as we go through some things about At A Distance, Spring Is Green I believe will especially appeal to K-drama lovers.

Quick disclaimer: I have not read the webtoon this drama is based off of, so of course I cannot provide any insight as to how the on-screen adaptation compares.

It’s got the great, old-school K-drama qualities we all know and love.

At A Distance strikes me as a perfect drama for K-drama fans because although it possesses familiar qualities and tropes, it’s saturated with refreshing details that will keep viewers coming back for more. It tugs at the right heartstrings; it hits the right notes. It’s a perfect watch for K-drama lovers who want that delicious love triangle (or pentagon…or hexagon…not sure what this is going to look like quite yet) but with new, vibrant characters who you haven’t seen before.

We’re already seeing heavy subject matter.

Jun’s family problems are the most obvious (I’ll get to that in a bit). But we also have Nam Soo Hyun juggling work and school as his family’s financial provider. And even though we don’t know what her family situation is like yet, Kim So Bin is feeling the intense, very real pressure of getting enough experience under her belt before graduating college.

I’m pleasantly surprised at how deep the drama is going with characters already. From the reason behind Jun’s forced smiles to So Bin’s crippling insecurities, At A Distance gets to the kids’ issues quickly. As a viewer, I appreciate not only the pace that the story is progressing at, but also the fact that the drama isn’t remaining at the surface of fluffy angsty made-up problems. No, we’re dealing with young people who have real struggles that, tragically, a lot of viewers will probably be able to relate to (at least, in some form). We’re definitely in for the long haul and I can easily say I’m already invested in these characters, even though we’ve only seen them for two episodes as of yet. Love it.

Our female lead might seem weak at first, but she’s actually Superwoman.

As mentioned above, So Bin (Kang Min Ah) struggles with feeling inferior and insecure (at least, that’s how I interpret her words and actions). Several times, I found myself slightly irritated with her for how weakly she inserts herself into conversations. Are we going to have a mouse-y female lead?

Nope. So Bin is anything but weak.

After taking a step back, I realized that what So Bin is accomplishing is actually incredibly admirable. We don’t have a weak female lead. She can speak up for herself when it comes down to it; she’s done that several times already. What we have here is a young woman who feels behind her peers in accomplishments and grades. She says herself that she goes unnoticed because she’s not memorable. She feels inferior, but voices her opinions despite that. And if she needs to practice standing up for herself at her own pace in order to gain confidence, then let’s applaud her for it. Asserting yourself is not an easy thing to do for everyone — and I believe viewers should recognize the fact that she’s trying rather than criticize the fact that she might not have it mastered quite yet. (I don’t know if that’s what people are saying or not, but since I found myself initially concerned that we’d have a weak female lead, I’m assuming there are folks out there who might have thought so too).

I look forward to watching So Bin gain confidence as she overcomes personal obstacles, celebrating her victories with her, and rooting for her along the way.

You’ll want to save Yeo Jun from his abusive family.

TW: mention of physical abuse and emotional abuse

Oof. I was expecting a sad story as soon as I saw some of Jun’s (Park Ji Hoon) brief flashbacks, but I was not prepared for how abusive his parents are — both physically and emotionally. His dad slaps him once, but it’s very clear that the hitting would have continued if Jun’s older brother had not been waiting for him outside. He’s also verbally assaulted by both parents in this particular scene. I was especially struck by how completely devastating his mother’s cruel words are to him. Does she realize the irrevocable damage she’s causing? Does she even care? It’s honestly difficult to watch.

No wonder Jun tries his best to get everyone to like him — he’s totally starved of love at home.

I really hope Jun finds happiness and someone who loves him for who he is, whether that’s in a romantic or platonic sense. Also, I’ll be setting up a GoFundMe so that I can adopt him.

The other male lead says what everyone is thinking (but too afraid to say).

I find Soo Hyun’s (Bae In Hyuk) forthright, no-nonsense attitude refreshing. Sure, he could be friendlier sometimes. But I like that he says exactly what he thinks, even if it’s socially deviant (like in the flashback to his freshman year when he asks the younger girls why he has to pay for them when he doesn’t even know them).

He is the only person who doesn’t fall for Jun’s charms (or wallet), which is why Jun clings to Soo Hyun so desperately (remember, Jun wants everyone to like him). He prefers unpleasant truth over ignorant bliss, something we witness when he tells Jun it’s easier to hear his honest opinion than to bear his fake friendliness.

Soo Hyun has a lot on his plate right now, so I hope he’s able to find a healthy balance between work, school, and personal life. And I hope he takes his qualities that could easily be used for malice and employs them for good.

The side characters are just as cute and interesting as the leads.

So far I’m especially enjoying two surrounding our female lead: poker-faced roommate Min Joo (Woo Da Vi) and charismatic childhood friend Chan Gi (Choi Jung Woo). I’m excited to see these characters — as with all of them — develop as the story moves along.

The college campus setting is both beautiful and fresh.

I like it physically (it’s gorgeous) and I like the unique fact that our characters are in college. It’s fun to see a new drama where the main leads are in that gray area between carefree youth and full-blown adulthood (which you’ll quickly see is a recurring theme in the drama).

And wherever you live in the world, you’re probably going to get some serious weather-envy.

Well, there you have it. At A Distance, Spring Is Green is such a solid drama overall. The acting is excellent (Ji Hoon’s performance is particularly notable because a number of his scenes have been tough), the story is engaging, and the cinematography is super pretty. I’d encourage anyone to add it to their watch-list immediately.

Currently watching: Mine, At A Distance, Spring Is Green

To stay updated, simply follow my blog to receive an email every time I post. And/or you can follow me on Twitter at @kaylamuses where I tweet every post I publish (as well some of my extra thoughts here and there in between blog postings).

Photos from MyDramaList and the drama’s website

When Less Is Truly More: ‘Move To Heaven’ And ‘Navillera’ Prove The Best Stories Are Simple

*This post is spoiler-free for both dramas.*

Quick caveat: I use the word “simple” several times in this post (and in the title, of course), so allow me to define it by the standards with which I am using it. By “simple,” I mean “not complicated.” I am not inferring, by any means, that these dramas are of poor quality, writing or otherwise. Quite the opposite, in fact. No, “simple” is good. And I’ll tell you why.

Ultimately, Move To Heaven and Navillera are simple stories with straightforward plots. There are no forbidden loves or birth secrets, no intricately interwoven webs of deception or melodramatic tales of a rags-to-riches protagonist. In fact, neither drama even has romance as a main plotline. Yet, I adored both dramas immensely. And I’m not the only one — tons of viewers globally are freaking loving them. Naturally, this got me thinking: why are these modest stories garnering so much worldwide attention?

Allow me to clarify that I’m not asking “Why?” because I don’t think they deserve praise or recognition — on the contrary, I think both dramas deserve all the attention they’re getting and more. Rather, I’m questioning their success in light of our current world. Cynicism aside, I think it’s undeniable that so many things in this world are complex — and I think media in general strives to meet those attention-grabbing standards with the likes of intersecting timelines, criminal masterminds, serial killers, melodrama, etc. The louder, crazier, more twisted and colorful, the better. And while all of these things have their time and place in movies and on television (because believe me, I love a good crime/mystery drama as much as the next person), it’s just plain refreshing and renewing to watch something without all of that once in a while.

Let’s take a brief look at Move To Heaven; I was struck almost instantly by how incredibly predictable this drama is. Nearly nothing about it surprised or shocked me. I don’t say that to diss it, but as an observation that fascinated me because — despite the lack of shock and awe — I was absolutely hooked. Which, of course, caused me to wonder why I loved it so much. Hence, this post.

Same goes for Navillera. I wouldn’t call it predictable, as I just did with Move To Heaven. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the ending. However, I found myself asking the same question because, when asked to describe the drama, I said, “It’s about a 70-year-old man who begins learning ballet…”. That’s it; that’s the bare bones. Now, I have issues with concision (read: I talk way too much), especially in regards to Asian dramas. (Hence, this blog, in all honesty.) So, the fact that I was able to give a short answer when asked what Navillera is about slightly astounded me. And, once again, I found myself wondering why I was so wholly invested in such a simple story.

I think I wrote this post for myself. I needed to figure out what it was about these stories that struck me to the core so unapologetically. The answer?

Move To Heaven and Navillera reminded me of the things in life that are truly meaningful: family, love, friendship. Human relationships. People growing, developing, failing, learning, and overcoming personal demons. People living life.

I don’t always need to watch murder mysteries or melodramas to feel invested. Once in a while, I may need to take a step back from all that and remember that sometimes the simple things in life are the most valuable, the most beautiful. Sometimes less is truly more.

As far as dramas go, Move To Heaven and Navillera can really ground you if you let them. They’ll also likely make you ugly-cry. At least, that’s what my friend said… .

As always, thank you for reading and happy drama-watching!

Currently watching: Mine, Law School

Next on my watch-list: Imitation

To stay updated, simply follow my blog to receive an email every time I post. And/or you can follow me on Twitter at @kaylamuses where I tweet every post I publish (as well some of my extra thoughts here and there in between blog postings).

The Color Of Depression: How This Thai Drama Uses Color To Depict A Teenager’s Struggle With Mental Health

Project S: Skate Our Souls (hereby known in this post as S.O.S.) is a 2017 Thai drama which presents a poignant story of one teenager’s struggle with mental health and the stigma attached to it.

S.O.S. is a solid drama overall. The acting is top-notch, the story is bold, and the cinematography is captivating. This last point struck a chord with me while watching because of the unique, very purposeful way colors are used throughout the drama. So, this is what we’ll be taking a look at today — specifically, how the creators of S.O.S. use color to visually present the protagonist’s inner thoughts and feelings.

A few quick disclaimers/warnings:

  1. TW (trigger warning) // self-harm, suicide: S.O.S. deals with depression, showing self-harm and suicide attempts. I won’t be delving into these topics in this post, but I want to warn anyone who hasn’t seen the drama yet but is interested in checking it out.
  2. This post is not a comment on the drama’s depiction of depression in Thai society. I am not qualified to comment on such a matter, although I’d be interested to hear what others have to say on the subject.
  3. This post is composed of my own, personal interpretations and opinions — I’m only sharing what I take the color usage to symbolize.

Before getting into the color aspect of it all, I want to quickly mention two other methods of filming I found fascinating: the wide-angle lens and the underwater effect. Though used only a handful of times, the two very intentional choices — though unconventional — aid in translating Boo’s feelings of overwhelm and hopelessness to viewers. It’s ingenious and effective, lending even more relatability to his struggles.

All right, let’s talk about color usage! Boo (played brilliantly by James Teeradon Supapunpinyo) is a depressed high-school boy who finds joy in skateboarding, though his father (Tom Phollawat Manuprasert) forbids him from it. Our very average protagonist can often be found in either his school uniform (which of course blends in rather than stands out) or in a plain T-shirt and shorts. His natural hair is a short, slightly grown-out buzzcut. Nothing about him stands out color-wise. Things around him do, however.

Everything in his home, for instance, is a sickly shade of green or blue, and sometimes yellow-orange.

A home should be a place of comfort and safety, but the cold color palette of Boo’s home is a visual juxtaposition of those qualities. They embody what Boo actually seems to feel at home — anxiety, sickness, discomfort, depression. (Remember, I’m speculating.)

The only notable exception to the general color scheme of his home is the painting behind the kitchen table, where Boo often sits.

This chaotic vortex of color is only visible behind Boo when he is sitting at the table, which is where he and his father have nearly all of their interactions early on in the drama. And what topic do they discuss at the kitchen table? Boo’s grades — a significant source for his feelings of insecurity and failure. He himself states later on that he feels he will never be able to achieve the academic bar his dad has set for him. All of the colors likely represent his feelings of overwhelm, confusion, chaos, and perhaps some anger and resentment deep down. Again, this is my interpretation.

Spoiler alert!

The only scene where that painting is shown in any other setting besides behind Boo is at the very end, when he and his father are shown facing the chaotic mass of colors together, Dad’s arm around Boo’s shoulders as he helps him with homework. His father has learned to accept Boo for who he is and does his best to further understand and support him. The painting is no longer a backdrop for Boo to sit and listen as his father talks to him; now it is in front of both of them as they face it (struggles, Boo’s depression, whatever “it” is) together. I’d include a picture, but that’s harder to hide spoiler-wise, so check out the cool moment at the end of the very last episode (episode 8).

End of spoiler!

Bell (Pat Chayanit Chansangavej) is a therapist intern who takes Boo under her wing. She, like Boo himself, keeps her hair its natural color and is always in muted, plain-colored clothes. The significance of her physical appearance in regards to hair and clothes could be in that she’s the only person Boo feels like is on “his side”; he might see her as an ally, especially because she understands depression while the others in Boo’s life don’t. She is always on Boo’s team and ends up sacrificing a lot to help him in the way she believes is best. (I’m sure not everyone would agree that what she does is the correct way to go about things, but this post isn’t a comment on that.)

In contrast with Bell and Boo are Simon (Toni Rakkaen) and Fern (Praew Narupornkamol Chaisang), the brother-sister duo who bring Boo into their group of skater friends and introduce him to the world and culture of skateboarding. Both wear loud, bright clothes and sport bold, neon hair colors.

Through Boo’s eyes, the two embody everything he desperately wants in life. They’re free to skateboard; he’s not allowed to. They’re happy-go-lucky and carefree; he suffers from depression. They come from a loving, warm, and understanding family; he doesn’t seem to feel loved at home (at least, not for the majority of the drama). The contrast in their physical appearances with his is a visual way of setting Simon and Fern apart from Boo, who very likely feels they’re from a different world than he is.

A key moment that backs up this interpretation is when Boo dresses up as Simon to make the big jump. I won’t go into more details for the sake of less spoilers, but it’s an iconic moment in the drama — and the symbolism in Boo donning Simon’s signature jacket and hat to very literally take a flying leap out of his comfort zone should not be lost on viewers.

Before concluding, I’d be remiss if I did not take a moment to pause and praise James’ performance: it’s absolutely spellbinding. He clearly knew the weight of the subject being tackled and how painfully relatable it would be to certain viewers — and his delivery does the difficult subject matter justice. He is incredibly convincing as Boo. After watching this drama (especially after having seen him as very different characters in other dramas), I’m convinced he’s one of the most talented actors currently out there.

To hear James share more about the role and how his struggles even after shooting ended, check out this interview:

If I went over every use of color symbolism, this would be an outrageously long post. So I’ll leave things here for now. I just wanted to share my perspective with you, my readers. I hope you found something new and/or interesting in this post — and if you found something you disagree with or would like to add anything, don’t hesitate to comment below and join in the conversation!

As always, thank you for reading and happy drama-watching!

Currently watching: Mine, Law School, Navillera

Next on my watch-list: Imitation

To stay updated, simply follow my blog to receive an email every time I post. And/or you can follow me on Twitter at @kaylamuses where I tweet every post I publish (as well some of my extra thoughts here and there in between blog postings).

Why ‘Law School’ Is The Drama I’ve Been Waiting For

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, Law School is very possibly the K-drama I’ve been waiting for. For my entire life. Allow me to sort through my thoughts on it because so far, I’m completely on board. In fact, if I have any reservations at this point, it’s only in the form of desperately hoping this drama stays as good as it’s starting off.

Keep reading to find out what I love so far — and what I would caution viewers to be wary of.

What to look forward to:

The story wastes no time getting started. We find ourselves in the midst of a mock trial, where an actual murder takes place during the allotted break time. You mean we get to the interesting part right away? Sign me up.

The characters are immediately fascinating. I won’t name names but lately I’ve dropped several dramas (that appeared very interesting initially) because I was simply unable to invest in the bland characters. It doesn’t matter how clever a story might be; if you have no characters to empathize with, root for, or at least be fascinated in, the drama won’t be worth watching (in my humble opinion). So far, these characters’ subtle glances and gestures draw the viewer in right away — and in mere minutes, I found myself both interested and invested in characters I know next to nothing about.

The mystery is far more complex than it initially appears. What starts as a classic whodunit quickly spirals into an intriguing web of deception and secrets. And it seems like nearly everyone has something to hide.

The leading lady is both humorously relatable and intelligent. I’ve only ever seen Ryu Hye Young in Reply 1988, but that was enough for me to know she has excellent comedic timing — something she brings to this role in a subtle, down-to-earth way. But we know it won’t only be giggles and grins when it comes to Kang Sol; she’s putting herself through law school for a very personal reason and something tells me this girl won’t stop until justice (in her eyes) is served.

The soundtrack is phenomenal. I don’t usually get too enthusiastic about soundtracks, but this music is incredibly gorgeous (and haunting). It’s used tactfully, supporting scenes properly rather than distracting from them.

The cast is stellar. If you’ve been watching K-dramas for any length of time, you’ll likely notice several extremely talented and familiar faces right off the bat (Lee David, Ryu Hye Young, and Kim Beom, to name only a few). Those you don’t recognize will quickly grab your attention. Everyone is doing a phenomenal job in the mere four episodes out, which makes me all the more excited for what’s to come!

A word of caution:

The time hops require careful following. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that I often have to pay extra close attention when a drama involves several timelines. Please don’t let this deter you from watching; the different timelines (which are really just large flashbacks) are well-done and are no doubt presented as clearly as the production team deemed possible. They’re also absolutely necessary for the story. And once you get into the swing of it, they’re not difficult to follow. But if this kind of thing is typically harder for you to keep track of (again, maybe it’s just me!), I’d suggest simply going into the drama expecting it and you’ll be fine.

(Update as of 05/12/2021: These time hops/flashbacks really only occur heavily in the first episode or two. It’s not something that continues consistently as the drama airs. I just thought that was worth noting.)

If it seems like I’m grasping for straws with the “timelines” thing, it’s because I am. I simply don’t have anything truly negative to say about the drama yet. And like I said in the beginning of this post, I’m hoping beyond hope that it remains that way. Because right now, Law School is the most interesting drama I’ve watched in a long, long time.

In short, if you’re on the hunt for a new drama in which to fully invest your time and soul — er, I mean just your time — then I highly suggest giving Law School a shot. Unless you hate interesting stories, you likely won’t be disappointed.

Follow my blog to receive an email every time I post. And/or you can follow me on Twitter at @kaylamuses where I tweet every post I publish (as well some of my extra thoughts here and there in between blog postings). As always, thank you for reading — and happy drama-watching!

A ‘Derailed’ Review No One Asked For

Thanks to SHINee’s recent comeback, I found myself recalling a movie starring Minho that I watched several years ago. And rather than write about a currently-airing drama like a sensible person, I’ve decided to metaphorically pen this wholesomely unasked-for review of Derailed (2016).

Let’s start with some things I love about the film:

The story is unique and intriguing from start to finish.

The movie’s concept is refreshingly unique; I can’t say I’ve seen any other film with this exact story structure. Minho stars as Jin Il, a young runaway who lives on the streets with Ga Young (Jung Da Eun) and two other close friends. One day, the kids decide to pull a love motel scheme: Ga Young will agree to meet with a man in a motel, but the rest of the gang will burst in and rob him before anything can happen. Their plan is foiled, however, when their first victim, Hyung Seok (Ma Dong Seok), ends up holding Ga Young hostage…and believe it or not, that’s really only the beginning of our story.

left to right: Baek Soo Min, Jung Da Eun, Choi Min Ho (Minho), and Lee You Jin

Each individual’s performance is outstanding.

Every single actor/actress in this film blew me away with their performance. Realistic, believable characters saturate a storyline that calls for powerful acting. Minho completely sheds his clean-cut idol image for the grime and bruises of his character. But anyone can have their outward appearance altered. And that’s where Minho really knocks it out of the park. The way he physically and emotionally embodies someone thrust into such desperate, frightening, and dark situations is simultaneously heartbreaking and incredible to watch. He doesn’t hold back — and deserves a lot of props for this role.

Jung Da Eun plays Ga Young, and — like Minho — completely sheds her idol image for this role. The fatigue, hunger, and terror Ga Young feels throughout the film is palpable. Jung Da Eun fully embraces the essence of Ga Young, reacting how I imagine any young girl might react under the harsh circumstances the character has been through (and continues to go through). Da Eun’s talent as an actress absolutely shines in this film. It’s a gut-wrenching performance, yet understated (which makes it all the more believable). The fact that this was her first movie role completely blows my mind.

And of course the legendary Ma Dong Seok is one of the film’s especially bright highlights. Rather than a one-dimensional plot device, the character of Hyung Suk is written with surprisingly relatable depth. He’s caught between a rock and a hard place, and the viewer gets to see why he makes the decisions he does (be they good or bad…usually bad). He’s an antagonist with development, which Ma Dong Seok executes flawlessly.

I’ll leave it at these three for now, but everyone does an outstanding job. Check out the rest of the cast to find some more familiar (and perhaps not-so-familiar) talented faces. For example, this film contains one of actor Kim Jae Young‘s earliest roles…and, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a doozy (as in, really intense).

The police are useful and actually listen to the kids.

The Useless Police is one of my biggest film trope pet peeves. It’s refreshing to see on-screen policemen who actually use their brains and do their job. Imagine that. No, the police do not magically show up at the end of the day to save everyone (unfortunately), but they’re also not bumbling idiots. Nor are they stubborn jerks who blindly disregard anything non-adults have to say. The police garner trust with our main protagonists because they treat the youth like human beings and listen to what they have to say. It’s a solid writing choice for the story’s progression to have at least someone the kids can rely on when they need an ally.

The movie is gritty without trying too hard to be.

The header essentially says it all. I appreciate that Derailed portrays dark and dangerous (but — tragically — very realistic) aspects of society in an honest way, without coming across as angsty or preachy.

Now for a couple things I don’t love about the film:

The violence can be a bit much.

While I don’t like gore, violence in films usually doesn’t bug me too much. But Derailed can be downright difficult to watch at times. If Hyung Suk isn’t beating up Jin Il, then he’s beating up the other antagonist — who, in turn, is either beating up someone else, or getting his goons to. Yes, it adds to the gritty realism the entire film vibes with, so I understand why the violence is there — but I believe the amount of slapping, punching, and general beating is often needlessly excessive and could have been toned down significantly without compromising the integrity of the film. A personal preference, certainly, but one I thought warranted mentioning.

Spoilers for the end of the movie ahead!

The end.

I thought killing off Jin Il was needless. These poor kids have been through such atrocities and Jin Il has already sacrificed so much for Ga Young (and vice versa, for that matter). We fully understand that he loves her and would do anything for her; that point did not need to be driven home any more. But alas, no one consulted me when writing the end of the film.

End of spoilers!

What’s your favorite Minho role? What about Jung Da Eun? I think she’s stellar in Mr. Temporary, which also happens to be one of my favorite dramas of all time. Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below.

Follow my blog to receive an email every time I post. And/or you can follow me on Twitter at @kaylamuses where I tweet every post I publish (as well some of my extra thoughts here and there in between blog postings).

As always, thank you for reading! Until next time.

‘Karamazov No Kyodai’ Review: Rock ‘n’ Roll Meets Dostoyevsky In Japan’s Retelling Of The Grim Russian Tale

Karamazov No Kyodai tells a tale of three brothers who are suddenly summoned to their childhood home that holds nothing but painful memories. When their father is murdered in cold blood, the three of them fall under suspicion.

I hesitated before beginning this one because of one reason — I haven’t read the book it is based off of: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Because I haven’t read the book, I thought it likely that I would neither enjoy nor understand the drama. And while I’m sure readers of the novel are able to pick up on details the rest of us inevitably miss, I assure you I both understood and enjoyed the drama thoroughly. In fact, I binged this one. And contrary to what seems is the case with most drama-watchers, I don’t often actually binge dramas.

(Incidentally, from what I’ve read online, those who have read the book are saying the drama follows the heart of the story very accurately and is a well-done adaptation.)

the Kurosawa patriarch
the Kurosawa brothers

The titular three brothers have a deep bond forged from years of abuse at the hands of their cruel father, Kurosawa Bunzo (Kotaro Yoshida). Each brother has grown up and dealt with the oppression and various forms of abuse in different ways. And they are all incredibly layered characters. The drama explores the brothers’ psyches while steadily unravelling the mystery surrounding their father’s murder. If you relish character development (who doesn’t?), you must check out this masterpiece; you will not be disappointed.

Takumi Saitoh as Mitsuru

Eldest Mitsuru (Takumi Saitoh) is wasting his life away on women and alcohol while trying to evade money troubles. He knows this lifestyle is irresponsible, but has been told since birth that he’s stupid, useless, and will never amount to anything — something he sadly seems to believe. He is outspoken and is the least afraid of standing up to Dad, especially if it’s to protect those he loves. Despite his devil-may-care exterior, he does his best to be a good older brother to his younger siblings.

Hayato Ichihara as Isao

Middle brother Isao (Hayato Ichihara) channels all of his fierce intensity into his law career. He initially comes off as stoic, but that’s only because he guards his emotions with rigid self-control. Rather than acting out of his hurt and anger, Isao writes his suppressed, subconscious emotions down in the form of a violently graphic novel. He’s the hardest to figure out among the brothers — but then, years and years of built-up walls don’t crack so easily.

Kento Hayashi as Ryo

Youngest brother Ryo (Kento Hayashi) is pursuing his education in the field of psychology. He’s soft-spoken, kind-hearted, and a refreshing breath of truth and purity in a story full of evil, toxic words and actions. Regardless of his sweet persona, Ryo — just like his brothers — knows what it is to feel overwhelming anger at his father.

I’ll wrap this up with a nod to the excellent soundtrack. The likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones mixes superbly with the gloomy modern Japanese cinematography — a blend I didn’t know my life lacked until watching Karamazov No Kyodai.

*A fun little fact for fellow Russian-speakers: the drama’s opening sequence has the title written in its original Russian title (Братья Карамазовы).

As always, thank you for reading and happy viewing!

If you’d like to get an email notification every time I post, just hit the “Follow” button. And/or you can follow me on Twitter at @kaylamuses where I tweet every post I publish as well some of my extra thoughts here and there in between blog postings.

Mini Review: Silly Sibling Rivalry Masks Deeper Family Issues In ‘Take My Brother Away’

Netflix’s binge-able Mainland Chinese drama Take My Brother Away (2018) tells the story of two squabbling siblings as they navigate school, friendship, and family through the oft-bewildering lens of adolescence.

Shi Fen (Joseph Zeng) and Shi Miao (Sun Qian) are brother and sister who live with their well-meaning and loving — but alcoholic — father. Although the siblings bicker constantly, they genuinely care about each other and look out for one another. The drama follows their everyday lives at home, at school, and everywhere in between.

One of the things that stands out about Take My Brother Away is how genuinely funny it is. No matter how many times I watch it — the rewatch value for this one is high — it never fails to make me laugh. This might partly be because the story is a manhua-turned-anime-turned-drama and incorporates some of the outrageous, unrealistic elements we might see in a comic or an anime into real-life scenarios (without coming across as obnoxious).

While the humor and timing are thoroughly enjoyable, the drama succeeds in balancing the fun and silliness with far heavier themes sprinkled throughout — mostly in the form of family issues Shi Fen and Shi Miao have to face as they deal with their dad’s drinking and irresponsibility as well as with the absence of their mother. These more serious moments are given an appropriate amount of poignancy while the drama as a whole remains an easy, light-hearted watch.

Random things that I love about the drama (but that don’t necessarily warrant an entire paragraph of their own) are the episodes’ opening sequence and the music used throughout. Each feature matches the rest of the drama — upbeat, catchy, and fun.

As always, thank you for reading and happy viewing!

If you’d like to get an email notification every time I post, just hit the “Follow” button. And/or you can follow me on Twitter at @kaylamuses where I tweet every post I publish as well some of my extra thoughts here and there in between blog postings.

Drama Battle: ‘Penthouse’ vs. ‘SKY Castle’ (*Updated*)

*Update as of 6/6/2021: I wrote this post when Penthouse had just begun airing. Some viewers were comparing it (in a negative light) to SKY Castle, so I thought I’d go ahead and write objectively about the similarities and the differences between the dramas. This post is not an in-depth analysis of the two dramas, a fact I find pertinent to disclaim since Penthouse is now already on its third season. Incidentally, if you’re interested on hearing my opinion of Penthouse as it continued airing, simply click here.

I have to begin by saying that those who are not even giving Penthouse a shot just because it has a lot (truly a lot) of similarities to SKY Castle are sorely missing out. If you liked SKY Castle, wouldn’t you want to watch something with the same vibes? If you’re purely not interested in the drama, by all means, drop it. But if the only reason you’re not watching it is because of peoples’ comments saying it’s a SKY Castle copycat or whatever, I’d encourage you to still give it a shot. I confess I almost dropped it after watching a few minutes’ worth and seeing the similarities. But I decided to dismiss SKY Castle from my mind and give Penthouse a fighting chance. And you know what? I’m glad I did.

It’s not my new favorite drama or anything, but I’m sincerely enjoying Penthouse as its own cinematic piece. In fact, check out my review of its first two episodes if you’d like to see more of my thoughts on it.

Also, just for the record, I’m not Team SKY Castle or Team Penthouse. I like both, and I aim to keep this comparison post objective and fun.

Hopefully Penthouse can come out from under the shadow of SKY Castle someday; for now, let’s look at the two dramas when stacked side by side. Just for giggles and grins.

Warning: If you haven’t watched SKY Castle or Penthouse: War In Life, not only will you probably not enjoy this post to its fullest, but be warned there are spoilers for both dramas ahead — especially the fully-aired SKY Castle (as opposed to Penthouse, which only has four episodes out at this point).

Starting off with similarities (buckle your seatbelts):

The good ole boys’ club

Let’s start off with the most obvious, which is that both dramas have an elite, exclusive group that most of our characters belong to. Both groups are filthy rich, entitled, and snobby (with a couple of exceptions, but that’s something that exists in both dramas as well).

the adults of ‘SKY Castle’
the adults of ‘Penthouse: War In Life’

The twins

One set sweet; one set cruel. Both have daddy issues.

‘SKY Castle’ twins:
Cha Ki Joon (Jo Byeong Gyu) and Cha Seo Joon (Kim Dong Hee)
‘Penthouse’ twins:
Joo Seok Hoon (Kim Young Dae) and Joo Seok Kyung (Han Ji Hyun)

The poor girl who bests all the other teens and ends up dying under suspicious circumstances

In one case, it’s schoolwork — and in the other, it’s classical singing. Either way, both girls beat out their financially wealthy peers whose families are well-connected. Neither girl comes from wealth or power, and both actually end up tutoring in the richer families as well. Kim Bo Ra’s character is much more well-liked by the other teens in general, however, while Jo Soo Min’s character is despised by the others.

Kim Bo Ra as Kim Hye Na in ‘SKY Castle’
Jo Soo Min as Min Seol A in ‘Penthouse’

How they die is also comparable: both girls fall from a great height either into or next to a fountain. Both deaths initially seem like suicides, but deeper investigation proves otherwise.

The two women who knew each other as children and reconnect as adults

And neither pair got along when they were kids either.

Han Seo Jin (Yum Jung Ah) and Lee Soo Im (Lee Tae Ran) in ‘SKY Castle’
Oh Yoon Hee (Eugene) and Cheon Seo Jin (Kim So Yeon) in ‘Penthouse’

The birth secrets

I ask you: can a true drama even exist without at least one birth secret? SKY Castle and Penthouse don’t seem to think so.

Kim Byung Chul as Cha Min Hyuk

And in order to keep those secrets truly secret, I won’t even include pictures here. Because I know there’s someone out there who ignores spoiler warnings. Mwahaha.

The loud, flamboyant mom

Who sometimes provides comic relief, but other times provides the need for an Aspirin.

Oh Na Ra as Jin Jin Hee in ‘SKY Castle’
Shin Eun Kyung as Kang Ma Ri in ‘Penthouse’

The overarching theme of motherhood

While both dramas revolve around families and include mothers, fathers, and children — both also specifically zone in on the relationships between a mother and her child(ren). Every adult female character in both Penthouse and SKY Castle is either a biological mom or a stepmom (each one has stepmothers represented). Both dramas explore what caring for one’s child looks like and — just as significantly — what crossing the line looks like as well, even when a mother thinks she has her kid’s best interests at heart.

Kim Jung Nan as Lee Myung Joo in ‘SKY Castle’

Now for some key differences between the two:

  1. To my recollection, SKY Castle doesn’t have anyone cheating on anyone. Not so with Penthouse, where a pivotal plot point involves two married individuals being caught in an extramarital tryst on camera in the titular penthouse.
  2. In SKY Castle, the “good” adults are ones that come from the outside and move into the neighborhood where all our main characters live. In contrast, Penthouse‘s “good” adult is a woman who is already in the exclusive inner circle, not someone who comes from the outside (though let’s wait and see what happens with Yoon Hee because I’m wondering where the drama is going with her).
  3. In general, I think the characters of Penthouse are worse than those of SKY Castle. There’s no middle ground with them; most seem super evil and manipulative. On that note, Penthouse seems to generally be much more of a soap opera/melodrama than SKY Castle, which tends a lot more towards realism (at least, as far as K-dramas go).
  4. The overall theme of SKY Castle — and one reason it was such a success — revolves around the cutthroat methods used by the parents to ensure their children’s “success,” specifically in the realm of education. This drives the entire plot and storyline of SKY Castle. While the parents of Penthouse are certainly concerned about their kids’ images, the drama has a wider scope of storylines driving the action (i.e. the illicit affair between two of the parents, the birth secret I mentioned above, or the classical singing aspect — to name only a few). Rising to the top and staying there by whatever means necessary isn’t the core of Penthouse, as it is in SKY Castle.

Of course I can’t write a 100% complete comparison yet because Penthouse: War In Life has only just begun airing. But, so far, these are the major differences and similarities that strike me. Please feel free to comment your thoughts below! Do you agree that Penthouse should be given a shot as its own drama or do you think it’s a copy of SKY Castle? All thoughts are welcome. And of course, if you think I forgot something that should be listed in either the similarities or differences, please let me know in the comments!

If I’ve learned one thing from writing this, it’s that I want to re-watch SKY Castle again.

As always, thank you for reading and happy viewing!

And if you want another interesting read, be sure to check out my most recent post about the unique presentation of domestic abuse in the recent K-drama, At A Distance, Spring Is Green.

Would you rather listen? Check out my podcast: i dream of dramas

Or, you can follow my blog, Twitter, or Instagram accounts (also linked in my bio) to stay updated and also get some extra thoughts of mine that don’t necessarily always make it into my blog.

New ‘SKY Castle’?: ‘Penthouse’ Episodes 1 & 2 Review

While this post is not a Penthouse vs. SKY Castle discussion, a short address of the topic seems inevitable. (Check out my most recent post where I compare the two dramas right here!) So, I’ll do my best to be concise and we can get on with the review. Yes, the two dramas share quite a number of similarities and the vibes are certainly comparable, but they are two different dramas. I advise viewers to give Penthouse: War In Life the space it deserves to make its own impression. I guarantee you’ll find it stands just fine on its own.

Enough said. I am 100% hopelessly hooked on Penthouse and can’t wait any longer to talk about it. So let’s dive right in with my thoughts and observations on its premiere episodes.

Warning: spoilers for episodes 1 and 2 of Penthouse lay ahead.

These two are back together and I’m so here for it.

One of my favorite things already is that Yoon Jong Hoon and Bong Tae Gyu reunite in this drama — once again playing filthy rich men, á la Return (though these characters are different…fans of Return should definitely watch them in this as well). Their chemistry is ever brilliant — and though I wouldn’t call them the comedy relief (both characters are downright unsettling…as is basically everyone in this drama), I find myself chuckling at their interactions with each other. In retrospect, I’m realizing how telling it is of the drama’s dark nature when the only semblance of comic relief revolves around two creeps who aren’t even comedic characters… .

Love it.

The twins are the most intriguing characters so far.

And that’s saying a lot because this cast is full of interesting characters. However, twin siblings Joo Seok Hoon (Kim Young Dae) and Joo Seok Kyung (Han Ji Hyun) are the most fascinating to watch unravel. They’re nasty, conniving, and most will probably find them incredibly unlikable. But these two are utterly, utterly wretched and pitiful. It would be easy to feel sorry for them if they weren’t such punks (which is not to say that I don’t feel sorry for them — I do). But that’s part of the fascination: the complexity of these roles. I don’t know how things will end up for our twins, but so far their choices are proving they have a long way to go towards redemption…if they’ll get any at all.

Seok Kyung is outspoken and cruel. Her twin brother Seok Hoon is quieter than she — and I was actually expecting him to be an ally to our main teenage protagonist. After all, he isn’t outright verbally abusive to her like his sister is. However, we see at the end of episode 2 that Seok Hoon has the same mean streak Seok Kyung does. The only thing more unsettling than her penchant for cruelty is his ability to hide his own.

Now for the million-dollar question: can we fully blame them? Everyone has the power to choose how they act, sure. But the line between Nurture and Nature is not always crystal clear. Sometimes people are more a product of their environment than we initially realize — especially if all seems well on the outside. Cushy and rich don’t necessarily equal happy and functional, though. In a particularly weighty scene, we find out that their dad physically abuses them. (He even has a secret room in his study where he beats them. It’s horrifying.) Oh, and Stepmom (who is one of the only good characters so far) has no idea.

Despite their terrible behavior to everyone else, I find the brother-sister relationship between these two touching. Although Seok Kyung was the one who got in trouble in the abovementioned scene, Seok Hoon takes the beating for his sister so that she doesn’t get hurt. Later, when she’s dressing his wounds, he tells her that he’ll always protect her while she tearfully clings to him and says she’s sorry.

As in all instances where there is a villain in a drama, the handling of that villain’s backstory speaks volumes as to the drama’s quality. Thus, it is to its credit that Penthouse doesn’t use these brutally sober scenes to shove desired emotions down viewers’ throats. Instead, the scenes are tactfully allowed to play out how they might in real life: as a viewer, it does not feel like a show put on for my viewing experience, but rather as though I’m intruding on painful moments in these kids’ lives. The scenes are not emotional beacons, but tools that further tell the twins’ story — and that of Penthouse.

The protagonists are underwhelming at this point…except one.

This might be because I usually like watching antagonistic characters better anyways, but so far I’m not super invested in the main protagonists, with one exception.

I really like Shim Su Ryeon (Lee Ji Ah), the stepmother of our above-mentioned twins. How she ended up with their sadistic father, I have no clue. (And she doesn’t even know the half of it.) Maybe we’ll find out how the two came together later on, but so far we’ve seen that he’s able to mask his true nature when he wants to…the key phrase here being “when he wants to.” (By the way, Uhm Ki Joon is tackling this difficult role — of father and husband Joo Dan Tae — with incredible dexterity and I’m so impressed with his acting ability. How he can look so tame and kind and yet be such a believably violent creep is absolutely terrifying.) Contrary to her husband, however, Su Ryeon is kind and caring. She also has a biological daughter in the mix who seemingly has been a vegetable in the hospital for 16 years. Su Ryeon is so far the only good one in all of our penthouse residents. It’s nice to know we have someone we can trust on the inside.

Now, to the protagonists I’m not necessarily loving at the moment (but I don’t flat-out dislike either):

Min Seol A (Jo Soo Min) is a poor highschool girl who charaded as a college student so that she could get paid to tutor the teens of the penthouse. She’s found out, however, and obviously loses her position. But she stays in the game when we find out that she won first place in the classical singing audition for this prestigious arts school all the kids are trying to get into. Which of course only makes them hate her more than they already do.

I can’t put my finger on why, but I don’t really like this character much so far. She seems extremely mousy and submissive at all the wrong times. At first I thought she’d be the type to stand up for herself, especially when she jousts verbally with the intimidating and quick-witted Seok Kyung. But Seol A’s really letting these nasty people walk all over her right now and I wish she wouldn’t. Of course, it could be that she’s biding her time until she reveals the hidden ace she has — the incriminating video she took of two married (to other people) members of the penthouse kissing passionately.

I’d say mom and daughter team Oh Yoon Hee (Eugene) and Bae Ro Na (Kim Hyun Soo) wrap up our protagonists. The major reason I’m not too fond of them is because so far their roles revolve completely around the classical singing aspect; I’ll get into that more in a second, but let’s just say it isn’t my favorite element of the drama.

We know Yoon Hee has a bad history with a particular member of the penthouse, esteemed vocal coach Cheon Seo Jin, played by Kim So Yeon. Yoon Hee’s daughter, Ro Na, auditions for the prestigious arts school I was talking about and guess who one of the judges is? Seo Jin — who of course makes sure Ro Na doesn’t get in. Somehow, I doubt Yoon Hee is going to let that slide.

The lip-syncing is — well, it’s a thing.

A rather large plotpoint is that several of these kids are training to be classical singers, and the lip-syncing is…okay. It’s not so awful that I can’t watch. But it’s not fully believable either. So far I think young acting veteran Kim Hyun Soo is doing the best with it. At least it looks like she’s really singing, even if the voice that’s supposedly coming out of her doesn’t necessarily sound like her own. Squinting kinda helps. But the slight cringe is still there.

I’m not trying to bash anyone involved in the making of this drama. I can’t imagine how much work goes into syncing voices with mouth movements, not to mention making it look like you’re actually singing an incredibly difficult aria when you’re not.

The story’s build-up is intense & I’m loving the thrill.

The very beginning of the drama kicks off with an extremely unexpected death. This poignant sequence sets the tone of the entire drama right off the bat: it’s a world full of ritz and glamor on the surface, but penetrated with extreme darkness. The drama then goes back a couple months to begin its story. And thus far, no one has died — but I feel as though that won’t be the case for much longer. There’s way too much going on and there are way too many evil characters.

It’s time to wrap this up, so I’ll end by saying that despite some of the things I’m not terribly fond of (i.e. the whole lip-syncing thing and a couple of the protagonists), I’m completely invested in this drama. It is overwhelmingly more of a positive viewing experience for me. The acting is phenomenal, the story is well-written and unpredictable, and the characters are captivating. We’re also given hints here and there that there are a lot of secrets to come to light, which I can’t wait for.

I love Penthouse: War In Life and can’t wait to see where it’s going. And I definitely recommend giving it a watch.

Until next time, dear readers!

Happy watching.

If you’d like to get an email notification every time I post, just hit the “Follow” button. And/or you can follow me on Twitter at @kaylamuses where I tweet every post I publish as well some of my extra thoughts here and there in between blog postings.