What We’re Watching – 8/24/11
Not only am I a big Korean drama fan, I really, really like the goofy romantic comedies. Korean humor can be a little slapsticky for me, so it can be hard for me to find the exact blend of romance/comedy/drama/fancy boy haircuts that I am looking for. It used to be difficult to find Korean dramas in the States, which was annoying, but there are a lot more viewing options these days: Netflix, Hulu, Dramafever, and Crunchyroll are all good places to start for streaming content. If you are a total newbie, a classic like Coffee Prince is a good introduction.
My Princess is a very new drama (2011) that I am five episodes into. Most Korean dramas are around 10 to 25 episodes long, and can be very serious or very silly. Popular dramas are watched by a majority of Koreans and then exported across the world. This particular drama is about a regular girl who discovers that she is the last descendant of the Korean imperial family, and the grandson of a man who wants to give up his vast fortune to restore the monarchy in South Korea. The grandson is a member of a chaebol family and does not want to give up his privileged position. (Chaebol families are featured a lot in Korean dramas. A chaebol is a large conglomeration that is family-owned, like Samsung or LG. The members of these families are the Korean elites and make for great drama fodder.)
Our story so far: Lee Seol (Kim Tae-hee) is a college student studying under professor Nam Jung-woo. She is in love with him, but he is in love with his first love, museum director Oh Yoon-joo. She is engaged-to-be-engaged to chaebol grandson and diplomat Park Hae-young (Song Seung-hun). Hae-young and Seol keep running into each other, and they get much more involved when they figure out she is the missing imperial princess. She does not want to be princess, and he does not want to give up his lifestyle, so they join forces to prevent his grandfather from giving her all his wealth. (He did something bad in the past and needs to atone by putting her on the throne.) However, someone slanders Seol’s father, so she accepts being princess to get the power to put a stop to it. Also, museum director (and chaebol employee) Yoon-joo is plotting plotting plotting to prevent Seol from becoming princess so that she can marry Hae-young and gain control of the vast family resources. But she may really love the professor instead. It’s hard to tell. Confusing? It’s less so when you watch the show.
Ok fine. Shock Value is a book, not a movie, but it is a book about movies, so it’s fair game. Shock Value, written by Jason Zinoman, a theater critic for the New York Times, is a pretty entertaining read about the films the author thinks paved the way for modern horror: Night of the Living Dead, The Last House on the Left, Rosemary’s Baby, Dark Star, Halloween, Alien, Carrie, The Exorcist, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Each chapter or so tells the story of each film and gives some information about the director or writer. It’s pretty interesting, and I learned a few new things about how modern horror developed. It is a very light read; I finished it in an afternoon while camping. It’s only 238 pages, and while that makes a great beach read, it’s a little slight if you are looking for a more detailed story of how these films got made. I was left wanting more, which is a compliment to the author, but was frustrating for me.
There are also a few areas where I don’t buy some of Zinoman’s points. He doesn’t say much about David Cronenberg, which I think is a serious mistake when talking about the roots of modern horror, and he firmly establishes Roger Corman as being part of the old horror system. (Old horror is creaky castles and bats on strings. New horror is psychological. I can get behind that, but DO NOT TALK SMACK ABOUT VINCENT PRICE. My bias revealed.) While director Corman may have existed in the old horror zone, producer Corman is partly responsible for a lot of the of more modern films we consider great, by hiring and training their directors in early stages of their careers. (Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante being just two of his hires.) There is also this weird undercurrent in the book about what a douche John Carpenter is. Zinoman never comes out and says it himself; instead he constantly quotes Dan O’Bannon, who seemed to have very bad feelings towards Carpenter once they parted ways after their joint project Dark Star. I question Zinoman’s premise that O’Bannon was the unsung hero of horror, and I wonder what is behind the Carpenter hate. No other director, including Roman Polanski and Brian DePalma, both of whom can be quite controversial, receives this kind of underhanded bashing. It took me out of the book quite a bit, and made me wish he had just clearly stated his opinion. Even so, it’s a fun book and worth reading.