Saturday, March 28, 2009

Friday Night Lights

I really enjoyed last night's episode of Friday Night Lights, "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall". At last, Joe McCoy showed his true inner spirit and it was ugly. We knew it was coming, but somehow I didn't expect the amazing quick intensity of the blowout.

FNL is one of my all-time favorite shows. Because of the writing, because of the acting. Nothing is over written, over played, over wrought, over acted, over explained. Like the build-up to control-freak McCoy's nuclear blast. Yes, the issue of his son's girlfriend was slowly driving him batty, but it's at the football game, with the rain, his son taking the coach's orders over his, the guy next to him calling his son a dumb ass for not running with the ball — which is exactly what McCoy wants the kid to do — McCoy's dual feelings of frustration at being unable to control his own kid against the anger and humiliation he feels at the way the guy is ridiculing his son — that's the background to the simmering anger in the car, why listening to his son talking to THAT girl on the cell phone, sounding like a complete love-sick idiot, has him using his own son as a punching bag.

I loved the camera work at the football game, the quick, flat volley of shots between McCoy, his wife, and the thug next to him. If he'd been a South Park dad, he'd have had a punch-up with the thug. But, no, he's a FNL dad, so he punches his kid instead.

Last night's episode also had a nice aside: finally, we see the chinks in Eric Taylor's shining armor. He isn't perfect after all. Of course, his Achilles' heel is football. Coach Taylor, how can you lie to your wife like that? Pretending you didn't know about the new screwball redistricting plans the Boosters came up with? And Tami, your husband is such a bad liar, how could you not notice he was lying? It's this sort of complex interplay between characters that makes FNL so unusual. You have average folks who sometimes do dumb things and sometimes do smart things. It's so close to life, people wanting to do the right thing but rarely having the vision to do so, getting even more confused by false ideals of glory and that perpetual human need to escape from the daily drudgery of self.

BTW, isn't Kyle Chandler great? I've been a big fan of his ever since Homefront. What a great casting call. He's so different from Billy Bob Thornton, who played the coach in the movie version, but so perfect in his own way. Charismatic and so believable as the perfect high school coach.

To see episodes of FNL, just go to the NBC site here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Windy City Jumps the Shark

Okay, Windy City totally jumped the shark today with the whole loan shark business. The manager goes alone to a loan shark on company business? And gets beaten up? And is found by his mistress? Give me a break!

This hasn't been a great season of Korean dramas. So many started off well and went stupid or boring: My Precious You, The Iron Empress, Again My Love, Good Bye Solo. Even The Road Home has quickly become tedious and now I'm just left wondering who's going to get leukemia because someone always get leukemia in the Land of the Brain Dead Dramas (that horrible drama You Are My Destiny had two cases of leukemia!). I really had high hopes, too. But did we really need characters getting beat up by homosexual husbands and keeping pregnancies secret? And yet another rich brat? Again, My Love also seemed interesting, and then it just got hysterical, just like My Precious You. Even the acting is just too much. About five years ago, the height of bad acting in the US was that clenching of the jaw — yes, every time a character got angry, the actor clenched his or her jaws like some kind of pantomime. Now, in Korean dramas, any time a character gets angry, it's that camera shot of him or her clenching the fist into a tight little ball of fury. Don't the producers think the music is enough anymore? Because it used to be that every time someone got angry on screen, the angry music came on. Or the lust music or the sad music. Windy City is the worst offender in the music category. Like the romance between the manager and his young, pathetic subordinate isn't gross enough, they have to go and add that nauseating music on top of it. Ughhhhh!

Now my rant is over, I should mention two dramas that I think are working. Both, interestingly enough, take place in the last century, My Dad Loves Trouble and Splendor of Youth. The backdrop of My Dad Loves Trouble is the Korean War, but it's not about war at all. It's not even a drama but a comedy, about a young girl who has the most obnoxious, irresponsible dad in the world. How can you love a dad who only cares about himself, abandoning you and your family in the middle of a war so he can go off and have a good time? The girl decides you can't, until her father does something pretty splendid to regain her faith. Splendor of Youth is a drama and is much harder to encapsulate. It takes place in the 60s, in a small town, focusing on several families who are bound together by a rivalry between bus companies. Most of the central characters are young, thus the title, but the drama isn't Gossip Girl. Family is really its interest. And while there are rich girls being bratty, the characters are a tad more rounded than the typical dramas, so the stories more interesting. There's even gender exploration, girls beating up thugs, boys sewing clothes for girls. All in the 60s!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What's With the Subtitles on Windy City?

There's really nothing too remarkable about the Korean drama Windy City. It's a nice soap opera about a bunch of unhappy people becoming even more unhappy. In fact, the only thing that stands out for me is how really, really bad the English subtitles are, even for a Korean drama. I thought the subtitles at Arirang TV were bad, but nothing like what I'm seeing on Windy City.

Now, I can forgive the occasional proposition error like using "for" instead of "to". You have to be a native speaker to get the nuances of propositions. Propositions are so cultural and never make sense. But outright stuff, stuff that looks like it was spat out by some computer program, is just not right. Examples:

"She's going to hit the buyers at their 20s with the outfit."
"It was senseless of me to rain abuse."
"It still has lots of memories." (This is in reference to the memory card on a digital camera. Although, I have to admit, I thought this mistake was kinda cute.)
"We're going to take photos of yours." (For "We're going to take pictures of you.")
"You're such a counterfeit."

When things get really laughable is when Windy City tries to be hip and use slang. Like using "got" inappropriately.

"You still got a cold." (This from an elderly lady. Even senior managers end up sounding like home boys, saying things like "I got my lunch".)

My favorite was when an elderly parent called his son a prick. The insult was unintentional, let me tell you.

And the translators seem to be completely unaware of how to deal with pairs and couples. Like whenever they have to talk about a couple, they end up with something really mangled like "the Jeongmi and Wook-Hyun Seo couple" when they should have simply said, "the Seos". I mean, that has to be coming from a software program. A really bad software program.

I've never really understood why Koreans are so sloppy about subtitles and translations in general. Even products shipped to the US have the worst translations. Before the economic collapse, there was all this talk about the Korean Wave and how Korea was going to push its food and culture around the world. Well, if you can't get the small details right, like language, you're just going to end up looking like a joke. Try substance over hip, the basics over slang. It's stupid how many times I've seen Korean dramas misuse "my bad". Look, "my bad" is complete slang used by a small population of people, usually for comic effect. It is not appropriate coming out of an elderly patriarch during a sobering apology! Unless the elderly patriarch is an alien played by a muppet!

Come on, Korea! Get your act together!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Is Dollhouse This Century's Charlie's Angeles?

So I keep watching Dollhouse, hoping against hope it's going to get better, and this thought pops up: Am I the only one who's thinking Dollhouse is just Charlie's Angels with a sicko twist? You just know sooner or later, there's going to be a female prison episode with towels, showers and delousing. At least Charlie's Angels was tongue-in-cheek fun.

So is this post-post-post feminism?

BTW, just found out we already know who Alpha is without knowing who Alpha is. My bet? Paul seems to be the obvious choice. Just because he's not obvious. I mean, the show has no wit.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Asian Historical Dramas

At the moment, I'm enjoying two Asian historical dramas, the Japanese drama Tenchijin and the Korean drama The Iron Empress (these links have trailers). They're such interesting compare-and-contrasts. Both center on real historical figures, samurai Naoe Tenchijin of the Takagawa period and Empress Chun Chu of the Goryeo period. Both are so leaden with historical facts and personages that it's too hard to even remember the central characters names much less what's really going on (it doesn't help that the central characters' names keep changing). Both speed ahead pretty quickly, too, the characters going from youth to mature characters within a couple of episodes (presumably, we'll see them die [I'm still watching the early episodes]). But somehow, I think Tenchijin works better as a drama. Mostly because the story sticks pretty firmly with Tenchijin's development. The Iron Empress seems more lost, following a variety of historic people in an effort to be epic*. And it has that problem so many Korean historical dramas have, that persistent need to show endless discussions among competing factions, a clumsy way of explaining background plot which only drowns the story. If I had my way, I'd put Korean screenwriters in a room and make them watch endless hours of The Sopranos. ;)

I also wonder if Tenchijin doesn't work better because it's drawn from the novel by Masashi Hisaka. There was already a compelling construct for the scriptwriters to work with. Whereas The Iron Empress seems to have been the brain child of a director desperate for new subject matter to sacrifice at the temple of Light Entertainment. Thus a dubious attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of Empress Chun Chu. Apparently (and this is from a preview show) Chosun scholars liked to portray Chun Chu as a greedy, lascivious bitch (she had one long-term lover, for god's sake [and only after her husband had died]). But that's Chosun men for you, with their silly Victorian penchant for liking their women mute and long-suffering (god forbid they should own anything, like a personality). It also didn't help that Chun Chu was pretty anti-Confucian, but what sane woman wouldn't be? In any case, there isn't a great deal of historical data on the poor woman, from what I understand, so the screenwriters were pretty free to create whatever they wanted. And what they came up with is a warrior empress with a heart of gold. Which is okay with me. Only did they have to insert all that ridiculous Hong Kong-inspired martial arts crap?

Tenchijin and The Iron Empress are blessed with some pretty outstanding actors. The child Tenchijin is played by the most adorable, beautiful child, Seishiro Kato. He breaks your heart with his pouts and tears. And Lord Kenshin Uesugi is played by the amazing, charismatic Hiroshi Abe, who really does seem like the living, walking embodiment of a war god (I am so in love with him, and I don't even like Alpha males!). Over at The Iron Empress, Ban Hyo Jung plays Chun Chu's regal and scary grandmother, the Queen Mother Shin Jung Hwang. Ban Hyo Jung was a fantastic choice. She can out regal even Hiroshi Abe. Was she born with all that gravitas? Just hearing her voice, you jump to attention. I imagine the devil must be just like her because no matter what she's plotting, she draws you in with magnetic warmth and you can't help loving her.

*I'd like to point out that Gone With the Wind only had a handful of characters.