Thursday, April 30, 2009

Learn Japanese! While dancing!

So you've been watching a lot of Japanese TV or maybe playing all those strange video games and now you want some native lingo — no problem! Watch this funky dance track from Genki Japan!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Boys Before Flowers, Reflections

I've made my way all the way up to episode 18 and I'm surprised by how each episode is slightly better than the last. Which is odd, because each episode is basically the same episode: Jan Di gets into trouble, Jan Di gets rescued, sometimes by Ji Hoo, sometimes by Jun Pyo (in Macao, she actually gets saved by a girl!). And while all this repetition is slightly irritating, I keep watching and enjoying myself because it's really like listening to a favorite song over and over and over again. Which, nonetheless, doesn't stop me from asking this question: how come a plucky girl who can deliver a death kick is always so helpless?

Ah, love triangles. Or love quadrangles? I think what makes Boys Before Flowers so fun is all the likable characters. Not just the main three or four, but every single daffy character, from Jan Di's know-it-all little brother to Jun Pyo's sister, the Charisma Queen. And each character has a heartbreaking story, sometimes implied like with the Charisma Queen, sometimes slowly developed like with Yi Jung. Even the flunkies are great. Like the Wicked Witch's henchman, who follows her orders but without losing compassion or heart. What a great moment that was, when Jun Pyo is in tears at the Macao airport, watching helplessly as the girl he loves goes off with his best friend, and the henchman holds and comforts him like an older brother. The witch has cast her spell and the prince is unable to speak or act, except alone or with her henchmen. I have to admit my heart broke a little when Ji Hoo gives Jan Di the shoes instead of Jun Pyo. Man, life sucks.

Granted, there isn't much depth or realism here but, at times, the show does get some things so right. Like that when you truly love someone, you find yourself doing unfathomably unselfish acts for your beloved, even at a great cost to you, even if your act will never be recognized or even misinterpreted, even if that act will hurt you. And it translates so well certain feelings, like that horrible, sick feeling you get when you see someone you love with somebody else and there's nothing you can do, not even hate the girl he's with because it's not really her fault and, gosh, she's awfully nice, so all you can do is grin and hope that no one notices that tears are welling up in your eyes, not even you.

I'm really glad they made Jan Di's rival a fun girl who's genuine about her love for Jun Pyo. Rich, nasty girl rivals are so last century.

Update: I've decided Lee Min Ho (Gu Jun Pyo) has the world's best smile. If there were a beauty contest based on smiles alone, he'd be the clear winner. Even when you can't see his eyes, you can see so much happiness in his smile, that deep, internal kind of pure emotion, almost without self. Whether this is just a quirk of his physical build up or a demonstration of his acting, who's to say? And his acting is pretty darn good in the role. With Lee Min Ho as selfish Gu Jun Pyo, you really do believe a sane girl would fall madly in love with him, rich or not. Go, Lee Min Ho! Fighting!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Boys Before Flowers

I'm watching the Korean TV adaptation of Boys Before Flowers, the grossly popular Japanese shojo manga* about a poor high school girl who gets entangled with four rich bullies, and I'm finding myself really having a fun time. There isn't much to the story—it's the typical Cinderella fairy tale, with one of the bullies being forced by the plot into becoming a prince charming—of course, only after the girl proves her worth by withstanding all his punishments. Sure it's total escape into lollipop land, but hey, after a month of total stress worrying about work and money, why not? More fun than an Ambien cocktail, almost as powerful as an endless prescription to Demerol.

And I really like the way the show's directors have totally embraced the shojo manga genre, cutely translating the facial expressions, the body positions, sound effects of the cartoons. I often wonder why Hollywood hasn't discovered and used shojo mangas the way the rest of Asia has. BBF would translate into any culture. But then, I suppose it begs the bigger question of why shojo mangas themselves haven't made it big in the US. My feeling is that it's simply a question of exposure. In the US, most people think comics are the territory of geeky boys who like fantasy adventures. There are, of course, very sophisticated adult cartoons like the Optic Nerve series by Adrian Tomine, but these comics are almost like secret societies and you usually have to hang around in comic stores to stumble across them. Things are very different in Asia. For instance, the Sweet Valley High series would never have been published there as a book—they'd be shojo mangas. If you've never been inside a Japanese book store, go inside the next time you see one, and head straight for the shojo manga section. Your head will spin at the miles and miles of colorful spines. And don't be afraid to peek inside the covers. Even if you don't speak Japanese, they're very amusing.

*Shojo mangas are Japanese comics aimed at teenage girls.