KDRAMAGUK : Korean Drama Soup

a landing site for quick, completely biased, and totally snarky korean drama reviews


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fugitive: Plan B (2010)

Fugitive: Plan B
도망자: Plan B / Runaway: Plan B

(Sept – Dec 2010)

who’s in it
Rain (Full House, A Love to Kill)
Lee NaYoung (Ruler of Your Own World)
Lee JungJin (Nine End Two Outs)
Yoon JinSuh (Return of Iljimae)
Daniel Henney (Spring Waltz)

what’s it about
The construct: lawless private investigator Rain, based out of South Korea but globally networked, gets hired to find the location of this noun called Melchidec by Lee NaYoung, a beautiful and mysterious lady with a big fat bullseye on her back. She’s got a curse on her, you see, as some malefactors have killed everyone she has ever loved, excluding one lucky survivor, her rich is he or isn’t he boyfriend played by the sculpted handsomeness called Daniel Henney.

Meanwhile, rebellious police detective slash brooding hottie Lee JungJin will stop at nothing to get a pair of silver bracelets on Rain because the job description called PI is illegal in the ROK and Rain regularly totes around guns and shoots shit and is basically an all around lawless troublemaker, as already mentioned. That’s the official reason but most of Detective Angerball’s hate stems from the fact that he was shot by Rain in the chest at close range 10 years prior. Bang. Nevermind that Rain made sure to ask him about a bullet proof vest before plugging him. Apparently the police officer doesn’t know when to be grateful in his line of work. Memo to Lee JungJin: when a dude confirms that you are wearing a bullet proof vest and then doesn’t shoot you in the head, he’s probably trying to spare a cop his life.

The conceit: the lawless private investigator is a goofy and selfish superhuman prototype that—

1) can safely dodge hot lead fired from a firing squad of machine guns while doing a wheelie on a motorcycle and looking slick in his designer duds,

2) is a walking-talking wikipedia that can deconstruct evidence and situations within minutes,

3) finds the art of dissembling not only a job necessity, but a personality compulsion,

4) reveres both technology and miles of female leg—irresistible hobbies he indulges with wanton gluttony.

The deceit: Rain is a bad guy, Lee NaYoung is an innocent victim, and Daniel Henney is just a doting boyfriend. In a show like this, some or all of the facts presented will probably be proved wrong. Will viewers survive the ludicrous action somersaults to find out?

Kang JungHwan (Chuno)

Chun SungIl (Chuno)

20 episodes


first impressions
After the early fist of episodes, I was left a little numb. I had no idea what to make of this kdrama, this thing so full of pomp and circumstance—it was pompous and evidence of its quality completely circumstantial. Was it good? Was it bad? Or was it sooo bad it was good? Was it soooo good it felt bad? No, it was probably just plainly bad...but someone help me, totally addictive.

So much about this drama—tone, special effects, multi-language communication, acting, Chuno cameos—offended me on a purely instinctive level. It chafed me in a visceral, gut belching way. I admit, I am not the sort of person programmed to like this type of drama. It was insane, in the literal definition of the word: a derangement of the mind. So much so, it was surreal.

A shoot out in broad daylight in a city intersection and there was deafening silence. Sirens, anyone? How about screams from bystanders? Guns without silencers were fired but they whispered their presence—and guns aren’t even quiet WITH silencers. A guy shot in the chest (bullet proof vest on) three times was able to run a marathon of a chase scene without fainting from pain. This show was like an itch under the skin, the annoying tickle being that it wasn’t satisfied with just bending reality, it wanted to completely redefine it.

You say all action shows are unrealistic? To a point, yes, but the writing still needs to respect gravity! If gravity doesn’t apply, there’s no suspense in jumping off a bridge, you know? Action is built on the idea of actual danger, not just the ‘oh, that looks kinda cool’ factor. Much of the movement in here wasn’t effective because it was not suspenseful, but only theatrical. It didn’t follow…I dunno—physics! Everybody defied the laws of...well, the laws of everything. Which was ironic since this show liked facts, as Rain’s character went out of his way to spout factoids like his mind was constantly in a state of googling (or navering).

I must say, the shenanigans that worked so well in Director Kang’s period piece Chuno did not carry over into contemporary action all that well. The over-the-top action cheese that felt artsy fartsy and well-employed when shot in rice fields and under the rocky crag of mountains felt unsuited for the contemporary locales. Thankfully, the actual quality of the special effects was decent and did not look to be bought at a bargain price. The problem wasn’t technique but the lack of restraint in the utilization. It was like a kid in an action candy store going nuts over the pop rocks.

Here’s my quick list of initial complaints:

1) Super superficially speaking, I dislike gaping v-necks on men (yes, as much as I like your bared chest, Rain, I don’t need to see it revealed in triangulated cleavage for an hour).

2) I admit it, this is a reoccurring pet peeve of mine. The employment of multi-language communication between characters in a Kdrama tends to bug me. Personally, I think it is a false construction to suppose one can fully understand a language that one cannot speak. Only Artoo Detoo and See Threepio got away with it, and that was because they were robots. Besides, it’s just common courtesy to converse in one language, especially with your own boyfriend/girlfriend. 

On the one hand, I know it is somewhat unrealistic to expect an actor who is not really fluent in ten languages to be able to perfectly portray a character who is supposed to be, but a main character in a show that is supposed to know the main language should be able to speak it, or that actor shouldn’t have been cast in the first place. I have nothing against the actor, but I think Daniel Henney, for one, can earn his pay and deliver most of his lines in Korean. From what I’ve heard so far, he clearly has a passable grasp of Korean pronunciation and has the chops to do it. It’ll probably make the role more difficult for him, but a sacrifice worth making because it would help give the show some much needed cred. When Henney spoke Korean with Lee NaYoung, I fully invested in his character. When he switched to English, his acting and dialogue immediately felt awkward and clumsy.

3) I am tired of over-the-top-physics-defying-unrealistically-choreographed action scenes that appear to have no purpose other than to be expensive. If you are on a motorcycle and an angry wall of bad guys aim machine guns at your head, accuracy is not really required for you to DIE. Oh, and by the way, all you have is a teeny little Glock to defend yourself…tell me, do you think it’s realistic for you to escape without even a scratch? I think not.

4) Last but most important, let’s talk about Rain. His character was both a clown impersonation and a James Bond caricature. It is the kind of duality that Lee JunKi does exceptionally well, the merging of slapstick and machismo cool in an oddly endearing package. On Rain, I don’t think it worked as well. I can’t quite define why it didn’t work, it just didn’t feel as natural. Instead of complicated character layers, it felt more like a dissociative personality disorder. I wished he would tone down the mania a couple of notches and focus more on the suave, as that suited him best. In the moments where his character’s sobriety was allowed to show, I saw glimpses of a great show and a great Rain. I know he has more to offer than these early episodes indicated. Yet despite my criticisms of this character and the limitations of his portrayal, Rain was still the most (the only?) fascinating thing about this drama.

And that, I suppose, is the magic of Rain. He has a commanding presence on stage and screen. He’s an entertainer all the way and if nothing else, completely bold and confident in everything he attempts. I think this is a brave choice for him as a comeback role into dramaland, as this PI character isn’t always a well-manicured personality, but completely messy, awkwardly angled, and at times, downright unattractive. And it requires some major acting balls. Critics can say what they will about his singing or his acting but they cannot deny that this guy is a star. This may sound like fan bias on my part, but he felt like the duct tape holding a shattering show together.

Lee NaYoung and Daniel Henney did not impress. In fact, I preferred Yoon JinSuh’s brand of quirky female strength over Lee’s and desperately wished she’d been cast in the lead role instead of the higher billed star. As for the rest of the expanded cast, there were too many cameos and character acting popping up all over the place. All of that served less entertaining and more of a distraction to the story than aid. But that was Plan B’s problem. There was so much noisy pomp and circumstance all over the place and unfortunately, all of that peripheral stuff masked what actually appeared to be a story in there somewhere.

Now, I love action...but only when done proper. In fact, it is actually my favorite genre, just not in a kdrama. Maybe that’s where the problem lies when I’m faced with an action drama, I’m overly critical. And like many other kdrama thrill ride forays, this one was awfully flawed, but despite its many issues, I could not hate it. It’s really quite weird. I am looking forward to the next episode, and more, looking forward to seeing Rain grow into a better character. The good news to take away from all of its many early blunders was the definite feeling that Plan B had greater things in store for the viewership. It feels like there was more a promise of improvement than failure.

Let’s hope I’m right.

(On a totally irrelevant note, in the poster art above, doesn’t Daniel Henney look like he’s doing the “Sorry, Sorry” Super Junior dance? Actually, they all kind of look like they’re k-popping.)

(first impressions initially posted Oct 18, 2010)

Fugitive: Plan Bi, not B.

This drama was a sort of epileptic exploration into the many alter egos and facial contortions of Hallyu supah-stah Rain, who plays here the Korean lovechild of Austin Powers and James Bond (not Daniel Craig’s most recent Bond interpretation, but Pierce Brosnon’s failed one). In other words, there’s a lot of zany in this drama and most all of it is Rain worship...and yes, it does feel like hot pokers being repeatedly stabbed in the eyeballs.

Not only were there some serious nuclear flaws in the cohesiveness of the writing and story, but the vulgar execution of the action scenes did nothing to help the show’s cause. I am assuming, of course, that the goal (of every kdrama) is to create some form of cogent, credible product.

On the other hand, maybe credibility was never the point here…maybe it wanted to be the television equivalent of a wet T-shirt contest: gratuitous and juvenile. The sad part? Gratuitous and juvenile were the only salvageable parts, everything else felt like a hamster running in circles. Apt that the title song was called Running & Running.

gave up
I had to let this go when I realized that many of my early pet peeves had no intention of going away. Granted, there was a bit of improvement...but not much. When the novelty of Rain’s flamboyant character wore off, there was little else to keep me in front of the tv. Not only was Plan Bi completely devoid of any logic, but it also lacked any soul. The silly, ok, I could handle, but the lack of any real emotion between any of the characters? That was something I could not forgive.

You gotta give me some credit, I did try. I watched over half but between

the never-ending, never-satisfying chase scenes,

the Gregorian chanting from the soundtrack (wtf?)(question: is it considered unoriginal or consistent when a director reuses gimmicks from his previous dramas?),

the estranged relationship between Daniel Henney and the Korean language,

the co-starring of Rain’s absurdly long tongue,

and the re-emergence of Lee DaHae’s wimpy Chuno character as depicted by Lee NaYoung...

...well, because of the above and so much more, I really needed to exercise my right to self-preservation. Sure, sure, an hour of chortling and snickering can be good fun, but it is the holidays and things are too busy for this brown stuff. Besides, truth time: my U.S. shows were getting good before the winter hiatus, siphoning away precious time (Vampire Diaries, Fringe, and The Walking Dead, to name a few, and you see, I’m a very lazy, self-indulgent person and will always choose whatever is more instantly gratifying).

Since I’ve only had one latte yet and not in the mood to write complete paragraphs, I’m going to resort to my favorite cheat: a list! Here I go.

The Relatively Not Awful

1) Rain and Lee JungJin had pretty good bro-sparking. I really enjoyed their scenes together. There are few things to dislike about handcuffs and an interrogation table between two hot men.

2) Substituting “motherfather” for “motherfucker” was, admittedly, pretty damn hilarious, and I’ve adopted it into my daily dialogue.

3) Plan Bi was capable of being laugh-out-loud funny, unfortunately, only during parts that weren’t supposed to be funny…but that only made me giggle all the more.

4) MBLAQ’s song Running & Running was a pretty catchy groove and hinted at the show Plan Bi wanted to be, but couldn’t deliver.

The Grotesquely Ugly:

1) Daniel Henney and his assistant were both adored by the camera lens for their attractiveness, but their acting was like a black hole for the show, the latter being so bad I’m not even going to bother looking up the name of the actress. The English sentences that came out of their mouths were so slimy and unnatural sounding that I genuinely wondered if they were writing it themselves. English-speakers around the world cringed and ducked for cover at the clunk-bombs being tossed out.

At one point, a character in the show (a monk) gets confused by Daniel Henney’s existence and asks the good-looking fella what he does for a living besides looking handsome. I found that to be a rather profound question, and for the sake of my safety, I’ll confine that comment to the context of this drama.

2) Lee NaYoung – I was sooooooooo disappointed with her. End. There’s really nothing more to say about this boring character and the boring delivery we were given.

3) In Lee NaYoung’s small defense, she wasn’t no solo iceberg that sank this Titantic (which I will add, is a spot on comparison for Plan Bi, a big bloated tanker with a lot of superficial glitter aboard, but built to sink—badly designed and without enough life boats); everybody was quite the disappointment.

4) Of course, the Stupid Scenes must be mentioned. There was a glut of them. In fact, this drama was less a drama drama than a collage of stupid scenes. I challenge you to find two of my favorite Stupid Scenes: “Rain’s Face in Lee NaYoung’s Butt During a Car Chase” and “Romantic Cell Phone Serenade During Resuscitation Between Yoon JinSuh and Lee JungJin.” These two were truly WTF moments in Kdrama history.

Snarking Conclusion

Thinking back to that held breath before Plan Bi aired, it’s amusing to recall that there was actually a “controversy” about how tall Rain was compared to his costar Lee JungJin (where Rain was “accused” of being short[er] - oh no! The tragedy!). Fast forward to now. In face of such badness in this drama, it makes me all nostalgic for those hopeful days when that was a drama fan’s most pressing confusion about this drama. Hindsight is 20/20. We could not have known then what we know now, which is, no one could possibly stand tall in a show like this. No one.

Ok, clearly, I gave up this drama but there remains some sore feelings. Why the hostility, you ask? I’ll tell you why, and I’ll tell you even if you didn’t ask. I’m still resentful because I wanted to like this one soooooo much. I’d been waiting for Rain’s drama comeback since, I dunno, forever, and had been excited when he teased early in 2009 that it could be a romantic comedy…instead, we get this...

Lee JungJin, I’m disappointed in you, too. You know I like you. I was betrayed by you, too.

More than that, maybe I’m also disappointed in myself for even having hoped. I’m such the fool.


  1. Sometimes I realize that even search engines could fall ill and perform badly. Otherwise, how else could you explain why I have never stumbled across this blog before? Love your reviews, I'll be back!
    Much admiration!

  2. Aw shucks, that's so nice of you to say! Thank you!

  3. M - Ditto. I'm a follower from now.

  4. I totally agree with you.I want to add something here.In most korean drama I don't know why second role always prettier and sexier than the main role.


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