Starring the amazing Spiderman...as opposed to The Amazing Spiderman.
It's only just opened so I'll start with the non-spoilerific version:
It's not hard to see why it's scoring above 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. It has its flaws - I'm not a fan of the shakycam, and if you had time to think about it, parts of the plot do seem forced and crowded, and it certainly counts somewhat on the audience to already be invested in the characters.
My biggest trepidation going into the movie was how it would handle the conflict. Would it lean too much towards Cap because he's the main character, or too sympathetic towards Iron Man because of RDJ's star power? Would the justifications be forced? Fortunately, the movie does an impressive job of giving each key character a consistent, logical and sympathisable reasons for choosing the side that they do, and while the events leading up to the two big showdowns are a bit contrived, the complexity of emotions and loyalties (as well as some highlight quirky moments) certainly make those flaws easier to overlook.
Unfortunately, I feel you have to already be invested in this universe, not necessarily as a diehard fan, but having at least watched and appreciated the character arcs throughout the Iron Man, Captain America, Ant-man and Avengers franchises. Then, does it make sense that Tony would take an accusation so personally, that Steve would question the judgement of those governed by ulterior agendas, that Natasha would choose the most utilitarian route.
Without those movies, it's hard to grasp how much Tony's parents and their sudden deaths had shaped his behaviour prior to him maturing into Iron Man, and how desperately he needed closure. Without those movies, it would also be hard to grasp why Captain America is drifting further and further away from the role of a "model" soldier, and why he would put so much on the line to protect a criminal. I've said before that while Steve is a soldier and understands the misfortunes of war, Tony fights for very personal and sometimes very egocentric reasons, and it's never been more painfully obvious than here. He fights because he wants to be a hero, he wants to do good things, he wants to save people, and he doesn't have Steve's capacity to take it in his stride when his mistakes have a name and a face and an erased future. The story gives them time to explore what they believe in and what their bottom line is, but they bring into the argument a respect for each other...so that by the time Tony says that iconic line, "But so was I [your friend]", you believe him, and by the time you see that iconic 3-way fight, it hurts to watch them.
The characters new to the roster include Black Panther, Spiderman and Ant-man (where do the hyphens and capitals go, anyway?) and they are a delight in an otherwise heavy, unrelenting chase. This is practically an origins story for Black Panther, and despite being only on the sideline he manages to have a complete character arc in one movie. The bug bros (as opposed to the science bros? XDDD) similarly had an amazing introduction into the greater MCU, both with their wide-eyed fanboyism, and Spiderman finding time between his excessive chatterboxing to fight cool.
I don't think I spoil anything by saying that the villain is Baron Zemo. I think reviews are quite divided on him: not "the Mandarin" divided, but there's a camp that say he's the usual boring Marvel villain, while another says he's the next best thing after Loki. Personally I think I agree with the latter - he has one of the better motivations in the stream of drab villains after money (Obediah Stane, Darren Cross), power (Ronan, Red Skull), petty revenge (Whiplash, Aldrich Killian) and whatever the heck was Ultron. His role was relatively light, but (without any spoilers) his story bears strong parallels to what several other characters in this movie experience, no one could fault him for doing what he did or the way he's decided to execute it (even though from a plot perspective, his plan was a bit too contrived). I mean, couldn't he have just emailed the video to Tony?
It's a movie I think that will have people take away different things. Is it complex and profound? Not really, it's certainly less about politics this time around and more about character-centric things like personal beliefs and family and modus operandi. But it is a beautifully constructed ensemble piece, where each character gets a moment to shine, and several of the major ones get a fully fleshed character arc.
And for me, I think it will stay one of my favourite MCU movies to date, even if it ends on an oddly disheartening note.
It's not often that stories make you feel both satisfied and dissatisfied with its conclusion.
The thing to remember about Descendants of the Sun is that it is ultimately a love story, rather than a war story or a medical drama, and as far as the romance part of it went, it was as perfect as love could be. Every couple had a happy ending, and apart from the odd glitch/argument between the secondary couple, their relationships were all impressively mature and rational.
On the drama side of things...well, let's say that it felt like that part of the story ended at episode 12. Sure, a few things happened in episode 14 and 15, but those were really afterthoughts. After the tense and tight Uruk arc, the plot line after returning to Seoul was bordering on recklessly flippant.
I know a lot of people have been talking about the Yoo's resuscitation - to be honest, I switched off my brain after he rolled out of the ambulance because I knew it was going to be =____= I've seen people talk about the beeping of the machines are wrong - let's be fair, the beeping of the machines is the least of the problems with that scene. In a real resus you're less likely to pay attention to the alarms than the actual patient and what the alarms/indicators read.
In particular - and firstly, kudos to the filming crew to actually be correct in using the defibrillator on someone who is showing ventricular fibrillation on the rhythm monitor - but after 2 shocks, the monitor is still showing VF (i.e. he may/may not have output but it's a shockable rhythm and NO ONE would call a stop at this stage, especially on a young fit patient) - the junior doctor says, "all signs of life is extinct". Umm....
I don't even know why he has a dressing on his abdomen which in no way explain the pattern of blood splatters on him and at this stage I'm too afraid to ask.
His predicament lasted all of 10 minutes, which.......while it frees him up for plenty of comic/romantic relief, really doesn't do any credit to what the series had been able to achieve.
The "deaths" in episode 15 ultimately feels like a retread of exactly what this scene entailed, except dragged out over 40 minutes and overturned in the last 5 minutes with what I thought was a poorly scripted episode ending...I don't mind that he comes back, but I think the reunion would have been better left completely to episode 16 so that episode 15 ends on a cliffhanger.
I think episodes 13-16 really dragged the series downwards, even though the ending was happy and complete. There was a lot of romcom which were sweet but done at the price of treating the more serious and dramatic moments with gravity.
Episodes 1-12 (well...okay, 3-12) were great in the way it successfully married medical/military thriller with rom-com, with some wonderfully written characters and some very witty dialogue. Episodes 13-16 sank more and more into cheesy rom-com territory, and the higher the stakes (and there were some good poignant plot points in those last 4 episodes), the more ridiculous it seemed when they were resolved so glibly.
It will still remain one of the better K-dramas I've watched (erm, out of 5? LOL) but the last 4 episodes really were quite anti-climatic and worth watching only because the actors manage to carry it on charisma alone.
But Captain Yoo and Doctor Kang, I think, will always be my favourite couple
I've watched about 9 episodes of this projected-to-be-16 episodes saga.
I actually didn't want to watch it based on the synopses (又用這個藉口不累嗎) - a soldier and a doctor? So many things could go wrong, but then a nurse at work kept pushing me to watch it, so surely it can't be too bad.
I'm really not into K-dramas, but I understand the central characters are all pretty famous? And this is Song Joong-ki's first drama since returning from military conscription.
There's a good reason I try to avoid medical drama but I like stuff with suspense (but preferably not a convoluted plot that resolves over 50 episodes) so it's almost always police procedurals or medical dramas on my watch list.
Fortunately, Descendants of the Sun doesn't pretend to be a medical or a military-based thriller, and so I'm far more forgiving of its mistakes. I think the wonderful thing about this show is how perfectly balanced it is between the romance and the drama, humour and angst.
I was so busy laughing at this scene (basically the doctor is 花痴ing over the guy's "only photo") to notice the dextrocardia situs inversus totalis the first time I saw this. Then when it popped up again in an MV, I thought, "Hang on...not only is the heart deviated...the gastric and colonic gas are also on the right."
SO MAYBE HE HAS HIS APPENDIX ON THE LEFT SIDE AFTER ALL. I mean, excuse my 職業病 but it looks like the bronchus on the left is also more horizontal than the right? So it's likely that he has the total inversion of the organs. The text on the Xray is not flipped, so it just remains whether this is going to be a plot point or just...some random mistake trivia.
Also, just for the record, the only X-rays that make surgeons go 花痴 (yes, even female surgeons) are the ones of people who are not walking out of hospital the same day.
Anyway, back to the story, because I didn't know Song Joong-Ki when I first started watching (and I didn't see any posters...) I seriously thought Seo Dae-young was the main character until the scene in the hospital where the two main characters gaze upon each other as the curtain glides in slow motion between them while a love song croons in the background.
Hey, it is a Korean drama after all.
Which brings me back to what I mentioned a few days ago in the Sungkyunkwan post. Don't get me wrong, I love Song Joong-Ki in this role, and my lack of knowledge of Korean stars aside, I can't imagine someone else doing Yoo Si-jin. He manages to subvert his character as Yeo-rim, despite both these characters having a playful streak (okay, there are one or two scenes where his mischief overlaps with Yeo-rim). Whether 2 years of service did this, who knows, but his air is much more mature, more confident, and more manly. In a way, I think Joong-ki tries to play Yeo-rim as aesthetically pleasing as possible, which is in keeping with the character but also with a lot of idols of that age. Yoo Si-jin's expressions are much less...picturesque, if that's the word, his smiles and grimaces and snarls and shock can all contort his face into odd angles, but makes him feel more like a working man than an idol.
That said, Song has a very boyish face, and coupled with his leaner physique, his perpetual slouch, and the character's playful mannerisms...I seriously thought Seo Dae-young, who exudes much more discipline and the manly virtues of not having an idea of romance assurance was the main character. Or at least, the higher ranking captain. It's not that Song can't do serious, and some of his best scenes are when he's serious, but on occasions, depending on the lighting and which uniform he's wearing, standing amongst other soldiers he looks like a cornered high school student....
Kang Mo-yeon and Yoo Si-jin especially are impossibly perfect characters, written in a way that makes it hard to dislike them. I like how mature and rational they approach their vocation and their relationship. I like their level-headed discussions, where they acknowledge each other's values without compromising their own. Their discussions about the different and potentially contradictory commitments of a surgeon versus a soldier is interesting for two jobs that deal with injury and death on a regular basis. Fortunately I don't think the drama tries to preach any lessons about which side is correct, though it did have a rather painful side plot about a doctor who ran away from a building (leaving a trapped patient behind) during an aftershock and was then, despite the patient surviving, guilt-ridden for 4 episodes with many scenes of really grating mopiness.
First rule of emergency medicine: check for danger and keep yourself safe. You can't save the patient if you become a patient.
Without trying to nitpick, that entire plot was written poorly - certainly some junior doctors can be left quite unsupported in the field, but that is not characteristic of the medical team shown in the drama. They're a good cohesive team who work well together, so it was incredible that the senior doctors didn't try to mediate at all. Secondly there was no good reason that the junior doctor was in the ruins looking for survivors, he's not trained in that sort of retrieval, and when he found the trapped patient, he should have called for help first rather than trying to drag him out on his own. Third, while it's true that you shouldn't be changing treating doctors on a whim, when the therapeutic relationship has clearly broken down, it's to everyone's benefit to change the treating doctor.
Aigoo...let's stop talking about the medical aspect, because otherwise I won't stop.
I like how the relationship between Yoo and Kang plays out, even though it might feel a bit drawn out. I think Kang's prolonged misgivings about entering the relationship are perfectly justified, because not many rational people want to commit to a relationship where the other person might get sent on a job and never return. I like how Yoo is usually playful, but when questioned about his expectations and hopes for the relationship, he always approaches the discussion like an adult.
However, I think Yoo is too perfect, to the point where his biggest flaw is his job. He's perceptive, and so he's always playful when the mood needs to be lightened and serious when situations demand respect. He's smart, skillful, disciplined, responsible, brave, pragmatic, humanitarian...........He knows exactly what to say to make a girl's heart flutter (seriously, stuff like "You don't have to feel defeated just because your feelings have been exposed. Just remember that I love you more and you always have that advantage over me." - many kudos to Song Joong-ki for somehow able to carry all these sappy lines without making the audience cringe). He's the sort of character that only exists in fiction, matched with a female character who is similarly smart, strong and stoic, even if she keeps grudges for a little too long and is sometimes a little too fierce - but she's a surgeon, so that would be totally in character XDDDD
The secondary couple of Seo Dae-young and Yoon Myung-ju is a pleasant surprise. In fact, one of the best things about this drama is its general lack of people backstabbing each other (at least, not in seriousness XDDD). There's no multi-angle relationship, just two couples trying to iron out their own massive problems. Seo and Yoon's relationship is perhaps your much more traditional Asian problem of class difference. Yoon's dad is the general, Seo is unlikely to get much further past a sergeant major. Yoon's dad prefers Yoo - despite this, Seo and Yoo are still good friends, Yoo and Yoon bicker like siblings, and the romance between Seo and Yoon teeters between tragedy and hilarity. I like Yoon's forwardness, and her tireless efforts to be somewhere close to Seo despite his and her dad's efforts to keep them apart. I like Seo, or rather, I love Jin Goo's portrayal of Seo - probably one of the best 面攤 (blank faced) acts I've seen (YAMASHITA TAKE LESSONS FROM THIS MAN YO). Unlike Yoo, he is a man of few words and few expressions, but despite that it's still obvious from the way his eyes narrow, or the way his brows furrow, or the way his jaw tightens or relaxes exactly what Seo is thinking, and that is the epitome of 面攤. I like how there are several long conversations where Yoon practically talks to herself while he remains silent and unsmiling...but it still somehow felt like one of the richest conversations between two star-crossed lovers.
But what keeps audiences watching is how well the scriptwriter has balanced and juxtaposed scenes that are completely emotional opposites. After a tense gunfire or a stressful mass trauma event, there's always something sweet, something funny, something mellow, something cute to soften the pain...and just when things are in danger of getting too sappy, the tension starts building again.
Because I'm someone who always preferred thrillers to romances, I think the pace is perfect, but I wonder how people who only watch romances are able to sit through the gunfights? I know my mum runs away every time that comes on...
Really hoping for a happy ending, but somehow with their occupations that seem rather difficult....
The previous post was getting too long, so I thought I'd leave the rest of my babble in another post.
Moving onto the characters - I admit I've always been someone who preferred side characters to main characters, but there's something particularly...uninteresting about the courtship between Dae-mul and Ga-rang, even in spite of how natural the relationship seemed to be. In fact, each character, on their own, are quite interesting and well-written, even Dae-mul (except in the previously mentioned moments where male characters are required to be Knight in Shiny Armour). Dae-mul and Ga-rang, when with other characters, are perfectly interesting to watch...but when it came to Dae-mul and Ga-rang together...I don't know how many times I hit skip. I suspect it's also a K-drama thing, but they spend so much time staring at each other with tears in their eyes for no good reason that...skip.
Dae-mul Dae-mul reminds me quite a lot of Kou Shuurei, in good ways and bad. They're exactly what the plot requires them to be, cute, strong, kind, vulnerable, smart, reckless, to the point their characters have everything but also nothing. Everyone loves them, except those who unjustifiably (or for selfish reasons) despise them. Park Min-young does a decent job - she makes Dae-mul cute and likable, but never convincing as a male (except in the rare moments where the script allows her to be cool), but I suspect that's a directorial decision rather than poor acting.
Ga-rang Ga-rang is a rather bland character amongst all the interesting people surrounding him, but there is comic relief in the juxtaposition. Not much expression is required of Yoochun, which is not to say he did a lazy job, because I felt he was still on point for most of the scenes. His character arc is the most straightforward, and as a result, the least interesting, which is a real shame. He's not a flat character, and he's the sort of person we should all aspire to be (though preferably with better people skills). He is principled and fiercely defensive of the same, and though he is someone who rarely speaks up in public, when he does he can tear people to shreds. In real life, he would make a terrible politician but an excellent public prosecutor, and maybe that's the sort of story where he could have really shone.
Geol-oh The two seniors - Geol-oh and Yeo-rim were (to the detriment of the 2 main characters) the highlight of the piece. Geol-oh's character is written in a way that makes it very hard to dislike him. At first he appears to be just your typical burly and surly guy who is anti-authority, with more brawn than brain, but as things progress you find he's surprisingly caring and perceptive, has surprising mastery of literature, and is surprisingly conservative and "proper" in his conduct. Once all that is taken in consideration with his gruff appearance and curt words and his rare but really quite boyish smiles...I think he hits the "moe" button for a lot of girls. I'm not sure Yoo Ah-In was good at portraying the actual character, but he certainly gave Geol-oh enough charisma to make him everyone's favourite big brother rather than just creepy. Having a secret identity is definitely brownie points for any character, and when his secret identity drives the political plot and the main tension of the series, that certainly makes the audience more interested in him than the budding romance of our two leads. I particularly liked the bit where he pours alcohol on his clothes before going into the room he shares with Dae-mul and Ga-rang - he was introduced as a violent drunkard, but the more we see of him the more layers we find...and that's the sort of character you want to act.
Yeo-rim Song Joong-ki's Yeo-rim, on the other hand...I'm not sure what to say. I concede he's extremely pretty, but never (at least not for me - though everyone's tastes differ) to the point of cringeworthy girliness, but his mannerisms are so flamboyant and effeminate that...what I said prior to the comma doesn't matter. I somehow can't be convinced that he's a playboy, because seriously his mannerisms are girlier than some of the girls. I mean...in a way, I don't think Song Joong-ki is too pretty for the role, I think appearance-wise he's perfect (hey, I could look at that face for hours XDDD). But at the same time...when he's not smiling, he naturally looks vulnerable and helpless (this was a problem in Descendants of the Sun as well), so his Yeo-rim always seems a little less assured and less...expansive than I feel his character should be. Yeo-rim's character is interesting, but a bit messy. He's the perpetual prankster, but also someone who's clearly more perceptive and intuitive and aware than everyone else, which makes it difficult to understand how he could risk Dae-mul's reputation (sad fact: in ancient Asian societies, the virginal reputation of a woman can be more important than her life) by all his pranks, especially after he joined their friends circle. I feel Yeo-rim is a very popular character because (apart from his face, ahem) of his very high EQ and IQ, as well as his penchant for having fun at other people's expense. I like both these sides of Yeo-rim, but unfortunately I cannot be convinced that they're compatible with each other.
There's a lot of Geol-oh X Yeo-rim going around, so I thought it was actually a thing, and I think towards the end, the fandom made into such a thing that the series felt like fanservice was deserved. To be honest...maybe my gaydar is broken? The interaction between Geol-oh and Yeo-rim is certainly some of the cutest stuff that brings a smile to your face even if Yeo-rim is cringe-inducing in his exaggerated PDA, and I suspect that's why they're a more likable couple than the main one, which had a lot less love. But I don't feel there's anything beyond friendship, even if Yeo-rim gets dangerously close into Geol-oh's personal space. Sometimes their relationship seems a bit unequal, because Geol-oh rarely acknowledges Yeo-rim, even though Yeo-rim does so much for him...but then you realise Yeo-rim's good intentions is the only one that Geol-oh would guiltlessly easily accept. When Ga-rang stepped out for Geol-oh, Geol-oh told him to never do it again ("Or I won't talk to you again" - LOL srsly you in kindergarten?), but Yeo-rim tidies up after him time after time, saving him when he's wounded, hiding him despite threats from Ha In-Soo, etc...and Geol-oh doesn't even bother thanking him. Their give-and-take relationship just seems so natural for Geol-oh that I'm surprised that Yeo-rim always gets a 受寵若驚 face when Geol-oh acknowledges anything he does.
I think theirs...and their relationship with Ga-rang is a nice friendship, the sort where you just let your friend find their own way and do what they believe in, and when they fall, pull them back on their feet, and maybe help bury the dead body.... It's the same sort of relationship between Dae-mul and Cho-sun. If only the author/scriptwriter could have kept that in mind that that is how friendship works when writing their storylines involving Dae-mul...rather than make the 3 other guys keep having to jump out to protect her.
Others To cut the rest of the babble short, the other characters are all surprisingly well-rounded and...surprisingly, no one was purely evil. I even have a soft spot for baddie Ha In-Soo and his unwavering adoration for Cho-sun, but again that relationship bothers me because how could he accept Cho-sun being a prostitute and not turn his anger on his father until the end...?
I particularly like how there were no evil female characters in this one. I feel, in drama particularly, women are greatest enemies to each other, sometimes for the weakest reasons. I liked how silently supportive Cho-sun was - to be honest, her personality was more manly than a lot of the guys. I suspect she knew Dae-mul was female somewhere around the middle of the story, so she didn't look surprised when she was told in the end. I liked how she just quietly rooted for Dae-mul from the sidelines, not interfering, not helping (except at the end when Dae-mul's life is on the line), but also not striking out because Dae-mul was female.
Similarly, Ha In-Soo's sister was amazingly naive, and for the first time, I can call use this word positively. She had the purest adoration for Ga-rang, and she chased after him with all the innocence of a girl who didn't know a thing about cynicism. She wasn't needlessly jealous, and in the end when she realised she had lost, she didn't try to make Dae-mul or Ga-rang pay for her own unhappiness, and instead tried to help them out.
The characterisation and relationships really brighten the story, and as I said previously, the themes and underlying class conflict creates enough tension and thoughtfulness to make this more than a silly school comedy. Unfortunately, the central relationship is too bloated and the central premise too protected by its own tropes, and in the end the sum is much less amazing than its parts.
As far as terrible excuses go, I went and watched this because I felt I should fatten up my K-drama tag a little...
Actually the real reason is yes, I got on the boat that's Descendants of the Sun and seeing that it's yet to hit the obligatory!k-drama!angst part (i.e. last 3 episodes), I thought I'd dig this out.
I've always been a bit wary of watching actors/actresses I don't know, especially in stories that need to be carried by charisma rather than plot, which was why I never started watching Sungkyunkwan despite really liking Rooftop Prince a few years ago. Also, frankly, the poster that's been used around the net for this drama has really not inspired an interest.
I admit I started watching it for mainly Yoochun and curiosity about Song Joong-Ki. In a way, the first episode was one of its best episodes, because thereafter a series of poor writing made you lose sympathy for the main character "Dae-mul" bit by bit until you were sick of her stupid face.
To be honest, the drama had a lot going for it, and was unfortunately sunk by its central romance. The most interesting parts were everything else - the rigid restrictions brought on by class (and gender) inequity, the importance of an education system that protects the students against partisan interference to foster free thinking, and how different parenting styles create different thinkers.
Unfortunately the central romance and the main plot point of "cross-dressing girl studying in an all boys' school" (wait...where have I seen that before...HanaKimi) is its weakest link because of its shallowness between the meatier plot lines raised above., but to say that would be unfair to its premise.
Sungkyunkwan is meant to be a crossdressing school drama exactly in the vein of HanaKimi and Ouran Koukou and others such silly shoujo things, but set in the ancient times...but if it were only that then it would have sunk into oblivion. It's both fortunate and unfortunate that it's propped up by these pertinent themes and subplots, as it makes the central story of "crossdressing girl in boys' school" really quite...bland.
What makes it more disappointing - and perhaps because it had such an intelligent approach to highlighting class inequities - is the Mary-Sue misogyny that is so painfully unavoidable in these crossdressing stories (perhaps except Ouran Koukou, I still think Haruhi was one of the best done crossdressing heroines).
Even given the grace of "main character protection", she still comes across in her actions as passive and uncertain, until the plot calls for a Mary Sue moment in the end. It's really quite disappointing, because in the first episode she was an admirable (albeit foolhardy) girl who could face down threats of unequal marriage and rape, and take on the risk of potential death by entering Sungkyunkwan. But from episode 2 to 19, the Asian Main Female Character syndrome takes over. She's helpless and quivering when threatened by Ha In-soo and his cronies. She's speechless and keeps trying to run away when teased by Yeo-rim. Despite this, she retains her Mary Sue achievements and clinches several competitions that require real skill and experience, of which it was made obvious she did not have.
This all culminated in a frustrating showdown in episode 18 where she runs (without checking her surroundings or notifying her friends) into a temple, and her 3 friends each paid a terrible price to bail her out - Geol-oh was injured trying to distract the troops, Ga-rang surrendered himself in order to protect Geol-oh, and Yeo-rim - trying to save all three - was forced to publicly acknowledge his falsified heritage. All throughout this, Dae-mul stood big-eyed and open-mouthed without trying, for a moment, to stop Ha In-soo from finding Geol-oh or arresting Ga-rang or publicly humiliating Yeo-rim.
Does this mean that the main character is stupid and useless? She's not - because she's supposed to be one of the smartest in her class, and when the plot calls for it she's more than able to hold her own against a barrage of threats against her poverty and her gender.
What it says, unfortunately, is the perpetuation of gender roles in our modern society, where even a script that has Dae-mul preach several times about "western standards of gender equality", still sees this strong, smart female character as someone who must nevertheless fit the traditional female role of needing to be protected, as not having the ability to stand up and speak out for those she cares for, as being less capable of problem-solving and advocacy than her male counterparts.
Sure, in the end she was the one who led the students in a peaceful protest in front of the emperor, condemning the military intrusion into Sungkyunkwan - but the students would not have been there if Yeo-rim did not abdicate his role to her and if Geol-oh hadn't dragged his wounded body out onto the rooftops to be Hong Byuk Seo. It was, bittersweetly, handed to her on a silver platter for her to enjoy her Mary Sue moment.
I'll talk more about the characters in another post, but Sungkyunkwan is a drama that I think tried to be two competing stories and as a result isn't very successful in either. It has fascinating characters, some beautifully formed friendships, and, as of crossdressing dramas, one of the more natural romances. It has an intriguing political plot line, driven by some well-portrayed class conflict, and its use of Confucius literature is a testament to its intelligence. Unfortunately, all this is undermined by the central premise of a school comedy romance, and all its finer points are sacrificed to uphold this much more banal storyline.
This little dark horse turned out a lot better than I thought.
I have to reiterate that I'm not a huge fan of Disney or Pixar movies. I can't remember the last Disney movie I adored...maybe it was Up!.
Zootopia is one of those rare Disney movies that's full of subtext - that's not about family. I've seen complaints about its simple plot, but really I think the movie has two layers - the plot is for the kids (and to be frank, is probably better than some of the detective crap I've seen coming out of J-dramas), but the underlying message, well that's for the kids too, but it's far easier for the adults to pick up and ruminate on.
You haven't watched the movie if you've only watched it for the plot. I think you would be an extremely fortunate person not to have some experience - first hand or otherwise - of the prejudice that Zootopia unearths. Interspecies tension as an allegory for race, but I think it's more than race - I think it's prejudice of all kinds, against race, gender, ethnicity, culture, skin colour, caste, geography, class, bloodline. You name it - humans have had thousands of years to perfect the ways in which "we" judge "them".
I think there is a danger of reading too much into it (there is a conspiracy to undermine those who are genetically gifted), so it's best to take the movie as a social reflection rather than a commentary.
What I really like about the story is that it's a twist on the traditional "follow your dreams" Hollywood message. Does Judy and Nick attain their dreams in their end? Of course they do. But the difference is getting to the dream is only half the work - Judy is disadvantaged by her physique, so she has to work 50 times as hard as the next hippo to get there, and stay there. Getting to your dream is not hard, but living it is. She has to put up with the contempt and distrust of her superiors. She has to live with the constant nagging from her parents to quit her job. She has to be 50 times stronger psychologically to stick her head down and keep going.
And it's nice how it showed even a well-meaning "truth" can hide deep-seated prejudices. Judy's truthful comment about predators and their DNA is deeply hurtful for Nick. I'm not saying this is a story advocating for political correctness. Rather, it's a story reflecting just how subtle yet deeply ingrained prejudices can be, and just how easily society drives certain people down a path that they didn't necessarily want to take.
A funny and imaginative movie for the kids, and hopefully a thought-provoking reflection for adults.
My entries are getting longer and longer...in between.
The endless cycle of sleep-eat-work-eat-sleep doesn't leave much space for introspection on the 2 days of the week you have leave from it.
I've actually been watching a lot of random stuff since coming to Sydney, and this Easter break has been a bit of an unintentional marathon. Some of them I haven't finished yet, but it would be so long until my next entry, that I should at least make the effort.
SPECIALIST As a continuation of 4 drama SPs over the last couple of years that rated pretty well each time, it managed to be the top rating drama of the season (not including the long-running shows). Even so, the decline in drama ratings over the last few years have been unrestrainable, with most dramas these days struggling to break even 10%, and even the top rating ones of the season seldom pass 15%.
Is it good? It's not bad. The plot holes are less obvious than some of the other stuff that goes on in Japanese crime thrillers, and the mystery is usually interesting enough to keep you engaged for the 45 minutes run time. But the characters are pretty bland, and the overarching conspiracy was - rather typically of Japanese crime dramas - a letdown. The ending is open, possibly paving the way for sequels later on.
Verdict: a good police procedural, but don't get too attached to the big conspiracy.
Kaitou Tantei Yamaneko It's been a long time since I could bring myself to watch another one of Kame's dramas, and I'm pleased to say that his acting has improved greatly. Yamaneko is sufficiently brash and burlesque for Kame's public persona not to overwhelm the character.
Yamaneko is an interesting character - sort of like Detective Conan bred with Gintama. Japanese literature (if you count manga/anime amongst "literature") does these sort of characters very well - from Kenshin to Gintoki, the carefree and careless main character who carries a dark and bloody past. He's a "good thief" who steals from the corrupt rich, but previously trained as a spy at the order of a mysterious entity called "Yuuki Tenmei" who came into power during WW2 but still exerts a stronghold on Japanese politics. Somehow, Yamaneko had a fallout with Yuuki Tenmei, and while completing his "side quests of the week", his main mission is to find Yuuki Tenmei and the answer to his existence.
Unfortunately, rather typically of a show of this enormity - e.g. Ouroboros, SPEC - the ending dissolves into ludicrousness. One of the twists was seen a long way coming due to an unfortunate casting. And like many Japanese shows of this calibre, the show is peppered with odd morality lectures and the ending is immensely confusing as to what it wants to say about the world.
Verdict: an excellent effort by all core actors, let down by a disappointing script.
Matsumoto Seicho adaptations Matsumoto Seicho was one of the great authors of modern Japanese crime literature. Every year, there are multiple adaptations of his works released as drama SP, drama series or movies.
I watched a few of them: "The black forest", "The woman who bought the local paper", "The castle of sand", "The flag of mist". They're slickly produced SPs (well okay, most Japanese drama SPs are quite well done and often better than the series...) which are all well-acted and very atmospheric.
The female characters are...interesting, and really rather pitiable. Apart from "The Black Forest" which quite easily translated to a contemporary setting, the others...I want to say that they're dated, but they're not, because in Japan (and probably many other parts of the world) women are still subject to the same sort of inequity that's put on display there.
For example, the extremely capable and shrewd reporter in "Castle of Sand", who provided multiple clues and ideas to the police investigation, gets transferred away from investigative journalism because she's a woman and should be writing about things like...girly things.
Or the rather tragic female main characters in "The woman who bought the local paper" and "The flag of mist". The first story was extraordinarily...claustrophobic. Here is a woman who was being extorted and raped, who wanted to keep her marriage together, and murdered the two perpetrators because they threatened to continue their abuse. In the end, to protect her husband's reputation, she divorced him before turning herself into police. She had intended to kill herself but one of the other characters stopped her, saying - "the man's (the rapist) children won't get any of his life insurance if you die, because it would be counted as suicide. I hope you can turn yourself in, so that the children know the truth, and they can continue to love their father."
I don't know why I reacted so badly to that. I felt she had already been through so much, and while murder can't be justified, there's certainly extenuating circumstances. I don't feel the man deserved any sympathy and he certainly wasn't portrayed as a good father - he had multiple women and was rarely home to see his wife and children, and on top of that he extorted this poor woman for money and raped her multiple times. I felt she had already paid so much for another undeserving man in her life - the husband, for whom she had an abortion as he demanded it of her, and the botched operation made her infertile. For whom, even when her own honour and security was at stake, she still cut ties with him so that he could be protected. In a way she was a 白蓮花, but she also wasn't, because she became strong enough to take matters into her own hands and kill the perpetrators. I don't think people should commit suicide to avoid facing retributions, but I was very annoyed that the above speech could change her mind - why should she have sympathy for these children, when their dad is such a low life and when she couldn't have children?
Less tragically, in "Flag of Mist", it was about a girl's revenge against a lawyer who declined to be the defense lawyer for her wrongly accused brother. I felt a lot of her hate was misplaced, but yet tragically understandable.
What ties these stories together is that a lot of these women - these women who try to get their way, are not your usual "good girl". They become hostesses, they sell their bodies, and when asked, they sigh and say, "We have to live, somehow".
These days things are getting better for women, but his stories are an oddly painful reminder of how stifling Japanese society can be on the role of women.
Since the debut of Ant-Man, there's been a couple of rankings surfacing on the internet of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.
Probably nothing speaks louder (at least to the studios) than money, so you can see how the movies have ranked in terms of grosses at Box Office Mojo. Note that Ant-Man is still waiting to open in some markets and The Avengers: Age of Ultron is yet to close completely.
And here's the rankings on 3 different sites: IMDB is probably the most democratic and reflective of general audience perceptions. Rotten Tomatos and Metacritic are both critic-based scores, which may reflect a general critical fatigue of comic book type movies as time progresses, unless they're really something extraordinary.
Rotten Tomatos Tomatometer
IMDB User Ratings
94% Iron Man 92% The Avengers 91% Guardians of the Galaxy 89% Captain America: The Winter Soldier 79% Captain America: The First Avenger 79% Iron Man 3 79% Ant-Man 77% Thor 74% Avengers: Age of Ultron 72% Iron Man 2 67% The Incredible Hulk 66% Thor: The Dark World 61% Hulk
79 Iron Man 76 Guardians of the Galaxy 70 Captain America: The Winter Soldier 69 The Avengers 66 Captain America: The First Avenger 66 Avengers: Age of Ultron 64 Ant-Man 62 Iron Man 3 61 The Incredible Hulk 57 Iron Man 2 57 Thor 54 Hulk 54 Thor: The Dark World
8.2 The Avengers 8.1 Guardians of the Galaxy 7.9 Iron Man 7.9 Avengers: Age of Ultron 7.8 Captain America: The Winter Soldier 7.8 Ant-Man 7.3 Iron Man 3 7.1 Iron Man 2 7.1 Thor: The Dark World 7.0 Thor 6.9 The Incredible Hulk 6.8 Captain America: The First Avenger 5.7 Hulk
Of course I've watched Age of Ultron a while ago (twice, in fact, cos Dad wanted to watch it too haha) but the movie was a bit like a bowl of ice-cream in summer - felt delicious while eating, but afterwards felt like you had a lot of nothing.
Antman is a bit like Guardians of the Galaxy. I think canonically he's actually a fairly big presence, but the basis and name seemed ridiculous, which is probably why he took so long to get to the big screen.
Let's start with the broad strokes - the movie is quite well-done, within the limitations. It's a heist movie as promised. It's much smaller in scale than the other heroes, which I think is a good thing. Like most superhero movies, the story is rather simple and linear, though what makes it stand out is probably the multiple central and side characters.
Antman decided to take the second iteration of the character, Scott Lang - a man recently released from jail for corporate theft. Unable to get a job because of the record and desperate to negotiate visits to his young daughter, he gets drawn into a heist to secure enough money to do so. This causes him to cross paths with Hank Pym, the original Antman, who values Scott's unorthodox resume in his own plans to topple a wayward corporation.
That both Scott and Hank were in this film together was a stroke of genius. Apart from being absolutely unique in the last dozen Marvel films to have two superheroes sharing the same mantle, there is an unforced parallel between Hank and Hope, and Scott and Cassie. Family relationships are a sadly neglected subject in the superhero world. The best of it had been in the Thor movies, which was unfortunately bogged down by all the other terrible stuff that was going on. There were some nice parent-child moments in Guardians, but more about the absence of it. The nice part about Antman was the uneasy relationship between Hank and Hope, which brings out my next point.
Hank is the most grumpy old fart next to Yondu LOL
He actually turned out to be my favourite character. I like how flawed he is, despite being in the mentor role. I like that he's arrogant, obstinate, bad-tempered, unforgiving, hamfisted...he's highly intelligent but you would not necessarily call him wise. I like that he keeps a grudge for decades to the point he'd rather employ a thief than enlist the help of anyone involved with Stark. I like that he's awkward with his daughter, that he wants the best for her but didn't know how to tell her that, that he wants to mend the relationship but just makes things worse each time. I like that he's a proud man who's used to achieving great things but the events in the film forces him, bit by tiny bit, to concede that age is catching up and he's no longer quite the capable man he used to be. I also like how even the climax highlighted how single-minded Hank is - that in a way he would destroy something to protect it. Michael Douglas brings a presence to the movie that Anthony Hopkins did to Thor and Robert de Niro did to Winter Soldier, but he seems to - or perhaps the script allows him to - put more heart into it than the former two.
Scott is a likeable character, though unfortunately debuts after Peter Quill and probably overlaps too much with him. They're both criminals who still have a sense of justice, enacted by two people known more or less for comedy or "boy next door" type roles. The difference though is Scott has more justice than scoundrel compared with Quill, and I don't know if it's intentional, seems a much cooler and reserved sort of guy than a lot of the other superheroes. He's someone who lingers and watches on the side before taking a dive, but he's also someone who dives in with relish and works hard at something when he's accepted the task. He's an engineer sort of guy - not the hot-headed type who tries to wing it by ear, but the type that has the minutiae worked out and has multiple backup plans that he can draw from and improvise with on the spot. That said, I'm not sure he can hold a franchise together, and I feel the movie would not have been quite as good if Hank had not been there.
A lot of people have waxed lyrical about Hope and the step forward for representation of women in superhero movies. I'm not too sure Evangeline Lilly was quite on spot for all of her scenes, but Hope managed to distinguish herself from the Black Widow, despite both being excellent fighters and capable sharp-tongued women. I think, after revisiting Winter Soldier, the difference is that Hope doesn't have Black Widow's past - and so she's less aware of herself (e.g. she would never use her sexuality like Black Widow could as a weapon), less cold-blooded but also less vulnerable.
The three of them are probably far more relatable and "normal" characters than others of their ilk.
The movie's strength was its humour, with excellent timing, especially of juxtapositions, and it was a shame this never came through in the promos. The pacing never made you feel like it dragged, despite its small scale, and it prodded the 4th wall at some good places. The villain was again Marvel's weakness, and to be honest there could have been something better from the Darren Cross's (I don't think I'm spoiling anything - it's revealed pretty quickly that he's the villain) interaction with Hank Pym. The imperfect mentor and the frustrated student trying to prove something to his Master - it had been done reasonably well in Kungfu Panda. There were hints of it, and the two actors certainly tried to make something of it, but there wasn't enough to make you care for Cross, which was a real shame.
In all, a decent standalone movie that introduces you to a surprisingly pleasant group - but I'm not too sure about how they would go about making this a franchise. That said, I'm certainly looking forward to Scott's appearance in Civil War, and I'd love to see cameos from Hank and Hope somewhere down the line too.
Certainly was nice to hear the Winter Soldier jig whirring away in the background during that post-cred scene. Speaking of post-creds, they're probably the two most fulfilling post-creds in a while, and worth staying for.