Sunday, October 12, 2014

Drama Review: Lee Sang the More

When I think of one-off dramas, I usually think of an up-and-coming cast and low budget. But in 2013, MBC decided to try something different. They brought in the big (camera) guns, upped the budget, and invited some of Korea's biggest acting talents. The episode I'll be talking about today stars a name that's quite familiar around this internet neck of the woods: Jo Seung-woo. Here he is playing iconic Korean poet Lee Sang in Lee Sang the More (Korean title: 이상 그 이상/Lee Sang that Lee Sang).

Since I'm not overly familiar with this Lee Sang figure (if you know more, please chime in!), my knowledge of him is only based off of Wikipedia. He was considered a progressive writer and during his time, his works ruffled the feathers of some scholars at the time. As with most forward thinking artists, his work only gained popularity four decades after his untimely death at 26 years old.

For Lee Sang the More, Jo Seung-woo plays the titular character. But instead of a biography of his life, this episode instead had a most likely fictional iteration of Lee Sang and put him right in the center of a mystery case file. Lee Sang the Poet is now Lee Sang the Detective.

The story begins in the 1970's as an older man walks into a shop offering to sell a painting he owns. That painting is in fact a painting of Lee Sang, taken from his Swallow Teashop. The shopkeeper questions the authenticity of that painting, so the man begins to tell his experience as a server in Lee Sang's shop. Rewind 40 years prior to when Lee Sang was still alive and working. His work is being openly protested in the streets with his weekly column The Crow's Eye View finally being cancelled. In the midst of this all, one of his friends Hiroshi shows him a poem that hold clues to what could've been the Korean royal family's last bits of wealth before they were annexed by Imperial Japan. The day after, Lee Sang finds Hiroshi brutally murdered in his own home. He then meets a woman (Park Ha-sun) claiming to be Hiroshi's lover who warns him that he is now in danger for also knowing the poem, like Hiroshi did.

I for one am not the biggest fan of the mystery genre. I'm a rather lazy watcher and spinning my mental wheels is not a preferable option. So to be quite honest, during this whole mystery chase, I wasn't really in it to solve anything.

But even if you were, here's a spoiler for you: the ending kind of sucked. Here's why. You know those moments where you're in a wild goose chase and instead of the promised chest of gold, you get a moral lesson instead? Yeah, this is it. It didn't have to be, but it did. Also, I kind of didn't get what the aha moment was (the one that includes the royal family, not the moral lesson), but I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I'm not familiar with Korean history. Was Park Ha-sun the queen's child or something? I don't get it.

Other than that, I thought this episode really did well. Up until the very end where all the eyes were rolled (mine were, at least), the episode flew by fast. A lot has to do with Jo Seung-woo and me drooling over how handsome he is in a suit. The whole story is led by Lee Sang, this genius who loves riddles and numbers. Aside from that, this episode definitely feels well made. You can tell with the amount of animation and snazzy transitions that they really wanted it to be a high quality one-off drama. Plus, the jazzy tunes played in the background is great. Not only does give a feel of the time (this might be a lie. I've never lived in 1930's Seoul), but also sets the story well into the mystery caper genre ala Sherlock Holmes.

The problem with one-off dramas is that they are a bit difficult to come by. Not every drama-playing websites provide them. For KBS Drama Specials, they are available on YouTube and I have watched a couple. For those of you based in the US, there's Hulu for MBC Drama Festivals. But they are out there, you just have to know how to use Google.

So if you're getting frustrated with those lengthy dramas, I suggest these one-off dramas for a change. Plus, maybe you might be able to find your newest Korean actor muse (hello, White Christmas cast; okay so that's not exactly a one-off drama, but it's still half the length of a mini-series).

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