One of the only things keeping me sane through my second lab rotation this quarter is Mr. Queen. I look forward to Saturdays and Sundays when new episodes come out because they make me laugh and feel happy.
If I could condense this show’s strengths into a single point, it would be Shin Hye Sun. Her portrayal of a man who time travels back to Joseon period and finds himself trapped within the body of a woman is so believable. She is an absolute delight to watch.
Besides for the excellent acting from Shin Hye Sun, this drama also showcased tight, strong writing for the first four episodes. There is a noticeable downgrade in the writing in the latest episodes, mostly because some of the freshness of the humor has since wore off and because after the foundation of the drama’s backstory was set up, there was not sufficient conflict to drive a “deeper” storyline.
I also would have appreciated a more thoughtful treatment of the second female lead’s character. Noble Consort Eun is written so one-dimensionally it’s a shame.
Regardless of the quality of writing, the drama has remained thoroughly entertaining. Sageuks and period dramas often explore the good vs. the bad in forming the foundational conflicts that drive their stories, and the conclusions usually involve blurred definitions for who is good and who is bad. Mr. Queen isn’t that type of drama, nor does it try to be; it is self-aware. Instead of focusing on palace politics, it provides humor.
Another strength of the drama that I should add here is its treatment of the romance between the King and Queen. After the first two episodes, I struggled a lot with understanding how a romance could develop between the two characters. The King hated the Queen, and the Queen was actually a straight man. However, fueled by excellent acting from both Kim Jung Hyun and Shin Hye Sun, a few emotional confrontation scenes helped propel the possibility for romance (or at least peacefully co-exist with each other).
In summary, I’m really enjoying this drama! It’s got great acting, some really funny scenes, and an interesting premise. 8/10 so far
In today’s post I would like to focus on songs from Chinese singer Li Ronghao. Li is a prolific and skilled singer-songwriter, often listed in many, if not most of his songs’ credits. His songs, which can be characterized as soft rock and blues, usually feature very catchy choruses and guitar riffs. Here I list my top 10 Li Ronghao songs, in no particular order.
祝你幸福 (Zhu Ni Xing Fu)
This is one of those songs that has alright verses but that really becomes good at the chorus. The repeating do-re-mi section is so catchy. The bridge is also great, with the right amount of tension building right before the last chorus. I had this song on repeat while studying.
Hi everyone, coffeenlucia here. It’s been quite a while since I last posted on this blog – I graduated last spring with a B.S. in Biochemistry ^_^ I recently started my PhD and am currently rotating in a structural biology lab. Although I’m not too sure right now what field I want to focus the next few years in, I’m excited to be pursuing science!
I have not been watching many dramas for the past three years (although I recently watched the first two episodes of Tale of the Nine-Tailed) so this blog has been relatively inactive. I do plan on posting more, but my focus will be more on Kpop and less on Kdramas.
Speaking of Kpop — my favorite Kpop group Twice recently released their second full album Eyes Wide Open. The title track “I Can’t Stop Me” is so good! Some highlights:
Momo rapping! Chaeyoung and Dahyun usually lead the rap sections of Twice title tracks so it was refreshing to see Momo join the rap part. Also Momo is such a bias-wrecker.
The knee-drop dance move as well as the air-punching dance move – Twice always has catchy dance motifs.
I told myself I wasn’t going to recap this series, but I really enjoyed the most recent episode and wanted to share my thoughts on the blog. I have to say I’m getting quite good song recommendations from listening to the assortment of gems on the show thus far — for instance, Dean Ting’s “Simon”, or Sherly Chen’s “Your Tavern is Closed to Me”.
Here’s how the PK round worked in this episode:
Five members from each team were chosen to face off with the opposing team.
Wins would be based on votes from the other two Sing China mentors Na Ying and Harlem, as well as an audience panel.
The losing team’s mentor chooses two members to eliminate from the remaining competition. These members do not need to be from the lineup in this particular PK round.
PK round 1: Liu Jia Qi (Li Ronghao) vs. Wang Wen Fang (Wang Leehom)
Liu Jia Qi is one of my top picks to win the competition. The alto singer’s vocal tone is clean and comfortable to listen to. I also really loved her auditioning piece “也罢”. However, her performance of “散了吧” seems less god-tier. It’s a combination of what I think was a wrong song choice, and an underwhelming performance from an otherwise competent singer.
Wang Wen Fang on the other hand impressed me here with her jolting energy and precision in hitting high notes.
coffeenlucia’s winner: Wang Wen Fang – Based on the performances in this episode alone, I would choose Wang Wen Fang as the superior singer. Liu Jia Qi’s interpretation of the song came across as stilted and almost monotonous, whereas Wen Fang deftly navigated a technically difficult song while hyping the audience up.
Actual winner: Liu Jia Qi – I am happy about this, since I’m still rooting for Jia Qi to win the whole thing (or at least be in the finals, please).
PK round 2: Luo Lei (Li Ronghao) vs. Qu Yang (Wang Leehom)
Qu Yang’s cover was very meh for me. I guess he gets brownie points for having this emotional connection to the song since apparently he misses his daughter. Okay so his backstory is touching, but I don’t take that as scripture if his performance doesn’t live up. To be fair I feel like the song has that sort of Jay Chou vibe, in that it’s gonna be a catchy song, like one that you’d sing at a karaoke, but has less appeal in showing off a singer’s talents for the purposes of a singing competition.
I adored Luo Lei’s cover of 小半. Just as Li Ronghao commented, her tone is sort of “cold”, which fits this song nicely. I do think that Luo Lei’s performance seemed to do the original justice, but did not necessarily elevate it. The cover also lacked a clear climax (imo) and she seemed to belt out the chorus the first time, leaving little room to increase intensity for the second chorus.
coffeenlucia’s winner: Luo Lei – It’s not that I think Luo Lei necessarily excelled here. I just think Qu Yang’s cover didn’t meet my expectations as much.
Actual winner: Qu Yang – Aight, not sure why. I guess the “cold” on-stage persona of Luo Lei triggered some audience? Maybe they think Qu Yang has more potential? I’m not sure, but either way this PK round wasn’t that memorable to me.
PK round 3: Li Fan Yi (Li Ronghao) vs. Hong Yu Lei (Wang Leehom)
Hong Yu Lei’s performance doesn’t appear to be uploaded on Youtube yet…
Fan Yi pleasantly surprised me here. Or perhaps the prowess of Sing China’s audio technology system is surprising me. In Episode 5, I remember there was a sort of behind-the-scenes clip that foreshadowed this episode, where Fan Yi was singing in studio… Let’s just say that it wasn’t the greatest — pitch was a bit off. But here Fan Yi sounds phenomenal. To her credit, it is possible that she’s improved a lot since that studio recording session. I also love this song (“Your Tavern is Closed to Me”)! I’ve never heard it before, but I will be listening to this on repeat now.
Hong Yu Lei sings “Meteor Shower” and honestly I was more distracted by how expressive he was in terms of body language that I didn’t pay as much attention to his voice. This is your typical ballad song, but there was something about the way he maneuvered the stage and literally covered so much ground by walking around that elevated his stage presence and thus overall performance. It’s hard to tell whose singing ability is stronger here though, because both songs seem pretty equal in terms of difficulty.
coffeenlucia’s winner: Fan Yi – I don’t necessarily think Fan Yi is a stronger singer, but I think her song choice is perfect. Yu Lei perhaps wins in the charisma department though.
Actual winner: Fan Yi – Yay, finally the first person who I thought won actually won the majority vote too!
PK round 4: Li Zhi Ting (Wang Leehom) vs. _____________ (Li Ronghao)
Zhi Ting impressed me in the behind-the-scenes clip from Episode 5. Her notes were stable and clean. I also enjoyed her audition song “你敢不敢” and thought she had this innate ability to infuse the stage and audience with her infectious positive energy. Here her cover of 流沙 is definitely way more technically difficult than her auditioning piece. There’s a ton of runs all over the place, but it gets a bit annoying hearing run after run. On one hand, my jaw is open in shock at how good it sounds for the difficulty of the song, but at the same time the repeating motifs begin to sound whiny.
The other guy (forgot his name, sorry!) actually was really good too! He had this sort of quiet tenacity that wasn’t showy, and certainly not so after Zhi Ting’s performance. However, while he might not have captured my attention as much as Zhi Ting did, he certainly seemed to emote a lot better, given that I wasn’t hearing a run every second.
coffeenlucia’s winner: Hmmmm, hard to say. I’ll go with the person on Team Li Ronghao. I was captivated by Zhi Ting’s performance, but I also have to say o.g. 流沙 is superior. There’s this rawness and longing in David Tao’s recording that is lost in a sea of runs.
Actual winner: Li Zhi Ting – I’m happy for her and I hope that the she goes for fewer runs in the latter rounds of Sing China.
PK round 5: Yi Ge (Wang Leehom) vs. Xing Han Ming (Li Ronghao)
Yi Ge’s R&B song here is a more thoughtful cover than her preceding teammate’s. Yi Ge’s voice tells a story, with a gentle, pleading urgency permeating each note. Man, she’s like the Whitney Houston of this season. I found myself clapping for her even before the song ended.
Xing Han Ming has a very unique tone that was described by Harlem as “alien” in her audition. I myself am not totally in love with her vocal timber but I recognize that she can only benefit an otherwise “normal” Chinese music market. The song choice is also fitting here, with this mysterious vibe that meshes well with her aesthetic.
coffeenlucia’s winner: Yi Ge – Such a lovely cover. I appreciate Han Ming’s unique tone but if I had to listen to a song on repeat I think my preference would lean towards Yi Ge’s voice.
Actual winner: Xing Han Ming – I have to say this outcome actually surprised me a bit. I feel like the Chinese music scene is generally conservative and not as expansive as their other Asian peers (ie K-pop or J-pop) due to many restrictions on music content, so I was not expecting them to be so open towards a new, unique voice. I’m quite happy that Han Ming won; perhaps this is a sign of potential broadening of the Chinese music market beyond the everyday ballad.
Warning: There are definitely spoilers in the following conversation. I definitely suggest watching the film before reading anything, because this movie is really great.
coffeenlucia: Let’s shift gears and talk about some of the purposeful shots in the movie that served to “break the fourth wall”, like the ending scene where Det. Park Doo Man looks into the viewers’ eyes with such hopelessness. What made that scene so poignant for viewers?
flyingplatypus: I think the context of that scene (e.g. the lines that precede it) is what gives his look into the screen such powerful meaning. The little girl he talks with beforehand tells him that the man who revisited the same crime scene a while before (whom we presume is the killer in question) is simple “plain looking… ordinary.” As Det. Park Doo Man looks away from the girl and stares into the field, we get a sense of hopelessness, of despair that he feels. He realizes — just as the audience realizes — that the murderer could be any one of us; he is an ordinary man: the man you pass by on the street, the man who works a meager job, the man who is a father, the man who is a husband. He could be any one of us and the rest of us wouldn’t know, and I think that’s what strikes Det. Park Doo Man in that moment. After staring into the field for a few counts, the detective turns and looks straight into the camera, as if staring into each one of our eyes, searching for the killer amongst the audience.
I feel like what comes with this is also — not necessarily an accusatory look — but I guess more of a look of judgement, and it’s here that we find another lesson: Any one of us, though we may think we are ordinary, average, are capable of atrocity. It’s harrowing to realize this, and I think it was a perfect decision for the camera to fade out into black, leaving the image of the detective’s searching gaze imprinted on our minds.
coffeenlucia: Another time that the director breaks the fourth wall is the scene where the schoolgirl is killed. To the viewer, the camera acts as the murderer’s eyes, gazing back and forth between the detective’s wife and the young schoolgirl. Viewers must, like the murderer, decide who to be the next victim. What might this subconscious choosing on our part reveal about human nature?
flyingplatypus: This weirdly reminds me of one variation of the Trolley problem where you are essentially forced to choose between a family member that you know, and say, three complete strangers. The trolley must hit one party or the other, and it is up to you to decide which party to sentence. Most people choose to spare the family member that they know and kill the three strangers, which takes a more emotional rather than utilitarian approach. We could say that humans tend to be driven more by emotion, and it’s demonstrated again in the scene you described — as we take the place of the killer looking back and forth between the wife and the schoolgirl, there’s some part inside of us praying that the killer chooses the schoolgirl, simply because in a couple scenes, the wife has been shown to be loving and caring; we know her more than we know the schoolgirl. However, once we distance ourselves from these two characters, we find that more often than not, we would opt to spare the young, innocent girl in place of the aging housewife with less years in front of her. Ultimately, we look back on our thoughts during this scene and realize that we’re emotional beings, and perhaps worse, irrationally immoral at times.
coffeenlucia: So would you save the schoolgirl rather than the detective’s wife in that case?
flyingplatypus: Yeah, during that scene I was definitely hoping the wife would be spared. I just couldn’t bear seeing Det. Park Doo Man finding out that his wife had been raped and murdered by the killer he was failing to find… but instead, unfortunately, what you have is essentially the same thing playing out for Det. Seo Tae-Yoon and the schoolgirl with whom he had grown close.
coffeenlucia: Another thing that I found interesting was how the bodies of Det. Cho Kong-Yoo and Park Hyeon-Gyu at one point (when the boss kicked the detective down the stairs, and when the suspect fell in the tunnel) mirrored the positions of the victims, with hands raised behind the back and bodies lying flat.
To me the director’s trying to make a point that these two men are being toyed around by the murderer in a similar way as the victims are. It’s as if this whole series of murders is just a game to the perpetrator. He marks the corpses with his signature, stuffing corpses with items belonging to the victims, because he can. He taunts the detectives, almost willing them to catch him… if they are able to.
flyingplatypus: Yes, I agree with those points. I also think that in a way, the director was playing with us throughout the course of the movie. He led us through these suspects, each more plausible as the killer than the next, and then slammed the whole thing down on our heads at the end. He subverted our expectations, or at least he certainly did mine. (Of course, this wouldn’t ring true for your experience if you had gone into the movie knowing that the Hwaseong serial murders resulted in a cold case.)
coffeenlucia: Speaking of plausible killers, the scene where the three detectives chase down the pervert factory worker was pretty elaborate. For a while, the pervert was able to blend in with the other factory workers so well that the detectives couldn’t immediately spot him in the crowd. You’d expect that given that much effort exerted by the detectives to find the suspect, that the pervert would end up being the real murderer.
flyingplatypus: Mmhm. I think that while the pervert was getting interrogated, we were all — just like the detectives — hoping that he was the one. We had followed the detectives’ pursuit of this guy all the way into the factory, invested ourselves into this storyline, and with everything lining up, hoped that it would end in a pretty bow tie.
coffeenlucia: Is it significant that the pervert ended up being an otherwise seemingly normal factory worker? When the detectives first arrive to the factory grounds, they’re almost mobbed by an endless stream of workers, all of whom are dressed in the same uniform and doing the same tasks…
flyingplatypus: It goes back to the theme of “the killer could be anyone, anyone could be the killer.” These factory workers are all ordinary, faceless men, and in the same way, the general population can be described with those same words. The fact that a killer, let alone one of such high profile, may be one of those ordinary, faceless men is harrowing and speaks to the darkness of human nature.
coffeenlucia: So something else that intrigued me was the amputation. Can you talk about the significance of that event?
flyingplatypus: Upon first watching the film, I thought that the conflict regarding Det. Cho Yong-koo’s leg getting infected and eventually amputated was definitely significant. Again, however, it wasn’t until I rewatched the scenes surrounding the conflict did I get a grasp on what the director was trying to convey on a deeper level.
Here’s what I think the conflict means: After we learn that Det. Cho’s right leg would need to be amputated due to a tetanus infection, we arrive at a scene where Det. Park Doo-man prepares himself to sign the papers authorizing the surgery. However, we never actually get to see him go through with the signing — as if it was so painful for him that he simply blocked it out of his memory. Instead, the film cuts straight to Det. Park back at his office, looking forlornly at the pair of shoes Det. Yong-koo frequently wore. To the right shoe still clings the fabric shoe covering, harkening back to the scene where Det. Cho used it to protect his shoe while beating up Baek Kwang Ho. It is as if the detective is now facing retribution for the dirty tactics he used on the job. His right leg, the leg he used to terrorize others, is now taken away from him (and what’s most ironic is that it was Kwang Ho who effectively took his leg away, because he was the one who pierced Det. Cho with the rusty nail). As Det. Park Doo-man ponders this cruel form of retribution, you get a sense of hopelessness and anger that he feels — a sense that the world is utterly unfair. In the context of the greater conflict within the story, we realize that the killer at large is doing much worse things — unspeakable things — and yet, he faces no retribution for it, all due to the incompetence of the detectives. Alas, the anger Det. Park feels is not only at the world, but also at himself.
These were just some of the things that we noticed in the film. If there was anything in the movie that you found interesting, feel free to leave a comment below!
Warning: There are definitely spoilers in the following conversation. I definitely suggest watching the film before reading anything, because this movie is really great.
Also, the discussion ended up being a little too long to fit into one post so there will be a Part 2 posted soon!
coffeenlucia: To start, could you give a brief summary of the movie?
flyingplatypus: Sure. Memories of Murder is based off the infamous Hwaseong serial murders that occurred in Korea from 1986 to 1991. During this time period, 10 separate cases of women were raped and murdered, presumably by the same person. However, what’s most chilling is that detectives could never find who the killer was.
coffeenlucia: Did it surprise you — or even disappoint you — that the killer was never revealed in the movie? When in the narrative did you realize that the series of murders ended as a cold case?
flyingplatypus: I wouldn’t say that it necessarily surprised me, but it was definitely jarring to have gone into the movie thinking that a killer would be found in a grand revelation at the end, only to realize at some point that it was actually a cold case. I think it was during the tunnel scene when I realized this — when Park Hyeon-Gyu tells Det. Seo Tae-yoon that he killed those women, only to follow it up with something along the lines of, “Is that what you wanted to hear?”
coffeenlucia: The acting from Park Hae Il (Park Hyeon-Gyu) was phenomenal in that scene. Loved the subtle changes in his facial expressions from defiance to a sort of vulnerable resignation when Det. Park Doo Man told him to look into his eyes, and the way that the detective can only say “Fuck, I can’t tell.” It’s pretty telling when the detective’s one trick for determining guilt is rendered obsolete.
It’s hard to conclude that Hyeon-Gyu is completely innocent, though. Baek Kwang-Ho’s reaction to Hyeon-Gyu’s photo, as well as the burn on his face, suggest that Hyeon-Gyu probably had to do with that scar. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t immediately claim innocence toward the detectives?
flyingplatypus: I think that’s exactly why. Nobody is completely innocent; nobody is guilty of nothing. I think that’s also why Det. Park Doo Man couldn’t tell if Hyeon-Gyu was the killer he was after — he did a terrible thing to Kwang-Ho, and from that, we can infer that he’s a terrible man, and that’s why that messes with Det. Park Doo Man.
Also, there was this really cool part in the film where Hyeon-Gyu is in the interrogation room soon after being apprehended, and he tells the detectives, “Even kids in this town know you torture innocent people. Anyway, I won’t be one of them.” The first time I watched this scene, I took that quote to mean that Hyeon-Gyu wouldn’t let himself to be subjected to the detectives’ cruel tactics. Yet, after learning that Hyeon-Gyu has done a terrible deed in the past, a double meaning of this quote is revealed: Hyeon-Gyu isn’t an innocent person, and that’s why he won’t ever “be one of them.”
Staying on the tunnel scene though, what did you think about the reactions of Dets. Park and Seo when they found out the DNA test results from America?
coffeenlucia: Yeah, Det. Seo seemed to be in disbelief at the results. After staring blankly at the paper for a moment, he even says “It doesn’t matter. This is just a lie.” He had built up this version of truth in his mind so indisputable that scientific evidence proving otherwise didn’t even matter to him anymore. To acknowledge the validity of the DNA results would show his incompetence. And if that happened, he wouldn’t have any pride left as a detective, especially when so much of his credibility thus far had not been because of his merit, but because of his status as a sophisticated detective from Seoul.
In contrast, Det. Park appears to be more resigned upon finding out the results. He might not believe that Hyeon-Gyu is 100% innocent, but he also cannot confidently say that Hyeon-Gyu is 100% guilty. With this newfound knowledge, he stops Det. Seo from killing Hyeon-Gyu. This is almost a reversal of the detectives’ roles in the movie so far. Det. Park is supposed to be the violent one, beating suspects and forcing them to recite false confessions, all for the sake of promoting an easy narrative that he’d like to believe. In contrast, Det. Seo has been more stoic, the voice of rationale amidst a poorly-run detective agency. But here we see Det. Park holding back Det. Seo from acting upon an impulsive decision, showing how the case has impacted and changed the detectives.
—The breaking-the-third-wall interview that occurs within the first few minutes of the show reminds me a lot of Reply 1994. I like this technique, but I feel like its utilization is more apt in the Reply series, where the method brings viewers to question who becomes the main lead’s husband. In Le Coup de Foudre, however, we already know that the main leads get married: Wu Qian’s character reveals this in the first minute. In this case, there is no more suspense, and thus feels more like the method is just there to experiment with narrative telling, rather than serving as a strategic plot device.
—Also, what is up with the OPs of Chinese dramas?! Very often they spoil so much plot. In this case, we see the two second leads getting married!
—The settings seem a bit random at times. Qiao Yi and her best friend choose to meet up at a bookstore, we have no context as towards why a bookstore, they flip through books without looking at them, then strike a conversation about an upcoming student reunion. Clearly, the scene was meant to enlighten viewers that such an event was coming up, although it seems more like a means to an end.
—Pacing… is a bit slow?
—Aw, her boss at the television station is really nice. The life lesson scene was great.
—And the episode progressively gets better! Yan Mo is so good-looking lol. I like the Romeo and Juliet feel, though we probably won’t find out what was keeping Qiao Yi from saying yes to starting a relationship with Yan Mo until later. My guess is either she didn’t want to hinder his studies (oh, noble idiocy) or was forced to by his parents.
My favorite Kpop group, Twice, has just released “Fancy”, a comeback that seemed to come out of nowhere, with what I thought was less promotion than their other title songs. Nonetheless, Youtube views don’t seem less than usual — in fact I think this comeback is more popular among US fans than other title songs.
I find that there are two camps of Twice fans: those who want Twice to switch to a more mature sound, and those who still enjoy the signature cute, girl-next-door vibe but who recognize that the group will eventually need to switch concepts. None of us would mind if Twice did change concepts, as let’s be honest — stanning a Kpop group goes farther than just liking their songs. (Twice’s 2017 release “Signal” is ample proof that a off-mark song can do no damage to the fanbase.) But while we didn’t mind if Twice switched concepts, we gradually started wondering when it would happen.
We thought BDZ would finally be the triumphant return to the “girl crush” concept since “Like Ooh Ah” at debut, but alas, we were terribly rickrolled. Sure, Twice members were dressed in sexier outfits, but their sound maintained the cutesy tone they were known for.
Well, here it is. HERE. IT. IS. “Fancy” is a glorious, upbeat yet melancholy song, that Twice sings perfectly, with an apt wistfulness in their voices. The release immediately reminds me of older Kpop, where EDM dance pop was more popular, executed by groups like TARA or KARA. I can only hope that Twice continues this sound in the future; it would certainly satisfy my nostalgia.
The question is why now for the switch in concepts. In a sense I am sort of sad. I always viewed Twice’s eventual concept switch as the trump card, a move to be made only in desperate situations. Is Twice’s predicament, then, one that is being threatened by other girl groups? I still think Twice remains “one-top”, especially among the general public (excluding fandom). Until a national hit like Cheer Up appears, I think this spot remains Twice’s. What then is in danger? Perhaps it is not public recognition, but fandom that Twice is concerned about. Izone, a relatively new girl group formed from the survival show Produce 48, also has three Japanese members, and thus represents a threat to the Twice niche in the Japanese Kpop market. I think JYP recognizes that if Twice doesn’t do something to keep the attention of fans, they might change loyalties to rival groups.
Finally, should we, Twice fans, worry about this concept change? Well, I for one welcome this new sound. Fancy is probably my favorite Twice song now.