Friday Drama Review – “Vampire Prosecutor”

Suffering serious culture shock, the Soju DramaQueen segued from Classic Historical Drama last week to edgy Crime Sci-Fi Fantasy this week.

Vampire-Prosecutor3How exactly does one adequately transition from Dae Jang Geum to Vampire Prosecutor? It’s a valid question.

The two dramas could not possibly be more different. Honestly, I was really expecting to not like these dramas. In fact, I never intended to watch the second season, but lo and to my astonishment, my expectations were, well, wrong.  I watched both seasons back-to-back, not stopping for a breath.

Having refused (for many years now) to succumb to the whole “Twilight” saga thing, the overdone vampire concept does not hold much appeal for me. Remarkably well conceptualized and visually appealing, Vampire Prosecutor and Vampire Prosecutor 2 were surprises. They had the same slick, sexy sci-fi presentation that makes American dramas like “Fringe”, “Supernatural” and “Warehouse 13” appealing – just credible enough to be engaging instead of tacky, enigmatic instead of preposterous.

 

Vampire-Prosecutor-2-Poster-2Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 8/10

The format is quite unusual for a Korean drama in that each episode is somewhat standalone – in other words – each tells its own little story, quite similar to American crime dramas like “CSI”, “Criminal Minds” or “Bones”. Like the American dramas there are thematic plot lines following the main characters from episode to episode making sequential viewing preferential, but not entirely essential. The thread of mystery, the titillating back-story surrounding our Vampire Prosecutor imparted piecemeal in each episode is part of what keeps the viewer waiting for the next episode.

vampireprosecutor2The premise is simple: A prosecutor (who happens to be a vampire, albeit reluctantly) and his team of non-vampire associates solve various well-scripted crimes. The hook? Being a vampire gives Min Tae Yeon (Yeon Jung Hoon) an edge in crime-solving because tasting the blood of the victim allows him to experience the victim’s death. Painful, to be sure, but he is often able to determine the main culprit(s) instantaneously. His faithful sidekick and confidant is Detective Hwang Soon Bum (Lee Won Vampire-Prosecutor12Jong) who serves not only as an essential crime-fighting team member, but also as ‘big brother’ to the troupe. Prosecutor Yoo Jung In (Lee Young Ah) is the new member to the team and seriously wants to know what secret her boss, Prosecutor Min is hiding from her. Rounding out the team is Kim Joo Young as Choi Dong Man, the young intern eager to win approval and full-time status with his lab skills.

 

Vampire-Prosecutor-2-2Script/Acting: My rating 7/10

It’s frustratingly unclear why the detective, Hwang Soon Bum, knows about Min Tae Yeon’s dark secret from the beginning. There are a few people with inside knowledge, convenient to be sure, but the fact that we didn’t know why throughout was distracting and somewhat annoying. Some, of course, turn out to be vampires themselves!

Vampire-Prosecutor-2-5The first season featured sexy coroner Soo Hee (Kim Ye Jin). Dong Man and Soon Bum spend much time vying for the best view of her – ah – attributes. There is a priceless scene involving Soo Hee demonstrating how the killer stabbed the victim using Dong Man as a stand-in. Dong Man is miming ecstasy as she wraps her arms around him from behind.

Coming fresh off of watching “Dae Jang Geum,” I found it amusing to find references to the drama in episode 8, when it is discovered that a person they are interrogating is named Lee Young Ae. (But whose appearance is hilariously in contrast to the beautiful idol.)

vamp09-00011Vampire Prosecutor 2 had the same team minus the sexy coroner, adding in her place a grandfatherly figure, quickly beloved by the staff: Lee Kyoung Young as Jo Jyung Hyun. Vampire Prosecutor 2 also had more substantial plot lines focusing on the main characters in the traditional K-drama fashion, (definitely requiring sequential viewing) rather than the American style crime drama format of the previous season. An important character carried over from Season 1, the faceless villain vampirebad vampire, is unmasked early in Season 2 – Kwon Hyun Sang identified as “L”. As if to counteract the dastardliness of the villain, teeny tiny sweetheart Kim Ji Young was added Ji-Ae, the staff’s ‘adopted’ daughter. This pint-sized sweetie was amazingly convincing in her heart-wrenchingly tearful scenes.

Quick note 1: Vampire Prosecutor 2 Episode 6 is a direct rip-off of “Miss Congeniality” with Prosecutor Yoo made over by a flamboyant stylist so she can infiltrate a fashion show as a model. It was, however, entertaining none-the-less.

Quick note 2: A massive cliffhanger at the end of Season 2 demands a Season 3, which is apparently in OCN’s 2013 lineup, but no set dates have been confirmed.

 

Cinematography: My rating 8/10

Edgy. Visually exciting. Unique scene transitions – excellent pacing. Cool slow-mo fight scenes showing off the superhuman strength of our fanged hero. A minor distraction was that the same video clip of blood cells, internal organs, etc. was used every time Prosecutor Min ‘sampled’ a victim’s blood. What was cool the first time was old by the end. Overall, though, the cinematography was excellent.

 

Music: My rating 7/10

Great musical tracks. Fun, upbeat guitar music – against all odds!

From Teasers:

Skrillex Feat. Sirah “Bangarang”

Season 1:

Joseph Feat. Rhino – “Dont Cry” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjxiNmue-go

Lee Jung – “Crazy for Love” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUEOt9xyLb4

Songs featured in episodes: “Camper” Albert Kick Feat. Jason Rene, “Stronger Than Me” Amy Winehouse, “Hot N Fun” N.E.R.D Feat. Nelly Furtado, “Rhythm Of Love” Plain White T’s, “Like A Dream” Midnight Boi

Season 2:

MC Sniper – “Danger” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJ1mru14crM

Songs Featured in episodes:  LMFAO “Sexy and I Know It”, H.O.T. “Warrior’s Descendants”, H.O.T. “Candy”, S.E.S. “I’m Your Girl”, Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe”, David Guetta Feat. Usher “Without You”

 

Overall Charisma: My rating 8/10

While thematically vampirism is certainly overused, at least it was used somewhat creatively in this series, and not as the main point of the drama. The hip cinematographic style, contemporary music and unusual format made viewing quite satisfying. The creation of good characters that viewers wanted to empathize with and pursue made the series worth following. Excellent acting added to the appeal.

Overall, my surprise at the intensity of my enthusiasm for this drama mirrors my initial surprise at the appeal of Korean dramas in general. I guess they will never fail to surprise me with unusual quality and fascination. At least, I (bloody) hope not. 😉

Happy Drama Watching!

 

Vamp2_2

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Friday Drama Review: “Incarnation of Money”

Is Money the Root of the 7 Deadly Sins?

 

Incarnposter1 The eternal battle – winning at all costs verses leading a righteous life.

A story of the redemption of some, for others, the inability to redeem one’s self.

And money. Lots of money. BIG money. The kind of money that incites enormous greed and induces people to abandon their convictions and sense of moral responsibility in order to acquire it.

 

Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 7/10

“Money is God”, Lee Kang Suk’s father tells him at a young age. A bright child raised in a wealthy household with a doting mother, attentive staff and proud but often-absent father, Kang Suk is a confident young man with a bright future ahead of him. The fairy-tale future crashes around him when his father’s mistress, Eun Bi Ryung and right hand man, Ji Se Kwang conspire to kill his father and frame his mother. Stripped of his family and wealth, the young Kang Suk discovers the truth and becomes the target of twisted cruelty.

Injured and suffering memory loss, Kang Suk is discovered by the powerful, politically connected loan shark Bok Hwa Sool and her quirky daughter Bok Jae In, who christen him with the name Lee Cha Don. They eventually place him in an orphanage, but provide funds for the best education.

incarnation castA hero who is beautifully flawed, imperfect – gasp – even criminal! Lee Cha Don grows up to be a conceited, self-assured, money-hungry extortionist. Not your average Prince Charming, to be sure.

Jae In, our heroine, is a conceited, self-assured but approval-seeking, food-hungry, overweight over-eater. Not your average Princess.

The story revolves around the struggles of the conspiracy group who killed Kang Suk’s father and conspired to keep everything secret and their rise to powerful positions with the help of the money stolen the family, and Lee Cha Don’s (Kang Suk’s) discovery of his own identity and battle to set things right.

Script/Acting: My rating 7/10

As an actor who appears equally comfortable dressed in a fashionable three-piece suit and dressed in drag as a dynastic queen, Kang Ji Hwan is remarkable to say the least. His acting style is amusing and engaging. His performances are honest. His portrayal of Lee Cha Don/ Kang Suk was, for the most part, credible.

Hwang-Jung-Eum-incarnation-of-moneyHwang Jung Eum played Bok Jae in, the wealthy loan shark’s daughter with an unusual personality. Although her character in this drama was not very appealing, whether it was the actress or the script is debatable.

The script called for Bok Jae In to be grossly overweight, a theme that’s been used successfully in dramas like Dream High and less effectively in dramas like Romance Town. The make up work is outstanding. It’s difficult to see where the real actor ends and the artificial pudge begins. The question becomes whether or not the weight issue is necessary or if it is being used rather gratuitously and/or abusively. In Dream High, the weight issue was vital to IU’s character. In Incarnation of Money, not so much. The character of young Bok Jae In was unpleasant and unappealing even without the weight factor. Using weight for gratuitous purposes felt like a cheap shot throughout the series.

The other issue it caused was the implausible nature of the romance between Lee Cha Don and Bok Jae In. Lee Cha Don thoroughly disliked Bok Jae In when she was overweight but began to love her after plastic surgery (cheater!) Nothing in her personality changed at all, yet viewers are supposed to believe that Cha Don loves Jae In for who she is. There was nothing in the script to support this premise, so the romance always felt artificial and was a major detraction from the story.

Incarnation-of-Money-6Take out the romance, though, and a fine Machiavellian tale emerges of lust, greed, avarice, wrath, pride and envy. (For those wondering, that’s 6 out of the 7 Deadly Sins. Perhaps Jae In’s gluttony was included to make a perfect set?) Park Sang Min was entirely believable as the sleazy prosecutor cum murderer Ji Se Kwang. Oh Yoon Ah as Eun Bi Ryung, mistress, abandoned lover, and not-so-intelligent businesswoman, was required to play a huge variety of emotions and character iterations and did so with style. The other major characters in the evil cadre, Lee Seung Hyung as Go Ho and Lee Ki Young as Kwon Jae Kyu added depth and drama. The loan shark, Bok Hwa Sool, played by Kim Soo Mi, was a delightfully witty character. Her descent into dementia was treated with dignity and humor, and acted with soul.

There were, to be sure, a few unbelievable gaffes – like the evil chief prosecutor Ji Se Kwang goading Cha Don by telling him their plans as a fait accompli in writing via email. Pure silliness.

Cinematography: My rating 6/10

While my preference would have been to leave out Bok Jae In’s weight problem, the make-up work was very well done. Filming for some stunts was also nicely done, others were kind of cheesy. Cinematographic themes that began at the onset were not carried out throughout the drama, making it feel almost as if a new cinematographer was introduced at some point.

Drama clichés: Same old prison, same sets as seen in many others; shower scene (thank you, Kang Ji Hwan); little bit of a turnaround as we have a rich girl, poor boy (who should have been a rich boy, alas).

Incarnation_of_Money_OST_Part_2Music: My rating 7/10

Final song “Up and Down” EXID extremely fun, catchy (But then, I’m a big EXID fan…): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7qFVs4RbC8

Be-boppy fun. “Chance” Kim Ji Soo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PV5Ge9zf0Q

“Memories of You” IVY http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jbjf2mOqHM

The main theme: “Money” P-Type feat. Kang Min Hee of Swings http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uN376rQW5TQ

“You Are the Love” Seo In Young http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGc41fdoDp0

Great Song! “The Day for You” Jang Jae In

Overall Charisma: My rating 6/10

I debated long and hard over what kind of overall rating to give this drama. There was so much to like in this drama series! The general concept was good. The acting was good. The music was good. The cinematography was fine. The biggest problem was that the romance in the drama was so implausible that it was a difficult hurdle to overcome, and it colored too much of the drama. Had the romance had been downplayed, perhaps I could have scored the drama higher. But even the ending rested on the culmination of the romantic pairing, in the worst possible context, in the least probable way. Better characters were left unaccounted for and instead the focus was placed on the least gratifying aspect of the series.

Other aspects of the drama ended pretty well. Conclusions for the ‘axis of evil’ while not entirely explained, were at least appropriate. I find it interesting that directors and scriptwriters feel that romance (at any cost) is more important than a good story.

 

 Happy Drama Watching!

drag queen

Production Company: JS Pictures

Chief Producer: Han Jung Hwan

Director: Yoo In Sik

Screenwriter: Jang Young Chul, Jung Kyung Soon