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I Hear Your Voice
10 people found this review helpful
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Jan 7, 2015
  • Overall 8.5
  • Story 8.5
  • Acting/Cast 8.5
  • Music 7.5
  • Rewatch Value 8.0
The Plot/Setting:

It really is simple. Yet as you know with Korean dramas, the plot can never really just stayed simple. So as it progresses, it digs deeper. And effectively at that. I love how the series starts off smoothly, already presenting the plot and its backstory by Hye-song's storytelling during her public defender's interview. This to me, was a great way to introduce everything because we didn't have to go through read more a painful full-on flashback but rather telling it in a way that contributes both to the present happening and the establishment of what happened back then. It, in a way, also created suspense. And it also made me, as a viewer, connect the dots myself.

I really really do love how I Hear Your Voice made a great connection with all its character. One way or another, each character is affiliated with another. And even if it's just a little, it's central or it contributes to the plot. This connection is really cohesive, concise and very tight. Of course, it may not be perfect but it makes sense and upon discovery, it makes it much more exciting. Hye-song's past is connected to Soo-ha's and Joon-gook. Hye-song is also connected to Do-yeon, Do-yeon is connected to Dal-joong's. Lawyer Cha is connected to Lawyer Shin's in the past and that's only a minor detail yet it's great because it establishes the present relationship of the characters and the chemistry between all of them.

Now, I do love the flow of the story. The connection with the past to the present is strong and has always been reinforced. I liked the time span of the story as well. However, I wasn't really a fan of the time skip (the one year gap). I'm not a fan of time skips in general. To me, it always feel like there's something missing even if it does get mentioned or solved in the future, I want to see everything for myself. And that's exactly what I felt especially with what happened to Soo-ha. But I did like how the story played out. I think the drama's court and law elements is really a great treat for me, I've learnt a lot and my interest in law just intensified. But those elements itself really helped a lot with how the twists have turned out, it allows engagement with the audience to help in figuring out together with the lawyer. To some extent, it addresses what it means to be a lawyer and a public defender especially (even a prosecutor or a judge). There's a lot of value conflict and morals as well as surprising plot devices that you do not see coming. It's a mixture of comedy, romance, drama and even thriller and mystery.

But, I'm sad with how the series failed to really address its biggest plot device: Soo-ha's mind-reading. Given that everything in the plot is in touch with reality, his supernatural ability is in isolation. So it has to be addressed. Like, how? And why him? I'm sure it's not just some random decision to have that ability. It's true that it's very crucial and helpful to the plot and the characters, so for something so important to have no background at all really doesn't sit well with me.

The Characters:
This drama provides me with a deep set of characters that have their own individual characteristics which were explored. The thing is, every character that is in the drama had their roles and they needed to be there no matter how small that role is. Every character compliments one another, every interaction has chemistry even between the antagonist and the protagonist. You see, Min Joon Gook is not the meanest of the meanest but of course he, too is horrible. However, that cruelty is justified, not accepted but at least there are reasons for the way he is. This in a way, makes us as an audience understand his character despite being the villain.

His character compliments Park So Haa's and brings out the "beast" within him. There is great chemistry, I'm telling you. Even between Park So Haa and the two policemen. Every interaction feels like a crucial factor. You can basically come up with a ship for all these characters, they just have a great atmosphere together. One of my favorite is between Hye Song and Prosecutor Seo. It's such a bittersweet friendship. Like these two go way back and have such a long history together (an unpleasant one at that) and they're bickering towards each other is as much fun as how they try to hide their care for each other. It's such an interesting friendship. The subplot for Prosecutor Seo is also great, not only did it give her character depth and development but it also tied in the connections between the characters that no one is left out.

The Romance:
I get it. Lee Jong Suk has great chemistry with anyone. Be it a male or a female. (Okay, maybe I'm being a bit biased because I love Jong-suk but still) I know that age doesn't matter. I know that Park So Haa and Jang Hye Song are wonderful together and I ship them. Though, this tandem is not a romance for all. It has its audience. It appeals to some, it's weird to some. Some would not sit well with their almost 10 years gap. Some wouldn't care at all. That's just what I would say about it as a whole.

But as for me, this romance is not exactly 100% forbidden. There is a tendency to be. But it just depends on your own personal taste. I think that this romance is meant-to-be. It's much more fated than Cheon Song-Yi's and Do Min-Joon's in My Love From Another Star or at least it seemed much more like fate with how their story was presented. The connection, the history and all that are much more cohesive and united. Not to mention that yes, despite the fact that they can seem like brother-sister or pass on as a mere admiration, there is a stronger chemistry with these two. Of course, it is similar in some way to Song-Yi's and Min-Joon's, So Haa is more like the older and mature one of the two, the protector but that itself is great because it shows that differences can bring out the best and change in people. All I can say is, Lee Jong Suk is such a bae.

The Themes:
Do not live with hatred and revenge. Hate is heavy. Revenge can make you a monster. But you have the choice not to be a beast. You have the choice not to be slave to your past. As a whole, that's the drama's main focus. But to some extent, it also focuses on the value conflicts of lawyers. What is moral or immoral? Will you defend someone even if you think they commit a crime? Would you actually have to care about that or just do your job? It deals with a lot of themes regarding the past and regrets and it presents it well despite the tangled lives of its characters.

As much as I love the series, it doesn't shy away from the ever-so-cliche, alone and loneliness theme. Though it doesn't heavily focus on that, it does at some point become Min Jook Goon's driving force or at least contributed to it in some way.
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The Bride of Rip Van Winkle
6 people found this review helpful
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Oct 21, 2016
  • Overall 9.0
  • Story 8.0
  • Acting/Cast 10
  • Music 10
  • Rewatch Value 7.0
A Bride for Rip Van Winkle is Shunji Iwai's return to Japanese feature film after a 12 year hiatus. And here, he proves why he's a doyen when it comes to storytelling as the film's writer and director.

Iwai explores loneliness, longing, companionship, destruction and construction of Japanese family, the rigid nature of Japanese society in the modern age. This makes Bride both a affirmation and subversion of Iwai's earlier films that read more I've watched like Love Letter, All About Lily Chou Chou and Hana and Alice. If those films reflects nostalgia, Bride seeks to redefine how the age of technology may bring people closer but also further and how this creates and define human connection.

Bride still incorporates Iwai signatures like sun flares, soulful montage, instrumental music and bringing in small scenes to bigger ones. Yet, Bride stands as its own. It's not as romantic as Love Letter of Hana and Alice nor as the coming-of-age of All About Lily Chou Chou. Despite a 12-year hiatus, Iwai doesn't lose his touch. He is still a very lyrical storytelling in a 3-hour emotional tale driven by an impressive cast, beautiful cinematography and heart whelming music.

When it comes to cinematography, Iwai's films are on the top of list. But of course, the credit goes to the film's cinematographer, Chiga Kanbe. What I love about Bride is how Iwai (and Kanbe) tells some much with its visuals and music that doesn't overpower each other even if sometimes, the dialogue is barely heard. The music by Mako Kuwabara embraces its stunning visuals. The overall tone is filled with sheer melancholy reflected with the littered cold colors, we too, are plunged in Kuroki's trauma paired with unstable camera angles showing a distorted vision.

Iwai knows how to tug at your heartstrings. He knows how to many silent shots mean so much more later. And finally, he knows how to build up drama and tension. It's 3 hours long (shorter in other countries) but the tension never subsides and the reveal particularly of Ayano Go and Cocco particularly laid down every detail shown prior to it. It makes the execution so satisfying. Yes, 3 hours is very long. Overly long and the film could've been shorter but very scene counts. Every scene matters. Though they seem random, they're not. That's how I felt watching this.

The cast, led by Hana Kuroki has amazing chemistry together and each of their characters contrast one another that brings out the personalities more. It's not a lopsided portrayal despite Mashiro (Cocco)'s later appearance in the second half. These characters aren't stock or just for display, they are there for a reason and their characters are explored.

Kuroki plays Nanami, a timid doe-eyed wallflower. Kuroki embodies a certain innocence that makes Nanami's somewhat bittersweet ending...worthwhile. She shines, in a subtle, very modest way but she shines. Though I would say Go is my favorite. He just has this charisma that pushes its way through. Playing a jack-of-all-trades, part Mephistopheles, he has done it with such clarity. Cocco is the light of the film (as ironic has that sounds given her character's fate) because of how vibrant and how lively she is compared to Kuroki's character.

Iwai doesn't sugarcoat these characters. He establishes them as such and moves on as much, making their emotions and experiences so much more connective with the viewer. He shows Nanami as awkward and docile by her experiences in school, having no relatives to invite at her wedding and eventually her own marriage.

Kuroki and Go stared in Flower of Shanidar (2013) which explains their good chemistry. But Kuroki and Cocco also share this same chemistry particularly because they're opposites of each other which really brings out their own respective personalities. Perhaps their bond is more than sisterly, maybe even erotic but I see it as more platonic bond of two lonely women, trying to find comfort in a directionless world.

Very much like Rip Van Winkle, these two women wake up in a world that breaks away from their past and try to make the most out of it...to be happy.

Bride also stands out because of how symbolic things are and how metaphorical it is. There is a scene where Kuroki approaches Go, some might see as romantic but Go's lines are metaphorical which relates back to the reveal of both his and Cocca's character. Seeing how Iwai reverts that and how Iwai chooses dialogue as a vital component in storytelling.

Finally, I want to say that there is so much suppressed emotions in this film which perhaps echoes the rigidity of Japanese social mores. Cocca's occupation is a very clever and important choice that relates to that. Not going to mention here explicitly but her job embodies the freedom and rejects this rigidity. Overall, it ties back to what the films show. Leaving yourself bare and exposed is a more intimate emotion where throughout the film, you suffocate by how much people are keeping and how fake they can be especially in this digital age.
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Confessions
6 people found this review helpful
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Mar 30, 2016
  • Overall 8.5
  • Story 8.0
  • Acting/Cast 9.0
  • Music 7.5
  • Rewatch Value 7.0
Well, it made the final shortlist in the Best Foreign Film category of the 83rd Academy Awards for a reason. From Kamikaze Girls and The World of Kanako director, Tetsuya Nakashima, Confessions is considered his opus. And with good reasons. This is based on the thriller novel by Kanae Minato.

With a strong 20 minutes opening monologue, Confession quickly establishes itself. It sets up the scene, introduces characters and creates conflict within read more 20 minutes with elaborate control and pristine intrigue. It's not perfect. It's not as detailed or as convincing especially actions coming from mere junior high school students but it enters a new type of fascination as a viewer. While the immoral practices presented in the film will make you question, it delivers the shock factor it needs. Perhaps the reason why it chooses that age group as its major protagonist (or should I say, antiheroes).

Confessions is a revenge thriller that is cleverly wrapped into a psychological film. Yes, the actions will cause shock (perhaps not even for the lighthearted) but it's the mental manipulation, the monotone, the poker face and the polite words that Moriguchi (played by Takako Matsu) that makes everything a perfect blow, up until the end, almost pulling a perfect Chekhov's gun.

While the intertwining confessions benefit viewers in giving a different perspective and a two-side of the story narration, it suffers from inconsistency especially in terms of clarity and length. Given the context of the story though, it makes you question how plausible the writing is. You can applaud Moriguchi's clever plotting but you question just how much, especially having junior high school kids here, how of much of what happens makes sense...in reality (being vague to avoid spoilers).

A contrast in terms of style with Nakashima's The World of Kanako which incorporates fast cuts and heightened overtones, Confessions is slow, filled with slow motions that adds dramatic effect but renders the stab to the heart effect. Irony and contrast is a recurring theme. Lots of irony. Contrast in overall cinematography with dark colors against white background reflect the melo-dramatic feel, sometimes emo ballad curled in psychological mindfuck that the film tries to take. Lots of dark gray tones creating a gloomy ambiance. Contrast with English music with ironic lyrics and dramatic scenes make the scenes stand out.

Ai Hashimoto, often called as an acting prodigy because of the massive pool of films under her belt at the age of 20 puts on her signature smug look that shows a character filled with secrecy. Yukito Nishii executes his character well, playing an innocent genius with dark secrets. His actions surprised me and I least expected that. He has great chemistry onscreen with Hashimoto. It's probably mean to say but Kaoru Fujiwara fits the stereotypical wimpy loner look which makes his acting effective and his eventual collapse all the more heartbreaking.

Overall, Confessions is not a perfect film but the acclaim it gets is the way it handles the psychological factors it imposes on its viewers. It tries to ask you teach you a lesson about life, but actually you don't need that lesson. That's a red herring in the film. Everything it "tries" to tell you, you already know. And I think the film is just showing these underlying "lessons" out in the open using young teenagers for elaborated effect. It's not a film about evil per say but the little hidden dark side in all of us. But I'm just glad that it wasn't the least bit romanticized.
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Love Exposure
5 people found this review helpful
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Jun 19, 2016
  • Overall 9.0
  • Story 9.0
  • Acting/Cast 10
  • Music 7.5
  • Rewatch Value 7.0
I watched Love Exposure on a 11 hours plane ride to Vancouver (my first ever out of Asia trip) so the thing is 1) I was sleepy 2) I was sleepy 3) I was sleepy. I watched Love Exposure knowing absolutely nothing about it except two things: it's by Sion Sono and it's 4 hours long. But other than that, I don't know anything else. And boy, was I in for a read more surprise.

4 hours didn't feel like 4 hours at all. In fact, it made my 11 hours flight seem...so short. To summarize what Love Exposure is is difficult. But that's very Sion Sono-like anyway. He's an auter that way. I enjoyed Love Exposure because it was different, because it was refreshing. It's a combination of all these things that normally don't fit well together but Sono does just that -- very Sono-like again. You have religion in one area and then sexuality on the other. You have panty shots on one hand and blood on the other. You have sinning in one hand and confession on the other. They're not things that go hand in hand yet Sono makes a perfect combination out of them.

I don't know what Love Exposure wanted me to get out of it. But it doesn't matter. In fact, I think Sono doesn't even want to make you think too hard. You're not suppose to undergo some epiphany just because of it. It's just a mash-up of different things that keeps you entertained and also think but not to the point of overanalyzing -- much like Sono's other works anyway. Sono doesn't try to hard to insert things, he shows it to you.

The divisions of 4 chapters was cleverly done and balanced well enough. There are loads of characters but each of them are given their own screen time that it doesn't seem so lopsided. It's 4 hours alright, but I felt like everything mattered and needed to be there...no matter how bizarre and weird they seem.

Truly, it's a romantic comedy that isn't subtly one. Above all, I think it aims to reflect the whole parent vs. child conflict of how parents carve their children into their own ideals, ultimately abandoning who they truly are in the process. It's about bad parents raising "bad" kids. But mostly, it's about how love, above all, conquers. At the end of the day, you lose your memories, you fell out of the line...but love it could save you.

Great soundtrack, exciting, funny, amazing cast and acting and most of all entertaining without trying too hard. 4 hours? It'll pass by so fast you won't even notice it.
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Chungking Express
5 people found this review helpful
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Apr 6, 2016
  • Overall 8.0
  • Story 7.0
  • Acting/Cast 8.0
  • Music 8.0
  • Rewatch Value 7.0
Chungking Express is probably Wong Kar-Wai's ode to romance, longing and 90s Hong Kong. Kar-Wai is known as an auteur for his visual work and Chungking Express is another example why. Instead of working on Ashes of Time, he took some time off and...made another film: Chungking Express.

Written during the day and shot by night is impressive and makes the film an exciting one that adds to Kar-Wai's pool of Asian read more work. While not his opus, Chungking Express is fascinating on its own. It's a film that's not plot driven but rather pulled and told by jarring cinematography, takeaway-meals and serendipitous tales.

An exotic bright colors and cinematography that's a combination of cris-cross, fast-moving shots that seems like a huge powder of euphoria has been splashed all over the screen. It's not your-typical-romance. It's more about storytelling, dialogue and narrative that's shown through the visuals that allures you.

It's the shakey cameras, the close-ups and the movements that guide you as you want. It's cinematic freedom that speaks pure Kar-Wai style of emotionally resonating narrative, visual uniqueness and stylized touch.

This is a intertwining stories of two cops, both of which are getting over a heartbreak on their own ways yet are told in similar ways through the use of visuals and small references and even candid symbolism that reflect Kar-Wai's poetic storytelling. It's really the second story that shows more of Kar-Wai masterpiece with cinematic sequences, engaging dialogues and great contrast and after effects. It's the little details of slow-motions or Faye's dancing in no. 663's apartment that pulls the cinematographic storytelling forward.

As such Chungking Express just like Kar-Wai's films about love is showing that love-can't really be described. No words. Instead, he shows it through visuals and details and such. This makes the film pure, not romanticized and a alluring ode to Asian cinema.
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In the Mood for Love
4 people found this review helpful
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May 7, 2016
  • Overall 9.0
  • Story 7.0
  • Acting/Cast 9.0
  • Music 10
  • Rewatch Value 7.0
If Kar-wai's Chungking Express is an ode to romance, longing and 90s Hong Kong then In the Mood for Love is an ode to 60s Hong Kong, nostalgia and desire. Watching In the Mood for Love will make you in the mood for love.

This film is about details. From small gestures, to quick looks, ringing of the telephone and shots of the clock to show the passing of time, it allows read more you to venture into a unrequited love story that's not painful but not overly dramatic. Kar-wai channels his use of details to move the story forward without too much effort just with simple rain, simple change of clothes or simple montage that exert such beauty it takes your breath away.

He knows how tell a story not through grand dialogues but through body language which is through cinematography. Not much head space here, much head space there, blurred wall here, never showing the face there, it leaves you guessing but also doesn't leave you in the dark. You know what's happening because it's being shown before it's being told. Repetition is also key here. Repetition blends well with time which blends well with setting and ultimately dances around the story.

If Chungking Express' aesthetic is filled with exotic colors, In the Mood for Love is vibrant and exhilarating with different colors even exhibiting some traces of noir style. Similar themes with Chungking, In the Mood for love portrays a more intimate type of longing, one that's filled with utmost desire that excites us through actions and not words spoken. We are plagued with a nostalgic 60s Hong Kong setting detail by detail and it entraps us into this alluring tale filled with cinematic beauty including slow motions and simple focus on blowing smoke; it is sexy without needing to be.

Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung exhibit such tension that we feel the love without needing to do anything passionate. Cheung's beauty transcends while Leung's restrained depiction is admired. There is delicateness present when they act together that just leaves you hungry for more. Of course this is all made possible by the soundtrack, handled by Shigeru Umebayashi. The music exerts feelings and flirts with Kar-wai's mastery of cinema together with the actors' vivid emotions makes everything a complete package.
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The Assassin
4 people found this review helpful
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Apr 17, 2016
  • Overall 7.5
  • Story 6.0
  • Acting/Cast 8.0
  • Music 8.0
  • Rewatch Value 5.0
Directed by lumiere and critically acclaimed Taiwanese director, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, The Assassin is his ballad of the beauty of Asian cinema. If you're looking to watch The Assassin thinking that you'll get an action-packed film then you can stop right there. This is not an action film. It's more of a political drama. And it's certainly not everyone's cup of tea.

Instead, it is more for those who want to see a read more film and appreciate cinema as an art form. Hsiao-Hsein makes use of cinematic beauty to tell his story which is loosely based on the 9th century story, Nie Yinniang. It's a turtle's pace story that drags its viewer on. With long cuts to wide angles to old school panning, Hsiao-Hsein channels in traditional storytelling. There is a lot of ambiance shots, little dialogues and more expression to move the story forward. As a viewer, you focus on the cinematic beauty. It's a cinematic ballad of Asian context.

True enough, it might be difficult for people to follow the plot. The summary might even be misleading because I see no romance here. Instead, I see more of an exploration of one's identity but perhaps a little too less. The lack of dialogue is overshadowed by the overwhelming amount of wide setting shots that makes you, the viewer decide most of what happens. There is little close-up of characters so you are in total control when it comes to interpretation.

The Assassin's strongest feat is definitely it's visual allure that explores the power of stillness (through the cinematography) and silence (through the lack of dialogue and use of music) that brings an unease tension, excitement and anticipation. It's almost as if you're watching a poetic piece, embedded in mystery all the while embodying precise movements and careful gestures that speaks to the camera. The lack of dialogues amplifies the action creating literature-like atmosphere.

Shu Qi reminds me of Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, her movements are so graceful and full of clarity. Her stone-cold face and unstained expressions just captures the assassin role so well. Hsiao-Hsien won Best Director in Cannes for this film and also swept 8/9 awards in the Asian Film Awards among others. In the end, it's really the ice-pole pace and the uninteresting characters that'll make you keep it at arm's length.
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The Murder of Snow White
6 people found this review helpful
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Jan 8, 2015
  • Overall 8.0
  • Story 8.0
  • Acting/Cast 8.5
  • Music 7.0
  • Rewatch Value 7.0
The Snow White Murder Case is the first film that I watched in a cinema alone. It's also the first Japanese film I've watched in the cinema. It's also the first foreign crime-thriller I've watched in the cinema. Basically, it's a lot of firsts. All because of Mao Inoue.

Not giving too much story-telling here so I'll just say that I grew up with Hana Yori Dango (Inoue's hit-TV series that shot read more her to fame).

The plot of The Snow White Murder Case is pretty straightforward. There's a crime. Of course what's next is to find the suspect. But what SWMC does differently is instead of trying to pinpoint who the suspect is, we already have one. Miki Shirono played by Inoue. What's left is to identify whether Shirono is really guilty or not. By all means, it seems that all clues lead back to her.

The film features several other characters, Noriko Miki, the one who was murdered, Yuji Akahosi, a reporter trying to solve the case for his 'big break' and at the same time, tweeting updates (which is not allowed in his job), Satoshi Shinoyama and Eimi Mitsushima, both Miki and Shirono's co-workers.

I think that Shirono's character is the one most explored and that's effective given that she is the suspect, in a way, it made her character richer and someone the viewer can sympathize with rather than hate. But that's not to say that the accounts of the other characters are not in vain because they are the pieces of the puzzle that make the story more structured and strong. The flashbacks are great additions to make everything tighter.

There is great storytelling here. The testimonials of the different characters, from co-workers, to the head, to Shirono's neighbour and primary/secondary classmates makes it all the more compelling. Why? Because as a viewer, you need to follow these testimonials to build and finally see the bigger picture. Then you judge. Are all the testimonials true? How can you judge if one is lying or not? That itself is enough to make you focused and think, it's not entertainment but it's also about you as a viewer being involved in the process.

Maybe I'm a little biased when it comes to Inoue but she is definitely one of the greatest actresses of her generation. I have seen her play a tomboy-ish, loud, fierce and strong character in Hana Yori Dango. I have seen her as a girl madly in love in I Give My First Love to You. And here, her performance is superb. The purity, innocence and plain Jane parts of her character here were delivered well. Everyone is full of angst and jealousy and such yet she is the only one full of pain and showing that as an actress makes her the central focus.

Nanao as Noriko Miki is also great. She is able to become flexible with her character, sometimes nice, sometimes not. And it's that type of acting where you just become annoy with the character and you know it's effective because the acting is good enough to make you annoyed. Go Ayano as the desperate Akahoshi is pretty sympathetic to watch and I think his performance also made them film compelling given his up-to-date tweets.

And those tweets made the film show another side of murder mystery. It's showing how the internet (or technology in general) can either help you or condemn you. There's those detective elements and aspects that reinforces the film's objective, making sure you stay focus on the goal as a viewer much like the character.

Cinematography's good. Perhaps there's a tendency for conversations to be long and making shots last longer. But beautiful setting. Not to mention the beautiful score especially by Serizawa Brothers. I love the connection with Anne of Green Gables and the timeline that the film chooses to go back to and tie the whole thing up.

All in all, it is a murder-mystery but it gives you a different side highlighting to what extent would you actually believe people just to get to the answer? In the end, I don't think it'll give you much of a surprise. But how things came to be perhaps might. You would eventually feel bad for the suspect and hate the victim. This film is all about questioning. But that's not to say it's all just about murder. It is the central focus but it's not too heavy on that, there are instances where scenes are light, funny and even dramatic (especially with regards to Shinora's past and I love that).

Maybe the downs of the film is there are times when it seems to good to be true. Sort of wishy-washy. Like you'd actually start to question if such things are possible in real life. Hypocrisy if you think about it since the film tries to establish the "questioning" part. The goal is there true. But the message the film wants to send needs to be stronger. To me in some way, the Curse aspect seems out of place and is not too in sync with the story line though I understand that some of Inoue's past are needed to make her character stronger. (like the reunion-ish with the childhood friend?) Still, some parts of it are questionable.

Overall, Snow White Murder Case is a compelling mystery-thriller. It gives a different side to the story and has great actors especially Inoue's acting.

"Good things are coming."
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Like Father, Like Son
3 people found this review helpful
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Jul 22, 2016
  • Overall 8.5
  • Story 7.5
  • Acting/Cast 10
  • Music 10
  • Rewatch Value 7.0
When it comes to storytelling and themes, Hirokazu Koreeda is my favorite; the little details and the feels. Arguably, Koreeda is also one of the most consistent directors out there. Like Father, Like Son is no exception as it bears Koreeda trademarks: familial themes, little details, young cast with incredible acting, framing and music, among others.

Like Father, Like Son is bittersweet tale that is jarred with the power and emotional bond read more of family. It takes into question: what makes a family? Is it blood or is it the bond? Is blood truly thicker than water? Swapped children is nothing new, it's a trope. But what Koreeda does is look into this issue in detail, explore it, strip its characters bare and allows the viewer to experience (and question) the responsibilities, the decisions and the identities made/done in the film.

It is a dramatic film but not one that drowns you in useless melodrama, not one that forces you to cry and not one that feeds you with cheesy lines as family. But instead, there is rawness, there is delicate emotions portrayed and more importantly, there is realness.

Again, Koreeda channels extraordinary young talents with the two boys -- Keita and Ryusei. Not only does the contrast between the two complement their differences but it also intensifies the differences of the two families. How will a carefree boy adapt to an independent, almost traditional life? How will an independent boy adapt to a non-traditional, carefree life? How will a work-oriented father bond with his energetic, non-traditional son? How will a fun-oriented father bond with his traditional, almost serious son?

These challenges show that the people who struggle in these circumstances are not adults alone, but also the children. Keita (his real life name) portrays Keita's cuteness with invisible strength and innocence. Shogen Hwang portrayed Ryusei's energy with utmost maturity and curiosity.

Masaharu Fukuyama portrays Ryota with a distant facade that eventually tears down while Jun Kunimura balances it out with her calm and honest personality. On the other side, Lily Franky portrayed the film's comic relief that wields undeniable wisdom of fatherhood to match Ryota's and is further complemented by Yoko Maki's gentleness and cheerfulness. Each and everyone of these actors portrayed their characters with unmatched performance.

It won Jury Prize in Cannes for a reason. And it has caught the eye of Spielberg for a reason.

Amazing cinematography with attention to details (e.g. Keita's hand made rose) that plays itself as something symbolic or important in the film. Not to mention the music pacing with the frames, such beautiful piano to listen to. And finally, the contrast of the close up from the adults' POV to the children and the long shots of the children's POV to the adults. These decisions, as a whole, make Koreeda truly a talented film maker.
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Happy Together
3 people found this review helpful
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Jun 19, 2016
  • Overall 8.5
  • Story 8.0
  • Acting/Cast 10
  • Music 9.0
  • Rewatch Value 8.0
I've always said that Wong kar-wai's films are like odes to Hong Kong. Or Hong Kong as it was in the past. But Happy Together is not an ode to Hong Kong. Instead, it's set in the other side of the world: Argentina. An unlikely choice but a beautiful one.

As with other Kar-wai films, it's always the cinematography that lunges at you. Typical of his style. I'd say that Happy Together read more is probably much more daring than his other films. Often overshadowed by In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express, Happy Together is both a happy and sad portrayal of romance. Yes, it's a love between two men. But instead of focusing on that aspect like other films do, it focuses more on their time together. It's cynical as much as it is positive. Kar-wai won Best Director at Cannes for a reason.

The film also pays tribute to classic noir style. But with a purpose. The black-and-white colors reflect their time apart. And gradually...color emerges. There's color when they rekindle their relationship or as they say "start over" again. The visuals speak as much as the story, as much as the actors. The aesthetics are also reminiscent of other Kar-wai elements -- cramped apartments, sudden close-ups, intense DOFs. But the colors are all retro. They're vibrant and intense. Add some exotic music to that. The setting and scenery are all beautiful. It's so so so appealing to the eyes.

Of course, we have Tony Leung Chiu-wai again. Yes, he won Best Actor for In the Mood for Love but I'd say Happy Together is his opus. It's a much more dramatic, challenging and intense character, he delivered in with more passion characters. He wants Po-wing (Leslie Cheung) but he can't show that but we still know he does -- that part is delivered very well. On the other hand, we have a charismatic Leslie Cheung here. He's able to deliver Po-wing's character with such rawness and explosion of emotions. Conflicted but at the same time very powerful. The chemistry between the two is undeniable.

The film is about intimacy. And it shows that. Chiu-wai and Cheung's acting all delivers that. In the cinematography, in the sounds, it shows all that. Even if Chiu-wai's character speaks in Cantonese while Chen's character speaks in Mandarin, it doesn't create a distance because it shows the understanding between the two. Happy Together is so underrated compared to its counterparts but it's also one of the most beautiful.
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Nobody Knows
3 people found this review helpful
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Apr 9, 2016
  • Overall 9.0
  • Story 8.5
  • Acting/Cast 10
  • Music 8.0
  • Rewatch Value 8.0
Hirozuki Koreeda draws inspiration from critically acclaimed director of Tokyo Story (sometimes said as the greatest film ever made...), Yasujiro Ozu who is known by his simplistic style and portrayal of Japanese family. Indeed, Koreeda delivers Nobody Knows with intense simplicity, precise details and raw emotions.

Inspired by true events (although fictionalized a little bit) by the Sugamo Child Abandonment Case, Koreeda presents an euphemized, less grim telling of the true events. read more It's a melodrama that's not depicted as a melodrama but carries the same intense and impact. I absolutely loved this film from the start to finish. Koreeda channels a contemplative style where details, time and dialogue drives the storytelling forward through its characters' actions. He maximizes the potential of his actors because it's presented in a way that's not exaggerated, not hyperbolic and not overly dramatic despite the film's central theme and plot.

I absolutely loved this film no doubt. Koreeda shows the passage of time through precise details from close-ups of feet, hands, tearing away of nail-polish, changing of the hair, color of the clothes and so on. That little Tokyo apartment depicts all the passage of time. The long cuts and the sudden shots of the children all show raw vividness and sincerity, it's as if they are being shot in their natural state which is how Koreeda really wanted it. The bond and the chemistry between all four children speaks volume and makes their presence feel very sentimental.

All four actors have zero acting experience prior to this film and you know what? That doesn't matter because it just feels so natural and so real that it doesn't matter. Young Yuki is just adorable. Shigeru though crazy is just cheerful. Kyoko is just simple and big brother Akira exhibits a boy-beyond-his-years. You see how the children change through their eyes and it's a very different perspective given to us as audience. The limited presence of adults did not matter because the young ensemble dominated the film well enough. Despite the serious subject, you cannot help but hate the mother (played by J-Pop star, YOU which IMO is a good choice) because each time she's on screen, she's shown as a bubbly, lovable mother. YOU's acting of a mother that craves love, somehow childish and the shots of putting on make-up all show that she craves the carefree life. But you can't hate her for that and Koreeda does that well. He also doesn't make you feel pity for the children instead he makes you admire them. These are all channeling positive emotions yet it's not a make-good film, it's a poignant coming-of-age portrayal.

Yuya Yagira, only 12 when he made this film, won Best Actor at Cannes at 14 for his role in this film beating famous names like Tom Hanks and being one of the youngest actor to win the award plus the first Japanese to do so. And he deserves it. Yagira acts with his eyes. He keeps the same all stoic face even when he's angry, when he's tired or when he just wants to run away from it all. He keeps the face. But it's the eyes that does the acting. He exhibits a maturity that's trapped in a child's body. A role where one is forced to grow up is shown so well through the children's little desire of toys, of games, to time outside of that cramp apartment, of friends, of baseball - these are all little details that Koreeda, the children and Yagira depict with intense vibrancy. Yagira is the anchor of this film showing such an emotionally complex portrayal of Akira.

The aesthetics of this film is just so nostalgic. Despite the very melodramatic theme, it doesn't feel grim or sorrowful so as a viewer, you feel hopeful. It's just so light that you can't help but feel good. With the in-depth use of camera, you are in there with them sharing their secret and you are helpless to do anything. Everything is overwhelming. But it's the overwhelming that makes you feel helpless as a viewer. This is great engagement between you and the film.

Koreeda uses symbolism, foreshdowing recurring shots that drives storytelling forward and perfect example of "Show Don't Tell"; is channeled throughout the film and it just touches you. I can't remember how many times I smiled seeing the same details used again and again to drive the story. For example, the opening shot shows Akira touching a pink suitcase, when the family moves in to the apartment, Shigeru is in that suitcase (I'll skip explaining why as to not spoil so much) and that very suitcase is used for a crucial plot element in the final half of the film.

Recurring use of a pink nail polish as well to show the mother's desire for youth and freedom and love and how Kyoko dropped it (another symbolism) and how the mother tried to wipe the stain (another symbolism) and how Kyoko is touching the stain months after the mother leaves (another symbolism) and the fading away of the nail polish shows the passage of time. It's repetition and making use of details so precise that makes the presentation of destruction of this family look so good and so beautiful and so clean even when it shouldn't be. Koreeda knocks you off your feet even when he doesn't have to try too hard.

Nobody Knows is not a film that's suppose to make you pity these kids (the ending is open-ended in some way) but it's a raw and vivid portrayal of family, of togetherness and of love and of courage shown through little details and utmost simplicity.
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Cold Fish
3 people found this review helpful
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Apr 5, 2016
  • Overall 7.0
  • Story 7.0
  • Acting/Cast 9.0
  • Music 9.0
  • Rewatch Value 7.0
Watch Coldfish with classic Sono Sion style in mind. Dark comedy, jarring music, long cuts and blood. After all, Sono is known for the extreme weird and freakish themes in his films. But this film is not for everyone. It's for the gore-seekers, the midnight madness, the avid supporters for cult-cinema which can either be a hit or miss audience to satisfy. With that though, Sono proves himself a master at his read more chosen niche market, though not perfect but shown with satisfying quality.

He opens the film with fast cuts paired with marching music that immediately sets the tone and the setting. The plot develops not through the revelations (the cliche way) but through dialogues, action and small details wrapped around in one perfect blanket. The clever way of using music that contradicts the scene is very Sono style but nevertheless, effective in bringing out the scene.

Dark, gray tones dominate the film with lots of red. Still, tropes like the typical-weak-salary man is still played and stretched towards the end that somehow makes the film repetitive. And with a 140 minutes running time, it's too long for a crime-thriller drama of this sort. The pacing is just too long, the narrative too dragging that at times, you just want to get to the excitement (and they aren't many). Expect blood and guts but don't expect excitement. Expect weirdness and undermined representations of women but don't expect excitement.

I'd praise the actors for their excellent portrayal though. Veteran actor, Denden plays the energetic-everyone's-uncle role so well mixed with humor and sadistic tendencies. Asuka Kurosawa (whom I've seen play a similar role in The World of Kanako) plays the seductive wife well and Mitsuru Fukikoshi plays the pathetic average man so well and that transformation at the end. Silent but deadly. He played it well.

It's more disturbing that the film is loosely based on the "Saitama murder of dog lovers" as you watch the film and have that in mind (though Sono makes a point that it's based on a true story in the beginning), it helps to establish the "credibility" and "sincerity" of what you're actually watching rather than just a make-believe murder tale because murder can be overrated.
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Our Times
3 people found this review helpful
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Feb 13, 2016
  • Overall 8.0
  • Story 7.5
  • Acting/Cast 7.5
  • Music 8.0
  • Rewatch Value 8.0
Asian teenage rom-com starter pack:
1) not-so-good-looking female lead
2) bad boy male lead
3) beauty transformation
4) some type of bet
5) bet backfires and the two leads fall in love
6) but they don't know how the other feel
7) love triangle (usually with a more good-looking character)
8) "make the best of our youth"
9) follows a time line
10) first love = endgame
Bonus 11) The actors are read more going to become household names after...

Number 10 is really the reason why I kept coming back. I just have the awful attachment to those kinds of stories and just makes me believe in them more...even if the chance that they'll happen in reality is slim. But anyway, the point is: teenage Asian rom-coms follow this similar path. Of course, there's some changes here and there but the initial idea remains and Our Times is no exception. It likens with another Taiwanese hit, You're the Apple of My Eye and Thai hit, Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

Yet I enjoyed watching all three. Why? Because of the nostalgia. (And yes, I'm weakness in these type of plots.) Thing is, these type of movies, like Our Times is of course, not for everyone. It has its target audience and I guess it's able to reach them successfully. All these movies I mentioned, including Our Times tries to tickle a millennial's nostalgic heartstrings which is really a big thing in Asia. You feel it alongside the movie, that is why timelines work.

And Our Times used that. Cameos by well-known actors like (no spoilers allowed so...) made that feeling stronger since many of us young adults, grew up watching them.

With that, we are able to remember our own first loves. Not to mention that Our Times has beautiful cinematography and soundtrack. The plot is nothing new but the comedy is still spot-on. Darren Wang and Vivian Sung (both in their early 20s by the way) play their respective characters well. I do think that Our Times, however, tried to twist things a little to make it a little more interesting (though still relaying on common romance tropes) but still trying to stretch things a little.

In the end, it's not a movie for everyone. But for those it wants to reach, I believe it does. It's a fun, light-hearted watch that tries its best to deliver a message for us youngsters out there.
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The Heirs
3 people found this review helpful
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Jan 8, 2015
  • Overall 7.5
  • Story 6.5
  • Acting/Cast 8.0
  • Music 8.5
  • Rewatch Value 8.0
The Heirs is a drama that I've been eyeing for such a long time but since I've been on such a K-drama hiatus, I never really looked into it. I guess because when the show was announced, it received a huge amount of hype. I guess for good reasons. The two main leads are no question, the hottest stars of their generation. Lee Min Ho definitely made a mark with his role read more as Jun Pyo in the Korean adaptation of Boys Over Flowers while Park Shin Hye's role as Go Mi Nam in You're Beautiful also captured the hearts of many. The series also has a stellar cast ranging from f(x)'s Krystal Jung and CNBlue's Kang Min Hyuk. Overall speaking, I enjoyed watching this series. I think that it's greatest strength would be the amount of acting done (lead by the main leads of course) that pushed the plot to create such dramatic reaction from the viewers.

But I admit. The Heirs is not exception from the common plot cliches. Lead A is rich, lead B is poor and together they fall in love because of destiny or pure coincidence. And that is exactly how this drama works. It's a pity that the plot is quite similar to Boys Over Flowers (which I haven't seen, I've seen the Japanese and Taiwanese version) making it difficult for Min Ho is move away from that typecast. Of course, his character here has its individual characteristics that sets him aside from the icon role of Jun Pyo. But still, it somehow and in some way, go down the same rabbit hole. So that's cliche number one.

Cliche number two is really how dramas make use of the Iceberg effect. It has a tendency to just show these little details in the beginning but like an iceberg, it has deep hidden ones below the surface and once discovered will cause great disaster. Needless to say, those under the tip of the iceberg are pretty little "twists" that don't seem to be twists at all. In fact, I've become fed up with the complicated family secrets of cliche plots. This person's mother is actually this person's blah blah blah, it's embedded and will always somehow connect the two leads together. Yes, The Heirs suffers from this cliche. Again.

But what the good points? Perhaps, plot wise, a good aspect might be that being a tycoon's child and having to deal with that kind of responsibility and how it burdened the characters made the plot interesting and exciting. I didn't particularly like the high school setting (it seemed similar to Boys Over Flowers again but okay) but it's really how with power comes great responsibility and how it forced the rather young characters to carry such burden somehow pushed the plot and developed the character.

Still, the series seems to be overflowing with characters. And it's come to the point where I ask myself if having this character here is really necessary or if it's crucial to the development. Sometimes, the answer is no. Having too much characters creates unbalance and results in distraction. A character needs a purpose to be there. Not to be manic pixie character but at least to have some sort of purpose if not to the main lead then at least to the story.

As for the romance. Yes, it's like a modern Romeo and Juliet, Min Ho and Shin Hye against the world. For the most part, The Heirs lacks cohesiveness in general maybe because there's too much characters. But it also lacks consistency. Instead, it's consistent with this pattern of breaking-up-letting-go-going-back-together cycle that the leads keep going to that just becomes frustrating. You see, each episode is an hour long. In one episode, they're happily together and in the next, they're avoiding each other. And this keeps going on and on and in the end they'll be together anyway. I know that it's to show the endless power of their love but does it have to be repetitive. I notice that this is another romance cliche.

Having said that, I ship Kim Woo Bin's character with Shin Hye's character more. For me, I believe that it would have become a much more interesting romance to see how Do Young changes from this I-hate-everyone-so-I'm-going-rebel attitude to becoming this vulnerable person who can actually love but just covers up his wounds to cope with his brokenness. I'm not saying Kim Tan (Min Ho) is not having a difficult time because he is too. But at least he has a mother. Or at least he can pursue his brother's approval and just focus on that. But Do Young is just...so broken. I'm still waiting for that day where second leads will break this cliche and get the girl (or guy).

Now Shin Hye's character is really just wallowing in some much self-pity. Unlike the main lead in Boys Over Flowers who despite being poor and attending a rich school is bold, daring and brave and fights head on. But Eun Sang is just so miserable and still so pessimistic that it becomes annoying. It becomes a character that doesn't have independence or strength to draw from herself. I mean it's good that Kim Tan gives her courage and take care of her (how sweet!) but despite being a couple, one must still be great as an individual.

Did I mention how I love Kim Woo Bin and Kim Ji Won's acting? They're the ones that left the mark for me.

Hence, as I've mentioned before, the plot is good when it shows how these youngsters handle power and responsibility and that's one the message. Another one would probably be the power of love. Or even young love. (And yes, you shouldn't underestimate it) Young people are indeed fearless when it comes to love but this drama shows that an 18-year-old's love can be fearless and it can conquer. Perhaps, love is not in age after all.

Nevertheless, it's these dramatic plot cliches and intense romance that becomes the show's greatest asset. Because of that, it leaves so much emotions as a viewer who's watching. It's moving, it's dramatic, it's intense that makes you wanting for more and just ignoring all these cliches as you watch. I guess for entertainment value, the show hits the mark.

Lastly, I'd like to comment on the criss-cross and slow motion combination of "sweet" shots like hugging, kissing or whatever romantic scenes there are. This is to emphasize, sure. But it's become a cliche shot in Korean drama. And a soundtrack.

Despite all that cliches, the series moved me. So for entertainment and FEELS value's sake (because it made me cry which left a lasting impression), I would have to give it this rating.
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You Who Came from the Stars
3 people found this review helpful
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Jan 7, 2015
  • Overall 8.5
  • Story 7.5
  • Acting/Cast 8.5
  • Music 8.0
  • Rewatch Value 8.0
There was this one Friday night before the exam revision period where I randomly just decided to start watching a new drama because what harm would that do right? Anyway, it's been so long since I last watched a drama at all, I probably have forgotten the emotional and traumatic experience that goes along with it. So, the drama that I randomly decided to watch was My Love From Another Star, which read more would eventually scar me for life.

The Plot/Setting:
That's always been the thing with Korean dramas (maybe other Asian dramas too), the plot is always never simple. Even if it does start simple, it'll eventually dig deeper as the series progresses. So, MLFAS definitely have a simple plot at face value but it gets much more complicated than that. Actually, the plot of this seems like one of those sci-fi/dystopian romantic novels that I absolutely hate. However, MLFAS at least, tries to go deeper than what it originally presents. Though I don't like the plot 100%, I think that in some way, it's a refreshing watch. And one that I'd like to think has taken quite a risk (especially to a wider audience) as perhaps this would appeal to local audience.

MLFAS deep history connects (or tries to) connect its characters. Since MLFAS' timeline spans longer, there's more connection that needs to be done. But MLFAS lacks the clarity and the conciseness to connect its characters. Sometimes, it seems forceful rather than letting it smoothly fall into place. Now, there's some loose ends. The connection is not tight enough especially with regards to Cheon Song-yi's "reincarnation" which was touched by the drama yet was left hanging. Those kinds of coherence and unity makes the connection or as MLFAS dubs it, "fate" seem sloppy.

However, besides the characters being the drama's highlight, I think the plot's almost "forbidden-love" concept makes it very moving and really pushes the characters. The villain itself is a slight segment to tear and bring the characters apart as well as destiny's wish. It's a true embodiment of you-and-me-against-the-world. Of course, it's not perfect but at least the supernatural elements are justified and addressed rather than being left out. Though,a realistic ending would've been better even if it hurts. (I cried buckets of tears in the last three episodes)

And each episode ends with a cliffhanger. That was torture because you have to keep watching.

The Characters:
I didn't know that Jun Ji-hyun is the one that plays Song-yi's character but after I did, it made me love the series more. And besides how the love story pushes the characters, the characters pushes the story too. I love how Song-yi contrasts with Min-joon (played by Kim Soo-hyun), this is effective because it brings out the best in their characters. I've seen Ji-hyun play a very sassy, bold and loud character in My Sassy Girl (which brings back a lot of nostalgia) and her personality despite being so annoying is really the exhibit of a fragile character. Song-yi's character is such a fun character to watch. Despite the show's heavy dramatic elements, I never fail to laugh at her and smile at how much she has developed over the course of the series. However, she still manages to show her soft and fragile side using her loudness as a cover-up because of her profession as an actress. Ji-hyun has always been good at playing this time of characters as seen in My Sassy Girl.

Do Min-joon on the other hand has also changed from being a serious, monotonic character to being someone who can love and care for someone so deeply. His character who's more mature, more rational is a complete opposite of Song-yi's and they bring out the best in each other. I'd say that the chemistry between all the characters are such great pleasures to watch. Even Song-yi and Se-mi's best friend rivalry has chemistry. And that's important because it makes each interaction much more pleasing and something to look forward to. I do love all the characters and I think that they were able to form connections with their audience, effective in its emotional approach.

Despite having a seven-year age gap between Ji-hyun and Soo-hyun, the chemistry is undeniable. It just makes the forbidden love more appealing.

The Soundtrack:
Whenever "My Destiny" plays, I already know it's about to get emotional. That is all.

The Romance:
There is an obvious age difference between Kim Soo-hyun and Jun Ji-hyun. In fact, their age difference is like seven years, if I remember correctly. However, there's an instant chemistry despite all that. I think that this "forbidden" love story that both characters have is both beautiful and sad. There's always that thing that pulls you as a viewer to be truly content and happy knowing that Do Mi Joon could be leaving Earth anytime. It's a tangled of secrets and sacrifices. And that in turn, made their romance so compelling that I cried buckets of tears.

The Themes:
Besides the forbidden love drama which later becomes a me-and-you-against-the-world, there's the obvious family drama. The isolation. The alienation. Best friend-zoned and the struggles of being a celebrity. It's all tangled up. As much as I love the drama to frame away from the very cliche past history being connected and loneliness/alone theme, it doesn't. In fact, it needed to. For the sake of Do Min Joon's identity and to make their romance the best of the best and out of this world. Leaving cliches aside, the drama does heavily rely on making the romance the central pulling force of its plot and its characters.

The Soundtrack:
Enough to make me cry. That is all.
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