“TV shows and movies are a rare form of atemporality, and in an ever-changing, always on world, spoilers feel irrefutable – sheer access to them gives the illusion of control.” —Jenna Wortham
I came across this book the same way I came across The Ghost Bride. And just as I can’t remember the specific way for The Ghost Bride, I cannot remember the specific way for this book. So let’s just review.
Basically, The Killing Moon is a a fantasy novel based on Ancient Egypt (or rather influenced by it) and the idea of dreams. It takes place in an entirely fantasy world that draws heavily from Ancient Egyptian culture. Most of the action is centered around the city-state of Gujaareh. In Gujaareh, they worship the Goddess of Dreams, Hananja. According to the book’s mythology, initially only the sun and two moons existed (waking moon and dreaming moon). The Sun and the Waking Moon were in a relationship but the Sun always desired the Dreaming Moon. Eventually, they ended up becoming husband and wife with many children. Hanaja is one of these children. She is the Goddess of Dreams but also associated with death and the afterlife. The world exists in two realms — the Hona-Karekh, which is the land of wakefulness, and the Ina-Karekh, which is the land of dreams. However, the Ina-Karekh only exists within the mind of Hananja, and it also has two states: the happy, peaceful Ina-Kurekh or the nightmare hollows. People’s souls only reach Ina-Karekh, if there is any part of the soul that can be returned.
However, existing in this dream world, is also magic. Dream magic can be used to cure people (within limit), refreshen their mind, extend their lifespan, or even cause death. There are four different types of dream humors (magic): dreambile, dreamseed, dreamchor and dreamblood. Each is actually collected from dreams of different kinds (i.e. dreambile comes from nightmares). The dream humors are collected by the Gatherer’s who bring it to the central temple, Hetawa, where the other people in the Service of Hananja (in which the Gatherer’s are included) make use of it (i.e. Sharer’s use it to heal people).
The story in the book centers around Gatherer’s, specifically the gatherer’s Ehiru and Nijiri. In Gujaareh, the city’s peace is maintained by Gatherer’s collecting dream magic. However, while collecting it, the Gatherer’s also get affected by the dream-humors. In particular, the dreamblood has an addictive quality. If a Gatherer consumes too much dreamblood and begins killing and taking dreamblood without permission, then the Gatherer’s mind breaks and the Gatherer becomes a Reaper. Reapers are soul killers who take dreamblood mercilessly and are basically insane, mindless creatures whose only goal is to fulfill their hunger for dreamblood. On that note, Gatherer’s are also killers — but they kill those who are corrupted. They only kill people they are commissioned to kill, because the people have been judged to be corrupt. But even in their killing, the Gatherer’s attempt to take the soul to the happy Ina-Kurekh, not the nightmare one. However, this is done through very carefully severing the soul tie of the person to usher it. If the Gatherer lets any emotion or judgement cloud their mind, then the soul is severed harshly and goes to the nightmare Ina-Kurekh or wanders lost forever. Hence, Gatherer’s are kept away from politics and are carefully selected and generally are peaceful people. The politics of Gujaareh is governed by the Prince, who is said to be descended from the Sun itself.
The book starts when Ehiru, the best Gatherer in Gujaareh misplaces his peace for second while killing someone, resulting in the person’s soul going to the nightmare Ina-Kurekh. Ehiru is a big devotee of Hananja and is incredibly shaken by this. He undertakes penance. Meanwhile, Nijiri is assigned as his apprentice — to learn the trade of being a Gatherer. It turns out, Ehiru had gathered Nijiri’s mother’s soul and sent her to happy Ina-Kurekh (with her consent) and then taken Nijiri back with him to serve Hananja, thereby preventing him from living the life of a servant. As such, Nijiri loves and adores Ehiru and is willing to do anything for him.
Anyways, it turns out that not everything is as it seems in Gujaareh. To make a long story short, it turns out that the Prince of Gujaareh has actually been preparing for war with other city-states. The main one mentioned in the book, is Kisua. It turned out that Gujaareh and Kisua were initially joined together as one large city-state. However, the Kisua’s grew disillusioned with the dream magic and decided to ban it. Hence the founder of Gujaareh and a great priest of the Hananjan faither, Inunru, decided to take his followers and move to another place. As a result, while dream magic flourished in Gujaareh, it was looked down upon in Kisua and banned. Although the two countries managed to have trading relationships, their alliance was still an unsteady one. Kisua had sent a spy, Sunandi, to uncover the Prince’s secrets. She manages to do so, but the Prince also finds out. Hence, Ehiru is sent to kill Sunandi, under the guise of her being corrupt. However, Sunandi manages to stall Ehiru and make him realize that things in Gujaareh are not rosy. Through Sunandi’s words and other proofs, Ehiru and Nijiri realize that while the Hetawa has remained pure, the city itself, along with its political leaders, has become corrupt. Thus, instead of being a city of peace free from corruption, Gujaareh is actually a city of corruption.
Things are further complicated by the fact that Ehiru is actually also the Prince’s last remaining sibling. It turned out, the Prince massacred his father, the previous King, and all his other family members to prevent them from taking his throne. Ehiru was saved because he was already marked by the Hetawa to become a part of the Service of Hanaja. Furthermore, while all this is taking place (i.e. Ehiru finding out about the city’s corruption), it turns out his mental state is weakening. Due to their constant contact with dreamblood, Gatherer’s actually become dependant on the peace it brings. Most of the dreamblood they collect is given to the Hetawa, but a small portion is reserved for them to keep as fuel. When a Gatherer runs out of dreamblood, they usually turn crazy and begin taking dreamblood without asking (aka enter the process of becoming a reaper) and also start living in the Inu-Karekh more than the Hona-Karekh, causing their judgment to falter as well. While finding out about the corruption, Ehiru is denied dreamblood. He ends up giving the last of his dreamblood reserve to save Nijiri from an attack from a reaper. Additionally, as a devout believer of Hanaja and a good man, he refuses to take any dreamblood from Nijiri or attack anyone for their own dreamblood to sustain him.
Thus, not only does Ehiru have to contend with the fact that his city is corrupt, thereby undermining his very beliefs, but he has to do this with struggling without dreamblood. Nijiri, who loves Ehiru, attempts his very best to try and help Ehiru with his struggle. The rest of the book deals with how the War happens and how Ehiru and Nijiri deal with Gujaareh’s corruption.
Whew! Are you still with me? I know it’s a really, really long write up. Which actually points to something about the book — its incredibly in-depth world-building. If you can believe it, there’s actually so many details that I have actually left out in my narration. There’s also other whole plot-points and scenes that I haven’t even discussed. It’s incredibly extensive. Which, in my opinion, is both a plus and a minus. It’s a plus because it’s incredibly interesting. I have studied Ancient Egypt before so I sort of knew some of the theoretical underpinnings behind the fantasy world of Gujaareh and Kisua. This actually also furthered my interest and kept me engrossed. However, the world building is also really extensive. If you’ve every written a story, then you know that it all unfolds organically. In other words, things aren’t really explained all at once at the beginning, instead, the threads come together to form a whole picture at the end. While this is good writing, it’s also a very extensive task for the brain to undertake while reading. You have to remember the little bits and pieces about the world and then attempt to connect them as you read. But you also have to be content with not knowing everything as you read. As a result, it actually got kind of tiring to read the book. There was just so much to remember. On top of that, there wasn’t really any maps or anything to assist the reader with picturing the world. A fair amount of the book details journey’s across places and it was tiring to imagine not only the world-building, but also the physical places. Hence, I actually had to put down the novel a couple of times because my mind would get weary (I did manage to finish in a day though, so it’s not that bad). Hence, it was a plus and minus.
What was an outstanding plus, however, was how original the story was. I don’t think I’ve ever really read a book like this before. It combined elements of religion with magic. Which itself isn’t a novel concept, but was novel in the way the book did it. Plus, there was a lot of discussion on the idea of dreaming and gods. It was really interesting. Fair warning here though, although the book is highly influenced by Ancient Egypt, it doesn’t actually follow Ancient Egyptian theology or culture. It mostly just borrows elements and then makes those elements its own by tweaking them a little bit. And those tweaks add in originality. Which is how I feel about the plot too. Character’s having religious crises has been done too. But the way NK Jemisin manages to combine the plot and characters with the religion and magic elements is really cool. On that note, I actually really liked the characters in the book too, especially Ehiru and Nijiri. I enjoyed reading their thoughts and actions. Their relationship was also well done. I felt really invested in their story — together and apart. But, I think they could’ve also been explored more — especially Ehiru. And I think that’s where this book leaves me — it’s good but I feel like there’s more that could’ve been done or improved upon.
My rating: read it to enjoy some fantastic fantasy world-building and an original plot-line, but don’t expect to be blown away.
It was tempting to begin this post stating that I was putting off reviewing Drishyam until I watched both Malayalam and Hindi versions of this film; but that would be lying. The truth is, I actually didn’t think to review them until I watched the hindi version and realized I ended up comparing them throughout the movie watching experience. I figured that since I already mentally compared them, it would be interesting to do a review that compared the same movie but in different regional versions.
Basically, the main plot-line of Drishyam is this: a film-obsessed man uses the knowledge gained from watching various movies to plot and ensure that his family does not go to jail for a crime. Georgekutty/Vijay is a cinema owner who lives in his own little happy world. He sells movies for a living (watching movies is his hobby as well) and resides with his wife Rani/Nandani and two daughters: high school student Anju and the younger Anu. The four exist in a happy medium. Georgekutty/Vijay is well liked by his town as he’s very easy-going and nice. One day, Anju goes on a class fieldtrip and a boy films her changing her clothes. The boy attempts to blackmail her — by promising to release the tape of her undressing if she didn’t sleep with him. During this attempt, Rani/Nandani also comes across him and the trio get into a fight, with the women attempting to take the boy’s cellphone in which the video resides. In the resulting fight, the boy accidentally dies. Anju and Rani/Nandani are shocked and attempt to hide his body, which is seen by Anu. When Georgekutty/Vijay comes home, the women confess and he gets to work. First he takes the boy’s cellphone, breaks the battery, buys a replacement and throws the phone on a random truck. Secondly, he takes the boy’s car and drives it into a large body of water. Then he takes his family on a trip where they listen to a religious talk, eat in a restaurant, watch a movie, and stay overnight in a hotel. The next morning, they head back.
Meanwhile, it becomes apparent that the dead boy was actually the son of the police commissioner, Geeta/Meera. Geeta/Meera becomes concerned when her spoiled son doesn’t return home and launches an investigation. Unfortunately, when Georgekutty/Vijay was disposing of the car, he was seen by a policeman, Sahadevan/Gaitonde, with whom he already shared bad blood. Sahadevan/Gaitonde tells Geeta/Meera about what he saw and Georgekutty/Vijay and his family are brought in for questioning. It’s shown through flashbacks how Georgekutty/Vijay had already prepared his family for the police questioning. At the end of the movie, Georgekutty/Vijay and his family are released as there is no other evidence linking them to the murder. However, throughout the questioning period and even later, the movie flashbacks to showing how Georgekutty/Vijay used his movie knowledge to escape the police.
If it’s not readily apparent, this is a fantastic movie. It has an incredibly unique storyline and keeps the viewer guessing until the last moment. Definitely one of the more unique films I’ve seen.
That said, let’s get into the comparison. To be honest, I far preferred the Malayalam version, as it felt for more realistic. I think it has to do with the actors casted and the general feeling of the story-line.
In the Malayalam version, Georgekutty is played by Mohanlal and Rani by Meena. Not only did the two look age appropriate (i.e. old enough to be parents to two girls), but they also felt more cohesive. You could imagine the two as a couple.
Whereas in the hindi version, Vijay was played by Ajay Devgan and Nandani was played by Shriya Saran. While you could imagine the two as a couple, it was very difficult to imagine Nandani as the mother of a teenager. She just looked far too young! The hindi movie tried justifying this by adding in the plot-line of Anju being Vijay’s adopted daughter. However, to be honest, I didn’t really understand or like that plot. It didn’t seem to anything to the movie and I felt it was useless. As nice and good Shriya was to look at and in her acting, I think an age-appropriate-looking actress would’ve fit the bill better than the adoption storyline.
The original version doesn’t have this adoption story. The original version just focuses on Georgekutty and his happy world consisting of his family. Hence, there’s a seeming aura of realism throughout the Malayalam movie that makes the movie more enjoyable. It doesn’t feel like we’re watching a stylized film. It just feels like we’re watching some days within this man’s life. And I think a lot of this is due to Mohanlal’s acting. His acting adds in nuances that elevate the movie. Whether its the little teasing to his wife and daughters or his joking around, Mohanlal makes Georgekutty feel real. Which also translates really well for the movie, as in my opinion, part of the movie’s appeal came from the whole common man aspect.
Everyone loves a good underdog story and by having a common man, who isn’t particularly smart or good-looking, be the hero through his knowledge, gleaned from movies no less, it lends the movie an element of personal connection. And this personal connection is furthered through Mohanlal’s acting and makes the climax of the film even more satisfying when you watch. (It’s actually even more remarkable when you realize that Mohanlal is a gigantic star in the South Indian movie industry and yet manages to perfectly embody a character the opposite of his star status and ensure that his star status doesn’t overtake the character).
Whereas the hindi version wasn’t as successful in this. While Ajay Devgan’s acting was convincing, it just felt lacking at some points because of his looks. He read and felt too fancy. In other words, he didn’t necessarily feel like the common man. It sort of felt like the audience was watching a stylized movie rather than a slice of a man’s life. Hence, the common man element was missing. However, the others actors are decent as well — particularly Tabu and Asha Sarath who played inspector Geeta/ Meera.
That said, I will say that both films are excellent films — just because of the story-line. However, when the two versions are compared, I find the Malayalam version to be better than the Hindi version.
My rating: Watch this movie to enjoy an almost meta, incredibly unique, suspense movie about movie cliches
I’ve been away a while. Instead of boring you with the details, let’s just get back into reviewing.
I’m not sure where exactly I heard of this book. I know I saw it on some website, under a list of recommended books-to-read page, but I can’t seem to remember the specific website. Anywho, I managed to note down the book and picked it up.
Basically, The Ghost Bride is about the main character, Pan Li Lan. The story is set in the 1890’s, in the British colony of Malaya (present day Malaysia). Li Lan, is a young Chinese woman from a formerly rich, but now impoverished family. Her mother died when she was young, and her father, depressed by the loss of his wife and by the loss of his looks from smallpox, squandered away the family’s savings. Raised alone by both her father and ayah (formerly her mother’s ayah), and secluded from society (due to her father’s depression and their lack of money), she grew up sheltered; more interested in learning about things like calligraphy and maps rather than how to be a wife. However, her world is taken for a spin when her father receives a proposal for her from the rich Lim family. The proposal, it turns out, is actually for Li Lan to become a ghost bride. Apparently in Chinese folklore, sometimes young women would entered into ghost marriages. The groom would be dead, with a rooster being substituted for the ceremony. These marriages were often done to soothe the recently dead spirit and were often performed when both parties were dead, or when both parties loved each other. In Li Lan’s case, she is offered to become the bride of the recently decease sole son of the Lim family because apparently he loved her (she never met him before). Of course she refuses. However, somehow, the deceased son, Lim Tian Ching starts entering her dreams and begins terrorizing her, under the guise of wooing her. Li Lan is understandably horrified and does not know what to do.
She does not tell her father as he does not believe in such superstitions and does not tell her Ayah, at least not at first, because she doesn’t want to worry her Ayah, who is a superstitious woman. However, as the dreams continue in their intensity, she finally breaks and tells her Ayah. Her Ayah understands and takes her to a medium. The medium also understands and gives Li Lan some powder that causes sleeps and prevents spirits from entering the dreams of others.
Meanwhile, during this, Li Lan also starts becoming enamoured with the next heir of the Lim family, Tian Ching’s cousin, Tian Bai who is also interested in her. It turns out, Li Lan and Tian Bai were actually betrothed to be married. However, with Tian Ching’s death, as Tian Bai is now the heir of the rich Lim family, the betrothal is broken off as the first son of a rich family cannot marry a penniless woman (which is what Li Lan technically is due to her father squandering their money). Furthermore, as the Lim family wants her as a ghost bride for the former heir, their alliance seems even more unlikely. This is further confirmed when talks of Tian Bai’s marriage are begun with another family.
Unable to take the sorrow and pressure of a) Tian Ching’s haunting of her dreams b) the ghost bride proposal c) her broken alliance with Tian Bai and d) the fact that as a penniless woman, she is unlikely to have more suitors, in a fit of frustration, she drinks all of the powder the medium prescribed her. This causes her to fall into some sort of twilight sleep, where her body sleeps and her spirit detaches from her physical body. As a result, Li Lan is able to enter the afterworld as well.
In the book, the afterlife has its own world. There is a border between the living and the dead and other places of the dead, that are guarded by border guards (who have the faces of oxen). When people die, if they have unfinished business, they tend to wander the living world. However, eventually they must go to the gateways of the Courts of Judgement where there at 9 judges that decide whether a person will go to Heaven, reincarnate, or be punished in hell. However, there is also a place called the Plains of the Dead for human ghosts. In the plains of the dead, human ghosts are able to survive, based on what their families sacrifice for them. From my understanding, when people die, the family offer sacrifices such as food and clothing to the Dead to sustain them and in this case, if the deceased is still human but doesn’t have any unfinished business, or has made a deal with a demon, or their judgement date hasn’t arrived, they can live with their things (that their family offered for them). To be completely honest, I’m not quite sure how it functions. The author, Yangsze Choo, actually put a disclaimer in the book saying that the Plains of the Dead were actually her own creation. Or rather, there was some mentions of them, but their place wasn’t clear, so she created a clearer connection between the Plains of the Dead and traditional Chinese beliefs about the afterlife. Furthermore, the afterlife also sort of functions as a general economy — much like the world of the living. Currency goes a long way and can be used to purchase things in the Plains of the Dead. Plus there’s even a government of sort that guards the Courts of Hell to ensure that the system isn’t abused (i.e. ghosts aren’t just crossing back and forth between the plane of the living to the afterlife — the guards are there for this purpose too).
Anyways, it turns out that Tian Ching has been somehow able to corrupt some of the border guards as there is a corrupted judge on the Court of Judgement. As a result, he is able to travel freely throughout the worlds and even receive protection from them. His underhanded dealings are also what enable him to spy and enter Li Lan’s dreams and attempt to marry her. An afterlife government official, Er Lang, knows that Tian Ching has been doing illegal activities, along with the general deceased Lim family in the afterlife. However, he has been unable to gather any solid proof as he is unable to enter the Plains of the Dead on his own — where the deceased Lim family lives comfortable. Li Lan, in her state of being half-alive and half-dead, comes across Er Lang and the conspiracy with Tian Ching. Er Lang recruits her to spy for him on Lim’s family in the Plains of the Dead. Li Lan also agrees to this as she believes that if she can expose Tian Ching, she’ll be free of his torment and no longer be pursued by him. She also has the ulterior motive of entering the Plains of the Dead to see if she can meet her mother. Her mother died when she was young, during the same time time her father’s face was marred by smallpox.
However, the deeper Li Lan enters the afterlife, the more her connection with her body in the world of the living is affected. If Li Lan wanders too far and her body dies, her spirit will just wander and eventually shrivel up. Mindful of this, but also intensely determined, she continues her journey. Along the way, she finds out about the connection her family has with the Lim family, meets her mother, discovers the deadly legacy of the Lim family, and becomes closer to Er Lang. The rest of the book deals with her journey, her thoughts and her final decisions.
In terms of writing, I really enjoyed the book. It was written in a relatively easy to understand way. It employed a couple of cliches and scenes. But I think that was to be expected as the afterlife has some common elements in all cultures. Plus, the cliches weren’t too bad or abundant. Furthermore, I really enjoyed the world-building. It was written in a very vidid way and I enjoyed imagining all the fantasy and history elements. That said, it did get a little confusing at times. I had to reread passages sometimes because it was very easy to get caught up in all the descriptions of the world and the actions happening.
On that note, I think the book itself was very interesting. Not just in terms of story, which I actually very much enjoyed, but it terms of the way it was written. The first half the of the novel is far more historical than fantastical. Hence, it was quite evident that this was a really well researched book. Yangsze Choo definitely took the time to research about British Malaya and the history of the Malaya federation, even when under the Dutch. But as a result, it’s also a little more slow. Things don’t really pick up until the second half of the novel. However, the second half of the novel is also more fantastical than historical and moves a lot quicker. A lot of stuff happens and a lot of secrets are uncovered. Yet, I actually enjoyed both halves of the book. The first half felt like a nice leisurely stroll through historical Malaya and Chinese folklore while the second half felt more like a fast walking adventure through fantasy and Chinese folklore. Basically, Chinese folklore was embedded throughout the novel and I think it helped the book feel like a cohesive story, rather than two separate ones.
Finally, I also enjoyed the character of Li Lan and others. While I wouldn’t characterize her as the most interesting character I’ve read about, she was decently entertaining. I didn’t really love her all that much all the time. However, she did have quite a few likeable moments. Similarly, I also really liked the side characters and I kind of wish there was more information on them. The bulk of the story was from Li Lan’s point of view so we really didn’t get too much into the details of other characters – aside from their looks and dialogues. I especially liked Er Lang and wanted to know more about him. In general, when the book ended, I was a teeny tiny bit let down because I wanted the story continue and see what happened next. Nonetheless, the ending made sense, as did where and why Yangsze Choo chose to end where she did.
My rating: read it to delve into some intriguing Chinese folklore and to enjoy a fantastical and (low-key) suspenseful coming of age story!
“So many books, so little time.” — Frank Zappa
This past month, I’ve sort of been on a K-drama kick. Not only did I manage to find one I enjoyed on Netflix, I managed to find two! And this drama, Black, was definitely something else! It’s actually so unique from what I’ve seen thus far! Which, admittedly, isn’t much, but at least is something!
Basically, Black is about a girl named Ha-Ram Kang (played by Go A-Ra) who can see when people will die and a grim reaper named 444. According to the mythology of the show, when people die, their souls are collected by grim reapers. However, these grim reapers don’t just show up once the person dies — they actually shadow the person before their death (can be a few minutes or few hours). Although the reapers appear to have some sort of human form, normal humans can’t see them, or the souls of the people who died. However, Ha-Ram can. Ha-Ram has the ability to see these grim reapers — but she doesn’t see their human forms. Instead, Ha-Ram sees the grim reapers as black shadows. Hence, whenever a person is about to die and the grim reapers come to shadow that person, Ha-Ram is able to see a black shadow behind the person — which signifies to her that death is imminent for the person. On top of that, if she touches the shadow/ grim reaper, she can actually see the exact moment and way the person destined to die will die.
As Ha-Ram has had this ability since childhood, she’s always been very afraid of the shadows (no one else can see them except for her). Hence, whenever she saw them and pointed them out, others would laugh at her and think of her as crazy. In fact, some even called her misfortunate – saying that death followed her. As a result, to protect herself (as she fears the shadows), she tends to wear sunglasses everywhere. The dark lens of the sunglasses prevent her from being able to see the shadows. However, even this remedy is not enough as she isn’t always able to wear the glasses — i.e. at her job they tell her to take it off or she falls and they fall off. She thinks of her ability as bad luck, until a chance meeting with Detective Han Moo-Gang (played by Song Seung-Heon). Moo-Gang makes Ha-Ram realize that she could use her gift for good — she could prevent deaths before they occurred (i.e. touching the shadow, seeing how the person died, and then preventing that version of events from happening).
However, it turns out that Moo-Gang has some mysteries of his own. A former successful accountant in the States, Moo-Gang abruptly quit his job a few years ago, took the Korean police exam and passed to become a detective. However, the strange part is that Moo-Gang cannot even stand to look at dead bodies! In fact, he’s known for his weak stomach — as he ends up vomiting over the corpses whenever his team is called! Hence, he’s also looked down upon by his teammates and other police officers. Yet, despite this, he remains incredibly polite to them. However, we’re also given hints as to how everything is not alright with him. He has a secret basement room on his property that is locked shut and only opens with a scan of his eyeballs. He also mentions some work he must complete. In fact, his girlfriend, Soo- Wan (played by Lee El), is also low-key suspicious and worried because it doesn’t make sense how someone who is unable to look at dead bodies would try to become a detective.
While all of this is happening in the upperworld, we also go down to the underworld. I mentioned earlier that grim reapers shadowed people who were about to die. When the person died, the grim reaper would grab the soul of the dead person and lead them to the underworld — whether it be to heaven, hell, or to become a grim reaper. There are two types of grim reapers: those who are elite and born as reapers (aka their bodies have never been found) and those who committed suicide and are grim reapers due to punishment (who are also looked down upon). Each reaper is often given a partner with whom they go to collect souls. Once a partner learns enough of collecting souls, or when the partner’s body is finally found (if they are an elite reaper), or when a soul is finally able to pass, the partner’s change. Here, we’re introduced to one of the most cold hearted grim reapers, 444 (played by Kim Tae-Woo). 444 is known for his ruthlessness in collecting souls and his efficiency. He begins the series with one partner and changes to another one early on — as his previous partner’s soul moves on. The second partner (played by Park Doo-Sik) referred to as ‘loser,’ is an extremely inept grim reaper who feels sympathy for the recently deceased. Annoyed by him, 444 attempts to get rid of his partner by sabotaging him — that’s another thing: grim reapers can be sentenced to become dogs if they break rules, like run away or let souls run away. Knowing that his partner is not trained enough, 444 sends him on a soul retrieving mission on his own — banking on his partner losing the soul and thus becoming a dog, allowing 444 to get a new parter. However, the new partner takes advantage of his newfound freedom to enter into the dead body of another person — aka running away from his duties. It turns out that the older grim reapers are also responsible for mistakes rookies make, so when the loser runs away, 444 realizes its his head on the chopping table. Hence, he also escapes to the upperworld (he actually also has a valid reason as he’s been assigned a soul to collect) to catch the loser and bring him back for his punishment.
Through a series of events, Moo-Gang ends up getting shot and dying, with 444 taking over his body. 444 (now played by Song Seung-Heon) plans to use the human body to track down the body the loser is hiding in to bring him back. However, the problem is that 444 is unable to see if a human body is possessed by a grim reaper or not. Similarly, 444’s friends, grim reapers 007 (played by Jo Jae-Yoon) and 416 (played by Lee Kyu-Bok and Jung Jun-Won), tell him that for taking over a human’s body, the grim reaper leaders (Death Note) are also after him now. Finally, 444 also has to deal with Moo-Gang’s life. Although he is helped out a bit by the latter problem by claiming memory loss. Through a meeting with Ha-Ram, who he realizes can see shadows inside people too (i.e. grim reapers inside human bodies), he decides to utilize her eyes to find the loser and bring him back to the underworld to clear his name. However, to prevent Ha-Ram from seeing the shadow inside Moo-Gang’s body, 444 dresses in all black. Just like how the black sunglasses lens prevented Ha-Ram from seeing shadows, the black clothing did the same. Hence, the two join forces. However, Ha-Ram is still under the illusion that she’s working with Moo-Gang to save peoples lives, while 444 uses her for his own reasons.
Among this, we’re also introduced to Oh Man-Soo (played by Kim Dong-Jun). Man-Soo is the second son of a rich businessman. However, he is treated horribly by the family, especially his older half-brother Oh Man-Ho (played by Choi Min-Chul) who verbally and physically abuses him. Oh Chun-So, Man-Soo and Man-Ho’s father is bedridden and owns a number of companies under the name of “Royeol Group.” Among them, is an insurance company, Royeol Insurance, that is about to go bankrupt. In order to save himself and his family name, Man-Ho makes Man-Soo the chairman of the insurance company. Man-Ho intends to have Man-Soo run the failing company while he attempts to sell it to some Chinese investors. However, Man-Soo is unaware of this — at first. When he finds out, he tries his hardest to ensure that the company does not go down. To do so, he hired Ha-Ram. He too had witnessed Ha-Ram’s shadow seeing ability and unlike others, believed her completely. So he hires her to spy on his top clients to ensure that they will not die and get money from the insurance company — i.e. she stalks them to ensure that they have no black shadow. Ha-Ram isn’t happy to do this, but does so because she needs the money and because Man-Soo’s company holds some information pertinent to her father’s murder.
Are you still with me? Because the plot actually gets even more complicated and has more elements. There are various mysteries embedded in each episode and the show actually deals with a lot of dark themes. It touches upon issues like child sexual abuse, rape, abuse, prostitution, etc. On that note, it’s also quite a violent drama — with heavy focus given to murderers and quite a few scenes of people getting murdered. However, personally, I still quite enjoyed it. At its core, the show is a thriller. And as for the thrill, there is tons of suspense in each episode. Like I said earlier, new mysteries are always popping up and revealing themselves. In fact, there’s also a lot of red herrings to throw viewers off track, even though they seem connected. Speaking of that, I think the best thing about this show, aside from the acting, was the writing. Aside from the last episode, which I’ll talk about more later, the writing for this show was fantastic. Every scene and dialogue had a purpose. The writers did a fantastic job keeping the suspense and creating an interesting mystery, but also keeping a close reign on the mystery (at least until the end). Everything was seemingly connected and pleasantly enough, we were shown that too. What I mean by that, is that we got to see the two sides of scenes happening: those from the view of the past/ who actually experienced the scene and those from the view of the present/ Ha-Ram seeing the death or the brief flashbacks we’d get when the characters would be trying to solve a mystery. It was honestly fantastic and amazing.
However, it wasn’t just the story that was good, I’d have to give props to the acting and characters too. Major props go to Song Seung-Heon who played 444/Black/adult Moo-Gang. Seung-Heon was FANTASTIC and just so believable. If anything, I think he, at times, overshadowed Go A-Ra’s performance, who also put in a decent performance, but not to Seung-Heon’s level. I think props also need to be given to Lee El and Kim Dong-Jun, who played Yoon Soo-Wan and Oh Man-Soo respectively. In fact, the latter kind of felt like the dark house — the hero who wouldn’t get the girl or be the most respected person, but you would still root for him. I actually think his character and role was done the most dirty as we got no mentions of what he did after. It was disappointing.
Which brings me to my next points: the finale episode and the last 10 minutes. I heard somewhere that this show was only supposed to air for 16 episodes but ended up getting extended to 18 due to its popularity. I don’t know how true it is, but I’m inclined to think that it might be true, just because of the last minutes of the 18th episode which basically ruined the entire buildup of the show. Not only did it go contrary to the entire story we had been shown, but it also contradicted the mythology of the show and just didn’t make sense. To spoil you, basically 444 decides to get the ultimate punishment and remove himself from ever existing. Which okay fine — a sad ending would be sad but okay. But then Ha-Ram also decides to commit suicide because she finds out the truth of her shooting Joon. Which again, okay fine — a sad ending. But strangely enough, she asks to be reborn and commits suicide, but doesn’t end up as a grim reaper?!? The show took pains to establish that those who committed suicide become grim reapers — so why didn’t she? On top of that, 444 narrates that because he removed his existence, he was able to prevent her dad from dying and being the other 444, thereby resulting in Ha-Ram being born a normal girl with normal eyes that couldn’t see the grim reapers. Which — what?!? How?! Erasing his existence meant that 444 could go back in time? And what about Kim Sun-young? What happened to the entire tape dilemma? Did the criminals get their comeuppance? Does this mean that Crazy Dog never died? What about all those moments where Joon played an important role? On top of that, we see Ha-Ram live a normal life, becoming a paramedic and saving people and receiving awards from the President. And then we see her as an old woman, friends with Leo (played by Kim Jae-Young — sidenote, his acting was decent too). However, this scene is also marred by the fact that the makeup used to make the actors look older is ATROCIOUS. Seriously, it’s pretty bad. But anyways, in their old age, Leo tells the story of 444 falling in love with a human woman (aka to Ha-Ram) who ends up forgetting about him as he erases his existence. But then when Ha-Ram dies, it’s 444 who comes to pick up her soul and the two walk together into the afterlife or whatever. Like what?!?! The last 10 minutes literally go against everything we’re told?
I honestly think that had those last 10 minutes never been shown, this show would firmly be cemented as being one of the best K-drama’s I’ve ever seen. In fact, my whole family get low-key interested in the drama because it was that amazing. That said, it’s also worth pointing out that there were definitely a few continuity issues present as well. One that comes to mind is the Leo reveal. We’re shown that Leo died much earlier and that the current Leo in the show is actually the loser 444’s been looking for. Which is fine and makes sense. However, as this means that Leo is effectively a grim reaper within a human body, Ha-Ram should’ve seen a shadow inside his body whenever he was near. And there’s actually quite a few instances where the two interact and Leo’s even wearing non-black clothing; yet Ha-Ram never notices. Similarly, I didn’t like the characters of 007 and 416. They were supposed to be the comic relief I guess, but I just found them so annoying. And of course, there’s no point in mentioning the horrible ending.
My rating: Go watch this show for a thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat until the end and be prepared to have every one of your guesses fail (well maybe not all, but at least some)!
I’m baaaack! Well temporarily for now, but back nonetheless. To kickoff my return, let’s dive straight into a review. Today I’ll be discussing the 2017 Wonder Woman movie. Here’s the thing, I know it came out a few months ago. But I’ve already reviewed even older things on this blog, so why not this movie.
With that said, for those unaware, Wonder Woman is a movie about the comic book hero Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince. If you’ve been on this blog before, then you probably know that growing up, I was a big comic book fan. So I was already familiar with Wonder Woman. While she wasn’t my favourite superhero, I did always have a soft spot for her. It always felt really nice to be able to look up at a girl comic book hero who actually had powers of her own accord. There’s nearly not enough representation of strong women with powers in media. But I digress, let’s get into the movie.
I was actually really excited to see this movie because it was directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins. However, at the same time, my expectations weren’t that high. Wonder Woman often had the tendency to be sexualized and as a young girl, it wasn’t something I was super fond of. I mean her outfit itself speaks to this. But I figured that since a woman was directing it, this element wouldn’t be as noticeable. And to my great delight, I was right!
Basically, the movie sort of functions as an origin series/ introduction to Wonder Woman. The daughter of Greek God Zeus and Hippolyta (played by Connie Neilsen), young Diana (wonder woman), grows up on the all-women island of Themyscira with the Amazons. The Amazons, it is explained, were originally created to protect man-kind. When one of Zeus’s children, Ares, the God of War, got jealous of humankind, he tried to destroy them. The Greek Gods and Amazons all fought back against Ares. Ares managed to kill all of them, except Zeus, who managed in his dying moments to defeat him and gave the Amazons their island and a secret ‘God-Killer.” The idea was that Ares would return to destroy mankind against one day and only the “God-killer” could destroy him. Diana sees this “God-killer” sword and hears of this story and becomes determined to train, to be able to defeat Ares when he returns. Although her mother objects at first, she is eventually won over by her sister, Antiope (played by Robin Wright) and Diana commences her training.
Meanwhile, on the run from Nazi’s, UK WWII spy Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine), manages to somehow break into Themyscira. Diana, now an adult (played by Gal Gadot), rescues him. However, Steve also inadvertently leads the Nazi’s to Themyscira and a battle between begins between them and the Amazons. Of course the Amazon’s end up winning, but at the cost of Antiope and other Amazon’s deaths. After the battle ends, Steve fills in Diana and the others of WWII. Diana is incredibly surprised at this (the Amazons were isolated from the rest of the world) and convinced that Ares is behind it. Hence, she grabs the “God-Killer,” determined to defeat Ares and end WWII and escapes with Steve to meet the rest of mankind.
The rest of the film deals with her adventures in meeting and discovering the rest of man-kind and her journey to deal with Ares.
There were a number of things I liked about this film. First off, the costumes for the Amazons. One of my biggest issues with Wonder Woman has always been her costume — it reveals far too much skin and seems so impractical to move in. In other words, it’s incredibly unrealistic. However, the movie sort of rectifies this. While the costumes still show skin, they also seemed a lot more sturdy. Plus the costumes didn’t really function as the main point of scenes. In other words, when the Amazon’s did their stunts, the costumes didn’t distract the viewer from seeing their amazing fighting abilities. A thing I’m sure had to do with the fact that a woman directed the movie.
Secondly, I really liked how it was so obvious that Diana was the hero in this film. She had the cool powers, she did the amazing stunts and she ended up saving the world. I don’t know, I just thought it was so cool how it was so in-your-face that Diana was the hero. She was the main star and main lead. Maybe I’ve been watching too many male-oriented films or I need to watch different movies, but I’ve become so used to seeing men as the heros of films with the women relegated to being the side characters. But in this movie, Wonder Woman was front and centre with Steve being her supporting side character. It was a nice change and felt good to see.
Which brings me to the acting. When Gal Gadot was initially announced as Wonder Woman, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I had only seen her in the previous Fast and Furious movies and her small cameo in Batman vs. Superman. She was pretty enough but I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about her as Wonder Woman. However, she completely won me over. Gal was so incredibly charming. She imbued within Wonder Woman the right amount of innocence and determination. It was just so easy to root for her and like her. Same with Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. However, that was to be expected. For some reason, I always end up adoring Chris Pine in whatever character he does, even if I don’t want to. I remember hating the idea of his character in Princess Diaries 2 (because I was a devout lover of those books) but then being completely on-board with him later on. The exact same thing happened with him as as James Kirk in Star Trek. Even in The Finest Hours, while I found his character a little annoying, I couldn’t help but be charmed by him. There’s just something about him that gets me every time and this time was no exception. However, I was surprised by how much I liked Robin Wright. I generally have tended to not like her — I think it’s a side effect of being introduced to her in The Princess Bride where her character was unlikeable. However, I really enjoyed her as Antiope. Plus her fighting scenes were incredible!
Which on that note, is another thumbs up. The fighting scenes in this movie were incredible — especially the ones with the Amazons. There was no random focusing on the women’s bodies as they fought or anything. It was just pure fighting without any sort of sexual element and it was fantastic! I loved watching those scenes so much!
However, there were also things I didn’t like about the movie, namely the 3rd part of it. Prior to watching, I had read a lot of reviews that said that the 3rd act of the movie brought it down. However, I figured that those comments were just by non-fans or people who love to criticize popular things and/or subject to a bandwagon effect. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The 3rd act was really weird and did bring down the whole movie. While I can sort of forgive the Ares cop-out, the entire battle between Ares and Diana was so weird. Just stuff flying around? And some hand to hand combat? But more flying? I don’t know what I expected, but it really wasn’t that. Plus, Steve’s sacrifice at the end was so horrible! It basically ruined my mood. In general, there was just so much happening in the 3rd act that it got a little hard to focus. It definitely ended up bringing down the movie a lot.
My rating: Watch it to enjoy another comic book hero origin stories, or to see Chris Pine charm the socks off you but don’t expect to be completely thrilled.
Hello, just wanted to leave a quick note to let you know all know that this blog will be going on a hiatus. I shall (hopefully) return in 4 months. Until then, au revoir!
“A book is a dream you hold in your hand.” — Neil Gaiman
“There will always be story-telling, whether it’s on the big silver screen, or it’s your television or whatever, people will keep on telling stories.” — Stellan Skarsgard