The Crown Prince in Love

I would have given this convoluted drama a lower rating if not for Im Si-wan who carried the whole story on his shoulders. He is such a great actor and gave a nuanced performance as Wang Won. Si-wan is the only reason to watch this drama, full stop.

A small praise should also go Im Yoona’s way. I thought she did well as Eun San, though her acting isn’t there yet. The rest of the main characters are a big let-down.

Former k-pop idol Im Si-wan as Crown Prince Wang Won

Wang Rin, the second lead, is just godawfully boring. He’s supposed to be this complex, clever and loyal man who falls for the girl with whom his best friend and prince is also in love. However, Hong Jhong Hyun just couldn’t give the portrayal needed for Wang Rin to be effective, convincing and ultimately likeable. Hong’s acting is plain and simple distractingly bad, I wonder whether the person responsible for casting him was drunk when they settled for this actor. Someone else would have done a better job as Rin, including any of the dozen or so actors who played the prince’s guards.

They’re not big names, but either would have played the second lead better

There are so many sub-plots and characters that didn’t live up to expectations too. For example, what happened to this morsel of an idea that one of the guards was in love with the Crown Princess, or that the assassin had a thing for the housemaid who stood in for Eun San? It’s as if the writer didn’t know what to do with them and there are a few of these ideas that just got waylaid, and they could’ve made the show more enjoyable.

Apart from Im Si-Wan’s Crown Prince, the only other thing I enjoyed about the drama was the queen mother. These two characters seem to be the only ones that are well developed, as whilst both have the capacity to love with all their hearts, each is still a flawed character who’s insecure about losing their power to enemies. In a way, they are outsiders even in their own court. And with all the powers accorded to their status, they will stop at nothing to protect it or seek revenge against those who wrong them and the ones they love. Spoiler: Won draws blood himself.

The queen mother loves and terrorises

I’m still on the fence about Won choosing Rin’s sister as his Crown Princess and marrying her only to set her aside to pursue Eun San. Maybe that’s how they rolled back in the day, when marriages more often than not were simply strategic alliances.

The worst are the last few minutes when you thought it couldn’t get more awful, it still leaves you with a sucker punch to the gut.

Notes from the Lockdowns: Phase 4 of Coronavirus Roadmap

Pemberton, Western Australia
Pemberton, Western Australia

I went to the gym for the first time yesterday after many months of relying on home exercises and running outdoors. When it rains sideways during the cold months, access to a gym is somehow a blessing, and it’s great to observe that people are careful about maintaining enough space amongst themselves and are cleaning equipment after each use.

Phase 4 of the state’s Coronavirus roadmap started on 27 June. At this phase, residents and businesses in Western Australia enjoy fewer restrictions on movements and social gatherings during the pandemic :

  • all existing gathering limits and the 100/300 rule removed
  • gathering limits only determined by WA’s reduced 2 square metre rule
  • the 2 square metre rule will only include staff at venues that hold more than 500 patrons
  • removal of seated service requirements at food businesses and licensed premises
  • no requirement to maintain patron register at food businesses and licensed premises
  • alcohol can be served as part of unseated service arrangements
  • all events permitted except for large scale, multi-stage music festivals
  • unseated performances permitted at venues such as concert halls, live music venues, bars, pubs and nightclubs
  • gyms operating unstaffed, but regular cleaning must be maintained
  • the casino gaming floor reopening under agreed temporary restrictions.

When restrictions were further eased by the state government, we were already on a much awaited holiday down in Pemberton, some 5 hours’ drive south of Perth. On a side note, this is one place I wish I could bring loved ones and friends to. Nothing beats a WA road trip!

We had initially planned a two-week vacation in Malaysia for March, but when it became obvious that the infections weren’t slowing, we had the inkling that we might have to cancel our travel plans. Then, when the Federal government advised Australian citizens and permanent residents to forego international travel, as well as for those abroad to make their way back to the country as soon as possible, we knew that we had to cancel all bookings. More than that, we knew that closing off borders and a full lockdown were just around the corner.

We recovered hotel fees, but Singapore Airlines only gave us travel vouchers that we could use within 24 months, assuming the pandemic was gone by next year.

Since March, people in WA have been living in a country within a country, a state closed off within an island country itself. However, it is difficult to find fault in the strategy adopted by both Federal (i.e. national) and State governments in combatting the spread of Covid-19, particularly in a state that has among the highest proportion of vulnerable populations anywhere; it is home to a culture that is at least 60,000 years old after all and one whose genes is known to be regressive. Geography has always worked in Australia’s favour in times of global crisis.

The strategy also worked: on lockdown for more than 8 weeks, West Australians managed to keep the infections at bay and avoided the fiascos that plagued the eastern states, such as the Ruby Princess snafu and the resurgence of Covid infections in Melbourne. We may have appeared to be overly cautious for keeping non-residents away, but we would not have been enjoying more freedoms and further economic activities if we hadn’t made those decisions. It wasn’t easy for everyone, but it was necessary.

So far during Phase 4, we have been able to travel, shop, ride public transport that now runs on regular schedules, go to cafes and restaurants, welcome guests to our homes, and for many, return to offices. What also made the difference apart from strict implementation of social distancing and closing off borders is the mindset that people have around the pandemic: one would hardly find anyone who thought that Covid-19 wasn’t real, that it was unnecessary to socially distance or observe sanitary practices. In this country of 26 million and a state of less than 3 million, triple-digit infections means shutting down entire suburbs and cities and prompting testing and contact tracing blitz.

I am expecting to be back at the office by the last week of August in time for a quality management audit which I have been working on for the past 12 months. However, even then, I do not expect to spend all of my working hours in a confined space with 30 or so other people, as much as I miss my old routine.

Notes from the semi-lockdowns: Goblin Part 1

Gong Yoo as the titular Goblin

Before Crash Landing on You, the most viewed drama on Korean cable was Guardian: The Lonely and Great God, or Goblin to non-Korean viewers. Broadcast in late 2016 to early 2017, the show reached as much as 19% viewership in South Korea, with +20% viewership in Seoul alone. I remember everyone was going about this show on social networks back then (mostly fangirling over Gong Yoo, obvs), but I was too distracted by the plethora of shows that were new to me, thanks to more access to US, UK and local content via Australian TV as well as streaming services. It was also a time when I had a k-drama funk: I just lost interest in the genre and instead switched to Anglo-centric productions that included Game of Thrones, Sherlock, and Doctor Who, to name a few.

The massively popular show stars Gong Yoo in the titular role of “Goblin”, a supernatural who has been roaming the earth for 900-odd years as punishment for crimes he committed as a general in the Korean army during the Goryeo dynasty. Lee Dong Wook (My Girl, Hotel King, Touch Your Heart), Yoo In-na (My Love From the Star, Touch Your Heart), Yook Sung Jae (BTOS), and Kim Go Eun (The King Eternal Monarch, The Cheese Trap) round up the main cast of this fantasy romance novela that captured much of the imagination of viewers across Asia and elsewhere five years ago.

Goblin’s origin story

gong yoo as goblin/kim shin
Before turning into Goblin, he is known as general Kim Sin in the Goryeo dynasty.

Goblin used to be a brave army general, Kim Shin, whose successful campaigns to defend the kingdom against invaders cost so many lives and eventually his own. With every victory in battle, he becomes more popular amongst the citizens, resulting in jealousy and insecurity on the part of the young king, Yeo (or Wang Yeo, as “wang” directly translates to king).

Although Shin has constantly faced danger in the battlefield, life at the royal court is not safe either. When members of the royal family start to die one after the other, Kim Shin receives an order from the previous king to protect the young prince by arranging a marriage with his sister, Kim Seon (or Kim Sun, depending on where you’re watching). Fortunately, Wang Yeo and Kim Seon fall in love in spite of the increasing jealousy and suspicion on the part of Yeo, no thanks to the malicious advice he gets from his mentor, Park Joong Hyeon.

After winning yet another battle, Kim Shin returns to the capital in defiance of the Wang Yeo’s orders to remain in exile, prompting the young king to order the killing of everyone in the general’s company as well as members of his household. But worst of all, the killings also include Kim Seon, as the king fears that she has allied herself with her brother instead of him. When it is Kim Shin’s turn to die, his most loyal man volunteers to plunge the sword in his chest to give him an honourable death.

As he lays dying, Kim Shin taunts the gods for forsaking him and those he has fought for. The gods, insulted, punishes him by bringing him back from the dead to roam the earth as a goblin, an immortal who will never find peace, for even as he lives forever he also witnesses the passing of his loved ones.

Only the goblin’s wife can see the sword stuck in Kim Shin’s chest

In Korean folklore, goblins (or dokkaebi) have extraordinary powers and the ability to interact with humans. They are also often surnamed “Kim” and come into being when they possess objects or artefacts that are stained in human blood. In the series, the artefact is the magnificent sword that Kim Shin receives from the young king as a gift but is eventually stained with the blood of all the people that he killed in battle. It is the same sword that ends his mortal life and has remained stuck in his chest; no one else apart from the Goblin’s Wife can see and pull it out. Once the sword has been removed, Goblin will finally die.

The Goblin’s Wife

Kim Go Eun (left) as Ji Eun Tak, the Goblin’s Bride

It will be more than 900 years before Kim Shin meets Ji Eun Tak (Kim Go Eun) whose life he saves when her mother is hit by a car whilst pregnant with her. As a result of Kim Shin’s intervention, Eun Tak comes into the world with a unique gift that allows her to see ghosts who in turn inform her that she is the Goblin’s Wife. On the other hand, escaping death also means Grim Reapers are hot on her heels and the threat of death shall continue for the rest of her life.

On the night her mother dies, Eun Tak meets the Grim Reaper who is supposed to guide her mother to the afterlife but accidentally identifies her as the missing soul that he has been looking for. With a god who comes in the form of an old woman (and sometimes a beautiful woman in red) on her side, she manages to escape the Reaper and eventually lives with her cruel aunt and obnoxious cousins.

On her 19th birthday, she unknowingly summons Goblin/Kim Shin after blowing her birthday candle whilst celebrating on her own. Quick to pick up on the nature of the person who suddenly appears in front of her, she learns how to summon him at will and starts to build a relationship with the immortal to whom she introduces herself as his wife.

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Notes from the semi-lockdowns: Hell is other people

I am going through a Lee Dong Wook phase. It started with Goblin, which thankfully I finally had the chance to watch nearly five years after it aired, followed by Touch Your Heart, and now, his latest starrer: Strangers from Hell. The psychological drama has been around since 2019 but was recently picked up by Netflix for international audiences. I am very disappointed with Viki and the endless geo-blocking of more than half of the shows that I really want to see, but okay…

strangers from hell
Im Siwan (centre) as Jong Woo in “Strangers from Hell”/”Hell is Other People”

Strangers From Hell takes the viewer through the events that transpire in the days following Yoon Jong Woo’s (Im Si-wan) move to Seoul after accepting a job offer from his friend who owns an independent marketing content house. Having limited means, he decides to stay at the only place he can afford, the decrepit Eden Residences where he meets a cast of characters whom he instantly finds a bit too much for his comfort: there is the guy who spends his days watching porn if he’s not lurking the hallways and threatening to knife other residents; the stuttering guy and his twin brother; a seemingly normal guy who literally spits at people when they turn their back; the landlady who likes offering bad food to residents. And then, there’s Seo Moon Jo, dentist by day and peeping Tom by night.

Also titled “Hell is Other People” and based on a “webtoon“, the show sees the gradual mental breakdown of Jong Woo. As the story progresses, he discovers that his intuitions about the people at the dormitory are accurate after all when two other residents suddenly disappear and his room is broken into whilst he is away at work. Feeling apprehensive about the situation his girlfriend initially convinces him is only happening in his mind, he befriends Seo Moon Jo (Lee Dong-wook) to whom he shares his passion for thrillers and an ambition to be a published author in the same genre. In return, the dashing Moon Jo encourages him to pursue his dream and explains that everyone at the building is in fact okay.

Unbeknownst to Jong Woo, although his new acquaintance is a popular dentist by day, the guy actually moonlights at night by inflicting his own brand of dentistry on his victims and may or may not be into human meat.

lee dong woook, seo moon jo
Lee Dong Wook as Seo Moon Jo, a strange eye candy from hell

As Jong Woo copes with life in the big city and the creepy residence, Jong Woo also has to contend with his abusive and insecure manager, while at the same time fending off insinuations from the company’s CEO, a friend from university, about having bad attitude at work. It turns out that the CEO has only hired him for cheap labour and to make a move on his girlfriend. I feel that this observation is Moon Jo’s only redeeming quality, apart from the fact that he is so easy on the eyes.

As for his girlfriend, Ji-eun, it’s hard to totally like her when she fails to lend an ear each time Jong Woo tells her about his struggles, but at the same time it must be understood that she also has her own little battles to fight, top of which is her patronising manager. The power distance that both Ji-eun and Jong Woo must navigate at work is a recurring theme and perhaps is reflective of the larger society which has been known for its emphasis on respecting seniority and authority figures.

Without wanting to spoil the show for anyone, it’s fair to say that there is a Life of Pie-mixed-with-Kafka quality to the series, particularly when the epilogue shows how Moon Jo has successfully achieved his goal. There is also no satisfying end to the story other than knowing that those who deserve it at least get their comeuppance. Or did they?

The 10-episode series is the darkest that Lee Dong Wook has done to date and Seo Moon Jo is his first villain to play, as far as I know. He may or may not have been cast for the role on the back of his star power, but what is certain is he deftly played the psychopathic character so convincingly, making Moon Jo both magnetic and frightening at the same time. At Eden Residences Seo Moon Jo is the vilest of the lot, for sure, and I found myself mentally screaming at Jong Woo to run the hell away from his dentist pal who also calls him “babe” or whatever it is in Korean. Strangers implies that Moon Jo is gay, but it doesn’t explore the idea any further.

Strangers From Hell/Hell is Other People is 4.5/5 recommended viewing for blood and gore and a pretty villain if you are not disturbed enough by scenes of entitled #covidiots protesting lockdowns because they think their freedom is more important than the lives of others. The showdown between the two leads towards the end is especially thrilling.

And if you need to decompress after binge watching all 10 episodes, here’s a playlist of “Wookie” doing manny duties in a popular reality show about dads and samchons (uncles) taking care of the little ones for the day. The second video is pure gold, don’t miss it!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Just a little reminder that Lee Dong Wook is pretty much a regular guy before bursting into stardom, following his work as Grim Reaper in “Goblin”.

Notes from the lockdowns: thriving in social distancing

Today is the second time in over two months that I went to the office. I wish I could instead dial in but when you have to work with members from senior management, physical attendance is a must.

Unlike some of my peers, I have it easy during the lockdowns. A phone conversation with a couple of colleagues has revealed that they have been looking forward to the end of the lockdowns and social distancing, so they could be in the middle of the commotions of office life once again. I wish there was a way to tell them it was alright that everyone worked from home without potentially sounding offensive, as I have found myself thriving during the lockdowns. And now that we are reaching the end of social distancing, I can’t say that my introverted self is thrilled at the prospect of turning up at the workplace even when I have my own literal corner office which sits at the end of a hallway.

I am not a morning person, so getting up two hours early, dressing up, and on some days taking the hour-long commute to work don’t make my idea of starting the day right. I am no slouch in the “making oneself presentable” department, so even when I’m spending the day indoors, I still make it a point to shower and put on clean clothes in case I have to go to the shops or get a takeaway. Moreover, random Skype video calls means I have to dab on minimal makeup at least.

However, I much rather prefer the comforts of having my morning coffee whilst reading or watching the news before checking in. By the second cup, I am prepared to answer queries and requests that are sitting in my Inbox. There really is a strong case for hygge as the driving force behind Denmark’s reported satisfaction with life.

As a result of previously working in consulting and customer service, I have learned to start my workday addressing enquiries from colleagues and I agree that coordinating projects also means giving others the attention and at least a semblance of presence especially when you’re working remotely. Still, I am most productive later in the day. Work that requires more focus and minimal distraction are saved for afternoons and often late into the night when I can type away with the lights at the ground floor, which has become my home office these past two months, are switched off except for a solitary floor lamp that stands right next to my desk.

Source: Brooke Anderson

Apart from not being able to do weekend shopping in-store or travel farther than the vicinities of Perth metro area, I don’t feel I missed out on anything. Instead, social distancing afforded me the work-life balance that I’ve often craved, as afternoon walks and runs around nearby neighbourhoods and parks, spending more time with my husband and the cat, and knocking off to watch my favourite TV series are often the highlights of my day.

That’s not easy to manage when things are normal, and I hope that the world doesn’t frown upon the rest of us introverts who have found that maintaining physical distance from everyone else was actually working in our favour.

Lonelineness versus time alone

The coronavirus pandemic has arrived on the heels of what some describe as a “loneliness epidemic”, but these headlines may be overblown. Again, part of what is missing in such descriptions is the fact that clouds for some are silver linings for others. 

A counterpoint to the so-called loneliness epidemic is the study of “aloneliness”, the negative emotions many experience as a result of insufficient time spent alone. As Anthony Storr wrote in Solitude: A return to the self, “solitude can be as therapeutic as emotional support”, and the capacity to be alone is as much a form of emotional maturity as the capacity to form close attachments.

Source: Personalities that thrive in isolation and what we can all learn from time alone