Well it took some doing, but I finally managed to watch the first episodes of Gu Family Book and Jang Ok Jung, Live in Love. First challenge came from Viki. They’ve rolled out their new site and it’s pretty and crisp and I’m leaning towards it being an improvement, but it’s buggy. As is expected with a brand new site. But the subs for Gu Family Book flipped between English and Japanese — which was frustrating. And the subs for Jang Ok Jung just full on stopped at the halfway point, though the drop-down menu said they were 100% done.
So onto Dramafever! And at first they were fine. I flipped to them for Gu Family Book and was able to watch. But when I tried to flip to them for Jang Ok Jung, they were suddenly experiencing technical difficulties that made it seem they’d ceased to be. I was so desperate by this point (seriously, the scene where the subs ceased… so cruel…) that I actually went dark-side (dramacrazy), but they only had raws. So patience was enforced. And finally rewarded when Dramafever came back up. (That this all happened while I was a bit under the weather and just wanting to watch some drama while I nursed myself on tomato soup and rice seemed especially cruel.)
After all that effort, I wasn’t up to tackling the second episodes but I can say that both shows have surprised me, mainly for the good. These are my initial thoughts…
Spoilers for episode 1 of each show to follow:
Gu Family Book surprised me by being much more grim and dark than I’d expected. We open with murder and rape-threats and then actual rape and more murder and finally a suicide. Definitely not what I’d pictured when the show was first introduced.
And I’ll admit I’m a teeny-tiny bit frowny-faced with this beginning. Partially because I’m always frowny-faced when a rape-victim suicides (I think it underlines the toxic message that a victim is forever tainted and their life is as good as over). At least in this case it wasn’t the rape itself that drove poor Dam to hang herself. But it’s still a whole heck of a lot of death going on — with more to come going by previews and my understanding of the set up. I’m nervous about how far down the dark and grim path we’ll be going.
But, I was pleasantly surprised by Jung Hye-young‘s appearance. For some reason, I didn’t realize she was a part of this production. I’m loving her strict schoolmarm vibe as the head Gisaeng (so, so different from her role as Iljimae’s mom in The Return of Iljimae) and am willing to stick around for her alone. Plus, even with all the grimness, the drama is pretty. And I haven’t even hit the main characters yet so… I’ll continue this one.
On the other hand, Jang Ok Jung, Live in Love surprised me by being good! I don’t know why that shocked me. Maybe because the last drama I watched for Yoo Ah In was so, so bad? But the very first scene pulled me right in — the gentle clash of personalities between the three women who’ll each capture King Sukjong’s heart (per history — we’ll see how the drama spins it) — and the rest of the story just pulled me deeper.
There’s the surface beauty with the gorgeous costumes (the hanboks… oh, the hanboks!) but the story itself promises to be compelling with King Sukjong (though I think he’s still the crown prince, so he’s got a different name and wow this won’t get headachy! — she lied…) already battling against opposing political sides through the clever use of musicians and Jang Ok-jung basically just wanting to collect her mother and go live a peaceful life in China but learning she’s too important a pawn in the political game to be allowed to leave that easily.
And the narrative method used… The opening scene was excellent and then we’re dropped right into the middle of the action.
The prologue comes towards the end of the episode only after we see where everyone’s lined up — which means we’re already invested as we find out the technical “hows” that got everyone to this state. So I’m really, really pleased and hope for that pleasure to continue. I’ll definitely be following this one.
Oh! I just realized I haven’t even included a screencap of Yoo Ah In! Which is a good sign as he’s the reason I tuned in — means there’s more meat than candy, which is always good. But none the less — here you go…