Bromance (2015) #SherylPuthur

Directed By: Chen Rong Hui

Written By: Fang Xiao Ren; Chen Bi Zhen; Shao Hui Ting; Lin Pei Yu and Zheng Han Wen

Cast:

Megan Lai – Pi Ya Nuo

Baron Chen – Du Zi Feng

Bii – Wei Qing Yang

Sean Lee – Chu Zhe Rui

Katie Chen – Yang Na Na

Mandy Tao – Du Zi Han

Amanda Chou – Fan Xiao Jing

Yang Ming Wei – Liao Guang Chao

Edison Wang – Wu Han Sheng

Linda Liu – Sister Feng

Joseph Hsia – Nan Xing Tian

Chen Wei Min – Wu Wan Hao

Tou Chung Hua – Du Guang Zhu

Language: Mandarin                                  Genre: Romantic-Comedy; Action Drama

Number of Episodes: 30                            Run Time: 45 minutes

 

Bromance is a Taiwanese gender-bender romantic comedy drama with elements of action. It shares some similarities with the Japanese manga Tokyo Crazy Paradise by Yoshiki Nakamura.

Due to an astrologer’s ominous prediction, Pi Ya Nuo (Megan Lai) has to live the first 25 years of her life as a man to avert the calamity to befall her. On her 26th birthday, her fate would change and then she would be able to live openly as a woman. But 100 days before her 26th birthday, fate intervenes and entwines her destiny with that a mafia leader Du Zi Feng (Baron Chen).

He feels indebted to her and finds himself drawn to Ya Nuo. Even his sister Zi Han (Mandy Tao) falls in love with her. Their mother Sister Feng (Linda Liu), to ensure that Zi Feng has someone around him that he can trust and become friends with, and to further Zi Han’s romantic attachment, requests Ya Nuo to become Zi Feng’s sworn brother.

The main problem lies in the fact that Ya Nuo is a woman. But she agrees when she realises Zi Feng has always been alone. He was an orphan who was adopted by the Du family and so he owes everything to them. His family’s mafia past also haunts him because people judge him based on that. They forget that his father moved away from that and decided to start a legitimate business – amusement parks. So except for his two sworn brothers, Wei Qing Yang (Bii) and Wu Han Sheng (Edison Wang), he’s had no friends.

The latter in fact emerges as the antagonist of the series of because of his ambition. He wants to become the clan leader and replace Zi Feng. He chooses to undermine Zi Feng by using media to tarnish his image. That sequence leads to an emotionally charged moment between Ya Nuo and Zi Feng because they risk their lives for each other.

Zi Feng has quite a bit of emotional baggage; his father has been missing for years post a shipwreck. Not having found a body means the family has not experienced closure. Even Qing Yang feels similarly because his parents were travelling with Du Guang Zu (Tou Chung Hua) on that very ship. Zi Feng is constantly attacked for being a mafia leader and also various plots abound to overthrow him. Some of these plots are intentionally or unintentionally done by those near him.

Things get comical when Zi Feng feels he is falling in love with Ya Nuo and then begins to question his sexual orientation because of that. For Ya Nuo, it is about whether she should keep her vow or not since she finds herself falling in love and unwilling to hide the truth. There is also an interesting reference to Cinderella made in the series when Zi Feng, unwittingly comments on Ya Nuo when he says that Cinderella is a pitiable character because “she had to bear the loneliness of keeping a secret” – a line that sums up Ya Nuo in the series.

The side plots are equally interesting. Qing Yang meets with a young girl Na Na (Katie Chen) on a cruise. She has cancer and yet is lively and curious about things around her. She breaks through Qing Yang’s reserve when she forces him to make coffee for her (he runs a cafe at the amusement park). His coffee makes her happy and she wants him to make it the way her mother used to make it for her. This connection with the coffee brings them closer.

Unexpectedly, Na Na turns out to have a significant connection to Qing Yang. It seems to be a feature of Taiwanese dramas that all plotlines tie up and feed into each other. It’s like the line from Kung Fu Panda, “there are no coincidences” and destiny plays a huge role in the narratives. For instance, Ya Nuo may have an older connection with Zi Feng, and her childhood friend and veterinarian Zhe Rui (Sean Lee) plays a vital role in keeping her identity secret, just like Xiao Jing (Amanda Chou), her cousin.

Liao Guang Chao (Yang Ming Wei), Ya Nuo’s friend develops an interesting relationship with Zi Han when he becomes her bodyguard/chauffeur. They both feel the other is too unlikeable but it becomes interesting to see the development in their character arc. In fact, Guang Chao/ A-chao displays a range of emotions, going from the comical sidekick to being deeply mature to lovelorn and so on.

As a viewer, one might feel what more could be left once all the plotlines are tied up but right in the last episode, there is a revelation that manages to keep the viewer hooked.

Bromance has a host of interesting characters, by turns emotional, funny and melodramatic, it’s quite a ride. With the past tying up with the present and satisfying conclusions, it gives a sense of catharsis. It even attempts a sympathetic reading of characters that seem quite awful in the beginning. And essentially, it gives a very different reading of a mafia clan.

 

 

 

 

 

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Man to Man (2017) #SherylPuthur

Directed By: Lee Chang-min

Written By: Kim Won-suk

Cast:

Park Hae-jin– Kim Seol-woo

Park Sung-woong – Yeo Woon-gwang

Kim Min-jung – Cha Do-ha

Yeon Jung-hoon – Mo Seung-jae

Chae Jung-an – Song Mi-eun

Jeong Man-sik – Lee Dong-hyun

Jang Hyun-sung – Jang Tae-ho

Cheon Ho-jin – Lawmaker Baek

Tae In-ho – Seo Ki-chul

Oh Na-ra – Sharon Kim

Language: Korean                                        Genre: Spy; Action-thriller; Melodrama

Number of Episodes: 16                                             Run Time: 60 – 70 minutes

 

Man to Man is a South-Korean series that has been recently released on Netflix. It is a Spy action-thriller with elements of romance and comedy.

The series is about ghost agent K (Park Hae-jin) who uses all skills at his disposal to get the mission done. Be it getting romantically involved with a woman who might be integral to finding information/ providing a cover or directly contravening an order as seen in the pilot episode where as a sniper, he ignores the officer-in charge’s order to stand down and takes out a criminal who had hijacked a school bus and was threatening a young girl.

His satisfaction lies in the look of relief on the girl’s face or in the case of other missions, knowing he has done something to right a situation. So while cold-blooded about his work and detached from human concerns he has a larger concern of social-wellbeing. Which is why he frequently voices out that his role is to be faceless while upholding peace in society by undertaking missions of national importance.

In the beginning, K seems to be taking each case mechanically and hence his personality seems at odds with that of his handler Lee Dong-hyun (Jeong Man-sik), a jovial prosecutor who was a former NIS agent but continues to assist them (without letting his wife know). Dong-hyun and his friend Jang Tae-ho (Jang Hyun-sung) an NIS officer want K to take over a new mission. It would require tracing three wooden carvings which hide the key to the slush fund stashed away by the previous chairman of the large conglomerate Songsan. There are many players interested in the whereabouts of the carvings and as a result the slush fund. Some of these players are revealed only towards the last few episodes and the violence and thrill factor ups when these revelations are close on hand.

What is interesting is the cover story K has to adopt to achieve his mission. The first wooden carving is at the private collection of a Russian mafia lord Victor who is hyper-vigilant about his security and hence they have no access. Their only option is by making K a bodyguard to the Korean action star Yeo Woon-gwang (Park Sung-woong) who is now an upcoming Hollywood star. Victor is a huge fan of his film Dark Death and hence issued a private invite to him.

This mission has all the potential to try K’s patience because Woon-gwang is temperamental and has starry tantrums designed to get rid of K, a deal he made with his manager Cha Do-ah (Kim Min-jung) who dislikes K. If K needs Do-ah to fall in love with him so as to ease his operations, it goes exactly against his wishes. She not only dislikes him but also spies on him. For someone who has been a member of Woon-gwang’s Fan club and has eyes only for him and calls him ‘oppa’, she thwarts K’s plans.

Since she tries his patience as well, he is more revealing of his emotions and begins to notice chinks in his armour that worries him and he can’t wait for his mission to be over, but the story throws up twists that embroil him further and further into her life.

There are multiple sub-plots and they slowly start merging together, for instance, the current head of Songsan, Mo Seung-jae (Yeon Jung-hoon) is not only trying to find the carvings, but he has a corrupt politician Lawmaker Baek (Cheon Ho-jin) use his sources and people in the intelligence service to acquire it for him. He is married to a former actress Song Mi-eun (Chae Jung-an) who is incidentally Woon-gwang’s ex-girlfriend. He is jealous of her past especially since she is funding Woon-gwang’s film. He in fact tries to sabotage him and his career. He also tries to manipulate Mi-eun by using their son as leverage.

The interesting thing however, is that she has a double life of sorts in that she is friends with Sharon (Oh Na-ra), a designer who is seeing Mr Jang and hence she does him the favour of hiring K as Woon-gwang’s bodyguard.

It is when K’s two worlds start to collide that the plots start to merge and there is a scene, which is very imitative of Taken that reveals his Achilles heel as an agent to rogue ghost agent Seo Ki-chul (Tae In-ho) who works with Lawmaker Baek.

The series is realistic in how it tries to portray the lives of secret agents – fraught with danger, they live with betrayal, possibility of being discarded and double-crossed by their handlers and how romance is not really an option.

The romantic plotlines of K and Do-ha, and Woon-gwang -Mi-eun-Seung-jae, lend poignancy to the story because of the vulnerabilities it reveals and the improbability of fairy-tale resolutions.

All the characters are well-constructed. They start of as being two-dimensional but as the narrative progresses there are other sides that are revealed. Thanks to the layering of the narrative and the characters’ personalities and backgrounds, Woon-gwang being an action star becomes significant later on.

The actors are also spot-on with their performances. Park Hae-jin’s subtle changes in expression go well with his role as a poker-faced bodyguard. Especially, since most comic moments involve him being thwarted by the other characters. The fact that he shouldn’t reveal any emotions but feel deeply about certain things add to the amusement of the viewer. K’s bromance with Woon-gwang and Dong-hyun becomes one of the highlights of the series.

With Hungary as a location for the foreign sequences and an international feel to the series, it can become very popular. It after all manages to fuse romance and comedy into a spy action thriller that by no means tones down on its thrill moments or violence that would necessarily be part of such a package. It also has instances of psychological abuse.

The series however, does leave things a little ambiguous which is probably realistic given that the protagonist is a black ops agent. Finally, the soundtrack for the series is upbeat, fun and the lyrics for the songs go well with the emotions of the characters and the plot changes. It features popular K-artists including Far-East Movement.

Zindagi Gulzar Hai – TV Series (2012) #SherylPuthur

Zindagi-Gulzar-Hai-COVER-PIC

Directed By: Sultana Siddiqui

Written By: Umera Ahmed

Cast:

Sanam Saeed – Kashaf Murtaza

Fawad Afzal Khan – Zaroon Junaid

Samina Peerzada – Rafia Murtaza

Waseem Abbas – Mohammad Murtaza

Ayesha Omer – Sara Junaid

Mehreen Raheel – Asmara Baseer

Mansha Pasha – Sidra Murtaza

Sheheryar Munawar Siddiqui – Osama Hassan

Hina Khwaja Bayat – Gazala Junaid

Shazia Afghan – Nighar

Behroze Sabzwari – Abrar Siddiqui “Sir Abrar”

Javed Shaikh – Junaid

Sana Sarfaraz – Shehnila Murtaza

Muhammad Asad – Hammad Murtaza

Language: Urdu                                         Genre: Romance; Social Drama

                       Number of Episodes: 26                                              Run Time: 40 – 45 minutes

After being bombarded with the assertions of various people that this TV series was incredible (the fact that the recommendations came from unexpected quarters was more incredible). I thought I’ll watch an episode till I realised days had passed and I was rabidly watching them in an urge to finish the series. The series really won my heart and for so many reasons.

The skeletal framework of Zindagi Gulzar Hai can be compared to Jane Austen’s famous novel Pride and Prejudice. But it is a story set in Pakistan. So while Mr. Bennet has to manfully swallow the idea of Mr. Collins becoming the owner of Longbourn manor, Mr. Murtaza (Waseem Abbas) can marry again and get a son from his second wife Nighar (Shazia Afghan). Interestingly, having multiple wives is looked down upon in Pakistani society.

Kashaf (Sanam Saeed) and Zaroon (Fawad Afzal Khan) are both very proud and driven individuals also rather prejudiced against each other, largely due to class differences. Kashaf is extraordinarily pessimistic, and questions Allah at every available opportunity; it gets tedious. Her second sister Sidra (Mansha Pasha) on the other hand, much like her mother Rafia (Samina Peerzada), is mature and hopeful and encourages Kashaf to have more faith.

Zaroon unlike Kashaf, believes zindagi gulzar hai (life is a rose garden). After all, as Kashaf puts it, he has been given unstintingly by God. Yet she cannot see his troubles. He feels his masculinity is threatened by the excessive independence and almost aggressive feminism of the women of his society including his own mother Gazala (Hina Khwaja Bayat), his sister Sara (Ayesha Omer) and friend Asmara (Mehreen Raheel).

In a patriarchal and conservative society, where women have either fought for their rights or been reluctantly given them because that is the expected global norm, tend to be aggressive about their freedom. This in turn makes the men more defensive and chauvinistic. But a woman who practises the fine art of compromise in a male dominated world might actually get her way more successfully.

Kashaf’s version of feminism was really an interesting viewpoint because she is a strong woman who knows her mind and is very driven. She also comprehends that the world is loaded in favour of men and believes that one shouldn’t oppose one’s husband in public but neither should the husband callously ignore the wife’s opinion. Also she states that any kind of disagreement is better expressed privately. She is no doormat.

Many characters could fit into the Austen mould but with some difference. Asmara is like Caroline Bingley but isn’t one-dimensional. For that matter none of the secondary characters can entirely be called one-dimensional. Some are stereotypical like the ‘scheming second wife’ Nighar (Shazia Afghan) but again the character is not reduced to a caricature the way they are in Indian soap operas. In fact, each sub-plot has an interesting story arc of its own, that melds beautifully into the larger framework and yet stands out as a strong narrative. As for Kashaf, she is an Elizabeth Bennet with Darcy’s taciturnity and Zaroon is a Darcy with Elizabeth’s vivacity and charm.

In comparison to an Indian soap, it ends with a definite conclusion in 26 episodes and it has no unnecessary melodramatic pauses or the infamous ‘flicking of the head’. Also it is a bit of an eye-opener into Pakistani society. True, India is a little more open-minded but some ideas seemed rather familiar.

Some things that Rafia mentions are according to me, very sagacious and insightful. It may seem like submissive behaviour but if you look closely you will see the spine made of steel and the eyes of resolve in the women.

So it’s a great tribute to women who rise despite constraints and an insight into men, who may seem chauvinistic but are actually just being defensive and may make good husbands if given some faith.

Galileo – TV Series (2007) #SherylPuthur

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Directed By: Hiroshi Nishitani

Written By: Keigo Higashino; Yasushi Fukuda; Osho Furuya; Otaro Matsumoto

Cast:

Masaharu Fukuyama – Manabu Yukawa

Kou Shibasaki – Kaoru Utsumi

Kazuki Kitamura – Shunpei Kusanagi

Hiroshi Shinagawa –Shiro Yuge

Ikkei Watanabe – Hiromi Kuribayashi

Miki Maya – Sakurako Jonouchi

                               Language: Japanese                                                                   Genre: Mystery-Thriller

Number of Episodes: 10                                                                             Run Time: 58 minutes

 

After reading up on Suspect X, I found that it was actually a movie spin-off of a crime thriller TV series – Galileo. Suddenly, it came as a realisation that the characters I saw take centre stage later, were actually the most important.

So the story revolves around Utusmi (Kou Shibasaki), a rookie cop who is trying to carve a space for herself in a rather patriarchal and chauvinistic police force. She wants to emulate her senior Kusanagi (Kazuki Kitamura), who had created a name for himself by solving tough cases and was now promoted to a higher branch.

The pilot episode is about how Utsumi and her partner Yuge (Hiroshi Shinagawa) are assigned a ‘supernatural’ case – a young man’s head suddenly catches fire. She turns to Kusanagi for help, only to be told that he solved his cases with help from his college friend, a genius physicist from Teito University – Manabu Yukawa (Masaharu Fukuyama).

Enter Yukawa sensei also known as Galileo sensei – who does not believe that there is anything like supernatural and there is and can only be a scientific explanation for everything.

So all the cases start off seeming rather supernatural like a child levitating or a poltergeist rattling houses and so on. Sometimes it is quite obvious who might be the perpetrator but it’s not the suspense so much as how Yukawa sensei scientifically explains it. It’s thus a very Sherlockian story – more about deduction and even Yukawa sensei seems a lot like Sherlock – not very social, highly intelligent and has the strangest skill set (squash, mountain climbing, sculpturing…). Also when he figures out something he randomly starts scribbling out equations with whatever he can find. Utsumi is like Watson – humane. She also believes in the ‘detective’s intuition’ which Yukawa sensei rejects as not very scientific but it does come as very useful. There is however an underlying plotline that seems to talk of the possibility of attraction between them. If the ending song is a narrative then this chemistry is more vocalised then. Interestingly, it is sung by Kou Shibasaki and the music has been composed by Masaharu Fukuyama.

Each episode deals with some interesting supernatural phenomenon which is given a scientific twist – healthy girl dies suddenly – a man murdered in a locked room – a reader of crystal balls called by his soul-mate only to be shot as a stalker – a woman who dies twice – a murdered woman astral projects herself to her sister who is a few kilometres away. The last two episodes are connected and are a brilliant end to an intelligent series. Also I must mention that the episode of the poltergeist is an especial favourite because it is about a house that rattles at night due to an ‘unhappy ghost’.

So just like Yukawa sensei says ‘jitsu ni omoshiroi’ (really interesting) when he is intrigued by something and wants to figure it out. This series is definitely Omoshiroi!