God's Gift - 14 Days Initial Preview/Review: You needed to cast Julianne Moore



Hello. This is a Korean in America. Today, I want to talk about one of the new spring Korean dramas, God's Gift - 14 Days. This is a review done after watching the first 6 episodes.


Introduction
This spring, Hard Core thrillers seem to be a fad in the Korean dramas. This is an interesting development since Hard Core thrillers have not been a popular subject matter for Korea dramas. When viewed in isolation, this is just Korean dramas’ attempt to try something new out for a spin in order to spice up the inherent homogeneity of the medium.

However, in a larger context, it can be seen as a continuation of Korean entertainment industry’s attempts to recreate/digest the past imported entertainment influences it had been raised on. In other words, it is recreating American entertainment products from the 80s and 90s.

For example, the super popular “My love from another star” is a collage of vampire and alien TV shows and movie products from the 90s and early 2000s. “Prime Minister and I” is extremely similar to the Meg Ryan 80s romantic comedy movies. This is also true for the Korean movie industry. “The Spy: Undercover Operation” is a blatant rip-off of “True Lies”. The disaster movie “The Tower” is a clone of the famous 70s movie “The Towering Inferno”.

Just at this moment on TV, we have the subject of this review, God's Gift - 14 Days, and Three Days dueling it out. And, surprisingly, both are not terrible albeit generic if you have seen a lot of U.S. TV shows and movies. 



The Plot
“God's Gift - 14 Days” is a mystery/ thrillers with a slight supernatural twist. Set in modern but fictional Korea, you have the Mother who is a news show producer. She is a tough career woman who has a rather rigid and willful personally which makes her not very likable as a person. The only thing that makes her enduring is the fact that she is a loving mother. But, at the same time, she is mother who also hovers above her young daughter.
 

One day, the mother loses her young daughter by the hands of a notorious serial killer of women. As a result, the mother crumbled from the loss and commits suicide.

But this is not the end!
We are only in episode 2.

Somehow she ends up traveling back in time mystically 14 days before the date when her daughter was murdered.  It is now the Mother’s quest to prevent her child’s death. For the Mother, the only way to do this is to capture the serial killer.

But is it really that simple?
...
Is there a much larger and darker conspiracy behind all of this?

Well… yes! You have time travel and serial killer in the same pot! It would be rather boring if the plot was that straight forward.

In this difficult task, the mother cannot go alone but no one seems to believe her. But luckily she has a former cop turned trashy private investigator to aid her.

Can this duo change fate and save a young kid from dying?


Growing up on American cultural imports
If you think about it, Korean dramas attempt to remake American cultural imports from the past is an interesting phenomenon. As Americans, now a days, feel nostalgic for the 70s and 80s, we, Koreans, who were raised on American cultural imports, are nostalgic for the 70s and 80s of America to a degree.  However, it rather goes deeper than just nostalgia.

With the Japanese occupation and rapid modernization, mainstream Korean culture had lost touch with many of the old/traditional story archetypes.  They were simply no longer valid in the new modern age of “equality” and “enlightenment”.

I am using a lot of air quotes!

A culture’s story archetypes help define the meaning of life in that culture and provide a blueprint on how to live in it. So, it is rather important. For us, Koreans, this gap was filled to a degree by watching American cultural imports.

We saw cowboys fight each other.
We watched Rambo win the Vietnam War single handedly.
We watched rouge cops walk the beat trying to clean up the dirty streets.

As these story archetypes influenced Americans of that age and even of today, it influenced Koreans growing up under its influences. The problem is that these story archetypes were never our own. Our environment, our cultural personality did not produce these stories. So, we could never really were able to digest it properly.


Now… recreating American cultural imports
Entering the mid-90s, Korean entertainment industry had experience a renascence of native productivity.

No longer did POP songs rule the charts.
No longer was prime time TV filled with U.S. Shows.

This was the age when Korean drama as you know it started to mature. This is all good. But the down side of this new movement was that Korean entertainment went into full denial regarding its past influences. Everything coming out was seen as fully original “made in Korea” entertainment product.  But if you’ve seen a decent amount of Korean dramas, you know that this is not true. One of the key foundations of Korean drama is Jane Austen’s works.

For a while, this approach worked well enough. However, there is a limit to how long this inbred environment could be sustained before everything became repetitive. One solution to this situation was remaking Japanese dramas. The other is to try something new which was translated into re-appropriating American cultural imports from the 80s and 90s in this context.

The problem with this is that American cultural imports never fit exactly right since they did not originate from Korean culture and there was a lack of effort to digest them into Korea culture over the last 2 decades or so. “God's Gift - 14 Days” is a good example of this.

Time and fate
The plot of “God's Gift - 14 Days” is nothing new. The whole “changing of fate” plot line has been done to death in American entertainment. I have seen this set up in several post -“Lost” shows in American Television over the last decade or so. An example would be a great but undervalued show called “Odyssey 5


In addition, this type of plot was a common staple in 90s movies. And, to a degree, “God's Gift - 14 Days” assumes you have seen at least some of these movies or shows and are comfortable with the basic themes of them.  

For example, in “God's Gift - 14 Days”,  after the Mother time slips back to the past, there is only a single lack luster attempt on her part to prevent the events from happening by simply avoiding it. We, as an audience that are accustomed to this story archetype, know that avoidance is futile. However, this is not the same for the Mother character. So, it is just odd that she just gives up on that approach after a single attempt.


This problem also exists with the inclusion of “fate” within the story. The existential discussion of capital F “Fate” is not a common story archetype for Koreans. For us, fate is more grounded in realism originating from what status one is born into. This existential approach to “Fate” is more familiar to Americans. However, “God's Gift - 14 Days” assumes that we all get these elements and themes without any proper leg work. There is no existential discussion before the tragic events happen in the show other than an out of the place insertion of a “mystical shop” out of nowhere. As a result, “God's Gift - 14 Days” fails to connect with its audience on anything deeper than a superficial level.

Mothers in Korean dramas
In regard to this, “God's Gift - 14 Days” relies heavily on the whole “mother” angle.

And…
It does not work!

The role of mothers in Korean dramas is complicated but rather simple at the same time.

They are sometimes the villain.
They are sometimes angels on earth.
But they are always mothers first!

However, in most cases, the character of the mother is overridden by the fact that she is a mother. Thus, rather than developing the character, a Korean drama could just plaster a sign saying this person is a mother instead.

As a side note, this is actually a good representation of Korean society itself. Females become a provider of service without any separate entity when they marry. At least in America, you are “Mrs. Something”. In Korea, you are simply known as

[Kid’s name]’s mother

Even know, it is odd for me that my mother actually has a name other than being “Mom”.

In any case, “Mothers” are a cheap emotional trigger in Korean dramas. And, if they are characters on periphery, you can get away with it. However, if a show uses a mother as the central character, this becomes a very tricky balancing act between the character actually being a character and the character’s function as the mother. It is more tricky for a thriller in which plot tends to overshadow character development.


So, the show “God's Gift - 14 Days” is problematic from the beginning. It is a mystery in which the fact that the central character is a mother is the main motivational drive of the plot. In this case, you need an actress that could bring enough instant charm and subtle acting to make the audience sympathize with the Mother character. The issue is…

Lee Bo Young is not that kind of actress.


The actress, Lee Bo Young, has always played characters with a rigid and willful personality. They are not instantly likable characters. More likely, they make a bad first impression. However, the main draw of these characters is the combination with the subtle emotional vulnerability the actress brings to the characters. While this was great for her non-mother roles, it is not a good fit for a role in which you instantly need to like or at least be interesting in the character.


If I think about it, the Mother character is basically written for “Julianne Moore” who made a career playing mothers. This made me think of her movie “The Forgotten” in which she plays a mother who lost her child to aliens.

Yes, Aliens.
While there are some odd moments in the movie, Julianne Moore really sells the movie.

In any case, Lee Bo Young is not Julianne Moore”. I think the role was miscast.



3 things you need in a thriller
When creating a thriller, you need to make sure you do the following 3 things well.
1.      The basic set up of the mystery needs to instantly hook the audience.
2.      The characters need to be interesting without much screen time devoted to them.
3.      Information which the show intends for the audience to know, whether it be true or a red herring, needs to be conveyed clearly and concisely.

With the first item, the set-up of “God's Gift - 14 Days” is decent albeit generic. However, the show fails in the other items. Not only is the Mother character unlikable and the male lead is just bland former cop who has a painful past on the force. The situation may be helped if the leads had any chemistry but two on the show would make actually taking chemistry class in high school enjoyable in comparison.



In regard to information, the show does not do a good job in conveying information in order for the audience to follow. Pieces to the mystery seem to pop up randomly and are left unexplained. This is a weakness of Korea in general as we tend to hide and fudge information as a rule.

Putting aside the somewhat sloppy unraveling of the mystery, information regarding the important structural element of the show is not clearly conveyed. This show has a running timer similar to the show “24”!



Why is this show called “God's Gift - 14 Days”? This is because other than the first 2 episodes, every episode spans a single day count downing to the event. However, it is difficult to notice the flow of time in this show. As a result, the suspension related to the running timer is significantly reduced.

At the End
“God's Gift - 14 Days” is not a terrible show. It is casually interesting in terms of plot setup. The acting and editing is decent. It’s just a not great attempt to copy and recreate an American story archetype within the confines of a Korean drama.   

I give it a grade a C+

Streaming link: Good drama net.

5 comments:

  1. I don't agree with anything you said ( I give the show A - for high quality production and for daring ti try something new and for LBY ) I think that non Koreans can be much better judges of korean talent and work and about the brilliant LBY in particular ( someone who is being called the meryl streep of korean drama these days ) your review is quiet nonobjective and prejudiced I don't see what LBY did wrong in your opinion ( other than not being julliane moore ! and playing characters you did not like ) her performance is painfully authentic and real her weeping scenes alone is something you don't see in Oscar winning performances , the fact that you find her unlikable is not her fault .. the actor is not responsible for the character he plays he is responsible for doing it exactly as its written and adding to it from their personal depth which is exactly what LBY is doing I watch everything from Korean dramas to western art movies and I believe that LBY is one of the best real actresses that I have ever seen her only problem is that ( sorry for saying this ) she is korean cause koreans tend to criminally underestimate their own talent in favor of everything western....sorry again but what I really think is that if koreans were more appreciative of they've got you would have seen korean art in a different place now

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  2. I really enjoy his reviews and it helps me decide if I want to watch dramas I may be undecided on. I also enjoyed your reply but maybe I am fuzzy on the part where you say ". .if koreans were more appreciative of they've got you would have seen korean art in a different place now". That is a very broad and general statement but I think I understand what you are saying. AKoramerica spent most of his life in Korea therefore as well as being knowledgeable on entertainment in general he seems to be well versed on Korean entertainment. Maybe he can see that on a global market some aspects of Korean entertainment is not up to par and I can sense that his critique is well meaning and not mean or self hating. Interesting discussion would be should international shows be held to a global (American acting) standard or be on a cultural island unto itself?

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  3. If they want to reach an outside market, considering a more globally enjoyed approach is good, but no matter how much they market their works outside, domestic sales and China/Japan sales are always the most important. So yes, they should do the best they can do while still maintaining their "koreanness", but no, they should not change everything to fit the west.

    Also, saying non-Koreans are better at judging the Korean art and entertainment than the people of that culture themselves is like telling me "I've been to Greece on holidays, why do you people complain? It's lovely.", to which I will laugh a big fat Greek laughter, considering tourists never stick long enough to see the hell it is to live there. We might enjoy Korean entertainment, but we lack the knowledge to judge that entertainment with all the data. No matter how much we do, it is still by our own foreign standards. Which are incomplete. We offer great new outsider insight, which is important, since it gives a different perspective, but experts we are not. Definitely not bigger experts than Koreans who study drama themselves.

    So I disagree with Lonesome Dove's comment and approach.

    That aside, the problem with 'God's Gift' is it is trying to fit that foreign model by still using the tropes and feel of Korean dramas. And those two clash. Korean television, if it does want to reach beyond ajummas, needs to make more series that leave the sageuk/daily/melodrama/romcom genres, because managing to take good elements from foreign entertainment, but shaping them into non-soapy Korean ones will take time and come with trial and error. Right now, they are making Korean soapy shows and shows trying to mimic U.S shows. The goal is to make more Korean series that both escape the soapy habit and find their own modern style that will widen the domestic audience demographic, rather than trying to use something created in a very different culture. And this makes the review very useful and relevant, because it is not easy for foreign fans to see what A Korean in America sees and also read about it in English.

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  4. I highly disagree with you review!

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  5. Are you serious? Your analogy with the American pop culture are so obnoxious. maybe from know on you need to recapitulate your reviews in a more genuine way. And the worst part of it: the male lead (Cho Seung Woo) character is just bland. Are you kidding me?

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