I am Legend (2010) Korean Review: Is it all about the music? [repost]

Hello. This is a Korean In America. Today, I will go over a rather unique Korean drama about a female band called “I am Legend” (2010).

I am Legend (2010) Korean Review

Is it all about the music? 

#IAmLegend #KimJungEun #JangShinYoung #HongJiMin #Juni #LeeJunHyuk #Kdrama

After seeing the movie “Begin Again” (2014) and constantly listening to the soundtrack I downloaded off of Amazon, I wanted some Korean dramas with a music theme.

The best chance for finding something was looking into the 2010~2011 years’ Korean drama catalog. I had reviewed “Heart Strings” (2010). So, that was a pass. I chose “I am Legend” (2010) because I did not do a review of it previously and I also was not going to watch “The Musical” (2011) again!  Never Again!

I had somewhat positive memories of the show from a previous viewing going into the rewatch. Coming out of the rewatch, I was left with the question, “Is there a legend in the building or did I leave the premises via the exit?”  

“I’m not a woman. I’m a force of nature.”
Courtney Love of Hole – 1998

The Plot
At first glance, the show seems to be about a rise of an “all-female musical band” whose members of over their prime. And the problem is this is not totally true. Rather, only about 25% of the show is about that at most.

I am Legend” (2010) is composed of 3 basic stories and the musical band story is not the one on the marquee.   The first story is a wife, the “lead vocalist”, trying to get divorced from her rich husband and family. She does not come from the same background as her husband and also played in a band when she was in school. The second story is the “lead vocalist”, after the divorce”, working as an investigator at a civic minded law firm which fights on the side of the “poor” people. In other words, she is doing an “Erin brockovich”. You remember the movie starring Julia Roberts from 2000.

As stories, these two stories could be totally separate from other than the fact that the “lead vocalist” is the protagonist in both of them. “I am Legend” (2010) connects these two by having the “Big bad” antagonists of the second story be the “ex- mother in law” from the first story and the “lead vocalist’s” ex-husbands lover.

So… these two stories organically fit together in the Korean drama arena. This type of story setup is not that uncommon as most of the Korean drama audiences are married older women who are “happily” trapped within their marriages. The whole fantasy of getting divorced and getting back at your ex-in-laws is a popular theme in Korean dramas.  What does not organically fit together is the whole “band” third story.

The third story is about the rise of the band, “Comeback Madonna”. This band, which starts as basically a garage band, is composed of mostly the “lead vocalist’s” school mates. They had kept the band going as a hobby even through marriages and careers. However, once “lead vocalist” gets divorced, the band tries to actually make a go of it. The story is basically your typical “rise of a band” type story we have all come to know and love but without the “Sex” or “Drugs”.

So boring?

Unlike the other two stories, the “band” story is not organically connected to the other stories. Other than “lead vocalist”, this story does not share much with the others. This even includes characters. The other two stories are a “one woman protagonist” story rather typical of Korean dramas. On the other hand, the “band” story is actually an ensemble cast in which the story is divided among the band members rather equally.  If you pay attention, this contrast is rather drastic.

The question then is…
What is this show about?

“Rock and roll is a nuclear blast of reality in a mundane world where no-one is allowed to be magnificent.”

Kim Fowley, former manager of the Runaways - 2005

What is this show about?
If you look at “I am Legend” (2010) as a whole, it has to be said that the “Divorce” and the “Erin brockovich” stories form the core of the show. The “band” story is rather a subplot. However, the show does hide this by sprinkling the “band” story elements throughout the “Divorce” story as character flavoring.

And this works.

The “band” story seems more relevant to the story than it is actually is.  In addition, it is nice to see the characters of a Korean drama actually having hobbies and this helps a lot with character building.

Objectively, “I am Legend” (2010) is not necessarily about the music. The show is meant to be a journey about a woman who was trapped in a marriage bursting out of her shell and standing on her two feet. In order to do thing, the show used the “band” as a catalyst. However, anything that could act as an escapism fantasy from marriage for women could work the same. It could be competitive flower arrangement or rowing. The choice of music and a band is rather a gimmick on the part of the show.

This is not necessarily a problem on its own. “Please Marry Me” (2010), which is about a house wife getting a divorce and becoming a solo singer, did the same thing. The issue is that the “band” as a subject is rather more complex since it is a collective effort compared to the subject of a solo singer. In “Please Marry Me” (2010), the protagonist sings and get famous. This is enough as goal for the story. By choosing to use a band as a subject, “I am Legend” (2010) inherits a lot of the established structure associated with the subject that the show needs to adhere to.

While one can be a singer for all of one’s life, bands have a set shelf life. Thus the stories about bands tend to focus on this short life span. The band getting together, the band struggling together, getting famous, and ultimately how the band implodes. By inheriting this, “I am Legend” (2010) tries to adhere to a degree which creates its odd hybrid structure. However, because both the core story and the gimmick story are far more complex for both to be handled properly by the show, “I am Legend” (2010) does neither well although the gimmick story comes out far better than the terrible core story.

“We’ve all got out self-destructive bad habits, the trick is to find four or five you personally like the best and just do those all the time.”

David Lee Roth of Van Halen – 1980

Damaging the Band!
Even though the “band” story comes out relatively better, this whole thing weakened the “band” story significantly. While there is stuff about the story going on previously, the “band” story only really kicks in about episode 10 of a 16 episode show. Prior to that point, most of the “band” story go nowhere and thus could be totally removed as a whole. Even after episode 10, the “band” story has to share air time with the “Erin brockovich” story. The consequence of this is that the rise and demise of the band is rather fast and simplified.

If you have seen movies of this genre, you will know that the whole “rise of the band” story is now standardized to the degree that there is a “South park” episode satirizing it.  The episode is called “Guitar Queer-O” and it is pretty funny. Here is a link to that episode.

In any case, we expect specific things from a “rise of the band” story. For example,
The band getting together.
The band finding their sound.
How the band’s life influences the songs’ creation.
How fame influences the band.

I am Legend” (2010) does cover a lot of this stuff but they are vague and simplified. Other than the band being an escape from the life they currently have, there is not much insight into the music and artistry. The show even has a male supporting character who says “it’s all about the music”. He is the old worn down artist that should help/train the band and by doing so finds his groove back. However, in  “I am Legend” (2010), he is just there. Because the band stuff is so simplified, he has no real function in that story other than awkwardly connecting the “band” story to the other two core stories and acting as a semi-love interest for the “lead vocalist” which goes nowhere.

The characters
This marginalizing of the “band” story is the detriment of the show as the  “band” story has the most interesting characters and relationships. In the other two core stories, the characters are uninteresting generic Korean drama characters and are actually miscast.  You have the “ex-husband” who is just a bland ass of a character. He is played by an actor who just plays nice characters for the most. You have the “ex-mother-in-law” who needs to be very mean and vindictive. However, the actress playing this role mostly plays nice mother characters or old mistresses of rich men. She does not pull the character off. This is the same for the “ex-husband’s lover”.

In comparison, the “band” story has the most interesting characters which include the supporting characters. As old friends who used to “play around” in the old days, the dynamic between the band members seem very genuine. You would believe these people would be in a band together and would keep it going to just spend time together.

Life sucks, but in a beautiful kind of way.”
Axl Rose of Guns ‘N’ Roses – 1998

The music… it’s all about the music.
Even when I was growing up in Korea, bands were marginalized at the time. It was the time of the solo artists. So it was rare to actually see a band on mainstream TV other than as back up. It seemed like none of the major singers could actually play an instrument which is the same to this day.

Groups are a different animal than bands!

Since extra-curricular activities were not encouraged in Korea while in school, I had to get to college to actually see a band, college band, playing live. So, most of what I know about bands come from American movies. The first one that I can remember is “Eddie and the Cruisers” (1983) which came on the American forces’ TV network in Korean decades ago. While it was not a great movie even when it came out, the music still holds up.

Because of these circumstances, bands only really operate within the underground music scene in Korea. So, it is rather interesting that a Korean drama used it as a subject. But, I guess there is nothing like Rock & Roll to symbolize freedom even in Korea. 

The music sets you free!

So, what about the music?

The first thing is that I actually believe that the actresses could play their instruments to a degree. This is a rather rare thing as I barely believe that the characters in Korean dramas could write their own name. How well they play their instruments is a separate issue.

In regard to the music itself, it is a rather mixed bag. Most of the songs in the show are rather vanilla and even the one or two songs, that stand out, do not leave a lasting impact. They are just songs you think that an armature garage band would write. The singing ability of the actresses is not far better. Other than the cuteness of the actresses actually singing, I would not tell them to quit their day jobs.

However, they are still rather fun to listen to. 
Who says Armature garage bands can be fun? 

Also, because of the structure of the show, most of the memorable songs come after episode 10. Even these songs are not particularly well paced out throughout the remaining 6 episodes and are lumped together. This makes many of the music scenes in the show feel repetitive because they are repeating the same song over and over again.

I don't know how music works, I'm just glad that it does.”
― Lou Brutus

At the end
I am Legend” (2010) is an interesting attempt to incorporate a western rock band themed story into the typical Korean drama story. While the show has many interesting characters and relationships, these only constitute a minor part of the show. Thus, one has to say that the attempt had failed.

The typical Korean drama story simply drags the rock band themed story down even though “I am Legend” (2010) is actually trying to telling a proper band themed story. This show is a good example of the need for focus. If you try to do a story, do it and not hedge one’s bet by combining the old with the new. The old would kill the new 90% of the time.

This is rather a shame since this was the best role for the actress, Kim Jung-Eun, since “Lovers in Paris” (2004). While she did a decent job overall, her performance is overall splintered like the show itself. Her role as the “lead vocalist” in the band story is something different from her prior roles. I liked her as the head of the band. She had this interesting leadership quality that was attractive. In contrast, her roles in the core stories are just the same thing she did before but more poorly conceived.

Now we have to ask whether the title of the show is appropriate. Is the show really a legend? The answer is not really. As with the band, “Comeback Madonna”, the show “I am Legend” (2010) never went the distance to self-proclaim oneself as a Legend. Rather, it just fizzed out and gave up.

I actually really hate the ending as it is just a cope out. The band did not really end become it was time. Rather, it was because the band was really a hobby….

I give “Comeback Madonna” and “I am Legend” (2010) a score of a C+.

My life was over, finished, and I’d never seen Pearl Jam play live”

― Kristen Ashley, Rock Chick

Score: C+ or 5.25

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Read My Review of  Snow Flower 설국 (2006)
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  1. I've always come across this one in my drama searches, read the synopsis, then went, 'meh' and moved on. It's great to see your review. I think I'll pass, unless i really have nothing to watch, which is usually NEVER. Your one liners really make me laugh.

    I was left with the question, “Is there a legend in the building or did I leave the premises via the exit?”

    And this one, glad I wasn't drinking anything. "I actually believe that the actresses could play their instruments to a degree. This is a rather rare thing as I barely believe that the characters in Korean dramas could write their own name."

    Yes, there are many characters I've come across in dramaland that I felt the same way.

  2. I am doing around 3 hour fan edit. Would you like to see it?
    It is far better I think.

  3. That would be so interesting to see a 16 hour drama narrowed down to 3! Just the essentials. I'd like to see it when it's ready.

  4. Got a rough version 200 minute version made. E-mail me so i'll send you a link

  5. This was a very interesting read. Although I have not completed the drama myself, I agree with what you've said here.

    I personally dropped I Am Legend somewhere half-way through the series. The reason was that I was expecting the drama to be the "band story" all the way through and I was so disappointed when I realized that the drama was going to be more about her divorce from the assy ex-husband and the mother-in-law from hell. I'm not a fan of law dramas overall, so the court stuff bored me to tears. I felt like I was watching a totally different drama, which is why I decided to drop it.

    I expected the drama to be more about the four women doing their thing without caring about what others might think and just making their music. So in that sense, I Am Legend was not the drama I signed up for.

  6. Fan Editing: Isn’t it all about the music? “I Am Legend” #Kdrama
    http://www.akiatalking.com/2014/07/fan-editing-isnt-it-all-about-music-i.html …