Cutting into Korean drama: My love from another star (2013) Review/Analysis



 Hello. This is AKIA Talking… now from Korea. I had done a fan edit of a Korean drama, “I am Legend”, before. I chose that show because I hated it when I watched it first primarily because there were a lot of good stuff ruined by very spotty and typical Korean drama sludge. Here is a link to my review. Also Other stuff below.
  1. Fan Editing: Isn’t it all about the music? “I Am Legend”
I wondered what it would be like if I excised all of the crap and restructured the show to emphasize the best thing about the show. The best thing was the rock band element.   I think I was successful in that although my editing skill level was not great as it was my first attempt. However, the resulting product made me appreciate Korean drama writers’ scene composition ability. Their narrative plot composition ability is another thing.







Introduction
Currently, I am doing the last year’s mega hit, “My love from another star”(2013). I had not so great things to say about the show other than it relied solely on cast’s chemistry. Here are links to some articles I wrote about the show.

  1. “My Love From Another Star” Initial Review: A Story of Love, Aliens, Immortality and Watching a lot of Vampire U.S. Shows.
  2. My love from another star: Mid-run Review
However, I did not get all of what the show had to offer and there are reasons why which I will discuss over this wordy editorial.

Yes, I tend to go on and on and on.

“My love from another star” (2013) is a great example of great scene compositions and sloppy narratives.  While I am cutting into the show in my video editor, I noticed that I was having difficulties in removing scenes. And it was not because any plot issues. There were enough room to cut around anything that was required to tell a cohesive story.  This does support my prior whining about this show.


Scenes
 It was because there are a lot of nicely crafted “self-contained” scenes in the show. You know what I mean.
The many “meet cute” scenes.
The many dramatic/cute argument scenes.  
The many sitting on a couch and chatting scenes.
The many eating chicken and drinking beer scenes.
And who can forget the kissing scenes.

I am not including the shower scene in here because… of stuff.  I had not consciously noticed the impact of these scenes before. I think what I viewed as lead actors’ chemistry was not actually that but me misinterpreting what great scene composition was doing in the show. And when taking time dissecting the show…. I came to the revelation that the lead actors’ chemistry in this show is not that great.

“Jun Ji-hyun” is doing her common goofy but cool character which created and keeps feeding her commercial actress empire that started once I hit puberty and is still going strong. “Kim Soo-hyun” is not the most expressive actor in Korean drama. His role in this show is also bland as hell. The two are like the Bella Swan and Edward Cullen of the “Twilight” movies and not books. Do you think that the two actors of that movie franchise really have chemistry that is not being projected onto them by fangirls?

This “Twilight” comparison is not a coincidence. But I will get to that later.

In “My love from another star”, the scene composition is tight to the degree that you can artificially create pseudo-chemistry if you do not have actors that create a block hole of negative energy together.


So, what do I mean by “self-contained” scenes? Well, all scenes have a fundamental function which mostly has stuff to do with conveying information do the audience. The shower scene with the alien conveys albeit crudely that this alien is a brooding character and thus your ovaries should start to swell up every time you see him on screen. This helps the audience ignores that he is one of the dullest … character in the show. He is Edward Cullen! The only reason that he is not the dullest is because there is the “chosen one” who is worse.

You know who he is.

Some writers try to be swift with performing this function while others tend to make it a whole production. Think the comparison of action scenes in which you have a “someone just comes up and shoots some other person in the head from the back” scene and a “I am shooting all around the place doing rolls and ducking to end up killing this one person and blowing up a tone of shit” scene. They perform the same function of showing a guy killing another guy but there is a lot of difference between the two.


Making a production out of nothing and doing it well
As with many Korean drama writers, “Park Ji-eun”, the writer of  “My love from another star”, prefers to go the production route. She seems to really love it and is great at it. And there is nothing wrong with that. However, this has its downsides. For one, it is not the most efficient way of conveying information. The other is that it is easy to concentrate on crafting individual scene at the expense of the overall narrative.  “My love from another star” crashes into this endless pit.

“My love from another star” feels like a collection of rather loose non-action drama/comedy “set piece” scenes masquerading as a single narrative rushing to a predetermined conclusion. There are a few elements to what I just said here. What do I mean by “set piece” scenes?  While the scenes are well-crafted and fun on their own, there is a tone of them and they tend to be overly long and inefficient in regard to the larger narrative. 

Also, it is not that there is a huge variety of the scenes that “Park Ji-eun”, the writer, has up her sleeves. There is a tone of redundant scenes in the show performing the same function in the character’s arc or just are lazy on the part of the writer even taking into the account the episode structure of Korean dramas. Here is an example. In “My love from another star”, the fictional starlet is hospitalized 4 or 5 times during the show’s run when she is defined as one of the most energetic and healthy characters of the show. Oh, and this show is not a show centered around illnesses like many Korean dramas.
Well, not on the part of the female lead at least.
 
What I am trying to say is that it is easy for Korean dramas like this to bog down to be just a collection of scenes albeit nice scenes. “My love from another star” fits this case. It is less evident in the earlier episodes when there was enough initial plot generated by the premise of the show’s concept. However, once this is gone, it becomes a chore to just get through the show.

This is somewhat of a typical phenomenon for Korean dramas. However, with “My love from another star”,  it is worse since its narrative is not meant to be meandering. For god sakes, it has a ticking clock built into the basic plot premise.

E.T. has to go home!


The plot…or plots…
I’ll say my conclusion before getting in depth. The plot and narrative flow of “My love from another star” is a mess. It has many plot lines which are not developed properly and simply does not have enough of them to fill the run time of 21 episodes. I first remembered it to be 16 but it was worse. Let’s jump in.

“My love from another star” has basically 3 major plots with 3 minor plots not including comic relief ones. The first is the “I am a female starlet who is successful but is lonely and thus I am going to meet a normal guy” plot line used by basically everyone in TV. The Korean drama “The Greatest Love” was somewhat of a gender reversal of this plot line.


The second plot is the “I am an immortal being wondering the surface of the earth and I am lonely. Thus only love could fix me. Also, I will need to save that love every other day or so” plot line. This is seen a lot in vampire fiction over the last decade or so. It was the main shtick of Edward Cullen in the “Twilight” series. For all intents and purposes, “Do Min-joon” and “Edward Cullen” are the same character. Both are superficially good looking but are the blandest, sterile characters in recent fiction.  I mean, if I would have to spend eternity with them, I would climb up into the lava of “Mount Mordor” to see if it would kill my immortality like the “One Ring”.

Also, “Do Min-joon” is awfully sexually neutered for the kind of show he is in. I get “Edward Cullen” doing the whole thing about “I’m not going to have sex with you because I may destroy you” thing. The vampires tend to represent prepubescent sexual angst. What is the excuse for “Do Min-joon”? At least, “Edward Cullen” can kiss without much issue. “Do Min-joon” collapses like he has a rapid onset of Kudies whenever he is kissed.

Once again, can anyone hear ovaries swelling up?

These two plots are tied together by some “E.T.” (1982) imageries, some superman references, and a ticking clock. First “E.T.” stuff, the beginning and ending of the “My love from another star” is basically the same as “E.T.” (1982). An alien visits earth to sight see or do research and then gets left behind. At least, in “E.T.” (1982), there was a set of circumstances that led to that outcome. What was “Do Min-joon” excuse?

Seeing how he was left behind and what we see of him in both past and modern days, I like to think that he was a “Special”  case for his race who ends up missing the bus/UFO on a school field trip. And I mean “Special”! For someone who lived for more than 400 years, “Do Min-joon” is not that intelligent. I can imagine this as we have no idea what his species is like. I think the actual reason why he was stranded on earth was not the stupid reason he stated on the show but because everyone on his planet though good riddance. And thus would not pay for his ticket home.  He had to wait for public transportation.


Who’s behind the wheel?
In regard to these two plots, there is nothing really seriously wrong with them other than one thing. Both have been done before to decent results. And, from what I have seen in the show, they are fine.

With the “Starlet” plot line, I liked how “Cheon Song-yi’s” interact with her supporting characters. While, initially, I disliked the “Manwha-bang” owner friend since I did not see her purpose in the overall narrative, she ended up growing on me as she was comic relief to all the passive drama going with “Cheon Song-yi”. While I disliked the second male lead, the second female character had some promise. It ended up being wasted but I’ll cover this later. I even liked the rival starlet who ends up getting killed and thus ends up driving the plot for most of the show.

That was a shame! She could have brought more development to “Cheon Song-yi’s” character.

With “Do Min-joon”, the immortal, I liked his interaction with “Jang Young-mok”, his lawyer and a helplessly mortal being. The confidant character who keeps an immortal being’s secrets is not something new but is still interesting. The U.S. show “Forever” (2014) has the same dynamic.  However, this plot is actually very underdeveloped as what and who  “Do Min-joon” is as a character and as an alien is never solidified. Even his superpowers have no consistency.  I also hate the getting weaker as the ticking timer reaches its end thing.

The one thing wrong with them is that none of them really drive the narrative along. For the most part, both characters are passive and what reactions they have are reactionary. Most of the overall narrative is not the result of their internal character motivations. This type of setup is not unfamiliar to students of movies. I mean a lot of romantic movies have no real character motivation behind the wheel when it comes to the narrative. It is “destiny” and coincident driving the narrative which can work with a 90 minute movie format. It does not do well with a serialized story running over 21 “one hour” episodes.

So, what is driving the narrative? Two things. First is the ticking clock built into the “Do Min-joon” plot line that forces an artificial tragedy onto the characters. Second, there is the third major plot.


Villains sometimes make good drivers but not always
The third major plot is about the “Villain” killing his girlfriend and the resulting investigation surrounding it. None of the show’s narrative would have happened without the Villain doing his thing. The two love birds only get together because of the scandal caused by the villain offing his girlfriend. While I do not always like a villain driving the narrative, ton of stuff do it. So, I am good with it in concept.

However, this means that the whole narrative hinges on one character doing his stuff. With the villain in “My love from another star”(2013), he and his villainy is not large enough to support 21 hours’ worth of plot.

What does he actually do?

He is a rich guy who knocked off his secret girlfriend because she was getting uppity because he knocked her up.

Word play! Fun!

He was threatened by her aggressiveness and thus he spends the rest of the show cleaning up the mess he created. At best, this story can support a movie. It definitely cannot support a whole Korean drama. It might work if the character had some depth to him but the show doesn’t even know what to do with him as a character and not a plot device. It cannot even make up its mind whether he is a sociopath or just a mustache twirling rich bad buy. In any case, his plot runs out of steam before the halfway mark of the show. Even before then, it had serious issues. I mostly resent this plot because it made me watch the investigation scenes throughout most of the backend 14 episodes which are boring as hell.

In addition, this third plot does not really tie the other two plots into the overall narrative tightly enough. Other providing for the impetus for “Cheon Song-yi’s” fall from grace and trying to kill her once or twice, the villain’s and her plots never really intersect. This is the same for “Do Min-joon” and the villain’s plot. More accurately, it should have been so. Throughout most of the backend 14 episodes, there is a weird standoff between those two characters surrounding the investigation. “Do Min-joon” even agrees to take the fall in place of the villain at one time. It does not work at all. Both characters are not well developed enough to make that kind of dynamic work. At that point in the narrative, the villain seems to be spinning out of control because the writer has no idea what to do with him.

It is the same with our hero. “Do Min-joon” could have just off him and ended the villain’s and the audience’s misery. However, he kept acting passive and thus dragged the whole thing out in “Batman” fashion. However, Do Min-joon” is not Batman and there is no real reason to go for the “empty threat” approach. In any case, the actual villain’s action ends up not being that important to the overall story of the alien.  


The second wheels and the minor plots
The minor plots are about the second leads. The second leads in this show play fiddle to the main villain. Considering the empty character the villain was, it is not a good place to be.

Let’s talk about the character I despise the most in the show. In regard to the second male lead, he is almost useless to the main two plots other than being a cheap device. He is all of the” soon to be ex-boyfriends” in a “Meg Ryan” movie. These characters are so bland that they end up as just placeholders in the life of the Meg Ryan’s character.  After the two  leads of “My love~” meet up and settle in to their dynamic, the second male lead has to fade away since they is no function to the character any more. However, the show had him so it used him to try to fill in the villain’s, his brother’s, plot and helped tether the villain’s plot to the other main plots as they tend to veer off into their own world. It fails in both accounts.


The second female lead’s plot is more interesting in concept but is poorly executed. She is the friend who is always playing second fiddle to the more popular “Cheon Song-yi” and is in love with the second male lead who, in turn, has a crush on “Cheon Song-yi”. There is a lot of stuff to mine from this plot. However, this is never really followed up. Once the two love birds get into their dance, it is almost forgotten. Afterwards, the second female lead is used to keep the third minor plot connected to the two main plots long after it was jettisoned into space.



I mean figuratively.

The third minor plot is the whole “the alien and his love in the past” story line. While it is not a bad story on its own, it never really fit into the main plots. It seems to have been devised as two things. The first is as a gimmick since placing an alien in the Korea of the past is interesting with potential comedic possibilities. The second is to provide a “destiny” angle to the alien’s love interest. However, none are really required for the main plots to happen. You do not need to reach 400 year in the past to create a “destiny” relationship as, by the alien saving the starlet in her childhood, an instant “destiny” relationship is created. The whole thing feels like filler when viewed from the narrative’s perspective.


What’s up with the messy plot line?
If you have read up to this point, you may have a vague image in the brain right now. I will draw it in clear and vivid ink. It is like a collection of rockets tied to leaving the launch pad and is in midflight.  Since the one or two of the rockets are more powerful than the others, the collection of rockets is now moments before ripping itself apart.

In “My love from another star”(2013), the “I am a female starlet who is successful but is lonely and thus I am going to meet a normal guy” plot line is so powerful with the “I am an immortal being wondering the surface of the earth and I am lonely. Thus only love could fix me. Also, I will need to save that love every other day or so” plot line coming in a close second. As a result, the other stuff tacked on to it is not sticking in place as the main two plots keep trying to go its own way. However, the writer has not done enough to develop these two plots that the show is having problems filling in the time.


The other stuff
Voice over is a video device to translate a literary device to a visual form. The evolution of the voice over is the whole pseudo-video interview format originating from documentaries. This device has been used to good effect in shows such as “The office” and to a lesser degree “Modern family”. “My love from another star”(2013) uses this to but is executed without any restraint or defined rules. It makes no sense within the narrative of the show.

Are these real interviews?
There are too weird to be real interviews.
Some maybe but others are iffy.

In addition, it does not really need to provide commentary on the show’s developments or provide inner character monologue since the many well-crafted and long but redundant scenes already had done enough to nail what information is required to be conveyed to the audience.

Editing a movie version
So, I ended up making a movie version of “My love from another star”(2013) that I call “My Star”. It works in two ways from both leads’ perspectives.

Get it?

I removed all of the investigation stuff and focused on the lead couple. This means most of the latter parts of the villain’s plot are gone. Thus, I redistributed the earlier parts of his plot along the entire movie.  In addition, most of the second leads’ stuff are gone. I kept some of the lawyer and “Manwha-bang” owner friend stuff as they tend to be fun.

The movie is made into 4 acts. The first act is the set-up in which the characters are established. At this point, it is assumed that the two leads know each other thus removing the need to go through the whole getting to know you stuff.  Also, no love from 400 years past. The story assumes that the relationship started when the alien saved the starlet when she was young and he has been watching over her ever since.

The second act is the fall out of the murder angle. The third act is the start of the romance and the alien reveal comes earlier than the Korean drama which is before the attempted murder stuff.

The final act is the consolidation of the romance and alien trying to resurrect the starlet career by revealing he is something supernatural. Also no happy ending. The alien leaves and the starlet is haunted by him maybe for all her life.

As a side note, I changed the coloring of the superpower scenes and replaced the soundtrack in those scenes also.


At the end
I am somewhat satisfied with the results of the edit. It is still rough but I tried out more stuff with this attempt.   It ended up as 3:17:00.

What do you think?


I will be providing a link to the rough movie edit for the weekend starting when I post this article. Enjoy. 

5 comments:

  1. I really enjoy korean dramas because just like you most of their outputs are well-structured and innovative. One of my dreams is to study film in Korea!

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  2. I've been watching kdramas for 6 years now and at first I didn't know there was a such thing as eng subs. Then after talking with a korean friend I found subtitles and have been using them (if available) since. Now that I'm trying to learn korean with the subs it's gotten pretty hard, especially since I've used them for so long. But my views on kdramas is very positive, but I do have family who are so negative about them. And it's weird, because I'm so defensive and super critical to anyone who tries to speak bad about kdramas, kpop as well as s.korea (as a whole) in general. I feel like I'm a Korean, without even being Korean. So I guess I'm Korean at heart<3

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  3. Wow, you moved! Do you still have any of your content from the old days? I stopped by looking for the piece about why Koreans believe electric fans in closed rooms are deadly. That's a great essay.


    Good luck with the new venture!

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  4. Thanks! I have all of my stuff up I think. Look under Editorials. Click the tap up on the menu bar

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