The Scholar who walks the night (2015) First Impressions

The Scholar who walks the night (2015) First Impressions

Keywords: #LeeJoonGi    #LeeYooBi #ShimChangMin #LeeSooHyuk #KimSoEun #밤을걷는선비 #KDrama #KoreanVampireShow

 

Hello. Ghouls and goblins or should I say Bella and Elena fans? This is Prof. AKIA and have you noticed that the new crop of Korean dramas has a supernatural theme to it? My last article covered “Oh My ghost!” (2015) which was about ghosts and possessions. Today, I’ll talk about “The Scholar who walks the night” (2015) after watching the first 2 episodes and it has vampires who do martial arts.

And the CGI is bad!
So Chinese of the show.

If you do not know who I am, I talk about Korean dramas here on akiatalking.com. I also talk about Korean movies on kmovietalk.com. So stop by some time.

CLICK PIC : Oh My Ghost (2015) First Impressions

Introduction
Oh My Ghost” (2015) could be said to fall into the urban fantasy romance genre; it is set in the modern day. “The Scholar who walks the night” (2015), on the other hand, is a period piece fantasy set sometime in the middle Joseon dynasty period. The show is not clear about the specific timer period it covers unlike the web comic it is adapting.


However, you do not really need to know about that!
It is a fantasy with vampires after all!
Anyone watch “Vampire diaries” (2009-)

I discussed the whole fantasy genre in Korean dramas briefly in my last article. So, I will not lead into this article with that topic. What I do want to talk about is the subject of what I like to call “Korean dramatization.” Those who are well versed in Korean dramas will have an inkling about what I am referring to.


Yes, we all have talked and heard about Korean dramas’ obsession with romance.

However, there is really nothing wrong or unique about this as romance has been the world’s obsession at least since the early 20th century.  This is not the topic I’m referring to. I want to talk about Korean dramas’ problem with over-complicated plots and insular/ inbred type of character relationships.


You know what I am talking about!

Not all relationships need to have a fateful origin and not everyone has to be related with each other. People with no previous interactions can meet and have relationships. However, this does not seem to be the case for Korean dramas. I am sometimes surprised that the subject of “incest” doesn’t come up as much in Korean dramas as it seems to be the natural destination in many cases.

Alas Korean dramas tend to just chicken out and say they were adopted or something.

As a result of these tendencies, stories; which in any other place would be straight forward; become rather weird and convoluted quickly in Korean dramas. Even when a Korean drama is adapting a straight forward source material, what ends up on screen is “daytime American soap” where everyone is either an ex-lover or relative or etc. Sometimes both…Why is this?

Hugh, I do not know!
Do you have any thoughts on this?



The new vampire show “The Scholar who walks the night” (2015) is also a victim of this phenomena.

Bring out your flash cards and pencils ladies and gentlemen.
We are going to talk about the plot of the first two episodes!
Spoilers ahead.


The Plot
At its core, the show comes off as a vampire themed period political thriller. During a fictional king’s reign relatively early in the Joseon Dynasty, a prince and his friend are looking into the murders of the King’s concubines.


What do you know?
The vampire did it!


vampire king

Known to only a few, the vampire, let’s call him the vampire king, is in fact the shadow ruler of Joseon. The human kings are more of the face of the regime.  The murders are meant to be a show of force responding to the currently king’s insubordination or something like that. The whole situation does not really make sense considering the political setup of the show.

It comes off more like stalking than the act of an institutional power’s retribution.


scholar

Once the prince gets close to the truth, he is killed and his friend a.k.a. the “scholar” ends up bumping into another vampire, who was the vampire king’s former teacher and is currently against the vampire king. This “nice” vampire quickly gets killed like a b***h. Somehow, the vampire king does a sloppy job at killing him and the dying vampire is able to turn the “friend” into a vampire hours later before finally dying.  This is how the “scholar who walks the night” was born or more accurately made.


It’s getting convoluted I know!
But there is more…

The vampire king somehow knows about the “Scholar’s” new vampire-hood and, rather than just killing him, brings the “Scholar’s” fiancé to him. At the conclusion of all these shenanigans, the vampire king and the scholar are both left standing with only the fiancé left dead on the floor because the scholar ate her.

fiancé

Bam Bam Bam!
Que the tragic emotional music and toss in a “No…!” scream.
A brooding emo vampire is born.

Now we have a time jump and about 150 years has passed; nothing much has changed. The vampire king still rules in the shadows and the “scholar” still walks the nights. Oddly enough the vampire king lets the scholar live for some reason and the scholar cannot kill the vampire king because he is a “super” vampire or something?


Maybe he is one of the “older ones” from “Vampire Diaries” (2009- )?
Anyone have a magical wooden dagger lying around?

What has changed is that the scholar is heading a small guerilla cell of those who wants to dethrone the vampire king. As all Scooby doo gangs do, they are hitting the books to find out how to kill a super vampire but, since this is Joseon, there is nothing like an occult section of a public library available to them.

In fact, the concept of the modern library didn’t exist yet.
So, how do a Scooby gang handle this situation?

This is where our female protagonist, the “book trader,” comes into the picture. While she comes from a noble family, she has joined the ranks of the working stiffs as her family is currently ruined.

book trader

Thus, she “pretends” to be a man and self-proclaims “himself” to be “best traveling book salesman” around.  Her occupation leads her to the scholar who is trying to find a book that may have information regarding the secrets to killing the vampire king.


I smell a McGuffin search!
Or is it the Easter eggs left over from this year’s egg hunt?

Hew, that was a long summary of the first episode. Not much happens in the second one.


Korean dramatization
Looking at vampire fiction as a whole, nothing about the concept of “The scholar who walks the night” (2015) is ground breaking. A handsome brooding vampire with an existential crisis is nothing new.

Yes, the scholar has a problem with eating people.
So, he seems to take the Dexter route.

The emo feminine male vampire was done to death by the “Twilight” books and movies. Even a vampire as the power ruling the world from the shadows has been relatively well traversed over the last few decades. The only thing that is really unique about the show’s concept is that it is set in the feudal Korea, and that maybe good enough for the show to warrant its existence.


At least, the now we can blame all the problems of Joseon on vampires!
And there were many problems.
You know the “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (2012) route.
Wink Wink!

Joking aside, an interesting thing about the show’s adaptation of the web comic of the same name is that the show is now set in a totally fictional Joseon. The web comic referenced actual events and kings to place the story in more of a real life albeit fantastic real context. While this is not as important in itself, it does infer that the “cute” subversive elements of the web comic is going to be tossed out for a more conventional take.


And this is not the biggest issue with the adaptation!

Just from the plot description alone, you can guess the degree of convolution the show has in store for us. Since this is a Korean drama, it is not enough that the vampire king is the shadow ruler of Joseon and is a bad dude. The protagonist and the villain have to be tied by multiple layers of melodramatic plot treads for no real practical reason. This is not a good situation. While a show can still be fun with overly complex plots, it is more likely to fail under the weight of its complexity.


This seems to be happening with “The scholar who walks the night” (2015) as the twist and turns of the plot felt very clunky and didn’t work effortlessly which all good stories should be like. There was an odd unnatural disconnect between the fun/subversive nature of the premise and what the show became in execution. This bugged me to the degree that I felt the need to rush out and buy, with my own money, the first volume of the web comic the show is based on. And yes, all of the convoluted stuff was not in the web comic. 


Oh and I liked the web comic.
I wouldn’t say it is a master piece but it was a light and charming fantasy romance with some clever elements.

The series of events portrayed in the web comic is far more straight forward than the show. For examples, the vampire king play no real role in the way the scholar became a vampire as he was turned in China rather in Korea. Also, the scholar was not scheming against the vampire king initially like in the show. He was just laying low and out of sight while the vampire king had no idea he existed in Korea. The same goes for how the “Scholar” and the “book trader” meet. She was not involved with the plan to find a book that may contain the secrets to killing the vampire king. She was just one of the many that the scholar purchased books from since he is a scholar and loves books.


Wow, the web comic version solves all of the problems I had with the show.
And the web comic has an amusing theme of book love in them that does not exist in the show.
I enjoyed it.


What is more interesting or egregious about the adaptation is that it changes the genre of the story. The web comic is more a light charming romantic adventure story. The show, on the other hand, is more of a period political thriller with supernatural elements. In fact, it is somewhat reminiscent of the show “Secret Door” (2014) which was about the political conflicts of the Joseon royal court. Both share the whole “trying to find a book with secrets” McGuffin search element. In addition, both have precocious young girls involved with the plot who seem rather creepily younger than their intended romantic interests.
  

Conclusion
While “The scholar who walks the night” (2015) is a very “Korea dramatized” show, which I complained about in many words above, it is not a terrible show at this point.

Things may change in the future but still it is not bad!

 It is evident that there are considerable efforts put into the production designs which are on par with what you see in period Korean movies. The CGI is bad but what can you expect? Use actual squirrels?

So, scandalous!


The cinematography is pretty elegant in many points during the two episodes while standard in other points. So, it is above average. Still not sure about the depiction of vampires on screen which ends up filling more like Chinese martial arts or Ghosts/spirits.  

 Lee Soo-Hyuk 

Acting wise, the cast is problematic. Lee Soo-Hyuk who plays the vampire king is too over the top and hammy.


Lee Joon-Gi 

Lee Joon-Gi who plays the scholar is coming off as portraying the character as too straight without much nuance. He, as an actor, has a very narrow range. As a result, the character is not as interesting compared to his web comic counterpart who is more like a less “punk” version of Buffy’s “Spike” character.

Spike

There is a rouge like sarcastic charm absent in the drama version. 

Lee Yoo-Bi

Because of this, Lee Joon-Gi’s scholar does not work well off of Lee Yoo-Bi’s “book seller” as she is way too goofy even more than her web comic counterpart. That version was more of a book nerd rather than a clumsy comedic idiot albeit being still somewhat of a comic relief. Think early season Willow from “Buffy.”


Willow from “Buffy.”
Kim So-Eun

Lee Joon-Gi’s scholar worked far better with Kim So-Eun’s portrayal of the “scholar’s” fiancé as both are very seriously portrayed.

The contrast between Lee Yoo-Bi and Lee Joon-Gi is just too jarring!

Overall, “The scholar who walks the night” (2015) is a mixed bag as the basic concept borrowed from the web comic is interesting but the execution of the show is left wanting. So, I’m conflicted. Should I keep watching the show? Maybe I should just keep reading the web comic…

I just purchases volume 2 of the comic which basically ends around episode 3 or so of the show!

I give “The scholar who walks the night” (2015) a cautious B-.

Score: B- or 6/10


This was Prof. AKIA and thanks for reading my review.



So, thanks for visiting during office hours. My name again is Prof. AKIA. Do not forget to comment, share! Thanks. Now please get out.
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1 comment:

  1. THAT was sooo entertaining! I never even considered how people move into those high rises, in New York, or anywhere. lol. That was just a "duhhh!" moment for me. Keep up the fun videos.

    ReplyDelete