“There is no one righteous, not even one. All have turned away. Their throats are open graves. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Ruin and misery mark their ways.” – Romans 3:9-18 (paraphrased), referenced in The Big Dipper.
Synopsis: A man is on his way home to his sick daughter when a series of unfortunate events occur. A pile of dead bodies is found on the ship and the criminals onboard escaping to China blame the protagonist. Through various flashbacks, the mystery is unraveled. Continue reading →
You really shouldn’t watch dramas at two in the morning. You’re in this hyper awake state and your emotions are more volatile. In the quiet darkness, bathed in the glow of your ipad, everything seems a little surreal and unbalanced. And the bittersweet ending of a drama affects you more than it should. And you end up writing a review fueled by the leftover highs of those emotions.
The KBS drama special, When Roses Last Bloomed, is vastly different from what I expected, which was something more maudlin and melodramatic. Instead, it has the feel of an introspective indie film. Despite its melodramatic material, the drama’s modus operandi is slice-of-life. It quietly highlights the mundane and is wonderfully slow paced. The music is minimal, the editing seamless, and the camera distanced, but not detached. And, for the most part, it keeps its grace until the end, though the quality of the writing drops.
I’m so sorry for the delay in recaps. I’ve been falling behind on Empire of Gold episodes because I started avoiding watching it because every time I did, I felt guilty for not annotating and recapping. Unfortunately, writing recaps makes watching dramas more like work and less like fun. (Also, I’ve been preoccupied with tumblr lately and tumblr is a major time leech ;P) I’m still figuring out a work flow/method for recapping this series.
EMPIRE OF GOLD EPISODE 2 RECAP
Episode two opens with a scene of Hee Joo talking with Tae Joo in a prison visiting room. Tae Joo has been arrested for taking Pil Doo (the mob boss) hostage and possibly for attempted murder, since he intentionally crashed Pil Doo’s car. Hee Joo updates her brother on their father’s humble funeral. Their mother decided to cremate their father and scatter his ashes in the ocean, since their father grew up by the sea. She informs him that she’ll quit school and start working at a restaurant. When he remains silent, she tearfully bursts out that he promised to take care of everything: the restaurant, the house, and her college tuition.
In his prison cell, Tae Joo has a dream in which his father appears and feeds him. Tae Joo apologizes to his father for his failings, but his father gently replies, “I lived 60 years of my life like a fool. And all I’ve left behind are burdens. I’m the one who’s sorry. Tae Joo, you have to win. In this world where I never won, try winning once.” When his father disappears, Tae Joo cries as though his heart were breaking.
The devil is in the details. I usually fast forward when I watch dramas, and true to form, I fast forwarded parts of the first episode of Empire of Gold. However, upon recapping Empire of Gold, I came to realize how significant all the details were. A brief shot of a plate of fruit and a paring knife on a coffee table before focusing on two people sitting on a couch foreshadows Tae Joo knifing Congressman Kim. An allusion to T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland lays the foundation for imagery; slums are compared to a wasteland, and urban renewal to spring. The answer to a quiz show on the TV playing in the background is a reference to an economic theory about the rapid growth rate of developing countries.
It’s gratifying to see evidence of a well-written and well-produced drama. For example, the writer and editor do an excellent job of cross cutting the two plotlines of the chaebol Choi family and the Jang family. By episode two, the seemingly unrelated plotlines get tied together and the foundation for our characters’ enmity is established. Though the two families seem radically different, certain intercutting scenes highlight the parallels between the characters, adding another layer of complexity to the characters’ relationships.
On a technical level, this drama is a cut more innovative than most. The radio and television are used as vehicles for exposition. We get interesting camera angles, point of view shots and close-ups of motifs. Dialogue is juxtaposed with symbolic montages, such as Min Jae’s monologue about the city’s wasteland. Music is used to highlight dramatic irony and dissonance. For example, the background music for a scene in which viewers are aware of impending tragedy but of which Tae Joo and his sister are blissfully unaware is Suzie Kang’s “Violet Scent.” One of the song’s lyrics is, “we’re always making beautiful stories where we can laugh” (언제나 우리 웃을 수 있는 아름다운 얘기들을 만들어 가요). In accordance with the lyrics, Tae Joo makes a beautiful story; he tells his sister of his plans to rent a bigger house for them, open a restaurant for his father, and send his sister to college. Unfortunately, we know that his life is about to drastically change because at that same moment his father is caught in a burning building. In the wasteland monologue scene, the strains of Strauss’ waltz clash with a montage of violent scenes, creating dissonance between mood and imagery, demonstrating how people in positions of power can be removed from and indifferent to the suffering of the poor and weak. Another scene enhanced by music would be Seol Hee’s narration of her feud with Pil Do. Jaunty piano notes punctuate her tale and highlight the absurdity of the situation. For some reason the Korean government offered incentives for people to build churches so we see a montage of gangsters picking up bibles, building churches and plucking homeless people off the streets to fill their seats. It’s kind of ironic that one of most humorous moments in the drama so far is about a gangster using violence to steal property, but there you have it.
Let me start out by saying this; if you’re going to sample Empire of Gold, I’d skip episode one and go for the juicy, meaty main course, episode two. Episode one is delicious, but episode two is decadent. You can read 10Asia’s short and sweet summary of episode one here. If you laugh in the face of tl;dr’s and have mastered the art of skimming paragraphs, here’s a slightly lengthier recap of episode one. There are a lot of adverbs (I get excessive when I’m excited). You have been warned (lulz).
EMPIRE OF GOLD EPISODE 1 RECAP
In one word, Empire of Gold is intense. It begins in medias res with Jang Tae Joo (Go Soo) stonily listening to the radio while speeding along a highway. Over the radio, we hear a female news presenter’s voice reporting that Congressman Kim Gwang Se will cooperate with investigations by the Seoul prosecutor’s office. He receives a call from Yoon Seol Hee (Jang Shin Young) alerting him that she’s finished showering and that Congressman Kim Gwang Se will be leaving for the Seoul prosecutor’s office shortly. He tersely orders her to delay Congressman Kim by sleeping with him again, ignoring the note of plea in her voice. Seol Hee stays still for a moment gazing at her reflection in the bathroom mirror before walking over to the politician and suggestively dropping her towel.
We cut to the next scene with a close-up of a plate of fruit and a paring knife (Chekhov’s gun, people). Tae Joo has arrived at the politician’s villa and proffers a one-way ticket to Macau, one million USD pocket money, and the papers for a shopping complex valued at two million USD and a luxury department store. Tae Joo wants Congressman Kim to leave the country immediately because he suspects that Congressman Kim plans on handing him over to the Seoul prosecutor’s office. Congressman Kim makes a show of heartily accepting Tae Joo’s offer and pretends to call and order his secretary to cancel his appointment with the prosecutor’s office and burn all incriminating documents. Tae Joo is onto him, however, and immediately calls Secretary Choi himself to check if Congressman Kim had really given those instructions. Tae Joo coolly reacts to Secretary Choi’s negatives and slowly corners Congressman Kim before grasping his throat. He growls, “Did you think you could throw me to the gutter? Listen carefully. What you have, ambition, power, I have too. So when I when my hand waves goodbye, leave.”