A Crime Drama with STRONG Female Leads | LIVE | Kdrama Review

For the Hongil Division in Seoul, maintaining work-life balance isn’t easy. Thankfully, this Korean drama on Netflix seamlessly juggles an ensemble of characters problems in a way that doesn’t burn you out. This is a review of one of the best crime kdrama of 2018, LIVE!

I caught this one a few months back when it was trending on Netflix. Live, Laibeu or 라이브 is a 2018 South Korean Drama. It follows a squad of police officers who defend the crime-laden Hongil district while also maintaining personal lives.

I didn’t know what to expect when coming into this drama.  I wasn’t even sure if it was pronounced like “Saturday Night Live” or “We all live” live. Either way, it turned out to be a solid story in the vein of a recent office drama I watched.

Our main leads starting out are Han Jung Oh and Yeom Sang Soo. Jung Oh is a college graduate who is trying to break into the sexist Korean corporate culture. It was a bit of a laugh coming from Misaeng and seeing Jun Suk Ho playing another jerk role. While on a commute home with a friend after a disastrous job fair, she comes across a listing to join the police academy.  Jung Oh seems to have a complicated relationship with her father, but nonetheless, she borrows money from him to take a year off and study for the exam.

Yeom Sang Soo is actually introduced in the train station the same time Jung Oh is leaving. I love when tv shows place characters in the same spaces before their formal meeting of one another. It just makes you think about how many times you may have unknowingly crossed paths with someone who later in life became a good friend or even a lover.

Sang Soo runs himself ragged all day porting water and making phone calls as a company intern. Similar to our other lead, he comes from a single parent home. Believing upper management’s urgings to invest in the company and get rich, Sang Soo borrows money from his mother and brother. He pours his life savings into the company as well, only for it to turn out to be a Ponzi scheme. He later sees an advert for the police academy and decides to join.

The show introduces and explores different characters from here.

It details the pair’s lives at the academy, and the bond they form with another recruit – Song Hye Ri. The trio decide to transfer into the same dodgy district after graduation, believing they will be promoted quickly. At the academy, Sang Soo butts heads with over the top training officer Oh Yang Chon – who comically leaves shortly before graduation. Yang Chon’s life and marriage seem to come spiraling down, and he ends up transferring into the same district as the rookie recruits.

The show deals with themes of duty and what it means to be a police officer. I keep dwelling on this one quote from Superior Ki Han Sol. It was something to the effect of “There are two types of cops you should watch out for: Officers with a strong sense of justice are dangerous, but cops with nothing to lose are even more dangerous.”

Given the situations the squad seems to find themselves in, this dynamic is explored as some are pushed to their limit and react accordingly, given their life philosophy. I don’t want to spoil the core plot too much, but I will say that a strong sense of camaraderie proves more powerful than any sense of duty to the institution.

LIVE also focused a great deal on the politics of South Korean police officers. One thing I took note of was that an officer’s gun had to be returned after each patrol, and only senior or responsible officers were given one in the first place. Taser guns were given freely and cops could be penalized if they shot dangerous areas such as the chest, stomach or thighs. One of countless incidents involving the precinct happens on Jung Oh’s patrol. She later expresses a wish to transfer to America due to their perceived reverence and protection of law enforcement. Given how reckless she becomes, sadly (I think) she would be fine overseas.

It was an interesting take on two newbie recruits: one who had no sense of duty but needed a job and one with so much duty he would continually risk his life. It also made me reflect on the state of law enforcement in America. I will not suddenly become a bluelivesmatter fan, nor do I personally care for cops or the American justice system. But it was an interesting take on another country and how social degradation was fought.

These opinions expressed on law enforcement are my own and do not necessarily reflect the core beliefs of this blog.

I watched this Korean drama on Netflix, if you know of any other legal subscription sites offering it please let me know and I will update this post with that information.

I usually wind up watching cop kdramas like Signal, so LIVE was a real treat to watch. I hope fans of crime investigation and cop thrillers will enjoy this one!

Do you enjoy crime dramas with a bit of romance? What was your favorite kdrama to watch in 2018? Do you have any recommendations for Korean tv shows premiering in 2019? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we would love to hear from you! Also be sure to check out our other articles on Korean Culture while you’re here!

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More Than Just An Office Drama| Misaeng: Incomplete Life|Kdrama Review

This review contains slight plot spoilers. Enough to understand the context, but too few to ruin the entire series. Read on without fear, because I am determined to talk about this wonderful series with you.

A chase scene in Jordan. A young fashionable man wearing a suit. Two men in suits inquiring the whereabouts of a fugitive. A parkour sequence over the rooftops of a foreign land.

You would think that this was some sort of cop drama, no?

No, no no my friends. This is actually an office drama that starts at its end and takes you through a flashback for the entire series. Here, Jang Geu Rae was living his best life. But in order to understand the magnitude of his confidence and how we got here, we have to delve through his pain…sift through office politics, abuses of power, human rights violations and ever rampant misogyny. In the end, however – a strong message of hope.

Perseverance and hard work do pay off, despite the cold and calculated reality we live in. Yes, there is a future for everyone and it is something special that we create. We never know what our paths will cross or where they will lead, but these roads should be followed diligently until the very end.

This is Misaeng. This is the story I will write about. A tale that upon waking up a day later, it still brings a smile to my face.

Misaeng (미생 – 아직 살아 있지 못한 자), or Incomplete Life is a 2014 South Korean television drama. It was adapted from the webtoon Misaeng: Incomplete Life by Yoon Tae-Ho. The kdrama follows four interns who earn contracts and become newbies at one of South Korea’s top trading companies. Each character has their own motives, dreams, and aspirations for joining the company.

For blue-collar raised Han Seok Yul, it’s a fortunate opportunity to change work conditions for field employees. For Jang Baek Ki, it means embracing his birthright – a culmination of selfish entitlement and social standing. For An Young Yi, it is a start over from a promising future that was previously snatched away too soon. And for Jang Geu Rae…it is a chance to move forward in the game of life that he views as Baduk, or Go.

College Vs Merit

This series, in short, focused on coming of age in a world that tries to dictate your worth by upbringing. Now I know what you are thinking – In Asian Spaces, that is essentially the case everywhere. And frankly, you’re right.  But there is a certain nuance between things we perceive and things that actually are.

Such as the persisting question of a college education and the “right” upbringing versus actual merit and grit to accomplish anything.

In the drama, Geu Rae is allowed an internship at one of the top trading companies in the country. However, things go awry when his peers and the permeant staff find out he received this red herring through a connection. In addition to this perceived favor, he only had a GED from high school. I am referring to this as a ‘red herring’ because ultimately this allowance amounts to nothing. The connection is revealed later on in the series, and it was seemingly just a placid favor with no expectation of the boy’s success. Something intended to hold him over until he essentially becomes another’s problem.

Baek Ki has an insane superiority complex but felt threatened and inferior to Geu Rae and his skills. He was also extremely jealous of his relationship with Young Yi, whom he desired. Baek Ki later admits embarrassment over his qualifications upon realization someone “beneath him” had grown faster in Korean corporate society through hard work and determination.

Baek Ki frequently does things wrong despite instruction, makes careless mistakes and is not for the team but himself – which isn’t bad in a corporate setting but the dynamic isn’t cohesive like within Geu Rae’s group – Sales Team Three. The relationship between these two is the core of the show and explores the dynamic between college-educated employees who know nothing, and ‘less than’ undesirables who put in the work and truly fight for recognition. Once Baek Ki understands Geu Rae’s background and why he did not attend college, he respects him more as he can finally understand things in the context of his own narrow worldview.

Before this revelation, Geu Rae’s character is simply thought of as lazy, too stupid to attend higher education or too poor. These assumptions also carry over into American society. It seems nowadays even the “simplest jobs” (although the most emotionally taxing and stressful) such as retail work require college degrees. A degree from a good university seems to have replaced the high school diploma requirement in most establishments, despite the quality of worker not visibly improving.

Geu Rae is placed with the team that the company has the least faith in. Throughout the series, we learn that the sales team is not ‘traditionally successful’ because they have a heart and are conscious of their actions. They will not lie, cheat, bribe or indulge in illegal activities to secure a contract. It is very admirable morally, but socially due to the nature of the work they are considered a troublesome and outspoken group.

Due to an internal scandal, the section chief and now mentor to our main character, Mr. Oh, leaves the company. Before his departure, he overhears former colleagues gossiping about a recently hired college grad that didn’t know how to use a printer and called his mom for help.  This gives Mr. Oh a flashback of how his team had bullied Geu Rae when he first arrived and his response to the treatment by simply saying “teach me”.

I won’t go any further into the plot, because I’d really like you to watch this drama yourself. All I will say is that because of his connection with Mr. Oh, Geu Rae is given a chance. Which still somewhat brings in the underlying factor of the drama into question: do connections matter when merit is involved, or do they only enhance one’s merit?

Also be sure to note Mr. Oh and Geu Rae’s connection at their first true meeting. It will be explained towards the end of the series and I would like to think of it as a “rebirth” for both characters.

We should be receiving a season two of the series, which will explore the aftermath of decisions made.

Which brings us to the land of plenty, which I actually hope to visit one day.

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Petra, Jordan.

The crossroads of the old world. In this place, the duo is reborn.

Mr. Oh remembers things that he had long forgotten. The yearning to travel, the importance of family, daily life outside of a job that later consumed his being.

The fact that those higher-ups who do wrong never seem to be reprimanded is also hammered home, and perceptions are not as they seem. This is in relation to Mr. Choi, the company head honcho, who is shady and thinks that he ultimately won with his questionable business tactics. (Again, watch the show and you’ll understand exactly where I’m getting at – it’s a great moment I don’t want to spoil for anyone.)

The series ends with a truck driving into the sunset, on the road less traveled. Freedom, endless vast spaces. The sands of time. A complete break from the traditional and opportunity to do whatever one wishes.

A great takeaway from this series is that anyone can ignite their entrepreneurial spirit. That sometimes, office work is not for everyone. People are fake and co-workers who seemed to care really don’t. Or in turn, people who you thought were complacent are actually secretly batting for your wellbeing and supporting you in their own ways. It is also a PSA to not let your corporate office life become your work. Do not lose your sparkle, do not change, do not forget who you were before you began your adult work life. Don’t forget the dreams you had, the places you wanted to see, or the friends you wanted to make.

I have had so many terrible jobs for the sake of a paycheck. I’m at a point where I am not making much money but I’m happy each and every day. I feel free and remember what I wanted to do and what I enjoyed doing before waking up each morning to please people who didn’t give a damn about me outside of what I could do for them. It is pure bliss, and I hope anyone out there reading this is truly happy in their job and lives. I am taking a huge gamble but I want to see it through until the end. I know everyone cannot just up and move things around in their life, but if you can change even just one thing to make life more pleasant – that’s something special.

There is so much more to this…thing called life. And I am so happy that I realized it.

If you enjoyed this review and wish to support the series legally, it can be watched on Netflix  VIKI or if you enjoy owning DVD’s, Misaeng : Incomplete Life (Complete Series Episode 1-20, 7-DVD Set, All Region DVD w. English Sub)

Please watch Misaeng, it is so good and is shot in both South Korea and Jordan. I am still looking for similar shows like it, but until then I’ll leave this review here.

Are you happy in your work life? What types of Korean Drama do you enjoy? Do you know someone who has been shut out of society because they don’t have a college degree? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us by email to see more reviews like this!

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 [Also, if anyone is interested, apparently Misaeng means incomplete life in Baduk terminology.]

A Growing North Korean K-pop Idol Industry

In the 90s the South Korean government established the Kpop industry that today has millions of loyal fans worldwide. Coupled with Korean dramas, this has surged interest in the culture of its parent country in waves – or Hallyu. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has also taken an interest in idol groups, forming girl bands and recently attending a concert with Southern idols. If reunification is someday on the horizon, could a united Korea completely dominate with exports of music and other related media?

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Last night I conducted my usual Sunday ritual of signing into my old, abandoned twitter account and quickly typing snarky comments on my mobile about the ladies of Real Housewives of Atlanta. This is in stark contrast to my current twitter account, In Asian Spaces, which you should totally follow today because I sometimes retweet funny stuff. I say sometimes because I don’t care for twitter much but it is a necessary evil and one more tolerable than Facebook. I prefer Reddit, Instagram and of course Tumblr where it seems I fit into the mesh more. But the blue bird does have its moments, and for that I am thankful.

I came across a trending topic last night regarding North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un. A ‘Spring is Coming’ concert was held in the North’s East Pyongyang Grand Theatre with a lineup of popular South Korean artists and a spotlight on the K-pop girl group Red Velvet. Kim reportedly “made time” for the event in his schedule, bringing along his wife Ri Sol Ju. Tensions between the North and the South have eased considerably, and this seems like a good sign with the upcoming summit scheduled in late April.

I would really like the two countries to unite. North Koreans are living under terrible conditions and so many people have been separated from family…generations just cut off from one another. As with Vietnam and Germany before, I hope that in my lifetime at least the two countries that never should have been separated will come together once again. I am an American with no intricate knowledge of political nuances, but I just don’t think it is right for a people to be divided and pitted against itself. It simply makes no sense to me. I am reminded of Youtuber’s like Indonesian Jaka Parker and North Korean defector Sunny that show and speak of the living conditions.

(Although it seems Sunny’s channel was deleted for some reason after a recent live stream. I hope she is okay…)

Two years ago on my now defunct YouTube channel, I made a video on one of North Korea’s Idol Groups, The Moranbong Band (or Moran Hill Orchestra). It was a girl group hand-picked by the ‘hermit country’ leader himself. If I remember correctly, they were whisked away before a scheduled appearance in China and went off the radar for a while in 2016. The fear was that the women had been secretly subjected to a firing squad purge amongst other possible options.

The group seems to still be going strong, its leader Hyon Song-Wol accompanying a Northern delegation to inspect venues a month before the Olympic Games where the two countries marched unified under one banner. I can’t seem to find any evidence on whether or not they performed at the PyeongChang 2018 games, but the night before the events the North Korean Samjiyon Orchestra held live performances. It doesn’t seem to be the same band, although they have been active since 2009.

I recently read this article that wrote about some Nickelodeon show called Make It Pop. It follows three teens who start a band called XOIQ which tries to emulate current music idols and capitalize on the popularity of Kpop in America. It later goes into the formation of the Korean pop industry by the Ministry of Culture to create a commodity of eternal cool (very similar to the Cool Japan campaign and its relation to Harajuku fashions or anime). I’d always wondered how Kpop became a global phenomenon and its influence on Hallyu, or the Korean Wave.

News reports of this goodwill concert make me wonder if North Korea will align itself more heavily in the politics of Kpop. “North Korea often taps into music to heighten and pronounce the socialist ideology”. Even if the North falls, I believe their idols could bridge the cultural gap between the two nations.

I spoke about my relationship with Korean culture and how despite misunderstandings I want to appreciate the country and its people. I enjoy watching Kdrama (especially anything with Lee Min Ho – is he still in military training?) and although I am not into Kpop due to social reasons (obsessive fans, rapper’s culture vulture tendencies, ongoing blackface issues…) I will be keeping tabs on the idol industries of both countries.

Do you enjoy Korean Pop culture? Have you been to Kcon or other conventions? What do you think about the future of North Korean Idols, even after a reunification? Leave a comment with your thoughts, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more updates on idol culture in Korea.

Convenience Stores Are Calling Me

There is one Korean convenience store I know of in New York. It’s called H Mart, and I swear to you there have been many a times I have tried to find it to realize a block later I simply walked past it. I don’t know what it is, but Asian convenience stores are so easy to miss. There are no flashy signs, no markers that it is a store…hell now that I think about it the Sunrise Mart location downtown actually has this creepy (somewhat) marked elevator you have to jump in to get to the goods on the second floor. But what if I told you that I found a Korean convenience store, but I’m not sure I know anything else about it…Read on.

As I mentioned, I only know of one Korean grocer. I usually frequent Japanese grocers and convenience stores mainly because I know more about those foods and can read most labels. Thinking back, I’m not even sure if M2M is considered a general Asian convenience store. I’ve visited three different locations and each had a good amount of Japanese goods (i.e. an aisle of Pocky), one or two things in Chinese and tons of ramyeon.

Last night, I had a dream that I was in Korea. This was strange off the bat, since that country is fairly low on Asian countries I’d like to visit. Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, Cambodia, and Vietnam are a few places that rank highly on my mental list. I’ve studied Japanese language, history, and customs nearly half my life and it’s something I’m very passionate about. I appreciate traditional Chinese culture and took half a year of Mandarin – something that luckily has still stuck with me. I also learned simplified Chinese characters before studying formal Japanese, so it helped a lot with understanding Kanji.

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That being said, I would have a degree of language survival skills in Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. I know HK’s main language is Cantonese, but there is some crossover from what I’ve heard. Singapore has four official languages, English and standardized Mandarin being two of them. (Tamil and Malay being the others)

Macau is Portuguese, but I studied Spanish and Italian for a few years. I once heard Portuguese referred to as “drowning Spanish” by an old HS teacher which, unfortunately, has become my mental associate for it.  The last two countries don’t bother me language-wise, and I just feel like it’d be okay since I would most likely go by tour with guides. Aside from what I’ve picked up from watching Kdrama, Hangul eludes me.

The language barrier aside, I also don’t know much about the culture or its food. I’ve never had good experiences when I tried making Korean friends in the past so I’ve never really bothered to learn. That is to say, I didn’t really meet many Japanese people until I started work at the cultural center – but my (unsavory) encounters with Koreans over the years have stained my perception of their country. It’s terrible to have a forlorn attitude toward a country, but I do.  Just typing this is bringing back memories of a high school friend I had who was half Korean.

Her mom spoke the language but never taught her and I just thought that was really cool at the time. I wasn’t exposed to much diversity when I attended private schools, but when I went to a public high school I relished the opportunity to talk to anyone. I went over her house with a group of friends and the next day during the lunch period she told me I probably shouldn’t come back over. I asked why and she told me that her mom didn’t know everyone’s names. I sympathized, as I have a hard time remembering names myself. I’m much better with faces.  She continued to say that her mom called her best friends buddies (the entire group) Tiger’s friends and that she just called me “that black girl, the black one…” you get the idea. Obviously his name wasn’t Tiger, but you can infer my meaning.

That really hurt me and after that I told her I couldn’t be her friend anymore and never spoke to her again. It wasn’t her fault her mom felt that way, but she did nothing to stand up for me and why should I be involved in a situation like that? Why put myself in a situation like that, when there are so many more people in this world who won’t be complete idiots? I’ve tried making Korean friends all those years later, and similar things have always happened so I stopped trying.

So again, South Korea is very low on places I would willingly visit. I’ve never encountered such hostility with other Asian groups, and I usually get along with everyone. It just hasn’t happen yet with them.

In the dream, for some reason I was staying with a friend I’d never met at her apartment. I’d only been in the country one or two days. I realized I hadn’t visited a convenience store and I was leaving back to the states soon. The friend called a cab for me and gave instructions to the driver to bring me to the airport in Hangul. I wanted to ask if there was a shop on the way to the airport, and took out my phone and tried to use a translation app. He read it and then started speaking in English. I told him I wasn’t sure he spoke English and explained where I wanted to go. He agreed to wait for me and I went into this blue-green building that seemed to be under construction. When I walked inside there was a place for hot foods and the counter you could normally sit at by the window was covered due to construction.

There was a spot in the corner that sold these novelty items, some sort of cutesy characters on mirrors and other similar things. They were a brand but I couldn’t read the characters. The store also had snacks around and a lot of baked goods. I grabbed cream puffs and a variety of other similar pastries – one of each. I knew the brand when I was asleep, but upon waking I can’t for the life of me remember what I saw. It was an English name.  I struggled to pay but I got the goods and took a last look around before leaving. People were eating in a corner and other people were just doing their own thing paying me absolutely no mind. No foreigner stares. It was nice. I went back to the taxi driver and he drove me another ten minutes (maybe a thirty-minute walk) to the airport. Then I woke up.

I felt strange after that dream. It made me want to visit Korea even if for a day to try convenience store foods. There are also some really beautiful neighborhoods and I am a sucker for historical building.  I felt comfortable there, and that is what is really messing with me. Maybe I should keep an open mind regarding things like this?

I didn’t plan on writing about some of the things I did. I guess writing is magical in that way, you go in with one idea and it evolves into something else. I graduated high school in 2010, and the incident I spoke of happened when I was in 10th grade, so 2008. Almost ten years ago. Literally something I hadn’t thought about in years just randomly came out and fit itself into a blog post. It was cathartic to pen it out to all of you reading.

I probably won’t post about these situations much, as I thankfully don’t have many bad experiences to share. But if I do, know that I hesitated greatly before posting it. I never want to dissuade anyone from visiting a place based on my experiences. I’m sure South Korea is a really great place to visit, but I’ve just never had good experiences with its people in America.

That was years ago, and things can always change. This blog is also named “In Asian Spaces” because I enjoy all Asian cultures, even if I mainly focus on Japan. If you’ve visited South Korea before, what was your favorite food you tried while there? Do you have an experience you would like to share – good or bad? Leave it in the comments, I would love to hear from you! Be sure to follow us for more stories and coming conversations about snacks!