Sunday, February 26, 2023

Genre Defying (Part II)

 Last week I wrote a little bit about how I'd taken to watching subtitled series on Netflix (that way I don't get distracted and have to concentrate), and that had led me to experience some amazing series like Bad and Crazy, and Alchemy of Souls.

So many other series I want to mention to continue this, but I've just finished watching The Uncanny Counter, and again loved every minute of it.

Promotional Image of The Uncanny Counter

Based on a webtoon, the story focuses on So Mun (Jo Byung-gyu), the son of a pair of police officers who are brutally murdered for threatening to uncover the corruption in the police, government, and business, and the poisoning of the water in the area due to illegal dumping. Now grown, So Mun becomes the host to a 'good spirit', joining three other 'Counters' who use their enhanced powers and strength to hunt evil spirits that are inhabiting wicked people. They don't kill them, they exorcise the spirit and turn the wicked host over to the police.

Again, it's just brilliant. The perfect balance of action, drama, humour, romance, and more. The villains are truly evil, ranging from the horrible gang of school bullies who pick on So Mun's friends, to the mayor who wants to become president. The cast are awesome as well, my favourite being Ga Mo-Tak, played by the fantastic Yoo Jun-sang, who played Park Jin in Alchemy of Souls. Yoo Jun-sang is quickly becoming one of my favourite actors in Korean TV, though a couple of years younger than me he's really showing up my unfitness for my age.

Just like the other series we've been watching, it manages to finish the story perfectly. The villains are defeated, the emotional moments are incredibly emotional (not a dry eye in this house), and yet it manages to wrap things up with the optimistic feeling of more to come, more for the Counters to do. 

Maybe it's just that I really love these paranormal action series. 

Another one that I really enjoyed was Sell Your Haunted House, another cool paranormal series that was about exorcist Hong Ji-ah (Jang Na-ra) whose business is in real estate. 

Promotional image - Sell Your Haunted House

You go to her company when you can't sell your house due to ghosts haunting the place. She goes in with her psychic sidekick who deliberately gets possessed by the spirit, so that she can dispel it from the property, then sell the house for its full value. Her regular psychic is injured, and she teams up with con-man Oh In-beom (Jung Yong-hwa) who normally cons people out of money for exorcising ghosts that aren't really there. The two hit it off, there's romance, horror, hauntings, punch-ups, corrupt landowners, murderers, and the mystery of the lead characters' backstories - have they met before, and are their fates tied to their parents?

Like the other series we've watched, it packs every genre in. It's funny, heartbreaking, exciting, and just great fun. By the end, everything is perfectly wrapped up, with the potential for more. Is it a spooky paranormal series? Yes. Is it a romance? Yes. Is it a comedy? Yes. Just like the other series I've mentioned, why be pigeon-holed into one when you can do everything?  

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Genre Defying

Contrary to belief, I do watch other things other than just The X-Files on constant loop. As I mentioned before on this blog, I've been having difficulty focussing and concentrating on TV, books, etc. Probably a side effect of the lack of sleep I've been getting, combined with the usual stress and anxiety.

To combat the lack of concentration I've been watching a lot of import series on Netflix, so that I have to rely on the subtitles to understand what is going on. If I have to read subtitles, I can't get distracted with my phone, or something.

Last night we finished watching the South Korean series "Bad and Crazy", and much like other K-dramas I've watched recently it has been a complete revelation.

Promotional image of 'Bad and Crazy'

No spoilers, but Bad and Crazy tells the story of Ryu Su-yeol (played by Lee Dong-Wook) - a pretty corrupt cop in the 'Anti-Corruption' unit. He's not a good guy, but recently, when he tries to do something corrupt or selfish, the mysterious K (played by Wi Ha-Joon) shows up and beats the crap out of him. Sure, it's a bit violent, but K is played as a mischievous rogue fighting for justice and what's right. They get caught up in a case of a missing mother, a corrupt politician, a couple of drug gangs, more murder, and psychological manipulation.

As the story progresses, Ryu becomes less and less corrupt, fighting for the good guys, and K helps whenever he's in a sticky situation. 

[Minor spoiler for very early episodes]

When you discover that K is actually another personality in Ryu's head, and it's just Ryu doing everything all along in true Tyler Durden fashion, it's not a surprise, but perfectly executed. The trauma that caused K's existence is utterly heartbreaking, but not as heartbreaking as the depiction of his adoptive family, with a 'brother' who means well but can be a bit useless, and Ryu's adoptive mother suffering from early stages of dementia.

This all sounds really grim and depressing doesn't it? 

Wrong. It's action packed, with romance, fights, and some utterly hilarious moments that are so brilliantly executed it just got me thinking.

When we watch a series in the West, there's usually a genre attached. Heck, pull up Netflix or Disney+ and you get "Action series", "Comedy series", "Drama", "Horror", etc. Yet this is another series I've watched that basically asks the question - 'Why can't it be all?'

It was dark, with some seriously messed up themes in there, but retained its humour without compromising the subject matter. Absolutely brilliant.

Thinking about how the genres were completely thrown out of the window reminded me of Alchemy of Souls, another amazing K-Drama that blew me away.

Alchemy of Souls promo image (season 1)

Alchemy of Souls is like magic wielding Game of Thrones. Four powerful families, a strange fictional land, and one of the most complicated stories for a couple of lead characters you could imagine. Cutting it down to basics, Jang Uk (played by Lee Jae-wook) is lazy and spoiled, but his father was one of the most powerful mages. Jang Uk has had his power restricted for fear of him becoming too powerful and overthrowing the king. He meets Mu-Deok (played by Jung So-min), who physically may be the missing daughter of one of the powerful families, but her body is inhabited by Nak-su, one of the most deadly assassins who has vowed to destroy the mages after she uses the forbidden 'Alchemy of Souls' - magic that allows people to swap souls into different bodies, but they run the risk of 'going wild' and feeding off of the lifeforce of others.

The whole series is simply beautiful to look at, and at its heart is a powerful love story between the two leads. If Nak-su is revealed, she'll be killed by the mages, and Jang Uk eventually trains to become a mage. The action is fantastic, there is intrigue, manipulation, subterfuge and deception on a Game of Thrones level, and yet it is filled with beauty, romance, and above all, moments of complete hilarity. It's really funny in places, and some of the side characters are just adorable. 

Yet again, it may be a fantasy series, but it's got action, horror, humour, romance... all perfectly balanced.

Next post, I'll rant about how brilliant Sell Your Haunted House is, and how the ending to Alice in Borderland did what Lost couldn't do. 

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Maybe there's hope

Over the last year, my head's been a bit all over the place, but I've managed to keep my brain in gear by returning to simple comforts.

Photo of Scully and Mulder from The X-Files

I've written about The X-Files on my blog on a few occasions in the past, but it's really one of those shows that has got me through a lot over the years. I have fond memories of hearing the buzz about the series from the States, though we had to wait a bit longer before it aired on the BBC in the UK. I was at University when that first episode aired, and I think Debs and I were around at a friend's house for the evening especially hyped up ready for that first episode. Snacks at the ready, that opening text saying "The following story is inspired by actual documented accounts." had me gripped, and by the time the light from the UFO shone down, and the leaves were spinning around, I was absolutely hooked.

As I mentioned before, there have been a few series on TV that I have become completely obsessed with, starting with Moonlighting, then Twin Peaks, and on to The X-Files, Lost, and Buffy. But up there, at the top of the list sit two of those series - Twin Peaks and The X-Files. Twin Peaks I love for its weirdness, David Lynch's ability to just go with it and do things how he wants, and Mark Frost's perfect encapsulation of a small town gripped with an evil paranormal presence. I was so obsessed with Twin Peaks, and I still love it. 

Sharing the top spot of my favourite TV series is The X-Files, which took some of my favourite elements of Twin Peaks (FBI agents investigating weirdness) and created an amazing series that spanned 200+ episodes and two movies. 

I was just as obsessed. I bought magazines, the action figures, t-shirts, the video games. Heck I bought the series on VHS, I bought the VHS Evidence box collections, and when the series was released on DVD I bought it again in those numbered limited edition sets. And then, when a magazine partwork started up for the series, I bought it again on DVD so I could have the magazine. I'd been watching it on Disney+ and lamenting not purchasing the BluRay set of all 11 seasons when it first came out as it sank into unavailability, but luckily they did a reprint and my lovely wife bought me the set for Christmas, allowing me to finish off the last few series in glorious HD with heaps of extras.

Heck, while I was a student, I didn't have a TV except for a little black and white portable in the rented room I was in, but a friend used to record the series from Sky and loan me the VHS tapes, and I watched them in the University library on the VCRs they had in there on my lunch hours. I couldn't wait for the BBC showings that were months and months after Sky.

When I graduated, another friend knew of my obsession with The X-Files and recommended a roleplaying game with similar themes called Conspiracy X, which lead to me eventually writing for the publisher (Eden Studios), writing a new edition of Conspiracy X, and really launching my roleplaying game writing career - it's all down the The X-Files.

Over a year ago, I started a rewatch of The X-Files, and over more recent months it has been the highlight of my week. Whenever things got tough mentally, or I felt stressed, I knew I had another episode of The X-Files I could pop on in my rewatch to distract me from the world.

Maybe There's Hope print by Easyqueenie
This morning, however, I reached the end. 

My Struggle IV, the last episode of Season 11. And my rewatch was done. I know people complain about the last series, but I really enjoyed it. And watching it all in quick succession made the themes of the series really fit together as a whole.

Would I like to see more? Heck yes!!

I want to discover Skinner is alive. I want to see Miller and Einstein become the new agents in the office, with Mulder becoming their 'deep throat' contact, alerting them to cases. Or even two new agents completely. Shake it up a little. Let Mulder and Scully have some peace, stepping in for the big episodes if necessary.

Just because CSM was shot (multiple times) does that mean the conspiracy's plans are halted? Was the virus still going to go ahead? (The X-Files once again predicting real events...)

Will there be any more? I don't know. But as Scully said at the end of Season Nine - 'Maybe there's hope.'

What next for me? I mentioned online that I was going to watch The Lone Gunmen series again (my wife's just bought me the series on DVD as my original boxed set was the wrong region and we don't have a multiregion player anymore). After The Lone Gunmen I mentioned starting a rewatch of The X-Files again, and someone commented that I could watch something else? I do watch other things, a LOT of other things, but don't you have that favourite movie you watch when you're feeling down, or a favourite book you reread every summer? For me, The X-Files is that comfort watch. 

Saturday, February 4, 2023

February is a time for cards...


The Vertigo Tarot deck

Following on from last week's post about my doubts and anxieties, and how I was unsure of the best course of actions, I turned to the cards. I know it's weird, but as I wrote about on this blog many times in the past, I've always had a bit of a fascination with the tarot. My dad had a deck, I created a deck that got me into art college for my graphic design degree, and I designed another deck for the WILD RPG that was illustrated by the awesome Gareth Sleightholme. 

I used to do a lot of tarot readings for people in art college, and then turned to doing them myself every now and then when I was unsure of the future.

Beginning of a year is as good a time as any - so I cracked open the ol' Vertigo tarot, my favourite deck, and shuffled, asking what I was supposed to do next. In traditional Celtic Cross layout, I got the following.

  1.  Eight of Wands - this represents me, and tells me that I'm coming to a realisation or conclusion, that I need to choose between a number of possibilities. I mean, that's kinda why I was doing a reading in the first place.
  2. The Hermit - this represents what's holding me back, my immediate obstacles. The Hermit is supposed to represent withdrawing, acting alone, seeking wisdom, and having a difficulty in connecting to people. Well, this is right again - I like hiding in my little house, singing Paramore to myself ("This is why I don't leave the house..."), and yes, I do find it hard to connect to people most of the time. 
  3. Ace of Pentacles (Reversed) - This is my past, and what is the basis of my current situation. The Ace (reversed) is supposed to represent an imbalance, and a need to focus on one thing or one area. That'd be nice. It'd be especially nice if I could focus on something I really like or am passionate about as well...
  4. Ten of Swords - Again, more of my past, and more recently what's behind me. The Ten of Swords is all about intellect, abstraction, detachment of emotion or from daily worries. I guess recently I have had to think less about what I'm emotional about, and just get on with it.
  5. Six of Wands - This is supposed to be my present, how things are now. The card represents optimism (that's right, I'm hoping for something cool to happen), belief (I want to believe), and a flurry of activity on many projects (again, that's right - I have so many projects on right now, I'm looking forward to some of them getting completed so I can focus on something).
  6. Justice (Reversed) - This is the future. And a reversed Justice isn't great. It represents being dishonest to myself, an unfair outcome or situation. So that's something to look forward to, the future is unfair, and I'm going to lie to myself about how great everything is.
  7. Five of Wands (Reversed) - Up the side of the Celtic Cross reading are another four cards, this being the first and it represents my attitude. Attitude? I don't have an attitude do I? Ha! Anyway, this is another reversed one, and this card when it's upside-down means conflict, anger, feeling betrayed. Is that what I'm feeling right now? I don't know...
  8. Four of Wands (Reversed) - the second of the cards up the 'staff' is all about my environment, and what is around me in my current situation. I mean, besides some book cases and a sofa. This is upside-down again, so it's probably not going to be great. Tension, or people having trouble working together. That can't be right, can it? 
  9. Eight of Cups - at last, a card the right way up again. This is supposed to be about my hopes and dreams. The card is supposed to represent a change in my situation, and flashes of excitement and movement. That's nice. I think?
  10. Knight of Swords (Reversed) - the last card is supposed to represent my outcome, but it's also a Court Card. Some people read this is a person that is going to have some sort of impact in my life, whereas some read it as this is the reader and what they are going to do or become. The Knight of Swords (Reversed) can be read that I'm making rash decisions, pulling others down with me. That I'm impatient, or that a big opportunity is about to come my way. It could also represent someone with some sort of privilege who can help. It could also be telling me that I need to be assertive, pursue my dreams, but I shouldn't rush things.
Did it help? No, but it did kinda tell me things I already knew. 

Oh well. Patience, Jedi...