Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Not Quite Kdrama Magic: City Hall Review

City Hall was an interesting watch for me.  I went into the show with really, REALLY high expectations because every person who had ever mentioned it made it sound like it was the best thing that they had ever seen.

I have to be honest. It wasn't the best thing I had ever seen. (Cringes and waits for angry protests)

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Now, don't get me wrong; there were some elements of the drama that were quite good, and I think if I had watched it earlier in my drama-watching career with lower expectations, I might have enjoyed it more.  That being said, I didn't quite feel that magic that I get with the best of the best dramas.  You know what I mean--the kind of magic that puts a permanent smile on your face and makes you want to start the whole series over the second it ends.  With City Hall, I was mostly engaged, but not mesmerized.


Here's the breakdown:

Highlights

I have found that most dramas start out strong and then start to drag through the last few episodes.  Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but I am a fast-forwarding monster when it comes to the last 5-ish episodes of most dramas.  Not so with City Hall.  This drama, if anything, started out kind of slowly and gained steam in the second half of the series.  For the first 10 episodes, I actively disliked about half of the main characters, but then they suddenly started to grow on me in sneaky ways. The male lead was a complete dirtbag for a really long time, but looking back, I kind of like that he didn't give up on his dirtbaggery all at once.  He grew in baby steps, but you still had time to enjoy a full, satisfying personality change for several episodes, unlike some other dramas I know (*cough* You're Beautiful *cough*). The chemistry between the two main leads similarly grew over the course of the drama.  At first, I didn't buy it at all, but by the time they started kissing (and I mean kissing), I was 100% sold.  I blame it on this smolder:

Uh, hello.

The building nature of the series also means that it has one of the most satisfying kdrama endings ever.  You know how you sometimes invest 20+ hours into a show only to get to the last episode and you get absolutely no closure on any side characters and the main characters don't even kiss and they just end in a freeze frame where they are staring at each other from opposite ends of the scene and then you double and triple check that it actually is the end and that your computer didn't just freeze up and then you throw something (hopefully not said computer) across the room and immediately start a different drama that will hopefully fill the hole in your heart left by that terrible, terrible ending?  No?  Never mind, then. 


If you get all the way through City Hall, you will finally be rewarded for all of those lame kdrama endings that have made you tear your hair out all this time.  They give you closure on basically every single side character, and they round out the love story with an appropriate amount of "Awwwwwwww" moments. This was definitely in the top 3 final episodes I've seen.

Low Points

One consistent kdrama problem is finding the right balance in the heroine's personality.  It's a fine line between being upbeat and being obnoxious, and for me, Shin Mi Rae falls on the wrong side of that line more often than not.  I had seen Kim Sun Ah in My Lovely Sam Soon and Scent of a Woman before this series, and I liked her characters in both of those.  In this drama, though, her character is so over the top that I cringed almost every time she talked.  And when she did her squeaky baby talk voice? ("Mi Rae want purse! Mi Rae want horsey!") I vomited a little.  

Mi Rae want pukey puke from cutesy overkill?

My scale for kdrama female leads is pretty simple: Would I want to hang out with them in real life?  Sadly, while Mi Rae is a great person who undergoes a lot of character development, I don't think she's going to be my new imaginary kdrama bestie any time soon. For the record, I WOULD be best friends with Mi Rae's buddy Boo Mi.  I kind of wish that they had made her single and written the entire show around her instead.  Then she and Vampire Prosecutor's Lee Young Ah and I would get together and have really sarcastic conversations together.

My other MAJOR complaint with this show had to do with the way the characters reacted to Jo Guk's engagement.  This is something that drives me crazy in romantic comedies.  Just because someone is engaged to a terrible person DOES NOT make cheating okay.  Mi Rae mentions in one of the early episodes that a fiancee is different from a girlfriend because you made a promise to that person, but after that brief conversation, they both still go ahead and do whatever they want.  That's not okay.  

Late in the series, Go Hae confronts Mi Rae about the relationship, and the sighing and crying and reminiscing makes it seem like we should feel sorry for Mi Rae.  After all, she's the plucky heroine and Go Hae is the evil corporate monster-lady, right?  Wrong. Mi Rae slept with an engaged man, and her only worry seemed to be about what their relationship would do to her duties as mayor.  And then that man told his fiancee to deal with it like Hilary Clinton. And we're supposed to loathe the fiancee for being bitter?  Even though I hated Go Hae, I would have been right by her side chewing Mi Rae out on this one.  I also don't buy the excuse that Jo Guk was trying to let her leave with dignity since he basically used her for as long as he could before dumping her anyway.  Even if your fiancee is a serial killer, you should at least have the honor to end one relationship before you begin another one.  And then maybe call the police so she stops killing people. *Steps off soapbox*

Random Observations

- One of these days, I'm going to make a list of weird things in kdramas that shouldn't happen in real life. Somewhere near the top of the list will be the ole eyelash-stroking-while-asleep move.  I don't care HOW dainty his eyelashes are.  If you aren't dating someone, don't touch his face when he isn't conscious.  It's weird. Also, how are these girls always so surprised that the men wake up?  You've been creepily patting his face for five minutes.  He was bound to notice at some point.

No.  Just no.

-While City Hall tends to rely pretty heavily on flashbacks (and my personal favorite, the flashback-within-a-flashback), I appreciate that some of the flashbacks, like the one above, actually give us information we didn't know in the original scene.  It's like a hidden treat!

- If there were a sequel to City Hall, it should just be about Soo In finding love.  I would totally watch that show.

-Cha Seung Won has a great smolder, but in terms of Kim Sun Ah tango scenes, the one in Scent of a Woman wins by far.

(Mini spoiler) Uhhh, is it just me, or is gagging NOT a foolproof pregnancy test?  All I'm saying is that maybe you should make sure your wife didn't just eat a bad tuna fish sandwich for lunch before you announce her pregnancy to half the town.

All in all, City Hall got a very solid meh from me.  I can see why people enjoy it, but it just wasn't that magical watch I was hoping to find in my next drama.

7 comments:

  1. I've never gotten around to watching this drama based on my personal prejudice against it as a product of the creative team behind my least favorite dramas ever, Secret Garden and Gentleman's Dignity.

    So it's good to know that I'm not missing much of anything, anyway =X

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    1. See, I loved Secret Garden and A Gentleman's Dignity, and I STILL didn't think City hall was all that great. So either you're really not missing much, or I just have horrific taste.

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  2. Hi Coco & Vivi! Have you seen Personal Taste? Lee Min Ho is in it. Try watching it, you'll definitely love it. Fighting! =) Yaye

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    1. Yeah, I reviewed Personal Taste a little while ago. I loved the first half (and especially Lee Min Ho), but the second half wasn't as fun for me! Good suggestion!

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  3. A friend recommended (pushed) this one as one of the best! And I tried to watch it, but I didn't get into it from the start (which doesn't mean I might not get into it, in later episodes). I still have on my list. This is a very interesting perspective though. I will come back to this post when I actually get around to watch it :)

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  4. I think it is difficult to watch City Hall when you have been pushed there by a lot of hype. It IS one of the better kdramas out there, and is that especial rarity, a kdrama with a totally satisfying ending, but it is not perfect. I agree that the cutesy stuff was annoying - but fortunately blissfully short (and the horrified reactions of the people around her made it funny). And I also agree that there are lots of ethical gray areas in this show, especially in terms of the engagement, but for me they were realistically messy (just as the politicals were refreshingly, realistically corrupt)and the main couple definitely got to suffer for awhile for their bad choices.
    So I would rate it as follows:
    Pro:
    - Fantastic acting by nearly all the cast
    - Lead chemistry off the charts
    - Some of the best romance scenes in kdrama
    - Great setting and costuming
    - Good pacing overall, starts slow and builds, extremely satisfying ending
    - Satisfying character growth for leads
    - Clever dialogue, with hidden gems (such as the meanings of all the names)

    Con:
    - Starts very slowly, lots of exposition
    - Some out-of-place slapstick humor in the beginning episodes
    - A few cutesy moments that fall flat
    - Questionable behavior, esp. by the hero. If you want a lily-white hero and heroine, don't look here

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  5. I decided to watch this after skimming your review and seeing that the series wrapped everybody's storyline. That was enough for me, and I really enjoyed the series overall. Not quite as enthusiastically as Samsooki's dramabean recaps, but overall a solid winner for me. And I am still hopelessly in love with 불안한 사랑 - Horan's voice in the refrain melts me every time I hear it.

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