Joseon X-Files – First Impressions: Episode 1-2

Wow. That’s what I have to say. Wow. I was NOT impressed by the first episode in all honesty, but the second one just upped the ante.

And really – why does Kim Gab Soo have all the awesome “I know all” roles?! Does the dude ever get tired?!

(side note: OMG THIS IS MY 400TH POST!! *spazz* ok – on to the review…)

The first episode was kinda sketch for me, only because I feel like it had a lot of open threads and no resolution. First we see an execution through poison about to take place but it fails because of a mysterious UFO that soars through the sky. Then we have a minister – who was administering said execution – getting tortured himself because of a testimonial he had written about the UFO. Then we meet Kim Ji Hoon‘s Kim Hyeongdo, who finds himself assigned to being the scribe for his master’s (the minister) trial.

Unable to believe that his master is committing treason by spreading “lies” of the UFO, he goes and starts his own investigation to find out about the mysterious light. He finds himself digging deeper than he should and gets into major trouble – which only causes him to dive deeper into the mud pit. He finds out about a small village nestled in the mountains where all the people vanished in a flash after the UFO flew over Korea. As he and his right hand man Magistrate Jang investigate, they see a shiny ball that whizzes around. They try to capture it – since it’s proof that the minister was not lying – but then are sent back in time by that shiny ball.

As they investigate, Hyeongdo encounters Lady Heo (Im Jung Eun) and Ji Seung (Kim Gab Soo). First, Ji Seung is the mysterious man in the woods who tells him to stop searching for the light. However, when Hyeongdo disobeys and finds a shiny ball (at the expense of another villager’s death), Ji Seung calls off a search party that would have discovered Hyeongdo hiding behind a tree. Hyeongdo reaches the mountain where the UFO is parked, almost gets reaaaaally close to it, but then it flies off.

He gets arrested and meets Ji Seung again – except Ji Seung is now in formal official dress and “doesn’t recognize” Hyeongdo. In exchange for his and his master’s freedom, Hyeongdo is tasked with finding a way to placate public dissent over the whole UFO issue. He goes to Lady Heo for help and asks her to make a cannon ball similar to the UFO (based on drawings). It is shot across the sky, and the next day it is announced that the palace was testing new cannons the entire time. Nope, no UFO at all.

Though Hyeongdo is let off scot-free, his master isn’t. The execution of his master goes on as planned, and Hyeongdo screams with agony. (No, he doesn’t – but he sure does go down a road for revenge against the Minister of Rites, who’s their enemy it seems. And the Minister is one sadistic pig.) Hyeongdo is hit with a tranquilizer and awakens to find Ji Seung commanding him to write down his entire experience regarding the UFO. He seals the report and then offers Hyeongdo a job – to be part of the Secret Investigation Records team.

Hangul script is so purrrrty…

Hyeongdo agrees, but first he wants to hide his master’s diary in a safe place. He can’t be seen having it, so he goes to Lady Heo to hide it. She quickly agrees and offers him some tea, but as soon as her back is turned, she drops the book into the burning coals. Ji Seung appears from the shadows – looks like Hyeongdo just met the “other person” that’s on the team.

Whee! That’s the end of episode 2, and that’s what makes it more exciting. What I also like is that I expect each episode or every two episodes to be about a different case. It’s fun to have a procedural series like that, since it’s rare to see something like that in a Korean drama. Usually, the “case” part is not the focal point of the drama – it’s more about the relationships, OTP, and the characters. Plot-wise, I hope that there will be more secret members of this Secret Investigation Records that we’ll meet along the way. I almost hope Magistrate Jang is in on this!!

But on to the different aspects of the drama that I loved/hated:

The Cinematography

Not a fan. Not a fan, and yet I LOVE IT. Let me explain.

I did not like that the camera shook so much – clearly it’s not very steady, that Steadicam – and though I’m usually a fan for that cinema verite feel and shaky cam, I didn’t like it too much here. Too much of it in the first episode (and in the first half of the second episode) made me check out of the drama mentally. I was too dizzy and too unfocused as to what was going on. (Hence, a lot of “seems” and “guesses” and generalities in the mini recap above, because I couldn’t always tell what was going on.) Thank goodness the shakiness stopped mostly by the second half of the second episode.

The great thing about that shaky cam though is the disorientation that I feel, and that Hyeongdo feels. Things are so confusing – and yet, it’s supposed to be. We’re not supposed to know everything that happens right away. When Hyeongdo asks Lady Heo to make a replica of the UFO, I thought he was going to try to prove it exists, even if by faking it. I did not realize until he was up on a tower that he was going to pretend that the “UFO” was really a “cannon testing” that the palace was conducting. (Ha! And I just realized, wouldn’t it be funny if you replaced “cannon testing” with “nuclear testing”? New excuse for the new century!)

That shaky cam helps the drama in setting the tone for the story. So it gives no additions or subtractions in the points for this drama.

On another note – the lighting – can I just say that the scene where Hyeongdo climbs up the mountain side to see the UFO is so beautiful…and so fake? It’s beautiful in the way that it’s lit and the panoramic shot and everything. It’s so fake because clearly that white light that shines on Hyeongdo and the face of the mountain is a huge, giant wall of white light behind a giant white diffuser (probably). I just have to say that that was the first thought that entered my mind. Sorry if the “film geek” in me is ruining your drama experience.

It was such a beautiful shot, but the fakery of it immediately reminded me that it was a drama. It’s not real. It’s not meant to be real. It’s entertainment. I kinda liked that reminder, even if it was unintentional.

The Editing

Choppy and disconnected. But in a good way. I love that you have a scene where Magistrate Jang is telling Hyeongdo to just give up the investigation, and then next thing you know it’s a scene of Jang sleeping and Hyeongdo is gone. It’s abrupt, and there’s no middle scene where you see Hyeongdo tossing and turning and trying to figure out what he should do. C’mon – you know that in dramas there’s always that “thinking” scene. But here – no, it cuts to the chase. Hyeongdo made the decision to go and continue investigating.

There is one scene that is quite long though, where Hyeongdo is “stalking” the Minister as he inches ever closer to one of the guards’ swords. I LOVED that scene only because it upped the tension and the nervousness I was feeling – I kept thinking, when is he going to take the damn sword!? And then he got hit by a tranquilizer.

I also liked that things are explained through voice-overs. Not everything but some things were nicely done with voice-overs. Such as when Hyeongdo’s letter is read aloud and the official tears it up and crumples it, in direct contrast to what the letter reads (that Hyeongdo hopes the official can do what is just and reveal his findings. Yep – not gonna happen). Again, short and sweet. I think it helps that the drama is very short – feels like it’s less than 50 minutes long.

The Acting

Oh my God Kim Ji Hoon – I didn’t know you could cry so effectively! The tears and the shock, the desperation and the sadness – all of it come through quite effectively through his eyes. I’m so proud of him! As for Im Jung Eun, I’ve never really watched a drama with her in it. She’s quite mysterious and I love how she plays Lady Heo. So charming, so harmless, so evil – and yet she’s really not. I like that her expressions are calculated, that she’s really one-step ahead of Hyeongdo the whole time. What bothers me a tad is her eyeliner. Now I forget what time period this drama takes place in (clearly, it’s late enough that guns are in existence), but the eyeliner looks so modern. Maybe that’s part of her character – she’s out of this world, and way ahead of her time. But heck – people aren’t bashing her for such modern eyeliner, but they bash Lee Da Hae‘s shiny nails? OK – not a good comparison (since kohl was in existence way back when) but you get what I mean?

As for Kim Gab Soo – isn’t his character in Sungkyunkwan Scandal also a Left Party Secretary thingy-majigy? I know he’s like the head of the Noron Faction, but he has an official title too. I might be just getting confused (because I don’t give a fart about the elders in SKKS – Jae Shin all the way!) but his role here is that of a Left Royal Secretary – and secret headmaster of the Secret Investigation Records. Damn I love how he’s a know it all.

The plot – I think I’ve said my peace in regards to how this looks to be a procedural and quite fun.

tvN manages to always impress me with its darker plot lines. Harvest Villa is also another drama that I like where everyone seems to know something that the main character does not, and it has quite a dark storyline (someone killed Bok Gyu’s father – and he/she lives in the same apartment complex!). I still have to finish that drama 🙁

This is the drama that I didn’t expect to like – but I really do. I’ll be catching up on this soon – marathoning as much as I can.

Kim Ji Hoon – you make me proud.

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