Contraband: A Review

I’m a big fan of Mark Wahlberg and much like Jason Statham, I believe that his name alone is a surefire guarantee that moviegoers will get their money’s worth after coming out from an action packed movie. Deciding to take on Contraband as my first movie review of the year was spurred by this belief.

Contraband is a movie about reformed smuggler Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) who finds himself in a bind after his brother in law Andy makes a bad run and finds himself owing the drug syndicate $700 grand for coke that he had to throw overboard when Customs cracked down on their vessel. When gangster Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) threatens the life of Andy, as well as Chris’s family, he and his best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster) devise a plan to smuggle a vanload of fake currency from Panama to repay Andy’s debt and put them in the clear with the mob. But the supposedly simple operation runs asour when one mishap after another threatens the success of their plan — not to mention the invisible strings that pull Chris and Andy in different ways to achieve different missions.

Contraband, in my opinion was a pretty decent movie. Aside from Wahlberg, there was a strong supporting cast with Kate Beckinsale as Chris’s wife; Ribisi and Foster, two of the greatest actors to play psychos and druggies in film. There was also an excellent twist in the end as to how the operation was pulled off but other than that, the movie was more about plotting and counterplotting rather than action. The movie is more about family and friendships which is the basic core of the film.

However, I must say that I’m not a big fan of the shaky camera shots and angles of this film. True, it managed to depict the grittiness of a hostile environment but the extreme close ups and the tight shots limited the viewers’ perspective of the magnitude of the scenes. An example would be the heist in Panama when the angle should have been wider to illustrate the impact of the operation rather than focus on just one side or the other of the ambush. The general lack of proper lighting in most of entire movie also lessened the impact of some otherwise good moments. Sad to say, the scoring also did not contribute to the general feel of the movie.

While there were great acting moments for the cast, I think that Ribisi was underutilized and depicted only as a gangster boss (who mostly got beaten up by Chris), when he could have been unleashed as a much much more terrifying SOB.

All on all, if one is expecting a movie at the level of The Italian Job, Shooter or Four Brothers, sad to say that this movie will fall short. It’s not a bad movie per se, but I was generally underwhelmed considering its potential.

Inspiration Overload: The power of motivation through sharing

I’ve been meaning to write an entry about a seminar that I attended about two weeks ago entitled Social Media though Social Change, which is the third leg of the move.ph chat series sponsored by Rappler.com, a revolutionary news website together with its partners the Philippine Association of Communication Education, Philippine Fullbright Scholarship Organization, Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo, as well as the Far Eastern University where the event was held. But I just couldn’t find the words to equal the level of inspiration I got from the group of speakers that the talk had. I decided to wait until  I was inspired anew to share what I learned. This happened today, after I attended a film seminar by Director Rahyan Carlos and the branding seminar of talk show host and PR guru Mr. Boy Abunda.

SOCIAL MEDIA FOR SOCIAL CHANGE

In a nutshell, the talk was  a rundown of how the social media is changing the face of society and its effectiveness and speed compared to traditional media such as print, radio and television — what role it plays in  reshaping society and mobilizing people into action. Among the speakers were veteran news anchors such as Al Jazeera English’s main anchor Veronica Pedrosa, former ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs chief and CNN correspondent Maria Ressa (currently Rappler CEO), who is among the figures in media that I truly look up to, as well as investigative journalism legend Ms. Cheche Lazaro,  Rappler’s Editor at Large, who moderated the open forum after the presentations.

I was truly inspired and awed by how quickly the face of media has changed in the past year and a half that I have been out of the industry (I  was a reporter for a major daily and am now with the academe). Young multimedia correspondents schooled me on how twitter, facebook and the IPhones are used to shoot, edit and send news when I was more used to a recorder and my trusty notebook. After their talk, I felt truly old school and wondered whether if I decided to return to the industry, there would still be a place for me in the rapidly shifting landscape.

MOTIVATING THE YOUNG. Maria Ressa addresses a crowd of 1,000 participants. (photo from http://www.rappler.com)

But I learned a lot and found true inspiration when the older journalists spoke, especially when it came time for Maria Ressa to take the floor. One of the concepts she introduced in her talk was the idea of spreading behavior through engaging one’s audience, which is actually based on an Harvard study on obesity she did a feature on, which social media has the ability to do. This, she said empowers everyone to use ideas to create positive change. She said that social media, which they are now exploring, has the power to bring people together through information to change the world.

What’s great about the talk is the open acknowledgement of the bigwigs that they too are still in the learning process. This as they explained their commitment to the cause, which is quite ambitious but entirely doable given the current scenario. This actually gave me some courage that I could still learn to cope and to effect change, even in my own way, even by words that I write on this blog.

What moved me was Ressa’s sincerity in wanting to make a difference and her genuine aim of sharing their gains to schools where the young people are to empower them to be citizen journalists and to be participative rather than passive members of society. This, along with the responsible use of social media is an advocacy and  positive influence that I wish to spread as well in the future.

MAKING IT BIG IN FILM AND TELEVISION

When I attended this seminar with my friend Mae, I was actually expecting a more technical seminar on how films are broken down and analyzed (which I thought would be helpful in improving my film reviews). However, I was surprised that instead of technicalities, horror director/writer Rahyan Carlos spoke about practical experiences he went through while pursuing his passion for writing, and eventually directing.

While he is already a big shot director now, I appreciated his humor and his genuine effort to connect with his audience, often with reference to the students as anak (“children”). He encouraged the audience to figure out what they really want to do and pursue it through hard work and great effort, which he also went through in the early stages of his career. Aside from his freelance directing work, he also trains actors and teaches part time at DLSU-D.

Here are some nuggets I got from his talk:

1. Ask if you don’t know. This was a lesson he related when he was a new director saddled with a sudden project that he was still ill equipped to handle. Direk Rahyan said that he, being the director, asked the gaffers, cameramen and PAs to help him out and show him the ropes since it was going to be his first time directing. A lesson in humility and dealing with co-workers.

2. Do not whine if you’re a newbie. This he related when he was left with new actors and minimal time to shoot his first horror feature. Lesson: Make do with what you have rather than spending time complaining about what you don’t.

3. Invest in relationships with people. This, Direk Rahyan said has to deal with talking time out of one’s busy schedule to connect with the people he works with, whether it be in the form of a simple thank you or praise for a job well done. He also said that compromising with actors is also a great way to establish good working relationships. Lesson: Be a good example to people and treat them with respect and you will get it in return.

4. Know yourself so that you would not be swayed easily by the negatives or the positives. This he said about professionalism and not getting a swelled head with minor victories. Lesson: Nothing is really permanent so continuously improve on your strengths and develop other strengths as well and maintain composure in the face of the cutthroat industry.

Basically, Direk Rahyan made success in film and television seem very feasible but with the caveat that all this needs to be coupled with hard work and determination.

BRANDING THE STARS: STARSTRUCK TO STARDOM

HOSTING LEGEND. Television host, talent manager and publicist Boy Abunda serves as guest speaker for the free seminar on branding. (Jaezel Jintalan)

Branding the Stars is another seminar I attended today to listen to award winning television host and talent manager Boy Abunda. How does one make a brand? And how does one make a star?

I already expected to be wowed by a professional such as he and I was not the only one having the same expectations. Everyone in the venue was on pins and needles, waiting in breathless anticipation for what knowledge Tito Boy was going to impart. Little did I know that more than a talk on branding, it would be a life lesson in embracing one’s individuality and knowing the fact that despite not being the same as everyone else (clique), one is OKAY.

Tito Boy (as he is usually called on television) was not stingy in sharing his life story in the time that was allotted. He used his personal experiences as a take off point for developing one’s own “brand.” According to Tito Boy, one’s uniqueness should be the core of developing one’s brand. Blending, which is always seen as a positive in society is actually a death trap in the industry if one seeks to succeed. Tito Boy said that there are many others that are capable of doing the things one does but there are unique facets to one’s character, or origins that sets him apart from the rest.

Another thing I learned from Tito Boy today is not be be swallowed up by insecurities. “Do not do anything from the point of view of weakness,” he said, because this will defeat one’s potentials from the onset of the journey.

Another phrase that stuck with me is his statement: “Create the highest vision of yourself because you become what you believe.” I know that this really was not what I came to the seminar to listen to but these are the actual stuff that resonated within me, because I am no stranger to hang ups, which hinder me from pursuing the dreams that I still have. It is great, especially for young people to hear about the trials that one has to face and the hard work it entails to get to the top of the food chain, and how it is possible for them to succeed even without the conventional requirements that society dictates. It brings them hope and it makes sense of the issues they sometimes go through in their young lives.

Truthfully, I am amazed by these people for their ability and openness to share not only their experiences but a part of themselves to their audience, which are mostly the youth of today. This smacks of humility and generosity that are much too rare these days. I envy their ability to motivate and inspire people to challenge themselves and become better and I wish I had the same talents to move people as they have. But for now, with the tools that I have, I hope I have taken a positive step by sharing some of what I have learned from them to you.

Palace adventures in Seoul: Super tiring but totally worth it

The CHANGYEONGGUNG. The East Palace is one of the smaller palaces in Seoul but still holds rich history which dates back to the 1400s.

When I visited Seoul with my family last week, I was completely blown away by the Koreans’ obvious love for their culture and heritage. This could not have been more clearly illustrated than in their preservation of five great palaces that were the sites of a major part of their history.

Of the five palaces, we managed to visit two — the Changyeonggung, which is referred to as the East palace because of its location and Changdeokgung, or the Palace of Prospering Virtue.

A TRIP THROUGH HISTORY. Palaces pepper the compound of the Changgyeonggung which are closed off to the public. (Tyrone Chui)

When visiting palaces, it is advisable to go in the morning to get enough time to appreciate the experience. After all, it is not everyday that one gets to visit the actual area where kings, princes, noblemen and princesses once walked. Our visit to the Changyeonggung was considerably shorter because of the lateness of the hour we arrived (visitors are only allowed entry until 4pm) but it was nevertheless a fascinating trip because we were able to walk along the palace grounds at our own pace guided only by a map with details about the significant locations of the palace — the Honghwamun main gate which was destroyed by the Japanese invasion in 1484 and rebuilt in the 1600s, the symbolic entryway to the Palace called the Okcheongyo Bridge and the Myeongjeongjeon Main Hall, which was basically the only area open for viewing (but not entering). Most of the structures in the palace compound were closed to the public and unfurnished but visitors can take as much pictures of the exterior as much as they want. In itself, the freedom to roam the area where kings and ministers met and made decisions about the then young country was an experience to remember. A modest fee of W1,000  is required for entrance.

The Changdeokgung, on the other hand, although just a few stops away from the first palace, is a much larger compound and boasts of being the most well preserved palace in South Korea, earning the seal as a World Heritage Site from the UNESCO in 1997. Aside from the palace, the compound also houses the Secret Garden or the Rear Garden, where the kings of the Joseon Dynasty spent their leisure hours, for meditating, fishing, boat watching, reading and for entertaining visitors close to the king. Entry to the Palace costs W3,000 while a stroll through the Garden compound will set guests back by W5,000. Guests are not allowed to wander around the compound on their own but are required to  participate in a guided tour, available in different languages at specific hours  (We signed up for the English tour at 2:30 pm). However, during the holidays, visitors are given the liberty to check out area unaided due to the volume of the guests.

THE KING"S LIBRARY. The first stop in the Secret Garden Tour is the King's Library where thousands of books were preserved and stored. Most of its contents have been moved to the national library. (Tyrone Chui)

The tour took us roughly 1 1/2 hour to complete. The tour guide was very informative and gave us a very insightful view of what life was like at the palace during the time of royals. To say that the hike around the garden was a challenge would be considered an understatement especially for unfit people such as myself whose only exercise consist of lifting a plate of rice, or pushing the remote. Not a pretty picture so let’s move on.

Anyways, despite the long trek and the obvious effort it took us to go uphill, downhill, then up again (half the time, we were getting left behind by the group), it was fascinating to learn about how old some of the structures were. In order to preserve them, the original structures were torn down piece by piece, and reassembled using the very same elements that were used to construct the structures in the first place.

According to the guide, the wood used were still very strong because the original builders already treated wood with insect treatment substances but some of the shingles had to be reassembled using a different kind of mucilage. Some touch ups to the original colors were also done to replicate its original glory in the latter part of the 1300s.

Because the royals were considered precious, they were hardly permitted to the exert themselves in any activity, and were limited to stuff that don’t require much effort such as boat watching, fishing, meditating, reading and mostly napping. There was an assortment of resting areas for the king and his family around the Secret garden compound.

YES, BOAT WATCHING. When the king wanted to relax, his subjects ordered people to take their boats along this narrow strip for the king's viewing through this fan shaped and intricately designed structure. (Tyrone Chui)

WORKS OF ART. Traditional Korean artwork are hand painted on the ceilings of the structures. (Tyrone Chui)

THE THRONE ROOM. This is where coronations and major ceremonies were held back in the day. (Tyrone Chui)

750 AND COUNTING. The oldest surviving tree in the entire Palace, this old timer is supported by iron bars to keep upright. He doesn't look like much (reminds me of Megatron somewhat) but one has to give props to the old guy for his resilience and fighting spirit. (Tyrone Chui)

THE MAIN PALACE. This Palace is roughly four times bigger than its Changyeonggung Palace. No wonder they charge three times as much for entrance. It was worth it though. (Tyrone Chui)

One of the things I may have failed to mention at the beginning is that Changdeokgung Palace was also used to shoot some of the scenes for the Korean period drama Dae Jang Geum, about the first female physician in the Palace. There is also some big ceremony scheduled at the palaces normally with guards and actors in costume during the summer and spring but since we came in the winter, it was tough on them to put on a show because of the cold. Visiting the Changdeokgung Palace was one of the most tiring tours I have been on, but the insights I got from the informative tour was very well worth the effort. Now if only we could have caught up with the rest of our group, it would’ve been more awesome.

FALLING BEHIND THE PACK. At the foreground is my brother's girlfriend Aileen, while the two small figures up front are me and my mom. As you can see, the last of the group is way ahead of us. Talk about slow.(Tyrone Chui)

Teddy Bear Museum: A walk through history with the cute and the cuddly

TEDDIES IN HANBOKS. The Teddy Bear Museum depicts Korean history through cute and cuddly bears. (photo by Tyrone Chui)

When I originally booked my family’s trip to South Korea, I wanted to visit as many settings to Korean dramas as I could and one of them was the Teddy Bear Museum featured in one of my favorite Kdramas, Princess Hours. However, I knew that the Teddy Bear Museum was situated in Jeju and we only had time to look around Seoul so I was a bit defeated.

ELECTRONIC MAGNIFIER? Check out short presentations of specific areas in the map through this LCD. (Angie Chui)

Luckily, I didn’t give up and researched a bit more, only to find out that there is a branch right in the middle of the city at the N Seoul Tower. And the great part is, the area is also covered by the Seoul City Bus Tour, which we used to travel the city’s various tourist spots in two of our four-day trip.

LIFE AT THE PALACE. Palace workers go about their usual functions like a well oiled machine. (Tyrone Chui)

Getting there: Commuting is a bit tedious as the area is uphill since the tower offers an overlooking view of the city and is especially magnificent at night. If one would remember, the Observatory at the top is where some of the more romantic scenes in My Girl and several other Koreanovelas took place. By using the subway (Line 3 or 4), one can get off the Chungmuro station, get out through exit No. 2 and take the Namsan Shuttle Bus in front of Daehan  Cinema. Afterwhich, one should take the subway again and get off at Dongguk University Station, get off at Exit 6 and take the Namsan Shuttle Bus. By Bus, one can tale the Namsan Shuttle Bus #2 or 3 which stops at the N Seoul Tower. One can also take a cable car at Myeongdong in front of the Pacific Hotel to get to the cable car station.

TIBS. Teddies in Black form a protective circle around the President's official vehicle in front of the Cheongwadee, or the Blue House. (Tyrone Chui)

What’s in store: I was fully expecting the exhibit to be filled with teddy bears dressed in period costumes and depicting the evolution of Korean history and up to this point, I was correct. But more than cute teddies in hanboks, I was completely fascinated by the role of bears, in Korean mythology. From the onset of the exhibit, tablets posted against the wall explain that Koreans believe that a bear and a tiger once asked a great god to make them human. The god asks them to wait for 21 days (if I remember correctly) at the mountain cave before their request is granted. The tiger gives up after several days but the bear perseveres and in the end, becomes human. Korean mythology illustrates that the bear is the ancestor of the first Koreans and is the source of their indomitable spirit, a character which has been passed on from the early dynasties until today.

What surprised me the most was that the exhibit was not just composed of mere dioramas of bears in period costumes but rather scenes depicting the way of life during the Joseon dynasty with robotics that spruce up the well detailed presentations. The presentations are activated by sensors which saves energy since the dioramas remain still until such time a person steps in front of the discreet sensor to check it out. There is also a giant map on the wall which has a control button to choose which area one wishes to learn about. Once the button is pushed, a flat screen television moves to the area like a magnifier and plays a short presentation about the area in question.

HAPPINESS. Myself posing for a photo with one of the giant teddies in the exhibit. (Tyrone Chui)

There are also giant bears that guests could pose with, some wearing traditional clothing (complete with beards) and some garbed in more modern outfits. The exhibit is divided into two parts — the first part being The Past where palace traditions and ancestral rites are depicted, as well as the old villages and way of life in the small towns. The second part is The Present where visitors will get a kick out of seeing modern Korean scenes like Myeondeong, City Hall, Daehangno, and even the official residence of the President is illustrated. The contrast between the old and the new is truly a sight to behold. Whereas, the vibe in the past was emphasized by traditional folk music in the background, the present is backed up by a more vibrant atmosphere with break dancing teddies and street performers dressed in K-pop fashion.

PRINCESS HOURS MEMORABILIA. Props used in the filming of the drama are showcased at the museum. (Angie Chui)

Towards the end of the exhibit, the teddy bears used in the Kdrama Princess Hours are enclosed in glass cases as well as memorabilia used by the cast in the making of the drama. Popular and historical bears are also on display. yes, including Mr. Bean’s teddy. For an extra W3,000 won, one can print out a picture of oneself in a 3D teddy bear palace backdrop a la neoprint and a souvenir shop rounds up the show. The teddies for sale are quite reasonably priced considering. The ones in special costumes cost roughly W25,000-W40,000 while the simpler bears that only bear a ribbon of The Teddy Bear Museum range from W12,000 and above depending on the size and the style. For more tips in travelling to Seoul, this earlier entry of mine might be of help. By the way, entrance to the Teddy Bear Museum is W8,000. For the package which includes the observatory, I think its W12,000-W14,000. The facility also offers packages for groups with reduced rates so for inquiries, check out their website: www.teddybearmuseum.com.

Tips for the Seoul traveller

A CITY OF PALACES. Seoul is home to five palaces situated in various parts of the city both as a testament to the Koreans’ love for their rich history and to emphasize how far the Koreans have gone in terms of progress. (photo courtesy of Tyrone Chui)

I’ve always been a fan of Korean dramas. I just can’t get enough of them — romcoms, dramas, historical series…. you name it, I’ve probably spent a week or two watching them way into the wee hours of the morning. When an opportunity presented itself (in the form of an airline seat sale), I wasn’t one to slack around and immediately booked a trip with my mom, my bro and his girlfriend to experience the capital of the fascinating country that is South Korea — Seoul. 1. Pack smart. Research on the weather before embarking on your trip. We visited in January, which happens to be the coldest (according to a website) month of the year in Korea so we were carrying luggage filled with sweaters, shirts, thermal underwear and thick thick jackets. Our luggages weighed roughly 10 kilos each even before we arrived at our destination. I usually travel with just a backpack but the weather report got me nervous. Pack smart. You don’t need to bring four or five different snow jackets for a four day visit, or sweaters for that matter. Just make sure you have the essentials (thick jacket, scarf, boots, sweater) and you’ll be all set. This way, you can save on space for whatever stuff or souvenir you may wish to purchase as a memory of your trip. During the winter, it may be a good idea to bring lip balm and lotion to protect your skin from drying up. 2. Make your itinerary flexible. Seoul is a city that has a lot to offer. It is a mix of both the traditional and the modern and you have to make sure that you get the full experience. Identify your priorities (shopping, palace hopping, amusement) way before you hit the streets. And if your original plans don’t work out, make sure you have a Plan B to fall back to maximize the time of your visit. 3. Take the Airport Railroad. From Incheon Airport, it is still a couple of hours away from the heart of the city so it is advisable to take the Airport Railroad to save on time and money. The trip to Seoul costs roughly W3,600 while the Airport Express costs a little over W13,000. The trip on the subway is approximately 43-45 minutes for the regular train. Get off the Seoul station and transfer to any of the 9 lines of the Seoul Metropolitan Subway to get to your hotel or take a cab if it is already near the station. 4. Pick a hotel that is near the subway. We stayed at a small bed and breakfast called Hotel Biz Jongro Insadong and it is very near the subway (Jongno sam (3) ga Exit 5) which we used as a landmark. I highly recommend this place because it is clean, reasonably priced and has complete amenities. The rooms are not very big but spacious enough to move around. They also offer free breakfast of which I am a big fan (porridge, toast and a variety of drinks) from 7 am-11 am and internet (each room has its own computer) as a free service. Laundry services are also accommodated. The best of all, it is near the shopping district of Insadong where there is a wealth of choices for things to buy from street food to souvenirs to clothing and beauty products. Check out this link to view the hotel.

SEOUL CITY TOUR BUS. First stop at Gwanghamun Gate near Duty Free. (Tyrone Chui)

5. Take the Seoul City Tour Bus. The Korean Tourist Information Center has come up with this ingenius idea to guide tourists to the best sites the city has to offer. Starting at 9 am everyday, the Seoul City Tour Bus ferries visitors and locals to 27 tourist spots (Downtown City Tour), 11 spots for the Palace Cheongggye Tour, and 10 stops for the Night Tour. For the minimum fare of W10,000 per person, a tourist can get off at any stop he desires and wait for the next bus to come and take him to the next destination on the map. Bus intervals are at 30 minutes. Tourists can use the ticket for the whole day for as much as they want, until 7 pm when the bus service stops. The double decker bus charges W12,000 and the Night Tour costs W5,000. The night tour makes only one trip and does not return after 30 minutes like the other buses. For more information, check out this link. It is very advisable to use this service especially for sites that are hard to get to by commute like the N Seoul Tower, which boasts of the Observatory that shows an overlooking view of the city, and the Teddy Bear Museum. PROS: Taking the bus will get you to many tourist spots without the hassle of commuting to each area, plus its very cheap compared to guided tours and you can look around the spots at your own pkace. CONS: If you miss the bus, you have to wait for the next one for at least 30 minutes. Waiting around in the cold is not such a fun activity. You also have to go through the entire route that the bus takes. No shortcuts.

6. Take time to learn a bit of the language. If you’re already a fan of K-dramas as I am, you may have already picked up some key phrases like Anyeong Haseyo (Hello, good morning, good afternoon), Kamsa hamnida, gowapsumnida (thank you), olma hashimnika (how much), ye (yes), Aniyo (no), juseyo or chebal (please), unni (big sister), Ajumma (aunt), atachi (mister). The locals are not very great at English although they really try to communicate and they will appreciate your extra effort to learn their language. I was able to break out one of my secret weapons “chakkaman” which means wait, while asking for the bus to stop. Biane, means sorry. I’m stopping here for now, but I’ll be posting more of my adventures in Seoul in the following days so watch out for that.

7. Devise a back up plan. If you’re travelling with a group, its good to come up with a back up plan in case you get separated. Make sure that you know whether or not to go straight back to the inn, or designated meeting point or try to contact the others by looking for the nearest wifi signal. While its still best to activate roaming to ensure contact, a good alternative would be viber, wechat or Kakao Talk but you need to get wifi for these. Ensuring these makes for less worries on the part of the entire group.

Steel (The Twilight Zone,1963): Review

OLD SCHOOL STEEL. Lee Marvin, the dude who originally took on Hugh Jackman's role in the movie Real Steel, eyes his robot Battling Maxo before the fight.

After reading the short story Steel by Richard Matheson (in which the 2011 blockbuster Real Steel was loosely based), my curiosity was piqued upon learning that before the movie, there was already a Twilight Zone episode made based on it. So what was left to do except search the internet for said episode?

Good news. After moments of looking, I successfully managed to unearth the black and white classic that is roughly two decades older than me.

I should say, the short story is far different from the movie, and the Twilight Zone episode was a much more faithful interpretation of the literature. The story centers around former heavyweight boxer “Steel” Kelly (a monicker he earned after never being knocked out in his career), and his battered B2 robot “Battling Maxo” (Max is the name of Steel’s son in the 2011 movie while the robot is named Atom). Maxo is set to fight the B7 Maynard Flash, who, aside from being a stronger a newer model, is also a crowd favorite. While Steel and his mechanic partner Pole check Maxo for various kinks before the fight, Maxo’s wear and tear does him in. Desperate to earn the cash that will fix Maxo, Steel decides to fight Maynard himself (while posing as a robot).

The short story in itself is very good, albeit a bit short for my tastes. It was originally released by Matheson in 1956 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science and Fiction, and speaks of the future where real boxing has been outlawed. Quite forward thinking, even in modern standards as society has yet to see this happen almost 60 years after the story was written.

What I liked about the episode was that it managed to convey the actual content of the story in roughly 25 minutes. Even in black and white, (original release date October 4, 1963) it put in a good effort although during the fight, it was obvious that the punches were being pulled so the actual beating that Steel took did not look as compelling as it was described in the story. Lee Marvin, the actor who played Steel also came through as a manic obsessive has-been whose preoccupation with his robot makes him treat people (Pole) shabbily, unlike the optimistic and tenacious character the book intended him to be.

For a classic, it was not bad, but I’m quite unsure if it was Twilight Zone material at all because I have often associated the series with horror, suspense and the unexplainable. :) Check this out to view the entire  episode and see how it compares with the movie, and feel free to leave a comment about what you thought of it.

Heartstrings: Kdrama Review

Fans of Korean heartthrob Jung Yong Hwa (Code Name: Blue) and popular Kdrama actress Park Shin Hye who lobbied for their pairing after their unsuccessful romance in 2010’s You’re Beautiful (Shin Hye’s character ended up with Jan Geun Suk’s character) will more than get their share of heartwarming and heartwrenching moments in their new Korean drama Heartstrings, whose original title was You’ve Fallen For Me.

The drama centers around two college students majoring in music — Lee Shin (Yong Hwa) specializes in  in Applied Music (rock and roll) and is the lead vocalist and guitarist of the university’s idol band The Stupid, while Shin Hye plays the role of Lee Gyu Won, granddaughter of popular traditional singer Lee Dong Jin (who is opposed to any form of modern music). Gyu Won plays the traditional Korean string instrument the gayageum and majors in traditional music in their school. Due to several heated encounters, the two develop a love-hate relationship all the while learning about each other’s music and developing feelings for each other. However, Lee Shin is still in love with dance teacher Jung Yun Soo, whose former sweetheart, Broadway director Hyun Ki Young spots the talent of Gyu Won and vows to make her come out of her shell during the school’s Centennial show.

Heartstrings is quite an apt title for the drama since both the lead stars, Gyu Won and Lee Shin play string instruments (guitar and gayageum). The story is also very light compared to other Kdramas which would work well with the younger crowd. There are a lot of sweet moments between Gyu Won and Lee Shin, and their relationship develops in a gradual pace.

FIRST KISS. Lee Shin plants a big one on a surprised Gyu Won in front of the audience during their gig at the Catharsis bar.

Heartstrings employs the classic Kdrama formula – Girl falls for Boy but Boy is in love with another Girl, and when Girl finally resolves to give up her feelings for Boy, he realizes what he wanted was under his nose all along. This drama is exactly like that and Yong Hwa did justice to his role quite well as a very cool, very popular guy that all the schoolgirls are making themselves idiots over. And when the point came that he was the one to pursue Gyu Won, his sheepish schoolboy charm, and his uncertainty over his actions are very cute to watch. As for the dramatic scenes, Yong Hwa is still not at the level of Rain or  some of his contemporaries but he only needs to dig deeper because he’s already getting there.

What’s good about this Kdrama is that there is an effort to bring awareness to the beauty of traditional music and modern music, which are both exciting disciplines of art. The fusion of traditional music with rock and roll was very laudable and highlighted elements of both types of genre. I also liked that there was not an active villain (just the usual plotting and jealous displaced director and several sub plotters) and that those who sought to bring down the lead actors saw sense in the end for the sake of the school’s production. There was also a strong supporting cast that provided entertaining moments such as the perpetually ravenous drummer Yeo Jun Hee (Kang Min Hyuk of CN Blue); Gyu Won’s best friend Cha Bo Won (Im Se Mi) who always pops in whenever she and Lee Shin are about to do something romantic; the chairman’s daughter Han Hee Jo, who is constantly being pressured by her mother to lose weight and practice, and the series’ scene stealer Kim Sa Rang (tried to get the name of the actress to no avail), whose over the top persona made for the drama’s most comedic sequences.

I’m not a big fan of the songs that were used for the drama, though. There were some good ones, but perhaps because they keep using it over and over, it kind of loses its original impact by the end. The conclusion also, was a tad anticlimactic as the final conflict seemed forced in the final episode. I was fully expecting a new collaboration between The Stupid and the Windflower, if only to sustain the momentum earlier established in the beginning episodes. It would have been good to also have included Gyu Won’s grandfather in the ending scene, if only to show that he was already open to fusion music (don’t worry, these are not spoilers) and provide closure to that part of the story.

But all in all, Heartstrings was a very enjoyable and entertaining Kdrama filled with charming characters that are bound to steal your hearts and bring a smile to your faces — a must see for fans of Korean romantic comedies. I finished the entire series (15 episodes) in three nights, if that must count for something, right?