Monday, February 25, 2008

Hot Points

We had a teacher in law school who had a lot of what he called ‘hot points’. Photocopied readings, glancing at your notes while reciting a case – they’re not necessarily bad things but if he catches you at them you’re dead. Here are my own.

1. Saying ‘cheers’ on a regular basis. Last time I checked it was appropriate to say cheers in formal occasions like weddings or fancy schmanzy parties where someone proposes a toast to the celebrant or something. But now people use it in everyday texts or even as email signatures. What’s that all about? It’s probably perfectly ok to say cheers all the time in tony places like New York or London or somewhere, but in third-world scalding hot Metro Manila, cheers just sounds downright phony.

2. Title-hungry losers. Ah, this is a favorite. I have two words for people who like to go around being addressed as Attorney or Engineer or Mayor or Congressman or same such prefixes: so what? We even got a wedding invite once where someone had ‘Archt’ before his name. It took Ches to figure out it meant architect. Unbelievable. What’s so special about passing some crazy board or bar exam or winning some stupid election that makes these people think they should be held in some kind of a pedestal that the rest of humankind should bow down to or something? Even someone like me passed the Bar and best friend Jon even topped it. Duh. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought you earn respect by doing good and not because of some overrated appellation.

3. Sweet viands. I never liked sweet and sour fish or pork, or dishes with pineapples or raisins. I like my food simple and unpretentious, thank you. If you’re a viand, a main dish, you have no business being sweet – otherwise, you’re dessert.

4. Using sunglasses as hair band. Why can’t people just be normal and use sunglasses for their eyes and hair bands for their hair? I mean, it’s a pretty simple rule to follow. It’s ok to leave your glasses on the top of your head for a short while (this is sometimes more convenient than putting them down) but to actually use it as a long-term hair accessory – ugh. It’s just so 80’s, so five minutes ago. Enough already.

5. Boyfriends/hubbies who carry their girls’ handbags. What, the girls are too weak and fragile to bear the weight of their teeny-weeny girly purses? And the guys are some chivalrous knights all but poised to wipe dainty glass slippers? Oh, please. Besides, the bag is – like the shoes – part of the total look, so giving it away for your male companion to hold – it just distracts the whole order of the universe.

6. Competitive moms. Ah, another favorite. These are the moms of infants who can’t be stopped from bragging about their babies’ weight or what they can already do at a certain month – you know, sitting up at 3 months, walking by 6 months, reciting the French alphabet by 9 months, perfectly believable stuff like that. For those with older babies, these are the moms who never wait to be asked before launching into a blow-by-blow of their kids’ grades or extracurricular activities. Spare me the over-achievement this early in the relationship. I’m just happy my kids sleep well and eat a lot and smile at me like it’s true love.

7. Nannies in uniform. Why rich people feel the need to do this is a complete mystery to me. Maybe they’re so insecure they’re worried that other people might mistake the nanny to be the real mom if not for the uniform? Surely we don’t need one more reminder of the rich-poor master-slave divide. Dictating on your help’s fashion sense just totally smacks of feudalism. And last time I checked, the feudal age is so over.

8. Faddists. There’s a girl in the office whom Paula and I love to diss. (The guys are all over her tho bcoz she has a cute face and huge basoomas.) She’s always wearing big white-framed sunglasses, chandelier earrings, retro-print dresses, all the latest fads. In the office. On weekdays. At business meetings. Like she’s just screaming to be noticed in a sea of drab blue informs. Ugh. I know I’m not the most obedient girl in the HR list either, but at least I know what corporate look means. Hel-lo.

9. People who never return anything they borrow. I still haven’t quite forgiven the girls in high school who ran away with my 2nd year class jacket, my scrapbook with all my 3rd year pix, and all my precious Sweet Dreams. I don’t know about them, but my parents taught me it was good manners to always return what you borrow, without having to wait for the rightful owner to remind you, beg or scream bloody murder. It can’t be too hard to understand that what for you is a mere object could mean the world to someone else because of sentimental or purely silly reasons. Besides, appropriating for yourself what you fully know to be not yours – if I’m not mistaken it’s called stealing in the Bible and has all the elements of theft under the Revised Penal Code.

10. Cliches. It’s my bad luck that I always find myself in the company of people who love dropping clichés in casual conversation, stuff like “The walls have ears”, or “We don’t know him from Adam!”, or “Let’s not re-invent the wheel here”. Ugh. It’s enough to make me nauseous. It’s just so … boring … and un-original. Four-year-old Yoshi puts more wit and creativity in his commentaries. Hel-lo. Time to park these clichés in the garage already.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Part II

I didn’t have enough free time in a day to finish the series in at most three sittings the way I would’ve wanted. (This is how I am with the shows I like, like Prison Break. I get too excited I just have to finish it right away). So I looked for and found a site that summarized the episodes from start to finish. From this amazing site I learn that Coffee Prince was nothing short of a phenomenon in Korea last year, creating an entire fandom in and out of Korea. Allegedly there are already talks about a sequel except that the actor who plays Han Gyul might not be able to join bcoz he’s enlisting in the military as is apparently mandatory in the country. (Tsk tsk. What a shame to waste utter good looks in something as boring as military service.) I also learn that the actress who plays Eun Chan is some kind of a superstar there, hence the praises for her willingness to shed all traces of vanity and really get into her role, complete with the manly swagger and mannerisms. This site is also where I learn that the show is based on a novel (which I would’ve instantly asked my sis to get for me but I find out it’s only in Korean). So this explains why the story flows so smoothly and the characters so multi-dimensional to the end.

For some reason the people who write in this site adore the actor who plays Han Sung (who they call Mr. Deep Resonant Voice or something hilarious like that) and hate the character of Yoo Joo to bits. I don’t care much about Han Sung and am with Team Han Gyul thru and thru. Yoo Joo doesn’t faze me, she’ll never be able to break my heart (which coincidentally is the exact same thing I say about someone in the office). I don’t see why everyone finds her pretty, tho. She’s tall and has long hair, period. But at least she’s consistently nice to Eun Chan. And I love Han Sung’s and Yoo Joo’s easy comfort in their relationship, the kind that you get after spending years and years together. It’s the perfect foil to the as yet budding and tension-filled love story of Han Gyul and Eun Chan.

One fan writes in the site that he/she loves the show bcoz of the over-all summer feel to it – the green leaves all around the café, the homey look of the rich people’s houses, long breakfasts in the sprawling lawns. I completely agree. I think it also adds to the summer feel that the characters all seem very relaxed and unhurried. They spend hours talking and doing fun things like walking on the beach way into the night even on weekdays, like they’re totally not worried about having to get up early the following morning for work.

The author of the site, someone called Sarah, is unbelievable. Apparently she uploads her comprehensive summaries within minutes from the actual showing of the episode on Korean TV. Her comments are so dead-on and witty, and she writes lovely too. She harbors quaint ideas like, I wish Coffee Prince was a boy so I could marry him and we could make musically-inclined children together. I saw from her profile that her passion is Korean drama and since she couldn’t find a site that critiqued the shows to her satisfaction she came up with her own. From her I learn new artsy-fartsy things like reaction shots and the beauty of scenes shot in the raw, meaning no accompanying music or scenery or whatever, to focus on the emotions of the characters and the lines they’re saying. She even knows all the music used in the series, down to the songs from indie bands both Korean and not.

I imagine she’s this young woman who lives by herself (or maybe with a maid who takes care of all the puny chores around the house like taking out the trash and cleaning the bathroom and stuff), and she spends all her waking hours watching TV and blogging.

If I didn’t enjoy motherhood so much that would’ve been My Dream Life.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Coffee Prince

I knew I’ve been house-bound for too long when I started to understand the plots of all these mindless shows on TV. I’m not a big fan of TV to begin with. I can count with one hand the shows I took the time to watch (Band of Brothers, Six Feet Under, Picket Fences, My So-Called Life). I definitely did not like the foreign-soap-anime-cartoon-dubbed-in-Tagalog genre. I mean, it’s just so weird seeing these Spanish and Chinese and Japanese and now Korean actors and actresses speak Tagalog. My sister is the one who’s into these things, forever bugging Ches to buy her DVDs of the complete series of Endless Love or whatever.

No one was more surprised than I when I started to like Coffee Prince, which began its run on TV while I was on maternity leave. At first I liked it bcoz both leads were super cute. I mean, they looked like showbiz superstars and not like the Koreans you would run into on the street. (They’re everywhere now. You see them in droves in the neighborhood, the malls, Cebu, Bora. A boss in the office goes so far as to say that they have invaded her village. Paranoid snob.) I like to imagine that Yoshi has Eun Chan’s antics and Boots has Han Gyul’s eyes.

So when I went back to work and Marvin our resident DVD supplier in the office compound offered me a DVD of the complete series, I bought it and would watch it way into the night when all my three boys were already asleep and I had my insomnia attacks. I got hooked on the quirky characters, especially the coffee princes, who each get their turn to shine. Ha Rim is the loudmouth playboy (although for some reason he comes across as gay in the first few episodes) who gives unsolicited advice and bullies everyone around. Min Yub is the adorable dumb jock with the heart of gold type, who can effortlessly carry anyone around like a sack of potatoes. (Everyone calls him big gorilla haha.) Sun Ki is the unfathomable Japanese Yoda who imparts profound wisdom in the rare times he opens his mouth, gorgeous in the unkempt, uncombed sense. Mr. Hong makes great coffee, and his character is otherwise boring but is refreshing bcoz he goes to work when he feels like it and reads comics at home when he doesn’t. It’s like he’s perfectly happy with what he is and has, he doesn’t aspire to be or have anything more.

Han Gyul is a typical rich kid/spoiled brat who can be a complete asshole to Eun Chan and his cousin Han Sung (whose girlfriend Yoo Joo he’s always shamelessly flirting with) but is a sweetheart to his mom and grandma. I love him bcoz he falls truly and wildly in love with Eun Chan despite her being poor and the farthest thing you can imagine from a girlfriend material, not to mention male (as far as he knows). (Shucks, if a guy loves you like that, what more can you ask for?) Besides, he’s tall and has cute chinky eyes and killer dimples, so as far as I’m concerned he can just stand there and I’d watch him anyway. He even cooks. And I don’t know why but somehow I have a soft spot for guys who are a bit of assholes. (Which is why I’m always complaining to Regie that he’s always consistently way too nice for his own good.)

And then there’s Eun Chan. She’s this poor girl with a pretty face and hair chopped off like a boy’s, taking on odd jobs including those normally done by males to pay the rent and her younger sister’s tuition. She’s tough and speaks her mind, not one to be cowered by rich people or thugs. But she’s also a softie, the type who still finds the time to marvel at the skies at night after a long day at work, the type who makes little personalized gifts with cute notes and artwork to repay anyone who shows her any bit of kindness. (I can so relate to her huge appetite.) Eun Chan is the heart and soul of this story, for me the reason why this show soars.

This fun cast of characters all get to blurt out priceless lines throughout the series. I knew this was a well-written story when Mr. Hong tells his boss, the owner of Coffee Prince and Han Gyul’s ailing grandma: I don’t believe you’re really sick bcoz you still have so much energy to shout at me. Haha. I also like Eun Chan’s line to Han Gyul, referring to Yoo Joo, who was right there with them: Your habit has become too immoral. And when Han Gyul asks Eun Chan why she’s avoiding him, she answers point-blank: Bcoz I like you. And it’s wrong bcoz we’re both male. Or when after they become sworn brothers Han Gyul asks Eun Chan what she likes best about him she doesn’t skip a bit and answers: Everything. Which just stops him dead on his tracks. There should be more scripts like this – laugh-out-loud funny in the comic scenes, and instantly heartbreaking in the dramatic ones, getting the point across with just one word or two, devoid of all the usual long-drawn out speeches complete with copious tears and background music that are a staple in any Pinoy drama.

That the people behind the show took the time and put in the effort to develop the characters and come up with an entertaining story shows in all the little nuances – Eun Chan’s habit of blowing her bangs off her face, her special relationship with her mom and sis, Han Gyul’s secret room where he neatly set up his toys that he still plays with, the way he charms his mom and granny. I’m thankful to these people for coming up with a show that for once doesn’t require the audience to suspend disbelief or outrightly insult our intelligence. Eun Chan doesn’t magically turn all feminine and regal when she for a change wears a dress to Yoo Joo’s art exhibit (as Cinderella undoubtedly would). She goes around in the same boy clothes and Han Gyul still gives her headlocks and ruffles her hair and they still bicker and bicker to no end even after they become a couple. And the story doesn’t end when Han Gyul forgives Eun Chan for pretending to be a boy and they profess their love for each other. Bcoz surely even more conflicts should follow (opposition from the rich clan, what the future holds for the couple, etc.), and the fact that these are threshed out in the last few episodes make the happy ending more believable. It’s easy to tell a lot of thought went into this story and that’s something to appreciate considering I’m always complaining to Ches that I seem to put in more research into my blogs than the people behind the local shows that Yoshi insists on watching (groan).

In most other TV shows or movies you get maybe one or two scenes that stay with you long after you finish the story. But here you get plenty per episode. The scene where Eun Chan falls asleep after they play in Han Gyul’s secret toy room and he gently and likely without meaning to touches her face, when they get smushed in the train and he accidentally crushes the little robot he’s given her which she always carries around in her pocket, when he forces a hug on her to reassure himself that what he’s feeling is really nothing except it doesn’t end up the way he expected, when he tells her about being adopted and behind him she mimics a tender hug that she can’t give him bcoz she’s supposed to be male, when they agree to be sworn brothers and the subtitles tell us they’re thinking the same thing, that at least then they can always be together, even just as brothers. And that poignant, infinitely sad beach scene where Han Gyul realizes being sworn brothers is not gonna work bcoz he loves her too much. (It’s at this point where you realize how good this drama is, bcoz you just feel for Han Gyul’s torment, forgetting that you know Eun Chan’s really a girl.) That was almost too painful to watch. And there’s when he says the line, Whether you’re a man or an alien, I don’t care anymore. (Aw, shucks.) And what about the chestnut scene where they pick the chestnuts that fell from her bike from parallel streets and meet in the middle and Han Gyul finally forgives her and ends up saying, Eun Chan, I’m glad you’re a girl. Oh, there are lovely scenes too involving other characters, like Han Gyul lying on his sleeping granny’s chest, or Yoo Joo proposing to Han Sung and telling him she wants to make a baby just like him. But I’m partial to scenes of Han Gyul and Eun Chan together. I’m so partial I almost skip the parts when they’re not on the screen or when they’re talking to other people. Haha.

It’s also refreshing how the show tackles the taboo topic of homosexuality and the usual poor girl/rich boy divide. It’s not overly dramatized or milked for all its worth. It’s handled in an almost practical approach, and how the characters treat it is how people would most likely react in real life. And it’s great that it took ugly duckling Eun Chan to make the goddess Yoo Joo for once insecure in her relationship with Han Sung. I also like that the characters talk a lot – kinda like Before Sunrise/Before Sunset where the leads engage in casual yet profoundly meaningful conversation thruout. I love how the story slowly builds up and makes you feel the exhilaration and agony of falling in love for the first time. It takes me back to all the Sweet Dreams I read in high school, and with so much more humor and substance too.

And can I just say how much I love the male bonding scenes of the princes. There’s when they splash around in the fountains and pick apples at an orchard, when they send a lovey-dovey text to Han Gyul from Eun Chan’s cel, when they pull chairs and bring out umbrellas for her and call her Madam after she becomes the boss’ girl, or even when they’re just bickering in the café. I just find them all so cute and hysterical. They make me want to go to Korea, drop by the café, introduce myself and make fast friends with them.

I don’t get tho why this is hyped as “the No.1 trendy Korean drama in 2007”. I get the trendy as opposed to historical, like Jewel in the Palace which everyone in the office who watches feels compelled to talk to me about, in light of my name being in the title. But Coffee Prince is a comedy for the most part. And why does everyone refer to Eun Chan as a kid? She’s 24 in the story. Or I don’t know, maybe it’s the cultural barrier. Maybe in Korea you’re not considered an adult till you’re 30 or something. I think it’s also an oversight to have Eun Chan cry a lot even in the beginning when she was still pretending to be a boy. I mean, boys don’t do that. At least not in public. And much as I love Han Gyul, he’s not as effective when he’s happy and making jokes. It doesn’t seem natural somehow, like it’s all acting. He’s way better when he’s brooding and full of angst. It’s too bad for me too that I can’t understand the mostly Korean songs in the soundtrack (I recognize only Back for Good by Take That and This Will Be by Natalie Cole). Am sure comprehensible lyrics would have made watching the scenes even more fulfilling.

I guess you can say I found a lot of things to like in this show. Ches even says I’m addicted, the way I grab Yoshi’s portable DVD player to watch it within seconds after the boys’ eyes close. (He’s used to it, tho, having seen me thru my Titanic and Evita and Brokeback Mountain diehard fan/groupie phase, among others. Besides, he has his own Prison Break and Lost obsession. Duh.) To think I never even knew a single Korean actor nor saw a single Korean film or TV show before. I don’t even drink coffee. This whole fascination thing baffles even me.

Marvin offered me another DVD the other day. A complete other series starring the same girl who plays Eun Chan. I was tempted, but you know when you have this perfect feeling about something and you’re afraid to even move lest you ruin it? That’s how I felt just then, that another Korean story might ruin it for me. So I had to decline Marvin. I told him I’m happy just savoring Coffee Prince for now.