Iron Fist: Yup, it’s just kinda there.

The latest Marvel Netflix outing, Iron Fist, came out last Friday with some pre-emptive strikes from critics.  But keep in mind, critics only saw the first six episodes; I (and many other fans) have now binged the whole thing in less than a week (less than a weekend for some), so I’m here to give my spoiler-free thoughts.

Marvel's Iron Fist

In short, I enjoyed it, and if you were already planning to watch it, or have seen the other shows and are interested in The Defenders, I think you will too.  Just keep your expectations on the low side going in, because it is not nearly as good as the three previous series (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage), and if you have no interest in superheroes/the MCU/etc. don’t even bother.

I went into Iron Fist hoping for a kung fu show, but what I got was a corporate drama with some occasional ninjas…sorry, not even ninjas, mostly just random thugs.  Unlike the three previous shows, this show didn’t really have much to say.  Danny Rand’s origin story appears as a watered-down version of Batman or Oliver Queen.  His parents are killed in a plane crash in the Himalayas; he’s rescued to the hidden mystical city of K’un Lun where he trains and earns the title of Iron Fist; he returns to reclaim his parents’ company.

It gets off to a very slow start.  The first episodes that the critics saw could easily have been condensed into two or three with better pacing.  (It even manages to make sex scenes boring.  How does that happen?!) But it does pick up quite a bit in the second half as new characters are introduced and twists revealed, and I really enjoyed the ride.

Unfortunately, we hardly get to see anything of K’un Lun or Danny’s time there.  There are a few flashbacks, but mostly just the same one of his parents dying over and over.  There’s a reason the first season of Arrow worked so well, and I think this show should have taken some notes.  We don’t get any sense of where Danny is coming from until really late in the season, which I think hampers our ability to relate to him and understand his mood swings.

The show also suffers from lack of focus on a villain.  DD season 1, JJ, and the first half of LC all have one thing in common: a strong, compelling, central villain.  There are several antagonists throughout this series, and while some are great (particularly Madame Gao and Harold Meachum), it sometimes felt more like a set-up for the Defenders series than a story for Iron Fist in his own right.

The side characters are the real shining light in the show.  Colleen Wing is great overall and has a great character arc.  The clip of her cage fight in her classic white tracksuit had already convinced me I would like her.  Ward Meachum consistently improves as the series progresses, also getting his own character arc.  Danny’s friend Davos is a wonderful foil for Danny, and I hope we will see more of him in the future.  And Claire Temple immediately breathes life into the show when she appears in episode five.

My biggest disappointment with the show was probably the martial arts action.  Again, it wasn’t bad…it was just kinda there.  I was hoping for a real martial arts show, but the choreography was no more impressive than Daredevil, and I really disliked the use of lots of quick cuts during the fights.  There is a bit of discussion of different styles of martial arts, but I wish they had shown the differences even more, especially when Colleen with her katana faces off against a Chinese wuxia-style fighter.

The best fight comes in episode eight where Danny faces a Hand guardian who’s using the “drunken master” style.  (During that fight, I said to my husband, “Can we keep this guy instead of Danny?”  Because he has about 10x the charisma.)  But if you really want to see a martial arts show, go check out Into the Badlands instead—the first season is now on Netflix and the second season is currently airing on AMC.

I would put this show at least on par with the DC shows currently airing on the CW (Arrow, Flash, etc.)–least anyone think that is an insult, I’ll reiterate that I enjoyed all of them.

Anyone else have opinions?  We can get spoilery down in the comments if you want.

Fall Geek TV, 2015

I haven’t talked about TV shows yet this fall, have I?  Right now during NaNoWriMo, TV is exactly the kind of vice I’ve been struggling with as it kills my writing time.  But I just can’t help it.  Here’s what I’ve been watching (or not, as the case may be).

What I’m loving:

  • Jessica Jones (Netflix): Because Marvel likes to torture all of us who are doing NaNoWriMo.

This show came out a week ago and I’m halfway through right now.  I think it is technically even better than Daredevil, though I’m not finding it quite as enjoyable (I think it’s the lack of fight scenes).  I especially like its treatment of mental illness, abusive relationships, and addiction (both literally and in metaphor), as well as the fact that it has TWO female lead characters, giving us a perspective that Marvel’s never really done before.

  • Into the Badlands (AMC): Here’s how I’m getting my fight scene fix.

This is an actual, legit martial arts TV show.  Plus it airs after The Walking Dead, so you can just stick around.  We’re 2 episodes into this 6-episode season, and I felt the second episode improved on the first (which was mostly just set up).  The characters are still a bit flat, but the show makes up for it by being stylish as hell.  The design is great and the fight choreography is lovely.  Plus we get an Asian-American male lead (Daniel Wu), with a non-white girlfriend no less.  I’m kind of in love with his character Sonny; he has these amazing, subtle facial expressions.

  • Supergirl (CBS): Not the world’s greatest show, but I’m liking it well enough so far.

Supergirl (TV logo).jpg

Melissa Benoist makes an adorable Supergirl/Kara Danvers, and I’d watch anything with Mehcad Brooks, who plays Jimmy Olsen…I mean James.  I’m kind of used to Kara being the cool girl and Jimmy being the dork but the show interestingly switches that around.  The writing and characters have been ok so far, leaning a bit too heavily on a villain-of-the-week structure.  I did really enjoy their take on DCAU character Livewire in the 4th episode.

What I need to catch up on:

  • The Flash/Arrow (CW)

I just finished watching the previous seasons of these shows, which were great.  Everything from the crossovers to Gorilla Grodd was squee-inducing.  The Flash finale actually made me cry a little.  Even Laurel has improved.  I just wish they would give Felicity something more to do, and decide on a pronunciation for “Ra’s.”  In any case, I have the current seasons waiting on my DVR, and I can’t wait to start!

  • Agents of SHIELD (ABC): Same deal.
This show has the best posters.

Last season was quite enjoyable, and I have this season waiting for me on the DVR.  It seems like there will be a focus on the Inhumans, so we’ll see how that’s going to mix in with the rest of the MCU and the upcoming movie of that name.

What I’m dropping:

  • Once Upon a Time (ABC):

I was willing to give this season a try for Merida, but I watched a couple episodes and kinda lost interest.  I might catch up when it gets to Netflix or something, but I’m not really in a hurry.

  • Gotham (Fox):

I watched about half of the first season, and while I enjoyed it for what it was, it wasn’t good enough for me to keep going on a regular basis.  And it seems like every week it just gets crazier.

What I’m waiting for:

  • The Expanse (SyFy): Episode 1 is up online!

expanse

This show is an adaptation of a great space opera book series; the first is called Leviathan Wakes.  I’m excited for real sci-fi back on the SyFy channel.  I’ve heard good things about the pilot and I’m planning to watch it online this weekend; the show premieres on TV December 14.

  • Legends of Tomorrow (CW): Coming next year.

legends of tomorrow

After last season of Flash and Arrow, how could I not be excited for this?  I know the current seasons are busy setting up for this show, introducing Hawkgirl, etc., and they just released a trailer that looks amazing.  The characters!  The special effects!  IT’S LIKE A MINI JUSTICE LEAGUE ON TV AND I’M SO EXCITED. Ahem.  Anyways, it premieres January 21.

Korean Culture in Media: TV

I forgot another Korean word I learned, sorry.  No, literally, I know how to say sorry, romanized mianhae.  Though at first I thought it was bianhae, because Korean consonant pronunciations are difficult.  Anyways, let’s talk about some K-dramas I liked.

TV

Boys Over Flowers (2009)

This was the first Korean TV show I watched, and it’s a great one to start with because it’s a classic K-drama (and actually referenced by some others).  It’s based on a Japanese manga, Hana Yori Dango, and it really is basically like a live-action shoujo manga.  It follows a poor high school girl named Jan-di who ends up at a rich-kid high school ruled over by a group of 4 handsome boys known as the F4.  Naturally, troubles and romances follow.

Pretty much no soap-opera-style plot is off-limits, including blackmail, amnesia, hypothermia, arranged marriages, etc.  Just go with it.  The side characters are awesome; I was actually more invested in some of the other characters’ relationships than the main character’s.

Really my only issue with this show was that the male lead occasionally shows his love by being jealous and controlling in a Twilight-esque fashion (…yes, there’s even a love triangle).  Every time he grabbed Jan-di’s arm I got upset (to be fair, she does a pretty good job standing up for herself).  Also, he seriously needs some anger management help.

Coffee Prince (2007)

Go Eun-chan is a tomboy who poses as a boy to work at a coffee shop, but then starts to fall for her straight male boss.

I liked that this drama is about adults, rather than high school students, so it felt more relate-able to me.  I really liked Eun-chan’s character, and again, the side characters are awesome, especially the other boys working at the Coffee Prince.

While the gender-swap plot point does create some funny moments, it also creates some really serious scenes that touch on gender identity and sexual orientation issues, both personally for individual characters as well as how the issues are viewed in society.

Secret Garden (2010)

Don’t bother reading the blurb about this show on Netflix; it has absolutely nothing to do with the story, no idea where it came from.  This drama actually has some light fantasy—the main characters swap bodies when it rains, though this part of the story doesn’t even start until a few episodes in.  It’s also a bit of a Cinderella story because, like in Boys Over Flowers, the guy is from a higher socioeconomic class than the girl.

The main characters obviously learn a lot about each other from their periodic body swaps; both end up coming to terms with theirs pasts and growing into better people, and it leads them to make really touching sacrifices for each other.  I especially liked Gil Ra-Im, who is a badass stuntwoman.  Supporting character Oska, an aging Hallyu star, is also a favorite.

The K-pop group BIGBANG has actually done parodies of Boys Over Flowers, Coffee Prince, and Secret Garden that are quite funny.  The Secret Garden one is my favorite; once you watch the show you will get a huge kick out of the parody–check it out here.

Dream High (2011)

Another high school drama, this time about a group of students at an arts school trying to become K-pop stars.  It’s a musical show with a cast full of real-life idols, including Suzy from Miss A.

Though the premise seems like it might be shallow, there are a lot of really touching moments and the show really drives home the benefits of hard work and true friendship while at the same time being realistic that life isn’t always fair.  I watched the last episode recently and thought it ended on a note that was more bittersweet than syrupy.

The acting is better than I was expecting, and of course there’s lots of great singing and dancing.  I’m guessing you’ll like this show if you liked Glee.  Or if you like K-pop, because there’s some funny things you’ll appreciate, like Baek-hee singing “Bad Girl, Good Girl” by Miss A in front of her rival, whose actress is a real-life member of Miss A.

These first 3 shows (and many more!) can be found on Netflix; Dream High can be found on DramaFever.

Sense8 is a slow, mindbending adventure

Sense8 (2015) PosterI usually give TV shows a few episodes to hook me before I decide whether I want to keep watching or not.  In the first two episodes of Sense8, the new sci-fi Netflix series from J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis, my husband and I sat through the introduction of eight characters with no discernable connection between them, except that they all had something to do with this woman that committed suicide on a mattress, and the cryptic mutterings of Naveen Andrews’s character (whom I continued to call Sayid, despite his name being Jonas, or something). At that point, I told my husband I would even be thrilled if they were all aliens, because then at least something would make some kind of sense.

I love character-driven stories, and even I thought this was slow. I was pretty much ready to quit, but B seemed to like it, so we kept going, and finished the series in about a week.  If you are patient enough, the story unfolds nicely and the eight characters come to life, not just within their own stories, but as a group, psychically connected to each other.

They live all over the globe: Chicago, Seoul, Berlin, Nairobi.  They are gay and straight, cops and criminals, loving sons and troubled daughters. They make bad choices and fight for their loved ones.  And their lives are changed forever when discover they are a “cluster” of sensates, empathetically linked, and the true joy of the series is watching them learn to use their various talents to help each other and become something more than individuals.

I liked all the characters, especially the women. Here’s a video intro to one of my favorite characters, Sun (also shows Capheus and Nomi):

Netflix is really the perfect venue for this show, both because of pacing and content.  It is eminently binge-able, because watching it in succession helps build a little more of the momentum that the show needs.

Sense8 was also not destined for broadcast TV due to its graphic content.  There are graphic depictions of sex (including gay sex and masturbation), violence (including gunplay and suicide), drug use, and childbirth.  Though most of it is in the service of character or story, it was a little raw for me at times.

The end climax of the story was suitably dramatic, but the resolution felt a little weak to me because it leaves the fate of the group, and one member specifically, a bit open.  I was hoping for a more complete, self-contained story.  This was more of an origin story for the group, and it doesn’t seem like their journey together is over yet.