Category Archives: TV

Too much Tokyo, Not enough Vice

‘They found a way to monetise suicides? Even for yakuza, that’s pretty fucked-up’

Episode 3 of Tokyo Vice.

The central idea behind the series is that it takes a foreign, white male to uncover the sinister truth behind a spate of recent deaths that have seen pensioners kill themselves. Jake Adelstein wrote the book in 2005, giving his account of how he became the first foreign writer of the crime section of a Japanese newspaper. The book was notable for two things: one, it was a real-life account of the yakuza practices, rather than the fictionalised version seen in films. Second, the book uncovered some shocking information about a previously covered up crime involving the death of director Juzo Itami. the book also revealed how often Adelstein had put his neck on the line and risked meeting a similar fate to the director whose films had drawn the wrath of the yakuza on so many occasions.

The Yakuza Boss in Tokyo Vice

Those expecting to see a close adaptation are going to be disappointed. Right away, the credits tell us that it’s only ‘based’ on the book. They use the character of Jake Adelstein and some of the newspaper figures, but that’s about it. There’s no mention of Juzo Itami or the Goto Gion Yakuza group. Maybe the producers didn’t want to meet the same fate as Itami?

The first episode, directed by Michael Mann is certainly a strong opener. At this point, Jake is still working as an English teacher, although not for long. After he passes the gruelling kanji exam, he takes his place at the newspaper where he is the only foreign born member of staff. but after the excitement of the opener, the TV show settles down and then takes a long time to find the heart of the drama or engage us fully with Jake.

Many reviewers have criticised the casting of Ansel Egort as not exciting for the lead.

Jake starts to make progress, but is often cut off by a female reporter who is unwilling to give him any leeway in how he writes the crime reports. Alongside the story of Jake, there is an American escort (Rachel Keller) working for a yakuza owner of a hostess bar. The storyline is only loosely linked to Jake, and this character was never even in the book. Obviously, the producers wanted to include another American face, and so they decided to use another American actor. Unfortunately, scenes involving her are some of the most boring in the series and they really drag the show down, as well as adding to the running time. episode 6, mainly focusing on how she came to Japan as a missionary worker is particularly unnecessary.

Rachel Keller plays a hostess in one of the night-clubs of Kabukicho.

The Real Jake Adelstein

Mr Jake Adelstein himself

Ansel Egort is far too clean-cut for the role of Jake. In reality, Adelstein was a lot more rough and prepared to get his hands dirty (literally in the case of the red light district). The character seems to lord his way above most of the Japanese staff, not helped by being a lot taller than most of them.

It’s like they deliberately chose a much taller actor than the Japanese cast.

Still, I watched it to see some excellent Japanese actors, and I wasn’t disappointed. all the nuances of the Japanese language are here, and it’s fascinating to see the varying degrees of deference shown. Yakuza bosses are adressed most politely, and even humble customers are referred to as ‘Okyakusama wa kamisama’ ,meaning the customer is God. The Nightlclub scenes show the pulsating rhythms and music of the period, and the women are often very beautiful. It’s just that when you have a show calling itself ‘Tokyo Vice’, you expect to be in for some very graphic stuff, which the show doesn’t fully deliver on.

A nightclub scene.

Fresh off the Boat and Kim’s Convenience

Fresh off the Boat ended its run in February, more than five years since it originally started. For being the sole representation of Asians on TV, it has left an outstanding legacy. But there has been another Asian family TV show that has been gaining followers and fans – Kim’s Convenience.

The shows are superficially similar – both examine families living in a North American city and show how they sometimes struggle to fit in. But once you actually watch Kims Convenience you start to realise that it’s wrong to look at Kims expecting it to be the same as FOTB. It’s set in Canada, for a start, and Fresh was deliberately filmed in Florida of the nineties. The style of FOTB is very ironic and knowing – we can laugh at how things used to be. Kims is very much the show of now – it’s the present after all. Most of it is very realistic – which is not how FOTB unfolds, because Fresh is the product of a writer’s imperfect memories of growing up.

However much the actual Eddie Huang (writer of the book) complained that it removed the darker moments, the first season does a brilliant job delineating the first year that the Huangs spend trying to familiarise themselves with white collar Orlando. Perhaps the earliest episodes were a little weak comedy wise, but even by episode 6 they were getting into really exciting territory – tackling racist stereotypes head-on and looking at how hard it is to remain true to your culture.

Fresh used the nineties setting to give many fans a warm glow – the colours of the clothes and the glossy neighborhood setting always make for great TV. Each episode contained loving references to popular fads of the time. Whether it was Eddie’s love of Biggie and Tupac, or Evan’s Beanie Babies, the show was a lovely trip down memory lane for anyone who can remember growing up in the nineties.

Even more importantly – the show was often laugh out loud funny – by the time they made an episode actually filmed in Taiwan there were jokes every three seconds. Another great pleasure was had in watching the three Huang brothers growing up- the show caught the boys just as they were becoming interesting, and stopped when Eddie had finally matured into a young man.

It’s hard to find as much to like in Kim’s Convenience Store. The Kims seem to be accepted by everyone in their Vancouver neighborhood. There are no real conflicts here, except of the very trivial kind. The family want to hold on to their Korean heritage rather than embrace Canadian culture. There’s nothing like the So Chineez episode – where Jessica started speaking in Mandarin and cooked Chinese dishes. The Kims don’t need to do any of that – because people already accept them as they are. It may be an example of multi-culturalism, but it’s boring to watch a show when there are no conflicts.

Maybe for comedy to be successful, you need an element of cultural snobbery, or humiliation. But the characters in Kim’s are tolerated all the time, even when they make cultural faux pas. Also , the characters are too down to earth to be really memorable as sitcom characters. If the Kims are funny , it’s mostly down to the strong Korean accents, rather than any external situations. There’s nobody as comically brilliant as Jessica Huang -who may have been overplayed but was always recognisably human.

As for the writing, FOTB was much stronger. Every episode followed a classic sitcom arc of problem, resolution, and pay-off. There were cute jokes about Evan’s toys, Eddie’s lunch, or how much Jessica loved Costco. Also, the influence of the wicked humour of Ali Wong was much in evidence. There was the ‘Asian Flush’ episode, which Wong made a brief appearance in, for example. Then there were the Christmas episodes with Jessica’s model villlage and her Lao Ban Santa costume. Some of the best involved mocking Asian customs such as Chinese New Year, and their love of Asian sports stars. There were double entendres, references to Chinese culture that would not always sink in immediately – and a whole soundtrack of old Hip-hop that would be used just at the right time.

Kims has stories which simply meander and fizzle out, there are no dramatic conclusions or very big lessons to learn. Take one episode in Season 1. An old flame of Amma’s arrives in the shop and Janet thinks that he is still interested in her. It could be exciting but he quickly explains that he is married. The storylines are weak – one episode climaxes with the characters getting food poisoning from a bad Korean stew. Episodes aren’t connected and could probably be watched in random order. FOTB was more enjoyable – it’s funny to watch children doing silly things – Kims can’t provide this – the best it can do is to have the characters learn something about themselves – Uppa realises he is too bossy, or the daughter asserts her independence.

I know exactly which show I would prefer to watch. Still, i’m not complaining – it’s always good to see Asians on TV; and maybe – just maybe – Kim’s can make new episodes which are up to the standard of Fresh.

New post

I was going to tell you about my latest sexual adventures. Then I thought you were probably tired of hearing about that. But I still need to write my regular blog post.

Last week I watched a concert performance by Eddie Murphy called ‘Raw’. Filmed in the eighties, when Murphy was the massive star of Beverly Hills Cop, it’s a stand-up performance that broke records when it came out. Not only is Eddie Murphy a brilliant comic, with perfect timing in his set-ups, Eddie Murphy is able to work his audience to just the right level so that his jokes always land where they should.

The show also uses language that I suspect wouldn’t be as socially acceptable today – particularly when it comes to women. In fact, whilst some of the jokes are likely to be misogynistic now, they get as much applause from the women in the audience as the men.

Then, curiuous about other black comics, I watched the famous ‘Black People Vs Niggas’ from Chris Rock’s massive ‘Bring the Pain’ tour. It’s scary how much truth there is. Watching it feels like being given a massive sociology lesson whilst laughing really hard at the same time. Once again, the language used (in particular, the word nigga, would get Chris Rock thrown in jail if he did the same act today), but the segment is so true in a way that most stand-up isn’t. Why don’t more black celebrities go down the road of highlighting the flaws of many black people? If blacks are treated with prejudice, it’s only because some blacks act in ways that invites poor treatment, and lack of respect. I guess no-one wants to alienate their audience. I watched Kevin Hart. Although he was good, I don’t think he can ever match the savage emotional truth of Eddie Murphy or Chris Rock. But then, few comics can.

The fact is, we are living in times when people find offence all around them, and it’s ruining freedom of expression. Movies are being watered down, with limited nudity, sex scenes or bad language. People are so stroppy and highly strung. I long ago stopped dating white girls. They are far too picky and always find something to complain about. Take this one girl who blanched when I delicately proffered splitting the bill at a restaurant. I didn’t meet her again after that. And even when I talk with white women, I sense a real real reluctance for open conversation or intimacy. It’s hard to talk to them without a reason first. And flirting is almost impossible! Meanwhile, girls from Japan and China don’t care about splitting the bill, will happily have sex on the first date, if that’s what they want. So if you’re tired of political correctness, feel like you can’t speak your mind, or that there’s no one to have sex with, look east. Look east and don’t look back.

The Women

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Kim Min-hee, Lee Mi-sook, Yoon yo-jeong, Kim Ok-bin, Go Hyun Jeong, Choi Ji Woo

Six actresses, one photo shoot. They are the biggest names in Korean cinema. One is a veteran, with over forty years of experience. two became famous by featuring in beauty contestants and then became huge TV stars, for example, Choi JI-wo got her break in Winter Sonata, the TV program that was ultimately key in getting Korean drama known across most of Asia. The two youngest actresses are still well-known, having worked for independent filmmakers rather than commercial blockbusters.

Starting with a so-so premise – that actresses are demanding, self-obessesed, naricisstic – I was not expecting much. But this docudrama becomes slowly more and more fascinating, as it reveals ever more of the real lives of screen actors.

It’s well known that South Korea has a lot of attractive women but still, you might not be prepared for some of the actresses here. EJ Jong has made a powerfully erotic film about sex Untold Scandal (2003) and he has a way of making these women look absolutely incredible, whatever they are wearing or doing. But never do they reveal much flesh (at one stage an actress worries that her dress shows too much cleavage).

They are beautiful, but are they also interesting too? The elderly actress presents the most intriguing persona, as someone with the most acting experience but the least confidence. Consequently, the younger actresses talk less, perhaps because of the heaily honorific nature of Korean society.

Made a few years ago when such exercises were more frequently explored, the film is an account of a photoshoot which paired six of Korea’s well known actresses for Korean Vogue. A seventh actress – Jeon Do-yeon – was unable to be in the photoshoot due to a pregnancy, leaving us to imagine what the film might have been like with her presence.

Christmas Eve, Korea.

Six of South Korea’s most famous TV and Film actresses have been chosen for a photoshoot for Vogue Korea.It’s the day of the photoshoot. An anxious elderly actress (Yoon Yo-jeong) arrives wearing a heavy fur coat (a reminder of old-style glamour) and apologises for being late. She is both extremely self-possesed and lacking esteem, a contradiction that makes sense when actresses must think about their age and appearance constantly whilst also wanting to be respected for their acting ability. She keeps her fur coat on throughout.

But she needn’t have worried, as she is the first to arrive and must come up with an excuse to why she is so early. Arriving soon after is Choi Ji-woo. Some how some fans from Japan have heard that she is attending the shoot and ask her for autographs in the parking lot. It’s a reminder that no matter where celebrities go, they can never escape fame or be anonymous. Later on, a younger actress remarks that she can no longer go to markets because she is always recongnised; sets are the one place where she can be herself bewcasue she can be around professionals.

Min-hee, looking adorable in her early twenties comes fresh from shooting another film, still jey-lagged but still looking fully made-up, every inch the glamourous movie star.

The other actress who is in her fifties, Lee Mi sook, is similarly concerned with aging. In a reminder of how the industry favours youth, the younger actresses are given better treatment than the women over forty.

Kim Ok Bin, who was barely in her twenties at the time is now more established, has perhaps the most stage presence.When do actresses stop playing the role they have been given and become themselves? It’s something I thought about as I watched the film. As though aware of the need to perform for the camera, they are constantly aware of the need to look their best, with perfect hair and make up.

Yet as the film progresses this mask of fame is stripped away to reveal the women behind the fame. I was engrossed as the film carried on, wondering if the camera crew would be able to keep the increasingly agitated group of women together long enough.

As Christmas eve approaches,  the women are moved by a snowfall, which they watch longingly. Then they start to drink the champagne that has been provided for them. More truths emerge. The two older actresses talk about being divorced, whilst the younger ones look on, unaware of what to say. As they drink more the conversation becomes freer.

“You always pay for it. Nothing’s free”. I wondered about this. we think of actresses as privileged because they seem to have everything they want. I guess it means that even when an actress does well, she suffers in some way Yet when we watch a film or read interviews we are surprised that they are normal people like us. A critic took issue with the fact that the film cannot reveal anything about the actresses because they spend most of the time talking about themselves. Yet the criticism is unfounded. How often in life have we found ourselved unsure of what to say in a particular situation, or only able to speak in clichés? The film is far more realistic as a result of the seemingly humdrum conversations that these women have

The film, which takes place in the most superficial settings, a fashion magazine photoshoot, manages to say more about the human condition than most serious movies twice the length. Whilst a lot must have been left out,  the director has still included some stimulating stuff.

Filming with a hand-held camera allows him to move in close without interfering with the intimate situations. The dialogue – whether entirely scripted or improvised – is full of subtle revelations about the power between men and women. It’s all the more remarkable in Korea to hear these women talk frankly about these subjects. The final scene allows the actresses to reach a feeling of closure, shaking off the rules imposed on them by a male-dominated society and a film industry that measures their worth entirely on their image.

In a nutshell: a seemingly lightweight film is actually a sharp look at the effect of fame and the culture of film acting. When was the last time you watched a film with an all-female cast like this? A must-see for fans of Korean cinema, and cinema in general for that matter.

Produce 48 – New Korean competition show

“Produce 48” is the latest iteration of Korean competition programs which in the past have given us Wanna One and I.O.I. “Produce 48” is a  collaboration between Mnet and Japanese producer Yasushi Akimoto.

The show has recruited ninety-six female trainees from music companies in Japan and South Korea. They are competing to become part of the final idol group, which will be active for two and a half years.

From the preview clips, it’s clear that there will be as much focus on the girl’s interactions with each other as on their musical talent. Episode 1 introduces the girls, many of whom are from some of the most famous music companies such as YG and Starship. Many of the Japanese girls come from the section group AKB48 and it was interesting to note the differences in appearance between the Korean and Japanese singers.

While there was no music, the tension came from watching the girls reacting to each successive incoming talent, wondering who would take the chair marked ‘Number 1.’ I.O.I. member Jeon So-mi and Wanna One member Kang Daniel participated in the show’s first taping.

The show aims to create a ‘Global Idol Group’ and the public will have the chance to select their favourite singers when it comes to the elimination rounds.  The show has received impressive ratings so far and looks likely to be one of the most popular Korean TV hits this year, with the show’s contestants’ names becoming popular keywords online.

Although music shows aren’t normally my thing, it will be interesting to watch these beautiful women perform and talk about their lives.

“Produce 48” airs every Friday on Mnet at 11pm.

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Do You Hear What I Hear? Fresh Off The Boat Episode 10 Season 4

Episode rating: ***

Fresh off the Boat has always been ‘freshest’ when it covers the holidays, whether looking at how the Huangs tried to celebrate Chinese New Year in Florida, or whenever Louis tries to impress his sons with his hilarious outfits on Halloween.


Although this episode doesn’t go for the same meta-references as the Christmas Carol/Home Alone pastiche of last year’s Christmas special, there‘s enough here to melt the heart of even the coldest Scrooge.

There’s a pre-credit sequence which zooms in on Jessica Town (the -scale model of a traditional Victorian Christmas town from the second season – Continuity!)) – and then we’re pulled right up to present day 1997, with the mention of Titanic.  Louis has always been a Leo fan “ever since Gilbert Grape” and he’s so excited about the upcoming release that he pens “Titanic” on the Town’s Playhouse building.

Jessica, who acts a little too perfectly in this episode, accuses someone of bringing store bought to a cookie sale and tries to impose her vocal training on the town’s out-of tune singers.

Assistance comes in the form of Deidre’s friend Holly (guest star Paula Abdul), who teaches performance and movement (“maybe she can make some figgy pudding out of some rotten fruit”).

There are more jokes about Titanic, especially when Emery tells Louis he is reading a book about the Titanic and he doesn’t want to spoil the ending.  But the episode wants to get on with the subplot, and particularly the story involving Nicole’s coming out from episode 4.

Now that we are on board with the sitcom’s first gay character, we get to see Nicole attempt to approach a girl she likes for the first time.  That links nicely with the nineties craze of coffee bars. Thanks to Friends and Frasier, they were everywhere in the nineties. Nicole’s love match is Jessie, (she doesn’t take any guff from machines) tough and feisty, just the kind of girl we can see Honey being attracted to. The only thing is, Honey is still not sure how to ask someone out. But as Jessie has started to write a smiley-face instead of the ‘O’ in Nicole, she is sure that she is interested. The idea of Eddie coaching Nicole in love is unlikely, but cute, and it shows how much he has matured.

Eddie is so excited about having coffee with Nicole that he blows Louis off – I’m thinking of having mine iced. I like the idea of having the show use a coffee shop for Nicole’s introduction to dating, even if the idea of youngsters meeting and drinking coffee seemed a little far-fetched.  But on the other hand, the episode got funnier the more coffee the kids drank. I didn’t think much of Hudson Yang at first but ever since season 3 he has really grown into the role, assuming a greater confidence, it’s less of a stretch to see him growing up to be the badass Eddie Huang, the show’s creator (although he has distanced himself from the show saying it has watered down his childhood).

They really go with the Titanic theme (it was the most anticipated film of the year and went on to be the biggest) – to miss it would be unthinkable as Louis puns. It’s surprising that no-one else in the family is excited about seeing it.

But just so that Louis does not have to watch the film alone, we get Honey, overly emotional next door neighbor and no stranger to vicarious tragedy (remember the Diana episode).  They visit the cinema together because Marvin can’t watch a ship go down in public) and he promises not to let him know they are seeing it.

The auditions start for the choir and it turns out that Evan can sing, no, he can really sing. Wow, the show never prepared us for this. Total Eclipse of the Heart is such a good song for him too. But when Jessica starts singing My Heart Will Go On, it’s completely wrong. Not only is it doubtful that she would have got to to learn this song so well with the movie being so new, it’s far too saccharine for Jessica to want to sing at all. SO why have they put this in here? It’s a shame, because there are other songs she could have sung much better. First bad mistake of the episode.

So its no surprise that Holly doesn’t choose her for the carol group, especially since it was Jessica who said that the human eye can only process six people on a doorstep.

Uh-oh, Marvin has found a ticket stub, and a pack of Goobers, and now he suspects something is going on. It’s time to go on a stakeout. He usually says some funny, politically incorrect things but not really this time. He’s in more of a serious mood. Yet Honey and Louis want to watch Titanic a second time, so they choose disguises and Jessica’s ridiculous Lao Ban Santa costume gets another outing.

There are more costumes for the Carolers, with Evan as a very cute David Copperfield (the set designer has a massive Dickens fetish) and the assorted choir wearing ribbons and bonnets.

Back to Greenie’s coffee house, and Eddie’s drank enough coffee to give Nicole the best pick-up line to write on her coffee cup. The guys are drinking disposable cups (even though they would probably have the original ceramic mugs, I’m letting this detail slide). ”Hi Girl, you gay. Do you like instruments? Holler at me.” So it’s not the most romantic. But as Emery points out, it’s a haiku. So when Nicole bottles it, and gives the server her coffee order instead of the cup with the message, she thinks she’s missed her chance. Then Allison points out something on the mug and it’s a phone number. Look out for this actress appearing in subsequent episodes from now on.

What else happens? Marvin finds Honey and Louis at the cinema dressed in their disguises and decides it must be a great movie, and he agrees to see it with them. Jessica axes Holly, and then loses the rest of the choir, who feel that Jessica does not have enough Christmas spirit. The show has a good surprise in the form of Marvin’s Christmas present and a nice closing scene with a group carol in front of the lawn.

Not the strongest episode they have done, but enough to maintain interest, especially the kids in the coffee shop.

Nineties reference: apart from obvious Titanic mentions, there’s only Eddie’s reference to Friends “I feel like the show Friends makes more sense now.”

Chinese-ness: C-. The cast love Christmas like true Americans and don’t mention anything about their Chinese traditions.

Jessica’s meanness – A+. Firing Holly was petty and she’s not funny in this episode for it to be endearing.