Wednesday, February 1, 2012

first impression: Dream High 2 (Korean)

The all too hyped up sequel to 2011's cracktastic smash hit, Dream High has finally come to the little screen (and I'm not kidding when I say little, since streaming's all I got and I'm not fond of the 'expand screen' option). But anyway, very looked forward to and as far as I can see, at the very least, the sequel isn't trying to reproduce Dream High verbatim; it's got its own little twist to it in a newly fashioned fictional world where high school age Idols have suddenly been given a curfew of 10 PM (yes, 10:00 PM, which I find amusing since citywide curfew where I live for high school students had always been 11 PM and now it's midnight), and we’re watching the happenings OF high school aged idols rather than a few nobody’s working to make their first debut as an idol. This is not to say that there aren't the regular high school students studying at Kirin to become idols in the future. Unfortunately, Kirin Arts School has seen better days.

The opening scene of Dream High 2 is already a winner, giving us the extremely anticipated Kim Soo Hyun cameo, reprising his role as Song Sam Dong in Dream High's ending scene coupled with his famed song Dreaming playing softly in the background... only, when Jiyeon is the girl who rushes to the bus as Hye Mi, I'm sure everyone was anticipating some sort of twist to this particular scene. And sure enough, a director off-screen in the series yells "Cut" and then commences to berate Jiyeon's character for being an idol who can't act: "Is it that hard to get a tear?" The scene is a re-enactment telling (possibly a drama or a movie) of either Sam Dong or the collective Dream High team and their glory is what I'm guessing from the dropped script on the ground with the words "Dream High" on it.

And then everyone, Kim Soo Hyun's character included, all look awkward and tired. Kim Soo Hyun very adorably just leans against the bus window with a bored looking face and that is the last we get to see of him (cries).

Following, it seems that not only the high school kids, but their agents and the people around them are now suffering from the new 10 PM curfew. Park Kahi of girl group After School makes her debut rather smoothly as Lee Kang Chul's (Kim Jung Tae) partner in the agency OZ. Soon after, we start being introduced to our main players of Dream High 2, one after another, starting with the rest of the ficiton girl group HershE, comprised of Jiyeon as Ri-an, Hyorin (from Sistar) as Nana, and Ailee as Ailee. We only really get to see Ri-an in character form with dialogue and whatnot, but HershE performs onstage, so we get to see glimpses of the other two girls doing their singing and dancing thing too. The boy group counter to them is named Eden, a two-man beast-idol group containing the likes of JB as JB and Park Seo Joon as Shi Woo (both boys are rookie actors).

And yes, I've noticed that we aren't bothering to be very creative with fictional names, but I'm going to overlook that for the fact that it probably won't matter anyway as long as the story line lives up to all the hyped glory that's been going on for the past two months.

Finally, enter Kang Sora as Shin Hye Sung and Jung Jin Woon (of 2AM) as Jin Yoo Jin, two students of Kirin who are undoubtedly our main female and male leads, neither of which have debuted and so are simply students of the high school. Hye Sung starts off as just a face in the crowd of fans all waiting on the more popular idol boy group, Eden. When HershE steps onto the stage, of course, we get our standard "fangirl crazies" with the booing and the jeering and the "get off the stage!" heckling. HershE isn’t without their own following of fans, though, and so despite the outraged fangirls, there is still cheering and hooting for the three idol girls.

As the resident main female lead, Hye Sung is less of a frightening fangirl and merely looks confused and disappointed (and is it a little too delirious of me to connect that she has the same name as Go Hye Mi's little sister even if the family name is different?). One thing about Hye Sung is for certain, however, and that’s the fact that we readily recognize her as the female protagonist who has a good heart; readily relatable, is what I’m saying, despite the fact that her character description is standard rom-com female. Also note: Hye Sung has shown that she cannot carry a tune to save her life, which I’m very sure will be addressed and she’ll end up with some kind of awesome entertaining talent by series’ end.

On yet another side note, one thing I DO find amusing about Hye Sung is her little "Shrine to JB" set-up in her dorm room. She might be a bumbling idiot with no talent, but she reeks of true-to-form fangirl antics. At the very least, we aren't too proud of a series to keep Kang Sora looking spick and span, pretty and cool at all times. The comedic timing is just as Dream High had been; quirky and innocent fun and Kang Sora pulls it off quite well. The scene where Yang Jin Man dumps a bucket of water onto Hye Sung wherein there is no fire in her dorm room save for the small roast in a glass bowl was noteworthy. And then to top it off, Yoo Jin takes a picture with an insipid grin on his face.

Coming to him, Jin Yoo Jin makes his entrance as a street performer, simultaneously cutting through scenes of Eden's performance. It seems he is quite loved; of course, he has the scent of a delinquent or a lazy troublemaker, as he tries to wriggle his way out of getting in trouble due to missing curfew (and his street band mates also don’t seem to know that he’s a minor, so when the secret is out, he gets cut from their team). Following, he sneaks into the school dorms right after Hye Sung. In the morning, he awakens in Yang Jin Man (Park Jin Young's reprised role)'s room as if it was the most normal occurrence. Yoo Jin, it seems, is a genius singer songwriter, performing on the streets by night and selling his music to students in need for their assignments by day. And so in contrast to Hye Sung, he's not too fond of the Top Dog idols from their school. However, his dislike for idols goes much deeper than just some petty rivalry, because this guy really just DOESN’T like the idea of young teen idols since he believes that being popular and well-known means that there is no honest love for music. He’s a bit pretentious, merely hating the popular because it is popular and claiming that a real musician shouldn’t rely on packaging and flashy lights to be a real musician. But it’s not like he doesn’t have his points, so while he’s a bit of an asshole, it’s not like he’s making things up for his own benefit.

As must have been theorized as the case, Hye Sung and Yoo Jin are more than likely the resident underdogs of Dream HIgh 2. Hye Sung is modeled after the likes of a bumbling fangirl idiot (which makes me wonder how she got into Kirin Arts School, until we realize that Kirin doesn't seem to be as fabulous as it had been in the first series). I haven't quite grasped Yoo Jin's personality yet, but I have a few "bumbling cheery idiot girl meets cool and cold, arrogant prince charming" vibes to this love line. I hope to any god in the universe that this isn't the case, and if it IS, I hope that the relations are done tastefully at least.

Because despite the fact that the entire net-world had misgivings (and criticisms) about Suzy's acting and Go Hye Mi's character and personality, I found that I actually really liked the character as a person. Sure, she started off as a Class A, arrogant bi-atch, but the saving grace of Go Hye Mi was that she developed throughout the series and she also had the vocal talents to BE an arrogant snob AND she wasn’t an idiot. Also, I always thought that she was quite resourceful and witty to boot, even if she IS quite the robot in terms of emotions and friendships.

I'm not too fond of the bumbling nice girl, but since Kang Sora is part of the acting class rather than the idol class, I'm hoping it'll show as the series progresses. So far, all I'm seeing is "stuttering, bumbling, nervous bag of wreckage who has a crush on a top star" for Shin Hye Sung. Her comedic timing is great and Kang Sora does quite well, but unless something else happens with her character, I might be inclined to check out of the underdog team early. At the very least, Jin Yoon Jin is keeping me interested despite his asshole-ery (if that were a word).

And needless to say, the barrage of side character students are also all rather eye-catching as well (in terms of looks as well as acting). Jung Ui Bong (played by rookie actor Jr. of JYP Entertainment) is the back-up dancer for Eden who got cut from the team because he was performing on stage when Eden rebelliousy broke curfew; I'm already wondering whether or not he'll be having anymore screen time and since he seems to be Yoo Jin's best friend, I'm sure we'll be seeing more of him. And then there's Park Soon Dong who is quite amusing in her role as Hye Sung's best friend; I'm hoping to see more of her. Lastly there's another support, a singer-guitar strummer named Park Hong Joo who initiates the "random song performance" quota for Dream High 2 by singing SNDS's "Genie" (as a tribute to the first Dream High and one of the most memorable scenes, maybe?)

And as I had thought of the adults in Dream High, I'm not too intent on caring for the adults of Dream High 2 either

I'm enjoying what Dream High 2 is giving out so far. There's no doubting that we will all be doing a bit of compare and contrast here and there (the single disadvantage to ALL sequels, whether or not the same cast is in it and whether or not the story is the same). I just hope that Dream High 2 can show up with its own individual flair and at least stand out as its own individual series separate from Dream High with references. If it tries too hard to outshine its predecessor, I'm almost afraid it might overdo things.

On a more random aside, Jiyeon's character Ri-an turned out different than what I was expecting. I had totally been expecting her to be the stuck-up, cool and antagonistic type of entertainer with high ambitions. I was expecting Yoon Baek Hee v2.0, (yes, mostly because of the way she was set-up in the poster shots, and also because of the fact that she and Eunjung are both from T-ara). So now I know not to judge a character role so quickly based on my own knowledge of standard storyline tropes. Ri-an gave a surprising "Oh my god, I'm so glad I don't have to do anymore idol activities anymore thanks to you guys breaking curfew and ruining it for the agency!" giddy squeal because she'd been so exhausted from being overworked. Her personality is quite adorable from that simple scene wherein she tries to act with a plastic sword, but fails miserably, even being made fun of by fellow agency co-idol JB (which is only amusing to me since from what I've seen so far Jiyeon seems to have a better range of acting skill than JB does). And then she actually thanks the two boys of Eden for causing trouble and ceasing all activities for the young minor idol groups.

That was totally unexepected. I don't want to judge too quickly, but I have a feeling I won't be disappointed with Jiyeon. We’re focusing more on Hye Sung, Yoon Jin, and JB right now as they seem to be at the heart of the impending conflict, but I hope we get to see more of Ri-an in coming episodes too.

In another set of general thoughts about Dream High 2: It seems that we are already touching upon a lot of more, shall I say "reaslitic" subjects of groups and idols working together. Eden are two boys who DO NOT get along with each other, and while we always see news of one group member of a popular band choosing to release a solo album, we are also usually given the disclaimer by them that they are not going solo and that the group is still together with no plans for disbanding. Here on the other hand, JB is all for going solo and ready to ditch his lazy, irresponsible partner so that he can move more smoothly into the entertainment world without someone holding him back. We can already see a rift pulling up quickly, setting up a nice little story arc to work with in the future.

What I'm curious about is what Hye Sung's relationship will end up being as connected to Ri-an, Yoo Jin, as well as our Eden boys. I'm also interested in seeing whether or not another cutesie side couple will appear to rival the lovely "Milk Couple" Jason and Pil Suk from the first Dream High's fame. And speaking of Pil Suk, IU makes a short appearance already as the more senior student from Kirin signing an autograph for Hye Sung, reprising her role as Pil Suk (I assume).

As is already a "tradition" with Dream High, this makes us all wonder how many more celebrity cameos we'll be seeing. I DO appreciate that they don't draw the cameos out and merely let a famous face show up for a whole of thirty seconds or so just for fun.

On a final note, as the episode wraps up, it seems like we're getting a shadow of the original Dream High crosses over with God of Study. Kirin Arts School has gone to the crappers after a switch of principals, apparently, and now OZ Agency's president might be stepping in to help revive things? High School age idols are being transferred to Kirin Arts School left and right due to that mandatory 20 hours that Kirin is exempt from, and we're about to have a clash of the Top Dog Idols versus the Underdog Commoners. It looks like a lot of fun is about to be had, and we even have a high school dorm included in the mix. Excuse me while I get excited, because dorm-living totally hits my scale of favorite story-line elements. It’s a more realistic version of the “Forced Living Arrangements” trope and I love, more than anything, watching a bunch of kids interacting with each other while living together (ALSO one of the winning points in some series and stories I’ve been attached to in the past).

And it looks like we've got our resident hostile rivalry brought about; both boys are equally arrogant and have their own ideals about talent and music. It's a gender role reversal from Dream High, because now the two main boys are the ones at each other's throats rather than the girls (as was the case in the first Dream High). The difference is that I feel that this rivalry won't be as deeply moving as the rivalry/friendship that Baek Hee and Hye Mi had had going on. Yoo Jin believes that idols are just images and pretty faces with no talent (pretentious prat), while JB is adamant to show that he's the one with talent because he's the famous one (arrogant ass). So it's a battle of ego versus ego, with one unfounded ideal versus another.

On the other hand, the rivalry between Hye Mi and Baek Hee had been more in-depth of personal emotion, a need for self-worth to be acknowledged, and a matter of realizing better human character. Baek Hee lived and fed her ambition and drive off of the need to be recognized and be better than Hye Mi; Hye Mi developed her personality around the fact that she's always believed she was the best. And in the end, between these two girls and the rest of the six of Dream High, we ended up building a very warm, close-knit friendship who check and balance each other really well. Even if the story line of Dream High 1 was stock promotional tact for K-pop, it still had a lot of depth and insight and the characters still had a lot of heart that drew us all into their lives.

So I'm catering to the fact that we'll hopefully be able to capture that same attractiveness in Dream High 2. However, I'm willing to overlook the fact that you can't find another group of six "check and balance" friends like Dream High 1 had built if Dream High 2 manages to throw out a storyline with more substance. Unfortunately, so far I'm not quite buying the rivalries and I'm also not quite sure where the build-up is supposed to be taking us.

As far as acting goes, Kang Sora is pretty much showing up her fellow idol and rookie actor co-stars, but it doesn’t seem as if she would be able to be on par with Kim Soo Hyun’s glamor of acting status from Dream High 1 (and yes, I know it’s unfair to make that comparison, but I'm still waiting to see how it turns out). JB is slowly proving that rookie stars really AREN’T cut out to be in a major role as their first project, being weaker even than I had expected. I was expecting "idol"- level status since both JB and Park Seo Joon are probably in the makings of becoming an idol soon as recruits from JYP. And we all saw how the idols managed in Dream High 1 with Taecyeon and Wooyoung (even though there was still a bit of depth in Taecyeon's acting from time to time). While watching JB’s performance, I haven’t quite figured out how I’m supposed to be feeling for this guy. Jung Jin Woon as Jin Yoon Jin is faring a whole lot better, which would probably make it easier to follow the main conflict if I can get passed JB’s acting. At the very least, the love line between the two main leads will be much more bearable and hopefully JB’s act will pull itself up gradually.

On an aside about the love lines in Dream High 1, while Kim Soo Hyun managed to pull Suzy into character, when we put Suzy and Taecyeon together, it got a little frustrating. And I was really only frustrated because both characters and both situations were written VERY well, but the emotion that went in with the acting was NOT felt. And THAT’s why I was so frustrated with those two, if only because I wished they had better acting skills (I never wished for better actors because it would feel wrong, but I just wanted those two to pull it up a notch so that I could feel like I was watching a romance develop rather than watching someone reading a book about a romance). But anyway... I digress (as I always do).

Nonetheless, I'm sure something will come of all of this soon as Dream High 1 had taken its own sweet time building up the story in its first episode (although by episode's end, I was already hooked). By episode’s end of Dream High 2, I can't say that I'm as hooked as I should be, but I AM curious and I am definitely hooked to the hype of the Dream High franchise anyway. I'm fully planning to do my best not to do too much comparing with the grandeur of the predecessor and just enjoy the hopeful crack-like fun of the Dream High franchise. At the very least, good music will check itself in and I'll start to grow accustomed to the faces (since none of the boys seem as appealing to me as Taecyeon and Kim Soo Hyun did immediately from the first season of Dream High; I'm not saying that they're not good looking... but I'm just saying that I'm not interested in The Pretty this time around).

As a hindsight thought, I had honestly NOT been on the Dream High bus until news about Kim Soo Hyun's newest project The Moon That Embraces the Sun began promoting and I got interested. But once I boarded that ride, it was like one of the most interestingly, surprisingly addictive trips I've taken in a long time. So my hope is that Dream High 2 can prove the same type of hook and feeling.


And here's Sam Dong again!!

Related articles:
thoughts: Dream High 2 -- first impression follow-up


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