When manga comes alive

I started my Tamra rewatch a couple of months ago, and left it on hiatus.  I returned to finish it today and let's just say I've been spending the last hour scouring soompi for pictures like I'm a teenager again.

Tamra Island is a live-action adaptation of a manhwa of the same name (Tamraneun Doda).  I haven't read the manhwa source but I love love love the drama.  It starts out super awkward and corny that I was almost embarrassed watching it.  But it quickly shapes into a fun and heartwarming journey.

At first glance, Tamra Island reeks of an idol drama.  Silly plot and sillier acting.  Afterall, what can one expect from a fusion sageuk?  If it ain’t the real thing, it ain’t worth respecting right?  But then, I'm not a fan of pure sageuk to begin with.  I grew up loving wuxia series which are closer to Tamra in spirit anyway.  Plot-wise, it’s not nearly as intricate and thoughtful when it deals with court intrigues.  But Tamra shines when it covers human emotions and human relationships.  There is a web of touching familial bonds, friendship, and romance in Tamra, with the most unexpected one being between the hero and the heroine’s mother.  Like the drama itself, their relationship is comically rowdy at times, quiet and poignant at others.  The acting is also surprisingly heartfelt coming from a young cast of newcomers (like Spring Waltz!).  Add some beautiful cinematography and appropriately cued music and you’ve found yourself a gem.

First, we meet William and Yann.  William’s a British aristocrat who’s running away from home (and from a fiance) to find treasures from the far East.  Yann is his mysterious Japanese turned Dutch sailor friend.  They get shipwrecked on their trip and end up on Tamra Island, Korea instead of their original destination Nagasaki, Japan.  When the story takes us to Tamra, we then meet the haughty banished nobleman Park Kyu and the bumbling diver native Jang Beojin.  Put all of them together and you get unlikely friendships plus some funny culture shocks on the side.

Tamra also offers up a very successful love triangle.  Better than 99% of kdramas I’ve seen.  I say this because they make rooting for both guys a viable option.  The road to the final result also never takes a sudden turn.  This affair of the heart dies and blooms naturally along with each character's personal growth.  When everything shakes out, I'm left grieving for what-was but also thrilled for what-is.

First, there’s William.  He is Beojin’s best friend, her kindred spirit, and her first love.  They have a mutual understanding of feeling trapped and wanting to flee from their environment; each not happy with the life they were born into.  So when they meet each other, one thinks the other is a gift from God.  That’s how much they treasure one another.  And then they do these things that nobody does in kdrama-land like verbally expressing how much they care for the other person and holding hands skipping away (no, like literally).  It’s hard to root against them when everything they had were so pure and innocent.  They remind me of how loving someone used to be when we were younger.  Simple and uncalculative.

So for the entire length of the drama, I sat hurting for this guy:

Unlike William, Park Kyu couldn’t be more different from Beojin despite being her countryman.  He’s older and wiser, serious in work as well as life.  For him, there are laws to abide and traditions to uphold.  But the great thing about Park Kyu is that he understands her by learning to look from her perspective.  Too bad all she ever thinks and talks about is the other guy.  No matter what Park Kyu does, he can’t compete with first love.  So silently he protects her, and he protects the other guy in his effort of protecting her… and it’s sort of a lose-win situation for us viewers because although it’s awfully sad, we get tons of these yummy lovelorn looks from him:

oh, and sometimes we get this look too, when there are twinkles in his eyes because he decides she makes him happy regardless:

So excuse me while I go off the rail here and just spazz about Park Kyu for the rest of this post.  He's probably the ideal hero from my wuxia fantasy as a child.  Putting aside the obvious tall, dashing, handsome criteria, he hits my ultimate fancy of a guy who's both well-versed in books and swords, PLUS being an undercover bigshot.  Always dressed in elegant garments (I have a thing for white robes, flutes, and fans apparently), he's seen burning time away by burying his head in books as the Banished One.  But he's always snooping around, adding the two's together that nobody else had bothered to see.  Then you find out he also wields a mean sword and can kick some baddies ass.  So when the Royal Inspector badge makes its appearance, I'm all but a goner.  Here's the Chang Won (狀元 – valedictorian) from Sungkyunkwan, classmate to the Crown Prince.  Here's the secret inspector sent personally by his Majesty the King.  Here's the #1 legend in Hanyang, the one and only Park Kyu.
He kinda makes the entire drama worth it by himself, but trust me when I say Tamra Island is more than just my Kyu.  Go check it out if you haven't (it's old… but I swear it needs a larger legion of fans) and I'll occupy myself with ogling at PK pics that I nabbed online.

BTW… totally off topic now… but one of the reasons I felt attached to Meng Jiu in Da Mo Yao is because I sorta pictured him looking like PK.  Totally different personality of course, but the descriptions for his appearance always involve garments of cool clean hues like white or blue, which is what PK wears all the time >_< and they both give off an elegant scholarly vibe.  Tell me this doesn't scream 9th Ye to you:

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