Dreaming and working towards a better future

“Follow your dreams” is something we all heard many times before. A simple catchphrase, yet a very general and basic life advice. To a certain extent, it is true. What we dream of is doing something that makes us happy and content. But in many cases, our dream is so general or so far away from our current life that it becomes a condition for happiness. “If I only can do X, I’ll be happy”

Which results in people only dreaming and not taking actual steps to get closer to their goal. Lofty goals are hard to reach because they are either far away; or taking a first step is difficult because you don’t know where to begin. Not taking the element of luck into account or more importantly: working hard to get closer to the desired goal. In this context, you are the underdog. No one expects you to succeed, let alone make any decent progress towards your dream. But it is not impossible. Let me tell you about a group of people that made history. Let’s talk about the Korean film Dream.

Underdog stories

Dream is an underdog story. While we might associate an underdog story with sports films like Cool Runnings and Rocky; there are other well-known films like Die Hard and Shawshank Redemption which have underdog protagonists. Underdog stories are not limited to sports; yet sports provide an easy framework for an underdog story. This is, in my opinion, part of the reason why people love them. As a viewer, I want to root for the underdog. They have to beat the antagonist against all odds in a specific situation bound by a specific ruleset.

In the case of Dream we follow the South-Korean Homeless football team on their way to their first Homeless World Cup. Dream is a recreation of the real-life events of 2010. The film states that the team’s participation had a great influence on the status of homeless people in South-Korea. Because this is an adaptation of the original story, it’s even more important to talk about the dreams that are related to these underdog stories. 

In general terms: If the protagonist doesn’t have a dream or wish that the viewer can relate to, it’s hard to be captivated by the story. Dream’s protagonists have goals but ‌not all are as relatable. The most endearing of the bunch is the player (Hyo-Bong) who wants to show that he can take care of himself so his ex-wife allows him to spend time with his daughter. And the spare moments we see him spent with his daughter are cute and well portrayed. It certainly is a lot more relatable than the football star (Hong-Dae) who’s fallen from grace and wants to regain favor from the public. Especially since he is the one that the film opens on and closes with. While his arrogance slowly disappears when he warms to the team; the resolution to his story arc is in my opinion sub-par to the rest and does not contribute much to the story as a whole. As such, it leaves a strange aftertaste. I would’ve ended his arc in a different way1.


The second part of a great underdog story is opposition. Rocky needs to defeat Apollo Creed in order to reach his goal. Creed is an adversary so formidable that it is very unlikely that Rocky has a chance despite intensive training. This is also where the underdog story can shine. By showing glimmers of hope through the looming shadow of defeat. Can the protagonist achieve something which makes them proud?

In my opinion, Dream falls a little flat in completely setting the stage for the World Cup. Due to the limited runtime, the story is rushed in some places. Rushed because there are too many players of note on the board. There is the coach, the documentary maker, the team manager and all of the players. They all have backstories which are in different ways important, yet cannot fully be explored due to time constraints. What we see is heartwarming, but I’m not fully invested. I don’t feel like the stakes are high enough. Not until that one match against Germany. Luckily the comedy and drama working towards the World Cup are fun to watch; but I think in films like these a large cast like this one is detrimental to the depth of the characters and how well the story is handled.

Adaptation and tenacity

The last important part of underdog stories is the adaptability en tenacity of the underdog. More often than not underdogs have exotic backgrounds which gives them an edge. In the case of Dream, the players are very tenacious. Even when the opponents are better in football on every level, the South-Koreans do not quit. When they stumble or fall, they get back on their feet. This has become part of their nature due to the social status they hold in their home country. Even when the majority of society see them as a different kind of people they believe in themselves. A few people worked very hard to get them to the World Cup and the players all have things to fight for. It’s this tenacity that gives them an edge in the games; and it’s this tenacity which makes the game against Germany the most exciting part of the film.

Follow your dream

Having a dream is a good thing. Especially when your dream makes the lives of  other people better. The biggest hero of Dream is in my opinion the Big Issue manager, whom we rarely see on camera. He made sure the team could go to the World Cup and because of his (initial) actions, the social status of homeless people changed in South-Korea. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have such an impact? 

So whatever your dream is; work towards it. Break it down in smaller steps and bring it to life with the tenacity of an underdog. 


  1. My preferred ending (1rst draft): After the cut that the team received the award, cut to the waiting hall of the media team. Play out that scene as it currently is in the film and jump to the title screen: Dream!
    Next: Show the sweet goodbyes of the father and daughter, followed by the passing daughter and granddaughter who visit the old man in his new house. This can be done by having the girl pass by in the background to ease the viewer to the new scene.
    Then show the text on how the team’s achievement impacted the status of homeless people in the country.
    After this: Cut to Hong-Dae who walking into the football stadium for training. He is on the phone with the Big Issue manager. They are talking about him staying on as coach for the next Homeless World Cup. There is only one condition: he can only give shirts to Beom-Soo’s girlfriend through him. Hong-Dae says he’ll think about it. He ends the call and we quickly cut to Beom-Soo eating with his girlfriend. She shares her food and calls him football player.
    Cut back to Hong-Dae who smirks and enters the dressing room where people start to cheer for him.

Sources and further reading

Underdog films on IMBD.

Best underdog films according to screenrant

Underdogs explained on Wikipedia and TV Tropes

On the film Dream:

MyDramaList page

Article explaining the background of the film

Homeless World Cup:

South Korea Page;

2010 tournament page

corresponding news article

The cause and effect of Giri/Haji

Have you ever dropped a stone in a pond and watched the tiny waves circle out until they crash at the edge? This is the ripple effect. Where one action over time has such a large impact on an entire community that the origin cannot be denied. Like our stone, which sank to the bottom, we cannot undo the initial action. But we can take action to prevent a repeating situation in the future. Since the most important metric is time, it sometimes is hard to find the root cause of the effects you are witnessing or experiencing.

When you’re negatively impacted by the effects, you are more likely to take a counter action versus the situation where the effects on your life are negligible. Today I’m looking at the British-Japanese co-production Giri/Haji. Where one man’s action leads to the disruption of multiple families and even the power balance of an entire city. 


In Giri/Haji we follow Tokyo police detective Kenzo Mori. He is sent to London to investigate the murder of a Yakuza member. The man in London was murdered with the sword of the biggest Yakuza boss of Tokyo, yet not by his hand or instruction. The sword was stolen from boss Fukuhara by Kenzo’s brother, Yuto. Yuto was part of Fukuhara’s gang. Fukuhara and Kenzo’s superior suspect that Yuto is the killer but there is one problem: Everybody thinks Yuto is dead…

Left without choice, Kenzo travels to London to search for his brother. He leaves his father, whose health is failing, and his disobedient daughter in the care of his wife. His goal is to find Yuto and prevent a war between the Yakuza families. The question is if Kenzo can fulfill his duty or if the shame of past events will catch up to him.

Spoilers ahead!

Ticking clocks

In the initial episodes of Giri/Haji we get the urgency of the matter. If Kenzo cannot resolve the situation soon there will be a Yakuza war in Tokyo. One that will lead to many victims, including Kenzo’s own family. The show plays with multiple story/plotlines to great effect. Especially in the initial episodes there is this feeling of a ticking clock which impacts the decisions that Kenzo makes. He is on edge because of the situation in his family and the fact that his brother still may be alive.

Thus Kenzo makes some choices that are not very smart. Yet they are understandable for a man in his situation. Alone in an unknown city and another culture. Where you cannot rely on things that you know. And where, over time, old shameful memories come back. 


I like how the show plays with consequences. Like Fukuhara says: “Someone threw a stone in a pond a long way away, and we’re only just feeling the ripples.”

While Fukuhara refers to the killing of the Yakuza in London with his stolen sword, there is a much earlier decision which set all this in motion. It is arguably Yuto’s decision to become a Yakuza, but given his nature that wouldn’t be out of the ordinary. I’m referring to the one very clear moment in Yuto’s storyline that set him on this path. Namely, the moment when Jiro commands Yuto to pick up Fukuhara’s daughter, Eiko. Jiro thinks he’s too important to be a mere bodyguard and chauffeur, while Yuto wants to prove himself by fulfilling this responsible task. The eager and charming Yuto is undoubtedly a breath of fresh air for Eiko and they fall in love. 

This single moment has such an impact on the other characters that it cannot be denied. While it initially doesn’t seem like much, it causes a disruption with all the other characters. In order to spend more time with Eiko Yuot becomes more invested in the Fukuhara Yakuza family. Which as a consequence marks him as the black sheep of the Mori family.

On the other side there is boss Fukuhara, who does not want his daughter to marry a Yakuza. His decision to remove Yuto from the picture leads to a dissatisfied daughter; a stolen family heirloom (the sword); and eventually his death and the fall of his family.

“Every tiny split second decision we make can potentially have a profound effect on everyone around us.” 

Sarah Weitzmann

Finding family

In Giri/Haji there is a straight followup between events which all relate to the themes of family and responsibility or duty to that family. There are many groups of people that call themselves a family. Some related by blood, others by a common cause. And there are families which are formed by a group of lonely people. 

Giri/Haji shows a clear distinction between types of family. While groups like the Yakuza are very good at adding lone wolves to their ranks, they always demand something in return. Something which is usually not in accordance with the law. 

A family related by blood can be comforting and suffocating at the same time. At some point two people found each other and started one. But living together and placing expectations on another can be suffocating. 

As an example I would give Taki, who doesn’t feel at home in Tokyo. She feels freed of the expectations placed upon her when she’s in a different country and culture on the other side of the planet. At home, she’s the daughter of a police detective. In London, she’s just a girl. A girl who, like her father, connects with a bunch of people during her stay. A connection of lonely people who all share a need of love, of family. One that has expectations, yet not so much that they become suffocating. A family that doesn’t demand any outrageous action from your part. In this family, you are allowed to make mistakes. You are after all a good person who did a bad thing. You only need to be honest and carry the consequences of your actions. As long as you do, this family will care for you.

Disappointing Power Ranger nostalgia

Nostalgia is difficult to understand. It frequently brings back films or series in our collective memory. For good or bad, they are everywhere. Partly because we live in a period where a lot is possible by technological developments. So companies see value in doing remakes. It is a chance to bring back a beloved franchise into our collective memory and rekindle the passion for the old one. Not to mention the potential to earn a decent income on the new product and related merchandise. It’s no wonder we live in a time of remakes. Remakes seek our feeling of nostalgia. We fondly remember that amazing Lion King opening and long to see it again. Only this time we bring our kids to the theater so that they hopefully have the same experience.

Another way to invoke nostalgia is to celebrate an anniversary. Like the 25th anniversary of Friends or today’s subject: 30 years of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

GoGo Power Rangers!

I grew up watching the first season of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (MMPR). The colorful suits, zords, monsters and explosions really spoke to my imagination. So I really didn’t care that the show was an adaptation of the Japanese Kyouryuu Sentai Zyuranger and that some things looked strange. Like many other kids I was sold on the idea that if you were a teenager with attitude; you could become a Power Ranger. An idea that was reinforced for the better part of of the ten years1 that I initially watched the series.

I cannot really remember why I stopped watching in the early 2000s. Most likely because of school and I couldn’t see it on tv. Since then I sometimes watched a bit when I encountered an episode; only to find that I’ve outgrown the series. To see now that a lot of the Power Ranger series are rated mediocre at best does not surprise, even though that hasn’t stopped the franchise from doing the same trick over and over again. 

As a returning viewer I was skeptical when the initial trailer dropped. It seemed really strange that the Rangers could use all their powers after the destruction at the end of MMPR2.

Aiai, there are issues with this one

The issue with the connected Power Rangers world is that it looks like they’re only sometimes trying to tie it together. Which causes worldbuilding issues. The concept for the Forever Red episode is nice, but raises the question about the status of some powers. Based on the ending of a series, a viewer can assume the ranger powers were destroyed and their connection to the Morphin Grid lost. If you’re a Power Ranger enthusiast you might know everything about it. But if you’re returning now to Once & Always after an absence for some 25 years, you’ll need a lot of your suspension of disbelief to make it work in your head. 

I think that as an anniversary show Once & Always (O&A) should be a celebration, or an homage to the original show. With a fun story and perhaps some nice cameos. You don’t need the original cast to act in their suits. They aren’t superheroes who can still fight buff aliens in their fifties. They are humans whom are enhanced by some mystical power (suits). Wouldn’t it be easy to make an extended episode about passing the torch or reminiscing on the old adventures? With the message that you can outgrow something, yet it will always be a part of you. 

Unfortunately, this is not what we got. To be short: the plot has heart, the dialogue and action are mediocre and the CGI looks like it was stolen from a 21 years old fan project. I jest a little, but the CGI is easily the worst part. Luckily it’s also the shortest.

Target audience

This leads me neatly to the big question I have regarding O&A: Whom is this for? Is it for returning viewers of the original show? Like I said before, they need to suspend a lot of disbelief. Turn off the thinking mind to enjoy the easter eggs and callbacks. With 3 of the original cast members missing, I’m not sure what’s there for them besides seeing Billy, Zack Rocky and Kat in action. 

Or is O&A for die-hard fans of the Power Rangers series? Maybe. There is something to say for the tried and true format of defeating a villain. But as an extended episode O&A drags on unnecessarily.

In regards to new viewers: I’m not expecting them to come in without someone who watched the original. I don’t consider it a good entry to the franchise. New viewers are better off watching the original on the official Youtube channel.

It feels like O&A is a rushed show, created with the same mindset as the original, yet actually being a creative original work. Which doesn’t help the show, but probably also doesn’t hinder it either. Most people who, like myself, were mildly interested watched it regardless of what people say about it on the internet. All the power to people who liked it, but I found myself wanting more.

How to correctly do Sentai nostalgia

If we take a step back from O&A and list the things that would, on paper, make this a great 30th anniversary I would say we need the following:

  1. A contemporary story;
  2. with the original cast and cameos of replacement rangers;
  3. easter eggs;
  4. grounded themes;
  5. a look at the future.

Because MMPR is a sentai adaptation it’s easy to look towards Japan to find out how they did this in the past. And there is that one season which celebrated being the 35th Super Sentai in a most successful way: Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger3.

Gokaiger did a number of things pretty good. First of: each character had a clear backstory and goals. Then there was the team goal. It which united them and made them a force to be reckoned with. That goal was to collect the ranger keys which would lead them to “The Greatest Treasure in the Universe”. Each (set of) Ranger Keys of the previous 34 Super Sentai Teams would grant the ability to morph into the chosen sentai/ranger to fight the enemy. 

Gokaiger is obviously created for a contemporary audience; the tributes to the original series are very present. Yet it is also aware that old fans might be watching, so it feels very mature in its writing. 

To provide structure, each episode does the following:
1. progress the main story of the fight against the enemy; 
2. provide background information on one of the main characters; 
3. have the team encounter a character of one of the previous teams 
4. Any combination of the above.

If option 3 happened, the themes of that specific Sentai Team would also be present in that episode. Which would result in the Gokaigers learning about that team before receiving the Ranger Keys and/or the Great Power of that team4.

To top this off the show has a fun ending credits which lists each Super Sentai show and what they’re about. And that ending is in my opinion the cherry on the cake. It makes me curious about shows that I haven’t seen before. The endings and the updated, full versions of it, made me watch episodes of some of the Older Sentai series on Youtube. That’s the goal. To get old and new eyes on the franchise. Which Gokaiger did very well.

What can we learn from this

If the big question is what we can learn from a successful nostalgia show like Gokaiger; then it would be (1) to treat your audience fair, (2) insert the correct themes and be smart about what you use as plot. (3) Let it be its own, contemporary thing. 

As research for this blog I read a lot of Power Rangers lore to have questions answered. Questions I had after watching the O&A special.  Because of that, I have ideas in my head. And I do not want that to be spend unnecessarily. So I’m taking a bold move to write a basic plot for my version of the 30th anniversary special. One which aims to do the things I mentioned earlier. I hope would’ve interesting enough to get all actors on board if we were in the same timeframe as when O&A was shot. 

I respect the actors’ choices to not participate in O&A but I can safely say that I missed them dearly. Not seeing them lessened the experience of watching the O&A special. I do not mean to discredit the other actors, but it is something that I believe O&A needed. Besides the fact that this positive spin gives me an extra layer of closure. Thank you for reading. May the Power Protect you!

Read my basic plot here

  1. The chronological list of the series.
  2. That’s how I remembered it ending. Powers destroyed so they sought new ones. I figured that there must’ve been some retconning and worldbuilding choices made to facilitate the starting point of this special. Things that I wasn’t aware of. That starting point wasn’t good. Assuming retcons certainly did not help either. I was confused. Watching the Once and Always special did not improve this, so I can’t imagine how it must be for someone who only watched MMPR until Zeo.
  3. Gokaiger ratings: IMDB: 8,6; Mydramalist: 8,4
  4. As mentioned, the subject theme of an episode can be a callback to one of the previous Super Sentai series. As an example: there is an episode about traffic safety which relates to carranger. The Great Power they receive is a Megazord addon the Gokaiger can summon.

The war strategies of The Glory

Finally! After a few weeks of impatient waiting the second part of The Glory was released on Netflix. These eight episodes were, in short, very satisfying. As you could probably tell by my piece of part 1, my hopes were very high.

Yet because of a cautionary nature partially instilled by highly critical media Youtubers like the Critical Drinker I let the show play out its story and held my opinion back. I was not disappointed. Yet again the Korean series machine manages to produce a show that is intelligent, well acted and above all: fun to watch. 

Spoilers ahead!

Excellent build up

In the end The Glory is a very rewarding show to watch. The plot unfolds over the episode like layers of an onion. Each layer provides new information and a deeper understanding of each character through their behaviour.

Especially during the latter episodes of the show, when the gaps of information are filled it becomes clear just how much transpired to get to this point. We eventually know every action Dong-eun took to get to the endgame. 

Like a game of Go she takes all that once belonged to Yeon-jin’s territory. Even if Yeon-jin knew that she was playing a game with these high stakes it is very likely she would end up in the same place. A place of social death. Without friends, a job and eventually her family. Yeon-jin was under the impression that she was in a few skirmishes with Dong-eun while she actually was in a war. And Dong-eun executed her plan like a great general.

War strategies and Go

I already commented on the game of Go in my previous blog on The Glory. The link between Go and the plot is very apparent in the show, but there is another link that I didn’t expect. I’m currently reading The Art of War (TAoW), which is a treatise on military strategy. It consists of 13 chapters which talk about different parts which contribute to a successful strategy.

The strategies utilized by Dong-eun are viable war strategies. I’ve divided her plan in three parts. To make things a bit more clear there is a description and I’ve added some examples. Let’s go to war!

1. Preparation (and information gathering):

When preparing for revenge you must know the precise end goal. For Dong-eun this was to humiliate Yeon-jin. Humiliation to the same level as happened to her. She would take the others of the group as collateral damage but the focus isn’t on them. The focus is Yeon-jin. Hence the letters she wrote over the years. 

To successfully execute her plan Dong-eun needed to stay out of reach of the law. She needed to be clean and have the right information to hold leverage over key players. So it was imperative she’d gathered information. On all of Yeon-jin’s family, friends and business partners. In the modern age with social media and the internet it wasn’t hard to learn about Yeon-jin’s group. And some smart bribes also helped. Speaking of bribes; Dong-eun also made sure she had enough funds to execute her plan. A rich boyfriend helped as well, but most funds were her own.

2. Strike precisely and without mercy:

After the initial preparation Dong-eun makes herself known by being present as Ye-sol’s teacher and appearing in social situations where Yeon-jin’s group is also present. An act very similar to the initial stand-off between armies or putting the first stone on the Go board.

Through preparation Dong-eun intimately knows her enemies. She knows how they work and react so she can strike where it hurts. The plans used to bring down the enemy have been created to strike at the specific target’s weakness. Long in the making but when the trigger is pulled, they are without mercy. Sa-ra’s drug addiction became a tool for blackmail and when Myeong-oh disappeared it was relatively easy to seduce Sa-ra in episode 12 to take the drugs and cause her own downfall.

The Glory shows that people die a real or social death for their greed or foolishness. Dong-eun’s Judgement comes without mercy yet it is executed with discretion. This is to limit collateral damage. Think of Ye-sol and Do-yeong. but more importantly, it is the only way to make sure Dong-eun and her allies stay out of the picture. 

3. Be agile and creative:

Dong-eun has the end goal in her mind. It is implied that she wanted the total victory without gathering media attention yet it is not clear if she fully knew the way to reach this goal. In other words if she played the Xanatos Gambit or the Batman Gambit1. Based on what we’ve seen I think it is the Batman Gambit. Dong-eun knows her enemies pretty well through her extensive preparation. She is also smart enough to deal with unforeseen challenges such as Hyeon-nam’s greedy husband and a dirty colleague (Jeong-ho). Yet her strategies are flexible enough that these disruptions do not interfere with the end result. She uses them to her advantage.

As an example: Dong-eun probably expected that Jae-joon’s greed would be beneficial to her, yet she could not have planned that he would be the one to deal with Jeong-ho and have that event drive a wedge between him and Ye-sol. Dong-eun’s strategies are smart and well executed, which makes it a delight to watch.


The people in Yeon-jin’s group were living their best lives after what they did when they were young. But their past did not stay buried and came haunting them. In a way, all the group members got what they deserved. Like I said earlier, The Glory is a smart show. Not just in the plot and its execution. It also gives the viewer what they want to see. Revenge with a good ending. A big plus is in my opinion that it does not have over the top romantic moments that do not fit the overall tone of voice of the show. The romance serves the plot and is not intrusive. I greatly enjoyed how the show concluded both Dong-eun and Yeon-jin’s character arc. There is an opening for a new season, but who knows if that will happen. Perhaps if it stays on the netflix most hours watchlist for a longer period of time. If that happens, I’ll certainly watch it.


Xanatos Gambit: a plan for which all foreseeable outcomes benefit the creator — including ones that superficially appear to be failure

Batman Gambit: A plan that revolves entirely around people doing exactly what you’d expect them to do.

Sources on The Art of War:




The Glory: Obsession and pain

I’m a little obsessed with The Glory. This K-Drama released on Netflix in December 2022 caught some attention with the fans.1 A tightly written script, good acting and one of my personal favorite themes: Revenge.

What is The Glory

The Glory is about a woman who seeks revenge on the people who abused her when she was in High School. When she was young, Moon Dong-eun wanted to become an architect. But after the physical and mental abuse she quit school and started working on an elaborate plan to exact her vengeance on the five people that ruined her life.

At the time of writing, only part 1 of the show has aired. In the first 2-3 episodes we learn about the characters and the situation that caused Moon Dong-eun to mastermind a plan that will either ruin or end the lives of the people who abused her. The painful experience that still haunts her. The experience that initiated her change into who she has become. An unstoppable force obsessed with vengeance. There will be no Glory in your life, for I have none as well.

Revenge plots and revealing information

I find that revenge plots are very interesting to watch. Revenge is a powerful motivator for the protagonist. It binds the audience to their cause as equal as it reveals character. The audience should sympathize with the understanding that the only way forward is revenge. We have to see John Wick’s dog killed, Edmond Dantès rot in jail and Moon Dong-eun abused. No matter how distasteful it is to watch.

Like I mentioned above: it is important that we as the audience identify with the reasoning of the protagonist. Yet I do have a disconnect with the physical abuse on screen. Maybe because I only think of mental abuse when I talk about the act of bullying. Physical abuse was before this show not something I related to the word.2 So I needed a suspension of disbelief. Because the abuse is the inciting incident of the show and everything about it is very deliberate.

We are reminded on multiple occasions that the scars are there. They show discomfort with our protagonist in multiple situations. It reveals her emotional state without the need of spoken words. It also reveals the character of the other when it is the topic of conversation. Which makes the on point dialogue even more interesting. It gives a complete picture of the characters in this show without the need of emphasizing certain moods. Expression is used, but in a way that reveals even more of the character; how they feel about the situation and it gives an indication of the choice they are going to make.

The importance of Go

Go is a board game where the players put their pieces (“stones”) on the board. The goal is to claim as much territory of the board when no more moves can be made.
The game is very important in the show. Not only is it the way that one of the characters  (possibly) switches sides. It reveals the character of the player. Ha Do-yeong was told by his Go teacher that he was born with a black stone in his hand. Black is the starting player in Go. The one who has the upper hand because they can make the first move. And we’re being told that Ha Do-yeong was in an excellent position for his entire life. Always being the initiator. From his profession to his wife, this man was a winner. Until he started to play with Dong-eun. The girl whose parents were of a lower social class. Who was abused and horribly scarred; both physically and mentally. She plays aggressively and doesn’t give up. Her obsession and passion motivate her. She wants to take the world from her opponent and she will not stop until it is done thrice over. Victory is not enough. She will bury her opponent so deep no one will ever be able to find it.

Here lies the crux of The Glory. How far will Dong-eun go? If her playstyle with Go is an indication she will over extend herself and go down with the antagonist Park Yeon-jin. The question will be if Dong-eun will be able to prevent those in her care to remain free of the situation? Both her friends Joo Yeo-jeong and Kang Hyeon-nam are deeply entrenched with her. Will she dig their graves as well? Questions I hope to have answered when part 2 airs. If the first 8 episodes are any indication we will be surprised at the end. Part 2 airs on March 10 on Netflix.


  1. Currently scored with an 8.9 on MyDramaList. But since it’s so new and part 2 of the show hasn’t released yet we have to wait how it evens out over time.
  2. But it happens in real life. There are a number of known incidents in South-East Asia which involve mental and physical abuse in schools. That I’m not relating the word to physical abuse is a lack of knowledge about the subject from my part.

Cowboy Bebop: Adapting a classic

Let’s talk about the question that I had after finishing the Netflix remake of Cowboy Bebop. How do you adapt a classic series into a different medium? This remake has generated a lot of attention on the internet over the last months. And it wasn’t all good. From casting, story decisions and the intro; fans were worried.

The 1998 anime has that place in television history that if you’ve not seen it you have probably heard of it. If both of these do not apply to you let me explain why an animated show created over 2 decades ago still can be the topic of heated conversation. This show is one of the few that made anime popular in the west. It is a serious, character driven series with slick animation and an epic soundtrack. Many people regard it as one of the best or the best anime ever created. Which is a big statement to put on a show. It creates expectations of what it is or isn’t. And though there are certainly many people who don’t like the Cowboy Bebop anime, it is still a show that a great deal of people find entertaining and inspiring to watch.

With the release of the Netflix remake the world could finally give its unfiltered opinion on what the writers and showrunners did with the source material. Everyone who has seen it at least once knows what kind of herculean task it must have been. I’d argue the challenge is equal to adapting The Lord of the Rings into a film trilogy. There are only two options. Succeed and praise will be given in spades. Fail and the masses call “I told you so.” 

I intentionally had my expectations set low. The first reason being that the remake remains a close-media adaptation. Meaning that the original medium (animation) is similar to the medium it’s adapted to. 

Second: There are elements of the original that, in my opinion, work better in animation. And not in live television unless you might have a Foundation sized budget.

Third: I wanted to give the show a fair shot. Especially since I recently gained a deeper understanding of the original. Not just in the context of its animated peers, but also as a piece of art. 

And fourth: the 1998 show has high nostalgia value for me, which means I’m very biased.

Let’s have a look at four elements of the show that are vital to what makes Cowboy Bebop what it is and what happens if you change those.

1. Conceptual

To understand Cowboy Bebop is to understand its core phrase: “it’s not a kind of space opera; it’s a sort of space jazz.” Meaning it’s not an epic story set in a far future with fleets of space ships battling each other. It’s a story about people. In this case, they are bounty hunters. A lonely profession similar to what cowboys are when usually seen in western films. Which is purposfully the first part of the title.

Then there is the second part of the title. While you may not know what Bebop means, it sounds funky and adds a pleasant flow to the word Cowboy. It is there because the story of the people in this show is told in a Bebop way. But what is bebop?

Bebop (or “bop”) is a type of small-band modern jazz music originating in the early 1940s. Bebop has roots in swing music and involves fast tempos, adventurous improvisation, complex harmonies and chord progressions, and a focus on individual virtuosity. The name “bebop” originates from the sound of nonsense syllables that scat singers improvised in vocal jazz performances.


When the associations and (cultural) meaning of both words are combined we get a sort of space jazz. The people in this show are cowboys, Bebop is how the story and action are presented.

The starting point of both shows may be the same. But early on in the remake we clearly see that there is a difference. The remake focuses less on the bounty hunting and more on the characters progression, resulting in a show that is less serialized. The storyline is much more present, giving us a clear ongoing plot. Which is a very modern thing to do. But as a result, the show limits itself in what it can do with the characters.

The original focuses more on bounty hunting as the main narrative of each episode. And we learn things about the characters as we see them react to each situation. There are some character focussed episodes, but even those often start when the characters are hunting a bounty of sorts. We get to see the Bebop presentation used to make the Cowboys shine.  

2. Demystifying characters

Because the original has more focus on showing how characters react to situations and other characters, there is a level of mystique about them. Things aren’t very clear. And only by watching and rewatching episodes one might decipher what is going on. This is one of the strengths of the original and similarly the reason why people turned away from it.1

The remake wanted to make the show accessible for a greater audience and “modernise the characters”. So they expanded the characters’ storylines. They shaped the characters out of their respective tropes into something that could fill the role in the new plot. As an example, I will go with the Vicious and Julia plot. This is the most obvious one and has the greatest impact on the series as a whole.

In the original we didn’t know Vicious and Julia because we didn’t need to. We could clearly see that Julia was the one person Spike always followed. Every single shred of information he followed in a way that Jet “Black Dog” Black would be jealous of in his younger years. We see her maybe 5 times, and each time leaves an impression because we know how important she is to Spike. Vicious is a fearsome enemy because we only see him enough to get a basic understanding of his personality. One that thrives in chaos and bloodshed. Which makes him a formidable enemy. Not because he instills fear in the people surrounding him, but because of his charisma and how it affects those around him. These characters have a certain mystique because we know so little and yet so much about them. I agree with the assessment in the Glass Reflections video that they are a respective shadow and ghost because of the roles they play in the original. Vicious and Julia are side characters that serve as a tool for the viewer to understand the main characters. They are used as plot progression and fade into the background until they are needed again.2

The remake put these characters front and center to tell the expanded story which the original (partly) implies. This decision changes the role these characters play in the overarching narrative. Which changes the dynamic between (all of) the characters. It is sad that this change isn’t taken into account and the remake leans heavily on certain moments that were key in the original, but greatly devalued in the remake. An example would be those flashes we see in Ballad of Fallen Angels when Spike falls out of the church. The scene is copied into the remake and then rendered worthless because of the creators decision to tell us exactly everything that happened between the characters.

3. Show or tell

Show or tell is a balancing act. One that every writer should know. The original was more on the showing side of things. Because of that approach the dialogue was short and on point. If it didn’t need to be said, it wasn’t spoken. 

The Netflix remake is quite the opposite. Characters talk a lot. And while I find some of the banter between the main cast amusing at times, it often is a bit much for my personal tastes. Especially when characters are info dumping. Then there is this show‘s nasty habit of naming things. For example: they gave Spike the most stupid, on point nickname. Sure, it is a representation of his behaviour in his past life, but of all the times characters spoke the name Fearless, only 1 or 2 times were justified. The other 9 billion times they just could’ve referred to Spike as “Him” and everybody would’ve understood who the subject matter was.3

In the end the remake failed to use the visual medium that tv is. There are some genuinely great shots and some of the set pieces are really cool, but this show fails at delivering on promises given. 

4. Character stories

To me, the original is ultimately a story about broken people. People without a place in the system. People who don’t belong anywhere except with this little family they’ve created. They live on the fringes of society, trying to forget or escape from their past. That is part of the reason why Toys in the Attic takes place in the void of space. It is in that limbo that the main cast recites their (life) lessons. Lessons that are integral to their character’s plot over the show’s runtime. While it may not always be apparent, it is what caused them pain in the past. And this experience is part of what gives them their view on life. It is part of what makes them three-dimensional characters.

Which makes it sad that they changed the core of the characters in the remake. Sometimes to a point that they just aren’t who they were in the original. Or worse, when characters become caricatures of their former self. For example, Vicious is changed into a non-threatening antagonist. He is never a real danger. The moment he kills the elders, it feels like the height of his viciousness. It’s like changing Sauron into Lawrence Limburger. Everybody knows the latter will always lose while the former will be a threat until the end.

Adapting a classic

Adapting a classic is never easy, especially when the source material is in a similar medium then the one you’re adapting it to. I’m glad they went in their own direction and did not copy the original 1:1. Because that would be an unrealistic bar to reach. While the remake tries to do it’s own thing, most of the ten episodes suffer from the poorly written dialogue, badly shot scenes and broken worldbuilding. But the entire show suffers from the removal of the most important elements of the original: Cowboy and Bebop. It also doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. So it ends up being a jack of all trades but a master of none. It is not a goofy sci-fi buddy-comedy. And not a thought-provoking show about the human condition.

It is a show that would’ve fared better without the link to the original, or even without the original characters. The world of Cowboy Bebop is interesting and could’ve given us a great show with the original cast popping in on familiar events. But to paraphrase Spike: “whatever happened, happened. “

My wish is that this remake draws people into the original and into the broader world of animation. Because there are genuinely great shows that will blow your mind. The 1998 anime Cowboy Bebop is a great example of that. One that will pull people in because it is what it is: The work, which becomes a new genre by itself.

See you Space Cowboy

  1. At least I believe so because it makes everything a bit vague. Which is not something everyone likes.
  2. This is exactly what I mean: only important in the moment
  3. Sidenote: In the anime everybody calls him Spike.

The humanity in My Mister

Life is a complicated mess. We all have challenges and traumas that we carry with us on a daily basis. It might feel that the world is a hostile place and you keep asking the same questions. “Why am I here? Why does it feel like the whole world is laden upon my shoulders?”

These are questions that belong to what I call the greater mystery of life. Questions that we often see asked by characters in books, films and tv shows. These are not easy to answer, especially when we struggle with them ourselves in real life. But through exploration of options, by the act of trying different responses based on the encountered situation we may gain a level of insight in ourselves. An insight into our morality if you will. The Korean drama My Mister is such an exploration. 

Premise of My Mister

My Mister follows the characters Lee Ji-an and Park Dong-hoon* as they form an unlikely connection whilst dealing with the misery in their life. The character of Ji-an is a 21 year old dealing with massive debts left by her mother while at the same time caring for her sick, deaf grandmother. 

Dong-hoon is the manager of Ji-an’s department at a structural engineering company. He is under constant scrutiny and manipulation by his supervisors, family and friends. We see him carry that weight tenfold because he is viewed as the only one from his neighborhood who made it big since he works at a big company. 

The plot starts moving when Dong-hoon receives a bribe that was not intended for him. Dong-hoon’s rival in the company sees this as an oppertunity to get rid him. Both our characters get involved from different angles which causes an exploration and eventually deepening of their relationship.

Besides the main characters there are at least 10 interesting side characters who interact with these main characters whilst dealing with their personal issues. While the drama is layered with Korean social norms the problems of these characters are distinctly human. Situations at work and relationship issues with family and friends. This is what makes the show accessible and recognisable. **

The human condition

When I was searching the internet to get a broader perspective for this drama I stumbled upon this article where Brazilian author Paulo Coelho praised the show for its portrayal of the human condition. In My Mister we see this human condition play out and the characters deal with it. And whether the viewer has experienced similar problems or not, it is clear that life is a complicated mess. It is the morality of the characters that decides how they deal with this mess. For Ji-an it is to work like a crazy person and take no shit so she can care for her grandmother. For Dong-hoon it’s carrying his burden and that of others without complaint in the hope that someday, somehow things will change for the better. In fact, this behaviour is rooted in the very core of these characters as their respective names mean (if I recall correctly): “to (reach) comfort”  and “the strong pillar”. Behaviour which turns out to be their saving grace.

Morality as saving grace

Our moral or ethical behaviour is constructed by our view on life, our view of the human condition. It does not matter if its basis is rooted in a particular philosophy, religion or culture. Our first morality is always constructed when growing up. It is learned through family, peers and the media we consume. In simpler terms: it is learned through our environment. So it is fair to state that we are our environment

It is only natural that when we change our environment, our morality changes. This is what happens in My Mister. With the encounter of Dong-hoon and Ji-an, combined with the events of the show, the personal environment of these two respective characters start to change. Through their interactions they gain a new perspective. A new insight into their character. Insight that was hidden beneath the surface. Something that could have been suppressed or simply never manifested in this way before. For Ji-an it is as simple as learning to have tfaith in another person, and accepting that there are people who want to help and support you without anything in return. For Dong-hoon it is to take less shit from the people around him. He stands up for himself, because it is the thing that needs to happen so he can follow his own path. 

Real life introspection

My Mister provides us with a level of introspection that can be applied to real life. Not just because some situations are common to happen in everyday life but because it shows that we humans can adapt. Through interacting with others we can feel support in our cause to help a sick family member, pay our debts, or even learn that if we take a stand for someone we care about we also take a stand for ourselves. We take a stand for what we believe is the right thing to do. Humans are adaptation machines if they realize that they don’t need to invent the wheel themselves. They just need to be open to learn from others, even if you hate those people the most in life. 

If you are able to see the starting point, the process and reasoning behind decisions, you will learn from it. That’s why interaction with people and media on a deeper level is important. So that we can deduce what our own course of action would be. This way we can implement reasoning in our system and become stronger human beings because of it.***

Subtle but powerful

What I like most about My Mister is the subtleness of the changes. Over its 16 episode runtime we see characters slowly realize how they’ve been living over the past years and that a simple change can be meaningful. Take for example Dong-hoon’s younger brother Ki-hoon. At the start of the show he is a person who is stuck in his past, thinking about who people said he was 20 years ago. He never reached the potential people said he had. He feels depressed and scared because of a bad experience connected to that time and has become an inactive person because of it.

But with the single, subtle decision to start working as a cleaner with Sang-hoon we see him grow as a character. He becomes a person who learns to stand up for himself and talk more open about the things on his mind. A seemingly small choice but with powerful consequences. 

The switch from dying to living

Another subtle change is that Dong-hoon’s older brother Sang-hoon stops talking about their mother’s funeral. And this might be the most powerful change in the entire show. For at the start, the characters are concerned about death. Death of others and themselves. Especially since their life feels dead to them. They are wondering if their life would’ve been worth it when their time would finally come. But when at the show’s end enjoying life and caring about the people around you is the most prevalent sentiment. A dichotomy best shown in the football game after the funeral. 

“Life is a complicated mess, but we cannot let the negatives control us” is one of the simple and powerful messages of the show.**** We can only fully experience our humanity when we are alive. So live. And I hope that you may experience the beauty of life for yourself.

*Note that Lee and Park are the Korean family names, so for ease of reading I will refer to them by their first name

**It is also part of why the critical reception has been good. With 21 award nominations overall and winning the category best drama and screenplay at the 55th Baeksang Arts Awards. Not forgetting the 9.1 IMDB and MyDramaList rating

***The critical Drinker has something sensible to say about meaning in contemporary films

****Have some more life lessons from the show

Other sources and further reading

Francisco J. Ayala (2010): The difference of being human: Morality

My Mister fansite: give me slippers!

3 Quarks Daily review of the show

Motivational video: Humans as adaptation machines

Great Pretender: The unlikely setup


“Oh yes I’m the great pretender 
Pretending I’m doing well 
My need is such I pretend too much
I’m lonely but no one can tell”

If you’re not aware these are the opening words of the song The Great Pretender by The Platters, more commonly known by the Freddy Mercury cover. And the song happens to be the ending theme of the anime with the same name. If you’ve not seen it, here is a short summary. Great Pretender (GP) follows a group of international con(fidence) men who pretend to be someone else to gain a lot of money. During the 2 seasons we mainly follow the newest addition to the swindler group, Makoto, while the group scheme their way to riches. 

But there is a catch with the show, as it does not use a standard structure. It has its first season of 14 episodes divided in 3 cases, which allows for a bit larger and deeper story arcs then your regular show. For example the first case called “Los Angeles Connection” has 5 episodes over which the audience gets to know the main characters and become acquainted with the format. Each subsequent case allows the writers to explore a bit more of the characters while season 2 is actually a film length case divided over 9 episodes.

Look beyond the surface

When I like a show I tend to look beyond the first layer of story to find out what the writers actually are trying to tell us. To decipher why I like the show. And I have to say GP was pretty on the nose. While case 1: “Los Angeles Connection” was overall pretty light hearted. Case 2: “Singapore Sky” shows us not so pleasant flashbacks. Flashbacks of a past, where young Abigail’s life was suddenly changed by war. This was also the first time where my interest was even more peaked. Because while it is absolutely possible to write a few amazing con stories similar to the first one, I did not expect the personal stakes. And while it is overly convenient to have all the cases have some relation to one of the main characters backstory, it does provide us with a character study on how people deal with loss.

Loss and forgiveness

The main theme of this show is dealing with loss and forgiveness. We see characters losing a loved one and losing the future you imagined. It says life isn’t fair. Not for that intelligent young boy who lost his mother due to an illness; not for that girl who’s parents died in a bombing and not for the girl abandoned by her boyfriend who chose the promise of a career over ethics and their relationship.

What I believe GP does rather nicely is showing that everybody deals with a rough situation in their own way. For example Cynthia drinks her pain away and lashes out when that doesn’t help. And Abigail closes herself off from the world, rarely showing emotions and relying mostly on own skills rather than others. But for every loss shown there is a sense of healing in the end. Abigail literally says she forgave herself, Cynthia got another shot with Thomas and Laurent’s mind is more at ease when they’ve finished the last con.

Setup and pay-off

In the end, the first 3 cases are just a setup so Laurent can test Makoto if he is good enough to help him finish that last con. That is why case 4 (Wizard of Far East) has 9 episodes. It has a lot of ground to cover to get the viewer up to speed and to finish the show. The previous 14 episodes are needed so the viewer gets acquinted with the characters, their role and relationships with each other. Because all those three elements are tested in case 4.

This is also the reason the title card changes three times in season two. It reflects the story. Introduction to the case, background and completing the con.

So does all this apparent preparation pay off in the last episodes? In a way it does. But it is not to my personal satisfaction. Wizard of Far East is a story I would have liked more if it was slowly seeded in. The way it is brought is just too convenient. And while it gives new meaning to the stellar closing credits and raises questions that season 1 certainly does not; it also puts loss and forgiveness so front and center that it might prevent people from recommending the show to others. Which is a real shame. It is a great show with its own art style and soundtrack which both fit the narrative like a glove. A relaxed but sharp style, softened in important character moments and all out in your face when everything goes smoothly.

Who is the Great Pretender?

I would have liked this show to shine more. To have more episodes to work towards the final confrontation with the past. To allow the characters to breathe more while doing their swindling. Forgiveness does not happen overnight and it would have been nice if we could have more perspective from the other characters in their respective cases and how it made an impact on them later down the line. We get this tiny moment with Abigail in the last episode but we don’t know how she got there or when it happened. I really like it when a show leaves things ambiguous, but I feel GP spoon feeds the closing narrative to the viewer. Without seeing Wizard of Far East I would not have been able to tell you who the Great Pretender of this show is. I would probably put money on Makoto, since he is our PoV character. But after finishing the show I would like to think it is Studio Wit themselves, pretending GP is one thing, while it actually is completely something else. And should you doubt my words, I only ask you to read the closing lyrics of the song.

“Yes I’m the great pretender
Just laughin’ and gay like the clown
I seem to be what I’m not, you see
I’m wearing my heart like a crown
Pretending that you’re still around
(Still around)”