Monday, April 13, 2009

Hello, Franceska – review (TV series, 52 episodes)

Directed by: Do-Cheol Noh

First aired: 2005

Contains spoilers

Little known in the UK, Hello Franceska was a situation comedy that took its native Korea so much by storm that, I understand, there was a spin off animated series and musical. I have mentioned this before in an article For those we can’t review (in which I used the name it had been advertised on e-bay under, ‘Hi, Francesca’). The article was about some of the non-subtitled, non-English titles I had, and I had the first 12 episodes of this in Korean only, but in a very nice coffin shaped box. Some sourcing later and I have been able to watch this subtitled.

The series, as I watched it, wasn’t technically perfect. Some of the outside shots noticeably had visible boom mikes (on one or two occasions) – though as they started to deconstruct the series in a very Monkees like way, with characters commenting on the scripts, crew appearing to comment on acting ability and even the script writer appearing as himself playing a character, that became less of an issue. There was also the concept of a laugh track (mercifully removable on DVD) that for the first few episodes had a “Whooo track” if I can call it that, with a whoop going up (canned) when something exciting or shocking was supposedly happening. Luckily they quit with the Whoops eventually. However, I was nearly – at first – underwhelmed with the vampire aspect. Let me explain.

The first episode begins with a castle dominating the Romanian landscape. A voice over tells us how their 2000 years of history is at an end, how humans no longer fear vampires and want to see them become extinct. The castle is their last sanctuary but that is no longer safe and so they have to go to vampire safehouses around the world. The voice is that of Great Andre and we then see a group of vampires land in Korea, thinking it is Japan. They are Franceska (Hye-jin Shim), Elizabeth (Ryeo-won Jeong) and Kyeon (Kyeon Lee). Kyeon drags a coffin.

Meanwhile perennial loser Du-il (Du-il Lee) is proposing to his girl. She turn him down due to his lack of prospects and, when he suggests she might keep the ring, she refuses that also. He throws it into some trees as, if she won’t have it no woman shall. Later he is in the trees trying to find it as it cost a fortune. He sees it in branches and tries to get it, falls and badly twists his limbs in the fall. The vampires come past and he asks for help, Franceska feeds upon him.

Suddenly Du-il is whole and up but a rumbling disapproval is coming from the coffin. We had earlier seen the hand of Great Aunt Sophia (Seul-gi Park) emerge and grasp Franceska by the throat when they told the coffin they had got on the wrong boat and ended up in Korea. It becomes clear that Great Andre has forbidden feeding upon humans, much less turning them. The coffin explodes open and Sophia is a 16 year old looking girl… the problem is Du-il is now a vampire, however he does have an apartment.

Here is where the lack of vampire activity kicks in. They obviously can develop fangs – Du-il has fang marks on his neck – but we do not see a fang for the majority of the show at least. As they are not feeding on blood, they eat normal food (nor does Du-il develop the thirst for blood that one would commonly associate with a new vampire). We discover later that holy objects have no effect on them and Du-il opens his curtains to discover that sunlight does not effect them, nor does garlic. They can, however do funky things with their eyes.

Their eyes will flash red, very occasionally. There is an early joke with eyes flashing red and the show entering a flashback. The implication as it happens is that it is some sort of telepathic sharing of memory but it becomes apparent that only the one remembering is seeing the memory, it was a nice play with conventions. Kyeon can produce laser like light from his eyes but it is completely harmless and gives him a headache.

These are just not very vampire like vampires (at first); they might have been anything not fitting in to society and the programme seems more like Third Rock from the Sun with Addams Family chic. Comment is made about their Western names being unusual (Elizabeth uses the name Ryeo-won at one point, being of course the actress' name) but the reason why a Romanian would look Korean is simply ignored. The characters, being ‘non-human’ are able to be parodies without the audience losing faith in the show. Great Aunt Sophia poses as a child but is a harridan at times and it is without a doubt a great performance all the way through by Seul-gi Park. Elizabeth is a self-absorbed fashion aficionado.

Franceska is a gambling addicted, axe wielding scary woman – with a heart of gold and a habit of cooking anything that moves. Kyeon is stupid, often referred to as chicken-head he was fed on chicken blood as a fledgling vampire, due to a shortage of human blood, and has suffered the curse of the chicken. He has a snaggletooth (I think it was natural to the actor) that looks like one fang never withdrawn. Du-il is obviously the humanising factor, the newly turned who has to work to support the other vampires and is shocked by their unconventional behaviour.

There is a range of human characters that come into the show. The main one is Park He-Jin who becomes their landlady at first. A self-absorbed gold digger with five ex (dead) husbands and a habit of using the word ‘situation’ (in English) as a catchphrase. She falls for Kyeon – due to his stupidity – and is involved in the lives of the vampires one way or another right through to the series finale. Other human characters recur occasionally but consistently and gain their own sub-plots.

Other vampires that come into this are Victoria, a vampire warrior, and Andre. The leader of the vampires can see into the future (3 seconds ahead), is a little short and keeps blowing any money they gain on failed bets. Once again we see little in the way of vampiric activity but the show is absorbing. Some of the humour was lost on me as it was clearly cultural or involved cameos by those famous in Korea but unheard of in the UK but, for the most part, the crazy characters took this forward.

It was, however, going to be little more than an honourable mention until the last ten episodes when the vampiric activity was turned up a notch. It began with a vampire wedding, and all the guests were vampires (actually they were almost zombie like but we’ll let that pass). In fact there was a play with fang lore at this point when the bride puts in rubber fangs (at first) to be traditional but is talked out of it as no-one does that anymore. Then Kyeon is run over. All the way through the vampires have stated they can’t die (I am sure there are ways but that is not explored). Kyeon is broken but suddenly fixes and, for a second, actual fangs appear.

At this point a vampire secret is mentioned (it has been hinted at previously) but not revealed. The show keeps it hanging over the finale episodes, and we know its substance is the reason for the vampire doom. I did think it was going to be much of a nothingness, but actually, when finally revealed, it was quite good (probably a little light under scrutiny but in the run of things an interesting twist) and I’m not going to spoil it. Perhaps it pushed the last couple of episodes towards sentimentality but over-all it worked.

These last episodes pushed this to review and despite being vampire light I really did enjoy this as a running show – I enjoyed it enough to watch the whole run – and this was down to the characters more than anything. I also want to quickly mention the soundtrack, which was a hotchpotch but had some shining moments – especially the (twice used) lounge version of The Prodigy’s Breathe. The series is out there, available, with subs but it is one to really search for. The Third Rock from the Sun simile probably works best, but bear in mind it is uniquely Korean and thus quite different to Third Rock in many ways, and I give this, overall, 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here


Gabriel said...

Hello Taliesin,

I actually saw the pilot to this a few years back and actually enjoyed it, but alas I couldn't find all the other episodes!

I actually thought it was well produced and acted (from a satire viewpoint) from what I saw. Having watched alot of anime I found that the characterisation and humour reminded somewhat of the structure of an anime, and even though alot of Asian filmmakers seem copy Eastern European vampire lore, for some reason I think they do it better then the westerners do. Just look at Moon Child, and anime such as Blood + ( finally watched the first 3 seasons and enjoyed it), Trinity Blood, Hellsing, The Twins/Vampire Effect etc. I don't know why I enjoy their interpretations more, perhaps it's only the fact that I'm more partial to their pop culture nowadays then the dross that Hollywood spits out with their gossip girlesque vampire B.S.

But still I had forgotten about this since I had watched it all those years ago, and regardless of your above average lukewarm review :p I might see if I can track it down.

In the meantime I suggest you try and get hold of a Japanese vampire series called Blood Hound aka Vampire Gigolo aka Vampire Host, it was an adaptation of a one-shot manga by Kaori Yuki who wrote one of my favourite manga series "Godchild".

It's not the best vampire series, but you should still find it entertaining. I have the 1st out of 3 volumes here.


Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Gabriel

A little harsh to say lukewarm ;) it was just a bit non-vampire for a vampire series.

I have noticed Vampire Gigolo but the discs seemed a little pricey (as I didn't know how many volumes it would stretch to) not too bad if it is only three

I like the eastern reinterpretation of the western vampire also. Could I suggest you try the Korean movie Vampire Cop Ricky

Gabriel said...

There is a HUGE Asian dvd store down in Sydney in chinatown that stocks most of the Asian films I watch and I usually spend a few hundred there when I stay with my friend who lives down there.

It's where I discovered Hello Franceska etc, and it's seperated into Japanese, Chinese and Korean sections as well as anime and cantopop music etc. In the Korean section I've eyed off Vampire Cop Ricky a few times but for some reason I've never picked it up. I'm not sure why but from the cover and blurb it never really grabbed me, but on my next trip down if it's still there I'll be sure to pick it up at your behest.

Speaking of that store it reminds me that a while ago they stocked a Japanese vampire movie - I can't remember what it was called but the Japanese title translated into something like "sometimes I cry" or somesuch and it has a Japanese vampire dressed in Count Dracula garb complete with flipped up collar and some of the screenshot had him in a castle and he seemed to be recoiling from something like sunlight or a cross etc. Does this sound familiar? because I tried to track it down last time I was there and they didn't have it. I actually tried to buy it at the time but the annoying counter guy wouldn't sell it to me as it didn't have english subs/dubs. Thinking back I should have B.S'd and told him I had a japanese girlfriend :p

In the meantime on my 10 day Easter break I've watched heaps of films/series and I'm currently doing some reviews on my blog starting with The Ninth Gate as well as vampire anime series I've recently watched as well as a review of Resident Evil 5, I haven't posted for almost two months! So slack!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

It doesn't sound familiar but I'll do somne investigating iro "sometimes I cry". Ridiculous to not allow someone to buy a disc with no english subs, warn a punter sure but can't understand why they could stop a sale, in fact it sounds positively in breach of race relations legislation (presuming the Aussie ones are similar to the UK ones)

Gabriel said...

I guess you could look at it as discrimination since the store is asian owned/run and they wouldn't sell me an unsubbed/dubbed movie, but I think their viewpoint was that since it was the last copy there could be a japanese speaking person that would want/enjoy it. oh well. Sorry about the dodgy memory, the name title is probably way off, it could even be "Never I Cry", I just know it had 'cry' in it. I tried doing a google search of Japanese vampires films with 'cry' in the title but alas.

It's not the first time I've been confronted with the issue of 'no sale' at an asian dvd store. There is one at the local shop years ago I discovered and they had "The Tale of Two Sisters" etc, and were clearly marked for sale, the store was also a rental shop for asians mostly still VHS, and this was in a primarily Asian suburb.

I went up to the counter with a few movies and started to get my money out when the asian clerk squinted at me and said 'they are not for sale'. I pointed to the price tags on them, in english mind you, not mandarin, not cantonese nor Japanese. English ie: $10. He said they were not for sale and told me to leave!

Well I held my composure (i'm not racist towards asians, for I have asian friends to start with) but in the morning at work I aired by grievance at a vietnamese friend, and though he was surprised he said those video stores were dodgy. Apparently you have to pay several hundred dollars to 'join' and then have a credit account of several hundred from which you can 'rent' from. He told me he joined such a store years ago forking out $400 as had many other people. Suddenly overnight the store disappeared along with everyone's deposit/rent account, and if you add that up that several hundred asians in the area had joined, that's alot of money!

Oh - sorry for this thread going off topic :/

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabriel, I think there is a huge difference between running a scam - as obviously your friend encountered and, in the case of the Sydney store, not selling an unsubbed film.

Firstly, of course, there is the general assumption that a person wouldn't buy an unsubbed movie in a language they don't speak - not true. The big issue, however, is the assumption that you don't speak Japanese (in this case), which was an assumption built on race... it might be accurate as an assumption but such assumptions are wholly unfair...

I'm perhaps a little prickly on the issue of language in films, at the moment, as I really fancied seeing Let the Right One In on the big screen (it came out UK on Friday).

We have two multiplex cinemas near us. Vue cinemas are not showing the film at any of their cinemas - one can only assume because it is foriegn language. They didn't show the Night and Day watch films either.

Odeon Cinema did show the Russian films so I had hope. They are showing the film, but at (a very few) selected cinemas, not at the one near me. Worse, the Odeon page shows the language as English - so it appears they are showing the dubbed version!

The closest cinema (the cornerhouse art cinema) showing the film is a 1 hour 15 minute train journey away!

However, we are off track completely now....