GANGS OF SHANGHAI
The drama follows the journey of Shin Jung Tae (Kim Hyun Joong) from his start in Sinuiju to his rise to power in Shanghai and eventually becoming the people savior in Shanghai. Set in the turbulent 1930’s, the drama follows the changing tides of power between several different factions from Korea, China and Japan and the lives and relationships who are affected by it.
Inspiring Generation is an epic drama with lots of different characters and various storylines to follow. Some storylines I’ve enjoyed watching, others I found boring but mostly I found the people and the era to be intriguing. However, there’s a lot to digest within this 24 episode drama and I think the drama tried to bite off more than it could chew. 24 episodes is a bit longer than your average Drama Special but considerably shorter than your average epic tale.
Considering the 24 episode run, I think I could have done without the extensive backstory that takes place in Sinuiju, Korea (a border town between China and what is now known as North Korea). That part of the story is important and we couldn’t have done completely without it but Shin Jung Tae’s storyline ultimately starts in Shanghai and his rise to power there.
Perhaps that extends from the fact that the head writer quit mid-run but it seems like the other 3 writers remained and could have kept some sort of consistency with the drama. However that doesn’t explain Kim Jae Wook’s character, Kim Soo Ok, up and quitting.
If the Sinuiju part was shorter, I don’t think I would have gotten so emotionally invested in the members of Do Bi Group like Hwang Bong Shik (Yang Ik Joon) and Poong Cha (Jo Dal Hwan). Plus, what happens to Jung Tae’s best friend, Jjang Ttol (Shin Seung Hwan). There’s just a lot that’s get us invested but ultimately left hanging.
I know it. You know it. Pretty much everyone knows that Kim Hyun Joong is a bad actor. I felt that the trailers made this drama appear like a more action-packed adventure. There a really funny dichotomy to Kim Hyun Joong’s acting. When he’s doing action scenes, I find him to be a really expressive with his body and facial expressions. However, if he’s just standing around delivering his dialogue, it feels forced or completely emotionless. Jung Tae’s dry sarcasm seems to miss the beat and his pain and suffering is laughable. It becomes even harder to watch him in the latter episodes as they tone down the actions scenes in favor for more dialogue scenes which I found droll. I want Kim Hyun Joong to find his acting niche but he was clearly not capable of carrying this drama.
In fact, I looked to the many, many other actors that carry the drama. The alliances were always so fragile in this drama that it was hard to determine who you could trust and who you could not. Hwang Bang’s Leader Sul Doo Sung (Choi Il Hwa) and Jung Jae Hwa (Kim Sung Oh) want to have Jung Tae on their side but also have their own agendas as well.
Mo Il Hwa (Song Jae Rim) has his own hard time figuring out who to trust but spends most of the drama smirking. Tekuchi Gaya (Im Soo Hyang) appears to love Jung Tae but her Japanese blood seem to put her alliances firmly with Il Gook Hwe. We all know how the Japanese are depicted during this time period. You spend most of the drama figuring out these alliances and determining when they’ve switched sides.
Then we have Kim Ok Ryun (Jin Se Yun) whose love for Jung Tae is steadfast. Despite the romantic tension between Gaya and Jung Tae, I love that he ultimately chooses Ok Ryun because she’s stuck by him through everything. Originally I felt that the drama intent was to go in an entirely different direction with these characters. However I ended up liking the direction it did take because I got introduced to Yoon Hyun Min which I will get to later.
Unfortunately I was disappointed that Jin Se Yun had taken on this role because it has too many similarities with Gaksital. On top of that, it’s not like we have a different kind of ending which makes it all the more heartbreaking.
As for a standout character, I grew to love Toyama Aoki (Yoon Hyun Min). I know the focus of the drama may have changed course halfway through but I still wished we got to know his character a bit earlier on in the series.
While his confession to Gaya does come a bit out of the blue, I love how it added another layer of tension to the Jung Tae, Ok Ryun and Gaya triangle. Plus, it made the Il Gook Hwe storyling that much more interesting because of Aoki’s vested interest in Gaya made his strategic approach so personal. Yoon Hyun Min was fantastic in playing the Aoki character. In some ways, Aoki is similar to Jung Tae in that he’s a stoic character with a fiery layer just beneath the surface. It’s just that Yoon Hyun Min is so much better at playing those subtleties than Kim Hyun Joong.
The drama has a lot to offer the viewer with all the gang/faction storylines. It was difficult to keep all the alliances straight for the extensive list of characters as they changed on an episodic basis but that added to the thrill of the drama. The gang politics that drove the second half of the drama was an interesting even if a little sidetracked but Kim Hyun Joong just wasn’t a capable enough actor to carry that type of drama. This drama did have its behind-the-scenes problems so I am trying to give it some slack but I have to admit the random plot shifts is unsettling and overall I have mixed feelings about it.