From Japan to Korea: First Impressions on Tomorrow’s Cantabile & Liar Game.

This is actually my one (rare) free weekend, so I’ve been catching up on things I’ve meant to get to, like write a bunch of stuff both personal and drama-related. I also caught up with my Asian dramas and figured I’d (finally) come up with a two-in-one first impression of Tomorrow’s Cantabile and Liar Game, otherwise known as the Japanese-to-Korean remakes of the universally magnanimously loved Nodame Cantabile franchise and cult favorite Liar Game.

Let me assure you that in both cases, I didn’t jump in with a blank canvas because I am a huge – and by that I mean HUGE – fan of the former and really, really enjoyed the latter’s live-action and movies.  As of this write-up, I’m all caught up: episodes 1-4 for Tomorrow’s Cantabile and episodes 1-2 for Liar Game.

Now shall we move on to the good stuff?

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Tomorrow's Cantabile (2014)
Tomorrow’s Cantabile (2014)

Tomorrow’s Cantabile

Like I said, I am a huge fan of the Japanese version. I watched everything – the live-actions, specials, movies and even the anime – and during this recent summer break, I read the manga from the first chapter to its surprise totally-off-it-was-horrible special epilogue. I even wrote a piece specially for our leading couple, which you can read here – still one of personal favorite and personal best write-ups.

If you’ve read me for a while, you’ll realize that I followed the casting news of this K-version closely; I just got lazy to keep writing about it. I think my background and context of where I’m coming from with this show is important because purists and mega-fans of the quintessential Nodame will justifiably be up-in-arms and overly protective of the original and thus, are extremely wary of this remake. I feel you, I really do; I acted that way too, before this aired. Trust me, I am as big a fan as you are.

But you know… strange… I actually like this one.

I will say this right away: no, it’s not an A+ remake that does total justice to the original material. No, it’s not a carbon copy of the live-action which frankly like everyone and their mothers have pointed out, the Japanese version was really just that good that it’s pointless to try. In the Korean version’s defense, I don’t believe that it’s a lost cause because I don’t think they’re butchering the source material. Different yes, and we could argue all night over the definition and context of that word as applied here, but they’re definitely not making a mockery of the original and for that, I’m thankful.

By the time I got done with the first two episodes, this was the conclusion I came to: I think calling the show a remake is not suitable because frankly it’s more like a homage to the original. An homage is when one acknowledges that one’s storyline came from someone else and one recognizes and gives due respect to the original while still trying to make something new out of it.

To me, that’s what’s going on here; this isn’t a remake because that means trying to come up with Nodame Cantabile v2.0 and they’re not doing that. Instead, they’re attempting to create their own version from an incredibly solid foundation. Think of it like as an existing structure and they’re just filling in the blanks – how they choose to do so, the materials and so forth are up to them but the building is already standing.

The real question here isn’t about the degree of similarities between this version and the original. Rather, how successful is this attempt of theirs to pay homage to an extremely well-received source material? I think this is a question we can civilly discuss. My answer is they are… doing okay. Not amazing, just okay.

Let’s talk about casting. You know that I followed the news closely and was terribly worried when I read that Joo Won was Chiaki. Remember too, when I threw a fit about Yoona getting cast as Nodame?  You can only imagine the sigh that I released when Shim Eun Kyung finally confirmed the role and during summer break, in preparation to watch this version, I watched Joo Won‘s heartwarming family drama, Ojakgyo Brothers, as well as Shim Eun Kyung‘s most recent work, Miss Granny. To my delight, both of them were FANTASTIC in their respective projects. In fact, I was actually so taken by their respective performance that I meant to call out to skeptics of both actors to watch these two shows because both projects proved they have what it takes – they’ve got range and charisma, but best of all their commitment and passion for their roles came through and were sincerely felt.

Here’s the surprise: I worried so much about how Nodame is going to be carried and acted, but it’s actually Joo Won who is killing it as Chiaki for me. I actually really like his portrayal of Cha Yoo Jin and I may be in the minority here against purists, but I find that Cha Yoo Jin is inherently similar to Chiaki. In other words, they’re characteristically similar – stuffy, uptight, passionate and stubborn about music but also soft-hearted.

However, I can’t say the same about Shim Eun Kyung‘s Seol Nae Il. The thing about Nodame is that yes she’s weird and quirky, but she’s not crazy. She’s also strange and therefore comical, but she’s not downright slapstick. She may act silly, but she’s not stupid. She’s weird, but she’s also intricately layered and ultimately still feels human and not, you know, this goofy woman-child.

This is where Nae Il lost me cos she’s just… an airhead. And kind of stupid. After four episodes, I’ve shifted the blame to the writing team for this because I really love this actress and I don’t just believe that Shim Eun Kyung has what it takes – I know she does because I’ve seen her work her magic in Sunny and Miss Granny – but even the best actress can only do so much with a terrible script. Right now Nae Il is one-dimensional; the intricacies that made Nodame are missing in Nae Il. Nonetheless, I don’t want to declare defeat just yet so I’m going to keep rooting for her to find her groove – I just hope that the writing will catch up and make damn good use of Shim Eun Kyung‘s acting range and prowess because we know she has it.

The chemistry between the two of them though, oh my goodness so adorable. Too cute for words. Because this is a Korean version, you and I know that they’ll dial-up the romance and yup, that they did. The Japanese version’s romance was mostly subtle and played out casually, and this is only a guess, but I have a feeling it will be more obvious in this one. I love romance – hell, I’m a sucker for it – but I admit I’m somewhat wary if it’ll work in this one, because what if this move takes away the beauty in subtlety of the synchronization between Nodame and Chiaki? I’ll have to wait and see.

I’ll also be the first to point out that the structure that I was talking about earlier is here alright and so it feels and seems familiar plus the spaces are filled too, yet the vibe isn’t the same. Basically, something is still tonally off. I’ve yet to put my fingers on it but given that I’ve dialed my expectations way low when it comes to this show, I’m able to just shrug it off and enjoy my watching experience. I know and understand though, that for others this is a difficult hurdle to cross.

For now, the short story is I am enjoying this show.

I love the guy who plays Eita‘s character and even though I am still warming up to the K-versions of Kiyora and Masumi, in general I think continuous comparison is inevitable so I’m okay with talking about the Korean and Japanese within the same vein. I just find it unfair that people seem to expect this version to deliver the exact quality that the Japanese version did. Like I pointed out earlier, the Japanese live-action was so effing good that any attempts to overtake or recreate is useless. At least for me, what I hope for from this version as we continue to move forward is for them to honor the spirit of the source material through characters that embody the spirit of their originals.

+++

Liar Game (2014)
Liar Game (2014)

Liar Game

Unlike Tomorrow’s Cantabile, this remake is interesting because it is so, so tonally similar that I was genuinely bored watching the first episode. Coming in with hindsight, I knew exactly what was going to take place and so I yawned my way through it. Not to say that this version was terrible, not at all because it’s more like they’re so good at getting this remake right that the differences are minor quibbles. Right now, my verdict is this show is capable and is already holding its own.

Despite sleeping through the first episode last night, I’m happy to report that the second episode really picked up the tension and pace. I was hooked and now I can’t wait for episodes 3 and 4. I’m also loving the ensemble because hot damn, my cutie dimple bunny Lee Sang Yoon has returned to my screen as a gruff bunny (still super hot) who’s a genius no less! Matsuda Shota did a fantastic job as Akiyama like you wouldn’t believe it, but Lee Sang Yoon isn’t doing too badly. His presence is less felt, but maybe he just needs a few more episodes to settle into the character right and proper.

As for the other two leads, seriously I think they did a darn good job with the casting because Shin Sung Rok – it’s my first time to watch him – is so effing good as the evil guy while Kim So Eun is doing a convincing job in embodying the character that made Toda Erika a household name. Dare I even say that Nam Da Jung (oh my god same name as the heroine in Prime Minister and I!) is more likable because while she has the same innocence and overcompensating trait, she seems… a teeny-weeny bit smarter and faster on the uptake than Nao?

I also think they did a good job with the structure of the show and tweaking it into this live reality show format. I read elsewhere that some people were complaining about this because it took away the evilness of the organization behind the game, but you know… I’m going to just put this out there, my theory: this show is just a detraction and a front for an evil corporation i.e. the real puppet masters. Even so, whatever it is, you’ve got to give it to the Korean remake for coming up with a structure that works and one we could buy when we imagine setting it up in our real life.

Last but not least, like Tomorrow’s Cantabile, they’re dialing up the romance here. If you’ve watched the original Liar Game you’d know how frustrating this show was when it came to the romance because there was so much tension between Toda Erika‘s Nao and Matsuda Shota‘s Akiyama but ughhhhh damn show you were such a tease! So you know, I’m totally okay with the fact that they’re upping the romance in this version. In fact, I’ll shamelessly squeal out loud because I think the chemistry between Lee Sang Yoon and Kim So Eun works. Sure it’s not in this get-a-room-you-two kind of way and more like a come-here-you-two-cutie-patooties, but whatever – it works. They exude an easy and comfortable camaraderie from the get-go, which has me looking forward to their partnership and not-so-subtle blossoming romance.

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In short, both are a solid yes from me. One is deviating further from its source material especially tonally and feel-wise, while the other is following the tone of its original too closely, but I think their respective moves are for the best.

I admit I still wish they brought on a stronger writer for Tomorrow’s Cantabile, maybe downplay the romance between the teachers and instead shift the focus more towards the music and character developments, but we’re only four episodes in so I’ll give them the benefit of doubt.

As for Liar Game, I am enjoying the show’s fast-paced, tension-filled and multi-layered characters. How much do I look forward to the potential romance brewing and more rounds of mindfuckery? Plenty, to be honest.

I’ll keep watching and if the mood strikes, I might just return with a halftime review!

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15 thoughts on “From Japan to Korea: First Impressions on Tomorrow’s Cantabile & Liar Game.

  1. Hello Jandoe)) I had a pretty difficult month at school,but I still watch some dramas to make me feel better.I was excited for both dramas,though maybe a little sceptical about liar game,because of how much I loved the original version.I’ve watched liar game this summer and became a really cray fan of it,because it was so brilliant,dark and really entertained me.I loved Akiyama from the very first ep,Shota Matsuda was just stellar in this role.It took me almost all episodes of the first season to warm up to Nao though.She was so naive to the point of irritating.Sometimes I thought she was just stupid rather than kind.I started to love her in 2nd season and the movie,she won me over.
    When I heard about korean version and casting news,I was sceptical because I didn’t think Lee Sang Yoon can play such a character.I was so wrong…First ep was a little boring,it was like an introduction,but the second ep blew me away.I think this version is a little bit different and I love it.I love that they added a character of Shin Sun Rock,he is so interesting.I saw this actor in man from another star,his acting was really good there,it was the fault of the writing that he was rather a cartoonish villain.Here on the other hand he is really amazing. Also I’m really glad that there are hints of romance in this version,because the chamistry is really good.I hoped so much for romance in jdrama,but it never happened.(
    I honestly don’t know why so many people don’t like korean version of tommorow cantabile.I\m a fan of the anime,but I didn’t like j-version.I don’t know it just wasn’t my cup of tea.Maybe I imagined Chiaki and Nodame differently.Now I’m watching korean version and this is how I imagined Chiaki.I love Joo Won really much here,I think he is really amazing in this role.Also Nae Il is not that bad.I can’t say that I liked her,but she doesn’t annoy me at all.Plus they are so cute together.I love other characters as well.I think this drama really has potential to be really good.)

    1. Palomaaaaaa!!! *waves* how are youuuu? I’m sorry to hear school has been rough on you, I hope it will get better :) I’m doing a lot better emotionally (amazingly) aha, but it probably has a lot to do with the fact that I am taking one less class than usual.

      Love all your thoughts about the two shows! I get what you mean about Liar Game. I think because it’s been a few years for me, I remember the structure and meaty bits but don’t remember the full details so I know why you were wary and worried about this remake. Still, I’m also glad you decided to give it a try and will keep watching it! I will too :)

      About Nae Il, you’re more patient than I am… or kinder than I am haha. I don’t dislike her but I have serious beef and am becoming increasingly annoyed that she comes off kind of stupid rather than endearing. I must admit I am sooooo surprised you didn’t like the Jversion though :O perfectly understandable of course, but I’m surprised haha cos people usually really like it and feel that the it complemented the anime. But I love your description about Joo Won’s Chiaki being closer to how you picture Chiaki from the anime :) I must admit that I reallyyy like him here, like I can really tell he worked hard to get into character and is sincere about this role. I appreciate that cos that means he’s putting in a lot of hard work!

      1. I’m fine I think,just so busy with my studies,because second year turns out to be much more difficult than the first.(
        In liar game I really like that there are some changes and differences because I remember all the details too well.It’s not really a problem,because I enjoy interactions between all the characters.)
        I was really suprised that I didn’t dislike Nae Il.I’m not that patient really…I dropped a lot of dramas just because I disliked female lead.I get used to Nae Il somehow,she even seems cute sometimes.Lol maybe I became more patient indeed))
        This summer when I heard that you were watching ojakgyo brothers,I decided to watch it myself.I agree that Joo Won was really good there.What do you think about the drama as a whole?

        1. I meant to write about OB! Somehow never got around to… unfortunate because I loved it! I confess I skipped certain parts haha and only really watched for some couples plus Mum, of course Mum. I also thought their best episodes were like 1-40 (the first half was so, so good) but overall it was soooo heartwarming and really tugged at my heartstrings. I initially loved 2nd Bro’s story the best and he’s so awesome (my type of guy hahaha) but by the end I grew really fond of the youngest one and his trajectory of growth. That actor truly shone in this one and I was happy for him when I read that he was the main guy in his most recent show, Marriage Not Dating. Joo Won’s character is a darling though, same as UEE. Together they were the cutest. I actually loved 2nd Bro’s love line the best but then it got overly dramatic real fast and too lovey-dovey too that it was like too bipolar aha. That’s my takeaway – it dragged somewhat towards the end, but I remember loving the last episode and not regretting that I spent 50+ hours on this show like a madwoman :p

          1. I have exactly the same thougths on OB.I think the first half of the drama was really good,but the second one sadly wasn’t that good.I loved love story of the second brother most,because it’s one of my fav type of story and I liked his character development so much plus the chemistry was just awesome.While initially I disliked Mum because of her harsh attitude towards UEE’s character,as the drama went on I warmed up to her.She turned out to be much better and kinder than I thought,I especially loved her relationship with Jae Eun,they were like mother and daughter,it was so heartwarming.Uee and Joo Won were so cute,I loved them really much.
            Sadly I didn’t enjoy the second half as much.I always felt that it could have been much shorter and much better as a result.It dragged a lot and extension wasn’t necessary at all.I skipped a lot because of that.Also I skipped younger brother story and now I’m starting to regret this,I just didn’t like him,plus I’m not a fan of noona romances.On the other hand I loved this actor in marriage not dating.I’d recommend you to watch it when you have time.It was so romantic and funny,female lead was just all kinds of awesome and hilarious,plus the chemistry was really good.I enjoyed it a lot.)

  2. I am loving Joo Won in Cantabile. Like, so much. So much! And actually, one of the things I’m looking forward to in the Korean version is how they do the romance. I got frustrated with the Japanese version, because they didn’t properly get together until what, the end of the second season? Or was it the movie? Either way, it took forever! So, I’m glad the Korean version is most definitely going to give us more than the J version. And with Nodame, I’m not sure. In the J version, she took a few episodes to become more than just the crazy pianist chasing after Chiaki, didn’t she? So I think it’s the same here. They’ll give her more depth soon. That said, it’s been a while since I watched it so I could be remembering it incorrectly, lol

    With Liar Game, I’ve never seen the main guy in anything but I really like him in this. I already lurve Shin Sung Rok, and he is so so so suited to this kind of role! Love it! And, as with Nodame, I’m totally on board with whatever romance they want to throw at us, ha ha. I’ve never seen the Japanese version, which I definitely think is a good thing. I have no preconceived notions and no idea of what happens, so I can’t be disappointed or bored.

    1. In the Japanese version, they were official more like when they moved to Europe together :D But yeah, it was a long wait hahaha. Actually you’re right about Nodame though – the show mostly focused on Chiaki in the beginning, so Nodame was kind of that weird pianist by his side, though she never came off as stupid which is not something I can say about Nae Il :( but but but here is to hoping!

      It’s honestly a great thing and totally smart move to come in as a blank canvas with Liar Game. Cos then you’re genuinely on the edge of your seat and all that. I feel like I am (in the 2nd episode) but like I can also remember bits and pieces so personally it kinda takes the excitement away from me. I’m glad you think so about Shin Sung Rok too cos OMG he’s already creeped me out!

  3. Yay, you found time to post about Tomorrow’s Cantabile. Honestly, as far as k-drama adaptions go, this one’s pretty decent, I’m so confused as to why people are calling it terrible. There are definitely some things about it I don’t like (the professor romance and the school politics are so boring) and I’ve pretty much given up on any hope of Nae-il ever resembling Nodame. Every thing you said about Nae-il is what’s bothering me, Nodame was silly, but you didn’t ever wonder if she was mentally handicapped. Oddly though, I do find myself warming up to her, but not in a I’ve accepted her as Nodame way, but as this Nae-il character who’s just…weird. I don’t think any actor is ever going to be Chiaki for me, I’m probably the only person that isn’t that attached to Tamaki Hiroshi in the role, but I think Joo Won’s doing just fine. It doesn’t live up to the j-drama, I’ll give it that, but that version had such a good cast and adapted the manga literally panel to panel that like you said, people are holding the k-drama to impossible standards.

    I started watching the original Liar Game a few weeks ago, but I dropped it because I didn’t want to have the original so fresh in my mind before the k-drama started, so I can’t compare. It does have a thriller vibe, which is a good thing and Lee Sang-yoon and Kim So-eun are good, I agree that they have cute chemistry, but I’m honestly staying for Shin Sung Rok. I sat through eight episodes of the snooze-fest that was Trot Lovers just for him because he was so compelling, but I’m in awe of him in Liar Game. He’s devious without being shouty or cartoony which just doesn’t happen often enough in dramaland. I don’t care if he’s evil, I totally love his character.

    1. YES! Amazing and inspiration (okay, motivation) finally struck hahaha. THANK YOU for saying this:

      “Honestly, as far as k-drama adaptions go, this one’s pretty decent, I’m so confused as to why people are calling it terrible.”

      It obviously does not have the same flair and vibe as the original, but we’ve also gone 20 rounds about this and arrived at the same conclusion each time… I’m just glad they’re obviously TRYING to do right with their version and I can really, really feel that Joo Won and SEK are doing their best for this show so it sucks to keep hearing people tsk tsk tsk that this one doesn’t live up to the J-version (of course it doesn’t, those who aren’t surprised are the ones I’m surprised to hear about…). But anyways haha I love what you said about Nae Il – “I’ve pretty much given up on any hope of Nae-il ever resembling Nodame” – cos I think I have too and I’m with you that I’m warming up to her, but in this kind of resigned manner. Like I’m thinking, “If you’re just gonna be weird.. okay… (sigh)” At least she’s adorable and together they’re even more adorable (she looks soooo tiny next to him!). I am surprised though about your thoughts on Chiaki – huh, I never knew! I remember taking awhile to warm up to Tamaki Hiroshi (can’t remember what show I’d watched of his before this one) and I also remember thinking he was sooooo skinny in the Europe specials, but I think for me, without realizing it I grew very fond of him haha that even when I read the manga, he came to mind as Chiaki (though their built are different). I am happy that you think Joo Won is doing a good job here, I actually really like him in this one :)

      Wait till this one wraps up and then give the Jdrama Liar Game a try! I think the latter is really good and is worth the watch, though there’s like 2 seasons and one or two movies so it’ll take you awhile aha. Because I didn’t watch that Stars show, I’ve never watched Shin Sung Rok but mannnn, he is GOOD. I can understand why you stayed through 8 episodes of Trot Lovers for him!! Exactly like you said, I find him evil-creepy in a serious way rather than cartoony, and that totally works. I was really creeped out by him at the end of episode 2. Not sure if it’s the expression or just his eyes, but he has this way of looking at people, especially with that sinister grin…

      1. she looks soooo tiny next to him!—Lol, I think this in just about every Yoo Jin+Nae-il scene. I don’t think Joo Won’s that tall, so I guess SEK is just really small. I think once you’ve just accepted that Nae-il is going to be weird, you’ll like her a lot more. Maybe it’s because I read the manga first and I already had real-life Chiaki built in my brain before I even knew about the drama so Tamaki Hiroshi was just not as I would have pictured him. I got used to him eventually, I’m just not as all over him as fans of the drama are.

        I’ll probably take your advice about Liar Game, I just need to find some time.

  4. I have to confess I haven’t made it past ep 1 of TC… it just did not interest me..

    I am also a fan of the jap version but I don’t think that’s the reason that impedes me from enjoying this one coz I for one enjoyed BOF while it was airing, despite loving HYD to bits. The main reason, I believe is Nae-il’s characterization. Just as you’ve said, she is more of an airhead, a caricature. Yes, the drama is a manga, but I still need to feel some sort of connection to it, and I did not.

    I read ep 4 recap and it seems Nae-il’s character is shaping up into something at least, so I might try and pick it up later..

    No thoughts on LG since I did not watch that one, both Jap and Kor.

    1. Hi oozzeee! Ahhh I understand your reason for not watching it :) I’m the same and that’s why it is such a surprise for me that I feel a connection with this show! if you do watch until 4, I would totally recommend keep at it until 5! I think 5 is their best yet :) Anddd if I can add a bit more, I would advise to tread the comment section of those recaps with care ya? There’s a lotttt going there and not all does justice to this I think… though I understand and now I’m even more convinced that purists totally would not like this version cos I think their interpretations are pretty different from the Jversion in a way that’s rather unpleasant..

      As for Liar Game no worries :) both versions are good so far (Jversion is definitely great) so if you are ever interested to pick it up please do and let me know what you think :D

      1. Nah..I learned my lesson and veered off the comments section from early on, waaay before the recaps started..

        I sympathize with those disappointed with how the Kor. version chose to treat the characters but I am also irritated with those who are very much pissed off coz the show deviated to how they imagined it to be, especially now that they have the j-version to compare it to. For the latter types, I think once is enough to express dissatisfaction, but to voice it out over and over and over just gets tiring.

        So I only visit those blogs that I feel comfortable with and believe are in the same wave lengths with me when it comes to the adaptation, but DB comments section, a great no no..

        1. And can I say, I don’t know if I can consider SEK lucky or not in my book. Since she has proven that she is a very good actress, she is getting less flack for this drama, but if it were a different actress, I don’t think us viewers will be as accepting.

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