Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Friday, December 17, 2021

A Tale of Two Tales


Staff of the Hotel Del Luna

Comments on Cowboy Bebop and Hotel Del Luna, two recent Netflix series.

I recently watched two tv shows on Netflix, four episodes of the science fiction series Cowboy Bebop and so far, 14 of  the 16, episode Korean fantasy show Hotel Del Luna, and they couldn’t be more different.

Cowboy Bebop is a sf space adventure with the premise of, you guessed it, bounty hunters in space. Besides alien invasion, what other premise is there for a tv sf show? It is the live action version of an anime show featuring two losers as main characters. One is a cop who lost his job and wife, and the other is a criminal who lost this job in the syndicate and his girl. The ex-cop is responsible and relatively competent, the ex-criminal is cool and incompetent. But did I mention that he’s one cool dude? The basic show format is that every episode the pair go after a Batman (The TV show) type villain to collect a bounty, They usually screw up. The show has already been axed by Netflix. Critics said that it had poor pacing. It actually had none, as far as I could see. It was a sliced and diced series of scenes with the characters’ backstories slipped in whenever they ran out of dialog or in an attempt to extend the tension of the episode's main story line. Plus, as critics also noted, they weren’t spending their production money on sets. Most outdoor sets looked to have been filmed either in a back ally, or on some old movie studio back lot. They didn’t even look retro/cyber futurist.

Main Characters of Cowboy Bebop

As usual with TV sf, there were dumb things to serve the action sequences. Like the opening action scene where a hole was blow in a space station, and everyone was being sucked out into space. They have to reach a switch to activate a patch to seal the hull. Even without wondering how the patch could be applied at the exactly the right place, the fact that it had to be triggered manually is senseless -- any sort of patch would need to be automatic to work. Just nick picking. Or take a rooftop fight scene set on Mars. With Mars having only 1/3 the gravity of Earth, you could’ve filmed a semi-realistically flying ninjas fight like you see in any kung-fu movie. But no, it was a very choreographed, dance-like sequence. And did I mention a powder that turned people into trees? Yeah, that too. Character development was on par with its comic book origin.

It will not be missed. We’ll just have to await the reboot of Firefly that I gather is in the works. That was a dumb show as well,  but done a whole lot better, mainly because it had more fully fleshed out characters, I enjoyed it, despite how stupid it often was.

Turning now to Hotel Del Luna, we find something completely different – Korean fantasy/soap opera. I believe that when it was first shown in Korea, the episode length was probably different, so that in its 16 episodes you get something of a mishmash of story lines that might have been more episode-orientated in its original format. The premise of the show is that the Hotel Del Luna is a hotel for ghosts – souls who have either lost their way to the afterlife, or have hung around on Earth because of some unfinished business they feel they must attend to. The basic structure of the story are the various ghosts and their issues which must be solved for them to continue on to the afterlife and eventual reincarnation.

Two Lead Characters

The main point of view character is a fellow who’s childhood and expensive education was financed by the owner of the Hotel Del Luna with the understanding with his father that once he came of age, he would take over the management of the hotel, at least as far as dealing with the real world, which the hotel has one foot in. The hotel owner is a thousand year old ex-bandit woman, who is paying for her evil actions as a bandit. Her punishment is that she’s tied to the hotel and denied entry into the afterlife, somehow redeems herself. She and the new hotel manager make up the long drawn out main romance story at the center of the show. There is also a trio of employees of the hotel, and the hotel manager’s outside friends who are also woven into the story.

I am totally unfamiliar with the religion(s) of Korea, but the story line seems to be a mishmash of various religious and folk believes, that serve whatever story line the show writers come up with. I’m not sure they make much sense. You just have to go with the flow. The ghosts are people in makeup and look pretty tacky, and the scary parts, are likely not too scary, but then, not being a fan of horror, I’m not one to judge how scary the scenes stack up. There is some blood, but not the gore true horror/action movie fans have likely come to accept/expect. Outside of the ghosts, the production values are up to the typical high Korean standard.

The Hotel Luna unseen by the living

I’m not into film, so I’m really not one to judge acting quality. Korean (and Chinese) shows have their cultural quirks. That said, the acting in this series is somewhat of a mix of good and bland. I've found that the typical romantic lead in Asian shows is a guy who stands around looking serious without saying much. And this can be dragged out for half a minute with the characters just starring at each other wordlessly. If they would actually say what’s on their mind, you wouldn’t need 16 hours plus to tell their story. Drama/melodrama, I guess. In this show in particular, they often have the lead characters in slow, extended dialog just standing facing each other, about four feet away, hands at their side, with all the animation of a department store manikin. Really. Maybe that’s a Korean thing, but you’d think that you’d want some sort at business going on as they talked as well – walking, occasionally gesturing, looking away from each other, whatever. Maybe it’s just easier and quicker to film these scenes standing still talking, as these shows are often still being filmed even as the first episodes are being aired. And of course with all these Asian shows, the first hug, the first kiss takes five minuets with a lush soundtrack to accomplish. Watch enough Asian shows and you come to expect that. And as a bonus every Asian show has at least one scene where someone administers first aid to the the person they're in love with, so show how much they care for them. Oh, and they all have close ups shots of the characters clenching their fists when they’re mad or stressed. You could probably make a drinking game out of these scenes. 

So with Hotel Del Luna we have a rather silly premise that I think it plays rather fast and loose with to serve the plot. A ghost or two with problems to be solved in each episode. Usually there are flashback to the time where the Hotel Owner was a bandit that piece by piece builds the back story of the reason why she’s being punished. And this slow burning romance between the two leads.

The ex-bandit owner of Hotel Del Luna

The thing about Hotel Del Luna, unlike Cowboy Bebop, which has its story serve as a link between action sequences, is that Hotel Del Luna tells not only an intricate core story and romance, but weaves all sorts of other stories in and out of it. Supporting characters all have backstories. And each ghost has a story as well. Plus the main story lines -- Hotel Owner's tragic romantic past and present reluctant romance. Unlike Cowboy Bebop, it has characters who are more than just cool. Characters you can come to care about. Let me repeat that. It is a story with people that you can come to care about. Cowboy Bebop’s characters are mostly light, enigmatic sketches, probably because of the medium the story is drawn from – animated comic books. Having true characters is, for me, what makes all the difference in the world when it comes to enjoying a story in any medium. And for that, I’m willing to give its sometimes silliness a pass.

Is Hotel Del Luna great? No, I could recommend maybe half a dozen better Korean shows. That said, it was still well worth an hour plus of my day for a couple of weeks. (I still have two episodes to go...) On the other hand, the four hours I spent with Cowboy Bebop were spent hoping that it would get better so I wouldn’t have been wasted my time watching them. Reviews said that they did get better near the end, but by the end of the fourth episode, I no longer cared, so I did not finish it.

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