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The Drama Year So Far

7 Aug

Ah, this is my second year watching dramas (to think I only started last year!) and so far I’ve almost completed or completed thirteen dramas and less than halfway on at least two or three dramas. My goal this year is to watch at least 25 dramas this year and provide meaningful discussion about them. Thankfully, Dramabeans have been a huge help in separating the things I ought to watch and the things I should avoid. Hence, I’m not watching Dr. Jin or Operation Proposal because they’re both deemed terrible.

Since there are only so much hours in a day and only so much free time in a while, I obviously won’t and can’t watch all of the dramas that aired. My attention span for Korean dramas are much much shorter than my attention span for American shows since they’re two different things. Hence, I don’t watch shows that have more than (+ or -) 20 episodes. In other words, I’m only here to watch short-term dramas.

So this post here is to give you guys my brief (by my standards, at least) take on each of the dramas I’ve seen or I am currently watching. I have to leave some of my other analysis for my late-year listings and stuff.

I didn’t rate dramas where I’ve seen too few episodes to actually make a serious rating.

In alphabetical order.

1. Big may have been one of my most anticipated dramas with the return of Gong Yoo and the Hong sisters being a favorite, but it ended up being a “big” disappointment. Gong Yoo’s performance was the only great thing about this show despite early fluffy cuteness and adorable storytelling. Then, suddenly all the magic disappeared as the story became too cute without any actual substance. The ending is still a piss-worthy moment. More on Big here and hereRating: C-

2. Gaksital is a thrilling adventure period drama, akin to last year’s awesome City Hunter. I’m only a few episodes in since I started later than most people, but I like what I see so far of the episodes I’ve seen. Joo Won has a tendency to be too shouty for me but so far he is very interesting. I like his characterization and the conflict in him. The supporting actors are very good too. There are some random campy stuff (that club dance scene was laughable) but I like the fast pace and the tight editing.

3. Kim Eun’ Suk’s Gentleman’s Dignity is still chugging along towards its predictable ending but there is enough quirky and smart dialogue that despite the overall predictability and drag of the show, it’s still entertaining. It helps that the ensemble led by Jang Dong Gun and Kim Haneul possess major charisma that I enjoy watching them onscreen. Kim Jung Nan is still tops for me in terms of sheer acting and characterization though. Rating: B

4. The History of the Salaryman is visually interesting, has intelligent dialogue, and funny overall despite the high drama and the black humor. I love the movie references here and there but the best thing about the writing and direction is the heroic journey of Yoo Bang and Yeochi which are delightfully charted here. The show also has some of the best scene setups that is all around visually and sonically stimulating. The acting all around is top-notch with Jung Ryeo-won giving her best performance to date as the spoiled Yeo-chi. It loses some of the bite towards the end but its still a superior effort. Rating: A

5. I Do, I Do started off well enough with a very interesting, poignant, and mature concept that didn’t try to dilute the impact of its story with sugarcoating. It deftly told stories where Kim Sun Ah’s Hwang Ji An goes through issues of importance that are rarely addressed in Korean dramas, like single motherhood, unplanned pregnancies, abortion, career vs. motherhood, etc. What I liked the most about the show was the gender reversals with Lee Jang Woo’s Park Tae Kang being the show’s heart. Alas, the story moves at a glacial pace with a lot of meandering in the plot that leads nowhere and can get tedious. Kim Sun Ah unusually and unfortunately doesn’t really strike a chord with me, while Lee Jang Woo is pretty impressive and always fun and delightful.  More  hereRating: B-

6. Another cable drama, I Love You Lee Tae Ri, delivers another strong case for cable domination in terms of quality this year. Super Junior’s Kim Kibum is the best thing about this story about a boy who goes from 14 to 25 to meet the woman (Park Ye Jin) he’s supposed to be with. Kibum is excitingly childish but shows the traits of the 14 yr old we met at the beginning, who was too mature for his own age. What I love about the story is how refreshingly honest the characters are to each other, and instead of trying to be noble idiots, they all try to solve solutions by talking about their problems. Cinematography is a bit of a wash and the museum drama doesn’t really excite (in fact drags a little) but nonetheless, the story has abundant heart to win me over. Rating: B+

7. I Need Romance 2 is like Sex and the City: Korean style because of the similar premise about the central group of girls who talk about their love lives as they struggle through sham mariages, an unequal and sexually frustrating relationship, and dealing with the aftermath of a 12-year romance. There’s a lot of frank discussions about sex without sugarcoating it or making judgments and the romance feels real. It drags a little plot-wise towards the end but I’m hoping for a great finish. Rating: B+

8. The King 2 Hearts has a strong and intriguing plot that drew me in with the fascinating politics of the story but also the infinite charm of its lead characters. Despite the essential fantasy of the existence of a Korean king, the story is rooted in realism. It feels like things can actually happen this way if there were dialogue between the North and South. The romance at the center of the story is beautifully and carefully explored while tying along themes of identity, nationality, and other modern-day issues. Lee Seung Gi gives the best performance thus far of his career while Eun Shi Kyung is a scene-stealer. My only complaint is that the non-Korean actors were terrible and completely took me off the believability for a while when they’re onscreen. More hereRating: A-

9. I had an interesting experience with Love Rain. On a strictly technical level, it is A+ work with cinematography highlighting a beautifully crafted 70s era and capturing the frigid cold of Japan with dreaminess. Story-wise, it was too long with lots of filler episode in between that made the romance feel exhausting. The cliches sometimes took over. Jang Geun Suk is good here though he’s terribly outfitted and his hair is obnoxious. The true stars of the show, however, are the older actors. Lee Mi Sook delivers a hauntingly immaculate performance that only a pro like her can deliver while her screen counterpart Jung Jin Young elicits the same sort of adoration from me. Overall, I liked it enough but filler dulls the overall impact. Rating: B-

10. My first sageuk of the year and the biggest hit in Korea that I’ve seen so far is The Moon That Embraces The Sun. The story is overall a little too simplistic to the point that the only thing propelling the drama forward is the slow revival of the romance. With that said, I was intrigued by the fantasy and the politics involved and I was genuinely captured by the relationships that the show outlines. However, I don’t think I would have been as enraptured by the show had a few key elements never existed: a) the lush music that is still my favorite of the year, b) the wonderful cinematography and art direction that makes the colors pop like an Almodovar movie, and c) Kim Soo Hyun’s beautiful, tragic, heartbreaking, and virtuosic performance as Emperor Hwon, easily the best I’ve seen so far in a year with many outstanding lead male performances. Rating: A-

11. My first drama of the year was Kim Bum’s return to drama in Padam Padam. The drama is gritty and the storytelling is remarkably mature that bears some resemblance to Lee Chang-dong’s Oasis. The story is rather straightforward and tells the upward rise of Jung Woo Sung’s Kang Chil as he tries to rebuild his life after years behind bars. Kim Bum has an ethereal quality that fits with his angelic role but the only thing that kept me at a distance from this show is the unfortunate coldness from the show. Jung, in my opinion, gets too hammy in this role that I found myself cringing when I see him onscreen (which is plenty) but there are moments where he’s quiet and unshowy that I admired. Rating: B

12. Queen In Hyun’s Man wins my prize for the most exciting and romantic couple of the year because their characters feel so perfectly believable despite the fantasy elements of the show. Yoo In Na and Ji Hyun Woo have such incredible chemistry (I mean they’re dating after all) that every glance, every kiss, and ever tear feel so epic. Not to mention that we get characters that lack any sort of cliche and making surprising moves while the story never once drags nor does it ever feel frustrating. The ending may make people mumble but I was nonetheless swept in the romance. Rating: A

13. Reply Me 1997 just recently premiered but I already love the show’s impressively realistic characterizations, wonderful era-capturing setting, and smart and piercing script. The story makes a lot of surprising moves that fit well with the tone of the story and even manage to make a lot of nonjudgemental commentary on fandom and surprisingly taboo topics like homosexuality. In short, it’s smart, refreshing, and quite nostalgic.

14. Rooftop Prince is funny and has a lot of quirky characteristics that I looked for when I first saw the drama. Yoochun takes his role so seriously at first that it wrings a lot of humor and the bromance on display was very funny and very interesting. My problem is that somehow the bromance became more interesting than the romance and the story was plagued with many stupid corporate issues that the final product got diluted to nothing more than an impressive start and ending but a frustrating middle and an idiotic villain that I can’t take seriously. Rating: C-

15. Shut Up Flower Boy Band is by all means a friendship drama that pretends to be a drama about music. What’s fantastic is that it captures both plots, friendship and music, so perfectly that it can be called either one. This show has such a documentary and gritty feel aided in part by the amazing cinematography capturing the frigid weather like it’s a character in a drama. But the show’s best assets? The amazing chemistry and believable friendship of the band Eye Candy–simply the best drama I’ve seen where the romance takes a backseat and the heart of the show lies in the group of friends as they go through many challenges. Rating: A

If I have a complaint about the overall drama scene so far, it’s that I’ve seen too few lead female performances that I adore as much as I did last year. Come on ladies! Step it up!

With the Olympics done next week, I’m so looking forward to the new dramas premiering: Arang and the Magistrate and Faith both topping my list for must-watch. The makjang, Five Fingers which seems like the kind of melodrama that is built for me, premieres soon after Gentleman’s Dignity wraps up.

–Clarence

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One Response to “The Drama Year So Far”

  1. slashedsilver November 30, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    If you have time (with college and all), you should give Nice Guy a try. It’s the only Korean drama I’ve managed to watch from beginning to end 😉

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