Finally! My list for Best Actress this year!
Kim Jung Eun was so good at laying out the broken pieces of this housewife in Oohlala Spouses but let’s keep her away from playing guy characters in the future, okay? Ha Ji Won is her usual athletic self in The King 2 Hearts but she is so good at playing up Hang Ah’s girly dreams at the same time as her military roots. Jung Ryeo Won is funny and just great as a naïve screenwriter in The King of Dramas. Kim Hee Sun keeps the romance alive while Lee Min Ho stands there looking pretty in Faith.
5. Yoo In Na – Queen In Hyun’s Man
Queen In Hyun’s Man shocked many people because of how unexpectedly good it was. By all means, I was too considering how little I thought of Yoo In Na as an actress before. But every year brings a new surprise and Yoo In Na couldn’t have been better than what she does here as Hee Jin. Hee Jin is not a terribly complex character but she might come off as boring and simple if just any other actress played her. Yoo In Na’s version of Hee Jin benefitted from a strong palpable chemistry with Ji Hyun Woo (who later turned out to be dating his costar, aww!). Because of that incredible chemistry, Hee Jin suddenly became an interesting character. The writing helped by subduing their inclination to include any obnoxious second leads because there are virtually no second lead in the way of their romance. Yoo In Na plays Hee Jin with such headstrong determination to be with Kim Boong Do that you’ll believe it when Hee Jin believes that Boong Do is from a different era. Hee Jin is so enamored with Boong Do that it brings out the best in her—her spark, her grace, and her determination. Yoo In Na plays her with ample amounts of cute thrown in there, especially in scenes that were meant to make you die from cuteness explosion: the necktie scene and their first real date. We see her basically fall in love with Boong Do onscreen so when she breaks down after all the struggle she and Boong Do have gone through, it breaks your heart because it feels like we just watched two people genuinely falling in love only to be stricken by tragedy. Yoo In Na is so bubbly that it is surprising to see her armor crack. It might not be a challenging role, but boy does it feel so warm to see her onscreen.
Best scene: The last episode where her memories of Boong Do comes back to her. What a doozy of a scene and a perfect ending!
4. Shin Mina – Arang and the Magistrate
There’s something about Shin Mina that entrances you. She is just naturally beautiful and elegant that sometimes casting her might be a big distraction. How do you make all that beauty work as an actor? Thankfully, Shin can actually deliver a wonderful performance when given the opportunity. Her Arang is just plain spunky and loveable, a person who wants to take charge of her own fate instead of leaving it for other people to decide. This comes through especially in the first half of the show, where Arang bullies other ghosts to do her bidding and even gets some spectacular laugh by being so unafraid of the Jade Emperor. Even more interesting is how genuinely unafraid Arang is of death. She just simply wants to find out how she died. All of these characteristics are played with such directness and humor by Shin Mina, who gives this performance so much fun and spunk just like her last role in My Girlfriend is a Guminho. But what connects the two even more is their head-first attempt at achieving a goal. Shin isn’t a technically amazing actress but she does wonderful work in roles that fit her persona. Arang, as a character, benefits from this because she feels so natural and real. Even as the story makes Arang a prize to be won by different sides, Shin keeps making Arang work as a person with deep feeling. I am obviously burying the lead here because ultimately what makes this a great performance is how much chemistry she has with Lee Jun Ki. They work good together and actually look beautiful paired up. Nonetheless, Shin Mina accomplished a great performance with such little to go from and made my viewing experience fun.
Best scene: Episodes 1 through 4 are all perfectly acted and funny episodes and Shin is hilarious in most of them. The best one though has to be her audience with the Jade Emperor. That old foggy, hee hee.
3. Jung Eun Ji – Answer Me 1997
Jung Eun Ji doesn’t come across is amazingly skilled at portraying Shi Won but she does so much with the limited arsenal of emotions and expressions she has. I assume that Shi Won is written to be as energetic, wild, and careless as she does onscreen. But that belittles the amount of work that Jung put into this role to make it shine brightly onscreen. There’s a reason why people love this show and part of that is because Jung and Seo In Gook, along with the rest of the cast members, do such naturalistic work; here’s a show that tugs at your heart without the overbearing emotional scenes that often turn a genuine scene into a melodramatic sobfest. Sometimes, melodrama works (Hello Nice Guy) but for a show like Answer Me 1997, naturalism is necessary. Jung plays all the ups and downs of a teenager with aplomb: she’s hilariously crude but always bright and cheery. Her obsession with H.O.T is oddly relatable and fitting but especially her indecisive nature is convincingly portrayed. Her mixed emotions about Yoon Jae and Taewoong while her open-hearted acceptance of Joon Hee feel very real. While I’m not ready to call her a great actress, she does deliver a wonderful performance here and I’m quite optimistic about her future.
Best scene: The karaoke session where Yoon Jae confesses to her: “Can we just be friends?” Oof. The range of emotions going through her is palpable and moving.
2. Moon Chae Won – Nice Guy
I’ve probably said enough about the unlikeable characters of Nice Guy but it’s such a unique way to start a series by giving us a set of characters that are remotely likable or relatable. Moon Chae Won’s Eun Ki is the most likable in the series but she’s hardly pitiable. Everything that everyone does in this show is a result of them making a choice to do them. Therefore, all the consequences that accrue are deserved and oftentimes their fault. Eun Ki fell in love hard for Maru and I can see why. Moon gifts us such an interestingly layered performance from the beginning. She’s strong, adept at her job, and so busy-body that she hardly has time to make connection with anyone else. This is such a huge contrast from how she reacts to Maru. At first, she is obviously reluctant to be with Maru and even actually dates him simply because it makes Jae Hee uncomfortable. However, as she spends more time with him, she becomes more enamored and suddenly we see such a prissy and often insecure little girl hiding behind her corporate attire. Even as she finds out about Maru’s actual intentions, Moon shows just how much she is hurt—the pride collapsing, the fear that Maru was actually a bad guy, and the sense of companionship she’s longed for faded in an instant. This is a strong performance because even as the drama gives Eun Ki amnesia and later regains the memories, Moon shows us the connections between all these different sides of Eun Ki. Certainly, Moon Chae Won delivers a magnificent performance onscreen.
Best Scene: Losing Maru in the market and the childlike fear that enraptures her, then shamelessly throwing herself at Maru. She’s been stricken by the lovebug hard.
1. Jung Ryeo Won – The History of the Salaryman
Our first introduction to Jung Ryeo Won’s character is quite spectacular. In no time at all does reality set in when we hear Yeo-chi talk in a garrish manner aided by her raspy voice and the excessive amounts of swear words she use (bleeping required). This is all to show how untypical Yeo-chi is as a heroine of a drama. Yeo-chi curses with abandon, is selfish to a fault, and mostly feels entitled to everything she wants. I love that scene in the mall where she sees Mo Ga Bi try on the dress that she bought. In that one scene, Jung shades her character’s pride, self-worshipping, and childishness. I especially love her posture here, giving off not one ounce of sophistication but rather a haughty disregard for what others may feel about her. The progression of her character development kicks up a notch when her grandfather dies and she begins to look for answers to whom and why he died. Convinced that Mo Ga Bi killed him, Yeo-chi goes out to find evidence by playing like a drunken mess. In these instances, Jung plays her trick so well and so effectively that I was convinced she was actually a drunk mess but when we actually see her plans, she becomes even more fascinating. Jung makes her fire exciting and her tireless dedication interesting. This dedication adds to the satisfaction the audience gets from watching her talk down to Mo Ga Bi, especially when she watches as Mo Ga Bi is dragged away by the prosecutor. Jung Ryeo Won is excellent as Yeo-chi because she imbues her with equal amounts of heart as badass and she makes her a very exciting character to watch. She’s never dull on screen and I loved all her scenes because they are always expertly acted.
Best scene: Getting hit by those eggs by protesters and the mental processing she undergoes shows just how much tremendous growth she went through.