2010 heralded the dawn of a new decade. Where’d the last decade go? I could have sworn that I took a brief nap after college, only to wake up with an entire family and a boatload of new responsibilities. On a more drama-centric note, 2010 also marked my transition from a passive drama watcher into an active drama blogger. I wouldn’t be here but for Thundie – for whom I dedicate this 2010 year end review. Now that the schmaltzy hugs and kisses are out of the way, let’s get down the business.
Most long-time K-drama watchers share a general consensus that 2010 was one of the better K-drama years. I haven’t watched long enough to support or refute this observation. As a stand-alone year, I watched enough dramas that made me quite happy, which is good enough for me to declare 2010 a winning year. 2010 started off with a bang for me with Chuno, and is ending with a feeling of warmth with Mary Stayed Out All Night.
Every K-drama blogger appears to have their own system for reviewing dramas, and I’ve settled on one that fits my style. Rather than review dramas primarily on their quality, I prefer to focus instead on their effect on me. For the most part, the two are aligned – a good drama makes me happy, and a bad drama pisses me off.
In the rare instances where these two components diverge, I will honestly let you know. Agree or disagree with me, I’m here to reminisce about what felt like a year brimming with drama pleasure (and some pain). Warning: there be spoilers ahead for some dramas, so read at your own peril.
The Beloved – these are the dramas which I loved, moving me in ways happy and sad.
The Women Who Still Wants To Marry/ Still Marry Me (“SMM”)
It’s a testament to both the quality of this drama, and how many dramas came out in 2010, that I both forgot that SMM aired in 2010 and remembered that it might just be the best rom-com to come out in years. Once my memory and the facts converged, I’m here to declare that SMM is simply the best qualitative and meaningful rom-com in 2010. It was lost to the MBC Wed-Thurs curse, but those who had the good fortune of watching it will surely feel privileged to be a member of a small but elite club of SMM-fans.
SMM is the story of three friends who have reached their mid-thirties, professionally successful yet still unmarried. Each lady holds a certain differing perspective about matrimony and happiness, showing us that there are no easy answers to finding satisfaction in your life and your choices. What SMM does so well is to seamlessly intertwine four compelling stories about love and life in a way that is mature, purposeful, and entertaining.
I don’t need any caveats to recommend SMM. This drama is truly delightful – equal parts cute, funny, and poignant. While the story centers mainly around Park Jin Hee’s Lee Shin Young and her romance with the decade younger Kim Bum’s Ha Min Jae, the other romantic relationships as well as personal friendships between the women are equally are riveting and honestly written.
SMM gives you both sharp writing and emotional catharsis – the cute and the smart, so to speak. It never sacrifices a meaningful story for co-star chemistry, smooth direction for cute interludes, or an unrealistic plot for a thrilling romance. One can argue that SMM chose to highlight specific romantic situations (such as dating with an age gap, dating for the sake of marriage, dating for the purpose of enjoyment) in an obvious message-laden way. While the construct may have been clearly marked on paper, the relationships unfold on screen in organic and ordinary ways, negating the spectre of the drama delivering a message rather than tell a story
Every character in the drama is fleshed out as much as possible in sixteen episodes, and their interactions are both mundane and dramatic. All the actors were perfectly cast, and each couple had copious amounts of chemistry with each other. I’m awed at how SMM perfectly balanced so many romantic entanglements, professional developments, and friendship bonds. You get all of the above in one single drama, and that’s why SMM is hands down my pick for Best Romantic Drama of 2010.
Playful Kiss/Mischievous Kiss (“PK”)
Is there anyone on this drama planet that doesn’t know that I love Playful Kiss? LOL, while it’s pretty clear that I adore this drama, and have written reams about it, it still deserves a critical eye at the year-end reviews to make sure my opinions haven’t changed. It hasn’t, don’t worry. PK gets my vote for cutest and most exasperating drama of the year. It’s like my baby girl – the cutest thing since Knut the baby polar bear, but when she’s in a pique she frustrates the hell out of me because she makes no sense and I can’t reason with her.
PK had both the ignominy of being the lowest rated drama of the year, and the glory of being the first drama to be continued after its television run with a Youtube special that broke records for online viewership for this type of content. Rather fitting for a drama that divided fandom with a schism I can still recollect with a shudder, the screams of the “Oh Ha Ni is a mindless, spineless, sorry excuse for a female” versus the “Oh Ha Ni is a persevering, kind-hearted, dedicated example of love conquering all.”
In the end, PK became a reflection of each viewer, its strengths and weaknesses acknowledged by viewers who accepted its shortcomings, finding that the good outweighed the bad. It was never going to be a ratings hit like its manga-drama cousin Boys Before Flowers (which was the anomaly rather than the norm), but the beating it took from all corners really made me extra protective of it because it was so very innocent and pure of spirit. It never aimed for epic storytelling or slice-of-life realism. It was always just a little drama with a lot of heart, undermined by a lack of proper execution and a love story that you either loved or hated.
There was almost no middle ground with PK, and that was quite fine by me. PK gave me lots of enjoyment, some of which had nothing to do with the drama proper, but more to do with the group of drama-fans I watched it with here at the Playground. This was not a great drama, nor even a very good drama, but what it was a happy drama. The conflicts minor in scope, the comfort it brought major in impact.
Jung So Min was a revelation as Oh Ha Ni, taking an unlikeable character and making her loveable. Kim Hyun Joong improved as an actor and made Baek Seung Jo come to life. Together, they created one of the most endearing K-drama couplings in recent memory. They also took a rather unpalatable love story (it was a how-to guide in stalking your way to landing a husband), and made it sparkle with mirth and angst, leaving me satisfied with a journey that felt very young, but was destined to grow very old.
The most ambitious drama of the year, and probably the most successful production. Equal parts an homage to grand drama epics of yore, and an aspiration to take that heavy-weight genre to new heights, Giant rose up to the challenge to win both in ratings and in critical acclaim. The drama has been touted as a successor in style and scope to Eyes of Dawn and Sandgalss (I can’t confirm since I haven’t seen those classic K-dramas), bringing scale and modern Korean history back to dramas. It started off slow, and steadily found its footing. By episode 12, Giant was hurtling full steam ahead, taking complex storytelling and in-depth character development to new heights. I was mesmerized.
Giant tells the story of a family of four siblings, who are separated from one another through the wrongdoings of selfish and power hungry people. Their story is intricately tied to the economic and political development of South Korea from the seventies through 2010, taking a family and using them as participants and eye-witnesses to the dynamic changes of an entire country.
Giant is so ambitious that it has not one, but two sets of OTPs. While I was much more invested in the love story of lead Romeo Lee Gang Mo (Lee Bum Soo) and his Juliet Hwang Jung Yeon (Park Jin Hee), the other OTP gave angst and star-crossed lovers a whole new name and was admittedly the flashier and more romantic pairing in the drama. But in the end, the love stories in Giant took a back seat to the story of a family torn apart and put back together, struggling for success and justice in an era where neither was easy to come by.
My pick for Best Villain of 2010 also came courtesy of Giant – resident genius Satan daddy Jo Pil Yeon. This man was the mastermind and puppeteer for the entire drama, never once exhibiting a shred of humanity or regret for anything he did. He was in it to win it, and any human standing in his way be-damned. Unfortunately, Giant’s success also undercut its momentum, and the ten-episode extension it was granted slowed down the amazingly tight storytelling and made the second half admittedly less gripping than the first half.
Nevertheless, Giant is my pick for Most Epic Drama of 2010. It might be another 10 years before another drama of this scale and caliber comes along, and I feel enriched and sated to have watched Giant as it aired. I learned a lot about modern Korean history, and I gained a lot of insight into using dramas to both reflect on one’s cultural history, as well as subversively shed light on one’s political shortcomings. Giant had ambition and talent, using great writing, directing, and acting to create a drama that makes me wish that Korea produced a Giant at least once a year.
Mary Stayed Out All Night/Marry Me Mary! (“M3″)
This drama was my biggest (and most inexplicable) addiction of 2010. Yes, even bigger than my PK addiction. I think knowing the Itazura na Kiss story beforehand allowed me to follow PK with a mellow contentment knowing how everything will work out. Not knowing what would happen in M3 from week-to-week drove me literally batshit insane. Which is rather apropos, since the storytelling in M3 was exactly that – batshit insane, but so much fun for me to watch.
I was apprehensive before the drama aired, and the first episode left me uncertain as to whether I would love it or just find it another mindless and forgettable drama. By the end of the second episode, I was hooked, and hooked but good. I knew this wasn’t the best rom-com by any measure of quality, but it was so charming and off-beat that my mood instantly was lifted when I watched an episode. I can safely say that were the two leads not Jang Geun Seok and Moon Geun Young, this drama would have no appeal for me. It’s simply the Geun-Geun show, and everyone else is along for the ride.
I wished the story and execution was as stellar as the cast, but alas, that was not to be. By the time the story started to stall and spin in circles, I was already emotionally invested in the sweetest love story I’ve seen in a long time. I fleetingly considered cutting my losses and running before deciding that I was happy to watch this drama to its conclusion. I guess this is what loving something means, a commitment that you stay with it through the good and the bad.
I love M3, in spite and because of its shortcomings. It’s a genuinely adorable drama that sadly got progressively wackier. My consolation is that watching it gifted me with my undisputed choice of Couple of the Year in Moon Geun Young and Jang Geun Seok. Watching Mu Gyul and Mae Ri fall in love was the most satisfying romantic daydream I had all year. It was as fluffy as the bunnies on a frosty cake, but damn was that cake delicious to eat.
Joseon X-Files/Secret Investigation Record (“JXF”)
My unequivocal pick for Best K-Drama of 2010. Yes, you read it right – the best drama of the year across all genres and all offerings. JXF was so unbelievably stellar a production, it can hold its own against the best Hollywood productions out there. I can look all day and all night, and I won’t find a single thing wrong or lacking with JXF. This genre may not be your cup of tea, but the objective quality of this drama is not up for debate.
Taking sci-fi concepts and general mythology the world over, and placing it squarely into the Joseon era, JXF is a sageuk that is greater than the sum of its parts. As a cable channel drama, it had a limited budget, 45 short minutes, and no Hallyu stars to anchor each episode. By turns exhilarating, awe-inspiring in its depth and technique, and flawless in its execution, JXF blew me away with its complexity and storytelling.
When you’re watching JXF, your eyes are in constant motion absorbing every detail and nuance in every scene, while your mind works overtime to process the dialogue rife with hidden meaning and subtle undercurrents of plot reveal. Like an elaborately constructed diorama, JXF makes it look so easy for a drama to be so riveting by understanding the basic tenants of filmmaking – tell an intelligent story in a thoughtful way with capable performances. While these standards may seem quite obvious, drama after drama flop demonstrates how hard it is to accomplish.
Kim Ji Hoon was at turns solid, at times stellar, and always always a sight for sore eyes with his handsome yet beaten down look in this drama coupled with his trademark wry dialogue delivery. The entire cast, down to the most insignificant throwaway part, somehow fit perfectly into the world of mystery wrapped in political and cultural intrigue. The ending baffles me, and I tend to like my endings more sentimental rather than enigmatic (think how Lost ended rather than how Battlestar Galactica ended).
I saved the best drama for last in this category. A big round of applause to JXF, for giving me the biggest feast for the eyes, mind, and creative spirit in 2010. It’s not that watching JFX was life-changing, but more that it makes me thankful that there is still talent and attention to the craft of drama-making in Korea, leaving me confident that the industry has more opportunities to produce exquisite dramas like this.
The Satisfying – these are the dramas I enjoyed, entertaining and worthwhile.
The quintessential fifty episode weekend drama was a breezy and emotional ride. I liked every episode, even loved many scenes, but ultimately it never left me quaking with anticipation. Nor did it ever inspire me to write about it. It was solidly constructed, if completely predictable and pedestrian in concept and execution. As a family drama, I liked that it was lower in scale on the family histrionics, and decidedly mature in approaching discussions about both love and marriage.
The best part about Gloria is that it gave the world two rock solid, chemistry-laden OTPs that would easily take over any drama on its own. Together, they elevated Gloria to heights the drama itself could never accomplish by its mediocre writing or lackluster directing alone. The story was exceedingly straightforward and predictable, but the acting was across-the-board excellent.
The romance in Gloria was mature, deep, meaningful, and soul-searching for both sets of OTP. Illegitimate rich and repressed Kang Seok (Suh Ji Seok) and his opinionated, stubborn, and brash songstress love Jin Jin (Bae Do Na) was the perfect blend of opposites attract and make each other whole. Soft-hearted tough guy Dong Ah (Lee Chun Hee) and his frail and delicate ballerina love Yoon Suh was the discovery of two needy people who found their soul mates in one another.
Depending on how Gloria wraps up in the early part of 2011 (it’s up to episode 38 as of the time this post is published), it has a chance to stay solidly in the satisfying category. The tail end of any long saga is always when viewer and story fatigue sets in. I hope both my OTPs get their deservedly happy endings, and all the horrible villains of the story get eaten by a pack of feral chihuahuas.
Flames of Desire/Flames of Ambition (“FoD”)
Famed drama writer Jung Ha Yeon’s masterful approach to doing a makjang was a sight to behold. Starting off all hellfire and brimstone, it settled into a tightly wound knot of lies and half-truths, held together by hope and the possibility of a better future for everyone. A story where darkness and light co-exist in seemingly every person, and the bonds of family and ambition drive one woman to keep clawing her way to the top.
This is a very heavy drama, the story, the characters, the dialogue, the execution – all of the elements are firing on all cylinders, and it’s a take-no-prisoners approach to storytelling via dramatic license. I loved how it forces the viewer to take a critical eye to characters and their motivations, finding everything rather distasteful and sordid, but you can’t stop watching it.
As a completely different type of fifty episode weekend drama than Gloria, FoD is just hitting its stride in setting up a sweeping family saga, and I wait with bated breath to see how it will all unfold. FoD is a story set into motion by a very human desire for wealth and security, centering itself around Shin Eun Kyung’s character of Na Young, a person who defines the very essence of never being either black or white in any of her motivations or actions. Her performance was so intense and nuanced that she gets my vote for Best Female Performance of 2010.
FoD may be makjang, but it’s not stupid, proving that the crux of creating a dramatic moment doesn’t mean foregoing sense and brain cells. The dialogue is riveting, and he interaction between the lead actors crackling with chemistry both overt and subdued. Yoo Seung Ho, as the sole beacon of warmth and light in an otherwise dark dark world, is so adorably and man-boy like I sometimes need to chant “remember that he’s just 17!” so I don’t mentally break any laws. I’m enjoying FoD immensely, finding that it’s a great counterweight to all the light and fluffy dramas I am watching at the end of 2010.
The only procedural medical drama to air this year, and surprisingly better than I expected. Going in with no expectations, I found myself enjoying the predictable baby-or-expectant-mother of the week story anchored by a crabby, aloof, and exceptional female OB/GYN lead character. The acting was across-the-board competent, but no one stood out to take the story to new heights. But it worked as a medical emsemble piece, and Jung So Hee anchored the drama on her capable and pixie shoulders.
This is nowhere near being my favorite K-medical drama, but it was much better than the piddling ratings it garnered. It tried to be intelligent (though rather simplistic) and aimed to discuss social-medical issues (albeit veering towards the preachy at times). I liked that the OTP had a gender reversal whereby the woman was prickly and unemotional, and the man in the relationship was considerate and attentive.
I thought long and hard about whether to drop this drama into the middling category below, but ultimately decided that it deserved to be here. OB/GYN had a very straightforward concept that was executed successfully and delivered with heart and skill. I don’t like it nearly as much as the other dramas that occupy this category, but it’s definitely a drama I have no qualms about recommending as decent and satisfying.
*Secret Garden (“SG”)
This was my second most anticipated drama in 2010 prior to airing (the most anticipated being Athena: Goddess of War – which is not included at all in this year-end review since it has just premiered last week). My first impression was that the drama did not disappoint. The early episodes were everything I had hoped for and more – intense and riveting, funny and playful, quirky and surprising. It was well-made, well-acted, and exceedingly intriguing in every way. I loved the quirky characters, the chemistry-filled interactions, and the funny beats interspersed throughout.
Butbutbut, this drama lost me around the mid-way mark. As a viewer I was sustained purely on chemistry and quirk, but couldn’t find the purpose or the point. Yes, M3 is way worse in having no plot, but SG aims much higher than M3 in constructing a fantasy-melodrama premise that has a lot of mythology it needs to unravel if I am to accept that two people can change souls and then change right back under a precipitous shower of rain.
I put an asterisk in front of SG, because the latter half will either keep it in this category, or drop it in the middling, or even worse, exasperating pile. I think I am much more generous with SG as a whole because writer Kim Eun Sook’s last drama is my favorite drama of all time, and because both Ha Ji Won and Hyun Bin are obsessions of mine. Not afraid to reveal my partiality here, so take my recommendation of SG with a grain of salt. This is a polarizing drama, with two equally polarizing sets of OTPs. Whether it has legs to go the distance depends on whether the script can sustain the weight of the story.
The Middling – these are the dramas that gave me a split personality, the good parts I loved, the bad parts I loathed.
Wish Upon A Star/Pick the Stars (“WUAS”)
Man, what the fraking frak frak went on in this drama? The first episode was a valiant attempt by someone to produce the single worst episode of a K-drama ever made. Starting from episode 2 onwards, the drama took a drastic and immediate upswing, sprinting from good to near great in sheer enjoyment value alone. For the first ten episodes, WUAS was hands down the crackiest drama for me in the early part of 2010, the one drama I would wake up every Mon-Tues and immediately watch the raws.
The story of a flighty and materialistic girl who loses her parents and becomes the surrogate parent to her five step-siblings took a clunky premise and imbued it with heart and soul. Courtesy of some adorable children, a mad hot Kim Ji Hoon (and his unfortunate incredibly receding hairline), and a breakthrough for Choi Jung Won, WUAS was my addiction of choice for five weeks running. Like all good crack dramas, it built the story layer by layer using an addictive mixture of cute, funny, and touching. Until it all went to hell in a hand basket.
While WUAS was never going to win any awards for great storytelling, the writer decided in the second half to try to win the award for worst storytelling. And boy did it try very hard. What was a promising romantic lead couple completely sputtered in romantic development in the latter second, ending up together only because it was supposed to happen. Never did I wish for more pointless fan service OTP moments in a drama, and gotten less of said moments, than in WUAS.
Along those same lines, the adorable kids got less screen time, and the crazy second female lead and her equally crazy mother got more. The second male lead, who had unclear motivations throughout, simply lost his way and become completely unhinged in behaving like a rational person. If WUAS had an OTP with crackling chemistry or the drama spent more time on their relationship, this drama might be M3’s fraternal twin.
Sadly, with a story that went to hell, and without a strong OTP, I finished this drama for the sake of goodwill and being a completist. Unlike M3, this drama didn’t have a midway writer switch, yet it was equally as bipolar. I would never consider spending time watching Kim Ji Hoon onscreen as a waste, but this drama really tried my patience. Thankfully, Mr. Choco-Abs redeemed himself with Joseon X-Files later in the year, and I wash my hands of WUAS with this opportunity to rant a bit.
Without a doubt the one drama in 2010 that made me increasingly upset as I watched it. PD Kwak’s follow up to his masterpiece debut Conspiracy in the Court was highly anticipated by me, moreso because it starred one of my favorite K-actors, Jang Hyuk, in his return to the sageuk genre since Daemang. It also reunited him with Lee Da Hae, also an actress I’ve always liked. What could go wrong? Oh, just the complete betrayal of the story in ways I could not accept.
I loved episodes 1-12, had my guts torn out in episodes 13-14, and then proceeded to increasingly hate each remaining episodes with the heat of a thousand blazing suns. This drama would go in the Exasperating pile if it weren’t such a stellar production overall, with Jang Hyuk hands down winning the Best Male Actor of 2010 award. Actually, Jang Hyuk’s performance of Dae Gil really ought to nab him a Best Acting of the Year award regardless of gender. It’s that mind-blowingly good.
I fell in love with Chuno immediately, defending its uber-stylistic visual style and heightened bombastic tension as a welcome respite from the dreary of the court intrigue sageuks where everyone sat around for 3/4s of each episode plotting and then re-plotting when their original plot fails. I saw Chuno as taking all the delicious romantic angst that was wasted in Queen Seon Deok, and making that the focus of this drama. The story is about a former-noble-turned-slave-hunter chasing his former slave and love of his life, within the historical context of a grand drama inquisition into slavery and political upheaval in Joseon-era Korean.
What killed me is not that the heart and soul of this drama, Jang Hyuk’s Lee Dae Gil, did not end up alive or with the heroine at the end of the story. I pretty much knew he was going to bite it from episode 1, and that hell would freeze over before he got his happy ending with Lee Da Hae’s Un Nyun in this lifetime. What pissed me off is how the story was unable to properly resolve the emotional angst between this pair of star-crossed lovers, doomed by birth to never be together.
The drama failed for me when it cast Oh Ji Ho as Song Tae Ha, righteous ex-general extraordinaire, and the world’s most manly block of wood. Tae Ha was already a flat character with no depth (“I believe in honor and loyalty and everything is black and white”), but essayed by Mr. Korean Stoner With A Surfer Accent, Tae Ha literally made fall asleep during each of his scenes. Whenever Tae Ha and Dae Gil would have a mano-a-mano scene, it would be like one guy acting circles around the other. Un Nyun was boring and Lee Da Hae’s acting was surprisingly flat in this drama, so it just became the Dae Gil show for the latter part of the drama.
Except the writer refused to properly resolve all the lingering issues between Dae Gil and Un Nyun, instead spending the last third of the drama carrying out the world’s lamest and most pointless slave revolt anchored by the flimsiest political conspiracy. I got progressively more and more pissed off, until I finally had to not watch the final two episodes of Chuno until months had passed and I could watch it without seeing red. Memo to writer – it’s not what you choose to do with the characters, but how you do it. Chuno lost me in the “how” column.
Until I watched Mary Stayed Out All Night, Chep and his Yoo Kyung would have hands down won my best chemistry between an acting couple of the year award. Lee Seo Kyun and Gong Hyo Jin were the sole sustaining force in a drama that was as pointless as pointless comes. Really, I still don’t know what the point of the story was? And unlike M3, this drama didn’t have the zany laughs or adorable escapades to alleviate some of the doldrums. It only had Chep and Yoo Kyung, and by the end even that wasn’t enough for me to tune in week after week.
Don’t get me wrong, this drama was decent, non-offensive, rather smartly written, and overall a solid production. But just wasn’t very interesting, in good or so-bad-its-good ways. Story-wise it had a steady diet of restaurant-related plots, but it didn’t hook me or entertain me. I was hanging on only for the OTP and their each and every interaction.
Sadly, individually the lead characters weren’t all that interesting or sympathetic either. The entire drama rested on the acting chemistry between the two lead actors, and that wasn’t enough at the end of the day to make this drama memorable or worthwhile an investment in time to watch. I wasn’t watching a lot of dramas in the early part of 2010, and I am glad I watched Pasta since spending time watching Lee Seo Kyun and Gong Hyo Jin flirt, bicker, and sass each other was absolutely a treat.
The Exasperating – these are the dramas that just plain pissed me off.
This is the drama I hated the most in 2010. I can even make a credible argument for it being the worst drama of the year, but I don’t want to go there. That would require more brain power than I want to spend on it. I wrote a First Impression review of PT that was actually much much much nicer that it ought to have been. I was less blunt back then, and also my hatred of PT seems to grow with time, like a single mushroom that became a dense patch.
PT was the only drama I watched during the heated PT–Cinderella Unni–Prosecutor Princess three-way battle back in Spring of 2010 (a friend coined these dramas “The Trifecta of Suck”, which still makes me giggle to this day – I can only speak on behalf of PT, which by itself has enough suck on its own to be a trifecta). I know Serendipity, Dahee Fanel, and myself each wrote a review of one of these dramas, and the results were not pretty. Too much hype for CU and PT, and not enough quality all around. PT offended me by being so blatant with the gender and sexual orientation stereotypes, at the expense of character development and story.
Son Ye Jin is one of my favorite actresses, but she was uncomfortable in PT, making her performance as awkwardly constructed as the character she played. Lee Min Ho started off fine, but his performance and character both started to unravel for me midway, and by the end when the story got both stupider (didn’t think that was possible), and didn’t seem to go anywhere, I just checked out. Months later I went back to finish PT, and wished I could get those hours back in my life.
The only sympathetic and mildly three-dimensional character was the gay museum director, played with tenderness and aplomb by Ryu Seung Ryong, who got an ending that was akin to a bird chirping all alone in the forest. In the end, I could care less whether the OTP got together, whether the clingy second leads got their comuppenace or learned any lessons, or whether the random story line actually made sense. I kinda wanted everyone, other than the nice gay museum director, to fall into a volcano and never offend me again with this drama.
The “Game Over” kiss may have been hot as heck, but the drama was deader than road kill, which with more time that passes, emits that foul odor of mediocre acting, herky-jerky directing, plot development which I loathed, and a concept that I found offensive. The less pretending to be gay dramas Korea puts out, the better for my sanity. I caught a couple episodes of the sublime Life is Beautiful just to wash the stench of PT off myself. A good drama friend of mine wrote thus: “The drama I most like to pee on – Personal Taste”. @nycgrl, you owe me some new pants, because I peed myself when I read that.
I am Legend (“IAL”)
This was the one drama in 2010 that gave me the biggest whiplash in a multitude of ways. (1) I had barely above zero interest in this drama once Kim Su Nah dropped out and Kim Jung Eun took over, and (2) ahjumma rock band doesn’t exactly call out “oh Koala come and watch me!” But the first episode aired, and I read Javabeans’ very intriguing review and decided to check it out. I was blown away, by a great first episode that made me re-evaluate both the acting talents and the charisma of leads Kim Jung Eun and Kim Seung Soo.
IAL took a very iffy but full of potential premise, and started off with a steady and confident hand. The acting of the two leads were top-notch, especially in any scene between the two of them. THIS was chemistry between two actors I had rarely seen before – heat, pained, hurt, frustration. This was love that had turned to something dark and dysfunctional, but made you glimpse that it could have been so wonderful and happy had something not gone wrong.
After two episodes, I was hooked on IAL. I tuned in episode after episode waiting for Seol Hee and Ji Wook (aka her rat bastard of future ex-husband) either to have a mad passionate break up make out session, or at least get all touchy feely for my benefit. It really hurt the drama when the other male lead Lee Joon Hyuk (whom I adore and actually was interested in IAL solely because of him) had no chemistry with Kim Jung Eun, and she had truckloads with the guy who was playing her rat bastard ex-husband. I contend that is why the story went to hell, and the drama completely faltered in the second half.
It couldn’t decide if it wanted to be “How Seol Hee Got Her Groove Back” or “Soel Hee Brockovich”. The first half focused on her divorce, and the second half focused on her providing legal assistance to a group of taken-advantage of market folks. In between balancing these two storylines, the writer forgot to develop a credible romantic one. Seol Hee neither gets back together with her husband (not that she should) nor does she get herself a cool new boyfriend. In the end, neither the romantic angle nor the story went anywhere, and the drama ended on a whimper.
Bad Guy (“BG”)
Ha. Haha. Hahahahahahaha. Man, attempting to write a year end review of Bad Guy is tough. On one hand, I can go the straight route and just analyze why this drama was just one giant whirlpool of disjointedness. On the other hand, I can have fun with it, making my review match this drama beat for beat in increasing levels of craziness. I should at least tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed watching BG. Even when the drama went to hell, it went in such WTF ways that you can’t help but be amazed by all the mindfuckery going in. If the point of BG was to entertain, then I was definitely entertained all right.
The beyond excellent cast, the sleek production values, the directorial touches, the hyper-elegant cinematography – BG had it all, except for a cohesive and rational story. Too bad BG absolutely needed to have a tightly constructed story to make sense, because it’s not a fluffy rom-com, it’s a noir revenge thriller. Motivations are important, character behavior needs to be consistent, and above all these, the core revenge plot needs to make sense.
The blame could be laid at the feet of the writer, but BG was hampered by poor publicity from SBS, airing during the World Cup and getting preempted multiple times, and finally (the kiss of death), having its leading man Kim Nam Gil get called to report to military services BEFORE the drama finished shooting. The writing took giant leaps of logic in the end to accommodate Kim Nam Gil’s filming schedule, and I took a headdesk to my keyboard that still today has an imprint of computer keys on my forehead.
Do I regret watching BG? Not in the least! Even when it went crazy town on us, it remained an entertaining to watch and gorgeous to look at. This drama also showcased a breakout performance by Kim Jae Wook as Hong Tae Song, so wounded and feral, yet so childish and starved for affection. BG also changed my perception of Han Ga In from one-dimensional pretty doll actress to luminous muse. I shipped her with second lead Kim Jae Wook so bad, because they had mad chemistry, and because I knew the other pairing couldn’t possibly end well.
In the end, BG became the drama that went out with a whimper and a giant worldwide resounding gasp of “WHAT WAS THAT!?!” I know my noir and revenge genres, and like one of my quibbles with Chuno, when you go dark and deep into the recesses of human frailty and foibles, you must deliver an ending that may be hard to accept as a viewer, but ultimately rings true for the character at hand. BG….did not do that. But no, I’m not bitter, because this drama was like a Monet painting – gorgeous from far away, but a giant mess when you see it from up close.
The Dropped – these are the dramas that I couldn’t continue watching. Chances are these dramas may be good, but all bored or annoyed me quite early on, so they and I are simply not meant to be.
Coffee House – five episodes and out. Kang Ji Hwan’s acting was off for me, and I didn’t like any single character in this drama. Any. In fact, I may actively hate every single character in this drama. If I had watched more of it, I may have hated this drama more than I hate PT. I stopped myself, because I was already in pain. Love the OST though!
My Girlfriend is a Gumiho – two episodes and done. I was really bored with the story, and found the acting cute but passable. I have an inkling based on other people’s watches that this drama is qualitatively much better than both Playful Kiss and Mary Stayed Out All Night. Too bad I have no interest to watching it.
Sungkyunkwan Scandal – ten episodes and sayonara. This is the one drama I admit to checking out because I didn’t ship the OTP. Not that I wanted Yoon Hee end up with Jae Shin. In fact, I didn’t like either Yoon Hee or Sun Joon, the characters or the actors, so their getting together was fine with me. But I got bored with the story as well. Without either an interesting story or OTP to anchor me, I felt no compulsion to continue.
Kim Soo Ro – 20 eps and bye bye. It was a 36 episode drama, so I dropped it a little past the midway mark. A meandering, plodding sageuk that was neither fusion nor traditional. It fell into the dreaded East of Eden trap, whereby the hero had a first love with the second female lead, and is supposed to end up with the first female lead at a later juncture, except the writer keeps on writing the first love story until the canon love story becomes superfluous. I tried valiantly to continue, since it was the only sageuk available to me in early 2010, but eventually even my brain lost the ability to process what the hell was going on in this drama.
A Man Called God – 12 episodes and toodles. This is a silly drama with more style than substance. But it was fun in a tongue-in-cheek way in the very beginning, entertaining to watch and make fun OF it, chuckling at the self-aware corniness during the weekends when the offerings were slim and I had nothing better to do. Except it got serious midway through, promptly becoming bad and boring, which is when I checked out.
In case it wasn’t abundantly clear, these are simply my impressions of all the K-dramas I watched or attempted to watch in 2010. I may make validations or dismissals of certain dramas, but in the end that wasn’t what brought me the most pleasure or kept me going back. JXF may have been the best drama I watched this year, but M3 was the drama that I re-watched each episode the most times.
As a viewer, I am both discerning and pedestrian in my tastes, as long as it satisfies my watching requirements. I aim for a wide-selection of dramas based on an ever-evolving criteria. Breadth and depth comes with time and a desire to expand my K-drama watching horizons. In 2010 I also watch plenty of old K-dramas that have either vaulted into my Top-10 or quite simply were excellent in ways the new fare didn’t provide.
I look forward to 2011 with a few key takeaways: (1) lower my expectations, (2) go into everything with an open mind, and (3) have fun! Hope my humble little walk down the memory lane of 2010 K-dramas was as entertaining for you to read as it was for me to write. Until 2011, everyone have a safe and happy Holiday Season! Finally, a reminder that AKP is on hiatus until I get back from vacation.