Another year, another year end review. For me the year end review contextualizes the dramas watched on three levels – its own merits, how it stacks up against its compatriots, and how the year measures up against previous years. If I wanted to add an additional intangible factor, then it would be how happy or frustrating it was for me to watch each of this year’s basket of drama offerings. If I wanted to be lazy, everything can be reduced to either “was it any good?” and “did I like it?”, but that doesn’t actually capture the nuance in explaining why I hold my opinion about certain dramas. There wasn’t a single drama that matched my previous drama watching years’ sheer level of obsession, but I chalk that up to a more mature palate rather than any decrease in quality. If I had to make a sweeping generalization then 2012 is indeed a trail mix where I picked out the delicious raisins and chocolate chips and left the cashews and peanuts for someone else to enjoy.
In 2012 I watched my first K-sitcom from start to finish and probably got lucky with the recommendations because it was so wonderful it made me verklempt by its sheer perfect existence. This year no C-drama won my heart completely, but conversely one J-dorama was a home run outing despite a tiny trip up rounding second base. There were plenty of TW-dramas I checked out but not a single one managed to remain good from beginning to end. As usual I watched more K-dramas than anything else, reinforcing that the overall the pace and quality coming out of Korea remains my preferred morsel of consumption. I told myself last year to dial down my expectations going in and I did a pretty good job of following through, which is why I wrap up 2012 in a happy peaceful mood rather than the polar extremes of being intensely euphoric or dejectedly down in the dumps. I managed to strike a curious balance between toggling packed real world responsibilities and a bustling blogging hobby, hopefully giving back to the drama world as much as I was enriched by it.
WATCHED UNTIL THE VERY END
The King 2 Hearts
Was this qualitatively the best K-drama of the year? No, not by a long shot. Was it my favorite K-drama of the year? Most definitely yes, by sheer emotional attachment alone. It’s actually quite hard to pick a favorite amongst a diverse group dramas that won my heart and earned my affection during 2012 which is why I don’t usually do this. But when I look back and scroll through the list of all the dramas watched, the mere thought of Jae Ha, Hang Ah, Shi Kyung, and Jae Shin makes my heart constrict and my eyes all misty. That’s when I knew it wasn’t just proximity that made me remember how much I loved it, my feelings have stayed strong despite the passage of time. What made TK2H so unforgettable for me? A perfectly cast group of four leads who had chemistry with each other to such a degree that they could be the gold standard on how to cast leads, not to mention they complemented rather than competed with each other’s performances. A fantastic PD kept the drama moving at such speed and visual complexity there wasn’t a moment for boredom to set in. Two writers challenged themselves to reach for greater heights so even the failures feel more like small set backs and the entire story beaome a sum greater than all its parts. And finally, an OST that swirls and dips, bringing the emotions forth when required and holding back when necessary to let the acting shine. TK2H is what I want K-dramas to aspire to – a complete package.
Watching TK2H was ten weeks of fun and fast-paced entertainment, with the happy moments weaving its way through a story that was at times thrilling and then shockingly devastating. The writers posited an alterna-universe world where South Korea was a constitutional monarchy and North Korea was, well, communist North Korea. The story managed to humanize both sides of the conflict and bring larger-than-life characters such as the King of South Korea and a North Korean military instructor to life. We followed along with two parallel love stories, the King and his kickass soldier ladylove, and the Princess and her reticent bodyguard, all swept up into a world of political intrigue and potential warfare. The politics was as elementary as to be expected when trying to tackle a subject matter as complex and grand in scope as the political and cultural divide between North and South Korea, but ultimately that didn’t torpedo this drama’s ability to create a compelling and heartfelt story. The drama created a formidable antagonist with a chip on his shoulder the size of Siberia and the unlimited funds of a first world country GDP who was willing to go to extremes to satisfy a personal vendetta. While it was never clear what his ultimate motive was, in the end it didn’t matter since he represented all the psychotic despots of the world seeing validation through submission.
What mattered was that the characters and their holistic universe mattered to me – I cared about the royal family of South Korea, about the decent folks of North Korea, about stopping a vengeful villain from harming or hurting good people simply because he could. This drama ran for 20 episodes and it felt like a roller coaster for 19 episode ending moments when I was always left gasping from a myriad of emotions ranging from happiness to despair. TK2H hit me like how a drama should, making me want more and reveling in the anxiety of the wait between weeks and worried that my beloved characters wouldn’t get the happy ending they deserved. The drama was never maudlin because the happy or sad moments were experienced but never milked to toy with our emotions. I knew watching it that there were tons of far-fetched nonsense needed to generate conflict but being cognizant of the drama’s limitations also allowed me to enjoy the parts that did work. This was also the drama that reinvigorated my love of Ha Ji Won and made me a Lee Seung Gi fangirl for life. They were just that awesome in it. Not to mention Jo Jung Seok got his break out role for the entire world to witness the arrival of a true acting talent. If there was a drama that just made me feel alive when watching it, this is it. And that makes TK2H a winner in my eyes.
I know this drama is such a narrative mess, all concept and barely any execution. It was buoyed by onscreen chemistry with the sincere acting between the two leads, but everyone and everything else was appended on in the most awkward of ways. I still can’t really explain why I loved it so much, other than perhaps the adrenaline of the live watch experience combined with a fond hope the drama would be good rendered me cloudy-headed with inexplicable affection for this hot mess. Sadly the drama never was any good, though my hope remained until the end and allowed me to enjoy what it was. Neither Gong Yoo nor Lee Min Jung are favorite actors of mine, and I’m far from being a Hong Sisters fan since their writing annoys me more often than it amuses me. I went in with relatively mellow expectations and unexpectedly this drama captivated me from the start. I guess the drama’s one and only hook was more than enough to win my goodwill and keep me interested. Quite simply put, I loved the male lead character of Kang Kyung Joon, played so winningly by newbie Shin Won Ho and later by Gong Yoo after the body swap. In mere minutes his personality and backstory captivated me and that was enough to keep me on board for 15 more episode of nothing that would ever be called great plot.
This drama veered far from the HS playbook and one thing I loved wholeheartedly was the low key mood throughout as opposed to a hyperactive self-awareness that typically permeates HS dramas. Conceptually I really liked what the drama tried to explore within the fantasy conceit that the movie Big did in its own way – a teenage boy transforms into an adult man and trying to live someone else’s life for a period of time. I would have liked that the drama didn’t shoehorn in a connection between the two guys as brothers who never met before, complete with a makjang donor baby subplot just to ramp up the stakes, but I was fine when the drama veered in that direction. The same goes for a whole host of unnecessary elements and side characters such stalker Mari, Kyung Joon’s aunt and uncle, the superficial previous generation love story, and Da Ran’s brother’s puppy crush. The drama set up too many threads and then ended up leaving almost all of them hanging and that understandably upset reams of people. I wasn’t one of them, but I can’t deny the drama is a failure on its own merits. Lots of entertaining actors were wasted, such as Baek Sung Hyun and Suzy, both of whom served as plot drivers or fillers and never amounted to anything.
For me, the only thing I cared about was seeing how the drama resolved its central exploration of love being able to bridge moral objections, age gaps, and even a do-over. Would Kyung Joon, who fell in love with his brother’s fiancée and his own teacher, be able to make his way back to her after he went back to his own body and woke up with no memory of what transpired? Would Da Ran, who broke off her engagement with her kind albeit not terribly expressive fiancée, find the courage to love a young man who is off limits to her under societal norms? I watched two characters spend an entire drama falling in love (with nothing else happening and no real stakes), therefore I needed a payoff for that sole plot line. The ending managed to somewhat give me satisfactory closure on that interesting and complex conundrum and I was left content with my takeaway while letting go of any dissatisfaction with the drama’s myriad other failures. This drama was sorta like my Lie to Me experience from 2011, complete with a small group who loved it and an equally vocal group who hated it. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this drama but it remains a sweet treat on rainy days for me to savor when I’m in the mood for some emotional reflection.
Arang and the Magistrate
This was easily my most anticipated K-drama all year, heralding the return of Lee Jun Ki after two years of military service, in a fantasy sageuk genre I love, with a co-star in Shin Mina who appeared like the perfect match for him. It all combined to smell like a sure fire Triple Win to me. Not to mention the promotional materials were fantastically atmospheric and the trailers were exciting and evocative. I was ecstatic when the drama premiered to solid rating numbers and captured my heart right off the bat. It was as good as I hoped for in the story of a murdered girl’s ghost roaming the world seeking her identity crossing paths with a nobleman-turned-magistrate trying to solve the mystery of his mother’s disappearance. The world of Arang was well thought out and richly presented, hinting of lots of thrilling developments and impending angst to come. I was a little taken aback at the Heavenly bits, with Yoo Seung Ho rocking a hideous wig and acting rather stoned, but that was a minor quibble when everything thing else just felt so right.
And then it slowly and steadily started to slip away. There was nothing that stood out as a sore thumb, but conversely there was nothing hooking me as the story developed. The mystery of who Arang was and how she died was interesting but the investigative portions were dragged out while the Heavenly beings above doled out the information in dribbles without adding any urgency to the narrative. It could have been CSI Joseon for all I knew, except with ghosts and fantasy beings. The development of the romance was also painfully draggy in a way beyond the usual slow burn of saguek romance norms. I could feel Eun Oh’s consideration and worry for Arang, but she took much too long to evidence the same regard for him, and in the interim their growing relationship took a backseat to everything else. A lot of narrative was given to the backstory of the second male lead, an unwilling murderer with his own sad history, as well as the Big Bad in the form of a fallen angel inhabiting the body of Eun Oh’s mother. I don’t need the drama to focus on the romance at the detriment of its fantasy-mystery overarching plot thread, but the drama failed to properly pace both so the middle portion was weighed down by a draggy slow burn.
What kept the drama afloat was how beautiful it was shot, how well-acted it was, and how the story stayed true to its thematic constructs and followed through with its ultimate pay off. But watching it from week-to-week was just so boring for me, and this was one drama I feel would be better watched as a complete marathon. Live watching is exciting if the drama keeps the tension thrumming and always ends the week with lots of food for thought to mull over. Arang didn’t do that for me, it lacked the oomph and the zip to make a live watch exciting even if the story had substance and cohesiveness. I’m not sure if I am disappointed with Arang or rather than I’m disappointed that I couldn’t come to love it more. One of these days I’ll probably settle in when I have a free time and watch it from beginning-to-end again and see if I come away with a different appreciation of it. This was probably the best sageuk of the year for me in what turned out to be a disappointing year for sageuks in general.
A solid grade-A drama from beginning to end. The only reason I hesitate to give it an A+ is to avoid being accused of grade inflation, and because there are indeed little details here and there that could have been just a tiny bit better. But that is nitpicking an otherwise superb dramatic production that gives me hope that Korea can keep producing melodramas as tense and riveting as this one. This drama came across as confident and ambitious, knowing where it wanted to go and proceeded to go there without hesitation or fear. I loved that feeling because the viewer is willing to invest the time and emotion into a story. The drama was billed as a revenge melodrama but in truth it was much more than that. The plot contained a smorgasboard of drama tropes – betrayal, death, amnesia, inheritance scheming, swindling – but integrated it into a tightly wound story in a way that felt gripping and fresh. I knew what I was watching wasn’t anything special, but watching it onscreen it felt special.
Song Joong Ki made his long-awaited leap into drama leading man status and his performance did not disappoint in the least. He was restrained yet powerful in playing the part of Kang Maru, med student turned convict turned swindler, a man who defined his life by his love for his noona Jae Hee and struggled to let go of that toxic connection. Maru was fascinating even if he spent the majority of the drama keeping his real feelings under wraps, with only the tiny cracks in his demeanor creating a glimpse of his real self. This man meets rich bitch Seo Eun Gi and uses her in his revenge scheme against Jae Hee, but in the process unleashes a domino effect of consequences that no one could have foreseen. Revenge plays only a small part in this story, as the real narrative purpose is to explore the depths of human need for security and affection. Jae Hee seeks wealth as her means to be safe, whereas Eun Gi eschews money for a chance to love and be loved. Stuck between these two women is Maru, given another chance at life but forever working through the complications all his past choices have created.
NG struck just that right balance between pulp and high brow entertainment. There was a lot of intensity even if the plot required some eye-browing raising developments to bring forth all the pathos. But it made sense within the NG world and the characters were were constructed, even if at times their true feelings remained murky and hard to discern. The OTP of Maru and Eun Gi was easily one of my favorites this year, with their emotional journey of mutual salvation and need all that more stirring because Song Joong Ki and Moon Chae Won had amazing chemistry and really understood the role they were playing. A shout out has to go to Park Shi Yeon, once again doing so much with a character that is easy to hate but she made Jae Hee feel so real and raw. The drama had its share of blips, from side characters like comedic BFF Jae Gil and whiny sister Choco that the drama didn’t quite know what to do with, but that was counter balanced by other well utilized folks like gangster big brother Jae Shik and kind lawyer oppa Joon Ha. I was captivated by this drama from the first frame until the last, with an ending that felt fitting for the journey taken by all the characters and well worth my time spent with this fictional narrative of revenge and redemption that could never happen in real life but for whatever reason felt so very tangible to me.
A drama where the good was merely sweet while the boring was sleep-inducing, Miss Rose was fun while it lasted and really no harm no foul when it went into the crapper. This remains my favorite Taiwan drama of the year, but that isn’t saying much since it was an extremely lean year from Taiwan as a whole. If Roy Qiu wasn’t the leading man, I know I wouldn’t give this one a second glance. It’s not terrible, but it’s a hodge-podge of derivative rom-com moments all strung together to pretend it has even a semblance of a plot. The beginning totally ripped off City Hall in having the arrogant and successful male lead Gao Cheng Kuan getting sent down to the boondocks to turn the failing place around and get rid of a corrupt leader there. But from there the story filled in its own blanks with the female lead Luo Si Yi being the personal secretary to Cheng Kuan and their relationship developing with tender confidence on the part of Cheng Kuan. Unfortunately the story saddled Cheng Kuan with a bitchy and rich token girlfriend while Si Yi is weighed down by emotional baggage from a failed engagement not to mention the ex swans back into her life again. There was no real story to speak off other than a series of events between the OTP as they start to fall in love, but that part was so satisfying for as long as it lasted before the crazy evil people started to meddle.
While MR is as derivative and unoriginal as they come, watching it provided a nice hour of entertainment once a week for me. Roy was charming and handsome, Megan Lai had a very low key and comfortable onscreen chemistry with him, and some of the secondary characters in the drama were funny and endearing. such as Cheng Kuan’s BFF Sheng Jun and Si Yi’s family of oddball characters each with their own charm. Initially the annoying antagonists like girlfriend Vivian and the corrupt trio at the company were kept to a minimum so they were bearable, but as the story progressed they rose to the forefront to generate one contrived obstacle after another to keep the OTP apart. This would be fine but for the fact that Si Yi continued being a wet blanket self-sacrificing type that constantly wanted out to keep her man from dealing with more trouble by giving up on him. I wanted to smack her more and more and that is always a sure fire way to turn me off a drama when I can’t root for one of the leads. This drama came from the team behind the amusing and cheerful Office Girls, which also stumbled a bit in its second half but nothing quite like the meltdown MR is having. Will I finish the drama? Most definitely, but it’s motivated by residual affection more than anything.
I Do I Do
This one sorta got lost in the Spring drama glut, at first glance yet another noona-dongsaeng romance plus work place conflict drama. I wasn’t sold on the premise but it didn’t turned me off either so when I Do I Do premiered I casually checked it out. I found myself unexpectedly enjoying the first episode tremendously. It felt assured and confident, quite like the successful shoe designer thirty-something professional woman Kim Sun Ah played in this story. Lee Jang Woo trimmed his unruly mope from Man of Honor and transformed into a just-starting-out young twenty-something whippersnapper with a good heart and a can-do attitude. The drama believably set up a one-night stand between the adult leads that resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, which is when the drama started its downward spiral with the characters turning in circles as communication wires were stunted.
I loved the first four episodes enough to recap it, but quickly saw that the lovely realistic mood and the mature adult conversations were masking what was a pretty flimsy story. A drama can’t just be about a woman having an early mid-life crisis who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant and dealing with her baby daddy being her subordinate at work. That works as a plot pitch but the outline needs to be filled out with compelling narrative to complete the picture. That didn’t happen here. I never found IDID all that terrible or offensive but I kept wanting it to aim higher and do more. Sometimes an episode would fly by and not much would move the plot forward. It tried hard to have flawed characters, surrounded by functional parents and co-workers, all dealing with a myriad of real life woes such as the gender glass ceiling, trying to break into a profession without any background connections, and trying to balance life with work.
Kim Sun Ah was really understated as the professionally successful but personally closed off shoe designer, while Lee Jang Woo was like an adorable puppy with his eagerness to succeed and his affection for his noona. Sadly all the secondary characters fell flat, even the doctor character who started off so promising with his wry perceptive humor, but sadly he quickly turned into a suitor who overstepped his bounds both personally as well as professionally. I liked that the drama made the heroine really weigh her life and consider her future in a new light once she got pregnant, which was much appreciated as a thoughtful discourse, but it ended up dragging out the story on that one key issue far too long. I think the drama had a lot of potential, it simply didn’t do much with an interesting concept and a solid cast.
Answer Me 1997
Did you ever want to relive high school again? Even if you didn’t go to high school in Korea, there are many things about high school life in first world countries that are universal – close knit friendships, crushes among friends, teenage obsessions, family squabbles over grades and spending, academic achievement versus enjoying school life. Answer Me 1997 perfect captured the heady days of yesteryears for a group of six friends who grew up in Busan in the late 90s (1997, to be exact) and the drama introduced their adult selves and then flashed back to the glorious past. I love this drama so much! So so much. I loved the first half way more than the less concise and more fan service propelled second half, but the complete product still stands as a shining example of how great writing can create a world that feels hyper real. This was an ensemble drama that defines how such dramas need to be created – where every character from the young to the old, from the main to the secondary, was written and acted with love and affection. The brilliant end result reflects the care put into the work and brings a feeling of warmth and happiness to the viewer.
The story centers around a group of six high school friends who grew up in Busan in the late 90s but they all felt like people I knew and they encountered situations I could relate to. At the center of this story is extreme H.O.T. fangirl Sung Shi Won living through her high school years, which is filled with bickering affectionately with her hilariously wonderful parents and her BFF Yoon Yoon Jae, the boy she’s grew up with literally since the day they were born (their parents were best friends). It’s clear Yoon Jae likes Shi Won from the very beginning of the drama, but I never cared how that was resolved other than hoping no matter what happens, Shi Won and Yoon Jae would still be friends in each other’s life when they grew up. The drama used a bookend technique of showing the six friends as adults attending a high school reunion to foreshadow that Shi Won was with one of the guys she grew up with in Busan, but remained coy until the very end as to the identity of her man. That worked in the beginning but did grow pointless towards the end.
But the real reason to watch AM1997 isn’t about the love story between a man and a woman, it’s about the love between friends and family. Before Shi Won and her guy got together, they were friends first and foremost. I loved watching the gang grow up, grow closer and grow apart, and ultimate grow into the adults they were mean to become. Along the way they cried and I cried with them, they made mistakes and I cringed with them, and they achieved successes that made me cheer alongside them. After 16-episodes, they felt like my family and I felt emotionally nourished having shared in the dramatic lives of fictional people that had a tangible impact on my real life experiences. If there was one romantic thread that really got me right in the gut, it was Joon Hee’s crush on Yoon Jae, a sweet and silent unrequited love that resonated so strongly because it captured all the times a young person has fallen for someone else in a way that just was never going to come to fruition. It wasn’t exploited for the same-sex element nor did it veer into a makjang love triangle. What was so lovely in this drama was seeing the genuine reason for the love underneath the outer shells of guy, girl, friend, classmate, daughter, brother. This was one of the best dramas of 2012 so don’t miss out if you haven’t seen it yet.
When the big three-way showdown arrived in March of 2012, Rooftop Prince was the K-drama I was most excited about amongst the lot. It looked so side-splittingly hilarious in the promos I was sure this couldn’t possibly suck. It was a frothy time-traveling forward bit of rom-com cuteness filled with a bunch of cute Josen era scholars and warriors forced to adapt to the modern world. I was so excited to finally understand the Yoochun charm and get on that bandwagon after being unimpressed with him in earlier dramas like Sungkyunkwan Scandal and Miss Ripley. Han Ji Min has always been hit-or-miss with me and I was hoping her sweet chemistry with Yoochun would make this one a hit. The end result was a drama where the great OTP chemistry barely buoyed my interest because giant chunks of the script was shockingly stupid and the directing and production values were stunningly low rent. I thought the drama would be a fluffy harmless time-travel yarn with romance and some cute hijinks. Turned out it did have all of that, except it was buried under a heavy handed inheritance-murder plot line that was crazy stupid from the get go.
Watching RP was akin to sitting through a long talent show. Most of the show is rank amateur hour that tries the patience, but hidden within is a performance or two that is sparkling and delightful. That was the OTP portion of RP, the love story in the present between Prince Lee Gak and Park Ha, which was really a chance for them two to do over what was aborted in the past between the Prince and his rightful Princess Bu Young. While it was initially frustrating to watch Lee Gak try to woo the modern version of the hateful older sister, he quickly discovered her true nature and managed to spend the latter half of the drama spending time with his true love. Yoochun and Han Ji Min had stellar chemistry on and offscreen, making this my favorite coupling from either of them in any drama. He was hilarious as the fish-out-of-water Joseon prince and she was adorable as the plucky and hardworking modern girl. The Prince’s entourage of three Joseon era retainers were comic gold and they were the shining bits of laughter and happy moments in pretty much each episode.
This was a drama that would have worked better as a sitcom, because the humorous elements were so nicely done and fit so well with the central conceit of four Joseon era high ranking men who find themselves in modern day Seoul. If it was a sitcom, the viewers would get to see Lee Gak and Park Ha slowly fall in love between her trying to open a fruit juice store and him trying to get back to the past. The story would then be able to toss out the ridiculous nefarious villains and their equally ridiculous plots to game the inheritance from the rich elders of this story. This was definitely one drama that didn’t actually need a plot and could coast on situational comedy and romantic moments well enough. Setting its genre aside, I did find enough enjoyment in the cute bits to justify the annoying parts and the time spent with a story. Ultimately I’d chalk RP up as just cotton candy enjoyment, evaporating into the ether once it’s done, but satisfying in its one-note sweetness when nibbling on it.
Queen In Hyun’s Man
This drama was all rainbows and unicorns and roses for me…..until the very end. It wasn’t the ending being happy or sad that upset, it was that it made no narrative (or fantasy rationale) sense that destroyed a well-plotted yarn that was going along so swimmingly up to that point. Normally a lackluster ending doesn’t annoy me that much when the preceding fare is stellar, but I was inexplicably peeved with Queen In Hyun’s Man when I felt the ending was written to justify the means. Not to mention throw a bus load of fan service at the screen and call it a day. Perhaps I didn’t love the drama enough to accept that sort of circular logic, so in the end QIHM Man didn’t manage to win my affection unconditionally. Would I recommend this drama still? Absolutely. It is overall a solid drama and tried really hard to be both creative as well as sincere in telling its story.
Airing on cable network tvN, QIHM was by far the best time-traveling drama of that genre this year, though that isn’t as impressive as it sounds when scanning its competition. Nevertheless, I did like QIHM as a well written romance drama, with a dash of intrigue, some melodramatic angst, and lots and lots of kissing and being cute. The time travel bit wasn’t beaten to death and for the most part was used with creativity to bring Joseon scholar/warrior Kim Boong Do to the present day where he meets and falls in love with actress Choi Hee Jin. Neatly woven in was the real historical intrigue surrounding deposed Queen In Hyun and Jang Hee Bin and her ilk’s attempt to eliminate her for good. I appreciated that the drama wrote Boong Do’s character consistent with that of a Joseon nobleman (for the most part) and he used his intelligence and thoughtfulness when confronting either his time travel conundrum as well as his growing romance with Hee Jin. I think part of the love for the drama stems from the low expectations going in and being enchanted initially with its charm and lovely narrative.
Much has been written about the onscreen chemistry between leads Ji Hyun Woo and Yoo In Na, and of course their subsequent real life relationship became confirmation that all that chemistry was real and not just reel. I’m an unabashed real life shipper and I love swoony romantic declarations, but this coupling sorta fell flat for me with the entire love confession at the finale airing coming across as scripted. Nevertheless if I were to take the onscreen romance on its own merits, it was indeed wonderfully magical in how a flighty modern girl meets her time-traveling scholar hottie and together they used intelligent conversation and sincere interactions to create a memorable love story. Initially the time-travel element felt fresh and nicely presented, with a magic talisman and the moment between life and death being the trigger for his time-traveling, There were lots of gaspworthy moments as a result of Boong Do needing to face down death in order to live, but as the drama progressed the time-travel parts started to weigh it down. He shifted too frequently between eras and the drama posited a paradigm shift when he did change history, but then Hee Jin wasn’t affected by it. It was then I should have known the drama was headed towards the goal of a happy ending and writing around it. The final resolution of their separation because of time upset me when I first watched it, but since then my annoyance has mellowed and I think I’ll be much more able to just appreciate the warm and fuzzies this time around.
The Moon that Embraces the Sun
So much potential right off the bat, so much letdown by the end. When I heard about the premise and casting I was literally frothing with unbridled excitement – a fusion sageuk that actually felt mystical and historically accurate at the same time, starring rising hot actors like Kim Soo Hyun and Jung Il Woo, paired with admittedly much older Han Ga In but her last performance in Bad Guy won me to her side. It was adapted from a novel of the same name from the writer who wrote Sungkyunkwan Scandal, a drama that I enjoyed but didn’t totally love. From concept alone MoonSun was much more up my alley, the story of a young Prince who loses his first love who becomes a shaman and they get another chance as adults to reclaim their thwarted love. Throw in some brotherly angst over succession hierarchy and loving the same woman plus a bevy of good looking and interesting side characters, I thought this was primed to win my heart. It did initially during the first 6 episodes when the children were onscreen, especially with Yeo Jin Gu, Kim Yoo Jung, and Lee Min Ho bringing this magic-tinted sageuk world to life.
I was so immediately enchanted by these talented youngsters that I was willing to overlook the admittedly simplistic story with obvious villains and too trusting good guys. It was so pretty to look at and made me feel so enthralled with the world it presented. And then the kids were replaced by some equally pretty adults but somewhere in the transition all the magic was lost. I can pinpoint it if I had to – Han Ga In having no chemistry with Kim Soo Hyun plus acting like a lost immobilized deer, Jung Il Woo moping through the entire drama with no purpose other than liking a girl that had already chosen his brother, and Kim Soo Hyun being all fire and brimstone but using none of that to run his country as the King and instead spent all his time moping and raging about his lost girl. I know I asked for a romance novel set in the Joseon era, I just never expected to be totally dumbfounded by how stupid it was to watch onscreen. That probably explains why the romance novel industry is thriving but those bodice rippers are never made into movies or television shows. It would be a one trick pony.
This drama would have done better to stick with the novel storyline (which I read and was actually pretty well-written albeit still a Korean romance novel), but for whatever reason the drama chose to veer in completely different directions to get to the same ending of the King reunites with his rightful Queen and punishes all the evildoers who gave him ten years worth of blue balls. Along the way all the formerly interesting side characters such as the heroine’s brother and the King’s bodyguard turned into pretty set decorations that basically moved from one scene to another without any substantive character development. I found myself much more moved by the antagonist Queen due to the great acting by Kim Min Seo and wondered often how much better this drama would be if she played the lead because she had spine tingling chemistry with Kim Soo Hyun. I quit recapping MoonSun at episode 12 but followed along until it limped to its preordained conclusion at 20 episodes. For a drama that initially I wanted to see more and more of, this drama by the end felt much too long and way too listless.
Rich Man, Poor Woman
This J-dorama was so much fun! The heady experience of watching it during the Summer of ’12 was akin to taking a zip line trip through picturesque scenery on a beautiful sunny day. If I could get even one renzouku a year from Japan that can match up to RMPW’s blend of energy and swoonworthy romance then I would be a happy camper. Sadly this seems to be a once-in-a-blue moon event so I watched it with that added layer of understanding that this was special. I was never an Oguri Shun fangirl despite watching tons of his previous works ranging from Hana Yori Dango to Hana Kimi to Tokyo Dogs, but RMPW flipped the switch for me forever with respect to him. Ishihara Satomi was beyond adorable as the lovely foil to allow Shun free reign to unleash his method acting onscreen. What made this renzouku so satisfying was in the creation of two very unique characters that combusted with energy when they were near each other.
Take one rich man in billionaire IT wunderkind Hyuga Toru, mix in one poor woman in Todai graduate with a photographic memory in Natsui Makoto, pour on a peppy soundtrack and a great director, and mix with a dash of romantic whimsy and the end result is a satisfying drama for viewers looking for a return to the heyday of J-dorama style romance. The drama chose the setting of an innovative IT company looking to creative a nationwide personal file database in Japan as the backdrop to allow its leads to explore issues of trust, professional growth, competitive jealousy, and personal responsibility. In a short 11 episodes the viewers were pulled along by the interesting little roadblocks that littered the way of Hyuga achieving his grand vision of having the lives of every Japanese citizen put online. It wasn’t rocket science and was of course quite elementary when deconstructed, but if I give it that bit of dramatic license then it works wonderfully as a thoughtful issue to ponder.
I don’t think RMPW was groundbreaking or even all that memorable. But it rises above the ranks as being totally exhilarating to watch, when these days most J-doramas are awash in a surfeit of melancholy or office hijinks. And this dorama felt mature as opposed to dealing with school yard love and conflicts, instead showcasing two oddballs that are both ridiculously good looking and totally complement each other. Hyuga and Makoto’s interactions always brought a smile to my face, and the slight wobble in the middle episodes were due to the drama keeping them apart. Once the drama understood that the rich and poor issues were just distractions and at its heart RMPW was about just a socially awkward genius and a low self-esteem go-getter falling in love, it confidently drove towards a satisfying and meaningful conclusion. This one is a winner through and through and it was enough for me to be satisfied with J-doramas this year.
I Live in Cheongdamdong
If this isn’t the most perfect sitcom K-drama that was ever produced, I don’t know what could possibly qualify. Acting, script, directing – I Live in Cheongdamdong can even easily go toe-to-toe with any K-drama on all three standards of quality. One would think a sitcom would be merely a pleasant diversion, a way to spend 30 minutes a day having a few laughs and then moving on. That assumption is absolutely wrong when it comes to the world of ILICDD, filled with denizens of all sizes, shapes, and stripes, all of them lovingly fleshed out through episode-after-episode of zany and witty interludes and shenanigans. I want to live in Cheongdamdong not because I want to be rich and wealthy. I want to live in Cheongdamdong in that old eye-sore of a manhwa bang with the sweetest bunch of goofballs that I’ve ever spent time with onscreen. I can rewatch any random episode to recharge my happy batteries and it never fails.
The set up revolves around Kim Hye Ja and her band of merry misfits – her sister the former actress Bo Hee, her brother the bumbling manhwa artist Woo Hyun, and her daughter the restaurant manager-aspiring noodle chef Ji Eun. They move into a coveted Cheongdamdong abode above a manhwa-bang (manhwa rental store) and thus commences their entrance into a world full of laughter and tears as they concoct a ruse as to their social standing but end up experiencing the wonders of making human connections across all social classes. Each episode is a vignette into something humorous or touching, but always presented with the most delicate of physical or linguistic humor. Each character is developed with sincerity and treated with respect so the journey with the Cheongdamdong manhwabng gang feels like getting to know a bunch of long lost cousins during a week long retreat up in the mountains.
For those looking for the requisite romance element, ILICDD has a youthful love triangle between Ji Eun and her Cheongdamdong crush the architect Sang Yeob and her bickering nemesis the ne’er-do-well secret chaebol heir Hyun Woo. There are also tons of cameos by famous name actors but always done with such organic insertion into the story that it never feels manufactured or pointless. I ended each episode of ILICDD feeling a deep seated contentment with life. My only regret is that this sitcom doesn’t have English subs and this cannot be enjoyed and appreciated by a greater swatch of drama fandom, but trust me when I say there isn’t another drama this year, sitcom or otherwise, that I watch which has made me appreciate the art of television entertainment this much. ILICDD wasn’t about the particular stories or keeping track of what happened, it was about getting to know a kooky but endearing group of people that were young and old, skinny and fat, rich and poor, bad-tempered and always considerate, but above all else felt like people we know or could know in our own lives.
I love fashion. I’m not a slave to it, but my clothing collection isn’t too shabby (but I’ll neither admit nor deny having a shoe fetish) and I enjoy the frivolity of curling up once a year with the massive September edition of Vogue magazine that could double as a dumbbell weight. This drama almost made me hate fashion, that is how terrible is it. It has the trifecta of all things drama bad – acting, writing, directing – made all the worse by having really hateful and unappealing characters. And not just a few, everyone in the drama made me want to put a bullet into their fictional brains and put them out of their misery. The weird part is that their lives weren’t even written to be that bad, everyone just acted like they had a giant stick up their ass and a humongous chip on their shoulder. Why? I could never figure out the reason why.
This drama was penned by the writer who did What Happened in Bali, one of my top-10 favorite dramas of all time. It pains me this came from the same mind, though I ought to be used to these wild fluctuations in quality since Kim Eun Sook did my favorite City Hall and also dramas that I loathed such as Secret Garden and A Gentleman’s Dignity. Back to FK – how did things go so horribly wrong? Is it the age old adage that the wrong first step and one heads down the wrong path the entire way? Perhaps. It was clear she wanted to write a story about four young fashion folks who crossed paths and dealt with jealousy, aspirations, and passion, on paper it appeared to be an updated WHIB with a younger cast. The result was nothing like WHIB since the motivations were scattered from the outset and the characters were written around plot devices rather than as the driver for organic narrative progression. It was like the carriage dragging a bunch of limp horses along.
Sometimes actors can still come out of a dud drama unscathed, and even deliver startling performances despite the mediocrity. That did not happen in FK, with the sheer dreadfulness of the story dragging down talented young actors like Yoo Ah In and Lee Je Hoon as well as exposing the limitations of young actresses like Shin Se Kyung and Kwon Yuri. I’m of the opinion that this would make a great drinking game drama, or would be the perfect drama to make your non-drama friends watch and witness the look of sheer horror on their faces as they try to process what the hell is happening onscreen. Yoo Ah In looked so sleazy he should have been playing a pimp, Lee Je Hoon was the very definition of pompous constipated douchebag, Shin Se Kyung was so morose and put upon she might as well tattoo “used and abused” on her forehead, and Yuri’s sole purpose was to wander through the show in her idol girl saunter and try to act but failing miserably. This one redefines “bad drama”.
I haven’t quite locked down how I feel about Operational Proposal, the K-drama remake of the J-dorama Proposal Daisakusen with Yamapi and Nagasawa Masami. On one hand the original was boring and repetitive enough to lose me despite my love of Yamapi, on the other hand a remake could possibly rectify the lethargy of the original and use a different twist and execution to create a better end product. Pairing up teenage co-stars Yoo Seung Ho and Park Eun Bin was a stroke of brilliant genius, and they indeed did have great chemistry as everyone expected. Airing it on a cable channel also worked because it didn’t have to hew to the narrative norms that tend to govern the major 3 network staples. It was a dish that sounded good, looked good, and smelled good. Sadly it failed the last and most important element, it didn’t actually taste good. Turns out Groundhog Day just doesn’t work when there are hours and hours of drama time to fill.
When a man has a chance to time travel back to the past and try to win the heart of the girl he’s loved for years, in theory the viewer needs to sympathize with him and root for him. Sadly the drama’s main conceit works against that, because in each episode he fails and the next episode he gets to do it again to a different moment in time. So we’re left feeling like he totally doesn’t deserve the girl because he can never succeed at winning her hand. This is especially true when the other guy comes off as mature, considerate, and supportive towards the girl in every way that counts, not to mention good looking as well. So the choice becomes clear from the get go and the rest of the drama becomes an exercise in futility and repetition. I didn’t hate it since I got to see Yoo Seung Ho playing the romantic lead and he sure kissed Park Eun Bin a lot. But if fanservice is my only reason for enjoying this drama, it must really lack any meaningful purpose for existence. They might as well have filmed 16 music videos with the two leads, cutting down on the wasted time spent with poorly developed filler plot.
DROPPED LIKE A HOT POTATO
A Gentleman’s Dignity (4 episodes watched) – There was very little dignity amongst the four gentlemen leads of this drama, the main hero being a self-absorbed womanizer who falls for a slightly dreamy school teacher heroine surrounded by all the trapping of rom-com stereotypes. I loved the premise of older-than-usual drama leads who are still gorgeous and fabulous falling in love, but the execution was so screechy and painfully pretentious no amount of goodwill for writer Kim Eun Sook or appreciation for the male stars could get me to swallow manufactured trendiness.
Faith (6 episodes watched) – The second half admittedly got much better reviews than the first half, but the last to arrive of the umpteenth time-travel dramas of 2012 was DOA for me. Dreadful directing, boring music, lazy acting, and a script that took forever to move things along, this was one drama I wish had stuck with its original concept or else been shelved rather than resurrected into this turkey. I would have probably been less annoyed with it had the leading lady been someone other than Kim Hee Sun, or if she had not been so screechy and annoying right of the bat that it was impossible to take her seriously after that. This was a misstep for Lee Min Ho after his success with City Hunter, revealing that he doesn’t (yet) have the gravitas or depth to pull off a sageuk character.
Five Fingers (10 episodes watched)– Poor Joo Ji Joon. His valiant post-military service performance could not mask the sheer ludicrousness of this makjang birth-switch/evil parents bag of hoo doo. It felt like it was written by someone with one finger rather than five and banged out a script on a typewriter missing certain keys. This drama was besieged by controversy even before its premiere when the network fired leading lady Eunjung after filming started and replaced her with Jin Se Yeon, all due to Eunjung’s idol group scandal. In the end it didn’t even matter, ratings still sucked and the story was so ridiculous I feel bad for the few who stay tuned to watch it all.
May Queen (20 episodes watched) – This was the drama in this category that I stuck with the longest, and it wasn’t because it was quality. I simply liked the second male lead character and wanted some lovey dovey scenes between him and the heroine before their love story was tossed to the dogs to make way for the canon OTP. Once guy 2 became vengeful, brain dead in his revenge scheme, and borderline psycho, I checked out of this so fast I left skid marks behind. I’ve been hearing horror stories since then of how much worse this drama has become. If there was a worst drama of the year list, this one definitely deserves to be on it. Giant waste of Jae Hee and Kim Jae Won.
Haeundae Lovers (6 episodes watched) – No amount of gratuitous skin reveals by either abs of steel Kim Kang Woo or heaving bosom Jo Yeo Jung could make this silly beach romp enjoyable or make any sense. The Busan gangster extended family was cute but the amnesia/bigamy plots were not. This one felt like a warm deflated beer when it should have been an ice cold refreshing drink in the hot dog days of Summer.
I Need Romance 2012 (2 episodes watched) – I hated the female lead character right off the bat. No amount of hot open mouth kissing or heated groping could keep me watching when I wanted to slap her every time she showed up onscreen, even if logically she had a valid reason for being a shrieky shrew. It’s too bad because I collectively do have a fondness for Jung Yumi, Lee Jin Wook, and Kim Ji Seok. I was really taken with the original I Need Romance, warty ending and all, and the previews for this one looked uber charming. I wonder if it got better as it went on and everyone stopped being so annoying?
Love Rain (8 episodes watched) – There was plenty of rain of the manufactured kind, which is also what the love felt like in this drama. Two sets of OTPs spanning two generations deal with their own relationship woes in a throwback to the melodramas of yore where there was lots of moping and staring and shots of the pretty scenery. My love for Jang Geun Seok could keep me awake during this drama, and really my love for him was counterbalanced by my dislike for his leading lady Yoona, who really needs to stick with being an idol which I am sure she’s terrific at. As an actress she just tries to act but never actually acts. I figure this was PD Yoon Seok Ho‘s last hurrah at trying to resurrect the Seasons drama style of romantic pining and the ratings indicates the public has no appetite for these pondering exercises in unfulfilled love.
Time Slip Dr. Jin (14 episodes watched) – I wish someone could time slip their way into the past and convince MBC that it was not a good idea to remake the popular doctor time-travel J-dorama JIN. I’m not against remakes, but I am against sheer incompetence being allowed to remake something that was good and turn it into visual and intellectual diarrhea onscreen. The few good actors in this turkey, such as Lee Bum Soo and Lee Won Jong, appeared to understand the absurdity of being in it so hammed it up big time with a wink-wink charm. Lee So Yeon gave the only straight commendable performance as a gisaeng, while Song Seung Heon, Park Min Young, and Jaejoong earned a lifetime’s worth of the Korean Razzies for the acting they delivered in this abysmally terrible drama. The entire thing came out like somene ingested the gummy bear brain fetus and let out a long and loud fart due to indigestion.
To the Beautiful You (6 episodes watched) – Korea continues with its tradition of being the third Asian country to remake popular Japanese mangas-to-drama adaptations, this time choosing to do its version of Hana Kimi long after Taiwan did it and Japan already did it twice. When Korea did Boys Before Flowers it was a huge pan-Asia hit. When Korea did Playful Kiss it was a domestic flop but an online sensation. TTBY turned out to be neither, a drama packed to the gills with idols in all the lead roles except for the sole actor in Lee Hyun Woo and a resulting product that was just…..there. It wasn’t dreadful but didn’t add anything new to the world of Hana Kimi. If that was the case, then why bother?
I Love You So Much (8 episodes watched) – Drama, I hate you so much. You are boring and completely nonsensical, managing to stereotype and insult the entire make up industry in one fell swoop. The one saving grace is that at least the leading lady bucked convention and ended up with the second male lead since they were the only two to exhibit even a tiny shred of chemistry onscreen. Thnxbai.
Love Actually (12 episodes watched) – More like Stupid Actually. Lee Da Hae, wildly popular in China since her breakout role My Girl, makes her first C-drama debut and she finds herself a Taiwanese leading man in the always gorgeous Joe Cheng. Visually they were a wonderfully complementary couple but no amount of pretty could compel me to keep watching a drama of such scriptwriting ineptitude. Even having my cute pie Li Yi Feng as the second male lead wasn’t enough reason to subject myself to a steaming bucket of dumb and dumber plot devices. Sadly Joe lumbered through this performance and Lee Da Hae conversely mugged her way to overcompensate for Joe’s under-acting. It was all so weird and wack.
SOP Queen (10 episodes watched) – Pretty. That’s the first word to come to mind when I think about this drama. Filmed and styled beautifully in picturesque locations such as London and Shanghai, this drama was just one big commercial enterprise with no artistic value but relatively painless to watch. Chen Qiao En had off-and-on chemistry with both her leading men Hans Zhang and Godfrey Gao but ultimately the narrative was just so uninteresting and flimsy it sank whatever bits of cuteness existed because of the cast.
Happy Michelin Kitchen (8 episodes watched) – Part III of the Happy trilogy, and maybe it was in the kitchen too late because came out like a dish gone rank. Cheryl Yang and Blue Lan had negative chemistry with each other, and this homage to Coffee Prince was painful to watch and upset me knowing it was the end of what was otherwise a great series of dramas.
Love Forward (14 episodes watched) – Keep on moving forward, nothing to see here. I didn’t hate this drama, it just annoyed me for a bunch of reasons. It tried to be adult and complicated, with the first set of OTPs switching midway and ending with a different pairing than the drama posters showed. That was fine in concept, but the execution never worked for me. Leads Tony Yang and Amber Kuo started dating during the filming but their relationship onscreen went kaput and they had to fall in love with Tammy Chen and Leroy Yang, respectively, and I couldn’t buy either pairing convincingly. This one feels half baked.
Priceless (2 episodes watched) – KimuTaku‘s one dorama of the year is yet another first for his grand portfolio – he plays a mid-manager suddenly laid off and through a string of incidents finds himself homeless and broke. He tries to navigate a new reality of being penniless and learns through the kindness of others that there are things in life which are priceless. This dorama was rather odd, not bad but strange in the way only J-doramas can be strange. I’m still mulling over whether to pick it back up or not. One point in its favor is having Fujiki Naohito playing the antagonist older half-brother to KimuTaku.
Absolute Boyfriend (4 episodes watched) – Absolute disaster and absolutely unnecessary. Gu Hye Sun continues the K-ent migration to the Chinese-speaking drama world by starring in the Taiwanese version of the manga Zettai Kareshi. Jiro Wang tried hard to be Night but he couldn’t overcome his leading lady’s mugging tendencies plus the original J-flavor Night really is so iconic its hard to reinvent the wheel. This one was a painful exercise in pointlessness.
Skip Beat (10 episodes watched) – This drama, adapted from the manga of the same name, had the best drama posters I’ve seen all year. It was also perfectly cast, with Ivy Chen playing love-addled and then revenge-minded Kyoko, Choi Si Won as calm and repressed Ren, and Donghae as impulsive and hot-tempered Sho. The manga frustrated me to no end because of how draggy it was (the mangaka needs an editor BAD) and I was hoping the drama version would rectify all its failings and do justice to a great concept (girl seeks revenge on boy by becoming a bigger star than him). I loved the first two episodes, and then the third episode screeched to the same plodding halt as the manga and puttered from there on out in the same meandering way. To say I was so disappointed is an understatement.
NOT YET SEEN
Gaksital – Sorry folks, I cannot for the life of me get the Joo Won appeal or want to watch his dramas. Most of my drama watching friends were rather amused at this drama’s predilection for manufactured harrowing rage, so I got some entertainment watching them describe it. The early Korean colonial period works have yet to resonate with me, and I tried many times to finish Capital Scandal but can’t despite it starring my Kang Ji Hwan, leaving me only all too happy to pass Gaksital by.
Shut Up Flower Boy Band – I WILL WATCH THIS. See, I wrote it in all-caps which indicates how serious I am. Reviews have been excellent and I love school dramas and no one in the young cast annoys me. I just have to find the time to go back and marathon this sucker. I confess to loathing the first two episodes of Flower Boy Ramyun Shop and checking out of that one like a zombie rooster was chasing after me, but enough people have told me the two are totally different so that reassures me.
The Equator Man – I love Uhm Tae Woong. I adore melodramas, especially revenge ones. I like Lee Joon Hyuk and Lee Bo Young. Check, check, and check. I put this one on standby when it aired since I was already watching The King 2 Hearts and Rooftop Prince live. But in the end I never even checked this out because everyone I knew who watched it were by and large disappointed by the story and execution, with apparently a singular hatred for the music director and his selection of background scores. Not dreadful, but not very good either. I figure it’s not worth spending 20 hours now where there are new and shinier treats on the horizon.
UNFINISHED AND UNDECIDED
Cheongdamdong Alice (6 episodes watched) – Aside from The King 2 Hearts, this drama is poised to be the biggest unexpected surprise of the year for me. Of course, having aired only 6 episodes (out of 16), the second half can swan dive so spectacularly I might end up slicing this sucker to pieces by the end. Saddled with terrible promotional materials and me loving only the leading lady, during the days leading up to its premiere I felt like a kid watching the teacher grading my exam and check off wrong on each of my answers. My mood was somber and I was ready to write a eulogy for why Moon Geun Young once again failed to pick a good project. But then a miracle happened, or perhaps the bad promos were purposely done to trip everyone up, because the actual drama was exhilarating and chock full of food for thought about working hard to become successful or marry successful. Park Shi Hoo and Moon Geun Young had a slow start out of the gate but has since been galloping like the wind in creating chemistry so heady I can almost smell the attraction through the computer screen. I can’t stop this drama from potentially sucking in the future, but I can say a thank you for how much its rocking my world so far.
Can We Get Married? – The drama is almost done but I’ve only watched 4 episodes. I both like it and am annoyed by it, which probably means I’m bipolar about it. I like its adult and realistic approach to modern considerations of marriage and none of the coyness that some K-dramas pass off as dating in the modern era. Jung So Min sheds her bumbling image I still have of her from Playful Kiss and instead plays a bitchy and calculating young woman who is very shrewd in deciding her own marital future. Sung Joon has good chemistry with her but his character bugs me since I’m not a fan of guys who sometimes lack a spine. The two moms are like bats out of hell shrieky but thankfully not makjang. I get where they come from, I just don’t like them. I’m curious about the secondary coupling of Han Groo and Kim Young Kwang more than I am with the lead couple at times. So far the drama is good but I’m not addicted to it yet. Will marathon when its all done and enjoy it in one sitting.
Missing You (12 episodes watched) – The drama has aired up to episode 12 (out of 20) at the time of this writing so it’s still anything goes. This was one of the most weird viewing experiences of the year for me. Unlike sheer makjang excess such as May Queen or Five Finger, this one actually had moments of lovely restraint. The childhood story line was brought to life by the brilliant acting of teens Yeo Jin Gu and Kim So Hyun, setting the stage for epic tragedy, and hopefully epic redemption and emotional resurrection, for the adults. But once the adults showed up the story focused on the relatively less meaningful issues (the hero’s guilt for abandoning the heroine at her time of need) and neglected to develop the heroine’s character or thought process as a victim of rape and childhood emotional and physical abuse. Throw in a few clunky murder and death mysteries and espousing the premise that healing can be done by reuniting with a first love, this drama increasingly lost me in its narrative failings and great leaps of logic. It’s like the drama has potential, but the writer doesn’t have a clue how to develop it properly. The story starts with leads Lee So Yeon and Han Jung Woo, and could end with them, but the journey from point A to Z right now fails to convince me that they should and need to be together. The writer will do well with stripping out the narrative excess and focusing on the central theme of her story – former loves reuniting and healing from then trauma, and then falling in love again as adults. I love Yoon Eun Hye and Yoo Seung Ho, and Yoochun is selling his character like there is no tomorrow, but I’m not sure what holy miracle the writer will need to pull out to turn this sinking ship around. With 8 episodes to go it could still happen, but it would need some Tebow Time to deliver.
Drama Go Go Go – This C-drama has aired 12 episodes and I’m all caught up. I love it so far. It’s fast and fun, but also takes the time for slow lovely scenes of conversation and reflection. It doesn’t dawdle and people talk realistically with a dash of dramatic license and lots of heart. This is the drama that made me love Ruby Lin for the first time in her long career, not to mention she’s paired up well with two youngsters in Jiro Wang and Lin Geng Xin. The drama-within-a-drama bit and the behind-the-scenes of a drama production is cleverly integrated into the story, albeit rather superficially, but works well in this fluffy rom-com conext. This is definitely the longest I’ve stuck with a C-drama this year and here’s to hoping it’ll remain good so I can happily complete it.
It’s pretty hard to sum up an entire year’s worth of drama watching and simply label it a good or bad year. For the most part, this year I dropped dramas pretty quickly that I didn’t like and focused all my attention on the ones I did like, which is a route I highly recommend. On occasion I was a glutton for punishment and watched bad dramas to the bitter end (either out of morbid curiosity or because I held out hope it might get better), but that happens less and less nowadays compared to years ago when I had to finish what I started. Sure you might miss out on dramas that start off slow before a second half turnaround, but those are the rare birds indeed. Most dramas that a viewer starts off not liking usually merits the same sentiment through the end, so watching everything on the slim chance to avoid missing out on a diamond in the rough is a steep price to pay when one has too little time and too much to wade through. Like me. Or you can let me wade through it and steer clear of the clunkers where I take one for the team.
As I wind down yet another year watching and blogging, some things have stayed the same and others have changed. I still gets tons of supportive comments and emails for sharing my love of dramas, and I get still tons of complaints that I’m biased when I happen to not like something and point out why. I still don’t get why my personal like or dislike would have an impact on anyone’s enjoyment of dramas, but to write in a public setting necessitates a thick skin when it comes to slings and arrows. Looking down I think I have a nice shiny coat to let the mudslinging slide right off. I see the drama world changing in ways that annoy me, with more scripts written around product placement, location shoots, big-name stars, and trendy concepts. But conversely I still find the gems of delight in stories that feel genuine and touch my heart. There are moments when I wonder if I want to keep going with this interest of mine, and then something comes along to recharge my batteries again and off I go down the rabbit hole with a drama or three. Am I tired of all this? For sure. So is it still worth it? In those rare moments when a drama lifts me back up again, it most definitely is. To everyone – I wish you all had as fun a year watching dramas as I did. Thanks for playing with me and laissez le débat rouler!