For a month, I stopped all drama watching, including dramas I was currently invested in, to take a breather and collect my real world thoughts. While I was safely away, tucked in a book or three, dramas came and went and to be honest, I didn’t mind one bit. But once my break ended, I was happy to get back into the fray and check out the one drama I’d waited for all year, along with a few I cared very little about, funny thing is, I think I might like those just a tad more.
I usually try to hold off until the 3rd airing week, for the simple fact that I’ve learned over the years that if you pick up a drama and you don’t outright hate it, the fifth episode will be the clencher either way. I’ve never believed that one episode is a complete view of the drama (unless it’s total shite), therefore, it’s to your advantage to give a drama a chance beyond the first hour. Korean dramas are their own breed and while Taiwanese and Jodorama can be dropped within the first week or two, most K-dramas don’t really get their steam and settle into their story until the third week. This is disappointing for a 16 -episode show but I truly find that this rings true time and time again. I honestly, haven’t seen a drama yet that debunks this fact. With that said, I stick around until episode 5, if I can, then make a final decision— Doesn’t always determine if the drama was decidedly worth my time nor does it guarantee that I’ll be around past the middling 11th episode but it gives me space to weed out what works for me and I can gauge why the drama was worth initailly.
[***All listed dramas can be seen on Dramafever or Viki. Check bottom panel of sit e for links.]
응답하라 1997 Answer Me 1997
Synopsis: This drama focuses on the extreme fan culture that emerged in the 1990s when idol groups took center stage and K-pop was blossoming. It tells the story of 6 former high school friends from a school in Busan who meet again in 2012 and brings back memories to 1997 when they were still high school students. Moving back and forth between the ’90s and today, the story centers on the life of Sung Si Won , who idolizes boyband H.O.T., and her 5 high school friends.
Starring: Jung Eun-ji, Seo In-guk, Shin So-yul, Hoya, Eun Ji-won, Lee Shi-un
Airing: Tues TvN
Thoughts: AM’97 is the buzzworthy drama of the season and most times, I try to steer clear of such dramas but in this case, the subject matter appealed to me. There were several monikers for this show like, “relatable” and “pitch perfect” to the experience of living through high school in 1997, which sincerely fascinated me, for I wondered how similar Korean high school females were to myself and my friends during the same period of history. However, in the past, I’ve found the depiction of high school in Korean dramas to be more akin to my middle or grade school experience and unfortunately, AM’97 isn’t any different. The females in this drama translate to be what I remember from the twelve year old girls in my gym class, obsessed with boy bands and oblivious to the world and their futures, rather than, young women on the cusp of adulthood. And to put it plainly, this was beyond disappointing, for who acts like this is high school? At seventeen? Perhaps, I could understand if the drama began in ’95 and traveled to ’97 (and beyond), chronicling the shift in focus for a high schooler, that would be more believable for me, in regards to actual identification. Truly, at times, I’m not sure if I should be insulted or entertained, but, I have chosen to believe the drama has a method to it’s madness– not an ill perception of women.
For, with all the maddening qualities that this drama may lay at Sung Shi-won’s feet, what it does well is literally tell the viewer that Shi-won is extremely immature (though it doesn’t clarify definitively it’s “for her age”). The drama draws the line boldly between the boys and the girls, insinuating, that perhaps, women do the most emotional growth in life as a whole. For boys, have a tendency to remain the high school image of themselves, regardless of their physical age, while women surpass them as they begin to experience life, reiterating the roles of the sexes, rather than favoring one gender over another. Therefore, the dichotomy between the two (though it irritates me as a female who was once seventeen), explores the inherent differences between the maturity of the sexes, within certain personalities and traits.
Now that I got that out of the way, overall, AM’97 is a drama that hits you right where it counts. This story comes across as a light-hearted high school drama, then spins you around and lands a dart directly in your emotional center. Though specific personalities are entirely unrelatable (and perhaps culturally specific), the basic personal struggles and interpersonal relationships are universal. These characters transition through the struggles that most teenagers trudge through and plenty, no one desires to encounter. Once, you get past the inability to identify directly with the main characters (at the beginning stage), one can delve into what the drama is endeavoring to share. AM’97‘s world is living and breathing, though the characters are stunted in maturation. This drama may disguise itself as lightweight, especially being helmed by “idol stars” but don’t be fooled by the actor’s background, for Seo In-guk (Love Rain) sells Yoon Yoon-jae like none other and even Eun Ji-won burrowed himself into my heart, becoming my favorite character, the moment Do Hak-chan swaggered on-screen. The adults round out the emotional footing for these characters, unlike any other “high school” story I’ve seen. The parents create such a foundation for this world that the drama would never be whole without them. I’ve always enjoyed Sung Jong-ho ( Will It Snow for Christmas?, The Princess Man) but his turn as the “outrageously but irritatingly perfect older brother, that no one can hate cause he’s so perfect and audaciously hot” is his most endearing. He makes Yoon Tae-woong’s perfection less one-dimensionally robotic, usurping or pompous and creates a more innately self-effacing, generous, and humbling character. This drama may not line up with my personal experience or anything close to what I hoped to see, but it makes up for it in heart and sincerity, depicting characters I can’t wait to watch mature and glean as they enter the big bad world, that I’m still concerned they are far too young to handle. But perhaps, that’s the point.
Suggestions: There’s no hiding that it took me longer to accept this depiction of 1997, for I lived it for myself, but that hurdle is one that feigned once my hopes were burst. This drama makes every minute of every episode count, to add up to one winning drama journey. It takes the pains to carve out each character so precisely that there is no denying these personalities, in some way, were real to someone at some point in time. Therefore, approach like any other drama. AM’97 is a breath of fresh air but don’t expect that waft to bring a reminiscent breeze your way, for if you are anything like me (or I was in 1997), it’s virtually impossible to understand the mindset of these teenagers. Rather, it’s a coming of age drama and should be approached identifying from a human level rather than a peer experiential, empathetic one.
Viewing: Technically, AM’97 began in July but the majority of it’s run was during August and will come to a close this week. Marathon is a must at this point, but the episodes are short, which also makes it the best way to digest this drama. It’s highly addictive and one episode or four truly isn’t enough. I’d say, set aside your laziest day, click on your favorite streaming site and create a playlist, get your snack of choice (me: homemade popcorn), icecream and a box of tissues (or for reluctant criers, like myself, your sleeve)— Cause believe me, gonna be the best drama marathon you’ve experienced in a long while.
Synopsis: This drama depicts the romance between a warrior from the ancient times and a female doctor from the modern times, their love transcending time and space. It will also tell the story about the process of making a true king.
Yoo Eun Soo is a 33-year old plastic surgeon in the year 2012. She was originally a general surgeon, but quickly found that it was an overworked, under-paid profession and jumped ship to plastic surgery. Her dream is to someday open her own practice. But one day, Choi Young kidnaps her and takes her back to the Goryeo era because needing her medical skills. Their love story spans centuries but also warring beliefs. He gave up on love to be an unflinching warrior.
Starring:Lee Min-ho, Kim Hee-sun, Yu Oh-sung, Ryu Duk-hwan, Philip Lee, Park Se-young
Thoughts: There is something to be said for being intrigued by the premise of a drama, but not anticipating it. When Faith as initially announced, eons ago, I was excited, for the cast seemed solid, the story was sageuk (which always piques my interest) and the writers one of my favorites. However, actors were recast and dropped and Faith lost its luster as the script got ripped apart and patched back together and Lee Min-ho (City Hunter, Boys Over Flowers) joined the forefront. But as it finally got a premiere date, I became interested in what difference it was going to bring to the time travel trappings that have been hovering the drama horizon this year. Faith boasted of this sweeping epic and high flying stunts, phenomenal camera work and loads of other things, but once you begin episode one, you realize, this just isn’t the case. I wasn’t disappointed though, because the show was freaking hilarious. It’s not the captivating, mesmerizing, visual treat that it claimed it would be, but it’s got it’s own flair, that at the moment, I rather dig.
This drama plays everything straight, from the crazy ki (super power) wielding baddies, to the pomp and circumstance kingly montaus but it’s undercut by the 21st Century girl that finds it all just as silly as the viewers. What Faith does well is blow up the lunacy of the self-promoting treachery and dire life and death gravitas of yore and the laissez-faire, nonchalant, selfishness of modernity. I like that spectrum because when both worlds collide, there must be compromise from all involved, coupled with a little sensitivity. Faith overall is an exploration into the expression and embodiment of “faith” whereby each of our characters battles with their own concept and definition, whether it be with themselves, others or the world at large. It helps that the backdrop of this drama deals with political machinations and maneuvers, for it makes the romance, between the leads, the fantasy, which for now, I can handle.
Initially, I was a little put out by Lee Min-ho’s portrayal of Choi Young, for the simple fact that Lee seemed too lazy and modern in his interpretation, however, soon enough Young has become a character that has grown on me immensely, not for himself alone, but more so, based on the rabid loyalty and devotion he ensues from those that know him (especially, “steal my tiny heart,” tumbling maester Dae-man, played by Kim Jong-min.) The people around him adore him and that makes me want to know more about the man. I certainly hope the drama doesn’t mince on this quality, for theres tons of potential there. This is my first Kim Hee-sun (Smile Again, Bichunmoo) drama and I’ve heard horrendous things about her and at first, I had no real issue with interpretation of Yoo Eun-Soo but now, well, I wish someone would kill her and start again. I’m positive my rabid annoyance with Eun-soo’s inability to think and act like a rational adult, can’t entirely be placed at Kim’s well manicured toes, she deserves more blame than I’d like to qualify. I understand that the presence and journey of Eun-soo is the crux of the title but her characterization, regrettably, makes the point moot.
Ryu Duk-hwan (God’s Quiz, Like a Virgin) plays the weakling King Gong-min brilliantly, which makes it even more fun disdaining his character’s every self-deprecating word and insecure, fear driven move and response. I’m also quite pleased with Park Se-young (Love Rain, Equator Man) as Queen Noguk, for she’s strong and intelligent but young and dumb, which may be the strongest asset of this drama, for it also plays up the foundation of this drama and the romantic angle, for everything she does is motivated by love and devotion for her husband. For now, the drama continues to be entertaining, not for anything beyond what the characters bring to the table, but usually, that’s enough for me.
Suggestions: Faith isn’t for everyone, therefore, take a gander but I’d leave all preconceived notions and ideas at the door.
Viewing: Stream weekly. This drama is an, “If you like it, you love it; If you don’t, you won’t,” therefore, once you buy into the story and fall for the characters, it will become a must watch. Marathoning works but beware, addictions are hard to abet.
해운대 연인들 Haeundae Lovers
Synopsis: A romantic comedy that takes place in Haeundae, Busan, where an elite prosecutor Lee Tae Sung who lost his memory meets a daughter of former gangster Go So Ra .
Starring: Kim Kang-woo, Jo Yuh-jung, Jung Suk-won, Nam Gyuri
Airing: Mon-Tues KBS2
Thoughts: After watching the first six episodes of this drama— the verdict is nothing short of HILARIOUS! HL has to be the most fun and easily entertaining drama airing on prime time at the moment. Truly, the best thing about this drama is Kim Kang-woo, for ultimately we get 16 full episodes of him doing nothing but making fun of himself. And I for one, relish every second. Kim’s Tae-sung begins as your typical lead male with daddy issues and a hero complex but once he wakes from amnesia, his inhibitions are unleashed into the most endearing reflection of himself as his alias, Nam-hae. Kim depicts Nam-hae flawlessly, skipping no opportunity to squeeze a laugh or a tear from the viewer and it’s nothing less than wonderful. HL isn’t at all afraid of pulling a heart-string but just when a tear threatens to billow from your eye, Kim enters your view with a pouty face or ballooned lip and the ripple of giggles commence. The amnesia bit doesn’t kick in until the the third week but this drama doesn’t actually need it to ring in the emotional connection or the comedy. There isn’t one trope or over the top plot point that they skip, however, for this drama, it doesn’t matter. We get sun, sand, local Haeundae hotspots and bucket loads of fish and chuckles— and I love every moment of it.
Personally, Jung Suk-won (Rooftop Prince, Creating Destiny) is the most comfortable I’ve ever seen him and it helps immensely that his second lead status doesn’t devalue his character’s reasonable but savvy, easy going, rational behavior. No, he wont get the girl, but there was never a time I felt he should and I’m pretty certain he has a consolation waiting in the wings. Likewise, Kim Hye-eun ( I Do, I Do, Equator Man) has come off two strong, forthright roles this year, therefore, seeing her as Yook Tam-hee is jarring. But I must say, though she may be a typical hateful, petty wench, Kim’s performance works on every level for me. I loathe to hear Tam-hee’s voice or see her face but find the actress a delight and love that the character is generally, rather readily put in her place. She isn’t a character that creates havoc that no one seems to thwart or remain oblivious to, instead, everyone knows she’s a green-eyed gold digger and treats her as such, therefore, though the character is unnecessary at best, the writer’s spin, makes her presence bearable.
Suggestions: HL is silly beyond compare, therefore, I’d say watch whenever you need a gut jiggling guffaw. It’s simple, straight-forward and out and out ridiculous, but is intentional in it’s ludicrousness whether in format or execution. And honestly, that adds to it’s appeal.
Viewing: Stream bi-weekly. This drama is better watched several episodes at once, for it’s so simple that there isn’t much meat in a weekly viewing. The episodes are easy and rather gumball addictive, therefore set aside a few hours on the weekend and chuckle to your hearts content.
아랑사또전 Arang and the Magistrate
Synopsis: Seo-rim, the daughter of a magistrate during the Chosun Dynasty, is brutally murdered. The woman returns from the dead as a ghost and renamed Arang, full of light-hearted mischief and spirited fun. When she meets a young magistrate, Eun-oh, she discovers that he has the unique ability to communicate with the dead. She convinces him to help her uncover her killer and bring the person to justice.
Starring: Lee Jun-ki, Shin Min-ah, Yun Woo-jin, Han Jung-soo, Yoo Seung-ho, Park Jung-kyu
Airing: Weds-Thurs MBC
Thoughts: Intriguingly insane— that’s the first phrase that comes to mind when addressing this drama.Honestly, Arang proves that expectations ruin experience, for it didn’t live up to my desires. This was my most anticipated drama of the year and unfortunately, it didn’t impress me at all when it aired. Lee Jun-ki (Time Between Dog and Wolf, Iljimae) and Shin Min-ah (My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, Mawang) are phenomenal together and the aesthetics seamless but I wasn’t wowed the way I expected to be. However, that doesn’t mean this drama isn’t enjoyable.
Every story you approach has to be bought into, as in, you must believe or choose to believe, what the writer is selling. Once you do that, all is well (for the most part). This is where a story like Arang comes in, for it deals with several themes and topics that are not only other worldly but spiritual, therefore, there must be some basic intellectual acceptance of the writer’s prerogative. I find trying to think from the writer’s standpoint, helps to better enjoy any drama, for, if not, all dramas would probably outright suck.
With Arang there’s murder, the after-life and mystical beings, which makes the drama fascinating, in the sense of what more can one drama pile into a single concept. It doesn’t overpower the drama, for I sincerely believe, for now, the writers know exactly what story they want to tell. A strong positive about this drama, is once one mystery or conflict is introduced, it wastes no time in dragging it out, rather, one question after another is answered, moving smoothly from one thread to the next. Sure, there are overarching conflicts but each episode opens the window to another mystery solved and that makes the journey worthwhile.
I won’t say this drama is love but I knew I’d like it long ago and I do. Each week, the drama improves and makes me want to tune into the crazy that is Arang.
Suggestions: Arang definitely has some elements that I’ve heard described as “creepy” and “far-fetched,” though I believe these ideas skirt in the realm of “reality suspension” and would proffer, if you have a problem with ghosts and goblins, vampires and full moons, I’d pass on Arang and her Magistrate. If not, full speed ahead. I characterize this drama as absolutely bonkers but by no means ridiculous or insulting.
Viewing: Streaming weekly doesn’t hurt nor does a good marathon. However, I’d never suggest allowing too many weeks to fly by for you may never get around to finishing it— for interest wanes quickly.
판다양과 고슴도치 Panda and Hedgehog
Synopsis: Go Seung Ji is a pastry chef who has been an orphan since childhood and has a gruff and prickly personality that matches his nickname of “Hedgehog.” He meets the easygoing and sweet-natured Pan Da Yang, better known as “Panda,” who hires him as the new pastry chef of Café Panda. Together, the two work to make Café Panda a success while fending off competition from the Saint Honoré bakery franchise.
Starring:Lee Dong-hae, Yoon Seung-ah, Choi Jin-hyuk, Yoo So-young, Oh Yi-na
Airing: Channel A
Thoughts: Honestly, I only shuffled over to this drama because I was bored and unfortunately, it didn’t help at all, for P/H it is utterly boring. Yes, I said it— BORING. For, nothing of actual real substance occurs. The only reason I actually made it through the first five episodes was because the characters confused me so much, I couldn’t stop watching. It wasn’t until episode six that I decided that torturing myself waiting for the characters to either act their ages or at least listen and compute the words coming out of the mouths of others, wasn’t worth my drama time. The story is simple but gets off to a very, very slow start. However, this isn’t out of the ordinary, for it seems more and more dramas are taking this approach to storytelling. Ultimately, P/H is maddeningly unbelievable, not in premise but in circumstance and character depiction. The main characters, save Hedgehog, make little to no sense in their thought process, actions or motivations and therefore, fall short in garnering any attention or concern for their story. Super Junior‘s Dong-hae is really enjoyable in this drama. I was encouraged by his performance in Skip Beat and gave this show a chance and he doesn’t disappoint at all; it’s a nice role for him (too bad, the drama is not).
The other leads in the drama, however, make me want to spork my eyes out and sell them for the down payment on a lobotomy. Yoon Seung-ah (Moon Embraces the Sun, Playful Kiss) and Choi Jin-hyuk (Pasta, I Need Romance) have to be the most disappointing, for I genuinely like them both but can’t seem to find any truth in their characters. Yoon was flat and depressing earlier this year in her turn as Han Ga-in’s shadow but this drama gives her the opportunity to be plucky and adorable, therefore, it should be a great fit, but something just isn’t working. For Pan Da-yang, though nice, is decidedly dim, demanding and assuming, traits that just don’t work for garnering any twinge of character sincerity. Choi, on the other hand, depicts a grown American-bred man in his mid-twenties, obsessed with a girl he hasn’t seen for 15 years and was never really close to. Though, this is seen in several dramas, the point of contention lay with his inability to actually function in the real world. This could be played for the laugh, but instead, it’s hollow, irritating and above all, stupid. I’d love to blame this all on the writer or the PD but with more exposure, the eyesore is most decidedly Choi.
Suggestions: Well clearly, I’m not a fan, but I’m rather generous with dramas, therefore, P/H supposed to be cute and fun and I’m sure someone agrees. However, don’t waste your life. If you begin to feel anything near my apprehensions in the first two eps, press STOP and move on.
Viewing: I marathoned this one, which may have been my downfall, so, watch leisurely, with your brain on silent.
아름다운 그대에게 To the Beautiful You
Synopsis: The series centers on Gu Jae-hee, a Korean girl who lives in the United States. One day, she sees a track and field competition on TV, and becomes attracted to one of the high jump competitors, Kang Tae-joon. She begins to idolize the young athlete and eventually transfers to Korea to attend the same school that Tae-joon attends after he suffers an accident that could potentially end his career. There is a catch, however: Tae-joon attends an all-boys high school and Jae-hee must disguise herself as a boy to enter.
Starring: Min-ho, Choi Sul-ri, Lee Hyun-woo, Suh Jun-young, Kim Ji-won, Hwang Kwang-hee, Ki Tae-young
Airing: Weds-Thurs SBS
Thoughts: Like I’ve said before, Korean adaptations (especially manga/manhwa) can’t be trusted. Add to that, the PD from the crackilicious monstrosity of Boys over Flowers and well, this drama was doomed from the start. The first two episodes were choppy, sewing several unrelated scenes together and had the stench of a teen melodrama, more so, than the bubble gum goo, manga to TV feel, but once episode 3 aired, BY seemed to kick into the cute and cuddly, buddy bonding and I couldn’t be happier. What is wonderful about this show is that it’s surprisingly entertaining and the characters so adorable that I can’t wait to grow new cavities each week suckling on this lip-smacking lollipop treat. One drawback, I find, is that BY suffers from “wobbly without background” syndrome, for ultimately, it has been unsuccessful in standing on its own [think: The Hunger Games, Twilight]. Good adaptations are hard to produce. So much so, that at times, if the smallest detail is omitted or extended, it changes the entire tone and perhaps, purpose of the story. Therefore, for a viewer with no knowledge of the manga (whether exposed to either previous adaptation) following along or enjoying this drama would be rather difficult. And makes what is most definitely one of the drama’s delights (its deliberate and pure reliance on the manga) becomes its downfall, for at times it’s so heavy, it seems the writers forget that the screen isn’t as conducive to the “unexplained” as written works. Small mysteries, hidden agendas and random events, don’t translate for the typical drama viewer, who want answers now or refuses to think through their entertainment.
However, I will say that the approach to the drama is one of the best concerning depiction. The main characters have deeper, more tangible motivations that actually fit within the generation it’s poised to appeal to. The concept as a whole falls short in this area though (for Sulli is entirely too pretty and convinces no one she’s male) and could have been rectified early on but that’s a quibble, at this point. Overall, the show is adorable as heck and Choi Min-ho (Pianist) and Choi Sul-ri (Drama City, Ballad of Suh Dong) are the best Sano and Mizuki pairing I’ve seen. Honestly, there needs to be a new word created to express how cute Tae-joon and Jae-hee are together. It’s like watching a Kenyan lion cub and elephant calf become best friends and play together, then, because of their friendship, decide to rework the entire circle of Life. Lee Hyun-woo (Equator Man, God of Study) is as perfect, as expected and makes me wish I was 17 again, so I could crush on him without legal restraint.[Seriously, this kid kills me just a little more with each episode, his smile burning craters in my face!!] The rest of the pretty is just as adorable from Hwang Kwang-hee (Vampire Idol) to Suh Jun-young (Tree With Deep Roots, Bleak Night).
Being the fourth adaptation, it fits nicely directly smack in the middle of the others, slightly saner and more enjoyable all around than the Taiwanese version but not quite as crackling as the original Japanese version. Somehow, surprisingly, Korea has managed to mesh what worked about both dramas and still create its own monster and the end result is pretty nice. It’s definitely not perfect nor is the acting anything to rave about but this outing is solidly cute and absolutely precious.
Suggestions: As I said, the first two episodes are rough, but I highly recommend perseverance, for once that hump is endured, the story is nothing but cream. Of course, if you have no history with the original, this could be a glaring issue, therefore trot over here or here and have a read, even for spoiler haters like myself, trust and believe, you will thank me.
Viewing: Any way you can get it. Download, stream or live view. It’s too cute to pass up either way.