Queen Seon Duk
#105 Highest Rated
THIỆN ĐỨC NỮ VƯƠNG - Queen Seon Duk 
Korean Drama - 2009, 62 episodes


The story of a beautiful queen, who has to give up her love to save the people. A biopic of Queen Seondeok, who was born a princess and later became the ruler of Silla, leaving behind many brilliant achievements.

 You're Beautiful
Cô nàng đẹp trai - You're Beautiful 
Korean Drama - 2009, 16 episodes


The management company of the idol group A.N.JELL insisted on adding a new singer to the group as the lead vocal, Tae Kyung's voice was hurting. However,the new member, Mi Nam, had to go to the States to repair a botched…


Korean Drama - 2009, 20 episodes


Kim Hyun Joon and Jin Sa Woo are best friends who were brought into a top secret organization known as NSS by analyst Choi Seung Hee and Park Sang Hyun. Hyun Joon and Sa Woo both fall in love with Seung Hee when she…

 Cain and Abel
Huynh đệ tàn sát - Cain and Abel 
Korean Drama - 2009, 20 episodes


Based on the biblical story of Adam and Eve's first two sons, Cain and Abel is about Cain's jealousy towards his brother Abel. Lee Cho In is a very gifted doctor who has everything that he wants whereas his older brother,…

 Smile, You
Cười trong nước mắt - Smile, You 
Korean Drama - 2009, 45 episodes


Seo Jung In is the second daughter of a chaebol family, whose family suddenly meets with financial ruin. She is dumped by her husband, Lee Han Se, after their wedding ceremony when his family finds out about her family's…


 Shining Inheritance
Người thừa kế sáng giá - Shining Inheritance 
Korean Drama - 2009, 28 episodes


Go Eun Sung's life is similar to Cinderella's. After her father died, her step-mother, Baek Sung Hee, took away all of her assets and her younger brother, Eun Woo, suddenly disappears without a trace. Despite this, Eun…


 Boys Over Flowers
Vườn sao băng - Boys Over Flowers 
Korean Drama - 2009, 25 episodes


Jan Di, the Heroine, is the poor but bright girl who has a strong sense of justice and full of vitality. She transfers to an exclusive high school where only the rich go. In there, she encounters with the four rich and…

 City Hall
Cô thị trưởng đa tình - City Hall 
Korean Drama - 2009, 20 episodes


City Hall is a drama that deals with politics in a romantic comedy genre. It's about the happenings between a young woman mayor and an elite bureaucrat. Jo Gook is an exceedingly smart government official. He passed…


 High Kick Through the Roof!
Gia đình là số 1 phần 2 - High Kick Through the Roof! 
Korean Drama - 2009, 126 episodes


Shin Se Kyung and Shin Shin Ae (Seo Shin Ae) are a pair of sisters who came to work as maids in Foodstuff company President Lee Sun Jae's house after their debt-ridden father Shin Dal Ho (Jung Seok Yong) runs away leaving…


 A Man's Story
A Man's Story 
Korean Drama - 2009, 20 episodes


In the blink of an eye, Kim Shin (Park Yong Ha) loses everything dear to him. His father's company goes bankrupt, his brother commits suicide, his girlfriend (Park Si Yeon) leaves him, and he himself ends up in jail…


 Ja Myung Go
Ja Myung Go 
Korean Drama - 2009, 39 episodes


Legend has it that more than 2,000 years ago, the Kingdom of Nangnang possessed a mystical Ja Myung Drum which will sound by itself when enemies invade. In reality, Ja Myung Go does not represent the drum but instead,…


 Swallow the Sun
Swallow the Sun 
Korean Drama - 2009, 25 episodes


This novel-based story revolves mainly around four people who are drawn to Seogwipo, Jeju for a project. Kim Jung Woo and Lee Soo Hyun first met when they were children but lost track of each other for numerous years.…


 That Fool
That Fool 
Korean Drama - 2009, 16 episodes


Goo Dong Baek is an honest and good-hearted postman. One day he encounters with Han Ji Soo, a top celebrity. However, an ordinary man gets no chance to show his feeling to this top actress who everyone loves. Six months…

 The Return of Iljimae
The Return of Iljimae 
Korean Drama - 2009, 24 episodes


The story is about a man fighting against the selfish and corrupt government to save the ordinary peasants. Iljimae was abandoned by his birth father and adopted by a Chinese couple. He returns to Korea to find his birth…


Korean Drama - 2009, 10 episodes


Ha Na and Doo Na were twin sisters who were very close to each other until Doo Na died a terrible death. One day, the usually bright and energetic Ha Na finds herself changing. She has superhuman strength and can do…

 Creating Destiny
Creating Destiny 
Korean Drama - 2009, 31 episodes


Han Sang Eun emigrated to Australia with her family at a young age. Years later, she has completed her law studies in the United States and plans to marry her American boyfriend. Her dad, however, is strongly opposed…


 Loving You a Thousand Times
Loving You a Thousand Times 
Korean Drama - 2009, 55 episodes


Baek Sae Hoon and his wife, Lee Sun Young, desperately try to conceive a child but are unsuccessful. Sae Hoon's mother goes to Sun Young and asks that she consider surrogacy as a way of conceiving a child without Sae…


Korean Drama - 2009, 16 episodes


Hero is the story of Korea's top reporters and ordinary citizens fighting against the society elite's abuse of power. Working as a reporter for a racy tabloid called the Monday Seoul, Jin Do Hyuk uses any means necessary…

 Tamra, The Island
Tamra, The Island 
Korean Drama - 2009, 16 episodes


Set in the 17th Century, Jang Beo Jin is a young female diver on Tamra Island. She doesn't particularly enjoy her situation and dreams of one day leaving the island. One day, to her shock, she discovers a young blond…

 Temptation of an Angel
Temptation of an Angel 
Korean Drama - 2009, 21 episodes


After the death of her parents, Joo Ah Ran plots to ruin the family that destroyed hers. She seduces and marries the son of her enemy, Shin Hyun Woo, who discovers her plan belatedly. With a new face, courtesy of plastic…

 Queen of Housewives
#1731 Highest Rated
Nữ hoàng nội trợ - Queen of Housewives 
Korean Drama - 2009, 20 episodes


Chun Ji Ae and Yang Bong Soon are high school classmates who did not have the best relationship with each other. Ji Ae was the most popular girl in school whereas Bong Soon was the girl that was always made fun of. Years…

 My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady 
Korean Drama - 2009, 16 episodes


Of the high-rolling top 'hot celebrities' of the wealthy upper class in Korea's high society, Kang Hye Na is the one desired by the men, feared and hated by the women. Being the only successor to the largest conglomerate…


 The Man Who Can't Get Married
The Man Who Can't Get Married 
Korean Drama - 2009, 16 episodes


Jo Jae Hee is a man in his 40s who is very stubborn and hasn't gotten married yet. His personality is so unbearable that women don't find him attractable nor a good candidate for marriage. However, Jae Hee, is perfect…

Korean Drama - 2009, 16 episodes


"Who is your partner?" When you take a look at the definition of 'Partner', it gives you synonyms such as colleague, sharer, spouse and accomplice. A partner is a person who is strongly associated with me; the one who…

 Invincible Lee Pyung Kang
Invincible Lee Pyung Kang 
Korean Drama - 2009, 16 episodes


Lee Pyung Kang's father, unfortunately, met with an untimely death before completing his ambitious work as a golf course designer. Pyung Kang came to terms with the reality as she supports the family. Eight years later,…

 Assorted Gems
Assorted Gems 
Korean Drama - 2009, 50 episodes


The four siblings in the Gung family were named after precious jewels: eldest daughter Bi Chwi (Jade), eldest son San Ho (Coral), second daughter Ryu Bi (Ruby), and the youngest son, Ho Bak (Amber). Like an assortment…

 Don't Hesitate
Don't Hesitate 
Korean Drama - 2009, 98 episodes


This drama tells the story of a woman who devoted her life to love and a man who had never known nor believed in love. Jang Soo Hyun was a woman who previously believed in sacrificing herself for love, even donating…

 Will it Snow for Christmas?
Tuyết có rơi đêm giáng sinh - Will it Snow for Christmas? 
Korean Drama - 2009, 16 episodes


Cha Kang Jin is the son of barmaid, Cha Chun Hee. His life is difficult as he gets into fights and has to watch other people push his mother around yet he can't do anything to stop it. He met Han Ji Wan when they were…

 Cinderella Man
Cinderella Man 
Korean Drama - 2009, 16 episodes


When brash, street-smart orphan Oh Dae San, who makes his living copying designer fashions, and the apathetic grandson of the fashion empire Lee Joon Hee meet by chance one day, the two men realize that they look exactly…

Korean Drama - 2009, 20 episodes


Lee Jang Suk (Kim Bum) spent some time in a juvenile detention center for stealing wallets from unsuspecting strangers. After he gets out, he meets a sports agent, Nam Jae Il (Joo Jin Mo), who's trying to recover from…

 Heading to the Ground
Heading to the Ground 
Korean Drama - 2009, 16 episodes


The drama about a man trying to achieve what is thought to be impossible: fulfilling his dreams of being a great soccer player. He meets Kang Hae Bin, a sports agent, who tries to live her life away from the influence…

Korean Drama - 2009, 16 episodes


This drama is about a female figure skater, Lee Haru, who is hoping to make it big. Her life gets complicated when she reunites with her step-brother, Shin Hwal, after many years of being separated. Hwal's father and…

Korean Drama - 2009, 16 episodes


Lee Seo Jung has recently joined a fashion magazine company called Style. Her boss, Editor Park, is loathed by her employees because of her bad temper. As Seo Jung is trying to climb the ranks of this company, she realizes…

 Friend, Our Legend
Friend, Our Legend 
Korean Drama - 2009, 20 episodes


Friend, Our Legend is a drama adaptation of the 2001 gangster classic film "Friend" both by the same director, Kwak Kyung Taek. This drama is a gritty, brilliant, star-studded tale of four childhood friends who grow…

 Three Brothers
Three Brothers 
Korean Drama - 2009, 70 episodes


Kim Sun Kyung is a retired police officer and father of three sons, Gun Kang, Hyun Chal and Yi Sang. His eldest son Gun Kang made many wrong decisions in life, ending up being divorced and going bankrupt. Gun Kang gets…

 Hot Blood
Hot Blood 
Korean Drama - 2009, 20 episodes


Revolves around penniless Ha Ryu who is driven by upward mobility and a thirst for personal success. Here is a man who can do whatever it takes to make money. He dreams of raking in 10 billion won by selling cars. Due…

 Romance Zero
Romance Zero 
Korean Drama - 2009, 16 episodes


Kim Woo Jin was the top couple manager at a matchmaking company until he makes a mistake one day that sees him reassigned to lead Team Zero, a group of people who have had little success in matchmaking couples. In order…

 Hateful But Once Again
Hateful But Once Again 
Korean Drama - 2009, 24 episodes


Lee Min Soo is the Korean male version of Paris Hilton. One day, he meets Choi Yoon Hee when he was trying to avoid one of his many conquests. Min Soo's mother, Han Myung In, thinks that Yoon Hee has what it takes to…

 Hometown Legends
Hometown Legends 
Korean Drama - 2009, 10 episodes


Hometown Legends (2009) is the continuation of a classic series of ghost stories which first aired on KBS between 1977 and 1989 and later between 1996 and 1999. After a successful return in 2008, KBS decided to do another…

 The Iron Empress
The Iron Empress 
Korean Drama - 2009, 78 episodes


'The Iron Empress' is the granddaughter of Wang Gun, the first emperor of Goryeo. She has inherited her grandfather´s vision as well as his Great Spirit. The empress fights against the enemies trying to collapse Goryeo,…

 My Too Perfect Sons
My Too Perfect Sons 
Korean Drama - 2009, 54 episodes


Song Jin Poong is the eldest of four sons and works hard to earn money to support his family. He is also a man who cannot forget his first love. His mother, Ok Hee, wants him to get married because he is already 38 years…

 Jung Yak Yong
Jung Yak Yong 
Korean Drama - 2009, 8 episodes


A legendary scholar from the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) is reborn as a charismatic detective through cable channel OCN's "Jeong Yak Yong". The eight-episode television mini-series is aimed at attracting crime film and…

 Wife Returns
Wife Returns 
Korean Drama - 2009, 116 episodes


Jung Yoo Hee married the love of her life, Yoon Sang Woo. However, his mother despised Yoo Hee and forced her to leave Sang Woo and their young daughter. Years later, Yoo Hee returns and meets her daughter. However,…

 Mrs. Town
Mrs. Town 
Korean Drama - 2009, 12 episodes


Seo Hong Joo, a beautiful and elegant retired movie star seemingly in the prime of her life. Oh Da Jung, a warm-hearted restaurant owner. Ahn Bo Bae, who spends her life working for her husband and children, feeling…


Năm 2009 không hẳn là năm vàng của phim truyền hình Hàn Quốc như năm 2007, nhưng cũng là năm có khá nhiều phim tạo hiện tượng. Bản tổng kết này chỉ bàn tới những phim tôi theo dõi hết hoặc xem gần một nửa đủ để đánh giá bộ phim. Các phim được xếp theo vần alphabet tên tiếng Anh của phim.

Boys Over Flowers

–         Tên tiếng Hàn 꽃보다 남자 / Kgotboda Namja

–         Tên tiếng Anh Boys Before Flowers / Boys Over Flowers

–         25 tập

–         Đài KBS, tối thứ 2 và 3

–         Thời gian phát sóng: 05/1/2009 đ ến 31/3/2009

Đầu năm 2009, BOF làm một cuộc xâm lăng ngoạn mục trên khắp các forum phim ảnh Hàn Quốc. Bộ phim đưa Lee Min-ho từ một anh chàng vô danh vụt sáng thành ngôi sao được hâm mộ khắp Châu Á. Tất cả các diễn viên khác của phim, dù chỉ xuất hiện vài phút trong phim đi chăng nữa, cũng nhận được sự quan tâm đặc biệt của khán giả.

BOF, đáng buồn thay, có thể xếp vào hàng ngũ những bộ phim tệ nhất của năm, một mớ lẩu thập cẩm, kịch bản hỗn độn, tính cách nhân vật không nhất quán, mờ nhạt. Tôi biết chắc fans của BOF sẽ công kích tôi về điều này, nhưng kìa, bạn nói ai chứ? Ai không yêu quý bộ phim yêu thích của các bạn thì các bạn bảo tôi phiến diện sao? Nếu không nhờ vào danh tiếng bộ manga Hana Yori Dango, không rõ BOF có được chú ý ngay từ đầu rồi được tung hô lên thành hiện tượng hay không.

Tôi không chê trách BOF về những phân biệt giàu nghèo và những xa hoa tráng lệ mà bộ phim tạo nên, cùng với những chàng trai công tử con nhà giàu và cô gái nhà nghèo đảm đang nghị lực. Không, tất cả những điều này là motif quen thuộc của phim truyền hình để thu hút khán giả, và tôi cũng không cảm thấy chán cái motif này (xem Brilliant Legacy thì rõ). Cái mà BOF thiếu, và rất tệ, là sự thống nhất trong tính cách nhân vật, và tính logic của toàn bộ mạch phim (chứ không bàn đến tính hợp lý của những chi tiết nhỏ, xem liệu có hợp lý hay không). Nhân vật nay thế này, mai thế kia. Biên kịch thích thì quẳng chi tiết này chi tiết nọ vào, nữ chính từ một cô gái mạnh mẽ với bản năng sinh tồn tự dưng lại trở thành một cô gái yếu ớt nhận sự giúp đỡ từ hết người này đến người khác.

Tôi ghét bộ phim này, ghét cái cách câu chuyện được xây dựng, lối đạo diễn cẩu thả vô lý, và những đoạn nhạc phim liên tu bất tận ồn ào bắt gặp khắp nơi. Điều đáng chú ý nhất ở BOF, có lẽ là nhờ dàn diễn viên trong phim, đối với tôi, nổi bật là Lee Min-ho và Kim Bum.

Kim Bum thực sự không xuất sắc trong phim, nhưng thiện cảm dành cho một diễn viên trẻ đẹp trai thân thiện đã cứu hình ảnh của cậu. Lee Min-ho thực sự là một hiện tượng của năm, và dù sau này có nhiều người đặt câu hỏi nếu Gu Jun Pyo được giao cho một nam diễn viên tên tuổi khác (bạn biết là ai rồi đấy!) thì liệu BOF sẽ có được thành công như thế nào. Tôi vẫn khẳng định, Gu Jun Pyo là của Lee Min-ho, và dù có ghét BOF mấy đi nữa, tôi vẫn yêu thích cậu diễn viên trẻ tuổi này, và thực ra cũng thầm cảm ơn BOF vì nhờ đó mà khán giả biết đến một ngôi sao sáng khác.

Bạn thích BOF, và có thể bạn ghét tôi vì tôi không ưa bộ phim. Không hề gì, đó là sự lựa chọn của mỗi cá nhân. Tôi biết chắc chúng ta vẫn có thể cùng yêu thích một bộ phim khác, vậy hãy cùng thử xem năm 2009 này tôi có điểm gì chung với bạn nữa không?

Brilliant Legacy

–         Tên tiếng Hàn: 찬란한 유산 / Chanranhan Yusan

–         Tên tiếng Anh: Shining Inheritance / Brilliant Legacy

–          28 tập

–         Đài SBS, phim cuối tuần, tối thứ 7 và CN.

–         Thời gian phát sóng: 25/4/2009 đến 26/7/2009

Đi ngược lại vài bài trước chắc bạn cũng đã thấy Brilliant Legacy hớp hồn tôi như thế nào. Tôi cũng khá e dè khi tiếp cận những phim có ratings cao vì chỉ sợ gặp một BOF thứ hai !!! Nhưng Brilliant Legacy xứng đáng là một bộ phim hay, tính giải trí và tính giáo dục đều cao. Bạn đòi hỏi gì hơn nữa từ một bộ phim truyền hình?

Không cần những bí mật về thân thế, những mưu đồ quyền lực hay là những thứ xa xỉ đắt tiền của những cậu ấm cô chiêu con nhà giàu (hm hm, bạn biết tôi nói phim gì rồi chứ?), Brilliant Legacy giản dị và hấp dẫn nhờ sự phát triển tính cách nhân vật một cách thuyết phục, kịch bản chặt và đạo diễn chắc tay, chú ý tới từng chi tiết nhỏ nhặt nhất. Và một câu chuyện tình yêu nhẹ nhàng trong sáng là có thể đủ sức đi vào lòng người, cần gì tới những la hét với bi kịch và hiểu nhầm mới có thể tạo ra một chuyện tình đáng nhớ?

Cain and Abel

–         Tên tiếng Hàn: 카인과 아벨

–         Tên tiếng Anh: Cain and Abel

–         20 tập

–         Đài SBS, tối thứ 4 và 5

–         Thời gian phát sóng: 18/2/2009 đến 23/4/2009

Cain and Abel không phải là một phim hay! Một kịch bản tệ, quá tệ!!! nhiều lỗ hổng, phi logic, cường điệu hoá một cách lố bịch, lặp lại lối mòn của phim HQ, trả thù và bệnh tật, dài dòng lê thê, đặc biệt là tính cách nhân vật và mâu thuẫn dẫn đến những bi kịch trong phim cực kỳ gượng ép và cường điệu hóa.

Cain and Abel giống như là một show tạp kỹ, không có cái gì rõ ràng, một mớ bòng bong. Biên kịch chèn vào đó một mớ hỗn độn những chi tiết rất bi kịch, rất căng thẳng nhằm tạo cảm giác hồi hộp gay cấn, nào là tình tay ba, mất trí nhớ, ung thư não, nào là đấu súng, trả thù, một tí chính trị, một ít gián điệp, đấu đá tranh giành quyền lực, nhưng rồi tình yêu, cái thiện sẽ chiến thắng tât cả, vvv. Nhưng thật sự nó ko truyền tải được thông điệp gì, cảm giác rất giả tạo, và thú thực là tôi chẳng có cảm giác gì sau khi xem xong phim. Ôm đồm nhiều chi tiết để rồi cuối cùng ko có cái nào trọn vẹn.

Điều khiến tôi xem hết được 20 tập phim chính là nhờ dàn diễn viên, đặc biệt là Ji Sub và Ji-Min. Cặp đôi đáng yêu và dễ thương So Ji-sub -Ha Ji-min đủ sức giữ lại chút thiện cảm với C&A trong tôi. Và cũng nhờ C & A mà tôi biết đến sức mạnh của ánh mắt So Ji-sub. Đây là lần đầu tiên xem So Ji-sub đóng, mặc dù anh đã rất nổi tiếng với Glass shoesWhat happened in Balivà Sorry, I love you nhưng vì đã lỡ bị tiết lộ trước kết thúc của cả 3 phim trên mà tôi từ chối không xem các phim đấy. Sau C&A tôi tìm lại những phim cũ của anh, và hoàn toàn đổ gục với MiSa, thậm chí đến giờ vẫn chưa đi tiếp với What happened in Bali.

Vẫn luôn luôn thích Han Ji-Min, một trong những nữ diễn viên HQ tôi yêu thích bởi vẻ đẹp tươi tắn rạng ngời, luôn đem đến niềm vui cho người khác. Dù diễn xuất của Han Ji-min trong phim này cũng tầm tầm, không có gì đột phá nhưng vẻ lạc quan của Oh Young-Ji trong phim này làm cân bằng lại gam màu tối tăm đượm màu trả thù và bệnh tật của phim. Diễn xuất không nổi bật nhưng cái cố gắng trong 20 tập phim trong âm điệu Bắc Hàn của cô cũng đủ khiến người khác thán phục.

Vai diễn phản diện của Shin Hyeon-Jun, ánh mắt sắc lạnh và lạnh lung, nói chung anh nhập vai rất đạt một nhân vật phản diện độc ác mưu mô, tuy có nhiều chỗ thấy hơi lên gân, cường điệu quá.

Vai diễn của Chae Jung-Ahn, người con gái giữ cả hai trái tim của hai anh em. Không biết tại do cô hay tại biên kịch, nhưng mặc dù giữ một vai trò khá trung tâm trong phim, nhưng tương tác giữa cô và hai nhân vật nam chính không đủ sức thuyết phục. Cũng có quá nhiều cảnh khóc cho vai diễn của cô. CJA vẫn vậy, đẹp, nữ tính nhưng lúc nào cũng mang vẻ khó gần làm cho thiện cảm với cô giảm bớt phần nào.

Nói tóm lại, nếu bạn là fan của So Ji-sub và muốn thỏa sức ngắm anh trong gần 20 tiếng đồng hồ cùng với một happy ending cho vai diễn của anh sau bao nhiêu bi kịch nổi tiếng trong phim truyền hình Hàn Quốc thì Cain and Abel cũng tạm coi là một lựa chọn.

City Hall

–         Tên 시티홀 / City Hall

–         20 tập

–         Đài SBS, tối thứ 4 và 5

–         Thời gian phát sóng: 29/4/2009 đến 2/7/2009

Tôi vẫn đánh giá City Hall là hay, nhưng nhìn nhận lại thì tôi đã không còn là crazy fan của phim.

Chẳng hiểu có phải vì hồi xem City Hall không có thời gian viết lách để lưu giữ cảm xúc, hay vì City Hall thiếu một cái gì đó khiến tôi không bị thôi thúc phải viết nhiều như đối với Brilliant Legacy hay You’re beautiful (chỉ nhắc đến 2 phim này vì đây là 2 phim xem gần đây) mà dạo gần đây nhắc đến City Hall tôi ko còn rung lên nữa.

Tôi cũng nhớ là lúc ấy mình điên cuồng lên vì City Hall như thế nào, khuấy đảo cả topic yêu phim Hàn trên Webtretho, thúc giục mọi người cùng xem CH. Nhưng tôi chưa bao giờ xem lại CH tập cuối với phụ đề tiếng Anh và tiếng Việt mà chỉ xem duy nhất một lần bản raw ngay hôm phát sóng tập cuối của CH thôi. Tôi đã reo ầm lên sung sướng vì cái kết “trong mơ”, vẫn rối rít giục mọi người xem phim, vẫn xem lại một vài cảnh ở các tập giữa nhưng riêng tập cuối thì chưa một lần xem lại.

Về tính chất cổ tích, fairy tale kiểu Cinderella thì City Hall và Brilliant Legacy là hoàn toàn như nhau.

City Hall có thể khiến ta nhầm tưởng về tính đời thường của nó ở những câu thoại rất đời và rất sắc, nhưng đặt trong cảnh phim mượn chuyện chính trị để nói chuyện tình yêu, thì đây rõ ràng là một câu chuyện cổ tích. Và vì bản chất nó là một câu chuyện không có thực mà lại muốn làm như thật nên biên kịch dồn sức vào những chi tiết lãng mạn của tình yêu để ru người xem, khiến khán giả vì quá sung sướng với những khoảnh khắc đẹp như mơ và đối thoại sâu sắc mà tạm quên đi cái cốt lõi của vấn đề, rằng đừng có đánh đồng chính trị với chuyện tình yêu.

Brilliant Legacy thì không như vậy, kịch bản đã xác định rõ đây là một câu chuyện cổ tích hiện đại, và các tình tiết chính của phim thì cũng hướng rõ đến cái thông điệp ẩn sau nó. Nhưng BL thuyết phục tôi hơn, vì cách dẫn chuyện theo kiểu hiện thực hóa một câu chuyện cố tích, còn City Hall, lúc thì cổ tích hóa, lúc thì hiện thực hóa, khiến cho câu chuyện mang tính nửa vời.

Tôi vẫn rất trân trọng những cảm xúc mãnh liệt mà City Hall mang lại, và xem phim mà có được những cảm giác như thế thì còn đòi hỏi gì hơn? Chỉ muốn nói rằng, City Hall đối với tôi không phải là phim hay nhất của năm 2009, nhưng rõ ràng là một bộ phim nổi bật của năm.


–         Tên 파트너 / Partner

–         16 tập

–         Đài KBS, tối thứ 4 và 5

–         Thời gian phát sóng: 24/6/2009 đến 13/8/2009

Partner là một trong những bộ phim truyền hình Hàn Quốc hiếm hoi về đề tài pháp đình. Và để minh chứng cho điểm yếu thường trực của phim Hàn Quốc khi xoay quanh một bối cảnh nghề nghiệp nào đó, phim khá tẻ nhạt – cũng y như những bộ phim Hàn Quốc về ngành nghề khác.

Kim Hyun-joo và Lee Dong-wook có tương tác mạnh trong phim, nhờ diễn xuất của họ mà phim hấp dẫn hơn, dù rằng diễn biến trong phim khá rời rạc. Không chú trọng chuyện tình yêu, tình cảm của cặp đôi chính trong phim nhẹ nhàng và rất đời thường, và tôi đánh giá cao điều ấy. Chỉ có điều, không có được một kịch bản chắc tay như Story of a Man, cũng là một trong số ít phim Hàn không lấy tình yêu làm chủ đề chính, Partner chỉ là một bộ phim truyền hình bình bình, không có gì nổi bật. Tôi thậm chí còn không nhớ nổi một bài hát nào trong phim. Điều đáng nhớ nhất, có lẽ là khuôn mặt rạng rỡ của Kim Hyun-joo, một vẻ đẹp giản dị nhưng có chiều sâu, luôn ngời sáng.

Story of a Man

–         Tên tiếng Hàn 남자이야기 / Namja-i-yagi

–         Tên tiếng Anh: A Man’s story hoặc Story of a Man/ The Slingshot.

–         20 tập

–         Đài KBS, tối thứ 2 và 3

–         Thời gian phát sóng: 6/04/2009 đến 09/6/2009

Một phim không dành cho số đông, mặc dù đối với tôi đây có lẽ là phim xuất sắc nhất của năm 2009, tính trên mọi phương diện: kịch bản, đạo diễn, diễn xuất. Kịch bản chặt chẽ, phát triển hợp lý, biên kịch rõ ràng biết mình muốn gì và đi về đâu, không quan tâm đến ratings hay những yếu tố câu khách thông thường. Đạo diễn chắc tay với những góc quay đầy ý nghĩa. Và tài năng của dàn diễn viên thực sự càng đóng góp vào thành công của bộ phim.

Kim Kang-woo ấn tượng với vai phản diện lạnh lùng tàn nhẫn, đã thích diễn xuất nhẹ nhàng của anh trong bộ phim điện ảnh Gourmet, lối diễn với ánh mắt sắc lạnh đầy mưu mô và tàn bạo của anh trong phim này thực sự đưa anh lên tầm vóc những diễn viên thực lực của Hàn Quốc.

Tôi vốn không thích vai diễn khá ủy mị của Park Yong-ha trong Bản tình ca mùa đông nhưng với SOAM, Park đã thuyết phục tôi với trưởng nhóm Shin ấm áp và láu lỉnh, từ một anh chàng thích rong chơi sau biến cố gia đình đã phải vào tù tội, quay trở lại trả thù kẻ gây hại đến gia đình mình nhưng vẫn chưa mất đi bản tính tốt bụng nơi con người anh.

Park Shi-yeon vốn nhạt nhòa trong My Girl biến hóa đầy ấn tượng thành một cô gái vật chất thực tế, sexy và thông minh.

Park Ki-woong lém lỉnh và trẻ con trong Love Marriage làm người xem ngỡ ngàng trong vai chàng thanh niên tự kỷ đam mê những con số, chuyên gia phân tích thị trường của cả nhóm.

Philip Lee, một trong tứ thần kỳ của The Legend, trở lại đầy quyến rũ với vai chàng thanh niên người Mỹ gốc Hàn, luật sư nhưng lại thích chơi theo luật rừng, cá tính và đào hoa.

Lee Moon-shik, cũng giống như các diễn viên kỳ cựu khác của Hàn Quốc, luôn xoa dịu được những tình huống căng thẳng với lối diễn hài hước nhẹ nhàng.

Và Han Yeo-woon, một gương mặt dịu dàng thuần khiết, đem đến một trong những bất ngờ lớn nhất của phim, khi mà vai diễn tưởng chừng là vai phụ của cô lại là mấu chốt chính của phim.

SOAM có một cốt truyện tưởng như là không mới, cũng là motif trả thù, nhưng tuyệt nhiên không có những bí ẩn trong gia đình, dòng họ, không có tình tay ba éo le trắc trở. SOAM mang đến cảm giác của Ocean Eleven với những kế hoạch thông minh và mang đậu dấu ấn nhóm chứ không của một cá nhân nào. Và dù thế mạnh của phim Hàn là những câu chuyện tình yêu, tuyệt nhiên đây không phải là điểm nhấn của phim, và tôi cảm ơn biên kịch vì điều đó. Vì như thế, SOAM đưa ra một đột phá cho những bộ phim truyền hình Hàn Quốc, nổi bật ở tính chặt chẽ, logic và rất cá tính.

Cần phải nhấn mạnh rằng, mặc dù tôi đánh giá đây là bộ phim truyền hình Hàn Quốc xuất sắc nhất năm 2009, nhưng đây không phải là bộ phim hay nhất và càng không phải là phim yêu thích nhất của tôi trong năm nay, đơn giản vì tôi không sống chết với nhân vật, không liên hệ được bản thân mình với chính họ, không cảm thấy day dứt hay lẩn thẩn lòng vòng với hậu cảm xúc sau khi xem phim. Đây có lẽ là một bộ phim quá thông minh và tỉnh táo, và điều đó cũng lại chính là nhược điểm của phim, khi nó kiềm chế cảm xúc trong tôi.

SOAM không đạt được ratings cao nhưng ổn định ở mức 8 đến 9 % và đạt giải Phim truyền hình hay nhất tại Seoul International Drama Awards 2009.

Take care of the young lady

–         Tên tiếng Hàn: 아가씨를 부탁해 / Agassireul Pputakae

–         Tên tiếng Anh: Take Care of Agassi / Take Care of My Lady / My Fair Lady

–         Previously known as: 레이디 캐슬 / Lady Castle

–         16 tập

–         KBS, tối thứ 4 và 5

–         Thời gian phát sóng: 19/8/2009 đến 8/10/2009

Thất vọng lớn của năm thuộc về Take care of the young lady. Sự trở lại của nhân viên tiệm “Cà fê hoàng tử” Yoon Eun-hye sau 2 năm vắng bóng trên màn ảnh nhỏ khiến mọi cặp mắt của khán giả đổ dồn vào bộ phim. Đáng buồn thay, sự trở lại lần này không được thành công như mong đợi.

Tôi không hề cho rằng đó là lỗi của YEH, đơn giản đó là vì kịch bản của phim quá dở. Điều đáng kinh ngạc trong năm nay là rất nhiều kịch bản phim truyền hình có vấn đề về nội dung và tính logic. Và vì thế, dù có sở hữu dàn diễn viên giỏi đến đâu, dù đạo diễn có cố gắng cứu bộ phim cách mấy đi nữa, vẫn không thể che lấp được những yếu kém của kịch bản. Một nội dung không mới, toàn những chi tiết lặp lại, hài hước một cách gượng ép, nhân vật thiếu chiều sâu. Điều kinh ngạc là bộ phim vẫn có ratings đạt mức hai chữ số, có lẽ phần lớn nhờ vào tên tuổi của YEH.

Chúc may mắn với dự án tiếp theo, YEH (hay là lại làm một dự án khác với Gong Yoo? Anh ấy xuất ngũ rồi kìa ^^).


–         트리플 / Triple

–         16 tập

–         Đài MBC, tối thứ 4 và 5

–         Thời gian phát sóng: 11/6/2009 đến 30/7/2009

Triple cũng là một thất vọng lớn trong năm, khi mà tôi háohức mong chờ nó từ cuối năm 2008, với đạo diễn và biên kịch của Coffee Prince, cùng với sự góp mặt của Lee Jung-jae, Yoon Kye-sang, và The Voice Lee Seon-kyun !!! Nhìn xem, với những tên tuổi như thế ai mà không ngóng chờ Triple cho được.

Tôi thú nhận là tôi bỏ dở Triple từ tập 5, gắng gượng vớt vát rằng sẽ xem tiếp các tập còn lại khi nào có thời gian. Nhưng tôi biết đó là tự dối lòng để tự an ủi vì quá trông chờ vào bộ phim mà thôi. Tập 1 của bộ phim thực sự cũng mang lại một niềm hy vọng vì cảm giác tươi mới trẻ trung đúng phong cách đạo diễn Lee cộng với âm nhạc của Tearliner. Nhưng mãi cho đến tập 5 vẫn chỉ là những cảm giác lơ lửng không rõ ràng như thế, không có gì thực sự diễn ra.

Triple gợi cho tôi cái cảm giác của bộ phim Lost in Translation. Nhưng trong khi bộ phim điện ảnh kia là 100 phút lãng đãng mà sâu lắng thì 300 phút đầu của Triple (trên tổng số 960 phút/16 tập) chỉ thoảng quá như gió rồi thôi. Tôi cũng không muốn phí hơn 600 phút còn lại để chìm đắm trong một cơn gió vô thưởng vô phạt như thế.

Lại chờ đợi từ đạo diễn Lee với một dự án khác để có thể khắc trong tim, tỷ như  Coffee Prince chẳng hạn.

You’re beautiful

–         Tên tiếng Hàn: 미남이시네요 / Minami Shineyo

–         Tên tiếng Anh: You’re Beautiful / You’re Handsome

–         16 tập

–         Đài SBS, tối thứ 4 và 5

–         Thời gian phát sóng: 7/10/2009 đến 26/11/2009

Bạn biết rồi đấy, tôi cũng lười viết blog, nhưng hai tháng qua blog tôi không đề cập đến điều gì khác ngoại trừ những tin tức liên quan đến You’re beautiful, có ý kiến gì phản đối không?

You’re beautiful là bất ngờ lớn nhất của năm. Vì không ai trông chờ nó tạo nên một cơn sốt như vậy. Dù ratings không cao bởi đụng IRIS, dù không được quảng cáo rầm rộ như BOF, dù có nhiều người e ngại tiếp cận nó bởi cái định kiến ban đầu về những bộ phim thần tượng và cái poster mang vẻ nhí nhảnh tuổi thanh thiếu niên, mặc kệ những điều ấy, người ta yêu mến YAB vì đây là một bộ phim dành cho những người mang tâm hồn và trái tim tươi trẻ.

Hội tụ đầy đủ những yếu tố hài hước và lãng mạn của “thương hiệu” Hong Sister, YAB càng mê hoặc người xem bởi vai diễn ấn tượng nhất từ trước đến giờ của Jang Geun-suk cộng với vẻ duyên dáng đáng yêu của Park Shin-hye và lối diễn chân thật xuất thần của chàng ca sĩ Lee Hong-ki cùng sự dịu dàng ân cần của tân binh Jung Yong-hwa.

Dù vẫn mắc những yếu tố dài dòng và chút bi kịch lắt léo thường gặp trong các tác phẩm của họ, Hong sister có lẽ cũng rút kinh nghiệm hơn trước, giải quyết vấn đề trọn vẹn hơn. Và những thắt mở cùng các yếu tố bất ngờ và sáng tạo của họ khiến khán giả không lường trước được, ngày càng bị cuốn vào vòng xoáy của phim. Tôi không quan tâm đến những thiếu sót đầy rẫy của phim và cả những chi tiết phi thực tế mà chỉ quan tâm đến sự phát triển tính cách nhân vật, điều mà một bộ phim thần tượng khác hoàn toàn bỏ rơi điều này (bạn biết là phim nào rồi đấy). YAB có vô số sạn trong khâu biên tập và cả những gấp gáp hụt hẫng khi cắt xén bộ phim cho kịp với lịch phát sóng. Nhưng tôi có những giây phút thư giãn và thoải mái cùng bộ phim, và cái cảm xúc được làm một người trẻ tuổi cùng tình yêu ngốc nghếch trẻ con là cái mà tôi đang tìm kiếm, khó khăn lắm mới gặp lại được trong nhan nhản những phim truyền hình Hàn Quốc hiện nay.

OST của phim là một hiện tượng, các sản phẩm ăn theo cũng nhanh chóng được tung ra thị trường. Chẳng có gì đáng ngạc nhiên khi bản thân tôi cũng sắm lấy cho mình một con thỏ lợn và 2 cái OST, cùng bản DVD-Director Cut đã được đặt trước đợi đến ngày nhận hàng.

Và Jang Geun-suk, cứ nhìn vào topic Đánh thức cảm xúc – yêu phim Hàn phần 3 trên Webtretho thì biết. Phần 3 với 100 trang trong 2 tháng hầu như chỉ toàn thông tin về YAB và em Sukkie của các chị đã có chồng có con !!! Blog của Ginko cũng không ngoại lệ đâu !

Một số bộ phim đã xem lướt


Tôi xem được 2 tập đầu của phim thì tạm dừng lại vì mải theo dõi tình hình nhóm nhạc A.N.JELL và các thành viên của nhóm !

Không dám có ý kiế gì, vì mới chỉ là ấn tượng ban đầu. Giống như  City Hall, phải đến tập 5 trở đi (trên tổng số 20 tập) mới thấy thật sự cuốn hút, có lẽ tôi sẽ tiếp tục IRIS khi có thời gian. Vì 2 tập đầu tiên của phim dù không thu hút nhưng cũng xuất sắc và đủ gợi trí tò mò. Chờ nhé, IRIS.

Heading to the Ground

Xem được 1 (hay là 2 nhỉ?) tập đầu vì muốn thử xem Jung Yun-ho, trưởng nhóm DBSK diễn xuất ra sao, cộng với việc tôi thích bóng đá và cũng khá có cảm tình với Go Ara sau Who Are You mặc dù cô bé diễn xuất cũng chẳng khá khẩm gì trong phim đấy.

Hai tập đầu, úi chao là ngượng thay cho diễn xuất của hai diễn viên chính, nhưng tôi không hề trách họ vì thông cảm cho nghiệp diễn còn non nớt của họ. Nhưng cái chính là kịch bản, vâng, lại là kịch bản, chẳng có gì hấp dẫn thú vị cả. Lại bỏ cuộc, và có lẽ cũng là một quyết định đúng đắn vì phản hổi về bộ phim cũng không được tốt cho lắm.

Những phim của năm 2009 sẽ tìm xem

Will it snow for Christmas?

Biên kịch Lee Kyung-hee của Let’s Go To School, Sang-doo!I’m Sorry, I Love You (top 2 Kdrama của tôi), A Love To Kill và Thank You.

Đạo diễn Choi Moon Suk của What happened in Bali

Cùng với diễn xuất của Go Soo và Han Ye-seul.

Được phát sóng sau khi You’re beautiful kết thúc, WISFC mới bắt đầu ngày 2/12, sẽ kéo dài đến cuối tháng 1. Không nói nhiều, phim của cặp đôi biên kịch Lee và đạo diễn Choi thì không thể bỏ qua. Tôi sẽ đuổi kịp phim này trước khi phim kết thúc, hiện phim đang được phát sóng đến tập 8.

Tamra the Island

Được nghe rất nhiều lời khen ngợi về phim này. Đây là một bộ phim cuối tuần và vì ratings không cao nên MBC đã cắt giảm từ 20 tập phim xuống còn 16 tập, mặc cho phim đã quay xong từ trước khi phát sóng. Tôi sẽ tìm xem phim này khi bản DVD đầy đủ 20 tập ra mắt.

Accidental Couple/That Fool

Một phim với Hwang Jung-min và Kim Ah-jong. Tôi chỉ mới xem Hwang Jung-min trong vài cảnh của bộ phim điện ảnh A Bittersweet Life (Lee Byung Hun thủ vai chính), và đang rất tò mò vì mọi người nhắc đến tài năng của anh rất nhiều. Sẽ theo dõi phim này dù nó không được nổi tiếng cho lắm (??!).

Tổng kết

Phim xuất sắc nhất

Story of A Man

Phim hay nhất

Brilliant Legacy

Cho một kịch bản chặt chẽ, giàu tính nhân văn, đạo diễn và diễn xuất đều ổn.

Phim yêu thích nhất

You’re beautiful

Cho tôi trở lại với tuổi 20 và tình yêu đầu trong sáng.

Cặp đôi yêu thích nhất

Chà, rất khó lựa chọn cặp đôi nào được yêu thích nhất. Và một điều đặc biệt là năm nay phim của SBS chiếm nhiều vị trí trong bảng xếp hạng yêu thích của tôi. Trong số các cặp đôi của họ, Cha Seung Won – Kim Sun Ah (City Hall) và Jang Geun Suk – Park Shin Hye (You’re beautiful) là hai cặp có tương tác mạnh nhất (tôi chưa xem Smile, You nên ko biết Lee Min Jung – Jung Kyung Ho hợp tác ăn ý đến mức nào).

Không biết lựa chọn ai, đành ghi ra cho các bạn cùng bình luận vậy

(theo thứ tự trình chiếu của bộ phim)

So Ji Sub – Han Ji Min (Cain & Abel)

Cha Seung Won – Kim Sun Ah (City Hall)

Han Hyo Joo – Lee Seung Gi (Shining Inheritance)

Jang Geun Suk – Park Shin Hye (You’re beautiful)

Lee Min Jung – Jung Kyung Ho  (Smile, You)


You’re so handsome/ You’re beautiful 01- 04, ấn tượng ban đầu

Brilliant Legacy/Shining Inheritance

City Hall – 시티홀 – cơn bão hè 2009


247 December 28, 2009April 6, 2017

Duds and delights of 2009 [Year in Review, Part 1]

by Dahee_Fanel

(Just to clarify, this is the first of four guest reviews and is written by Dahee Fanel, whose insights you can read regularly on her own blog, Dahee’s Plastic Castle. I hope you’ll enjoy reading the guest reviews and get as much as I do out of their diverse opinions. Thanks all, especially Dahee! —javabeans)


And to think that I headed into 2009 feeling so hopeful, too.

2008 was an awful year for K-dramas. That year ended with me feeling like I’d just swum through an ocean of excrement, and I figured that I’d need to soak myself in some good dramas for at least another year before I’d manage to wash the stink off of me.

Alas, that was not to be the case.

Thinking back on which dramas I saw in 2009, it occurred to me that, goddammit, I’m a lot more resilient than I’d thought. It awed me that I’d managed to watch crap like Cain and Abel and Everybody Cha Cha Cha all the way through, without even any fastforwarding! A year ago, this would not have been possible. A year ago, my stomach would have protested three seconds in, and I’d have had to be rushed to the doctor’s, only to be told (again) by dear old Dr. C that my condition is a complete mystery to him.

But this year, I discovered the secret to watching bad dramas without ending up gagging over a toilet. That secret has been spread so thick over my digestive organs that no amount of stress or disgust can penetrate it. We’ll get to what that secret is later, but the point of all this rambling is, I’ve discovered other reasons for watching dramas besides their innate quality. Call it a survival instinct. Reasons for drama-watching are a lot more complicated than I’d once thought.

So for this year’s write-up, I’m dividing the categories into the various reasons I watched the dramas in the first place. It’s going to be kinda embarrassing, but honest. I’ve found that honesty is always best in the end, whether people like it or not. As my mom likes to say: “If I find out you’re lying to me, I’ll turn your legs black and blue.”


Broccoli, You Too? – “2009년의 우리들” (Us in 2009) [ Download ]

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If you have family members or friends who watch K-dramas as well, then you’ll know what I mean. My dad is especially bad when it comes to forcing me to watch certain dramas with him. He can’t do it as often now, since I’ve moved out, but he’ll still pester me over the phone. He has strange taste in dramas – he loves the really good, critically-acclaimed ones, but every once in a while he’ll like something that’s so terrible that it gives me hives. And I’ll look at him and ask, “Why are you, of all people, watching this crap?”. And he’ll reply without batting an eye, “Because [insert actress’s name here] is hot.”

The apple sure doesn’t fall far from the tree…

Boys Before Flowers


It wasn’t my dad, but my mom who was the culprit for this one. My dad wouldn’t go near this drama with a ten-foot pole, but my mom, the Kim Hyun Joong fangirl that she is (damn you, We Got Married!), jumped on it like a wolf on a raw steak. And she forced me, her oldest daughter, to watch (some of) it, too.

Well, okay, it wasn’t all because of my mom. I tuned in to a couple of later episodes because I love Kim Hyun Joo, as well. And I saw the first episode all on my lonesome, without anyone’s prodding, purely out of the goodness of my heart.

Unfortunately, the first episode left me swearing up a storm, cursing my foolishness for wanting to give this drama a chance, despite the astronomical signs that it would be very, very bad. Why didn’t I trust my instincts, I wondered? I mean, I’d seen most of the anime version (Hana Yori Dango, you pain my soul, even all these years later). I knew what I was getting myself into. But still, against all logic, I hoped it would be better. But I was wrong. It wasn’t better. It was actually – wait for it – worse than that cursed anime that should never have even seen the light of day, what with its anti-feminist and classist messages. It boggled my mind that that could have even happened.

I watched this drama intermittently, like I’m sure a lot of viewers back in Korea did. But every glance into this show made my stress levels rise to monstrous heights. Not only was the script so terrible that it would have gone to better use in a compost heap, but the directing, as expected, was a complete and utter mess. And don’t even get me started on the music. If I have to hear “Almost paaaaradiiiiise” one more time, I’m going to bash my head into a wall. (Take note, variety shows.)

The acting, too, was just laughable. My heart broke watching Goo Hye Sun here – those who haven’t seen her in the 2007-2008 sageuk The King and I will probably assume that she’s just a bad actress normally, but she’s really not. She started off rocky in that show, but slowly improved to the point that she became one of the highlights of the drama. She was so luminous, so strong, so mature in The King and I. And then she turned into that overacting petulant child in BBF. I felt like crying, watching her. Also, I like Kim Hyun Joong in variety shows, but he should stay far, far away from acting in future. I cringed every time he appeared. And I know Lee Min Ho is beloved by all BBF fans, and that everyone considers him to be this great actor or something, but I was deeply unimpressed. Then again, could anyone shine, when they’re given that kind of material to work with? If he chooses a good project next time, where one can really see if he has talent or not, I may change my mind. (Then again, there were a couple of acting highlights. Lee Min Jung, as usual, was a breath of fresh air, and Lee Hye Young was deliciously evil.)

Boys Before Flowers may have been a pop culture phenomenon and all that, but for me, it’s one of the very worst dramas of the year, and was a complete waste of my time and energy. I should have listened to Dr. C’s advice, and just stayed away from any stress triggers.



Sometimes I really resent my dad. Especially when he makes me watch a show this idiotic. I saw the first episode of my own volition and hated it, but the next time I saw my dad, he said he was lonely watching it by himself, so we watched a few episodes together. Never has my pity been more misplaced.

Like Boys Before Flowers, I watched this intermittently. But every time I saw it, I swear I gained at least three gray hairs. Talk about an over the top, self-absorbed, arrogant show. It seemed to be under the delirious impression that it was fresh and glamorous, but it really, really wasn’t. If I could, I would have slapped it across the face. Some shows are at least quiet and unassuming in their mediocrity. This one had to broadcast it to the whole world. How much more obnoxious can you get?

What a waste of an actress like Kim Hye Soo. At least most of the rest of the cast was utterly forgettable. Ryu Shi Won is his usual boring self, while Lee Ji Ah is her usual crazy chipmunk on speed. Newbie Lee Yong Woo has about one facial expression, and I had no interest in seeing it.

Final verdict: The faster I forget this drama, the better.


I know, I know, it sounds silly. I sound silly. But it’s true. Fangirliness is the armour that protects my stomach from terrible, terrible cramps. If there is an actor I love with my heart and soul (and possibly my loins) involved with a terrible project, then I will watch that production, and I won’t stop, because goddammit, I just can’t quit him/her. It’s the great tragedy of my life. And so are the following dramas.

Everybody Cha Cha Cha


Oh Man Seok, why did you have to pick this drama? Why? And why did it have to be a daily drama, one that is set for 150 EPISODES? Do you know what it’s been like, for me to have to trudge through each half hour of this torture? I’ve wasted over fifty hours of my life with this garbage, all because of you. IT WAS ALL BECAUSE OF YOU.

It actually didn’t start out so terribly. I had hope that it would have little moments of family warmth and heartache, and that there would be semblances of human beings present. And the early cute moments between Jin-woo and Na-young were refreshing (mostly, I suspect, because of the good rapport and acting between them). But now it’s all gone to hell, and then some.

I know daily dramas aren’t exactly known for their quality, but this is ridiculous. Park Han Byul and Lee Joong Moon’s so-called “romance” was bad enough, but now the pace has actually slowed to the point that the same scenes are being recycled, over and over. I remember watching one episode and thinking, “Wait a minute, why does this all feel so familiar?”. And then I realized that it was because the characters were all spouting the same tired sentiments, in the exact same places, as they had in the episode immediately previous to it. The only difference was the slight variation in dialogue. THAT’S CALLED LAZY WRITING.

Put on top of that sudden and unexplained changes in affection and motivation, parental disapproval, memory loss and random car accidents, and you have, right there, one of the worst dramas of the year. What an utter waste of talents like Oh Man Seok, Jo Ahn, Shim Hye Jin, Kim Young Ok, and Park Hae Mi.

Cain and Abel


The last time So Ji Sub was in a drama was in 2004, when he acted in what would become the major turning point of his career (so far), I’m Sorry, I Love You. It’s been five years since then, and for a fan, that’s a millenium. I’m not the praying kind, so I can’t say that I prayed that his comeback drama would be a good one, but…I hoped very, very hard.

And the drama he chose to make his comeback was…Cain and Abel. Oy vey.

Perhaps all of that hassle over cancellation and PD/writer switches and whatnot made everyone involved feel confused and rushed. Perhaps they just chose the wrong writer to take charge. Whatever it was, this show was a major, major disappointment.

I’ve talked extensively about this already in my review on this drama over at me wee little blog, but Cain and Abel is one of those dramas that thinks it can handle more than it can. It wants to be several different things at once, but it doesn’t succeed at any of them. When it does anything, it goes big, but only touches on each element in a shallow way. As a consequence, it’s all flash without any substance.

And don’t even get me started on the writing. How anyone can write that kind of script and still have a job is beyond me. Characters suddenly change motivations for no reason, random people die purely for dramatic effect, the hospital setting is a mere afterthought, the romance is saccharine and strained. There’s zero subtlety, and that transfers over even to the acting. At first glance, this is not a bad cast, but no one was really able to shine, despite their best efforts. Oh, a lot of tears were shed, and So Ji Sub’s acting has changed in some subtle way that I can’t yet pinpoint, but without real characters to work with, how could anyone show any truly meaningful acting? The characters in this drama are mere caricatures, nothing more. There’s no heart here, no soul. So why on earth should I care?

The Accidental Couple/That Fool


As I mentioned in my Accidental Couple review here months ago, I love Hwang Jung Min. And, as expected, he’s an absolute marvel here, pulling off what I consider to be the best performance of the year (and, if not the best, at the very least the most heartfelt). His exquisite acting elevated this drama, which should have been utter crap that would have been better off in the bottom of the ocean where no human eyes could see it. Just imagine what this show would have been like without him – terrible acting, caricatures for characters, cliched writing, clueless directing. What a mess!

But with his magic touch, it became a puzzle, a head-scratchingly enjoyable ride (at least for the last eight or so episodes). It’s really rather miraculous that, after its molasses-slow beginning, and its generous usage of cliches, it managed to pick up after so many episodes and find a halfway recipe for success. I like to attribute it all to the power of Hwang Jung Min’s acting. He’s already proven himself, over and over in his films, to be one of the best actors in Korea today. One can only look forward to the kind of performances he will show in future.

Queen Seondeok


Look at the cast list for this drama: Lee Yo Won, Go Hyun Jung, Kim Nam Gil, Uhm Tae Woong, Baek Do Bin, Park Ye Jin, Yoon Yoo Seon, Yoo Seung Ho, Lee Moon Shik, etc, etc, etc. With the exception of Lee Yo Won, that’s quite a fine bunch of actors. So, despite my trepidations about everyone behind the camera, I was really looking forward to this show before it aired.

I really should learn to crush hope before it flutters up to choke me.

It actually didn’t start out so bad. The first few episodes were fun, if somewhat shallow, and the child actors did well. From the very beginning Go Hyun Jung was exquisite as the sultry, evil, irresistible Mishil, and upped the entertainment aspect considerably. I enjoyed myself.

And then, somewhere down the line, it all started to feel…exhausting. I kept waiting for a deeper moment of intelligence or sense to pop up to counter all the fluff, but it never happened. I watched as logic was absolutely crushed repeatedly (running away from a village that’s dying away from drought, only to come across a booming waterfall just ten minutes away?), and as characters showed no signs of real development or depth. And historical accuracy? What historical accuracy? If that even remotely resembles what really happened back in good ol’ Silla, then I’ll eat my grandmother. And I imagine that she wouldn’t be very impressed if I tried that.

This is just such a repetitive, unimaginative, even, yes, stupid show. It’s so incredibly episodic in its format, without any sense of it all actually going somewhere. Okay, so it’s about Queen Seondeok. What about her? What did she accomplish in history? Why is she so important? What are you trying to say, dammit?

Oh, wait, it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to say. You’re too busy trying to gobble up as many ratings as possible through the easiest and laziest means. Sorry, I forgot for a second there. Silly me.

Even the actors, usually so good overall, seemed to realize that there was no point in trying, and churned out rather lackluster performances (my poor Uhm Tae Woong, sob). The only real exception was Go Hyun Jung, but this is no Accidental Couple. It invests too much pretense in grandeur and scale for that. As a result, it’s crippled every time she’s not in a scene. What does that say about a drama’s innate quality?

Monstrously overrated, this is one show that gives other sageuk a bad name. Call me when it’s January 6th, and we get to see what a real sageuk looks like (ChunoChunoChunoChuno).

Smile, You


Despite the PD/writer combo (I wasn’t at all enthralled with The Last Scandal Of My Life), I was looking forward to this show, because the cast was so solid. I mean, Jung Kyung Ho, Lee Min Jung, Lee Chun Hee, Choi Jung Yoon, and Lee Kyu Han, all in ONE drama? Consider me sold.

However, yet again, I was proven to be foolish. This is an incredibly over the top, silly, and childish drama, that wouldn’t know subtlety if it hit it in the forehead with a killer truck. And talk about over-usage of music! Every time I watch this drama, I’m reminded of something my old screenwriting professor once said: “Today’s movies really need to learn the power of absolute silence.” Replace “movies” with “dramas”, and there you’ll see my point. We don’t need music every five seconds to cue us in on what we should be feeling. We ought to know how we should feel from the set-up, dialogue, and acting, and not have it bashed into our skulls with yet another sudden blast of obnoxiously bad K-pop.

There are only 2 reasons I’m still watching this drama:

1) The overall good acting
2) Lee Min Jung and Jung Kyung Ho’s romance

Yeah, that’s right. Me, the girl who’s notoriously picky with romance, is actually enjoying one. The two of them infuse so much energy into their characters, and they just mesh so well together. And I love how forward Jung-in is with her feelings, how she’s not just some mopey damsel in distress. And I love that Hyun-soo isn’t a jerk with machismo problems like most K-drama heroes. They’re the best K-drama couple of the year for me, and are what make the drama bearable. Let’s hope it continues in this vein!


These are the dramas that I had some expectations for going in, and that ended up disappointing me deeply. Or, if not deeply, then at least a little bit. A little deeply?

He Who Can’t Marry


As one of those people who saw the classic Japanese dorama Kekkon Dekinai Otoko on which this drama was based, there were a lot of expectations for this show going in. Would it be able to reach or even surpass the brilliance of the original, I wondered? Was that even possible?

Well, as it turns out, it wasn’t possible. At least not this time around.

At first I had hope. Kind of. It was just such a close copy of the original dorama. It duplicated the exact same scenes, sometimes with even the exact same camera angles and whatnot. And because it did that, it managed to capture a kind of shadow of what the original had been. Kind of like buying a knock-off purse instead of the real thing (god, I really want a new purse right now). It may look the same, but there’s something innately different about it. It just ain’t the same, y’know?

Even worse, whenever it did deviate from the original, it ended up showing its massive flaws. Unlike the original, this show was not subtle, and it didn’t appear to have any deep understanding of its very subject matter. It had no spark of life, none of the quirky charm that made the original so appealing.

Part of the problem was the casting of Ji Jin Hee. He’s normally a solid actor, but here, he failed to make the character his own. He was so caught up in chasing a spectre of Abe Hiroshi’s amazing performance in the original that he just ended up looking silly and foolish. Over the top and full of nervous energy, he missed all the right emotional notes. It was unintentionally sad to watch.

The rest of the cast, however, was good. Kim So Eun continues to be one of the most promising young actresses in Korea today, and both Yoo Ah In and Yang Jung Ah pull off solid performances. Uhm Jung Hwa, too, while not at her best, looks lovely and managed to differentiate herself from Natsukawa Yui’s glowing performance in the original. It’s just too bad that none of that could make any real difference.

If anyone wants to provide an example for an argument that all remakes suck, then congratulations. You’ve found it, right here.

You’re Beautiful


I resisted for as long as I could. I vowed to never go near this drama with a ten-foot pole.

I always break self-made promises.

There was just so much open adulation for this drama, you know? I had to know what the hype was about. My curiosity, as always, got the better of me. All of my past pet cats should’ve come back and warned me what would happen.

I approached this drama with as much optimism and open-mindedness as I could muster. I tried to tell myself that no drama is perfect, and that sometimes, entertainment value isn’t about innate quality, but something more elusive. With the end of each episode, I told myself that it would get better, that I should just give it one more chance. And another. And another.

I am such an idiot.

This is not as horrible a drama as, say, Boys Before Flowers or that stain on Korean drama history known as Wife’s Temptation. But it isn’t a good drama, either. Oh, I know all you You’re Beautiful fans all going to come rushing at me with burning pitchforks, yelling “Off with her fat head!”. I don’t care. Honesty is my policy, and I’m being honest when I say that I regret the day I decided to start watching this drama.

Oh, there were moments when I saw glimpses of hope. There were glimmers of cleverness, like every scene where Tae-kyung outwitted He-yi (that scene where he throws her shoes actually made me laugh out loud…for once). And episode eight was the closest this show ever got to showing any real human emotion, where it seemed for a moment that there was actually going to be a semblance of character development and depth. Alas, it was not to be.

You’re Beautiful has a strange sort of quirkiness to it, and I can see why people were so addicted. But it was just inconsequential and unoriginal fluff for me. I never felt for the characters because they were never real. They were just pretty cardboard cut-outs who lipsynched every once in a while. And don’t even get me started on the overwhelming angst (a definite recurring flaw in the Hong sisters’ dramas), the terribly shallow acting (go back to singing, Jung Yong Hwa), the super-cheesy dialogue, the ridiculous plot, or the annoying over-usage of two or three songs (if I have to listen to an A.N. Jell song one more time, I’m going to amputate my ears). And that ending! Talk about being one of the laziest drama endings of the year. (Should I put a semi-spoiler alert here?) I mean, I get that they were just making an allusion to what is probably the most famous trendy drama ending of all time, the ending for the cliched and ridiculous but oh-so-entertaining 1997 drama Star In My Heart. But it wasn’t even a parody, not really. I would have felt much better about their choosing not to come up with their own ending, and ripping off another, better one, if they had taken it and injected some kind of humour or twist. But no. It was done in complete seriousness, straight-faced, as though it was the most romantic moment EVAAAAH. Uh-huh, right honey, we’ve all been there, seen that. Next!

Seriously, can someone invent a time machine for me? I feel like I’ve wasted so many hours of my life with this childish drivel.

Will It Snow For Christmas?


I’m kind of a fan of writer Lee Kyung Hee. That is, I’ve seen 5 1/2 dramas she’s written: The short one episode drama My Older Brother, some of Let’s Go To School, Sang-doo!, I’m Sorry, I Love You, A Love To Kill, her two episodes of Beating Heart, and Thank You. And she’s been an overall hit with me, with the notable exception of A Love To Kill.

This drama in particular…is not her best work. Far from it. After 2007’s Thank You, despite its flaws, I thought that she had noticeably improved. I was hoping that her next work would be even better, and that her tendencies towards cliches and excessive melodrama would tamper down.

However, Will It Snow For Christmas?, while it holds all of the charms of an Lee Kyung Hee drama (nice sense of nostalgia, quiet touching moments, engaging romance), it showcases all of the glaring flaws as well. One of the things about Lee Kyung Hee dramas is, they need really strong actors in order to work. Without that, everything can fall apart in a moment. And unfortunately for Will It Snow For Christmas?, it has a very weak link in its leading lady, Han Ye Seul.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Han Ye Seul or anything. But she’s always been a weak actress, and although you can tell she’s trying here, she just isn’t making the cut. And it’s hurting the drama as a whole.

That doesn’t mean that all of the faults of the drama rest on Han’s shoulders. Far from it. The directing tends to make things seem more dramatic than they really are; I really wish he’d tone things down a little bit, create a calmer kind of atmosphere. The overwhelming music tends to invade scenes that shouldn’t be invaded. And Lee Kyung Hee’s gone right back to where she’s always been, writing cliches by the handful. Her skill is in making those cliches somehow work and feel a little different by creating living, breathing characters to carry them through, but hasn’t everyone who’s seen an Lee Kyung Hee drama seen these characters before? She’s just recycling the same traits that made her past characters so popular and beloved. It’s disheartening, to say the least. And when you have such a weak leading actress who can’t completely bring your character to life, then you find the drama tripping itself up every so often.

And while I’m on the subject, let me just say that I wish Lee Kyung Hee would go back to writing dirt-poor male characters. At least back then, they weren’t perfect catches. Now that she’s trying to escape that trend, she’s fallen into the Rich Guy With A Secret Heart of Gold cliche, and it’s aggravating. If she writes one more scene showcasing how smart and kind and perfect Go Soo’s character is, I’m going to scream. I’d like to see more flaws in the guy than a quick temper. Pretty please?


The dramas that swept me off my feet and refused to let me down again. The best dramas of 2009, the ones I’ll choose to remember this year for.

Friend, Our Legend


I’ve had the same core group of best friends since the first grade. The four of us have watched each other grow up, suffer, and gain a little bit of wisdom with age. And we’ve gone through it all together. I live thousands of miles away from them now, and we don’t get the chance to see each other often. But every time I do see them, it’s like nothing’s changed at all. It’s like time has stopped. They’re the kind of friends whom I know I’ll love for the rest of my life.

So watching Friend, Our Legend was a somewhat painful yet beautiful experience. It was beautiful because I could sympathize so deeply with its characters, and get swept up in their lives and the events that led them down different paths. And it was painful because watching the break-up of a close friendship is like watching a little part of someone die. I remember watching one scene in a later episode where nothing much is said – Dong-soo simply looks at Jun-seok once and walks away. But my eyes immediately filled with tears watching this tiny little interaction. I could actually feel the gulf widening between them, and thus my heart ached for these two friends who were experiencing such pent-up, unspoken grief.

Friend, Our Legend is full of little moments like that, moments that seem to have been sliced out of time, to be presented to us for our consideration. The early episodes of Friend are particularly strong on the slice of life feel, giving the viewer a light-hearted, warm approach to the memories that surround this group of four friends (seven if you count the ladies). This makes for a not particularly exciting but deeply important first few episodes, where you can actually taste the youth and all the confusion that goes along with it. As the years pass and the characters grow up and drift apart, one can’t help but feel a certain sense of inevitability. The viewer knows what is going to happen – even if you haven’t watched the film version, it’s revealed to us very early on. So what we’re engaging in is not the question of what will happen, but how it got to that point, and why.


After last year’s My Sweet Seoul, this drama is another strong argument for the move for directors from Chungmuro to Yeouido. I can’t say I was ever a fan of Kwak Kyung Taek (I’ve never even seen the movie version of Friend), but I love his work here. Friend, Our Legend is just breathtaking to look at, its visuals so beautiful and gritty and enticing. I remember watching the opening scene of the first episode and thinking, “Damn, that’s gorgeous.” The mood and atmosphere for this drama is just about perfect, soaked in nostalgia for the past, and bathed in a subtle whisper of tragedy. True, the music is average at best, and can be jarring in its appearance in certain scenes, but that’s mostly a minor quibble. And yes, there are times when the stylistic elements come forward too strongly, and it ends up feeling like you’re watching a glossy music video instead of a drama depicting a living, breathing story. But those moments, too, are few and far between, and grow progressively infrequent as the drama goes on. At the end of the day, it’s the strengths of the story and the way it is told that stands out, leaving all of those flaws in the dust.

But what I really want to talk about is the acting. I mean…Holy crap of a seagull, is that really Hyun Bin? What on earth has happened to this guy? Suddenly his eyes are glowing with passion and energy, suddenly it seems like his body is housing a dormant volcano ready to explode at any moment. Watching his character slowly evolve from quiet, hurt, gentle soul desperate for just a hint of love to twisted shell of a human being is just wondrous, as well as heartbreaking. And Hyun Bin pulls it off beautifully. He took my very breath away. He’s had a rough few years after the enormous success of My Name Is Kim Sam Soon, quality-wise, but I think he’s finally back, and a million times better than he ever was before. This is easily the best performance of his career. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us in future.

Even actors that I previously brushed off as mediocre, like Kim Min Joon, completely changed before my eyes. When did he become this natural, this into his character? It’s just amazing. And then there are folks like Wang Ji Hye, Jung Yoo Mi, Lee Shi Eun, Bae Geu Rin, Seo Do Young. Hell, look at the entire supporting cast, too, with folks like Kim Dong Hyun. There’s not a bad seed to be seen anywhere (although I’d argue that Seo Do Young is the weakest link).

I fully admit that before I started watching this drama in earnest, I assumed that it would be a show drenched in machismo and male posturing, exactly the kind of thing I can’t stand. But by the time I hit the third episode, I realized that I’d been completely wrong. The four main friends are male, yes, but the women – Jin-sook, Eun-ji, Sung-ae – are just as important. They’re not relegated to mere window dressing moved around to give the boys their necessary minute of romance. No, they’re portrayed as tough, strong, resilient, smart and independent, with their own lives separate from men and their own hopes and heartaches. And the actresses portray all of that beautifully, with so much charisma that it could easily overtake other aspects of the drama, if it weren’t controlled carefully.

Friend, Our Legend is not a perfect drama. But it’s a complex, smart, and heartfelt one, and has the ability to dig straight into your heart and potentially tear it apart. As much as I’m loving writing about it right now, it hurts me to do so at the same time. The characters are no longer just characters to me. They’re real people, ones I love and hate and cherish. And, y’know, the more you love, the more opportunity for pain awaits you.

Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father


Who knew that such a little drama, comprised of only four hours, would sneak up on us in this kind of year and prove itself to be one of the lone gems glowing in a pile of trash?

Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father was the main reason I entered 2009 feeling hopeful. It aired early this year, and after I finished watching it, my eyes starry-eyed with excitement, I said to myself, “If 2009 is starting out with this kind of quality, imagine what kind of dramas await us in the rest of the year!”.

But instead of being an indicator of how 2009 would turn out, it ended up being one of the very few exceptions in a very dark year – a year full of scandals, tragedy, and political asshattery (asshattery which has now reached even our beloved Korean dramas. Sigh). Looking back, I realize how lucky we were to be given the opportunity to watch this kind of drama this year. I wonder when will be the next time we see something that tackles a sore part of Korean history in such an intelligent and interesting way?

First things first: Kyung-sook is not for everyone. As a black comedy, and as a drama that is set during the Korean war, it deals with some very serious issues: food shortages, parental abandonment, adultery, betrayal, war, death, prejudice. And yet it does so in a light-hearted, humourous way, presenting all the bare facts, raw and painful as they are, and dealing with them perhaps in the only way they knew how: laughter. As someone who grew up in a family that refused to talk candidly about the pain of living through the Korean war, or about the scars they still feel from the events of the Gwangju Massacre, all I know is that I’m glad it’s being talked about at all, and in such a candid way. There is no blindness here, no illusions. The characters are not heroes who freely help others before themselves and stick together as a perfect family. Kyung-sook’s father is a jackass, a coward who thinks of himself before even his own family. Kyung-sook is not exactly being raised by the best of people, and she has to deal with that with all the pain and tears that implies. And yet she endures. It occurs to me that this drama is a testament to the strength of the human spirit, to the ability to find humour and hope even in the darkest of situations. And most of all, it is about the (dysfunctional, fraught, complicated) relationship between a father and his daughter.

The directing and writing is awesome, but it’s the acting that really sticks in the memory here, particularly the acting of little Shim Eun Kyung, who is quickly proving herself to be pretty much the best child actress working in Korea today. And that’s saying something, considering the talent pool of child actors that Korea apparently holds. And then there are veterans like Jung Bo Seok, once again essaying one of the best performances of the year, showing without restraint all of the father’s faults, but also making it impossible to hate him in the end. Hell, the whole cast is wonderful, from the smallest child actor to the oldest veteran. With so many good things going for it, not to mention the legacy of the classic stage play from which this drama is adapted, is it any wonder it turned out to be the best drama of 2009? Friend, Our Legend had bigger moments of raw power, but Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father is the one that came closest to consistent perfection.


I admit, I’m looking forward to January. Jejoongwon looks very promising (if only it weren’t airing on SBS!), and I’m so excited for Chuno that it’s kind of ridiculous. Road Number One, too, can’t air soon enough. With such promising projects looming on the horizon, it’s tempting to say that 2010 looks brighter than 2009 was. But I don’t want to jump ahead of myself just yet. Let’s just say that now that I kind of know the secret to enduring bad dramas, maybe I’ll be okay in future. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll learn to love dramas for reasons that I can’t quite comprehend right now. At the very least, I hope I won’t be paying another drama-induced visit to Dr. C anytime soon…


147 December 28, 2009April 6, 2017

The good, the bad, the middling [Year in Review, Part 2]

by thunderbolt

(I’m very pleased to introduce guest review #2, which comes to you courtesy of thunderbolt. Tune back in tomorrow for more! —javabeans)

Have you watched The Good, The Bad, The Weird? If you haven’t and the movie is available for rent in a store near you, pick it up and invite a few friends over. It’s truckloads of fun and will fit in perfectly with the fêting and feasting this time of the year. Moreover, you’ll find yourself clutching your sides because he who plays “The Weird” is so funny. Between the figurative good, bad and weird in the movie, I’ll take whoever makes me laugh the hardest.

Likewise, in a year where I watched fewer dramas but finished more of them, my favorites were the ones that made me squeal and giggle. As the months passed and it became apparent that this was going to be another so-so year, I lowered my expectations and decided a good drama need not be perfect in every aspect. All I asked was that the writing was alight (not necessarily crackling in every scene), that it worked my laugh muscles, and that it wouldn’t leave me with hives or a nauseating hangover.


You’re Beautiful OST – “Promise” (A.N.JELL version) [ Download ]

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All of my top five dramas shared those three common denominators (and more). In contrast, the worst dramas left me hot and bothered, riling every cursed hour spent. As for the middling ones, they didn’t miss the mark by a mile (unlike the worst dramas), but they were still mostly forgettable fare.

Okay, fourteen dramas reviewed in alphabetical order and a first-impressions summary of five more. Awards to wrap it all up. If you’re ready… let’s start!



Again, My Love

(Verdict: Bad)

A woman in her fifties (let’s call her She Who Must Be Feared aka SWMBF) pines for a lover whom she believes to be reposing in the land of eternal sunshine. Despite being loaded and lofty (she’s president of a large company), her life is one of abject misery. Every single second of the day she is thinking of HIM. Not of the husband who is leading a double life with his mistress, nor of the son who is fast building a reputation as good-for-nothing cad. No, everything revolves around her LOSS.

Don’t tell SWMBF (Choi Myung-gil) to “Get over it, it’s thirty years since he died, for crying out loud” because her glare can kill and that’s only if she decides to be nice. If she decides to be nasty, you’ll be very sorry. Just ask Park Ye-jin. The poor thing soon becomes a shriveled shadow of her former strong and ambitious self, all because she dares to stand up to SWMBF. In fact, anyone unfortunate enough to be connected to SWMBF, whether through blood, marriage, employment, infidelity or hush-hush contracts, better toe the line or else. It’s exhausting to watch her ride roughshod over everyone including her husband (take a bow, Park Sang-won, for acting the hell out of your boring and henpecked character).

Then a miracle happens. Dead Lover isn’t dead! Wearing the same grimace and bad haircut like he did thirty years ago, he becomes a pawn in the hands of Possessive Mistress who wants DL and SWMBF to elope (a second time since the first one circa 1979 was aborted on account of him dying in the process). The ploy works and SWMBF decides it’s now or never, because such passion as you have never seen before flows in their veins! They must have each other or die! But before they can run away together, he must first run away from her, then she from him, then he from her. (Your head spinning yet? And you thought only young’uns can have fun?)

Between Elopement 1 and Elopement 2 (which is the entire span of the drama), rivers of tears burst their banks, drowning us all.

If a circuitous plot drives you insane, stay far away because nothing is too coincidental in the drama; everything needs to be recycled (hence the second elopement). If you think it’s selfish to be clinging so stubbornly to a past that’s three decades old, if you’re puzzled by how an art studio and its thirty-year-old contents (brushes, canvas, paintings) can look as good as new, if you don’t care for spoiled brats and a young couple (Park Ye-jin and Jung Gyeo-woon) who should be in love but who spend much of their relationship mired in one misunderstanding after another, don’t touch this. But if you decide to proceed, prepare yourself for…


If you had come to my house after I watched that most malodorous of plot stinkers, you would have noticed nail marks and dried streaks of blood on the wall behind my computer. DNA galore. Years from now, someone might even stand before that wall and solemnly say, “Behold the signs of true kdrama addiction.” Another would then reply, “No, not addiction but stupidity. She should have jumped off long ago, but she kept chugging on, not realizing the train was going to collide with a gigantic pile of shit.”

A mountain of maudlin. An avalanche of angst. Not even the generally solid acting (the veterans are awesome) can forestall the wreck that the drama becomes in the last seven to eight episodes. Is this also called Hateful But Once Again? It really ought to be Hateful But Never Again!


Assorted Gems

(Verdict: Good)

No hedging here. I’m addicted to Assorted Gems and the first thing I’m going to do when I finish this year-end review is to catch up with the episodes.

This is about the funniest thing I’ve watched all year. The humor (toilet ones included) isn’t slapstick, which is a relief. On the contrary I’m getting most of my laughs from the writing, always the most important element in a drama. (Even the best thespians, directing or acting, can’t rescue a drama or movie if the script stinks like swill.)

Because the writing in Assorted Gems is so wise and witty, I find myself gasping often, and then seized by guffaws. Many of my favorite scenes, for example, are of the grannies trading their verbal barbs, each wanting the last word. These two are a riot because their shared history goes way back. That they are now in-laws and neighbors, with five grandchildren between them, means there’s no end to the number of things they can bicker about. If they can’t win the battle of the gab, then watch them go at each other in the most hilarious scene of the year: Kung Fu Fighting Grandmas! Yet when things get difficult, guess who the grandmas turn to first? Each other, of course. Kim Young-ok and Jung Hye-sun give us two of the best supporting performances you’ll see this year; they also get my vote for Best Odd Couple.

But it isn’t just the humor in the drama that has captivated me, it is also the ensemble acting, the family dynamics, the romances, and the leisurely pace at which events unfold.

Relationships have room to grow in Assorted Gems. The characters spend a lot of time talking, which may scare off viewers who dislike ‘talky’ dramas, but I lap up the heart-to-heart exchanges, even if what is laid bare is sometimes painful to hear and watch. In one of the most unforgettable scenes in the drama, the four children in the Gung family confront their parents about a lifetime of grievances. In seven years of watching kdramas, I don’t remember ever watching a family discussion of this length. I feel like an outsider intruding on something very private and yet I can’t tear my eyes away. The scene is so real.

I love the close-knit relationship which the Gung children share with each other. In spite of their different temperaments and the troublesome twosome called The Parents, the siblings are the best of friends. They banter, they look out for one another, they remind me so much of the times my brother and sisters and I have sat around a meal talking and laughing, an occasion so rare now because we live in three countries.

Then we have the two tenants, played by Lee Tae-gon and Michael Blunck. I LOVE the unfolding romance between Lee Tae-gon’s character and the eldest sibling (Go Na-eun). I love how these two mature and sensible characters are building their relationship based on trust rather than giddy feelings, and how they are falling in love so very slowly, which makes it all the more delicious. Best Hug of the year (and we must thank a flock of pigeons for making it happen) belongs to them. As for Michael Blunck, I love him for acting so effortlessly in his first drama, for speaking flawless Korean (best ever performance by a non-Asian actor in a kdrama), and for making me laugh repeatedly. His character and So Yi-hyun’s have amazing chemistry as best friends now and perhaps as a couple later.

Bibimbap was my introduction to Korean food years ago and I still seek it out occasionally, always opting for the dot sol (hot stone) version. The more piping hot it is, the more comforting to my body. Jewel Bibimbap (Assorted Gems) feels the same way, like comfort food. The writing is superb, the directing less so (with some blink-and-you-miss-it random scenes that make me go “Huh?”), but consumed as a whole it is totally yummy. My Best Family Drama of the year.


Brilliant Legacy

(Verdict: Good)

Eyes that are pools. Eyes that you can drown in. Which actor comes to mind? Bae Soo-bin.

But don’t watch Brilliant Legacy for the eye candy. Watch it because it’s one of the highest-rated dramas of the year and deservedly so. Watch it to see how Lee Seung-gi’s character changes in tandem with his hairdo and you’ll marvel at how every little detail is so carefully planned.

When the drama begins, our male lead’s hair is so unbecoming (even mops look better) you can’t help but dislike him and his caddish behavior. With each passing episode, that nest above his eyebrows stops looking like avian housekeeping gone awry. The hair is now tamed, in keeping with the character’s slow but steady transformation into an heir that his grandma can be proud of. That transformation, more than the romance (and more than someone’s limpid eyes), was what made me stick with the drama despite its boring first episode and overly-dramatic plot shifts in the next three or four episodes.

Not only does Lee Seung-gi’s character improve (and you can’t help loving how earnestly he tries to change), Lee Seung-gi himself turns in a performance not to be sniffed at. His most memorable scenes are the quiet ones; there you will see a control that belies the fact that this is his first main role. The other young actors hold their own as well, but it is Moon Chae-won who shines the brightest (although she plays second lead to Han Hyo-joo). Her acting in the final episode will bring you to tears and leave you hurting, not only for her character, but for the fact that her luminous talent has yet to be given a lead role.

But the best acting belongs to two veterans: Ban Hyo-jung (as the grandma who shocks everyone by bequeathing her inheritance to a non-kin) and Kim Mi-sook (as the witch who will do anything to protect her witchling). The latter played her evil role with such grace and aplomb, I was torn between admiration and revulsion. One of the best villains of the year.

I didn’t fall in love with the drama from the start. On the contrary, it took more than ten episodes for indifference to become mild enjoyment, then liking, and eventually love. But when something grows this slowly, it’s also less likely to be quickly forgotten. I think of all the moments in the drama that made me smile and tear up, like Lee Seung-gi’s Hwan holding court with a group of giggly senior citizens in a community center, or the witch and her witchling on a rooftop in one of the most heartbreaking scenes of the year. Whether quiet or dramatic scenes, nothing feels superfluous or overwrought.

Brilliant Legacy does not break new ground with its plot or dramatic devices. It is simply a sweet, funny and heartwarming drama, well written and directed. Every episode is better than the one preceding it; before long you’ll start caring for the characters and wanting to know how their individual stories will unfold. I wish, though, that we didn’t have to wait so long for Eun-sung to learn her dad is alive and for the missing Eun-woo to be found. Bae Soo-bin’s tears also can’t be wiped through the screen, dang!

This is the little drama that could. (“Little” because it does not boast a star-studded cast.) Its final episode pulled in astonishing 47% ratings. Bravo!


City Hall

(Verdict: Middling)

I confess: I’m afraid to write this review.

In the five months since I published the City Hall review on my blog, I have learned that City Hallers are a formidable force. They love this drama with a passion that I have NEVER seen before, and they will defend it with an ardor that awes and frightens me.

I love my own No. 1 drama fervently, but I’ve yet to review it nor have I tried persuading people to watch it. City Hallers, on the other hand, spread the word everywhere they go. If there’s a poll for best kdrama of the year, they alert everyone and then they turn up in the thousands to vote.

On account of all that, I really don’t want to be in their bad books again. I would be, if I wrote another review. You understand, don’t you?

Thus, allow me to be so brazen as to direct you to my original review since it is much more detailed, for one thing, and written when I hadn’t yet experienced the baptism of the City Hall fire fervor.

In a nutshell, City Hall is awesomesauce because of Cha Seung-won‘s acting and his unbelievable chemistry with Kim Sun-ah. That kept me engaged, spellbound even, for about fifteen episodes. The last five episodes, in contrast, felt like someone had dumped a bucket of eels on my lap; I couldn’t stop squirming.

To this day I’m puzzled that what City Hallers proclaim to be the best episodes (where the couple’s love is sorely tested, etc.) are the ones that I dislike the most. What did I miss? Is it all a matter of taste (in which case there is nothing to debate about, since taste is so personal and subjective) or something else, like how some people would pick the runt in a litter over the perfect pup?

This may not make sense to anyone except myself, but I recently watched an episode of Assorted Gems where the main couple kiss for the first time. It is unexpected and tentative, like most first kisses, yet so sweet I replayed it endlessly in my head. In that replaying, I suddenly remembered the kiss that I loved so much in City Hall (Episode 14?). Compared to the AG kiss, the CH one suddenly lost its magic, feeling like something rehearsed, calculated even. It was as smooth as the AG one was amateurish.

City Hall is so very romantic a drama, but perhaps it shouldn’t try so hard to sweep me off my feet?



He Who Can’t Marry

(Verdict: Bad)

Whatever my opinion of the drama, I can’t help feeling sorry for it. How can I not when it has two overwhelming parameters stacked against it from the beginning?

First, it is based (tightly) on the Japanese drama Kekkon Dekinai Otoko, a drama as perfect as any drama can hope to be. Second, its lead, Ji Jin-hee, will undoubtedly be compared with Abe Hiroshi, who owns the original role as if it was written exactly with him in mind. How then can He Who Can’t Marry succeed so that it will win over the skeptics (the ones who love the dorama and Hiroshi) and folks who go “Kekkon De What?”?

The answer is for the story to offer something new and refreshing, and for Ji Jin-hee to make the role his own so that he does not feel like a poor imitation of Hiroshi. By the end of the sixteen episodes it is clear the drama passes the first criterion but fails the second.

Time and again I’ve seen acting so sublime the actor carries the drama on his or her shoulders. On the other hand, it’s rare for one actor to singlehandedly ruin a drama. Alas, I’ll have to chalk up He Who Can’t Marry as one of those rare instances. You may protest (and if you’re his fan, you WILL protest), but I’m not exaggerating when I say my enjoyment of the drama was marred, right off the mark, by our lead actor’s acting.

Now, Ji Jin-hee is an experienced actor; he was excellent in Dae Jang Geum and Spotlight. Friends who have watched him in more dramas and movies than I have tell me that he is an assured actor, not given to overacting. How then did he make a mockery of what was supposed to be an endearing and memorable character?

Seeing the way he walked, like one recovering from hip replacement surgery, or how he conducted his imaginary orchestra, like a drowning man clutching at straws, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. For my own sanity I stopped measuring him against Hiroshi; instead I willed him to be a Jae-hee I could like. It didn’t work. I dozed off repeatedly while watching and when it was all over, crawled into bed and slept for fourteen straight hours.

Which is all a pity, actually. Despite many “Ha! Another Kekkon scene!” and some unbelievable (and most unKekkon) plot turns, the drama has a certain charm and a competent cast. I loved Yoo Ah-in in Strongest Chil Woo and he is wonderful here in a complete turnaround role. Both he and Kim So-eun are markedly different from (and even better than) the original J-versions, thus succeeding where Ji Jin-hee failed.

I’m on the fence about Uhm Jung-hwa, though. She is giggly girly one moment and officious the next; I just could not feel for her character. I didn’t care whether she and Jae-hee dated, kissed or hopped into bed since the way he wooed her was so clumsy anyway. (Did you see how he tries to kiss her? It’s like watching a blindfolded person play “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”! Even five-year-olds don’t kiss that way.)

In the end I just could not muster any affection for the lead couple, even if their relationship progressed far beyond what Kekkon Dekinai Otoko gave us. I only wanted Yoo Ah-in and Kim So-eun to end up together; everything else was just icing on an unremarkable cake.


Hometown of Legends 2009

(Verdict: Middling)

Among the dramas that I watched this year, this is the one that gives me the most mixed feelings.

I’ve always steered clear of this genre because horror is just not my thing. But as a (dedicated) fansubber, it’s unthinkable to chicken out of a project helmed by the best historical drama translator in town. Thus, with the exception of the first episode (which was anything but scary), I watched the drama with a piece of paper covering much of the screen. That makes for an uncomfortable viewing, as my aching arm (the one holding up the paper) will attest. It also means I can’t describe how most of the apparitions look like, but I sure can tell you how they sound like.

Every episode is a stand-alone with a different writer, director and cast. Quality varies widely as a result. Take the first episode, for example. Titled Bloodsucking Wraith, you expect to be frightened out of your wits, but instead it is a shoo-in for Best Comedy of the year. I’m not kidding when I say it’s practically a laugh a minute. The CG effects are so fake and the make-up so exaggerated I’m howling my head off instead of crapping my pants in fright. Which makes me wonder, of course, whether that episode is a ploy to hoodwink scaredy-cats like me into watching the next episode.

But don’t expect Episode 2 to be as ludicrous because it is anything but. Easily one of the best single episodes of the year, this one is rich in its historical references and much more chilling. About an island and its ghostly inhabitants, all of them wrongly accused of treason and massacred, its leads are Kim Gab-soo, Jung Gyeo-woon and Jo Yoon-hee. Wonderful, wonderful casting.

Compare the acting in Episode 2 with what passes off as ‘acting’ in the opening episode and you’ll understand why Kim Ji-seok gets the Worst Actor ‘award’ on a platter. The guy is supposed to play a vampire, but don’t alert Dracula or Edward Cullen to that fact or there’ll be a revolt when they show up to lend Kim Ji-seok support but find themselves beating the crap out of him instead, so appalled are they by the outrageous drop in vampiric standards. Instead of a bloodsucking vampire you get a menagerie. Chimpanzee? Check. Snake? Check. Circus clown? Check, check, check.

Watching the first two episodes, you start to wonder what surprises Episode 3 will throw up. Did the writers agree to alternate bad and good episodes? And indeed that seems to be the case because the third episode is far less interesting although it is nowhere near Episode 1’s bottom-of-the-barrel quality. The next episode, in contrast, is excellent. Full of pathos and suspense, it tells the story of children left to die in the forest because of a contagious disease.

I’ve not finished the drama and am anticipating and also dreading the remaining episodes. In the meantime I’m scouting around for a cheery-looking clip so that I need not use my arm to hold my paper shield. I still need to learn how to foretell a scary scene. It’s no fun jumping two feet into the air when you least expect to.



Kyung Sook, Kyung Sook’s Father

(Verdict: Good)

After finishing Kyung Sook, Kyung Sook’s Father in February, I told myself, “Ha, shoo-in for Top 5 dramas of the year.” Then I waited, and waited, for a drama to come along that would outshine this four-episode gem. None did.

Janggu player Jo Jeolgu (Jung Bo-seok, my pick for best 2008 actor) has a mom, wife and two daughters. He ups and leaves them all during the Korean War, with a promise to return after the war is over and when he no longer has to fear being conscripted. “Just fend for yourself,” in other words. As fate would have it, the quick-witted Jeolgu is caught by American soldiers (wit is nothing when the barrel of a gun is bearing down on you) and forced to join the South Korean army. The family that he dumps, in the meantime, has moved on, learning to live without this scoundrel of a son, husband and father. Within the space of four episodes, much will befall the family and their missing head.

Mixing tragedy and comedy, the peculiar with the everyday mundane, this little drama is as much black comedy as it is a damning indictment against a period of history that Koreans would rather forget. The first scenes in the drama hint at the first reality of wartime: Food is more important than anything else.

Be it a bag of rice or a bun, hunger is as real as the enemy that flies overhead, firing indiscriminately at anything that moves. Such is war, where you’ll see the basest of human behavior (saving your own hide or abandoning your own kin, who’s to say which is baser?) and the most noble.

An absorbing story that will make you laugh, cry and flinch, you do not need to be acquainted with the Korean War to appreciate Kyung Sook, Kyung Sook’s Father. Time flies as you’re watching; before you realize it the drama is over. But the story and the characters will linger, for a long time. Such is the consummate quality of its writing and acting.

Jung Bo-seok’s laughter is so infectious you can’t help being charmed by him. No matter how rascally his character and how reprehensible his behavior, this is one man you can’t dislike. Neither can you remain unmoved by what happens to him in the drama. This is the greatness of Jung Bo-seok, playing time and again a flawed character with such verve you do not know whether to love or hate him. (Exhibits A and B: Shin Don and Bittersweet Life.)

It is hard to outperform Jung Bo-seok, but Shim Eun-kyung succeeds. She is just a joy to watch here, giving us one of the best performances of the year. Just fifteen years old (she began acting at the age of ten and already has an impressive body of work), she is both child and adult in the drama. Wise beyond her years and yet never acting older than her age, she is the heart of Kyung Sook, Kyung Sook’s Father and the main reason why it is gold. So young and yet possessing such range, she can be any emotion (playfulness, rage, fear, you name it) and be it convincingly. Just see how she handles that challenging village dialect and you would think she spoke it all her life.

Kyung Sook, Kyung Sook’s Father may feel like a vignette rather than a full-fledged drama, but all of its dramatic elements (what makes a drama a drama) work perfectly; there isn’t a single discordant note. A delight from start to end, it is the little drama standing tall above anything else this year.


Loving You a Thousand Times

(Verdict: Bad)

Two reasons made me pick up this drama.

First, I have a soft spot for Jung Gyeo-woon. After the horrid Again, My Love, I needed to see him in something new and happier. Second, the premise intrigued me. Characters abandoned and adopted I had seen plenty, but this would be my first time watching a kdrama about a surrogate mother. The fact that it is 50 episodes was somewhat daunting, but there’s always a door marked “Exit.”

The drama is still airing, but I’ve watched 28 episodes and plan on continuing despite disliking many things I’ve seen so far. The two reasons for picking this up in the first place still hold true and I have even added a third reason along the way: The Couple.

I love the couple (he more than she, but they come together). I love how he loves her, so single-mindedly. I love how cheerful he remains, no matter the obstacles in their relationship and no matter Lee Soo-kyung‘s woebegone expressions. Their chemistry isn’t exactly sizzling (I would like her to show more affection toward him, for starters), but it is sweet in its own way. I’m worried, though, about what will happen when he learns (after their marriage) that she was once a surrogate mother and that the nephew he adores comes from her (her egg, to be exact). How will his well-heeled family react to that bombshell? Without sounding pessimistic, let’s just say all hell will break loose.

But it isn’t as though hell hasn’t already broken loose, what with the drama truly going overboard with the histrionics. A father suddenly becomes deathly ill and requires a liver transplant. On the other side of town, a rich family is in despair because the sole daughter-in-law can’t beget. There is much sobbing and beating of chests. There is betrayal and adultery. People flit in and out of hospitals, a company hovers on the brink of bankruptcy. Everyone goes crazy with worry. I mutter, “Stop watching, stop watching.”

Entire scenes feel redundant, adding nothing to the main story and instead slowing things to a crawl. Every episode must have several of those scenes, like Kim Hee-chul‘s mom bemoaning her writer’s block (the woman is a drama writer) and doing everything she can to avoid the drama’s PD. The running away gets rehashed to death; soon I’m fast-forwarding the moment I see the mom’s face.

I’m sorry, Park Soo-jin, but I fast-forwarded most of your scenes as well because the overacting really grates. You surprised me in Queen Seondeok when you showcased the fastest improvement I’ve ever seen (you were an absolute scream in the first episode, for all the wrong reasons, and then you made an astonishing turnaround the next episode), but here in Loving You a Thousand Times you have only two expressions: pout and pout.

One more reason to quit? Of late the drama seems to have shifted gears and is focusing a lot more on the elder brother’s adultery and falling-out with the younger brother. With its ending still far away, it’s going to be unpleasantry upon unpleasantry. Yikes.

Still (because I never learn, do I?), I’ll stick around for The Couple and because I really want to know how the drama addresses the surrogacy issue. Infertility is a growing concern and with many Koreans still close-minded about adoption, surrogacy is a viable alternative. I didn’t like the ungainly way it was handled in the early episodes (greed, deceit and coercion playing such overriding roles) and hope there’s a more satisfactory closure.



(Verdict: Middling)

Poking around for a short drama to watch (funny how sixteen feels short), I couldn’t remember if Partner was loved or loathed by my circle of fellow kdrama addicts. No one seemed to have talked about it.

After two episodes, I could understand the lack of ‘noise’ surrounding the drama. Will you see ripples if you throw cotton on water? That was how lightweight the drama seemed to be, its opening episodes blurring into each other with nothing special enticing me to watch further except Honey Lee’s bewitching eyes and dimples.

Lee Dong-wook didn’t seem like he had improved after his memorable turn in Bittersweet Life (my pick for best 2008 drama). On the contrary he made me cringe in his opening scene, his cheeky demeanor at odds with the court scene. His mood swings are abrupt and puzzling. For instance, why is he so brusque with Kim Hyun-joo, freshly arrived in town with a mission to be advocate for the downtrodden? (As if to prove she’s a fighter raring to go, her opening scene is a boxing match.) They have never met and yet he treats her with disdain; is it standard protocol for the main couple to always start off on the wrong footing?

But what made me want to barf the most was Shin Yi’s character speaking in that stilted way and acting all prissy, like she is some royalty. My hair stood on end every time she opened her mouth or batted her fake lashes. Why make her so cartoonish and unnatural, like a wound-up toy? So she can be a foil for the real princess in the firm, Ms. Honey Lee?

I disliked Honey Lee’s dalliance with the resident philanderer, the two of them feeling zilch remorse for their cheating. I hated the histrionics in the first two court cases. There wasn’t any suspense keeping me on the edge of my seat as the lawyers went about the trials. Everything felt so predictable: Kim Hyun-joo goes beyond the call of duty; Kim Hyun-joo keeps her faith in the face of immense pressure; Kim Hyun-joo gets fired.

Bored to death, I wanted to bail out but plodded on because a friend said the drama really wasn’t bad. That perseverance paid off when I was rewarded with Kim Gab-soo’s appearance in Episode 7. Playing a wife-beating professor, he breathed life into what had been a yawnfest the first six episodes. The sight of this favorite veteran (he is gold) roused me from my stupor and kept me plodding on until the end.

Just an average drama, this one. The cases aren’t exciting and the romance is muted, because our leads are so busy pursuing justice they barely have time to eat and sleep. Still, the end should satisfy you, if you keep your expectations low and not demand overt sighs of affection. Acting is adequate overall, although I must confess I can’t concentrate when it’s a Honey Lee scene. Those eyes!


Queen Seondeok

(Verdict: Bad)

This was supposed to be a 50-episode drama, but because of its high ratings it got extended to 62. I wailed when I found out.

If I had learned of the extension when the drama newly aired, I would have screamed for joy. Four episodes was all it took for me to get addicted. I even wrote a blog post titled Falling Under Queen Seondeok’s Spell. Said post is now an embarrassing reminder of how deluded I was once upon a time. How my feelings have changed.

It was all so good at first. Fantastic cinematography. Spellbinding splendor. Spellbinding acting. Go Hyun-jung transfixed me with her screen presence and exquisite portrayal of a power-crazed concubine. Never has a villain in a kdrama been more alluring. No wonder Mishil’s sycophants remain true to her from Episode 1 to Episode 62. Such is her hold upon them (and us).

In comparison, Lee Yo-won turns in an inferior performance. She tries hard and she sometimes succeed in being queenly (although it seems to take forever for Princess Deokman to become Queen Seondeok), but she is also often wooden and impassive when a situation calls for a more animated response. The same woodenness is true of Uhm Tae-woong. I know he is capable of much better acting (have you watched him in Resurrection?), so I can only blame the script for often relegating him to a mere prop. Especially after Deokman returns to the palace, his Yushin Rang is like the walking dead. How can you tell he longs for her? Just look at how spaced-out his eyes are.

Why are there so few relationships to care about or people to root for in the drama? The good ones like Park Ye-jin and Shin Goo exit too soon. Meanwhile the number of dolts keeps growing, like weeds. One person makes a statement and five others will confirm their collective IQ hovers in the double digits by going “Huh?” and looking bewildered. Or a most profound conclusion is reached (such as “This does not make sense!”) and the camera must then show the reaction of every single one of the ten who are part of the gathering. First person nods, second person nods, third person nods… The eleventh one (me) pulls all her hair out.

Much of an episode is spent around a table, the characters regurgitating words just spoken two minutes ago. No one goes home. They don’t even eat, because unlike in Dae Jang Geum, there’s no kitchen and very rarely is there food. Yushin is wedded, but he and his wife don’t remember what the other looks like. Like his mom, who’s always hovering around the ailing king (did he make her his secret concubine, perchance?), Yushin’s place is next to Deokman. Don’t you forget it.

When you throw out everything that is fluff and which does not advance the plot (such as mindless flashbacks and endless gossip), what’s left is only fifteen minutes of substance. I can count fewer than eight episodes which hold my interest from start to end; the rest bore me to tears. The fighting scenes are a joke, with the extras waving their swords in the air or felled by the wind. A secret underground hideaway (Mishil’s) is lit by dozens of candles even as sunlight pours into the room. Bidam’s face is as brown as soil and then it suddenly becomes fair. He acts like he’s on crack and then abruptly he’s all reined-in.

Still, I love Bidam for making the drama a tad more bearable. Kim Nam-gil may overact, setting a new standard for the stink eye in all dramas to come, but at least his overacting is lovable, not loathsome. The best scenes are of him and Go Hyun-jung together. I even rooted for Bidam and Deokman to sail into the sunset hand in hand, simply because the guy deserves happiness and props for trying so hard to enliven every scene he is in.

To end, if it can’t be good then at least be so bad it is entertaining, like Episode 1 of Hometown of Legends 2009 or last year’s zany Strongest Chil Woo. But no, Queen Snoredeok is just brain-numbingly dull. What a waste of a good start.


Smile, You

(Verdict: Middling)

Unlike last year where I dropped many dramas after the first episode, I am learning that I can’t always rely on first impressions. Resuming a stalled watch months later can give me a whole new perspective. Also, if I have just finished an abysmal drama, then something which I considered bad earlier may even start looking like a gem.

Such is the case with Smile, You. I didn’t enjoy the hypocritical older characters and the dysfunctional younger ones in the first two episodes. The granddad is a dishrag in front of his former employer but a tyrant with his own family. (His behavior really bothered me and is the main reason why I wanted to drop the drama at first.) That employer and his dimwit of a wife are total caricatures. Jung Kyung-ho is hopelessly in love with a woman colder than a dead fish. Lee Min-jung looks like a woman in a freak show, mascara streaks on her face. Lee Kyu-han plays a cad, again!

But after reeling from Again, My Love and Strike Love, I needed to watch something light and hopefully funny. So I picked up Episode 3 of Smile, You and soon found myself gobbling up one episode after another, my appetite helped by the transformed granddad, Lee Chun-hee‘s appearance (!), and the sweetest couple of the year. I am smitten with this couple.

Ah, Jung Kyung-ho and Lee Min-jung. Not for a moment do I feel that the two are acting. He is natural, unassuming and so very endearing. His comic timing is perfect, surprising me because in Sorry I Love You he was such a whiny mama’s boy, and in Time Between Dog and Wolf he was this dedicated secret agent. Who knew he had it in him to play funny as though he’s done it all his life? She, on her part, is a revelation, slipping into her first lead role with such ease. I liked her in last year’s Who Are You? even though her role was so small, but I absolutely love her here. One of my favorite lead roles of the year, and a hands-down winner of Breakout role of the year, too.

Then there’s Lee Chun-hee, so roguishly charming he brightens up every scene that he is in. I giggle like a loony whenever he pops up.

Winsome acting and plentiful laughs aside, I’m not as enamored with the drama as I was two weeks ago. The first reason is because I love Assorted Gems more. The second reason has to do with leech fatigue. I’m fast growing tired of Jung-in’s selfish dad and her whiny mom; the latter looks fifty but behaves like five. The elder daughter, Cold Fish, has a face that chills you to the bone. Let’s hope she finds something to smile about soon.

With more than 20 episodes to go, much can happen to thwart our young couple’s happiness. I hope not, though. I want the drama to remain sweet, funny, and angst-free. That is not too much to ask, is it?


Strike Love

(Verdict: Bad)

If I had stopped watching Strike Love after three episodes, it would have received a Good verdict. If I had stopped midway, it would have received a Middling verdict. But no, I had to watch it to its wretched end.

What is there not to like at the beginning? A young girl moves with her family to a small town and there meets a young boy who throws a mean curveball and who will become the love of her life. The girl mothers the boy (thus aging her by 30 years and tempting me to call her “Ajumma”) and gives him a cute nickname. He reciprocates by saving her from the neighborhood thugs, said chivalrous deed coming back to haunt him years later. The girl then moves away (and one must be a stone not to shed tears at the parting scene), leaving the boy with his gambler dad and an uncertain future. The years pass and the boy Hye-sung is now… Yoon Tae-young!

If I had stopped the drama midway, Yoon Tae-young would have been a strong contender for best actor. Each time he appeared, I had to tell my heart, “Be still.” Not only did he look utterly desirable on and off the field, his acting was pitch-perfect as well. Just hear the way he says “Eom-ji” and you want to dive into the screen and yell, “I’m here!” even though you are neither Eom-ji nor look like her. See how he loves and protects his girl, his dad and his best pal. Such a man deserves all the happiness that life can offer. Unfortunately, the writer is determined to make our protagonist suffer and so he gets beaten to a pulp, is shipped off to some godforsaken island and returns four years later to find Eom-ji (Kim Min-jung) wedded with a daughter.

As life deals his character one cruel blow after another, and as the plot begins to unravel in three or more different directions (melodrama? sports drama? absurdist theater?), we see Yoon Tae-young losing that spark and charisma he had owned in the first half of the drama. His eyes look dead, his face is careworn, his brain is probably reeling at the realization that Strike Love is going to strike out at 16 episodes instead of the original 20 (with filming almost complete, too). That’s four hours lopped off.

Imagine being in the middle of a tooth extraction when the dentist suddenly says “All done” and gets up and leaves. You lie there, bloody tooth still dangling, your mouth numb from the anesthesia, too gobsmacked to blink. That’s akin to what happens here. Hye-sung’s baseball team is just getting a new lease of life, he and Eom-ji belong together, and he does not know that her daughter is his. These and other dangling issues need to be resolved before the game is over. But try telling that to a TV station determined to give us the worst drama ending this year.


That Fool

(Verdict: Middling)

Among the crop of 2009 dramas this year, That Fool stands out for one reason: The finest acting of the year, actor or actress, lead or supporting.

Without Hwang Jung-min in this, his first drama after almost 20 years as an actor, there is no reason to watch That Fool. But with him in it, you miss this at your loss. In my books his acting here is up there with Kim Myung-min (White Tower, 2007) and Yang Dong-geun (Ruler of Your Own World, 2002) as the Top 3 performances ever in a kdrama.

Playing a kind-hearted postman who agrees to a contract marriage with a famous actress, Hwang Jung-min made an absurd arrangement believable. He played his character with so much heart I thought my own would burst. He elevated a third-rate script, one which I heartily disliked because of how it manipulated the main relationship, and soon it didn’t matter how his Gu Dong-baek was being used and misused in an unethical and outrageous charade. What mattered was that he completely disappeared inside his role, until I no longer saw Hwang Jung-min. I only saw a character with a “heart of gold.” I only saw acting so pure, I found myself often in tears just watching him. I wanted so badly for him to be happy.

On the other hand, I didn’t care for Kim Ah-joong and I cared even less for the second male lead, Joo Sang-wook. Both acted with as much finesse as an elephant on crack, but at least her acting improved after eight episodes whereas his remained insipid for the entire drama. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have bothered too much; these two entered the industry only in the last 3-5 years, and plentiful stars with “actor” as occupation can’t act to save their lives. But it’s impossible to ignore their shortcomings whenever they share a scene with the great Hwang Jung-min.

The plot itself isn’t new, reminding me at times of Full House (also a contract marriage between a star and a nobody, also a honeymoon to an exotic land). It’s obvious from the beginning how events will unfold and how the fairy tale will eventually end (happily, of course). A welcome diversion is Baek Sang-hyun, playing the actress’s brother (and Hwang Jung-min has more chemistry with him than with her). I’ll rather watch him rage like a bull than watch Joo Sang-wook in yet another log-like scene. Perhaps the latter should ask for tips from Lee Chung-ah because her acting swings to the other extreme, as though she has the crazies. It took more than half the drama before her character calmed down and I could stop cringing. I even grew to love her by the end of the drama.

It’s been five months since I finished That Fool and yet I remember vividly many of Hwang Jung-min’s scenes. For selfish reasons (because I get to enjoy more of him than in a two-hour movie) I hope he’ll do another drama, one which is more deserving of him this time.


You’re Beautiful

(Verdict: Good)

Rounding up the reviews is a drama with a fanatical following. Count me among its besotted fans.

Beyond a “It makes me happy,” it’s hard to explain why I love this drama. Neither the writing nor the acting is spectacular. A few episodes have decidedly less luster than the rest. Jang Geun-suk wears way too much eyeliner (he can’t cry pretty with those black rings around his eyes) and his high heels should have been tossed out with the garbage long ago. Yet I adore him here.

Like how Hwang Jung-min carried That Fool on his shoulders, I believe You’re Beautiful owes its appeal largely to Jang Geun-suk’s portrayal of Hwang Tae-kyung. He took a complex character (angsty and arrogant) and ran with it. He made silly look sweet, he made me so addicted to one scene in Episode 7 (hint: pig) I’m embarrassed to tell you how many times I’ve replayed it. (Shayne Ward’s Breathless clip on YouTube also owes its spike in hits to Hwang Tae-kyung. And yes, I contributed to that spike, need you ask?) Because you gave your best performance ever, and one of the best in the year, I am now officially your fan, Jang Geun-suk. I promise to give you one hundred marks, test or no test.

Not to be overshadowed, Park Shin-hye, Jung Yong-hwa and Lee Hong-ki all delivered. In what is one of the best ensembles of the year, the three showed flashes of brilliance and acted their hearts out. Park Shin-hye was my favorite at first. I loved her for being so sweet and innocent, and for cracking me up so early in the drama. Jung Yong-hwa didn’t wow me with his acting, but his character was so stoic and caring it was impossible to remain unmoved. But the one I grew to love the most fiercely (besides Jang Geun-suk) was Lee Hong-ki. The best scene in the drama (beating out even the pig chase scene) is Jeremy on the bus, singing through his tears.

You’re Beautiful isn’t perfect, of course. It would have been a better drama if it didn’t make Mi-nam so lovesick for Tae-kyung and so willing to be a doormat for him. I cringed, to be honest, when she was so giddily happy that he ‘allowed’ her to like him. That whole “You’re my brightest star in the sky” refrain got old pretty quickly; it didn’t help that the last two episodes literally threw a roomful of stars at us. I also wished that the writers delved more into the twins’ relationship with each other. They had no contact (mail, phone calls) for fifteen episodes!

Still, those are minor quibbles. The drama’s pluses (such as the cast’s awesome camaraderie) far outweigh its minuses and what we get is a magical tale that is pure escapism. After a generally middling first half of the year, this boyband drama lifted my spirits and gave me plenty of reasons to smile. Because I expected nothing of it and because it surprised me, You’re Beautiful has made me look at trendy dramas in a new light. For that and more, it is one of my favorite dramas of the year.



These are the ones where I watched just 1-3 episodes. Again, arranged alphabetically.

Cain and Abel – Could not stand the excessive bad blood and shenanigans in Episode 1 and tried five times to finish Episode 2 without success. Despite my love for So Ji-sub, I just don’t have the forbearance to endure the abysmal writing and Han Ji-min’s over-the-top acting. Shin Hyun-joon’s expressions also gave me too many Stairway to Heaven flashbacks and my friends know how much I ‘love’ that drama.

Friend – Kicking myself for not starting the drama earlier so I could finish it in time for the year-end review. Loved the acting and atmosphere in the first episode. Although filled with trepidation at the prospect of blood and broken bones aplenty, this is one of the first dramas I’m going to watch in 2010. Kim Min-joon’s cauliflower hairdo needs to go, though.

Job Well Done – Watched three episodes and forgot to continue. Uhm Ki-joon and Chae Rim were wonderful in their roles and had amazing chemistry, but the opening episodes seemed to focus too much on the older and more depressing relationship (Jung Ae-ri’s). Kim Hae-sook’s caterwauling when she discovered a certain baby also scared the bejeebers out of me. May continue if I need my Uhm Ki-joon fix; the guy’s so adorable it’s illegal.

Temptation of Angel – Most dramatic first episode of the year? Or craziest? Everything felt surreal, like a third-rate circus of freaks. I fled for my life after one episode, but may resume this just to watch Bae Soo-bin. This is his first lead role and it’s only right that I’m there to cheer him on when he makes his grand appearance. Which episode is that, by the way?

Triple – Gets my vote for most boring first episode and most incredible body-shrinking act of the year. Yoon Kye-sang’s overacting grated and Lee Hana’s smile felt fake. I adore Lee Jung-jae and Lee Seon-kyun to bits, but a drama’s supposed to entertain, not cure insomnia.



Only the dramas which I’ve finished or where I’ve watched at least 20 episodes are in contention.


1. Kyung Sook, Kyung Sook’s Father
2. Assorted Gems
3. You’re Beautiful
4. Brilliant Legacy
5. Smile, You


1. Hwang Jung-min (That Fool)
2. Jung Bo-seok (Kyung Sook, Kyung Sook’s Father)
3. Cha Seung-won (City Hall)
4. Jang Geun-suk (You’re Beautiful)
5. Jung Kyung-ho (Smile, You)


1. Go Hyun-jung (Queen Seondeok)
2. Shim Eun-kyung (Kyung Sook, Kyung Sook’s Father)
3. Lee Min-jung (Smile, You)
4. Kim Sun-ah (City Hall)
5. Kim Hyun-joo (Partner)

Supporting Actors

1. Kim Gab-soo (Partner)
2. Bae Soo-bin (Brilliant Legacy)
3. Lee Chun-hee (Smile, You)
4. Kim Nam-gil (Queen Seondeok)
5. Lee Hong-ki (You’re Beautiful)

Supporting Actresses

1. Kim Young-ok (Assorted Gems)
2. Moon Chae-won (Brilliant Legacy)
3. Jung Hye-sun (Assorted Gems)
4. Park Ye-jin (Again, My Love; Queen Seondeok)
5. Kim So-eun (He Who Can’t Marry)


1. Kyung Sook, Kyung Sook’s Father
2. Assorted Gems
3. Brilliant Legacy
4. You’re Beautiful
5. City Hall


1. Kyung Sook, Kyung Sook’s Father
2. You’re Beautiful
3. Brilliant Legacy
4. City Hall
5. Partner


1. Jung Kyung-ho and Lee Min-jung (Smile, You)
2. Cha Seung-won and Kim Sun-ah (City Hall)
3. Lee Tae-gon and Go Na-eun (Assorted Gems)
4. Lee Seung-gi and Han Hyo-joo (Brilliant Legacy)
5. Jang Geun-suk and Park Shin-hye (You’re Beautiful)


Sarah, I’m thrilled to be in the august company of your year-end reviewers and have thoroughly enjoyed our Editors’ Picks discussions (debates!) on the best of 2009. Thank you once again for the honor and privilege.

For your friendship and everything that you do for the worldwide community of kdrama fans, you are my Blogger of the Year.


154 December 29, 2009April 6, 2017

A newbie reviews 2009 [Year in Review, Part 3]

by samsooki


My pick for Drama of the Year: City Hall.

I’ll start of with an admission.  When javabeans asked me to give my thoughts on 2009, I was pretty excited, and agreed without much thought.  After all, 2009 was the best year of k-drama watching I’ve ever had.  But then it hit me: 2009 was also the only year of k-drama watching I’ve ever had. lol. And so, even given the number of dramas as I have seen this year (probably topping 50) I feel a bit out of my league.  How can I be critique-ing with any legitimacy?  

Nevertheless, I do think a newbie’s perspective on dramas is not necessarily a bad thing – since everything is new to me, it is tougher for me to be jaded.  Like when I saw Save The Last Dance For Me (my third k-drama ever!), I spent days afterwords thinking about what it would be like to have amnesia and then a second round of amnesia where I would forget what I had promised to remember while being forgetful the first time time around…

So while I can’t do an expert review, since I’m not an expert, I can give a newbie opinion on what worked for me, and what didn’t.  First though, a little background on me so that you know where I am coming from.  Sample of pre-2009 dramas that I liked:  My Love Patzzi, Who Are You, Full House, Save The Last Dance For Me, Two Outs In The Bottom of the Ninth, and Super Rookie.  These dramas tend to mix cuteness and heart together in a way that Western television shows still haven’t figured out how to do consistently.  I think it has something to do with the soundtrack songs that act as demi leit motifs and burrow the sentiment of the drama into your heart and mind. I mean would Full House have been as good, without “I Think I” by Byul? Or how good would Save The Last Dance For Me have been, without Edward Chun’s breath-y lyrics?

And taking it up a notch, here is a sample of pre-2009 dramas I loved:  Goong, Coffee Prince, Bad Family, Dal Ja’s Spring, Hong Gil Dong and My Girl.  Even more than the first group, these latter dramas did more than just create a nice balance of cuteness and heart; these dramas created a love story so palpable and real that, if you wanted to, you would need both hands to reach out and hold onto one.  And lastly, my first and still favorite drama of all is My Name is Kim Sam Soon, which combined everything – the cuteness, heart, love story, wonderful acting and a kickass OST.

Enough with the old, however. In no particular order, here are my thoughts on 2009 (oh, btw, hit “play” for the mp3 so you get the full technicolor and sound effects of this review. if the song ends, and you’re not done reading, then just scroll back up and hit play again. hehehe!):


City Hall OST – “웃어봐” (Laugh) by Chae Dong-ha [ Download ]

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What worked for me in 2009

Tamra the Island.


Cute and fun, this drama reminds me of what happens when you go on an island cruise vacation, going to visit places you’ve never been before.  And that first night, rather than just staying in your room, you get up the courage to just start exploring a new world.  You may not like it that much at first because it’s not quite what you expect, and you may not “get it” on the first go around, but by the time your time on vacation is at and end, you might wish you just had a few more days to spend.  An extended stay on Tamra the Island pretty much ensures a return visit. Seo Woo is a standout here, although she might have whimpered “Willlliaaaaam…” maybe once too many times for my taste.

Dramabeans readers being an odd bunch, having created not one but two fan groups to support this drama: Team Park Kyu and the Tamra Islanders. While I am not a card-carrying member of either group, I do think this is worth watching in its entirety, and not just the condensed version. Having seen Im Joo Hwan in a few of his previous roles (Snow Queen, Millionaire’s First Love), seeing him in an entirely different persona of Park Kyu was quite neat.

City Hall.


Yes, the acting was not uniform.  And yes, I agree, the editing and writing were a bit choppy at times.  And for sure, the drama had trouble establishing an even balance between and among comedic, dramatic and romantic elements.  But make no mistake, City Hall is not a comedy and it isn’t a political drama.  It is a love story about a woman who went from being nothing to becoming Wonder Woman, to protect her people.  It’s a love story about a man who had to choose between his love and his ambition, and ends up gaining both by growing to meet the challenge.  By the end of the drama, if you’ve not alternated between cheering and tearing up, and then cheering again, then, well, there is no then.  You will be moved.

Now, I don’t judge dramas on whether the director did this or whether the cinematographer did that; I judge dramas on whether I was moved. And more than any other 2009 drama, City Hall moved me. From tears to cheers, from face flushing fist-pumps to surreptitiously wiping my eyes with my sleeve as I stretch, this drama moved me. And that’s why this drama holds my vote for Drama of the Year.

You’re Beautiful.


There is an art and a science to creating culinary creations that are true delights on every level. The science / analytics to culinary creation is quite real, as you have to know what works and what doesn’t work. In addition, to create something that goes beyond the standard cook-book fare, you have to add in your artistic measure. And so, when a creation comes along that hits all the right spots, analytically and artistically, then you know you have a hit dish.  That’s basically You’re Beautiful, a trendy and youthful mixture of good writing, good acting and good marketing.  Funny, clever, with good writing and just the right amount of cute and beautiful, heart and soul, You’re Beautiful did not disappoint.  And the OST is the same way – produced to please, it is pleasing to the ear.

More than any other trendy drama this year, You’re Beautiful delivered on expectations and provided a moving story. I believe that it should be on everyone’s watch list, because young or old, male or female, You’re Beautiful has something to offer that is fun, interesting and with enough heart that makes you want to just go ahead and watch that next episode.  What is interesting to note is that initially, I was not going to watch this because I thought it was going to be boring. But because I was volunteering to spot-translate the initial episodes for WITHS2, I grudgingly watched Episode 1…and within 15 minutes, I absolutely knew this was going to work and I knew I was going to love it. It is that good.

Story of a Man, aka The Slingshot


Technically, this might be the best k-drama of 2009.  The writing, the layers of plot, the consistency / uniformity of the acting excellence – it is all there.  If you have a chance, watch and re-watch Story of a Man (SOAM) to see how the story was put together, to see how plot-points were constructed across episodes, across characters. 

And yet, despite all the accolades I can give it, SOAM falls short of a full-weight recommendation.  Why?  Because there was never a point where I lived and died with any of the characters.  Still, I can appreciate technically well-done dramas without crushing on them, and this is one I can appreciate on multiple levels. Kim Kang Woo as incredibly scary Chae Do Woo is a revelation. Of all the 2009 k-drama sociopaths, I think Chae Do Woo is the one I would least want to have as a roommate. I think I could handle Lady Mishil – I can outsmart her by flattering her to death. But Chae Do Woo, you just never know, and that’s truly creepy.

Queen Seon Deok. With that segueway, I guess it’s time to talk about QSD. Despite its monster ratings, Queen Seon Deok has been panned by far better and more experienced k-drama watchers than I. So it is hard to voice a differing opinion here, not the least because what I know of QSD largely comes from them, since as WITHS2 subbers, they are responsible for me understanding what was happening in the first place. But while QSD may be known as “Queen Snore Deok” among those in the know, I remain blissfully unaware of its short-comings and just think of this drama as fun and interesting.

And yet, even those who pan this drama will acknowledge the superlative acting of Go Hyun-Jung, who played the part of Lady Mishil. Who’s Lady Mishil?  Well, she’s just the biggest bad-ass in the nation known as Shilla, during the Three Kingdoms Period of Korean history. What is interesting, though, is that GHJ’s performance is not at all why I liked this drama. For me, it was Lee Yo-Won, who played Princess Deok-Man, who made me tune in twice a week. Everyone talks about GHJ, but wouldn’t QSD have been a failure, if Lee Yo-Won’s character wasn’t at least as strong as Go Hyun-Jung’s?

Friend, Our Legend


Part history lesson for the uninitiated in the turbulent times pre-postmodern Korea, and part epic tragedy, Friend Our Legend really had something I’ve not seen before in k- drama.  I’ve seen it in movies, especially in HK films, but not in k-drama.  The operative word for this drama is pathos.  Pathos is Greek for “suffering” and it also can mean “to feel” or “feeling.”  And pathos is pretty much what happens to Hyun Bin, who devolves into a sociopath over the course of the story arc.  And pathos is what happens to the viewer.  Episode 19 of this drama is worth seeing by itself, even if you don’t watch the whole drama.

Friend, Our Legend is a remake of a movie by the same name, and there was a lot of speculation as to whether Hyun Bin could pull off the titular role. Let me say this about Binnie’s performance. Whatever you think you know about Hyun Bin, based on Snow Queen and My Name Is Kim Samsoon, whatever you saw in his acting from Worlds Within or Ireland, his performance in this drama is different. It’s like he tapped into a dark side to him that he’s never had to touch before. One of the best acting performances of the year, if not the best.

But Hyun Bin isn’t the only gem.  Kim Min Joon is solid in his role opposite of Binnie, and Jung Yoo Mi (playing the role of Eunji) was my pick for best supporting actress of this year

Sons of Sol Pharmacy


What is this drama about? It’s about the stages of life, and how love and sadness can hit you at any stage. It’s about a family of men who take their time in becoming adults, even as they pass from age to age. And in the end, this wonderful drama is about the little stories.  You care enough about the family to watch these stories get concluded, and in the meantime you get rewarded every now and then with songs and heart-filled events that satisfy your craving for k-drama.  Isn’t that really what k-drama watching is all about?  Caring about the people whose lives you follow, until the very end?

The one criticism, if you can call it that, is that this drama is long. 54 episodes. But before that gets you down, trust me – there is a good reason why it won the ratings battle for the last half of the series, and almost half (49%) of Korea’s television audience tuned in to the very last episode.

Kyung Sook, Kyung Sook’s Father


You’ve probably never heard of this drama, at least not until the End of the Year reviews.  At least, I didn’t.  But rave reviews by some very intelligent and knowledgeable people made me take a look.  This is a 4 episode “mini” drama about a daughter and a father during the Korean war (1950 – 1953). 

But right off the top, I have to say that Kyung Sook, Kyung Sook’s Father isn’t for everybody.  If you don’t have at least some background in Korean, you might not “get” a lot of what makes this drama endearing.  For me, watching this drama made me feel really uncomfortable for a while.  It’s like having a crazy drunk for an uncle, whom nobody really talks about but during the holidays when there is even money he will get wasted and embarrass everyone.  This drama is a story that Korean people of my parents’ generation will see as part of their past – they will see the drama and think, “Was I really like that?  Were things really that bad?”  It will cause them to dig up memories more than 50 years buried, and they will remember how things were really, really different 50 years ago. 

While I didn’t like this drama because it made me very uncomfortable, it still is a wonderful drama – one of the best of 2009, and one thing is for sure – Shim Eun Kyung, the lead actress in this drama, is phenomenal.   She was my pick for Best Actress of the Year.

That Fool.


This drama, with Hwang Jung Min and Kim Ah Joong, takes a hackneyed plot – the fake relationship plot, and makes it work beautifully, at least for a dozen episodes or so.  If you’ve watched k-dramas, you know the fake relationship plot.  You’ve breathed it, and you’ve dreamed it.   You’ve watched Full House, and you wonder when Rain (or SHG for the guys) will ask you to be in a fake relationship with him/her.  Why can’t such a thing happen to me? And now, in this cute drama, That Fool,  an honest, rather idealistic postal employee / everyman ahjussi lives that very dream.  Is it predictable?  Oh, absolutely.  Is it believable?  No, not really… but do we really want to talk about how realistic Full House was?

In the end, this drama works because Kim Ah Joong is simply stunning, because Hwang Jung Min is heart-warming, and because That Fool basically takes the movie Notting Hill and turns it into a 16 episode series with a Full House kind of twist. At first I was not convinced because I started this drama about halfway in, but I restarted this series from the beginning, and boy did I fall for it the second time around. Lee Chung Ah as Dong Baek’s younger sister is a gem throughout this series.



Expectations were extremely high for this action drama, and it delivered – mostly.  Lee Byung Hoon alone makes this drama worth watching.  But while it was fun and interesting to watch, and while the production values were through the roof, I felt like I was watching something other than a k-drama.  And I mean this as a detraction.  If I wanted to watch Bourne Identity, I can watch that – Matt Damon does it better in my opinion and my English is better than my Korean.  So while I do appreciate IRIS quite a bit, I can’t say that I liked it a whole lot, because I never got invested in any of the characters.

Still, I feel like IRIS is an evolutionary step for k-dramas, and a lot of the techniques used in the filming (e.g., the jerky documentary style camera motion ala the Fox action series “24” or the upgraded production values for sound effects and music (not OST)) should be a great boost to future action drama projects.

Temptation of Wife.


This is my pick for Worst Drama of the Year.  It is so stupid and so lacking in any virtue, that it probably damages your brain if you watch all 129 episodes.   Seriously, this drama has no redeeming social value.  It is pure mindless entertainment that actually degrades your mind and ethical principals as you watch.  So why does it reside in the “What Worked” section?  Because it WAS addictive.  Because the episode breaks were all habit-forming.   This drama is known as a “mak-jang” or a dead-end drama, but really, I call it a “crack-jang” because that’s really closer to the truth.

Temptation of Wife made me stay up at night, for weeks, shielding the TV light with a pillowcase to avoid waking the wife.  It worked because by the halfway point, I cared a whole lot whether the heroine would get her revenge.  It worked because even though I knew I was getting dumber while watching it, literally, getting dumber by the episode, I still watched.  And even though the ending was complete BS, and even though I was totally unsatisfied, I don’t regret finishing.  I regret starting and getting addicted, but once you start, you might not be able to stop.

What didn’t work for me

Cinderella Man. From the outset, as I was early yet into my newbie ways, I was excited by the prospect of a genuine KSW make-em-cry-but-have-happy-ending drama.  I honestly couldn’t see how this could fail.  It has all the hall marks of an epic. 

It has long lost twins creating a switcheroo in the fashion industry.  The latest Girls Generation ‘it’ girl (Yoona) as the love interest.  A chae-bol corporate proxy fight.  Grandma in a coma with two humidifiers by her bedside, giving you an idea of how serious of a coma this really is. Multiple scenes in street soju bars.  Rooftop apartments with that square table to sit upon, stare at the sky and reflect. Characters leaving to study abroad and return. Want more k-drama cliches? It has not one but TWO love triangles, with the odd person out being the crazy-I-Will-Never-Let-You-Go lunatic. We have a hero who grows up in an orphanage. Yeah, but does it have terminal illness that affects a main character? Oh, you betcha. How about a fireman’s carry for a passed out girl? Check! What about Ahn Seok Hwan? Gotta have Ahn Seok Hwan…. Oh, you better believe he’s in there!

But at the end of the day, surprisingly for me, it just didn’t work.  I never got into the story enough to root for anyone in this drama. What a waste of a two-humidifier coma chae-bol CEO grandma.

Good Job, Good Job.   


Cutest girls ever?

Where Chae Rim goes, I tend to follow.  But Chae Rim didn’t go anywhere in this really long drama (40 episodes) about a single mom who is pursued by two men:  The Wrong Guy / Jerk who happens to be the unknowing father of her child (the über cute Joon Min Seo, who plays Chae Rim’s daughter, Byul), and The Right Guy / cute and nice guy.  The Wrong Guy pretty much stalks, pesters, annoys, threatens and otherwise makes Chae Rim’s life miserable for dozens of episodes.  The Right Guy also pursues Chae Rim, the latter of whom vacillates between giving up on having a love life altogether and being with The Right Guy.  Every episode of Good Job, Good Job was pretty much the same, as if the production was trying to live up to the repetitiveness of the title.  If it wasn’t for Joon Min Seo and Chae Rim, two of the cutest people on the planet, I probably wouldn’t have watched all 40 episodes.

Assorted Gems / Jewel Bibimbap.  


Another super long drama (50 episodes).  I can’t say for sure that it didn’t work, because I only saw about a fifteen episodes sporadically and randomly spaced out on MBC America (cable television), but the episodes I did see were uninteresting.  I never got the motivation to see back to back episodes.  Others will tell you of Jewel Bibimbap’s virtues, but here’s what I saw:  various people engaging in various relationship-type issues.  That’s it.  That’s the entirety of the show from what I saw.  That’s… life? 

Michael Blunck (you can probably pick him out in the above picture – he is the… bald guy) was notable to me, but not really for his acting, which I found to be…. average.  (For those who want to parse – when I say “average,” I mean “not bad, not great” relative to other k-drama actors)  What was notable about Michael Blunck was that although his Korean speaking skills are way better than mine, and probably better now than I will ever be,  his pronunciation and his awkwardness in using Korean with slow-to-react facial expressions (as if he had to remember which facial expressions went with which Korean phrases) pretty much killed his character for me.  You know how, if you say, “OMG, no way…” you have a certain facial expression?  Now, in Korean, that’s “Jung-mal?  Seol mah…”  If you see MB saying this phrase, which he does, his mouth moves first, then his face follows.  Which says to me that he is speaking first, acting second.  It’s not a deal-breaker (the deal-breaker is the ennui that follows an episode), but it is interesting.

Dream / Partner / Style / Triple


Like most dramas that fail to get my interest, these dramas failed because I never really cared that much who won, who lost, who got whom, in the end.  I watched them all, sometimes due to subbing responsibilities.

The reason for my lack of care for each drama, however, was different across each. For example, in Triple, I liked the main character a lot, but nothing that happened in her life was beyond the norm. Everyone has struggles, and everyone has decisions and issues that they have to face. And in Style, my reason for not caring was that I seriously did not like any of the characters – my feeling was that whoever was going to win, whoever was going to lose, just please win or lose already so I can watch something else. And with Partner and Dream, I just didn’t like the stories that much. There wasn’t enough there to hold my interest.

My Fair Lady.


Even given the less than stellar dramas above, I would say that by far the biggest Disappointment Of The Year came with the drama, My Fair Lady.  After Goong and Coffee Prince, I am, without reservation, immediately on board with whatever YEH puts out.  But what was put out in this drama was just not very interesting.  I watched the first few episodes, and then to be fair, I just fast-forwarded through the rest of the series, hoping that at some point I could hit play against rather than FF >> or FF >>>.  The fatal flaw, shared by all the dramas that did not work for me in 2009, was that I never got to the point where I cared about the main characters.  And when that happens, you can shut off the drama and just move on with your life. I am certain that YEH will bounce back, and I look forward to the next project she has with the same eagerness that I had for My Fair Lady.

Parting Thoughts –

This year has been one of many milestones for me, both personally and in k-drama land. And looking back on this year, I note with some surprise how much I’ve expanded my own horizons and learned much more about life and people than I have ever had before. And quite a lot of it is due to how wonderful a place that dramabeans.com is, with its denizens reflecting the spirit and character of the site’s host. As I look back at this fantastic year of 50+ dramas, including about a dozen or more epic dramas, and how cool it was that I found (errrr, rather, that my wife found) dramabeans.com, I am grateful to javabeans for her gift of KJH to me, and I am grateful and to everyone who spends the time to deposit little bits of knowledge, humor, sadness, their personal lives and their hopes and dreams onto dramabeans. I grew here, and I hope that everyone else grew as well, in 2009.

Whatever your viewpoint, whatever your tastes and background, let’s remember that this is all for our enjoyment of our mutual interest and a warm exchange of ideas and knowledge. Be civil and open-minded as you read the reviews of others; a different opinion does not diminish your own. We might disagree or have strong feelings about things, but in the end, we are just talking about our own thoughts – and we should take care to respect what others think.

Finally, not everyone who began 2009 with the same hopes and dreams as everyone else, will be leaving 2009 intact and whole, and I hope that we won’t ever forget those who will not see 2010, who are lost to us for reasons that could have been prevented if only people treated one other with the respect and dignity that each of us deserve. This is a lesson that I hope has been learned, that we ought to take care of each other, we ought to take responsibility for each other, to support one another. What I wish, for 2010, is that we won’t have the senseless tragedies that littered the landscape of 2009.

I am reminded of a quote from Hwang Jung Min’s character, Goo Dong Baek, in That Fool. Goo Dong Baek was talking to one of the principal antagonists, the father of the Kim Ah Joong’s initial love interest. The father was doing everything in his considerable power to protect his son’s bright political and career future, to the detriment of Kim Ah Joong’s character, Han Ji Soo, who was getting her heart torn to shreds by the father’s machinations.

Goo Dong Baek: You must love your son very much, like any parent would love his child. But that person [Han Ji Soo], she is also someone’s child too.

And so, with that, my parting shot is this. What I urge for all of you for 2010 – be better to others than you were in 2009. Happy Drama Viewing everyone! CitC, Chuno and Damo in 2010! *wave*


142 December 29, 2009April 6, 2017

All told, a pretty fun year [Year in Review, Part 4]

by javabeans

After a pretty meh 2008, I was ready for the drama landscape to fire back up with 2009. And while there were a number of misses and disappointments — isn’t there always? — I was pretty satisfied with the dramas I watched in 2009. I still don’t think there were as many top offerings as, say, 2007, but I found a number of series to entertain me and satisfy my drama craving. There were a few selections early on that got me pumped for the year and things lagged during and after the summer months, but all told, I had an entertaining year.

(Okay, this is LONG. I tried to contain myself, really.)


IRIS – “Empty” by Juni [ Download ]

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In the order in which these dramas aired over the year…


The year kicked off with a bang when Boys Before Flowers came onto the scene and a wholly unknown new face took the nation by storm with his curly hair, haughty sneer, and surprisingly strong charisma for a rookie actor. The name Lee Min-ho shot to the top of internet searches overnight, he was flooded with CF offers within days of the drama’s premiere, and new fans quickly scoured the web for old info, which had the ancillary effect of reviving two of his old shows, both teen-centered, lower-budget affairs that he’d done soon after his official debut (Secret Campus and Mackerel Run were both re-aired on television).

And that was just one member of F4. Each of the other three — Kim Hyun-joong, Kim Bum, Kim Joon — also experienced instant rises in popularity and parlayed that into a rash of CF deals and tie-in promotions. The drama already had strong pre-show buzz due to the widespread popularity of its source material, Hana Yori Dango, and with the much-loved story and a hot young cast, it was poised to be a hit. And it was, but not for the reasons it should have been.

By all rights, Boys Before Flowers is not a good drama. It is at best mediocre, and at its worst moments nearly painful to watch. It suffers from absurd plot turns, characterizations that change wildly from one episode to the next, and often poor acting. There’s no logical reason for it to have been as much of a pop-culture phenomenon as it was, yet I have to question arguments that use terms like “fangirls” or “children” or “populist” as pejoratives. (Reason being: Whether you like it or not, Boys Before Flowers connected with a huge number of people. To dismiss them all as fangirls or as faceless masses lacking discernment is to willfully misunderstand the situation. Dramas aren’t made for a small elite carrying cards proving good taste; television is, almost inherent in the definition, for the populace.)

What Boys Before Flowers managed to do was, remarkably, succeed in spite of itself. It had neither great writing nor great directing nor great acting (on a consistent basis, at least), so where did it get lucky?

To allow it some credit, there are some shining actorly moments — Lee Min-ho’s invested portrayal of a misunderstood bully anchors the show, Lee Hye-young plays his gleefully vicious mother with aplomb (without overacting her as a cartoony bitch), Lee Shi-young takes a bit part and turns in a surprisingly layered humanization of a teenage villain, Kim So-eun shows more spunk as the sidekick than the lead character does — but for the most part, we are in mediocre to bad territory. Even some of the good performances are marred by wacky plot logic. Ironically, many of the guest actors — such as Jung Eui-chul as the broody model or Lee Min-jung as the bubbly fiancee — are stronger than the main cast. Kim Joon benefited the most because he shows off some charisma while not really being required to act, and to be honest I watched Kim Bum’s playboy portrayal with one eye closed — it was not convincing, which was a disappointment because he came off such a strong dramatic turn in East of Eden. Kim Hyun-joong has taken a battering for his wooden, lifeless portrayal of Jan-di’s white knight, and Gu Hye-sun‘s most-watched role of her career was, unfortunately, also her worst performance. (Watch her in Pure 19, King and I, heck, even Nonstop 5 and you’ll see a promising budding actress with solid dramatic chops, who disappears in the overacted and milquetoast Jan-di character.)

Somehow, Boys Before Flowers chanced upon just the right formula, combining the heart-fluttering romance of shojo manga and the speedy makjang plotting of Korean dramas to addict its following. We weren’t blind, we KNEW it was bad, but it was like MSG for the brain — we just kept shoveling it in and wanting more, and only after it was over did we feel slightly disgusted with ourselves.

I really believe that if one were to watch the drama now, in a vacuum separate from the pop-culture buzz surrounding the show, the reaction is likely to be more of puzzlement than excitement. And that’s one of the drama’s greatest failings — it doesn’t hold up on its own legs. Without the ties to Hana Yori Dango, or the fandom craze, or the hectic live-shoot scheduling madness, or the media hyping up the dreaded “Boys Before Flowers curse” (wherein each main cast member was involved in at least one, and sometimes two, car accidents) — well, it loses some most of its insane, addictive, wacky, over-the-top, angsty, inexplicable magic.

But if you were part of the craze, well, for a short while there was magic.


Return of Iljimae premiered two weeks after Boys Before Flowers, and a starker contrast could hardly be struck. I’ll contradict myself a little here, because while I vigorously defended the popular type of drama above, watching a beautiful show like Return of Iljimae makes me wish that dramas that truly merit superlatives would get more popular recognition. My two sides are always in conflict — I enjoy the entertaining, popular hit but often form attachments to underappreciated mania selections.

SBS had already aired its version of the comic-book hero in 2008’s popular Lee Junki vehicle — a show that had a strong youth following but which I did not enjoy. It was therefore with some hesitation that I took on MBC’s version, curious to see how a different director and cast would fare with the same subject material. And oh boy, what a difference. I wouldn’t even think to compare the two Iljimaes to each other, so disparate are they in plot, theme, tone, scope, everything. (If we must compare, I’d put Lee Junki’s Iljimae closer to Hong Gil Dong, while Return of Iljimae gets categorized alongside Painter of the Wind.)

Return of Iljimae is, at base, a story of growth. Our hero is born into abject circumstances — a product of rape, he is taken from his mother and abandoned like Moses in the reeds — but gradually transforms into a hero. What this drama captures so beautifully is the evolution of Iljimae from a sheltered, quiet adolescent to a rebellious youth to a man spurred by righteous anger. One of my favorite aspects about the Iljimae character is that he doesn’t want to be a hero — he would prefer to live a normal life, but he is a hero because he cannot stand by and see the world suffer when he, with his particular gifts, can help.

The acting is particularly strong with Jung Hye-young as Iljimae’s mother, who plays her with delicate sensitivity, and Kim Min-jong as the man who speaks little but feels much. Both have lovely, expressive eyes. Jung Il-woo is not really a naturally gifted actor, but his efforts shine through and he is very good, achingly vulnerable — watching him as Iljimae is like watching a newborn foal opening its eyes for the first time. Often covered up with Iljimae’s black mask, Jung is forced to act solely with his eyes, and the result is fantastic. He doesn’t mug for the camera, but plays Iljimae with quiet dignity.

The drama is sumptuously shot by director Hwang In-roi, who is immensely talented at capturing breathtaking vistas and enhancing that visual appeal with the most gorgeous drama score I have heard in a long time. Rather than enhancing with CG or using fancy action tricks, the production climbed deep into the mountains to capture its natural wildness. Fight scenes are stripped and raw, but still exciting despite a lack of cunning editing or camera techniques.

Return of Iljimae‘s tone is not one you’ll often find in dramas. For example, my very favorite scene of the series is a death scene — but not because it’s tragic, or tearjerking, or indulgent. It’s beautiful and still, and the moment allows you to see the wonder of the life being cut short rather than glorifying the tragedy.

Above all, the writing is assured. Somewhere in the middle (in the mid-teens, episode-wise) it felt a little slower, but this drama wasn’t as bad as in most cases of mid-drama slowdown. The writing never fumbles or feels uncertain. It’s unfortunate that the first episode is, in my opinion, the weakest, perhaps deterring people from continuing. (The episode incorporates a modern-day segment whose purpose I understand but which I feel detracts from the wonder of the rest of the series.)

Some dramas you watch and promptly forget once they’re over. Return of Iljimae will remain impressed in my mind for a long while.


I wasn’t going to write about this drama, but I sort of feel the need to offer up an alternate opinion, since this will be a selection much featured in the last review post. I had heard about this little drama earlier in the year, but wasn’t intrigued. However, in the course of putting together these year-end reviews, all four of my fellow reviewers not only rated Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father very highly, they positively raved about it as the best-written, best-directed, best-scored, most comedic, and best overall drama of the year. Naturally, I had to give it a try after such unanimous praise.

Only… well… I don’t see it.

What Kyung-sook does is take a comical spin on what would otherwise be a miserable circumstance for a family during the Korean War, creating what I am told is a darkly humorous tone that I, personally, don’t see. I love black comedies and irreverent humor, and I don’t usually find myself chafing at this kind of treatment of a serious subject. But curiously enough, despite really wanting to join the club on this one, I just couldn’t understand where the superlatives were coming from. It’s not a bad drama. It’s well-acted, and Shim Eun-kyung once again puts in an impressive performance. The directing is perfunctory and the music doesn’t really leave an impression. There are moments of wit.

But is it funny? Well, no. I suppose I don’t find it amusing when people starving in wartime desperate to locate their next source of food accidentally get high on medicine and lick their chops, imagining food dancing before their eyes. I don’t find it witty or subversive when the snotty village rich boy taunts other poor kids with food, knowing they’re hungry, just because he’s lonely and bored.

My colleagues have said that the beauty of the characterizations in this drama is that these people do some awful things — like the father who runs off when war breaks out and leaves his family to fend for themselves — but that they can’t hate them. But I do hate them. I grew up on Korean War stories — my parents and grandparents lived through some desperate times, and Kyung-sook, to me, doesn’t feel particularly special. It feels like reality told through a goofy lens, and for some reason I can’t credit the drama for amazing writing or directing merely because it tries to make war funny. Life Is Beautiful is an example of a movie that did accomplish that feat — finding humor in the Holocaust — but it had a delightful spirit that I don’t find here. It, unlike this, reveled in the beauty of life from amidst the horrors man inflicts upon his fellow man.

Samsooki has said that Kyung-sook isn’t for everyone and I agree completely. I don’t mean to discount my fellow reviewers’ positive comments — only to say that my experience is wholly different. Usually if I don’t respond to a drama, I shrug and move on — but Kyung-sook is unusual in that it rubs me the wrong way. I was heartily dismayed to be overruled in the upcoming Editors’ Picks — not because my favorites lost in the majority vote, but that they had to lose to Kyung-sook, which I find, at best, a decently told four-hour story.

I’m sorry, but in the interest of proffering a dissenting view, there’s my honest opinion.


Sons of Sol Pharmacy is a drama that made me feel at home, that made me think amusingly of my own sprawling, sometimes brash, often nosy extended Korean family. But one scarcely needs to have a family like the Songs in order to enjoy the good-natured stories told through them.

Compared to conventional miniseries, family dramas generally have larger casts and smaller stories, which usually means that their appeal rests not in the specific stories but the relationships. None of the stories is particularly inventive, since they are all variations on familiar themes: a mother dislikes her son’s choice of girlfriend, two guys develop feelings for the same girl, a man pines for his first love, a bickering couple end up adorably married. However, Sol Pharmacy plays out these scenes with a lighthearted sense of humor built upon a foundation of genuine familial love.

What I particularly appreciate about this drama is the way that these friends and neighbors come together to find connections with people to whom they are not related; it highlights the importance of family but doesn’t restrict that to blood relations. Bok-shil is drawn to the Songs because her life lacks familial warmth, and therefore when she leaves them her absence is felt not only by the love interest but the entire household. Korean-American Bruce had an abusive, alcoholic father but forms a relationship with Grandpa Song, who teaches him to write hangul and supplies him with, however belatedly, a positive older male influence. Grandpa even draws Bruce’s son into the writing lessons, showing Bruce indirectly how to perpetuate a positive fatherly model. The wayward teen mother Su-hee comes to the family as an irresponsible high school dropout, but learns that when people expect more of her, she has it within her to rise to the occasion. She cleans up, not because she’s told to, but because she starts to see that she can build a better life for herself and her baby.

Not to say that the Song family is perfect, nor is it some kind of panacea for emotional pain. They’re loud and dysfunctional and have their share of issues. But this drama shows that family can frustrate you and aggravate you, but ultimately supports you.


Story of a Man OST – “세상을 너에게” (Give the world to you). This song still gets me wound up in anticipation. [ Download ]

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Hands down, Story of a Man was the best- and tightest-written drama of the year; this is one battle I’m prepared to duke out. My declaration has nothing to do with writer Song Ji-nah‘s track record, although it doesn’t hurt that she wrote seminal kdramas Eyes of Dawn and The Sandglass, as well as the more recent fantasy hit Legend. I was torn between naming this or Return of Iljimae as my top two picks of the year; thankfully, this is my blog and I don’t have to choose!

Though billed as a revenge drama, Story of a Man differs from other revenge pieces (Angel’s Temptation, East of Eden) in that it is far from melodramatic or angst-ridden. It’s intricately plotted and cleverly constructed to unfold its story continually — the story is always evolving as Park Yong-ha adapts his strategies in accordance with the movements of his slippery enemy, the fabulous Kim Kang-woo.

The series is directed with a stylish flair, and the strength of this drama’s direction is that it’s not just about scenes looking cool. Often the composition of shots is layered with wit. Sure, a drama can be shot in a basic way without any symbolism built in — but when it does convey additional meaning, it adds to the overall viewing experience. Story of a Man doesn’t talk down to its audience; it’s smart and sexy — and it’s also a heck of a lot of fun. Team camaraderie, capers and heists, bromance — it’s all there, livening up littler beats that fall betwixt the darker ones.

Acting-wise, this drama is strong all around. In the supporting cast, Han Yeo-woon shines as the kindhearted sister who is at first the cruel villain’s tenuous last link to morality, and then his foil. Park Ki-woong goes completely counter to his light, goofy image by investing himself into the autistic financial genius character. Even though Park Yong-ha does a solid job as the lead, his biggest accomplishment isn’t in standing out but in putting up a formidable obstacle for his enemy. Without one, the other wouldn’t have the reason, or opportunity, to up his game; their constant oneupmanship spurs each other on to be faster and cleverer than the other. Kim Kang-woo creates a chilling psychopath not through big, crazy antics but in quiet moments, with precise movements and restrained acting. Furthermore, inasmuch as he is compelling as the quiet psycho, he is that much more exciting when he starts unraveling at the seams, slowly and with growing intensity.

Korean television series are pretty much works in progress, and the live-shoot system frequently results in a narrative shakiness that makes you uneasy for how a series might continue. However, Story of a Man is the rare show that didn’t make me uneasy or worry for its future. This drama has a confidence about it that makes it pretty sexy, and instead of being concerned over whether it could continue holding up its own high standard, I found myself wondering how each new episode would impress me. And it almost always did.


Reading through my review last year, it struck me that for me, Queen Seon-deok is like this year’s Beethoven Virus. Both are dramas that were extremely popular, led by a deliciously badly-behaved main character, which I caught in spurts rather than following closely as is my usual habit. And as a result of that casual viewing, I enjoyed both.

I’ll qualify my remarks by saying that I didn’t watch every episode, and because I never made it a great commitment to follow this drama, I felt free to fast-forward upon occasion. So I didn’t suffer through the drawn-out political intrigue and instead zipped from highlight to highlight. I’ll leave the close analysis to viewers who watched carefully and stuck with it week to week; all I can say is that I get the hype. I wasn’t part of it, but I get it.

My first impression of the show was, “Wow.” The scenery is beautiful, likewise the music and costuming. The cast is packed with strong names and topped off with some great child actors introducing us to the main characters. And, of course, there is Go Hyun-jung in her first villainous role, enjoying the hell out of playing this over-the-top, ambitious character with a performance that is exceedingly affected — but also terribly fun to watch. Later on, Kim Nam-gil steals scenes and adds a fresh jolt of energy.

Queen Seon-deok‘s weakness, however, was in being too eager to cater to viewer response, in chase of that elusive 50% ratings threshold, which it never reached. (If it had been satisfied with the already staggering mid-30% to 40% numbers it was receiving, it would have been a better drama. Instead, its greed got the better of it.) As a result, the producers decided to put a greater premium on romantic angst and developments that weren’t organic to its original intention than on a fully logical plot.

To say that Queen Seon-deok takes liberties with historical record is an understatement. Even without being an expert on the history involved, I can see the logic holes, so I can only imagine how a true history purist might react. It seems like the conventional sageuk is on its way out and the new historical shows are just as prone to viewership demands, makjang story elements, and fusion tricks (to sex up the show) as their contemporary counterparts are. We could lament the death of an older format, but for me, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing. Maybe this shows my lack of taste, but I wasn’t interested in sageuks until the fusion trend came into vogue, and without those gateway shows allowing me entree to the genre, I wouldn’t have ever touched a long-running sageuk in the first place.



I wrapped up recaps for this drama only a few days ago, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much.

I was really looking forward to Triple, which had so many things going for it. I don’t usually pin hopes for a drama’s success on its cast, because great actors can often appear in bad projects, but this ensemble seemed so winning — Lee Jung-jae, Yoon Kye-sang, AND Lee Seon-kyun? Not to mention the team who wrote and directed 2007’s Coffee Prince, with Tearliner serving as music director to serve us up another round of delightful indie pop.

I was charmed by Triple‘s summery, breezy air and the camaraderie of its characters at first. It brought a smile to my face to watch longtime friends joking around and teasing each other, and Min Hyo-rin was unexpectedly winning as the aspiring figure skater. An incredibly thin side character was brought to life based on the sheer pull of Song Joong-ki‘s personal charm. There was a refreshing quality to having events unfold without a lot of trauma, which poised the drama to explore its conflicts with a naturalistic, matter-of-fact touch.

But then, things just stopped progressing. Stuff happened, but nothing really happened. The same problems repeated, like the characters were running in place without a goal in sight. What started out pleasantly carefree became meandering and tiresome. Characters acted in puzzling ways that didn’t feel real, and people grew emotions seemingly out of nowhere.

The drama’s shining center was the relationship between ex-step-siblings Min Hyo-rin and Lee Jung-jae, but I couldn’t help wishing for a more concrete handling of the development. Instead, they waffled back and forth, what-if-ing themselves into exhaustion. It’s something we might see in real life, but for a drama to address a central conflict with such ambiguity feels like a betrayal of our time and interest. If they wanted to go there, they should have just gone there. If not, they should have not. (Heck, even if that ambiguity was their intention, nobody benefits when the ending is so puzzlingly vague that many people wonder what it’s even saying.) In the end, Triple‘s lack of decisiveness killed its momentum and therefore makes this a huge disappointment in my book.


Tamra the Island OST – “Tamra, the Island” [ Download ]

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I’ll preface by saying that I can’t speak with authority on Tamra the Island because I had made the decision when the drama was cut down that I would continue after its full, unbowdlerized version came out. However, till that point this show proved to be a pleasant surprise; it hadn’t even been on my radar until about a week prior to its premiere, but it was a welcome departure from the norm.

What it has going for it — once you ignore the awful first episode — is a wonderful refreshing quality. Aesthetically, it’s a breath of fresh air; the manhwa origins combine with the gorgeous seaside backdrop and period setting (1600s Jeju Island) to give this an upbeat burst of energy. (Most sageuks take place on the Korean peninsula, largely in the capital or its environs, so even the location of Tamra, the old name for Jeju, is a novelty. In addition, despite its modern status as a resort destination, Jeju was once considered a remote backwater where people were sometimes exiled, and is therefore not a common setting in dramas, particularly historical ones.)

Tamra diehards will know this better than I, but one key attraction of this show is the chemistry of its two leads (Seo Woo and Im Joo-hwan), with particular emphasis on Im. His haughty aristocrat character plays upon a familiar archetype, and the pairing with a clumsy, bubbly girl is something we’ve seen a lot before. (One prime example: this year’s Boys Before Flowers.) Thus it’s Im’s ability to simultaneously convey the character’s strength and vulnerability that makes his portrayal noteworthy. Hwang Chan-bin‘s William is a bit dim, but in such a benign way that it’s difficult to hate him. And Seo Woo succeeds in making her scatterbrained character lovable when she could easily be annoying.

When the full DVD becomes available, I’ll be watching.


As one of the most popular actresses of her generation, Yoon Eun-hye came into the year with a reputation for solid projects and a lot of fan anticipation for her upcoming drama. She hadn’t been seen since 2007’s Coffee Prince, which was a drama that went a long way in showing her growth as an actor and winning over critics who’d previously panned her for her acting.

The first sign of trouble was when the drama changed writers, switched up its character descriptions, and unveiled a new name. Yoon, who had signed on based on the initial premise, stuck with the changes and interest remained high. One of the year’s breakout actors — scene-stealing Yoon Sang-hyun from Queen of Housewives — was brought onboard, and the drama finally launched.

I had been won over with her Coffee Prince portrayal, so I was dismayed to see Yoon Eun-hye’s acting so stilted, her dialogue delivery so artificial. Yoon Sang-hyun was more natural but tended to exaggerate, and the pairing felt off-kilter somehow. It wasn’t until midway through that they started to click better, and the two shared some nice emotional moments as their angst heated up.

The flipside to that was that the drama lost its sense of humor and went full-on for the romantic turmoil, so although the acting improved, the story did not. Without its comic tone to buoy the narrative — Yoon Eun-hye desperately stuffing Yoon Sang-hyun into an armoire is one of my favorite laugh-out-loud bits — the plot holes became glaring. The live-shoot syndrome was in full effect, and as producers tweaked this and that to respond to viewer complaints, any adherence to story logic flew out the window. Jung Il-woo (who was so confused with his character) alternately clung, then got angry, then clung again. The couple was forced apart with reasoning that never quite made sense, no matter how hard the actors tried to sell it. (And they did try really hard.) As a result, the resolution and reunion was just as illogical.

It’s amazing that the drama maintained mid- to high-teen ratings throughout, and that’s a testament to Yoon Eun-hye’s draw as a leading lady. My Fair Lady was a total mess, but because of Yoon it was saved (at least ratings-wise) from being a total failure. Storywise, however, it had no such luck — it’s a pretty big wreck. Better luck next time.


And to think, this drama was initially cast with Kim Rae-won. I wonder if that would have steered this in an entirely different direction, or if the shoddy writing would have trapped him as badly as it did these actors, namely Go Ara, Lee Yoon-ji, and first-time actor Jung Yun-ho, aka DBSK’s leader U-Know Yunho.

For a drama about soccer, there was a lot of plot meandering that had nothing to do with soccer. I would almost vote this the worst drama of the year, but I hesitate because that rather feels like kicking someone when they’re down. It was badly written, but not offensively written (unlike some others, such as the makjang monster Temptation of Wife). Yun-ho’s acting, for instance, was not good, but you could see that he was earnestly doing the best he could. It did improve toward the end, but at the end of the day he is an actor who was given a plum job because of his idol status, so I can’t let him off the hook with a mere, “He tried and he’s a really nice guy.” I believe both of those are true, but I also believe that he did this drama no favors.

On the other hand, there’s Go Ara — she is admittedly gorgeous to look at, but has now acted in multiple dramas and seems to be making no improvement whatsoever. I accepted her in Who Are You because Yoon Kye-sang was in love with her, but here she had little chemistry with Yun-ho. Were they paired with stronger actors, Ara and Yun-ho may have been elevated by association, but together they fell flat. Lee Yoon-ji is a talented actress, but I actually felt that her acting was just as jarring as the bad acting. For instance, in an emotionally charged scene that has her telling Go Ara off angrily, it feels like she’s emoting at a wall, or a cardboard cut-out. When you put them together, it’s so clear that they’re on different planes that it takes the viewer out of the drama.

Perhaps Heading to the Ground doesn’t deserve to be labeled worst anything and is better off forgotten.


You’re Beautiful wasn’t the biggest hit of the year, but you wouldn’t know it from its fanbase. Something about this show struck a chord with viewers, and not just young ones.

There are a lot of ways you can describe this show — idol drama, youth romance, Jang Geun-seok vehicle — but the most apt descriptor, perhaps, is quintessential Hong Sisters drama. With five hit rom-coms in five years, these two screenwriting sisters have established a brand, and You’re Beautiful displays their trademarks in abundance: gentle mocking of standard romance cliches, a love of pop-culture parodies, inordinate attachment to symbolic trinkets, and an infectious humor that is always there to undercut a moment that might be getting too earnest.

It’s not so much the plot itself that is fresh — HOW many cross-dressing girls have we seen in recent years? — but the way they execute it. For example, it’s a standard expectation that a cross-dressing plot must place our disguised heroine in uncomfortable circumstances amidst men who think she’s a man. But who other than the Hong Sisters would give us Mother Superior emerging from a gym locker into a room full of naked idol stars to advise our heroine how best to deal with her embarrassment? The “oops I fell and landed on your lips” ploy is an absurd bit that always makes me roll my eyes — but then the Hong Sisters pervert that faux-kiss with vomit. A rom-com must lead our two characters to embrace before they’re ready to admit their attraction — but who else would get us there with the aid of a taser?

Despite the laugh-out-loud zaniness, You’re Beautiful has its share of flaws. Unfortunately, another Hong Sisters trademark is that the comedy-to-angst ratio typically flips in later episodes, slowing the wild ride we fell in love with in the first half. Subtlety seems not to be a particular goal of their writing, and in fact they overdo the Big Symbolic Speeches. (We get it, stars are special! Night is dark!) Park Shin-hye‘s Mi-nam was sweet and cute, but lord was she dim. If she weren’t a nun (novice), you’d have thought she was stupid. I actually think that the Hong Sisters took a step backward in this drama, in terms of narrative development. Fantasy Couple was skimpier on the character work (except for Han Ye-seul, who was great) but I welcomed their departure from angst. And Hong Gil Dong took them on more mature plot paths, and was their most ambitious project. You’re Beautiful, on the other hand, seems to have returned them to where they were post-My Girl. I absolutely enjoyed the drama, but I don’t think they stretched themselves that much here. In their defense, their forte has always been in humor, and they provided so much hilarious comedy that they deserve due props for always managing to stay a step ahead of the curve and making the audience laugh.

You’re Beautiful‘s appeal is that it is so heartwarmingly upbeat and lovable that I had no problem letting those wrinkles go. The drama gave me an overwhelming number of side-splitting, wacky fun moments that it built up a surplus of goodwill.

A review of this series must include Jang Geun-seok, who played the abrasive idol star character with a gusto I haven’t seen from him before. (This was the first drama where I really felt for him and responded to his character.) Yes, his lip-curl was overdone and he wore some questionable fashions, but how could you not love his delightful sneer, or the little-boy charm he let occasionally show out from under the gruff facade? (The fellow idols were enjoyable as well, with Lee Hong-ki‘s quirky playfulness and Jung Yong-hwa‘s gentle calm rounding out the ensemble, with the former outperforming the latter. But really, this drama owes a big debt of gratitude to Jang Geun-seok.)

Romantic comedies are one genre where the ending is a foregone conclusion — we know that the couple gets together. What I want is to root for the couple and be entertained along the way, and in that this drama was a success. You’re Beautiful gets my nod for giddiest, funniest, laughingest fan frenzy of the year.

Dramas like You’re Beautiful and Boys Before Flowers are the kind that often introduce people to kdramas — and if the newly initiated go on to watch a City Hall or a Story of a Man because their interest was piqued by something popular… well, that’s no loss.


I have mixed thoughts on IRIS, but ultimately the bottom line is that I was entertained.

Lee Byung-heon is by far the biggest asset to this drama (and my pick for best actor of the year), with Kim So-yeon and Kim Seung-woo close behind. Although they’re casting the sequel without Lee, this first season is as much about him as the Bourne movies are about Matt Damon. It could work with someone else, but he set the bar pretty damn high. The drama definitely threw in lots of fanservicey bits (shirtless Lee Byung-heon, glistening with dirt and sweat and writhing in chains!), but he had ample opportunity to do some strong dramatic work, burning with energy and intensity. As for the others… I normally enjoy Jung Jun-ho, but had some hiccups with his character (more below). I laughed whenever TOP opened his mouth (with his muddled gangsta drawl), but at least he provided an element of unintentional amusement.

The romance was a detriment in that it was the most conventional aspect of the drama and wasn’t particularly convincing. I say this without casting aspersions on Kim Tae-hee‘s acting — she wasn’t terrible, and I liked how her character was assertive — but I didn’t feel the chemistry between her and Lee Byung-heon. As a result, the love story took up an inordinate amount of real estate and slowed things down whenever it came to the fore.

Perhaps more so than any other drama on this page (or this year), I think IRIS is one where you can see a difference of reaction from within Korea and from the international community. I suspect that what the Korean television audience saw as a plus wasn’t necessarily the same for those of us elsewhere — namely, IRIS‘s Western feel. I mentioned it in my initial IRIS recap, that I found it well-produced and slick, but also pretty familiar. Whereas, Korean media reviews seem based on an element of cultural pride, praising IRIS for doing a good job creating a Korean version of those Western spy hits like 24, Alias, and Bourne Identity. Sort of like patting oneself on the back and saying, “Anything you can do, I can do… just as well!” Whereas, I was hoping that they’d up the ante and make something better — something that had the fun excitement of a spy show that still felt like a kdrama.

But that, I recognize, is my own hope and I don’t hold it against the drama. What I DO hold against IRIS is where the plot starts getting murky. IRIS is to me what I suspect Queen Seon-deok is to others: When I watch without stopping to question, it’s easy to watch. When I take a closer look at the logic, oy, I start to get a headache. You can definitely tell that certain bits were included because they look cool, not because they make sense. (For instance, using gobs of C4 to bust open a padlock. Or a scene that I’d completely forgotten but found scrawled in my notes as “death by maraschino cherry.”) The drama threw in a lot of spy-show buzzwords and cliches without necessarily making sure they grew out of the plot.

IRIS seemed like it had a lot to prove, and the producers appear happy with the result. I can’t call this a great drama and I feel very little emotional connection to it, but it was an entertaining ride.


This drama is only half over, but I think leaving it off till 2010 might result in it being forgotten in the shuffle, so I’m commenting here.

I was swept along by Will It Snow For Christmas‘s strong beginning and its nostalgic feel, which recalls the days of the classic melodrama, like Winter Sonata or Autumn Love Story. There’s almost something anachronistic-feeling about it; the childhood portions begin in 1996 but it feels like it actually belongs in the ’70s, back in a simpler time with its sepia tones. Even though it comes described as straight melodrama, there’s a humor and heart to it that drew me in despite my leeriness for melodramas, which is almost always synonymous with the term “tearjerker.”

Once it moves into the adult years, the story becomes more subdued, while generally maintaining that delicate sensibility that drew me to it initially. There’s no doubt that Go Soo elevates this with his expressive eyes that are at once intense and sensitive. His character is an interesting amalgam of several kdrama hero tropes: in youth he is poor, fatherless, and ashamed of his family; as an adult he is polished, well-off, and successful. It feels like the writer wanted to have her cake and eat it too, and I think if not for Go Soo’s heartfelt performance, this would probably bother me.

The co-stars are good, too, if one can separate their performances from their characters — I’m not sure what the future will bring, but the writing seems to be flirting with bringing them into areas I may find problematic. But I’m pleased with Sunwoo Sun‘s portrayal of her volatile, selfish character and Song Jong-ho‘s strong-but-cowardly dichotomy, and he speaks volumes in his looks. Han Ye-seul… she’s adequate. I accept her as the object of Go Soo’s affection, and for that she has done her job.

Followers of this drama are starting to feel uneasy about the direction its plot is taking, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Will It Snow For Christmas, and Go Soo will keep me tuning in to the end. Please don’t make me eat my words.


Again, in order of airdate:

Watch the first two episodes, and you’d think Cinderella Man was a silly, slapstick romantic comedy. Watch the last two episodes, and you’d think it was an overwrought melodrama. I give Kwon Sang-woo credit for taking on a “shabby” role (as in, one that had him dressing down and taking on an unpolished character), but this drama didn’t do anything for his career, and his colleagues are starting to leave him behind as they move on to more ambitious, challenging projects.


For having a cast I liked — Lee Dong-wook, Kim Hyun-joo, Choi Chul-ho, Kim Dong-wook — and a cute chemistry between the leads, I found Partner surprisingly boring. The legal cases weren’t terribly interesting, and one thing Korea still struggles with is in creating engaging procedural shows — those that rely on cases (whether it be medical, legal, or criminal). The strength of kdramas lies largely with its character developments, so when it sacrifices those for cases that end up being nothing special, we’ve got a lackluster procedural with lackluster character relationships. It’s too bad that Lee Dong-wook’s last pre-army project weren’t stronger.


This drama sorta feels like it’s trying to be several things at once, but it does accomplish it with a stylish flair. It’s beautiful to look at and listen to, although I did frequently feel that the music, rather than the scenes, manipulated the emotions. This is another revenge series that uses familiar drama conventions — gangsters, birth secrets, “good son” versus “bad son” dichotomy, power plays and secret plots — but handles them well. The acting is solid, although as with many of these kinds of large-scale dramas, the veteran actors outshine the pretty faces in front. Sung Yuri takes another step toward improving public opinion about her acting; and while Lee Wan is passable in his first villain-ish role, he doesn’t take full charge of the situation to really make a strong impression (a la Seon-deok‘s Bi-dam or Mama Kang in Boys Before Flowers). But while I could see where this drama’s strengths lie, ultimately it didn’t speak to me.


Kim Bum gave an interview saying that he gets excited about characters and jumps into roles quickly; I can see how that happened with Dream. I’m a fan of the boy and I think he has acting skill, but if he doesn’t come up with a great role soon, he’ll have to be relegated to the ranks of those with unfulfilled talent. Dream had some odd casting (Sohn Dam-bi wasn’t terrible in her acting debut, but she was hardly strong, either) and the tone felt scattered. It was part sports drama, part revenge piece, part bromance, part underdog story; I wish they had stuck with one strong concept rather than spreading themselves around. Korean dramas have yet to come up with a sports-themed success (not since 1994, at least), and part of that failure has to be that the so-called sports dramas aren’t actually about sports. (See also: Triple, Heading to the Ground.) They’ve mostly been excuses to set the same old story in a new background, and haven’t found ways to incorporate the sport in a meaningful way.


Style fared pretty well in the ratings, but I found it annoying and confusing. Lee Jia was shrill and over the top, so although she was ostensibly the protagonist, it was hard to root for her. Kim Hye-soo as the capable fashion editor was supposedly this drama’s version of Meryl Streep’s editor in The Devil Wears Prada, but she was so much more competent than the assistant that she ended up a lot more relatable. Ryu Shi-won‘s character was the most puzzling of all — what does a macrobiotic chef care about fashion or editing?


When I think of Hon in the daylight hours, I think, “Oh, I should really get on that.” And then night rolls around and I shudder, “Maybe tomorrow.” Hon has a fantastic eerie ambiance that isn’t always outright scary, but is always unsettling. Its beautiful aesthetic and high quality made this a surprise summer hit, while catapulting rookie actress Im Joo-eun to the spotlight. I am normally a terrible scaredy-cat when it comes to horror, but I found myself so impressed with early episodes that I am determined to one day grit my teeth, prepare for some blood ‘n violence — and a great villain’s performance by Kim Gab-soo — and finish this drama.


I was more inclined to catch up with Smile before a 16-episode extension drew its length out from 30 to 46 episodes. Although Sons of Sol Pharmacy showed me that longer family shows don’t have to feel burdensome and long, I’m not sure I’m up for another one yet. On the other hand, Lee Min-jung and Jung Kyung-ho have a winning rapport with each other, and their budding romance is a lot of fun to watch unfold. The parents’ generation is less captivating, and I find the experience enhanced by use of the fast-forward button. (So it’s with great thanks that I leave this drama’s recapping to more capable hands!)


And with that, another year’s review is done! One more guest review to go, and then our collective Editors’ Picks will wrap up the series. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this collection of reviews, and that you agree that the beauty of such a series is the diversity of opinions that emerge.


123 December 30, 2009April 6, 2017

Finding hidden gems and lumps of coal in 2009 [Year in Review, Part 5]

by hjkomo

First, I’d like to start by thanking Sarah for inviting me to be a guest reviewer. I must admit that I was, at first, a bit daunted (okay, scared ****less would be more precise), but how else could I begin to pay a little back to those who have given me so much? I’m neither a blogger nor a writer, but I am an avid fan of kdramas (possibly, too avid), as well as Javabeans’ blog, and these past few years have been brighter and better because I get to come here, my home away from home, each and every day. Good company makes for good times. It truly is an honor to be included with the likes of Dahee, Thundie, JB…and, yes, even Samsooki 😉 .

Overall, I’d say 2009 had more to offer than the kdrama drought of the previous year, but as I watched more than 20 of this year’s fare (plus several more that I dropped midway), I found myself becoming increasingly…..well, grumpy. Usually, I tend to finish dramas that I start, I don’t have many expectations from dramas when they begin because I never know how they will affect me personally, and I don’t easily succumb to boredom…so what could’ve caused the permanent indentation on my forehead [from all the headdesking]?

Could it have been the number of daily dramas I was so easily suck[er]ed into watching due to fangirliness and the prospect of shared ogling and squeeing with friends (I haven’t forgotten who recommended those dramas to me, mind you!)? Had my tastes changed so drastically since reaching triple-digits for total dramas watched over the years? Or was I simply turning into one of those persnickety old ajummas with rapidly decreasing patience for idiocy? I’m sure it’s a combination of all that, along with an increased appreciation for solid writing, directing, and acting.

Then towards the end of the year, just when I thought I could not endure any more squama frontalis abuse, I finally watched Kwak Jung Hwan’s 2007 masterpiece, Conspiracy In The Court. It had always been a part of my Horn of Plenty (my ever-increasing list of dramas to watch), but it wasn’t until this mind-blowing experience that I finally realized why I had been drawn to the underrated gems of 2009 while being left unmoved by those that brought in the big ratings.


Conspiracy in the Court OST – “Parallel Lines (평행선)” by JK Kim Dong-wook (Because this is just an awesome song, covered in a decadent awesome sauce with whipped cream and a cherry on top.)
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So let’s begin with the daily dramas, shall we? They really do have to be taken with a grain mountain of salt. Don’t forget to turn your brain off at the door, and barricade yourself with some nice, soft cushions to lessen the blow from the oncoming barrage of drama clichés and caricatures.

(or as I like to call it – “I love you, and someone’s going to end up crying…a lot” and that someone was usually me [from the sheer torture])

Oh, Lee Jung Jin…this was your follow-up to Two Outs In The Bottom Of The Ninth? Lee Yu Ri was decent, Kim Jin Seong as little Jun was adorable (especially with that puppy). The second female lead deserved much more slapping than she dished out. Veteran Lee Soon Jae was his usual great self, but Kim Mi Kyung, whom I normally love, annoyed me to no end, as did Kang Boo Ja (who played LYR’s grandmother) and her circus make-up…for the entire 132-episode run.

(a.k.a. The Road Sure Was Long, Winding, and Torturous…so I took a left turn at Albuquerque and moved on)

I’m not ashamed to admit it. I watched this for Lee Sang Woo (and a group of kdrama-watching buddies). He’s no thespian, and he really does look like chipmunk (although, we’d affectionately named him hamster boy long ago), but everyone’s entitled to a little eye-candy now and then, right? This drama boasted some great veteran names (most daily dramas do), but it was the younger cast that had me running for the hills. Jang Shin Young was insipid and had little chemistry with Lee Sang Woo, and it wasn’t till far into the drama that I realized she was the actress I was so annoyed with in Rebirth-Next. Park Hye Won (Time Between Dog and Wolf) and Otani Ryohei (Soulmate) were cute, but I didn’t stick around long enough to see where their relationship went.

Yoon Sang Hyun was slated to play Lee Sang Woo’s older brother (which later went to Shim Hyun Tak), but it’s a good thing, for his career, that he ended up in Queen of Housewives, instead.

(a.k.a. Don’t worry about missing any of the drama because there’ll be more than enough flashbacks of what just happened five minutes ago, every two minutes!)

Another Lee Sang Woo drama (I was lured in by fanservice and the promises of my buddies – again!) Except, instead of family birth secrets, this one has the dreaded…..dum, dum, dum-dum…AMNESIA! And not just your ordinary amnesia, mind you…nor the initial amnesia followed by the second amnesia of the memories you accumulated during the first bout of amnesia – oh, no sir-ee…this one is ‘selective amnesia’ of all memories pertaining to the boyfriend who slept with your best friend (resulting in a child) and whose life you saved by donating part of your liver! Then, post-surgery, you go into a coma from the shock of it all, wake up three years later, and start working at the company where said lily-livered (pun intended!) ex-boyfriend works. You fall in love with your supervisor (Lee Sang Woo), who just happens to be the childhood friend of said ex-bf and his sister, who is also in love with the aforementioned supervisor. (What happened, Kim Young Jae? You were so adorable in My Sweet Seoul!) Oh, and you don’t remember your backstabbing best friend, either, and she just happens to be the first love of…..yeah, you guessed it -> your supervisor! OMG, kill me now!!!

I’ve fallen behind on watching this drama, but now that I’ve gone over its, er, finer points…I’ve realized that I won’t be picking it back up anytime soon.

I don’t know why they named it thus, except to torture us with that annoying theme song at the beginning of every episode (and after marathoning the first 40 episodes, I’d rather have listened to a cat singing a Tom Waits song while on acid). Oh Man Seok, who also gets my vote for Biggest Waste of Talent, is criminally underutilized. I don’t know how or why he ended up here, but the only thing that got me through much of this drama was trading snarks with Dahee. (Thank you, dear!) When they extended the drama to 150 episodes, I just about cracked my skull open as it came crashing down on the desk. Now, if only Oh Man Seok would sing a little bit more…or not wear such god-awful clothes, it would make the journey just a tiny bit more bearable. Oh, who am I kidding?! But I made a vow to finish this drama, and by golly, I will finish it!…someday?

Now, with all the headdesking I endure while watching daily dramas, you may wonder why I subject myself to such misery. In all honesty, I don’t really know, either. I only started watching daily dramas last year (except for one in 2006). Sometimes, it can be quite enjoyable watching a drama that’s so BAD that it’s so much fun to mock it with one’s friends. And other times, you just want to see the main couple overcome their trials and tribulations to finally BE TOGETHER.


I checked out this daily drama when it first started airing because of Lee Tae Sung (Two Outs In The Bottom Of The Ninth, Time Between Dog and Wolf, Romance Zero). Hong Min Soo (Kim Yoo Mi) and Jang Yoo Jin’s (Lee Tae Sung) noona-dongsaeng romance (she’s 35; he’s 29) is surprisingly sweet. What starts off as one-night stand turns into something much deeper, as Yoo Jin does his best to woo Min Soo – braving precarious heights while the entire neighborhood watches, to propose to her outside her window, and serenading her with a piano tune (and lovely singing, btw).

Go Doo Shim and Park In Hwan play Min Soo’s parents and are still happily married after 35+ years. Park Jung Soo and Im Chae Moo (last seen together in My Life’s Golden Age, in completely different roles) play Yoo Jin’s parents. Jang In Shik (Im Chae Moo) is an abusive, chauvinistic brute. Sometimes, I get the urge to strangle him with his own golf clubs, but I read a synopsis in which his wife finally leaves him after some of Min Soo’s independence and strength rubs off on her, so I’m holding out hope that he’ll be getting his comeuppance soon.

Okay, it does sound like almost any other daily drama, but I’m a sucker for romance. Here, I’m drawn to main couple…I’m invested, and I want to see them make a success of their marriage. It’s not going to win any awards (remember, it’s a daily drama), but it’s entertaining enough for me. Can I have my happy ending now?


Two trendy teen dramas. Both with avid crazed followings. Both overrated. But why was my experience with one so different from the other?

When BOF aired earlier in the year, I, too, got swept up in the mania…to some degree. I wasn’t crack-addicted, but I did tune in every Monday & Tuesday. Since it was the only one among its competitors I was watching at the time, it was the first drama I downloaded and watched on those days, and I was eager to do so. The writing, directing, and music left so much to be desired, and my head knew this wasn’t going to be the drama of the year – far from it, in fact…but my heart was invested. I even kept up with the faster-than-a-speeding-bullet soompi thread (and survived with my vision still intact!).

I was impressed by Lee Min Ho’s performance. He’s got natural talent and it shone. Gu Hye Sun wasn’t at her finest, but she didn’t bother me, either. Lee Hye Young, Jung Ho Bin, and Kim Young Ok’s performances deserve to be mentioned as well.

What about YB, you ask? I am fan of the Hong sisters. Hong Gil Dong is my favorite among their works. (sidenote: Samsooki, although you may continue to live the rest of your days in utter and complete delusion, Kang Ji Hwan is first JB’s, then mine…and if you’re very well-behaved, you may get visitation rights when baby Ji Hoon is old enough to chaperone you. 😛 )

I was entertained, and sometimes amused…but I never caught that “it” feeling from YB. You know, the one that makes you rush home from work, ignore your spouse, dinner, and anything else that gets in your way…just to feed your current crack-addiction. I had other dramas queued up for watching first, I didn’t go near any YB threads (except to read JB’s excellent recaps), and I never felt fully invested in the drama. While Jang Geun Suk’s performance awed many most, I was always cognizant of his “acting”. He does have natural talent, but I have yet to see him make the most of it in his adult roles.

To sum it all up: Did I regret watching either drama? No. Would I rewatch either of them? BOF – no. YB – yeah, maybe…but not anytime soon. (If you need to reach me, I’ll be hiding behind Dahee, ducking from the burning pitchforks thrown my way.)



That Fool OST – “길” (Dong-baek’s theme) by Choi Chul-ho [ Download ]

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This is considered a gem in my book because it is where I discovered the sublime brilliance that is Hwang Jung Min. Prior to watching this drama, I had only seen him in the movie, A Bittersweet Life. Could this be the same actor that played such a ruthless villain? It most certainly was. Hwang Jung Min immersed himself into this role so completely that the actor disappeared and what was left was 100% Gu Dong Baek. He elevated what would have been another forgettable show, into a jewel of a heartwarming, feel-good drama.

And don’t let the title mislead you – Gu Dong Baek was certainly no fool. He chose to view the world his way, following his own moral compass of goodness and sincerity. His genuine heart infected all those around him, including me.

Also, not to be missed is Hwang Jung Min’s bromance with Baek Sung Hyun. I certainly look forward to their reunion in the upcoming movie, Like The Moon Escaping From The Clouds.


Assorted Gems OST – “Tell Me” by KCM [ Download ]

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Unlike the other weekend dramas I began watching around the same time (Yes, I’m talking about you, Creating Destiny, Loving You A Thousand Times, and Smile, You), this one left me with not a single urge to fling my head against the nearest hard, flat surface…not one temptation to throw the first object within reach at my precious laptop screen…nor the desire to jump into the drama to strangle the nearest annoying character. (It happened just as my state of grumpiness was reaching its all-time high, so this was certainly no easy feat.) This is what good writing and a talented ensemble cast can do. The writer, Im Sung Han, who was previously known for her makjang-ish dramas chock-full of histrionics, decided to stay far away from those elements this time around. The result? A well-written, solid weekend drama…and it gets my vote for Best Family Drama. It started out with dismal ratings, but they have steadily increased over time, like the tortoise that quietly keeps chugging along in the race against hare.

The Goong children, Go Na Eun (Bi Chwi -> jade), So Yi Hyun (Ruby), Lee Hyun Jin (San Ho -> coral), and Lee Il Min (Ho Bak -> amber) have a special relationship with each other. Bi Chwi is mother hen of the brood, willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of her siblings (like any normal Korean mother would). She and Ruby are especially close. They are each other’s sounding boards – yes, they confide, they confer…they think. Forced to take on the role of the adults in the family because of their own parents’ continual mishaps (Dad’s a philanderer & Mom’s a gambler – played by veteran actors, Han Jin Hee and Han Hye Sook, respectively.), the Goong children must, time and time again, pick up the pieces of the messes their parents leave behind. Finally, once the last straw has broken the camel’s back, they band together to preserve and protect what’s left of their sanity, as well as their own physical well-being, and decide send their parents packing. It may sound harsh on the surface, but it is handled in a mature, realistic fashion. The immature, selfish “parents” are sent to live with the grandmothers, who are also deliciously flawed in their own right.

Kim Young Ok as the paternal grandmother, Gyul Myung Ja is FAB-U-LOUS (and gets my vote for Best Supporting Actress). Her name may mean cassia flower seed, but she’s anything but fragrant and flowery. She’s got the tongue of a sailor and the strength to match. (I sooo want to be like her when I’m old/gray[er]. 😀 )

Jung Hye Sun is the maternal grandmother, Baek Jo, which means swan in Korean. She’s a prima donna with a penchant for home shopping.

Together, these two make up the Best Odd Couple. They are each other’s neighbors, nemeses, and confidantes. They get into ridiculously hilarious brawls, rent hanbok (traditional Korean dresses) that look more at home in an amusement park parade or on top of a cake than on any normal Korean, and dance to Brown Eyed Girls’ Abracadabra (multiple times!). Need I say more? Well, as hilarious as they both are (their shenanigans seriously make my sides ache whenever I fall into fits laughter), the writer has also ensured that their characters are given more depth than merely being used as comic relief. Neither is relegated to the boring role of “elder who must uphold Confucian values and ensure that order and peace prevail within the family.” Aw, hayell no. Each is a living, breathing human being with her own wants and desires.

Newbie actor Michael Blunck plays the Goong family’s Buddhist monk-in-training tenant. (An American playing an American – what a novel idea!) His constant squinting as he tries to emote in the early episodes is quite distracting, but his acting does improve as the drama progresses. And I’ve got to give him mucho props for his Korean. How wonderful is it to have a non-Korean speak Hangeul so well, in addition to his flawless English? Much, much better, say I, than unintelligible English from a European…or a Korean who supposedly studied in the U.S. (Who else, besides me, was forced to read the Hangeul subtitles in Job Well Done in order to understand what Seo Hyo Rim was supposed to be saying in English?) And his character, Kyle Huntington, grows on you. He’s a strange amalgam of part – lost little boy, part – neighborhood ajumma.

Lee Tae Gon (Im Sung Han must be a fan because of his because of all the fanservice he gets) plays the other tenant, who develops a romance with Go Na Eun. Theirs is not a teeny-bopper romance. It’s a slow-simmering love story between mature adults. It certainly wins for best hug, as well as best hand-holding-near-miss. Other dramas have tried the latter, but none measure up to the one here.

Two more things about this drama, in case you need more reasons to watch it –> 1) FOOD PORN! The dishes aren’t fancy, but they remind me of my mother’s and grandmother’s home cooking. I always find myself extremely hungry while watching these scenes and even craving dishes I didn’t really enjoy that much as a child. 2) Fantasy sequences. While YB had my favorite stand-alone fantasy sequence (idol group fanfic), Assorted Gems has the best overall cumulative, well-placed fantasy sequences. (One word of warning, though – recent episodes have been using the fantasy sequences in the previews, but I blame the PD for this bait-and-switch tactic, not the writer.)

So, we’ve got solid writing, excellent acting, hilarious comedy, a 30-something year-old male Caucasian ajumma, fanservice, romance, food porn, and fantasy sequences. Now, don’t you want to try a taste of this Jewel Bibimbap?


I had heard early on in the year what a gem this drama was, but I never had a chance to watch it until last week while visiting my family. I had an interesting experience watching this drama with my 98 year-old grandmother and my uncle, both of whom lived through the Korean war. I only know the general stories of their and my parents’ experiences during that time, but for most who survived (as well as those who didn’t), it wasn’t very pleasant. The first thing my uncle said while watching Jung Bo Suk as Kyung Sook’s father was, “There really were fathers like that.” And that is what this drama is about – a realistic snapshot of what it was like for this particular young girl (played so brilliantly by Shim Eun Kyung) during the war.

True, this drama is not for everyone, but I don’t think it is necessary for one to have a Korean background to really appreciate this drama. Just as it isn’t necessary for one to be in a similar situation as Willy Loman to understand Death of a Salesman. I bring up the theatre because this drama is an adaptation of a play. I didn’t know this fact while watching it, but once I learned of its origin, my reaction to the drama made much more sense. There are plays/movies/dramas you watch purely for entertainment, and there are those you watch for something more – a hard look at human nature. Kyung Sook, Kyung Sook’s Father belongs to the latter category. It’s not a comfortable watch, but I don’t believe it’s meant to be. I found myself very uncomfortable whenever Kyung Sook’s grandmother (played by Jung Jae Soon) was on the screen. Here was a woman with nary a maternal instinct in her, willing to forgo food for entire family for god only knows how long, just so she could eat chicken on her birthday.

As for the laughter? I didn’t find this drama funny at all, but I understood why it would be approached with a dark comedic bent -> because the alternative to laughter…is tears. The comedy wasn’t trying to make light of the tragedy. To me, it was merely the way the tragic circumstances of that era could be retold without causing one to fall into an utter and dismal abyss. Again, I think of Alan Cumming’s stage performance as the emcee in Cabaret (the musical was set in Berlin in the 1930’s during the Nazi’s rise to power).

This drama reminds us not to forget what transpired during that harrowing time, but it is also a beautiful peek into the life of a young girl searching for hope…for some way to cope with what life has thrown at her.


This is the first of three underrated dramas I’m going to mention that didn’t get the ratings numbers it deserved (they fluctuated in the 5-10% range) but demonstrated the quality that could be reached when dramas are pre-produced, as in filmed before airing. I watched the film version before I started watching the drama, so I already had an idea of what Kwak Kyung Taek could bring to the drama scene. I didn’t have a chance, however, to finish the drama due to time constraints, but from what I did see, I’m confident that this is going to be another hidden gem from 2009. It’s currently sitting at the top of my Horn of Plenty list.


Tamna the Island – “그저 말하고 싶어” (I just want to say) by HowL [ Download ]

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This was the little drama that could…and did…..and then got screwed by MBC. It began filming about a year before its first broadcast and had most of its footage completed when the higher-ups (Damn you! Damn you to HAY-YELLLLLLL!!!!!! *shakes fists*) cut its run from 20 to 16 episodes because of dismal ratings (usually in the 5-6% range, nationwide). They had already made a similar cut to Strike Love a few months earlier (which I didn’t watch but, by all accounts, heard that the ending was quite unsatisfactory). Would the same fate befall our little pearl of a drama?

I lurve fusion sageuk. Throw in some romance, noteworthy acting, humor, and heart…and, normally, I’m sold faster than tickets to a Hallyu fanmeeting & concert. But like many others, I didn’t join Team Islander right away. It took a few episodes to get past the cringe-worthy English scenes and not-so-subtle humor to reach heart of the Island. And this drama had a lot of heart. It wasn’t just about an arrogant, city nobleman who falls in love with the plucky island girl. It’s about a man who falls in love with, and is forever transformed by, the island itself.

Fortunately, despite some awkward flow, the truncated episodes were still moving and thoroughly entertaining. Im Ju Hwan delivers a breakthrough performance as Park Kyu. And if you didn’t clutch your heart or stifle your own cries alongside him in episode 11, then your membership on Team Park Kyu is highly suspect. Seo Woo as the bubbly Beo Jin suited her role well (any complaints with her character would have to be blamed on the writing, not her performance). Kim Mi Kyung as Beo Jin’s mom was a joy to watch, and Jung Joo Ri was a hoot. I, for one, can’t wait to see the uncut version. Team Park Kyu, FTW!


Return of Iljimae OST – “매화가 흐드러진 날” (A day the plum blossoms were beautiful”
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This drama is the third example of the quality that can be achieved when a drama is produced prior to airing. Ratings started at a promising 18%, but gradually declined, reaching around 8% at its finale. But like most, if not all, of my favorites, a drama’s ratings is no indicator of quality for me.

There isn’t much I can add to Javabeans’ eloquent recaps and review of this drama. It was one my favorite ones I watched this year, and it ranks very high in my all-time favorites list. It was simply beautiful in every sense – another fusion sageuk, but one with such exquisite directing that I was often left in awe and amazement. This was a manhwa adaption done right. Hwang In Roi succeeded here, where he failed with Goong. The emotions and longing between the characters permeated through the lens simply by the way a shot was framed.

I loved everything about this drama – the cinematography, score, action, writing, and acting. Jung Il Woo’s emotions shone even when all you could see was his eyes behind his black mask. Yoon Jin Seo suited the dual role of Iljimae’s two loves: his first love as a boy – Dal Yi, and his lifelong love as a man – Wol Hee. Jung Hye Young and Kim Min Jong were especially moving in their performances, as was the rest of the supporting cast. This one hero’s journey from a boy to a man during turbulent times should not be missed.

[And if anyone can direct me to where I can find the song that plays during Iljimae & Wol Hee’s reunion in Episode 8 (it’s not on the OST), I will be eternally grateful! 😀 ]


This was another family drama I enjoyed this year. It began in 2008 but aired more than half of its episodes in 2009. It had a lot of warmth and portrayed Korean Confucian values in a way that didn’t make me want to commit serious headdesking. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The family relationships were touching, and I found myself having many insightful discussions with my parents about our own family history. The romance between the two main characters, as well as the supporting couples, was beautiful to watch as the drama unfolded. After you’ve finished Assorted Gems, I’d recommend checking this one out as well.

Currently my favorite Wed/Thurs drama (at least, until Chuno begins). I’m not a Lee Junki fan, but I’m thoroughly enjoying this quirky little drama. Veteran actor Baek Yoon Shik is amazing as the former gangster, Jo Yong Deok (he’s also the father of actor Baek Do Bin). Yoon So Yi is well-cast as a female detective, and Uhm Ki Joon never disappoints (well, except when the writing in a drama is so, so bad that everything goes to hell in a hand basket *cough* Job [Not] Well Done *cough*)

A fun and funny cable drama about a group of misfit employees at a matchmaking agency. Lee Tae Sung (Enjoy Life) stars in this one, as well as contributing to the soundtrack. It has a lot of guest actors you may recognize from other dramas this year, including a few Hwarang warriors (for those of you Queen Seon Duk fans). My favorite episodes so far (I’ve only finished a little over half of the drama) have been episodes 7 and 8 – a gangster with certain..er, issues…when it come comes to women, and rich playboy who falls in love with a country school teacher. I plan on catching up with this drama as soon as I can.

For me, this drama was just okay overall – it started off fun but became quite draggy, especially after it was extended, and I just couldn’t feel for Kim Nam Joo’s character. She was irritating to the point of grating on my nerves. Oh Ji Ho was pretty vanilla, and Sun Woo Sun was…inoffensive, is the only word I can come up with. This was Yoon Sang Hyun’s breakout role, but I couldn’t get into the whole Ji Ae/Tae Joon dynamic. Besides, the title of the drama is Queen of “naejo” – naejo refers to a wife’s help/support/assistance to her husband, everything she does for the household and behind the scenes in order for her husband to succeed. For there even to be a possibility of a Ji Ae/Tae Joon pairing, they would have had to change the drama’s title. But the one bright star that emerged from this drama was the Lee Hye Young/Choi Chul Ho couple. Choi Chul Ho, known for sageuk (historical) and dramatic roles, gave the comic performance of his career. If I were to ever rewatch this drama, it would only be to fast-forward to his scenes.


Has the bar been raised too high? I don’t think so. I consider it a natural evolution of my drama-watching experience. I still love me my romances and light, entertaining fluff, but I’ve also come to appreciate greatness when it graces us with its elusive presence. I hope to find many more hidden (and, hopefully, some not so hidden) gems in 2010.


110 December 31, 2009April 6, 2017

2009 Editors’ Picks [Year in Review, Part 6]

by javabeans

Here we are! The last of the year-end review series.

This post is something new, but I thought it would be an interesting experiment. Although each of us reviewers has our personal favorites, which we outlined in our personal reviews, it’s a different thing to move past preference and try to be objective in a sort of Dramabeans Awards — hence, these Editors’ Picks.

We voted in rounds, first nominating all potential candidates, then narrowing them down to a small pool of finalists, then culling that to one or two picks. As a result, not all of us got picks that we may have personally felt were most fitting, but we all respected the process and the opinions that led us to these selections.


Queen Seon-deok OST – “아라로” (Araro) by I.U. [ Download ]

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I want to again give my thanks to the guest bloggers — Dahee Fanel, thunderbolt, Samsooki, and hjkomo — for making this year’s review series particularly rich and enjoyable. When I asked them to participate, I felt that they were knowledgeable enough to have written entertaining, informative posts right on the spot — but no, they wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than comprehensive preparation. I know that they all spent a tremendous part of the past month and a half diving back into the dramas they missed over the year in order to gain as wide a breadth of knowledge as they could. Not for entertainment, but to make sure their evaluations were as honest as they could be. When one person would rave about a particular drama or performance, often another reviewer would take the extra time to go back and revisit it to give it another chance, or to ensure it got as fair an appraisal as possible.

This was not an easy, or quick job — hours of watching, analyzing, and thinking may go into crafting a mere paragraph-long assessment. This review series took incredible effort on everyone’s part. I’m talking many dozens of hours, perhaps more than a hundred, and for very little material return. Could we all have done it quickly and easily? Absolutely. But each reviewer had a strong sense of integrity that required that kind of immersion.

That’s dedication that goes FAR above and beyond the call of duty — not that it’s duty, but rather the call of a favor. Your efforts are not lost on me, so I thank you guys. I also found our back-and-forth discussions eye-opening and exhilarating. I often learn a lot more from dissent than from unanimous opinions, which is why I find these reviews so enlightening.

On to the Editors’ Picks!

2009 Dramabeans Editors’ Picks



Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father

Samsooki: I feel like this drama is too important to ignore, too secret to share, too painful to watch and too funny to look away. Did I like it? No, not at all. It made me very uncomfortable and self-conscious. Unlike some descriptions, this drama isn’t so much of a black comedy as it is an indictment on the limited vision of 1950s Korea. It is an indictment on war, specifically on the darkness created by war that made it impossible to look beyond where the next stolen chicken meal would come from. That this drama makes us laugh isn’t because of the comedic aspects per se, so much as it is us laughing at tragedy. Still, the writing is what makes this so good, that and the superlative acting all around — Shim Eun Kyung is polished perfect and the rest of the cast are seasoned professionals. A worthy recommendation for those with the right perspective to watch and learn, or, watch and remember.

Other finalists: City Hall, Story of a Man



Hwang Jung-min, Accidental Couple aka That Fool

Dahee Fanel: Hwang Jung Min is one of those rare actors who are so good they can elevate the very productions they are a part of. It was evident that Hwang Jung Min’s joie de vivre infected everyone involved on the set of The Accidental Couple, and turned to (a semblance of) gold what should have been a terrible, terrible drama. The greatness of Hwang Jung Min’s performance lies in not some explosion of power and drama, but in the quiet moments that most people overlook, the subtle changes of expression, the incredible sincerity and heart that permeated every little movement. Everything he did in this drama was REAL. He’s a genius of sincerity.

Other finalists: Kim Kang-woo (Story of a Man), Lee Byung-heon (IRIS)



Go Hyun-jung, Queen Seon-deok

thunderbolt: One word to sum up Go Hyun-jung’s performance in Queen Seondeok? Jaw-dropping. At turns seductive and scary, she just eats up the screen, so commanding is her presence. If her Mishil is in a scene, you see only her and no one else, because her gaze alone can cast a spell on you. When she’s not in a scene, you immediately miss her because everything feels duller somehow. Playing her most demanding role yet, Go Hyun-jung’s acting is so exquisite she makes you root for her, despite yourself. Evil has never been so bewitching.

Other finalists: Shim Eun-kyung (Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father)



Baek Yoon-shik, Hero

javabeans: He plays a character with a shady past, but who at first glance looks like a calm old man who’s laughably behind the times. His ex-gangster character is an amusing fish out of water, but he doesn’t realize he’s funny, which is why he’s so funny. Yet Baek Yoon-shik the Actor IS fully aware of how funny the character is, and understands that he must not betray that he knows this secret and thus break the comedic spell. And that’s only half the story — he is also a man of deep pathos, whose movements carry weight even when he’s seemingly doing very little at all. He is an actor who creates truth in little details.

hjkomo: For instance, take a scene where his group has been beaten up and harassed. He dons a leather outfit with gloves, and the implication is that he’s off to go crack some heads, which he’s fully capable of doing… but he merely talks to the man. As the man’s former boss, he is intimidating, but he also has a calmness about him — and that’s even more intimidating. Watching him onscreen is just mesmerizing.

Other finalists: Choi Il-hwa (City Hall), Bae Soo-bin (Brilliant Legacy), Kim Seung-woo (IRIS)



Jung Yumi, Friend, Our Legend

Dahee Fanel: It’s funny how, with her rather small screen time in Friend, Our Legend, Jung Yumi nevertheless managed to shine in every scene she was given, bringing her fascinating character, Eun-ji, layers upon layers of complexity. From the boy-crazy little princess to the wounded, courageous young lady in love to the jaded, sharp and incredibly strong woman standing on her own two feet, she essayed each transformation with verve and charisma. Keep an eye out for her in future — she’s bound to go places.


Kim Young-ok, Assorted Gems

thunderbolt: Assorted Gems boasts one of the best-looking ensembles of the year, but it is one cantankerous granny wearing frumpy clothes and no make-up who steals the show. Not only is Kim Young-ok’s tongue sharp, the wheels in her head never stop turning. It’s as if her brain is a storehouse of barbs which she tosses out with the speed of a machine gun. Her words and body language will crack you up repeatedly, and you will find yourself rewinding scenes just to watch her again. So effortless is her acting and so perfect her comic timing she really deserves more than a supporting role.

Other finalists: Kim So-yeon (IRIS)



Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father

thunderbolt: Ensemble acting is like an orchestra. The best ones sell out their performances every time, the music transporting us to a magical world. All the players play their hearts out and every section in the orchestra shines. Such is the casting in Kyung Sook. From Jung Bo-seok to Shim Eun-kyung, from Jo Hee-bong to Park Gun-tae, whether lead or supporting, young or old, every actor feels exactly right for the role and no one sticks out or fades away for the wrong reasons. The acting is always assured and heartfelt; there is no discordant note or misstep. Is there any doubt then that we get a collective performance that’s unforgettable?

Other finalists: You’re Beautiful



Return of Iljimae, director Hwang In-roi

javabeans: Directing can be a difficult quality to pinpoint — acting and writing are noticeable traits that elicit immediate praise when done well, or criticism when done poorly. Directing is more elusive, because so much of what makes a drama work isn’t in one specific part but in the way the disparate elements are woven together (hopefully) seamlessly to create ambiance, feeling, emotion. Just as a puppetmaster is most effective when the strings aren’t seen, a drama’s director wants to draw the viewer into this world without betraying the construction of that world. Bad directing can muck up a great script, but great directing can elevate it to sublime proportions. In Return of Iljimae, the beauty of its visuals is nothing compared to the beauty of the emotion it stirs with its assured pacing and poignant storytelling. All this is the work of a director who orchestrates everything with technical mastery but whose true brilliance is in making everything feel so natural.

Other finalists: Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father; Friend Our Legend



Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father, scriptwriter Kim Hye-jung

Dahee Fanel: Brutally honest and naked in its depiction of the horrors of war, yet also looking at it all through a critical, razor-sharp lens of black humour, the script of Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father was always deeply riveting. There have been scores of depictions in film and television about the Korean War, but I wonder how many of them handled it with so much intelligence, as well as such a good understanding of family and human nature?

Other finalists: Story of a Man



You’re Beautiful

javabeans: Good comedy makes you laugh. Great comedy takes a fresh approach to a familiar situation and surprises the laugh out of you. Even when the Hong Sisters writing duo employ some hackneyed situations, they have a gift for finding unexpected ways out of them, making them not-quite-so-familiar after all. Characters are quirky but react in ways that are true to themselves, adding a dash of heart to the copious jokes, gags, parodies and satires. But not TOO much heart, lest we linger too long in those “dak-sal” moments — i.e., those saccharine, lovey-dovey beats that make you cringe. The drama knows when not to take itself too seriously — which is almost always — and just wants to whisk you away for a blissful, escapist ride. You’re Beautiful is situational comedy at its bright, zesty best.


Assorted Gems

thunderbolt: Whether it is the two grandmas competing to see who can impress a new tenant more, each disparaging the other’s homemade kimchi, or one of the grandmas wondering why her daughter-in-law had breast enhancement surgery when “it costs money, is painful and can kill,” this drama will make you laugh till your sides hurt. The humor isn’t laid on thick, one slapstick scene after another. Rather it is the repartees, the thinly-veiled sarcasm, what-if imaginary situations, and the little funny moments that make this one of the best comedies of the year.

Other finalists: Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father



Story of a Man, aka The Slingshot

Samsooki: All great dramas revolve around the idea of conflict, and more specifically, the concept that something (or someone) extraordinary happens upon a person, and now that person has to deal with that. Story of a Man fits this concept, as we have an extraordinary person (the evil incarnate Chae Do Woo) happening to an ordinary person (Shin). And Chae Do Woo might have messed with the wrong person when he ran over Shin… Even as much as the story is gripping, what makes this drama the most technically proficient k-drama I’ve ever seen is that the way the story is told, layer by layer. Characters are added at the right time, developed with great pacing and deliberateness. Revelations are not dropped randomly, but in a way that makes sense if you step back to see the big picture.

Not only does this take skill in writing and directing, but it requires skill in watching too! How many k-dramas require skill in watching? To sum up — story is gripping, the acting is brilliant. The writing and directing are superlative. And, the more you pay attention, the more you will get out of the drama. But don’t watch too close, Chae Do Woo might notice and come after you…



Return of Iljimae

javabeans: This was a fairly slim category, but don’t let that tidbit detract from the quality of this pick. Return of Iljimae is really a fusion historical series, and unlike most other (conventional) sageuks, it doesn’t center around the life of a great leader. It does weave in true historical context, although with its origins in a manhwa, Return of Iljimae isn’t about recreating real historical events so much as it uses them as touchstones around which the story is built. This is a drama that never faltered, that knew what it was the whole way through, and never betrayed itself (or us).

Other finalists: Queen Seon-deok



City Hall

Samsooki: Romance is a story about falling in love. And the best stories of love are ones that you can feel. City Hall‘s romance is about two adults sacrificing as much as they can, to be together, but running into the limitations of their own principles. Shin Mi Rae will not stop protecting the people she swore an oath to defend, even if it means destroying her one shot at love, and Jo Gook must do the impossible and find a way to save both Shin Mi Rae and her principles, even if it means tearing Shin Mi Rae’s heart to shreds. What makes this drama so special, even above what was just written, is that neither Jo Gook nor Shin Mi Rae could have survived the ordeal at the beginning of the drama. It is through their growth through the series that they grow strong enough to overcome the biggest odds. And guess what? You grow along with them.


Will It Snow for Christmas?

javabeans: This is old-fashioned romance played to the melodramatic hilt. A great romance not only makes you root for the couple to get together, it makes you feel the ups and downs with them as the characters fumble through their mating dance. To make the conflict credible but not tiresome, it’s got to make us desperately want the two to find happiness, but also understand the obstacles that lie in their way. Will It Snow For Christmas isn’t the most original drama ever, but as a romance it makes the longing palpable between Kang-jin and Ji-wan — aided in no small part by the smoldering Go Soo. In also building up a complicated obstacle fraught with emotions, our hearts tug along with them. (Caveat: This assessment only stands if the ending does not betray us fans!)

Other finalists: You’re Beautiful



The Sons of Sol Pharmacy

Samsooki: By definition, a family drama is something that you want to watch with your family. And generally speaking, your family will include people older and younger than you. That’s how wisdom is passed — from generation to generation, person to person. And that’s how family bonds are created. Coincidentally, or maybe not so coincidentally, that’s what Sons of Sol Pharmacy is — a set of stories about family bonds being created by wisdom being passed from family member to family member. Whether it is a happy event or a sad one, every moment of this drama is an opportunity for you to learn, or for you to teach. There is no greater praise for a family drama, and no greater family drama in 2009 than this one.


Assorted Gems

thunderbolt: At the end of the day, family is what matters. Not friends or neighbors or colleagues or even pets, although all are important. The families in Assorted Gems may not always behave like your average family (one sends its son away with a “You’re on your own for a year; don’t contact us” and the other tosses the parents out, luggage and all), but you know that when push comes to shove, each member is there for the rest. Watching the Gung children banter or the grandmas bicker, you feel like the two tenants in the drama. They arrived as strangers but are now part of the family, trading jokes and sharing stories, fighting over toilets and chasing after food burglars. There is so much warmth it fairly envelops you.

hjkomo: A family drama should be exactly about that — family relationships. And this one has the tremendous good fortune to be well-written and well-acted. Writer, Im Sung Han, surprises us with her avoidance of makjang histrionics and formulaic clichés. The characters and relationships are real, and the talented ensemble cast of both veterans and younger actors alike deliver heart-warming performances. Assorted Gems is truly the family gem of 2009.



Return of Iljimae

javabeans: The seasoned kdrama viewer by now is aware that a soundtrack, no matter how catchy in Episode 1, often wears on the nerves (and the ears!) by the time the drama is midway through. It’s no fault of the music, but inappropriate usage can be as grating as if the music were truly bad. Not only is Return of Iljimae‘s background score gorgeous, it is judiciously applied — the drama is lilting when it needs to be lilting, angry when it needs to be angry, and quiet when it needs to be quiet. The instrumental tracks are as lush and sweeping as the drama’s landscapes, and fit with the narrative’s emotional ups and downs perfectly.

Other finalists: You’re Beautiful



Go Hyun-jung, Queen Seon-deok

Samsooki: I think the best villains are the ones that you are able to grasp; they aren’t all-powerful and they aren’t totally inscrutable. A villain is someone against whom you have a real chance, a real hope of beating. Go Hyun-jung is the best villain of 2009 because she is closest person to the perfect villain as I have ever seen — strong, dignified, amoral, intelligent, and deliciously and even justifiably evil, while all the while, a flawed and beatable target. Go Hyun Jung was the person you want to be your arch-enemy, because while you know she will get her victories against you, ultimately, you have a shot at beating her if you are clever and strong enough. I know that many would say that Chae Do Woo is the perfect villain of 2009, but honestly, I’m not sure Chae Do Woo is beatable. And an unbeatable enemy isn’t a villain at all but a force of nature.


Kim Gab-soo, Partner and Hon

hjkomo: Kim Gab Soo is one of the rare few actors who can make you want hide under the nearest blanket – with his smile. Whether he’s creepily slurping up mangoes, channeling the devil incarnate while a live snake slithers around his neck, or fulfilling the adage – “Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely” – Kim Gab Soo instills spine-chilling fear in all who are misfortunate enough to cross his path.

Other finalists: Kim Kang-woo (Story of a Man), Kim Mi-sook (Brilliant Legacy)



Lee Min-jung, Smile You

Dahee Fanel: She’s been on the outskirts of stardom for a while now, quietly handing in strong performances, waiting for her moment to shine. And this year, it’s finally happened, with her star-making performance in the cultural phenomenon that was Boys Before Flowers, and now her first leading role in the popular weekend drama Smile, You. Lee Min-jung is one of those rarest of actresses, someone with all the makings of a star: A beautiful face, truckloads of talent, and bubbly screen presence. Most actresses have just one or the other of those things, but she has them all. This is one lady who deserves all of her success.


Lee Min-ho, Boys Before Flowers

javabeans: Lee Min-ho practically defines the term “breakout” — he appeared out of nowhere, turned in a splendid performance, and not only proved himself as a rising talent but damn near carried the show. His was a difficult character — moody, bullying, and at times violent — but on top of that, he already had a lot to live up to, with the previous performances of Jerry Yan and Matsumoto Jun still leaving their imprint upon fans’ minds and hearts. That he would be scrutinized and compared was a given; one false step and this could have spelled disaster. Instead of caving under the pressure, he dove into the role and made it his own. Lee Min-ho fever swept the whole nation and his newly acquired fans are eager to see if he can follow it up with another winner.



Smile, You (Jung Kyung-ho & Lee Min-jung)

thunderbolt: Both have been newly disappointed in love, but you can’t tell unless you watched this from the start. Seeing them now, it’s as if they have always been together. The way she gazes at him, you have no doubt she loves him completely. As for him, he has unfinished business that he must tend to, but from now on she will always come first. Theirs is the sweet flush of first love, looking and smiling shyly at each other as they walk hand-in-hand. Yet it also feels like an old couple’s relationship, where trust is unwavering, and where there’s comfort in just being under the same roof without having to talk or do the same things. When you see Jung Kyung-ho and Lee Min-jung together, you feel an unmistakable sense of joy and hopefulness.

Other finalists: City Hall (Cha Seung-won & Kim Sun-ah), You’re Beautiful (Jang Geun-seok & Park Shin-hye), Family Honor (Park Shi-hoo & Yoon Jung-hee)



Assorted Gems (Kim Young-ok, Jung Hye-sung)

hjkomo: First, there was Felix Unger and Oscar Madison. Then came John Gustafson and Max Goldman. Now, here comes the Korean halmoni version in Gyul Myung Ja and Baek Jo. The fabulous duo, Kim Young Ok (Gyul Myung Ja) and Jung Hye Sun (Baek Jo), are in-laws, neighbors, nemeses, and even best friends. They trade barbs as sharp-wittedly as their talented predecessors, engage in hilarious physical brawls, dress-up in clothes befitting Cinderella’s step-sisters, and shake their booties to Brown Eyed Girls’ Abracadabra. Every scene they’re in is pure comedy at its side-splitting finest.

Other finalists: Accidental Couple (Hwang Jung-min & Baek Sung-hyun)



Kim Ji-seok, 2009 Hometown of Legends

thunderbolt: A vampire who’s a one-man freak show. A vampire who bares his fangs and flashes his speckled talons, whether a scene warrants that display or not. This vampire hisses like a snake, roars like a lion, and prances about like a drunk chimpanzee. Hear how Kim Ji-seok moans and you would think he’s having sex instead of enjoying yet another bloody meal. A teardrop is studied with such intensity his eyes are about to exit their sockets. His hunters pursue him, not because he’s a vampire, but because he’s an annoying show-off. Hands down the most hysterical acting of the year.

Other finalists: Gu Hye-sun (Boys Before Flowers)



Oh Man-seok, Everybody Cha Cha Cha

Dahee Fanel: Oh Man Seok is easily one of the most talented young actors in Korea, which he’s proven again and again through roles like the gentle monk who slowly goes berserk in Shin Don, to the prickly farmer in Vineyard Man, to the ever-suffering and deeply loyal eunuch in The King and I. He deserves some of the best and meatiest roles, and yet instead, he’s getting roles like…this. I don’t think anyone who watches or has seen Everybody Cha Cha Cha thinks that it is even close to being a good drama, and nor do they expect it to be, what with its daily drama trappings. But it’s supremely frustrating to see Oh Man Seok’s talent be wasted in uttering the same lines and recycling the same scenes over and over. He does the best he can with the extremely little he’s given, but anyone who is a fan will feel that he’s been cheated. Let’s hope he snags a meatier role next time.


Lee Jung-jae, Triple

javabeans: As a result of cultivating a career mostly in movies (such as An Affair, Il Mare, Oh Brothers, Typhoon), Lee Jung-jae possesses a charisma and gravitas that many television actors lack. Blessed with a talent for infusing his characters with sincerity, this is a man who knows the power of restraint — his characters simmer with intensity below the surface, but don’t feel the need to act OUT to get their point across. Granted, everyone in Triple was underutilized — a hazard of its scattered plot — but the worst travesty was seeing Lee Jung-jae relegated to the side and not given a chance to do… much at all. But whenever he found an opening, he grabbed it and made the most of the brief moment, bringing an emotional groundedness to his Hwal character.

Other finalists: Uhm Ki-joon (Job Well Done)



Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father

Dahee Fanel: Every year some dramas will quietly broadcast and then quietly fade away, never having really succeeded at gaining public recognition. Some of these dramas are fiercely loved and respected by a core group of loyal followers, making their existence not quite so futile as it may at first seem. Yet it is undoubtedly true that, for many of these fans, there is regret that they did not gain as much popularity and notice as they may perhaps deserve. Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father was one of the biggest examples of this sense of underrecognition this year, but I’m glad that, here at least, it gets its little moment to shine. For some, this is a drama that never even existed. But for me, it will remain in my memory for years to come, shining like a beacon of hope.

Other finalists: Assorted Gems, Return of Iljimae, Story of a Man, Tamra the Island



Boys Before Flowers

javabeans: Never have I enjoyed a show that needed so many qualifiers when explaining to others. It’s fun — but doesn’t make sense. It’s well-acted — except for half the cast. It’s good-hearted — except when people enjoy random acts of cruelty. It’s super-fun and fast to watch — until it screeches to an angsty halt in the middle. It has a catchy soundtrack — but omygod is that Almost Paradiiiiiiiise for the thousandth time? This is a schizoid show of contradictions, and no doubt it has an infectious draw… but it was so riddled with problems that it feels like it didn’t deserve, or at least earn, its immense success. It’s lucky for Boys Before Flowers that fans were generous with its many flaws. I don’t mean that this drama has no appeal, rather that the strength of the viewers’ response far outweighs its quality, and that extreme unbalance makes this my pick for most overrated.

Other finalists: Queen Seon-deok, IRIS



Wife’s Temptation

Samsooki: “Worst” can mean many things. In the drama-context, it can mean simply, the least interesting or the most boring. Or it can mean the least watchable. For me, “worst” means the most likely to be to your detriment to watch. Wife’s Temptation might be addictive for those who are caught up in the revenge game, but it will not add a single useful thing to your life. You will not learn anything, you will not gain wisdom. All that will happen is that you will have overstimulated the revenge seeking part of your brain for an extended period of time. Still, if you have no use for your brain or for improving yourself, then Wife’s Temptation isn’t a bad way to kill a few weeks of your life. Perhaps the best analogy is that watching this drama is like going on an extended alcoholic bender where the only end result is that your brain and liver are damaged. In a nation known for its high per capita consumption of scotch, it is small wonder that Wife’s Temptation was a juggernaught ratings monster.

Other finalists: Again My Love, Heading to the Ground, My Fair Lady