A Year in Review: The Good, The Bad, and The Meh of 2011

My second year writing a year-end review! I hope to cover as many dramas as I can, although not all series will end by December 31. I will admit that half the dramas on this list will appear in my Dramabeans year-end review, so there will be some redundancies. But I hope you enjoy it nevertheless!

This year it was really hard to write the review. I kept going back and re-editing because I really wanted to say something substantial about the dramas that I saw. This year I became a truly picky watcher, rather than consuming everything like I usually do. Therefore I wanted to spend some more time defending why I chose to watch the dramas that I watched. I will say that there are a few that ended up on the chopping block and will be in this review, i.e. Lie To Me, Queen of Reversals, A Thousand Days’ Promise, Greatest Love, Spy Myung Wol, and even The Princess’ Man suffering the sad fate of the guillotine. (I might resuscitate The Princess’ Man for the winter break, but it won’t make it to this year end review.)

Well. Here goes! And yes – there WILL be spoilers for all reviews, so read at your own risk.

BEST:

Sign

This drama, hands down, is my pick for best drama of the year from what I’ve seen and completed. I have heard of how great The Duo is, the awesomeness of Dream High, the amazing crack of City Hunter (which by the way, for City Hunter, is TOTALLY true), etc. But this drama is A-MAZING. I think the only other drama that’s almost tied for this spot on my list (or creeping up there) is City Hunter.

Park Shin Yang was over the top in the beginning; Kim Ah Joong looked a little too perky as a forensic scientist; Uhm Ji Won was so severe as a prosecutor; Jung Gyu Woon was so lovable. But they all blended quite well and got comfortable in their characters as the series progressed. Plus, the creatives behind it were so strong! (They wrote Harvest Villa, which is another awesome drama.) Sign was a bit new for Korean dramas because it’s a procedural, but it worked quite well because each case helped develop the characters, raise the stakes and tensions, and culminated in a final showdown over the case that started it all: the death of an idol singer. I thought that that case was going to be dragged out for all 20 episodes, but thankfully it wasn’t. When it finally took up the final 4-6 episodes, I didn’t even think it was dragging down the drama. You just wanted Park Shin Yang’s Yoon Ji Hoon to succeed. You wanted to slap that frozen fake smile off Hwang Sun Hee’s face. (By the way – one of the best villain casting ever. And I like her in City Hunter too.) You wanted him to beat Jun Kwang Ryul and defeat all corrupt politicians. And most importantly – you wanted them to find one piece of evidence that wouldn’t be burned, lost, or destroyed!!! I mean – how frustrating was it that the good guys just couldn’t win!? Yoo Ji Hoon could have been a genius scientist, but it didn’t matter – his brain always lost out to sheer human manipulation and greed.

This drama also had some of the best cameos. I love that procedural dramas allow amazing actors to guest star for 1-2 episodes; you can get these actors for such a short time and they can have a nice impact to your story. Case in point: Kim Sung Oh‘s episodes. Best maniacal, deranged son ever.

49 Days

So you go from one melodramatic thriller to… a melodrama. It’s not really a drama I would have watched based on my interests this year, but it had an awesome cast, intricate plot, and interesting twists and turns. And – it was So! Hyun! Kyung! I’ll probably watch any drama written by that woman. This is a favorite, though not up there like Prosecutor Princess. Nevertheless, I like how she interweaves everything, even if it makes the world insanely small for her characters.

The one thing I will fault upon this drama is how the plot points unravel so quickly rather than being plotted out throughout the episodes. At times, it felt like everything culminates so quickly and is solved so quickly that each week we get another bombshell. I appreciate the fast pace, but I also wish So Hyun Kyung could pace out the hints a little better. For one thing – the twist about Lee Yo Won and Nam Gyu Ri being sisters was so sudden that I had a mental whiplash. Why drop all the evidence for that fact in the last two episodes, when you could have hinted at it all throughout, and made us eager in anticipation for everyone to figure it out? Admittedly, it was teased earlier with the mother’s outburst of “losing another child,” but then the topic was dropped for the next, oh, 10 episodes. I hate to compare, but the way the birth secret in City Hunter played out for Lee Yoon Sung was better; it may have happened suddenly at the end, but it was played out thoroughly and in a more effective way for the remaining 3-4 episodes.

I enjoyed the acting – particularly from Bae Soo Bin, Jung Il Woo, Lee Yo Won, and Bae Geu RinJo Hyun Jae was the straight-up nice guy, which can be a bit boring. I am so happy that there’s a hint he may end up with Ji Hyun, as I always thought Jo Hyun Jae had more chemistry with Lee Yo Won even though he was supposed to be in love with Nam Gyu Ri. Jung Il Woo was a hoot to watch; he made death cool, and I don’t think I’ll ever say that sentence again. Lee Yo Won was earnest in her role, and it hearkened back to the earlier episodes of Queen Seon Deok, when she’s still pretending to be a boy and hasn’t been discovered as a princess yet. I think in a weird way, she encapsulated the role of Ji Hyun better than Nam Gyu Ri. Bae Soo Bin was consistently great as usual, and Bae Geu Rin – I only wish there were more scenes of her bitching at Shin In Jung.

This drama was my melodrama-romance crack of the year. Solid, kind of forgettable, but poignant still. The ending though, doesn’t beat Sign‘s.

I Need Romance

Short version: Best. Romantic Comedy. Ever.

Long version: OK maybe I should explain why this drama is so great. I think this was a drama that most deserved to be compared to Sex and the City, and yet I’m also proud to say, it is not like Sex and the City. This drama was all about friendship and love, and growing up to understand what love is. For In Young (Jo Yeo Jung), she learned that love is both painful and sweet. Though she forgave Sung Soo (the ever charming Kim Jeong Hoon) for cheating on her and went back to him, I can see why: the two of them have such a strong foundation that they’re constantly growing and learning about each other.

For innocent Hyun Joo, she learns that love isn’t like a fairy tale or like in the books; love is messy and imperfect, but real. You can’t choose who you love – you just do. (Just for the record though, Duk Soo is one damn fine tall drink of water, so despite his poor background and “unclean habits,” he’s pretty perfect for me.) And for the woman-on-the-prowl Seo Yeon, she learns the hard way that love isn’t something to be treated so carelessly. It’s about give and take, and she’s always “taking.” I’m glad she ends up with no one, because for someone who spouts so much wisdom about the dating habits of men and women, and has all this knowledge about sex, she is the most immature about it. She needs to appreciate herself and men before she can end up with anyone.

There could be comparisons to The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry, but I think I Need Romance is superior. In WWSWTM, what made things enjoyable was the storyline and intertwining relationships. Girl loves younger boy. Her ex loves her younger boy’s mother. Her best friend is innocent about love and ends up in a less-than-perfect marriage because she’s all about the ideal. Her other best friend is the perfect, cool sophisticate. Their situations are interesting; the characters aren’t as much. In I Need Romance, it’s the opposite. I think their situations are kind of banal: they’re either dating, flirting, or taking revenge on a cheater. Simple events – but what makes them unique is how each one responds to it. It’s their characters that make the situations unique. Because Hyun Joo is so intent on finding the perfect man, she must make moves by the book, and every romance must have the “bells ringing and waves crashing against the rocks” feeling. Uhm Ji Won‘s Jung Da Jung is also intent on finding the perfect man, but she just pounces on the first guy that fits her specifications. Similar situations, two very different reactions to it – and the characters’ reactions are what counts. It’s how we learn more about the characters, and feel an affinity to (or hate) them; and I believe that if you can hold a certain emotion towards a character – whether it be positive or negative – it’s good for the drama and the actor involved.

Another thing I liked about this drama was that we got a good taste of how the men feel – most particularly Sung Soo and Sung Hyun. Both had their merits, and both had their flaws, and I think because they both weren’t really the right fit for In Young, that made the competition even more interesting. Don’t tell me that Sung Hyun was perfect in every way; I think that he was still a bit too selfish and possessive over In Young, and me no likey. For our female lead in WWSTWTM, Kim Bum was perfect, and Lee Pil Mo was incredibly flawed (though only he showed more depth and some change throughout the course of the series).

City Hunter:

Wow was this drama crack-tastic. And I think I can safely say that because I was addicted to it after all the hype about it was over during its run in May. People may say that this drama was overrated (I think Greatest Love deserves that title more), but I think that if you couldn’t get invested in the action and the revenge, you weren’t going to like it after all.

Sure it has its cheesy moments, and some plot holes. I definitely disliked how everything seemed too convenient for our hero to solve. But the underlying theme of revenge, and the constant conflict of which path of revenge is better, was what sucked me in. It also helped that this drama had great cliffhangers. I loved the tension between the characters, especially between Bad Daddy and Yoon Sung, because that was a bigger conflict than that of Yoon Sung and the corrupt politicians. Every time they tried to bring down the politicians, the father and son had to outwit and fight each other first. I was insanely excited at the prospect of two people who should be on the same side constantly battling each other.

I am also in love with the cinematography and directing. I think that’s what sold it for me here. If the writing was full of plot holes (of which I don’t remember because I just glossed over it), the directing and camera-work tied the drama together. It brought out the best performances of its younger actors (the veterans were just their reliable good selves), and it choreographed some of the best action scenes ever. I don’t think I can express how much love I have for it any more, after having written an exhausting review already.

Tree With Deep Roots:

Don’t get me wrong – I love this drama. The thing is, I do think it flagged a little bit for me after a while, because the character of Jung Gi Joon was seriously getting on my nerves.

I rarely watch historical dramas. In fact, this is my first historical for the year. Perhaps you may say that I’m very biased towards this drama since I have nothing else to compare it to, but I really do like this drama. It has mystery, comedy, action, conspiracy, and Han Suk Gyu.

Yes – Han Suk Gyu is a category all on his own. He’s brilliant as King Sejong, being both fierce and timid, serious and comedic, all at the same time. He’s eager, and yet reticent – unwilling to share all of his secrets at once. He’s both wise and foolish, wanting to tread carefully and yet also being quite daring and risking his life for certain beliefs. Sejong doesn’t want to be like his father, and yet he cannot deny that he is his father’s son. Rather than bloodshed, he wages a mental war against his enemies. I love that he’s thoroughly good, but has questionable motives at times. I think Song Joong Ki helped establish the character, and Han Suk Gyu just let the character blossom. I love him.

And then you have your dash of comedy in Jang Hyuk‘s portrayal of jokey Kang Chae Yun in the beginning, in his friendship with his two officer buddies, and in Sejong’s friendship with Mu Hyul. Also, Sejong in this drama is such a prankster – he seriously likes to tease his court ladies and officials. I really enjoy that this drama is serious, but you never feel bogged down because the characters aren’t all crying “Woe is me!” Rather, with their dialogue you feel like you are constantly discovering new things – whether it be about the history of Joseon Dynasty or something new about how the characters logically think. And that, for me, is what makes this particular drama adventure so fun.

Now as for the mystery. Once the mystery unraveled to be that Sejong was creating the alphabet, I thought I was going to think, “That’s it?” I mean, people killing each other over an alphabet?! But this drama helps emphasize that there are so many cultural and political repercussions to creating a new alphabet, and the opponents were threatening enough that you just wanted Team Sejong to win in the end. The noblemen are such elitists, and yet their logic is correct too. They have such a single-minded, narrow view of the world, unwilling to think that universal literacy might actually be better for all, and wanting to keep the power to themselves. It’s such a deep and resonating conflict: when everything you know is turned upside down, do you trust in the change to eventually make things better, or do you resist and do all your best to stop it?

This deep conflict, plus the way King Sejong outsmarts and maneuvers everyone is what made it so engaging for me.

Vampire Prosecutor:

Yeon Jung Hoon – you kill me with your wonderful guyliner! Seriously dude – what brand do you use? And how do you put it on? Is it gel? or kohl? or cream? Do you use black or brown eyeliner on the bottom? And also, do you curl your lashes a bit, or leave it sticking out straight?

OK – aside from the pretty, I really enjoy this drama. It’s similar to Sign, and once again we have a procedural drama with an overarching mystery – who turned Min Tae Yeon into a vampire, and killed his sister? The thing is, the story is a little less connected than Sign, and a little more… shall I say, American, in its execution. The reason I say this is because in an American procedural drama, it’s all about the case at hand. You get glimpses of the character and some outside-of-the-case development that amount to maybe 15 minutes of total show time, unless the case has to do with a particular character. Case in point (har har): episode 9, where Yoo Jung In’s father becomes a suspect. In Sign, there was more about character development and trying to solve the overarching case while solving the case at hand.

The plots for every episode are usually well done, and I particularly enjoy the little twist that occurs with each case. Not everything is what you think it is – and it’s the same for the characters involved. I love that Prosecutor Min and Detective Hwang have such a great bromance going on, and that there is at least one person on his team who knows Tae Yeon’s identity as a vampire. It allows for more jokes about it, but also there is someone who understands the great danger of having a vampire walk and work among humans. As for Jung In, she’s got quite a messed up and dark past, which goes against her righteous personality and go-for-it attitude. I sometimes think Lee Young Ah is a little miscast for her role, only because she looks like a little kid next to her costars, but I can’t deny that she acts “spunky” well.

As it neared its end, this drama made me feel sadder that there were so few episodes left, and all I wanted was moar! I wanted more bromance, more of Tae Yeon going out of control in front of his coworkers, more secrets revealed about his relationship with the Chief, more clues towards who turned him into a vampire – just more! I think it’s great that this drama doesn’t need cliffhangers to make me want to tune in every week, because it has set up solid characters that I just want to see clash every week. Plus, the cases are interesting.

Also – cool cameos! Jang Young Nam and even Kim Hyun Sung (Sang Won in the Musical)! Season 2 – come faster!

WORST:

Paradise Ranch

Omigod. Was it a train wreck or what? I absolutely despised this drama. If this drama was supposed to be Max Changmin’s debut vehicle, it just shows how terrible he is as a leading man. He redeemed himself only slightly in Athena, because his character was pretty straightforward; he didn’t “sell it” as a genius spy/computer whiz/bomb extraordinaire, but it’s OK – I wasn’t expecting him to. I feel terrible for Joo Sang Wook, who had to mar his resume with this drama, and I was unimpressed with Lee Yeon Hee considering this is the first drama I ever saw of her. Yoo Ha Na was also quite forgettable, though in hindsight I think her character reminds me a little of Lee Da Hee in Birdie Buddy. She was complicated and really wanted her love to work, but the writing of her character was too shallow. At least Lee Da Hee’s character was developed more fully.

In 16 episodes, we went through all the ups and downs of a “first love” romance – Changmin and Lee Yeon Hee were together; they divorced; they bickered; they dated other people while feeling jealous; they got together; they separated again; and they got together FINALLY. I mean, seriously?! And the most interesting part of their relationship was their divorce, but I never got a full understanding of why they had to divorce. It was always teased and referenced, and then when it was spelled out, I thought – “That’s it?” I don’t even remember what it was… *goes to look it up. pauses. turns back to post* Sorry – I don’t even care enough to find out.

The writing was off-kilter, and too expositional for me. I like it when stories are shown, not told, to me. Makes it more interesting. Throw me another flashback – as long as it tells me new information or adds a solid emotional beat.

One of the worst dramas of the year – and a bad omen for pre-produced dramas. Even the bright horses couldn’t save the drama for me.

Greatest Love

Pro: It had Cha Seung Won playing totally against type.

Cons: It had Cha Seung Won, playing totally against type. The story. The execution. The mind-numbing ridiculousness of it.

OK – you may argue, “How could you not like the Hong Sisters?! They’re so funny! And punny! And witty!” or “If you loved You’re Beautiful, how could you hate this one?” Two things – I think the Hong Sisters are becoming a bit overrated. Back in the day, they were funny, but without being overly saccharine and ridiculous. I look at My Girl as an example.

I could not sit through Greatest Love, and I dropped it after episode 10. To which you may then say, “How could you give a review for something you didn’t finish!?” But that’s exactly my point – it was so bad that I couldn’t finish it. I’m not saying this will be a review of the entire series now, but it’s certainly a review of what I have seen, and why I think this drama is not as good as I think it could have or should have been. This drama was an example of a cast that was all wrong for the script. If you’re going to change your characters to an older set just so you don’t get slapped with a plagiarism label, then change your script to accommodate the older characters! You want me to believe a 30+ year old man who looks 40 does not know love?! And it’s not like he’s a chaebol abandoned at birth with mommy/daddy issues. He just had a heart transplant!

Hmm… after I wrote that sentence, it’s kind of funny – he forgot love because he had a heart transplant… his heart was transplanted somewhere else… har har… OK I’ll stop.

Cha Seung Won actually disappointed me. He was best during the quiet moments as he watched Gong Hyo Jin from afar, slowly falling in love with her. Whenever he saved her with his cool, movie star grace, he was great. The moment he was alone in his house, he just became insane.

Yes, the idea may be good (I don’t see it, but OK), but the actors are part of a drama too. And if I can’t believe in the actors, then I can’t believe the story. And then I can’t believe the drama.

Note, I’m not saying the Hong Sisters are terrible. They’re getting a little old with their familiar set-ups and their predictable story arcs. Also – metaphors are great, but not always necessary to create a “layered” story or to avoid cheesy lines. You can have cheesy lines – as long as their delivered well, so have some faith in your actors too! This drama is like the opposite of Athena – where Athena wasted good actors with a bad script, this drama had a potentially good script wasted on actors totally wrong for the part. Because the whole project wasn’t gelling (and I will protest against the soundtrack and silly sound effects), I don’t think this drama is as good as it could have been, and therefore lost my attention quickly. But hey! I stuck with it much longer than I did with My Girlfriend is a Gumiho!

Spy Myung Wol

The hate parade continues with Spy Myung Wol. Admittedly the actors here were a better fit for their roles. Eric had an interesting character that didn’t get interesting for me fast enough, Jang Hee Jin was the most annoying, vacuous side character I had ever seen in my life, Han Ye Seul was bland and soulless, and Lee Jin Wook always looked pained. But they somehow made it work.

I think the behind-the-scenes controversies were FAR MORE intriguing than the actual storyline. I watched this drama a little out of order – episodes 3 and 4 first before going back to watch episode 1 and 2. Perhaps because I saw it out of order, it colored my view of the drama, because I think the first two episodes were more entertaining than the next two, but I had seen the “boring episodes” first. I usually get excited with makeover-story lines or someone pretending to be someone they’re not, but in Spy Myung Wol, I couldn’t really care. I want to blame both Han Ye Seul and the script for this, because neither made me interested in her or her mission.

And since I didn’t care for her mission or her character, I didn’t care about the drama. And since I didn’t care about the drama, I stopped watching after episode 5 or 6. After three weeks, it left me unimpressed – so much so that in between episodes, I would forget what happened.

Ta-ta to the guillotine for you!

MEH:

 

(equivalent to HMMM in my Dramabeans review)

Heartstrings

This was my cotton candy for the year. It was a shallow, mindless brain fluff, full of beautiful shots and pretty people to look at all day long. I actually enjoyed this drama (except for the last two episodes), so don’t take my words to be sarcastic. It was also directed by Pyo Min Soo, so what’s there not to like?! (He’s doing Flower Boy Ramen Shop too, and I like that one too.) I think after a heady first half of the year with more “serious” dramas, I was ready for a break when this drama came along.

First off, I loved the tone and the feel of the drama. It was marketed as a “fresh, youthful summer drama,” and it certainly was. I liked that it was laid back, and it wasn’t trying to stuff “STORY” down your throat. You knew there was going to be a musical. You knew that Park Shin Hye was the dark horse, and that Woori was the stuck up diva. You knew that Jung Yong Hwa was going to get over his crush on So Yi Hyun, and that she was going to end up with Song Chang Ui. So it was predictable. All you were watching really was how the romance developed, and how Lee Kyu Won grew a spine and decided that she wanted to try musicals and singing Western music rather than be stuck with traditional Korean folk music all her life. Secondly, I enjoyed the actors – especially Song Chang Ui. Who can forget the bromance between Ki Young and Soo Myung? Or what about little sister Jung Hyun and Grandpa? Or lovable Tae Joon? Just from watching the actors together, it was clear that they all had good chemistry off-screen, and were all good friends, and that helps make the drama feel more intimate and also fun looking. It’s like I wanted to join them in that green, sunny campus.

I was fairly disappointed with the drama by the latter half. First off, we were constantly teased at snippets of the musical’s songs, and so I was really expectant of the final performance. However, when they finally did perform, not only did Kyu Won gallantly give up her spot for Hee Joo, but those songs were all we ever saw!!! They danced more numbers, but I wish they sang more songs too. And as much as Lee Hyun Jin‘s abs were salacious, I’ll never understand why he decided to rip his shirt off in the middle of the musical.

Perhaps, I should just not try to understand.

I do feel bad that this drama was the victim of the live-shooting system, with Park Shin Hye’s injury causing the drama to get postponed a day, and thus shortened by one episode. However, with less episodes, this series had the opportunity to provide a tighter, faster-paced narrative. And it did well… perhaps too well, because by the last episode, we went from “Wrist Injury Conflict” to “Noble Idiocy” to “Break Up and Unnecessary Angst” to “Skip Forward in Time” to “More Angst, with a Side of Comic Relief” (coming from the other characters), and then “Happy Ending.” Emotional whiplash if I ever saw one. I look at the last two episodes as extra icing, of which I scrape off and keep to the side, while I would eat the rest of the cake over and over again.

Romance Town

Starring my other sweetie-pie-honey-buns Jung Gyu Woon! I had very little expectations going into this drama, and it had the most low key first episode ever. Then again, the writer of this drama did Pasta. It had a similar tone going for it – slice of life, more about the dialogue than the action, the characters than the plot. Like I said before, a bumpy ride – but hey, what life isn’t?

To be frank, approximately the first 10 episodes were far more enjoyable for me. We had glimpses into everyone’s lives on First Street, and we dabbled in both the issues of money, social hierarchy, and romance. OK – maybe we got a heavy-handed dose of power, greed, and corruption – which totally sucked – but it wasn’t like it came out of nowhere. Rich people ending up poor, and therefore doing anything they can to be rich again? Of course. Maids with nothing and impoverished backgrounds wanting to keep the money to themselves? Understandable. Wanting to spend all the money herself out of revenge? I get it. Learning how to play fair? Such a bitter pill to swallow – but thankfully done.

We knew these characters were going to get greedy and dark. While it was painful to watch the money/lottery ticket trade hands a gazillion times (The money’s all mine! No it’s not! 50-50? Split it five ways! No, four ways! Whatever, I’m taking the money!), the best part about this series was the character development. My favorite was the kind gangster Hwang Yong, played by the awesome Jo Sung Ha. How can you not like a loan shark who gives you candy and love advice?!

This was also my first Sung Yuri drama. I saw glimpses of her here and there, but this is the first drama I watched her fully in. I actually liked her here. She probably fit the character very well, and I’m really glad she wasn’t one of those silently-suffering types. When she got frustrated, she got really frustrated, and you could share her pain. Jung Gyu Woon has had more impressive roles than this one; as for Kim Min Joon? Friggin’ awesome. He just exudes “cool” – even if he acts idiotic sometimes.

The story was fairly straightforward, with little tangents, which made it easy to remember. (The grandmother-getting-sick storyline was soooo cliched and unnecessary, and it was the only tangent that made little sense in the drama.) The characters were unforgettable. But the number of episodes? A bit too long. It would have done better as a 16-18 episode drama.

Athena

(I was going to put it under the ‘Worst’ category, but felt it was a little unfair considering I had initially liked the drama, but grew disenchanted with it afterwards.)

Technically, it began in December, but I’ll review this one anyways. Honestly, I liked it initially. I definitely like(d) it more than IRIS, so that’s something. However, it was tedious to rewatch and recap it; my method is always watch the episode first, then watch it again for recap purposes. The first time around, I was invested, I was excited, and I was interested. The second time around, I was blah…

The nature of an action/spy drama is that it should always thrill you in some way. Once you figure out the mystery, then it’s no longer fun because you know exactly what is going to happen. For Athena, it felt like a rehash of IRIS except it was cobbled together so messily that you knew exactly what was going to happen. Someone in the Blue House is going to betray the president again. Someone is going to die. Of course, the main spy falls so deeply in love with the main girl, and you won’t understand why.

The side characters were more fun to watch (*cough*Kim Min Jong*cough*) because they could afford to be wacky, and less angsty than Jung Woo Sung. I feel bad for the main characters because they had to deal with a script below their acting potential. Jung, Cha Seung Won, and Su Ae could do so much more, and yet they were limited by the script. So not fun. The best episodes were the Italy mission (even though it was disappointingly a dream sequence) and Kim So Yeon‘s episodes. She brought a layer of mystery and complexity that was missing in the drama.

Someone – PLEASE give Kim So Yeon her own spy drama! And have Kim Min Jong as her sidekick!

Birdie Buddy

It’s a shame this drama was not picked up earlier. It was actually a good drama – one that focused on characters and had one plot that stayed consistent throughout. In a way it’s similar to Romance Town, but it was certainly easier to watch. I think the one benefit it had for going cable was that it had shorter episodes, but a longer series (with 24 episodes). The pace of the drama was fast (despite the weird episode endings at times), and the characters were given a chance to grow, to understand, and evolve. In one series you get all the K-drama cliches packaged into a neat box: the Cinderella Story, the Training Days of an Amateur, the Melodrama of Rivalry, the Separation of Lovers, the Falling in Love for the First Time, the Family Drama, and even Death!

I have to give major kudos to UEE – I think that she showed more of her acting range here than she did in You’re Beautiful. She was good in that drama too, but she’s better here. I think it’s because it’s a little easy to play someone so catty, whereas here, she plays a cheerful, diligent golfer, but with enough range to know that she can do melodrama. I mean – her scenes when she found out her mentor died? I felt sad, but she made me feel worse. (Speaking of her mentor Fabian – he was such a hoot. He was a rare non-Korean actor speaking in Korean who actually acted well in a drama.)

The other characters – Hae Ryung (Lee Da Hee) and Jung Woo (Lee Yong Woo) were well written as well. Hae Ryung had deep-seated issues, and I think she was one of the better developed characters. She was hateful, annoying, and bratty, but she grew up in stages. She first accepted her mother, then accepted her mother’s secretary as a possible stepfather, then accepted that her love with Jung Woo was not meant to be, and finally accepted her friendship with Mi Soo. As much as I hated her character by the end of the series, I grudgingly admit that she was a good second female lead character. The one thing I do not like was how she ended up with Jung Woo in the last episode. I wholeheartedly believe that Lee Yong Woo just has better chemistry with UEE and that the way the plot developed, it supported a Mi Soo-Jung Woo pairing more than a Hae Ryung-Jung Woo pairing. We see more of Jung Woo and Mi Soo growing to like each other and work together, and that for me is so much more substantial than a couple kisses here and there. Anyways – this romantic resolution is my one gripe with this drama.

But I really enjoyed this drama, and if you want a series to check in every so often and watch leisurely, I think this is it.

The Musical

I didn’t expect to like this drama at all, mainly because I was more familiar with the fan wars about the actors rather than the actors themselves (“Gu Hye Sun is awesome!” “Gu Hye Sun can’t act!” “What do you know, hater?!”). I had seen glimpses of Daniel Choi in High Kick Through the RoofGu Hye Sun in Pure 19, and Park Ki Woong in Story of a Man. So why bother watching? Also, I was more excited for What’s Up…but because that drama didn’t air soon enough, I watched The Musical instead.

The first episode had me hook, line, and sinker – and it was mainly because of the infusion of well-known Korean musical numbers, and actresses like Hong Ji Min and Ock Joo Hyun. Also, Gu Hye Sun was just such a bad singer – so I really wanted to know how she improved. Her journey for the first 8 episodes or so were quite fun to watch – she was in the middle of a tug-of-war between Jae Hee and Kang Hee that was riddled with so many deep-seated issues. She was also the object of Jae Hee’s undying love and enthusiasm. And she improved as a singer, gaining Yoo Jin’s respect along the way.

But somehow, I feel like the drama got lost in the middle. It had started out so strongly, focusing on a woman’s dream to be in a musical, and showing the process of rehearsing, overcoming financial obstacles, and putting the musical onstage. But now the drama is focusing so much on the angst – on Eun Bi falling apart because she can’t be with the man she loves due to her own fears of losing him at the end of the musical. On Jae Hee moping about Eun Bi, but respecting her wishes to stay away. Though this angst may be necessary for the characters, to me, I just yell at the screen and go, “Just get together already! You’re both being stupid!” But of course, no K-drama is that easy. The broadcast delays also didn’t help since this drama airs only once a week; with each delay, you forget a little bit more about the last episode.

The only character – and reason – I was interested to watch each week was Yoo Jin. He started off as cold and calculating, but not completely inflexible. He’s become a warmer character with Eun Bi’s presence, and I think he didn’t mean to. I think he only became nicer towards her because she confronted him about it, and he was in denial that he could really be that mean – but being nice to her ended up paying off anyways. I do feel quite bad that he’s hurting his long-time girlfriend Ra Kyung in the process, so it’s a good thing they finally broke up.

It’s disappointing this drama didn’t finish production earlier (to get the story straightened out), because it truly suffered from uneven writing. It’s not as exciting as it used to be, and I no longer care about the fate of the actors in this musical.

Flower Boy Ramen Shop

Is anyone surprised this isn’t in the “Good” category?

It’s not that I hated this drama; on the contrary I truly enjoyed it. It made me laugh and cringe along with all the characters. The thing is, it’s very much like Heartstrings – and should that even be a surprise? It’s directed by the same guy – Pyo Min Soo. It’s nice and sweet – but altogether forgettable. I give absolute kudos to the flower boys – Jung Il Woo is awesome as a spoiled brat, Lee Ki Woo just makes me go YUM!, Park Min Woo is like my little brother now, and Jo Yoon Woo is such a sensitive boy. He reminds me of a younger Joo Won at times, but very mild. (On a tangent, I wonder if he can show as much dark depth as Joo Won.) Lee Chung Ah is only OK – and I frankly don’t care about her. She’s kind of tiring as the beleaguered female lead going, “Why is this happening to me?!” It’s like she’s so burdened all the time; I mean, I wouldn’t complain so much if I had that many guys in love with me. I also wouldn’t complain about my life so much in general.

The reason why I like this drama over it’s comparative Over-The-Top cousin Greatest Love is because this drama has some heart to it that’s not entirely focused on the main leads. There’s a better love triangle here, and I love how all the boys end up loving Eun Bi, and each other, in some way. Plus, Cha Chi Soo really grows up, and it’s in accordance with the age of his character. I would let him get away with a lot of immature things because he’s supposed to be 19, and Jung looks young enough to pull that off.It’s not like Cha Seung Won.

The reason why I don’t like the drama as much – and compare it to Heartstrings – is because aside from all the themes of love and such, it’s a drama that’s very airy in feel, and doesn’t attempt to delve in deep with all the characters’ insecurities. It touches upon them, and then moves in. It’s like a comic book, a shoujo manga. How can you not like a shoujo manga?! It’s got enough ridiculousness to make you laugh, but in the end the story is forgettable. It’s always happy, with not enough of that emotional angst to make you get that tug of despair.

Once again – cotton candy – light and fluffy, but not filling at all.

DRAMAS IN A GLIMPSE:

Here are the other dramas that I saw this year but may not have aired this year. Some are also follow-ups of dramas that I didn’t finish by end of last year, and some are just blurbs of dramas I saw very little of.

Couple Breaking:

Old, old, 4-episode miniseries that aired quite a while back. It was a short, bittersweet glimpse into a couple that was together for 10 years. They know everything about each other, and they aren’t afraid to show their side with all the bad habits. Park Han Byul is no longer excited by her less-classy boyfriend Park Gwang Hyun, so when she bumps into the suave lighting designer Kim Ji Suk, she falls head over heels with him. Meanwhile, Park Gwang Hyun’s character bumps into sexy masseuse Jung Da Hye, and despite the painful massage she gives him, he can’t help but be attracted to her wild side. So the couple has to decide: break up and take a chance with someone new? Or stay together because they’re so comfortable with each other?

Flashbacks fill in to shed light on their once happy romance, but it’s clear both want to move on. The ending is quite believable and sad, and yet I’m kind of happy that it ended with their breakup. After all, the question of this drama was, “What If?” Not too great, and simply a filler after the I Need Romance high I had earlier this year.

Harvest Villa:

Once again, old drama, but I finished it this year and I wanted to give it a little shoutout. It was written and directed by my now favorite team Jang Jang Hoon and Kim Eun Hee, who also did Sign. (It’s also why I enjoyed Sign so much – because if I liked this one, I couldn’t not like it.) The drama went from light and tangential to completely dark and twisted, and the plot threads came together quite seamlessly. I loved how every character was morally ambiguous, except for Shin Ha Kyun‘s character, because he was the victim. And I also enjoyed the open ending. Not every character got a happy ending, but the ones you ended up caring about lived, and that’s what matters. (I’m looking at you City Hunter.) This drama is definitely up there in my favorites.

Secret Garden:

 

I enjoyed this drama – and it was long at 24 episodes! It was a bit of a ride, with its loopholes and its weird magic-thingamabob. How they solved the issue of saving everyone at the end from dying, and regaining their memories, was very deus-ex-machina. It felt like the writers themselves forgot the rules of their world. But it’s OK – the confusion just added to the angst.

I definitely enjoyed the comic moments, and I had a wonderful emotional roller coaster with it. I must admit that parts of it have become fuzzy for me, and so certain things are no longer memorable about the series. Body swapping was the highlight, and a regressed, 21-year-old Joo Won was fun to watch. But it was also written by the same writer of City Hall, Kim Eun Sook, so I enjoyed this drama. There was an emphasis on the poignant moments, and a great K-drama hero who was conflicted and tortured, and (in this case) immature. Good thing Ha Ji Won was the spunky female lead to help put Hyun Bin in his place. And their chemistry was also top notch!

(A fuller review can be read here.)

A Thousand Days’ Promise:

I didn’t watch the entire series. I only saw the first 4 episodes, and then the last episode; however I do want to cover the bits that I did see. The beginning was quite boring, tedious, and choppy for me. Honestly it was not my cup of tea. All that kept me hanging on was Soo Ae’s performance. She was stellar as a woman who tried to completely control her life, but was slowly losing that control. Her family was far more interesting than Kim Rae Won, which is kind of sad if I think about it. I basically hated his character.

But then I watched the final episode, and oh my goodness, I wanted to cry. Not only was Soo Ae remarkable in portraying a woman losing her memory, but watching how Ji Hyung tried to take care of her, and nurtured her, and was patient with her, just showed how much love was between them. I honestly cannot do what he did; I would have gotten frustrated and left Seo Yeon in a hospital. I admire the love that Ji Hyung had for his wife, who was his one true love, and he married her despite knowing he wouldn’t have her forever.

I have to also give a shout out to Moon Kwon – played by Park Yoo Hwan – he was beyond brilliant. He is so expressive, and he’s the only one who can really induce some kind of reaction from me. His brother needs to take some acting lessons from him.

 

 

 

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  1. Ivory amber 25 December, 2011 at 18:33 Reply

    A thousand days promise *sob*
    I agree totally with the greatest love review, I love the hong sisters but this one for me was a fail :/
    Going to check out couple breaking now, it kinda reminds me of the ending in I need romance where the main couple meet the guitarist and new representative and are like ‘oh crap’

  2. Nayong 26 December, 2011 at 21:41 Reply

    Tahnks for the review.
    Amazingly, you are the only one that I have read who likes I need Romance. That is one under rated drama for this year, I like it bcos it is so amazingly tru to ral life, her decisions and why she chose Sung Soo in the end.
    Vampire Prosecutor – another amazing drama, cant wait for Season 2.
    With all the hype going on, I actually was disapointed with The Princess Man, only watched it bcos I am a die hard Park Shi Hoo fan, most of the time my finger was on FF.
    The better drama is The Duo – for me the best for 2011, yet to find Gyebaek on DVD.
    I watched Harvest Villa but could not really understand it, must be the bad subs I got, lol
    Currently watching A Thousand Kisses, so far so good.
    Not sure if I will start on Su Ae’s Thousand Day Promise yet.
    Loved your comment on yoo hwan though I still love yoo chun, hahaha

  3. ingridine 1 January, 2012 at 11:14 Reply

    Jung Gyu Woon won a SBS award for his SIGN performance ! Very proud of him ! sweety !

    I like when you don’t compromise …(Greastes love’s controversy !) Thanks a lot !

  4. jasi 20 June, 2012 at 11:46 Reply

    paradise ranch was pretty bad wasn’t it? i watched it for max but found the lead female (role not actress) to be beyond annoying. i get that these dramas like to make the lead goofy but wow, they just pushed her character too far. too many holes and not enough information for me to care. watched the whole thing. blah.

    i did like secret garden though. it was fluffy and didn’t have as much information about the supernatural event that swapped lovers, but it was short enough and developed the characters well in good timing. it was paced nicely. so it was an enjoyable watch.

    watching in need of romance now (i need romance?) and it’s so much fun! the stories are simple and predictable but as you said, the three female characters are so interesting that it’s their responses to situations that make it a joy to watch. that and the hilarious stills. duk-soo in the bedroom, still cracks me up how hyun-joo takes a peek.

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