Slim Pickings of 2013 – A Year End Review

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2013 has been a bit of a watershed moment for me in my life on a personal and professional level, and it forced me to reevaluate Korean dramas’ place in my life. I love Korean dramas and always will, but there comes a point when it feels overwhelming. As some people who read this blog (if there are any) and Dramabeans (of which there are many), they may have noticed (or not) that I stopped writing for them this year. Not writing for Dramabeans has allowed me to be far more selective about the dramas I want to watch. In other words: I watched a lot less than I usually do. But I also found very few dramas that really attracted me to watch all the way through. I know I was unlucky with last year’s dramas too, but this year felt incredibly unlucky. And I really thought ’13’ was my lucky number.

2012 Recap

A couple of dramas ended in early 2013 – Cheongdamdong Alice and The King of Dramas. I wrote about them briefly in my review based on my impressions for about half of the episodes. I thought I’d just recap very briefly what I liked/didn’t like about the series:

Cheongdamdong Alice – a thought-provoking character drama, it was uneven in tone but surprised me with its treatment of classism and upending certain stereotypes of a typical K-drama heroine.

The King of Dramas – an enjoyable ride as it pokes fun at the entertainment industry, I ended up not minding the unnecessary melodrama towards the end of the series. It’s timeless and memorable, and every time I watch a new drama I end up asking, “What would Anthony do?”

2013 Dramas

Here are the 2013 dramas! In order of when it was released in Korea.

Flower Boy Next Door

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Another Oh Boy! drama done. This was quite the lighthearted series that turned unexpectedly dark, but still managed to be funny at the right moments. I enjoyed the performances overall and find the characters well cast. What I couldn’t really get behind was the story, and I wish it was more than just a girl who fell in love with the boy across the street because of his persistence. It was cute and it had the little mysteries behind each character (which transfers over to Dating Agency Cyrano) that allows for us to explore their backstories slowly through the series. Yoon Shi Yoon is adorable, and quite appropriately a man-boy. But I was really gunning for Jin Rak (Kim Ji Hoon) to get the girl because he was the second male lead who was just so earnest but just so shy! In a way it’s commendable that Enrique was willing to step aside because he lived his life to the fullest; Stepping aside would not have been a big loss to him (even though it was). By being honest with his feelings he deserved winning Dok Mi (Park Shin Hye) over, but I also felt he was too good for her. I can also see why Enrique loved those people in that building so much – they were people who didn’t treat him like a god like everyone else. They grounded him to reality because they didn’t have all the time in the world to care about him.

It was a good series, but it wasn’t completely winning like Flower Boy Ramen Shop was for me, which was awesomely cute. Flower Boy Next Door got a little draggy midway through, and it got to a point where I really hated the flipping back and forth between Enrique and Jin Rak. And sadly, Park Shin Hye was mostly forgettable in this series for me.

IRIS 2

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The only explanation for why I watched this series was because I’m a completist – and because of the allure of Kim So Yeon‘s cameo. The most frustrating thing about IRIS 2 was the formulaic plot line that pretty much followed IRIS. It was disappointing because it didn’t try to do anything new with the storyline other than actually blow up a nuclear bomb. It even ripped off the ending of The Dark Knight Rises, which made me groan even more after all the antics the drama made me endure. This sequel would have been better served if it featured all of the original cast – and I don’t mean using Kim Gab Soo again in a different role and have him be the twin brother of a dead character. We would have then been able to get a true sequel experience and learn more about the characters introduced in the first drama. Just using the same storyline and replacing the actors does not make a good sequel, or a follow-up for any franchise either. And yes, I am implying that I would want to watch Kim Tae Hee again in this drama.

A flawed follow-up drama in every way, it at least provided some answers about Baek San and IRIS. It tried to be good, it really did. But I’d like to forget this drama as much as possible.

That Winter the Wind Blows

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A heavy melodrama. So, so heavy. In many ways it’s the classic melodrama with its conventional Romeo-and-Juliet love story filled with weepy moments. The drama was super melodramatic for me, but it was incredibly atmospheric and beautiful in terms of cinematography. I think the visual beauty of the drama kept me engaged in the drama because I certainly did not enjoy the writing or the execution of the drama. The drama was a bit convoluted and made more confusing by the fact that the characters kept having “personality amnesia.” Characters would be at extreme ends of the spectrum every other episode: “I hate you! I like you! I’m looking out for you! I’m a conniving greedy old lady!” What the heck? Do you, Character, know who you are? Or better yet, Writer-nim, do you know who your characters are?

The drama did try very hard to be artsy and dramatic, but that didn’t really help me enjoy it more. Things like the fantasy sequence were a nice artistic touch but it didn’t make sense, nor was it necessary. Instead, I just wish everyone died. That would have been a nice melodramatic touch for this drama.

Nine: Nine Time Travels

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It’s interesting that this drama is getting an American reboot with the help of Lost actress Yunjin Kim on ABC because even though the storyline is modern enough the idea of a time traveling constantly does not seem to be a drama that can last more than one season. And Americans like to stretch a series for as long as possible. Nine had well-written characters but the time travel device was a little questionable. It was quite interesting that they broke conventional rules of time traveling by allowing Sun Woo (Lee Jin Wook) to actively mess up his past in order to change his future and to talk to his past self. It creates two parallel universes that affect each other, but ends up killing off one timeline for Sun Woo in the end. It makes me wonder what happens to the rest of the people who were stuck in that “dead timeline” where Sun Woo dies – does their future eventually overlap with that of the “living timeline” that young Sun Woo (Park Hyung Shik) eventually corrects?

Other than the logistics of time travel, the drama was enjoyable for the most part because I really got to understand the characters’ emotional growths. Sun Woo made a lot of mistakes but I didn’t get annoyed or frustrated with him for it. He was simply reacting to the consequences of his actions that he thought would make things better but really didn’t, and in that sense it reminds us that we can never predict the future. Even if you “know” the future and try to change it, it won’t ever work out the way you want it to.

Special Affairs Team Ten 2

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I was excited for season 2 except it didn’t really live up to my expectations. The F Killer just hung over all the characters like the pink elephant in the room; It didn’t necessarily affect the cases they worked on but it certainly affected their dynamic. I am glad that this season ended on an open-ended but final note because we are left to wonder what is to happen to the team in the future and whether the F Killer will strike again (if he were the one released from prison at the end).

Other than that, I did not enjoy the cases in this season as much as I enjoyed season 1. It was more fresh and original in the first season, whereas the cases in season 2 felt repetitive (murder! revenge! murder! revenge! revenge! revenge!) and tried to be more enigmatic than it needed to be. I really felt that every other episode was written by two different writers, and it would go from a case with obscure evidence and unclear conclusions to a case where things were spelled out clearly by the end. I liked the cases that were spelled out clearly because there’s enough mystery and uncertainty around the F Killer and the characters’ personal lives. One thing that was great for season 2 was that we had another chance to spend time with these characters, to get to know them and understand them better, and have a deeper connection with them.

I hope there’s no season 3 though.

You’re the Best Lee Soon Shin

Oh wow. This was probably one of the more memorable dramas of this year for me and it might have been due to its 50-episode count. I really got invested in this story and I really enjoyed how it progressed. IU was such a surprise because I had never seen her in anything else (and therefore didn’t know if she could act or not), and she managed to tug at my heartstrings and be completely relatable as the “failure” sister who ends up doing everything she can to succeed. I loved her romance with Jo Jung Seok (who can do no wrong in my book) and her relationship with her family. I could identify with her, and that feeling made me want to cheer her on. Lee Mi Sook portrayed her glamorous self, which I find suits her perfectly though I also wonder if that’s her real life personality considering the court cases she’s embroiled in too. I wish she would do more roles like in Love Rain but she is quite good in being the “sympathetic villain.” Well – not that sympathetic, but she wasn’t always intolerable.

I find that the richer the women are in the drama, the more vexing they are. It doesn’t really portray a nice view of the rich upper-class. Other than that, I was constantly thinking about The King of Dramas while watching this drama. It portrayed some of that “behind-the-scenes” life on a drama set we all are familiar with that seemed to be reflected in the actual drama itself. For example Soon Shin excels in her role which means that her part in the drama increases, but the vice versa can be true (if she doesn’t do well or is not liked by audiences her role can get smaller). At the same time, Yi Jung (Bae Geu Rin) has less screen time as You’re the Best goes on, probably because she was not well liked by audiences. I certainly didn’t like her. Which then made me wonder if the writer was in the broadcast room watching the ratings peak and drop depending on the scene, as seen in King of Dramas. Anyways – other than this look into the drama life, I really appreciated the portrayal of family and how they will always stick together no matter how much they claim to hate each other or whether they’re blood related or not.

Dating Agency: Cyrano

Aw now this was cute for a Flower Boy drama. Dating Agency Cyrano wasn’t exactly an Oh Boy! series even though it was very much like it. I liked the quirkiness of the drama, that it was short and sweet, and that we had the most awesome guest stars for the match-made romances. Lee Kwang Soo! Gong Yoo!

Sooyoung was a delightful surprise as well – another singer who can act! – and I really enjoyed her love line with Lee Jong Hyuk. Along with the rest of the cast, it’s the actors that made the drama fun. The plot was more or less straightforward, with little mysteries about everyone’s backstories to give them a little more depth. And the last minute twist of a kidnapping seemed to come out of nowhere. However by the time I reached the final episodes I was so invested in the characters and the actors that I didn’t mind as much. It’s really the actors that made this drama so fun.

When a Man Loves

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What a ridiculous fest of I don’t know what happens. Shin Se Kyung was bland and hateful, Song Seung Hoon was a sap, and Yeon Woo Jin was the only redeemable aspect except he had to be paired up with Shin Se Kyung. And Shin Se Kyung loved him until the very end when she decided she was in love with Song Seung Hoon. WHAT. THE. HELL. And then you had to have Kim Sung Oh (bless him) try and kill her because he’s a sap too.

In summary – what is going on…? Wait, I don’t even care. It’s all just abs.

Who Are You

Talk about the most un-scary ghost drama ever that was also an unremarkable procedural drama. The first four episodes were the most interesting as it featured a rape case with a mute high school student and a dead prosecutor’s fiancee killed by her future mother-in-law. But after that the drama slowed down. The focus around Hyung Joon’s death (Kim Jae Wook) took up too many episodes because I felt that Si Ohn (So Yi Hyun) should have figured out what happened and who he was earlier. In addition, Kim Jae Wook was completely underused in this drama, with barely any speaking lines. And then the chemistry between So Yi Hyun and Taecyeon was almost nonexistent. They seemed more like siblings than lovers, so it was strange to see them eventually date.  Also, resolving the smuggling case took quite a while. While I didn’t mind that Si Ohn and Gun Woo (Taecyeon) had a difficult time taking down Chief Moon, it was a little tedious because we knew what was happening as an audience way earlier than the characters did, so we were just waiting for them to catch up.

All in all, it was an underwhelming series.

Heirs

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I call Heirs ‘The Avengers’ of dramas – excellent witty dialogue and scenes, but a terrible, terrible plot line and drama overall. Oh and the “villain” is the most salacious and best characters of all. I’m talking to you Kim Woo ‘Loki’ Bin.

This drama in some ways was overhyped, but at the same time it delivered by being as exaggerated and ridiculous as its hype. It was fun to watch, but if you thought too hard it would ruin the series. The last four episodes tried to make it a more serious drama by showing the corporate battle for power, but it ended up coming off as one of the lamest story lines ever. That plot was so juicy! And yet it was treated in such a limp manner that its potential for brotherly fighting and schemes for power went nowhere. Of all things, I hated the Kim Tan (Lee Min Ho) and Cha Eun Sang (Park Shin Hye) storyline because it was the most boring and most predictable relationship out there. Don’t even bother giving them obstacles in the form of jealous third and fourth parties or a father that will bribe the girl to leave because in the end, none of that worked. The characters all have too much power and money that they can resolve those issues easily.

Anyways, point is, I’m too lazy to celebrate the end of this series.

Two Weeks

There’s a lot that happens in this drama because of the time constraints in the drama. To have everything happen in two weeks made the pacing quite fast because so much information needs to be discovered and processed by the hero. At the same time, the beginning was strangely slow with Tae San (Lee Jun Ki) constantly on the run and the cliffhanger being the same several episodes in a row (He got shot! He’s going to die! Will he survive?!). He also would help random strangers who found him to be different from the serial killer he’s portrayed by the media, which I felt almost contrived. Did we really need to know he was helping these people?

The second half of the drama was much better pacing wise, and it really kept up the suspense of the drama. I loved the father-daughter relationship portrayed here because their bond was immediate even though Tae San never knew who his daughter was. I also liked that the romance was not a big factor in the drama; It was there but it was never in the forefront, and the ending never suggested any real resolution to the love triangle. This drama has Kim So Yeon where she’s good at – a strong female character in a public service position with no need for romance. And, it has one of the most memorable villains of all time, Senator Jo Seo Hee (Kim Hye Ok) – she is riveting.

The Suspicious Housekeeper

 I will admit it took me a while to finish this series. It was charming and weird in its own way at first, taking the Japanese-drama-quirkiness aspect and dropping it into a Korean drama. In a way it was very self-aware about its own comedy and its own weirdness (a housekeeper who will do anything you say, including to kill?), lingering on a shot a beat too long to make you wonder what exactly is going on, and if the writer and director know what they’re doing.

The drama excelled when Bok Nyeo (Choi Ji Woo) was at her most robotic and helping the children get through their issues. I did not like the children however, as I felt that they suffered from “privileged children” syndrome and not so much from their father’s absence. I understand that Seo Ji Hoon/Do Hyung (Song Jong Ho) had to make an appearance to explain Bok Nyeo’s past and catalyze a change in her and her relationship with the family. However I found him too creepy to tolerate, and having two weird characters to pay attention to was a bit much. Do Hyung should have been more of a sadistic killer type but instead he came off as a obsessive weirdo and compulsive liar. Choi Ji Woo really did well in this drama, and it might have been partly because she was required to play a stiff character, which is not too far from her past roles in melodramas (where she only had to cry prettily and be more or less stoic). But it’s also because it’s not easy acting robotic all the time, especially in a comedy, and she managed to pull it off. I liked her, but unfortunately the drama was a bit too much of a winding road to the end for me to really enjoy it.

Story of a Man

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This drama is not a 2013 drama, but it was an old drama that I watched this year. And boy am I glad that I finally saw it. A solid, well-written drama that makes me wonder: how on earth did Song Ji Na end up writing Faith!? I really felt for the characters, and while she did try to inject some romance it was never a big focus of the drama. Thank God. It was the revenge and the outsmarting-each-other that made it special. It was Kim Kang Woo and Park Yong Ha’s undeniable chemistry. It was how Kim Kang Woo just electrified the screen because he made you pissed off with his warped logic and lack of morality. (Damn I really appreciate him more now in Haeundae Lovers for his talent). I didn’t mind Park Si Yeon very much; This wasn’t her strongest role but at the same time she was overshadowed by the two men. It’s sad to admit but I felt the women were not as well-developed as the men. They were too demure when you wanted them to stand up for themselves, especially Eun Soo (Ahn Mi Na).

Anyways, this was such a good drama. I don’t know how else to put it other than to watch it if you haven’t. It’s probably one of the best dramas I saw this year (even though it’s not from this year).

And that concludes the reviews! I am currently watching The Prime Minister and I, My Love From Another Star, and Miss Korea, so those reviews will come later. So far I’m enjoying all of them, with Miss Korea the least. But I hope that story will pick up soon. 

With that, have a happy new year and here’s to 2014!

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6 comments

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  1. stefania 12 January, 2014 at 13:27 Reply

    I just got redirected here from DB, I missed your recaps. I really didn’t know that you had a blog. Anyway, I was confused when I saw that photo collage at the top, why was Story of a Man included there, you might have made a mistake because I thought it was just 2013 dramas. I’ve also watched it this year and it was amazing, better than most of the dramas this year. A special mention to Park Ki Woong, he did a great performance and I really loved Mazinger Hunter.

  2. Jen 12 January, 2014 at 17:29 Reply

    I’m bookmarking this site right now! I agree with so many of your reviews and I loved your recaps at Dramabeans too 🙂

  3. kaori saeba 22 January, 2014 at 22:59 Reply

    I liked this review. It’s better to watch less but with more quality. I didn’t bother with Heirs after a few episodes but was really impressed with Cruel City, Special Affairs Team Ten 2 and Two Weeks. It was a dry year for me too and thought Anthony’s King of Dramas was really good in its own way. Indeed, you have a following here and at least here, you refer to Park Shi Hoo re-starting work (unlike at Dramabeans where there seems to be a ‘no comments’ policy).

  4. AdAl 28 January, 2014 at 16:13 Reply

    Hello Kaedejun! I’m glad I found your blog today and I just bookmarked it. I missed your reviews and recaps from the Dramabeans site, and thought to myself – there’s a flavor missing from this site, it just doesn’t feel the same, why did Kaedejun leave DB? so I’m very glad to be able to still read your reviews on this blog.

    I agree with most of your reviews on the dramas I’ve watched: Cheongdamdong Alice, Nine, King of Dramas, Flower Boy Next Door, Heirs, the Winter the Wind Blows, Ten 2, When a Man Loves and Two Weeks – 2013 wasn’t a very good year for Kdramas overall. Here’s hoping that 2014 is a better year for Kdramas. If I have to say one thing about 2013 – it’s the year I got introduced and hooked on Kdramas. Now, very little else satisfies!

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