Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Fairly Short List of Fairly Short Kdrama Lists

Three Kdrama men with great husband potential

1. Choi Han Gyul, Coffee Prince. Even if he wasn’t smoking hot and filthy rich, Han Gyul would still be a keeper. Funny, sweet, and supportive of his girlfriend’s independence? Sign me up.

2. Lee Sun Joon, Sungkyunkwan Scandal. He’s smart, earnest, and fiercely principled, and even as a man of the Joseon Dynasty is willing to share the household duties with his wife. (I’m lousy at dusting, too, Sun Joon!)

3. Yoon Ji Hoo, Boys Over Flowers. Because I, too, believe a perfect date involves reading together and then napping in a sunny place.

Three Kdrama men who don’t deserve their women 

1. Kim Seung Yoo, Princess’ Man. He started a shallow playboy, turned into a psycho hell-bent on revenge, and ended up abandoning his nation for his personal safety. And she took an arrow for this?

2. Baek Seung Jo, Playful Kiss. It was fun to see a Kdrama girl pursuing her man, when it’s so often the other way around. But Oh Ha Ni? You could do so much better than this distant, hypercritical bag of neuroses. I hoped you would break his heart in the end, I really did.

3. Lee Kung Min, Attic Cat. A giant (admittedly handsome) man child who expects women to take care of him. The show's ending hinted that he might have reformed, but I didn't buy it.

Three not-so-great moments in Kdrama relationships
1. The vicious, this-is-secretly-for-your-own-good breakup. Couldn’t these characters just be up-front about why they think it’s necessary to break up, and trust that their significant other will listen? See, for example, the cockamamie final two episodes of Heartstrings.

2. The wrist grab. The difference between a wrist grab and a hand-hold is more profound than four or five inches: It’s the difference between treating someone like a thing and treating them like a person; between forcefully taking control and working together; between acting like someone’s parent and being their lover.

3. The brush pass, that not-quite-meeting most dramas throw in before their romantic leads are introduced to each other. I suppose it’s meant to show that they’re destined to be together, but mostly it just conveys that people who live in the same city are bound to cross paths at some point. (Note, however, that this can be well done—several Coffee Prince scenes involve brush passes, but they’re so naturally worked into the story that they’re more of a transition between characters than some Deeply Magical Moment of Destiny.)

Three Kdrama villains who deserved worse than they got
1. Prince Suyan, Princess’ Man. Good thing everyone fought so hard and sacrificed so much to keep him from the throne. (That’s all I can say without spoiling the ending, so you may need to trust me on this front.)

2. Oh Yoon Joo, My Princes. She’s cruel, manipulative, and a downright evil bitch, yet her just rewards involve ending up with the handsome and kind second male lead. Just one more reason to dislike this middling show.

3.  Eun Chae Young, What’s Up. Based on the edited-down version of the drama that aired, her character had no closure whatsoever.  She deserved so much more—and so much worse.

Three words and/or phrases describing how much I’m enjoying Family’s Honor
1. Very much
2. Enormously
3. To a ridiculous extent

Three dramas I can’t wait to watch

1. Big. Scheduled to air this summer. If this show isn’t completely awesome, I’m going to need antidepressants. The first reason to be excited is that it’s written by the Hong sisters, capable screenwriters of such gems as My Girlfriend is a Gumiho and Greatest Love. Their work isn’t always perfect—they tend to be better at little details than constructing an overarching plot, for example—but it’s always charming, riddled with amusing pop culture references, and full of likeable characters. The cast is the second reason to be excited: Gong Yoo, of my fevered Coffee Prince dreams; Lee Min-jung, the one Jun Pyo should have ended up with in Boys over Flowers; and Suzy, whose limited acting abilities made her all the more amusing in Dream High. Oh. And it may or may not be based on Tom Hanks’s outlandishly wonderful 80s movie Big. (P.S. to the Hong sisters: if you’re going to continue pillaging movies beloved during my American childhood, may I suggest a Korean spin on Labyrinth?)

2. King 2 Hearts. Currently airing. My drama watching policy is not to start anything that isn’t completely subbed and available for streaming, so it’s going to be a while before I see this one. Based on everything I’ve read, though, it’s totally wonderful—and I’ll know if it manages to keep being totally wonderful right up to the end before I even see episode 1, which is somehow comforting.

3. Twelve Men in a Year. Finished airing in Korea as of April 5. A romantic comedy revolving around a magazine writer who decides to date one man from each of the Chinese zodiac signs? Yes please. Cable shows like this one are generally overlooked on English-language Kdrama news sources, so Twelve Men has been flying a bit under the radar. I haven’t even been able to find a listing for it on Drama Fever, but plan to hunt it out somewhere.

Three things I’m totally desensitized to in Korean Dramas
1. Drunkenness. American movies and TV shows may show drinking, but their characters only get drunk when the plot is about frat boys or didactic struggles with alcoholism. Nowadays, even a grandmother staggering drunken down the street wouldn’t cause me to bat an eyelash.

2. Men in pink. Western men often have masculinity issues when it comes to wearing the color pink. They do it sometimes, especially fashion forward or preppy types, but it’s hard to imagine Christian Bale being dressed in pink oxfords throughout the new Batman movie. On the other hand, raspberry jeggings were pretty much formal wear for Lee Min Ho in City Hunter (by contrast, he wore stretch pants in a stylish zebra print when kicking back at home, if I recall correctly.)

3. Multigenerational households. Moving out of the family home is item number one on the post-graduation to-do list of most Americans. Sometimes financial or practical concerns drive us back, but it’s pretty much wired into our hardware that making a home for ourselves is a key sign of adulthood and success. Based on dramaland, however, traditional Korean values lean in the other direction—it’s accepted for girls to stay at home until they’re married, and for boys to stay at home even after that. (I had to pick my jaw up off the floor when the leads in Playful Kiss came back to his parents’ house after their honeymoon, moved her things across the hall to his bedroom, and called it a done deal.)

Three things I’ll never be desensitized to, no matter how much Kdrama I watch
1. Closed-mouth, passionless kisses. Up until the past year or two, these seemed to be the most anyone could ever expect from Korean television. This is all well and good—Korean culture just isn’t as interested in physical displays of affection as Western culture is. But from American perspective, the big culmination of a powerfully epic 16-episode love story deserves some tongue, at least. It feels false and cold when the best kiss the grown-up leads can work up to is reminiscent of ones stolen before we hit puberty. Thanks to today’s youth-oriented cable shows like Flower Boy Ramen Shop and I Need Romance, though, more realistic physical relationships seem to be on the upswing.

2. Sleeping on the floor. I try not to be one of those “My country, right or wrong” types, but I can tell you one thing America has all over Korea: huge, pillow-topped mattresses on nice high bed frames. I’m sure that people prefer whatever they’re used to, but it’s hard to imagine that sleeping on what boils down to a padded comforter is as comfortable as sleeping on my plush, cozy queen mattress. (I do envy, though, how easy moving must be without all the bulky furniture.)

3. Lack of commercial breaks. For someone who has spent the last few years watching American TV on DVD, it’s weird that there are no placeholder cuts intended for commercial placement in Korean dramas. But there’s a good reason for this: Korean law doesn’t allow commercials to interrupt broadcast television; instead they run before or after the show on air. (This doesn’t apply to cable networks, which explains the painfully obvious editing jumps for commercial breaks in dramas like the What’s Up.) Just like in America, though, everyone gets around this by implanting ads right into the script of the show—“Smart phones aren’t hard to use after all!” “Look at how my amazing car does the parallel parking for me!” “This iPad app allows me to play the gayageum without lugging that heavy old instrument around all the time!”

Three things I thought I’d always dislike about Korean drama, but have grown to love
1. Relationship terms. At first, all this oppa-ing seemed designed to keep people in their place—a constant reminder of the totem pole of social worth and the inequalities in their relationships. I can now see the flip side of this coin, though: relationship terms can be a celebration of the ties between people and all the many viewpoints they have to share, whether they’re hubaes or seonbaes, dongsaengs or hyungs.

2. Melodramatic chipmunk-esque camera work (see video, below). Painfully old-fashioned and deserving of an eye-roll as it is, there’s something to be said about the visceral power of a quick zoom in dramatic scene: it punctuates whatever crazy thing has just happened and pulls you directly into the action. I was stunned the first time this technique popped up in my drama watching, but now it inevitably leaves me hungry for more.

3. Sageuk garb. Before I even saw my first show set during the Joseon Dynasty, I watched Sweet 18. This 2004 drama featured an everyday girl marrying the first son of a main family, which is harder than it might sound: it involves running a big traditional household and acting as clan matriarch. And the thing that initially sold the (not-too-bright) female lead on her fiance was seeing him all decked out in traditional clothes. I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around this. What was so great about a man carrying a paper fan and wearing dusty-rose pajamas and a weird hat?  Having seen a few historical dramas since then, I get it now: the look is dashing and flamboyant and smacks of deliciously over-the-top sageuk romance. I would probably stop traffic to gaze adoringly at a handsome man in a hanbok, too, and I haven’t even had a lifetime of cultural conditioning to find the look appealing.


  1. Love the lists! Right now I'm crushing hugely on Kang Tae Bong, Mr. Perfect Boyfriend from Dal Ja's Spring. Ok, and in contrast, also hugely crushing on Jae Ha (Chona!) from K2H, AS WELL AS Shi Kyung, his right hand man (Byeong Gun from Whats Up). Fickle, me.

    1. Agh! I still haven't seen Dal Ja's Spring, which is clearly my loss. First Dramabeans ranks it over Coffee Prince as the number one drama of 2007, and now one of its characters makes your Kdrama dreamboat list. I just wish it was available on the legit streaming sites, rather than just dramacrazy and mysojo :b They're so buggy on my weird drama-watching setup that I almost never play in those sandboxes.

    2. yeah, I almost never watch anything that isn't on DF, LOL...but I was so hungry for some Minki face time that I caved.

  2. I must admit, I always cringe upon introducing Kdrama newbies to Lee Min Ho in those tight pink pants..

    On the topic of sageuk garb though, don't you find the military look (as in Princess's Man) way more appealing than the royal/officials mesh top hats and Mickey Mickey ears? I just can't take those dudes seriously! I got so excited when he went rogue and magically had nice long hair..

    *halfway through Protect the Boss* *squeals + happy dance*
    And oh, you should add Love Forward to your future viewing pleasure.

    1. The tight part of Lee Min Ho's pants is okay, though ;) It's just the pink that makes me think twice about sharing him with the uninitiated.

      Those Mickey Mouse/Pluto ear-ed hats are pretty weird. I've accepted sageuk garb hook, line, and sinker, though. The one thing I don't get is the strange floating belt royal men wear that seems practically unattached to their...um...pajama-like regalia. What function could that serve?

      And I'm so glad that you like Protect the Boss. I'm glad I'm not totally crazy—it didn't seem to get much attention when it was on the air, but I really loved it.

    2. I have to disagree. The pink never bothered me that much. A man running around in high water skinny jeans was a definite turn-off though.

      I'm also a Protect the Boss fan. :)

  3. Tight + pink + highwaters + lowcut rounded tshirt = super big grimmace when your initiates are GUYS! Fortunately, we just skirted past the outfits, and voila! Two new male Kdrama fans. I feel oddly patriotic..

    1. Oh yeah, I forgot about the lowcut rounded tshirt! I think he wore some very feminine looking jackets as well if I remember correctly. I just remember wondering during the whole show who the hell was dressing this guy and what kind of grudge they held against him.

    2. Anyone notice how when Yoon Sung "borrowed" the prosecutor's suit clothes, they seemed magically tailor-made to his own personal style?

    3. I also seem to recall some see-through shirts in City Hunter. Admittedly, leering at Lee Min Ho is tons of fun, but I could have done without them, too.

      I'm starting to suspect that the actors involved in dramas have some say in how they're dressed on air, as their TV appearances seem like really calculated exercises in image-building. So maybe City-Hunter-style really is just how he dresses—his Personal Preference wardrobe wasn't so different, after all.

  4. Everything on this list is perfect.

    1. Thanks. As a random aside, I'm a total Idle Revelry junkie. I wish you guys would record director's commentary-style audio tracks for the dramas you watch, so I'd never miss the fabulous details you pull out of scenes that seem useless to me, until I read your take on them. But anyway. Enough stalker talk ;)

  5. This list is awesome and so on point!

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    (VIDEO) Win your ex back with TEXT messages?