It’s unclear to even me if it’s possible for a human to be more geeky than that, but what’s a girl to do? Kdrama is more than just an insanely entertaining watch—it‘s something I want to learn about and really understand. And to me this random routine feels like a logical stepping stone toward this end—it allows me to fully digest a show at my own pace and not get confused by watching a bunch of other dramas at the same time, and also forces me to see not just where Korean drama is now, but where it came from.
After a nearly a year of obsessive viewing, I’m starting to get a feel for the cycle of Kdrama. Right now, for example, the late spring batch of shows is about to wrap up airing and be replaced by the early summer group. (Whether Korea has anything like American television seasons I have yet to figure out—it seems that new shows are always airing, no matter what time of year it is.) Thanks to my Dustin-Hoffman-in-Rainman level OCD, I have yet to start watching the currently airing shows, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my eye on them.
Here’s a brief accounting of the ones I’m most excited for:
Queen In-Hyun’s Man. This time travel romance features a Joseon-era man and a modern woman. It’s driving online reviewers absolutely gaga with adoration, which is almost always a good sign. I loved the male lead in his My Sweet City role, and am looking forward to more of his gangly, easygoing charm. (Episodes 11 and 12 out of 16 will air this week.)
Equator Man. Improbably, reading about this show is making me long for the old days of Korean drama, before everything had to be high-concept and big budget. By all accounts, it includes no body swapping, vampires, or time travel, and instead focuses on classic, character-driven revenge melodrama. Sign me up! (Episodes 19 and 20 out of 20 will air this week.)
King 2 Hearts. I want to love this show, I really do. Koreans, like Americans, seem intrigued by the concept of monarchy—probably because our countries have been without kings for generations. The plot sounds fairly standard: a spoiled chaebol/king meets and falls in love with a hardworking, underprivileged girl, who just happens to have been trained to kill him. I worry, though, that viewers are falling into distinct camps: people who loved 2011’s Secret Garden love this show, and people who hated Secret Garden hate King 2 Hearts. I fall squarely into the second category, so things aren’t looking good. (Episodes 19 and 20 out of 20 will air this week.)
Rooftop Prince. Bummer for the Joseon era—all its upstanding young scholar types have been time traveling to the modern world lately. Not that I’m complaining—the fish-out-of-water trope is almost always good fun. Here’s hoping Park Yoochun manages to be half as cute in this show as he was in Sungkyunkwan Scandal, one of my all-time favorites. He wasn't in the lame-tastic Miss Ripley, so the jury is definitely out on this drama, too. (Episodes 19 and 20 out of 20 will air this week.)
And then, of course, there’s the next batch of shows to look forward to:
Big. My expectations for this drama are too high, I think—I’m going to end up feeling totally let down if it’s something other than the funniest, sweetest Kdrama I’ve ever seen. It has a lot going for it: its writers are known for amusing characters and funny moments, and I couldn’t find its cast more appealing if I’d picked them myself. On the other hand, its writers are also known for less-than-spectacular follow-through and shaky plotting. Plus, this will be the first post-Coffee Prince project I’ve seen Gong Yoo in—I worry my soulmate Choi Han Gyul will be retroactively sullied by a subpar performance/drama. As of 5/22, Couch Kimchi has posted a boatload of teasers and previews for this show—the more I see, the more I like. (P.S. Does the above poster stolen from mysoju.com position the drama’s title right over...well...you know? Will this poor actor ever escape jokes about...cigar size?) (Currently included in Dramafever’s list of dramas coming soon; whether it will be simulcast is still unclear. Begins airing June 4.)
I Do, I Do. Korea’s answer to Knocked Up should be tons of fun—how can you go wrong with My Lovely Sam Soon’s Kim Sun Ah in a steamy noona romance? She has a way of playing characters who are better than the typical ditzy female leads, whether that’s because of good script choices or her own sheer awesomeness. (Begins airing May 30.)
Bridal Mask. Most recent sageuks are set in the distant past, but this drama takes place during Japan’s occupation of Korea in the early twentieth century. It sounds like a period version of City Hunter, complete with a masked avenger bent on revenge for wrongs against his family. I’m hoping Bridal Mask will be less air-headed than its obvious predecessor. After all, the lead must have some depth and a social conscience—dude is an independence fighter who regularly traffics with spies. My fingers are crossed for a gritty, real-world vibe, rather than the shellacked gloss of that other show. (Currently included in Dramafever’s list of dramas coming soon; whether it will be simulcast is still unclear. Begins airing May 30.)
Timeslip Dr. Jin. To be frank, I haven’t loved a medical drama since the early days of ER. With the addition of time travel and the lovely Kim Jaejong, though, this might just be worth watching. (Begins airing May 26.)
(Thanks to the ever-wonderful [and better-informed than me] Dramabeans and DramaTic for almost all this information.)
In the meanwhile, what shall we do while waiting for these new dramas? Here are some suggestions.
Look at these photos until your vision goes slightly blurry.
Think inappropriate thoughts about Gong Yoo’s cigar. Regret the lack of any Korean characters in the movie 300, where this torso clearly belongs. Hope Gong Yoo isn’t actually a smoker, because that’s gross. Think even more, even more inappropriate thoughts about Gong Yoo’s cigar. Envy the person who had the good luck to apply the tattoo. Wonder if the tattoo might be sexier if it were real, and maybe said “Property of [Your name here]” instead of “I'm big enough.” (Although, “I’m big enough” clearly has its own appeal.)
Invent K-drama inspired products. For example,
• Lee Min Ho cramp-relief tablets, inspired by Personal Preference. When it’s your time of the month and Lee Min Ho is nowhere to be found, here’s the next best thing. Bottles of this off-brand aspirin replacement will be labeled with a gorgeous, full-color image of the actor perfect for distracting you from your pains. You’ll never dread Aunt Flo again, knowing you can look forward to opening this bottle and (thanks to a hidden microchip) be regaled with the vocal stylings of Lee Min Ho singing Korean nursery rhymes, just like in episode 6 of this drama.
• Red facial tissue, inspired by Autumn in My Heart. Don’t want your beloved Oppa to know your cancer treatment has taken a turn for the worse and you’re coughing up blood? Here’s the perfect product for you: thick, super-absorbent tissues available in blood red. He’ll never know your little secret.
• Sincerity-O-Matic kimchi robot, inspired by Kimchi Family. Don’t have ten spare hours to lovingly replicate one your family’s heirloom kimchi recipes? Then this is the kitchen appliance you’ve always dreamed of: you supply the produce and the clay storage jars, and this little wonder does the rest. It slices, it dices, it juliennes, and so much more. And you’ll never need to dig fermented shrimp from under your nails again, thanks to its dishwasher-safe mixing attachment! Makes all the mouth-watering types of kimchi shown in Kimchi Family, from cabbage to seaweed to persimmon.
Listen to deep tracks from the Coffee Prince soundtrack, courtesy of Dramabeans.
Proof that this drama’s soundtrack is all powerful? I never thought I’d hear “This Will Be (Everlasting Love)” by Natalie Cole without thinking of those dreadful mid-2000s eHarmony ads. Now? I can’t hear that happy, hopeful song without thinking of Eun Chan and Han Gyul getting ready for Yoo Joo’s exhibit.
Cloud Cuckoo Land, “다시” (episode 6, at the café).
I may not speak Korean, but that doesn’t mean this song doesn’t speak to me: the language of soaring indie-rock power ballads is universal.
Arco, “Perfect World” (episode 9, Han Sung and Yoo Joo).
Still, plaintive, and just a bit jaded. (And totally in English!)
Lee Seon Kyun, “Ocean Travel” (episode 4, Han Sung sings to Yoo Joo).
There are two versions of this song in the Dramabeans soundtrack, but I like the one actually sung by the lovely, velvet-voiced actor playing Han Sung far better. So earnest and Coffee Prince-y that it makes me smile every time I hear it.
Bluedawn, “Lost Arpeggios” (episode 9, on the beach)
I’d listen to this melancholy, gorgeously ethereal song way more often if it hadn’t been used so effectively on screen. As it is, it brings to mind Choi Han Gyul, heartbroken and struggling to deny himself true love. ::insert dreamy sigh::
Learn more about Korean popular culture.
• Read DramaTic’s insight on commercialism in contemporary Korean dramas. I happen to agree that Secret Garden was total dreck, but am unconvinced that financially motivated means creatively bankrupt. Think about Charles Dickens slaving away on his mammoth serials, all thanks to the per-word payment he would be receiving.
• Read Popped by Chinggay Labrador. I’m only a few chapters in, but this novel is shaping up to be an amusing story of a K-obsession not entirely different from my own. I don’t think I’ll ever go down the kpop road, but I’ve followed a few bands in my day and recognize every single character in this slim ebook-only release. (I’m a bit too jaded to believe that this is anything approaching fiction, though. Thinly veiled, wish-fulfillment fanfic, maybe.)
• Visit blogs about real life in Korea for firsthand discussion of life as we North Americans don’t know it. Check out, in particular, the massive Korean blog list. (Go figure, but I especially love posts about visiting Coffee Prince, which is actually still a functioning café in Seoul. Apparently it's a ghetto dump these days, but I’d still make the trek...if the trek was shorter than 7,000 miles.)