Tuesday, May 22, 2012

State of the Obsession Address: May 2012

Always a sucker for a useless routine, I’ve naturally developed a strategy for watching Korean dramas: I only watch things that have finished airing in Korea and are fully subbed; I complete one drama before starting on another; and I stagger eras—for every recent drama, I watch one that aired before 2009.

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.

My favorites:
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.)


  1. You know, I'm sure I never realized just how blurry my vision could get... Thanks for making my Tuesday that much more.. *breathes heavily - catch breath now* well, anyway..

    After I watched your Coffee Prince cheat last week (several times), I searched up and have finished watching most of Biscuit Teacher/Hello My Teacher: Student related drama - fast forward, because I'm positive it'll get solved soon; Gong Yoo looking positively dreamy - PAUSE! REWIND! WATCH AGAIN! *breathes heavily, catch breath now*. Repeat. See? I have my own Kdrama viewing cycle.

    I don't even want to talk about Big right now.. too many hopes running on that show.

    I have been following King 2 Hearts though.. And if you remember, I'm staunchly on the "Love Secret Garden Boat to dreamy Kdrama land forever". But I don't think King 2 Hearts is anywhere as spectacular.. I put it on the "Oh, I can watch episode now please? Goody!" list, But I don't just drool over it.. it maybe has something to do about the lameness I thought Lee Seung Gi portrayed from Shining Inheritance (which I do not have high reviews for).

    Where on earth though can I watch Queen In-Hyun’s Man?

    1. I've watched that Coffee Prince cheat a pathetic number of times. I've decided to shelf the show for at least 6 months so I can come back to it fresh and fall in love all over again. Which is even more pathetic =X

      I was meh about all the Hello My Teacher scenes Gong Yoo wasn't in, predictably. I would have liked his character to have been more developed—he just went from a broken hooligan to hot for teacher with no shading between the two extremes. I'm so breaking the rules and watching Big as it airs, though.

      And I actually liked Shining Inheritance, although I agree that Lee Seung Gi wasn't great in it. (It was also one of the first three Kdramas I ever watched, so I might have been too dazzled by the concept to evaluate the execution.)

      Queen In-Hyun's Man is streaming at Dramacrazy. I'm holding out at least a while for it to come to Dramafever...most other shows on its network show up there sooner or later.

    2. But Amanda, do we really need character development from him? When really our imaginations can just fill in the rest?

    3. Left to my own devices, I'm afraid the developments I would come up with for Gong Yoo's character in Hello, My Teacher would not be appropriate for network television. In America, even.


  2. Out of the currently airing dramas, I adore Queen In-hyun's Man to a ridiculous degree. I know there's flaws, but somehow it managed to bypass my snark-detector and hit me straight in the heart. Equator Man is intense but flawed--it has one of the worst use of music I've heard in a drama, and the director likes to show off a bit too much for my liking, but the story is solid and the acting is fantastic. I liked the first few eps of King 2 Hearts but I stopped watching after for some reason. Rooftop Prince is fun for the first few eps because of the fish-out-of-water antics and then takes a dive into makjang trainwreck land.

    Out of the upcoming dramas, I'm looking forward to Bridal Mask the most. Love what I've heard of the story so far (the setting should eliminate some of the technology-related plotholes that weakened City Hunter), love the director (who previously did Story of a Man), and love Park Ki Woong and Han Chae Ah. Please be good, drama! As for the others, I'll check them out if I hear good things about them around the blogosphere.

    1. Oy. Talk about show-off-y directors...I just watched Kimchi Family. That director never met a crazy cut or extreme close up (or series of crazy cuts followed by ever-more extreme close ups) he or she didn't like. I'll have to move Equator Man down on my queue so I can recover from the whiplash before starting it. And too bad about Rooftop Prince. It's clearly harder to do a good job with a time-travel romantic comedy than one might think.

      I'm not familiar enough with the people working behind-the-scenes to predict the quality of a drama in advance, but on the DramaTic preview page the webmaster gave Bridal Mask three stars for potential. (As opposed to the one star all the other new dramas got.) So here's hoping it's good...

  3. i'm following RTP and K2H recaps, and I'm OK. I adore and am obsessed with Queen In Hyun's Man though. I even lurk on soompi and watch raws. When it comes to dramafever, I'm watching it again.

    As for your comment on Kim Sun-ah, I vote for her sheer awesomeness. heehee.

    Nice recs for what to do in the meantime!

    1. I'm a giddy schoolgirl at the prospect of watching Queen In Hyun's Man. It's been a while since I've really come across a Kdrama romance I could love without reservations, but based on the reviews I've been reading I'm starting to think this one might fall into that category.

  4. I didn't really like Secret Garden, but I really like King 2 Hearts. If I didn't recap Rooftop Prince I'd probably be crazy about King 2 Hearts, but I'm a bit drained by the time I finish RTP. I can't even say RTP is that good as some days I enjoy it and and others I can't stand it. The last few episodes have been rather lame.

    Queen In Hyun's man is my favorite currently airing drama, but it took an episode or two for me to get into it.

    Equator Man is old school drama, but I'm always a week or two behind and only watch it when I'm doing other stuff. Oddly enough I'm enjoying the classic vibe more from Love Rain, but I'm sure you've heard the warnings to skip the first four episodes.

    I'm looking forward to I Do, I Do and less so Big. While I can enjoy the Hong Sisters humor, I prefer something a bit more melodramatic. I've also learned that Hong Sister dramas are no fun if you read recaps first. This time I'll watch then read or write.

    1. Recapping must be really hard, and must really impact your thinking about a show. If there's a boring part, I can tune out...but you're stuck with it if you're recapping. Do you find that you enjoy shows more when you aren't recapping?

      I usually like melodramas more than comedies, too, which is why I'll always have a soft spot for the four seasons dramas. Someday I'll get around to Love Rain, too. (I think the secret to really enjoying those shows is not marathoning them, which is usually my method of choice. In big chunks, they're just lots of frustrating foliage shots. But 1 hour here or there should be easier to take...)

  5. Secret Garden drove me absolutely crazy, but I really loved King 2 Hearts (although there were a couple of missteps here and there) it was a solid drama. Word about Lee Seunggi's acting: he's really improved a lot, if this was the only drama I'd ever seen him in, I would have thought he was one of those natural born talents. Don't understand at all where the sudden improvement came from. On the other hand, I'm not to be trusted, I was obsessed with K2H while it was airing.

    1. I liked King 2 Hearts a lot better than Secret Garden, too. (Honestly, I liked root canal more than I liked Secret Garden.) K2H had its moments of lameness, but overall it was an entertaining show.

      I agree about Lee Seunggi—he was always charming and funny, but before K2H he was never much of an actor. I was impressed by how capably he handled a pretty serious role in K2H, and that he managed to keep some of his naturally goofy charm in tact, too. I’m so on board for his next drama...

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