Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What Now?

Will Secret Love Affair’s finale live up to Tokyo Tower’s fantastic Parisian hug?

When this post goes live, I will be watching the final episode of Secret Love Affair. (Yes, I’m so obsessed that I’m taking vacation time to watch the last two episodes when they air in Korea, which is 8:50 am my time.)

We drama fans often talk about the sorrow that comes with the finale of a show we really loved. The finite nature of Asian dramas can be a double-edged sword on this front—they almost never outstay their welcome and are able to tell a single, central story without dragging it out indefinitely. But when they’re done, they’re done forever. There’s no new season, no continuation on Netflix, no second generation or The New Class to look forward to. This can feel like a real blow when you’ve ushered a group of characters into your heart and spent months contemplating the state of their souls.

What’s worse is that Secret Love Affair is a drama that engaged me emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. (Hye Won would say that I’m being excessive, but this statement is nothing more or less than the truth.) And now that it’s ending, I’m at an utter loss—What do I do with all the energy I’ve been devoting to this series? Here’s a short list of things I’ve been considering:
Taking piano lessons
Laundering money
Reading Secret Love Affair’s favorite books, Aimez-vous Brahms? and Sviatoslav Richter: Notebooks and Conversations
Hooking up with a man (boy?) who’s young enough to be my son
Breaking beer bottles in threatening ways
Getting a massage
While each option has its own pros and cons, I think we all know what I’m really going to do next. And that’s watch another drama.

There are lots of newish series out there, but I don’t find any of them incredibly appealing. For one thing, they’re all really boy-centered, which is not my thing when it comes to television. I watch Kdrama for the great female characters, and I hate when they’re shunted to the side so the male lead can be the show’s star. Then there’s the subject matter. I guess the proliferation of cops and doctors in this drama cycle is better than the herd of shoe designers that were foisted on us a few seasons ago, but not by much.

I’m definitely going to watch something new, but I could use some help deciding what. Here are the shows now in the running.

Wonderful Days
(episodes 24 and 25 of 50 air this week)

I normally wouldn’t look twice at a long family drama—historically, I end up more annoyed than entertained and regret the time I spent watching them. Fifty hours is just too much of a commitment for me, especially when the dramas in this time slot tend toward the stogy and old fashioned and have notoriously low production values. They’re also prone to having gender politics that make me uncomfortable, thanks to their older, in-on-Saturday-night target audiences. I’m not really a fan of enslaved daughters-in-law and male chauvinists, the two go-to stereotypes of the genre.

What’s caught my interest in this case is the screenwriter: Lee Kyung Hee. In addition to 2012’s well-reviewed Nice Guy, she wrote some of my favorite dramas of all time, including Thank You, A Love to Kill, and I’m Sorry, I Love You. Lee’s specialty are gripping, gritty melodramas about irredeemable antiheroes that could make an inanimate object sob. So what business does she have working on a show called “Wonderful Days”? And how will someone who usually writes tightly conceived, twenty-episode shows fill fifty shaggy episodes of multi-generational wank? I don’t know, but I’m interested to find out.

And then there’s the issue of watching a family drama live: would fifty episodes seem less daunting if they were broken up into bite-sized, two-episode chunks? (Although with my rate of watching these days, the show might be over before I actually caught up.)

Witch’s Romance
(episodes 7 and 8 out of 16 air this week)

I love noona romances, but I’m a little wary of this one in spite of the positive buzz it has garnered. It’s about a career-minded reporter who falls in love with a free-spirited man who’s fourteen years her junior; as a series airing on the tvN cable network, it’s sure to have excellent art direction and more than its fair share of steamy moments. All that sounds great, but I tried watching My Queen, the Taiwanese drama it’s based on, and didn’t even make it all the way through the first episode. Its comedy was broad to the point of slapstick and its leads came off as cartoony stereotypes, not people. Based on what I’ve seen of Witch’s Romance on Tumblr, it follows its source material really closely. I prefer epic melodrama to romantic comedy. This might not be the show for me, no matter how good it is. And exactly how many noona romances can you watch in a row? This would be my fourth, following after You Who Came from the Stars, I Need Romance 3, and Secret Love Affair. Those are tough acts to follow—three of them gave me lots of time to think about how not to do a noona romance, and one of them was practically perfect in every way. (I’ll leave you to guess which was which.)

Angel Eyes
(episodes 9 and 10 of 20 air this week)

Now this sounds like a good old-fashioned Korean melodrama: young lovers are tragically separated, only to spend the next twelve years pining for each other before being re-united as adults. In their years apart, the female lead recovered from legal blindness (congratulations!) and both lovers became medical professionals—he’s a successful surgeon, she’s an EMT—and come into contact again through their jobs. You had me until you go to the health care twist, show.  I could totally go for a classic melo romance, but I worry this series will end up focusing on the work lives of its characters instead of exploring their lives as fully formed people. I am, however, a little intrigued by seeing the actress who played Jan Di in Boys over Flowers in another show. Is she actually a terrible actress, or did that show’s problems (and strange, intoxicating charms) arise from its terrible writing?

Doctor Stranger
(episodes 3 and 4 of 20 air this week)

We all know they primary reason I’m considering picking up this show: Lee Jong Suk is cute as a button. It also promises fish-out-of-water antics and perhaps even some spyjinks as his North Korean character works in a South Korean hospital. This will probably be the cycle’s big fan drama, which always makes for extra fun watching, and all reports indicate that it’s shaping up to be a thrilling story with a starry-eyed central romance. As far as I can tell, it will go in one of two directions: another jokey, skin-deep exploration of North/South relations, or an episodic hospital drama. I’m not particularly excited to watch either. Maybe shower scene gifs on Tumblr are all I need to know about this show?

So, dear readers, what shall I watch next?


  1. I'm watching all that you posted except Wonderful Days. I'm liking them, but I'm rather superficial about kdramas, lol. I think if I reaaallly looked into them as you do, I'd probably quit more dramas on a regular basis.

    So far, Dr. Stranger is a bit of a mashup of genres, and I'm not quite sure what it's supposed to be -- is it melo, drama, comedy??? If I were to drop one of the 3, it would definitely be that one. But I'm going to hang in there and see where the next few episodes go. Angel Eyes is ok, but it's not really much of a soul-stirring melo for me. And it has lots of funny bits. I'm really enjoying Witch's Romance (I didn't see the original). It's a nice, fun rom-com.

    I'm also watching Gap Dong with Yoo Sang Hyun and Lee Joon. Love it! You've got suspense, thriller, murder, drama. Lee Joon plays creepy a little too well.

  2. There are some more: A New Leaf and You're All Surrounded :-)

    1. Oh, yes! You're All Surrounded is good, too. (I knew I was forgetting something from my list. I'm watching too many things at the same time.)

  3. I'm watching SLA and Witch's Romance and really love them both for different reasons, of course. Though not perfect, I have to say that Witch's Romance is a breath of fresh air when SLA just gets a little too tense and dark for me. So to shake off the frustration, I follow it up with WR. WR is laugh-out-loud hilarious, the leads have sizzling chemistry (still can't get that bed scene in the 2nd episode out of my head), and the story progresses quickly...misunderstandings are generally dealt with immediately...none of this infuriating he said, she said because the lead guy is actually a mature, decent namja. He is not a naive boy pining away.The show has heart and it feels good to have butterflies in my tummy again instead of it in knots with stress and suspense.

  4. I would suggest Hotel King. It has strong female characters and both the leads can act, which is always a plus. Lee Da Hae is a bit overly botoxed in the first episodes, but other than that it's the only show of the currently airing ones that I look forward to watching every week.

  5. Yoo-Na's street, the show following SLA, sounds interesting. Looks like a mish-mash of tones, but ft. your alt-family bonding, dark pasts, and female lead who is not pure as falling snow. Also, this has nothing to do with Korean shows, but the CBS law show the Good Wife has a surprising amount of parallels to SLA, especially the both shows showcasing two internal, intelligent middle aged ladies, who face morally compromising decisions at work, have less than perfect husbands, and begin relationships with someone other than their husband.

    1. Ditto on The Good Wife! It's one of the BEST shows ever.

  6. I am watching all of these and for different reasons like all of them very much.

    Wonderful Days has this awesome family that is messed up and loud and embarrassing and awesome and supportive and I adore them, but I also have a real fondness for the 'black sheep' - the son who actually became a success and never fit in and is learning to appreciate them now. And the character played by Kim Hee Sun...I could not love that woman any more if I tried.

    Witch's Romance - get past the first episode (a bit wobbly) and you will find two people who click on every right level; they help each other, they save each other, they grow each other. There are some great side characters and some irritating ones but that's par for the course. I did see the original TW-drama, My Queen, and as well-received as that one was - this is better.

    Angel Eyes has a lot going for it. There's an oddly bad (as in quality) bit in the first episode but when the two kids meet, it's magic. When they re-meet as adults, what I love is that once they both know who each other is, they are committed to being together despite disapproval from every corner. They don't bow to family pressure - yet, anyway - and instead they stand firm for the love they know is right for them. We're just getting into evil machination era though...

    Doctor Stranger. Wow. I refer to this (after today, affectionately) as WTF Doc. It's nuts. Absolutely nuts. And yet it's awesome. I expect some heart tugging but mostly right now, I'm just on the roller coaster laughing and watching the view whip by my head.

  7. Angel Eyes has NOTHING to do with medicine. Its basically a way to short-hand that all the guys are wealthy and everyone really cares about people with utmost sincerities!! But the actual medicine doesn't get past the ordering of a CT scan. In fact, they spend all their time at the observatory and fire station (so far). So, while I can't swear by it because I don't know how far your aversion goes, I wouldn't sweat it too much. More importantly, it is MELO. It is some hardlime, grade A, premium angst. Like, it's so melo I have trouble breathing through the miasma a lot of the time. So you might like it a LOT.

    If not, then Witch's Romance. You gotta give it a try. Come on.

  8. I am waiting to watch the last episode after I read your post. I have really appreciated your essays on SLA. I agree that it will be difficult to give up this wonderful love story. So exquisite. If you want a good family drama, you might try My Daughter SeoYoung that was so popular in Korea last year-I rally enjoyed it and it has the super cute dimples of the lead in Angel eyes. I've tried all that you listed, but I the only ones I look forward to are- New Leaf and BIg man. and Witches Romance. Plus I am completely besotted by the families on Return of Superman. Roommate also looks like a fun reality series. Fingers crossed on an ending that will make it all worthwhile in SLA.

  9. I am actually live-watching two dramas at the moment: Witch Romance and Angel's Eyes. I was a little wary too, about starting Witch Romance - never fond of slapstick kind of comedy. But I decided to watch after reading the fifth episode recap on Dramabeans and I have totally no regret. The male lead is one of the nicest lead I have ever seen and I can't help to cheer on the female lead and their interaction together is just so natural, funny and heart-warming. If you're still worried about the comedy, I suggest you to skip the first episode altogether (I did. Recap helped a lot) and started watching it from the last 15 minutes of episodes 2 (which: I also did. I replayed the last scene from Episode 2 over and over again tho) and look at me now. I'm obsessed with this drama.

    Angel's Eyes is not really my cup of tea - being a melo and everything. But the two leads are too CUTE together (the kids version is better than the adult one, but the adult one is cute too). They make my cheeks hurt from over-smiling so I can't help but wait for the new episodes every week now :)

    Have fun choosing! (Witch Romance tho. Give it a try)

  10. Watch Witch's Romance and then tell me if I should watch it.

  11. I am highly impressed with angel eyes so far...I'm talking really impressed. The movement from the teen cast to the adult cast has been done in a way that I almost wondered if Ku Hye-Sun has really gotten better or if she was really that bad and I must say I for one am impressed. She's hasn't given in yet and we are through a good bit of episodes, but with what I've been dealing with lately in endings from dramas I feel like to be hopeful will be a big let down. Her character has a strength about her that she's playing really well I think, whether or not the writers continue to give her a back bone.... Kdrama's aren't widely known for their progressive views on how a strong women doesn't face a moment that put's her down so far that of course some big strong man has to save her from the situation cuz lord knows she's not smart enough to get her self out of it.. *insert eye roll* She has hope I think, if the writers keep her strong i think she will play the character well and continue to give the show justice. :)

    1. At some point I'm definitely going to watch this show. Kdrama writers often seem to make their girls strong for the first episode or two—just long enough for us to form our opinions about them—and then turn them into weak damsels in distress before the end of the story. Here's hoping Angel Eyes will be the exception to the rule.

    2. I'll be surprised if you like Angel Eyes. Unless you can ignore the cliched storyline, and unconvincing characterizations, you probably won't like it. I only made it past the first 2 and half episodes before quitting.

      While the feel of it is a bit different, with the music and visuals, the writing is soo pedestrian.

      I've also watched You're All Surrounded and Big Man, YAS seems like it'll be pretty typical, the childhood male lead was good, and it has an almost interesting back story, but it's pretty easy to see where this one is going from episode 1. Go Ara's overwrought facial expressions doesn't help either, but I might give ep 3 a shot to see if there's improvement.

      Big Man is fun just for Kang Ji-Hwan's lovable character, but I can't pretend the story is great. The pace is fast though, and the acting isn't problematic yet.

      I have big hopes for A New Leaf, but haven't got a chance to watch it or Golden Cross yet.

  12. I'm watching all the shows on your list, and I quite enjoy all of them for different reasons.

    Wonderful Days has is the typical weekend family drama that's warm, full of heart with really interesting characters and family dynamics. It's not as dark and gritty as the writer's previous works, and some parts of the plot do get rather draggy at times. I find myself watching more for the side characters rather than the main leads. In fact, I skip a lot of their scenes together because I find the rest of the family more fun to watch. I'm rooting for the secondary loveline with the lead's mentally impaired older sister and a young doctor.

    Witch's Romance gets better as more episodes run. I watched the Taiwanese version as well, and I find that the Korean version is more toned down when it comes to the slapstick comedy. It took me a while to become invested in the romance because of the increased age gap, but the chemistry between the leads soon had me rooting for them. It's a frothy and fun rom-com that's really different from SLA, so I think you should give this a try! (I also find myself quite saturated with noona-romances--I watched all the ones you talked about in your post--but this is lighthearted and pretty fast-paced, so I think it'll be a fun watch)

    Angel Eyes is pretty good as well, but the plot points seem pretty predictable. I enjoyed the younger actors better than the adult ones, but I must say the transition from the young actors to their adult counterparts was handled pretty smoothly. Lee Sang Yoon redeemed himself in his role after his his disappointing turn in Fire Goddess Jung Yi. I also enjoyed My Daughter Seo Young thoroughly (in which he also played a role) because of his endearing performance. But if you were to ask me to choose between Angel Eyes and Seo Young, I think Seo Young's the better drama.

    Doctor Stranger is...strange. I can't quite categorize it under any genre. But somehow the strangeness of the show and random shifts in tone (jumping from comedy to gritty thriller to melodrama in the length of an episode) makes the show addictive to watch. It's a bit like Boys Over Flowers--you know some parts of the drama don't make sense but you watch it anyway. Lee Jong Seok's performance makes you root for him from the get go, even though you question the decisions that he makes.

    Anyway you also mentioned watching Taiwanese drama 'In A Good Way' in one of your earlier posts. I was wondering if you ever got around to watching it in the end because I picked it up and found it to be a pretty solid T-drama. It's not as slapstick-y as the typical Taiwanese drama and I find all the characters really interesting. Unfortunately the plot starts to slow at around Episode 17(??) once the leads get together. Otherwise it's still a fun college drama with a bunch of really endearing characters and I really want to hear your thoughts on the show.

    Anyway, good luck choosing your next drama to pick up and I look forward to reading your reviews on it!

    1. I still haven't gotten around to watching In a Good Way. (And was stunned to realize that it's still on the air—showing a single episode a week makes dramas seem to last forever!) I really want to give it a try, though.

      You've pretty much confirmed my suspicions about all these other shows. I think I should probably just swear off family dramas forever...I just don't have the patience for the draggy plots.

  13. I was wondering if you've ever tried watching Korean variety shows, aside from the usual Kdramas. I recently picked up this amazing series called 'The Genius', and I think it's one of the best reality TV shows I've ever watched. It's loosely based on the Japanese show 'Liar Game', and it pits a great mix of strong characters against one another in games, and the editing and visual design really made every episode intensely engaging and full of unexpected twists. The personal motivations of each character drive them to form alliances and these make the show go beyond the simple setup of a typical gameshow so that you can never be sure of the eventual outcome.

    I can't gush enough about the show, and I can't explain the lack of buzz about it. This is a link to the review of the show that prompted me to pick it up: http://www.claviscryptica.com/2013/12/02/the-genius-rules-of-the-game/

    Best of all, english subs are available in high resolution here: http://bxrme.tumblr.com/post/69603754319/the-genius-1-2-subbed

    After all the dramas that I've been watching, this gameshow is a breath of fresh air. There are 2 completed seasons and I find season 1 more compelling to watch than season 2. I highly recommend that you pick this up.

    1. Thanks for recommendation! I've never tried any Korean variety shows, but I'm definitely in the mood for something different. Maybe I'll give it a try.

    2. I love The Genius! It's super fresh and is definitely different from the other korean variety shows that I've been watching. I picked up the show after a recommendation from a friend and I was doubtful of whether I should watch it because I didn't know most of the cast aside from a couple of familiar faces from other variety programmes. But as the episodes went on I found myself getting more and more invested in each character's fate. I love the evolution of group dynamics as the games went on and I became a fan of Hong Jinho even though I barely knew anything about him prior to watching the show.

      I love love LOVE the visual design and the set design. Everything seemed so thoughtfully created and it really made the whole experience of watching the games more exciting and engaging. I absolutely love the soundtrack for the show as well, and the songs used definitely add to the gritty vibe of the games and heightens the intensity of every twist.

      I was surprised that there was not much hype about the show online. Maybe it's because it's a cable programme (tvN). Anyway, I wish more people would pick this show up and add to the discussion of the games! I'd love to read more perceptions about the show.

  14. I tried watching Wonderful Season and couldn't get past the third episode :/
    Out of the currently airing dramas, my favorite one is A New Leaf. I only hope it stays consistent until the end.

  15. those are just like you said. i think go ara is doing better in this one and she is going to do well in you're all surrounded but i personally just don't like her. however, i will watch it for the other main actor and the story. i like medical myself as i am a nurse so i like to see how accurately they portray the scenes and if their medical jargon is good, makes sense, and not to technical for average watchers.
    i think you should go with you're all surrounded or a new leaf or gap dong. they are all really interesting so far. you can't go wrong with i seung gi or cha seung won or the new leaf guy~ names just escape me sometimes.
    i really liked the long annoymous description of the shows you mentioned. doctor stranger is strange but i love the main actor. he carries anything he is in.

  16. Unlike several of the other commenters, I think that Witch’s Romance should be crossed off your short list. Now, when you’re still intoxicated with SLA, is NOT the time for you to go for another noona romance, especially one like WR. Soda pop just doesn’t taste good right after an exquisitely delicious gourmet meal.

    Personally, I’m really enjoying Wonderful Days~ it’s comfort food to me. It has lots of heart and poignancy (it’s much more like Thank You than Nice Guy), and there are plenty of strong female characters. But, yes, the pace is pretty slow and so it’s probably not for you.

    Since you have an affinity for melos, Angel Eyes might be like comfort food for you. It’s fairly old-school, and as Alexis said, the focus is definitely not on the workplace. GHS drove me nuts as Jandi, and made The Musical unwatchable for me despite my love for Daniel Choi, but she’s toned down her performance in Angel Eyes and is actually likable in this (so far). Surprisingly, she has good chemistry with both male leads~ and I dig that their characters really appreciate her character’s strength. Plus it has another Best mom Ever!

    However, I really think you should savor SLA a bit longer~ skip the drama-watching, and instead, get a massage then have your own noona romance. (Or perhaps the advice is intended for myself~ it should be noted that I’m currently wearing a scarf as a skirt. :D)

    As you long for more SLA, just remember that “'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”.

  17. Those were the exact words that popped up right after credits scrolled for the final time on SLA :D and I did think about picking up the book mentioned in the drama and start playing the piano! LOL!!

    What has SLA done to me?!

    Thoroughly enjoyed your SLA-specific blurbs on Tumblr, as shall I on your main blog.
    *loved the tag u included in your SLA compilation on Tumblr too. Hee hee hee!!

  18. everyone seems to have covered the bases already, but i needed to give my little plug on "angel eyes" hehehee!! ^^ it's seriously hitting the sweet spot with oldschool melo, and it's GORGEOUS to boot. if you just need a little good ol' fashioned splurge of melo w/o any hard core commitment, watch episodes 1-2 or 1-6 :D :D

  19. Amanda, I think it's time to watch Coffee Prince again!

  20. Hi there, I think you should watch "Unexpected You". It's a fabulous drama written by the screenwriter of "You From Another Star". I've noticed that her dramas always have very strong female characters and the men are mostly harmless, charming window dressing. In Unexpected You, you get not just one great romance, but several. They're all beautifully written and acted. You'll love it, promise.


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