The Sum of All Dramas: A Review Index


Grade A
Highly recommended

Answer Me, 1997 (2012). “As far as I’m concerned, [this] is the drama of the year, and quite possibly my second favorite Korean series of all time. It has everything you could ask for in a television show about growing up: it’s at once silly, funny, sweet, tender, and poignant.” A+

Answer Me, 1994 (2013)“This drama will keep you entertained in spite of its shortcomings. In truth, its biggest problem is that bar was set too high by what came before.” A-

Arang and the Magistrate (2012). “A perfect, goose-bumpy fit for the Halloween season, this show is just what I wanted it to be: a transporting sageuk that never commits the crime of taking itself too seriously.” A-

Autumn’s Concerto (2009). “Showcasing a pair of so-beautiful-it-hurts lovers and their mind-bendingly adorable son, [Autumn’s Concerto] pulls out all the stops when it comes to soapy tribulations, but never fails to keep a relatable human face on the madness.” (Taiwan) A

Coffee Prince (2007). “A window into a warm, cozy world of blue skies and bright sunshine, a world that feels like our own, but ever so slightly better.” A+++

Cruel City (2013). “Stylish, thrilling, and filled with a cast of indelible characters, Cruel City is the most compulsively watchable drama I’ve come across in a long time.” A

Dal Ja’s Spring (2007). “Wonderful in all its particulars, this is the humane, effervescent story of not only the female lead, but also the people whose lives intertwine with hers.” A

Delightful Girl Choon Hyang (2005). “The fact that the Hong sisters created a drama this well-thought out and lavishly imagined makes me wonder if they should give up writing original screenplays and insted focus on adapting other people’s work.” A-

The End of the World (2013). “Atmospheric and grand in scope, The End of the World feels like one epic movie. Each episode is part of an interconnected narrative exploring the outbreak of the mysterious M virus, moving swiftly from its first appearance on Korean shores to the breathless chase for its sole survivor, and then from the business of quarantine to the desperate search for a cure.” A

Family’s Honor (2008). “Although not high art and certainly not without its flaws, it’s exactly the slow-simmering, everyday, breakfast-to-bed kind of story that Korean drama is uniquely equipped to tell.” A

Flower Boy Next Door (2013). “So could Flower Boy Next Door has been a better drama? Probably. Could I have loved it more? Probably not. It’s a humane, fairy-tale-tinted foray into the lives of some of the most indelible characters Kdrama has ever created.” A

Flowers for My Life (2007). “Part workplace comedy, part romance, and part tear-jerking melodrama, this show is a strange delight. It’s also one of the few examples of a drama that actually improved during its running time, growing from a silly farce to a thoughtful consideration of death, dying, and the people left behind.” A-

I Need Romance (2011).  “What makes I Need Romance really special is its thoughtful storytelling, which mixes weighty-but-realistic relationship angst, light comedy, and heavy petting, all flavored with a uniquely Korean earnestness.” A

I'm Sorry, I Love You (2004).  “If you can handle the tragedy of it all, you’re in good hands...every character is nuanced and sensitively drawn, and every awful turn is balanced with a moment of grace and beauty.” A-

Jewel in the Palace (2003)“Like the journey to success for its female lead, this show is a long voyage that is very much worth taking.” A

Joseon X-files (2010). “As outlandish as its premise may seem, Joseon X-files is actually a perfect blend of occult detective story and sageuk mystery.” A

I Hear Your Voice (2013). “I Can Hear Your Voice is a charming distraction with a cast of likeable characters and an impossibly compelling central romance. It gives viewers a mouthwatering taste of many of Kdrama’s biggest tropes—noona romance, cohabitation farce, revenge quest, supernatural drama, and birth secret mystery.” A-

In Time with You (2011). “Although its plot is low-key to the point of being almost nonexistent and it suffers from last-quarter pacing problems, this stylish, sophisticated drama is second in my heart only to Coffee Prince. Everything about it is enchanting, from how it looks to how it sounds to how it feels.” (Taiwan) A+

A Love to Kill (2005). “A Love to Kill might just be my favorite of [screenwriter] Lee Kyung Hee’s melodramas. It will tear out your heart. But in a good way.” A

Ma Boy (2012). “A bite-sized treat that’s both sweet and endearing.” A-

Master’s Sun (2013). “Master’s Sun is funny but not broad, sweet but not treacly, and animated without being over the top.” A-

My Lovely Sam Soon (2005). “All these years later, My Lovely Sam Soon doesn’t feel dated—the production values are good, the casting and acting are spot on, and the script is funny and insightful.” A

Nice Guy (2012). “Nice Guy is one of the finest examples of its species: dark and drawn to the things that break us, it explores the horrible things people will do to save themselves, and the precarious ways they can earn redemption for them.” A-

Nine (2013). “Although it arrived late to 2012’s time travel party, Nine is without a doubt the guest of honor. It’s a thrilling, noodle-baking action drama that engages both heart and mind.” A

Nobuta wo Produce (2005). “With its slice-of-life vibe, quirky cast of characters, and zippy pacing, this is a drama that pulls you fully into its world.” (Japan) A

Padam Padam (2012). “From its basis in a standard Kdrama conflict shared by who knows how many other shows, Padam Padam grows into a romance, mystery, family drama, and tale of both the natural and the supernatural. And television doesn’t get much better than that.” A

Painter of the Wind (2008). “Thoughtful, girl-centered sageuks are hard to find, but Painter of the Wind is both. Its speedy plotting and fully drawn characters are a pleasure to watch, making it hard to stop at just one (or five) episodes at a sitting.” A

Pasta (2010). “More of a lighthearted workplace drama than a traditional romantic comedy, Pasta may not have much of a central plot, but its underdog-makes-good storyline and episodic structure manage to stay fresh and interesting to the very end.” A

Queen In-hyun’s Man (2012). “This is an epic, redeeming love story with a supernatural twist, beautifully plotted with unrelenting narrative tension and an unerring feel for the pleasures and terrors of star-crossed love.” A-

Queen of Reversals (2010). “Queen of Reversal’s story never falls into the drama doldrums. There are always new and exciting things happening, and lots to look forward to around every corner.... Even the addition of ten episodes couldn’t derail this narrative; like its heroine, this drama handled the unexpected with grace and style.” A-

Shut Up: Flower Boy Band (2012). “SUFBB transcends its gimmicky premise (pretty boys! In a band!) to become a genuinely affecting, well-made drama about the power of friendship and the pain of growing up.” A

Spring Waltz (2006). Spring Waltz is a sublime and swoony fairytale. It’s cotton-candy luscious and lovely and earnest, but also has just the right amount of gritty edge to keep it from being like drowning in an ocean of treacle. It encapsulates almost everything I love about Korean drama: it’s unapologetically sentimental, intensely romantic, and full of fated love.” A+

Thank You (2007). “This is not a showy, wish-fullfilment drama designed for maximum razzle-dazzle. It asks serious questions about life and death, and gives no cheesy answers or showy resolutions. It’s a thoughtful meditation on community, responsibility, and family that happens to be told with the voice of a love story.” A+

Time between Dog and Wolf (2007). “Thrilling, action packed, and filled with sophisticated storytelling and complex, nuanced characters, it still manages to include a compelling love story.” A+

White Christmas (2011). “In the course of its eight-episode running time, [White Christmas] morphs from a story about a schoolyard secret to an adult mystery, and then to a fight for the survival of body and soul. So here’s the key piece of information you need to know: You should watch it.”  A

A Wife’s Credentials (2012). “Perfectly cast and acted, beautifully filmed, and blessed with one of the most wonderful soundtracks in recent memory, A Wife’s Credentials is close to perfect.” A+

Que Sera Sera (2007). “How is it that this dark gem of a show isn’t on more top 10 lists?”




Grade B
Recommended

Baby-faced Beauty (2011). “A harmlessly fun noona romance, something the world could definitely use more of.”

Baker King, Kim Tak Gu (2010). “However slapdash and silly it may be, I find it hard to actively dislike Baker King Kim Tak Gu. It’s so cute and good-hearted that it’s easy to overlook the show’s many flaws, which include but are not limited to low production values, a makjang-tastic storyline with plot holes large enough to contain entire solar systems, and indifferent acting on the part of everyone but the leads.” B-

Bridal Mask (2012). “Unpopular opinion alert: I thought this much-loved drama was middling at best.” B-

Can We Get Married (2012).  “Can We Get Married is a realistic, quietly funny and subtly feminist take on modern love.” B+

Capital Scandal (2007). “What starts off as a madcap story of unlikely love blooming against a period backdrop evolves into a unexpectedly powerful exploration of duty and sacrifice.” B

December Fever (2004). “There’s a lot to love in this drama’s candid depiction the political currents inherent in traditional Korean family life. For something that starts off as a broad romantic comedy, it evolves into a powerful melodrama that will almost certainly leave you sobbing.” B

Dream High (2011).  “Unlike many dramas, the show’s narrative tension never flagged; thanks to having no fewer than 6 main characters, there was enough story to go around, from beginning to end.” B+

Equator Man (2012)“Thanks to a compelling cast and serviceable (if holy) plot filled with books, art, and a moving bromance gone terribly, terribly wrong, this drama is a juicy, uncomplicated soap opera that’s just right for rainy day viewing.” B

Faith (2012). “It’s possible to enjoy this show for its swoony, slow-boil romance, but the second you give your brain cells free reign everything falls to pieces.” B-

Fated to Love You (2008). “It’s fitting that this show’s female lead spends a lot of time worrying about being a ‘sticky note girl’: someone common, disposable, and too eager to please. Ultimately, this description is a perfect fit for both her character and Fated to Love You itself.” (Taiwan) B-

Heirs (2013). “Heirs ultimately crumbled under the weight of its crown. But it sure was pretty while it lasted.” B-

Hwang Jin Yi (2006).  “Fine, but not especially engaging.” B-

I Need Romance 2012 (2012). “While the three C’s of the 2012 edition—cast, characters, and chemistry—aren’t quite on par with the wonderful original, all is forgiven in light of INR 2012’s better-plotted script and tendency toward dialog that’s equal parts painfully funny and painfully truthful.” B

It Started with a Kiss (2005). “The comfort food of dramas: sweet and tasty, but totally devoid of actual nutrition.” (Taiwan) B-

King 2 Hearts (2012)“An amusing drama with a likable cast and lots of fun mythology about the Korean monarchy in the twenty-first century, but tonally inconsistent and about 6 episodes too long.” B-

Meteor Garden (2001). “Meteor Garden has all the shortcomings you’d expect from a drama of this vintage—it looks, feels, and sounds dated and its production values are bargain basement. But I’m still a sucker for its swoony, starry-eyed love story, and this might just be my favorite of its incarnations.” B+

My Sweet Seoul (2008). “The drama might have survived a major tone shift to hardcore melo, if only [the leads] had ever managed to feel like they really belonged together.” B- 

Nine End, Two Outs (2007). “[This is a show with] an appealingly mellow, realistic vibe and some real insights into the difficulties of sharing a living space and allowing friendship to become something more, but never quite manages to become essential viewing.” B-

Ojakgyo Brothers (2011). “A cozy drama with many sweet moments. If you’ve got 58 hours to spare, I might just have found the show for you.” B

To the Beautiful You (2012). “Flawed as it may be, this empty-calorie treat is light, bright, and full of sly references to the cross-dressing Kdramas that came before it. Watching it may barely require consciousness, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time if you—like me—are happy to overlook some serious missed opportunities in favor of goofy fun.” B

Rich Man, Poor Woman (2012). “[The Japanese series] Rich Man, Poor Woman was an easy, amusing watch, but it lacked the homefront-minded charm and obsession with love that keeps me coming back to Korean drama.” B-

Soulmate (2006). “[Soulmate’s] half-hour running time, indie vibe, and lightweight storytelling make it feel distinctly different from traditional Kdramas. [It’s] a fun, airy comedy that feels weirdly unmoored.” B+

That Winter, the Wind Blows (2013). “What might have been a powerful character study of a flawed but functional family of misfits turned out to be nothing more than a music video about pretty people and cherry blossoms.” B-

Vineyard Man (2006). “[Vineyard Man’s] direction, acting, and plotting were all clumsy at best, but the strong cast and refreshing story largely saved the day for me.” B-

What’s Up (2012). “On a small-scale level, this show is full of idiosyncratic pleasures—fun musical numbers, interesting characters, and a random ghost for good measure (and occasional purposes of exposition).... But What’s Up’s ending-fail retroactively ruined what had been a fun show.” B-

The World That They Live In (2008). “If you’re curious about how dramas are made and like low-key storytelling without a lot of over-the-top spectacle, The World That They Live In could actually be a show you like a lot.” B





Grade C
Not recommended

Cheongdamdong Alice (2013). “Cheongdamdong Alice wasted its strong cast and interesting premise, becoming just another a slick-but-soulless network distraction that you’ll forget one second after you watch its final episode.” C

Fermentation Family (2012)“What began as a story of foodie magical realism told through the lens of a traditional Korean restaurant and the people who frequent it quickly descended into a series of makjang plot twists taken right out of the Big Book of Kdrama Clichés.”  C+

I Do, I Do (2012). “If only this show had embraced its true premise rather than watering it down with standard Kdrama workplace shenanigans, it might have been the a touching story of an independent woman rising to the challenges of unexpected motherhood. As it is, I Do, I Do is an empty exercise in form over function that has neither a heart nor a soul.”  C

Iljimae (2008). “Overall, a diverting if not entirely satisfying way to spend twenty hours.”  C+

I Miss You (2013). “Early on, you’ll ache for the lead characters as they suffer through almost every  kind of torture imaginable. Later, you’ll ache for the lead actors as they do pretty much the same.” C+

Mars (2004). “This central relationship and the story’s speedy plotting will keep you watching, but the rest of the drama leaves a bit to be desired.” C+

School 2013 (2013). “Because the show’s scope is limited almost exclusively to the classroom, it never feels like you get to know anyone or come to understand their motivations. As far as I’m concerned, this resulted in an anchorless narrative that was too broad for its own good.” C+

Smile, You (2007). “The first 20 episodes of Smile, You were a pleasure to watch. But by the time I hit episode 40, I couldn’t stand the thought of spending another minute with the show. I skipped to the last episode (which is definitely worth watching), and haven’t looked back since.” C

The Thousandth Man (2012)“Episodic and insubstantial, The Thousandth Man brings the mythical gumiho into the modern urban world, surrounding its family of foxes with spas and playgrounds and the petty concerns of humans.”  C+

Rooftop Prince (2012)“Saddled with a weirdly unsatisfying ending, this lighthearted romantic comedy is occasionally cute but overall tiresomely average.”  C+

They Kiss Again (2007). “There’s a lot to enjoy in [They Kiss Again’s] episodic stories, but I started to feel like the female lead: I was being strung along by the promise of a love that never really materialized.” C

Twelve Men in a Year (2012). “All too often the show’s boundary-breaking central plot and great supporting cast are downplayed in favor of the abrasive, unlikable female lead and her cold-as-ice relationship with her ex-boyfriend.” C+

What Happened in Bali (2004).  “The Wuthering Heights of Korean drama (only less good).” C+

What Planet Are You From? (2006). “A strong beginning, a realistic vibe, and two of the handsomest male leads imaginable couldn’t save this drama from its makjangy, listless second half.” C+




Grade D
D is for drek

Big (2012)“Decently executed but with an unforgivably awful, unfocussed script: Once it became clear that the writers had no idea where they were going with the show’s central body-swap mystery, I all but lost the will to watch.” D

A Gentleman’s Dignity (2012)“Dropped. As I sometimes do, I decided to start fast-forwarding through the boring parts at about episode 7. When I realized I’d skipped through the first 45 minutes of the episode without finding a single scene I actually wanted to watch, it became clear that it was time to call it quits.” D

Moon that Embraces the Sun (2012). “I’ve seen more narrative sophistication in Disney Channel movies intended for ten year olds.” D

Operation Proposal (2012)“Repetitive, dull, and frustrating.” D

Summer’s Desire (2010). “Summer’s Desire is the Cliffs Notes version of a better show: it cuts every corner in service of its silly narrative mission. With clumsy editing, cardboard cut-out acting, and a total lack of connective tissue, this is a story told backward—but you’ve got to build something up before you can tear it down.” D

Sang Doo, Let’s Go to School (2003). “It seems mean-spirited to judge yesteryear’s dramas by today’s standards. But that doesn’t step Sang Doo from feeling like fifth-grade gym class compared to today’s Olympic-caliber Kdramas.” D

11 comments:

  1. Funny enough, I based my sorting system on the blog your did considering what is a favorite drama, What are dramas to recommend, and what do I consider best (quality) drama, and how different those lists might be. That post really made me think about my viewing habits, likes and dislikes, and really helped me clarify what I like in some dramas. Which was great, because it is helping to learn to say no, and to not invest in dramas, and save a little bit of my sanity lol. I also categorized my recommendations into smaller sections, with considerations for various elements, such as for those new to k drama, romance, lots of heart, etc. I think sometimes our lists are works in progress, because I think oh I could sort it this way too blah blah. I really like your sound bite style commentary in this grading list.

    It's always fun to read blogs like this because they are informative and make one remember dramas that might be on the to do list that have fallen by the wayside.

    I am planning on rewatching IHYV sometime in the next year, and I'm wondering how it's going to hold up from my memory of love. I don't want to lose my high from that drama, but part of the evaluation process is the re-watchability factor. Crap, that's another category, isn't it? ;)

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  2. Thanks for this list. Have bookmarked it.

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  3. Thanks for the list. I've been watching Korean dramas for about 2 years now, and I agree with most of your rating. Lately, I've been wanting something different so I started watching Pride, a Japanese drama. It's a romance drama, length is just right at 11 episodes, and has Queen's "I was born to love you" as soundtrack. What can I say, but I just loved it.

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  4. You must watch You are beautiful! If u have a spare 16hours. I would so like to hear/read about what you felt of it.

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  5. For depth of thought, historicism: Shin Don, Numero Uno on this hit parade:

    http://vaultofdoom.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/top-500/#more-193

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  6. I depend my drama roster on this list. Been watching Asian dramas for 3 months now and I need to watch more. Hahaha! I have watched 12 dramas only so I am in need of reviews from the experts :) Will definitely follow this list. THANKS A LOT!!! <3

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  7. To me some dramas you catagorized as C or D don't belong in that category, for example, Cheongdamdong Alice: B (i laught so hard with Park shi Hoo, and his chemistry with Moon was great), Smile, You (a really nice and fun family comedy with a lot of heart), Rooftop Prince (I still rewatch this when i have a chance, the romance and love story keeps me coming), What Happened in Bali (a really powerfull show with great actings, i have watch it so many times, a really unexpected show), A Gentleman’s Dignity (My favourite F40, despite overacting from the otouke scenes by the main lead, the brofriendship was realli deabak), Moon that Embraces the Sun (the beginning with the youg versions is awesome, I would change the grown actress, but the king! OMG, I feel in love with the show because of him I guess)

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  8. Hi Amanda,
    Great Blog! Have you checked out The Greatest Love? that's my favourite Kdrama (Coffee Prince comes close xD)

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    1. oh i loved that one too!! with this, my girl. you are beautiful and gumiho the Hong Sisters have occupied my top five list :)

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  9. This is how i found your blog quite interesting and concern in the blog is really impressive keep updating your blog and i have also bookmarked your blog for future updates and thanks for sharing this kind of precious information...!!!

    watch The Gallows online

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  10. Do you have Oh My Venus review? :D

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