Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Obligatory Year-end Post

Guess what inspired me to start this blog?

No, it wasn’t all the amazing Korean dramas I stumbled across during the first few months of my addiction (although that helped).

It was actually the Dramabeans year end recaps for 2011, which drove me wild with envy. To have seen so many dramas! To write so authoritatively about them! To recognize actors by name, and excel at playing six degrees of Park Shi Hoo! When I read those articles, I saw unicorns and rainbows.

And now here I am, having posted on this blog at least twice a week for the past 52 weeks. In the meanwhile, I’ve watched an obscene number of dramas—new and old, good and bad—and can recognize, name, and outline the relative merits of practically every handsome young actor working in Korea today. (Next year, I’ll work on the old and ugly. Or not.) I know what I like (realistic romantic comedies with a heavy dose of melodrama), what I dislike (whimpering, useless female leads; talking heads vying for political power in funny hats), and what I want to see more of (hot kissing; see above).

Last year, I itched to write an informed year-end overview of Korean drama like the ones I read on Dramabeans. Now that 2013 has finally rolled around, I’ve read lots of great-year end posts on other blogs. But somehow I find myself without all that much to say that I haven’t already posted. 

The root of this problem recently occurred to me: the reviews I’ve been posting every Thursday for the past few months have actually been my year-end review. Unlike a lot of other Kdrama bloggers, I don’t write recaps or spend a lot of time on in-depth discussions of the shows I watch. Instead, that kind of all-out treatment is saved for the few dramas I really love (or hate), while the ones I feel less strongly about receive only a brief review. These Thursday reviews are essentially what everyone else posts at the end of the year: short overviews of why I think you should (or shouldn’t) watch a drama.

So instead of creating something new for this requisite year-end summary, I thought I’d create a little index of the (embarrassingly many) 2012 dramas I watched this year. It has been fun going through the old reviews and seeing how my approach to writing them has changed, but in retrospect I still agree with most of my conclusions. (Next year I’ll work on this grade inflation problem I seem to have. Or not.)

I’m still too new to Korean television to really have a feel for whether specific years really have their own identity, as far as dramas go. The sheer number of programs that air ensures a huge variety of content and execution. And while these shows might be chock full of common themes, their presentation is always utterly unique; they might be built from the same raw material, but the results are always unexpected. (Not entirely like all those year-end drama reviews out there.)

So here I give you a speedy guide to 365 days of Outside Seoul--the dramas, the fangirling, and the snark.

Grade A
Answer Me, 1997. “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+

Arang and the Magistrate. “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-

Nice Guy “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-

Padam Padam. “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

Queen In-hyun’s Man. “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-

Shut Up: Flower Boy Band. “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

Werewolf Boy. “A Werewolf Boy [is] an old-fashioned monster movie that knows the truth—the real abomination isn’t the mysterious, super-strong boy with no blood type and a body temperature of 115 degrees. Instead, it’s the society that reacts to someone who’s different with fear and cruelty.” A- (movie)

Grade B
Equator Man. “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. “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-

I Need Romance 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

King 2 Hearts. “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-

To the Beautiful You. “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. “[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-

Whatcha Wearin’. “This is a modern take on the age-old story of girl-meets-boy that takes a refreshingly graphic approach to sex and love. (And happens to be obsessed with underwear.)” B (movie)

What’s Up. “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-

Grade C
I Do, I Do. “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

Fermentation Family“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+

The Thousandth Man“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“Saddled with a weirdly unsatisfying ending, this lighthearted romantic comedy is occasionally cute but overall tiresomely average.”  C+

Twelve Men in a Year. “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+

Grade D
Big“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

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

Operation Proposal“Repetitive, dull, and frustrating.” D

A Gentleman’s Dignity“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.”

On Hold
I Love Tae Ri
History of a Salaryman
White Christmas

Will Get around to Someday (or not)
Love Rain


  1. Dramabeans 2012 end of year reports were what inspired me to start watching more, and asap! Also, gave me a good inspirational handle on where to start. *slight bow in the general dramabeans direction*

    Nice recap^ You know what's strange though? I rated TTBY roughly the same as you, and yet I find myself missing it's fluffiness. I don't think I watched another mediocre drama all year that had such good fluffiness (and didn't kill me altogether).

    1. Often things that are popular don't deserve the hype, but that's totally not the case with Dramabeans. Such good writing, such good news, such a good blog. ::wistful sigh::

      There's something to be said for so-bad-it's-good, a phrase that may as well have been invented for TTBY. It was like cotton candy—a wonderful treat that would rot the teeth right out of your head if you had it every day.

  2. wow, Amanda ... that's quite a list! ^^congrats. I am getting slower in my drama watching, the older I get (and the more I blog). I used to devour them, now I'm more picky. I have a growing back-list but I know that I might never get around to watching stuff I have missed while it aired (Gaksital is on it, too)

    1. I'm definitely getting more picky about the dramas I watch, too. Today I probably wouldn't have made it past the second episode of Operation Proposal, but earlier this year I had yet to refine my quitting skills so sat through all 16 painful episodes. (So painful, in fact, that I didn't even really notice how cute Yoo Seung Ho was until I started watching him in I Miss You.)

      This blogging thing really does take a lot of time, huh? Good thing it's fun (mostly).

  3. Congrats Amanda! I really enjoy reading your blog because you have a different manner of attacking the monster that is Hallyu (Example, I like how you did your year-end post), and also since our tastes are kinda similar. I like realistic rom-coms as well, but only with a touch of melodrama. I see you've picked up In Time With You. I rewatched the last few eps when it came up on DF. I <3 that drama. Now, I wonder what you would think of Alone in Love.

    1. I am weak with love for In Time With You—at this point, it's second only to Coffee Prince on my list of favorite Asian dramas. (Although I do have to admit that as of episode 20 I'm so frustrated with the leads I could smack them. Their problems getting together are more realistically treated than they would be on most other shows, but that doesn't mean the dance needed to go on this long.)

      Alone in Love is definitely on my list to watch. I just wish it would come to Dramafever so I wouldn't have to sit through the commercials on Chrunyroll :b (And it seems like every time I give in and watch a show on some other site, it pops up on Dramafever two days later, so I'm trying to wait. Grr.)

  4. I discovered your blog only recently, and have been perusing your archives for several days now. Like how you did your year-end post; it was interesting to compare what you've watched (and how you liked it - or not :) with what I've watched. I have to say that we share the same love of Coffee Prince and Boys Over Flowers :D Which leads me to ask if you've seen the Japanese version Hana Yori Dango? Or the TW version Meteor Garden?

    Hope you love In Time With You as much as I do...I've said before that all drama writers and producers everywhere need to take note, because that drama has a last episode that puts all others to shame :) I say last episode because the copy I have has 13 eps, but it looks like what you're watching is divided into smaller eps? And one last question - have you watched MARS yet?

    1. I saw and liked Hana Yori Dango before I started this blog. It was good, but I missed the over-the-top insanity of Boys over Flowers. (When it comes to these shows, whichever drama version you see first is destined to be your favorite forever, I think.) I really want to watch Meteor Garden, as I'm all about Taiwanese dramas right now. I haven't found a version online with decent streaming quality, though, so I haven't gotten around to it.

      Drama Fever split each episode of In Time with You in half, which I actually really like. Episodes that are a full hour and a half long are just too daunting :b And if you love In Time with You like you love air, then we love the show the same amount. Everything about it is incredibly wonderful.

      I haven't seen Mars, because it seems hard to find online, too. I've definitely heard a lot of people recommend it, though. If only there were more hours in the day...

    2. I keep holding out hope that DF will acquire the licenses needed to stream some of the older TW "classics". TW dramas have only recently improved in video quality (from what I can tell) so the quality of Meteor Garden I and II (which are both over a decade old) definitely sucks. You're not likely to find decent quality for either drama. If you're not opposed to torrents, AsiaTorrents has both. I was lucky enough to download Mars a few months before the MU disaster, but even the so-called dvd rips I downloaded are LQ and the sound is like it was filmed in a tin can. Even so, my videos are better quality that any I've found since. But in spite of all that, I've watched Mars twice now and it still gets to me. As for MG...don't expect much in the way of acting skills :) However, it's fun to watch in a "now I can say I've seen every incarnation of HYD" kinda way :)

      I want to add that I like your Random Thoughts on the side of the page. It's fun to see what you're thinking as you watch a drama. And I agree about the "which version you watch first is forever your favorite" thing. I spent about 2 years watching Jdramas before getting sucked into Kdramas, so I saw HYD first. I resisted watching BOF for months because I felt there was no way it could ever compare to the Japanese version. I was wrong. I still feel the female lead in HYD was MUCH better than in BOF, but BOF had Lee Min HoT. And Kim Bum. And Kim Hyun Joong. But then HYD had the yumminess that is Oguri Shun....

  5. You dropped Gaksital? I want you to get into the Joo Won craze too... :P

    Can I recommend Ojakkyo Brothers though? Gosh, how I love that drama!

    1. Gaksital and I are having a trial separation. I only got partway into the first episode before a random dance number at a night club made me decide to try something else =X Someday I'll get around to it, though—I really do like historical dramas.

      Thanks for recommending Ojakkyo Brothers! I've been keeping an eye out for it on legit streaming sites and haven't had any luck. I'll definitely watch it someday, though.

    2. i second GAKSITAL. do not be misled by the super cheesy dance scene. if you like bromance, and i know you do, as well as epic-y epic-ness, this is for you :D

    3. i agree. Gaksital has one of the best bromance i've ever seen.

  6. Oh you should watch White Christmas and History of the Salaryman. Those were two of my favorites this year. They were both incredibly unique dramas (though in very different ways) History of the Salaryman was super offbeat and very tongue in cheek. Good fun. White Christmas was messed up! But in a good way!

    1. I'm such a geek...the low level of romance in both shows keeps knocking them off the top of my list of things to watch. Someday!

      (If only Kdrama took a summer break like American television, I'd totally get around to all these shows.)

    2. I want to second the recommendation of White Christmas. One of the best kdramas I've ever seen. I usually too prefer much more romantic fare and am prejudiced against everything labelled as a thriller and similar stuff. But White Christmas is really well done and does not only throw cheap and lazy mystery thriller clichés at your screen as a substitute for storytelling. Instead it uses all these genre conventions to further develop the narrative and its characters. And it's short. Only 8 episodes!

      (There were also (messed up) romantic relationships for some characters, I could root for. There might not be much 'romance'(as in romcom) in it but characters nevertheless fall in love.)

  7. Your reviews are excellent Amanda! I would not be able to write reviews or start a blog about dramas as I watch them for all the wrong reasons. I follow certain actors and actresses, only interested in Korean dramas, only interested in romance, comedy and melodramas. I'm particularly prone to historical dramas. I'm very loyal to my favorites and will watch them to the bitter end! I only give up when absolutely forced to (like Big). I think it's a throwback to my being an historical romance novel addict in my previous life. Nevertheless, reading other peoples thoughts and opinions does give me insight into the fact that there is a world out there besides the one I'm living in at present. Isn't it wonderful life gives us choices? Enjoy!

    1. Ha! I'm completely superficial and silly in my drama choices. I even finished Big just because of Gong Yoo, and practically have to be forced to watch anything that isn't mostly a love story.

      If only those historical dramas weren't so darn long, I'd be obsessed with them, too. I also have a long history with historical romances, but I've known marriages that have taken less time than your average sageuk :b

  8. hi, do you know where i can watch A Werewolf Boy with english subtitles?

    1. I'm sorry, but I don't :(

      I'm sure it will become more available once it's out of theaters.

  9. lovely, lovely post as always. i do hate to be redundant (as i've mentioned this before), but i love love love your writing style and voice!!! the excess use of exclamation points takes away from the sentiment, but i assure you of its sincerity! there you go, another exclamation point - i can't seem to stay away ;) thank you for all the wonderful posts that have kept me in tickles :) *a toast to another lovely year!*

  10. I'm so relieved to find out I'm not the only one who may or may not finish Gaksital. I feel like a Kdrama traitor not to love it to pieces. I mean it is well-filmed and well-acted but I just can't seem to get past episode 10. Plus I have to admit I've never really been one for the lost childhood sweetheart plot...now I really sound like a traitor ;)

  11. Is Gaksital another title for Bridal Mask?

    1. Indeed—it's the Korean word for "bridal mask." I hate that so many dramas have multiple English names—it can make it really hard to figure out what people are talking about. Dramabeans usually uses Gaksital, so I was following suit.

  12. Ahh.. i really enjoyed A Gentlemen's Dignity. If only Kim Ha Neul was a better actress.. she is totally annoying and lousy in the show. Quite a number of my friends could not finished the show either. However, i really like the opening of each episode, the special insights of typical guy in ordinary life. I really really find Jang Dong Gun charming and the fact that he actually asked Won Bin for tips on how to be funny in the drama makes me like him even more.

    I like dramas where the character slowly makes you like them as the drama progress. Like Oska and Yoon Seul in Secret Garden. They were annoying in the beginning then later they beats the main couple (in my opinion).

    Erm.. i would say... at the end of the drama, i like how there is no 2 guys over a girl or 2 girls over a guy scenario...it is just i like u u like me, lets do it kind of scenarios.. i like the other 3 couples relationship progress in the drama. I can rewatch but i will definitely fast forward all Kim Ha Neul scenes.

    PS: i really enjoyed reading your blog. You are the first blog i follow. =)

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