In July I made the worst (best) discovery I could make, Korean Dramas are addictive. Aigoo, so addictive. I was dragged into the (not so) seedy underworld of KDrama to appease my sister and stop her nagging (for me to watch just one show with her), so the initial reluctance was strong in this one. However about 10 dramas later, with no end in sight, I can’t really call myself a ‘reluctant’ KDrama watcher anymore, can I? Sure the storylines can be utterly ridiculous and it takes a short while to become accustomed to some cultural aspects (and the subtitles), but before long you realise that the elements are rather formulaic and repetitive so you grasp them more easily- even if they’re so unbelievable you need to fortify the tree branch where you sit suspending your disbelief. They’re ridiculous and melodramatic (sometimes too melodramatic- hello makjang), with moments of pure poignancy often interspersed (thankfully) with heavy amounts of humour. Not to mention the copious amounts of eye-candy (lol SUFBB pun!). You’ll be thankful for the the fact that the shows are often contained within a single season, of about 13-20 episodes, that typically wraps up by the finale with plenty of closure.
Well, save for the occasional, yet extreme, Second Lead Syndrome (SLS) you’re left with. The music is another monster altogether in that I went into KDramas not much of a KPop listener but now have over 300 Korean songs on my iPod. Halp.
So let’s take a look at what I’ve (binge) watched so far over the past two or so months. If you’ve seen the shows I’m about to go in on, I’d love to hear your thoughts! If you think I’ve gone mad, follow me down the rabbit hole so that I can make my case. I’m just hoping that forming somewhat cohesive thoughts and writing them down will prove therapeutic and thus help me to work through this addiction. Because it’s affecting my TV-watching habits, big time.
To The Beautiful You (2012)
I’m slightly (read as really) embarrassed that this show was my introduction to Korean Drama. Based on a Japanese manga, Hana-Kimi, TTBY made me so angry. I mean, I just couldn’t get over the main female character’s motivation in life. Disguising yourself as a boy to get into an all-boys school in order to help your idol- who’s basically just got the yips after recovering from an injury- with no other aspirations is kind of saddening. I think SM (Kpop Idol Manufacturers? I’m still new to the entire operation lol) just decided to produce the drama, any drama, as a way of making more moolah off their assets, in this case Sulli of f(x) and Minho of SHINee.
While I understand that the character’s motivation in the manga is the same, surely they could have had the writers give Jae-hee (Sulli) another motivating factor to drive her. Give her a reason to want to wake up in the morning other than to be there to whisper-shout ‘FIGHTING!’ at Tae-joon (Minho). Also she was kind of a shitty friend to anyone who wasn’t Tae-joon. Cha Eun-gyul (the magnificent Lee Hyun-woo) deserved better, we all did. Eun-gyul may have been one of the more complex characters the show had to offer- tied with Min Hyeon-jae (Kang Ha-neul).
It could have just been Hyun-woo’s acting (he’s really amazing in Secretly, Greatly btw), especially in the second half of the show, however he was much more of a complex character than Jae-hee. Dude portrayed a guy super confused about his sexuality so well. Hell Tae-joon’s athletic rival Hyeon-jae (whose conflict stemmed from being a poor scholarship student battling self-esteem issues whilst trying to make it as a high-jumper in order to better his family’s quality of life) was more of a complex character than Jae-hee. Hyun-woo was a standout, for reals. Gah, the adorbs- the feels, the SLS.
So the fact that we had some gems in such a trainwreck of a show really ground my gears, like to the point that I was constantly ready to throw things ALL THE TIME. ALL THE DAMN TIME. I know what you’re thinking, ‘well sheesh if you hated it that much why’d you keep watching?’ I don’t know, I guess I hate-watched the whole thing. Fine, that’s not completely true; I liked a few characters’
shirtless scenes too much to abandon them and I wanted to see how it would end- which was lamely I might add.
16 (hour-long) Episodes in (approx) Five Days
Boys Over Flowers (2009)
And yet I started another show right after. Again I’m really embarrassed here, but let’s just blame it all on my sister. Now what should we say about Boys Over/Before Flowers? Firstly, it’s another Japanese manga (Hana Yori Dango) adaptation, although I suppose it was slightly better in terms of female character development. Slightly. Basic rundown, poor spunky girl attends super-exclusive high school for the rich on scholarship (for reasons) and has a run in with the big dawgs on campus who call themselves the F4. Fab 4? Fantastic 4? Flower 4? I can’t remember what the F stands for. Gu Jun-pyo (Lee Min-ho), Yoon Ji-hoo (Kim Hyun-joong), So Yi-jeong (Kim Bum), and Song Woo-bin (Kim Joon) are the top dogs of the school (because their families are the richest) and no one, not the teachers, other students, general members of the public, dare challenge them. No one, that is, except Jan-di, spunky poor girl (Ku Hye-sun). There’s so much cringe that goes on, but each actor commits to their role like nobody’s business. Them cardboard kisses tho’. While I found Jan-di refreshingly, especially following on from Jae-hee’s lacklustre existence, spirited at the start. I mean them high kicks and punches were ace.
But unfortunately she kind of started to dim a bit towards the end and MAN WHY DIDN’T ANYTHING BAD EVER HAPPEN TO THE DOUCHES OF THE BOF WORLD?! Catty chicks do shitty things and all that happens to them is angry glares from main characters, horrid parents continue on their horrid lives as horrid people with no repercussions because- why? WAE? But, as you’ll find with the four out of five Korean dramas you watch, it all manages to tie up nicely and happily come the final episode- well DURING the final episode. This drama did its best to bring the SLS, especially towards the end, but I’m thinking Jan-di really dodged that bullet.
25 (hour-sometimes longer-long) Episodes in (approx) Six Days. Made worth it by hilarious moments like this. Smooth, Gu Jun-pyo, so smooth.
Personal Taste (2010)
Heh, hot off the heels of BoF I started this show about an uber-clean architect named Jeon Jin-ho (oh hey, Lee Min-ho!) who gets mistaken for a gay guy by down-on-her-luck Park Kae-in (Son Ye-jin). In order to win the favor of the Dam Art Center director, and win a moneymaking project bid, Jin-ho has to get the skinny about the art center director’s favorite building: Sanggojae, which has never even once been opened to the public. Coincidentally, the Sangojae is Kae-in’s home, Kae-in’s in search for a new roomie for reasons that should you should watch rather than read about (hint: whatever happened to sisters before misters?) and agrees (with much persuasion from her crack up bestie Lee Young-sun, played by Jo Eun-ji) to rent the room to Jin-ho.
Only because, after more than one scene of hilarioussss misunderstandings, they’re both under the impression that he’s gay. As it’s the only way he can study the house, and because his own friend basically pushes him into it, Jin-ho goes with it. Hilarity, and way too much heartache for a show that was meant to be nothing but lulz, ensues.
16 (hour-long) Episodes in (approx) Four Days. Also Kae-in laying down some realness:
City Hunter (2011)
Let’s say I went on a bit of a Lee Min Ho-binge, also- City Hunter was awesome. A revenge story to the very end with many twists, turns and dramatic reveals along the way. Intense, action-packed (man do I love fighting scenes) and funny with enough cliff hangers and near misses to guarantee at least one heart attack an episode. Until you’re almost at the end you’re constantly thinking ‘what kind of logic?!’ in regards to Lee Yoon-sung’s (Lee Min Ho) adoptive father, Lee Jin-pyo (Kim Sang-joong). I get it man, you were wronged by your own government but your methods… we need to talk about your methods. That’s where Yoon-sung comes in, raised by Jin-pyo to take revenge on the government officials that killed Jin-pyo’s bestie (Yoon-sung’s bio-dad). But they seem to disagree, naturally, on their methods of revenge-scheme execution.
The show runs the risk of becoming too convoluted but it’s saved by a great cast with good chemistry- and awesome fight scenes. I can’t stress enough how much action sequences, well-executed action sequences, make me happy. Even if I’m on the edge of my seat fearing for my bbs lives. Including secondary characters like, Kim Young-joo (Lee Joon-hyuk) our long-legged ahjussi prosecutor who brought the SLS and broke our hearts in the process and the hilarious mother-hen-like Bae Man-duk/Bae Shik-joong (played by Kim Sang-ho).
20 (hour-long) Episodes in (approx) Four Days…worth it. Even if the ending was a tad lukewarm.
Secret Garden (2010)
This fantasy drama was suggested by a friend who said I’d love it and she was right. (Sidenote I used to mock/become irritated with when she couldn’t discuss mutual shows due to watching KDrama, in hindsight I was harsh and I take it all back. Because I understand now. Oh how I understand now.) Secret Garden revolved around a badass stunt-woman Gil Ra-im (the brilliant Ha Ji-won) who has the misfortune of crossing paths and making an impression on the arrogant uptight CEO Kim Joo-won (Hyun Bin). Bing bang bosh and somehow Ra-im finds herself in Ji-won’s body and vice versa, we know how they got that way (although we don’t know the whys) but they don’t and their body-swap scenes breeds all kinds of hilariousness. However that doesn’t mean this drama didn’t throw some absolutely heart-wrenching moments at us, like WAE? At many points you’re left wondering whether the universe could BE more mean? Which is a mistake because the universe responds with a resounding ‘yes’.
The leads have some excellent chemistry, and the supporting cast were just as awesome. Sure at times you wanted Ra-im to properly maim Joo-won, like actually- him and his super annoying mother. Ugh chaebol families. There were some problematic moments of seemingly unwanted skinship that had you questioning why you were shipping it ever-so-slightly, just because you weren’t sure how the show was handling a person’s right to certain boundaries. Oh and some explanations were rather wishy-washy, hinging a lot on fate and whimsical fantasy and whatnot. However Hyun Bin and Ha Ji-won’s acting soon made you forget the troublesome scenes and focus on the funny. Because Hyun Bin’s portrayal of Gil Ra-im stuck in his body was so awesome to watch, and Ha Ji-won’s mastery of Joo-won’s facial expressions were epic.
20 (hour-long) Episodes in (approx) Four Days because there’s no such thing as moderation.
The 1st Shop Coffee Prince (2007)
You wanna talk about chemistry? Let’s talk about Yoon Eun-hye and Gong Yoo’s chemistry in Coffee Prince. Because daaaaamn. Go Eun-chan (Eun-hye) is often mistaken for a boy- owing to her androgynous looks and boyish behaviour. She’s basically the head of her family because her dad passed away, her mum’s a bit shit with money and her little sister is well, her little sister. After (a few) run-ins with an immature but attractive rich guy- Choi Han-kyul (Yoo) who mistakes her for a boy and asks her to pretend to be his boyfriend to get out of the blind dates his grandmother keeps setting him up on. Han-kyul’s grandmother makes him manage a coffee shop, Eun-chan continues lets Han-hyul think she’s a guy so she can work there- the shop’s concept is ‘princes’. Of course they start to have proper love-like feelings for each other, and Gong Yoo plays an incredibly compelling man confused about his feelings for someone he thinks is a guy- when he’s pretty sure he’s not gay.
The fleshed out characters really make this show so addicting and the writing meant the story never waned and can I just say it was nice not to hate a single parental figure? Because up until now there have been nothing but evil chaebol relatives who seemed to have but one dimension. However we have here an irritating at times but well-meaning mum, and a stern matriarch who doesn’t immediately hate our female lead obstinately- granted she doesn’t know Eun-chan’s a girl at first.
17 (hour-long) Episodes in Four Days.
Shut Up Flower Boy Band (2012)
The feels were strong in this one. Don’t let the name fool you, sure there were pretty flower boys but they were so much more than that, this show was so much more than that. Much like its main characters, the show was rather gritty and unrelenting with solid acting, writing and directing. I could watch this band of misfits forming their own family all day. The drama revolved around them as a group however allowed us to see them develop as individuals- with the core relationship of the band-members shoving romance to the side a bit. Which was actually rather refreshing. The show handled their characters well, although there was a touch of noble idiocy-syndrome towards the end, it wasn’t to the extent that made you want to scratch the inside of your eyes out.
Lee Min-ki’s cameo was all shades of amazing, I wish we could have gotten more but that’s pure selfishness on my part because the show really was great the way it was. Even if it meant a whole lot of anguish early on in the drama for our boys. Roll-call? We had Singer/guitarist, Ji Hyuk (Sung Joon) living on his own (because his blood-relatives were dicks) and is, after we bid farewell to Byung-hee (Lee Min-ki), the one holding it down for the team. Guitarist Hyun Soo (L) has an initially icy demeanour and temper but is loyal to a fault and the way he looked after his sister was so cute. Do II (Lee Hyun Jae), the silent seemingly easy-going drummer who doesn’t say much- quietly observing. Ha Jin (Yoo Min Kyu), the skux playboy and bassist, and Kyung Jun (Kim Min Suk), kitten and keyboardist, have the best friendship- it’s better shown than described.
The female characters were also well-written and developed, Im Soo-Ah (Jo Bo-ah) goes through her own problems and comes out a stronger person as a result. At the start you’re not sure what to make of her as she’s seen through the adoring eyes of Byung-hee. However as the show progresses you find that she’s more complex than you initially give her credit for as she picks up odd jobs and carries on with life without much complaint despite the crap the universe hands her- while not being a complete doormat. Although Bang Woo-kyung (Kim Jung-min) did get on my nerves a lot, you had to admire her loyalty- even if it felt like she really didn’t know how to take a hint. Everyone loves an underdog story and that’s what SUFBB gave us, in droves. Our pretty punk-rock flower boys were likeable, even when they were being stupid (they were teenaged boys), and it just made you root for them even more.
16 (hour-long) Episodes (of Bromance) in Four Days.
My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho (2010)
Up until now I’d been marathoning one show at a time, however it was at this point that I started watching multiple shows at once (My GF Is a Gumiho & Reply 1997). Bad enough that I was binge-watching Kdramas and completely ignoring everything else (family, friends, other TV shows …life in general) in the process, but suddenly I wasn’t even content to marathon just one at a time. MGIAG was, I was told, required kdrama watching for any newbie drama watcher. The show is all parts adorable and hilarious with occasional sad-making moments. Cha Dae-woong (Lee Seung-gi), is an aspiring actor who accidentally releases a none-tailed fox spirit/gumiho, played by Shin Min-ah, from a painting she was trapped in for 500 years. She saves his life by putting her fox bead in him, and she follows him back to where he’s staying. Even though he’s initially scared shitless when he realises she’s not kidding about being a gumiho and is an asshat, he starts to develop feelings for her. Although it took him long enough to stop being a little gutless butt for a bit- honestly the amount of times I wanted to shake him. Mi-ho, as she comes to be known, is so adorbs.
Her childlike wonder at the world is so endearing, there wasn’t a moment where she annoyed me- well save for a touch of noble idiocy she displays. No Min-woo’s Park Dong-joo brought the SLS early on in the drama, however once Dae-woong started acting like a person and not like a little batch you realise you shipped the endgame so much it hurts. My only problem with this show was how angsty it got towards the end- I was left wondering where my light-hearted adorable fantasy romcom went and when was it replaced by TEARS.
16 (hour-long) Episodes in Three Days. HOI HOI.
Reply/Answer Me 1997 (2012)
Where do I even begin? This drama was just so awesome, from all the 90s nostalgia it gave me (yes, a lot of it was specific to South Korea but 90s nostalgia is still 90s nostalgia) to the well-developed characters and situations that had me laughing out loud. Reply 1997 followed the lives of a group of friends in Busan, as the timeline moves back and forth between their past as 18-year-old high schoolers in 1997 and their present as 33-year-olds at their high school reunion dinner in 2012, where one couple will announce that they’re getting married. You’ll find yourself caring about each character as much as the next, even the side ones. Sung Shi-won (Jung Eun-ji) is a crazy fangirl of the boyband H.O.T who’s all shades of sassy and hilarious (her relationship with her parents, especially her dad, is honestly soooo crack up) and Yoon Yoon-jae (Seo In-guk) is her oldest friend- the boy next door who’s the top of the class and in love with her. Man I shipped them so much, the chemistry was insane, too. However the rest of main characters were just as awesome.
Kang Joon-hee (Hoya) Yoon-jae’s best friend, who’s the kindest most adorable character, second only to Mo Yoo-jung (Shin So-yul) Shi-won’s best friend. Do Hak-chan (Eun Ji-won) is that new kid who’s transferred from Seoul- the guys all think he’s the man due to his sporting skill, Seoul accent and large porn collection, but it’s hilarious that Hak-chan can’t talk to actual girls. Then there’s that friend of the group, Bang Sung-jae (Lee Si-eon) who talks more than a scolding ahjumma. Shi-won’s parents, especially her dad, were so brilliant. So much laughter was had because of Shi-won’s interactions with her dad.
Her haircut-punishment was SO Samoan btw, my mum threatened to cut my hair like that all the time when I was growing up. This drama made me laugh so much, not even kidding. The comedic timing (I don’t even want to know what was up with the goat/sheep sounds) was on point. However this doesn’t mean it didn’t bring the feels because holy-crap did it get so intense at times. When it brought the feels it really piled it up onto your plate and slapped you in the face with it.
Yoon-jae’s relationship with his hyung, Yoon Tae-woong (Song Jong-ho) was also well-written, if complicated because of that pesky triangle thing they just had to do. But this show offered some great pearls of wisdom while granting us access to complex, realistic and likeable characters. It was kind of difficult to watch something else afterwards, and I especially didn’t want to watch the 2013 follow up Reply/Answer Me 1994 for fear of it not living up to Reply 1997. Might give Reply 1994 a go somewhere down the line, however. I’m all about giving things chances. Although if it drags out the ‘who’s she with’ storyline longer than Reply 1997 did- I’ll be annoyed. Like kick-someone in the face, annoyed.
14 (Half-hour) Episodes and 2 (hour-long) in One Day- so SO worth it. If not for the the awesome storyline, lovable characters and well-developed story than for the fact that we’ve all been that crazy fangirl/boy at some point in our lives. Also, the mortification in the following scene gave me such life.
You’re All Surrounded (2014)
Ragtag team of rookie cops (all the bromance, budding romance, hilarious hijinks times) in Gangnam with a gruff team-leader and some revenge-plot/seedy tragic backstories thrown in for good measure? Count us in! Also Lee Seung-gi (My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho) as a broody rookie, Eun Dae-gu, with a chip on his shoulder? Awwww yeah. This cast made me so happy, they worked so well together- even if the writing wasn’t that great. The story got bogged down by the most annoying villain ever and the never-ending storyline behind getting to them but it also gave us some complex characters that gave me such feels. Chief Kang (Seo Yi-sook) for example, deeply flawed but only trying to reach a noble goal to the end. Initially brusque, Seo Pan-seok (Cha Seung-won) and the nicer Lee Eung-do (Sung Ji-roo) made just the best surrogate cop parents for our rookies. And our rookies, lmao Soo-sun (Go Ara) applied seven times before being accepted into the police academy and is the only female in the new recruits, Tae-il (Ahn Jae-hyun) is super skux- according to my nephew- and Ji Gook (Park Jung-min) the geeky, talkative one who joined because he wanted to live in Gangnam? Hahaha. And of course the prickly Dae-gu who joins the force to try to get justice for what happened to his mum.
Unfortunately my nephew developed a liking for this one (said it had a Brooklyn Nine Nine feel to it) and so it took a bit longer to watch. Heeeh, we managed to rope a nephew into our KDrama ring- not a ring if it’s just two people and it’s still not one with just three YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. Fun fact, my nephew’s second favourite Korean actor is Lee Seung-gi, with his first being Lee Jong-suk (I Hear Your Voice) who he thinks is ‘skux’ after watching Young Hot Bloods, according to my nephew he’s going to be like Jong-suk’s YHB character and get all the girls.
20 (Hour-long) Episodes in Two Weeks (it was actually rather excruciating having to exercise restraint). *Slow-mo walks out*
The King 2 Hearts (2012)
Lee Seung-gi again, heh. But also Ha Ji-won (Gil Ra-im from Secret Garden!) too! Set in an alt reality where modern-day South Korea is governed by a constitutional monarchy Lee Jae-ha (Seung-gi) is a crown prince (later king) who doesn’t care about politics or being the second in line to the throne. Lee Jae-kang (Lee Sung-min), the current king, tricks him into joining a joint military collaboration with North Korea as a means to help “make him grow up.” Can I say their relationship was my favourite? Because honestly so cute. At the joint military raining Jae-ha meets Kim Hang-ah (Ji-won), a North Korean Special Forces Officer who is SO AWESOME. She was strong but also a girl in that she doesn’t allow the fact that she’s this super soldier stop her from getting what she wants or liking girly things (omg her fangirling over Hyun Bin’s billboard was the best).
Jae-ha’s character was slightly reminiscent of Dae Woong from My Girlfriend is a Gumiho especially at the start- although he was much more snarky. Our mains are initially antagonistic towards each other, but Jae-ha unwittingly sparks a friendship with Hang-ah and he subsequently falls in love with her. What I liked about this show wasn’t the melodrama and romance, of which there was plenty- or the over the top baddie who I wished would walk off a cliff- but the way Jae-ha’s growth was portrayed. He developed from reluctant royal to responsible king but not without a fair share of mistakes. A testament to Seung-gi’s acting. Also, the second leads (most of the secondary characters really) were amazing and I loved not having to worry about SLS- for the most part. But dear lord the angst was strong in this one, and the tears. How I loved Jo Jung-suk as Eun Shi-kyung, his bromance with Jae-ha gave me life…so you can understand how torn up I was about that ending. But if we, the fans, were so heartbroken over it imagine how Princess Lee Jae-shin felt, Lee Yoon-ji was excellent in the role.
20 (Hours-Long) Episodes in Two Weeks…in which I almost stopped watching because the actors they used for non-Korean roles were so cringey, and not in a haha funny way but in a I CAN’T WATCH ANYMORE I WANT TO HURL MY COFFEE AT THE SCREEN SO BAD SO BAD. Yeah… I can’t say it’ll be one to rewatch for this reason alone. So thank goodness for fanvids.
High School King of Savvy/Conduct (2014)
Initially started because Seo In-guk from Reply 1997 is the lead, but I love his family unit and I’m starting to warm up to the main female character.
You From Another Star (2013)
Loving it so far. Loving it a LOT. I saw The Thieves and thought there needed to be more Yenicall (Jeon Ji-hyun) and Zampano (Kim Soo-hyun) and this show is just everything, okay? Sawrry.
You’re Beautiful (2009)
Frustrating but hilarious. Ugh so frustrating. Already the SLS is pulling at my heartstrings (which is why I’m going to find and watch Heartstrings after this) not that I don’t like the lead because his bitchface game is strong.
I Hear Your Voice (2013)
I’ve only seen the first ep so far but you know I’m hooked. Also Oska and Tae-sun reunion? Heh my sister shipped them in Secret Garden so much.
So that’s it, that’s my rambling about Kdrama done! Unless you want more, maybe on a less uhm grand scale because whoa this was a lot to get out. Also, I’m not sure how much this helped my addiction. Because if anything I want to consume more kdrama to see just how many characters in kdramaland are lacking in peripheral vision.