Welcome to the end of another eventful K-drama year. The end of 2011 marks the end of my first full K-drama loving year. I watched ten 2011 dramas and I will give you my highly unbiased opinion. (Yes, those two words are inherently opposites. I know. I know.) Included in this review will be my favorite actors and actresses of this year because, well, it’s my blog and I CAN. Yes, you-know-who is most definitely included.
I’ve decided to refer as little as possible to the drama itself. Why? If they didn’t stick, then obviously they were not important enough in my k-drama universe. A good drama hits you hard in the moment and then stays with you. Some succeeded. Some epically failed.
I’m also not going to cover everything in each drama. Or else this would be a novel. However, if you absolutely want to hear what I thought about some aspect I miss, I’ll write about it. I ain’t saying no!
I’m going to rate the dramas on a scale of 1 to 10. I’ll be considering writing, camera work, directing, acting, and sheer entertainment value. Will I be biased by pretty faces? Probably. Not gonna lie. I’m a 20-something-year-old
Note: This review WILL contain spoilers
Writer: Hong Jung-eun, Hong Mi-ran (Delightful Girl Chun Hyang, Hong Gil Dong, My Girl, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, You’re Beautiful)
Director: Park Hong-kyun (Queen Seon Deok)
Oh Best Love. How I truly love thee. The Hong sisters rocked my world again. I love how this drama really produced love/hate relationships from drama fans. It’s over-the-top silliness is what did it for me. It wasn’t afraid to poke fun of itself or anything else. Cha Seung-won as Dokko Jin was the highlight of this show. It was the antithesis of his normal role choices and that is what made him such a delightful surprise as the childlike, self-absorbed idol. I adore how he treated love as a disease as real as his heart problems because love really does sometimes feel like the burden of severe illness.
And of course I can’t forget Gong Hyo-jin. This woman is so amazingly talented and her Goo Ae-jung was heartbreakingly sad as a washed up idol who was unbelievably possessed of inner strength. I really like how she wasn’t completely ga-ga over Dokko Jin for quite a while. It was more an amusement that one has with a child. She treated him kind of like she treated her nephew. Actually, she might have treated him like a toddler.
Anyway, her gradual love for him was nice to see because not all love hits you over the hid like a bolt of lightening. My first love came to me just as gradually and I was shocked when I realized, six months later, that I was in love with him.
As a washed-up star, Gong Hyo-jin was all about the subtlety and that was wonderful. She portrayed Goo Ae-jung’s fight through the trials and the pain of unfair judgement and having her life in the spotlight with seasoned finesse. Even as what can ultimately be considered a failure-of-an-actress, Ae-jung had dignity and fought for respect, privacy and to keep her faith in herself.
Yoon Kye-sang’s Yoon Pil-joo was absolutely adorable, but I didn’t ship him. Okay, maybe a little. He was just so sweet and adorable. But Dokko Jin was so head-over-heels I couldn’t help but pull for him. Yoon Kye-sang is also one of the most versatile actors out there. Up there with Kang Ji-hwan.
As for cinematography, directing, and entertainment value. Check. Check. And check. The camera really caught the stark differences in each character: Dokko Jin’s arrogance and complete misunderstanding of love and his impassioned love. It focused on his face, and then caught him from afar or from behind a wall or through windows. With Gu Ae-jung the camera angles were more subtle, telling her story in the quiet, mild way she carried herself. I like how they used the careers of the characters to really vary filming locations. The rice fields were particularly lovely.
Of course we can point out the biggest problem with the show: the strange time jump after his surgery. *twitch* But it was a time jump and its hard to really negotiate those as plot devices. It was probably the most offensive of problems to me. In the end, however, it didn’t detract from my love of the show.
In the end, I’m all about character development. Other elements are important, but seeing these characters grow was what really got me invested. The Hong sisters are really great at that. Best Love, you earned my love.
Writers: Hwang Eun-kyung and Choi Soo-jin
Director: Jin Hyuk (Prosecutor Princess, Shining Inheritance, Painter of the Wind)
Shity Hunta! This was the first drama I watched as it aired and it seriously made me crazy. My sister could hear me hollering from her room and pretty much thought I was a goner.
First, the cast. HOLY CRAP was it amazing. Not only were individual actors well-cast, but the chemistry between them was hot, hot, HOT! Lee Min-ho pulled out all of the stops as the multi-faceted City Hunter, Lee Yoon-sung. He was so SEXSHI! Hot-diggity DAYUM!
But that wasn’t what got me. I always thought he was a talented actor, but here he shined. He carried the show on his shoulders from week to week with the turbulent emotions of his Yoon-sung.
Writers Hwang Eun-kyung and Choi Soo-jin really fleshed out this character well. I know the back and forth of Yoon-sung regarding Park Min-young’s Kim Na-na really got to some viewers, but that was what made him real for me. People aren’t stable creatures who always feel the same way from moment to moment. Love makes us behave unpredictably and he waffled between dedication to his cause and his love for her. That was real.
I admit, I was all about the love story. It was just so darn compelling for me that it even outshone his relationship with his father, Kim Sang-joong’s Lee Jin-pyo. That love story was what rekindled the City Hunter’s humanity. Without her, his relationship with his mother wouldn’t have been nurtured to fruition and the issues he had with his father wouldn’t have escalated to the point they did – well, at least not as quickly. And the open-endedness of the love story really hit home for me. It fit the tone of their entire relationship.
As I can’t cover everything I loved about this cast, I’m going to give a major shout out to Kim Sang-joong. Your villain was absolutely amazing. Best villain this year. He was so tortured and did so much torturing of his son that I found myself watching just to see what stunt he would pull next. The incredibly complex relationship he had with his son was BRILLIANTLY written and portrayed.
We also can’t forget the amazing action scenes where Lee Min-ho kicked ass with spoons, dove through cars and ran around with gun-shots. They were shot so well and weren’t completely blurry, which made them even more fun to watch. The camera caught the heart of each moment and wasted no shots, keeping up with the fast moving story line, and character development.
And last but not least, Lee Joon-hyuk’s Kim Young-joo’s death.Episode nineteen had me in INSTANT tears. What a powerful moment for Yoon-sung and Young-joo. Even writing this I’m getting teary. I would’ve loved to see Yoon-sung’s emotional reaction to this fleshed out a bit more. The upright defender died doing what he lived to do: uphold the law and seeking justice. It’s up to Yoon-sung to continue on his legacy. How amazing is that?
Season 2 needs to come my way…fast!
Writer: Park Hye-ryun
Director: Lee Eung-bok
A show about a music school and about music? SO IN.
Okay, I admit. At first I wasn’t in, and for a shallow reason. The title. It put me off so badly. But my unni, JoAnne, convinced me and I’m so glad I caved.
I’m only going to focus on a few characters, or I’d write a book on this.
I have to get on my pet-peeves first. The portrayal of music education was seriously off. There are a lot of things that just wouldn’t happen – sight reading without ANY preparation. Having to explain perfect pitch to a CLASS of experienced musicians. I understand Sam-dong may have needed an explanation and so did the audience, but they seriously needed a different vehicle of explanation. There were a few other things that drove me batty, but, it’s television. I felt like doctors and lawyers do about the inaccurate portrayals of their fields.
The second biggest peeve was that acting was a bit sketch at times: Suzy’s Go Hye-mi; Taecyeon’s Jin Gook. But, whatever. It’s idols on television. What are you going to do?
But seriously, that is neither here nor there. Let’s get to the MOST important parts: Kim Soo-hyun and the MUSIC AND DANCING.
The story line was predictable as heck, but this show wasn’t about seeing what would happen in terms of events, not for me. It was about the characters growing through the plot. It may seem like a strange distinction to make, but I was watching for Sam-dong’s growth, Hye-mi’s ability to break out of her cold shell, Baek-hee’s road to redemption. Unlike City Hunter where I was dying to see what happened next, Dream High made me live for the next juicy character interactions, not the plot-moving moments. The plot tensions were too predictable for that.
Music and dancing. Sumi Jo. Sumi Jo. Sumi Jo. A woman I’ve admired since my college days – a singer extraordinaire. When I saw her three minutes into the first episode, I promised myself to watch the whole drama, no matter the outcome. A bonified classical musician on popular television? HELLLLLLLZ YA! I saw this and immediately wrote a blog entry on it. That’s how big an impact it made on me.
Second of all, flash mobs. Third of all, quality singing and dancing. Fourth of all, quality song-writing. The music in this was truly amazing. Even if I didn’t like a song, I appreciated the amazing structure and writing.
Back to singing. Suzy’s voice is still in the development stages. Singers don’t really mature until mid-thirties so none of them really have fully mature voices, but I really enjoyed her pure tone. Ham Eun-jung’s voice is fantastic. She almost has Lauren Hill’s versatility and that’s saying A LOT. Newbie singer Kim Soo-hyun has the raw talent vocally. He sounded pretty rough to my trained ears, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. I LOVE seeing such raw talent. I’m so so so so so sad he decided not to pursue singing. I want to get him a vocal coach and a singing teacher FAST. Baby, I’ll pay for it, just get some flippin’ lessons.
Shout out to Uhm Ki-joon’s adorable Kang Oh-hyuk. SO.CUTE.
And more Kim Soo-hyun. I went and watched more scenes from his other work on Youtube and found the same powerful presence. He’s not just a character actor. He’s a true, well-rounded actor that really blew my mind.
The general consensus is that he carried the show – I agree. He is raw acting energy. When he’s on the screen, he outshines everyone else. His portrayal of my BIGGEST FEAR, deafness, had me crying so badly that I had to stop watching for a while. A musician’s nightmare is losing her hearing. It hit so close to home that I was paralyzed watching his tears. I truly believe Kim Soo-hyun was in agony in those moments.
He is what made this show for me. Song Sam-dong. His journey. I would’ve written it a bit differently as a musician, but the show got the point across: music becomes your soul and without it, you feel empty and helpless. Each of these kids used it to fulfill a different role in life. Music is the universal language and plays a role in everyone’s lives. Even the deaf people I know have found a way to make music a part of them. One of the most famous percussionists in the world is deaf.
Dream High…you hit home. And that’s all I can ask for.
Writer: Yoon Nan-joong
Director: Jung Jung-hwa
Number one comedy of the year. What an absolutely delightful surprise.
I was actually not impressed with the first episode and was almost put off entirely. It was so cartoon-y that I didn’t see where it was going with that idea. I had a few laughs, but I didn’t think that tone would carry a show.
Epic fail, Raine. Epic fail. *hangs head in absolute shame*
But I redeemed myself. Because I LOVE it. It was so filling on the character development. I love to see the human condition so beautiful portrayed, analyzed and explained. I guess it was because I was a music/psych double major in college. I’m that nerdy psych major. I’m not apologizing for it. Or maybe I love the character development just ’cause I’ve always been that person who likes to try and figure out behavior. NO CLUE. But my brain was happy. Very, very happy.
Okay Jung Il-woo and your flippin’ amazing man-child Cha Chi-soo. CHARACTER STUDY OMOMOMOMOMOMO!
Cha Chi-soo learned one emotion at a time, and newbie writer Yoon Nan-joong used the entire cast as a vehicle for exploring Chi-soo’s infinitesimally slow growth. AWESOME!
When Chi-soo learned “comfort”, his father and his lackeys teach him their amazingly stunted way of giving comfort – via money and gifts. Yang Eun-bi literally smacks sense into him in order to tell him, “Comfort doesn’t come in physically form, you emotional moron!” Pillar, aka Choi Kang-hyuk, shows him how to comfort physically by just putting his arms around Eun-bi and patiently waiting for her to just FEEL the pain of her father’s death.
Character flaws were blown up into manhwa/manga proportions. It could’ve been hokey, but the amazing ability of the director and writer to combine the serious with the humorous without detracting from either made the comic book aspect work.
In terms of acting, I didn’t even notice it while I was watching. And that’s a good thing. I wasn’t like, “Oh, what a fine actor.” It was more like, “JUNG IL-WOO! LEE CHUNG-AH! THAT WAS SO FUNNY!”
Or, in other words, they were such a natural cast that I could completely focus on the story. It was one of the most solid casts besides the cast of City Hunter. They worked together, fed off of each other, improved each other and made me laugh, cry, holler and all around feel whatever they were feeling.
Jung Il-woo was in his element. He had the dichotomy of man-child down to an ART. He brought out the sexy, hot-blooded man seconds after a whiny teenager moment. His sudden moments of growth were counteracted by toddler fits. But never did his “man” or his “child” detract from the other. They were well-integrated into the complex character that was Cha Chi-soo.
Lee Chung-ah. I’ve never seen her in anything before but she had the same effect on me that Jung Il-woo did. Hokey to heart-breaking. A complete bear to a mature, love-jaded woman. The writer made use of extremes and Lee Chung-ah played them to perfection.
Lee Ki-woo, Park Min-woo and the rest of the cast were also top-notch. Park Min-woo was adorable and his facial expressions were the best of the bunch.
One of the most amazing things about this show was how second lead Choi Kang-hyuk came in on the wind and left in the same manner. He was a bit like a fairy godmother, coming to do his duty, helping those who needed him and unexpectedly learning and growing himself. He leaves a different man than he started. We know his story is just beginning.
This show really held a lot of punch for me. It covered so many issues that we as people experience and showed that nothing truly gets resolved. Nothing truly ends. Life is for living and the answers aren’t what’s important. It’s just about the living.
Writer: Kim Ye-ri
Director: Kim Su-ryong, Kwon Hyuk-chan (Secret Garden)
I love Kang Ji-hwan. I love Yoon Eun-hye. Really fantastic actors. Kang Ji-hwan is the ultimate chameleon of an actor.
Too bad the man has terrible drama choices.
I actually couldn’t finish this drama and just read a recap for the ending. The acting was wonderful. I appropriately loved and hated all of the characters. Hong Soo-hyun is such a fine actress and she was wasted as the badly written second lead. She was just so psycho that I couldn’t follow anything about her character’s logic or development. Did she even have any?
It just turned out to be an almost episodic show with a horrid recycling of the same issues and plot. He has typical chaebol issues; she cries over everything; Hong Soo-hyun was jealous over everything. Ryu Seung-soo was just a total wussy second male lead who couldn’t make up his dang mind about ANYTHING.
I just kept thinking, “What a waste. What a waste.” Oh, what could’ve been.
This drama gets points for the actors valiant efforts.
Writer: Jang Young-shil
Director: Kwon Suk-jang (Pasta, What’s Up Fox?, The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry)
Cute. That is the one thing I remember about this drama. The main couple was just too darn cute together and I basically watched for them. I even skipped over parts just to watch them…and filled in the gaps with recaps.
Kim Tae-hee was the gem of the show: adorable, bubbly and not too over-the-top. While OTT worked for Best Love, it wouldn’t have worked here because this drama was all about the fluff.
Song Seung-hun. Hmm, towel scenes. Towel scenes…
Okay, back on track. He was gorgeous and pretty much only held my attention when he was with Tae-hee. She brought out the best in him and he really stepped up his game with her. Otherwise…TOWEL SCENES!
I can’t even remember much about the other characters. The bitchy sister that was SO OBVIOUSLY stuck into the story as a vehicle for conflict and NOTHING else, yeah, she drove me crazy. Park Ye-jin was no more moving than a mannequin in a store window. And her character had no development. Again, just a plot mover.
Seriously, writers, it’s not THAT hard to give your second leads a little depth, is it? And Ryu Soo-young, sorry buddy. I can’t even recall your role in this except that you were a flirty professor who had his thumb in too many pies.
The plot was predictable and the tensions were so cliche that my interest wavered about halfway through the show. But the cute saved it.
At the end of the day it was just a fun watch, but nothing to write home about.
Writer: Noh Hee-kyung
Director: Kim Kyu-tae
Show, where did you come from?
I seriously did not see this show coming. It blindsided me the instant I pressed play and had me desperately scribbling notes and thoughts and taking screencaps and re-watching and loving and re-watching and crying and laughing and writing and analyzing and… and… and…
*takes a breath*
Another well-rounded cast. I really adore when we get individually solid actors that have amazing chemistry when you throw them behind the camera together. Not only does our OTP have ridiculous chemistry, but the torrid bromance between guardian angel Kim Bum and ex-con Jung Woo-sung is sizzling.
New actor Lee Jae-woo as Kim Young-cheol is quite natural in his acting and I really enjoy his scenes with Woo-sung.
We cannot forget the characters. I’m not 100% enamored of Han Ji-min’s Jung Ji-na but she has me intrigued. We’ve been given just enough back-story to be curious, but not totally invested.
My major investment lies in Yang Kang-chil. What a juicy character. It’s a really great exploration of what happens when you grow into an adult in prison and then get thrust into a world that stops for nobody. Kang-chil didn’t have it easy before prison or in prison. Now the poor guy has it hard outside of prison. Watching him come to terms with injustice, fear, love, friendship, family and revenge has me dying for MOAR.
Then we have Kim Bum’s Lee Gook-soo. What a fantastic guardian angel. I totally didn’t see him coming. I was imagining human shields and fist fights. Instead, we get a guardian who is on his own journey of self-discovery. Kim Bum is utterly charming as the jovial Gook-soo. His ability to bring out the serious on the drop of a hat is impressive and I’m always moved by him.
Have we gotten such delicious bromance since Sungkyunkwan Scandal? ’nuff said.
Keep it up, show!
Rating thus far: 10/10
Writer: Jo Jung-joo
Director: Kim Jung-min
Hands. Down. Favorite.
I’m working on a series review for this show and it’s so daunting because there is so much awesomeness crammed into twenty-four episodes. For now, let’s just get organized and number the goodies in this drama.
1) Park Shi-hoo. Are you surprised? If I didn’t put him first, the world would end. You know this. Anyway, he was absolutely fabulous as Kim Seung-yoo, the jovial, young, womanizing professor who falls in love with a spirited Lee Se-ryung. As disaster falls upon him, Seung-yoo has a sudden character transformation that requires acting finesse.
Shi-hoo brought it. He carried us through the show, watching his painful journey through political intrigue, forbidden love and a struggle with himself. Park Shi-hoo brought it and he deserves 1,000,000 awards and a kiss from his biggest fan. *puckers up*
2) Jung Jong and Princess Kyung-hye. My fellow blogger, Maddino, and I have a particular love for this couple. Their strength as a couple, their growth, their quiet love…*sigh* Each character has a huge transformation throughout the series and to see these two intertwine fates made me cry during happy and sad times.
I’ve never seen Hong Soo-hyun so on her game; she caught me from the first moment she appeared on screen. And Lee Min-woo, where did he come from? I’ve never seen him in anything before but I know I want to see him in MORE.
3) Plot. Hot damn did this plot pack a punch. Writer Jo Jung-joo managed to weave so many elements together that they are inextricable. By the time I finish trying to explain them, you might as well have sat your butt down and watched the twenty-four hours of delight that is The Princess’ Man.
But let me try to break it down. Romance. Political intrigue. Cast of inextricably connected characters. Insane character development. Family dynamics. Friendship. Betrayal. Redemption. Growth. Without any of these, the story would’ve failed. Without any of these, the delicate plot web would’ve broken.
4) Character development. The main characters grew. The secondary characters grew. The tertiary characters grew. I think it might’ve stopped there. But you get my drift. The different elements of the plot really forced change in everyone. My brain and heart were so captured that afterward watching I could only lie in bed and try to comprehend all the wonderfulness that I had just witnessed. To explain each character’s magnificent journey requires a review. I’m gonna finish that. Stat.
5) Cinematography/sets/wardrobe. Was this a gorgeous show or what? Talk about stunning EVERYTHING. The camera work was superb. Fight scenes were clear; angle choices enhanced emotional investment; galloping horses took us through stunning scenes; I was a happy camper. I wanted to wear Moon Chae-won’s hanboks. I wanted to live in Kim Seung-yoo’s home. I wanted to avoid that prison. I had visceral reactions to everything and that’s just how I like my drama.
6) Bad guys. King Sejong and Shin Myun. What dynamic foes. It wasn’t just one element driving their enemy status. King Sejong loved his daughter but he was possessed by a need to be at the top that not even he fully understood. Shin Myun was torn in two by his love for family, friends and Se-ryung. This love pitted his loyalties against each other and caused him constant heartache. Oh, uri Shin Myun, my pitiful, pitiful bad guy. *hug*
Conclusion: I think you all can gather that I liked this show…A LOT. I liked it so much that it wasn’t even all about Park Shi-hoo. *gasp* He was just a very hot, integral part to a fabulous, fabulous drama.
If you haven’t seen it. Watch it. Now.
And if you have seen it, watch it again.
Rating: 11/10 (Oh wait, you can’t do that…too BAD.)
Writer: Park Ji-eun (Queen of Housewives)
Director: Jung Dae-yoon, Kim Nam-won
Okay, I watched this for Park Shi-hoo as Goo Yong-shik. I heard it was another example of “the Park Shi-hoo effect” where his awesomeness overcomes all odds and the second lead actually gets the girl, the lovely Kim Nam-joo.
I was happy to find that I enjoyed the drama, even the parts with out Shi-hoo in them. It addressed the touchy subject of divorce. It took an in-depth look at a marriage that was in the process of falling apart, the pettiness, the pain, the fighting, the insecurity. Love isn’t always enough to pull a relationship through dark times.
The office drama drove me bonkers. Seriously, seriously unnecessary. All that crap could’ve been cut out and saved us about four or five episodes worth of headache. Some of it was good and a necessary portrayal of Hwang Tae-hee’s life as it spiraled down the drain. But save me the plotting boss and second lead who just so happen to lurk at every corner to kick our poor lead in the gut.
The side-cast was wonderful. Our bromances were delightful: Yong-shik’s sassy secretary, Im Ji-kyu’s Kang Woo, and Yong-shik’s unexpected roommate, Kim Chang-wan’s Mok Young-chul. The families were appropriately adorable (the children) and annoying (the mothers).
Park Shi-hoo as Goo Yong-shik was utterly winning. He unexpectedly falls in love with an older woman and follows her around like a puppy once he realizes how he feels – well, he did that before he realized, too. He knows what he wants and he’s young and brazen enough to charge forward and get it. But he learns that with the woman he chose, he needs to be more careful and he does that willingly for her. I want a puppy that devoted to me. With abs just like his. Or they can just be his abs…
Kim Nam-joo elegantly portrayed Tae-hee’s troubles and her journey to find who and where she wanted to be in life. Her love for adorable Goo Yong-shik was part of that. She learned to love again, trust again, and stand on her own two feet again. Woman power!
Writer: Lee Myung-sook
Director: Pyo Min-soo (Coffee House, Full House)
You’ve Fallen for Me.
No, I didn’t.
I was so stoked for this show. Park Shin-hye is so adorable and Jung Y0ng-hwa is hot and it was about music.
It started out strong. Lots of antagonism. Fun back and forth. Cute, food-loving Kang Min-hyuk. Good music.
And then it started rambling and taking zigzags that confused me.
And it went there at the end. Seriously, show?
I don’t want to write anymore.
Waste of time.
Three points for Kang Min-hyuk. One point for strong start.
Of the K-dramas in my year-end review, which is your favorite?
Here are my my stand-out actors of the year. You’ve heard about them in the reviews, so I won’t go on. But here they are in all of their glory.
Cha Seung-won and Gong Hyo-jin
Hong Soo-hyun and Jung Il-woo
Kim Sang-joong and Kim Soo-hyun
Kim Young-chul and Lee Chung-ah
Lee Min-ho and Lee Min-woo
Moon Chae-won and Park Min-woo
Here’s to a great 2012 full of great dramas. *crossing fingers*