Late in January 2014, my friend, Cherry Cordial, persuaded me to watch my first Kdrama, Queen In Hyun’s Man. That show hooked me. She then recommended several excellent Kdrama classics, including Coffee Prince, Full House, Boys Over Flowers, Secret Garden, The Master’s Sun…. Well, you get the picture. I’ve watched quite a few Kdramas and TWdramas this year, however many of them are the “best of the best” classics. By summertime, I had started to watch shows from 2014; I particularly enjoyed watching while they aired so I could join in on discussion groups on Facebook. A couple months ago, Stephanie kindly asked me to write an end-of-year Kdrama Recap article for this blog. So, I crammed in as many 2014 Kdramas as I could watch. I mean, I lived and breathed Kdramas – even up through the holidays when family has been visiting, and I’ve been watching (secretly) at night into the wee hours of the morning. That’s dedication, people. 🙂
Anyhow, there are a lot of year-end Kdrama recaps going on out there. You’ll read about everyone’s favorite drama, favorite actor/actress, favorite main couple (OTP), favorite soundtrack (OST), etc. So, I’m going to go in a different direction. You’ll still get my “favorites”, but they’re not your usual fare. I hope you enjoy them!
Check out my quirky medley of 2014 Kdrama favorites and disappointments, starting with the favorites (in alphabetical order according to category – cause I’m detailed like that).
Favorite Baby Daddy – Lee Gun, Fated to Love You (Warning, Spoilers)
For this review, I re-watched parts of Fated to Love You since I initially watched it five months ago. It immediately sucked me back in. This romantic comedy is about a chaebol (Lee Gun played by Jang Hyuk) who inadvertently (don’t ask!) has a one-night stand with Kim Mi Young (aka Jang Na Ra). She gets pregnant, and they are forced into a contract marriage. I liked the chemistry between Lee Gun and Jang Na Ra, despite the fact that he’s often a jerk to her. As the show goes on, you realize he’s trying to distance himself from her because he believes he has a fatal genetic disease. He ultimately doesn’t think he is worthy of her love. But he does love her and the baby – secretly and passionately. In the particularly touching scene between the two at a press conference the beginning of episode 18, he tells her, “when you’re having a hard time, so am I…. I don’t deserve to love you.” She responds by asking what other qualifications he needs but to love her; they will deal with life together as it comes. You know – by the end – that he’ll be a good husband and father, even if it didn’t seem that way in the beginning. That’s why he’s my favorite baby daddy!
Favorite Boss – Manager Oh, Misaeng/Incomplete Life
In Misaeng, main character Jang Geu Rae (aka Im Shi Wan) starts out as an intern at a large corporation, and his boss is Manager Oh Sang Shik (aka Lee Sung Min). Since Jang Geu Rae gets the position through nepotism (they call him a “parachute”), and he doesn’t have the usually required education or skills, his relationship with Manager Oh is rocky at first. Of course, Jang Geu Rae doesn’t share with anyone his intense training and skill as a baduk player, something he had to quit after the loss of his father. Interestingly, his baduk training aids him in making his way in the corporate world. As Jang Geu Rae proves himself through hard work, humility, integrity and ingenuity, the burned-out Manager Oh begins to respect him and have more passion for his own work. As time goes on, Manager Oh becomes Jang Geu Rae’s champion and vice versa. It is touching how they care for each other, how they root for and encourage each other – even how they challenge each other to grow. I consider them to be the true OTP of this Kdrama. I love how they even end up together – working happily alongside each other in Oh Sang Shik’s own business.
Favorite Make-Out Scene – Witch’s Romance
At the end of episode 2 of Witch’s Romance, a drunk Ban Ji Yeon (aka Uhm Jung Hwa) drags Yoon Dong Ha (played by Park Seo Joon) into her house for a drink. She opens a can of beer, and when it fizzes over, they both lean in to sip the rim of the can. Their eyes meet, sparks fly, they end up kissing against a bookcase, stumble to her bed, he takes off his shirt…. Of course, it all ends abruptly when she sees his ID card and realizes he’s 14 years younger than her! Despite that, this is seriously the HOTTEST make-out scene I’ve ever seen in a Kdrama. This couple has chemistry for days, and if you haven’t seen this Kdrama (and don’t mind a noona romance), I encourage you to watch it.
Favorite Mental Patient – Jang Jae Yeol, It’s Okay, That’s Love (Warning, Spoilers)
And, of course, this one is obvious. I had to include It’s Okay, That’s Love in my favorites because it’s simply one of the year’s best Kdramas (some would argue THE best). Jang Jae Yeol (aka Jo In Sung) is a famous mystery novelist and popular radio DJ. He meets Ji Hae Soo (aka Gong Hyo Jin), a psychiatrist, while on a talk show panel about criminal minds. Sparks fly, of course. The real twist of the show happens when you realize that the young man Jang Jae Yeol has befriended, Han Kang Woo (aka Do Kyung Soo), is really just a figment of his imagination. In other words, he has schizophrenia but doesn’t know it. Throughout the drama, those around him who deeply care for him, including Ji Hae Soo, begin to realize what’s going on with him. Of course, Jang Jae Yeol ends up in a mental hospital trying to come to terms with the fact that Do Kyung Soo isn’t a real person. In the final episode (16), Han Kang Woo asks Jang Jae Yeol not to acknowledge him in the future, “but if… once in awhile, you do miss me, then just look in the mirror. Because you’re me.” It’s a touching scene in which they tearfully say their good-byes to each other. Both actors handle it beautifully. In fact, the whole show – from outstanding acting to excellent writing – is a beautiful tribute to the best of what Kdramas can be.
Favorite Otherworldly Kiss – You Who Came from the Stars
Do Min Joon (aka 400 year-old alien with powers, aka Kim Soo Hyun) and Chun Song Yi (aka famous Kdrama actress, aka Jeon Ji Hyeon) are the main characters in You Who Came from the Stars. The epic kiss scene is at the beginning of episode 16. It’s evening, and Do Min Joon and Chun Song Yi are in a small town. The lights in the houses surrounding them twinkle to life (of course, it’s Do Min Joon using his alien powers for good). Chun Song Yi, standing several feet from him, turns to look around her. Using his powers yet again, Do Min Joon gently lifts her off the ground and flies her over to him. He catches her in his arms and kisses her. It brings a whole new meaning to “sweeping a girl off her feet!”
Favorite Pet – Vara-sshi, Let’s Eat
What end-of-year recap would be complete without a “Favorite Pet” category? There were a few contenders for this one, but Vara-sshi from the adorable food porn, Let’s Eat, won hands down. Lee Soo Kyung (Lee Soo Kung is the actress’ real name, too) named her adorable dog after Che Guevara, which is funny because the way Guevara is pronounced in Korean ge-ba-ra means “look at the dog”. Since Lee Soo Kyung talks and interacts with her dog so much, he becomes an actual character in this show. They even seem to have arguments, after which Vara-sshi will trot over to his cage and slam the door shut as if in anger. Made me smile every time. 🙂
Now that we’ve covered my favorites, let’s move on to the disappointments….
Most Disappointing Show with Quirky Potential – Surplus Mermaid
I’m one of those people who really liked this show from the first episode. The quirkiness just made me happy. And – who can forget that hot underwater kiss?? But as the show went on, it became confusing as to who the male lead was, especially since the mermaid, Ha Ni, was so obsessed with the chef, Kwon Shi Kyung (aka Song Jae Rim) throughout most of the show. Unfortunately for me, I became attached to him, too. Initially, he came across as arrogant, as though everyone was beneath him. Then it was revealed that he had a disorder in which he couldn’t recognize people’s faces (prosopagnosia, or face blindness). So his seeming arrogance and distance from people made sense, and he became more likeable. Yep – that was me with official second lead syndrome – only I didn’t know it at the time. Of course, as the show neared the end, I started to get an inkling of who Ha Ni would end up with – but I kept hoping!
Then, at episode 8, it was determined that the show would be cut from 16 to 10 episodes. Episode 9 was already done, so the cast and crew had literally one episode to wrap the whole story up. They did it. Was it a quality ending? No – how could it be? It could have been worse, though. Of course, Ha Ni turned down the chef. Then there was the bizarre last episode in which she disappeared only to reappear at the end with the strange message seemingly directed to viewers, “I’ll be back.” I’m not even going to speculate…. Suffice to say, I was majorly disappointed with a show that had promise it never fulfilled.
Most Hyped Kdrama Disappointment – My Lovely Girl
Let me start off by saying that Rain is my ultimate bias. I’ve been eager for his comeback to Kdramas and honestly didn’t think it would happen. Then I read the news about My Lovely Girl. To say I was excited would be an understatement. In this show, Lee Hyun Wook (aka Rain) is a music composer who – three years previously – lost his girlfriend in a car accident in which he was driving the car. Consequently, he quits the music industry. Then he finds his girlfriend’s little sister, Yoon Se Na (played by Krystal), who has a talent for writing music. He re-enters the music industry to help her, and they end up falling for each other. Disappointingly, Rain and Krystal just didn’t have much chemistry as a couple. In fact, she had more chemistry with the B lead, Shi Woo (played by Kim Myung Soo, aka L from Infinite). So, even though it was clear who the OTP was, and even considering my love of Rain, I found myself rooting for the B lead. On top of that, the last episode was an unnecessary and bizarre train wreck. Although I’m always happy to admire Rain on the big or little screen, I’m sure hoping his next Kdrama (may there be one!) lives up to his star power. Because this one sure didn’t.
So, now that we’ve gone through my Favorites and Disappointments, I just have one category left to add. This is the Kdrama that was beyond a favorite of mine.
The Life Changer – Misaeng/Incomplete Life
Perhaps you’ll think I’m being a bit dramatic. I mean, “Life Changer”? Let me explain. I’ve spent a lot of years working office jobs. I’m familiar with working long hours, making sales calls, crafting and delivering presentations, and handling political situations diplomatically. I’ve even been lucky enough to have some outstanding bosses – and some, well, not so much. So, I could immediately relate to and empathize with the setting and many of the story lines in Misaeng. The situations in the show are more extreme than what I’ve experienced (although from reports I’ve heard, they’re closer to Korean corporate life than I imagined). However, I still felt a sense of familiarity, which is not something I’m used to with Kdramas. Add to that an intriguing and inspiring main character (Im Shi Wan did a great job in the role of Jang Geu Rae), great acting all around, well-written story lines, great chemistry and synergy among the cast members, perfect musical soundtrack, and a high production value. For me, it was one of those dramas in which all the elements harmoniously blended. So, instead of focusing on flaws, I was immersed in the story. I found myself inspired by Jang Geu Rae’s work ethic, perseverance and integrity and by Manager Oh’s courageous championing of the employees he’d come to care about. I even had some moments of self-reflection after certain episodes. This show not only moved me (to tears at times), but it also truly influenced my life in a positive way. I just don’t think there’s anything better you can say about a show than that.
In 2014, I discovered a passion for all things K-related. I’ve watched some amazing dramas and will choose to remember those rather than the few that didn’t live up to expectations. I’m eagerly looking forward to what new shows will come out in 2015. I hope this next year brings you lots of happy hours of Kdrama watching!