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Friday, February 15, 2013

KDramaGuk’s Biased & Worst of 2012

Idols, Time Travelers,
& Totally Not So Nice Guys 
A Year in Review


A Superordinary 2012
It was quite the adventuresome year, overflowing in quantity and quality. As more networks sprang up to compete for advert dollars, more were willing to experiment beyond the standard drama formula to lure in viewership. Reflective of the amount of new money and talent being poured into it, dramas have been steadily maturing, the industry positively preening from all the global attention both kdramas and kpop have been receiving of late.

For better or worse (this year, definitely for the better), the communication of creativity ran both ways. Korean culture continued its unstoppable advance into the mainstream psyche of the universe and the universe likewise influenced the content in our shows. The global entertainment industry has been mighty crazed with flights of fantasy (Twilight, Hunger Games, Vampire DiariesGame of Thrones) and our Korean dramas followed trend, going all out supernatural as well—from imagined kings, to meddlesome gods and angels, to sexy vamps, to a press of time travelers. It came as no surprise that many of my faves this year had some sort of freaky deaky manipulating the story. It made for especially outlandish narratives, but in a totally good way.

WINNERS OF THE YEAR 
Better Than Best

Drama
Atemporal examination of life’s consequences.


Padam Padam: The Sound of
His and Her Heartbeats 
This drama was, in brief: magical. Guy gets sent to prison—unjustly—only to come out of it thoroughly damaged. He hated life, hated himself, and more than anything, hated the people who sent him to jail in the first place. On the surface, smelled like a typical kdrama story of circular violence and revenge, but Padam had very little to do with the actual act of revenge, not at its core. It was in fact about the common denominator within all people: the need to find a meaning to life when it brought so much suffering day to day. As the title hinted, it was a search for one’s heartbeat, and the search to walk to that individual drum. It was beautiful, a little artsy fartsy, and so fiercely original and bold, I still can’t believe this was picked up on a fledgling new network. This show wasn’t about attractive people, anticipated lovelines, or cleverness of wit, and while I am certainly a fan of all of those things in the right context, this one stole my heart even without all the decorations.


Actress/Female Character
An anti-heroine for the modern age.


Moon ChaeWon
as Song EunGi
in Nice Guy
Not only was her character a motorbike-grinding workaholic heiress and casual mega-bitch, but she was also a sensitive, self-sacrificing idealist, and obstinately honorable in her actions. Basically, Moon played two opposing kdrama heroine clichés fighting for the soul of one woman. On the one hand, Song EunGi was an ambitious corporate shark willing to destroy all in her path in order to inherit her father’s industrial conglomerate, but on the other, she remained a profoundly wounded young woman with well-founded daddy issues. Moon is proving to be that rare breed of actress that knows how to act with both her brain and heart; in Nice Guyshe understood subtext, knew when to show restraint, and when to go batshit. She managed to do right by this schizophrenic role that required her to be both a demon and damsel. Many of her scenes required dialogue without words, and in those scenes, Moon simply killed it. She understood the significance of throwing the right glance, the right gesture; the power within the smallest of expressions. She showed that theatrics weren’t always needed to show grief or love or madness, and that some actors don’t act, they simply undergo some kind of magical acting metamorphosis.


Actor/Male Character
So raw, so uncomfortable—
a portrait so simple it felt so real.


Jung WooSung
as Yang KangChil
in Padam Padam
The protagonist was an uneducated, emotionally stunted convict with anger management issues—a man who wanted revenge. This would be the book jacket version of the principle character. Jung WooSung, however, gave us an entire novel’s worth of tiny print depth in only 20 episodes. Jung is definitely a star, a big movie star, and his name ranks up there with the likes of Lee ByungHyun and Won Bin. It is also not particularly unusual for adjectives such as “intense” and “serious” to be bandied about when describing him, but personally, I’ve always considered him more a charismatic action star than an emotionally inspiring actor, being more familiar with his Musa and The Good, The Bad, and the Weird type roles. But in Padam, his performance was so unpretentious, so fleshy and vulnerable, it was electrifying, as if watching a new star being born when he was in fact a veteran of almost twenty years. In the concerto that was the character Yang KangChil, there was so much crashing chaos of sound, but despite the anger, Jung brought the tender melody of violins weaving through this complex character. It was in these sensitive strains that Jung’s portrayal became so masterful and rewarding. A must-watch performance this year, hands down.


Supporting Actor/
Male Character
Either an angelic nutcase or delinquent angel.


Kim Bum
as GukSoo
in Padam Padam
When a popular young actor gets all stingy in his project-picks, practically disappearing for long stretches, then pops back onto the drama scene by way of a chancy misfit role, oh, you know, like an anorexic headcase who believed himself a guardian angel on a quest to enter the kingdom of God by saving an ex-convict...well, let’s just say it’s definitely worth raising an eyebrow. And when that same actor manages to make the dubious role both realistic and meaningful, I gotta give the guy some mad props. This was an ambitious choice for Kim’s drama return, as this particular role had a lot of work to do. He was tasked with manipulating the plot forward without being too obvious an expositional device, all the while providing a moral compass for all the characters, and most importantly, keeping the show accessible by providing some comedic relief. Like all the people breathing in Padam, he was more broken than put together, and it was so satisfying to see Kim and his character take the journey to find the meaning of being human. Kim’s last drama was the flirty comedy The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry where he was boyishly charming, but in this one, he sharpened that trademark Kim Bum wooing with a bit of poison, a bit of neurosis, and oh boy, let me tell you, a charming, neurotic, and slightly deranged Kim Bum is infinitely more interesting to witness than a plain ‘ol nice and mentally sound Kim Bum.


Supporting Actress/
Female Character
High-strung noodle chef with a heart of gold.


Oh JiEun
as JiEun
in I Live in Cheongdam-dong
When her family moved to upscale Cheongdam-dong, all Oh JiEun wanted to do was fit in—but she was polyester in a land of cashmere. Her character was at times transparently shallow, awkwardly unsophisticated, and more often than not, uncomfortably honest. She was a young woman trying to bear the pressures of her generation, in that she was not born into high society but found herself weighed down by a modern culture that demanded that in order to feel good about oneself, one had to wear designer duds, have the right connections, and live in the right zipcode—and of course, this is not a social stress exclusive to South Korean women. Oh JiEun’s portrayal of this girl’s transition from self-doubt to self-acceptance will make you cringe, but it will also make you care, and commiserate, because who doesn’t have some understanding of what it is like to be a person who does not love oneself enough to simply be oneself? Throughout the course of the show, I believed the actress Oh JiEun was the character JiEun (sitcoms often use real names for character names), and fell for her gawky brand of insecurity and rooted for her as she struggled through her girl power journey.


Most Spellbinding Performance
Who needs bad boys when nice guys can be this wicked?


Song JoongKi
as Kang Maru
in Nice Guy
Disclaimer: my fangirl dorkiness hit embarrassing lows highs when Sungkyunkwan Scandal aired in 2010. Frankly, I didn’t think I could fall for Song JoongKi any harder. Turns out, a girl can always reach new heights, or lows, of fan adoration. After taking on a few more supporting roles after SKK, Song finally got his turn to shine as the male lead, and boy did he give the sun a run for its money in brightness. Solar flare? Move aside, Sun, there’s a new star in town and JoongKi’s got a solar glare! Wow, I just cringed at my own lameness there. I apologize, everybody. Moving on. Song was clearly cast against type. The character description for Kang Maru was that of a brilliant man betrayed by his first love, sent to jail, then upon release, set upon a path of complete destruction for both himself and the woman who derailed his life. Mmm-hmmm. This was the kind of cry-cry black hole role that would usually fall to seasoned glowering sorts like Jang Hyuk or Go Soo. But Song didn’t let his ridiculously pretty face or his way too clean cut appearance hinder. I truly did not think he could pull off the gritty role, thought the casting choice a mistake, afterall, “How could a pretty little bunny play a big bad wolf?” Turned out, Song was neither bunny nor wolf (but still pretty), but simply an actor. You know a guy did a damn fine job when halfway through the show you forgot the actor and only saw the character. Who’s Song JoongKi? I only saw Kang Maru.


Most Enchanting Performance
The orig romcom goddess makes her triumphant return.


Kim HaNeul
as Seo YiSoo
in Gentleman’s Dignity
Her conservative character spent half the show mooning after macho construction worker Kim SooRo, so much so that she completely missed the dashing architect Jang DongGun making major agoogly eyes at her. She sometimes donned an umpire’s uniform, always wore very little makeup, and was often uncomfortable in her own skin. She looked like Kim HaNeul, but her character Seo YiSoo didn’t seem to realize she was a hottie of epic proportions. Out of curiosity, how many k-fans out there have seen Kim HaNeul’s Secret with Ha JiWon and Ryu ShiWon? Or My Tutor Friend with Kwon SangWoo? Or Ditto with Yoo JiTae? Or the fab 2008 drama On Air? The last one, by the way, from the same director/writer combo for Dignity as well. Kim HaNeul is an icon. Her appeal has always been her tomboyish flair, which is what she markets once again in Dignity where she played a baseball fan who was also a tough-as-nails but heart-of-marshmallow highschool teacher. I loved that her first drama role in two years had her matching wits against real men who were her peers, not boys half her age. This role was made for her, a woman in her prime but unlucky in love. Kim embraced this mature romantic part with her typical grace and style. She showed that she only needed to be herself to keep the camera mesmerized. Undoubtedly, she is still the princess queen of romantic comedy. Even Jang DongGun didn’t stand a chance against HaNeul’s freckled magic.


Most Handsome Performance
He’ll keep you up all night, er, with espresso.


Kim JiSuk
as Shin JiHoon
in I Need Romance 2012
This singer-turned-actor is trapped in second lead purgatory, to my fist-pumping-the-air dismay. This was his first role since coming back from mandatory military service, and he looked as delicious as ever. I admit it, I don’t have paper-proof that he has the chops to carry an entire primetime drama on his own, but you know what? No one else does either because he hasn’t been given the chance! I’m willing to see him try and fail. He’s cute, funny, dashing, and even when he played a douchebag (Personal Taste), he still managed to come off like an affable sort, so I think he deserves a chance to drive his own drama vehicle off a cliff, or more likely, up a great mountain of success. A lot less talented are given their own dramas all the time, this guy deserves a bump up to first chair at least once. In Romance 2012, he played the nice guy, the all-around perfect guy, which of course meant he stood no chance of getting the girl. He was absolutely swoon-worthy in his role as the sincere café owner who tried to woo and romance Jung YooMi with jazz records, lattes, and flowers. To bad the erratic heroine in the show was more hung up on hot sex with her old flame (yeah, yeah and she loved him, whatever). Even in the original I Need Romance, I preferred the second guy. Let me tell you, had I been the lady of this show, I know whose late night lattes I’d been sipping on…


Original Soundtrack (tied)
A great collection of tracks.


I Need Romance 2012
To be honest, I don’t even know half the names of any of the songs on the actual OST, but the music that played throughout the drama was like indie sexy time. Me liked it very much. Mixed with some Kim JiSuk, it was all good.


And, to no surprise,


Padam Padam
With a collection of the crooniest songs by the crooniest crooners on the K-music scene such as Noel, HwanHee, and JEA, the OST for this one was like its drama, heartbreaking, epic, and had music that swept you off your feet.


TOP 5 DRAMAS OF YEAR
My Personal Favorites 
Ranked, here are the ones I especially enjoyed:

1 : One


Nice Guy
Why: Have you ever seen road rage in action? You know, when someone inadvertently cuts someone off during rush hour, then honking ensues, followed by middle fingers, flying projectiles, astoundingly inventive cursing, death threats, punching, kicking, bleeding, knives, guns, cops…basically, a situation where impassioned fury exceeds the moment. This was Nice Guy’s central and only understanding of human nature—that on some level, we were all capable of an escalation of crazy in epic proportions. In this show, every character tried to out crazy the next person, unfortunately, the who-actually-loved-who part started to become completely mangled for them. Where was truth, where was the lie? A cluster pile of love, hate, and pure madness, this was the must watch melodrama of the year. The fact that it somehow found time between all the rage to be kinda totally romantic was nothing short of remarkable. This was the old sku kdrama formula done right by a young, talented cast. Was the tale of ambition and requital an exaggeration? Sure. But one thing that caught me off guard was how much I truly cared about the two leads Song JoongKi and Moon ChaeWon who were being pulled into the thunderstorm of their own making. Their characters were madness personified, but their feelings for each other felt rightly proportioned. Besides, once I got caught in the vortex of drama road rage, I could not claw myself out.


2 : Two


Padam Padam
Why: This wasn’t a kdrama so much as collective pieces of sadness wrapped in skin. It was written beautifully, it was acted beautifully, and it was filmed beautifully. It surprised me completely, and renewed my faith that kdramas don’t always have to be trendy to be enjoyable, or need to fit a certain mold to keep my attention. It made me believe in myself more than anything. I don’t always have to watch tv like I have some sort of attention deficit disorder. This one had the sensibility of a lot of Korean films, which tend to be a completely different animal than kdramas: grainy with reality, and focused with a clarity so sharp, they can be uncomfortable. And the truth is, any kind of expression that peels back a layer of this thing called life and scrambles it up in a new way in order to reveal a little insight into the beautiful thing that is humanity is not just good entertainment, it’s something special that should be written about, thought about, and of course, shared all about…here, there, everywhere.


3: Three


Gentleman’s Dignity
Why: Four fully grown men run around for twenty hours being ridiculously immature and charming, while four unfortunate (but independent) women try to resist falling in love with them. Despite the powerhouse A-list combination of Jang DongGun and Kim HaNeul, this one did not rely only on their biggest names alone, instead it made the effort to integrate its entire cast into the plot, from biggest star to freshest new name, and did it flawlessly. Completely off-the-wall hilarious, often tongue-in-cheek, well-told, and [for the most part] absolutely casted to perfection, it was different from any other romantic comedy that aired this year. Not only was it lead by a well-vetted cast of acting sunbaes/seniors, but the story was told in the same manner, intelligently and sensibly. With both a strong bromance and a heartwarming sisterhood tale jammed into one, it had a little of everything, and there was not a single dislikable character in it—a feat amazing. Not to mention, all the actors looked like they were having a blast filming this one, and that genuine sense of fun communicated throughout the drama.


4 : Four


I Live in Cheongdam-dong
Why: I don’t think a lot of people saw this little gem of a daily, and that’s too bad, because it was all kinds of adorable, but also plainly well-written. The characters were unwrapped through brisk but keenly told vignettes, clever ones that managed to be both creative in the way they drew out comedy or emotions. I’m told it is difficult to find English subs for this sitcom, but hopefully that’ll change soon. At 170 episodes, it took its sweet time to develop its characters and move forward with any underlying plot arcs, which was both excruciating as a viewer who wanted immediate gratification, but yet intensely rewarding due to the forced slow savor. It was a show that centered around a poor family that crashed the affluent neighborhood of Cheongdam-dong, a fashionable district in the now famous Gangnam district of Seoul. Each member of the family contrived to find a way to fit into this ritzy hood…and along the way, learned a little bit more about themselves. Lead by the incomprobable Kim HyeJa, this was a fun, light-hearted amble, but with large doses of feel-good lessons about loving yourself for who you are and not how society thinks you should be. Not to mention, this one sure did create the cutest, most hijinx-filled love triangle ever between the younger cast members HyunWoo, SangYeob, and JiEun.


5 : Five


Fermentation Family
Why: Basically, it was a drama that centered but was not limited to the trials of a quirky traditional Korean restaurant that specialized in making kimchi as a way to connect with people. On one level, this show was such a delight to watch because of all the yummy food it displayed, and it made you long for either A) homecooking from your Korean childhood, or B) a visit to the Korean countryside to track down this restaurant and eat everything they served. On the actual drama side, it had a diverse range of storylines. To name a few: there was a reforming thug on the hunt for information about his past, a young chef struggling to find her own culinary path, and at the heart of it all, a father needing to fix a wrong in his past while struggling with the early onset of dementia. At the start of the drama, most of the characters set out on independent life journeys, only to realize and appreciate that home will always be where the heart belongs—with kimchi! This was one of those feel good offerings that administered a band-aid in the form of a heartwarming meal at every episode’s end. Frequently a smidge too far on the sappy side, but you know what, sometimes that is an essential ingredient in a home-cooked kdrama. I always seem to have at least one sappy feel-good drama as a year favorite.



NOTABLE MENTIONS
Actors and dramas weren’t fit into categories, but tailored to them.
 
If I Must Marry A Douche,
May I Have This One?


Lee JongHyuk
as Lee JungRok
in Gentleman’s Dignity
The four men of Dignity had it all, and by all, I mean they were rich and handsome narcissists with fabulous hair. The quartet as a whole was one large irresistible woman-tormenting double fudge brownie, but Lee JongHyuk truly stood out as being a particularly irk-irresistible piece of diet-busting dessert with his blatant womanizing douchebaggery. Is it so bad that I loved this guy? I know that cheaters are bad, bad, bad but he was so blind as to why everyone was always so annoyed with him, it was surprisingly endearing. Like a puppy that pees on the carpet then looks up all innocently, “Did I do something wrong?” I loved how cluelessly vain he was, I loved his indecently tight white pants, his fake-baked tan, even his strut, scoff, and sniveling whine. I adored how much he loved all women, to the point where he was so obnoxious about it, it was clear he had some kind of OFD, ya know, Obsessive Flirting Disorder (haha), a mental ailment not yet recognized by any psychiatric board, and certainly not by his beleaguered wife. He was so dumbly guilty, he was almost an innocent.


Most Winningly Diversified


Han JiMin
as Jung JiNa, Park Ha
in Padam Padam, Rooftop Prince
She started the year as a reserved, mulish veterinarian in a serious, somber drama, then gleefully skipped her way into a completely different type of role, one that recreated her into the bright and bubbly love interest for a time displaced Joseon princeling. Han was quite compelling as an unsmiling doc in Padam and equally adept in her comedic heroine role in Rooftop Prince.


Subplot Couple:
Wished They Had More Story


L & Kim YeRim
as Lee HyunSoo & Kim YeRim
in Shut Up Flower Boy Band
Ok, maybe these two weren’t the strongest actors in the drama, which was forgivable because both were really singers just starting their venture into acting, but why was it that I found the two non-actors so much more interesting than everyone else? Likely it was because their mini-romance was the only arc where the cute actually managed to outweigh the melancholy. Sometimes Shut Up had way too much emo-angst for me, tended to lean far too heavy in the wallow to conflict ratio, and I started to look forward to any screen time with these two hesitant lovebirds to lighten the burden. Even though L’s character was a glowering angerball most of the time (he was, afterall, from the glowering-angerball band), Kim YeRim remained throughout his cheerful, steadfast fangirl, and their scenes felt the most light-hearted with its hints of young love.


Another Subplot Couple:
Also Wished They Had More Story


Kang DongHo and Im JooEun
as Kim TaeHan and Kim DongAh
in Wild Romance
Their drama was outright-without-redemption nutbaggery because all the characters in it felt just one more encounter away from a psychotic break. However, if nuttiness can be excused for a bit, these two quasi-normal characters made me invest a little. Kang DongHo was an exasperated general manager for a professional baseball team and he spent most of his energy trying to control his rebellious star athlete (Lee DongWook). Im JooEun played a traumatized bookworm who experienced life only through the safety of research, preferring to stay hidden in her apartment. The two made an unlikely crimefighting duo as they looked for a deranged stalker of baseball players, but their stilted chemistry combined with their even more stilted conversations made for some amusing flirting. One of the few bits of this drama that had some natural charm. Note: Im JooEun also had parts in What’s Up and Arang and the Magistrate this year in completely different types of roles. She’s an interesting actress, and reminds me of a darker more sinister version of Park ShinHye, which I find intriguing.


The Network That Totally
Threw Down The Awesome


JTBC
With the relaxing of the broadcasting rules in 2011, and with new cable networks having sprouted up since, we drama fans now get more dramas per year than ever before. And they are creative little buggers. Three of my favorite 2012 dramas were aired on JTBC—Padam Padam, Fermentation Family, and I Live in Cheondam-dong. Pretty impressive for one of the new kids on the block. I simply find it noteworthy that JTBC had the imagination to air three dramas of such quality in their inaugural year. And they had other well-received shows such as Queen Insoo, Can We Get Married, and Childless Comfort as well.


Rich Bitch I Want To Be 
When I Grow Up


Kim JungNan
as Park MinSook
in Gentleman’s Dignity
So, the sum of Kim JungNan’s character in Dignity is like this: Park MinSook’s a rich gal who fell for the charms of a totally flaky gigolo and ended up marrying the handsome rake. Unfortunately, this handsome rake, a ridiculously flamboyant metrosexual hottie by the name of Lee JongHyuk (see above), never reformed. He could not seem to stop his flirting ways. Any and all boobs and legs that weren’t on his wife made him turn his head and drool. What do you do if you are one filthy stinking rich lady but married to a handsome pig who, sadly, you actually love? This was her dilemma—she had acid wit, money to flaunt, contempt to spare, but actually, she wasn’t completely without a heart. She was the combination of rich bitch and good heart that every girl secretly wants to emulate. Who doesn’t want to cut down a nemesis on the spot whenever occasion demands with a laser glare and an even better aimed snark? Unexpectedly, this brazen character became my favorite of the show. Not only did she have the biggest bank account and the biggest personality, but the biggest heart as well. She took care of those around her, and as she summed it up herself, “I’m the sort to pay back my debts with a lot of interest.” And she meant that for the bad, but also for the good.


Just Needs The Right Vehicle (Still)


Lee HyunJin 
as Kwon JinWon
in Operation Proposal
I’m beginning to really feel sorry for this actor. In 2010, he was stuck in a teacher-love type triangle in daily drama Good Days When the Wind Blows that had more length than legs. In 2011, he was completely ignored by the story after being cast in You’ve Fallen For Me, relegated to a mere filler role. Now in 2012, he gets stuck in yet another lame duck ancillary role trying hopelessly to woo a high schooler away from her age-appropriate first love Yoo SeungHo. For some reason, he keeps getting trapped in no-win kdrama situations. He’s handsome and likable in all of them, but still can’t seem to land that jackpot role. On the other hand, I suppose his career turn could have been worse…he could have been in Fashion King this year. In the famous words of Sheldon Cooper: Bazinga!  I go in for the cheap shot and score a hit. Heh.


Overflowing With Acting Potential
And Not Just For An Idol



UEE
as Baek JaEun
in Ojakgyo Brothers
(Most of it aired in 2011, but it did conclude in 2012, so…)
UEE. UEE. UEE. Looking back, the SNSD gals were everywhere on the kdrama map. We had Jessica (Wild Romance), Yuri (Fashion King), and Yoona (Love Rain) all taking leading roles; and popping up in cameos, we had Taeyeon (Salamander Guru and the Gang) and Sooyoung (Gentleman’s Dignity). But it was female idol group After School’s UEE that ended up being the tall and leggy that made the most impressive transition into acting.


Random thought: did anyone else catch that episode of short-lived variety show Night After Night which had UEE, Daesung (of Big Bang), and Jung YongHwa (of CNBlue) as hosts? During the GD&TOP promotions in 2011, the two rappers of Big Bang made an appearance, which allowed for a cute moment between the two three-lettered stars TOP and UEE. They were forced asked to re-enact a scene from TOP’s first kdrama venture I Am Sam. I only bring it up because it was both hilarious and adorkable how direly embarrassed both actor/idols were by the whole thing. TOP’s bandmate G-Dragon nearly dropped a liver giggling. Anyhow, no real point to that tangent except to randomly bring up Big Bang and to point out the flippin’ adorable-ness of UEE. She’s that unique combination of sex goddess and girl next door that appeals to both men and women. Even when she played the mean girl in You’re Beautiful, she grew a devoted fan following. Here in Ojakgyo Brothers as the titular heroine who faced off against the entire Ojakgyo family, she really showed that she had a natural talent for acting.


Also worth mentioning, her chemistry with Joo Won was so dead on, some even speculated the two really had a thing for each other. She cried, she did some bubbly aegyo, she emoted, basically, she got to show some emotional range. This was a weekend drama that hit almost 40% in ratings—an ensemble cast, sure, but I think she was a big smiley face plus sign for the show.


Big Sword, Bigger Swagger


Lee MinHo 
as Choi Young
in Faith
Can Lee MinHo do no wrong? 
The drama starts with a royal caravan of horse and carriage slowly crawling its way through a rain-soaked landscape. At its front rides a hooded figure bobbing along on his horse, arms-crossed, ambivalent to the wall of water threatening to drown them all. In fact, he appears to be dozing off. He looks pretty badass. The harried men of the procession address him as their captain.

This was the dramatic first introduction to Lee MinHo’s take on Captain Choi Young, the leader of the king’s guards, and it conveyed this: I’m mysterious, unapproachable, and can fight; I’m indifferent to pain, the world’s troubles, and incidentally, happen to be an expert horseman (how else could I ride a horse on a rotted dirt road with my eyes closed?); I’m also a very sleepy man. Believe it or not, this is pretty much the whole of his character in a nutshell. I’ll just say this, I thought Lee was damn fine doing vigilante justice in City Hunter, yet I was completely unprepared for Lee with long hair, in leathers, sword. Thank you Faith production team for making a girl’s dreams come true. I’m about to relay a true story. I started the show on a weekday, saw the first five minutes (the above scene), then promptly turned off the show. “No,” I told myself. “I must save him for the weekend.” Yes, that is how much the Lee MinHo dork I am.


Drama Golden Boy of the Year


Joo Won 
as Hwang TaeHee & Lee KangTo
in Ojakkgyo Brothers & Gakistal
I guess a few might argue this was the Year of the Song JoongKi, and I would agree, absolutely, with Nice Guy and Wolf Boy blowing away ratings and box office numbers, and catapulting Song from star to superstar practically overnight. However, Wolf Boy was technically a film. If we are talking pure kdrama cred alone, I would give the golden boy nod to Joo Won, who had a charming turn as a cop who found unexpected romance with UEE in Ojakgyo Brothers and then totally surprised with his intensity in Gakistal. Basically, he was a leading fellow in an actively airing, majorly successful kdrama practically all year long.


Been There, Done That…
But I was OK with it


Shin MinAh 
as Arang
in Arang and the Magistrate
If Shin MinAh decided to go this route for the rest of her career, you know, cute supernatural vixen, I don’t think audiences would mind. I way prefer her in this kind of a comedic role than the dark melodrama. She’s actually a really funny action actress—amazing how a niche can come up out of nowhere an bite a gal so perfectly. Didn’t care as much for her pinchy emo roles back in the day which really stretched the limits of her then young acting talents. But now, she’s found her groove. She made us (and Lee Seungi) fall in love with her misunderstood Goo MiHo in My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox, and this year, she gave us an amnesiac ghost named Arang haunting the living annoyances out of Lee JunKi. Total win!


Top Three Cameos
Seems like cameos were the thang to do this year. One could probably write an entire review only on the multitude of cameos that occurred (so many in Gentleman’s Dignity, Dream High 2, Light and Shadows, and High Kick 3 alone), but here were three highlights:

1. Lee MinKi 


as ByungHee
in Shut Up Flower Boy Band
Without a doubt, Lee MinKi was the most mind-blowing appearance to randomly pop up and then just as abruptly disappear. Actually, perhaps his role in Shut Up was less a cameo and more a guest starring role. No matter how one labels it, he was such an aggressive presence that kicked off the show, when he exited so suddenly, it left a genuine emptiness for the drama, the cast of characters in it, and for the viewership watching at home. I mean, really, but of course Lee MinKi should play a manic, Mick Jagger-ish rock & roll mini-god that burned too bright and flamed out too quick. What a magical moment of brilliance by casting!

2. Jung YongHwa (of CNBlue)


as himself
in Gentleman’s Dignity
The scene: the main couple, Jang DongGun and Kim HaNeul, are enjoying a pleasant date at a restaurant when the idolicious Jung YongHwa crashes the moment, playing his popstar self, but one that used to be a former student of our heroine. He admits to having had a crush on his teach back in the day, which immediately sets current beau Jang DongGun on the offensive. Well, actually, Jang DongGun revved into jealousy overdrive as soon as the idol entered his visual range. These two handsome males immediately began eye-challenging one another but it was a moment of delightful hilarity when Kim HaNeul complimented YongHwa on CNBlue’s excellent songs and Jang DongGun not-so-subtly bursted out crooning Big Bang’s “I’m singing my bluu-uuu-uuues!” Then after being rewarded an irritated scowl
by the popstar, snidely snickered, “Oh wait, that one’s not yours, is it?” Then more childish glaring ensued. Hilarious. Also, Kim HaNeul was clearly gleefully enjoying this scene. Who could blame the girl?

3. Sooyoung (of Girls Generation)


as herself
in Gentleman’s Dignity
Sooyoung’s totally brief cameo stirred up the men of Gentleman’s Dignity and was quite the amusing. I saw a little of why men would lose their minds and become blubbering fools if she walked into a coffee shop. She really looked like a young idol goddess among mortals, which Dignity decided to take advantage of.
The scene: the man-children are busy arguing quite heatedly about which SNSD girl is the best of the squad, to which Attorney Kim MinJong scoffs that is a ridiculous argument for grown ass men to be having. True enough. But, just then, the men notice the real deal, Sooyoung herself, has walked into the café—next thing three of them know (and even faster than they can blink), the too-cool-for-SNSD-talk Attorney Kim MinJong, who had only moments ago been chastising them for being juvenile, is right at the idol’s side, asking for an autograph, proclaiming her his favorite, and in all his uncoordinated glory, gyrating to SNSD choreography. His friends shudder and gasp in embarrassed dismay.
 
 
Most Intriguing Rookies


Kim WooBin
as Kim DongHyub
in Gentleman’s Dignity
A relative newbie who came on the scene in 2011, Kim carried a minor character in Gentleman’s Dignity as Kim HaNeul’s most troubled student. His charismatic delinquent role in Dignity likely helped pave the way for his casting in School 2013, which I enjoyed, so yes, I am cheating a little by naming him 2012’s shiny new face. He was a surprisingly natural actor. He looked like a punk, talked like a punk, smelled like a punk (as I dreamily imagine his aroma), but managed to come across as something a little more interesting than just another tough guy. In 2012, he went popping about from supporting role to supporting role, from a sonically-gifted vampire in Vampire Idol, to Sulli’s cool and handsome friend in To The Beautiful You, and finally to the likable school punk in Dignity. With the variety of characters played, from silly to semi-serious, he definitely got my attention. Oh, and well, look at him, hard to ignore such the handsome, really.

And,


Lee YooBi
as Kang Choco
in Nice Guy
A young and very fresh-faced actress, she played Song JoongKi’s sick but positive younger sister in the crazy revenge melodrama Nice Guy. Her character did have a tendency to be whiny and cry overly much, but the actress had such a clean appeal onscreen that I have no doubt we will be seeing more of her in the future. Oh, and it seems she’s got some vocal talent, as well.


Coincidentally, these two bright rookies were in Vampire Idol together. Lee YooBi played the girl group idol member who befriends the lovelorn alien vampire Kim WooBin.


A Hairtastic Combo:
Ancient God & Modern Angel
(Cross Drama Comparison)



Yoo SeungHo & Kim Bum
as The Jade Emperor & Wingless Angel Lee GukSoo
in Arang and the Magistrate & Padam Padam
Who’s the prettiest in all the heavens? Too tough to call! Yoo played the “old man” who was the ruler in Heaven of ancient repute, and Bummie played a man with invisible wings, er, a contemporary take on a grounded angel. Both were often bathed in a soft glow of celestial light, both had long flowy hair, and neither’s beauty was of this world. Heh.


Most Psycho-Romantic Couple


Song JoongKi & Moon ChaeWon
as Kang Maru & Song EunGi
in Nice Guy
Am I a complete anomaly or what, but I actually thought these two were the most romantic duo of the year. Yes, I know, it does sounds like I must be a psycho, too. But hear me out: we had these two people who were so messed up, so full of hate for themselves and the world, and also for each other, that they spent a large portion of the drama trying to toss the other into the depths of hell. Yet, these two, despite everything, could only find moments of genuine happiness when they were with each other even knowing it was all a lie. It is an enigmatic love story to watch when two people fall in love while at the same time trying to destroy one another. And you know what, I hate to toss out such a big spoiler, but lest you think I’ve gone all Bali-mad on y’all, I’ll let you in on a secret—despite the odds and the fact that it was on KBS, this one actually ended happily for this tormented couple.


The Sweetest Couple, Seriously,
Almost Turned My Brain Into Candy

 
Hyun Woo and Oh JiEun
as Hyun Woo and JiEun
in I Live in Cheongdam-dong
He was a messy-haired, out-of-work singer-songwriter who spent his days reading comics, seemingly lazy but actually hiding from his rich family. She was a manager at a fancy Cheongdam-dong Italian restaurant but dreamed of owning her very own noodle shop one day. What did these two have in common? Not much, except for their immediate dislike for one another. But when HyunWoo decided to rent the barely-inhabitable shipping container on the roof of JiEun’s home (which really should be against some kind of renter’s code), they were forced to share meals, chores, and the bathroom, and so despite their best efforts not to, ended up getting way too interested in the other’s business. And then the rampant doses of silly and cute could not be contained for this rooftop container couple. Side note: Hyun Woo also had some kind of alpha male flirtation going on with SangYeob, his rival for JiEun’s affections, and they had almost as much chemistry as HyunWoo and JiEun!


Most Despicable, 
But In A Good Way


Jang HeeJin
as Eun ChaeYoung
in What’s Up
She played a famous actress in the biz for ten years, but a star regarded more for face than any actual talent. In order to achieve some measure of industry respect, she enrolled as a musical theater major at a university to prove to the naysayers that she was not just another doll celebrity but the real deal. Unfortunately, talented or not, she was an insecure, manipulative, condescending pretender, and a professional backstabber. She was the type to attack with an innocent smile, her greatest talent being the ability to convince her victims that they had in fact wronged her. Jang HeeJin’s portrayal of this ambitious young woman allowed for some audience understanding into the character’s motives and vulnerabilities, making her occasionally sympathetic, but the character’s constant rejection of her small slice of likability was what made her such an effective and despicable character. She was both cruel and pitiful, and therefore a great foe for the What’s Up cast, a way too idealistic collective of dreamers.


Most Despicable, 
And Not The Good Way


Shin HyunJoon
as Go SooNam
in Ohlala Couple
Yeah, that’s not his wife he’s kissing up there—he’s a sugah daddy and that be his tart. One of the most dislikable characters to pop up in a romcom, which was only made worse by the fact that he wasn’t only the antagonist of the show but also supposed to be the hero. Oh brother, was he a raging asshole! Not even a jerk, but a pure asshole. Honestly, I don’t know if it’s because I absolutely loathe the domineering bossman and submissive wife dynamic, but I wanted to stab Shin HyunJoon’s character with the very kitchen knife used to slice and dice his cabbage. I will make the clear distinction that it was the character that was hateful, not the actor—but I don’t know if it’s such a good thing, him being that good at being so hateful. This man spent his days cheating on his wife then would go home to berate her for being a lousy and unsupportive wife—where’s that kitchen knife!? To give us hope for him, the show gave us flashbacks into the past lives of the husband and wife, which turned out to be some tragic story that depicted Shin as a once devoted lover. Ugh, who cared? He was now a cheating, lying dirtbag. Some things are unforgivable in my estimation, and the first few episodes laid the groundwork for pure hate for this guy. I think dramas need to exercise some sense when they decide to paint one of their main protagonists with such complete horribleness. Maybe the show got better and this guy got more likable, but I’m still glad I wasn’t sitting there waiting for it to happen.  


Most Aggressive Hair Moment
(A KPOP Crossover)


Min Hoo
as Tae Joon
in Ma Boy
There were a lot of shocking hair moments this year in dramaland but Ma Boy, a tiny drama special on anime channel Tooniverse made me laugh out loud when it tossed out an unexpected drive-by hair attack, eliciting from me a genuine chuckle-out-loud moment. When second lead Min Hoo gets tricked by his rival into believing that the girl he likes considered G-Dragon her ideal type, he arrived at school the next day proudly sporting kpop’s [not arguably] Worst Hairstyle of 2012. And when his peers got an eyeload of his long stringy red extensions, they were all totally, “Wow, fantastic baby!” Well, no, as expected, they actually recoiled in abject horror and the girl to be impressed stared at him in puzzlement.


I mean, fo shizzle, I love the GD, but let’s be honest, we all know he must get a kick out of tormenting his fans by doing evil things to his hair, and while he impressed everyone for having the balls to really strut around in public with those seaweed locks, he convinced no one that the look was in any way actually cool. Even the possibility that young impressionable kids might copy this awful hairstyle at school is simply a riot.


Where’s Sulli?
One is not like the others...


Sulli
as Goo JaeHee
in To The Beautiful You
I won’t lie, despite all the attractive athleticism going on in it, I did not watch the entirety of To The Beautiful You, but I do think a chat about 2012 wouldn’t feel complete if I didn’t pause to mention how remarkably boy-like Sulli of f(x) looked with her cute cropped hair. I mean, if we slyly slipped the gender bender into Shinee, or some other equally pretty boy band, I think it would take a few double takes before anyone noticed there was an unsanctioned coed situation suddenly going on. With the help of a serious kpop fan and the google search “pretty idol boys,” which I may add pretty much only brought up kpoppers so it seems they have the market dominated, I found some of the prettiest boy idols to prove my point. Look how she just blends in! Can we even find her in the bunch? It’s like I just put together a poster of idol boys who will be starring in the next Inkigayo special collaboration stage. 


The question remains then, is Sulli the perfect boy because she has masculine charms, or are the boys on stage and screen these days just too frighteningly pretty for their own good? Me thinks it is the latter.


2nd Leads Can Be Damn Sexy Too


Lee SangYeob 
as Park JoonHa/SangYeob
in Nice Guy/I Live in Cheongdam-dong
Yes, yes, Song JoongKi was mighty distracting, but if I may, could we all refocus for just a wee second and take notice of Mr. Lee SangYeob? He’s handsome, he’s spry, and he rocks the preppy swagger. I acknowledge, as the stuffy attorney who tried to protect a corporate empire’s heiress, he played a boring character in Nice Guy and understandably found himself overshadowed by the awesomeness of Song and Moon—but too be fair, he was a good guy and that was a show where if you weren’t evil, you were considered lacking in some way. But I was coming into Nice Guy after having already completely fallen for Lee’s charms in I Live in Cheongdam-dong where he played a happy-go-lucky self-absorbed architect. His comedic take on the rich pretty boy patent was pleasantly different feeling. He was goofy suave in that one, and in one memorable scene, even spontaneously exploded into a LMAO party rocking shuffle…probably one of the most random and adorable scenes of the year. Honorable Mention: Kim JinWoo of Queen InHyun’s Man was pretty tasty, too.


Who Needs A Man 
When I Dress Like This?


Kim SunAh 
as Hwang JiAn
in I Do I Do
Say what you want about the drama (it was an uncomfortable matchmaking effort and it made me feel all stressed inside) but holy fashionista, Kim SunAh looked ahhh-maa-zing in it—please pretend I did that in my best Tim Gunn impersonation. I mean, I simply couldn’t stand it: the chic jackets, the delicate blouses, the eye-popping bags, the scarves, the hats, the shoes, the accessories! I stopped caring about anything else but how she was dressed from scene to scene. “Oh, look at her earrings!” “That blouse is so amazing!” “I love her necklace.” “That jacket is wicked sexy!” I wanted to rob her whole damn closet. I mean, I had to stop watching this show simply because it made me dizzy with the need to max out my credit cards. Well, ok, that wasn’t the only reason I needed to stop watching this one. ^^; Anyway, woman looked so fabulous, she didn’t need to marry no man half her age, her damn awesome closet was already in a meaningful relationship with her. That’s true female satisfaction!


The Poetry of Kimchi


Fermentation Family
Unlike the other 2012 kimchi legacy drama The Marriage Plot, which was more about matchmaking somersaults than about the art of cooking, Fermentation Family was more kin to shows like The Grand Chef and Pasta, using the ingredients of specific dishes as a means to convey something about the ingredients of life. Family really took the time to celebrate the miracle of pickling, reveling in this chemical synergy, and using it as a meaningful metaphor for the mixing of people. But most of all, this show blew my mind with the wide array of beautiful fermented veggies. I mean we had radishes loving green onions with a sprinkle of hope and chili pepper…summer kimchi, winter kimchi, kimchi for the reborn, for the grieving, etc. Who knew kimchi was a life philosophy? First of all, I had a lot of kimchi growing up in a Korean household, but I don’t think I’ve tried even half of the ones advertised in this show. Spicy radish artwork, indeed. Note: the kimchi pictured above really are snaps from the drama!


Superfolk Borrowed from...Bleach?


The Faithful Killers 
in Faith
As if the flimsy explanation for Faith’s time jumping wormhole wasn’t suspension of disbelief enough, the show also gave us an assortment of eccentrics who threw ice, fire, sound, and even electricity to attack their enemies. These superhumans were delightfully ludicrous and further underlined the point that this wasn’t a by the book historical telling so we had best put aside our natural inclinations to groan and simply enjoy all the hair and flair. After all, this was a kdrama year that not only served up vampires, but vampire idols, so there was little point in trying to draw the line at comic book superheroes. 2012 was a gathering place for all kinds of superwierdos. And since these particular superwierdos happened to show up in a drama that required them to dress in fancy billowing costumes...well, that’s just too awesome for words. It was like watching a live action version of anime Bleach.


Drama About Singing Young People
That I Liked Above All Others



What’s Up
Major fan disappointment Dream High 2 did not deliver to the expectations set by 2011’s Dream High, its crazy successful and ridiculously charming predecessor starring Kim SooHyun, Taecyeon (2PM) and Suzy (Miss A). Like the original, the sequel was also an idol-studded venture, this one featuring twinkling stars from 2AM, After School, and Sistar, to name a few, and yet the show itself failed to shine despite the collected charisma of those who rule the kpop stage in the real world. I doubt I’ll need to bend over backwards to convince anyone that this wasn’t the year’s most standout drama depicting the toils of young aspiring singers.

The other prominent one about aspiring young talents was the total fan favorite Shut Up Flower Boy Band. First of all, I did enjoy it, just not as much as everyone else. Shut Up was a drama that attempted to mix tones, it aimed to be an urban, almost docu-style depiction about rockin’ young musicians while still embracing the comedic aspects of the Flower Boy franchise already established. This second in the series (after Flower Boy Ramyun Shop) started really strong—it felt urgent, relevant, and intoxicating with its youthful energy. I loved the cast, the people drawn with such porcupine-like charms, spiky but cute. For me, however, the show was designed with miles of depth already built into it, and I was voracious for a far more deeper look into this rock’n’roll world they created, a deeper look than what Shut Up was prepared to offer, and that disappointed me.

The only non-sequel, What’s Up was the least fuzzy wuzzy of the three singalong dramas, some of its major themes being that of murder, parental abandonment, paparazzi harassment, and the perversity and abuse of stars within the entertainment industry. Filmed in its entirety before it found airtime (instead of filming as it aired), the show at times felt overly produced and packaged, but overall, it was most definitely the far more intricate mosaic in the discussion surrounding young aspiring stars. There was even a random supernatural element, which was completely unexpected for this kind of show. Instead of relying on dance numbers and lovelines, it preferred the more sordid side of kids pursuing fame, such as the extremes of parental disapproval, bullying by peers, self-love and self-confidence, and most especially, the strained relationships between friends who were also rivals. Multiple character stories fought for attention, some overlapped, and many simply ran parallel. The conflicts were convoluted, the students were extreme molds, but even though a lot of it felt a tad caricatured, they still stayed within the realm of interesting. Perhaps Dream High 2 could boast of a hotter, more in-trend cast, and certainly Shut Up had more style and flair, but this one, for me, had a darker, more engaging version of youthful idealism to tell, and with the examination of such a variety of nuanced characters, its enthusiasm was difficult to dismiss, and its quirks felt completely charming, which was why I couldn’t help but like it more than the rest.


Idols, Idols, Idols, & More Idols


Everywhere
I think my previous category about dramas with singing pretty people leads right into this one. In 2012, the only fan bait used more openhandedly than the paranormal angle was perhaps the use of idolmania in everything else. The casting of a popular singer with a prepackaged fanbase appeared to be a knee jerk addiction for casting directors. Rare was a show that did not have some sort of idol candy sweetening up the roster, whether they were vintage idols, newbie idols, or current chart toppers. In fact, we even had plenty of non-idols portraying idols! I think there were more idols this year than ever before, and before had quite a bit already. And obviously the pictured above is not all inclusive for the year. It would take me too long to make that collage. ;) Idols as a species snagged a whole bunch of leading and supporting roles. Truly, I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing for dramas, but it is a factual thing. I just hope the doors are also staying open for undiscovered actors trying to find their break.


Major Aegyo Misfire


Big
Look at how aegyo-licious these two lookers are in the poster above. Too much so, or maybe it was the whole body swapping confusion, but considering the debonair magnetism of Gong Yoo and the wholesome appeal of Lee MinJung, the dynamic between them was as surprisingly flat as the story it tried to tell. Did I mention confusing? It was also a little awkward to watch. There was so much aegyo yet also so little of any real chemistry between the cast. Total passer for me. I imagine the fanbases for all the stars in this one, including idol Suzy, enjoyed it, but a non-invested person like myself found very little to like about it.


Most Unexpected But Should
Totally Have Expected Non-Scandal


The Real Loveline Between 

Yoo Inna & Ji HyunWoo
in Queen InHyun’s Man
Dunno if it was all the smoochie smoochie that went on in this drama between the characters (bcuz there was a helluva lot!), but when the show wrapped, the two actors became real life smoochie smoochers. After HyunWoo’s shocking totally dashing confession of l’amour at a press conference, the two went publicly lovey dovey. I thought these two cute kids had some amazing chemistry in the show, so it came as no surprise that they hooked it up for real. Good for them. I love a happy ending that spills into real life.


The Lee JunKi Award


Lee JunKi 
as Magistrate Kim
in Arang and the Magistrate
Well, since I conjured up the category only to reward Lee for simply existing, who else would win it? This one is only here so that I can be gleeful that Lee is back. Weeee. Aren’t weeee all happy he’s acting again? And I love love love that his first role back from the army is in a wackynut thing like this one. Admittedly, Arang started stronger than it ended, but the whole ghost whispering love story idea was so random that it was almost original, as I’d expected Lee to go a more serious route for his return. And, as I mentioned earlier on this list, anything with pretty people in hanboks (traditional Korean dress) just makes everything a little more awesome. Let’s see, this drama recruited Lee JunKi and Shin MinAh to play government stooge and his undead sidekick, and if that wasn’t wackynuts enough, just for kicks, threw in a little hanbok-wearing Yoo SeungHo as a meddling philandering pretty boy god. The tone wildly cartwheeled back and forth between slapstick and serious, its special effects just as inconsistent, the story so full of holes that had it been cheese even a mouse would have been left starving—but by credit roll, it was the dippy nature of the show that  had made it such a fun escapade in the first place.


Most ‘Needling’ Performance


Shin SeKyung 
as Lee GaYoung
in Fashion King
Cinderella was also a victim of an evil stepmother, evil stepsister, and had some cruel circumstances dumped upon her. Yet Cinderella sang songs, danced, and was a generally cheery character. Cinderella was lovable, unlike Shin SeKyung’s version of Lee GaYoung, who was essentially the drab seamstress version of Cinderella—she was, I dunno, Needlerella? Or perhaps, simply Needyrella. Her character not only used the needle, but was needling on the nerves. She had one note in this drama, and Shin SeKyung played this woeful tune in every scene, in many variations: I’m so sad and so poor. It was sooo boring. But in her defense—and its a pretty strong one—she was stuck with an insipid character starved for personality, one that was never fed, so she kept shrinking and shrinking until she was as insignificant as an anorexic gnat. Lee GaYoung was written with so little imagination, it was a wonder she was even given a name, she might as well have been Wretched Girl #1. Or, more accurately, Needy Needling Needle Girl #1 (say that five times in a row). What could Shin SeKyung have done for the role? I imagine I may be inviting a pile of hate-filled emails from Shin SeKyung fans, but I ask you, wouldn’t you all like to see your girl in a less dumb role, too?


Most Swoon-Worthy Moment


Oh, Sacrificial Hottie: 
I’ll Kill Myself For You
in Faith
Early in the show, Kim HeeSun thinks herself betrayed by Lee MinHo when he reneged on his promise to send her back through the time portal to her modern world (lordy, that’s a funny sentence), and in a fit of crying temper, she blindly charged at him with a naked blade. To the doctor’s shock, the baddest badass Goryeo warrior swiveled around and let himself be run through, and not only that, also helped her plunge the sword deeper into his gut. The doc sputtered in horrified disbelief, his men gasped in stunned silence, and our martyred captain grunted through his pain, “Are we good now?” I rewound the hell out of this scene. Not only because it was totally the kind of horrifying heroic thing an exaggerated badass warrior hero would do, but it set the groundwork for the histrionic and machismo spectacle of a journey we were about to embark upon with the couple.


Best Wedding Proposal


Will You Marry Me?
in Gentleman’s Dignity
True to the jolly ensemble spirit captured throughout the entire show, Jang DongGun surprised Kim HaNeul with a thoughtfully orchestrated mob dance proposal set against Lee Seungi’s popular wedding anthem “Will You Marry Me?” which had the entire cast enthusiastically movin’ and groovin’ to the song. But perhaps nothing was more darling than the moment when Jang DongGun, with the entirety of his handsome tucked into a chic gray suit, bent his knee while holding a pretty bouquet of blossoms for her.


Best Convenience Store Moment


Rock, Paper, Scissors for Ramen
in Ojakgyo Brothers
Scene: After unexpectedly bumping into one another in the street, UEE aegyos the aloof Joo Won into a convenience store to buy her some instant snacks. When UEE realizes they have an odd number of rice balls, she suggests they play rock, paper, scissors for the extra one. Joo Won could care less about getting the last piece, but she insists on fairness between them. Joo Won wins round after round, flicking UEE’s forehead until she steams with frustration. When UEE finally wins one, she gets too excited and goes overboard in her glee to exact revenge, smacking Joo Won so hard, he yowls in pain. Never had convenience store ramen eating been depicted with such flirtatious undertones. Well, that’s not true, flirtations often seem to go down at corner marts, but this one is still worth mentioning.


Total WTF Moment


Yoo AhIn Gets Shot In The Head!
MAJOR ending spolier above.
Highlight hidden text at your own risk!
in Fashion King
Pissed me off, this show. So much. Everything about it. When I realized what happened in the scene above, I almost threw my remote into the tv. Like, literally. Stupid show with stupid characters. I really do apologize to any Fashion King fans, if you exist, as I’m not deliberately trying to offend. I just really hated this drama. Everyone must have their opinion, and this one was felt strongly by me.


Laugh Out Loud Random Moment


Everyday I’m Shuffling
in I Live in Cheongdam-dong
Scene: Lee SangYeob and Oh JiEun are on the rooftop when SangYeob spies his rival Hyun Woo with another girl (an ex-girlfriend) in the street below. At this point in the story, JiEun is yet unaware that another girl is squeezing into her loveline with Hyun Woo. Trying to spare JiEun any heartbreak, SangYeob tries to distract her from looking downstairs when voices are heard, so he does the only thing that pops into his mind, which was a very odd distraction choice indeed: he yanks out his mp3 player and starts dancing so furiously to LMAO’s Party Rock Anthem that he rips his pants at the seams.


Favorite OST Song


src: LOENENT 

살기 위해서 (To Live)
by Noel
from Padam Padam
This song captured the sweeping spirit of its parent drama.


The Sequel That Totally
Made Me Unhappy


Full House Take
It’s easy to see why this one had such a hard time finding a K-network that would take it. Hands down, the decision to spin off 2004’s beloved romcom Full House (starring Rain, Song HyeGyo) was the one that made me personally want to strangle a drama exec with my bare hands. The kdrama world had been hearing of threats rumors of a Full House sequel since...well, since the original aired. I imagine many who loved this drama as much as I did found themselves, in equal measure, both fearing and anticipating the possibility. At one point articles popped up that former scandal-mates TOP and Shin MinAh were in discussion to play the leads (no one believed it, of course, TOP being frequently attached to random dramas for no reason). The truth is, the quirky magic that made Full House an explosive success can never replicated, there can never be another Full House. Why? Because the original had little actual plot, its success was due to one thing and one thing only, the cosmic explosion that happened in the pairing of Song and Rain, one of those once in a lifetime moments of pure kdrama kismet.

Perhaps Take 2 was not a horrible drama in itself, although that’s debatable, but where it most definitely offended was not its subpar quality, but the taking of a name of which it had little right to wear. There was nothing about this drama that was remotely in the same spirit as Full House. It might as well have been called You’re Beautiful 2, there at least would have been some similarities there. And yes, this is a raging fangirl’s opinion, one who loves Full House almost irrationally because it is the drama that brought her into kdramas. Frankly, the whole idea of making a sequel to Full House...was the mistake. It would be like daring to make a sequel to My Lovely Samsoon, I mean really, why do it at all?


When Bad Happens To Good People
(Cross Drama Comparison)



Perms Gone Wrong:
Hwang JungEum & Lee SiYoung

as Jang Man-Ok & Yoo EunJae
in Full House Take 2 & Wild Romance
I’m sorry, was there some kind of floating memo in kdramaland that athletic women were required to have cropped curly hair? Both Hwang JungEum and Lee SiYoung played martial arts experts in their respective dramas, and both also had poodles on their head (no offense intended to cute little poodles). Swirly wild hair isn’t necessarily the hairstyle of utter disaster, some curly looks can even be cute, but wow, were these two particular blunt perms baaaad. Having an ahjumma poodle give birth on one’s head should never be considered an acceptable hair ambition. It’s just not right in on the head.


Drama That Had More Swagger
Than Logic, Story, or Sense


Faith
If Lee MinHo makes a drama in any given year, it is highly unlikely that said drama will not make it on my year end report card in some way. But MinHo fandom aside, Faith is exactly the kind of drama that makes my knees go weak. It was saturated in honor and heroics, it had swords and blood and wavy long locks, it had a pointless adventure-quest type of story to do with a kingdom toppling or some such, not to mention sprinkled with a pinch of mysticism, and it was lead by a handsome “I don’t care about anyone or anything” type of warrior whose charisma was only matched by the obstinance of his feisty female counterpart. What can I say? I rather loved all of its historically inaccurate swaggering…even if it really pushed the limits of my patience near the end. Granted this one was more enjoyable in fangirlish concept than successful execution, but still, Lee MinHo with long hair is Lee MinHo with long hair. And let’s not forget the sword.


Worst Drama of the Year


Fashion King 
Unequivocally, one of the most awful dramas I have ever seen in my life, and worse, it was a criminal waste of talent. Very little was enjoyable, almost none of it watched without cringing. This is my summary of Fashion King: Unrealistic crap happens, ugly clothes are sewn. It gives me no pleasure to say Fashion King was awful. But it was such a piece of awful that everyone agreed it was a piece of awful. And seriously, how often do drama fans actually ever agree that anything is awful? Like I say, it pains me to write this, for I love Yoo AhIn. So instead, I ask everyone who suffered through Fashion King to please go watch Wandeuki (hurry, hurry), this is how Yoo AhIn should be remembered for 2012. Wandeuki was a good movie, and Yoo was awesome in it. End of story. Let’s all pretend Fashion King never happened. Agreed?


The Drama Everyone Watched
(Even Martians), But Not Me



The Moon That Embraces the Sun
& Answer Me 1997
Um, two juggernauts that came and conquered, unstoppable yet inexplicable (to me anyway) in their ability to draw people in. These were two completely different types of dramas that hypnotized the ROK population…and all other drama watchers across the globe. For Moon/Sun, the explosion of grandiose costuming was a draw, I imagine, as was all the attractive in the cast, most especially Kim SooHyun, who does tend to be amazing in everything he does. Answer Me 1997 had a fresh cast of young stars plus an Eun JiWon, and possibly the nostalgia factor really worked in its favor. Also the parallel with today’s idol worship is a pretty relevant topic. Either way, despite the huge successes of both dramas, and despite these probably being the two biggest shows of the year, they were a duo I failed to connect with. I can’t really express why I couldn’t get past the early episodes except that I just could not…


Most Mind Fartiest And Ridiculous
Thing I Saw This Year, Hands Down

 
Vampire Idol
Well, in a year gripped in a headlock by everything supernatural and idolatrous, this type of show was almost fated to exist. This sitcom was the most preposterous concoction ever in a year where preposterous was the standing theme. I truly cannot decide if this was the cheekiest, most cleverly written show of the year, or just the one most outright proud of its own stupidity. Either way it was a totally budget-poor mind fart that shattered even my wildest mind fart expectations—and because it was so completely breathtaking in its ridiculousness, it vaulted over the laws of nature, dived into an alternate universe, and somehow became completely friggin’ awesome. Did that make absolutely no sense? Well, welcome to the rationale behind Vampire Idol. The show followed a Hallyu-crazed vampire prince from a far off vamp planet who went to Earth with his three ‘ugly’ vampire protectors to chase after his favorite idol group Girls Girls. But in many ways Earth was not like his home planet of Vampiretus. For one, while considered a major catch at home, among humans, the cape-wearing prince was considered totally ugly while his bodyguards considered drop dead gorgeous. To make matters even worst for him, the Girls Girls members hated him but he couldn’t return home after his anti-Hallyu father found out the young fang boys secretly took a vacay to Earth. And so these centuries old vamps must navigate life as freshman idols and learn how to adapt to human life and deal with inane things like using smartphones and learning food digestion. Like I said, mind fart alert...one that might even be misconstrued as a waste of time (as the ratings would have you believe), but in my opinion, a totally must experience kind of a mind fart. But a warning to all: can anyone actually survive 79 episodes of mind farting?


Best Time Travel Drama


Operation Proposal
It’s competitors:
Faith, Rooftop Prince, Queen InHyun’s Man
This was a tough one, there were some really good time traveling dramas this year. <—That might be the funniest sentence of this entire post. Queen InHyun’s Man may have been a better overall effort with great investment and detail into the logic of its time traveling, but as far as utilizing the gimmick as a means to an end, I’ve decided the actual hat tip should go to Operation Proposal, which was a remake of Japanese show Proposal Daisakusen. It wasn’t the best realized show, and the ending was somewhat too easy, but it was the only one where time travel was truly a character in itself and weaved into the plot mechanic as more than just a separation device for the main lovers. Not only was it the only time travel doozy that didn’t have characters from different historical eras trying to find common ground, but it was a purely contemporary story about the same people in one timeline being manipulated. It explored the most popular fantasy in time travel, the fool notion that if we humans had the means to jump all about in the history of our past, that somehow we could change our present lives for the better. In this one, it was less the romance than the philosophical questions that made it interesting.


Worst Time Travel Drama


Time Slip Dr. Jin
If there are enough candidates to crown a best, then there must also be a worst. Another choice that probably doesn’t require much defense. This one was about a neurosurgeon that gets sent back in time to do things like drill into peoples skulls in non-sterile environments and battle cholera and syphilis outbreaks. Even in theory, it doesn’t sound that riveting, does it? Well, it had the handsomes Song SeungHun and Kim JaeJoong (of JYJ). It had time travel. It had hanboks. It really did stand a chance at being fairly decent, if at minimum simply watchable. And yet...it wasn’t. Not every time travel drama worked this year. I guess the drama gods could only allow five time muckeroos to actually be good decent otherwise the world would have ceased to function and we may have actually gotten that end of world the Mayans had predicted. And then someone would have had to go back in time post-apocalypse to redo the year 2012 in order to save humanity.


I never finished this one, but ah, I do so remember the wig...the bad “horse” hair wig! Seeing that on his head made me as itchy twitchy as it must have been for Song wearing it.


I Must Give It Another Try
—One Day


Answer Me 1997
I hate feeling like I’m the butt of a joke, or a big secret that everyone knows but I can’t grasp. I must be missing something. I watched a couple of episodes, but never caught the bug. At what episode did everyone get obsessed? I really want to know, so that I can sit down and commit myself to try it until that point. I really feel like I have not grasped the reason for this show’s insane success. I mean, what kind of drama releases a book adaption that goes all bestseller? It’s like literary aficionado Nancy Pearl’s equation about books, where she asserts that a person needs to read 100 pages minus his/her age before one can confidently give up on it. What is the equation for this drama? Four episodes? Five? Ten?


Most Underrated


Padam Padam 
I know why it didn’t create a maelstrom of excitement, but it really was one of the best dramas I have seen…in years. Korean dramas are soaps meant to entertain, so there really shouldn’t be the expectation that it will create cutting edge tv. Some provoke genuine thought, some provide historical insight, some if maybe all are in some way a slice of our modern times, well to be more accurate, contemporary South Korea’s modern times. They are a conversation about Korea because they depict its people and their stories. But it is meant to be entertainment. Yet occasionally, a drama will come along and it doesn’t feel like the rest. Padam came along and for me, it was a show that made me feel a little more kinship with Korea for having watched it, for it spoke a language about humanity that felt universal.



Final Thoughts
Well, I do hope no one takes any of my opinions above too seriously, as they are one fangirl’s feelings on the past year. An opinion born is by its very nature a thing that will annoy somebody, but my drama thoughts are not meant for fight. And they are absolutely never meant to discredit the dramas other fans have loved...I may have hated a show but there must have a been a good reason why someone else loved it. I truly believe that, which is why I find kdramas are so fun to dissect with other fans. So many factors play into their reason for existence. Although, it sure does make me a little anxious to have my first post in months be a year end review, but be gentle in your comments and emails, even if you disagree with me. =)

I also notice that for a post about kdramas, I sure wrote a lot about Big Bang up there. Well, what can I say, it was an idol year, and no one had a bigger comeback on the kpop scene than these five fellows (obviously another biased opinion), and they infiltrated the Korean pop culture psyche. References to them popped up everywhere, characters hummed their songs, and their hits often played in coffee shop backgrounds, not to mention, two members even made appearances in dramas.

For the coming year, I hope to post more reviews. It is a new years resolution I hope I can keep, but my track record has been poor, so here’s hoping I can defy my own expectations of failure. After all, we must all have hope that we will overcome our own flaws. It is the start of 2013 now, and a couple dramas are completely enthralling me, so I’m on a kdrama high. I hope to ride the good feeling as long as possible.

13 comments:

  1. Dnoella!!! You're BACK!! :D :D :D

    SUCH a pleasure to be reading your writing again! It's been too long! ^^

    I'm happy to say that I agree with your comments more than I disagree.

    Also, I am completely STOKED that you are one of the few people in the entire drama-verse who seems to also like Operation Proposal! I genuinely enjoyed it, more as a thought-provoking character piece than as a rom-com, but everyone else seemed to hate on it, & in spades too.

    I loved Padam Padam as well, and Jung Woo Sung & Kim Bum in it. And the OST as well.

    I'm currently loving Ojakgyo Brothers & I've been squeeing at the UEE-Joo Won loveline ^^

    I'm still savoring I Live in Cheongdamdong - thanks so much for turning me onto this show!

    I'm excited that you're planning to post more reviews this year - yay for me and for lots of other readers too! :D Hwaiting!!

    Love! <3

    ReplyDelete
  2. Also glad to see you posting again. I've always loved your drama reviews and been checking your blog for updates.

    Padam Padam is still in my must-finish-list, but I promise to get back to it soon. Seeing you praise the drama so much makes me more motivated to find time for it in my tight drama schedule.

    I'm becoming increasingly more curious about I Live in Cheongdamdong. I've seen many bloggers sharing their love for it lately. But are there any subs for it? I hope that one day there will be at least.

    Agree totally on Lee Min Ki's cameo role. For me, though, it's the best cameo like, ever. He really nailed the role.

    I do hope you'll catch up with Reply 1997. Even if you might not love it as much as everyone else, there are still plenty of things you can appreciate about it.

    Anyways, a lovely post. And hopefully we'll see you more around here this year :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks kfangirl! It's good to be blogging again. And I'm with you, OpProposal wasn't a terrible show at all! It wasn't perfect, but like you say, definitely an engaging idea behind it. How're things going with the new site?

    Indigo: I am totally determined to give Reply 1997 another try. Maybe over a weekend I'll marathon it! I only hear good things about it from everybody...so it must be good!

    Thanks you guys for visiting my site! I really appreciate it. =)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Woot! It's great that you're feeling good about blogging - coz that only means good things for us readers ;D

    I agree that Reply 1997 is worth a second try - it's not perfect or anything, but there is quite a lot to like in it. I was quite impressed with Seo In Guk & Jung Eun Ji in this, even without considering the fact that they're singers first & actors second.

    The new site's going good! Traffic's been healthy, considering that the blog's only about 10 weeks old. I had a milestone day 2 days ago, with the day's views hitting 365 - small beans for big blogs, but a pretty big deal for a baby blog I think ^^

    Blogging's making me watch my dramas with a more critical eye as well, which I'd sort of expected, but it's interesting to experience it, all the same. I also feel challenged to do a drama justice when I review it - something that I didn't feel as much when I first started posting reviews. Hm.. I'm growing as a blogger? Hee ;D

    HUGS & YAY that you're back! <3

    Love!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Kfangirl!

      I've been reading your blog posts as well, and they're totally great. Your sincerity really shines through, I love it. I'm not surprised your site is hopping with visitors!

      I know what you mean about watching dramas with a more critical eye. That's part of the reason why I blog so infrequently. I try to step away, I never want blogging to feel like work, and don't want it to take away from my loving dramas. But I agree with you, overall, it is a great experience, and you pay attention more, give more dramas a chance.

      Talk to you later!

      Delete
  5. Yay! You're back! I tried to find a better written korean drama reviews blog than you, but I truly can't find it. So glad you're back.

    Fashion King is the worst drama of 2012 for me too. I still can't believe Yoo Ah In agreed to act in this fury-inducing drama.

    I'm glad to know that someone appreciates Operation Proposal too! That drama is seriously underrated.

    I seriously want to try watching I Live in Cheongdamdong but can't seem to find any subs for it :( I haven't watched Ojakgyo Brothers too. I'll be sure to watch it now.

    You really should give Reply 1997 another try. It gets redundant at the end, but the beginning and the middle is full of heart. Even though it may not be your favorite drama of 2012, I think you'll find something to like in this drama.

    So glad you'll be blogging in 2013! What's your most anticipated dramas of 2013? And what are you watching right now? Are you watching That Winter The Wind Blows and Flower Boy Next Door? I am liking That Winter The Wind Blows even though melo is usually not my kind of thing, so I'd like to hear your opinion about it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahah, thanks damasdamas, you're so sweet for saying such nice things!

      I definitely will give Reply 1997 another shot. I just HAVE TO it seems!! With so many of you guys having loved it! I've watched Flower Boy Next Door (loved it) and School 2013 so far. So, you are enjoying Winter? I haven't started it yet...I'm a little afraid of it actually! Heheh. Afraid of its intensity. So you recommend it? On a scale of 1-10, how much are you liking it so far?

      Delete
  6. Annyeong kdramaguk! I gave you a Liebster! Please see http://ginkgohill.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/liebster-awards/.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hey glacierkn! Thanks for thinking of me! I'll have to work on your questions. Also, it looks like I didnt have u on my blogroll so hope you dont mind, I added you! Chat with you later.

    ReplyDelete
  8. wueeee mostly agree with you!! you should watch moon embrace the sun if you're kim soo hyun's fan. and the ost theme song really stuck of my head till recently!! lol.. and I really should watch padam padam!! Is it that great?? and I agree with the fashion king as the worst worst kdrama I've ever seen! I like yoo ah in and the lovely sekyung and I like the plot had something to do about fashion but really I can't stand few episodes and just ditched it. harr... glad you notice the bigbang's references everywhere.. I'm a happy fangirl!! cheers!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One day, I promise! One day, I will go back and return to drama year 2012 and try Moon Embraces the Sun. I do love the Kim SooHyunie! Padam may not be for everyone, but it really is a good show. Definitely worth giving a try.

      Delete
  9. I am kind of crazy over Joo Won now after watching Good Doctor which I would rate a solid 8/10 for that drama! It is philosophical to a certain extent and one of the best dramas in 2013. After reading many reviews, I think i would give Okjakkyo Brothers a try to satisfy my 'I want to watch Joo Won again' craving. But it is like around 50 episodes, which left me WIDE EYED. Still deliberating if i should spend time and soul in that drama, since the time spent can be used for at least 3 other dramas.
    But again, I am kinda free now, so...... I should try right??? Oh please tell me it is gonna be worth it.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, you should definitely check out Ojakgyo Bros. It is a rambler, but Joo Won is a pretty charming lovable cop in it. Worth the watch, for sure, esp for a fangirl of his!

      Delete

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