jandoe’s Dramafest Reflection is here again!
I’ve a friend who chides me all the friggin’ time for watching Asian dramas (I’ll take it in good spirits but when you imply it’s not okay to watch Asian dramas yet totally acceptable to watch Western dramas – get outta here) that I reflected on just why do I invest so much of myself for Asian dramas specifically?
When I was younger, it was part of childhood. In my teens and early college years, it had a lot to do with escapism and habit. These days, it’s… interest I guess, though mostly easy familiarity. I figured I’m in so deep that I might as well just stay on …but then shows like Misaeng comes along, one that looks like nothing special on the outset yet in truth, holds nuggets of wisdom. Or Discovery of Love, one that made me laugh and cry like some crazy loon twice a week for two months. Or how about The Three Musketeers, a show that doesn’t necessarily have wisdom to spare but lots of laughter?
At the end of the day, I think it’s because these Asian dramas, sappy as hell and overweight from overused tropes and cliches, are still able to make me feel. A myriad of emotions yes, but the fact that they’re still able to move me and stir my insides, sometimes ripping them to shreds, in contrast to my frustratingly stagnant real life – I think that’s something. In whatever small ways, these dramas put themselves to task to remind me to celebrate the unsung heroes in all of us.
Which is also why, for two straight days, I’d enslaved myself to write this year-end reflection; here’s to one more year of drama-watching …even though I probably watched more non-2014 dramas this year. I hope to write a summary-of-sorts write-up on those shows eventually, but for now the focus is 2014 and like last year’s reflection, I’ve included a few 2014 Jdramas and a TW-drama. Oh, I added intermission breaks too, in the form of some of my favorite Korean songs released this year!
Two quick notes:
- My timeline’s a little off but I basically categorize shows based on their premiere dates, not end dates (unless specified)
- My reflection barometer is flawed and subjective (I’m aware haha) but in general, on a scale from stinker to the best:
(VERY) Vague < Vague < Fondness < Warm Fuzzies < Right Through The Heart
Get, set – down into the rabbit hole we go!
Prime Minister & I
Reflection Barometer: Vague
It’s weird, on one hand I remember exactly how fond I was of this show – gobbled the first six episodes in a state of euphoria – and yet when I really dig deep and try to recall specific details, I come up with… nothing. I wrote a first impression and an overall review about the show which basically prove how much I’d enjoyed the show, but huh, you know just the other day I was surprised to see a screen cap of Yoon Si Yoon with Yoona cos ack, I forgot that he was even part of the show!
Objectively speaking though, this show was side-eyed from the get-go because of the main pairing. I admit I did some side-eyeing myself, though mostly because of Yoona‘s limited acting range but whaddya know? She nailed it here. Nam Da Jung was endearing and likable, and when the romance – or should I say courtship – started in earnest, she and Lee Bum Soo were adorable and totally believable as two individuals trying to find a middle ground in marriage and family-building.
The show isn’t amazing but I genuinely thought the first half of the show was well-done. Where it faltered, unfortunately, is in the second half when they decided to separate the main couple and insert melodrama for the sake of drama (legit) and worse, ruined the show with an ending that’s a disservice to its breezy beginning. Still, when I parted ways with Prime Minister & I, I was adamant to do so in good terms and I’m glad because even though I can’t remember much about the show now, there’s no bitter aftertaste associated to lingering memories. Hey, I may even be able to re-watch.
Note: This is a 2013 show, but ended its run on February 4, 2014.
Reflection Barometer: Fondness
I actually meant to write a proper overall review of Miss Korea because it is such a gem of a show, but somehow never got to it… Unfortunate, because this show is a sleeper runaway hit – if I can call it that. What it definitely is though, is understated and grossly overlooked. I picked it up because Koala was singing praises about it and it’s one of those few times that I’m glad I listened and decided to give a try.
I’ve actually never watched Lee Yeon Hee before but I’ve definitely read lots about her …lacking acting skills. It’s everywhere, seriously, and I think it doesn’t help that she’s represented by SM Entertainment. Bad press on top of bad press, basically. But you know, she was actually AMAZING here. In all honesty, I can’t sing her enough praises in Miss Korea because man, she shone alright. She was arresting and incredibly compelling as Oh Ji Young, who is a pretty face yes, but so what? If you look at her and can only see that, shame on you for judging a book by its pretty cover.
She might not have delivered in her older projects and since this is my first time seeing her, I can’t draw points of comparison but her portrayal of elevator-girl-turned-Miss-Korea, so desperate and yet so sincere as she faced each challenge with grace and steely determination despite everyone’s preconceived notions about her – it was really like Lee Yeon Hee herself was trying to prove to her naysayers, “Look at me. This is what I’m capable of.” Laden this with the backdrop of the 1997 Asia crisis and lay them down thick with a dated, sepia tone complete with feels and well hot damn, the do-or-die urgent tone is soundly justified. Of course Lee Seon Kyun himself was amazing as was the rest of his team, but it’s truly, sincerely, the Miss Korea of this show that my applause is directed to.
Note: This is a 2013 show, but ended its run on February 26, 2014.
Bride of The Century
Reflection Barometer: (VERY) Vague
So I gave this show a try because Koala was raving about it and I survived probably the first eleven episodes but to be honest, sure it was fun – but it was also utterly silly. So, so silly that I kept mentally going, why do you love it again?! I also could not see what she saw in Lee Hong Ki – she showered him praises for his acting gig here but honestly, all I saw was his overacting – bulging eyes and all.
I will give credit to Yang Jin Sung though, whose commitment to her character really showed. She was unabashed at acting silly, yet managed to move hearts in more grounded and emotional scenes. Plus her twin characters felt distinct from each other even though she acted as both so that’s something. Together, she and Hong Ki were cute but I just couldn’t get behind the show’s humor and romance – it all felt very juvenile to me, so I did what was best for everyone: I dropped it and let those who love it to continue singing praises without me eye-rolling at each compliment.
I Need Romance 3
Reflection Barometer: Vague
I will be honest: I Need Romance 3 disappointed me with what it could’ve been. I mean, when you’ve Kim So-yeon as your leading actress with always pleasant Nam Goong Min and the endearing Sung Joon as her love interests, you’d think the writer would make good use of the casting …but no, she made Kim So-yeon‘s character hard to relate to (frankly, borderline annoying) and Sung Joon‘s character was so pitch-perfect he was unrealistic. They were cute together and their living arrangement was also all kinds of cute, but unfortunately cute simply wasn’t enough.
I watched until episode ten or twelve before eventually dropping it because I couldn’t stand the pretentious tone the show oozed. It wasn’t so much that the tone was patronizing, it’s more like it felt as if the writer grew an ego because the first two installments were well-received. I mean, I enjoyed I Need Romance 2 immensely, but this one felt like it tried too hard to be different and distinct that it just ended up feeling like a try-hard, full of zippy one-liners but ineffective in emotional punch.
To the show’s credit though, maybe, just maybe, I just tuned in at the wrong time – school took a massive toll on my emotional well-being then – and so I found it hard to sit through the show. Having said this, though I enjoyed some elements of the show and loved seeing Kim So-yeon take on a rom-com, I don’t miss it enough to come back.
In A Good Way
Reflection Barometer: Fondness
So I’ll be honest: until now, I haven’t gotten to the ending. I’m still stalled at episode 21 of its 26-episode run and because I accidentally read about the ending (enough to figure out how it ended), maybe I’d like to stay in denial-land just a little longer.
I’ve been so out of the loop with TW- and Chinese dramas for years now, but the internet was buzzing about this one that I eventually caved in and to be honest, I’m glad. This show’s got me all nostalgic about my high school and undergrad days, and missing home because Taiwan through In A Good Way looks and feels a lot like some parts of Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur (abbreviated KL). Like all shows, In A Good Way isn’t perfect but lucky for this show (and us), it overflowed with emotional sentiments, gutting us right where it matters most: the heart.
Gotta give credit to the ensemble of cast for sure, namely Lego Li and Kirsten Ren who were the true hearts of the show. I love his upright and inherently kind character, Liu Chuan, and likewise love Jia En’s down-to-earth, cheerful personality. Together with their friends, they brought us back to a particularly defining period of our youth. Even though we may not necessarily look back at that period fondly, we know that it still has the power to stir something within us. Ultimately, that’s the sole reason I love and kept to the show – because it brought me back to a time full of good memories and meaningful company. It’s that period when youth is taken for granted, friendships are believed to last forever, heartbreaks equate to dying and we are, ourselves, so full of overflowing emotions, untapped potential, and long harbored dreams.
Good times don’t last, but it never hurts to relive the good memories.
Note: This is a 2013 show, but ended its run on May 16, 2014.
Boku no Ita Jikan (lit. The Hours of My Life)
Reflection Barometer: Fondness
So I actually just watched (gobbled, more like) this show a few days ago so it’s still fresh on my mind. I’ve actually always wanted to watch this show because I’ve been fond of Haruma Miura since his Bloody Monday days and I friggin’ love the writer’s last project, Osozaki no Himawari. It’s just… the plot…
…only you know what, when I finally dived into the show, aw man if only someone had pointed out to me earlier that this show started off as a straight-up love story! That would’ve made for an easy decision in picking it up, no doubt.
But that aside, I really like this show. Sure, the plot’s nothing that hasn’t been done before and for all the affection I have towards Haruma Miura, I’m aware his acting is still so-so, yet this show is unexpectedly uplifting and emotionally resonates; I am genuinely happy that he took this on. The latter is probably expected but the former surprised me somewhat. For a topic that’s so close to death and tearjerker-fest, the writer took a different approach by presenting us with a compelling story and an easily laudable hero. Better yet, she gave us a gentle and kind heroine, as well as one of my favorite best friend character in recent years. I’m not familiar with the actress Tabe Mikako, but apparently she and Haruma Miura have acted together in a movie before this drama came along – I can’t say they have an explosive kind of chemistry (they don’t) but they do have a sweet, good-natured rapport and dynamic. Together, their characters were adorable but her devotion towards him is really moving.
I love the overall gentle tone of the show that’s occasionally splattered with humor by the cutie patootie true best friend Mamo-chan played by Kazama Shunsuke (in a completely different turn from his character in 2011’s masterpiece Soredemo, Ikite Yuku) and not-girlfriend (sure, I believe you) Hina-chan by the lovely Yamamoto Mizuki. I mentioned this earlier but really, this show is surprisingly uplifting – definitely not a tearjerker-fest, more like quiet moments of introspection.
Like I pointed out too, I know the plot has been done to death especially in Kdramaland, but Boku no Ita Jikan has enough heart that it tugs at my heartstrings and stirs my insides. Don’t let the disease bit deter you from watching this show because the show uses ALS as a backdrop and medium, if I may say so, and not as the central plot point.
One thing I’ve always loved about Jdramas is their soundtrack, often memorable long after the credits roll. Yuzu and Haruma Miura go way back so I’m not surprised the former contributed to the OST, but I found out because I noticed the vocals and ah, what a pleasant surprise! The song, Yorokobi no Uta (lit. Song of Joy) is wonderful.
Reflection Barometer: Warm Fuzzies
I LOVE this show. There, I said. I’ll say it again as many times as necessary.
No, Angel Eyes isn’t perfect. Yes, it dragged in the middle and the plot twist was wafer-thin. Yes, Goo Hye Sun took awhile to gel into her role with big shoes to fill because Nam Ji Hyun was phenomenal as the younger counterpart. Yes, Kim Ji Suk was wasted here (again) as the ineffective second lead. No, Seungri of BIGBANG did not experience any breakout moment here because his character was frankly irrelevant to the main plot and mostly served as empty humor. Yes, the show should’ve just ended not-so-short-but-definitely-sweet at sixteen episodes instead of twenty.
I’m aware of all the things that the show did wrong, but I’ll tell you what the show did right. For one, pitch-perfect first two episodes, so beautiful and enthralling were Kang Ha Neul and Nam Ji Hyun as Park Dong Joo and Yoon Soo Wan. The overused trope of first love was redefined through their youthful innocence, boatload of sincerity and praiseworthy acting skills, making us believe right from the start that these two are the end-game not because the drama said so but because of their affection and commitment towards each other. Then the baton was passed on to Lee Sang Yoon and Goo Hye Sun, both of whom carried the same sparkle and magic of their childhood counterparts with so much warmth. Lee Sang Yoon was especially adorable and endearing what’s with those dimples but I thought Goo Hye Sun, for once (for once!) held her own and was present in all her scenes.
Angel Eyes is also visually stunning; PD-nim made good use of the winter season and often shot scenes with soft colors to reflect the gentleness of the relationship between our leading couple. I thought the soundtrack for the show wasn’t too bad; I still listen to some of the songs. Ultimately the writing was the primary weak link of the show and caused the show to falter, but throughout the ups and downs, yawns (there were plenty), crawling speed and eye-rolling fest, one thing stood out for me from the first scene to the end: Park Dong Joo and Yoon Soo Wan, together forever.
PS If you’re interested, I wrote quite a bit about the show – you can find them in the Angel Eyes tag.
Secret Love Affair
Reflection Barometer: Vague
To be honest, I can’t say my memory of the show is vague per se, but I know for sure that it’s not fondness so… vague it is. When news about the show was first announced, I was ecstatic. I really enjoyed Yoo Ah In‘s performance in last year’s Jang Ok Jung, Live in Love so I knew he has what it takes and sure enough, he was nothing short of phenomenal here as the not-yet-jaded twenty year-old piano prodigy who embarked on an affair with Kim Hee Ae‘s character.
The thing is, I totally get why this show is a bonafide hit, almost cult-like in the devotion showered by its biggest fans, but tried as I might, I couldn’t get behind the show. It’s not that I didn’t notice the technical aspects of the show that made it such an introspective and meaty watch – the casting, the writing, the nuanced directing, to name major players – but it’s like… Secret Love Affair is akin to an artwork? I appreciate its conceptualization, process and overall execution but I do so from a distance, like a visitor in an art museum who came across a particularly intriguing piece. Several aspects of the piece would catch my eyes, move me enough to have lingering questions and even chew upon thoughts that stem from this artwork, but once I’m away, I remember very little and I’m left wondering if anything resonated.
To the show’s credit, I wonder if it’s simply because I’m not the right audience – age range and experience, not so much moral beliefs ironically – because Secret Love Affair sure made PhD candidates out of many blogger-viewers. If you Google the show, you’ll find chock full of introspective write-ups, in-depth analyses and more. For many of its viewers, the show was an exercise of the mind, heart, and principles. I’m in no position to doubt their devotion towards the show – I’m content just sitting off to the sidelines and appreciating it from a distance.
Reflection Barometer: Vague
I tried out this show primarily because it gave me vibes of last year’s tightly written and solid Empire of Gold. Plus, Kim Kang Woo never hurts and I’ve always been fond of Lee Shi Young and Uhm Ki Joon. I thought the show’s beginning was compelling with an interesting villain as well as a surprisingly emotionally charged main coupling.
The show required me to put on my thinking cap and not leave my conscience at the door and I was happy to oblige, but once I missed an episode, then two and then four… I realized that Golden Cross lacked a sticky factor – a hook to keep you coming back. The revenge bit continued to chug along and Kim Kang Woo‘s character took an unexpected transformation, one I thought was still interesting. My issue is that despite all the events unfolding, it’s like the overall feel of the show stagnated. It was compelling, sure, but not all the way. The show raised several meaningful and hard-to-answer questions, but it never went all the way to the deep end to explore the answers.
I totally didn’t plan to, but I eventually stopped watching Golden Cross and relied on bite-sized recaps by BreathlessSurvival over at her blog. I’m not writing off this show, but I wouldn’t be so quick to call it a runaway hit either.
Reflection Barometer: Vague
When I think of Joseon Gunman, here’s how I’d sum it up in a sentence: it’s like a close cousin of The Princess’ Man and so they share the same regal costumes, breathtaking landscapes, and plot …but lack the emotional punch and staying power. What a shame and more than that – ugh, how annoying.
I picked it up in late summer once the show finished airing because I noticed Koala’s continuous stream of compliments about it in her recap openers, so you know, maybe I did go into the show with certain expectations. The show is certainly breathtaking and beautifully shot – no surprises here since it’s from the same PD behind The Princess’ Man – but my god, the writing is embarrassingly mediocre.
I’m impartial towards the overall cast – I don’t feel anything for Lee Jun Ki and Nam Sang Mi, but I did look forward to their chemistry and rapport since many people have raved about their chemistry in their 2007 drama, Time Between Dog and Wolf. Unfortunately, while it’s true that they have chemistry and are cute onscreen, their love story and devotion towards each other in this show only elicited a questionable “HUH?!” from me. Their separation was supposed to be epic and sweeping, so much so that she’d hold on to their love and do anything to keep him alive ala The Princess’ Man, but… nope. And before you call me out for coming into this show with a modern mindset, I don’t think that’s it because I enjoy period and historical pieces and always try to accommodate to the timeframe of the drama.
To put it simply, I found Joseon Gunman really, well – boring. The writer attempted to build up this big overarching plot twist but the stakes didn’t tally to the suspense she painstakingly attempted to create. Plot developments and relationships didn’t feel organic but mechanical and deliberate, as if we could see her thinking “put this here and then this happens and so this relationship will deepen…” and so the story mostly felt contrived and farfetched.
I’m aware that maybe I’m hard on this show because it didn’t deliver what I had hoped and expected from it, but when you’ve such a compelling plot and interesting timeframe …and not milk those juicy bits – ugh, how disappointing. The characters felt flat, like for instance Nam Sang Mi‘s character who’s supposed to be a woman ahead of her times but she didn’t come off as so – it’s more like she showcased herself as that and hoped others would buy her charade (I didn’t). Big difference. The second leads were… ineffective and acted like plot plodders more than anything else. Okay maybe Jun Hye Bin wasn’t that bad, but Han Joo Wan was definitely flat.
I think the show tried too hard to be The Princess’ Man 2.0 and that became its downfall. It’s not a horrible show or one I’d peg as a lost cause, but it’s nothing to write home about. For something of its genre and arc, other shows do ’em better.
Marriage, Not Dating
Reflection Barometer: Fondness
I actually just recently finished watching this show because I kept coming across write-ups showering praises and lots of positive feedback about the show. Here’s what I honestly think about Marriage, Not Dating: it’s ridiculous. It’s downright ridiculous with a wafer-thin plot and lots of wooden acting from its supporting characters but there I am, glued to the screen and gobbling every ridiculous scene and wooden acting heartily anyway (how embarrassing hahaha). But to the show’s credit, it’s so feel-good that I can’t even fault it for its flaws and use of at least a dozen overused plot tropes.
The magic undoubtedly lies in Yeon Woo Jin and Han Groo, for being so committed to their roles. They were 200% onboard the ridiculousness of the show, hamming it up when needed though what’s amazing is that it’s really in the quieter scenes that they shone. They showcased emotional restrain and tons of sincerity despite the ridiculous premise; their characters’ vulnerabilities were honestly, tangibly felt. Those scenes were often played out with lasting emotional resonance too, so we’re right with them in feeling gutted, wronged, elated and all sorts of other emotions. It’s like I was in each moment with them, rooting and cheering for them every misstep of the way.
Javabeans was also right to point out that each time we thought we had the show figured out, it takes an unpredictable spin on a predictable trope. I felt that way too and thought the writer was really clever! It’s one thing to utilize overused tropes but it’s something else to make each trope feel brand-new – kudos to her.
All in all, Marriage, Not Dating is a hearty rom-com that knows not to take itself seriously with its premise and tone, yet at the show’s center is two surprisingly relatable and vulnerable characters. Sure, they were pushed and pulled in-and-out of plentiful madness and zany antics and sometimes react horribly, other times embarrassingly, but they took it all in stride, improvised as necessary, communicated to their level best and at least between each other, were always honest to one another. Cheers all around for a wonderful, summery rom-com.
Discovery of Love (alt. Discovery of Romance)
Reflection Barometer: Warm Fuzzies
I love, love, love this show.
Fortunately for the writer, though I’d failed to connect with I Need Romance 3, I was 100% onboard this one. Of course it goes without saying that it’s partly because of the reunion between Jung Yu Mi and Eric Mun who were crackling (and maddening) in their 2006 drama, Que Sera Sera, but in this show, I’d like to credit everyone really – the cast ensemble, the writer and even the director, for gifting us with this drama.
The show hit gold with Jung Yu Mi and Eric Mun, but Sung Joon gave a decent performance as the third leg (or was it second?!) of the romance. The show scored even more awesome points for an amazing supporting cast (more below). I personally think Sung Joon‘s still lacking as an actor, but he was decent here. Though okay, let’s be honest – against Eric Mun, is anyone ever a match?
(Correct answer: not a chance)
Discovery of Love wasn’t always realistic (if it was, Yeo Reum would go for Plan C: leave both guys and ride into the sunset with a new love or just her spunky self), but its emotional center was surprisingly relatable and grounded. Plus, it gave us a realistic heroine in Han Yeo Reum who was selfish and calculative at times, but always unapologetically human. She held steadfast to her autonomy, not letting even writer-nim dictate her actions – forget ex- and current boyfriends! – and reacted, emotionally and physically, in ways we would too, had we been in the same situation(s).
Eric also gave a tour de force performance, emoting through body language and long gazes, and gave me one of my personal favorite character growth scene – who knew one’s breaking down moment is another’s gem? I didn’t always like Kang Tae Ha (but okay, let’s be honest that’s probably only 0.1% of the time) but I respected his character, for always staying true to himself and his decisions. That he was always (okay, almost always) honest with his feelings to himself and the one he loves; he could and did put aside his pride too, one we know he holds closely to himself, and actually asked her to come to him as opposed to forcing his feelings on her.
(Okay my love for this man is strong, so forgive my cloudy judgments)
Kim Seul Gi and Yoon Hyun Min were awesome, both individually and together. In this installment the friendship totally worked for me and these two’s best-friends-to-lovers arc were friggin’ hilarious and fantastically played out with humor, heart, and realism. So cute. Plus Kim Seul Gi‘s character, Yoon Sol, was honestly even more awesome in her role as the girl-bestfriend to Han Yeo Reum – female friendships are in general complicated and more so to portray justifiably, but Sol proved to us that chivalry and loyalty are far from dead and definitely not gender-specific.
Last but not least, special mention: Director Yoon (Lee Seung Joon) for being the best kind of sidekick all wrapped in one: friend, mother, pseudo-lover, caretaker, colleague, trusted aide …you name it, he’s it. Luff him.
PS I wrote some about the show which you can read here, but mostly I camped at Mookie’s blog because her insights and analyses of each episode, sometimes even scene by scene, were brilliant. Good times!!
The Three Musketeers
Reflection Barometer: Warm Fuzzies (almost! Right Through The Heart)
Gahhh, I love this show so much!
Granted I watched it not too long ago, so my memories of The Three Musketeers are still fresh but I do believe that I would’ve remembered this show anyway, because this one clicked on all levels for me. Sure it was tonally campy, but damn it was so much fun. Sure some plot points, if you scrutinize them closely, are ridiculous but no one could deny that the overall plot was tight, fast-paced, and engaging. Sure Jung Yong Hwa‘s acting was green so much so that even I made fun of his lacking skills, but I think everyone can agree that he was honest-to-goodness not that bad here.
A lot of year-end reviews I read about this show mutter deep sighs about the stalled production of the originally planned two more seasons of this show, and I was really bummed too when I heard the news but you know what? Let’s not focus on what could’ve and would’ve taken place and instead devote our attention to what did happen in this first, maybe only, season.
And here’s my take-away: The Three Musketeers is fantastically feel-good fun. For me, twelve hours whizzed past just like that. The show dare I say, hit gold with its casting. Not perfect sure, but I like to think that our central characters exceeded expectations and gave us memorable performances. The costumes – oh show, how do I count the ways to your glorious styling of my favorite Prince and his swashbuckling friends? And those gorgeous hanbok donned by the lovely Princess!
Which brings me to the romance: the royal couple’s romance of marriage-then-love was the stuff of Regency romance novels, I swear, yet with Kdrama feels. SQUEAL. Seo Hyun Jin was adorable and endearing as our Princess, who blossomed into her own as the show progressed but remained graceful and delicate throughout. I love her so much, one of my favorite female characters this year.
Then there’s Lee Jin Wook who was captivating and mesmerizing as Prince So Hyun, a progressive man armored with wit and humor. I know some viewers had a hard time adjusting to his deadpan tone and emotionally impenetrable character but funnily, I never had a problem with those traits of his. If anything, I thought they added an unexpected layer to the Prince (who’s totally tailor-made for Lee Jin Wook).
All in all, The Three Musketeers gave me lots to cheer, cry, and squeal to. Hell, who’s complaining?! Not me, that’s for sure.
PS If you’re interested, you can check out my overall review of the show here!
Wakamonotachi 2014 (lit. Young People 2014; alt. All About My Family 2014)
Reflection Barometer: Warm Fuzzies
Wakamonotachi 2014 is a Jdrama that I checked out solely for its cast ensemble. Picture this: Tsumabuki Satoshi, the always-amazing Eita, the equally-always-amazing Mitsushima Hikari, Emoto Tasuku, Aoi Yu and Nagasawa Masami – I mean, how could I not?! I’m happy to report that although I came for the cast, I stayed for the characters and the familial ties. It was, needless to say, a meaningful experience.
In retrospect and now looking at the show from a distance, I understand why it wouldn’t be and isn’t everyone’s cuppa. The show does sometimes comes off as tonally patronizing and almost preachy, as Jdramas tend to do. In addition, I noticed too that Tsumabuki Satoshi did overact in some of his scenes, but I find these as minor quibbles because more than heart alone, Wakamonotachi 2014 is honest in its portrayal and storytelling of the most essential yet perplexing and complex relationship: familial ties. Admittedly, maybe I’m partial towards the show because I come from a large family myself (honestly sometimes I think my family’s like individuals who are suddenly forced to spend long-hours together so we make it work somehow), so I dig the imperfect elements of this family.
I actually love the screaming, the shouting, and even the occasional scolding Big Bro delivers to his young’uns. I love his overcompensating nature, thinking and believing wholeheartedly that he’s responsible for everyone and therefore, needs to hold the family together. I love the annoyance that Mitsushima Hikari‘s character, Sato Hikari constantly feels as the middle child and worse, middle child sandwiched between brothers. I love how they reprimand each other, yet are also the first ones to come to each other’s defense. I love the maddeningly loud mornings at the breakfast table and love the quieter, more subdued moments of heart-to-heart conversations just the same. I love that all five of them, when they think of their familial ties to each other, vacillate between thinking it’s a blessing and a curse.
Sometimes families are the ones we’re born and grow up with, as is the case in this show, and other times it’s those with whom we forge lasting emotional connections with. Whatever the case and situations, I love that ultimately, Wakamonotachi 2014 is a show that exists to remind us that if we’re family – we’re for and from each other.
PS I wrote a first impression of this show, which can be found here.
Tomorrow’s Cantabile (alt. Nae Il’s Cantabile)
Reflection Barometer: Fondness
Tomorrow’s Cantabile is a show that I didn’t expect to remember with fondness, more so because I LOVED the original Japanese sources, all of them: the live-action dramas and movies, manga, and anime. There was so much drama about the casting – rightly so though, I must say – that when it finally premiered, one can’t help going into this show with scrutinizing eyes. The show took a while to get into its groove separate and distinct from its Japanese counterpart and although inevitably it never stood a chance against the former, I like to think that on its own, it’s a decent show.
Looking back now, I can’t say I’m in love with the show – okay, I also recently did a rewatch of the Japanese drama and movies so that move’s obviously not in favor of this one – but I sincerely enjoyed my watching experience. I thought Joo Won was fantastic as Cha Yoo Jin i.e. our Korean Chiaki, and funny that, because it was him that I was skeptical about initially.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Shim Eun Kyung as Nae Il. In my opinion, the main culprit is still the writer for such poor characterization of this character because if you’ve watched Miss Granny (and Sunny, and other projects by the actress) then you would know the kind of acting performances she’s capable of delivering. However, looking back now, I do think that maybe Shim Eun Kyung herself tried too hard to emulate the Japanese version. Sure she toned it down as the show progressed and eventually came into her own, but a small part of me still thinks she never completely embodied the character – like she was always a few percentages short of becoming one with Nae Il. Still and again, to her credit – there’s only so much one can do with what one’s presented with and in this case, Nae Il was not well-fleshed out.
Overall though, Tomorrow’s Cantabile does have its shining moments and winning aspects. The relationship between Yoo Jin-sunbae and Nae Il for instance was really all kinds of cute; I still concur that Go Kyung Pyo as Yoo Il Rak is one of the best things about this show; who-is-this-cutie Park Bo Gum as Lee Yoon Hoo a.k.a. Yoo Jin’s rival was charismatic and a total show stealer; and last but not least, the friendships that developed over the course of the show, forged by music and strengthened by love and respect, are still my fondest memories of Tomorrow’s Cantabile.
Reflection Barometer: Fondness
I enjoyed this show immensely, but weird – I can’t say that I’m in love with it.
Maybe it’s because I came into the show with hindsight – I’ve watched the Japanese version several years ago and fell madly in love with it. Although this show deviated and took liberty in making this adaptation its own, somehow I’m not as completely taken as I was with the Jversion. Sure the suspense kept me on my toes and Shin Sung Rok‘s portrayal of the cunning mastermind left me in awe and had me watching the show with my lights on, plus Lee Sang Yoon as grouchy genius Ha Woo Jin is a refreshing turn from his dimply Dong Joo in Angel Eyes… but strange, I could never shower it with the same kind of uninhibited praises the show’s garnered from many of its viewers. For me, it’s like going to the cinemas whereby I’d go into each episode knowing I’d have rollicking, mindfuckery hour-plus fun and leave the theater, business-as-usual.
Still, I’m glad that this show exists and I’m genuinely happy over the reception that it has received. That ending too, was brilliant and well-executed in line with the flow and tone of the show throughout its run. Objectively speaking, this Liar Game really was compelling, suspenseful, and smartly-written. Casting-wise, Kim So Eun was serviceable but let’s face it that it’s really all about the men and boy, did they deliver in bucketloads. Directing-wise, while it’s nothing to write home about, I still appreciate that it complemented the games structures and tone.
I didn’t love this Liar Game, but I appreciate it for the solid show that it is. For that reason alone, I’d totally recommend it to those who are looking for a mentally stimulating and rather unconventional Kdrama. Once you’re done, be sure to dive into and check out the Japanese version too. That one’s definitely golden.
Misaeng (lit. Incomplete Life)
Reflection Barometer: Right Through The Heart
To be honest, Misaeng has been on my mind a lot these days. Not only because like everyone else, I’d loyally tuned in each week for ten consecutive weeks and am now suffering from withdrawals, but because I think Misaeng is this rare beast of a show that’s hard to encapsulate with words alone. If you’ve only followed the show through recaps, I suggest that you stop that and watch it.
The devil is in the details, truly, from the most mundane scenes and driest dialogues to the nuance in subtleties. I think this is a notable aspect of the show, one I’ve honestly chewed upon for months because I wondered why it’s so hard to write about this show. I think I finally get it: there’s a lot of implicit nuance and layers in Misaeng and better yet, those details are different for each viewer. It’s inevitable that interpretations vary so that’s not surprising, but what catches our attention and eyes vary from person-to-person and I think on a larger picture, it’s because this reflects who we are and what we hold dear within ourselves. To be honest I think that’s what’s mind-blowing because isn’t it amazing – how does Misaeng do what it does, speaking so much with a scene, a character, and/or a moment alone?
I think what makes Misaeng work – why it’s such a runaway hit worldwide – is because it celebrates the everyday triumph of the human spirit. It celebrates the real unsung heroes: all of us, ordinary human beings that we are. In her year-end review about Misaeng, Girlfriday pointed out that all of us are Jang Geu-rae and that this show mirrors our natural inclination of wanting to belong in our respective folds – our sense of purpose as human beings, if you will. I thought the second point was particularly interesting because I hadn’t thought about the show like that at all – not a humanistic sense of purpose kind of portrayal, more like the resilience and perseverance of the human spirit. Both points are valid of course and again, this is exactly what’s so great about the show, how it gives different take-away points to different viewers.
Ultimately, what I love most about Misaeng is the show’s care with details. I actually watch each episode only once, because nothing quite holds up so powerfully like the first time, anytime and in anything. Like a game of baduk, every move is deliberate. Similarly, each scene and character are not products of coincidences and mere caricatures, meant to fill the screen and time slot.
I also love that it’s not just our main characters who are layered and dimensional but the side characters are too, from the less obvious ones for example Chief Oh’s neighboring deskmate colleague (who always keeps an eye on Chief Oh!) to those who with more screen time like Chief Chun. Beyond the characters alone, their office cubicles may be stifling but that little world is so comfortably lived-in – so painstakingly ordinary and yet so deeply felt.
At the heart of the show is undoubtedly the bond between Jang Geu-rae and his father figure and respected mentor, Chief Oh, but Misaeng, rare beast that it is, is truly made up of parts that are greater than the whole: my fabulous four newbies from their respective character growths to budding friendship circle; everything about my favorite character Han Suk-yool; the dynamics of Team 3; exploring misogyny in the workplace; unfaltering in holding each person accountable for their actions and decisions, just to highlight some of favorite bits about the show.
Remember: each person’s take-away points from this show vary, so do yourself a favor and experience it for yourself. When you’re done, do yourself another favor, re-watch with hindsight for a different kind of experience.
Pride & Prejudice
Reflection Barometer: Vague
I pity Pride & Prejudice for positioning it right after my Misaeng reflection because while I could go on for aeons about Misaeng, I have almost nothing to say about Pride & Prejudice. The funny thing is, this isn’t even a terrible show. I stuck to it until episode eleven or twelve and honestly hardly utilized the fast-forward button when I watch the show, but there is simply nothing particularly compelling about this show.
The chemistry between Choi Jin Hyuk and Baek Jin Hee is cute but sorely underutilized and their share house living arrangement is also cute but not taken advantage of with hijinks. Then there’s those cases which are kind of interesting especially the central one about her brother, but they’re also dry and procedural. There’s a second love line thrown in there, I suspect as random fun, which kind of works but also kind of not. I do enjoy Choi Min Soo‘s role as this ambiguous is-he-a-baddie-is-he-not boss to the rest of the characters, but Pride & Prejudice… lacks a staying power and sticky factor? It’s not a terrible show but it is forgettable.
Reflection Barometer: Warm Fuzzies
CRACK. This right here. For real, this show is SO MUCH FUN.
I wrote this on Twitter and I’ll say it here again: Healer‘s like every superhero Marvel-like story out there, but with Kdrama feels and sense. Alternatively, put it this way: it reads like a whodunit murder mystery complete with goosebumps jitters, but feels like a Kdrama. Or hey you know what – whatever, cos the conclusion is it’s rollickin’ fun!
But ahem, objectively speaking, this show is really scoring on all fronts – the casting, the writing from the plot to the backstory mystery that intertwines our trio in a fated-but-it-makes-total-sense way, and even the directing. It’s not layered with pathos and nuance like Misaeng, but it is a solid and great show in its own right.
Ji Chang Wook is amazeballs (and okay, really hot) as Healer – my favorite version of his character – who lives in isolation and finds himself an audience, not a participant, in society and in terms of human sentiments and actions …until Park Min Young‘s Chae Young Shin comes along. And this girl? Oh my goodness, she’s this lethal combo of endearing and hilarious. She’s also spunky and has more bravado than skills, but makes up for that with lots of guts. Then there’s Yoo Ji Tae‘s Kim Moon Ho, who’s our connection to the past and present as well as the show’s emotional center. I’m actually not that familiar with the actor but I don’t doubt his credentials just from watching him here – he’s good, really good.
Song Ji-nah is a respected screenwriter in Korea but since I didn’t watch the shows that made her a household name, I’ll just say that what I know of her and her more recent shows that I did watch namely Story of A Man and What’s Up, there’s enough to like and more than enough to trust that we’re in good hands. Right now legit, I dig everything about Healer – let’s hope a year from now I’ll be able to reflect and hold on to my words here and now about it!
Reflection Barometer: Right Through The Heart
Ugh, this show. Who would’ve known? Who would’ve guessed that this one warms my insides and shatters my soul in the best ways possible when just earlier this year, another more technically merited show that tackled the same topic left me cold? Seriously, who would’ve known?
I friggin’ love this show. I may not love everything about it, but I love everything that it is and stands for. I love the character explorations; I love our heroine, who’s kind of weird and definitely way too noisy yet unflinchingly human and so refreshingly unabashed and unapologetic for being who she is. I don’t necessarily love our heroes, yet I’m so compelled by both: the gentle, unsuspecting husband who’s also our unreliable narrator, and the sexy mofo who’s damnably beautiful yet it’s his deliberate isolation that speaks to and moves me in a way I didn’t see coming, even though he also makes me squirm uncomfortably for deliberately and purposefully treading into turbid waters.
I love the aesthetic appeal of this show, so stylistically shot and visually arresting that the watching experience is pleasurably heightened. I love it even more, how this aspect complements the nuanced writing of respected screenwriter, Kim Do Woo.
I love that this show asks questions, hard questions, yet in an ironic turn, presents them from narrow, limited, and flawed perspectives of our central characters. I love that this show isn’t afraid to dig deep, challenging us to rethink our morales and viewpoints about certain topics. I love that this show doesn’t present its players as caricatures, instead as living and breathing individuals susceptible to weak moments, mistakes, and bad days. Likewise, I love that this show showcases them on their good days too, and acts as a platform for ordinary folks to become main characters.
Last note: I know a lot of people have grief and beef about the in-laws i.e. the husband, Hee Tae’s family and it’s not that I’m excusing them from their wrongdoings towards our heroine, Il Ri, but I don’t know, isn’t this such a realistic portrayal of marriage life and life in general, in the sense that every family has different sets of problems and dynamics, some more dysfunctional than others? Sure they’re not the best people but isn’t this a realistic depiction of families in general, and that we make do with what we’re given and or have gotten ourselves into? Yes these folks are frustrating characters, but it’s unfair no, to excuse a specific few from their faults and flaws yet reject completely some others?
I could go on and on about why this show is so utterly compelling and arresting to me, but I’ve seen others do that better (see: here) so I’ll just wrap up by saying that above all, I love the show because it feels so lived-in, a world unto itself.
Mischievous Kiss ~ Love in Tokyo (Season 2)
Reflection Barometer: Vague
On one hand, it’s feels somewhat unfair to feature the second season of Mischievous Kiss ~ Love in Tokyo in this year-end reflection since I’ve really only watched the Okinawa SP (i.e. episode one) and the second episode …but both didn’t appeal to me, which is a crying shame. I wonder if it’s just me and not the show because I wholeheartedly loved the first season, robotic warts and all, but can’t seem to find and transfer similar positive sentiments and magic that was so organic in the first one.
So I’ll be honest: right now I’m not digging this second season like I thought I would. I anticipated it like every excited fan out there and I wonder if that is my undoing – I over-anticipated and so of course I’m disappointed because the show didn’t deliver like I wanted it to. Or is my annoyance and lacking affection merited, that this second season seems to be missing that X-factor ingredient that was so potent the first time?
I’m not sure, honestly. I will keep watching and adjusting my viewpoints and lenses as necessary but that’s about all I can promise right now. If or when something finally clicks, chances are you’ll see write-ups about this season. For those of you who are enjoying this second season though, don’t let me spoil your fun – happy watching!
PS I did write a ton about the first season, which you can find here.
It’s always kind of surprising to look back and realize oh wait, I did watch a handful of shows this year (oops). Kdrama-wise, I don’t think 2014 was an exceptionally great year – we had lots to choose from sure, but very few sparkled and delighted us. But this year also gave us some truly phenomenal ones so all good, I’d say. Overall, I’m happy with the ones I chose to watch and though I ended up dropping several and don’t necessarily remember those I did finish, generally I don’t think it’s a bad year. I’m not wrapping 2014 with a bitter aftertaste in my mouth – very important point.
Nothing in the 2015 line-up thus far has piqued my interest save for that drama reuniting Jung Kyung Ho with his bromancing love, Yoon Hyun Min though this time they’re rivals for Kim So-yeon‘s heart …but the plot sounds blah, so I’m going to have to wait and see. There’s of course that Hyun Bin drama too, but I don’t know, I think I loved him best in Worlds Within. Anyways, for now I’ve more than enough to get by with Valid Love, Healer and eventually re-watching Misaeng. I’m a happy camper!
Cheers to another drama-filled year (my 13th, I believe) and an optimistic, hearty toast for what’s ahead! *clinks glass* If it’s one thing I’ve learned about dramaland, it’s that hope springs eternal forevermore so yup, give us all you’ve got 2015!
Disclaimer: All photos are credited to wiki.d-addicts.com.