Long time, no post! It’s been a busy week after week after week… but I’m back, and with some of my favorite K-dramas to recommend. Ready? Ready. Here we go:
1. Personal Preference / Personal Taste (2010) Out of the dramas I have seen or taken note of with Lee Min-Ho, this remains my favorite from his filmography. Starring opposite of Son Ye-Jin, Personal Preference is a giggly-cute show balanced by some more tender moments. Son Ye-Jin plays the adorable but almost pitiable Park Gae-In, a woman betrayed by three of the biggest jerklords she may ever encounter, putting her in a miserable state while thinking… life might be better with a gay best friend. Around this time, Gae-In meets Jeon Jin-Ho, who–courtesy of awkward (but humorous) misunderstandings–she mistakenly thinks is gay. Call it fate or coincidence, as Gae-In believes, she accepts Jin-Ho as her new roommate, yet Jin-Ho (now caught in his own ploy) has a hidden motive for entering the house.
Overall, the drama relies on some obvious maneuvers to engage the romance, and the plot falls weak. What saves this drama–for me, at least–is the chemistry between the two leads and goofy humor that stays strong through all sixteen episodes.
2. Baby-Faced Beauty (2011) This noona romance focuses on 34 year old Lee So-Young (Jang Na-Ra), an aspiring but struggling designer. As circumstance may have it, So-Young is mistaken for a 25 year old, and she keeps the lie spinning to maintain her new but lowly position at a fashion design company. Between striving to prove her worth and continuing to hide the truth is not an easy task when faced with a batch of disrespectin’ younger sunbaes–especially when one of them is her love interest, played by Daniel Choi. Age acts not only as one of the major focal points in this show, but as an obstacle that arouses conflict–romantically speaking, and with regard to the workplace and personal matters. So-Young remains a strong character that perseveres, so this is not a question of whether or not she accomplishes her goals, but more about the journey she takes to get there.
3. Answer Me 1997 / Reply 1997 (2012) To anyone searching for a drama with huge heart, Reply 1997 should sit at the top of your list. This is a throwback drama that centers on the high school life of H.O.T fangirl extremist, Sung Shi-Won (Jung Eun-Ji), and her five best friends, while time-skipping (forward and back) to follow the group into adulthood. Of course I spent the ’90s in the U.S. living my childhood, but this show exudes such heartwarming nostalgia that even I couldn’t resist. The late ’90s and early 2000s were huge years for pop artists, and Britney Spears, ‘N Sync, and the Backstreet Boys played huge roles in defining my childhood. To this day, my fangirl heart beats strongly for the Spice Girls. I remember role-playing Baby Spice in mock concerts, standing in line at the skate-deck arguing over Britney vs. Christina, and I remember the friends who were there right beside me. Above all, I remember growing up. Whether or not you can spot cameos and recognize references, Reply 1997 is a universally relatable show no matter where you are from.
So what’s the caveat? Reply 1997 drags the mystery of who ends up with who and sadly extends it by begging the question: Who is the father of this baby?! At a certain point, the mystery loses its secrecy and becomes a worn-out reason to continue watching. It’s once the audience has reached this moment in the show, however, that I was too emotionally invested in these characters to back away and quit.
4. My Name is Kim Sam-Soon (2005) The quips and shenanigans might be outdated–and the show itself is not particularly original–but considering that this is a ‘drama classic,’ it would be shameful not to recommend it. Sassy, quarrelsome, talented pastry chef Kim Sam-Soon (Kim Sun-Ah) is the heart and force behind this drama, who agrees to a “romance contract” with her emotionally constipated boss (Hyun-Bin). Similar to Bridget Jones, Sam-Soon is that loud but sensitive and not-quite-skinny character whom I fell in love with even as a 15 year old. She was 15 years my senior when this show aired, and while she is a spitfire whose insecurities certainly apply to an older age group, they are not necessarily confined to one. I think what separates this drama from most cliche romcoms is the added sparkle Sun-Ah bring to her character. Of course: other characters are well-acted, and the chemistry between Sam-Soon and Jin-Heon was something I looked forward to every week, but as my memory recalls, it is Kim Sun-Ah who owns the show. Acting aside, My Name is Kim Sam-Soon keeps it mischief fairly tame and plot steady. The writing is simply solid.
not all of which I vouch for:
- Secret Garden (2010)
Stunt woman Gil Ra-Im (Ha Ji-Won) meets super-rich asshat Kim Joo-Won (Hyun-Bin). While Ra-Im initially wants nothing to do with Joo-Won (he lacks in the charms department, did I mention?), he won’t leave her alone. As if having a man harass, trail, and trying but failing to impress her isn’t enough, life between the two turns intimate when they wake up body-swapped. Uh-oh…
The thing about Secret Garden is that it has a lot going on, and body swapping is just one of a few devices that helps build a bridge for these two lovers separated by social class. I never truly felt chemistry between Ra-Im and Joo-Won, which I blame as a side-effect of Ra-Im’s portrayal. Rather than complex and dynamic, she feels like a shell with little development. And yet despite flaws, several features of the show manage to hold it afloat for an entertaining watch.
My drama-obsessed self hit it off the drama-obsessed heroine, Mae-Ri (Moon Geun-Young), and what looked like a nice start… turned out to be a drama I not only finished but mercilessly binged on, yet I still found the conclusion lamely lacking. The premise: To avoid an arranged marriage (of sorts), the protagonist feigns marriage with rocker Kang Mu-Gyul (Jang Geun-Suk). When Mae-Ri’s deceit is found out, she agrees to move in with her chaebol fiancee… while dating her kind-of-maybe on-and-off-again boyfriend My-Gyul. Erm, yeah…
Mary Me, Mary! fed my appetite for typical romcom cliches, and in retrospect, used rehashed tropes to boot. Rinse, cycle, repeat… yawn? All the same, I ate this drama up–stale taste and nonsense included.
- You’re Beautiful (2009)
To-be nun Go Mi-Nyeo (Park Shin-Hye) pretends to be her identical twin brother, Go Mi-Nam, and gender-bends her way into all-male pop group A.N.JELL. Let the shenanigans loose! This drama starts off quick, laugh-out-loud funny through the first several–maybe five–episodes, and while the humor is left in-tact, the drama eases into a slower but steady beat. I missed the laugh attacks that came with earlier episodes and swifter progression, but even as it mellows, the show stays consistent in its delivery. The main issue is the lack of “it” quality–whatever “it” is, it’s what makes you wake up with that one thing on your mind. It hooks you into each episode and feeds your addiction so well that you hate to break away. You’re Beautiful let me down in this respect, but it is sweetly upbeat.
I don’t start dramas expecting each to be fresh air, nor do I hope they all take me on a wild but fun roller coaster ride. That’d be nice, but it’s not realistic–I only hope that they dish me enough quality to keep me interested. Heartstrings has that quality, but on a low scale. It’s like drifting downstream for fifteen hours but with scenery that never changes. I mean, the view is nice, but is that all? There’s nothing that stands out, and although it suffers from its flaws, it isn’t especially bad, either. It’s nice. And it’s cute. But that’s about it.
So what’s the show about? It’s main stage is set at a performing arts university where traditional gayageum player Kyu-Won (Park Shin-Hye) butts heads with guitarist Shin (Jung Yong-Hwa) of the applied music department. Our leads hail from musically different backgrounds and families, and watching the two snicker and overcome their differences is, well, kind of cute, and yet the romance fizzles and grows weak–not that it’s strong to begin with. Rounding up the whole cast and shoving romance to the curb, the heart of Heartstrings comes from earnest hard work these people put in to chase their dreams. Think Dream High, but not up to par.
If you have ever caught yourself sucked into a show that lacks any real plot with characters who prove just as, if not more, frustrating than the non-existent storyline, then you will understand how I felt watching Playful Kiss. The one redeeming quality I spied is Jung So-Min’s acting, who plays the brainless but very much in love Oh Ha-Ni. To my disappointment, Ha-Ni remains a girl so in love with Seung-Jo (Kim Hyun Joong) that her world revolves solely around him with no true goals of her own. What this drama does have is an authentic, sincere display of Ha-Ni’s emotions that I’m not so sure I would have been able to sympathize with had it been just any actress.
- Boys Over Flowers (2009)
Warning: über makjang alert!
Everyone on earth and a galaxy away should have heard about this drama and all the other equally outrageous adaptions the manga has spawned. Scholarship student Geum Jan-Di (Gu Hye-Seon) enters Shinwa High School, an exclusive school that caters to the rich and is dominated by the infamous F4 bullies. Life gets rough for Jan-Di when she stands up to the F4 leader, Jun-Pyo (Lee Min-Ho), who eventually falls for our heroine and tries to win her over the only way he knows how: through harassment and torment. Aww. Jun-Pyo’s character indeed develops into a more respectable human being… by a smidgen, if you can ever forgive his previous behavior.
*While this is not a drama I readily recommend, I acknowledge its addicting qualities. Even so, I personally prefer the J-drama, Hana Yori Dango (2005), over the Korean version, starring Mao Inoue as Makino and Jun Matsumoto as Domyoji. A winning point the J-Drama has over the K-drama is where Gu Hye-Seon overdid her portrayal as the brave and just Jan-Di. Mao Inoue, on the other hand, accomplished the same depiction but on a more low-key and likable scale. Call it faulty memory, but I also remember Hana Yori Dango–while still ridiculous in its exaggerations–as subdued in comparison to its Korean counterpart.