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4 kdramas for new watchers

Everyone’s got to start somewhere, right? Boys Over Flowers, Coffee Prince, City Hunter–those were some of the big gateway shows for my corner of the internet. (Coffee Prince was my first ever kdrama, thanks to Crunchyroll, though it was a different show that got me hooked.)

I was thinking today about what shows I would recommend to someone new to kdrama. Which shows did a good job with tropes I would later come to recognize as staples of their genres? Which ones are good enough that they’ll hold up to viewing after the new and shiny have worn off? I finally settled on four dramas (not listed above) that I thought would be a good jumping off point for people who are just starting out:

#1 – School 2013

Why it’s a good beginner drama: This drama has a bit of everything you’ll need to be familiar with if you’re interested in teen/youth-oriented shows: school violence/bullying, ridiculous academic pressure, societal despair, etc. You’ll learn fast that there are a lot of shit adults in the world–and also some who will go out of their way to help a lost soul or two. A strong ensemble cast and multitude of interweaving (and emotional) plots keep the viewer engaged. It’s ultimately a hopeful story about high school students gearing up to face the adult world in the near future.

#2 – Flower Boy Next Door

Why it’s a good beginner drama: This slice-of-life contemporary romance provides a good look at the common romance roles (heroine, hero, second female lead, second male lead) and some of the standard plot roles they tend to fill. However, in a fun twist, it’s the hero who is the bubbly bit of sunshine while the heroine is more reserved. You’ll get a taste of frequent twenty-something plots, like career issues, uncertainty about romance, sorting out what life means to them, etc. Also, point to this drama whenever anyone tells you that asshole male leads must be tolerated in romantic kdramas. NOPE.

 

 

#3 – Arang and the Magistrate

Why it’s a good beginner drama: I know a lot of hardcore sageuk fans will poo-poo the notion that fusion is a good way to start historical dramas, but one of the benefits of this show is that you literally do not need to know anything about the Joseon era in order to dive into it. While a wide range of historical figures either feature directly in or are major background players to a lot of sageuks, the king and all of his assorted palace drama are so far away he never appears on screen. A new viewer can get used to the historical outfits and character types (shaman, loyal servant, corrupt local officials, etc.) without needing to pause and look up political factions, historical events, and impending massacres.

#4 – Heartless City

Why it’s a good beginner drama: This fast-paced cops vs. gangster drama will thrust you deep into the seedy underground of Seoul, and you might never want to leave. You’ll get to see some of the best versions of character archetypes, from kingpins in well-tailored suits to loudly dressed (and accented) minions to sexy femme fatales to undercover and corrupt (and corrupt undercover) cops. This will serve as an excellent entryway into the Korean gangster movie genre, too, if you want a whole lot more violence and a whole lot more sex once you’ve got the basics down.


Apparently my golden age was 2012/2013. Those are my four recommendations for beginner kdrama watchers. What would make your list? Let me know!

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4 kdramas that I wish had a second season

I know, I know—second seasons are a mixed-to-terrible bag in dramaland. Franchises seem to work better overall (see: Flower Boys series, School series), but there are a couple of dramas that I think had enough story potential for a second season. When I reviewed my completed dramas, I was actually surprised by how few of my top ten dramas (I need to update this…) made it on this list.

Then again, a lot of my top tens are top tens precisely because they completed the story they wanted to tell and I was satisfied with the ending. And while my fangirl heart might want sixteen episodes of domestic bliss and skinship, I can concede that it probably wouldn’t be the best business decision. Nevertheless, here are four dramas I would be very interested in getting a second season for, though I know it’ll never happen. Beware of show-ending spoilers! Continue reading “4 kdramas that I wish had a second season”

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4 Hopes for Save Me

Okay, I’m just going to be honest: I’ve grown increasingly fascinated by religious cults over the last couple of years, so the moment I heard about Save Me, I knew I needed to check it out. I also have a soft spot for Taecyeon, ever since Dream High, so it’ll be nice to see him again. I don’t know a whole lot about this show, the original webtoon, the cast, the writer, or the PD, so my expectations are pretty low. Nevertheless, I still have some:

  1. We get a ton of social commentary. I want to talk power, corruption, religious fervor, complicity, apathy, etc. Give me a vicious skewering of all the ways people turn a blind eye to evil for the sake of keeping the peace and holding on to their power and prestige.
  2. Sang-mi’s trauma isn’t played to motivate the boys. I’ve seen precisely two trailers, so I’ve got a fairly good idea of where this could wind up. Don’t go there, show. Sang-mi is the one who is trying to escape the cult—let her retain her emotional arc instead of just using it to upset the boys. Do I want them to care about her? Yes. Do I want them to help her? Absolutely. I just don’t want whatever happens to her to be taken over by manpain.
  3. Jung-ki is terrifying. I want him to be kind and charismatic in one moment and a hundred percent terrifying in the next. The actor, Cho Seong-ha, did a fantastic job of playing a two-faced character in the few episodes I watched of The K2. I want to see the charisma that is able to attract fanatical followers and the menace that keeps everyone else under his control.
  4. Give me an optimistic ending. The kids can suffer and have their illusions shattered about the world, but I still want them to pull off something other than a downer ending. I want them to triumph despite all the obstacles in their paths and resolve to do better than all of the people who failed them. Pretty please?

Will you be watching Save Me? What are your hopes for the show? Let me know!

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4 hopes for Criminal Minds

I have a soft spot in my heart for Criminal Minds though it has been literal years since I’ve watched an episode. I’ve got high hopes for the kdrama remake, for two reasons: 1) I adore Moon Chae-won and Lee Jun-ki, and 2) the writers had over a decade of American material to use and/or adapt as needed (or use some of their own country’s notorious cases). Surely they have made excellent decisions on which cases to use and which ones to skip over! I know I’ve got some unsubs that I would love to have pop up again.

In any case, I’m excited for this show. Here are the four things I hope will happen:

  1. Romance won’t get in the way of catching criminals. I don’t even know if there are going to be any love-lines (though please keep the Derek/Penelope-esque banter, I always adored that, though I am upset they didn’t get a plus sized actress for the Penelope role). And while I would be all over a MCW/LJK pairing, if that does happen, please restrict it to the downtime between cases.
  2. The victims aren’t women all the time, and their personhood is respected. Abused/raped/murdered women are all over the place in procedurals. It’s an unsavory part of the genre, I know, but an unrelenting wave of female victims just makes me ridiculously tired, especially when the bodies are used to titillate or the victims aren’t respected. I’ve dropped shows for this nonsense before, and I’m hoping that this remake will carry over some of the best compassionate moments from the original (and ditch the exploitative ones).
  3. Ha Sun-woo isn’t the only one to change in order to work well with Kim Hyun-joon. The cold + logical/hot + impulsive archetype is at least a century old by now. I love it when it’s done well—when two opposites realize that they are better together, when one person’s strengths complement another person’s weaknesses and vice versa. When two men fill these roles, they’re almost always allowed to stay within their archetypes while still meeting in the middle. When a man and a woman are cast in those roles, the woman’s position is often undermined (or flat out demonstrated to be wrong by the narrative), and she is forced to change to suit the man. I am fine with a character arc, as long as Hyun-joon gets one, too, and if she doesn’t have to get a personality transplant.
  4. I want the profiling team to feel like a family by the end of it. Honestly, the camaraderie among the team members was one of the best parts about the U.S. version. I loved how they cared about each other and depended on one another and how they really just worked well as a cohesive unit. I want this new team to have those same fire-forged bonds by the end of it.

Are you going to watch Criminal Minds? What are your hopes for the show?

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4 kdramas that deserve a do-over

AKA the shows that had so much potential but ended up falling short of greatness. Look, I won’t pretend to know why each of these shows face-planted (though I’m certain that the liveshoot system played into several of the failures), but I’m always going to be sad that they did. If I had the chance, these are the four dramas I would grant a do-over:

#1 – Faith

What was great: The cast was wonderful, and I adored the romance between the leads (and the second leads). The heroine was also one of the few female time-travelers in dramaland, and she was a delight. It was a fun look into a less-common drama period, too.

What went wrong: The show needed to be four to eight episodes shorter than it was as it ended up going in circles toward the end. Magical abilities were inconsistently applied and a real-life injury forced the abrupt departure of one of the supporting cast members. The finale wasn’t foreshadowed well.

How to fix it: Cut the show down to 16 or 20 episodes and either figure out consistent magic rules or entirely scrap all magic except the time travel portal. Give us a better heads up for the ending. Continue reading “4 kdramas that deserve a do-over”

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4 Hopes for The King Loves

I’ll be honest, this show really wasn’t on my radar—ugh, another historical love triangle that will probably end in death—until news broke that Song Ji-na had become the main writer for the drama. I’ve been waiting two and a half years for her to be back in drama land, and I’m excited. Please, please don’t let me down. These are the four things I want out of this show:

  1. Wang Won and Wang Rin are both viable love interests. The greatest failing of many a love triangle is how hard it is to convince the audience (read: me) that the potential love interests have an equal chance of making the heroine blissfully happy. If I am not genuinely torn about who she should pick in the end, the triangle has failed and is a waste of screen time.
  2. Eun San gets to be something more than a prize. Please make her a character in her own right with emotional arcs and plots independent of the boys. Let her noes—and her yeses—be respected, and allow her to choose who, if anyone, she wants to be with in the end.
  3. The trio has a convincing friendship. Look, if you’re going to frame the romance as the tragedy(?) that tears a trio apart, make sure I actually mourn the friendship. And no, framing it as a bromance with a lady tossed in for flavor every now and then absolutely doesn’t count. Give me friendship equality or don’t bother.
  4. The politics are interesting. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always get the nuances of what happens in the palace, but we’ve got royalty and an ambitious crown prince—politics will surely be in play. Few things kill my enthusiasm for sageuks as boring politics, so if we do end up with a lot of the, please make them of the high-stakes variety.

Will you be watching The King Loves? What are your hopes for the show?

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Closing – Four Hopes for Circle: Two Worlds Connected

Now that Circle is over, it’s time to revisit my four original hopes for the show and see just how the actual drama measured up.

Han Jung-yeon has a plot/character arc of her own. While we never actually got to the whole hey why did you come to earth in the first place mystery, I am happy to report that Jung-yeon was a character with agency and an active role in the story. She was one of my favorite characters, and I’m thrilled she held her own on screen with everyone else.

The show tackles the Smart/General Earth divide in a way that provides commentary on the real world. Not at all, actually. The closest they got was the responsibility lectures (and some of the villains still weaseled out of that), but that fell short of what I actually wanted. Nothing about privilege or class or just what sort of horrors a society will permit in exchange for security. I didn’t get my Omelas reference, either.

The future feels appropriately futurish. I’m going to have to give this one a no, too. We’ve seen the projection screens, black-and-white aesthetic, and transparent/glass stuff everywhere before–for the last fifteen or so years, at least. The cars looked like 2017 models, 97% of people in power were male, etc. Beyond the existence and implementation of the Stable Care System, very little thought was put into the rest of the world. What impact would a system that represses strong negative emotion actually look like? Why wasn’t there more crime (because, let’s face it, people can and do commit plenty of crimes without strong emotions being anywhere in the vicinity)? How did the Smart/Normal Earth populations view each other? None of it was thought out beyond the initial sketching out, which is a shame.

The mystery is a fearful, delightful ride. Solid job on this one, minus a few blips. Part one was definitely stronger in that regard than part two was, but I was still left screeching over many cliffhangers.


What did you think of Circle? How did it compare to your own hopes at the beginning of the show?

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5 Kdramas You Should Marathon This Summer

Because it is too damned hot to go outside during the bulk of the daylight hours–at least in my neck of the woods. I’m going to stay inside where it’s air conditioned and I have plenty of snacks to sustain me while marathoning.

#1 Arang and the Magistrate (2012)

From a strict world-building point-of-view, Arang and the Magistrate is the best fantasy kdrama I’ve ever watched. The world, based on a famous folktale, feels magical, and its fantastical elements are grounded by winning performances from its cast. While I think it could have been a little tighter if two episodes were shaved off, the drama generally maintains its fast pace and keeps a clear focus on the mystery of Arang’s murder and the search for Eun-oh’s mother. Watching the lead couple fall in love is a treat, and the high stakes in their search for truth only enhances their romance. Be prepared for comedy, drama, and tragedy in this exciting historical fantasy.

#2 I Hear Your Voice (2013)

This was a mishmash of genres and tropes that honestly sounded like a disaster on paper: a mind-reader, a courtroom drama, a one-sided childhood love, a childhood rivalry/competition carrying over to adulthood, and a killer bent on revenge. Luckily, there was some magic holding all these pieces together. Even though awful things happened to our characters, I Hear Your Voice was astonishingly relentless in its optimism and sympathy for other people, even terrible ones. Character development arcs for the leads cemented our main pair as one of my very few kdrama OTPs. The drama suffered mildly from its two-episode extension, but I can’t even really hold it against the show when that allowed it to develop a touching character arc for a secondary character.

 

#3 Two Weeks (2013)

I’m a sucker for redemption stories, and Tae-san had such a wonderful character arc that he’s one of the few absent fathers I have ever rooted for. The deadline to his bone marrow donation for his daughter put real weight behind his desperate attempts to evade both the bad guys and the police in order to stay alive (and healthy) long enough to get to the hospital. Over the course of the show, he earned the allies he needed to go from being a panicked fugitive to a trickster ready to bring the villains down. The supporting characters were amazing, I’m genuinely disappointed this drama didn’t end with an OT3. It was so close! #TeamHappyFamily

#4 Heartless City (2013)

If you’re looking for a cops vs. gangsters drama with a dark and gritty noir atmosphere, look no further than Heartless City. From a slick score to brutal fight scenes to corruption on all levels, this drama is an entertaining ride. The biggest draw for this show (aside from the soundtrack and cinematography) is the enigmatic and well-dressed Doctor’s Son and his two closest supporters. While the show does suffer from sidelining its heroine and its sometimes too-convoluted-for-its-own-good plot twists/character reveals, it is one of the best crime-themed kdramas I’ve had the chance to watch. Give it a shot when you need a break from trendy romantic comedies.

 

 

#5 Secret Love Affair (2014)

Are you in the mood for an unforgettable drama about a woman who found herself trapped in a cage of her own making by sacrificing her morals and time and youth in order to acquire wealth and prestige? Are you in the mood to watch her rediscover her love of music, crave quiet moments of happiness, and find passion and desire with the help of a much younger man? Secret Love Affair boasted one of the smartest scripts in 2014, and its detailed camerawork and gorgeous soundtrack ensured that the audience paid attention to every detail. Kim Hee-ae and Yoo Ah-in’s performances as the two lovers were breathtaking. If you want smart, sophisticated, morally gray, and engaging storytelling, make sure you check this out.


What’s on your summer marathon list? Let me know!

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4 Hopes for Seven Day Queen

It’s not often that a woman gets to be the center of a sageuk, and that alone would have probably been enough for me to be interested. But once you toss in Park Min-young and the director of Healer, you definitely get my attention. I’ll be checking out the show this weekend; in the meantime, here are the things I really want from the drama:

  1. Chae-kyung will have her own story arc. Okay, yes, I know that the whole point of this drama is going to be the tragic love story, but wouldn’t it be excellent if she had scenes that had nothing to do with either prince? I’d honestly love to see her adjusting to life as the wife of a prince, see her interactions with the other palace ladies, etc.
  2. The drama passes the Bechdel Test in 50% of its episodes. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Flower in Prison, which passed the Bechdel Test in almost every episode, but I would love it if Seven Day Queen did the same. There are a bunch of ladies listed in the cast: the eventual queen dowager, a future deposed queen, a concubine, the queen that will succeed Chae-kyung, etc. It might be hard not to talk about the despot king and his evil deeds, but surely you will all have a subject to talk about among yourselves that does not involve a man at some point. I believe in you!
  3. It is the tragedy of an era when Chae-kyung and Lee Yuk (King Jungjong) are separated. Convince me that they should make my (extremely short) kdrama OTP list and then cruelly rip them apart. I want this drama to spend the bulk of its romantic screen time showing me that these two are soulmates, that their love will conquer everything, that they are happiest when they are next to each other—and then separate them. FOREVER. Which brings me to—
  4. I want this drama to make me cry. I am 100% serious on this one. Look, this is a tragic story about thwarted true love—make me weep, dammit. Maybe not every episode, but I want to bawl at some point. Knowing me, this shouldn’t be all that high of a bar to clear (Circle almost got a tear or two already).

Is Seven Day Queen on your watch list? Have you already seen this week’s episodes? What are your hopes for the show? Let me know!

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4 Hopes for Fight My Way

Honestly, Fight My Way is the drama I secretly hope will steal my heart. I am fond of both Kim Ji-won and Park Seo-joon, but I haven’t completed any of their works since 2013 and 2014, respectively. I think they could be super cute together. I am kind of desperate for them to be.

Here are my four hopes for their new show—please don’t let me down!

  1. Ae-ra and Dong-man actually feel like friends. And not just friends out of habit because they’ve always been near each other but friends because they have things in common and support one another and have fun together and even get on each other’s nerves sometimes because they know each other so well. I want lots of in-jokes and embarrassing childhood stories and them swooping in for the emotional rescue. I want their friendship to be the foundation of their romance, and I want it to be an amazing one.
  2. Ae-ra achieves her dream of becoming a tv anchor. Or, if she doesn’t, she figures out what was driving that dream and sets on a new path to fulfill the urge behind it. Sometimes part of growing up is figuring out what you really want. Maybe she really does want to be a tv anchor. Maybe there’s something about it her subconscious has latched on to. Either way, I want her to achieve a goal—and then make another.
  3. Dong-man adores Ae-ra. I saw this main couple described as bickering everywhere I looked online—but I want it to be the playful, in-good-fun sort, not the cruel, controlling sort. I want him to fall head over heels when he realizes his heart has changed. I want him to love her because of her, not in spite of it. Give me all the puppy-love looks and anguished meditations on falling in love with your friend and being terrified of ruining it.
  4. The drama provides plenty of social commentary on young adulthood. With high youth unemployment and a tepid job market, I want to see these young adults actually struggle with what it means to them, their families, and society that they’re not hitting the expected “adulthood” markers of a full-time job, marriage, and children. While my hopes aren’t high for a particularly realistic portrayal of actual poverty and housing conditions—where we would shove the product placement?—I want this struggle discussed openly and sympathetically.

Will you be watching Fight My Way? What are your hopes for the show? Let me know!