My Favorite 2017 Kdrama Characters

Since it’s the end of the year, I (like so many others) thought it would be fun to look back over what 2017 dramaland brought us. As always, it was a mixed bag (more on that in tomorrow’s post), but there were some excellent shows and characters. In no particular order, here’s a brief rundown of my favorite characters this year:

FEMALE CHARACTERS

Im Sang-mi from Save Me

Okay, look, I have so much adoration for Sang-mi. She survived a fucking cult and managed to get her mother out of it, too, in spite of basically every other adult around her being evil and/or useless and/or in the cult’s pocket. Including her father, whose true believer-ness turned him into an outright monster. Sang-mi endured multiple people attempting to break her spirit so she would submit to a predator and take her spot in a doomsday church—and in the end, she helped break that organization instead. Continue reading “My Favorite 2017 Kdrama Characters”

4 hopes for Just Between Lovers

Winter has put me in a mood, one that I think would be well-suited for a melodrama. I’m crossing my fingers that Just Between Lovers will be precisely what I need to bring a bit of warmth into these below-freezing days. I’m unfamiliar with most of the cast and haven’t watched any of screenwriter Yoo Bo-ra’s work, though I do remember enjoying director Kim Jin-won’s stint on Nice Guy. Since I just heard about this drama a few days ago, my expectations are fairly low. Still, I have expectations—four, to be precise—that I would like to have fulfilled.

  1. Kang-doo is not an asshole to Moon-soo. He can be a jerk to basically everyone else, but this drama is being sold to me as a show in which two very wounded people find healing in one another, and for me, that means there are lines into asshole-ish-ness that he cannot ever cross. He can be prickly and emotionally distant, but I’ll be watching him closely for any sign of abusive behavior toward her. The minute he crosses my boundaries, I will be gone.
  2. Kang-doo actually has something of substance to offer Moon-soo. In a similar vein, I need Kang-doo to hold up his end of the relationship with Moon-soo. I don’t want this to be yet another story where a woman cares for and does all of the emotional labor to prove she is good enough for a mediocre man. I want to look at him and go yes, she needs you, not she can pick a guy at random and do better.
  3. Moon-soo gets to have relationships with other women. Family, friends, coworkers, neighbors—I feel like I’ve been starving lately for women interacting with each other in the media I consume. I’d really love it if there were at least one good friendship, pretty please. Will it be greedy if I ask for her to have two significant women in her life besides the dead sister?
  4. Moon-soo is respected at her work. I would just like to see a lady in a professional setting who isn’t second-guessed all the time. Let her do the thing you hired her to do and just get out of her way, all right?

Will you be watching Just Between Lovers? If so, what are your hopes for it? Let me know!

4 kdramas for winter

The nights have been getting longer and the temperature has been dropping, and for me that means fuzzy blankets, boozy hot chocolate, and my favorite tv shows. If you’re looking for some heartwarming dramas this winter, you should check out (or revisit) these ones. Fabulous winter coats and uplifting endings guaranteed.

Healer

You can level several complaints at Healer: the early wire-work is worth a few raised eyebrows, a good chunk of the bad guys were barely better than low-level NPCs, coincidences abounded, the finale felt rushed, etc., but no other show came close to generating the same kind of excitement for me in 2015 as Healer.

From its adorable and believable OTP to its masterful use of flashbacks to a cheesy love song that won me over to a world populated by smart, determined, and different women, writer Song Ji-na proved that she is excellent at building characters and crafting a story the audience will care about.

 

Flower Boy Next Door

This well-beloved Flower Boy installment is a charming slice-of-life drama anchored by a wonderful lead couple. While many people are (rightfully) enthusiastic about the kind, caring, and quirky male lead, my love for our depressed, introverted heroine knows no bounds. Her sometimes dark, often painful, always insightful voiceovers have stuck with me after many other details have faded. The sweet romance draws out the best in both leads and makes for a memorable relationship. The “neighborhood” has a few standout characters, including a hilarious webtoon editor.

This drama stumbles in a few places, particularly in the home stretch, but it is otherwise a memorable contemporary drama.

 

School 2013

Though most people remember this drama for the breakout performances of its two high school leads (which was a delightfully damaged bromance), School 2013 actually has a wonderful ensemble cast. The two teachers were perfect foils for one another, and some of the best scenes in the show are when they come together to handle the administration or try to help their wayward second-year students. This drama can be unflinching in its critique of academic pressure, bullying, competition, and abusive families, but it never loses sight of the students and their futures. While I wish there had been more screen time devoted to the girls, this drama is nonetheless one of my favorites.

What’s Up

One of the rare college-centric dramas that actually focuses on school, What’s Up? features a ragtag group of incoming musical theater freshman and some of their professors and upperclassmen. Our main trio consists of a good-for-nothing scammer who decides to make something of his life after a deadly accident, an orphaned and innocent country girl unprepared to catch the attention of a talent agency, and a masked idol and illegitimate child who hides his identity in order to protect his ambitious mother. In between the hazing and musical numbers, the characters get to shine with their (occasionally doomed) romantic relationships, family drama, talent rivalries, terminal illnesses, and fights over dorm room cleanliness. It’s funny, heartfelt, and earnest in the best ways.

4 hopes for Two Cops

At the time I’m writing this, I don’t know yet if Two Cops will require the Viki Pass Plus. If it does, I won’t be watching it; if it doesn’t, I am inclined to check it out. I’ve considered myself a fan of Jo Jung-suk for years, though to date I have only completed two of his projects (What’s Up? and Fatal Encounter). I’ve seen precisely none of Hyeri’s or Hoya’s projects, and only have vague memories of Lee Shi-un in W. With that being the baseline of my expectations, here are my four hopes for the show:

  1. The romance between Dong-tak and Ji-ahn isn’t creepy/predatory. There are thirteen years between the actors, and the instant there is any hint of “better wait until she’s more grown up,” I’m bailing. It doesn’t look as if there will be any childhood portions (didn’t see anyone cast as younger versions of the MCs, at least), so I’m hoping we’ll avoid all of that entirely.
  2. Jin-ahn and her career are taken seriously. Yes, I know this is a comedy, but I would much rather the comedy focus on two men with opposite personalities in one body than in belittling the rookie reporter lady. I want her to be tough and scrappy, and even if there are wacky hijinks, I want her and her career to be valuable and important instead of an afterthought.
  3. The possession rules make sense. Look, kdrama world, I am begging you: please have your supernatural rules in order. I’m fine if the characters have to discover them along the way, and I’m okay if they’re odd-ball or quirky, but I want the supernatural to be internally consistent and not just follow the rules of narrative necessity (aka, shit we wrote ourselves into a corner and/or are too lazy to think of a solution that doesn’t contradict everything we’ve done before).
  4. Ji-ahn, Dong-tak, and Soo-chang become a formidable team. I’d love for them to tackle some kind of big bad together, utilizing everyone’s special skills/talents. Maybe an intricate con that Soo-chang plans? I don’t know, I feel like the three of them could do some pretty awesome investigations together and bring some bad guys to justice.

Are you planning to watch the show? If so, what are your hopes for it? Let me know!

5 reasons to watch Circle: Two Worlds Connected

While Circle wasn’t a perfect show, I’ve got to admit that it’s one of the stronger sci-fi kdramas I’ve run across. And as such, I do think it’s worth your time if you’ve got it to spare. Just remember you’re probably going to need to take a break every now and then—things can get intense.

1. It’s only twelve episodes.

The worst tragedy is watching a story desperately over-expand to try to fill up the space it really just isn’t meant to take. Or worse, endlessly recycle plot points or going off the rails because they have to use up every single one of their weeks because the next show literally hasn’t started filming yet. The writer, director, network, and anyone else involved in calling the shots on the length for this show made an excellent decision to limit it to just twelve episodes. Any further, and it would have required pointless plot twists or lumbering B-plots to take up air time. Circle knew where it wanted to go, and it went there in a timely fashion, for the most part. Continue reading “5 reasons to watch Circle: Two Worlds Connected”

4 hopes for Avengers Social Club

Still no word yet (that I can find) about whether or not this will be licensed somewhere, but I’d like to watch it. It has been a long time since I’ve watched a kdrama centered on middle-aged ladies, and I’m always a sucker for a well-deserved revenge, so this could be exactly my thing. If, you know, someone picks it up. In the meantime, here are four things I hope will happen:

  1. Jung-hye and Mi-sook will leave their husbands. Look, life’s too short to waste it telling yourself a piece of trash will cease to be a piece of trash, and I am exceptionally done with kdramas were male relatives/lovers/whatever are forgiven for basically everything under the sun. Once these two get their revenge (for “betrayal” and domestic violence, respectively), I want them to get the hell out of Dodge. Permanently.
  2. We get lots of social commentary about the expectations of women in society and how they intersect with class. Jung-hye’s the chaebol daughter who did her best in a business marriage as a housewife, Mi-sook’s a housewife and an orphan whose husband has a respected career, and Do-hee sounds like she could be lower middle class/working class as a widowed fishseller at a traditional market. This setup is ripe for an exploration of feminist and classist issues, and I hope the writers go headlong into it.
  3. The ladies become BFFs. Okay, maybe this is gimme with this setup, but I’m paranoid, okay? They don’t have to like each other right away, but by the end of this, I want the three of them to totally be ready to bury bodies for each other and provide alibis.
  4. Soo-kyum doesn’t overtake the narrative. I’ve only seen him in one poster, so I hope he stays in a similarly small portion of the story. I’m worried that he might overtake Jung-hye’s revenge scheme considering they’re targeting at least one of the same people. Let her shine, Soo-kyum. You can help her out, but don’t take over her status as the lead.

Will you be watching the show? If so, what are your hopes for it?

5 reasons to watch Splash Splash Love

Despite the high praise of basically all of my mutuals, I didn’t get around to watching Splash Splash Love until this year. I’m so glad I finally did, because this drama special is funny, heartfelt, and just two hours long. You should definitely put it on your list this fall/winter, for when you need a little pick-me-up. Here are five reasons why I gave this drama special my highest rating category:

1. It focuses on the heroine’s personal journey.

Splash Splash Love is all the better for the fact that the heroine’s good ending is mostly focused on her personal growth and return home than it is its youthful romance (though more on that one later). It’s always refreshing to see a heroine who has a life independent of her romantic relationship with the hero, and it isn’t often that a heroine chooses home and family over a life that would have probably been good for her but wouldn’t have been able to assuage her homesickness.

On top of that, Dan-bi’s happiness couldn’t be achieved until after she had conquered her own trial: building up her confidence and skills in math. Not the most common of goals, but fulfilling that point really is what makes our heroine fit a lot of the old Hero’s Journey milestones (complete with death threats if she can’t math well enough). I’ll never get tired of ladies leveling up and doing things that once were hard for them. Continue reading “5 reasons to watch Splash Splash Love”

5 reasons to watch Naked Fireman

Don’t lie now—you know that the title of this drama special totally caught your attention. I originally went into this show expecting the absurd. And while I got that in spades, I also got a heaping dose of believable romance, found families, and an exciting thriller. Here are five reasons you should watch Naked Fireman the next time you have a spot open on your to-watch list:

1. The prickly, jaded heroine and innocent hero fall in love.

I love it when prickly ladies fall in love and are loved in return without having to completely wipe and rewrite their personalities. Jin-ah is blunt, clever, and utterly determined to solve the mystery of her parents’ murders. Even though she is still very traumatized over the whole thing (and is receiving treatment for it, and not shamed for needing it!), she throws herself headfirst into investigating based on the clue she recently remembered via therapy. And while she goes from distrusting Cheol-soo to being deeply in love with him in just four episodes, the incremental thawing of her heart and budding belief in his innocence is magnificent.

Cheol-soo, in the meantime, is a comedic slacker, who isn’t always quick on the uptake but nonetheless has a good heart and more courage than he probably should. Yes, he’ll trust his con artist and thief of a friend with basically everything up to in and including his life, and he’ll also put himself in embarrassing situations to help his father figure receive life-saving medical treatment. He’s the hero with a heart of gold who rises to the occasion and falls head-over-heels for the rich woman who is only supposed to be spending time with him to draw him shirtless. Continue reading “5 reasons to watch Naked Fireman”

Closing – 4 hopes for Save Me

Now that the drama is over, it’s time to review how it held up against my original expectations.

We get a ton of social commentary. The drama did surprisingly well in that regard. Instead of pausing every couple of episodes for self-righteous speeches about the corruption of those in power, the injustices that were perpetrated were instead an integral part of the story. From Sang-mi being trapped in the Guseonwon to Dong-chul’s imprisonment to police officers who looked the other way to believers being milked for cash, we got to see failure after failure of the system and society. Perhaps the most reaffirming part of it all was that the good guys didn’t try to excuse their own family members’ complicity—they called them out on it instead, repeatedly.

Sang-mi’s trauma isn’t played to motivate the boys. I’m so happy about how this played out. Yeah, sure, the boys answered the call to help her, and they often expressed sympathy and were upset about her plight, but at no point did any of them take her suffering and make it about them. The boys suffered for her, because they understood that the Guseonwon was a shitty, dangerous, evil organization, and they could not help her unless they helped her bring the entire thing down.

Jung-ki is terrifying. Yep. He was. He was terrifying in his soft-spoken, I-have-half-a-dozen-people-willing-to-die-and-or-commit-murder-for-me way, and the grip he had on the Guseonwon members’ lives was absolutely awful. The man was a charismatic predator with a silver tongue and an ability to inspire fanatical devotion. His stolen wealth let him rub shoulders with the local elites and gave him absolute control in his domain. It has been a long time since I’ve seen someone who deserved to be set on fire as much as he did.

Give me an optimistic ending. Thank you. Despite the murders and the continuance of the splintered Guseonwon group, Sang-mi got her happy ending with her mother and was able to go out into the real world, just like she wanted. Dong-chul was able to start reconnecting with his father (here’s hoping he has a spot in an recovering alcoholics program), and Sang-hwan got the miracle of his mother waking up. The world is still populated with evil, corrupt people, but this time the young people won, and I’m so grateful they did.

Save Me exceeded my expectations, and it has cemented its spot near the top of my 2017 ranking. What did you think of the show?

4 Hopes for While You Were Sleeping

Park Hye-run is back with two actors she has worked with before: Bae Suzy and Lee Jong-suk. My excitement levels are high, though they are tempered a little with some specific-to-me disappointments about Pinocchio and my wariness of kdramas in general this year. Nonetheless, I have been looking forward to this ever since the drama was first announced and these two people were cast. Here are my four hopes for the show:

  • Jae-chan is kind to Hong-joo. It’s such a low bar, but it’s amazing how many heroes refuse to clear it. I’m not asking for him to instantly believe Hong-joo’s prophetic dreams or even like her (though clearly he needs to like her at some point if there’s ever going to be a romance), but I am beyond tired of guys being unnecessarily rude/outright antagonistic for the smallest, pettiest reasons. Is it so hard for an adult to be polite to another adult?
  • Hong-joo’s dreams obey rules (that we can learn) and do not break them. I got burned bad by W: Two Worlds in this regard, so I’m hoping that PHR paid attention to what went wrong with Song Jae-jung’s writing (and learned from her own world building problems in Pinocchio) and will make the effort to provide a consistent narrative with a satisfying ending.
  • Hong-joo gets to have a close relationship with her mother. I need more good mother/daughter relationships in my entertainment, and since Hong-joo lives with her mother, that’s the perfect opportunity.
  • Hong-joo and Jae-chan become a real team. None of this she-has-the-dream-and-he-runs-off-to-solve-problems-without-her thing. I want them to work together to prevent the catastrophes she sees. I want them to depend on each other and to value one another. Is that too much to ask?

Will you be watching While You Were Sleeping? What are your hopes for the show? Let me know!