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!

My 5 Favorite Male Villains in Kdrama

I had a great time compiling my top five female kdrama villains last week, so I figured I should further indulge my evil side by making a comparable list of male villains. In no particular order, here are the five who made the cut:

#1 – Min Joon-gook from I Hear Your Voice

Usually villains have a signature style, a preferred way of doing things, but Min Joon-gook liked to branch out. He started off with a car crash + bludgeoning, escalated to bludgeoning + arson, and rounded out his body count with a staged drunk driving incident. That’s not to mention his propensity for charming his victims before killing them, kidnapping, violent rages, and trying to ruin the hero’s very soul. He was equal parts fascinating and terrifying, and the show made sure to reveal the tragedies in his background—while still condemning the choices that made him into a villain. Continue reading “My 5 Favorite Male Villains in Kdrama”

My 6 “Marathon It Now!” Kdramas

I’ve gotten a number of people to start watching kdramas over the past couple years, and my favorite stage is always the beginning. You know, the point where you get to recommend all of your favorite stuff with few qualifications because they’ve stood the test of time. The best of the best. The ones that just speak to you on a visceral level.

So without further ado, here are the six kdramas that I recommend to everyone:

Arang and the Magistrate
(MBC | 20 episodes | August 15 to October 18, 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.


Healer
(KBS | 20 episodes | December 8, 2014 to February 15, 2015)

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 this year 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.

What do I have to sacrifice to ensure you’ll be writing again in dramaland soon?


I Hear Your Voice
(SBS | 18 episodes | June 5 to August 1, 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.


Queen In-hyun’s Man
(tvN | 16 episodes | April 18 to June 7, 2012)

I’m pretty sure the only one who sobbed more over this show than me is Yoo In-na. Queen In-hyun’s man boasts one of my favorite romances—in any genre—and my first kdrama OTP. This is one of the smartest time travel dramas I’ve seen and had one of the cleverest male leads I’ve ever seen in dramaland. But the heart of the show was Yoo In-na’s Choi Hee-jin, an actress who wore her heart on her sleeve and fell in love with a time-traveling Joseon scholar despite everything in their way, like bloody political conspiracies, several centuries, and a pain-in-the-ass ex-boyfriend.

Make sure you have plenty of tissues and a fainting couch on hand for this one.


Secret Love Affair
(JTBC | 16 episodes | March 17 to May 13, 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.


Shut Up: Flower Boy Band
(tvN | 16 episodes | January 30 to March 20, 2012)

Easily the best installment of the Flower Boy franchise to date, SUFBB was everything I wanted out of a high school drama: a coming-of-age story where friends learn that growing up can be just as much a threat to their worlds as any other poverty, bullying, and the drive to succeed. The Eye Candy boys formed one of my favorite “found families” in dramaland, and their struggles against each other and against the world were both heart-rending and heart-warming. There are few neatly tied bows in this show—SUFBB knows just how messy life can be, and it isn’t afraid to stop things with an “and they kept living” ending. Watch this for great music, great performances, and great reasons to cry.


(If you want to see my ratings for all of the full-length the dramas I’ve finished, you can go here. If you want my recs by genre, go here.)

What would make it on to your “marathon it now” list? What dramas to you always recommend to people who are just starting to watch? Let me know!

My Top 5 SFF Kdramas

W: Two Worlds is taking up so much of my brain space right now, but we’ve still got half the show–four whole weeks!–left to go. To ease my misery somewhat, I’m compiling a list of my top five favorite kdramas with science-fiction or fantasy elements.


#1 – Queen In-hyun’s Man
(Time travel with a hefty dose of romance.)

Queen In Hyuns Man

I’m pretty sure the only one who sobbed more over this show than me is Yoo In-na. Queen In-hyun’s man boasts one of my favorite romances—in any genre—and my first kdrama OTP. This is one of the smartest time travel dramas I’ve seen and had one of the cleverest male leads I’ve ever seen in dramaland. But the heart of the show was Yoo In-na’s Choi Hee-jin, an actress who wore her heart on her sleeve and fell in love with a time-traveling Joseon scholar despite everything in their way, like bloody political conspiracies, several centuries, and a pain-in-the-ass ex-boyfriend. Make sure you have plenty of tissues and a fainting couch on hand for this one.

#2 – I Hear Your Voice
(Mindreading teenager versus killer set on revenge.)

I Hear Your Voice

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 – Arang and the Magistrate
(Ghosts, reapers, monsters, and murderers.)

Arang and the Magistrate

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.

#4 – Nine: Nine Times Time Travel
(Time travel, but with murder mysteries and multiple timelines/realities.)

Nine

Easily one of the smartest SFF kdramas, Nine is the thrilling journey of a man determined to right some of the wrongs of the past, including his father’s murder, before he dies of brain cancer. If that wasn’t difficult enough, the past and present are synced, and as his younger self goes further and further off script, changes ripple out in increasingly difficult to predict ways. A lackluster romance, poorly acted villain, and a couple side-eye worthy plot points keep Nine from achieving greatness. The divisive ending will leave you reeling (and/or angry). This was ultimately a drama that engaged my brain—if not the entirety of my heart.

#5 – My Girlfriend is a Gumiho
(Monster girl wants to become human.)

My Girlfriend is a Gumiho

This is easily my favorite of the Hong Sisters’ comedies, largely thanks to a delightfully outspoken heroine who isn’t shy about going after whatever—or whoever—she desires. The hero’s journey from jerk to 100% willing to die for the heroine is one of the few drastic changes of heart that I wholly believe. While the show features a funny, charming cast, a dose of eleventh hour noble idiocy and a deus ex machina happy drag it down a little. Nonetheless, there are some real gems in this drama, and it holds a special place in my heart. If only the rest of the Hong Sisters’ body of work were this enjoyable.


So what do you think of my picks? What dramas would you add to my list?

Sex, Murder, and Drama News

This week I ran into a number of interesting articles/casting news, including the state of sex/sex education for teens in South Korea, murder and the statute of limitations, and teasers for people who desperately miss Signal.

  • Korean teens fight for rights to birth control, sex life.” This piece from The Korea Herald was brought to my attention by Outside Seoul. It discusses everything from school punishments for dating, 19+ age requirements to get info online about birth control, forced adoption and abortion, among other things. I was reminded of the few lines we got between In-sang and Bom in Heard It Through the Grapevine when In-sang confessed that maybe the condom he had was too old or was damaged during sex (or that he didn’t use it properly). This article casts that discussion in a new light–it’s likely that these two very intelligent teenagers simply didn’t have access to the knowledge they had needed in order to prevent Bom’s pregnancy (and the rest of the plot from unfolding).

Continue reading “Sex, Murder, and Drama News”