As the year 2010 comes to a close, I feel a little shell-shocked at how quickly time has passed by. Pretty soon, I’ll reach one year since I first become a fansubber/translator and since I started this very blog. By extension, this is the first year-end review I’m writing so please bear with me as I try to be as objective and impartial as possible. Not only will I be reviewing dramas that aired this year that I watched, but a few that I watched for the first time this year although they aired in previous years. Brace yourselves, this is going to be a long one.
Dramas That Made My Heart Sing
Conspiracy in the Court aired in 2007 but I only picked it up this year after hearing tons of great things about it from my fellow k-drama addicts and friends. Judging from the fact that I wrote two separate reviews for this absolute masterpiece, there’s not much more I can say now that I haven’t already gushed about. It’s strange because I tend to gravitate towards dramas that have happy endings and any indication of the opposite usually is enough to send me running for the hills. But because of how ardently my fellow k-drama watchers spoke about CitC’s greatness, I decided to download the episodes and X’s subs and dig in. I think it suffices to say that I cried buckets with nearly every episode and I was perched on the edge of my seat clenching my hands into fists as my eyes were glued to my laptop screen. This is a hard-hitting, impactful drama that leaves a lasting impression on its viewers, and I’m so very grateful that my friends urged me to watch this diamond in the rough.
I’m just going to put this out there before I begin talking about Gloria: it’s not a good drama. Not in the slightest. The writing is tired and unoriginal, the directing is choppy, and the story is clichéd. If lesser actors were cast in the lead roles, Gloria would’ve had me headdesking from episode 1 onwards until I’d have two brain cells left. Thankfully, Lee Cheon Hee, Bae Doo Na, Seo Ji Seok, and So Yi Hyeon bring their characters to life and make them utterly lovable, displaying a very appealing chemistry between the couples and as a group as well. I remember thinking as these four characters got closer that their camaraderie reminded me of the one from Accidental Couple because of how well they got along with each other and how in tune they seemed. Not only are the couples (Lee Cheon Hee – So Yi Hyeon, Bae Doo Na – Seo Ji Seok) wonderfully portrayed, but the blooming bromance between Lee Cheon Hee‘s character Ha Dong Ah and Seo Ji Seok‘s role Lee Kang Seok is a force to be reckoned with as well. If the acting wasn’t so spot-on from all four leads, Gloria would’ve gone to the dogs a long time ago and so there’s something to be said about these actors/actresses abilities that make this drama so incredibly addicting. I marathoned through nearly 30 episodes within a span of a few days, and loved every second of them, the good and the bad. This drama has taken a turn for the makjang in the more recent episodes, but I’m still so invested in the characters and the couplings that I still eagerly anticipate each episode.
Life is Beautiful was the first full-length family drama I’ve ever seen, and it was a wonderful one to start off with. Although having to translate for some of the earlier episodes dulled my enjoyment of LiB because of how much sheer dialogue is in each episode (each episode clocked in at over a thousand lines!), the love I felt for this drama grew more and more as the storylines progressed. Watching this drama is like sitting in front of a merrily crackling fireplace sipping a cup of warm apple cider with family and friends. The bonds between the Yang family members were particularly appealing and heightened the drama to its level of quality. I have to give credit when it’s most deserved, Kim Hae Sook carried this drama on her petite shoulders and took it to new degrees of awesome. She was the glue that held the Yang family together and I honestly don’t know what this drama would’ve been like had a lesser actress been cast instead of her. Kim Young Cheol was amazing as well in the husband role to KHS. He exuded a perpetual sense of warmth and wisdom that not many actors naturally possess, and there were many times when he’d remind me of my love for my own dad through his various interactions with his kids on the show. To think that I only picked this drama up because I love all things Nam Sang Mi (who had a somewhat minor role as the love interest of Lee Sang Yoon‘s Yang Ho Seob), I might’ve missed out on a great first family drama if I hadn’t.
Oh Coffee House, how I heart thee. Coffee House was one of the rare dramas that got better and better with each episode rather than getting worse which is the type of drama that I’ll be discussing in my next section. As the history between characters Lee Jin Soo (Kang Ji Hwan) and Seo Eun Young (Park Si Yeon) was revealed little by little, their every exchanged word and look were made all the more significant and meaningful as we learned more about them and their relationship. I thought that the pairing of Jin Soo and Eun Young was one of the more compelling of all the OTPs this year because of how they started off as friends and that very friendship wound up being their biggest impediment of all in their journey of becoming friends turned lovers. Although we have our share of OTPs this year that have amazing chemistry, the sparks between Kang Ji Hwan and Park Si Yeon were especially fiery as can be seen during THE kiss. Those of you who’ve seen this drama will know exactly the one that I’m talking about. Oh how I wished I could body swap with PSY during that scene…
Dramas Which Epitomize Untapped Potential
In the span of my k-drama watching history, there haven’t been many I’ve seen that infuriated me as much as Cinderella’s Sister. While I was watching CS, I wrote two reviews raving about how much I loved it because the first four episodes (before the cursed time jump) were sheer bliss. They were absolutely wonderful. The interactions between our characters would leave me tittering like a fangirl and my eyes would well up with tears as the heartache and baggage the characters felt would plague me as well. Then after the time jump, I’d sit in my seat after finishing up each episode with a sinking feeling that the magic of the first four episodes disappeared after they utilized said cursed time jump, and nothing in subsequent episodes made me believe otherwise. The drama began to slightly pick up again in the last quarter of its run, but the last episode squelched the tiny spark of hope that had feebly ignited with how much I was enjoying episodes 16-19. The final episode of CS was an abomination to the world of k-dramas and immediately after the final moments faded from my screen, I felt the urge to throw my laptop out the window. Or throw writer Kim Kyu Wan out the window for having written such a travesty of a drama. The award for Most Disappointing Drama definitely goes to CS for wasting such a stellar cast and for taking something that could’ve been so good and turning into something that was so very bad.
Personal Taste was another drama that killed me with its untapped potential. It took a few episodes for me to get into PT, but boy, did I. When the love story between Jin Ho and Gae In got going in earnest, my interest in this drama skyrocketed along with the sugary sweet chemistry between the two leads and I was hooked (as y’all can probably recall from my various reviews of PT written while I was watching it). But instead of milking the talent of Sohn Ye Jin for all its worth and taking advantage of her superb chemistry with Lee Min Ho, the writers decided to up the ante of histrionics and completely ruin what was making PT so watchable in the first place: its adorable lead pair. PT sorely underutilized SYJ and also had a final episode that made me want to scream in frustration. Although PT gave us many scenes of an adorable OTP (and one of the hottest kisses of a k-drama to ever grace our presence), the bad far outweighs the good of this drama and this unfortunately was the drama’s downfall.
Assorted Gems began its run last year and finished February of this year. I didn’t pick it up until a few weeks ago and at this point having completed all 50 episodes of it, I’m still sorely bitter about how AG spiraled so precipitously in its last ten episodes. One (personal) gripe I have about this drama is that for some reason, the character of Goong Bi Chwi never appealed to me. I didn’t downright hate her, but I didn’t like her at all. I thought she was self-righteous and I never was able to see why Lee Tae Gon‘s character Seo Young Guk fell for her so deeply. But I was more than willing to put that issue aside because of how adorable AG was. The family dynamics felt quite real which was one of this drama’s strengths, and I liked each of the siblings a lot (Bi Chwi the least). AG provided me with 40 hours of delightful entertainment as I watched each of the characters grow through trials and lessons learned from experiences that befell them, but then (as my fellow k-drama friends like to say) this drama went to hell in a handbasket. I don’t know if writer Im Seong Han was drugged up on meds or working on half an hour of sleep while working on the last ten episodes, but I couldn’t believe my eyes. Plot points were recycled so obviously that it felt like I was receiving a root canal while watching, character consistency flew out the window and the way some of the storylines were resolved literally made me headdesk (proof of this can be seen on my twitter as I ranted while watching the last few episodes). What was originally such an adorable family drama turned into a circus and I’m still waiting for a refund of the 50 hours I wasted watching this farce of a drama.
I’m going to start off by saying that Wish Upon a Star had one of the worst first episodes I’ve ever seen of any k-drama. It was grating and over the top with Choi Jeong Won‘s character Jin Pal Gang literally driving me bonkers with her shrill frivolousness. I was thisclose to dropping WUAS but I decided to watch one more episode just to see if the drama would redeem itself enough for me to want to give it another chance. As the events of episode 2 unfolded, I felt discombobulated because of how different the drama seemed. It was as if WUAS had suddenly gotten a lobotomy. The drama went from OTT hysterics to thoughtful, tear-inducing scenes within the span of two episodes and I keenly felt the whiplash of such a sudden transformation. The following episodes just got better and better as the drama continued, the scenes between the kids providing for much of the appeal I felt for WUAS. Then, this drama too went to hell in a handbasket, and all within the last episode. Writer Jeong Ji Woo included a kidnapping that felt contrived and out-of-place in a drama that had originally been so heartwarming, and his lack of skill in being able to tie up loose ends in the final episodes of his dramas was evident yet again (WUAS and Gloria are prime examples of this). However, when I think back on WUAS now, I can still say that I enjoyed it immensely because of how adorable the Jin children were and especially because of little Pa Rang’s significant connection with Kim Ji Hoon‘s character Won Kang Ha and what that connection did to transform Kang Ha from an ice king to a fuzzy teddy bear, no matter how reluctantly he accepted said transformation.
Mary Stayed Out All Night/Marry Me, Mary! wasn’t a drama that I was looking forward to all that much despite the incredibly good-looking cast. When I first heard the premise, it sounded absurd. I mean, two contract marriages? Just one contract marriage is enough and incredibly overdone, but two? That pushed Mary into the asinine category in my book so I approached the first episode with extreme caution, ready to drop and take off running at the first sign of inanity. Having reached the final two episodes that are going to air this week, I think back on that gag reflex and feel wistful and full of regret that I didn’t drop Mary when I had the chance because this drama has gone bonkers. Even before the writer switch, Mary was floundering about, just wailing for someone to put it out of its misery. After they switched writers, the drama started spazzing uncontrollably as if it overdosed on something. I mean, a kidnapping? Who do you think you are, Drama, East of Eden? Despite all the cute between the Geun-Geun couple and how much I’m loving Kim Jae Wook‘s Jung In character, I’m forcing myself to watch episode after episode because of the many issues I want to see resolved. I have no idea how writer Go Bong Hwang is going to redeem The Worst Parents of Any K-Drama Ever (there are three contenders from this one drama vying for the top spot!) and how they’re going to resolve this issue between the star-crossed lovers who are trying to be forced apart like Romeo and Juliet (or so the drama is trying to make it seem.. although Mary is more along the lines of Twilight than any of Shakespeare’s works). Although I nearly fall asleep during each episode out of boredom, I’m in it ’til the end because I stuck it out this far and am determined to see this drama through.
Dramas That Were Fluffier than Air
Regular readers of my blog (if there are any of you out there) might already know this, but I LOVE Choi Si Won (mine!). Not only does he have rock-hard abs and a smile that makes me squeal like a stuck pig, but he also has a natural screen presence and a charisma that is evident in everything he does, so when I heard that he was headlining Oh! My Lady with Chae Rim, I was beyond excited because I loved CR in Dal Ja’s Spring. As I expected, CSW did not disappoint. He took this drama by its reins and did what he could with what little he was given, making his character utterly adorable and displaying considerable acting chops seeing as though he’s 1/12th of the idol group Super Junior. His interactions with the little girl who played his daughter were sweeter than cotton candy, and were the reason why I enjoyed this drama as much as I did. His chemistry with Chae Rim on the other hand was disappointing because the age difference between them was so starkly obvious that they had more of a noona-dongsaeng or hoobae-sunbae vibe than a romantic one. CR was able to make the age difference work with her costar Lee Min Ki of Dal Ja’s Spring because their chemistry was sublime, but that wasn’t the case for CSW and so OML ultimately had little to bank on except the strength of CSW’s performance. I have no qualms about having watched OML though, because CSW was absolutely delectable as Seong Min Woo.
Before Pasta began, I was beside myself with excitement at being able to see Gong Hyo Jin in another drama. I’ve been a devoted fan of hers ever since I watched her and Gong Yoo (*swoons*) in one of my favorites Biscuit Teacher and Star Candy, and I had a feeling that with the acting chops of her and her costar Lee Seon Kyun, this drama quite possibly was going to become my next drama crack after You’re Beautiful. Unfortunately, the writer Seo Sook Hyang wasn’t equipped with the ability to make the most of such a charismatic OTP. Despite the chemistry between the main leads being through the roof, the story was a meandering road that led absolutely nowhere. I loved Alex as one of the legs of the love square but there was almost no conflict in this drama whatsoever, and so although GHJ and LSK’s relationship was beyond adorable, theirs wasn’t a bond that I could wholeheartedly recognize because there was so little that tested it. I wasn’t hoping for a makjang turn from Pasta because that would so contradict the essence of the drama, but a little conflict would’ve been nice.
I’m going to start off by saying this caveat: I was shipping Kim Hyun Joong‘s Ji Hoo all throughout Boys Before Flowers because I’m a sucker for the constant second lead whose love for the girl is neverending (other examples that I love: Lee Cheon Hee‘s Yang Man Oh from Conspiracy in the Court, Philip Lee‘s Lim Jong Soo from Secret Garden). So it’s not Kim Hyun Joong‘s lacking abilities as an actor (or not entirely, at least) that turned me off from his character Baek Seung Jo but the character himself. I was shipping Lee Tae Seong‘s Bong Joon Gu for the entirety of Playful Kiss because of how his love for Jeong So Min‘s Ha Ni was so sincere and devoted even though I knew he was never going to get the girl. One of the endearing qualities of Playful Kiss is the slice-of-life quality it has about it. The interactions between the characters seem natural and real, like I’m getting a glimpse of a conversation happening between real people instead of drama characters. But this quality also served as one of PK’s setbacks as well because everything was a little too simple, almost to the point of being too naive and optimistic. It romanticized Ha Ni’s crush showing that she got the guy because she was persistent when to us, all it came off as was glorified stalking. By following Baek Seung Jo around, Oh Ha Ni was able to snail her way into his cold, cold heart and they lived happily ever after even though he still took pleasure in ribbing her and relentlessly insulting her even after they were married. That was the odd thing about Playful Kiss… no matter how slice-of-life the drama may have seemed, everything about it was idealized and unrealistic.
It’s telling when the first episode of a drama is the best and the drama takes a sharp nosedive for the worse in the second and continues its downhill trek. Given that this drama aired in the first half of 2010, it’s hard for me to recall specific occurrences in Birth of a Rich Man that I can talk about, which I believe shows just how unmemorable this drama was. What I remember most clearly about BoaRM is that it was out of its mind. I remember liking the first episode and thinking that finally there was a drama that strayed from the norm in which the male lead was determined to become rich through utilizing his abilities instead of being born into a chaebol family, but then the writers decided to dash that hope by making him the long-lost illegitimate son of a chaebol who comes down with cancer during his quest to find his anonymous father. I honestly don’t know if writer Choi Min Ki wrote out the storyline this way to satirize the cliches so frequently found in k-dramas or was using these cliches as actual plot devices, but either way, the drama went all sorts of crazy during its run. All that comes to mind when I think about this drama is that Lee Bo Young and Ji Hyeon Woo were extremely cute together, Lee Si Young is hilarious and has formidable comedic timing, and Nam Goong Min was a block of wood. An extremely gorgeous block of wood, but a block of wood nonetheless.
Dramas In Which I Don’t Buy Into the Hype
Secret Garden hasn’t ended its run yet and at the time that I’m writing this review, I’ve watched through episode 14. Before episodes 13-14 (which I thought were considerably better than the previous 12), I couldn’t understand the appeal of SG in the slightest. The male lead Kim Joo Won (Hyun Bin) was aggravating in his self-entitled, arrogant ways and I was ready to break up with SG the moment Gil Ra Im (Ha Ji Won) fell for his charms because I hated his character oh so much. In the span of 12 episodes, Kim Joo Won changed an infinitesimal amount and made almost no progress whatsoever which was the main reason why I don’t buy the credibility of the OTP of SG no matter how sizzling the chemistry is between Hyun Bin and Ha Ji Won. Both characters have made strides within the last two episodes which has gotten the pace of the drama briskly moving, but these strides came a little too late. I watch now with my brain checked at the door, not really enjoying the drama as a whole except for a few exceptional scenes scattered here and there. Most of my k-drama friends are in agreement with me about their reactions to this drama, but SG is definitely one of the more polarized dramas recently because of how mixed the reception is of it. My mom for one adores this drama (which might be because of her adorable crush on Hyun Bin) while I still heartily dislike it but am trudging through to see what the heck the plot of Secret Garden is.
I was conflicted when debating whether or not I should include The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry/Still Marry Me in my end of the year lineup. The only reason I watched it was because I helped translate a few of the later episodes for WITHS2, and I know I’m in the extreme minority when I say that I didn’t understand why everyone loved this drama so much *ducks*. The biggest issue I had with SMM might’ve been that for some reason, actress Park Jin Hee rubs me the wrong way so I couldn’t get into the drama no matter how hard I tried. I agree with a lot of what my fellow k-drama addicts have said about this drama: the camaraderie between the three best friends was great in that it was indicative of what true friendship should be and that the chemistry between Park Jin Hee and Kim Bum was a doozy. Despite all of the great qualities this drama may have, I couldn’t count myself as one of its dedicated fans and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand the hype about it. Oh well, you can’t love ’em all, right?
Last but not least, to finish up my end of the year review, I’ve saved the drama that had the most raves and the most passionate following of fans I’ve seen recently, Sungkyunkwan Scandal. Out of the three dramas I talk about this final section, SKKS is the one that I enjoyed the most but only for one reason, and one reason only: the sheer greatness that is the character Moon Jae Shin (mine!), played wonderfully by Yoo Ah In, and the lovely bromance between Jae Shin and Gu Yong Ha, played by cutie-patootie Song Joong Ki. It’s pretty much undisputed that the bromance between Jae Shin and Yong Ha trumps the OTP of Kim Yoon Hee (Park Min Young) and Lee Seon Joon (Micky Yoochun) because the chemistry between JS-YH is far more irresistible than the latter pairing. In fact, I love the bromance so much that when I watch SKKS, I just skim the scenes between Yoon Hee and Seon Joon in favor of Jae Shin and Yong Ha scenes which send me into bouts of squeeing that in turn cause me to deliriously melt onto the floor. If Yoo Ah In and Song Joong Ki didn’t act the hell out of their roles and have such an appealing charm together, I honestly don’t think SKKS would be as addicting (for me anyway) as it is. I have 3 episodes left to watch which I’m taking my time in finishing because of how much of a cop-out I heard the final episode is, and I’m savoring the JS-YH moments as they come.
Well, there we have it. 16 dramas watched throughout the span of 2010 (excluding the summer months when I was in Russia and I couldn’t watch anything). There were many more I didn’t include in this review because I dropped them after an episode or two and others that I haven’t watched enough of to review just yet. All in all, 2010 was a great year for dramas and I’m looking forward to what 2011 has to offer. Aside from the ones I talked about in this review, I have some dramas that aired this year on my to-watch list so maybe I’ll be able to get to them in the coming year. I hope y’all had a lovely Christmas and many blessings for the new year! May it be a wonderful time spent with family and friends full of joy and warmth. Until next time!