Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Year of Kdrama

We watched our first kdrama on March 15 last year, so that means that today is the big anniversary! We are one year out on kdramas! It has been an adventure. The first few we saw were recommended by our DIL and then we googled favorite kdrama lists and looked at places like DramaBeans. Most of these dramas have been widely recommended.

Here they are in the order that I watched them, rated with five stars possible:

1. Secret Garden - A wealthy man suddenly becomes infatuated with a movie stunt-woman who doesn't like him. Then their souls switch bodies, and the two actors get to pretend to be the opposite sex. The last time I saw this done as well was when Captain Kirk's body was inhabited by the soul of a crazy woman. Haha. There is some mystery about the man's traumatic past and memory loss. Cousin Oska grows from being an annoyance to being a best pal. The drama takes a while to get going and then it is really interesting. ****

2. Heartstrings - The story of two college music students; a girl who plays traditional Korean musical instruments to please her grandfather, and  a boy who studies western music and plays in a rock band.  They were both in You're Beautiful and didn't end up together, so I guess this was a second chance. It was pretty bland, though. The character I remember the most fondly was the sweet, quirky, messy-haired drummer. The two boys are in a band called CNBLUE in real life, so that would be why they are believable as musicians. ***

3. My Princess - An elderly head of a big business conglomerate decides to restart the Korean monarchy. He locates the heir of the last king, a college girl who has a hard time learning to be a princess, and installs her in a palace. There is a slightly lame love story and a slightly lame conflict with a sister. The guy is called Hand Towel by the DramaBeans people because when you say that in Korean it sounds like the actor's name, and his acting is about as limp. To be fair, they said he did better in this comedy than he had done in melodramas before. But it's a slightly lame show. ***

4. My Girlfriend is a Gumiho - an irresponsible college student releases a mystical nine-tailed fox from imprisonment in a painting. The fox becomes a girl who wants to be human, and keeps the man on his toes by wanting to eat meat all the time. He is afraid of her at first, afraid she'll eat his liver (which is what gumihos do) but then he falls in love with her. Another magical character shows up to try to put the gumiho back in the painting. Luminous, enchanting gumiho girl, captivating story.****

 5. Rooftop Prince - The wife of a Joseon crown prince is found drowned in a pond. He collects three assistants to help him solve who did it, and as they are chased on horseback, they jump a ravine and land (sans horses) on a rooftop of an apartment building in modern Seoul. The funniest part of the drama is the next few episodes, as the prince and his cohorts acclimate to the modern world. He finds  women who looks just like his princess and her sister, and gets involved in a corporate power struggle with people who think he looks like their company heir. Hot shot start and draggy in the middle.****

6. Faith - A queen from ancient Korea is wounded by assassins, and a warrior is sent through a time portal to find a doctor to cure her. There are some problems with this drama; over-the-top X-men type villains, and a rather repetitive plot (two poisonings), but the love stories are extremely good. The closed-in, humorless warrior gradually warms up to the lively but initially shrill and materialistic lady doctor, as she comes to appreciate his honesty and reliability.  Meanwhile, the young king and queen learn to love and support each other. *****

7. City Hunter - We actually watched the first episode a while back, but there was too much killing and we dropped it. Having seen Lee Min-ho in Faith however, we were willing to try another drama of his and came back to it. Fortunately, the rest of the show is different. The hero was kidnapped as a baby and raised for the express purpose of hunting down the corrupt government figures who ordered the deaths of a some South Korean soldiers who had been sent into the North on a covert mission.
Part of the conflict comes when he starts capturing the criminals and dropping them off at the police station, when his father wants them all killed. Fast-paced and intense. *****

8. Sungkyunkwan Scandal - In Joseon times, a girl dresses up as her brother in order to support her family as a scribe. She gets pressured into going to college, which is for men only, knowing she would get executed if found out. She becomes part of an inseparable foursome: a scholar who she falls in love with, a pretty boy who lords it over all the other students by pure force of charm, and a scruffy guy who is secretly a freedom fighter. This drama starts out with a punch but slows down in the latter part and has an unconvincing end, but it is mostly very good. ****

9. Arang and the Magistrate - Having enjoyed the gumiho girl so much, we found another drama with Shin Min-a. She is a ghost with no memory of her life or how she died, so she avoids the Reapers as she tries to find out. She appears to the town magistrate to ask for help, but he dies of the shock. So does the next magistrate. Enter a nobleman who is searching for his missing mother. It turns out he can see ghosts, and she convinces him to help her. Arang is spunky and fun at the start of the drama, but loses steam as the main story starts to peter out. The most interesting part is the mythology - the Reapers and the two gods who play a game of Go while playing with the lives of humans. There is a lot of spookiness, and this would be a good drama to watch for Halloween. ****

10. Prosecutor Princess - To tell you the truth, we watched this show because it appears in a list of Best Kdrama Kisses I found at KdramaFighting. Having been annoyed by wooden open-eyed kisses, I decided to watch all the shows on the list. Here, a lady prosecutor comes to work in the latest fluffy fashions, which scandalizes everyone else in the office, who all wear back suits. She fails at her job at first, until a friendly lawyer starts giving her advice. As she becomes better at working her cases, she finds that the lawyer has ulterior motives which have to do with the unjust imprisonment of his father. Love clashes with duty as this drama gets more tense and involving as it goes on. Oh, and the kissing was good. ****

11.  Boys Over Flowers - Ah Boys Over Flowers. My my my. This is the one I talked about in previous posts, having watched the first couple of episodes and then stopped because of the terrible bullying and lack of responsible adults. Went back to watch it because it is so famous, and slogged our way through it. I heard the female lead was the most well known of all the actors to start with, but was soon eclipsed by the guys. She was annoying. I also heard that Lee Min-ho started getting reams of offers to do commercials a couple of days after the first episode aired. His character was mostly a jerk, while his three friends were sympathetic. To people who enjoyed the show, watching cute boys must have outweighed the spotty and illogical plot. But it's true that you can understand half of the kdrama jokes on the internet if you've seen this show. ***

12. Lie To Me - This is another one from the best kiss list. In order to look important, a girl brags that she has a rich boyfriend. She goes to extreme lengths to "prove" this to her friends, and even ropes in the man in question to go along with her. I don't know why he did; she was embarrassing. In a strange plot twist, after she has chased the man for most of the show she suddenly changes her mind, driving the audience nuts. However, there were a couple of very famous kisses.***

13. Personal Taste - Having liked Faith and not liked BOF, I wanted to see something else Lee Min-ho was in. Plus it's on the KdramaFighting list. An architect pretends to be gay in order to rent a room from a single girl who has a famous Japanese-style house. The secondary characters are actually more fun than the main ones. The girl has a married girlfriend who has some pretty funny scenes with the architect's employee. The architect does a makeover on the girl and they fall in love, but I was insulted that after spending a long time making a point of being chaste, the girl caves at the end. That's not a spoiler, is it? It's a rom-com. You know they're going to get together. ***

14. City Hall - A conniving  politician moves to a small town to gain points with his superiors. He meets a city hall secretary, fires her up about injustices in government, helps her campaign for mayor, and uses her as a steppingstone for his own career. Her kindness and idealism start to rub off on him and make him rethink his own life and goals, as they start to fall for each other. Has a silly start and then becomes engrossing. *****

15. Coffee Prince - This is on the kiss list and also a lot of favorite's lists, but although it's a quite good show, it's not mine. Possibly because I don't like people living a lie. It's a story of a girl who pretends to be a guy so she can work at a coffee shop with a staff of all men. The boss falls in love with her even though he thinks she is a boy and tortures himself wondering if he is gay. And then she decides she wants to go away to school. What? Does that sound like true love? Kind of like Lie To Me. Same actress too, come to think of it. Similarly famous kisses. ****

16. Greatest Love - We decided to watch this because of Cha Seung-won, who was so good in City Hall, and Yoo In-na, who was in Secret Garden. (She overacted in SG, but the director must have told her to do that, and I liked her anyway.) GL is cute but not as good as CH. A famous actor thinks he is in love with a has-been singer because his heart beats faster when he hears her music. The real reason is because her music was playing when he was having heart surgery. He is arrogant and has a particularly aggravating laugh; she is milquetoast. Yoo In-na is an adversarial member of the heroine's old singing group. The cutest person in this drama is the heroine's little nephew, who has a charming relationship with the actor. ****

17. 49 Days - A perky young woman who gets injured and falls into a coma is given a second chance at life by a Reaper. He lets her inhabit the body of a depressed girl who really doesn't want to live, and gives her 49 days to collect genuine tears from three people who loved her. She learns about and combats a conspiracy against herself and her father, and the depressed girl learns to overcome her old grief and become more alive. Suspenseful mystery punctuated by fun and quirky Reaper played by Jung Il-woo. This is the first melodrama we watched, and we really got engrossed in it. *****

18. Playful Kiss - We watched this because so many people recommended it, and it stars the blonde kid from Boys Over Flowers. I believe I mentioned before that you have to be 13 to enjoy it. Stupid high school girl stalks smart boy with absolutely no shame. He doesn't seem to like her, and moreover he can't act. Painful to watch. *

19. The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry - Another one I watched because of a BOF actor. Kim Boem plays a 24-year old student who falls in love with a 34-year old reporter. (Think Lois Lane from 1978.) His 44-year old mother falls very neatly for the reporter's ex-fiance. The center of the show is the friendship between the reporter and her two best friends. One desperately wants to marry, the other is tired of men and is everyone's go-to person for advice. The sweetest romance is the one between the mother and the ex-fiance.****

20. Flower Boy Ramyun Shop - We watched this both because of Jung Il-woo and because it's on the best kisses list. He is a rich kid who falls for a student teacher. She tries to be proper, but when that little temper of hers rears it head, watch out! That's what he likes about her, actually. Her fire. The second lead comes to take over the titular ramyun shop, and ends up taking in several lonely souls as well.  He likes the girl but he is way too pushy, calling her "wifey" and acting like he owns everyone. I liked the little epilogues, especially the ones where they teach you how to make ramyun.****

21. You're Beautiful - This show is on a lot of people's favorites lists. I thought that rather than being cute, the characters were merely aggravating. I didn't really like the show until about 2/3 of the way through, when it suddenly struck me that Jang Geun-suk is a really good actor. Then I liked the rest. The story is about a girl who impersonates her brother and takes his place in a rock band. The fun, I guess, is watching people find out she's a girl. ***

22. I Miss You - We really liked this drama, although I look at other blogs and see that most people didn't. They may not have gotten past the first six or so episodes, which are pretty violent and awful. We had liked Park Yoo-chun in Rooftop Prince and Sungkyunkwan Scandal, and were up for another dose. The story starts with teenage sweethearts being kidnapped and the boy being rescued by his father. The girl was raped and then found by a woman who disappears with her as well as with an injured younger boy who had also been kidnapped. The rescued boy grows up to become a detective, still trying to find the girl, when he runs across some wealthy people who have recently come from France. He suspects them of being the missing kids, which they deny. The ending about the villain is not too believable, but the majority of the show was really good. The child actors at the beginning were especially good. ****

23. Queen In-hyun's Man - I'd read a lot about how good this drama was, and waited and waited for it to show up on Dramafever. Guess what? It never did. We watched it on Viki. A Joseon-era nobleman who protects Queen In-hyun  gets sent to the present by a magic talisman whenever his life is in imminent danger. He meets an actress (played by Yoo In-na) who is playing the part of Queen In-hyun in a drama, and they fall in love. His actions change history as recorded in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, and he keeps returning to the past to correct things. Very sweet and fulfilling romance, which flowed over into real life. *****

24. Take Care of the Young Lady - We chose this because we wanted to see something with Yoon Sang-hyun, who played Oska in Secret Garden. It also stars Yoon Eun-hye, who we have already seen in Lie to Me, Coffee Prince, and I Miss You. A poor man is hired to be the personal assistant of a spoiled rich girl. She throws frequent fits, and he's the only one who can get her to behave. Her family wants her to marry a rich guy, but even though it is Jung Il-woo, she starts having different ideas. It's entertaining but not great. ***

25. Full House - Man, a lot of people really like this one, but I just can't see it. How can you let your friends sell your house and abscond with the money, and not turn them over to the police? Really! I don't even think the couple is cute, because he yells at her so much. And his ex-girlfriend shows up and is waaaay too clingy. I read that people used to make pilgrimages to see the house until it was torn down. **

26. A Gentleman's Dignity - Another drama from the kiss list. Cute bromance of four men who have been pals since their school days. One is a playboy who romances a school teacher, one is trying to get his girlfriend to marry him, one is married but keeps flirting with other women, and one is a widower who falls in love with his friend's little sister. The playboy is pretty rude, the teacher overacts when she is embarrassed, and the little sister cries too much. There is so much crying in kdramas that we have sort of become connoisseurs by now. Believe me when I say this girl is not very good at it. (I have heard that you could save a third of your time watching this show if they would just cut out her crying.)  The most likeable of all these people is the wife of the flirty guy. Watch her step up and be awesome during the last half of the show. Eventually a teenager (another CNBLUE member) shows up claiming to be the son of one of the men. He makes friends with a rebellious student of the school teacher, and they have to be retrieved from the police station. In short, the two boys steal the show. You will not be surprised when I tell you that the student is Kim Woo-bin, who stole Heirs right out from under the nose of Lee Min-ho. ****

27. I Can Hear Your Voice - A young boy (played by Lee Jong-suk) gets the ability to read minds when a man, trying to kill the boy's father, rams a truck into their car and the boy has a head injury. A teenage girl who witnesses the crime interrupts the murderer and then testifies against him in court. The little boy vows to protect her. Fast forward ten years, and the murderer gets out of prison and comes looking for revenge. The girl is now a public defender and the boy, now 18, moves in with her to keep her safe. Loveable noona-puppy romance, chilling serial killer.*****

28. School 2013 - Guess why we watched this one? Lee Jong-suk and Kim Woo-bin are both in it! You have your smart students, you have your student being pushed unmercifully by his mother, you have your handicapped kid, and your bullies. And you have your ex-gang-member students who come to a new school looking to start over. The bromance in this thing is what the show is known for. The two leads dance warily around each other and the bully, licking past wounds. This show was just average for a long time, and then near the end I realized I was invested in these characters and wanted to see things turn out for them. ***

29. The Master's Sun - A woman can see ghosts, and they follow her around for help in settling leftover business from their lives. She is afraid of them but delivers messages for them. One day she meets a man who causes the ghosts to disappear when she touches him. He had been kidnapped once, and his girlfriend was killed, and he asks the woman to talk to the ghost of his girlfriend. Interesting. Overarching story with ghost-of-the-week stories. ****

30. Heirs - This was the most hyped drama of the year, on the strength of the popularity of the actors. It turned out to be lacking in plot and not a very good drama, but still rather interesting to watch because of cute scenes with the supporting characters. The main plot is: rich boy likes poor girl and fights his father over her. Meantime the father's wife and mistress duke it out. The main couple (Lee Min-ho from Faith and Park Shin-hye from You're Beautiful) had no chemistry. He ordered her around and she made faces when he kissed her. A secondary couple, Kang Min-hyuk (the drummer from Heartstrings) and Krystal (a singer), is much cuter. The only time Lee Min-ho showed a spark of life was near the end when he was showing Park Shin-hye a new apartment and locked the door and chased her around. The rest of the time was moody staring and crying, and not very good crying at that. Kim Woo-bin was really good as the bad boy who becomes nicer because of the gentling influence of the girl. He should have gotten her in the end - it would have been a more interesting show.***

31. King 2 Hearts - This was actually quite a good show, and the main leads were very good: Lee Seung-ki from Gumiho, and Ha Ji-won from Secret Garden. But the plot shot itself in the foot. Everyone knew early on who the villain was. They should have just arrested him right away and saved themselves a lot of grief. This is another show about Korea with a monarchy. An irresponsible crown prince takes part in international war games and meets a North Korean woman who is a general's daughter. Then the king is murdered and the crown prince becomes king. He has to contend with an evil arms dealer as well as the North Koreans when he decides to marry the general's daughter. ****

32. Nine: Nine Time Travels - A work-a-holic news anchor finds nine incense sticks that can send him exactly 20 years into the past. He uses them to try to save the lives of his father and his brother, but every time he returns to the present, the situation has become worse.  His best pal from his school days suffers through all the changes with him. The girl he loves doesn't remember the original time line at first, but figures things out. He finally enlists his younger self to help him. This is the best of the time-travel dramas. The ending is pretty ambiguous as to what exactly happened time-travel wise. There are a lot of blogs with conflicting theories. My opinion is that the younger self, when he grew up, didn't use the incense sticks. Excellent, addictive story. *****

 33. The Last Scandal of My Life - A middle-aged woman is pushed around by her in-laws and con-artist husband. While she is trying to raise bail for him, he leaves her for a wealthy woman. She meets up with her high school sweetheart who is now a famous actor, and becomes his housekeeper. He does a classic makeover on her - gets rid of frizzy ajumma hair and over-size glasses. Then he starts to love her again. His brother is played by the villain from I Can Hear Your Voice, and it is kind of hard to let go of the creepiness. Kind of a slow-starter but enjoyable. ***

34. The Prime Minister and I - This was the second drama we watched as it was airing. The first was Heirs. Usually in choosing a drama I read reviews and check to see if it has a satisfying ending. You can't do that when it's still coming out. The promotions made the show look cute and fun, so I watched it. It's about a reporter who has a contract marriage with a Prime Minister who is widowed and has three kids he is too busy to take care of.  I really liked the show until about halfway through, when they came to the -SPOILER- return of the not-dead wife. Then the show completely crashed and burned. Check out KDramaFighting for an awesome review. ***

35. Bad Family - A car goes off the road and everyone in it is killed except a little girl, who loses her memory. A copycat family is created for her, to try to jog her memory and find out if there was foul play. An ex-gangster gets various unsavory characters who owe him money to be part of the plan. The first half of the show is not too fun to watch, as these characters are crass and shrill. But the ending is very good. The fake family members bond and start helping each other out of tough spots, and all of them love and take care of the little girl. ****

36. Who Are You? - The 2008 version, not the new one from last year. Another story about a Reaper letting a ghost take over the body of another person for a limited time. The ghost of a clumsy, hapless delivery man takes over the body of a very closed-in businessman in order to try to take care of his daughter. As time goes on the men become more and more like each other. The father becomes less corny and more responsible, and the businessman becomes more open and friendly, as he begins to fall for the daughter. Gets off to a rocky start but nails it by the end. ****

37. Soulmates - This is a light romance story of several people who meet and date. There are three guys who get together to work out at the gym and talk about dating strategies and tricks.  There are three girls who work together for a large publishing company and gossip and compare notes.  One of them has a man-eating roommate who proceeds to steal everyone else's boyfriends. Slow-moving start, then becomes interesting. Doesn't have a real ending because it was supposed to have a second season, which was cancelled.***

38. My Love From Another Star - An alien was stranded on earth 400 years ago in Korea. Just as his people are due to come back (in present day) and rescue him, he falls in love with a famous actress who lives next door. He has superpowers that he is losing control of and he will probably die if he doesn't go home. Plus, he is allergic to human saliva, so when he kisses her he gets sick. Kim Soo-hyun, who plays the alien, is a fabulous actor. His crying is heart-wrenching. He was very stoic and reserved at first, then opened up slowly as the story progressed. We learn that on his planet there are no families and friends. So probably no emotions. He essentially existed unchanged all those 400 years until he met the actress and she turned his life upside down. This show is what is called crack drama. We watched it as it aired and talked about it during the week, anticipating each new installment. I read recaps as soon as they came out, and the often very thoughtful comments people left. There were a lot of plot holes, but they didn't prevent us from really enjoying the show. Major point: this show sparkled with fun moments all through its run. Most kdrama comedies start out funny and then lose their spunk and turn into melodramas. (Prime Minister and I, I'm looking at you.) This one kept the fun going. Some of the most hilarious scenes, with the alien and the actress' brother, were near the end. ***** 

39. The Moon Embracing the Sun - A fictional story set in the Joseon era about a crown prince (played as an adult by Kim Soo-hyun) meeting and falling for a really smart girl. The dowager queen, wanting to solidify power for her own clan, arranges for the girl to be poisoned before the wedding, and manipulates the prince into marrying a girl from her clan. A shaman rescues the poisoned girl, gives her a false identity, and raises her as an assistant. When the crown prince becomes king, he meets this girl again and has to fight the machinations of his grandmother and father-in-law. Very violent start, cute backstory, stressful second half. ****

40. Protect the Boss - A chaebol heir is unable to function in his father's company because of severe panic attacks. His cousin hires a new secretary to help him - a woman who was a rebel in high school and doesn't have good credentials, but is tenacious and clever. There is a little love rectangle with her, the boss, the cousin, and an ex-girlfriend. The moms of the cousin and ex-girlfriend cause most of the trouble; the boss' dad is hilarious, and his grandmother is the voice of reason. The story gets a little repetitious in the middle but recovers. Very enjoyable. ****