This year has been an amazing year for our community as the number of twinkles expanded and Musings took on a more definitive form. As we look to closing out the 2012 year, Mawiie has kindly taken the time and effort to compile for us her 2o12 journey through Korean dramas, featuring a number of series that overlap with ones that were written about on this blog as well as some that were not. I hope you find her review insightful and entertaining and food for possible drama marathons in the future. A big thank you to Mawiie for doing what I was not able to do for this community. Thank you, Mawiie! We love you for your devotion! 🙂
Without further ado, I present you with her “2012 Year End Review” – Snoopy’s Twinkie
The Moon that Embraces the Sun (finished)
Timeline: January-March. Welcoming the New Year with a popularity of astronomical proportions.
Quick reminder: Set during the Joseon era, this is the story of the fictional king Lee Hwon who falls in love with Wol, a mysterious shaman. That woman in question strangely reminds him of his departed first love, Yeon Woo. As time goes by and the pieces of the mystery start to come together, Hwon realizes that there might be more to Yeon Woo’s “death” than meets the eyes…
2012 started with a bang when Moon/Sun swept the nation, and I initially picked it up based on all the hype. After the horror that was Myung Wol the Spy, I stayed away from k-dramas for some times. Alas, old habits die hard, and I felt myself crawling back. I figured out that the best way to get back is through the new cool kid on the k-drama block. It had everything that I wanted: fusion sageuks, Kim Soo Hyun (though Jung Il Woo isn’t too shabby either), and an epic love story. You see, this Mawiie here is a romance lover, but she also has a sadistic side; she likes her lovers to be star-crossed just to get that little dash of angst. So I was pretty proud of my choice at first.
You’ve probably heard it about a thousand times, but the childhood portion was to die for. It was gorgeous to look at and beautifully acted out. You could feel the palpitations of first love and the idealism of two young and equally bright characters who had a whole successful and blissful future in store for them. I devoured the first couple of episodes, and even when the angst hit, I pretty much drowned in my own tears while screaming “GIMME MOAR!” While I loved the childhood portion, I was also ready to move on to the adult cast, and I thought that the drama did pretty well at first with their storylines. But then it dragged… and dragged… and Noble Idiocy decided to join the party while Mawiie stewed in the corner and lamented to the k-dramas gods about all the should-haves and could-haves.
Don’t get me wrong. I did not regret watching this drama, and it was not half bad either. However, I do think that it was overrated for what it was: an over simplistic love story about a first love that won’t die. Hwon had carried the burden of Yeon Woo’s death for years because he felt that he hadn’t been able to protect her, I get it. But it’s not enough to sustain a storyline for 20 episodes. For a sageuk in which the main storyline stems from the pursuit of power of one clan, the political machinations were laughably simplistic. It would have been okay if the love between the king and his beloved shaman was as epic as it should have been. Only…it was not. You know, I know nothing about royal first love in the Joseon era, but those 13-year-old kids had probably seen each other for a few months before her “death.” They were then separated for years before seeing each other again. Basically, the only thing that connected them together were those few months in time. Even when they were finally reunited and recognized each other, I didn’t feel that there was one event or one story arc that made me root for them to be together at all cost. Except for the “you were my first love,” there was nothing that justified all the hell and collateral damages they went through just to be together. And when I can’t root for the OTP and there is no real intrigue to sustain my interest, I just check out.
All in all, this drama was an easy watch and would have been much better if the producers had decided to cut off those dragging part in the middle (or you know, add storylines). It’s not something that I’d personally recommend, but I wouldn’t tell someone to stay away from it either. Everything that I’ve just said is the feelings I had while I try to revisit this drama in my head, and as negative as I sound, I did enjoy it when it aired.
Shut up Flower Boys Band (finished)
Timeline: End of January-March. For those dark and cold winter nights when you need something to pick you up.
Quick reminder: When their old high school closes down, a bunch friends find themselves transferred to a more prestigious one where people, from the students to the teachers, look down on them because of their humble backgrounds. Together, they fight for their dream to pursue music and to honor the band that their departed friend once led.
Bromance and music, ‘nuff said. I’m kidding, of course. This show really warms my heart. It was unpretentious, short and sweet. To be honest, almost one year later, I’m a little ashamed to say that I don’t remember half of the events that happened in Shut Up. However, what I can say for sure is that the core of this story was its beautiful friendship. When you were a teenager and your friends were your everything. You share your joy and pain with each other, you fight and you make up. At 16, friends were your second family. Here, you have 6 kids from broken homes who grew up together and created a common dream through their passion for music. It was really moving and real to see them fight their demons and turmoil of adolescence. The loss of one of their own forced them to face the very difficult question of whether the diverging path of that once common dream will forever alter the relationship they all shared. Their journey towards that answer and the ultimate conclusion they came to left me satisfied without feeling saccharine. Here’s a toast to music, friendship, and bromance! The soundtrack itself is awesome and deserves a bit of attention!
Rooftop Prince (dropped halfway)
Timeline: Mid-March till the end of May. A healthy dose of comedy to welcome spring back.
Quick reminder: While trying to solve the murder of his wife, a fictional Crown Prince of Joseon is transported to modern Seoul with his 3 subordinates.
I was so excited for this drama; you don’t even know half of it. The first few episodes were pee-your-pants hilarious. I could watch those fish out of water hijinks for weeks. Sadly, my earlier excitement was gradually replaced by boredom, followed by frustration. It seemed like this show tried to be both funny (it worked) and dramatic (dramatic =/= makjang) and decided to opt for the later to sustain 20 episodes. The middle stretch had too much focus on elements that no one cared for, such as the evil step sister and corporate plotting. Some might like it, but I’d rather they explore more of the Joseon mystery, since it was the catalysis of the whole story. Instead, that storyline was crammed into the last episode, which is a shame since I loved how it was resolved. I ended up dropping that drama and kept up with the story through recaps only, and I do not regret that choice. If I had one good thing to say about Rooftop Prince, it’s that it made me a Yoochun fan. I’d seen him in Sungkyunkwan Scandal and thought that he did a good job, but Rooftop made me realized that he’s a solid actor with both a comedic sense and drama chops.
The King 2 Hearts (finished)
Timeline: Mid-March till now because I can’t get over it.
Warning: I luuuuufffff this drama to an embarrassing degree. Like… you-need-therapy kind of obsession love. This part will be long and very much biased. I threw the little objectivity that I had out of the window for this one, so bear with me or skip to the next section.
Quick reminder: In a fictional modern day Korea where the monarchy still exists, Crown Prince Lee Jae Ha is forced to marry Kim Hang Ah, a North Korean elite officer, in order to promote the reunification. Obviously, everyone protests, including the future bride and groom. But wouldn’t you know it? The future and peace of the Korean peninsula depend on that union across the 38th parallel… If you think that it’s your typical cohabitation drama, think again.
This drama surprised me and made me eat a whole lot of humble pies. I disregarded the series at first based on the promos, and next thing I knew, I was glued to my screen refreshing soompi for the latest spoilers. I’ll be honest; I wrote this whole year-end review just so I could try to psych this drama out of my system because my obsession is starting to get unhealthy. Objectively, I do know that it’s not the best drama that 2012 had to offer. I was pretty much rolling my eyes whenever the crazy villain appeared in the first few episodes. I felt as if we were just told that he was evil and nuts, without being given an explanation as to why he’d go as far as to do all the things he did. Granted, even by the end he was a bit too mightily powerful for my taste. However, I loved the way that Jae Ha dealt with him, no matter how crazy the situation was. Those confrontations alone were worth his screen time.
This drama was labeled as a lot of things: political thriller, melodrama, romantic comedy, etc. It does touch a bit of everything, which might be why it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But at its core, King 2 Hearts was the story about the rise of a reluctant king. Jae Ha’s journey from a sissy prince to a powerful leader stole my heart. I was so proud to see how far he came to be the man that he was by the end of the drama. This show has turned me into a Lee Seung Gi fan. It was almost as if I witnessed the boy actor become a man at the same time as his character.
However, Jae Ha’s awesome character development was not magically done. He owes a lot to the people around him, which brings me to my next point: characters and relationships. If I could be in love with characters, I’d put almost everyone in King 2 Hearts in my personal harem. This is one of the rare dramas in which you feel that the side characters don’t only exist by extent of who they are to the leads. They were fully fleshed out people, who had their own personal stories and feelings. Take Kang-Seok, for example, the gruff soldier from the North who loves SNSD and struggles to accept it as it conflicts with his loyalty to the communist regime. This might sound like a farce, but you can feel his love for his country and his respect for his fellow soldiers. And who can forget the magnificent and gentle Jae Kang? He was such a lovable character that his lost felt really real for me. I also loved that there were no unnecessary familial conflicts to fuel up the angst. Mothers-in-laws don’t always hate the guts of the heroine, and a father can forgive a former as*hole if he’s the one who can really make his baby girl happy. And how awesome were the ladies in this drama? Whether it was Hang Ah, Princess Jae Shin or the Queen Mother, they were all so strong in their own ways in the midst of tragedy. And how can I go on without mentioning the earnestly loyal Shi Kyung? He was such a great character, and Jo Jung Seok’s portrayal really gave him an extra depth and dimension, which I love. His love story with Jae Shin was heartbreaking, but it was his relationship with Jae Ha that made me cry even more. He was one of the first person who believed in Jae Ha when he first became king, and I almost love this bromance as much as the romance (and that’s saying a lot!).
Speaking of the romance, how about our kickass OTP? I could write pages about them IswearthatIdidnotalreadywritemorethan15pagesbyhand. They started out pretty stereotypical for the genre with the hate-at-first-sight and bickering relationship. However, given the genre of the drama and the conflicts of the story, they moved past that pretty fast. From comrades in arms, they became friends and then confidants. Love was just the natural result of that trust they built over time. I love that our hero here doesn’t try to “protect” his girl by doing things by himself. Instead, he tries to resolve the problem with her, which just gets me since it’s so rare (when it shouldn’t be!). I love that once he learned the hard way that this is a love that he has to cherish, he never backed down and constantly showed and proved his love for her, which is unfortunately also a rare treat in k-drama land. And our heroine wasn’t your typical wallflower at the receiving end of that love either. She protected her man but also stood up for her values in front of him, which is so lovely and real. In a certain way, their union was really a metaphor for what it takes to make a relationship works: you have to let go of your prejudices, be honest with each other, know how to back down, don’t cross certain limit and treat your significant other as an equal partner. In the end, North and South, Hang Ah and Jae Ha, respectively, could be united because of these factors. Now the bar has risen for the OTPs of other dramas. I want all my couples to be as awesome as Ah-Ha. As Jae Ha has said, they’ve come such a long way to be where they are. With every stake so high and real life and death situations that kept our couple apart in King 2 Hearts, it’ll be hard for me to go back and watch infuriating second leads or noble idiocy to meddle with the OTP.
Despite my obvious gushing and love for this drama, it’s not necessarily something that I’d recommend to everyone. It seems to be the kind of drama that you either love or hate, but if you give it a try and fall in love, then I consider that I’ve contributed to the noble cause J Cheers Hearties!
Queen In Hyun’s Man (finished)
Timeline: April-June. Like spring’s most beautiful blossoms, here is a love that had transcended time and will linger in your heart and mind.
Quick reminder: Kim Boong Do, a scholar from the Joseon era, finds himself transported to modern day Seoul while he is on the verge of death in a fight against the political opponents of Queen In-Hyun, whom he supports. There, he crosses the path of Choi Hee Jin, a no-name actress who plays the role of the previously mentioned queen in a TV drama.
2012 was indisputably the year when time traveling heroes became a staple in k-dramas’ leading men. Among them, Kim Boong Do was probably everyone’s favorite. Smart, courageous and romantic with a touch of chivalry, he was a rare case of a hero that you can’t help but like from the start. And really, any heroine who makes up silly modern time “etiquette rules” to have some lip action with her man is a keeper in my book.
In retrospective, what stays with me half a year later is ultimately the romance. Despite the time travelling set-up and the heroine working in dramaland, this couple almost feels like two normal people who are very much in love and are trying to making it work against the odds. I’m saying “almost” because you don’t often see a hero who literally has to face death every time he wants some face time with his girl. The believable and gripping life-and-death stakes elevated this already winning romance to epic proportions. Here was another couple that I spent 16 episodes rooting for from the beginning to the end. How could I not, when I see them defy the odds at every turn and always try to find a way back to each other? I purposely left out the term fate because I do not think that the couple was passively letting what destiny had in store for them to happen. Instead, everything that you see was the fruit of their personal choices. Whether it was the admirable blind faith that Hee Jin had every times her memories were wiped out or Boong Do’s decision to “die” in Joseon era, and thus leave behind his identity and honor, to start anew with Hee Jin, they were ultimately the reason why their love worked. I laughed and cried with them and sometimes even felt their gut-wrenching visceral pain of being apart. I did feel cheated by the ultimate resolution of the drama (and was quite frustrated at the time), but looking back, I was content that they eventually found a way to be together forever without the constant fear of doom from that angry talisman.
All in all, Queen In Hyun’s man was one of the best surprises that dramaland gave me this year. Like I said, for me, it was first and foremost a romance drama. But to label In Hyun as only that would not do justice to the drama because it was also so much more. The political machinations didn’t take a lot of place, but when they played it out, they actually made sense and propelled the story forward. At 16 episodes, In Hyun was a fast pace and engrossing drama that will surely pull you into its universe. I cannot recommend it enough.
Gaksital /Bridal Mask (finished)
Timeline: June-September. The story that punctuated my whole summer and made if feel more epic than it really was.
Quick reminder: Set in the Occupation Era, Gaksital relates the story of Lee Kang-To, a young Korean man who is labeled as a traitor by his own people because he is working for the Imperial Police. Little do they know, Kang-To is the one who dons the bridal mask and transforms into the vigilante hero for the oppressed inhabitants of Joseon.
Oh Gaksital, why are you so epic? This drama might not be my personal favorite this year, but objectively speaking, it is definitely my pick for the best drama. I may be slightly biased here, but as a history and drama lover, I could not ask for more. The Japanese Occupation is a dark era that a lot of Asian countries have painfully experienced. If you are of Asian descent, chances are that you’ve heard your grand-parents’ retelling of the horror and atrocities that happened during that period. I’m not saying that you need to have knowledge about that precise page of history to be able to fully enjoy the show, not at all. But for someone who does, the realism of the events and all the little details included in the different story arcs will make it even more poignant. On their own, the sub-human realities that the Joseon people were facing in their daily lives were enough to spur interesting conflicts and materials for this kind of superhero story. But when you’re aware that these events happened for real, how could you not root wholeheartedly for the hero? As a vigilante/masked hero story, Gaksital was already good. But when you add the stakes and emotional connection of a period of history that had affected your loved ones? It’s both heart-tugging and fist-pumping epic stuffs.
Gaksital broke my heart in many ways, but I’m so glad that I was able to witness Kang-To’s journey toward finding himself and defining his identity as a Korean man who had benefited from the Japanese colonial rule. Here was a hero who started out so dark that you initially wondered how you could end up rooting for him. It is to the writer’s credit that Kang-To’s character was so well developed that even when you despise the things that he did in the beginning, you understand why he’s that way, and thus, can’t truly hate him either. Then you witness as his whole world and system of beliefs comes crashing down. You see him struggle to define himself in the mist of these new revelations. His transformation into a hero was gradual and took a lot of time. But as a viewer and witness to this journey, you can’t help but well up with pride as you see the man he has become.
Of course, I can’t speak about our hero’s trajectory as a character without mentioning our villain’s. Kang-To and Shunji’s respective journey mirrored each other so well, for they each started out at one opposite end of the good vs. evil spectrum and ended up on the other side. Yet, in the beginning, despite being different in every way, these two characters shared such a genuine friendship and brotherhood. They were there for each other in their darkest hours, and never once let the differences of their respective motherland tarnish their bond. But then, life happened. We see one friend step into the shoes of the hero as the other one slowly descend into hell. The gradual shift of this friendship is what truly killed me. You could actually see them slowly drifting apart as they each did things for their respective greater cause. I understand why it had to be that way, and I’m glad that the writers went that dark, but it was not any less heartbreaking. In the end, I do think that while Kang-To and Shunji could never go back to who they were, there was still a tiny reminiscence of that once beautiful friendship that lingered between them, which makes it even more ironic and tragic. *crying in the corner for those star-crossed brothers*
In my opinion, this drama is truly stellar, and I’d definitely recommend it. It has action, good storyline, epic characters’ journey and good dash of idealism to suit a lot of people’s taste. However, it is also a long (28 episodes) and heavy drama. Watching dramas is sometimes for pure entertainment purpose, so you might want to stay away from its darkness. I will warn you: this drama will hurt your brain and heart, but for those who are willing to experience that beautiful pain, it’ll be worth it.
Timeline: June-July. Apparently summer flops don’t only occur at the box-office.
Quick reminder: Gil Da Ran, a thirty-something teacher, finds herself in a dire situation when the souls of her fiancé and one of her students’ get swapped after a car accident.
I’m a Hong sisters fan, and I was really looking forward to see this drama. However, it didn’t hold my interest from the start, and I ended up dropping it after a few episodes. I continued to read the recaps and grew more frustrated week after week. The heroine was just too meek for words, and I just couldn’t get behind her at all. I’m glad that I didn’t watch it because reading the ending made me want to hurl something at my screen. I’m thankful that I didn’t waste 16 hours on this, and I won’t even spend more words to write about this drama.
Answer me 1997 (finished)
Timeline: July-September. A dash of feel-good nostalgia before the back-to-school depression hits.
Quick reminder: When a bunch of old friends meet up for their high school reunion, they are thrown back to the glorious 90’s as they recall their adolescence years.
This drama never ceases to bring a smile to my face. My high school years aren’t that far behind, but it seems like a million years ago when I think about all the things that has happened since then and all the people I’ve seen come and go with the years. Watching Answer Me 1997 felt like revisiting those moments in time when every situation and every emotion were magnified through the lenses of adolescence. You know that heart-crushing moment when your favorite poster is ripped? Or the desperation you felt when you couldn’t afford that piece of clothing that was so cool? Those events might or might not have happened to you. You may have never heard of H.O.T. Heck, you even might not have been a teen in the 90’s. But this won’t stop you from loving AM1997 because it succeeds in doing something that other youth dramas often fail to do: it rightfully captures the feelings and turmoil of how it was to be young.
This show opened with a How I Met your Mother-esque premise to hold our attention, which worked quite well for me. And while I will admit that by the last few episodes, I did grow tired of the “who’s the husband” mystery (I mean, I think that we all knew by that point, and after like 7 same cliff hangers, it does get old.), the drama did wonderfully explore other themes as well. The friendship and family moments were truly the core and the highlights of the shows for me. Whether it was two best friends reconciling with each other after a fan war (with matching haircut to boot) or a gruff teddy bear of a father who earnestly prayed to be given a chance to be around on his precious daughter wedding day, for me, the characters and their genuine interactions were the heart of this show.
I also loved how this drama dealt with real life problems with such low-key poignancy. Here, you won’t have characters throwing an over-the-top hysteric fit over a relative’s terminal illness. Life lessons are never hammered down to you or given to you by the Exposition Fairy. Instead, you have lovely character moments in which you simply follow the characters though their emotions and life experiences. The flashbacks did confuse me at some points, but to the director and writer’s credits, the elements from the past always came around to a full circle to put a nice closure to the story arc.
Answer me 1997 was truly a little gem of a show. Maybe I’m a little biased here because I grew up in the 90’s and have fond memories of VHS tapes and Tamagotchi. It reminded me of the person that I was when I was 18 and the silly antics and tantrum I’d throw for a little nothing. It will sound like a cheesy cliché, but the present will inevitably become the past. Those seemingly insignificant moments of today will one day become a very precious memory. So make the best out of it to have something to fondly linger on!
Arang and the Magistrate (finished)
Timeline: August-September. A chilling supernatural love story as fall slowly crawls back to our lives.
Quick reminder: The beautiful Arang is a wandering spirit without any memories of her former self and how she ended up dead. When she meets Kim Eun Oh, the new magistrate in town, and discovers that he can see ghosts, she convinces him to help her solve the mystery of her death.
Of all of the dramas announced for summer 2012, Arang was the one I was the most excited about. I grew up on supernatural stories in which ghosts and shape-shifters were a recurrent type of characters, and I couldn’t wait for Arang and its cast full of out-of-this-world fantastical beings to hit the airwaves. The slowly unraveled mystery and the intricate supernatural world with its own rule gave this drama a really refreshing quality in the mist of all of the fusion sageuk offerings of the recent years.
I absolutely adored Arang and its characters in the first few episodes. It was gorgeous to look at and everything felt new to me. I wanted to learn more about her and felt as though I was discovering Arang at the same time that she was. The initial mystery kept me on the edge of my seat, and I was actually a scaredy-cat whenever that creepy music cue started to play. At the time, I wasn’t sure about what half of the characters were. I wanted to know, but I was also scared of the answer. Unfortunately, I thought that the drama slowed down in its middle stretch and started to drag for a bit too long. I kept on watching because I absolutely loved that world and I was still curious as to what will happen next. However, it was with a certain detachment that I watched it until the end. I do think that it picked itself up and became more interesting in the last few episodes, but for me, it was already too late.
It’s an interesting drama with a refreshing premise, but it would probably have been more memorable had it been shorter. I liked the story, the characters and the world they lived in, but it was not enough to keep me fully interested during its slower moments. Do give it a try, but don’t be afraid to hit fast-forward when the time comes.
King of Dramas (on-going)
Timeline: November-December. Just in time to wrap up a whole year spent gushing over dramas.
Quick reminder: A drama about drama production and its key players, served with a healthy dose of humor and satire.
I’m a bit behind on King of Dramas, but I’m enjoying it so far. I won’t say that it’s my new crack, but I’m welcoming a comedy with open arms. Looking back at what I’ve watched this year, it seems that I’ve mostly watch serious dramas, and I’m starting to grow tired of them. The story does get a bit repetitive (they get to do their drama & evil guy steps in and pulls some strings & problems arise & Anthony resolves it & repeat) but I’m enjoying all the meta references so much that I don’t even care. I also think that the stakes here don’t really get me emotionally (I mean, I went from heroes trying to save their countries to ones who need to shoot a drama). However, it is important and crucial for our characters, and since I do care about them, I’m still invested in this journey. I’m at the halfway mark now; let’s hope that it continues to stay as good! *finger cross*
Potential watch list:
I ran out of time once school started in September and couldn’t watch as many dramas as in the summer. Still, I have a bunch of dramas sitting on my hard-drive, patiently waiting to be picked. Fans of the following, show yourselves!
Faith: I actually watched the first 2 episodes and then checked out. I’ve heard that it eventually gets better, at least in the romance department. I have residual love for Lee Min Ho since his Boys over Flowers days and absolutely loved him in City Hunter last year. For those who have watched Faith, is it worth it? Am I putting my love for Lee Min Ho on the line? LOL
Nice Guy: I’m really not a fan of melodramas, but there was all this fuss and hype about Nice Guy that I ended up downloading the whole thing. I’m still deciding whether I want to spend my whole Christmas break sobbing and angry (or just glued to my screen because I’ve also heard that it’s crack). Any Nice Guy fans out there who’ll try to convince me?
Jeon Woo Chi: I loved the movie and was really excited when this drama was first announced. The subs are harder to get for this one, so I’m waiting a bit before starting it.
Full House 2: For pure mindless entertainment purpose only. I was never a fan of the original series so I’m not back on loyalty either. A good friend of mine is dropping me daily “subtle” reminders as to why I should watch it (i.e. the Pretty and the bromance) and I figured out that I’d need a healthy dose of those to cheer me up after my hectic semester.