2012 Year-End Drama Review

2012 is the year that marks my first active year of watching dramas. I started out in October 2011 so I know there are a lot of things I still need to learn about dramaland. I came in with high expectations after seeing various praises for a certain actor or writer, only to have my hopes burned. I don’t think 2012 was a great year. I fell in love and quickly fell out of love with dramas. I think that says a lot. There was just too much saeguks particularly fantasy time-travelling ones that I’m beginning to lose interest in the genre. There was also a lack of a solid rom-com drama. Please, don’t take my negative criticisms to heart. This was an honest outlook on the dramas what I have watched. 

THE TOP 3
King of Dramas (12 episodes watched)

This drama is really shaping up nicely. It produces one strong episode after another. I feel like an hour is over before I know it. This show accomplishes the uncommon feat of taking its relatively small stakes and making us care about them. So while I don’t expect to be surprised by the story itself, I think the execution has been solid. It’s truly an interesting take on the meta-world of drama-making filled with equal parts humor and suspense. It has this complex view of the playing field, which not only has multiple players running around trying to score at the same time. We’ve got lots of people and therefore lots of personal agendas wherein everyone’s an enemy to everyone else. Except, this is dramaland and you all need each other to succeed. The irony. It’s clever of the show to never clearly root for just one character.

Kim Myung-min and Jung Ryeo-won play these characters with complexity and commitment. The drama is funny, but they know that the humor comes from the absurdity, and not by trying to be funny. The humor in this show just hits all the right notes for me, so it’s all good. Although I must admit that Siwon is a complete riot in this role with all the dynamic facial expressions or body language. His ridiculous petty fights with Oh Ji Eun are very amusing to watch.  Aside from the villains who have so far been fairly one-dimensional, this ensemble cast just steals my heart every episode without fail. I find myself wanting to spend more and more time with them, because their interactions are so sweet. Even if I’m unsure of where exactly it’ll take us, at least there’ll be plenty of laughs for the journey. So far, this is my drama pick of the year definitely. I welcome the extension with open arms. I’m not ready to say good-bye to this drama just yet.

Shut Up: Flower Boy Band

This was a great show, from start to finish. It is honest and true to itself, through and through. When it comes to dramas about youthful passion and angst, nothing really gets better than this drama. Not only is this a drama about fame, it’s a drama that’s really about growing up and finding yourself, a coming of age story about these five friends. They grow by miles, but they stay true to character the whole time. It focused on adolescence, and its attendant uncertainties about my identity and future. This drama reminds us to respect the process of growing up.

The show does what it’s so good at, which is creating people and scenarios that are so vivid and textured that we feel like we can fill in the blanks. The finale gives us enough of a glimpse into the near future that we can see the shape of things to come — and as for the things farther down the line that we can’t see, well, we’re given the hope that these people will manage whatever the future holds for them.

I’m in love with the way the drama resolved the question of what to do with the band in a way that was fair to everyone and required no stupidly noble sacrifices or magic acts of god to fix what’s broken.  I expected an open-ended finale, because that’s just in keeping with the spirit of the show and it’s exactly the kind of finale that rings true and leaves me satisfied.

Ojakgyo Brothers

Weekend family dramas are known for their long episodes. I initially thought 58 episodes would be a handful. But after setting aside my commitment issues, I was able to discover a great light-hearted family drama.

I can put faith in character arcs that settle in and take their time I can be annoyed with a certain character at this point but I trust in the story to eventually bring him around.  I think what clicks with me most is the tone of the show – it’s light, so that even the most dire of conflicts isn’t played for overwrought high drama. Everything is done with a touch of humor and warmth, and every character has good traits and bad. This drama does a great job of balancing the cute and comedic with the gut-wrenching, which I appreciate for its lack of melodramatic treatment. I don’t think there was an episode that I wasn’t laughing.

The pace of the romances are the slow build with so much cuteness and everyday banter. I love the tiny awkward baby steps that they’re all making. Although there were certainly stretches of time in the last third of the show where I sighed and wished they didn’t rely on such obvious machinations to fill the 8-episode extension.

THE GOOD

Fermentation Family

This was one of the more quiet dramas this year. While, it didn’t make a big splash, it had a good and solid story. In the beginning, it felt it underwhelming and boring. The story though a bit slow and predictable with the Kimchi Life Lessons getting a little cheesy at times, but overall it’s lovely. It’s really getting into the drama first before you judge. The characters are really the heart of the show. I love how with each episode we learn more about their personalities and their pasts.  Fermentation Family has so much heart and gives you that warm fuzzy feel that makes you just want to smile. It’s the tiny moments that move me where we see how one character goes out of his way to show how he cares for another.

It’s not surprising how we get a wonderful unfolding of layer in writing. This PD-writer duo really know how to bring the best of each others’ works out. The characters were quite simplistic characters meant to highlight the contrast and growth of the characters. It begins to get somewhat darker as Ho Tae’s mysterious past is slowly revealed.  But it just brings out more adorable moments especially with Kang San. Their familial kind of romance with the bickering just made me want to grin every time.

Gaksital

This was one of the most memorable dramas even it was far from perfect. There were certainly some glaring faults with the series, like the repetition of one conflict, namely the secret identity, or the constant repetition of setups. The fault was namely with the writing on a plot-maneuvering level.  It had uneven swings in pacing and tempo and its rough edges were sometimes visible.

Yet the show tried it’s best to overcome its weakest links. 1930s Korea isn’t the easiest waters to tread, but I loved that it dared to shine a spotlight on some of the darkest moments in history. Overall it left such a strong impression that feeling usually takes over. It was heart-wrenching and heart-pounding, I can still feel the pangs in the distance.

The emotional payoffs were worth it. The stellar acting from leads Joo-won and Park Ki-woong was the heart of the series, and they really carried every moment of that emotion, whether it was rage, betrayal, longing, or heartbreak. Although Jin Sae Yeon had the poorest performance among the whole cast. She wasn’t bad, but she didn’t quite have the same range as the rest, which was a shame.

We were given perhaps the best ending I could have asked for. It embodies the whole uprising in a symbolistic way. This drama is so intense like nobody’s business.

I Miss You (12 episodes watched)

Most people won’t agree with me that this is a good drama but I think it is. It brings us back to what a real melodrama is. This was how the dramas were constructed in the earlier days of the Hallyu wave. I’m satisfied merely because it does veer too much in the makjang.

The teenage storyline was brilliantly portrayed by Yeo Jin Goo and Kim So Hyun. They were able to set the stage for an epic tragedy, and hopefully emotional redemption. The transition to the adult storyline just increased my love for this drama. They have issues they need to resolve within and among themselves, which makes good substance.

Even though the whole scenario is contrived, the characters are the best things this drama has to offer. The character depth make up for the usage of plot twists immensely. The drama has a lot of potential, it’s just that the writer doesn’t know how to properly develop it. The weakest part of the script is when the writer put a lot of dramatic complexities to create the intensity to suck the viewers to its universe. The narratives become illogical and are forced in to push the story forward.  If the writer knew how to focus and delve deeper into the intricate layers she has formed instead, this probably could have ended up as one of 2012’s gems.

But I must admit she has a good hand in elicits emotions by making us care for its characters who are full of pain and suffering. I get so absorbed into the story and feel so much emotion that the show I end up watching next ends up becoming bland. This was the best performance I’ve seen from the leads. Yoochun, Yoon Eun Hye and Yoo Seung Ho are selling their characters like there is no tomorrow.

I just hope for the remaining episodes, they’ll focus on things we care about. I can’t fathom how much I might hate this if the revenge with the ridiculously “evil” one-dimensional villains were to become the focus.

Queen In Hyun’s Man

This show had the strongest time-travel explanations of the year. This narrative did a solid job of establishing the rules. Everything was thought-out in this series– nothing was wasted, and every moment had its purpose. I never felt like this show was unsure of where it was going, and yet that surety didn’t equal predictability.

The use of fantasy in the resolution stayed fairly organic to the world in which it was made. The talisman had its own logic, but this drama took a seriously refreshing attitude about Fate. The characters rejected the idea that they were drawn to each other by anything other than choice, and such was the strength of that choice that they always managed to find their way back to each other. Even across time, space, and forgotten memories. Where there’s a will there’s a way, apparently, which means these two earned their happy ending.

At the end of it all, this drama seamlessly blends mystical elements, comedy, action, intrigue, and romance all into one perfect sixteen-episode package. It managed to be all things while sacrificing nothing, creating the most wholly-engaging romance.

THE MIDDLING

Big

This is the eighth Hong Sisters’ drama. With a big duo writer name, it’s hard not to come with great expectations. Although lately the two have been in a writing slump, wherein the drama are either a hit or miss depending on the discretion of the viewer. Unfortunately, everyone might have to agree that this was sure miss.

Don’t get me wrong, I terribly love it soooo much in the beginning. I was smiling ear to ear with the cuteness.  Kyung Joon’s character attributed to this and Gong Yoo was doing such a great job portraying him. I also enjoyed the slow unfolding of the mystery of the body exchange. But it came to a point where my heart was not as invested in the drama as before.

It mainly due to exchange back to the original bodies never really did happen. Viewers were impatiently wishing for it but when it was given at the last minute, it barely made any sense. We’re left with the question what was the point of the whole drama. The second half really sucked. There were a lot of inconsistent lull moments especially when side characters that shouldn’t be focused on are given some screen time or when the main characters develop a step backwards.

Brain

I actually didn’t appreciate this anti-hero medical drama until I picked up White Tower (2008). I had to appreciate the lengths they went through to set a good tone. Shin Ha Kyun actually outdone himself. His portrayal of the cold, proud, arrogant and ambitious doctor Lee Kang Hoon was great. The story depicted how he had to learn how to survive and win in an environment where there are constant power struggles among his superiors and fellow doctors. He not only clashed with Seo Jun-seok, another second year fellow from a wealthy and powerful background but even with Professor Kim Sang-chul.

Kang Hoon attacks Jun Seok because of his goals and insecurities. He has ambitions to become the best surgeon at his university hospital and has been eying a promotion to assistant professor. He is obsessed with success, which is probably both his greatest flaw and strength, since it makes him steely and fierce. He is a loner and always appears stern and uptight to his colleagues and is not easy to get along with. He works and fights hard to overcomes all obstacles and tries to become the best in his field. But this desire was in vain.

He turns over a new leaf and becomes a sincere doctor after learning more about Professor Kim’s secret past which he is also linked to. Kang Hoon reminds Professor Kim of his younger days where he also believes he is the best and does not care for or listen to anyone. He hopes that Kang Hoon will be a doctor who truly cares for his patients and not live in guilt for the rest of his life like him over a mistake he had ran away from in the past.

There was character depth but it wasn’t fleshed out properly. There was also an endless power struggle where you’re left to wonder the ethics and logical narrative in it. But if you can look beyond these faults, you’re in for a treat. The production company probably didn’t have enough time to adjust and prepare properly after recasting two weeks before the premiere.

History of a Salaryman

This drama defies categorization. It was an oddball in every way but I loved their offbeat wackiness in the earlier episodes. It was like the comedic version of Giant. But then, the shift in focus of its latter half destroyed the light-hearted feel, which was the drama’s real strength. It only remained consistent from a purely visual standpoint.

The problem can be traced back to Gabi’s first maniacal laugh, the very moment where she clued us into the fact that she was going to become the main villain. From that moment, the focus began to shift off Bang and his personal journey to Bang and his journey to take down Gabi. It’s as if they seemed to lose sight of the big picture, instead focusing all of our characters’ efforts into overthrowing Gabi and effectively cheating us of main character development in its wake, since everyone remained focused on the same objective for so long.

Even so, I found enough in Salaryman to keep me onboard and rooting for our characters, an unlikely odd-couple pairing of the perpetually great Lee Beom-soo and the amusingly foul-mouthed Jung Ryeo-won. The drama boasted strong performances all around, whether it was by the leads or the bevy of veteran mainstays who consistently turn out solid performances, led by Kim Seo-hyung as the tightly wound villain. The extension did drag the final stretch out longer than necessary.

King 2 Hearts

I was interested more with the North-South Korea relationship angle. This is a sensitive topic, but I was impressed that the drama didn’t skirt the tension between the two nations but rather used it to drive the plot and characters to new extremes. The writers posited an alterna-universe world where South Korea was a constitutional monarchy and North Korea was communist. The story managed to humanize both sides of the conflict and bring large-than-life characters to life.

We followed two parallel love stories swept up in a world of political intrigue and potential warfare. My favorite part of the show wasn’t actually the romance, it was the making of a king. What this show did right was its character development and relationships, and if you look at it from beginning to end, there are actually very few characters who change a great deal.

We got a perfectly cast group of four leads who had chemistry with each other. They complemented rather than competed with each other’s performances. But it was Jo Jung Seok as Shi Kyung, the awkward bodyguard who stole the show for me. I would appreciated show more if Ha Ji Won’s North accent wasn’t so high-pitched or if they didn’t spend too much time with Bong-gu’s weird antics.

The Moon that Embraces the Sun

This was the ratings juggernaut of the year, garnering an all time high of 40%. In the beginning, I had to agree with the Korean audience but as the story progressed, my interest waned.

The success must be attributed to the winsome child cast who did the first 6 episodes. Even at such a tender age, they were able to bring in amazing performances. I look at all the moments I squealed in delight with the cute first love moments as well as the heart-breaking moment when it ended with such fondness. Most of the child cast got good follow-up projects. All of them are actors we should watch out for in the future.  Yeo Jin Goo, in particular was total noona killer. He has a palpable presence not only in this drama, but even with his previous ones I watched after.

The transition to the adult cast was smooth, although the problems with the story began to show when they arrived. It lies a lot in the poor character writing. The traits that the child cast made us drawn to just disappeared especially in Yeon Woo’s character. It did not help that Han Gae In was just a listless and stiff actress.  Another major problem was the story only touched the surface. There were no layers to be explored and instead the writer depended on cheap fake-outs.

It was Kim Soo Hyun who carried the show. I never considered dropping this drama and rather felt obliged to finish it because of him. This drama really boosted his career and it he truly deserved it. A lot of people fell into the Kim Soo Hyun syndrome right after. I must admit that I’m one of them.

This drama….. I want to love you but I just can’t.

Nice Guy

The drama is excellently directed and the story has flashes of brilliance if there weren’t as much inconsistency I would have placed under the good category. Nice Guy took the viewers a slow but steady and upward climb with everyone knowing and anticipating the twists sure to come. The drama started without doing a linear recitation of events, which led up to the characters making tough decisions.

Maru is a quintessial anti-hero, and one that is written with many layers and plenty of weaknesses and faults. I could not understand how he did not want revenge. It makes him look like a man who was all bark and no bite, his revenge half-baked and really just a front for getting Jae Hee back into the world. But what I loved most about him was when he decided to live his life for himself. He wants to be with Eun Gi even if he knows he might have to walk away eventually. On the other hand, Eun Gi fell in love despite knowing how crazy it is that Maru can’t be trusted.  She might not know his connection with Jae Hee when she fell for him but she still did. The memory loss served as a reset that she badly needed. Seeing Eun Gi and Maru dealing with so much that life has already thrown at them, I simply want them to find the happiness with each other.

I felt like we were robbed of the ending everyone expected. Up to the final moment, I always thought Maru was going to die. Nevertheless, I liked the happy ending but I just wished it could have been written better.

Nice Guy was emotionally powerful without resorting to cheap tricks of dumping heaving buckets of woe on the characters. This drama full of dysfunctional people who carry their emotional baggage, while the side characters serve as a breath of fresh air to lighten the tone this drama has set. The main characters going through the motions, seemingly resigned to their fates yet there is this glimpse of fire in them. It’s like they have long ago lost their faith in humanity, but deep down they cannot throw away the kernel of goodness within. Ultimately Nice Guy isn’t sad per se, it just makes us understand that one wrong decision, compounded by more wrong decisions, can create a tangled web of confusion to the point where even the truth cannot free people from finding happiness.

THE DISAPPOINTING

Equator Man

This was yet another drama I had high expectations for. I’ve heard a lot about the magic the Uhmforce has when it comes to dark dramas. Based on the synopsis, I thought this was the perfect drama to see why Uhm Tae-woong got that kind of reputation. So this is the part where I was wrong, I thought that dark dramas only involved espionage and action, but then this drama makes use of mind tension instead.

The tension was present but the intensity was only palpable in a few instances. For you to get those moments, there’s a rather prolonged wait and super slow pacing. I feel like I’m expecting something to happen but all they’re doing is attempting to build up even more tension. They somewhat cover that aspect already and should really have focused on something substantial instead. A plot twist would have been welcomed to provide that opportunity. But seriously, most of the time, I would feel bored with the episode and would end up needing some recaps to refresh my memory on what happened.

Another weakness of the writing was frail female characters. It was pathetic how they centered their lives on the men they loved. It did not make any sense to be that attached to them. This could have done well as a movie. Just my two cents.

Regardless, this drama was beautifully shot especially when it shifts its attention to the background. I really appreciate the simple but engaging childhood portion. It was the strongest in terms of writing and made me see more of Siwan’s potential as an actor. Anyway, seeing Lee Joon Hyuk act in his last drama before his army duty was kind of worth it.

Jeon Woo Chi

This was one of my most anticipated saeguks but I’m flat out disappointed. I’m not sure why but it’s the same problem I had with Arang and the Magistrate: I can’t connect to the whole story. I love the cast but it’s not always enough for me to get myself invested in a drama.

It’s obvious that the show relies on Cha Tae-hyun’s likeability and the fact of Jeon Woo-chi’s legend being so well-known… except they forgot the fact that there are new viewers like me. That aside, the main characters are great. I love the conflict between Woo-chi and former friend Kang-rim, and the way their love triangle currently stands. In any case, it makes for some sure-to-be-interesting confrontations, especially since Woo-chi can’t bring himself to fight Mu Yeon.

I think the flashbacks helped anchor the villain nicely, and I find that we’re actually more privy to Kang-rim’s inner thoughts and motivations than our hero, so far. But what’s great is that he isn’t just evil; he’s morally conflicted, wounded by what he thinks is his best friend’s betrayal, starved for love, and manipulated by someone whose will is stronger than his own.

I don’t care so much for the side characters. If they focus on the characters we actually care for, I think I’m might stay for the long haul. I’m much more interested when Mu Yeon is involved directly, whether for better or worse, because two boys standing around fighting over her gets tired pretty damn fast.

Padam Padam

I had high expectations for this after hearing how a great writer Noh Hee Kyung was. Too bad, my expectations weren’t met. In the beginning, I thought the fault was because the actors couldn’t deliver but looking back, it was actually a combination of that and a case of terrible directing.

A range of emotions was present in the first half, but it suddenly vanished in the second half when the live shoot probably started. Regardless, this drama had one of the most unique concepts I’ve ever seen. It was wonderful how the realism, mystery and melodrama vibes are well meshed. I liked how we have the usual three miracles except it was given a twist, each with a different purpose. While the miracles aren’t being experienced, the drama was able to develop our characters. The story is just pure brilliance if it didn’t fall apart after the third miracle. I couldn’t understand what direction they were going from there. From that point onwards, they had unnecessary and prolonged angst of “I have to sacrifice and die. There’s no hope” thought process. They forgot about Gook Soo then started focusing on Ji Na and Kang Chil’s relationship, which was a tiresome back and forth thing.  The ending’s meaning was nice but it didn’t amaze me due to sloppy execution.

Rooftop Prince

This drama was part of the three-way ratings battle. I was rooting for it the most for it’s intriguing plot synopsis and certainly started the time-travelling saeguk trend. Too bad, it was a big disappointment. It was a feel-good show at best. The thing is all the KDrama tropes and makjang makings were there. It’s just that the time travel concept makes it seem new.

The problem this drama had is that the story unraveling at the seams and writers throwing whatever they can at the show to keep it going. It felt like the show knew how it was going to end, but didn’t do a good job budgeting its plot in the middle portion and ended up whipping up whatever stories it could to keep the show treading water. The plot mechanisms should have been explained since we’re left wondering at the reason for the time-jump in the first place.

All in all, Rooftop Prince was a fluffy drama that I could watch easily without thinking too hard, especially when the show brought on the cute characters, fish-out-of-water jokes, hilarious sight gags and puns, and the sweet chemistry between Yoochun and Han Ji-min. It definitely is a show where the charm of the cast makes up for a lot. Ultimately there wasn’t a whole lotta plot, which means that half the show was spent stretching out the same beats and repeating them with slight variations on the same theme.

THE BAD

Love Rain

This drama reunited the duo behind the Season dramas (Autumn in My Heart, Winter Sonata) namely director Yoon Suk Ho and screenwriter Oh Soo Yun. Frankly, they were riding on their previous success and popular idols to sell it. This was literally the most boring drama of the year! What were they thinking making Love Rain into 20 episodes?! If this was a drama special or even just a movie, I think it would have fared better. Actually there was practically no plot because everyone knew how it would end. It sucks that it had that predictability factor.

The first four episodes were the nicest episodes of the whole drama. I love how they reenacted the 1970s. If they stayed in that generation, it might have done the drama some wonders. Then again, I don’t think 1970s would work out as well because Yeon Hee was such a wallflower character, who was always trying to bear the suffering on her own quietly. She’s a weak and rather overused kind of character. Although it would be interesting to see In Ha man up though and try to confess his love. Plus seeing more scenes of Jang Geun Suk acting such a soft character was quite refreshing. Another take that could have been done, included a back story on the student activism that Chang Mo was involved in. I don’t think I’ve ever since a drama tackle the student activism that happened in the 70s at all.

As we can all see the weakness lies greatly on the writing. The main conflict is being unable to move on from first loves. This is like a dead-end kind of problem. Aside from that, he’s been using terrible plot devices to try moving the plot. There was the weepy theme, which has been highlighted by the recurring symbolism of the rain. The pointless angst and cheap fake-outs just made this drama more laughable. If the drama properly gave its side characters some purpose, it could have lessened the excessive and draggy screentime.

I really blame the writer because the drama had everything else: improved acting, great cinematography and top-notch OSTs. First, Both Yoona and Jang Geun Seuk have stepped up their craft as actors. For them to convey more facial expressions, especially for Yoona was really nice. Second, I loved the stellar and fluid cinematography. Every screenshot looks like a photoshoot picture! Finally the OSTs were simply amazing OSTs! I ended playing both Na Yoon Kwon’s Love is Like Rain and Tiffany’s Because It’s You every single day for around a month. But these pros aren’t enough. This drama is a waste of time. I suggest you skip this one.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “2012 Year-End Drama Review

  1. Thank you for any other informative site. The place else may I get that kind of info written in such an ideal means?

    I’ve a project that I’m simply now operating on, and I have been at the glance out for such information.

  2. It’s really a great and helpful piece of information. I am
    glad that you shared this helpful info with us.
    Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I have to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this site.
    I am hoping to see the same high-grade blog posts by you in the future as well.
    In truth, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to
    get my own site now 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s