Serendipity takes a Stab at 2011

2011 has made me ponder my relationship with K-drama. Why do I spend so much time watching? Why do I expend so much energy writing about it?

I’m in a contemplative mood at the end of 2011. Not because it has been a great year in k-drama for me, but because it’s been the worst year since I started watching in 2008. This is probably due to my taste shifting and my becoming somewhat more demanding of my k-dramas, but perhaps it’s also the case that 2011 really hasn’t been a vintage year. It was not altogether hopeless; there were enough wins to keep me from abandoning k-drama altogether. But it seems beyond doubt that for me the flush of k-drama first love, when anything might be forgiven, is long over.

A few basic but important comments first. This is my review. This means that it reflects my opinions and my experience. They don’t reflect the opinions of Thundie or any other writer on this blog; but they do reflect Thundie’s editorial stance, which is that we write whatever we want about k-drama so long as we are real, and we don’t have to feel ashamed of what we like or apologize for what we don’t like. So, don’t crucify me if I don’t like your favourite drama, ok? Thanks muchly.

Why do k-dramas connect with me and many millions round the world? I can’t speak for the millions, but for myself I think I essentially enjoy many k-drama tropes and devices. Provided, and this is the BIG proviso, they are done well.

The Unsubtle

I think one of my first strong connections with k-drama was how unsubtle and in-your-face they can be. Everything is writ large. Humour is broad, even crude. Melodrama is of operatic proportions. (Wagner was into incest long before k-drama; he knew a nice big dramatic device when he saw one.) And crying is with all your might, tears flowing, sniveling unrestrained, and bawling loud. I appreciate this. I am tired of pretentious art that must be cool, dispassionate and ironic all the time.

Girl K

And where better to be gloriously unsubtle than in a no-holds-barred action thriller. After all, Quentin Tarantino was inspired by the cheesy but joyously over-the-top Hong Kong kung fu flicks of old. Still, you can never be sure things won’t go horribly wrong. Veering ill-advisedly into sentimentality, for instance. Or action sequences that embarrassingly don’t quite cut it. Or, given that the premise of Girl K is a girl assassin, for pete’s sake, an unfortunate indulgence in Mary-Sue / ahjussi schoolgirl fantasy.

Happily, none of these pitfalls materialized. Well, at least not in a big way. I’ll admit Girl K is a little predictable and the characters somewhat cardboard-y in that distinctly k-drama way (the long-suffering mother, the protective ahjussi, the evil father figure, etc.). But for three perfectly paced and deftly executed episodes, through a strong story, good acting, a stonking great soundtrack, heart-attack inducing and gritty action sequences and expert editing, it all comes together to deliver what it is billed to do: Kick ass.

Here, have a taste. No subtitles, but you don’t really need dialogue for this scene:

 
I enjoyed Girl K very much. I wouldn’t say it’s a great drama; it doesn’t really bear too much scratching beneath the surface. But it is very well done and very entertaining. Thumbs up. (And, longer review here)

City Hunter

There’s the all-out action thriller, and then there’s the hybrid comedic action flick that mixes action excess with humour excess. Either can work for me; I’m not an action purist.

I think City Hunter was going for the hybrid comedic action flick. How else to explain the deadly serious tone that was mixed so randomly with comic-book sensibility and unapologetic logic fail?

I bailed out of City Hunter in the middle of Episode Four. It just wasn’t working for me. I reckoned that I should just cut my losses if I still wasn’t remotely invested in the story or in any of its people after 3.5 episodes. Even the combined man-pretty of Lee Min Ho and Lee Jung Hyuk could not entice my interest. I was – dare I confess this on a public forum? – bored.

What went so wrong? I think City Hunter was ultimately too ambitious and didn’t sufficiently work through its challenges. Balancing seriousness and funny/cute is hard, and the show just lacked the will or the wherewithal to pull it off. I do get that in this manga-adaptation genre the science / action / logic / politics is not meant to be taken seriously. But if a show is going to demand that its viewers constantly suspend so much disbelief, I think it needs to toss us more by way of … something else. Action, maybe? But the action in this show was heavy-handed and forgettable. Angst, perhaps? I love angsty comic book heroes, but Lee Min Ho ain’t no Christian Bale.

Have an OST MV. I’m not sure about the appropriateness of using images of violence and wanton destruction to accompany sappy love music, but since this vid includes some moments I found dorky, and since the incongruity does rather remind of how I felt when I was watching the show…:

 
I know many people love City Hunter, so I tried very hard to like it. (Also, I hate to think that I’m turning into some grumpy old k-drama viewer who is impossible to please and mocks children who like their candy.) I’m not even a member of the Min Ho anti-club — I think he is a fine looking young man who has the basic acting ability to justify calling himself an actor, and who could probably do all right given decent material to work with. I wasn’t offended by the show, and sort of got what it was aiming for. But my head hurt with how schizophrenic and random the show felt. I found it too silly to take seriously, and too lame to be funny. Perhaps if I had unlimited time and patience I could have stuck it out, but that’s just not where I was in life at that moment. When I bailed I felt giddily liberated.

The Human Drama

I like that k-drama often understands back-to-basics story-telling. That it’s not all about being clever or original or achingly cool.

The Duo

There was a lot in the sageuk The Duo for me to love – see collective rave review. It had assured acting (with just the occasional hiccup), it had a heart-rending story with legs and pace, and it had moments of gentle wit and laughter. It had men in black capes swash-buckling. It had PIE! It had exquisitely detailed sets. It had a beautiful and appropriate soundtrack. In fact, it got pretty much everything right.

For me, The Duo stands out because of its broad human interest. Yes, there is a dramatic main story which twists and turns gaspingly, but the fateful birth-switch is not what I think about when I remember The Duo with fondness and think about it in my moments of quietness. Rather, I think about how the show was grounded in a particular time and place down to its portrayal of mores and artifacts of the time, and at the same time how it touched on the timeless human condition. How it explored the courage and stoicism of people who were human and flawed, and the reprehensible lapses of people who were human and victims themselves. I think of the real meaning of love in a family, and between people whose lot in life throws them together and also wrenches them apart.

The Duo boasts the Bromance of 2011, in my book. And the most conflicted of conflicted relationships between father and real and/or adopted son(s). The story is epic and it will break your heart (but in a good, profound way). But months later, when I think about this show, it’s actually the secondary characters I remember with a smile. The journey of a man who falls into a slice of great luck when he secures a position through cronyism, then falls swiftly out of it and is left to clutch to himself whatever life and dignity he can retrieve. And the motivation of a woman from the under-class he had abused, who takes him in nonetheless – as a home-improvement project, perhaps? The damo or constable’s assistant who sees more than she should and says what no one else dares voice. The woman who settles down to being a common inn-keeper when the noble household she has served faithfully is suddenly overturned.

And this is why The Duo is a cut above the rest: The care which is lavished on painting realistic characters across the board, whether central to the plot or peripheral. While the plot broadly conformed with drama conventions, the writing took characterization a level up. Upon reflection, you realize that people didn’t react as you might have expected from a k-drama, but probably reacted much as real people would in real life.

The Opening Title gives you a taste of how elegant this show is (and how adorable our two boys are):

 
The Duo is my pick for the 2011 k-drama I most recommend. It’s entertaining. It’s gripping (those episode-end cliff-hangers… Yeowz!). It has lots of pretty people and pretty stuff (and fascinating foods). It warms my heart without making me roll my eyes. It made me think a bit and cry a bit. And at the end of it all I sighed, “What a great show. Dang, I guess this means I can’t give up k-drama just yet.”

Flames of Ambition

Like Duo, Flames of Ambition was a drama about the human condition. But writ somewhat larger, teeth set tighter, and tone upped several notch of intensity.

I very nearly didn’t watch Flames of Ambition. The first episode was screechy and everything I abhor in screechy dramas: Women carrying on crazily, thwarted young lovers smashing violins and walloping bottles of pills in dramatic despair, flashbacks to wimpy fathers and hysterical offspring screaming “I’ll never be hungry again!”, young women hell-bent on advancement by all means fair or foul (mostly foul).

Unlike The Duo, I’m not sure I would recommend Flames unreservedly. Everyone I know who has watched it to the end has also loved it, but then I think the show is self-selecting. Right from the start it flies it colours boldly, so if it is not to your taste you can jump right off the bandwagon immediately. It makes no bones about being all about high drama and high feeling. I barely got through the first couple of rather extreme episodes. But once I got that this show was not going to be about being easy or dainty, and that it was all out to entertain me by being outrageous, clever, and shocking, I gleefully abandoned myself to its agenda of excess and subversion.

Here are the first moments (apologies for poor quality of clip. But, hey! English subs!). And, yes, unless you are a makjang junkie the hysteria is hard to take. It all seem so very over-the-top. But believe me, by the time we cycle back to this scene after 30-plus episodes of magisterial set-up, your jaw will DROP as you understand how every gesture and every word is loaded with terrible meaning, and the same scene that you once considered maudlin now stabs you right in the heart:

 

This show is the thinking person’s melodrama. It has a great plot that often left one gasping at its audacity, but at its heart it has real human beings who create wonderful human drama. I never dreamt I would enjoy watching people behaving badly so much, or that I could ever come to love a character as obnoxiously grasping as Yoon Na Young, but this show proved that it’s not so much the genre of the show which determines enjoyment, but whether the show is executed well. I didn’t need to watch it to the end to know that it was going to be one of my all time great dramas (see ravy review). I savored each episode as it peeled yet more delicious layers off the human condition, in all its glorious hubris and all its flawed beauty.

Midas

How many episodes of Midas did I watch? I can’t quite remember now. Maybe four?

What was it all about? I’m pretty sure it was meant to be about human drama. After all, it starred Jang Hyuk, who is all about the DRAMA and TRAGEDY. We know he is being set up for said drama and tragedy when the world falls into his lap upon his graduation as some kind of genius international financial lawyer (whatever that may be) and he lands a job as a fabulously salaried (and housed) in-house lawyer to a family business linked with a fabulously successful investment fund run by an enigmatic and powerful woman. She and our hero are clearly set on a collision course (of one kind or another), and he is clearly being set up for a fall to earth with a terrific bang, whereupon he will activate his patented Vengeful Narrowed Hyukie Eyes.

Except that, I bailed before we could get there. Bad Hyukie fan, bad. And here’s where I get a bit unstuck, because I can’t even remember exactly why I lost interest. Except that I, um, lost interest. I suppose I could try re-watching it all over again but this time paying more attention to what I found uninteresting? Nope, sorry, won’t do it, not dedicated enough to this review to do it.

Okay, let me try: The pretty (but vapid) Lee Min Jung was staggeringly miscast as Jang Hyuk’s fiancée. I could see the show was setting up their relationship to be broken, but to be interested in an estrangement one must first be interested in a relationship, and there was no viable connection I could see between Jang Hyuk and Lee Min Jung. It was like putting a tiger stuffed toy next to a lamb stuffed toy. Nope, no sparks. Not even the frisson of a mismatched couple. When Jang Hyuk smiles indulgently at her I’m put in mind of nothing so much as a greasy ahjussi. When Lee Min Jung minces at him I feel I’m watching a five-year old play-acting a bride. It’s all too painfully unwatchable.

So, there was couple casting wreckage. That and genius-poor-boy-made-good Jang Hyuk being mechanically and heavy-handedly set up to come a cropper. I think this show was supposed to have been all about the corruption and lure of money and power, but the morality tale was so obvious and I just didn’t feel like being beat over the head with the Beware-Money-Is-Corrupting stick. I suppose it wouldn’t have killed me to watch to the end. It wasn’t that bad. But on the other hand, I’m pretty sure not watching it to the end has not impoverished my life.

Here’s a really long trailer. See, even now I’m still conflicted. As I watch this trailer I vacillate between, “Oo, Jang Hyuk is hot here. Shower scene! And it sure feels Dramatic, maybe I should give this another shot?”, and “Ack, so predictable, and see how lame that piece of acting was? This trailer is great at least it’s not long-drawn and tedious like the show itself gosh I’m so glad I dropped this.”

 
Miss Ripley

I’ve placed Miss Ripley in this category not so much for what it was, but what it could have been.

You know how you can brazen your way into an exclusive club or party just by wearing an attitude that shouts “I belong here!”? I do this frequently at my friend’s gated community when I go pick her up, because I’m too lazy to sign the visitor book. I wave and smile brightly at the security guard and drive confidently towards the barrier, and the guard usually raises the bar for me, slightly puzzled but reluctantly convinced.

This show could have been such an interesting peek into the head of a woman who brazens her way through life. Just how entitled do you have to feel yourself to be, to play not one but TWO desirable rich men and convince an entire profession that you are the hottest new thing in academia? What happens when the make-believe world you cobbled crazily together inevitably comes crashing down? This could have been human drama of Shakespearean proportions.

I probably expected too much from this show. Once it became clear that it was going to do no more than scratch the surface of Mi Ri’s psychology and go for easy scores milking the obvious gratuitous plot moments (e.g., Mi Ri nearly getting caught out in her lies – repeatedly), I lost interest. Lee Da Hae did a decent job playing a woman with chutzpah and attitude (and superpowers of seduction), but the script never explored her more interesting moments of self doubt. One lead actor was extremely experienced and the other rather less so, but in the end they evened out as the script gave neither of them scope to be much more than plot devices. (How could anyone be so trusting and dumb?)

Here’s a Behind-the-Scenes clip featuring Lee Da Hae and Micky Yoochun. Even given that the pair of them are clearly playing up for the camera, they fairly pop with life and fun. Sadly, little of this zip is captured in the show itself.

 
Miss Ripley had problems of pacing and some barely passable acting, but its main problem was that it was just going through the motions and wasn’t trying very hard to write a fresh or interesting story. In the end I couldn’t be bothered to finish watching the show.

The Family Soap Opera

Smile, Donghae

A rich (but miserable) family is entangled with a poor (but happy) family through a love triangle, a birth secret, a forbidden love, and kimchi.

The 160-episode Smile, Donghae was my first daily drama. And probably my last. I’m cheating a bit by including it here because I only started watching somewhere after the mid-point, and only watched every four episodes. But in my defense I’d say that I don’t think I need to watch more identikit episodes to be able to say that this show was: (1) exasperatingly slow-paced (four episodes later – What? They’re still agonizing over that dumb cooking contest? And people still haven’t figured out the glaringly obvious birth secret?), (2) shamelessly predictable, and (3) devoted to head-deskingly spelling everything out in lengthy narrative dialogue. “Oh! You have arrived! You look tired. Why don’t you have a rest? Here, here’s a chair.” “Oh! I will get back at them for this. How dare they! I must win! I’m so angry!” I’m guessing that the show assumes that most of its viewers are preparing dinner and can only keep half an eye on the screen, so everything needs to be verbalized.

Here’s a preview of one of the episodes. Yup, it’s that weird mash-up of the saccharine and the emo which I suppose is the bedrock of daily dramas.

 
On the one hand, I felt my brain atrophy as I watched this. On the other hand, I was fascinated by the phenomenum. Here was a live demonstration of the state of one aspect of k-drama, you could say. The sets were fine, the senior actors – Jeong Ae Ri, Kang Seok Wu – aced every scene (the young ‘uns – Ji Chang Wook, Oh Ji Eun, etc. – not so much), the editing was competent and the soundtrack worked. All the technicalities worked. It was perfectly competent. And perfectly boring. For it lacked what well-oiled machinery can’t churn out – decent dialogue and a story with legs. It was like an entertainment factory production line, churning out the same old clichés, set pieces and milked reaction shots. It was television on auto-pilot. It was hardly even trying, and hardly bothering to hide the fact that it was hardly trying.

Because, the most STAGGERING meta fact about this show is its ratings. Towards the end of its run it was in the upper 30s easily, frequently busting 40%. Dang! Well, if one can hit ratings like that without breaking sweat, why even bother trying? Behold, the Awesome Power of the Dozy Daily Drama!

The Inspirational Growing-up Story

Dream High

I have a fondness for Asian coming-for-age television shows. I think there’s something about the innocence, charm and wackiness of k-drama and dorama that connects with this young persons’ genre.

I had high hopes for Dream High, though the casting of so many idols did give me pause. Still … Kim! Soo! Hyun! whom I’ve had an inappropriate tendre for ever since he made us all cry in Giant. And, with professional idols surely at least the singing and dancing will sweep me along?

Somehow …, not. After all, a coming-of-age drama, even if set in a music school, is still a drama. A drama which needs to have, well, drama. A drama which needs to be acted. And the show was never able to overcome the handicap of its key characters being unable to emote with any conviction (Kim Soo Hyun excepted). Add to that song and dance routines which were surprisingly un-slick, a clunky script, an adult cast being weird and affected, and ridiculously simplistic lessons on music-craft… and essentially I watched this show to the end solely for Kim Soo Hyun. Ah, the things I do for noona love.

This is my favorite scene from the whole series, when our young idol aspirants break into a number to motivate a dispirited hyung. I love this because Kim Soo Hyun the thespian so dorkily throws himself into the moment with abandon. And because it’s all about youthful exuberance and how it carries you above making a spectacle of yourself in public. Just don’t think too much about how the audio system was actually supposed to work, and the improbability of the inspirational message of “Tell me your wish” reducing grown men to tears.

 
Turning Action Thriller-Genre Tricks

Long long gone are the days when Asian cinema was entertaining for its cheap sets and risible special effects. Nowadays, many of the best and slickest action epics have long lists of Asian names in the credit rolls. The Korean film industry has pretty much gotten the action thriller, and even television can without too much effort break out the creditable stunt move and action sequence.

Athena

Athena, however, demonstrates that such technical skill is not enough. It epitomizes the point at which an art form reaches a certain level of competence and success, becomes complacent, and then just stops bothering to try to be anything more than empty bling.

Athena had heaps going for it: A successful franchise to ride on (i.e., IRIS), top stars, lots of moolah for special effects, exotic foreign shooting locations, and a firm placing in the whizz-bang action-thriller genre which doesn’t exactly require rocket science brain-power to cook up. And yet, the degree to which it all went so horribly wrong could probably warrant a criminal investigation.

Athena was slick and beautiful. And soulless. And predictable. And kinda dumb. And boasted characters as interesting as paper cups, with IQs of paper-clips. Unsurprisingly, its ratings tanked and it become the butt of reviewers’ snarky humour (self included). It just proved that one can’t take television-making for granted. Throwing a lot of money, resources and beautiful faces at a show doth not entertainment make.

Here’s the OST MV. This is a LOT of fun. Tons more fun than the show itself, and all you need to watch, trust me. It’s got all the best action sequences, prettiest locations, and coolest close-ups of the gorgeous actors. Taken out of context and edited slickly, the patched-together scenes considerably reduce logical WTF-ery:

 
Poseidon

I didn’t think it was even possible for a show in the same action-thriller milieu to exceed Athena in lameness. But Poseidon pulled it off. Lordy, I can’t even begin to explain how this show is so much fail. It is jaw-droppingly, spectacularly bad. I can only speculate that the writers got drunk one night and asked themselves, “Just how dumb a show can we write?” But then decided that that was too much effort, and delegated the job of churning out the script to their pet seagull. Then they lurched drunkenly to the archives, plundered the store of Portentous Music, and got their trained seal to match tracks to scenes. Finally, they left the editing and continuity assurance to their labrador retriever.

All the characters in the show had the collective brain power of a barnacle. The acting is a random collection of boggle-eyed shock / shouty shouty / long-drawn out reaction shot / looking resolute. Poor Siwon’s native charm sinks under the weight of all the seriousness he is supposed to carry (you know, being a hot-shot smart-ass, being emotionally tortured, chasing bad guys, not talking to his father) which unfortunately comes off being more nonsensical than moving. (Lee Jung Sae, on the other hand, (be still my heart) somehow managed to project “HOT!” even in the midst of all manner of WTF-ery.)

And yet, I don’t feel as resentful towards Poseidon as I do towards Athena. I feel it’s more reprehensible to make a bad show with lots of money than it is to make a bad show with very little money. Hating on Poseidon is like hating on a wounded puppy. It was clear that the show had long been fatally wounded but was merely struggling manfully on. It had evidently blown its entire budget on the opening sequence of speeding hovercraft and helicopters and men in black rappelling upside down (why?), and for the rest of the show could only afford a nod to its naval ambitions by filming its (lame) car chases on coastal roads. At points I even felt that the show had an artless, child-like charm about it. Like, y’know, your favorite bad movie.

Have a trailer. It’s deceptive in that it showcases lots of cool nautical hardware (which never appear again in the show) and is quite a bit more exciting than the real thing. But nonetheless the trailer is fairly representative of the show’s tone, including its weakness for indulging in Music of Doom at every opportunity. And even in these snippets you can see whose acting chops can hold up against the nonsense thrown at it, and whose can’t.


 
The Political Saga

President

I felt lukewarm about President when I heard it was about a man’s aspiration to the highest office in the land. That didn’t sound over-exciting. And I wondered whether the industry’s years of churning out historical sagas would be a boon or a bane to a modern day version. Would it be portentous and self-important? Would it be preachy? Would it be convoluted to the point of inducing catatonia?

I needn’t have worried. President was well-paced, solidly acted, sharp, and smart. It wasn’t ground-breaking; there was a moment or two when it succumbed horribly to k-drama stereotypical Big Drama. But most of the time it kept its head and stayed true to its mission of telling a gripping story of politics, integrity, family, and the personal cost of power.

The cast was solid all round. Even the young idol ‘uns did ok – I guessed it helped to have a script that made inherent sense. But it was the anchor couple Choi Soo Jung and his real-life wife Ha Hee Ra who burned up the screen. Choi is always reliable as the righteous royal figure and Ha Hee Ra is an actress with amazing presence, so when they go head-to-head on-screen… yeow!

Here’s clip of Episode Four with Vietnamese subs. Hey, that just means that if you don’t read Vietnamese it’s not spoilery, right? Besides, all you need to watch is the first 1 min and 15 seconds, when Choi Soo Jung and Ha Hee Ra yell at each other, while the young people (and we) stand cowering outside their door, terrified:

 
King Geunchogo

King Geunchogo was supposed to be the pattern card of a sageuk done well. It started out very promisingly, with an ensemble (and not too crazily big) cast and a strong fast-paced story with decent dialogue. It was The Stuff for a little over ten glorious episodes replete with dramatic plotting, scenery-chewing acting, great battles scenes, and nice sets. It had the gravitas of a sageuk without being weighed down by slow-moving and painstaking dialogue. It had hot men and beautiful women. It had comedy and tragedy and gut-wrenchingly dysfunctional royals families doing their double-crossy thing.

Here’s the opening sequences, promising all that we have come to love and expect from our epic sageuk:

 
Then it all went inexplicably to pot. I didn’t actually witness this fatal collapse as I was warned about it and hurriedly cut my losses. It will take better informed minds than mine to explain why it ended up in Dud City. Be that as it may, from a raving recommendation I now have to downgrade this to a diss-recommendation.

The Love Story (and its cousin the RomCom)

I think it’s kinda cute, this Korean fixation with the love story. K-drama floats its legions of auntie and girlie fans with the tragic machinations and/or frothy romping of LURVE. Even the most edgy, hard-hitting k-drama (e.g., Girl K, last year’s Comrades) must shoe-horn a love angle in there somewhere. Even the mystical and sublime Joseon X-Files totally had the Scully-Mulder repressed sexual smolder going.

So all k-dramas have romance, but some k-dramas are totally premised on romantic love. Now this in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. See Romeo and Juliet. And in the k-drama world see What Happened in Bali which was ALL about the love triangle and not much else, and what an exhilarating and unforgettable ride that was.

For me and 2011, however, none of the shows sampled in this category of “lurve or bust” and its cousin the romantic comedy (“lurve and laugh or bust”) connected. And seeing that the love story / romcom is the most popular genre on the internet, this makes me one deeply unpopular reviewer. (I wonder if Thundie keeps me on her writing team and tolerates my grumpiness so that her blog can be considered “edgy”, haha! Y’know, I’m the dwarf she continues to hire so that she can say that she supports diversity.) I really hate to think that I might be losing my sense of romance and/or my sense of humour. I prefer to think that this year’s romantic offerings were simply not to my taste; though in my snarkier moments I want to whine that this year’s romantic offerings were just Not Very Good.

Secret Garden

The year started as it meant to carry on, for me. Yes, Secret Garden. That great divider of humankind. One either loves it or hates it, and not much in between.

Recently I confessed to being me (Serendipity) to someone and she said without missing a beat, “Oh! You’re the one who hates Secret Garden!”. Gah. Worldwide web infamy. Greaaaaat.

Yes, I dissed Secret Garden. And I stand by my opinion. Why do I keep picking on this poor helpless drama, you may ask? Because I resent Secret Garden for shamelessly plundering all the proven and beloved tropes of a love story – masterful but damaged hero, feisty and pitiful heroine, the joy of romantic discovery and the euphoria of epic love – and randomly tossing it all together without much thought or feeling. And lazily throwing into the mix beautiful and well-loved actors, tons of fan-service (meta and otherwise), a casual nod to whimsy and fantasy, and lots of easy laughs. And then expecting us to find it all Epic.

Here a music fanvid (by Shelynet2) featuring the man himself Hyun Bin singing that song, “That Man”. (Wow, even stripped of Joo Won’s creepy, self-absorbed and borderline psychotic behavior and pared down to the wordless moments of frisson between Ha Ji Won and Hyun Bin, I still get a stalkery vibe. *shudder*)

 

Best Love

Best Love was also predicated on its OTP. If you can’t get into the OTP, you’re pretty much doomed. I love Gong Hyo Jin as an actress. I watched the show to its bitter end pretty much solely for her wondrously under-stated acting. Unfortunately, much as I liked Cha Seung Won in City Hall, here I found him grating, and as a result couldn’t give a fig about the OTP.

I felt the show got too carried away with its cute little jokes and uber meta self-consciousness and didn’t pay enough attention to basic story-telling. I also wanted to shoot the music director – most k-dramas suffer from Unsubtle Soundtrack Syndrome, but Best Love took blaring and manic music to new heights. And while we are dispensing with the music director can we also fire the editor? Usually even the most risible (and rushed) shows can manage better scene transitions. Hong Sisters humour is always in-your-face, which is okay when I find it funny, but rather headache-inducing when I don’t. I feel as if I am with someone which is suffering from an attack of hysterical giggles and can’t even eke out a coherent sentence, which is funny for about 30 seconds and then, for the remaining 15 hours and 59 minutes, not so much.

Here’s a fan-made clip (by asesege) I found on Youtube which pretty much sums up the chasm between me and the rest of the world as far as Best Love is concerned. The clip is entitled “The Greatest Love Funny Scenes” so presumably people find these scenes funny. I… don’t.

 
What happened over 16 episodes, except for Cha Seung Won carrying on manically like a parody of a parody of a parody of himself, and Gong Hyo Jin looking (understandably) pained and put upon? Could a whole string of silly pratfalls really fill 16 whole hours? Apparently. But not happily, at least not for me. Even cutie patootie Yoon Kye Sang couldn’t save this one for me, he was so clearly stuck in as Cute Second Lead Caricature, poor dear.

My Princess

Remind me again, what happened in My Princess? For sure there were two beautiful people, one bubbly and the other falling over himself being cool. There was also an extremely hot professor. There was a pretty hot kiss on a flight of stairs. Some angst. And an extremely ungracious and annoying sister, somewhere. A lot of nonsense about royal protocol and learning princessly manners and some kerfuffle over an inheritance I can’t wrap my head round now. And a sweet adoptive mother. And a prune-faced woman who didn’t approve of our princess (off with her head!). Er, what else?

Here’s the trailer, which I think quite nicely captures the charm of the actors and the flakiness of the show. (Also, shirtless Song Seung Heon. You’re welcome.):

 
I mostly enjoyed this show. I may have employed the fast forward button towards the end, but the experience was inoffensive and didn’t make me feel cheated or ragey. The show didn’t pretend to be more than what it was, a fluffy and forgettable romantic comedy. It was a harmless way to waste 16 hours.

Can You Hear My Heart

I’ve stuck Can You Hear My Heart into this category, but not without hesitation. I know that this is a k-drama which has strengths in many areas other than its romantic storyline. But I call it a love story foremost because it seems to me that enjoying the OTP is crucial to enjoyment of the show. I personally couldn’t get into the OTP, which just nudged this show into a “miss” rather than a “hit” for me.

For the first ten episodes I was quite addicted to the show. It’s a decent showpiece for k-drama and its Asia-wide auntie conquering powers. It’s like better quality candy. It’s chock-full of what has served k-drama well over the years and across continents: Lush soundtrack, beautiful cinematography, decent pace, artful episode ending cliffhangers, and at its core a rooted and consistent heart-warming story (involving birth secrets, of course, and familial plotting) that like momma’s soup is comfortingly cooked just right, not too predictable but not too funky either. We have a varied tableau of familiar characters: The spunky heroine, the poor little rich boy, the noble idiot, the cranky and beset halmoni, the evil father figure, the rough but big-hearted oppa-next-door, the outwardly-successful but inwardly-tortured young man, the rich but miserable and deeply dysfunctional family, and the poor but happy family. Portrayed with enough sincerity that they feel like a variation on a theme rather than the same old stock characters rolled out once again. It has moments of Oh! Tragedy! And moments of broad k-humour, without crossing the line into dread schizophrenia. Everything, in short, we have come to expect from a k-drama.

Have a pretty opening sequence, which nicely captures the gently sentimental tone of the show:

 
Sadly, I can’t take to the lead actress Hwang Jung Eun. I try SO hard to like her, to embrace her cuteness. But I just can’t. Her every affected gesture seems self-conscious to me; the penguin walk, the tilt of the head, the blinking of the eyes in feigned innocence. I don’t find Kim Jae Won nearly as annoying, but I don’t find him a strong actor either. I don’t find their characters compellingly written, so to get me invested would take actors of considerable skill and charm; which I personally don’t find them to be. The elder actors were much more winsome, but I didn’t find them interesting enough to sustain my interest in the show all by themselves. For instance, Jung Bo Suk was amazing in his portrayal of a simple-minded man, but I found the character’s innocence and sheer saintliness too monotonal and unrealistic to be interesting.

I recommend this show to anyone who is looking for a good old-fashioned k-drama tear-jerker. You could really knock yourself out with this one!

Me, it just didn’t capture my heart. I watched to the end largely because I fell in love with Maru, the tortured second lead played wonderfully by the revelatory Nam Goong Min. I loved his under-stated acting and non-hysterical tone (with just a couple of notable lapses, which might just be due to misguided direction). When he gazes from afar at the family he ran away from and the tears start brimming in his soulful eyes, I just want to hug him and stroke his head. Who can resist such man-pain?

Scent of a Woman

I was looking forward to this show because I liked the two leads. I don’t think either are particularly talented or versatile, but they can be very charming in the right role and if they could rub up some chemistry we should get some sparky fun. The plot-line of a terminally ill woman falling in love with an aloof chaebol heir did, I grant you, give me a moment’s pause…

It was probably unfortunate that I caught Scent of a Woman at Episode Twelve, right at the point where everyone was suffering from a terminal (ho ho) attack of noble idiocy: Hiding your terminal illness from your mom because you don’t want to make her feel bad, and it’s so much better to deceive her so that once you are dead she can feel REALLY horrible about insensitively nagging you to get a job and get married. Cruelly rejecting someone you adore and who adores you, because slapping them in the face now is so much better than dying on them later. Allowing yourself to be cruelly rejected thus, because it’s so much jollier to marry someone else whom you can’t stand.

I found this episode deeply aggravating. Why was everyone being so stupid? And, where had they taken my lovely bubbly Kim Sam Soon / Shin Mi Rae of City Hall, and who is this limp and lifeless woman they’ve left in her place? My flagging spirits were lifted momentarily by a gratuitous shirtless Lee Dong Wook, but soon sank back into the morass of misery. The moment sad-faced Kim Sun Ah walked into a wedding boutique with her about-to-be-married friend I just knew she was going to torture herself by trying on a gown and looking beautiful and resignedly tragic in it. Les Sigh.

Here’s clip of the start of Episode 8. No subs. She is confessing to her doctor her love for lover-boy who is conveniently eaves-dropping. Kim Sun Ah is limp, Wookie is trying to look stricken, and Eom Ki Joon is being heart-broken (Oh, don’t cry, cutie doc, let me comfort you!).

 
Determined to salvage the situation, I cycled back to the opening episodes where I hoped to find a more vibrant Kim Sun Ah and a less wet Lee Dong Wook, and perchance thereby a more watchable show. But alas, while the tone was definitely less depressing at the start, I found the story as predictable as ever, Kim Sun Ah merely phoning in a persona, and Wookie no better able to project a breathing personality. When I read about how the series ended, it pretty much killed any residual completist impulse and I wrote this one off.

Conclusion:

It’s been a patchy year in k-drama for me. Mostly cloudy, with a few intermittent rays of sunshine. To borrow Poseidon’s nautical theme:

The ships that sailed for me in 2011 were The Duo, Flames of Ambition, Girl K and President. The Duo was a beautiful, elegant, stately tall-ship that made my heart sing. Flames of Ambition was a nippy little sailing yacht; classy, nimble, and exhilarating to sail. Girl K was a powerful little speed-boat – a total adrenaline rush. President was a dreadnought – solid and reliable.

Can You Hear My Heart was a trusty old river boat that eventually got me over to the other side. While parts of a river crossing are fun, most of the trip is unremarkable.

King Geunchogo was the Titanic. It launched beautifully and looked unsinkable. But, alas…

Smile Donghae was a wreck, just a wreck. Best Love, Dream High, My Princess and Secret Garden were leaky from the start and sank mid-ocean. As for Athena, City Hunter, Midas, Miss Ripley, Poseidon and Scent of a Woman, I didn’t get very far from the pier before I grabbed a safety tube and jumped off, heading for shore and never looking back.

Indeed, I’m not very nice to 2011 k-dramas. Yup, the honeymoon is over.

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99 thoughts on “Serendipity takes a Stab at 2011

  1. Wow, this is such a delectable read, dear Serendipity! Thank you for all the hours you spent on it. TP is not worthy!

    I’m sad you did not love some of my faves but that’s okay. Your comments are always constructive and never mean-spirited. Thank you for not being in the anti-LMH club; that means a lot to me, muah! :D

    • By the way, if you find that comments are not coming in fast and furious, it’s because we are too busy watching the vids to comment yet! :lol:

  2. Great job writing the review! And I love that your first screencap is the young Chundoong in Thr Duo! And my vote for best bromance, hands down, goes to The Duo as well!

    This year have been really a mix of hits and misses actually. More misses and hits. But oh well. Here’s to welcoming 2012 dramas! Cheers!

  3. Oh, dear, that was great, Serendipity! You’ll have to wait for my year-end review (a few weeks, sorry), but I think we are on some of the same pages, perhaps for differing reasons.

    Now I must get back to work, as I’m only on #3 of 80 dramas to review, and I feel like I need the Seven Dwarves singing, “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to work I go” with whistling to cheer me along for the long ride!

  4. Aww don’t worry. I didn’t like Secret Garden (all the way) either. I was enamoured by the quirky vibe but soon found out there’s really nothing new underneath all that flashy stuff.
    For me though, Dream High was like a raft someone handmade so I was feeling iffy from the start. But it carried me all the way despite appearance.

  5. Great review, thanks! I still haven’t finished watching Secret Garden, Best Love or Scent of a Woman. You haven’t mentioned 49 days, I liked that one, but again the ending was not so great (at least for me). I am currently watching Ojakgyo Brothers and loving it.

  6. Bailed out on City hunter too, why bec can’t they see it’s him even with / with out the mask? The mask undid me! SOW , hmm LDW is cute but too much angst kills me!

  7. Awesomesauce review, Serendipity! Worthy of the America’s Cup! :D

    Here’s to hoping the dramas of 2012 won’t have the “collective brain power of a barnacle.” Buahahaha! ;)

  8. Wow! And videos to demonstrate the points!

    You bravely went where I wasn’t going to go in my review – Secret Garden and Midas. 8-)
    Between the two of us, though, there are a few music directors who need to fear for their lives.

  9. I enjoyed reading your year end review. I have similar feelings for the 2011 Kdrama year, although it did bring me a couple of dramas that landed on my all-time favorites list, and a few more that I enjoyed watching, so it wasn’t a total bust for me. Although I haven’t decided if my general dissatisfaction with most of the dramas I watched, (or attempted to watch) stems from a lack of quality presented, or the fact that my Kdrama honeymoon has ended. I used to obsessively complete every drama I started, thinking I needed to finish what I started. Now, I just feel life is too short to be wasted on a bad, boring, frustrating, and at times all three, Kdrama.

    Also, so glad to see I’m not the only one who felt that way about CSW in Best Love! Been too afraid of the fangirls to say so before though! :p

  10. Serendipity,

    I second, third, … your opinion on most of 2011′s K-drama offerings. Lots of effort seems to go to naught, and takes a freakin’ long time to get there! Ditto on The Duo, President, and Secret Garden. Secret Garden, Lie to Me, and Best Love were the biggest wastes of talent and time; they started as something that could be really good and just went flat. Secret Garden is the only series that made me laugh-out-loud like Coffee Prince, but it was using the same device (trope?): gender-changing. Watched all of New Tales of Gisaeng, loved the main couple and waited, waited, waited for some New Tales of Gisaeng. Guess it was just a title.

    Also watched every 4th or 5th episode of Smile, Donghae, even when watching 20% it dragged on-and-on. Loved Daughters-in-Law, that was a pretty funny daily, the others have fizzled and I’ve lost interest.

    However, even with the 2011′s lackluster series, I find myself looking forward to 2012, maybe something new will catch my interest. Why? Even the so-so Kdrama series have been better than most of U.S. TV.

  11. And the year-end reviews keep coming! I’m so excited! :)) Thanks a lot for this. You helped me narrow down my Christmas-vacay to-watch list and now I’m sure I’m gonna watch Girl K (starts downloading episodes) although not sure with the duo though ’cause it’s too long. Btw, I was also not a fan of SoaW and BL. I was bored with SoaW and did not also get CSW’s character in BL.

    • Oh no, no. The Duo is not too long, not at all. Think of it this way — how many silly 16-episode shows have you watched and regretted watching? I don’t know about you, but speaking for myself — PLENTY! I used to be like you and swear never to watch anything longer than 20 episodes (24, tops). But the way I see it now, 32 episodes of The Duo is exactly the same amount of time as two unforgettable 16-episode fixes, and The Duo is SO MUCH BETTER!

  12. I also found the k-dramas for 2011 offerings not too much to offer. In all I saw 4 dramas that interest me. My favorite was Flame of Ambitions. You are right about the first episodes were hard to watch with all that screaming. But once that was over I started to enjoy the characters motivations.

  13. So that was it! I was falling out of love and I never even realised. This year I kept taking up kdramas and dropping them when I became *gasp* bored.
    My grades started improving radically because there is an inverse relation between amount of kdramas watched and GPA. Nevertheless, instead of checking all likely-looking med schools, I began wondering if a visit to a psychiatrist was in order. Where were those rose-tinted glasses? Where was the milk and honey of kdramaland?

    Since confessions are in order, I will confess that I can’t care less about : City Hunter, Best Love, SOAW, and… Flower Boy Ramyun Shop.

    I know, I know. I must be blind not to appreciate all that pretty. But there’s pretty and then there’s beautiful. One barely grazes you, the other stirs your soul. But I don’t feel bad about not being catered to by the Flower Boys because I have discovered:

    Sageuk. Seriously, I never knew how awesome this stuff was. I thank Sungkyunkwan Scandal for introducing me to the genre, for without The Princess’ Man and Tree with Deep Roots, I would have not watched any kdrama this year.

    Oh, and I can’t forget CYHMH. I love that drama, though I did find it too melodramatic at times. Still, the wonderful family theme gets me in the gut every time. It’s nice, yunno, to find a family that’s not dysfunctional.

    Wonderful review Serendipity! I was mulling over marathoning FOA and GK, and now I think you’ve handed me free tickets for both ships.

    • Hi Spicechilde,

      That’s it! Falling out of love — that’s what I mean! Sigh. I still feel quite sad about it. I miss the carefree old days when every other cracky and nonsensical romcom made me feel happy and swoony. On the other hand, I’m a bit glad I’m not as addicted as I used to be, because k-drama infatuation was really sucking up my life. It’s probably not a bad thing that I have become more choosy and furthermore learned to bail on anything that isn’t pleasing me; it frees up time for more productive activities of life. ;-)

      I’m disappointed I couldn’t watch The Princess’ Man in time for this Review, but I’m definitely banking it, I’ve heard such good things about it. And I think CYHMH grows on me with time. When I think about it I feel a warm glow rather than a stab of irritation (unlike some other shows).

      • Can you hear my heart was so good! It was so heartwarming and though it left me dehydrated due to the buckets of tears i shed, It still left a warm afterglow in my heart after watching it. And I agree with you that Nam Goong Min was so good in it. How could you look into those eyes brimming with unshed tears mirroring the pain in side and not feel a thing. I’m just sad that I did’nt watched it while it was airing and watch it only now that i’ve read the year end reviews. It must have been fun raving/crying / having your heart put on a wringer along with the other viewers at the same time.

    • Aww, yeah! TPM and TWDR totally changed my perception of sagueks and have me rooting around the internet looking for any hidden saguek gems I might have missed, trying to recapture the magic. Currently am trying to get through Emperor of the Sea, but find myself thinking that for a drama titled Emperor of the Sea there’s more standing on the shore looking out at the sea, than there is actual action on the sea!

  14. Thank you for the review. I don’t get to watch a lot of kdramas on tv and am pretty selective about downloading them.

    With your review, now I know what I should watch out for: the good, the bad, and the ugly. And when to bail out of the dramas.

  15. Omo, is this possible? I finally found someone like me who didn’t like Best love AND Secret Garden. *Crying with joy* And that also didn’t go crazy over City Hunter and thinks LMH isn’t a amazing actor (He is okay…)…. are you my long lost twin? lol

    Well I guess not because I disagree about Can you hear my heart… the story sure isn’t new but I enjoyed that show too much, one of my fav this year… but I guess I understand. I also at first thought the main girl wasn’t that appealing or charming… to tell the truth the OTP just won me because they were too cute together, but she alone? Was boring….

  16. I only managed to finish 3 dramas this year :-
    1) Best Love – which I watched, enjoyed at first and found the meta-formula getting repetitive towards the end but stayed for Gong Hyo Jin (cos’ i love her *that* much)

    The other 2 being ‘The Princess’ Man’ and ’49 Days’ but no mention of them here. Would love to read your view on these 2 :)

  17. Wow, what a review… Thanks Serendipity! Am glad to know that I’m not all alone when I decded to “grabbed a safety tube and jumped off, heading for shore and never looking back” (to borrow your line) on those dramas.. Although, I quite like SoaW merely bcoz of Dr. Poo, sizzling tango and when they take their romance while bicycling… That’s all. — Yes, I’m shallow ain’t I? :D

  18. (I wonder if Thundie keeps me on her writing team and tolerates my grumpiness so that her blog can be considered “edgy”, haha! Y’know, I’m the dwarf she continues to hire so that she can say that she supports diversity.)

    LOL, how did you read my mind? :lol:

    But seriously, it’s because I crave your writing. You’re one of my favoritest writers, don’t you know? I’m ALWAYS in awe of your recaps and reviews; you have such a wondrous way with words and you are frank and funny. Never ever leave TP!! :D

  19. I’m watching alot of Old drama than 2011 drama this year, oh sue me……. I’ve become so addict watching some old drama such as Ressurection, The Devil, MISA, Memories Of Bali, Que Sera Sera, Time between dog and wolf, and many more, That I forget finishing the new one I have been following…. LOL
    I only watch some new drama such as Dream High, Miss Ripley, FLOwer Boys Ramyun Shop, City hunter, Scent Of a Woman, Protect the boss, The Princess Man, 49 days, White Christmas… Is it alot? and I haven’t finished watching some of them…
    I can say I quite satisfied with 2011…

    thanks for your honest and insightful review, serendipity…. I really dig Girl K and the the duo right now… Thanks alot :)

  20. Thanks for the review,, liked it that you were honest with how you felt and I totally agree ssome might like some dramas and some will hate it.

    I watched most of the dramas you mentioned, and agree with most of it.
    Did not watch Lie To Me even though I just love Kang Ji Hwan, ( maybe reading abouth it on the blogs just put me off it lol )
    Started on Flames of Ambition partly upon reading about it on this blog, was excited when I started and I marathon all the way to Episode 25 and ended up with a massive headache, hated the repeatative bitchiness between the sisters/sis in law and finally gave up. I wished they could have just kept it to 30 episodes and scrap the unecessary draggy scenes.
    I feel the script writers are running out of ideas, hahaha should have a blog and we can all contribute with some plot lines, yeah sounds like a damm good idea:)

    Am now watching a drama which is probably under rated but I feel is much better than FOA, a 50 episode called My Love by My Side. Now on episode 30 and so far they have not let me down yet.

    Must look for Girl K since almost everyone is raving about it but totally loving Vampire Prosecutor right now, sadly finishing next week. Looking forward to 2012 esp with the new cable channels now showing all great dramas so far.

    Thanks again

  21. Thank you for your reviews. Even though they were a little bit grumpy, I actually liked them a lot since you explained everything so well. What works for you may not work for others but when it is put forth the way you did, it becomes clear for me that maybe I’ll like one of those even if you haven’t.

    Thanks to Thundie for keeping it democratic and putting good writing out here.

    • Dear Lizzie,

      What do you mean, my reviews were a little bit grumpy. They were a LOT grumpy!

      Hee hee. What a good thing Thundie is open-minded. Otherwise I’d have to go off and start my own Grumpy Blog. Which would probably have a readership of, oh, five on a good day. ;-)

  22. ooh, i like.

    i share nearly identical opinions about these dramas as you, especially city hunter. i don’t hate on dramas for no reason, and usually i know what they’re aiming for, i just felt i had to dumb myself down to believe in the highly improbable world the writers and actors created in city hunter.. even with my ability to suspend disbelief willingly and easily.

    anyways, enjoyed reading your thoughts about this past year. there were some dramas i really enjoyed watching and many others that meh-ed me. hopefully 2012 will blow me away.

  23. Thanks for your post! I love reading differing opinions as it’s nice to see what some others enjoy and don’t. But I very nearly did a cartwheel across my living room when I read your thoughts on CH. Not because you hated it, but that there’s yet another who found it as meh as I did (and there aren’t many of us around lol). Anyway, I hope 2012 will be a better year in k-dramas for you!

  24. This year has been a pretty lackluster in terms of kdramas I ended up finishing (1). I feel like the patience I used to have in endless abundence is drying up. I’ve been veering off of kdramas and watching a handful of jdramas, twdramas, and cdramas. Mostly it just feels as if the material that was produced for 2011 is boring and recycled. Cheers to being optimistic for 2012!
    On a sidenote: Maybe im just becoming pickier and should try to lower my expectations to avoid disappointment T.T

  25. awesomeness review! thanks.

    i haven’t watched girl k and some of the dramas you have mentioned here. i was happy tho that i am not the only person who is not completely sold out with secret garden. yes! i am one of them… *hides*. likewise, with all the hype on city hunter, it just didn’t get through me. i mentioned my reasons on your previous post on irrational impediments. :)

    i just finished downloaded cyhmh and told softy i am giving it a try… but after reading irrational impediments and your review here… hehehe i am having doubts.

    • Oh, you SHOULD watch it. Don’t let me put you off. At one level I really like CYHMH and I can totally understand its addictive qualities. I just couldn’t stand the lead couple, which is a very personal problem, and I’m quite sad about it because it meant that I just couldn’t throw myself into the show. And this is the type of heart-felt show that you need to get into, not just gloss over.

  26. Huh. So this is why I don’t read reviews outside of DB. Skimmed through the whole thing. Anyway, it’s really a matter of taste. Thank you for the effort though. Good luck finding a drama you’ll like next year.

    • Hi arn,

      If you read the whole review instead of skimming through it, you’ll realize that Serendipity did love some of the 2011 dramas. Quite passionately too, I might add.

      By the way, I’ll let my friend javabeans know that you do not read any reviews outside of her site. Not sure if she’ll see that as a compliment, though. :D

      • I like JB (&GF’s):
        1. Writing style – the best
        2. Tone (for me, has more impartiality and diplomacy for a blog; some writers are too sweet and some too grouchy/grumpy)
        3. They can be funny, witty, sarcastic, and they make sense so even if they dislike a drama that I do like, I don’t get offended
        4. The site’s the most user-friendly and pretty too

        I actually read the first few dramas she reviewed and I got the impression that it’s full of complaints so I skimmed through the rest. I don’t like to listen to people who are not satisfied and so picky about the smallest things. And vocal about it. Overall, I it had a pessimistic feel to it that I don’t like. But I give her points for her honesty and speaking her own…mind.

        And it’s really a matter of taste. Yes, she did love some 2011 dramas. Good for her. One thing I’m quite happy about, she didn’t love LTM too. *shudders*

        Hey, at least I do read your yearly reviews @ DB’s site (and this year’s controversial mash-up recap too). I rarely read posts from guest recappers @ DB unless I really, really like the drama (like SKKS) even if I’m not a fan of the writing. I also go to other kdrama blogs once in a while (like here) to check if I like it better than the last time. Anyway, looking forward to your review @ DB if there is one this year. ;)

        • dramabeans may be my best source for kdrama news as introduced by my student, but with kdrama reviews my vote is with thundie. ive been a kdrama addict since 2005 and found some great dramas through thundie. and im forever grateful.:)

      • Oh, you can also tell JB the reasons why I rarely read anything outside of her site. I’m sure I’m not the only one. ;) Happy holidays!

        • Well, well. Condescending much?

          When you sign up to do reviews, the first thing that is required is to take off the rose colored glasses. The second is to not worry about offending people.

          If we all liked the same things, or wrote the same way, the world would be boring. However, I think you’ll find that the consensus of the reviews for this year is that it’s been a pretty lousy year in k-dramaland.

          Since the motto here at Thundie’s is “waxing poetic (or whining piteously) about Korean dramas and movies” that’s what you get when you walk in the door here. Enjoy your time here and at DB’s, but don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

        • if you don’t read anything outside DB, then why are you here?

          a little respect goes a long way… you can disagree with the article without being UGH about it…

      • It’s safe to say that serendipity too just skimming over some dramas she reviewed, which means she’s not that different from arn no?

        • Uh, Serendipity stated her opinions with honesty, intelligence, and respect. She spent a great deal of time and effort on them. Arn, on the other hand, was rude, condescending, and hilariously passive aggressive – and for no discernible reason whatsoever. Where then, lies the similarity?

        • Dear yyy,

          Brick-brats aside, you do raise an interesting point: Yes, I admit I didn’t watch to the end many shows which I reviewed, which seems to breach an unwritten rule round bloggy parts that a reviewer can only review a show if every minute of the show has been watched. I used to subscribe to this rule, which is the main reason I finished the shows I didn’t like this year — just so that when I review them no one could jump up and yell, “But you have no right to say that, you didn’t watch the last six episodes!”.

          But y’kow what? Life is too short.

          Also, I have looked down my list of all dramas ever watched: Number of dramas which I didn’t like after two episodes, but when I watched all episodes I changed my mind and went, “Oh, it has quality after all, I just couldn’t see it when I sampled two episodes: I must change my review to be gushing instead of grumpy.”: ZERO. (Whereas, the opposite, i.e., a show I like for a few episodes but tanked towards the end — rather a lot.) So, statistically (and logically), I’m just not convinced that watching a show to its bitter end is going to make me a less grumpy reviewer. A person with a less functional life, probably, but not a better reviewer, I don’t think.

          Cheers!

        • Just to clarify, my first comment was actually to reply thundie’s ” If you read the whole review instead of skimming through it…” I just think the same comment should apply to serendipity (i.e if you watch the whole episodes of a drama instead of skimming it..)

          But hey, serendipity has answered my comment so I have nothing to say. Just like she said, life is too short for drama/review you don’t particularly care rite?

          • The “you must finish a drama to review it properly” mantra is one of the most overused cop-outs of people of rather lackadaisical critical discernment. Ever asked yourself why a food critic can judge a dish with a few bites, why wine critics only needs a few sips, or a professional TV critic a few episodes to offer a proper appraisal of what they’re presented with? They’ve built a critical base they can go back to whenever they spot patterns. For something as patterned and often formulaic as Korean dramas, anyone with sufficient experience in the field will spot those patterns pretty early on and won’t need to finish the show to understand where it will go. That is what they call discernment. I haven’t seen a single reviewer possessing it argue against the fact that 2-3 episodes are enough to judge a show. Watch Korean dramas for 20 years like some people, and you might only need a half hour. By abiding by such mantras, you’re only discrediting yourself, and suggesting you are part of that crowd which prefers swooning over actually trying to understand what makes a show work. Or not. Everything else is hot air.

            • I’m going to disagree somewhat and say that there is a lot of value into finishing something. Absolutely agree that it only takes an episode or two to get a general feel — if it’s going to be crap or going to be brilliant, say. But a show that’s going strong, only to careen off a cliff at the end? Or a show that displays a thematic cohesiveness as a whole that you might ignore by only seeing one hour? Or a show that may be flawed but makes interesting use of theme/time/character/relationships? Those things may not endear a show to you any more on a personal level, but there’s value to recognizing a drama as a complete work, not just a first impression. Then again, you probably lump me into the category of those who “swoon” and lack discernment, so there’s that.

              As for me, I confess I’ll find a review more credible when the drama is watched fully. ‘s just the way it goes. But it doesn’t mean an opinion based on a short first impression merits dismissal, either. I like taking in all opinions, but they get filtered differently.

              As for the other comment, I hope it isn’t ruining the party too much here. I appreciate the thought behind it, and hope to see you ’round Dramabeans. But it’s really too small a world (and too short a life, as Serendipity sez) to be pitting blog versus blog. We’re all doing our thing, sharing the love, and appealing to different sensibilities. No reason we can’t all exist without being held up to each other for meeting some invisible, random standard of scrutiny.

            • - A show that’s going strong careening off towards the end is often more a result of intangibles that the producers often have little control over. Take 비밀의 화원 doing perfectly fine until Park Shin-Yang began his primadonna shenanigans which eventually led to the show’s downfall, or the heinous behind-the-scene drama that destroyed 왕과 나 from within (despite its respectable coda). You can easily go from 8 to 6, especially in this environment. The other way around? Not possible, if not for a few remote exceptions confirming the rule. You have months (two, in most cases) to give it your best shot, and today’s dramas are produced exactly to maximize that initial impact. If already by the first half hour the editing is lousy, the acting is terrible, the narrative structure already shows visible gaps… yeah. Let’s say you bring a 3 up and end around the 5 after months of struggles. You can carry on until the end and commend the makers on their effort. The show is still bad, though. You’re still wasting your time, which could be focused on highlighting finer works. You’re the queen of your own free time. As for me, I have no time for mediocrity. Some will call it being a snob, others using your time more efficiently.

              - How many shows today are allowed to show thematic cohesiveness that goes beyond a 2 to 4 episode mini-story? Outside of the Kim Soo-Hyun, Jung Ha-Yeon, and Noh Hee-Kyung of the world, who have gained the privilege of more or less writing as they want to? But other than thematic cohesiveness that is removed from the context of the show’s production environment (like, “everything in this show is putrid, but whoa! The story kinda makes sense”), one should look at the whole picture from a macroscopic, all-encompassing point of view. Those microscopic appraisals you mention are only part of the story, and if the macro ain’t working, the micro can’t save it. It never can, unless you let go of certain elements of a critique which will make your appraisals easier on the eyes (or the mind), but not as compelling, objective, and of course credible.

              Do I have to sit through puerile mood swings that are only there to keep the masses awake to get to the meat of the story? Do I have to suffer the amateurish acting of people who should still be shaking their asses on some music show to be blessed by some modicum of logical clarity at the end? Must I be bombarded with incessant musical cues that only exist to pimp OST sales, or PPL that’s so intrusive as to actually become part of the story? And all to say that “everything in this show is putrid, but whoa! The story kinda makes sense”? I need 30 minutes. Sometimes 15.

              You have all the right in the world to single out the effort which might bring forth a certain thematic cohesiveness along the way, but if you let that become the entire leit motif of an appraisal, and leave everything else behind or downplay it, what you write stops being criticism. Because it doesn’t actually discern that there’s more to a drama than “this is kinda fun. Who cares if it’s amateur hour in every other aspect.”

              First impressions done my way can be controversial if one doesn’t put on his critical hat from minute one, but they’re based on 20 year old viewing patterns and come from a student of the game in all its – macro and microscopic – aspects. Before I click play, I come to the show knowing who’s shooting it, what he’s done before, what’s his style, how well he could or not match with the writer; I look at who does the music, what his track record is; the actors’ past roles, how prepared they can be for this kind of challenge; the environment in which the drama is shot, how it can affect its future, what bigger interests and ulterior motives are at play and how they affect the show; and a million other tiny intangibles. It takes me very little because I do this for every show, have been doing it for years. So when 30 minutes have passed, I have already started matching every input that comes my way with that “database,” with those patterns. With that kind of system, the subjective doesn’t really affect your appraisal that much, because the standards are objective. They’re very visible and not random at all, although that party line is easier to defend in friendly territory than out in the open, when devoid of all the vassals coming to your aid, obliviously pringing in the dark with their spears.

              Does it always work? Of course not. But it does most of the time. You want to compare and confront that with the teenager who drools over some actor’s abs or complacent swoonfests that look at insight like an unnecessary ornament, that’s your prerogative. It’s the Internet.

            • I think you’re conflating two points:

              (1) Anyone, absolutely anyone, has their prerogative to watch dramas any old way they wish. Far be it for any random internet stranger to say otherwise. 10 minutes, 10 hours, 50 hours, whatever. Everyone has their own way of doing things, and nobody has the right to tell them otherwise.

              (2) If you’re going to review a drama and put it out there for consumption, either to share your thoughts or help others or just rant into the wind, then I think it’s a different story. Watch 15 minutes and call it crap, fine. I’ll read that, mull it over for about 2 seconds, and file that away as a snap judgment. Watch half a drama, I’ll pay more attention. Both those opinions hold much less water, however, than a reviewer who watched the whole thing and put some thought into why it did or didn’t work as a whole. Who knows, maybe you don’t care about what readers think… but if you’re writing something in the first place, surely the reading thereof is half of the equation? It’s gotta be, otherwise the whole thing is futile, no?

              That’s all I’m saying.

            • And who’s ever reviewed dramas after watching 15 minutes?
              Besides, credibility is everything. You can watch a show down to the post-ending credit commercials, but if you have zero credibility it’s all, as you say, futile. I’ll take a credible viewer’s snap judgment over a clueless’ one full review, thank you.

            • Addendum (to avoid any misunderstanding): what I’ll write about a show after a viewing that is less than the show’s completion, maybe in a year end review, is not a full review, but an informed judgment. 15 minutes or 20 hours, it’s still informed. Because of that system. Any “then how do you know whether it’ll get better or not”-style rebuttals have no meaning. Because if what I read about the show makes me thing I’m wrong, I go back to it, no qualms about it. It rarely happens, but still….

              Reviews, I’ll always and only review something I’ve seen in its entirety. It’s only fair.

            • I’ve seen ‘em. If not 15 minutes, then 1 episode.

              The question is: How does one get to be credible with snap judgments all the time? On the flipside, I don’t think a viewer who puts time and effort into a full review is entirely without a clue.

              But that’s where we differ.

    • Boy, doesn’t that feel like a Super Juinor cheerleading drone suddenly finding herself at a Herbie Hancock concert….

      “Wh… Why isn’t he dancing? I want mah mommy~ ㅠ_ㅠ”

    • Is Serendipity supposed to be honored that you decided to bestow her and TP with your gracious condescension?
      Serendipity put a lot of thought and care into her very well-written review. Even if you disagree with her opinions, the least you could do is read the whole thing, and comment respectfully. Or, you know, not at all. No one would be upset.

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