Why am I late with my 2011 reviews? You may be asking yourself this question, and I have the answer: 2011 just ended about 72 hours ago, depending on your locale, and I refuse to compare and contrast dramas that are not complete yet. I also had to take a little bit of time to think things over and ring in the New Year. All of that is now done, and here are my reviews for 2011.
The Quickies: Short Dramas of 1-10 Episode Length, Part 1
Short dramas, what I personally term a “quickie” or “filler” drama, have the beauty of being short and, hopefully, to the point. These are dramas that can be squeezed into a lunch-hour, a lazy Sunday afternoon, or a sick day at home in bed. Without a prolonged time commitment, these dramas generally are not watched on the day they air, but selected as filler dramas in my life when it is convenient for me to have a “quickie”.
The Daughters of the Club Bilitis
I am going to start with a drama that I did not get to watch, The Daughters of Club Bilitis.
I missed this one because it aired one fine Sunday and by Tuesday was a ghost, spiriting away like the wind and open minds. Kudos to Han Go Eun (Hwa Young in Me, Too, Flower, and Vivian Castle from A Man Called God), Kim Hye Ok (mom from Scent of a Woman), Choi Ran (mom to Jae Hee in Delightful Girl Choon Hyang and aunt in two Hong Sisters dramas, You’re Beautiful and My Girl), Min Ji Ah (of Chuno and Green Rose), Oh Se Jung (Do Hee from I’m Glad I Loved You), Ahn Ji Hyun (making her debut) and Jin Se Yun (The Duo and It’s Okay, Daddy’s Girl) for taking on the roles of 3 lesbian couples living in Seoul. Go underground to find this one, and when you do, let me know where it is, I want to watch it. I am equal parts admiration and frustration for KBS, who funded and aired this one-episode drama, but then yanked it nearly as soon as it hit the viewers at home, deluged by a public not yet ready for this topic.
The Beeper, aka Page Me
A telecom company has ruthless tactics to eliminate pagers from their network, lying to customers to give up their contracts in the one-episode drama, The Beeper. One customer on Tongyeong Island is the sole holdout for ten years, so slick operator he-always-gets-his-man Kim Gwangsu goes after Lee Hyeok to get that contract terminated. Veteran actor Ahn Suk Hwan sleazes his way into The Beeper (one of five dramas for him this year) and takes you on a journey of the average salaryman, love lost and found, and how to move on in life. This one is worth a watch and widely available subtitled, from KBS and also called Page Me.
Dream of 400 Years
Almost my best-of-category drama in the Quickies, Dream of 400 Years is a fantastical romance, or a romantic fantasy, or a mix of both with a touch of thriller and a well-trod plot-line, which should have sunk this dramaship. Instead, the good news is that a tightly-written, well-acted, finely-paced and precision-executed 2-1/2 hours later, you have watched good television. You will recognize lead actress Han Eun Jung as the witch from Full House or the divorcee from The Lawyers of the Great Republic of Korea: here she is fantastic.
If you do not like mummies haunting your dreams, skip this; otherwise, do not miss this drama, scare yourself a little, cry a bit, fall in love a lot. Widely available, Dream of 400 Years is another offering from KBS of two-episodes length.
Ever wanted to gamble with your life? Late for meeting his fiance, Lee Jae Sung (Lee Jang Woo) begins to track his beloved through a series of odd phone calls, leading him on a 3-day adventure he could not see coming. Human Casino is oddly lacking in a cohesive narrative in the first half of its one-episode length, but then brings itself sharply into focus in the very middle of the drama, only to get fuzzy again. Wrapped up too neatly at the end, there are no standouts in acting here, which is such a shame in a drama slated as a thriller. Watch Human Casino, on offer from KBS, not for its actual self, but for the ideas its story-line presents.
I did not get to watch Terminal: it is yet another drama I searched for in vain. If you find it, let me know, I would have loved to have watched it and reviewed it, mostly because of Kim Sung Oh, who was in an amazing 6 dramas in 2011; you might recognize him as Joo Won’s hapless assistant in Secret Garden (or from Midas, Man of Honor, Sign – the list is long).
Hello, Handsome, flash a badge at me! The backbone of Identical Criminals is the brotherhood of cops, in particular, partners. This drama explores both sides: the corrupt and the incorruptible, as a serial killer is being hunted. Lee Ji Hoon and Lee Sung Min put in solid performances you would expect of veterans, with Lee Hee Joon well-cast in his role. Of special note is the key eye-witness in this drama, Sang-mi, played by Shin Da Eun, currently in both Lights and Shadows and If Tomorrow Comes, in supporting roles. She is ready for a breakout role. Watch Identical Criminals because it is a solid one-episode crime show from KBS.
What starts out with so much potential to be a heartwarming tale of a few of life’s down-and-out becoming a mismatched family does not quite pull itself together in Lethal Move. A cop (the elephant) and a former pro wrestler (the mouse) become roommates to save money for their families, who are studying abroad. Their housekeeper is raising her brother and working several odd jobs, one at a convenience store, where a rash of serial killings have been taking place. Lethal Move is not a complete waste of one episode, but watch it only if you really need a quick, short drama.
Linger, aka, Lingering Affection
Why do I review short dramas? Linger is one of the primary reasons, it was far-and-away the best tale of revenge for dramas of any length in 2011. A Chosun-era sageuk, our beautiful new gisaeng Cho Yeon falls in love with a poor yangban (noble), In Seong. Lord Min has already ear-marked the girl for himself, however, and thus begins our tale of possession and the possessed.
Compelling story-telling, tight writing, no cheating on production, actor Lee Chun Hee has never been better and Jan Shin Young is luminous. Linger is a must-watch drama.
Why torture us, K-entertainment? If you spend the $$$ on a short drama, then pack it full of goodness, like Mom’s double PB&J sandwiches in my lunch box that had the Tupperware® logo pressed into the bread from being that full to the lid. Unlike my Mom’s lunch-time diligence to make sure I got a hearty meal, the powers-that-be (PTB) seem to decide that short dramas can be short on the filling, short on the sweet, and even short one piece of the bread, for the most part.
While some Short Dramas can be edgy and try to feed us the latest haute cuisine, it always falls beneath expectations when true high quality production only means that the episodes were shot in high definition, or that a decent edgy story was shot in high definition, or that a decent edgy story with solid acting was shot in high definition … you see where I am going here, it must be the complete meal. Good plot, great writing, crisp editing, solid musical score, inspired acting and directing. all delivered by a well-rested, well-paid, energetic cast and crew: now THAT is high production quality. The PTB really need to try it out more, the Hallyu wave is beyond its infancy, well past its teen years, time to mature into adults here and get it right more often than not.
On that note, I’ll end Part 1 of The Quickies reviews. Back soon with Part 2. (By leonardswench)