Was it six years ago? A man and a woman at night, she bleeding from a wound on her shoulder, he tending so gently to the wound. Their voices are as soft as the breeze is light. As they walk home afterwards, cherry blossoms flutter around them, like a million pink and white lights aglow in the dark.
Even now, six years later, I can’t speak of my first sageuk (Korean historical or period drama) without a lump suddenly forming in my throat. Damo changed my life, literally flinging me over the edge into the depths of kdrama addiction. It marked the beginning of a love affair that has continued to grow; both my top movie and drama are period ones and I don’t see any other genre coming along to topple them, in the foreseeable future or otherwise.
Damo stayed at the top of my favorites list for a long time, but the day finally came when I had to sadly acknowledge that another drama would take its place. So it has been, this game of musical chairs, this rotation of faves and favored. I’m not alone. One of the contributors to this post sent me this note along with her picks: “I RESERVE THE RIGHT TO CHANGE MY MIND.” (See how passionate we sageuk fans are? Haha.)
So here we are, a special post on my favorite genre. Six dear friends, all familiar names in the Kdrama community, responded enthusiastically to my invitation to participate in this poll of sorts. Nine categories in all (because it’s obvious thundie can’t count; she thought she listed ten), with picks that I’m sure will delight or dismay you. Wrapping up the post is a hilarious and insightful look at how sageuk and wuxia stack up against each other.
Many thanks (and cups of coffee) to ockoala (who wrote the sageuk/wuxia piece), dahee, dramaok, hjkomo, javabeans and His Grumpiness misterX. All of you inspire me every day to be a more discerning viewer.
One of the things that I hope to do consistently on Thundie’s Prattle is to share my love for dramas (and movies) that tend to slip under people’s radars. Gems that have burrowed into my heart even though they may have poor ratings and are rarely talked about. These little or obscure dramas may not boast a star-studded cast, but they wow me with their superlative writing and move me with the heartfelt performances. All of them make me laugh and cry.
Since it’s getting increasingly difficult to find download links (or DVD releases) for these dramas, I’ve decided to start a series called Treasure Trove. I hope you enjoy Part 1!
The children wait expectantly, one of them more eager than the rest. A childless couple is coming to the orphanage that day, purportedly to check out a child to adopt, although in reality the wife is reluctant, insisting she will one day conceive. So what if ten years of trying have produced only tears and a bitter resolve? But the husband is adamant, so to the orphanage they go.
Already identified for them is a young boy, Hong Eun-sub (Kang Ji-sub). If the couple picks him, Eun-sub’s life will change forever, for the couple is a pair of professors, learned and rich. But in the end they choose another child, a girl whose tear-stained face caught their eyes, whose death-grip hug took the woman by surprise. And so they leave, with Kim Han-suk. All Eun-sub can do is throw himself on the ground, his anguished cries echoing through the orphanage.
Kim Han-suk is renamed Shin Do-young (Shim Eun-kyung) and for a while everything is perfect. Her new parents dote on her; isn’t she their only child, after all? But shortly after, the mother discovers she is pregnant. Overwhelmed that her cherished dream will soon become reality, the mother says aloud to her husband (and within Do-young’s earshot) that they should not have hurried to adopt.
The arrival of the baby girl, Ji-young, means Do-young is now an afterthought for her mother. Not a day passes where she is not made aware that she is less loved and wanted. Her sister owns all of their mother’s heart and all Do-young can do is watch with growing resentment… until one day when a reckless impulse leads her to do the unthinkable.
If Gyeongsuk, Gyeongsuk’s Father (2009) is a forerunner for what we can expect from Korean dramas this year, then 2009 looks like it’s going to be a great year. At least streets better than the dismal pickings of 2008.
Set during the turbulent years of the Korean War, this four-episode drama is a delightful surprise. Extremely funny but also suspenseful, quirky but also sad, affecting but disturbing, it is a perfect concoction of comic and tragic. I lost count of the number of times I burst out laughing, squealed even. Or the times my heart pounded, afraid for the characters’ well-being.
The antics of Jung Bo-seok, playing a rascally and irresponsible father, further entrench him as one of my favorite actors. Although his conduct is reprehensible indeed (abandoning his family in the middle of the war), just like Jung Bo-seok’s characters in Shin Don and La Dolce Vita, it is impossible to hate Jo Jeolgu. He is tremendously flawed, yes, but he still manages to make me shed tears for him. That is the power of Jung Bo-seok’s acting.
But the best acting in the drama comes from someone who is only one-third of Jung Bo-seok’s age. Playing his daughter, Shim Eun-kyung is magnificent as Jo Gyeongsuk. She is the heart of the drama, the one her mother depends on, the one sent out to search for her missing dad. Smart as a whip and more mature than some of the adults in the drama, yet never letting us forget for a moment that she is still a young girl who gets easily afraid and hurt, Shim Eun-kyung is a joy to behold. Put daughter and father together in a scene and watch the sparks fly!
Let’s revisit the first episode of Gyeongsuk, Gyeongsuk’s Father, a shoo-in for my Top Five dramas of the year.
What is Gyeongsuk holding and why is she all sweaty?