Yeona’s and Bladey’s choices: Best 2013 Dramas/ Actors/ OST and others

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It’s December so it’s time to drag a line and share what we loved this year when it comes to the drama world and more. Santa has many gifts for us : at least three new kdramas: Man from the stars, Miss Korea, The Prim Minister and I. 

But first let’s see if there was at least “one of a kind” drama during January- November:

Yeona’s choices:

  • Best Dramas:

My Daughter Seo- young

Broadcast period: 2012-Sep-15 to 2013-Mar-03

Synopsis

Era where the phrase “Blood is thicker than water” is no longer a truth. Now we live the society where the environment determines the class. Therefore, children can blame their parents since it’s not the children who get to choose the parents. However, they have forgotten that most children grow consuming unconditional love from their parents. Seo Young, by choosing to cut off her cable with her incompetent and troublesome father, tries to get out of her misery. This drama tells you that a family is tied not only by blood but also by love, through Seo Young’s story. Let’s look back preciousness of parents’ love through Lee Sam Jae, the father of Seo Young. (source: dramawiki)

Short Review (no spoilers): I don’t really like family dramas, especially korean ones: too many birth secrets or frustrated ajummas. If we don’t have those, there is revenge or melodrama, tragedy or a Cinderella, the prince and pauper and other 1000 things. Guess what: My Daughter Seo-young has its own clichés too, but I would like to mention some details that make the difference: you can relate to the characters (all of them!), the story is easy to follow but it doesn’t lack complexity; the second and supporting characters have a life so they don’t meddle too much in other people’s business. The actors do an excellent job in expressing their emotions and that gives the story a realistic feeling. Some might say that at some point the story is dragged but I think that it is a method to balance all the events in order to deliver a proper ending. It has 50 episodes, a bit scary if you are used to short dramas, but once you start it, I don’t think you will care anymore because you will be too addicted to it. 😉 A little hint: even if it is a long drama, the main characters don’t need 20 freaking episodes to figure out why their hearts beat stronger than ever. How awesome is that?

Favorite characters: Lee Seo-young for her stubbornness and dignity, Sang-woo for his unconditional support for his sister, Woo-jae for his sense of responsability and the way he always tried to protect the ones he loves, Ho Jung because she never gave up no matter what, Choi Min-suk for his funny scenes, Sung-jae for his innocence.

  • Story: 10
  • Acting/Cast: 10
  • Music: 7
  • Rewatch value: 9
  • Overall: 9,5/10

Sword and Flower

Broadcast period: 2013-Jul-03 to 2013-Sept-05

Synopsis

A historical action drama set in the Goguryeo period. The daughter of King Young Ryu of Goguryeo, Moo Young falls in love with Yeon Choong, son of Yeon Gae So Moon who kills her father. Moo Young is torn apart between love and revenge. – dramawiki

Short review (no spoilers): Considering that the story is nothing new, it’s easy to conclude that it would be a waste of time to watch it. Who doesn’t know Romeo and Juliet‘s love story? How many times can you watch the same thing over and over again? But what makes this drama different is that it is an artistic version. It is like a poem without rhymes, hard to understand at first, but if you pay attention, if you have an open mind and heart, then you will get its message. The message of this drama might not be on everyone’s taste but it’s not impossible to be accepted or understood. It has flaws and it can be annoying sometimes, especially because of a certain character-*cough* Nam Saeng *cough* (I just can’t refrain myself not to mention him), but overall I think it is the most underrated drama of 2013. It was so beautiful that I watched it twice. I wanted to see again that authentic love between the main characters, their perfect chemistry. I wanted to see again all those little details, the magnificent directing. I liked the revenge theme too but I don’t think that it was 100% legitimate.

Favorite characters: Yeon Choong for his endless love, devotion and sincerity,  Yeon Gaesomun because he wasn’t only a general but also a father figure.

  • Story: 9,5
  • Acting/Cast: 9,5
  • Music: 9
  • Rewatch value: 9
  • Overall: 9/10

Favorite quotes: 

  1. Friendships are a weakness.
  2. The enemies of yesterday are the friends of today.
  3. There are only two roads in life: one you must follow and one you most avoid.
  4. You can make your own destiny.
  5. The sword must be used to protect the flower.
  • Great dramas:

I Hear Your Voice

A thriller courtroom drama with fantasy and romantic comedy elements.

That Winter Wind Blows

A melodrama about a man and a blind woman who don’t believe in love.

Reply 1994

It follows the pop culture events of that year, including the emergence of seminal K-pop group Seo Taiji and Boys and the Korean Basketball League.

p.s: It’s better than Reply 1997.

Itazura na kiss- Love in Tokyo

A highschool drama about first love.

  • Special mention: Short dramas:

Legal high SP

 My friend is still alive

Never Give Up, Dodo

Nara’s Rain

Eunguk and the Ugly Duckling

duck

  • Actors of the year:

Uhm Tae Woong (Sword and Flower)

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Choi Min-Soo (Sword and Flower)

pizap.com13788175744851

Lee Sang Yoon (My Daughter Seo-young)

pizap.com13800868791051

Jung Woo (Reply 1994)

pizap.com13854725940791

  • Actresses of the year:  
  1. Lee Bo Young (My Daughter Seo-young, I Hear Your Voice)

pizap.com13848583676321

2.  Jung Eun Chae (Nobody’s Daughter Hae-Won, Nara’s Rain)

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  • Best new actor:
  1. Kang Minhyuk (Heirs)

pizap.com13854504396651

Best OST: 

  1. When a man loves
  2. Cheongdamdong Alice
  3. Sword and Flower
  4. Fabulous boys
  5. Love Around
  6. Garasu no Ie
  7. Cruel city
  8. That Winter wind blows
  9. Monstar
  10. Reply 1994
  11. Shark
  12. Heirs 

Other things I enjoyed this year:

Movies:

  • My Paparotti
  • Miracle in cell no. 7
  • So Young

Variety shows:

  • 1 night 2 days season 2
  • Happy together 3

Kpop albums:

  • Beast- How to love, hard to love
  • T-ara- Again (+ Again 1977)
  • Trouble maker- Chemistry
  • Noel- Trail

Non-Asian tv series:

  • Suits

Non-Asian movies:

  • The way way back
  • The heat
  • The internship
  • The bling ring
  • Identity thief
  • Elysium

Books:

  • A night on the Orient Express by Veronica Henry
  • The Rosie Project by Simsion Graeme
  • Dear Mr. Knightley by Reay Katherine


Bladey’s Post Scriptum

I have not had much time to devote to  dramas over the last year.  Out of the ones I have seen, however, my indisputable Drama of the Year 2013 is Tonbi. It’s a heart robber!

tonbi_dramaStory
This is a story of a journey of a kite and a hawk. The story of a father who was called “kite” and son who was called “hawk”. But which one was actually the “kite”  and which one was the hawk? The drama is based on the best-selling same-titled novel by Shigematsu Kiyoshi. It tells the story of how a widowed father brought up his only son. Having grown up without his parents around, Yasu himself knows next to nothing of what parenting is about. “With nothing but love for his son… that’s all there is” – TBS (source: dramawiki)

Comment:
This is an amazingly endearing story which extends the 2012 special drama with Tsutsumi Shinichi to a regular drama and does so beautifully. Both dramas stand alone on their own merits, but Tonbi 2013 excells at creating the warm-hearted ambience. It is reminiscent in many ways of the good tradition of Studio Ghibli movies. The very first episode is like mini Studio Ghibli movie. The cast is excellent. It’s probably one of Uchino Masaaki’s better roles in a TV drama. The beauty lies in that very tangible bond between the father and the son and a sense of growing understanding between them.  Moreover, there are great supporting characters. This is Japanese TV at its best.

Quotes: It’s said that loneliness accumulates slowly like  faling snow and freezes the heart solid before you know it. That’s why parents have to be the ocean. Be the ocean and keep on smiling. Because snow doesn’t accumulate on the ocean.

Other Picks:

  • The King of indeksDramas – 2013 began with the ending of this  really good drama on making dramas featuring very strong character base and lots of humour. Anthony Kim is a hard character to forget. I’ve had a lot of fun discussing the controversial ending. For me, the ending was justified in many ways. A character like Kim who was construcintng himself as a fictional character all his life was given a chance to live a life more true to himself just then. It was also a punishment well worthy of his previous actions: it’s much more difficult to live the way he was supposed to  after the finale. But there is nothing weak about the ending of this drama. It was well-written, had two dramas in one essentially. The writer skillfully combined the comic and the serious, making King of Dramas one of the most enjoyable Korean dramas to come out in recent years.
  • That Winter the Wind Blows – eyecandy visuals, plotwise not always very strong. Characters’ stances and motivations are particularly debatable and I felt they were not always consistent. In short there is some discrepancy between story and production values. Also side characters did not always coontribute very meaningfully to events in the story. However, the ending was done in a very interesting way and I think it was an excellent idea. It left a lot of room for interpretation and it was part of the fun of watching this drama. Great performances.
  • Sword and Flower  a saeguk which pays attention to camerawork to convey the feelings of characters. A genuine RomeoXJuliet story featuring a very strong Juliet. Kim Ok Bin is a discovery for me, she feels very authenthic. I think Yeona’s post explains why Sword and Flower is a very good saeguk. What is amazing is how consistent the director was. Despite low ratings, they kept doing what they thought was best. Even though it hasn’t paid off in terms of ratings, it was a very good drama. Except perhaps for the first episode which was too experimental. They were doing too much with camera to the point that I found it objectionable but it later settled down. I also agree with Yeona that General Yeon Gaesomun was quite the character. There were shots in which the drama clearly aimed to to be personal and intimate to capture the emotions of the characters.  Moments of long silences were used for similar reasons.  This is the kind of thing that may come across as pretentious as an excercise in directing vision but I felt the story was justified to use these.
  • Speaking of Saeguks, Horse Doctor also deserves a mention because of the main character who was so effortlessly portrayed by Jo Seung-Wo. Horse Doctor was a really likeable saeguk with some really nice side characters, such as Master Sa-m. Kwanghyon is an underdog type we like to encourage. The story had a good flow with some interesting arcs towards the middle of the series (training abroad), but the behaviour and motivations of the antagonist was a little too childish. I understand that he was not supposed to be a typical villain- and that’s a good thing- but his presence was not really very strong at all in either of the aspects. He ended up being terribly wishy-washy.  I also felt Lee Yeo Won was not particularly fitting for her role- maybe this is because I got so used to her playing Deokman that it was difficult for me to disassociate her from Queen SeonDuk. Overall, Horse Doctor was not uninteresting. It was also likeable all throughout, but….there were too many useless flashbacks and inconsistencies; the screenwriter lost track of some things and tried to fool the viewers by using the flashbacks. But the story did have likeable characters and Jo Seung Wo did his work very well of course. The drama is not a winner and we’ve seen many such stories before but it was likeable and Jo Seung Wo promoted himself to wider audiences. A good thing considering his natural acting ability.
  • Hanzawa Naoki tight, fast-paced plot dealing with corrupted bankers and fighting against the establishment. Great character base and award-winning acting from Sakai Masato. It seems good times have come to this actor after years of climbing to the top. I say good for him, he;s been getting some interesting roles as of late. This drama has garnered a lot of well-deserved accolades.

Nine-Nine-Times-Time-Travel-korean-dramas-34521124-1280-720 Other enjoyable dramas this year that I have seen included All about my Romance, a pretty fun romcom with really good cast and Nine times Time Travel. I was quite impressed with the imagination of the writer of Nine Times time Travel, but time travel mechanism was not as interesting or as difficult as in an anime called Steins; Gate. However, within the genre of korean All-About-My-Romance-Poster-1dramas, Nine time times Travel is an entertaining time travel series. As always with Korean dramas, it becomes a little overdone. Moreover, pacing is a little uneven. I think the drama would have been better with 16 episodes instead of 20. The ending was very good, however, once more leaving a lot of room for interpretation.  Also, the writer was quite skilfull in combining a lot of different genres. There was space given to romantic comedy, a lot of the story was typical Korean melodrama but with a time travel twist. I have to say the writer seems to have a very through vision and command ove rthe story and overall this one was far more interesting that any other Korean time travel dramas to date.

The development and progress in All About my Romance were quite good. It’s a rare feature in Korean romcoms, which have a tendecy to be fragmentary and skip over development in favour of cheap “drama”- unfortunately this kind of thing tends to sell, because substance and meticulous storytelling are considered “boring”. Hence among Korean series there is a proliferation of  dramas that offer merely “cheap thrills” without much substance to them. They focus too much on the eycandy, neglecting the essence to a large extent.

Some of the worst dramas of the year illustrate my point.

2344222-2040381-thorsay_thee_nay_3_super
One  such drama of 2013  is, to me, Secret Love.

Story: A devoted woman makes the ultimate sacrifice for her boyfriend, only to learn that love doesn’t always conquer all. Yoo Jeong (Hwang Jeong Eum) is a sweet, upbeat person who has always stuck by her boyfriend, Ahn Do Hoon (Bae Soo Bin), all through school as he cared for a disabled father. But Do Hoon gets into a car accident that results in the death of a woman. Unable to face her boyfriend having to go to jail for a hit-and-run accident, the self-sacrificing Yoo Jeong takes the blame for the accident and serves time in prison in his place. Min Hyeok (Ji Sung), a cold-hearted heir to a business empire, had just begun to open his heart to a woman when she is killed in the hit-and-run accident. Years later, he is engaged to Shin Se Yeon (Lee Da Hee), a congressman’s daughter. Can Yoo Jeong and Min Hyeok mend their wounded hearts and discover the real meaning of love? (Source: Viki)

Secret_Love-pCommentEverything about this drama i found to be cliche without substance or underlying thought. Features a thoroughly childish plot and character motivations which are superficially presented and glossed over for the sake of drama.  It was all about stalking. Our main character is an utterly self-sacrificing noble idiot. I don’t have a problem with that per se…except that it leads to decisions and situations we’ve all seen before and it doesn’t even try to go deeper.  The drama follows every cliche in the book. Secret Love is the type of drama that could permanently discourage me from watching Korean dramas. It’s just overdramatic without properly sensible justifications. The only redeeming feature was the charming Ji Sung but he’s had better roles in, say, Kim Soo Ro.

I’m sorry but practically every scene in this drama called for rolling of the eyes, starting from the behaviour of the main girl’s “fiance”, who is our very cloched semi-villain,  through the stalking obsession of Ji Sung’s character.  It’s all about loving to hate and hating to love here. I grew tired of the schema very quickly.

Oh and yes… speaking of poor dramas that are based on schemas that sell… Hong Sisters come back with yet another romcom (they are tireless in reproducing templates that sell;  year after year they cme back with a rehashed story…). The drama is called “Master’s Sun” and the story (or lack of thereof) is about this cold-hearted rich guy (of course!) and a girl who is able to see and communicate with ghosts. 

masters-sun-official-poster-1“Master’s Sun” shows how lazy the Hong sisters are as storytellers. Or, to frame it more gently, how difficult writing under pressure may be.  They do not only remake other films or series they also copy themselves and their own characters. So Ji Sub wanted to act in a romcom- why not choose a different title?  His character is practically 100% the same as that of Cha Seung Won in “The Greatest Love”. The same manner of behaving, even the same facial expressions (or lack thereof).  The only good thing about Master’s Sun were the ghosts and their stories, that’s something that worked quite well. But there was next to none character development for the main characters. The story is very artificial in this sense; Hong sister really aren’t very skilled at providing deeper character motivations Or maybe they don;t feel motivated enough to do so because they think that  all the target audience wants are cutesy smiles and idols. All Hong sisters do is copy schemas that they think sell…and which do sell in the end. In this way they give bad name to Korean romcoms. Romcoms can be more ambitious. See, for instance  Wilder’s “The apartment” with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine or  Hawks’ “Bringing Up Baby” with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. Heck, “Goodbye girl” is a very good romcom with some wtty dialogue. Even All About my Romance was pretty good for a Korean romcom, especially in contrast to Master’s Sun.

I did enjoy two of their old romcoms- Delightful girl choonhyang and My girlfriend is a Gumiho. But as time goes by, the sisters start repeating themselves more and more, their dramas get old very fast. They just lack the skill or willingness to put in an effort to create more inspired stories and for me their names have come to signify the poor quality of Korean romcom genre.  Unfortunately.  But viewers may like Master’s sun for its genre mix and ghost stories. It felt like they were remaking Chilling Romance this time and that’s fine. The ghost stories were not bad.  But the overall story is very disappointing…that is,  it’s the usual, very limited, standard for Hong sisters.  One note about Gong Hyo Jin- I don’t particularly like her for her skill but the plus about her is that in contrast to most Korean actresses, her characters always look less glamorous, more normal. I like that she tends to stand in sharp contrast to all the glamorous looking characters. Even in Master’s Sun this kind of contrast can be appreciated.

I guess it all comes down to expectations. It’s difficult to keep all viewers satsified at all times. The post is not to suggest that writers are to be blamed for the failures of dramas. No.  It is never only the writer who is responsible for the drama. There is a whole chain of decisions being made behind the approval of the script and shooting the drama. Writers do what they can, ultimately it’s seems that it’s a conjencture of time, pressure, bad r good decisions that lead to the creation of the drama as a product we can evaluate and deem to our taste or not. That’s why posts like this one may seem funny. But they only reflect a perspective. This perspective takes into account the drama as a finished product, as an end-product resulting from those decisions of the writers, producers and directors working on the show.  I will look forward to new season of dramas despite the many gripes I tend to have with them.

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