Settling accounts with dramas halfway through the drama season

Summer dramas are slowly coming to an end, as fall begins to loom on the horizon. Or at least it will loom very soon. This drama  season  in k-dramas seem to have been a little underwhelming so far. The stories are mostly all half-baked; they don’t fully use their own potential. And all are tremendously overhyped. Where are the hidden gems this year? I have a feeling they are still out there, drowning out amidst the crowds.  I am still holding out some hope for It’s Okay That’s Love (which seems to be off to a strong start), Yeona’s Street and the saeguk Secret Door with Han Seok Kyu and Lee Je Hoon later this year. I am against remakes so Cantabile Romance, an upcoming Korean remake of the Japanese Nodame Cantabile, is not something I look forward to very eagerly.  Especially considering that the Japanese version is so entertaining and Koreans are bound to turn it into a melo romance. Anyway, I’m settling my score with some of the dramas in this post.

Prime Minister and I 

  • Broadcast period: 2013-Dec-09 to 2014-Feb-04
  • Synopsis: Kwon Yul, a South Korea’s youngest Prime Minister who is 100% capable in his work but 0% capable in parenting, he struggles in raising his 3 kids alone. Nam Da Jung, a young reporter who full of enthusiasm but always ends up missing big scoops. She accidentally gets into a scandal with Prime Minister and to keep his position, they get married. She enters his house and becomes a young affectionate mother to his kids like a Christmas present and that’s when the love story begins.PMAI3
  • My Rating: 7,0
  • Comment: As I said elswhere, I found the set up to be reminiscent of Arabian Nights, specifically Shecherezade trying to appease the Sultan. I enjoyed that part as the sort of age-gap marriage contract.  Yoonah is a likeable girl on screen, not always convincing but likeable.  Towards the later half, the story began to drop redundant bombs  that spoiled the narrative for me- there was the issue of the prime minister’s previous wife, for instance. However, I found the ending to be appropriate all in all. The kids were cute too.

Miss Korea  

  • Broadcast period: 2013-Dec-18 to 2014-Feb-26
  • Synopsis: A drama set in 1997, depicts a story of office men who try to make Oh Ji Young Miss Korea, in order to save their cosmetic company from bankruptcy. Oh Ji Young is elevator girl who was the most popular girl back in high school also the best looking girl in the neighborhood.

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  • My Rating: ~8.0
  • Comment: some good characters, good concept and ideas. This is from the team that did Pasta.It deals with beauty pageants but doesn’t glorify them. It’s not a story where beauty is a measure of worth.  It’s also a tale of friendship and hard work.  And, furthermore, it actually touches on the question of women being- or having the potential to be- more succesful or better situated in life than men.So actually the drama offers a bit of reversal of what the same screenwriter did in Pasta. Pasta was a romcom set in an inauthentic Italian restaurant- as some of my irate Italian friends commented- in which this bossy chef (Lee Sun Gyun ) ordered around a woman nicknamed goldfish. Goldfish stuck to the Chef like a glue and the two exchanged some banter. The biggest gripe that I had with Pasta was that the lead guy was essentially a control freak who made decisions about Goldfish’s future. This isn’t romantic; this is devastating. If I recall the final episodes right, Goldfish had a chance to go to Italy to train there but he held out on nominating her and instead sent one of the guys.  So, anyway, about Miss Korea. This dude, Lee Sun Gyun wants to help his old flame,  now a Miss elevator girl, played by Lee Yeon Hee, to become Miss Korea  and by helping her  he intends to help himself and his company. She agrees to help eventually.  I did like Lee Yeon Hee’s character since she’s not a doormat but a confident person with some fortitude. Lee Sun Gyun felt a little out of touch for me, though it improved later on.  But it’s the side characters that, again, drew my attention. It’s no secret, I said it before, for me most dramas have better side characters than main characters and Miss Korea only seals this rule. There is this gangster character (portrayed by  Lee Sung Min) who has a romance going on with the make-up technician. The make up technician is a PhD dedicated to studying. She developed a liking for his uneducated gangster character, but of course there are differences to discuss and compromise on: disparity in eduation and social status as well as personal pride. She still wants to continue to do research (lathough maybe it’s just an escape route), he wonders how on earth can anyone want to study beyond PhD and what’s there left to study. Well, there is always something left to study. Their scenes together are delightful.   It could have gone a little deeper perhaps but those two were oddly really entertaining and likeable. I liked the OST as well, it’s very pleasant and the background instrumental sound is, too. Sometimes I find it difficult to find instrumental ost that instead of being generic, actually tries to give the drama some personality. Here I can pretty much say that OST highlights and harmonizes with the character of the drama.  One thing is certain though: please  don’t ever again try to make a 40ish Lee Sun Gyun look like a school kid (in flashbacks to the past), it just doesn’t work.  Although he’s not much younger than Lee Sun Gyun, Joo Sang Wook would have been more convincing in a similar “younger look” type of thing, I believe.  His looks are somewhat softer than Lee Sun Gyun’s and besides he acted a similar “rejuvenated” role in Cunning Single Lady, which is what gives me the basis for my opinion.

Can We Love?

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  • Broadcast period: 2014-Jan-06 to 2014-Mar-11
  • Synopsis: A drama about love lives and careers of three women, who are in their late thirties, living their lives as divorced woman, a spinster, and a full-time housewife. Jung Wan (Eugene) is bubbly and forthright woman who divorces after ten years of marriage and moves in with her son to her mother’s house. Meanwhile, Jung Wan’s friends; Sun Mi (Kim Yoo Mi) is a happily single “gold miss” and Ji Hyun (Choi Jung Yoon) is a longtime housewife and mother of her teenage daughter and 5 year-old son. They will get involved with Oh Kyung Soo (Uhm Tae Woong), a bad tempered, self conceited but a skilled film director who has received several awards and Ahn Do Young (Kim Sung Soo), the CEO of a film company.
  • My Rating: 7,2
  • Comment: Uhm tae Wong Best Character- that’s it. He was far more relaxed than his usual straight-laced or determined heroes. I initially hated, but then came to appreciate, the well-meaning wife secret storyline, and I liked how her story actually ended. Her husband was not a bad man, if a bit too henpecked by his mother, but then again he tried to be a good son.  And the mother-in-law is quite harsh here. It felt like JiHyun, the overburdened wife,  had all the problems of all previous drama housewives on her shoulder-and then some. So  in her circumstances I actually could see why old flame had to be lit- it was a bit of a reminder and a way to chose between fantasy (of her past romance) and reality ( of her current marriage) and which path is the one she can love.  But then, they also added a secret daughter thing. Too much, way too much, though the idea was well-meaning, but on the surface it ended up being a story full of typical hysterics. So I think Ji Hyun’s story is a bit of a take-it-or-leave-it kind of story, one that can be either hated (for the hysterics and the kind of choices she makes) or appreciated (also for her choices).  The third woman I found to be  a sad and lonely woman, really.  On the upside, the drama did offer 3 stories in 1, but I liked the slice of lifey story involving UTW the most. The question posed in the title was good though and it was reflected in the drama since all characters were seeking ways to love and be loved. It was also about finding out  whether they are at all able to give and receive love. So not a bad drama at all- at least in its intention but execution of some parts could have been better, I do so believe.

Cunning Single Lady

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  • Broadcast period: 2014-Feb-27 to 2014-Apr-24
  • Synopsis: A romantic comedy about Na Ae Ra who dreams of meeting a white knight after getting divorced from Cha Jung Woo when his business failed, but as soon as he becomes a successful venture businessman, she tries to seduce him back while the ex-husband Cha Jung Woo tries to date her again to get revenge.
  • My Rating: 7,3
  • Comment: loved Joo Sang Wook and Lee Min Jung, but awfully clingy second leads  The rating would be higher if not for the second leads since this divorce story is both well cast and makes sense and the two leads are very loving. Their part was done  completely right. But the second leads, as usual, were not done right. As always they had to be an obnoxious nuisance.

Beyond the Clouds

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  • Broadcast period: 2014-Feb-17 to 2014-Apr-08
  • Synopsis: In the night of a glamorous jewel exhibition opening in Bangkok, a gun shot rang out. A young man and a young woman, who were reaching toward climax of life, are facing critically each other across the gun shot. Han Young Won is a fiance of a murdered one and Jung Se Ro is the one who is blamed for murdering Young Won’s fiance.
  • My Rating: 7,5
  • Comment: pleasant melodrama with a lyrical quality to it. Well-executed. Prominent theme is revenge as the two leads pit against each other, with some more complicated side characters (such as the gangster friend of the main lead) helping -or not- along the way. But beyond the clouds, there is an opening, a silver lining- and that idea woven into the hysterics shone through as really appealing. Will the characters find their silver lining in love, despite all the fatalism that separates them?  I was pleasantly surprised with the lead. I previously only saw him in Greatest Love, where he acted out a tremendous sleepyhead. Well. he wasn’t a sleepyhead here. I pity the poor Grandmother though. I feel she was left alone somehow inconclusively while the leads experienced their ending. And the Grandmother was really lovely too. Kim Young Chul is once again typecast as the cold bastard dad type.

King’s Daughter Soo Baek Hyang

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  • Broadcast period: 2013-Sep-30 to 2014-Mar-14
  • Synopsis: A historical drama depicting the life of ‘Soo Baek Hyang’, the daughter of King Moo Ryung. This drama covers the turbulent history of the Baekje Dynasty and its royal family: desperate story of love and survival.
  • My Rating: 8, 5
  • Comment:  It’s a sort of a variant of a prince and pauper trope.  Two sisters, daughters of two different fathers but one mother, live with their parents in a modest hut. The older one is the daughter of the current king, while the younger one the daughter of the mute, humble and lovable Gucheon. The younger sister eventually seeks out to replace her older sister as the princess and convinces the king she is his daughter. She is driven by a desire to live a better life. Solhee’s motivations are rather humane to me, though she becomes an eyesore in the process since she is a greedy as the villains in these dramas can be. It helps that the actress looks genuinely like a witch and it’s no wonder she was cast in the role. The older sister, Solnan, does not know where Solhee went and worries and seeks for her, in the process becoming a member of a special palace unit called the Band. She develops a romance with the Crown Prince. I do like them together Solnan and Myunyong are a well-portrayed, good otp. There are some other switched identity issues here as well which create more complications. Korean saeguks love secrets and lack of communication as well as prophecies to keep the plot going.  As always, we also have very nice side characters. Gucheon is one and there is also Knuckleheads portrayed by the ever lovely Kim Roe Ha. He’s had many supporting roles in popular saeguks, including Princess Man. I do like him a lot. Too bad the drama was cut short by 12 episodes. Secrets take too long too unravel and ending feels abrupt, but it’s a satisfactory ending.

Angel Eyes

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  • Broadcast period: 2014-Apr-05 to 2014-Jun-15
  • Synopsis: A melodrama about a man and a woman who are each other’s first loves, but get separated when they were teenagers due to a painful family situation and meet again 12 years later.
  • My Rating: 5,0
  • Comment:  Best Opening Theme but I didn’t like the drama. It was too weepy. Also, as I explained elswhere, I got annoyed by the teased out age gap relationship between secondary characters that got so cowardly and disappointingly  abandoned towards the end.

A New Leaf

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  • Broadcast period: 2014-Apr-30 to 2014-Jun-26
  • Synopsis: A legal drama about cold and successful lawyer who got involved in an accident and then suffers from amnesia. This drama portrays how the lawyer tries to live with new perspectives while struggling to discover who he really is, and in the process, changing people around him.
  • My Rating: 7,1
  • Comment: Performance-wise this was mostly phenomenal. Kim Myung Min doesn’t really disappoint though he does tend to be cast in a specific type of character in these dramas. Before his ruthless-lawyer-about-to-turn-over-a-new-leaf, there was the conductor Kang Mae and the man of fiction, Anthony Kim.  Ruthless lawyer about to turn over a new leaf is very much in line with his previous characters..and this would have been agreat drama had it not been so half-baked. Between him and the underused Kim Sang Joong, this drama could have been so much more than it was. The concept predicates on the notion of “turning over a new leaf”, of starting again,  but that part was not fleshed out enough. It would have been okay if they sacrificed that for more cases but even that legal part was somehow lacking and rather uneventful. Another half-baked drama that was not fully invested in any of the threads and themes it wanted to pursue. They could have made it far more involved than they have. The premise was not fulfilled in a satisfying way in either the personal  story or the legal part.  Park Min Young stuck out as a sore thumb.  She really was not needed for this and didn’t add much. Even though her character had an interesting backstory- but again it was something that was only briefly mentioned…as if they had meant to develop it more bit dropped it along the way. If they were going to use her, develop her character more.  But overall her acting has never been impressive and  in this drama she is like a tiny worm squirming between charismatic giants.  Instead of using her, they could have focused more on the sidekick friend character, portayed by the very likeable Oh Jung Se, who was way too underused as far I’m concerned.  There was a sidestory with fiancee that felt unrealised as well….she sppeared and disappeared without a satisfying closure but at the very least she knows she has a fiance she can count on regardless of whether he remembers things or not. The drama was cut short by two episodes due to Kim Myung Min’s conflicting schedules…but in my opinion, to be better this one could have used 24-32 episodes. They packed too many ideas into this very short drama, but they failed to explore and develop them properly. Still,  there was a side story with the father as well, and that actually was quite satisfying. It ended on a promising note. A stand out scene from the drama relates to precisely to this side story.  Too bad. This drama really had so much potential.

Wonderful Days

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  • Broadcast period: 2014-Feb-22 to 2014-Aug-10
  • Synopsis: Dong Suk is on his way home.A poor 18-year-old boy who left his home, becomes a prosecutor, a fairly successful job and returns to his old home after 15 years. It was not that easy to be back home. When he thought of his family, he was embarrassed, shameful, angry and he wanted to get away from them.
  • My Rating: 5,0
  • Comment: I dropped this halfway through. At first I really wanted to like it and I thought I may like HaeWon but as time went by I saw she was acting like part idiot and part noble idiot. Nothing works in this drama. I really don’t know what’s more dreary: Angel Eyes or this incredibly tiresome melo with incredibly tired characters. But again the music theme is very nice. Taeceyon pretty much shines with his energetic character and the kids are very nice but the overall execution of the premise is, again, a bit shaky to me and characters behave in a silly way. I am very disappointed because ideas again seem disjoined and the utter lack of engagement from this drama in all aspects: romance, family, investigation, revenge makes is one of the most tiresome shows I ever watched. Lee Seo Jin is so tired here. But then again maybe I’m just tired of him, much as I  find him sympathetic. He lacks energy. I was so tired of watching it. It was too depressing…and as far as I hear it remains depressing until now and some viewers contnue to be tired of it.  It has only a couple of episodes left but I am disinclined to even look at them, since the first 25 episodes tired me out completely.  There is nothing strikingly wrong with tanything,  in my opinion, it’s just that overall the drama is so depressing and deprived of vitality that it becomes tiresome to watch it.  The family and the cast is not engaging enough, everything is too loose for me to appreciate it, an ocean of difference from family like the one in Life is beautiful (2010) which I loved  Maybe Wonderful Days is better for viewers who are marathoning it. I tried to watch it regularly but it may have been a mistake. The OST contains some lovely catchy songs, just like Angel Eyes

You’re All Surrounded 

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  • Broadcast period: 2014-May-07 to 2014-Jul-17
  • Synopsis: Eun Dae Gu (Lee Seung Ki), Uh Soo Sun (Go Ah Ra), Park Tae Il (Ahn Jae Hyun) and Ji Gook (Park Jung Min) – otherwise known as the P4 – are the new recruits in the violent crime unit at Gangnam Police Station. These rookies are neither enthusiastic nor passionate about their new jobs and have joined the crime squad for varying but unbefitting reasons. They are lead by an erratic and hot headed Seo Pan Suk (Cha Seung Won) who wants nothing more than to wash his hand off of the incompetent new recruits. This drama follows the journey of these young cops as they fumble, learn, fall in love and find their way to becoming people the citizens can trust.
  • My Rating: 6,0
  • Comment: It’s fine. I don’t like episodes starting from ep 11. Lost the momentum, started to drag. Better for marathoning than for watching ep by ep.  I liked LSG partnership with Cha Seung Won, but LSG acted too deperate and aggressive becoming unlikeable in the process. Storywise it wasn’t best and other characters were vastly underused and weren’t interesting.  It just wasn’t satisfying. Investigations were lukewarm, though they were dominated by one central theme: LSG quest for revenge for something that happened in the past. Very typical scheme here as well and I got annoyed by all the typical “secrets”. It may have been packaged a little different but it’s still the same story with ridiculous villains.  LSG’s character’s behaviour throughout was way too edgy. He was more hot-headed in terms of acting, than Cho Seung Won and certainly very desperate. I lost patience for him.   The premise was meant to be fun but again it failed somewhere along the lines.  I wasn’t satisfied. Japanese handled a similar premise much better this season in Bitter Blood. Bitter Blood tells the story of a  pair of detectives that are father and son. They made it heaps more fun with proper emotional timing on top of everything else. However, of note  here is the actress Seo Yi Sook. She’s got charisma and is vastly underused. Whenever I see her on screen, she commands it with her presence. I saw her in Jejoongwon before and she was mesmerising as the Empress; she gave her character proper dignity and gravity.   Overall, I believe that the show could have been more fun if it hadn’t taken itself so seriously along the way, especially with LSG’s serious quest. The premise itself was quite fun as it included some friendship bonding (albeit I did not find it convincing as I did not feel real chemistry in the group dynamic) and even student-mentor relationship that had quite a bit of emotional charge- which I did like.  Romance was unnecessary and made my eyes roll on more than one ocassion. I wonder if there is a second season planned.  This one could actually use it, so that the other characters could have more development which I found very lacking as the story was overshadowed by LSG’s quest and his volatile dynamic with Cha Seung Won. It was the only center in this drama that held my interest in the end. It is a good partnership; LSG and Cha Seung Won kind of worked well.

Triangle

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  • Broadcast period: 2014-May-05 to 2014-Jul-29
  • Synopsis: Three brothers lose their parents and grow up separately without knowing the whereabouts of each other for more than 20 years. Because they have taken on new names and are all grown up, they are unable to recognize each other later on. Jang Dong Soo the oldest brother become a detective, while Dong Chul the middle brother uses an alias name Heo Young Dal to become the boss of a crime gang. The youngest, Dong Woo, grows into a cold person after being adopted by a rich family. The three brothers fates become intertwined as they become bitter adversaries.
  • My Rating: 4,5
  • Comment: They say it’s better to fail at originality than succeed at imitation but this drama acomplishes neither. Although Triangle may sound like a distant cousin of Giant, it’s really not  It tries to immitate it but ends up being a poor copy that doesn’t quite have the same thrill to it. Giant is an epic story, this one: the exact, maudlin opposite.  Giant, for me,  is almost the essential compendium of tropes, twists and themes that crop up in this kind of business-revenge dramas. That being said, I still liked the brother lost and seeking part and somehow I felt that Lee Bum Soo and Jejoong’s part was handled rather well.  I liked Jejoong’s partnership with Lee Bum Soo. He had a fairly good dynamic with Lee Bum Soo, there was a  definite spark there. Moreover, though their circumstances were different, I did feel like the two share similarities that make them convincing enough as brothers so I was engaged in their story.  Shi Wan is terribly wooden, but then most of the focus fell on Lee bum Soo and Jaejoong (which is a good thing) and in fact Shi Wan’s character felt completely redudant for this story. Ultimately, I lost interest after episode 16 when the drama’s most active centerpiece becomes Jejoong. The story is not impressive at all. The schemes and plans for revenge are not engaging. A very very underwhelming drama but even so I was still interested in how Lee Bum Soo found Jejoong and how their dynamic was a little volatile but kind of had a little spark of likeability to it. Jejoong is an acceptable actor for an idol as far as I’m concerned and he may still improve if he takes this seriously.

Hotel King

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  • Broadcast period: 2014-Apr-05 to 2014-Jul-27
  • Synopsis: A love story between an heiress who tries to save her father’s legacy, the one and only seven-star hotel in the nation and the hotel manager who becomes an enemy to his own father who abandoned him in order to help the heiress.
  • My Rating: 4,5
  • Comment: The idea was promising in that they could have made the story focus more strongly on the development of a hardened hotel mogul who becomes more humane. I enjoy redemptive themes. There was a hint of that here but it got lost in all the makjang noise the drama makes. It’s basically a makjang and major cry fest full of the usual hysterics, in a fairly luxiorious hotel setting. So it’s pretty good on the visual side. It is also true to say that I probably would have enjoyed it more if someone else than Lee Dong Wok was cast.  That man just can’t act. That is, he does fine as long as he acts out a wooden stick/unfeeling person without any defined expression and as long as he doesn’t have to do emotional scenes. But in dramas of this kind emotional scenes are practically a given and his emotional scenes are a disaster. His expressions are cheesy and unconvincing and he is unable to engage in the feelings he is supposed to portray.  What’s meant to be teary because of the wrong he realises he’s done, turns in his execution into a parody of it. However, I liked Roman aka Loman portrayed by Jin Tae Hyun. He ought to have been the main character.

    Jin Tae Hyun’s acting is clearly far more involved than Lee Dong Wook’s

    Jin Tae Hyun is capable actor, one that I haven’t had the opportunity to see in anything much,  but the contrast between him and Lee Dong Wook that I have observed in the drama is rather striking. It makes Lee Dong Wook look all the worse. I think Ji Tae Hyun really saved all the teary emotional scenes especially those he shared with Lee Dong Wook. He conveyed the hestitations, the  emotional charge of the discovery he makes.  In short, Ji Tae Hyun was very clearly the one to carry those emotional scenes, he was the one who made those scenes a little more engaging. It would have been nice if his efforts had been shared..but he did what he could.

    This is another drama where Lee Duk Hwa plays the evil dad. Sigh. I swear, give this man a break.  Don’t just write him off for good in villainous dad type roles. Lee Duk Hwa does seem to possess an “edgy” streak that makes him perfect for volatile roles but this sort of actor can just as well play characters with a sort of “inner” strength.  I think his role in Giant was at the very least decent in contrast to his later ones. Likewise in Comrades.  The otherwise lovely Kim Hae Sok,  plays a mother who is on the edge of going crazy all the time and is driven by revenge, but she never seems to have enough. This was largely a waste of time. Hotel King also had a lost brother theme that was handled in a bit more edgy way than the one in Triangle, although the edge was lost on me because of Lee Dong Wook’s total inability to  deliver emotional scenes. To be fair, the first episode of the drama was quite impressive, especially visually and the first episode was kind of promising, actually.  In fact episode 1 is something of a high point of the drama.  But overall the drama failed for a number of reasons. Had the story focused more strongly on  the character himself as he goes from hardened revenge- driven bastard to someone who realises that his revenge is haunted by a fatal flaw (resulting, as always, from concealment/reticence,  lack of knowledge about the past) and is not something he wishes or would wish to achieve, it would have been better. This was there behind all the clutter but drowned in it – it should have been more focused, tighter, It was too loose for me overall.   And more importantly it was not conveyed well enough by Lee Dong Wook’s limited acting. I probably would have been able to get more involved in this, despite all the typical stuff, if not for him. This was Lee Dong Wook’s last chance with me and he blew it. He’s not an actor who is able to create much resonance. I have now blacklisted him. For good.

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