I know that every other K-drama bloggers and viewers have been trying to wrap their head around all the new dramas premiering this summer (some of them just this very week). Casting news, name changes, release of promo posters and trailers… endless slew of information coming at us. For a change, I wanted to take a break from all this drama frenzy to take a moment to look back at the year 2011 so far while these dramas are still fresh in my mind. We’ll just call this my mid-season drama report.
As you may be aware, I have been periodically posting updates about the upcoming dramas and my expectations for them in a series of “Looking Ahead” posts. And for each drama, under the “Blue’s clues” section, I briefly shared my thoughts on the cast and the crew based on their past works. But now that I had the chance to actually watch most of the dramas featured in the first two installments (1 and 2) and as I wait for the new dramas premiering in the next two months, I became curious on how accurate my predictions have been so far.
Here is a list of all the dramas from 2011 that were featured in the first two installments of the “Looking Ahead” series and a reminder of what I had said about them earlier. (Man, the length of my “Blue’s clues” section became longer and longer with each new installment.) But this time, I’ve also included a quick review/thoughts/impressions of these said dramas as part of my drama viewing report. Yup, these are the dramas that I’ve watched, the dramas that I’ve dropped, and the dramas that I’ve skipped between January and April of 2011…
Blue’s clues: This will be Director Jo’s directorial debut, but he was the assistant director for Bad Couple (SBS, 2007) and Family Honor (SBS, 2008-2009). Writer So makes relatively unoriginal stories very addicting, without resorting to cheap tricks. I’ve actually enjoyed all of her past dramas (well, at least the ones that I’ve seen). But man, what a good looking cast! The synopsis seems like it’d have quite a deal of the fantasy/supernatural elements, and although that’s not my thing, everything looks optimistic on paper. Hope it delivers!
Impressions: I don’t think it’ll come as a surprise to anyone when I announce that I’m loving 49 Days. Oh, and of course, it doesn’t hurt that I’m finding Jo Hyun Jae absolutely DELICIOUS… (and all MINE). But now that that’s established, I won’t let that get in the way of attempting to be objective.
In his directorial debut, Director Jo’s inexperience shows here, especially with the transitions of the scenes and story lines. 49 Days has a slower start, and although I enjoyed the first half, I think it’s possible for some others to feel it drags or gets repetitive. But typical of Writer So Hyun Kyung, the drama quickly picks up pace mid way through the series in a nail-biting fashion. The drama has a very creative and original premise, and 49 Days is the first drama with fantasy/supernatural elements where I thought this aspect of the story was done cohesively and believably.
The entire cast is really nailing their performances, and although there have been some harsh criticisms against Nam Gyuri, she’s really not too bad, albeit a bit bland. All in all, 49 Days is an entertaining drama, and my drama crack of the first half of 2011. Do check it out if you haven’t done so already!
Blue’s clues: A director who worked mostly on making movies (this usually means that you can expect to see better than average drama cinematography). Bad writers. (Anyone who worked on Iris is a bad writer in my book. Perhaps I’m being too judgmental?) Big name stars, although for someone who has been concentrating on films, Jung Woo Sung’s acting is disappointing. If you’re looking for mindless entertainment, this might be the drama for you.
Impressions: Nope, I wasn’t being too judgmental after all. I bowed out of this drama somewhere in the middle of episode 2. I tried VERY hard to at least finish the episode, but within five minutes of turning it back on, I kept falling asleep. Every. Single. Time. (I guess this shows that I’m not completely superficial after all if the good looks of the cast couldn’t keep me awake.) After the third attempt, I knew it was a losing battle.
The first 30 minutes or so, Athena starts with bang, bang, bang. And in case you’re wondering, I don’t mean that it “starts with a bang”, but literally with the the sound of explosions and gunshots. You know, bang, bam, tick, tock, I don’t stop. I don’t know how else to describe it because the drama sure didn’t tell us why the characters were killing and torturing each other on-screen. But then the next thing I know, nothing was ever happening but for Jung Woo Sung’s character following around Soo Ae’s character like a love-sick puppy. Words like “mission” and “security” were thrown around every once in a while lest we forget that we were watching a spy action thriller.
The first two episodes of Athena felt like I was watching a really long, big budget music video. Where were the writers in this drama? Instead of trying to establish and develop some sort of story in its earlier episodes, the production just simply waved around special effects and big-name stars in front of our face, asking “Are you impressed yet by our prowess?” Ummm, sorry, but no.
Believe in Love
Blue’s clues: Overall, a decent cast. The Sons of Sol Pharmacy did extremely well, and I expect this to do well too (doesn’t have any major competitors either). The problem is that as far as family dramas go, I personally did not like The Sons of Sol Pharmacy. Oh yes, and I also thought School 4 was the worst of the School series. Sigh.
Impressions: Can’t say. I attempted to watch the first episode, but it kept buffering 2-3 minutes into the show. I was going to return to it at a later time, but I ended up never going back. Can you tell I was not interested in this drama at all from the get go? So what do you think? Did I end up missing out on a great family drama? You tell me!
Can You Hear My Heart
Blue’s clues: Nothing really stands out (positively or negatively) about the director. My impression is just based on two shows: Legend of Hyang Dan (MBC, 2007) and Fantasy Couple (MBC, 2006). They were both entertaining shows (mostly attributed to the writing), but I thought the director did a fairly good job bringing alive the quirkiness of the two dramas. Writer Moon’s prior work Smile, You (SBS, 2009-2010) was all heart, which is why I loved it despite its flaws. I also expect her upcoming drama to be likewise heartwarming and deliver that warm fuzzy. Nothing really stands out to me about the cast, but it is Kim Jae Won’s first drama gig since returning from his military service. I have my beef about Namgoong Min’s acting, and it doesn’t help that I find him very unattractive ever since his weight loss. Let’s just cross fingers that he put on some weight. Oh yes, and I personally will be keeping an eye on Hwang Jung Eum’s outfits in the show – I just love her style!
Impressions: Let me just get this out of the way. There’s nothing to watch when it comes to fashion in this drama, so that last sentence in my “Blue’s clues” section turned out to be pretty inapplicable here.
As for the drama itself, I was pretty surprised because it was not what I had expected from Writer Moon Hee Jung. The earlier episodes actually reminded me of old-school Korean weekend family dramas from the 90s (and in case you’re wondering, I do mean that as a compliment), but I just never knew that was Writer Moon’s style. There are some makjang elements in this drama, almost reminiscent of Baker King Kim Tak Gu. But in the hands of the more talented writer, Can You Hear My Heart never resorts to feeling “cheap” like Baker King.
I’ve read an interview with Moon Hee Jung where she shared that she hopes to one day write a family drama classic like You and I (MBC, 1997-1998). I think Moon is quickly developing into a scriptwriter who I’m going to watch out for to one day do just that. Seriously, let’s bring back the glory days of weekend family dramas, instead of the makjang mess that they’ve all turned into now. *sob*
I had earlier said nothing stands out about the director. Well, I’m going to store PD Kim Sang Ho’s name in my head now because my gosh, if there’s one thing about this drama, it is beautifully filmed!
Oh yes, the cast merits a special mention, especially Jung Bo Suk in the role of the mentally handicapped Bong Young Gyu. It’s hard to believe that he’s the same man who played the deliciously evil villain in Giant just last year. I’m sure the lead actors felt tremendous pressure after the amazing performances delivered by the talented child actors in the earlier episodes, but I’m finding that the adult actors are really holding their ground. But for me who rarely fall victim to the second male lead syndrome, it’s surprisingly Lee Kyu Han in the role of goofy Lee Seung Chul who’s coming to steal my heart.
I’m a week behind in this series and although I’m not in love with this drama yet, I’m enjoying it so far. Good story, well-directed, well-acted. What’s not to like?
Blue’s clues: Because of her unusual-sounding name, I was surprised to learn that Kwon Gye Hong is actually one of the rare breeds in k-dramaland known as female directors. I really would like to pump my fist in the air to shout “Hurray for Women” and cheer her on, but instead, there’s that one hindrance that Bad Love (KBS, 2007-2008) was one of the worst dramas I’ve ever seen in my life. To be fair, Bad Love‘s writer Lee Yoo Jin (who also authored the 2004 drama Phoenix) gave her signature “wtf hot mess” of a script about characters who seem to relish in prolonging their misery, and I doubt that even the most talented director could have done anything to save it. Matter of fact, I thought many of the scenes in Bad Love were “artistically” filmed, and this must be credited to the director, right? However, when a drama is this bad, the director cannot be completely excused from the blame. But as usual, I digress. This is not the time for me to vent about how “bad” Bad Love is, after all.
I couldn’t find any info on the two writers, so this might be their first time penning a drama script. I’m much more optimistic about writers with no precedent than those with bad precedents, so I don’t think this “lack of experience” is necessarily a bad thing.
The synopsis indicates that this will be one of those “human” dramas with some humor thrown in (usually corny, and perhaps involving the bathroom?). I predict that despite being described as a “bright and cheerful drama”, there will be a dramatic gun-down finale where the squad comes to solve a major case together, and yes, one of the squad members will likely come to the rescue of another squad member.
When I first heard about this drama, I was initially hoping that it would channel the classic Korean police drama 수사반장 (MBC, 1971-1989), but after reading the synopsis, it sounds like the style will be closer to the 2008 KBS drama Powerful Opponents. (And yes, I’m aware that Powerful Opponents was a drama involving bodyguards, not cops. But you get the idea!)
The drama has a good cast. I’m aware that Song Il Gook has more than enough fans (most from his Jumong days) who will be looking forward to whatever he comes out with. I, myself, absolutely love Lee Jong Hyuk and find him to be simply delicious. Unfortunately, I came to accept that I never seem to like or find interesting any of his past dramas that I’ve watched. *Sigh* I’ll probably skip this drama, but if you decide to check it out and it turns out to be mind-blowingly awesome, please let me know so that I too can join the fun (and relish in the goodness that is Lee Jong Hyuk)!
Impressions: My gosh, did I write a long Blue’s clues section or what, and most of it pretty irrelevant to Crime Squad itself!
The drama synopsis had said: “Through the everyday happenings and ordeals faced by cops in a crime squad, you will come to discover the familiar, ‘next-door neighbor’ side to these cops. However, unlike the past cop dramas that portrayed ‘cruel murders and dark mysteries’, this will be a bright and cheerful drama.”
Did I miss something? When did “bright and cheerful” come to mean psychopathic killers committing serial murders? I wish the drama either went all out dark and mysterious, or lightweight and heartwarming. Instead, Crime Squad just straddled in the middle being neither this or that, and just told predictable murder “mysteries” that culminated in the good ol’ plot device of corrupt politicians and other higher uppers.
Make no mistake about it. This was a poorly written drama and had some of the cheesiest lines ever. I felt pretty bad for the actors for having to deliver those lines. But depending on the nature of the cases for that week, it did provide mindless entertainment and I ended up finishing the series to the end. Is it weird if I confess that I always watched this drama while working out? It was perfect for that purpose. It never demanded my utmost concentration, but it kept me entertained enough to make doing crunches much less tedious!
Oh, and I must add that I was right about the dramatic gun-down finale. Booyah! Score for Blue!
Blue’s clues: Inexperienced director. A sitcom writer. Idol stars. A disaster waiting to happen or an unexpected gem? Kim Soo Hyun, why, why did you pick this project?!
Impressions: Well, in retrospect, it did do Kim Soo Hyun much good because it did help raise his name recognition level with the general public and brought him many endorsement deals.
But which was it? A disaster or an unexpected gem? I never ended up falling in love with Dream High as others did. I didn’t find it to be anything significant or mind-blowing. But on more than one occasions, I found myself smiling despite myself and may have even shed a tear or two. There was a quiet, unassuming charm about it, and although I don’t know if I would go as far as calling it a “gem” of a drama, let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised? I do think much of that is attributed to who I called the “inexperienced” director (Director Lee Eung Bok). There was that same quiet, unassuming charm present in his earlier Drama Special episode (The Great Gye Choon Bin), and his work in Dream High sealed the deal for me. Lee Eung Bok is a talented director, and he’s gained a new fan in me.
Before the show premiered, everyone expressed concern about the young idol cast. As expected, their acting was raw, but despite so, it was surprisingly not annoying. Now, as for Bae Yong Joon’s cameo appearance, well, he should be VERY ashamed of himself… Oh, and Park Jin Young is a HOOT. I think all the scenes where I laughed out loud involved Park Jin Young’s character.
Blue’s clues: “Eh” director. Air City was awful, but I think that might be attributed more to the poor writing. A writer who has been around for a long time, and has a pretty 유치한 (juvenile) sense of humor. Expect to see a lot of silly side characters. Not the most exciting actors (when it comes to acting talent), but hey, they’re all nice to look at.
Impressions: Of course, the “writer who has been around for a long time” was in reference to Writer Kim Woon Kyung.
He wrote some enormously popular dramas in the 90s, and earned a status as the writer of “commoner” dramas. To this day, he’s probably the first scriptwriter to come to mind when people think of dramas about those who live in the slums of Korea (달동네).
His dramas are very character-focused and he wrote some very memorable characters, especially side characters. However, the downside is that when I think back to his older dramas, only the characters come to mind and nothing of the plot. Hyung was about two orphaned brothers after the Korean War, and umm, they caught lice off of each other’s back? The Moon of Seoul was about a gigolo and his neighbors? Usually, when I think back to older dramas, I recall the general plot, even if not specific scenes. With Kim Woon Kyung’s dramas, I recall the characters and perhaps some trifling happenings in their daily lives, but I can’t for the life of me remember if there were any plots to them. Is that a good thing or bad? I don’t know… it’s your call.
But when I watched the first two episodes of The Duo, the first thing that came to my mind was, “Wait, is this really a Kim Woon Kyung’s drama?” Granted the last drama of his I watched was The Thief’s Daughter from 2000 and I didn’t even realize that he had continued to write dramas since, but this is not the Kim Woon Kyung I remembered. For one, the first two episodes of The Duo were very fast-paced and there were so many things and revelations made all at once. There weren’t any supporting characters (at least from that I can foresee) making silly comments at the side. Personally, I like this new Kim Woon Kyung much better, if this is something he’s going to keep up throughout the series. That I’m not sure of though because I never ended up continuing after episode 2. It’s not that I actively decided to drop the series, but it just went on the back burner and before long, I gradually forgot about it.
Flames of Ambition
Blue’s clues: Not familiar with the director. Solid (but very dark) writer. I really don’t like Seo Woo. Very anger-inducing characters.
Impressions: I dropped the drama around episode six. Regardless of what I thought about the drama (at the point I dropped it, I had not really established any opinion as to the drama itself), I was too repulsed and disgusted as I watched an earlier scene where the protagonist “induced” her own sister to get raped in order to steal her sister’s spot in an arranged marriage that she coveted for herself. My gosh, must Korean dramas come to this?!
Blue’s clues: Should be a solid writer and director team. Pretty good cast. It might be worthwhile to check out if you’re a traditional sageuk fan.
Impressions: I was really captivated by the opening narrative in the first episode where a narrator explains about the founding of Baekje by So Seono and her sons. Both Mama Blue and I exclaimed in excitement, “Ooh, this looks like it’ll be GOOD!” And then just a few minutes later, we both fell asleep in the very same episode during one of the earlier battle scenes. I feel like I experienced both heaven and hell in one episode. Being the quitter that I am and having way too many dramas in my drama queue, this went to the “drop” pile. For those who have continued to watch King Geunchogo, so which is it? Heaven or hell?
Blue’s clues: “Eh” director. Writer who has lately been going more for flash than story. Solid cast.
Impressions: I’ve watched few minutes in the first episode, and there’s something about Jang Hyuk’s acting that really bothers me and I couldn’t stomach continuing any further. I don’t know what it is about him because I do like the man himself and admire that he’s one hard worker. But, his face always looks… umm, dead and constipated in his dramas. People praised him for it in Chuno saying he was in character. I wasn’t convinced then, and Midas sealed it for me that that’s just his permanent expression when he acts. But enough with this Jang Hyuk hate. Like I said, I have nothing against the man and actually think he’s quite attractive.
Since Mama Blue has continued to watch the series, so this is really her impression of Midas based on what she told me. She was very ambivalent about it the first couple of episodes, but somewhere around episode eight-ish when Kim Hee Ae’s character betrays Jang Hyuk’s character, she started praising it and called it the best drama from the current weekly lineup and one of Writer Choi Wan Kyu’s best recent dramas. Since I tend to agree with her opinions on most dramas, I’ll take her word for it.
However, when I asked her again last week on how Midas is going, she just said it’s okay and is second-best. (Puhaha, the first being 49 Days. Yay, Mama Blue! I knew she’d come around to the dark side soon enough.)
Blue’s clues: At least one solid director (I really like him!). Not familiar with the other one director. Very questionable writer. Cast is very easy on the eyes. The leads can’t act, but they’ve been improving lately. It’s possible they may surprise us here.
Impressions: That one solid director is of course in reference to Director Kwon Seok Jang of Pasta. I still like his style and my opinion that he is a good fit for romantic comedy dramas remains unchanged. But I bursted out laughing at the end of episode one when the closing technique (since I’m not aware of what it’s called, let’s just call it stop motion technique) and music style used in My Princess was identical to that of Pasta.
But, oh man, was this a boring drama or what! The only saving grace was the two leads who were adorable together. Earlier, I had said, “Cast is very easy on the eyes. The leads can’t act, but they’ve been improving lately. It’s possible they may surprise us here.” Well, they did surprise me, especially Kim Tae Hee. I’ve always known her to be a pretty-face, but despite so, she always bored me. This was the first time where I understood why she was indeed Korea’s darling. Song Seung Hun still does his signature neck twitches when he wants to emote, but I was surprised to find that his comic timing was good. I don’t understand why they don’t do more romantic comedy dramas.
New Gisaeng Story
Blue’s clues: Another ultimate makjang writer. Not familiar with the director, except that he’s the writer’s real-life husband. And typical of the writer’s past works, a newbie actress is in the leading role, if Im Soo Hyang is the lead actress here. (Interesting fact: Most (all?) of her past dramas had 5 characters in its title. This one has four. Does this signify that she’s breaking away from her earlier style?)
Impressions: What can I say? It’s signature Im Sung Han-style drama, and no, she’s not breaking away from it here. The straight-laced, perfect female protagonist. Birth secrets. People giving away their babies like candy. The fortune teller who shows up and always give an accurate foreshadowing of what’s to come. The voiceover of characters’ inner thoughts. Yup, they’re all here.
The last Im Sung Han dramas that I’ve liked were See and See Again and Ondal Princes, and I’ve had an allergic reaction to all her dramas since then. I don’t know whether my tolerance level for Im has gone up or what, but strangely, I don’t find New Gisaeng Story to be too bad. In fact, I’ve managed to watch up to episode 11 so far and although I ended up skipping to the most recent episodes, I am curious as to what will be the fate of the female protagonist. But really, in my heart of hearts, I think I’m just waiting around for the scene that dramaok is waiting for- the hot passionate make out session between Damo and Saran. Wait, it is coming, right?
Blue’s clues: Solid director, decent writers, inexperienced actor (Changmin) and bad actress (Lee Yeon Hee).
Impressions: I really don’t have much to say. The acting by the cast and the story bored me in the first episode. I continued on to episode 2, but immediately fell asleep. So the drama was dropped somewhere in the first half of episode 2? (By the way, in case you’re wondering whether I actually fell asleep in all these dramas mentioned, the answer is yes. Even before I can register in my head and my heart what I think/feel about the drama, my body physically reacts to it first by shutting off and going to sleep when a drama bores me. It’s surprisingly very effective.)
Blue’s clues: Not familiar with the director. At least one “eh” writer (Son Young Mok). Solid cast. Choi Soo Jong and Ha Hee Ra are a married couple in real life, and their acting is top-notch here.
Impressions: I stand corrected. My assessment of Son Young Mok as an “eh” writer was based on his work in The Iron Empress, which I found to be an awful sageuk drama. (Our local tv channel used to air it during our family dinner time and we found it so awful that our dinnertime chat always consisted of “W(ho)TF wrote this crap?!”) But Writer Son really redeemed himself with President (although two other writers should also be credited with it). I didn’t enjoy it as much as I probably should have and I should add the caveat that this drama is not for everyone (which explains the low TV ratings), but if there’s one thing I have to say about this drama, it is very well-written. The only criticism I have is that being the cynical one that I am, I didn’t buy the drama’s portrayal of the majority of presidential candidates being people with the best wish of the country in mind, and I also found the ending to be rather anti-climatic.
Blue’s clues: Is it me or does the official poster remind you of the ones for High Kick Through The Roof and Flames of Ambition? But back on topic. The director’s past work, Spotlight (MBC, 2008), had all the elements to be great. It even had a propitious start. Instead, it went the “lil’ guy up against the big, evil guy” route, and for that particular genre, it was just your standard “run-of-the-mill” drama. The writer co-wrote General Hospital 2 (MBC, 2008-2009) with several other writers. Unfortunately, I didn’t watch it and have no opinions to offer. The supporting female actresses (Cha Yeh Ryun and Seo Yoo Jung) are pretty unexciting, but the leading cast looks solid. But can that drama synopsis sound any more vague?
Impressions: Royal Family had such a promising start. Immediately after episode 1 ended, I started the next episode right away because I wanted more, more, more. (This is a rare occurrence for me.) The drama was well-directed and the cast was great. (Yes, even Cha Yeh Ryun.) The story was compelling, and I was left in a daze at the prospect that Yeom Jung Ah’s Kim In Sook character may not be this angel that we think she is.
In the hands of a more talented writer, this could have turned into an awesome series that explored the mentality of chaebols. But instead, with the introduction of the murder subplot, I quickly lost interest. It seemed like the writer wanted to tie this in to the moral ambiguity of our female protagonist, but instead, I thought the story just seemed to lose focus and was becoming a very middle-of-the-block K-drama. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. It was oh so safely mediocre.
Blue’s clues: Director who did mostly films (See my above comment for Athena.) The only problem is that I got terribly bored watching Spring Breeze. The director and the scriptwriter are a married couple. I wonder how that’ll affect the drama filming, if at all.
Impressions: Oh, Sign! This drama pains me the most because it really could have been a very good drama. In the first half of the series, the cases were interesting and kept me on my toes. As a viewer, I really wanted to know what the missing clues were, just like the forensic investigators looking for them.
But as the drama progressed on, it became merely sensational. Did all the death cases have to be serial murders by psychopaths out on a killing spree? My gosh, if you watch this show, you would think Korea was a country of serial murderers. The first or two cases of such was fine. But when they’re all such cases, I found myself rolling my eyes. Oh, another psychopathic serial murderer who gets high off of killing people? Why, of course! Aren’t they all?
The problem started in the second half after PD Jang Hang Joon stepped down from his directorial job and took his wife’s job of writing the drama. Since he took over, the cases lost any “human” touch to them, and became more and more about how to make the case involved bigger and badder than the one prior to it.
Blue’s clues: The ultimate makjang writer. Kang Min Kyung wins my worst actor of the year award.
Impressions: Sorry, haven’t checked out this drama and have nothing to report. Then on what basis did I honor Kang Min Kyung with the worst actor of the year award?
No further comment.
Blue’s clues: So here’s a director whose past works are all quintessential weekend dramas appealing to the ahjumma fans, except for perhaps Paper Crane (KBS, 1998-1999). I definitely see the appeal of his works, and he usually does a good job balancing these “ahjumma” dramas (is that a separate genre now?) without going into the makjang territory. Only his most recent drama Again My Love (KBS, 2009) can be classified as truly bad, but that’s only because the quality of the script was just plain laughable. (No, seriously, my mom described the drama as having been written with feet.) I’ve only seen two dramas by this writer - Air City and Model – and people, things are not looking good. I vaguely remember that Model (SBS, 1997) generated some buzz back then (and not the good kind) because of its ending.
Impressions: Sorry, haven’t checked out this drama. I was almost tempted to because of my new-found love for Han Hye Jin after Jejoongwon, but it’s just not going to happen here.
Blue’s clues: This drama has already started. I must admit that I fell asleep while watching the first episode, and this is one drama that I won’t continue watching. But without letting that bias get in the way, the director has quite a mania following and I heard many great things about his 2006 MBC drama Soulmate (our very own Bella raves about it). I haven’t watched any of the writer’s past works, although I did catch bits and pieces of I Really Really Like You (MBC, 2006) and Country Princess (MBC, 2003) (Korean title: 위풍당당 그녀, and no, I don’t know why this title became translated to Country Princess either) when they aired on my local tv. Neither managed to grab my attention. This is a cast not new to weekend dramas, with a couple of newbie actors thrown in for some good measure.
Impressions: I have nothing to update here since what I last said about the first episode. I haven’t picked it up again since then.