Drama Reactions & Reviews
Duds and delights of 2009 [Year in Review, Part 1]
by | December 28, 2009 | 247 Comments

(Just to clarify, this is the first of four guest reviews and is written by Dahee Fanel, whose insights you can read regularly on her own blog, Dahee’s Plastic Castle. I hope you’ll enjoy reading the guest reviews and get as much as I do out of their diverse opinions. Thanks all, especially Dahee! —javabeans)


And to think that I headed into 2009 feeling so hopeful, too.

2008 was an awful year for K-dramas. That year ended with me feeling like I’d just swum through an ocean of excrement, and I figured that I’d need to soak myself in some good dramas for at least another year before I’d manage to wash the stink off of me.

Alas, that was not to be the case.

Thinking back on which dramas I saw in 2009, it occurred to me that, goddammit, I’m a lot more resilient than I’d thought. It awed me that I’d managed to watch crap like Cain and Abel and Everybody Cha Cha Cha all the way through, without even any fastforwarding! A year ago, this would not have been possible. A year ago, my stomach would have protested three seconds in, and I’d have had to be rushed to the doctor’s, only to be told (again) by dear old Dr. C that my condition is a complete mystery to him.

But this year, I discovered the secret to watching bad dramas without ending up gagging over a toilet. That secret has been spread so thick over my digestive organs that no amount of stress or disgust can penetrate it. We’ll get to what that secret is later, but the point of all this rambling is, I’ve discovered other reasons for watching dramas besides their innate quality. Call it a survival instinct. Reasons for drama-watching are a lot more complicated than I’d once thought.

So for this year’s write-up, I’m dividing the categories into the various reasons I watched the dramas in the first place. It’s going to be kinda embarrassing, but honest. I’ve found that honesty is always best in the end, whether people like it or not. As my mom likes to say: “If I find out you’re lying to me, I’ll turn your legs black and blue.”


Broccoli, You Too? – “2009년의 우리들” (Us in 2009) [ Download ]

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If you have family members or friends who watch K-dramas as well, then you’ll know what I mean. My dad is especially bad when it comes to forcing me to watch certain dramas with him. He can’t do it as often now, since I’ve moved out, but he’ll still pester me over the phone. He has strange taste in dramas – he loves the really good, critically-acclaimed ones, but every once in a while he’ll like something that’s so terrible that it gives me hives. And I’ll look at him and ask, “Why are you, of all people, watching this crap?”. And he’ll reply without batting an eye, “Because [insert actress’s name here] is hot.”

The apple sure doesn’t fall far from the tree…

Boys Before Flowers


It wasn’t my dad, but my mom who was the culprit for this one. My dad wouldn’t go near this drama with a ten-foot pole, but my mom, the Kim Hyun Joong fangirl that she is (damn you, We Got Married!), jumped on it like a wolf on a raw steak. And she forced me, her oldest daughter, to watch (some of) it, too.

Well, okay, it wasn’t all because of my mom. I tuned in to a couple of later episodes because I love Kim Hyun Joo, as well. And I saw the first episode all on my lonesome, without anyone’s prodding, purely out of the goodness of my heart.

Unfortunately, the first episode left me swearing up a storm, cursing my foolishness for wanting to give this drama a chance, despite the astronomical signs that it would be very, very bad. Why didn’t I trust my instincts, I wondered? I mean, I’d seen most of the anime version (Hana Yori Dango, you pain my soul, even all these years later). I knew what I was getting myself into. But still, against all logic, I hoped it would be better. But I was wrong. It wasn’t better. It was actually – wait for it – worse than that cursed anime that should never have even seen the light of day, what with its anti-feminist and classist messages. It boggled my mind that that could have even happened.

I watched this drama intermittently, like I’m sure a lot of viewers back in Korea did. But every glance into this show made my stress levels rise to monstrous heights. Not only was the script so terrible that it would have gone to better use in a compost heap, but the directing, as expected, was a complete and utter mess. And don’t even get me started on the music. If I have to hear “Almost paaaaradiiiiise” one more time, I’m going to bash my head into a wall. (Take note, variety shows.)

The acting, too, was just laughable. My heart broke watching Goo Hye Sun here – those who haven’t seen her in the 2007-2008 sageuk The King and I will probably assume that she’s just a bad actress normally, but she’s really not. She started off rocky in that show, but slowly improved to the point that she became one of the highlights of the drama. She was so luminous, so strong, so mature in The King and I. And then she turned into that overacting petulant child in BBF. I felt like crying, watching her. Also, I like Kim Hyun Joong in variety shows, but he should stay far, far away from acting in future. I cringed every time he appeared. And I know Lee Min Ho is beloved by all BBF fans, and that everyone considers him to be this great actor or something, but I was deeply unimpressed. Then again, could anyone shine, when they’re given that kind of material to work with? If he chooses a good project next time, where one can really see if he has talent or not, I may change my mind. (Then again, there were a couple of acting highlights. Lee Min Jung, as usual, was a breath of fresh air, and Lee Hye Young was deliciously evil.)

Boys Before Flowers may have been a pop culture phenomenon and all that, but for me, it’s one of the very worst dramas of the year, and was a complete waste of my time and energy. I should have listened to Dr. C’s advice, and just stayed away from any stress triggers.



Sometimes I really resent my dad. Especially when he makes me watch a show this idiotic. I saw the first episode of my own volition and hated it, but the next time I saw my dad, he said he was lonely watching it by himself, so we watched a few episodes together. Never has my pity been more misplaced.

Like Boys Before Flowers, I watched this intermittently. But every time I saw it, I swear I gained at least three gray hairs. Talk about an over the top, self-absorbed, arrogant show. It seemed to be under the delirious impression that it was fresh and glamorous, but it really, really wasn’t. If I could, I would have slapped it across the face. Some shows are at least quiet and unassuming in their mediocrity. This one had to broadcast it to the whole world. How much more obnoxious can you get?

What a waste of an actress like Kim Hye Soo. At least most of the rest of the cast was utterly forgettable. Ryu Shi Won is his usual boring self, while Lee Ji Ah is her usual crazy chipmunk on speed. Newbie Lee Yong Woo has about one facial expression, and I had no interest in seeing it.

Final verdict: The faster I forget this drama, the better.


I know, I know, it sounds silly. I sound silly. But it’s true. Fangirliness is the armour that protects my stomach from terrible, terrible cramps. If there is an actor I love with my heart and soul (and possibly my loins) involved with a terrible project, then I will watch that production, and I won’t stop, because goddammit, I just can’t quit him/her. It’s the great tragedy of my life. And so are the following dramas.

Everybody Cha Cha Cha


Oh Man Seok, why did you have to pick this drama? Why? And why did it have to be a daily drama, one that is set for 150 EPISODES? Do you know what it’s been like, for me to have to trudge through each half hour of this torture? I’ve wasted over fifty hours of my life with this garbage, all because of you. IT WAS ALL BECAUSE OF YOU.

It actually didn’t start out so terribly. I had hope that it would have little moments of family warmth and heartache, and that there would be semblances of human beings present. And the early cute moments between Jin-woo and Na-young were refreshing (mostly, I suspect, because of the good rapport and acting between them). But now it’s all gone to hell, and then some.

I know daily dramas aren’t exactly known for their quality, but this is ridiculous. Park Han Byul and Lee Joong Moon’s so-called “romance” was bad enough, but now the pace has actually slowed to the point that the same scenes are being recycled, over and over. I remember watching one episode and thinking, “Wait a minute, why does this all feel so familiar?”. And then I realized that it was because the characters were all spouting the same tired sentiments, in the exact same places, as they had in the episode immediately previous to it. The only difference was the slight variation in dialogue. THAT’S CALLED LAZY WRITING.

Put on top of that sudden and unexplained changes in affection and motivation, parental disapproval, memory loss and random car accidents, and you have, right there, one of the worst dramas of the year. What an utter waste of talents like Oh Man Seok, Jo Ahn, Shim Hye Jin, Kim Young Ok, and Park Hae Mi.

Cain and Abel


The last time So Ji Sub was in a drama was in 2004, when he acted in what would become the major turning point of his career (so far), I’m Sorry, I Love You. It’s been five years since then, and for a fan, that’s a millenium. I’m not the praying kind, so I can’t say that I prayed that his comeback drama would be a good one, but…I hoped very, very hard.

And the drama he chose to make his comeback was…Cain and Abel. Oy vey.

Perhaps all of that hassle over cancellation and PD/writer switches and whatnot made everyone involved feel confused and rushed. Perhaps they just chose the wrong writer to take charge. Whatever it was, this show was a major, major disappointment.

I’ve talked extensively about this already in my review on this drama over at me wee little blog, but Cain and Abel is one of those dramas that thinks it can handle more than it can. It wants to be several different things at once, but it doesn’t succeed at any of them. When it does anything, it goes big, but only touches on each element in a shallow way. As a consequence, it’s all flash without any substance.

And don’t even get me started on the writing. How anyone can write that kind of script and still have a job is beyond me. Characters suddenly change motivations for no reason, random people die purely for dramatic effect, the hospital setting is a mere afterthought, the romance is saccharine and strained. There’s zero subtlety, and that transfers over even to the acting. At first glance, this is not a bad cast, but no one was really able to shine, despite their best efforts. Oh, a lot of tears were shed, and So Ji Sub’s acting has changed in some subtle way that I can’t yet pinpoint, but without real characters to work with, how could anyone show any truly meaningful acting? The characters in this drama are mere caricatures, nothing more. There’s no heart here, no soul. So why on earth should I care?

The Accidental Couple/That Fool


As I mentioned in my Accidental Couple review here months ago, I love Hwang Jung Min. And, as expected, he’s an absolute marvel here, pulling off what I consider to be the best performance of the year (and, if not the best, at the very least the most heartfelt). His exquisite acting elevated this drama, which should have been utter crap that would have been better off in the bottom of the ocean where no human eyes could see it. Just imagine what this show would have been like without him – terrible acting, caricatures for characters, cliched writing, clueless directing. What a mess!

But with his magic touch, it became a puzzle, a head-scratchingly enjoyable ride (at least for the last eight or so episodes). It’s really rather miraculous that, after its molasses-slow beginning, and its generous usage of cliches, it managed to pick up after so many episodes and find a halfway recipe for success. I like to attribute it all to the power of Hwang Jung Min’s acting. He’s already proven himself, over and over in his films, to be one of the best actors in Korea today. One can only look forward to the kind of performances he will show in future.

Queen Seondeok


Look at the cast list for this drama: Lee Yo Won, Go Hyun Jung, Kim Nam Gil, Uhm Tae Woong, Baek Do Bin, Park Ye Jin, Yoon Yoo Seon, Yoo Seung Ho, Lee Moon Shik, etc, etc, etc. With the exception of Lee Yo Won, that’s quite a fine bunch of actors. So, despite my trepidations about everyone behind the camera, I was really looking forward to this show before it aired.

I really should learn to crush hope before it flutters up to choke me.

It actually didn’t start out so bad. The first few episodes were fun, if somewhat shallow, and the child actors did well. From the very beginning Go Hyun Jung was exquisite as the sultry, evil, irresistible Mishil, and upped the entertainment aspect considerably. I enjoyed myself.

And then, somewhere down the line, it all started to feel…exhausting. I kept waiting for a deeper moment of intelligence or sense to pop up to counter all the fluff, but it never happened. I watched as logic was absolutely crushed repeatedly (running away from a village that’s dying away from drought, only to come across a booming waterfall just ten minutes away?), and as characters showed no signs of real development or depth. And historical accuracy? What historical accuracy? If that even remotely resembles what really happened back in good ol’ Silla, then I’ll eat my grandmother. And I imagine that she wouldn’t be very impressed if I tried that.

This is just such a repetitive, unimaginative, even, yes, stupid show. It’s so incredibly episodic in its format, without any sense of it all actually going somewhere. Okay, so it’s about Queen Seondeok. What about her? What did she accomplish in history? Why is she so important? What are you trying to say, dammit?

Oh, wait, it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to say. You’re too busy trying to gobble up as many ratings as possible through the easiest and laziest means. Sorry, I forgot for a second there. Silly me.

Even the actors, usually so good overall, seemed to realize that there was no point in trying, and churned out rather lackluster performances (my poor Uhm Tae Woong, sob). The only real exception was Go Hyun Jung, but this is no Accidental Couple. It invests too much pretense in grandeur and scale for that. As a result, it’s crippled every time she’s not in a scene. What does that say about a drama’s innate quality?

Monstrously overrated, this is one show that gives other sageuk a bad name. Call me when it’s January 6th, and we get to see what a real sageuk looks like (ChunoChunoChunoChuno).

Smile, You


Despite the PD/writer combo (I wasn’t at all enthralled with The Last Scandal Of My Life), I was looking forward to this show, because the cast was so solid. I mean, Jung Kyung Ho, Lee Min Jung, Lee Chun Hee, Choi Jung Yoon, and Lee Kyu Han, all in ONE drama? Consider me sold.

However, yet again, I was proven to be foolish. This is an incredibly over the top, silly, and childish drama, that wouldn’t know subtlety if it hit it in the forehead with a killer truck. And talk about over-usage of music! Every time I watch this drama, I’m reminded of something my old screenwriting professor once said: “Today’s movies really need to learn the power of absolute silence.” Replace “movies” with “dramas”, and there you’ll see my point. We don’t need music every five seconds to cue us in on what we should be feeling. We ought to know how we should feel from the set-up, dialogue, and acting, and not have it bashed into our skulls with yet another sudden blast of obnoxiously bad K-pop.

There are only 2 reasons I’m still watching this drama:

1) The overall good acting
2) Lee Min Jung and Jung Kyung Ho’s romance

Yeah, that’s right. Me, the girl who’s notoriously picky with romance, is actually enjoying one. The two of them infuse so much energy into their characters, and they just mesh so well together. And I love how forward Jung-in is with her feelings, how she’s not just some mopey damsel in distress. And I love that Hyun-soo isn’t a jerk with machismo problems like most K-drama heroes. They’re the best K-drama couple of the year for me, and are what make the drama bearable. Let’s hope it continues in this vein!


These are the dramas that I had some expectations for going in, and that ended up disappointing me deeply. Or, if not deeply, then at least a little bit. A little deeply?

He Who Can’t Marry


As one of those people who saw the classic Japanese dorama Kekkon Dekinai Otoko on which this drama was based, there were a lot of expectations for this show going in. Would it be able to reach or even surpass the brilliance of the original, I wondered? Was that even possible?

Well, as it turns out, it wasn’t possible. At least not this time around.

At first I had hope. Kind of. It was just such a close copy of the original dorama. It duplicated the exact same scenes, sometimes with even the exact same camera angles and whatnot. And because it did that, it managed to capture a kind of shadow of what the original had been. Kind of like buying a knock-off purse instead of the real thing (god, I really want a new purse right now). It may look the same, but there’s something innately different about it. It just ain’t the same, y’know?

Even worse, whenever it did deviate from the original, it ended up showing its massive flaws. Unlike the original, this show was not subtle, and it didn’t appear to have any deep understanding of its very subject matter. It had no spark of life, none of the quirky charm that made the original so appealing.

Part of the problem was the casting of Ji Jin Hee. He’s normally a solid actor, but here, he failed to make the character his own. He was so caught up in chasing a spectre of Abe Hiroshi’s amazing performance in the original that he just ended up looking silly and foolish. Over the top and full of nervous energy, he missed all the right emotional notes. It was unintentionally sad to watch.

The rest of the cast, however, was good. Kim So Eun continues to be one of the most promising young actresses in Korea today, and both Yoo Ah In and Yang Jung Ah pull off solid performances. Uhm Jung Hwa, too, while not at her best, looks lovely and managed to differentiate herself from Natsukawa Yui’s glowing performance in the original. It’s just too bad that none of that could make any real difference.

If anyone wants to provide an example for an argument that all remakes suck, then congratulations. You’ve found it, right here.

You’re Beautiful


I resisted for as long as I could. I vowed to never go near this drama with a ten-foot pole.

I always break self-made promises.

There was just so much open adulation for this drama, you know? I had to know what the hype was about. My curiosity, as always, got the better of me. All of my past pet cats should’ve come back and warned me what would happen.

I approached this drama with as much optimism and open-mindedness as I could muster. I tried to tell myself that no drama is perfect, and that sometimes, entertainment value isn’t about innate quality, but something more elusive. With the end of each episode, I told myself that it would get better, that I should just give it one more chance. And another. And another.

I am such an idiot.

This is not as horrible a drama as, say, Boys Before Flowers or that stain on Korean drama history known as Wife’s Temptation. But it isn’t a good drama, either. Oh, I know all you You’re Beautiful fans all going to come rushing at me with burning pitchforks, yelling “Off with her fat head!”. I don’t care. Honesty is my policy, and I’m being honest when I say that I regret the day I decided to start watching this drama.

Oh, there were moments when I saw glimpses of hope. There were glimmers of cleverness, like every scene where Tae-kyung outwitted He-yi (that scene where he throws her shoes actually made me laugh out loud…for once). And episode eight was the closest this show ever got to showing any real human emotion, where it seemed for a moment that there was actually going to be a semblance of character development and depth. Alas, it was not to be.

You’re Beautiful has a strange sort of quirkiness to it, and I can see why people were so addicted. But it was just inconsequential and unoriginal fluff for me. I never felt for the characters because they were never real. They were just pretty cardboard cut-outs who lipsynched every once in a while. And don’t even get me started on the overwhelming angst (a definite recurring flaw in the Hong sisters’ dramas), the terribly shallow acting (go back to singing, Jung Yong Hwa), the super-cheesy dialogue, the ridiculous plot, or the annoying over-usage of two or three songs (if I have to listen to an A.N. Jell song one more time, I’m going to amputate my ears). And that ending! Talk about being one of the laziest drama endings of the year. (Should I put a semi-spoiler alert here?) I mean, I get that they were just making an allusion to what is probably the most famous trendy drama ending of all time, the ending for the cliched and ridiculous but oh-so-entertaining 1997 drama Star In My Heart. But it wasn’t even a parody, not really. I would have felt much better about their choosing not to come up with their own ending, and ripping off another, better one, if they had taken it and injected some kind of humour or twist. But no. It was done in complete seriousness, straight-faced, as though it was the most romantic moment EVAAAAH. Uh-huh, right honey, we’ve all been there, seen that. Next!

Seriously, can someone invent a time machine for me? I feel like I’ve wasted so many hours of my life with this childish drivel.

Will It Snow For Christmas?


I’m kind of a fan of writer Lee Kyung Hee. That is, I’ve seen 5 1/2 dramas she’s written: The short one episode drama My Older Brother, some of Let’s Go To School, Sang-doo!, I’m Sorry, I Love You, A Love To Kill, her two episodes of Beating Heart, and Thank You. And she’s been an overall hit with me, with the notable exception of A Love To Kill.

This drama in particular…is not her best work. Far from it. After 2007’s Thank You, despite its flaws, I thought that she had noticeably improved. I was hoping that her next work would be even better, and that her tendencies towards cliches and excessive melodrama would tamper down.

However, Will It Snow For Christmas?, while it holds all of the charms of an Lee Kyung Hee drama (nice sense of nostalgia, quiet touching moments, engaging romance), it showcases all of the glaring flaws as well. One of the things about Lee Kyung Hee dramas is, they need really strong actors in order to work. Without that, everything can fall apart in a moment. And unfortunately for Will It Snow For Christmas?, it has a very weak link in its leading lady, Han Ye Seul.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Han Ye Seul or anything. But she’s always been a weak actress, and although you can tell she’s trying here, she just isn’t making the cut. And it’s hurting the drama as a whole.

That doesn’t mean that all of the faults of the drama rest on Han’s shoulders. Far from it. The directing tends to make things seem more dramatic than they really are; I really wish he’d tone things down a little bit, create a calmer kind of atmosphere. The overwhelming music tends to invade scenes that shouldn’t be invaded. And Lee Kyung Hee’s gone right back to where she’s always been, writing cliches by the handful. Her skill is in making those cliches somehow work and feel a little different by creating living, breathing characters to carry them through, but hasn’t everyone who’s seen an Lee Kyung Hee drama seen these characters before? She’s just recycling the same traits that made her past characters so popular and beloved. It’s disheartening, to say the least. And when you have such a weak leading actress who can’t completely bring your character to life, then you find the drama tripping itself up every so often.

And while I’m on the subject, let me just say that I wish Lee Kyung Hee would go back to writing dirt-poor male characters. At least back then, they weren’t perfect catches. Now that she’s trying to escape that trend, she’s fallen into the Rich Guy With A Secret Heart of Gold cliche, and it’s aggravating. If she writes one more scene showcasing how smart and kind and perfect Go Soo’s character is, I’m going to scream. I’d like to see more flaws in the guy than a quick temper. Pretty please?


The dramas that swept me off my feet and refused to let me down again. The best dramas of 2009, the ones I’ll choose to remember this year for.

Friend, Our Legend


I’ve had the same core group of best friends since the first grade. The four of us have watched each other grow up, suffer, and gain a little bit of wisdom with age. And we’ve gone through it all together. I live thousands of miles away from them now, and we don’t get the chance to see each other often. But every time I do see them, it’s like nothing’s changed at all. It’s like time has stopped. They’re the kind of friends whom I know I’ll love for the rest of my life.

So watching Friend, Our Legend was a somewhat painful yet beautiful experience. It was beautiful because I could sympathize so deeply with its characters, and get swept up in their lives and the events that led them down different paths. And it was painful because watching the break-up of a close friendship is like watching a little part of someone die. I remember watching one scene in a later episode where nothing much is said – Dong-soo simply looks at Jun-seok once and walks away. But my eyes immediately filled with tears watching this tiny little interaction. I could actually feel the gulf widening between them, and thus my heart ached for these two friends who were experiencing such pent-up, unspoken grief.

Friend, Our Legend is full of little moments like that, moments that seem to have been sliced out of time, to be presented to us for our consideration. The early episodes of Friend are particularly strong on the slice of life feel, giving the viewer a light-hearted, warm approach to the memories that surround this group of four friends (seven if you count the ladies). This makes for a not particularly exciting but deeply important first few episodes, where you can actually taste the youth and all the confusion that goes along with it. As the years pass and the characters grow up and drift apart, one can’t help but feel a certain sense of inevitability. The viewer knows what is going to happen – even if you haven’t watched the film version, it’s revealed to us very early on. So what we’re engaging in is not the question of what will happen, but how it got to that point, and why.


After last year’s My Sweet Seoul, this drama is another strong argument for the move for directors from Chungmuro to Yeouido. I can’t say I was ever a fan of Kwak Kyung Taek (I’ve never even seen the movie version of Friend), but I love his work here. Friend, Our Legend is just breathtaking to look at, its visuals so beautiful and gritty and enticing. I remember watching the opening scene of the first episode and thinking, “Damn, that’s gorgeous.” The mood and atmosphere for this drama is just about perfect, soaked in nostalgia for the past, and bathed in a subtle whisper of tragedy. True, the music is average at best, and can be jarring in its appearance in certain scenes, but that’s mostly a minor quibble. And yes, there are times when the stylistic elements come forward too strongly, and it ends up feeling like you’re watching a glossy music video instead of a drama depicting a living, breathing story. But those moments, too, are few and far between, and grow progressively infrequent as the drama goes on. At the end of the day, it’s the strengths of the story and the way it is told that stands out, leaving all of those flaws in the dust.

But what I really want to talk about is the acting. I mean…Holy crap of a seagull, is that really Hyun Bin? What on earth has happened to this guy? Suddenly his eyes are glowing with passion and energy, suddenly it seems like his body is housing a dormant volcano ready to explode at any moment. Watching his character slowly evolve from quiet, hurt, gentle soul desperate for just a hint of love to twisted shell of a human being is just wondrous, as well as heartbreaking. And Hyun Bin pulls it off beautifully. He took my very breath away. He’s had a rough few years after the enormous success of My Name Is Kim Sam Soon, quality-wise, but I think he’s finally back, and a million times better than he ever was before. This is easily the best performance of his career. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us in future.

Even actors that I previously brushed off as mediocre, like Kim Min Joon, completely changed before my eyes. When did he become this natural, this into his character? It’s just amazing. And then there are folks like Wang Ji Hye, Jung Yoo Mi, Lee Shi Eun, Bae Geu Rin, Seo Do Young. Hell, look at the entire supporting cast, too, with folks like Kim Dong Hyun. There’s not a bad seed to be seen anywhere (although I’d argue that Seo Do Young is the weakest link).

I fully admit that before I started watching this drama in earnest, I assumed that it would be a show drenched in machismo and male posturing, exactly the kind of thing I can’t stand. But by the time I hit the third episode, I realized that I’d been completely wrong. The four main friends are male, yes, but the women – Jin-sook, Eun-ji, Sung-ae – are just as important. They’re not relegated to mere window dressing moved around to give the boys their necessary minute of romance. No, they’re portrayed as tough, strong, resilient, smart and independent, with their own lives separate from men and their own hopes and heartaches. And the actresses portray all of that beautifully, with so much charisma that it could easily overtake other aspects of the drama, if it weren’t controlled carefully.

Friend, Our Legend is not a perfect drama. But it’s a complex, smart, and heartfelt one, and has the ability to dig straight into your heart and potentially tear it apart. As much as I’m loving writing about it right now, it hurts me to do so at the same time. The characters are no longer just characters to me. They’re real people, ones I love and hate and cherish. And, y’know, the more you love, the more opportunity for pain awaits you.

Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father


Who knew that such a little drama, comprised of only four hours, would sneak up on us in this kind of year and prove itself to be one of the lone gems glowing in a pile of trash?

Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father was the main reason I entered 2009 feeling hopeful. It aired early this year, and after I finished watching it, my eyes starry-eyed with excitement, I said to myself, “If 2009 is starting out with this kind of quality, imagine what kind of dramas await us in the rest of the year!”.

But instead of being an indicator of how 2009 would turn out, it ended up being one of the very few exceptions in a very dark year – a year full of scandals, tragedy, and political asshattery (asshattery which has now reached even our beloved Korean dramas. Sigh). Looking back, I realize how lucky we were to be given the opportunity to watch this kind of drama this year. I wonder when will be the next time we see something that tackles a sore part of Korean history in such an intelligent and interesting way?

First things first: Kyung-sook is not for everyone. As a black comedy, and as a drama that is set during the Korean war, it deals with some very serious issues: food shortages, parental abandonment, adultery, betrayal, war, death, prejudice. And yet it does so in a light-hearted, humourous way, presenting all the bare facts, raw and painful as they are, and dealing with them perhaps in the only way they knew how: laughter. As someone who grew up in a family that refused to talk candidly about the pain of living through the Korean war, or about the scars they still feel from the events of the Gwangju Massacre, all I know is that I’m glad it’s being talked about at all, and in such a candid way. There is no blindness here, no illusions. The characters are not heroes who freely help others before themselves and stick together as a perfect family. Kyung-sook’s father is a jackass, a coward who thinks of himself before even his own family. Kyung-sook is not exactly being raised by the best of people, and she has to deal with that with all the pain and tears that implies. And yet she endures. It occurs to me that this drama is a testament to the strength of the human spirit, to the ability to find humour and hope even in the darkest of situations. And most of all, it is about the (dysfunctional, fraught, complicated) relationship between a father and his daughter.

The directing and writing is awesome, but it’s the acting that really sticks in the memory here, particularly the acting of little Shim Eun Kyung, who is quickly proving herself to be pretty much the best child actress working in Korea today. And that’s saying something, considering the talent pool of child actors that Korea apparently holds. And then there are veterans like Jung Bo Seok, once again essaying one of the best performances of the year, showing without restraint all of the father’s faults, but also making it impossible to hate him in the end. Hell, the whole cast is wonderful, from the smallest child actor to the oldest veteran. With so many good things going for it, not to mention the legacy of the classic stage play from which this drama is adapted, is it any wonder it turned out to be the best drama of 2009? Friend, Our Legend had bigger moments of raw power, but Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father is the one that came closest to consistent perfection.


I admit, I’m looking forward to January. Jejoongwon looks very promising (if only it weren’t airing on SBS!), and I’m so excited for Chuno that it’s kind of ridiculous. Road Number One, too, can’t air soon enough. With such promising projects looming on the horizon, it’s tempting to say that 2010 looks brighter than 2009 was. But I don’t want to jump ahead of myself just yet. Let’s just say that now that I kind of know the secret to enduring bad dramas, maybe I’ll be okay in future. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll learn to love dramas for reasons that I can’t quite comprehend right now. At the very least, I hope I won’t be paying another drama-induced visit to Dr. C anytime soon…


247 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. LTK

    Wow…honest and very surprising. I’m not sure that I grade my drama’s the same way you do but I also am definitely not nearly as passionate. So I’ll just sit back and absorb the brutally refreshing honesty.

    Good or not, I thought it was a fun year still. 2010 upwards and onwards.

  2. JuiceBox

    Wow! Great job Javabeans 😀

    This review is so insightful (as most of your posts are) and really makes me look into the depth of a drama instead of just looking at what is presented to us.

    Keep up the good work!

    • 2.1 WonderGirl

      Not Javabeans. Dahee_Fanel.

  3. guest

    I definitely agree that “Cain and Abel” was flash w/o substance…certain aspects of the plot were just ridiculous…

    As for “Will it Snow for Christmas”, I had hope for it in the beginning, but it’s turning out quite bad actually, my favorite Lee Kyung Hee work is still “I’m sorry I love You”

    Anyways, your year-end review was pretty entertaining to read! Looking forward to more!

  4. faridah2201

    I agree 100% with BBF, that you somehow continued to watch even if it was not regularly is a surprise to me. (BBF fans do not kill me)

    I did not hate Cain and Abel, actually I rather enjoyed it but that could be due to being to see so ji sub on a regular basis.
    You’re Beautiful: I am madly over JGS. The show itself wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great. It may have been extremely predictable, but it was tons of fun to watch. Sometimes that is what you need.

    I disagree wholeheartedly about Smile, You. While the main couple together are wonderful, the rest of the second generation is entertaining watch (except for Jung-Kyung whose character needed to be developed better). The adults are annoying but I think it is a good show overall.
    I also like WISFC but I can see how Han Ye-Seul may turn you off., I wanted to punch the screen at one particular scene but the rest of the cast is strong. The characters may be written a little flat but the actors do a good job of adding layers to their characters that do not exist in the script.

  5. Haj

    Thanks for the year in review.
    Boys Over Flowers was most certainly over rated just as You’re Beautiful and you have no idea how pleased I am to see someone agrees with me =)
    I LOVE your taste in Dramas and most of what I watch is based on what you have recommended or insulted. I have yet to see Friends but after reading this review it is definitely on my list of to-watch. But I must say that even though I COMPLETELY agree with you about the flaws in Will it Snow for Christmas, I also have fangirliness syndrome and will continue to watch solely because of Cha Kang Chin. Since this is part 1 of year in review I am hoping that you will discuss the dramas of 2009 that weren’t complete failures. There can’t be only two can their?!?
    thanks again!

  6. Alyn

    @2 This was written by Dahee_Fanel, not java 🙂

    I agree with you about You’re Beautiful. At some point in the story I actually stopped and though “Wow, I must be way too old for this”. Sure it was cute but that’s all it had going for it most of the time. I tried really hard to emotionally connect with the story and the characters but I just….couldn’t. We’ve met a million heroines like her and a gazillion more like him.

    Not sure I understand your “Anti- feminist” comment. It seems that any female who isn’t portrayed as a strong, ass kicking character is automatically written off as an embarrassment to women everywhere and the writers are accused of sexism. Women do come in different shades and sizes.

  7. Archaenon

    Everyone has thier own tastes , but I think your being too harsh on dramas. I mean heck , they are dramas.

    After reading this , I respect why you didn’t like them , but it seems like your overly hard to please , that’s what I got from this post anyways.

    I don’t think 2008 was all that bad , I mean there were some stinkers , most of them actually being Japanese ones this year in the drama world. I thought that the Kdramas stole the show this year in terms of ones that I really really enjoyed.

    But hey , to each thier own. It just seems like you don’t like anything. =x

  8. kenyangal

    Hey Javabeans,
    This was very interesting. The only 2009 drama I finished was Boys Over Flowers. Luckily I’m still a relatively new kdrama watcher, so I have lots of older dramas to watch.
    My question is, though, how do you explain the differences between your drama recaps and ratings with your reviews here? Your recaps, especially for you’re beautiful (which I stopped watching at episode 4 so I totally agree with your review), are so different from your criticisms here!

    • 8.1 WonderGirl

      Because Javabeans didn’t write this review. Dahee_Fanel did.

  9. Masaya

    I only saw 1/2 of QSD, part of YA and ChaChaCha in the list here and I pretty much feel the same way you do. Anyways…

  10. 10 Toya

    Dramabeans, there is no other who can be so eloquent with their snark.



    ….. and I liked Cain and Abel ;_; "

    Happy New Year!!!

  11. 11 ange

    f0r me..its touching en fun watching youre beautiful and cain en abel..

  12. 12 butterball

    Thanks for the post! It’s nice to read an honest review of a Kdrama addict, which I am not. I watch 1-2 drama per year and normally get emotionally invested with the characters so unless it’s really bad (i.e. Cain and abel), I will push through and watch it (You’re beautiful, WISFC).

    As for YB, I am on the fence. It is sensational to be part of the craze, it’s a refreshing watch. Not the best (especially towards the end), but enjoyable.

    It will be fun to read all others’ reviews as well 🙂

  13. 13 M&M

    totally agree witchu on BOF.
    OMG – if I hear ONE more word about how awesome Lee MinHo is, I’m going to bash somebody’s head in. It was just so *URGH. I watched the first episode & I was like DONE – no more. I cant believe Hyunjoon was casted in this thing; he didnt even act! All he did was smile..n twinkle. Just like RPatz =_=
    N the sad thing is he’s casted in the upcoming korean remake of Kimi Wa Petto T_T Man, that’s one of my fave j-dramas of all time.
    You’re Beautiful was decent..IN THE BEGINNING. The ending made me go..waaah? I didn’t think Park Shin Hye’s acting was all that.. (Dont kill me PSH fans =[).
    As for the good one..what about City Hall? I actually thought it pretty good. 🙂

  14. 14 GreenFreak

    It seems there’s some confusion about who is writing this review…

    This was written by Dahee_Fanel NOT javabeans..

    That said, the only two dramas you liked, Friends the Legends and Kyung-sook’s Father I haven’t seen. Will have to give them a try sometime soon.

    Like many viewers, I enjoyed You’re Beautiful. I admit it was nothing original but it was a fun watch. None of the other dramas were impressive, but some had some entertaining moments. I watch dramas for those moments, remembering these are dramas and nothing more…. so I don’t over analyze them too much. 😉

  15. 15 nycgrl

    I haven’t seen anything on your list except for “Your Beautiful” (I only have so much time in a year so I limit myself to 4 dramas). I normally wouldn’t watch something like “You’re Beautiful” but reading one episode recap by JB and being out with the flu created the perfect setting for watching this and I have not regretted it. It was light hearted fun but a sick soul needs laughter like chicken soup. The last three episodes were not very good and the ending is lazily written. For me however it was the best for 2009 and did the miraculous thing of making me laugh at least once per an episode. It wasn’t deep and I’m sure it degrades with repeat watching but JGS acting was great, supporting actors serviceable and the writing quirky and often surprising. If I had watched this after reading all the hype I’m not sure I would not have loved it as much but I was in the midst of the wave while it was roiling and it was a fun bubbly ride.

  16. 16 miss_procrastination

    While we are all entitled to our opinions, you express yours with such a patronizing venom that I can’t take any of them seriously. I am just being honest here. Honesty is also a policy I follow.

    • 16.1 Ling

      You said it! Dahee Fanel is brutally honest!

  17. 17 Snikki

    I’ve only seen 3 out of all the dramas in 2009. And one happens to be the biggest disappointment — B.O.F.! I only finished it for the Soeulmates.

    More emphasis so should be in bold:
    This Year-End Review was written by Dahee_Fanel, NOT Javabeans 🙂

  18. 18 pearl

    Oh my goodness, my father also watched “Style!” He never forced me to watch it with him because I was away in school, but I was so surprised he chose to watch that drama on his own! But leave it to Kim Hye Soo to spark his interest.

    I have to disagree about “Boys Over Flowers” and “You’re Beautiful;” I find both fun, light, and enjoyable! No worries, I’m not going to bite anyone’s head off.

    Thanks for your insight!

  19. 19 Amber

    Thank you so much Dahee for this; it was highly entertaining and occasionally enlightening, and you were spot on in your review of Cain and Abel in particular(how can a drama have so little heart? HOW?). Looking forward to reading everyone else’s reviews too! Oh, and for the record, Chuno=my most anticipated Korean drama of 2010 as well

  20. 20 javabeans

    Thank you Dahee!

    I see that some people have confused this post for mine so I want to be sure to reiterate that this Dahee Fanel deserves credit for this write-up, not me! Mine is forthcoming. 🙂

  21. 21 Molly

    Thanks for the reviews! They were very analytical and I loved reading them, especially since I’ve only seen a handful of the dramas on this post. 🙂

    I was surprised that You’re Beautiful didn’t hold a higher spot on your list, but I didn’t watch it apart from a few clips here and there so you would know better. However, I definitely agree that Han Ye Seul is pulling down Will it Snow for Christmas. She just seems so bland, with that curious but self-deprecating look on her face in practically all the scenes.

    Although I’m generally fine with Go Soo’s character being nearly perfect, I wish that they would bring out his quick temper more, to make him more of an equal to Tae-joon and for character consistency purposes. When Kang-jin was young, I thought we saw more glimpses of his temper, but the older Kang-jin seems to be too calm compared to his younger self. I do like how both Kang-jin and Tae-joon are on the same social levels though, and that there isn’t much of a class difference between them and the other characters…although I suppose Woo-jung is singled out in that regard.

  22. 22 Toya

    Hm, I think part of this review sounds like you’re ranting a bit. ^^ Like, a bit too harsh on everything. But then it’s your review and you can write what you like, and I enjoyed reading your thoughts nonethless.

    Friends is definitely on my to-watch list after this review.

    Personally, I loved YAB. It was cute and quirky and I loved the KPop set-up. But I agree that it was flawed, and PSH’s character, while cute in the beginning, started to grate on me along the way (not nearly as badly as Gu Hye Sun’s though). The excessive melodrama in the end, the plot holes (hello, it’s almost impossible for identical twins to be of two different sexes — identical twins happen when the same fertilized egg splits to form two zygotes in the early stages of pregnancy, and it’s been very rarely been reported for them to be of the opposite sex. And it’s nearly impossible again for two fraternal twins (two separate eggs fertilized by two different spermazoids) to look the exact same . Sigh. And by the way, how come Mi nyu never worries about her brother until he shows up at the very end? O.o) and the cliched parent storyline really bogged it down.

    I loved it anyway.

  23. 23 estelle

    Imho, your review was a lil extreme. =X No offence, really!

  24. 24 hjkomo

    Thank you, Dahee! 😀
    As always, loving your insights and witticisms.

    January 6th, here we come!

  25. 25 Toya

    Just did a little research on the whole twin issue.

    Turns out that girl/boy identical twins are only possible if the Y chromosome in one of the twins disappears for unknown reason during pregnancy, making them female.

    However, these women are afflicted with a disease called ‘Turner’s Syndrome’.

    Hong sisters, much as I love you — you fail biology forever.

  26. 26 may

    At the end of 2008 I was looking forward to an improved drama scene in 2009. Yet, every drama I was looking forward to this year turned out to be disappointing, Cain and Abel is a good example.

    Boys Before Flowers had an unusual hold over me. I watched it faithfully each week as soon as I could get a hold of the episodes. I actually thought it was great, Almost Paradise notwithstanding (that song made my ears bleed). Then something strange happened: a couple of weeks after it was over, it was like the buzz was gone and a tremendous hangover hit me. I keep saying to myself, what the hell was I thinking?

    Right now I am desperately trying not to get too excited over Chuno, albeit not too successfully. I don’t think I can take another let down, especially where Lee Da Hae is concerned (yes I admit I am a super huge fan of Lee Da Hae).

  27. 27 paula253


    thank you soooo much for mentioning Kyung-sook, Kyung-sook’s Father. I too found it a perfect little gem, one I hope that KBS World will repeat whenever it needs to fill a spot between longer series. As I’ve said before, some of my very faves have been these shorter series like Murder in the Blue House or Fugitive Lee Duyoung.

  28. 28 Anonymous

    hmmm i think Smile, You is one drama of this year that NOTHING bad can be said about. Seriously, I don’t know why it doesn’t get over the top ratings. I will not be able to understand how anyone that has watched this not liked it and if anyone hasn’t watched it you are missing really good stuff. It’s hilarious,charming,cute,romantic, and they really use the music almost perfectly. It’s easy to watch, and has amazing characters that are perfectly casted. I think the music is used almost perfectly- again, I will remind people of BBF: different songs playing literally every 2 to 5 minutes. Great writing, great couple, I mean i really don’t understand what you’re talking about with that one. I just had to defend it XD

  29. 29 loveydovey

    sorry that was me ^^

  30. 30 Toya

    LOL sorry Dahee_Fanel, forgot to read who wrote it, but it still doesn’t make my comment less true, you do snark eloquently. <3

    So loved the year review.

  31. 31 GreenFreak

    @25 – Toya

    And that’s the reason my husband refuses to watch dramas with me…

    When he catches clips he just critiques and rambles on how illogical the plots are, which makes watching dramas less fun for me. :/

  32. 32 Emily

    Sounds like my taste in dramas would be too plebeian for the high and mighty reviewer.

  33. 33 Anonymous

    Not particularly impressed with the reviews, but I definitely appreciate you taking the time to write it :).

  34. 34 wednesday

    totally disagree on you’re beautiful but then again, to each their own. let me just say that while you wasted your time watching those kseries, yb included, i also wasted my time reading your review.

    looking forward to jb’s review.

  35. 35 anjell

    WOAH!!! what an honest and shocking commentary! you left me breathless and speechless… 😉

    I commend you for your keen analysis… you never fail to amuse me Javabeans! 😉 as much as I LOVE YAB (i think i will always do)… i respect your opinion… you’ll be my company as i watch the dramas of 2010… ^___________^

  36. 36 crash

    It’s not written by JB, this one’s written by dahee_fanel

    OK since you want honest opinions, i’d say my piece. the tone at which this is written reminds of me of some big shot hollywood movie critic thinking that she is high and mighty and that she knows absolutely the makings of a good or a bad movie. but you are not, and that makes it worse. Self-indulgent, Condescending, Presumptuous.

  37. 37 anjell

    WAIT!!! I didn’t notice the post wasn’t from JB~~~~ my bad…T.T

    Dahee_Fanel, I find your post interesting…^^ and as I said earlier, I respect your opinion…..

  38. 38 Sonam

    I am fussy with movies but have learned not to be fussy with dramas otherwise I’d be tearing my hair out all the time.. All I ask for are two things in a drama. Charisma or good acting . Smile You has a terrific cast and I am very happy with it.
    I was one of those people who raved about LMH in BOF but in retrospect I am wondering did he shine because the rest of the cast was so bad?
    Since HYS has neither the acting talent or charisma I have decided to drop WISFC if she doesn’t get less bad in the next episode or I will begin to think KJ is really stupid.
    Didn’t see the others you reviewed but I might watch Friend, Our Legend. I loved the film and didn’t want to watch the drama because I thought it wouldn’t measure up but you have piqued my interest.
    Enjoyed reading your post. Your passion for dramas comes right thru. Maybe you shouldn’t take dramas so seriously. Your dad sounds like he knows how to enjoy dramas.
    Agree about YAB. I like the two leads but it seemed like a drama made for kids under 12. I just lost interest after a few episodes and also I found Smile You and there was no looking back.

  39. 39 elaineD

    dramas are watched for fun, so fangirlieness is TOTALLY AWESOME haha.

    sometimes the heart is not there and it’s just time to enjoy the acting and the jokes and the whatever sentiment the makers of the shows wants to throw at you.

    BUT, if the heart IS there, HECK.

    savor it and really learn something about human nature.

    hey. characters are meant to be symbolic anyways. if they were exact replicas of real humans, if would be hard for us to see our own flaws and strengths.

    (: happy watchings dramas! there are always good dramas to come, even if it’s packaged into those few moments <3

  40. 40 ripgal

    DB, I think you should put a HUGE sign there saying that Dahee’s the reviewer. Everyone’s like going OMG SHOCKED at your (ehmm.. Dahee’s I mean) blunt honesty.

    Point aside, I don’t get why people are getting seemingly affected (or offended?) by Dahee’s review. I mean, it’s her own opinion on how the dramas fared. Whilst I agree (and disagree) with her on some of the dramas.. each to their own right? Those who are familiar with her style of writing will know… ^_^ She won’t give a da*n haha..

    Thanx for sharing again Dahee!

  41. 41 javabeans

    @ripgal, thanks, I just did that. I didn’t want to “intrude” on my guests’ posts so I thought the “intro post” would take care of that, but I think I was wrong. Hopefully the note will clear things up.

  42. 42 crash


    yes i do respect her opinion, i’m hoping she will respect my opinion on her self-indulgent, presumptuous writing.

  43. 43 Anonymous

    ehhh anyone who watches kdramas in the first place looking for substance is a little deluded

    it’s like trying to find a deeper meaning in britney spear’s / miley cyrus’s songs

    at least, my only goal when watching random dramas is to be entertained

  44. 44 embermiya

    I really can’t understand how people could mistake this for Javabeans lol. I read the first few paragraphs and knew it wasn’t. Seems pretentious and a harsh to say the least. Are you mad?

  45. 45 frash

    Yes, I like someone who can differentiate a good drama -with a not-so-good one. Quality-wise, I mean.

    When I watch dramas, I dont really try and look too deep in it (or more, I ~cant~ look into it too deep. My brain doesnt allow me to. LOL), really. But lately, I find myself much more picky-choosy. There are always flaws, nothings ever perfect, and everyone’s stupid. LOL. But I really think I ought to have a slap in the face and someone yell “it’s a drama, just enjoy the damned thing.”

    ugh, Dramas are always frustrating, I am never happy. But, tbh, Ive found quite a few good ones this year. Not that they were any less frustrating, but some that ~have a deeeeep place in mai heart, yo.~

  46. 46 joeydragonlady

    @ Dahee_Fanel, Different views for different folks.

    Athough I hated how You’re Beautiful ended. I wouldn’t say it was a waste of time to watch it. Ulike BOF it didn’t have a set cult following but as the drama progressed I felt it spoke to it’s target audience well. It never claimed to be a great
    well thought of drama but it calls and attract viewers never the less.

    I personally watched YAB because of Jang Geun Suk and I was hoping
    for a drama like this for him after Beethoven’s Virus a drama that is
    not really appropriate for him IMAO.

    I fell in love with Park Shin-Hye after watching this drama, I never really noticed her before but after watching her portrayal as Go Mi Nam I started watching her
    other dramas.

    Jung Yong Hwa is a newbie in acting and personally I think he pulled off the
    Shin Woo Character really well. HongKi well let’s just say watching him made everyday a party.

  47. 47 jm126

    Uhm, OUCHH.
    As I was reading this I started to wonder if this was really Javabeans writing this pessimistic article! It wasn’t. Then I let out a sigh of relief. & agreeing with @7, you’re definitly hard to please!

    I disagree with most of your list (no offense!). As much of a flaw Boys Over Flowesr was it felt refreshing compared to the previous ones & had a endearing charm.

    Smile, You is starting to lose some of its fun currently but it’s not as bad as you’re describing…

    You’re Beautiful was ahh-mazing fun to watch. The over-the-top situations made the show so un-cliche to me. Jung Yong-Hwa’s acting abilities didn’t wane either and Lee Hong Ki & Jang Geun Seok’s acting really amazed me, especally the latter since he seemed to have embraced his inner Tae-Kyung-ness.


  48. 48 corrakun

    tbh i sort of agree with @16. there was so much brutal mixed in with the honesty that it turned into a haterade cocktail. haha. still an entertaining read. looking forward to the other reviews coming up :]

  49. 49 blackdirt

    Initially I too, was confused when I saw how much you disliked You’re Beautiful because I thought this was written by Javabeans as well. But no, it’s written by Dahee_Fanel, everyone.

    i do respect your views and probably everyone has different tastes, but watching You’re Beautiful and then reading Javabeans’ reviews really made me love the drama a lot more. She managed to offer her insight in the drama and actually allowed me to delve deeper into it. I’m sure that in every bad drama, there may still be some depth in it.

    It was also enjoyable to fall into the crevice of fandom watching You’re Beautiful, to go mad over that little Dwaeji Tokki toy and crazy over Jang Geun Seok’s ever plunging neckline. Probably a good drama for a K-Pop fan to escape in due to the cast and music.

    Sometimes we just need some escapism from the real world out there and engage in some of our personal fantasies – that’s why I really disagree with your views on You’re Beautiful and reading the way you so passionately hated the show upset me a little.

    Yet nonetheless, good points pointed out.

  50. 50 Pully

    You have an ODD TASTE.

    I certainly did not like those dramas you dislike, neither did I like those which you like.

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