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Finding hidden gems and lumps of coal in 2009 [Year in Review, Part 5]

First, I’d like to start by thanking Sarah for inviting me to be a guest reviewer. I must admit that I was, at first, a bit daunted (okay, scared ****less would be more precise), but how else could I begin to pay a little back to those who have given me so much? I’m neither a blogger nor a writer, but I am an avid fan of kdramas (possibly, too avid), as well as Javabeans’ blog, and these past few years have been brighter and better because I get to come here, my home away from home, each and every day. Good company makes for good times. It truly is an honor to be included with the likes of Dahee, Thundie, JB…and, yes, even Samsooki 😉 .

Overall, I’d say 2009 had more to offer than the kdrama drought of the previous year, but as I watched more than 20 of this year’s fare (plus several more that I dropped midway), I found myself becoming increasingly…..well, grumpy. Usually, I tend to finish dramas that I start, I don’t have many expectations from dramas when they begin because I never know how they will affect me personally, and I don’t easily succumb to boredom…so what could’ve caused the permanent indentation on my forehead [from all the headdesking]?

Could it have been the number of daily dramas I was so easily suck[er]ed into watching due to fangirliness and the prospect of shared ogling and squeeing with friends (I haven’t forgotten who recommended those dramas to me, mind you!)? Had my tastes changed so drastically since reaching triple-digits for total dramas watched over the years? Or was I simply turning into one of those persnickety old ajummas with rapidly decreasing patience for idiocy? I’m sure it’s a combination of all that, along with an increased appreciation for solid writing, directing, and acting.

Then towards the end of the year, just when I thought I could not endure any more squama frontalis abuse, I finally watched Kwak Jung Hwan’s 2007 masterpiece, Conspiracy In The Court. It had always been a part of my Horn of Plenty (my ever-increasing list of dramas to watch), but it wasn’t until this mind-blowing experience that I finally realized why I had been drawn to the underrated gems of 2009 while being left unmoved by those that brought in the big ratings.

SONG OF THE DAY

Conspiracy in the Court OST – “Parallel Lines (평행선)” by JK Kim Dong-wook (Because this is just an awesome song, covered in a decadent awesome sauce with whipped cream and a cherry on top.)
[ Download ]

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So let’s begin with the daily dramas, shall we? They really do have to be taken with a grain mountain of salt. Don’t forget to turn your brain off at the door, and barricade yourself with some nice, soft cushions to lessen the blow from the oncoming barrage of drama clichés and caricatures.

I LOVE YOU, DON’T CRY
(or as I like to call it – “I love you, and someone’s going to end up crying…a lot” and that someone was usually me [from the sheer torture])

Oh, Lee Jung Jin…this was your follow-up to Two Outs In The Bottom Of The Ninth? Lee Yu Ri was decent, Kim Jin Seong as little Jun was adorable (especially with that puppy). The second female lead deserved much more slapping than she dished out. Veteran Lee Soon Jae was his usual great self, but Kim Mi Kyung, whom I normally love, annoyed me to no end, as did Kang Boo Ja (who played LYR’s grandmother) and her circus make-up…for the entire 132-episode run.

THE ROAD HOME
(a.k.a. The Road Sure Was Long, Winding, and Torturous…so I took a left turn at Albuquerque and moved on)

I’m not ashamed to admit it. I watched this for Lee Sang Woo (and a group of kdrama-watching buddies). He’s no thespian, and he really does look like chipmunk (although, we’d affectionately named him hamster boy long ago), but everyone’s entitled to a little eye-candy now and then, right? This drama boasted some great veteran names (most daily dramas do), but it was the younger cast that had me running for the hills. Jang Shin Young was insipid and had little chemistry with Lee Sang Woo, and it wasn’t till far into the drama that I realized she was the actress I was so annoyed with in Rebirth-Next. Park Hye Won (Time Between Dog and Wolf) and Otani Ryohei (Soulmate) were cute, but I didn’t stick around long enough to see where their relationship went.

Yoon Sang Hyun was slated to play Lee Sang Woo’s older brother (which later went to Shim Hyun Tak), but it’s a good thing, for his career, that he ended up in Queen of Housewives, instead.

DON’T HESITATE
(a.k.a. Don’t worry about missing any of the drama because there’ll be more than enough flashbacks of what just happened five minutes ago, every two minutes!)

Another Lee Sang Woo drama (I was lured in by fanservice and the promises of my buddies – again!) Except, instead of family birth secrets, this one has the dreaded…..dum, dum, dum-dum…AMNESIA! And not just your ordinary amnesia, mind you…nor the initial amnesia followed by the second amnesia of the memories you accumulated during the first bout of amnesia – oh, no sir-ee…this one is ‘selective amnesia’ of all memories pertaining to the boyfriend who slept with your best friend (resulting in a child) and whose life you saved by donating part of your liver! Then, post-surgery, you go into a coma from the shock of it all, wake up three years later, and start working at the company where said lily-livered (pun intended!) ex-boyfriend works. You fall in love with your supervisor (Lee Sang Woo), who just happens to be the childhood friend of said ex-bf and his sister, who is also in love with the aforementioned supervisor. (What happened, Kim Young Jae? You were so adorable in My Sweet Seoul!) Oh, and you don’t remember your backstabbing best friend, either, and she just happens to be the first love of…..yeah, you guessed it -> your supervisor! OMG, kill me now!!!

I’ve fallen behind on watching this drama, but now that I’ve gone over its, er, finer points…I’ve realized that I won’t be picking it back up anytime soon.

EVERYBODY CHA CHA CHA
I don’t know why they named it thus, except to torture us with that annoying theme song at the beginning of every episode (and after marathoning the first 40 episodes, I’d rather have listened to a cat singing a Tom Waits song while on acid). Oh Man Seok, who also gets my vote for Biggest Waste of Talent, is criminally underutilized. I don’t know how or why he ended up here, but the only thing that got me through much of this drama was trading snarks with Dahee. (Thank you, dear!) When they extended the drama to 150 episodes, I just about cracked my skull open as it came crashing down on the desk. Now, if only Oh Man Seok would sing a little bit more…or not wear such god-awful clothes, it would make the journey just a tiny bit more bearable. Oh, who am I kidding?! But I made a vow to finish this drama, and by golly, I will finish it!…someday?

Now, with all the headdesking I endure while watching daily dramas, you may wonder why I subject myself to such misery. In all honesty, I don’t really know, either. I only started watching daily dramas last year (except for one in 2006). Sometimes, it can be quite enjoyable watching a drama that’s so BAD that it’s so much fun to mock it with one’s friends. And other times, you just want to see the main couple overcome their trials and tribulations to finally BE TOGETHER.

ENJOY LIFE / LET’S NOT DIVORCE

I checked out this daily drama when it first started airing because of Lee Tae Sung (Two Outs In The Bottom Of The Ninth, Time Between Dog and Wolf, Romance Zero). Hong Min Soo (Kim Yoo Mi) and Jang Yoo Jin’s (Lee Tae Sung) noona-dongsaeng romance (she’s 35; he’s 29) is surprisingly sweet. What starts off as one-night stand turns into something much deeper, as Yoo Jin does his best to woo Min Soo – braving precarious heights while the entire neighborhood watches, to propose to her outside her window, and serenading her with a piano tune (and lovely singing, btw).

Go Doo Shim and Park In Hwan play Min Soo’s parents and are still happily married after 35+ years. Park Jung Soo and Im Chae Moo (last seen together in My Life’s Golden Age, in completely different roles) play Yoo Jin’s parents. Jang In Shik (Im Chae Moo) is an abusive, chauvinistic brute. Sometimes, I get the urge to strangle him with his own golf clubs, but I read a synopsis in which his wife finally leaves him after some of Min Soo’s independence and strength rubs off on her, so I’m holding out hope that he’ll be getting his comeuppance soon.

Okay, it does sound like almost any other daily drama, but I’m a sucker for romance. Here, I’m drawn to main couple…I’m invested, and I want to see them make a success of their marriage. It’s not going to win any awards (remember, it’s a daily drama), but it’s entertaining enough for me. Can I have my happy ending now?

BOYS OVER FLOWERS & YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL

Two trendy teen dramas. Both with avid crazed followings. Both overrated. But why was my experience with one so different from the other?

When BOF aired earlier in the year, I, too, got swept up in the mania…to some degree. I wasn’t crack-addicted, but I did tune in every Monday & Tuesday. Since it was the only one among its competitors I was watching at the time, it was the first drama I downloaded and watched on those days, and I was eager to do so. The writing, directing, and music left so much to be desired, and my head knew this wasn’t going to be the drama of the year – far from it, in fact…but my heart was invested. I even kept up with the faster-than-a-speeding-bullet soompi thread (and survived with my vision still intact!).

I was impressed by Lee Min Ho’s performance. He’s got natural talent and it shone. Gu Hye Sun wasn’t at her finest, but she didn’t bother me, either. Lee Hye Young, Jung Ho Bin, and Kim Young Ok’s performances deserve to be mentioned as well.

What about YB, you ask? I am fan of the Hong sisters. Hong Gil Dong is my favorite among their works. (sidenote: Samsooki, although you may continue to live the rest of your days in utter and complete delusion, Kang Ji Hwan is first JB’s, then mine…and if you’re very well-behaved, you may get visitation rights when baby Ji Hoon is old enough to chaperone you. 😛 )

I was entertained, and sometimes amused…but I never caught that “it” feeling from YB. You know, the one that makes you rush home from work, ignore your spouse, dinner, and anything else that gets in your way…just to feed your current crack-addiction. I had other dramas queued up for watching first, I didn’t go near any YB threads (except to read JB’s excellent recaps), and I never felt fully invested in the drama. While Jang Geun Suk’s performance awed many most, I was always cognizant of his “acting”. He does have natural talent, but I have yet to see him make the most of it in his adult roles.

To sum it all up: Did I regret watching either drama? No. Would I rewatch either of them? BOF – no. YB – yeah, maybe…but not anytime soon. (If you need to reach me, I’ll be hiding behind Dahee, ducking from the burning pitchforks thrown my way.)

HIDDEN GEMS

THAT FOOL / THE ACCIDENTAL COUPLE

That Fool OST – “길” (Dong-baek’s theme) by Choi Chul-ho [ Download ]

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This is considered a gem in my book because it is where I discovered the sublime brilliance that is Hwang Jung Min. Prior to watching this drama, I had only seen him in the movie, A Bittersweet Life. Could this be the same actor that played such a ruthless villain? It most certainly was. Hwang Jung Min immersed himself into this role so completely that the actor disappeared and what was left was 100% Gu Dong Baek. He elevated what would have been another forgettable show, into a jewel of a heartwarming, feel-good drama.

And don’t let the title mislead you – Gu Dong Baek was certainly no fool. He chose to view the world his way, following his own moral compass of goodness and sincerity. His genuine heart infected all those around him, including me.

Also, not to be missed is Hwang Jung Min’s bromance with Baek Sung Hyun. I certainly look forward to their reunion in the upcoming movie, Like The Moon Escaping From The Clouds.

ASSORTED GEMS / JEWEL BIBIMBAP

Assorted Gems OST – “Tell Me” by KCM [ Download ]

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Unlike the other weekend dramas I began watching around the same time (Yes, I’m talking about you, Creating Destiny, Loving You A Thousand Times, and Smile, You), this one left me with not a single urge to fling my head against the nearest hard, flat surface…not one temptation to throw the first object within reach at my precious laptop screen…nor the desire to jump into the drama to strangle the nearest annoying character. (It happened just as my state of grumpiness was reaching its all-time high, so this was certainly no easy feat.) This is what good writing and a talented ensemble cast can do. The writer, Im Sung Han, who was previously known for her makjang-ish dramas chock-full of histrionics, decided to stay far away from those elements this time around. The result? A well-written, solid weekend drama…and it gets my vote for Best Family Drama. It started out with dismal ratings, but they have steadily increased over time, like the tortoise that quietly keeps chugging along in the race against hare.

The Goong children, Go Na Eun (Bi Chwi -> jade), So Yi Hyun (Ruby), Lee Hyun Jin (San Ho -> coral), and Lee Il Min (Ho Bak -> amber) have a special relationship with each other. Bi Chwi is mother hen of the brood, willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of her siblings (like any normal Korean mother would). She and Ruby are especially close. They are each other’s sounding boards – yes, they confide, they confer…they think. Forced to take on the role of the adults in the family because of their own parents’ continual mishaps (Dad’s a philanderer & Mom’s a gambler – played by veteran actors, Han Jin Hee and Han Hye Sook, respectively.), the Goong children must, time and time again, pick up the pieces of the messes their parents leave behind. Finally, once the last straw has broken the camel’s back, they band together to preserve and protect what’s left of their sanity, as well as their own physical well-being, and decide send their parents packing. It may sound harsh on the surface, but it is handled in a mature, realistic fashion. The immature, selfish “parents” are sent to live with the grandmothers, who are also deliciously flawed in their own right.

Kim Young Ok as the paternal grandmother, Gyul Myung Ja is FAB-U-LOUS (and gets my vote for Best Supporting Actress). Her name may mean cassia flower seed, but she’s anything but fragrant and flowery. She’s got the tongue of a sailor and the strength to match. (I sooo want to be like her when I’m old/gray[er]. 😀 )

Jung Hye Sun is the maternal grandmother, Baek Jo, which means swan in Korean. She’s a prima donna with a penchant for home shopping.

Together, these two make up the Best Odd Couple. They are each other’s neighbors, nemeses, and confidantes. They get into ridiculously hilarious brawls, rent hanbok (traditional Korean dresses) that look more at home in an amusement park parade or on top of a cake than on any normal Korean, and dance to Brown Eyed Girls’ Abracadabra (multiple times!). Need I say more? Well, as hilarious as they both are (their shenanigans seriously make my sides ache whenever I fall into fits laughter), the writer has also ensured that their characters are given more depth than merely being used as comic relief. Neither is relegated to the boring role of “elder who must uphold Confucian values and ensure that order and peace prevail within the family.” Aw, hayell no. Each is a living, breathing human being with her own wants and desires.

Newbie actor Michael Blunck plays the Goong family’s Buddhist monk-in-training tenant. (An American playing an American – what a novel idea!) His constant squinting as he tries to emote in the early episodes is quite distracting, but his acting does improve as the drama progresses. And I’ve got to give him mucho props for his Korean. How wonderful is it to have a non-Korean speak Hangeul so well, in addition to his flawless English? Much, much better, say I, than unintelligible English from a European…or a Korean who supposedly studied in the U.S. (Who else, besides me, was forced to read the Hangeul subtitles in Job Well Done in order to understand what Seo Hyo Rim was supposed to be saying in English?) And his character, Kyle Huntington, grows on you. He’s a strange amalgam of part – lost little boy, part – neighborhood ajumma.

Lee Tae Gon (Im Sung Han must be a fan because of his because of all the fanservice he gets) plays the other tenant, who develops a romance with Go Na Eun. Theirs is not a teeny-bopper romance. It’s a slow-simmering love story between mature adults. It certainly wins for best hug, as well as best hand-holding-near-miss. Other dramas have tried the latter, but none measure up to the one here.

Two more things about this drama, in case you need more reasons to watch it –> 1) FOOD PORN! The dishes aren’t fancy, but they remind me of my mother’s and grandmother’s home cooking. I always find myself extremely hungry while watching these scenes and even craving dishes I didn’t really enjoy that much as a child. 2) Fantasy sequences. While YB had my favorite stand-alone fantasy sequence (idol group fanfic), Assorted Gems has the best overall cumulative, well-placed fantasy sequences. (One word of warning, though – recent episodes have been using the fantasy sequences in the previews, but I blame the PD for this bait-and-switch tactic, not the writer.)

So, we’ve got solid writing, excellent acting, hilarious comedy, a 30-something year-old male Caucasian ajumma, fanservice, romance, food porn, and fantasy sequences. Now, don’t you want to try a taste of this Jewel Bibimbap?

KYUNG SOOK, KYUNG SOOK’S FATHER

I had heard early on in the year what a gem this drama was, but I never had a chance to watch it until last week while visiting my family. I had an interesting experience watching this drama with my 98 year-old grandmother and my uncle, both of whom lived through the Korean war. I only know the general stories of their and my parents’ experiences during that time, but for most who survived (as well as those who didn’t), it wasn’t very pleasant. The first thing my uncle said while watching Jung Bo Suk as Kyung Sook’s father was, “There really were fathers like that.” And that is what this drama is about – a realistic snapshot of what it was like for this particular young girl (played so brilliantly by Shim Eun Kyung) during the war.

True, this drama is not for everyone, but I don’t think it is necessary for one to have a Korean background to really appreciate this drama. Just as it isn’t necessary for one to be in a similar situation as Willy Loman to understand Death of a Salesman. I bring up the theatre because this drama is an adaptation of a play. I didn’t know this fact while watching it, but once I learned of its origin, my reaction to the drama made much more sense. There are plays/movies/dramas you watch purely for entertainment, and there are those you watch for something more – a hard look at human nature. Kyung Sook, Kyung Sook’s Father belongs to the latter category. It’s not a comfortable watch, but I don’t believe it’s meant to be. I found myself very uncomfortable whenever Kyung Sook’s grandmother (played by Jung Jae Soon) was on the screen. Here was a woman with nary a maternal instinct in her, willing to forgo food for entire family for god only knows how long, just so she could eat chicken on her birthday.

As for the laughter? I didn’t find this drama funny at all, but I understood why it would be approached with a dark comedic bent -> because the alternative to laughter…is tears. The comedy wasn’t trying to make light of the tragedy. To me, it was merely the way the tragic circumstances of that era could be retold without causing one to fall into an utter and dismal abyss. Again, I think of Alan Cumming’s stage performance as the emcee in Cabaret (the musical was set in Berlin in the 1930’s during the Nazi’s rise to power).

This drama reminds us not to forget what transpired during that harrowing time, but it is also a beautiful peek into the life of a young girl searching for hope…for some way to cope with what life has thrown at her.

FRIEND, OUR LEGEND

This is the first of three underrated dramas I’m going to mention that didn’t get the ratings numbers it deserved (they fluctuated in the 5-10% range) but demonstrated the quality that could be reached when dramas are pre-produced, as in filmed before airing. I watched the film version before I started watching the drama, so I already had an idea of what Kwak Kyung Taek could bring to the drama scene. I didn’t have a chance, however, to finish the drama due to time constraints, but from what I did see, I’m confident that this is going to be another hidden gem from 2009. It’s currently sitting at the top of my Horn of Plenty list.

TAMNA THE ISLAND

Tamna the Island – “그저 말하고 싶어” (I just want to say) by HowL [ Download ]

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This was the little drama that could…and did…..and then got screwed by MBC. It began filming about a year before its first broadcast and had most of its footage completed when the higher-ups (Damn you! Damn you to HAY-YELLLLLLL!!!!!! *shakes fists*) cut its run from 20 to 16 episodes because of dismal ratings (usually in the 5-6% range, nationwide). They had already made a similar cut to Strike Love a few months earlier (which I didn’t watch but, by all accounts, heard that the ending was quite unsatisfactory). Would the same fate befall our little pearl of a drama?

I lurve fusion sageuk. Throw in some romance, noteworthy acting, humor, and heart…and, normally, I’m sold faster than tickets to a Hallyu fanmeeting & concert. But like many others, I didn’t join Team Islander right away. It took a few episodes to get past the cringe-worthy English scenes and not-so-subtle humor to reach heart of the Island. And this drama had a lot of heart. It wasn’t just about an arrogant, city nobleman who falls in love with the plucky island girl. It’s about a man who falls in love with, and is forever transformed by, the island itself.

Fortunately, despite some awkward flow, the truncated episodes were still moving and thoroughly entertaining. Im Ju Hwan delivers a breakthrough performance as Park Kyu. And if you didn’t clutch your heart or stifle your own cries alongside him in episode 11, then your membership on Team Park Kyu is highly suspect. Seo Woo as the bubbly Beo Jin suited her role well (any complaints with her character would have to be blamed on the writing, not her performance). Kim Mi Kyung as Beo Jin’s mom was a joy to watch, and Jung Joo Ri was a hoot. I, for one, can’t wait to see the uncut version. Team Park Kyu, FTW!

RETURN OF ILJIMAE

Return of Iljimae OST – “매화가 흐드러진 날” (A day the plum blossoms were beautiful”
[ Download ]

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This drama is the third example of the quality that can be achieved when a drama is produced prior to airing. Ratings started at a promising 18%, but gradually declined, reaching around 8% at its finale. But like most, if not all, of my favorites, a drama’s ratings is no indicator of quality for me.

There isn’t much I can add to Javabeans’ eloquent recaps and review of this drama. It was one my favorite ones I watched this year, and it ranks very high in my all-time favorites list. It was simply beautiful in every sense – another fusion sageuk, but one with such exquisite directing that I was often left in awe and amazement. This was a manhwa adaption done right. Hwang In Roi succeeded here, where he failed with Goong. The emotions and longing between the characters permeated through the lens simply by the way a shot was framed.

I loved everything about this drama – the cinematography, score, action, writing, and acting. Jung Il Woo’s emotions shone even when all you could see was his eyes behind his black mask. Yoon Jin Seo suited the dual role of Iljimae’s two loves: his first love as a boy – Dal Yi, and his lifelong love as a man – Wol Hee. Jung Hye Young and Kim Min Jong were especially moving in their performances, as was the rest of the supporting cast. This one hero’s journey from a boy to a man during turbulent times should not be missed.

[And if anyone can direct me to where I can find the song that plays during Iljimae & Wol Hee’s reunion in Episode 8 (it’s not on the OST), I will be eternally grateful! 😀 ]

A FEW OTHERS THAT WARRANT A BRIEF MENTION

FAMILY HONOR
This was another family drama I enjoyed this year. It began in 2008 but aired more than half of its episodes in 2009. It had a lot of warmth and portrayed Korean Confucian values in a way that didn’t make me want to commit serious headdesking. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The family relationships were touching, and I found myself having many insightful discussions with my parents about our own family history. The romance between the two main characters, as well as the supporting couples, was beautiful to watch as the drama unfolded. After you’ve finished Assorted Gems, I’d recommend checking this one out as well.

HERO
Currently my favorite Wed/Thurs drama (at least, until Chuno begins). I’m not a Lee Junki fan, but I’m thoroughly enjoying this quirky little drama. Veteran actor Baek Yoon Shik is amazing as the former gangster, Jo Yong Deok (he’s also the father of actor Baek Do Bin). Yoon So Yi is well-cast as a female detective, and Uhm Ki Joon never disappoints (well, except when the writing in a drama is so, so bad that everything goes to hell in a hand basket *cough* Job [Not] Well Done *cough*)

ROMANCE ZERO
A fun and funny cable drama about a group of misfit employees at a matchmaking agency. Lee Tae Sung (Enjoy Life) stars in this one, as well as contributing to the soundtrack. It has a lot of guest actors you may recognize from other dramas this year, including a few Hwarang warriors (for those of you Queen Seon Duk fans). My favorite episodes so far (I’ve only finished a little over half of the drama) have been episodes 7 and 8 – a gangster with certain..er, issues…when it come comes to women, and rich playboy who falls in love with a country school teacher. I plan on catching up with this drama as soon as I can.

QUEEN OF HOUSEWIVES
For me, this drama was just okay overall – it started off fun but became quite draggy, especially after it was extended, and I just couldn’t feel for Kim Nam Joo’s character. She was irritating to the point of grating on my nerves. Oh Ji Ho was pretty vanilla, and Sun Woo Sun was…inoffensive, is the only word I can come up with. This was Yoon Sang Hyun’s breakout role, but I couldn’t get into the whole Ji Ae/Tae Joon dynamic. Besides, the title of the drama is Queen of “naejo” – naejo refers to a wife’s help/support/assistance to her husband, everything she does for the household and behind the scenes in order for her husband to succeed. For there even to be a possibility of a Ji Ae/Tae Joon pairing, they would have had to change the drama’s title. But the one bright star that emerged from this drama was the Lee Hye Young/Choi Chul Ho couple. Choi Chul Ho, known for sageuk (historical) and dramatic roles, gave the comic performance of his career. If I were to ever rewatch this drama, it would only be to fast-forward to his scenes.

CLOSING THOUGHTS:

Has the bar been raised too high? I don’t think so. I consider it a natural evolution of my drama-watching experience. I still love me my romances and light, entertaining fluff, but I’ve also come to appreciate greatness when it graces us with its elusive presence. I hope to find many more hidden (and, hopefully, some not so hidden) gems in 2010.

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I really enjoyed this review. I like how you gave an insight into daily dramas, something that I've never seen done before. Lol, just like you, I also tried watching The Road Home for Lee Sang Woo and just couldn't bring myself to finish.

Also, I agree with you on Return of Iljimae and, despite my rabid obsessed friends, on You're Beautiful as well. It was cute, but did not leave a deep impression on me. Finally, I'm glad you mentioned Hero. I've been waiting for someone to bring it up, and it's good to know that at least someone likes it. Now I have a reason to watch it.

Curse you, for adding to the growing list of dramas I must watch. ^^

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Good job. Haha but you better hide behind Dahee..... :D

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wow! thanks for the insightful review.
and unlike some ungrateful people, i loved it. :D

for me, though, YB and BOF was so different in the way that one [the former] made me excited for more and turned me into a crazy fangirl at times while the other [obviously, the latter :p] gave me migraines and left my (sore) finger to continuously push the FF button .
but that's just me. :)

i've heard rave reviews of "tamna the island" and i'm looking forward to watching it when i have time.

anyone have any good drama suggestions?
i watched some pretty tiring and exhausting ones and need a breath of fresh air.

:D

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Thanks for your review, hjkomo! I am amazed that you watched so many daily dramas, I am too scared of getting sucked into those!

I skimmed through the first episode of Return of Iljimae, but found some of it to be a bit silly--was that an invisibility cloak?! I think I might check it out again some time soon. Oh and so many people loved Tamna that I must watch it, once the director's cut comes out of course!

P.S. Oh gosh I watched (well, more like devoured) Conspiracy in the Court last month, thanks to recs from many people. It was awesome x100! If it were a 2009 drama, it'd easily be my #1. The theme song is amazing, too. :)

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I heart you for having the opening song from CitC! I've been meaning to buy/download the OST...and I love this song! And seriously thank you for the nudging on OT threads to start watching CitC---it really is amazing (Yay for Jan 6th! Chuno FTW!)

I loved that you covered so many daily dramas since I don't hear much about them. With yours and thundie's rec on Assorted Gems, I definitely plan on checking that out as well as That Fool. I also realized I had started Romance Zero earlier this year but never finished it so will have to give it another go. I enjoyed YAB more than BOF...though I also really liked Kyunsook, Kyunsook's Father. I still need to finish both ROI and Tamra though. But wonderful review! I enjoyed reading it! And honestly I love hearing your thoughts on kdramas, it's always a pleasure reading your opinions and recommendation on the OTs! Thanks so much for the review!

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Hi hjkomo.

Thank you for mentioning Family Honor - it's actually my favorite drama of the year and the only 50 episode drama I've ever finished. It was THAT GOOD.

AG is in my to-watch list since most people who loved Family Honor also recommended AG.

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Thank you sooo much for the honorable mention of Family's Honor! I loved that show and was heartbroken when it wasn't even mentioned in other reviews! On another note - I lurve family dramas at least I have the past couple of years. I watched around 90 episodes of The Road Home (Note to self - need to finish! Only 20 more episodes to go.. urrgh!!) and started Assorted Jems (Jewel Bibimbap before giving up on both. I might give the latter another try soon..

On a final note, I think I will wait till complete Tamra episodes are out before I watch it.. ^_^

Thanks for your review!

Edit- YB was not that bad. I loved it!!! Except for the last 2 episodes *sigh.. but to each his own I guess.
What about the awesomest show of the year, City Hall? No mention even dishonorable mention?? TT_TT

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@47 ockoala I've also put CitC on my to watch list after reading all these wonderful reviews and after some crazy searching I have found....
direct episode downloads at Aja Aja here: http://aja-aja.com/regular/conspiracy-in-the-court
subtitles by WithS2 and Editor/QCer is none other than thundie!!! :D http://withs2.com/view/conspiracy-in-the-court/

And to watch together, use a program like VLC or Media Classic Player (PC only). If you name the video file and subtitle file the same, both players will usually pick up on that and play them together but if it doesn't, you can load them manually too.
For VLC: File> Open File, load the video, check 'Use subtitles file' and load that> click OK and good to go! :D
For Media Player Classic: open the video, press CRTL+L and load the subtitle file

This is what I usually do for videos that use soft subs.... I hope that helps! :)

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@ Samsooki - You put my poetry major to shame! Thanks! I couldn't stop laughing or singing!! =P

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Thank you, @ charlie!

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hjkomo,

great job. thank you for two things in particular:

~ Making "Parallel Lines" your Song of the Day. oh, and btw, JK Kim Dong-uk is MINE. sexiest man in korea. my nickname for him is 남편 들 (husband #2). Don't tell mr. paula253. ^^

~ Capturing The Road Home so perfectly, including the title. what a snooze. I've never seen less chem. between a main couple; Jang Shin Young must have been taking sleeping pills for 5 months. (I'm beginning to feel the same about Jo-An in Cha Cha Cha but that could be the weight of the deadly plot/writing) Righto: the only couple to watch on Road Home was Park Hye Won and Otani Ryohei.

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@hjkomo: Thanks for a great review and for sharing your opinions. It is always interesting and beneficial to see things from someone else's perspective. We gain insights that make us not so parochial.

BTW, you can always attribute the reason for your voluminous amount of daily drama watching to the "hole in your head" caused by too much 'headdesking'. hee, hee.

For me, one major asset of "Family Honor" was seeing how a modern-day family still functions, while living under very traditional morals. It was also great to see the multitude of long-forgotten rituals, customs and obligations that some of us may have experienced from our childhood.

Although I was part of the throng for BOF, I still prefer YB to BOF. The deciding factor was when my maternal instinct kicked in and I thought I would be proud to have the A.N.JELL's as my children because all four characters had 'character', in the best sense of the word.

As for "Conspiracy in the Court", it is a totally mesmerizing short (10 episode) drama. However, it is not exactly an easy watch because one must pay close attention, in order not to get lost in the political complexities and conspiracies.

Wishing you a happy and "dramatic" (only in DramaLand) new year.

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This is exactly why I was so keen on convincing you to jump aboard the year-end-review express! Thank you for a review that isn't only well-written and well-thought-out, but also includes a lot of dramas that went under the radar or were otherwise overlooked. Daily and longer family dramas are one of my blind spots, since I tend to forget about them (not my bag) and I'm very happy that you covered a bunch of them here. Berry berry 감사!

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@ 24 hjkomo: Cool.. oh and I had meant from ep 1, not ep 6, teehee. I shall watch the dvd version from the beginning. I just listened to Parallel Lines you linked here.. and realized that I heard this song many times in some music videos, etc., in the last couple of years and was always wondering why it sounded so familiar.. and now I know why.. Doesn't this song just motivate you to watch the drama? What an awesome song.

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Hey there hjkomo

Thanks for mentioning Family Honor. I had forgotten this was part of 2009 lineup since I think of it as what I watched last year. It was far from perfect (at times very draggy and acting from leads nothing much to speak of) but it managed to leave a deep impression on me since it helped explain a lot of what I grew up with and framed it in a way that wasn't preachy and it really helped me appreciate my background rather than viewing as the antiquated customs that I was forced to go through the motions of. When the series ended I had an urge to be a much better daughter to my parents and it spurred a curiosity to ask my dad more questions about the customs around ancestor worship, chokpos and filial piety. I don't recall any drama having that effect on my real life. How amazing is a drama if it has that kind of power to instill a change in someone's behavior for the better? Who knew kdramas rather than being just mind pacifers to while away time have that kind of influence to do more than entertain?

BTW I'm going to watch CitC after Story of a Man. Sorry Hong Gil Dong. Every year Hong Gil Dong is on my list and I never get to it because something better always seems to come up.

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Thank you for the great review. Yours makes me very happy to read because finally my beloved Family's Honor was mentions and appreciated :) This drama means so much to me for the end of this year when I first found it out and wholeheartedly enjoyed the show..

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BTW Its funny how you can spend time on the OT with someone and not even know what they are watching. You have been one busy bee and I am amazed at your fortitude in getting through all those dailies and family dramas. I think I might watch one one family drama a year and only if I hear its pretty good like Sons of Sol Pharmacy.

total OT, when I was a real young teen I remember there was a family drama called Seoul Dookbaegi with Choi Soo Jong (emperor of the sea) that my parents you used to watch on beta. I can't remember anyone else on the show but I remember it being really funny and lately I have such a craving to watch this. Does anyone know where I can view this?

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@ Hjkomo:
Oh, I mistook it. I was writing about Romance zero thinking about Soulmate and Tamra the island.
I write to say that it wasn't cut and once again sorry for startling you.

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Thank you for your review!!!
Seems to me that at the end of the day we value our personal taste and opinion to high for what it ought to be.
Take for example, some of the dramas that got the highest ratings by the reviewers left me scratching my head in disbelieve, and asking myself where we watching the same drama?
For example I have try to watch
"City Hall" three times and the last time I stop @ episode 8, for some reason I just could not get the swing of this drama. Friend, our Legend 5 episodes and I was done, Assorted Gems four episodes and is no go for me, Tamra the Island four episodes of a French man Speaking English was to much for me,
I do agree with Samsooki, I am not to concern with technical aspects of a drama, but if a drama does not move me what ever that may mean, in the first four episodes I can guarantee that I will not like it, You're Beautiful grab me in the first two episodes, but honestly YAB is not getting an ward by the National Academy of Science in Korea, all this is pure "Entertainment" I do not have to apologize for what I do and do not like, but I can and will respect all of you guys opinions, Lets be fare,and polite to the individuals who dare to share a review in this the best blog of the whole world if not the universe.
You "DramaBeaners" I must say are the hardest bunch to please, and I believe that has to do that you guys are some of the "Smartest" drama fans around, Thank you for sharing your opinions, with out you guys 'DramaBeans" would not be the same...Happy New Year to all of you, wishing you the best in 2010....Peace Out.. : o )

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Looks like a lot of people actually love Family Honor. I agree it leaves you with a deep impression, and teaches you a lot about traditional family values. I did not find it draggy at all, even with 50 episodes. Maybe because I watched it straight nonstop after it finished airing. And lets not forget about the romance between the 2 leads which I find so beautiful and far from the usual cliche cutesy romance of regular kdramas. I have yet to see another female lead as intelligent and demure as Ha Dan-ah - you won't find her spouting idiotic lines or making contorted facial expressions.

Too bad this wonderful drama is not subbed by any fansubbing group.

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@ nycgrl, That "Seoul Dookbaegi" you mentioned (not the recent remake) is an example of the good daily dramas in the olden days I was talking about in my earlier comment. I don't know where we can watch it, but I know Yang Dong-geun was in it.. he was so cute mimicking Mr. Ju Hyun.. I believe he received an award for that role.

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thank you for spending more time on describingAssorted Gems :D
I'm in love with the drama, so me, who is very rarely commenting on soompi's forum, finally opened my can of worms. I visit and write comment on the thread every day now!

I love all the reviews, and now I'm looking forward for the Editor's Pick!

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thanks for a nice review/recap of the year. just the right amount of humor/snark that it doesn't come across as too negative or patronizing. i'm not sure what one commenter was saying but i do see substance in what you've written.

i'm a bof/yb fan but i'm not gonna attack you with pitchforks :) i like yb better. bof -- it's more the crazy that drew me into it, and towards the end i wanted to strangle somebody already hahahah

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Thanks for another great review. I laughed when I read your first three reviews!
Great job!

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It is a great read and love the music...Thanks...Happy New Year to All!

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Thanks hjkomo. What a MASTERPIECE! Now, THIS IS JOB WELL DONE! :-D

Re: Assorted Gems, thanks for your recommendation but am still waiting for subs from aja-aja. It has freezed at ep29. Lol

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thanks for the funny and thoughtful review!
i actually snorted soda out my nose at one point so kudos to you!!
@samsookie i will never be able to look atr CitC the same way again...and there went the rest of my soda.
have a little mercy on the laptop screen you guys!
like most others, i tend to avoid the daily dramas, but it sounds like i might have to hold my nose and just jump in, so i can see what all the fuss is about with assorted gems.
loved tamra island, i can't wait for the directors cut with eng subs.
Haven't seen much of hero but your review makes me curious so i'll have to watch if/when the eng subs come out. i moved it to my looong list at any rate.
i also liked hon (despite some uneveness in the acting/ storyline), which everyone seems a scared of....its not scary, honest, its just... creepy.
hope everyone has a wonderful new year!

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Very much loved your review. Though I must admit it was a bit of an ACK moment when I saw that you had grouped BBF and YB together xD Well I suppose they do have their similarities, but I think YB was just a better drama all-around (not the best, but better than BBF), fanbase notwithstanding.

I must watch Tamra now, it sounds really fun!

Thank you for your wonderful review!

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Agree 100% with your Assorted Gems review ! It's most definately the best Family Drama of this year , it's to bad that not that many people are watching it (although it had a dedicated viewer and fanbase on viikii) because of the 50 episode run.

Family's Honor was definately a memorable drama, in fact it was so good I spent an amazing amount of money for its dvd. Do not be let down by the first 2 episodes. Because the different chemistry of every couple and comedy of little Dong Dong will quickly make you fall in love with it!

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Nice reviews. You went over some dramas I have not seen, and you've piqued my interest quite a bit.

I also didn't feel the "IT" factor when I was watching YB. There was something about it that screamed imitation to me. It was like BOF and Coffee Prince had a love child with a musical bent. Park Shin Hye was certainly more tolerable than Koo Hye Sun, but they both did that pouting, squished up face every other minute, which I found incredibly irritating. Also, Kim Hyun Joong and Jung Yong Hwa were carbon copies of each other. I couldn't help feeling a wretched sense of déjà vu as I watched YB. I sort of made myself watch it because everyone was hyping it so much.

When I was watching BoF, it was the "crack addiction" situation where I followed it religiously, even though I really didn't care for the main actress. It's obvious that dramas with pretty boys who hover around the main character (who is usually cute rather than drop-dead-gorgeous) will become popular. Fangirls feed on this. And if there's a chance for some slash fan fiction to be written, by god, they will write it. LOTS of it.

My favorite drama from this year is Smile, You. Why? Because the main couple has the most believable chemistry I have seen in a K-drama this year. Simply that. Finding good chemistry in K-dramas is difficult, especially since most female characters stand like statues whenever their male love interest "makes a move on them." In Smile, You, there's an exchange between the main couple that is really sweet and the advances are not one-sided.

I'm tired that many of the lead girls in popular dramas are portrayed as dim or not that bright, but somehow they are compensating for it with a good heart...Really? I'd like to see some dramas where the girls aren't reduced to dim, "but kind-hearted" caricatures. It would be a refreshing surprise.

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thanks for the review...its bringing a new light to dramas that i never would think of giving attention to. Am a blind javabean follower -what JB deems nice, I watch ...But given your description (and the other reviewers) of Assorted gems, am gonna give it a look .

It's fun reading your writing. Happy new year !

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@ockoala -
quick techie review - first you need some time and hard drive space
(Santa loved me and sent me a new external hard drive)

Next you really should have VLC - which is a handy replacement video player that can play nearly any format of video. So, go download that and install it. It's free and here....
http://www.videolan.org/vlc/

Next you find your target - if perchance the file is in parts due to download limitations, then you will also need a file mender/splitter. I'm on a mac so I use Split&Concat

Now, you download your episode. (if it's in parts, concat the file into a bigger file) Stick that in a nice folder.
Go to the site that has the subs - either download it, or load the page and save it - the saved file will likely end in SRT - this is good!
Put that in the folder with the episode.

Now, if they have the same filename except for the extension, just fire up VLC and it will load the subtitles. If they don't, then start VLC, go to Advanced Open File, pick the file, then click on Load Subtitles, then pick that file, and woosh! there you are.

Or you can rename the files to the same filename with the video probably ending in avi and the subs in SRT.

I believe aznv has the DC version of CitC up streaming (I'm not that fond of aznv, but needs must) - and VLC can run the streams.
Or, there is someone currently on ebay with a few copies of the regular version of CitC - but not the directors cut version.
If you hit a problem with an episode, yell - I had some trouble getting episode 7 downloaded, so I went to another source for it.

That's about as far as you really need to go - you don't need to venture into the wild world of bittorrenting or the high-dorkie-ness of codecs or anything. VLC will work 99% of the time and the direct downloads are pretty fast as it is.

And welcome down the rabbit hole.....

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Very entertaining and convincing. Love your sense of humor ;)

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@ 54 robotmatsuri
Are you thinking of Lee Junki's 2008 Iljimae? That's the one with the invisibility cloak. But Iljimae and Return of Iljimae are two completely different dramas, mutually exclusive of one other. I couldn't get past the first 5 or 6 episodes of Lee Junki's Iljimae (I had meant to finish it one day but have too many other dramas that take much higher priority).

@ 57 Icarusfalls
I have not watched City Hall. While it was airing, I was too busy staring in wonderment at Hwang Jung Min's brilliance in That Fool. But CH and Story of a Man are definitely on my Horn of Plenty list.

@ 67 nycgrl
I watch daily dramas because of the group-watching (and snarking) experience and because their half-hour length makes it easy to sneak in an episode while I'm at work, but they are definitely the ones I tend to drop when they start causing me too much headdesking torture. Sons of Sol Pharmacy was very entertaining, but it was also quite draggy in parts, and it didn't have nearly the quality of writing that Assorted Gems has. I find myself much less patient with [lack of] writing quality these days.

@ 76 simplesim
Assorted Gems subs are up to 32 at aja-aja. Enjoy! :D

@ 77 nanner
I'm a scaredy-cat when it comes to the horror genre, but I agree that Hon was more creepy than scary. I didn't finish the drama (time contraints), but I did enjoy what I saw. And no one does creepy better than Kim Gab Soo.

@ 80 vere
I couldn't get past the OTT-ness and writing of the first few episodes of Smile, You, and watching 4 weekend dramas simultaneously is a difficult feat. I'm still watching Creating Destiny & Loving You A Thousand Times for the lead couples (and I try to ignore everything else in those dramas), and I hear Smile, You gets better, so I plan on giving it another shot if only for Lee Chun Hee and to see what all the raving about the main couple is all about.

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5 year-end reviews? Wow, JB..what a great treat for KDrama addicts!!!
I'm so glad Family honor was included in your review hjkomo!!! I marathoned that series 3 months ago & loved it too!!!
am so glad most of you guys are loving Assorted Gems because if the writing & pacing continues to the end...it's bound to be my all-time Best Family Drama!!!
...Thanks for ALL the REVIEWS...i'll surely be reading them over & over again, cuz i use them as reference on the good dramas i should re-watch & must-see dramas i could've missed!!!

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I can't do daily dramas, not enough time in the day, but judging by your reaction, I'm glad I stayed away from them. I always think I need to go back and watch Assorted Gems, but I watched some of the first episode and was completely bored so I gave up. I might try again one day, when I have time, since a lot of people seem to enjoy it, but it might just not be my type of family drama. I'm intrigued by Kyung-Sook, Kyung-Sook's father because I get suckered into sad war-time shows, so I might check that out And I totally agree, show that are filmed and then shown usually turn out a lot better than those that are filmed while airing. Nice review, and I hope 2010 brings us something better

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great review!

and thanks for the comments on YAB. you've managed to sum up my feelings on why i thought the drama was not quite there.

i was just commenting to a friend that JGS has talent, but it would be interesting to see if the success of the idol drama would lead him down a more lucrative and fanbase friendly trendy drama path or to continue doing more adult, interesting roles.

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I just wat to comment on family dramas and daily drams: people are like dayum why are they so f-ing long and cliche ridden and long?
lol
Its because they are for people who work their arses off for long freaking hours. They come home, watch some ridiculous daily drama and life is good again.
Idk, but I dont think these dramas can be appreciated on the computer...with episode marathons. These dramas are for people who need something to entertain them while making the nights dinner etc.

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@hjkomo:

AHA! I found the lump of coal and turned it into a diamond. Actually, it's may be more of solving the mystery of who said, "Don't Cry, I Love You."

It was Jun (little boy) that said it ... to his little dog!

And, no one said it to the rest of the cast. That's why so many of them continued to cry. But, it was nothing compared to the tidal weave cried by the viewers...

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yay, someone commented on daily dramas, I was starting to think I was the only who watched daily dramas and read this blog.

Don't hesitate is ridiculous, I suggest that you do not get back on it or you will be sucked into its evil grasps again.

I am not sure how you finished I love you, Don't Cry, I liked the leads enough but the sudden twist in the middle threw me off.

The rest of the dramas you reviewed I more or less agree with except YB (but there is no pitchfork in hand) and Smile, You ( the love of my life but to each their own).
Thanks for your review.

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I think all family dramas are the same they never bring anything new to the table.

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@ 2-dramalover

Lol Actually i might be the only one who agrees to ur comment

This was a good review but not much insight :/

but its ok i have the other four reviews :D

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Not quite up to the high standards of dramabeans. I thought that your analysis and writing style was not good enough to be so snarky.

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@JB, hjkomo and @Samsooki

I tried...I really really did...but...why is it so hard for me to stand aside and be nice...
@2 dramalover, @93 drama-watcher and @92 Jokwon
THIS should be your #1 New Year Resolution
--If you do not have any nice things to say, please refrain from making any "snarky" remarks...SILENCE IS GOLDEN
Hope you will have a Happy New Year, too.

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Sorry, but in that case, it should say

Rave and Rave. Thanks. Happy New Year to you too.

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Huh? Did I misunderstand?

I thought the purpose was to review dramas. Are we also reviewing the reviewers???? If so, WHY? After all, this isn't an English 1A class. (I completed that required class many moons ago.)

Actually, it may be interesting if volunteers contributed their own drama review(s) on the Friday Open Thread. Of course, the traffic may get so hot and heavy, that it will stress out Dramabean's server. hee, hee.

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thank you hjkomo.. I appreciate your review for I watch KBS' daily dramas

not proud of it but I watched The Road Home till the end because it fits my schedule. The only character that got me scratching my head was the abusive ex-husband (he looks like a cartoon character with the moustache, really). The youngest brother was cute. The story itself - initially I find it quite hard swallow for I'm not Korean (obviously), different culture & all but it's really quite harmless..

I dropped Everybody Cha-Cha after a few eps

@ 94 cingdoc

THANK YOU!!!

looking forward to Chuno!!! yayyyy

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Family honor definately is a have to see! Not because the male main character is so cute *ok I lied it part of the reason* I think it deals with everyone down to the main point "family honor". I find that we are adapting so fast to society that we sometimes forget our traditions, and most of time we're like to hell with it! The series makes me appreciate traditional women like Dan Ah so much more. As always she does a great job on her role, although I do wish for her to have more than just one expression.

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@ drama-watcher

Since your sarcasm hints to an eloquence and intellectual brilliance that surpasses most of us who drops by here in Dramabeans, why don't you give us your own reflections of the previous year's kdramas? I would so look forward to it.

@ jokwon

That goes for you too!

I'm so not leaving you guys until you do.

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@ dramalover

Yoohoo! Where are you? Are you busy writing those reviews? Hurry up, pretty please! I'm besides myself waiting in anticipation!!!!!!

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