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A year of surprises and disappointments [Year in Review, Part 1]

It’s that time of year again, when we look back and size up the past twelve months of dramas. This is my fourth year (this is my fourth year?!) doing this, and it’s always one of my favorite posts to write, because while I love to analyze and parse dramas to within an inch of their lives via recaps, I also enjoy looking at them through a holistic lens, to survey the forest as well as the trees. Plus, I eagerly anticipate what my fellow drama-loving friends have to say. I know that we’ll always have differences of opinion, but that’s the fun of it.

As in past years, this’ll be a multi-part series, with five posts in total. If you’d like to check out past Year In Review posts, you can get there by way of this handy link — linky! — or via the recap index.

Without further ado, let’s get this show on the road.

SONG OF THE DAY

Cinderella’s Sister OST – “Smile Again” [ Download ]

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As always, you’ll notice that some dramas are missing from my list. That’s because of that whole time-space continuum thing where I don’t have the time to watch every show ever, but hopefully amongst all of us writing review posts, we’ll get the big ones covered. The following are in chronological order by premiere date.

 

Wish Upon a Star

Wish Upon a Star is really two dramas rolled into one. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it’s two dramas frankensteined together with only the feeblest effort to link the halves in any meaningful way. One of these dramas is adorable, addictive, energetic, and sweet. The other drama is crap. For me, the lure of the former outweighed the buzzkill of the latter enough that when I think back on the drama, I recall it fondly.

I wasn’t expecting to watch Wish Upon a Star, much less get hooked and recap the whole thing. For one thing, the day it premiered was a busy, busy Monday that saw four premiere episodes, and it was the least interesting-sounding selection of the bunch. (The others were youth-oriented God of Study, workplace romance Pasta, and thoughtful sageuk Jejoongwon.) I gave the first two episodes a cursory watch, and while I was entertained, I wasn’t sold. But as the the lead character (Choi Jung-won’s Pal-gang) went from frivolous shopaholic to dedicated surrogate mother to her five orphaned, adopted siblings, it started to develop substance and heart, just as Pal-gang did.

And the kids! Adorable, yes, but what really made them stand out is the way they were more than mere plot devices needed to tie Pal-gang down to her new maternal role. They had distinct personalities and developed familial bonds with their new housemates, Kang-ha and Jun-ha (Kim Ji-hoon, Shin Dong-wook), bringing about changes in them as well. The unlikely bond that sprung up between young Pa-rang and cold lawyer Kang-ha was one of the highlights, as the boy’s unconditional love melted the latter’s icy exterior.

Alas, we had that pesky other half of the drama to contend with: the chaebol family with its scheming mother, scheming daughter, and secret baby plotline. That secondary plot increasingly lost touch with reality (not that it was all too acquainted with it in the first place) and took the tone from cute family bonding to makjang insanity. Second lead Chae Young-in was useless — haughty, sneering, in dire need of a clue — and she dragged down Shin Dong-wook with her. (Where was the charming, cool lead from Soulmate?) It’ll be a while before I can forgive her for ruining his last pre-army project (although to be fair, he had an unfortunate tendency to overemote; his intensity was out of step with the rest of the drama and came off a little unhinged).

Even more than the cuteness of the kids and the hilarity of the comedy (such as watching straitlaced Kang-ha dealing with the Night From Hell, which has him dirtied by a soiled diaper, vomited upon, and car stolen), there are two things that particularly endear this drama to me. First is that we get significant and satisfying growth from both leads, and much of that growth is spurred by the other, which makes their eventual romantic pairing that much more effective in a long-term sense. She grows up and becomes a responsible adult, while he lets his guard down and trades some of his cynicism for open affection.

Second is the fact that the drama actually delivered on its anti-Cinderella claims. Pal-gang dreams of being a Cinderella in the beginning, perfectly content to be a trophy wife. But when she decides to devote herself to raising her siblings and putting her frivolous past behind her, she actually means it. There no “until Prince Charming comes along to solve all my problems” caveat to dull the effect of her conviction, and she resists the easy outs offered to her via her rich new boyfriend and rich new grandpa. Props for that. Even so, at the end of the day she also realizes that being independent shouldn’t preclude love or marriage, now that she has made her point and delivered on the promise to not count on others to save her. She’s one heroine who earned her happily ever after.

 

The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry

The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry – “오늘의 날씨” (Today’s weather) [ Download ]

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MBC’s little-watched The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry is one of this year’s gems and one of the most underappreciated, even by myself. Sure, while I was watching the show I knew it was solid and insightful and at times laugh-out-loud funny. But it wasn’t until several months and numerous disappointments later that I appreciated more fully the drama’s balance of outrageous humor and its thoughtful handling of romantic, friendship, and family issues.

Even at its silliest, the drama is in tune with its heart; in this case, the friendships at the core. For instance, Da-jung’s drunken faceplant into wet cement is one of my favorite comic moments, but what makes it even better is the way Shin-young swoops to the rescue, because that’s what girlfriends do when our best girlfriends are drunk and stupid and needing the benefit of someone’s better, sober-er judgment — whether that sober judgment involves holding back your hair as you cough up last night’s mistake, or, as in this case, chopping it off to free you from a sticky (har) situation.

Centered around successful reporter Shin-young (Park Jin-hee), the drama follows her career foibles, romantic entanglements, and her friendship with her best girls, Da-jung and Bu-ki. In a nutshell, it’s a drama about the issues commonly faced by the modern working woman, which is a horribly dry way to describe the bright, effervescent fun spirit of this series. Not only does the drama tackle what it feels like to be 34, single, and happy about it despite the world telling you that you really should feel somehow lacking, it weaves together its various plots with an effortless, humorous touch.

Nowadays the noona dating relationship is a common drama trend, but rarely does the drama actually address some basic issues wrought by the age difference in a thoughtful, realistic way. Shin-young’s relationship with 24-year-old Min-jae brings up some valid points about being at different points in your life, not to mention the stickiness that arises in these nontraditional setups that mean your potential father-in-law may be your own age. (Also your ex-boyfriend.) But neither character is shoved into a stereotypical corner, and the two wade through these uncharted waters with hopeful optimism — it’s not so much about happily ever after as it is about being the happiest you can be and keeping an open mind about where that’ll take you.

It only takes one look at other dramas that attempted breeziness and instead came off painfully labored in order to realize how rare it is that a show hits the perfect balance between lightness and substance. The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry was a comfort-food drama that also made you think. And feel. And laugh. Best of both worlds.

 

Oh! My Lady

I probably wouldn’t have stuck with Oh! My Lady had the timing not been right; it aired at a time when there was a lull in the drama landscape, and I was willing to stick with a show that wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. Here was a familiar setup — older woman with younger man, housekeeper and employer, rich man and poor woman — that didn’t do anything very special with those tropes but was made watchable by the natural charm of Chae Rim and Choi Siwon. She has a warm, engaging screen presence and he, despite his lack of technical acting skill, has plenty of charisma, and together their bickering relationship carried the show.

They didn’t, however, have much in the way of sexual chemistry, which makes Oh! My Lady an odd entry in the rom-com genre. Perhaps the writer or PD picked up on their platonic noona-dongsaeng vibe and decided to leave the romance on the back burner, instead opting to highlight Min-woo’s (Choi) growth as a reluctant father after finding himself saddled with a young daughter he didn’t know he had. That was a wise choice, because that’s frankly a more compelling and less-explored plot than the housekeeper-employer romance.

Min-woo has a fantastic character arc, going from disinterested dad — the kind who even momentarily considers ditching his new burden on the street, for shame — to the kind who throws his reputation and public image to the wind without a second thought when his daughter’s happiness is at stake. But Kae-hwa (Chae Rim) is the same at the end that she was at the beginning, which isn’t so terrible for her since she was a decent human being to start with, but sort of a waste from a dramatic standpoint.

As a result, this drama goes from being Oh! My Lady to Oh! My Daddy, which is great for Choi Siwon but a damn shame for Chae Rim, who is making some disappointing choices lately. She was wonderful as Dal-ja (not to mention her earlier roles), so why is she playing older than her age, frumping her looks, and doing stuff like Good Job, Good Job and this drama, where she gets shunted off to the side as a prop for Min-woo’s development?

Oh! My Lady isn’t a huge disappointment because it’s a drama that didn’t make big promises to start with, but its one glaring flaw is that the lack of romance makes the resolution dissatisfying: When Min-woo pursues Kae-hwa, we get the sense that he’s drawn to her as a friend and as a mother for his child, not because he’s in love with her. In fact, it may have been better to just take that approach, but in asserting that he feels a romantic love when we haven’t seen it and can’t feel it, the ending rings false.

My recommendation? Watch this one for the father-daughter growth, which is sweet and satisfying, and feel free to skip the rest.

 

Cinderella’s Sister

It’s the ones you love that have the power to hurt you the most. Cinderella’s Sister had beauty, darkness, depth, emotion, complexity, and one of the most compelling characters of the year — Moon Geun-young’s complicated, nuanced Eun-jo — and, four episodes in, was simply captivating. And although many fans will mark Episode 4 as the marker for when the drama lost its spark — there was a time jump and a PD switch — I’ll even argue that its spell continued through its eighth episode. Or at least for me.

The drama was chock full of talented actors, and Moon Geun-young did not fail to blow me away with her portrayal of Eun-jo as a damaged, defensive, abrasive, distrusting young woman who desperately wants to feel loved but has learned too soon that love can betray and hurt you. That the lesson comes from her own mother (played commandingly by an always-superb Lee Mi-sook) only makes it harder for others to crack through that seemingly impervious shell she builds up around her, but one person manages it — stepfather Dae-sung, played by Kim Gab-soo, whose performance regularly brought me to tears.

So convincing is Moon that you’d think she’d been playing rebellious teens her whole career, and she made you feel Eun-jo’s pain and fear. It’s a crying shame that the drama then took these wonderful characterizations and stuck them on a narrative treadmill for about ten episodes — one step forward, one step back, on and on and on. It’s one thing if that lack of forward movement were merely boring — that allows you to mentally check out and detach, chalking it up as just another disappointment.

But Cinderella’s Sister piled on the angst and gave us tears, agonized family conflicts, and a whole lotta internalized brooding. Eun-jo clashed with stepsister Hyo-sun (Seo Woo), fought with Mom, and angrily shook off the well-intentioned advances of Ki-hoon (a sorely wasted Chun Jung-myung) in practically every episode, which became simply exhausting. How about some payoff to counter the pain? No? Let me go curl up and cry from all the emotional turbulence, then.

By the time the ending came around, I felt more like the drama was put out its misery than had achieved a believable resolution. These characters never learned, and therefore I had no hope that in their fictional future, they’d achieved any peace. Never has a happy ending felt so bleak. It’s enough to drive you to drink. (hic!)

 

Personal Taste

Personal Taste had been on my radar from the moment I heard about its premise — boy pretends to be gay to live with a girl — and the casting solidified my excitement. Sohn Ye-jin has long been a film star, but it would be a treat to see her back in drama form, while people had been anticipating Lee Min-ho‘s new project for months, dying to see if he could re-create the draw of his Gu Jun-pyo character that was such a sensation in last year’s Boys Before Flowers.

Casting, check. Premise, check. Hilarious sidekicks, check. Chemistry of leads, check. So where’d it go wrong?

Well, writing was certainly partly to blame, but I blame directing even more. Even when the plot was zipping along and the characters cute-ing it up all over the place (and each other), the drama found ways to muck up its scenes by editing poorly, inserting odd beats and cutting important ones, using strange music, and basically wrecking the effect that everyone else had worked so hard to achieve.

What saved Personal Taste from being a total disappointment is its wacky humor (chainsaws, gay-not-gay misunderstandings) and heartfelt acting. Sohn Ye-jin breathed life and spirit into her Kae-in character, bringing her vulnerability alive with painful clarity, and ultimately it was Sohn who was most wasted by the underdeveloped plot. Lee Min-ho had wonderful chemistry with her, and thankfully didn’t overdo the feigned gay act, which could have been uncomfortable at best, offensive at worst. (Ryu Seung-ryong must be mentioned for playing a gay man with sincerity and depth, and was a happy surprise.)

It’s the cohabitation dramas that go through extreme narrative backflips in order to maneuver the leads into the same living space — can’t risk soiling their virtue in the name of roommate hijinks — but once we get past the inanity of the premise and get them under the same roof, bring on the hilarity. Whether that means stumbling in on your roommie in the bathroom, or having to endure the mortification of overhearing her whispering to a friend about seeing your… you know… and describing it as “only” so big. Those scenes gave us some of our best comedic bits, and went a long way into maintaining the drama’s charm.

Yet as disheartening as Cinderella’s Sister was, Personal Taste was even more disappointing for me. Perhaps it’s because while Cinderella’s Sister was on an obvious, steady decline through its latter half, killing my hope slowly and surely, Personal Taste kept injecting flashes of awesome hilarity and heart at just the right point to cause that hope to flare up. And then killed it with the next implausible plot turn. What a tease.

 

Coffee House

Coffee House – “Page One” [ Download ]

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Despite my great affection for Kang Ji-hwan, I had no real expectations for Coffee House, and maybe that’s why I was pleasantly surprised by (most of) it.

I’ve gotten so inured to the standard kdrama cliches by now that any deviation from the norm is a welcome change, and in that Coffee House wins several points. First off, there’s the off-the-wall lead character, Jin-soo (Kang Ji-hwan), who is so far from the standard hero that it’s difficult knowing what to do with him at first. He’s the boss from hell, forcing his hapless secretary (Ham Eun-jung) to undergo numerous wacky schemes, all in the name of writerly experimentation. Yeah, he’s a jerk, and erratic and crazy — but also entertaining for all his eccentricity. He’s hilariously creative in his pranks, particularly the elaborate ones he pulls on his exasperating sunbae (Jung Woong-in). His actions often seem random and insane, until we see the logic emerge at the end.

And while he has a dark side, I appreciate that this drama doesn’t glamorize it as a bad boy in need of a good woman to “fix” him; his depression is crippling, destructive, and hinders his ability to connect with people in a meaningful way. I appreciate the layers that were built into his character, even if I didn’t always like him.

But surprisingly, it was Park Shi-yeon who won me over with her Eun-young character. She was a careerwoman who wasn’t coldly ambitious, was loving but not about to lose herself in an unhealthy relationship, a loyal friend who could call her friend on his bullshit — she wasn’t a cookie-cutter heroine who ticks off all the boxes on a Cliche-o-Meter, like so many heroines.

Their romance was also one of my favorites of the year, because it’s one where I felt for them. Oh, there were lots of couples that I found absolutely adorable this year, but most of them were in the “cute” category; often I felt their romance mentally, but not in a real, gut sense. With Jin-soo and Eun-young, it’s a combination of the unconventional setup — friends for years, but kept apart by the memory of his dead ex-wife — and the actors’ chemistry that brought the bond to life. When they kissed in the rain, you felt her yearning, and later, when they kissed at the train station, you had a palpable sense of his.

Coffee House wasn’t an addictive watch for me — it had uneven spots and the pacing faltered at points — but its unpredictability kept me tuning in.

 

Bad Guy

Was this the year of wacked-out endings or what? And in that category, Bad Guy takes the cake.

The drama had everything going for it at the outset: strong actors, wonderfully melancholy ambiance with flashes of darkness, moody score, an assured sense of pacing that told me to trust the skilled creative powers steering us through this mystery/revenge thriller that, as its title suggested, was full of moral ambiguity and complex characterizations.

On the acting front, Kim Nam-gil played his Gun-wook character with a detached, impenetrable air of cool, while Kim Jae-wook showed raw acting talent as a damaged chaebol. Oh Yeon-soo was impressive, though more technically sound than moving, and Jung So-min played her spoiled brat role to a tee. The problem was definitely not with the cast.

There were chinks in the glossy armor early on, of course, but I was willing to overlook them and simply bask in the stunning visuals and compelling acting. The drama had a tendency to over-convolute its plot in the name of melodramatic effect (a bane of kdramas as a whole, really), such as the narrative wringer it put lead character Gun-wook through as a child. It heaped trauma upon trauma on him, as though it couldn’t quite trust the audience to accept the moral grayscale, watering it down so that it wasn’t so intriguingly ambiguous after all.

But it wasn’t until the final quarter — about the time that the drama got cut down and Kim Nam-gil was called for army duty — that it became evident that the confident hand guiding us through the drama wasn’t quite so confident after all, and maybe had been bluffing all along. Themes and plots that had been introduced were resolved in maddening ways — the worst offender being that a character committed murder and got away with it, scot-free. And how nobody knew that a crucial character had died.

There were some interesting issues raised — such as how our bad guy wasn’t a bad guy after all but really just craved familial love, only to realize that he’d destroyed his own family. But when you create actions in a drama, you sorta have to see them through the end, and recognize that the actions convey a message. And while nihilism is a theme, it’s not a message, which leads me to the question: So what was the point? Of revenge, of truth, of living? Of this drama?

 

I Am Legend

And it started so well.

The premise sounded fresh — repressed society wife finds liberation in divorce and rock music — and the casting was spot-on. The songs were catchy and the casting of actresses who played their own instruments and performed live was a definite boon. The initial conflict as the wife’s in-laws fought her tooth and nail in refusing a divorce was a gripping underdog story where it really mattered that our heroine win the fight, because she was fighting not for truth or justice (noble but intangible values), but for her very self.

Kim Jung-eun was the perfect actress to play Seol-hee, who is capable of sass but has gradually had that spark suffocated out of her over years of cruel indifference on the part of her husband and his family. I rooted for her to find her wings and stand up for herself, and that kept me invested through the divorce case.

But then the divorce was resolved and half the drama still stretched ahead of us, which they filled by introducing a second lawsuit, making Seol-hee into a crusader for the people. The problem is, even occupation dramas should be about our heroes, not the case at hand. And we just didn’t care enough about the market to make the latter half any sort of interesting.

The drama missed opportunities to do more with the characters, such as the divorce lawyer who is Seol-hee’s rival in the courtroom and for both men — each woman’s ex is the other’s new flame. (Yeah, how tidy is that?) I was intrigued with this character because it’s one we don’t often see — a single mother who gives up custody of her child to her ex-husband because she is ambitious about her career, who isn’t negligent but actually pretty loving. Especially when you have another character in the cast who is a young mother struggling to balance her baby and her career aspirations (Juny). I wished there was more done with those characters, as well as drummer Su-in, who was sorely underdeveloped and didn’t even merit a backstory.

On the romance front, chemistry presented a problem: Too much of it with her dastardly ex, and not nearly enough with the new love interest, the bland songwriter. The setup should have worked, with her divorce from the cold lawyer freeing her for a new romance — or at least hot fling — with the musician she’d had a mad crush on years ago. But chemistry is a tricky thing, unpredictable and impossible to force, so instead the drama left that thread loose.

Which would have been fine if the rock band angle had sustained the show; the use of Seol-hee’s music to mirror her emotions in the first half was a nice touch. Yet here, too, the drama dropped the ball in opting to push the band aside in favor of that market storyline. I Am Legend chose to highlight the most mundane portion and sacrificed what made it charming in the first place — the friendship of the four ladies at the center and their growth as a band — and for that it gets a huge yawn.

 

Joseon X-Files

I feel confident calling this the best drama of the year, with its superlative writing, directing, plotting, and pacing. It hardly misstepped, if at all, and didn’t talk down to the audience. Sure, that meant that sometimes I had to watch an episode again to get the nuances down, but I’m so tired of dramas that assume we’re idiots that I greatly appreciate one that lays out clues for me to pick up on my own, so I can revel in the discovery when I do.

The concept mixes two disparate genres, sci-fi and sageuk, which is an experiment that could have gone horribly awry had it not been able to strike the right tone. Yet it was always in control of its mystery, dropping tantalizing hints at deliberate intervals — it gave you a glimpse of the overarching story that hovered over the drama, much like that great UFO that starts us off, dipping down occasionally to be seen, then zooming out of sight, into whatever space and dimension it came from.

There are aliens and spacecraft and paranormal activity at play, but ultimately this story is about Hyung-do’s journey from the safe confines of the known, visible world into the outer reaches of the unknown. Which is why the ending, to me, is so fitting. He has been through this incredible series of events, his eyes opened to phenomena he used to eschew as hokey superstition, and concludes that despite whatever greater truth is out there, what matters to him is the truth as he defines it for himself. It’s an argument for personal integrity, something he never loses his grasp on, and how can you argue with that?

This is one drama that doesn’t tie up its loose ends neatly, preferring to lay the groundwork and let you interpret based on the guidelines they’ve established. An entirely open-ended finale would have driven me nuts, but there’s just enough closure — and clues as to what happened — for me to be satisfied. The drama gently suggests lines of thinking that leave you free to believe — or not. Just as we do in real life.

 

My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho

I talk about the Hong sisters a lot, but when you’ve established a brand so distinctive and strong, and never fail to deliver a zany mix of humor, cheekiness, and adorable lead couples, you’ve earned a little viewer loyalty. My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho is their sixth drama in six years, and if nothing else, their ability to churn out zippy stories so disparate in genre and plot from each other is admirable. That they do so with charm and humor is downright amazing.

I’ve come to expect a few things from them, some of them good and some not quite so much, and Gumiho has ’em all: endearing leads, a comic courtship that uses humor to undercut moments before they get too saccharine, pop culture references, and lots of parodies. But with this drama, they introduced a new element — fantasy mythos — that elevates it by adding another dimension of meaning and symbolism to the story.

By making the gumiho real and plunking her down in modern-day Korea, we get a whole host of metaphors for human relationships that the writers play with on both literal and figurative levels. The ethereal being wants desperately to become human and live in the world, rather than watching it zoom by her from her immortal prison, on eternal standby.

She’s paired with a wastrel of a manchild who hasn’t quite learned what it means to be human either — and by extension, what it is to be a man — because he’s been pampered and privileged. As they fall in love, they both mature and establish their own rules for happiness, which is literal for them — how to keep both alive when there’s only enough ki, or life energy, for one person? — but which could just as well be a metaphorical representation of two young people discovering what it means to be in love and reconciling seemingly insurmountable differences to be together.

Shin Mina has been around for a decade and was quite famous in her own right, but the Mi-ho character was still a breakthrough for her, particularly since many had written her off as mere CF star and pretty face. She was luminous as Mi-ho, imbued with a childish curiosity that stopped short of making her seem stupid. She looked at the world with wide-eyed wonder, lit up from within, and won us over with her love of all things cow, pig, and chicken (in that order!), her adorably literal interpretation of language, and the way she loved unabashedly, confidently, and unwaveringly. We could all take a cue from her.

If I have to voice any criticisms of the drama, it’s that because the Hong sisters are so free with their favorite devices and twists, Gumiho didn’t feel quite as fresh as I wish it had. That’s what you get when you’ve gotten familiar with a particular artist; you want them to surprise you every time, and when they don’t, you feel bummed at the recycled elements which may only be visible to those who are equally familiar with the entire oeuvre.

However, taken on its own merits, Gumiho was winning and at times heartbreaking, and above all a breath of fresh air.

 

Sungkyunkwan Scandal

Every year has that one show that inspires massive fandom fervor and addictions (past years had Coffee Prince, Boys Before Flowers, You’re Beautiful), and this year Sungkyunkwan Scandal was IT. And for good reason: It had adorable characters, boyish camaraderie, solid conflict, and an ideological bent that gave a little added meaning to what could have been mere romantic-comedy fluffery. And that’s just the story. There’s also the gorgeous cinematography, the wonderful score, the bright and colorful visual palette.

Sungkyunkwan Scandal was addicting to the highest degree — at least for the first ten or so episodes, before that slowed. Even so, there was so much energy and life to the characters that it built up a pretty substantial store of goodwill with me. I know Sun-joon (Yoochun) was staid and boring, but I loved his integrity, and how he maintained it without being pretentious — he was noble and righteous to the core, not just trying to demonstrate superiority. Yong-ha (Song Joong-ki) was an intriguing mix of bold and fearful — his “secret” as a merchant’s son kept him from engaging fully, lest he be found out, but he developed a bond of loyalty with his friends that brought out his courage.

And do I even have to mention Jae-shin (Yoo Ah-in)? Having been impressed with Yoo back in 2008’s thoroughly silly Strongest Chil Woo, I wasn’t surprised that he became the breakout star of this drama, though I was surprised at just how intense the fervor would become. He was the traditional hero — brave, dashing, with a pained past and daddy issues — only he wasn’t the hero. Hero points AND tragic never-gonna-get-her points! Is it no wonder we all fell victim to the Guh-ro virus? (While Yoon-hee (Park Min-young) wasn’t my favorite character, she held up as the object of these guys’ affections, so she did her part.)

But more than each person on their own, Sungkyunkwan Scandal was sprinkled with some kind of pixie dust that made the total more than the sum of its parts. Separate, they were cute. Engaging. Endearing. But together, they were awesome, and the witnessing camaraderie that sprung up between them was like being dosed with happy juice.

I do have fairly major issues with the ending, which was all fanservice and pretty close to no character consistency, and sadly that does dull the memory for me. If only it hadn’t reneged on its earlier promises to give us a satisfactory out for the problem it set up — of how to reconcile Yoon-hee’s brilliant mind and her true identity with the strictures of the times. Instead, it left us hanging, and I think I’m still bitter about that, having had such faith that they would deliver.

A cop-out of an ending usually kills my love entirely (see: Bad Guy, Cinderella’s Sister), but Sungkyunkwan was so winning that I still remember it fondly, even if it is more as a “what could have been.” (Answer: AWESOME.)

 

Playful Kiss

Playful Kiss had an awful first episode that undoubtedly kept some from tuning in for the rest. But in a way, I think there was a benefit to the slow start in that the rest of us who stuck around lowered our expectations accordingly, and therefore were able to glean the fun out of the drama. Or maybe that’s me grasping for a silver lining.

The drama had a number of flaws, but wasn’t without its charm. My favorite thing about it was undoubtedly Jung So-min, who played Ha-ni with a realistic, heartfelt touch that I’m not convinced that the character was written to have. More than any actress in recent memory, she captured the chaotic emotional contradictions of what it feels like to be young and in love (or in crush) — the giddiness of a brief mundane encounter, the teeny voice of reason that reminds you that the crush is better off abandoned, the devastation in knowing you’re nothing to him alternating with the undying hope that maybe, just maybe, he really was looking at you this time.

She embodied that complex well of emotions so wholly that I felt embarrassed for her when she faltered, proud when she stood up for herself, and, yes, exasperated when her feelings got the better of her and she went back to pining for Seung-jo. Every. Damn. Time. But it was an exasperation of the sort you feel for a good friend, or a sister, born of concern and affection. She was Ha-ni — all heart, not so much brain.

Seung-jo, on the other hand, hardly deserved her, which almost everybody realized eventually but Ha-ni herself. I’m not a fan of his type of character or the dynamics of this relationship — not one tiny bit — and routinely had to fight my aggravation at how he liked to mess with Ha-ni’s emotions for sport, or how Ha-ni was never able to escape his thrall. Once it was clear that he reciprocated, Playful Kiss got a lot more fun to watch, but I still wish there was more substance to this drama. Slice of life is fine and all, but there were stretches where these two hardly spoke, so we didn’t even have the benefit of cute bickering to tide us over.

What’s ironic is that had this been Kim Hyun-joong’s debut drama, I think his prospects as an idol-turned-actor would have been much brighter, even though Boys Before Flowers had tons more viewers, more buzz, and a bigger place in the public consciousness. He isn’t exactly good in Playful Kiss, but he’s serviceable, and in that regard I have no complaints with his acting. (There was hardly any acting to be done on his part, because his place in the story was as a cold, mysterious cipher to Ha-ni for much of it.) Alas, he’ll have to wear the tarnish of Boys Before Flowers for a little longer, with Playful Kiss having flopped so spectacularly in the ratings.

Ultimately this drama isn’t one to watch for anything other than brain candy, since plot is nonexistent — some stories don’t even conclude properly, they just fade out and we pick up some time later. It’s all about the two characters growing up alongside and gradually toward each other, so if you find either character lacking, chances are this isn’t the drama for you. On the other hand, you might enjoy it if you don’t mind low-key, low-drama cuteness.

 

Dr. Champ

Though not an unequivocal success in terms of ratings or popularity, Dr. Champ may be the closest thing we’ve had to a decent sports-related drama in years, possibly a decade or more. It isn’t strictly a sports drama, since it’s more about the doctor at the center, played by Kim So-yeon, and the cases were only relevant inasmuch as were a vehicle for her conflict and growth. But the best sports dramas are about people before they’re about the sport, anyway.

In avoiding a lot of the cliches that have come to be used as crutches, Dr. Champ offered a refreshing change, though it was perhaps a bit on the underwhelming side. There was no Big Drama, which meant that the drama had less momentum carrying us from week to week, especially with the episodic nature of the stories; plots would resolve in an episode or two, and then a new conflict would befall our doctors and provide the next obstacle.

Ji-heon’s (Jung Kyeo-woon) relationship with rival-friend Sang-bong was one of the shining highlights of the show, providing us a healthy dose of bromance (So. Cute.) and supplying Ji-heon with some emotional turmoil when certain things go awry. His courtship with Yeon-woo (Kim So-yeon) had its share of cute moments, though truth be told, it was one-sided stuff for far too long. (Kim So-yeon is a brilliant actress and is finally getting some well-deserved recognition, but her character was often hard to get behind, with her snappishness and anemic reception of Ji-heon’s numerous attempts to win her over.)

On the other hand, Uhm Tae-woong strikes me as the kind of actor who needs a specific vehicle in order to be brilliant, and unfortunately, Dr. Champ wasn’t it — he’s much better being wry and just a little twisted. It didn’t help that he was paired with an energy-suck of a co-star, Cha Ye-ryun, whose bland character was not helped by her bland portrayal.

That means I sped through those scenes as much as I could, preferring to stay with the slice-of-life dramas that complicated Yeon-woo’s life, and sympathetic characters like exuberant puppy-dog man-child Ji-heon and his motley cast of hard-bodied judo teammates, who kept things moving. And as we know, a little bromance goes a long way.

 

Runaway Plan B

Runaway Plan B – “Mayday” [ Download ]

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I had almost written off Runaway Plan B early on, because while it was flashy and entertaining, it was also very empty. Normally I don’t have the patience to wait eight episodes for a drama to get good, especially if I’m not getting anything out of it. On the other hand, all it takes is one compelling thread, one promise of better things to come, to keep me hanging in there. In the case of Runaway Plan B, there were a few.

First, the matchup of Ji-woo (Rain) and Do-soo (Lee Jung-jin), whose cat-and-mouse chase took them through Asia and into some inventive fighting sequences. Crowded streets, high-rise roofs, flatbed trucks, pedi-cabs, warehouses, swimming pools — there was no end to their creative combat scenes. While the fighting eventually grew tiresome, the intensity with which the adversaries poured themselves into the clashes was imbued with an emotional undercurrent that brought to life the desperation of one to capture, and the other to evade capture.

Second was the cop romance, adorably anchored by the feisty So-ran (Yoon Jin-seo). While we are enjoying a greater range in kdrama heroines these days, most often it’s still the hero doing the pursuing. So-ran was sassy and strong, but not above relishing some clinch time spent with her oppa, and declared her feelings for him repeatedly and frankly. So-ran grinning giddily, mid-high-speed-chase, as Do-soo finds himself inadvertently wrapped around her is still one of my favorite moments of their courtship.

Third, there’s Rain’s comic performance. More impressive than the wit and ease of his line delivery, or his goofy charm, or his dramatic intensity later on, was the way he was able to turn from one emotion to another with the flip of a switch — one second pouring on the cheesy charm, the next glowering fiercely — and maintaining his character’s sincerity throughout.

The second half of the show (the better half) saw the silly comedy transition into high stakes and life-and-death drama. Funny enough, despite all the frantic jet-setting and running in the first half, it’s actually the second half that zoomed along, plot-wise. Ji-woo and Jin-yi (Lee Na-young) found themselves wanted by a mastermind and targeted by a series of assassins, and as their bond grew, so did mine with the series. Finally, they were in true danger, the kind that Ji-woo couldn’t just high-kick his way out of with a swagger and a grin.

I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the overly simplified resolution to the Big Bad — it’s a little toothless, admittedly — but on the whole I found Runaway a pleasant surprise, one whose merits I wish hadn’t taken so long to discover.

 

Mary Stayed Out All Night

Oh, Mary. You know, Mary Stayed Out All Night isn’t my biggest disappointment of the year, and I don’t think it’s the worst drama, either. It’s just… frustratingly blank. It’s nonsensical, but not in a truly wacked-out, energetic way that would make it brilliant camp fun. Blandly benign. Which would really render this a drama a non-issue, if not for its biggest crime, which isn’t something it does but what it doesn’t do: namely, make worthwhile use of three shining young talents.

When considering her performance in this drama alone, one might suppose that Moon Geun-young fell into a role that suited her perfectly — an innocent, cute, damsel-in-distress who fits the stereotypical Candy heroine type — and dismiss her performance. She’s so natural, so earnest, and so Mary that you’d think she’d been doing these characters all her life… until you remember that just earlier this year, she was so surly and bitter in Cinderella’s Sister. And that two years ago, she won a Daesang for playing a cross-dressing painter in historical drama Painter of the Wind.

Same with Jang Geun-seok: Mu-gyul seems like such an easy role for him to play that it’s easy to overlook that Hwang Tae-kyung, his character in last year’s You’re Beautiful, was like Mu-gyul’s polar opposite in everything except maybe love of his own hair. Where Tae-kyung was cold and uptight, Mu-gyul is free and warm.

Kim Jae-wook had just shown us such budding promise in Bad Guy earlier this year, only recede into the wallpaper here, only emerging occasionally to interrupt the lovebirds or engage in a well-timed back hug. So really, it’s their talent that makes these actors seem so natural when these characters so lack consistency.

If only they had a story to support them. Quickly unraveling at the seams as it heads toward the finish, Mary is flailing and seems to be making a mad grab and any and everything around it on its way down — insane parents, illogical behavior, repeated story beats, kidnappings. On one hand, it’s makes for an entertaining watch, even if it wasn’t intentionally meant to be so. But there’s no crying over spilled milk, so maybe unintentional amusement is the best way to make the best of an unfortunate situation.

 

Secret Garden

Billed as a body-swapping fantasy romantic-comedy, Secret Garden is really a story about classism, buoyed by crackling sexual tension between leads Hyun Bin and Ha Ji-won. (To be honest, one-half of that pairing is infuriating me these days, so my impression of the drama is a little colored. But the chemistry between the actors? Off the charts.)

Since the fantasy element was brief and currently not in play (the body-swap has occupied a surprisingly small amount of real estate), Secret Garden‘s magic isn’t so much literal as it is tonal — it’s in the dreamy cinematography, the contemplative moods, the way Joo-won imagines Ra-im always nearby. That dash of whimsy carries over into the plot as well, even when there’s nothing strictly supernatural going on. I love these little touches, such as when a seemingly random shelf of book titles form an unintentional poem. It’s like finding beauty in unexpected places; maybe it doesn’t mean anything on its own, but it has the power to move you. Style without substance is not going to get a drama far, but style on top of substance can elevate a scene, or your emotional connection to a beat.

In addition, Secret Garden has a rollicking sense of humor, and has surprised a laugh out of me on more than one occasion. Some actors are better at carrying the humor than others — Yoon Sang-hyun overacts, Hyun Bin is a comedic revelation — but overall, the script is written (sharply, and wittily, at that) to tailor to their assets.

I’m hesitant to make any declarative statements when the drama’s still a ways from wrapping, but if things continue in this vein, Secret Garden will be one of my happy surprises of the year. I hadn’t been terribly intrigued about a body-swap drama when I first heard it announced, but as we know, execution is everything. Smooth directing, clever writing, and hilarious acting make this drama sparkle with enough life to rival one of Joo-won’s hand-stitched, imported designer tracksuits. (Finally, an instance where resemblance to that cursed tracksuit is a good thing!)

 

Rock Rock Rock

After watching My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho earlier this year, I had mentally filed Gumiho Hunter Noh Min-woo away as the latest entry on a long list of “pretty, but boring” actors. So when I decided to give this four-episode Drama Special miniseries a try, my first thought was, Wait, Noh Min-woo can act??? No longer was he the monotone emo guy with asymmetrical hair and guyliner trying to keep our couple apart. Suddenly he was boyish and alive, brimming with energy, dorky and cool at the same time, ablaze with passion for music. What the heck just happened? That just goes to prove the power of good casting (and the folly of miscasting).

To be honest, I’m not sure this drama would appeal to someone with no interest in the music or story of legendary rock band Boohwal, or perhaps in music in general. While Rock Rock Rock is made to be watched as a drama rather than a documentary or straight-up biopic, it is basically the life story of lead guitarist Kim Tae-won and the origins of the band. There are parts where my interest flagged, although overall I enjoyed seeing the lives of people I’d only known in a vague sense as public figures. But it does employ some nifty non-linear storytelling techniques to keep the narrative moving, skipping over years sometimes, and filling in the blank spots with flashbacks.

But if you’re a budding Noh Min-woo fan? By all means give it a watch; his performance alone is enough to tether the drama in heart and emotion and prove that he’s much better than playing at stone-cold emo boy. As a newly converted fan, I’m eager to see what he does next.

 

Phew, finally done! Stay tuned for the rest of the Year-in-Review series, and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I know I will.

 
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WOWZER! Quite an intense year we had! This is my first full year with dramabeans, but I'm thankful for it. Fun and witty, this place keeps my brain from dying from just watching dramas... Ok, it actually keeps me from watching dramas during the school year. Good thing, or else no homework would get done. But the recaps keep me up to speed. Thanks jb, fri, and my Beanie family for making dramabeans, well, DRAMABEANS.

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no homework got done for me lol....i didnt discover this site until mid way through this year....i actually enjoyed reading the recpas more than watching some dramas (MSOAN)

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Yeah, sometimes the recaps makes the dramas bearable. So, I don't even watch the dramas most of the time unless I really really like it. XD

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ooooh! love this one, JB! i wonder though why you did not include prosecutor princess. anyway, my favorites for the year would be personal taste and my girlfriend is a gumiho :)

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Thank you so much JB

This has been such a weird year. After Chuno, there was a lull there for several months where I despaired for a drama that wouldn't conk out or go insane in a bad way. The 2 that can put me into full on rant mode are Bad Guy and Personal Taste. Don't even make me start.

But then a strange thing happened, the latter part of the year turned into a gold mine for me - Joseon X Files, Comrades and King Geunchogo (which admittedly is only about 14 episodes deep at the moment, but is thrilling my little saguek-y heart) are only the top of the list of good stuff.

I can't wait to see the rest of the reviews. 8-)

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My choices are
Prosecutor Princess
Sungkyunkwan Scandal
Secret Garden
Oh My lady( I love Chae Rim and Si Won)
Playful Kiss

I was so looking forward to " DR. Champ", expected romance between Uhm Tae-woong and Kim So-yeon, but disappointed in everything.

In SG and DC,both Hyun Bin and Jung Kyeo-woon, are childish and aggressive towards the female lead, but I love Hyun Bin ,think he is adorable but KW is like yak...

Coffee House..Park Shi-yeon, I do not like her since "My Girl", the way she walked was weird ,to me.

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Excellent review, as always! I have to say, surprises and disappointments sums up this year pretty well. The ones I was looking forward to most (Personal Taste, Cinderella's Sister, Mary) really flopped; on the other hand, my favorites are the ones that I wasn't prepared for (Comrades, Secret Garden, Gumiho).

Hope there'll be an "Editor's Picks" post this year too! Loved it last year.

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so hoping ur guest bloggers cover giant ...a goldmine that drama

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i wish i have watched half as many dramas as you, i anticipated alot more dramas this year than i have in previous years, it's a shame that i didn't have the time to finish watching them all (and some im even scared to touch due to bad reviews etc.)

i've enjoyed reading your end of year reviews (and those by other bloggers); they are fun, witty and never fail to give me a good laugh, though i can't say i agree with everything you say.

SKKS was a definite winner for me this year, the story was highly addictive and fun; i honestly don't remember the last time i was so emotionally invested in a drama and its characters. though the ending could've been (a lot) better, it did not mar the overall enjoyment it bought to me, in fact, i can imagine it to be a lot worse.

unlike others, i am probably in the minority for liking YoonHee the most out of the 4. she was smart, courageous, inquisitive, dependable yet vulnerable, and i think she deserves to be recognised as someone who's a lot more than merely an object of affection. i suppose my fondness for her really came down to the fact that i could connect with her more than i could with others. i felt her burden for having to support her family all by herself, i felt proud when she scored a bullseye after all her hard trainings, i felt her frustration, determination, pain and joy.

MGISAG was rather bland imo, Shin Mina was throughly entertaining to watch, Lee Seung Gi on the other hand was exasperating, well at least in the first few episodes, his performance in the later episodes, however, was pretty impressive, especially the end. man, i cried buckets.

I find PK adorable and endearing despite all its flaws. it made me cringe, it made me giggle, it made me want to pull my hair out, in both frustration and elation. in the end, it surprised me how much i enjoyed it. Jung So Min was definitely a revelation.

I am in the midst of Chuno at the moment, and i must say it's quite intense, but, like you said in Runaway, it's flashy and entertaining, but also very empty.

thank you so much for putting this together, can't wait for the other reviews.

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Aww, 5 reviews only, including editor's pick? :(

What the hell, why am I complaining, I should be grateful for all the efforts that kdrama bloggers put in their posts. Thanks JB! ^_^

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this is Part 1. there's a Part 2. ;)

they can only review so much at a time. besides, GF's got to throw in her own shots too. I can't wait. ;)

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"The drama had a number of flaws, but wasn’t without its charm. My favorite thing about it was undoubtedly Jung So-min, who played Ha-ni with a realistic, heartfelt touch that I’m not convinced that the character was written to have. More than any actress in recent memory, she captured the chaotic emotional contradictions of what it feels like to be young and in love (or in crush) — the giddiness of a brief mundane encounter, the teeny voice of reason that reminds you that the crush is better off abandoned, the devastation in knowing you’re nothing to him alternating with the undying hope that maybe, just maybe, he really was looking at you this time.

She embodied that complex well of emotions so wholly that I felt embarrassed for her when she faltered, proud when she stood up for herself, and, yes, exasperated when her feelings got the better of her and she went back to pining for Seung-jo. Every. Damn. Time. But it was an exasperation of the sort you feel for a good friend, or a sister, born of concern and affection. She was Ha-ni — all heart, not so much brain."

Thank you JB for putting in such elegant and graceful words the essence of Oh Ha-ni and the awesome portrayal of Jung So Min. I stayed on watching Playful Kiss (up to the special Youtube versions) because I cant let of go of Oh Ha-ni (and check if Baek Seung Jo is doing a good job loving our Ha-ni).
Jung So Min just climbed up my list of favorite k-drama actresses, second only to Kim Sun Ah.

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Prosecutor Princess!! Prosecutor Princess!! One of the most under rated drama of the year. Love Love it. This drama deserves more write up. Also I thought the 2 hot kisses should be included to vote for Hot kiss of the year!

Thank you to Javabeans, girlfriday, kadejun, abeerdin angus and rest of team of giving us fabulous recaps of k dramas.

Merry Christmas to all.

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Thanks for this review. Of the dramas that I liked this year were Jenjungwon, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, and Secret Garden. I agree with Bad Guy. The drama pull me in and at the end it just did not know how to pull the story together. The other dramas I tried to watch but they just did not hold my attention.

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Personally i pick Secret Garden and Cinderella stepsister. For Cinderella stepsister the story is well written and executed perfectly by Moon GY. I never imagine to see MGY in this character which a big surprise for me. and i really gives her big credit for it. too bad, now she's back with cute character again, which is not a big surprise since that's her real character...

Secret Garden has common story, but a very challenges character, especially for the heroin. and for me, that's and the perfect chemistry between HJW and HB is the strongest point of this drama.

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i love reading this year in reviewssss.
it's surprising how i open this site everyday but actually didn't watch all of the same dramas that you did hahaha. but at the end of the year, during my christmas break, when i have ALL THIS LOVELY TIME, i always go back and catch up on the things that you liked
like sungkyunkwan scandal - i had written it off after the first two episodes cause i thought it too cliché and typical - but when i finally watched it all last week in one breath (sometimes the best), gosh the yoo ah in looooove. ja;ldkjfa stole the show omgomgomg. hahaha.

and now that you say that runaway redeemed itself i might go finish it... i think i watched up to episode 6 and then couldn't figure out what lee na young and daniel henney were doing cause they had a weird chemistry that bordered on nonexistent. (and why they just wouldn't speak in korean to each other!! awkward english all over the place, obvs not on henney's part though)

same for playful kiss. it seems like a light drama that i might go back and watch to have a few laughs. again, watched four episodes while it aired but nothing... there were so many good dramas airing at the time so it just didn't stick! i think timing is so undeniably important for dramas.....

coffee house was one of the most underrated dramas of the year, i agreeeeeeeee. but i still think eun jung and kang ji hwan did it for me more than park shi yeon. i definitely liked her more in this drama than any other thing she's acted in - (horrible in my girl, boring in family outing, eh in dachiwama lee, mediocre but pretty in marine boy, okay in story of a man). but i'll look forward to a future project to seee if she can win me over!

i might try out joseon x-files...but i'm scared it's not going to be my cup of tea.

can't wait for the other parts! :DDD someone's gotta talk about dong yi, kim tak goo, and all that bittersweet makjang right? :)))) pwahahha.

last note: cinderella's sister is one drama i couldn't do. i LOVE moon geun young - painter of the wind? perhaps one of the best dramas ever made. but al;kdfja;f just could not follow with all the angst and circular plot!!

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I saw this and went: "BOO-YEAH!" The epicly awesome end-of-year reviews are here! Thanks javabeans.

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Wow-awesome reviews of those dramas. Most of those dramas lack a strong solid ending that conclude appropriately with the story. Often that lead to disappointment.For me this year, the 3 dramas that touch me the most are Prosecutor Princess, Baker King and Giant.

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Are you me?

haha t'was the same for me :)

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Wow.. It is the time of the year for reviews again.. N I realised I have read your reviews for 3yrs!

Thanks for all the reviews and recaps! Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!! =)

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ahahaha no min woo's screencap for the last one is so mad cute. and i say this as a girl who hated his character the whole way through gumiho. but i guess, has healthy respect for him as a musician.

anyway! i was thinking 2010 wasn't the best year for dramas, but all your reviews reminded me of all the times i'd really laughed. and cried.

i am ridiculously disappointed for mary, like half (most?) of the world. the casting was so so so superb, you rarely get three amazingly gorgeous people who are amazing at well, what they're supposed to do. i gave up pretty early on, i must say.

SKKS made proper use of their cast though, so props to them. or maybe it was the cast that used the drama to their full advantage. gumiho was adorable and lots of fun, secret garden -- it is getting slightly frustrating for me, but the chemistry between the two leads is so amazing i cannot do anything but tune in into every episode. and athena's first episode was surprisingly really engaging, and although the second pissed me off with its dream sequence, i'm willing to keep going.

i really must must must watch joseon x-files. i love that era, i love the actors, and i loved your recaps and the themes they delve into. for some reason, haven't gotten around to it yet.

funnily enough, i think the drama that really stole my soul and never gave it back is PP. i dunno, something about that genre gets to me. i was crazy mad about 'Partner' the year before too. there are quite a few similarities between LDW (WHEN IS HE GOING TO GET OUT OF THE ARMY RAAAAAGE) and PSH which may be why i adore them both so much. (:

it's been a good year, i must say. it seems the older i get and more study i'm supposed to do, i find more dramas to tune into. (except maybe less than ryeowook of suju who is currently watching six dramas a week. far out dramabeans, even you don't do that do you? <3)

thankyou!

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Thanks JB for giving us this great Christmas present. So excited to see this.

Loving Secret Garden, just can't hate HB.
I thought Prosecutor Princess was also an underrated drama this year. If not for the recap here (thanks kaedejun & aberdeen_angus) would have missed it.

Thanks for bringing us joy and Merry Christmas to you!

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This list made me realize I watched more dramas this year than I was expecting to, haha.

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Thank you Javabeans for your review...
Maybe I will watch Joseon X files, but I'm afraid It will not my cup of tea. It sounds a scary drama.... I'm such a coward person? haha
There is a reason I avoid a horror genre...
heehee...

Maybe I will try Woman who want still to marry.

MY DRAMA ADDICTION THIS YEAR WERE:

1. Prosecutor Princess (Never imagine I would fallin in love with this drama, Thanks KIM SO YEON! I will definitely follow this writer in the future! Brilliant Legacy, and Prosecutor Princess success make me fallin in love with these Writers and PD combo... :D )

2. Comrades ( Never imagine such a war drama, where a genre I hated before, could blew me away)

3. Harvest Villa ( GOD, this drama is a BIG SURPRISE for me. never imagine I would laugh and cry for such a drama like this. The mistery kept me wacthing, the acting are superb!).

4. Giant ( I LOVE this drama..... from start to finish... This is the first time I watched a long drama until the end.... LOVe ALL THE CHARACTER! INCLUDING JO PILYEON! LOL)

The rest which I Like and enjoyed:

- Coffee House
- My girlfriend is a gumiho
- Dr. champ
- Queen of reversal

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Honestly say I'm a new fan of Drama Beans.
Although I knew of the site for a long time, only until this year 2010 I've become an avid reader and now fan.
So, I really am hyped about this review.
Am loving it. <3

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javabeans~
i must say that i really thank you for all your drama re-caps. the first time i read was the... which i cant seem to recall despite the 3 years i've followed, stalked and scrolled down faithfully every time a potential drama that i loved aired.
and basically most of the time, i cheated. read first and watched later. LOL~

anyhow, my totally-in-love-drama for this year would be Coffee House. I love how the plot revolves around the two best friends, yet they still maintain the professionality and carried on with their life despite of their-deep-down-butthurt-feeling-with-each-other.

my totally-would-watch-repetitively-drama-would-be My girlfriend is a gumiho. caught me with the innocent act of shin min ah and the always-taken-aback-look of lee seung gi.

like seriously *random fact here*
i came here on a daily basis, just because, apart from readign ur hilarious recaps (girlfriday's included), the JB-walkers' comments here are much intrigued than before.
they keep on commenting like there's no tomorrow. LOL

hey, you people really made my day with all the wacky comments regarding the episodes, and the assumptions. ohmayygahhhhhdd, it's like seriously damn superb funny.

much love to all~

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What a super year of laughter, tears, and disappointment (Cinderella's Sister to be exact)! Somehow, the thought "this is going to be my favourite drama of 2010" popped up a few times this year, especially when I'm watching MGIAG, SKKS, and SG.

I wonder how to guage past the heat of the moment and wonder perhaps if I should base it on the no. of "rewatch". Surprising - MGIAG - which my brain lobbied as my favorite, ranked the lowest based on this new guage. Or maybe the visuals are just more beautiful in SKKS and SG? Perhaps so, but this gauge has other limitations as there are shows that leaves a warm, lingering imprint in your heart, when it doesn't generate the same fever when watching, much less rewatching it again and again. One such example is "The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry". The story is so relatable and charming that I felt Kim Bum fared best in his next choice of project after Boys Over Flowers compared to Lee Min-ho and KHJ. While fan fervor is more evident in PT and PK, Kim Bum's character in "The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry" leaves the best impression with me.

Thanks JB!! Without all the recaps at Dramabeans, my kdrama experience would not have been the same.

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Yay! Quite a year! Looking forward to the upcoming dramas for 2011. I hope the Yoo's (Gong Yoo and Yoo Ah In) get into another drama this coming year. ;)

Glad SKKS got good reviews. I agree about the ending, now that I'm viewing it again. But what the heck, it was fun watching it, and it's still fun re-watching it. ;)

I'm still watching MGIAG, and at the 5th episode. Enjoying it, so far, although I already know the ending. Still fun to watch. ;)

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hi izzie. i have been enjoying your comments tremendously esp. when it came to Ah In.
i too am re-watching SKKS.

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hi there, izzie, my Moony Loony sistah!! ;)

glad to hear you are watching MGIAG...and enjoying it so far...hope you will enjoy it till the end... ;)

hope you are having a blast of a Christmas vacation!! ;)

take care!! ;)

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Have only seen/seeing 3 on this list - MGIAGumiho, Coffee House and Secret Garden.

For the 1st 2, I pretty much agree w/ javab's assessment.

MGIAG -

Gumiho was worth it alone for the relationship btwn Mi-ho and Dae-woong, in particular to due Shin Mina's wonderful and adorable performance.

The only other Hong sisters drama I had seen was Hong Gil Dong which was just OK, but in this one, they got the development of the relationship btwn the 2 leads almost perfect.

But it was hardly perfect, the secondary characters weren't really that interesting and towards the end, it seemed the Hong sisters got a bit lazy w/ the story-line and script and resorted too much on parodies for the humor (prior to that, the humor was delightful).

Coffee House -

Wasn't exactly a fan of Kang Ji-hwan due to his acting in HGD (he overused the same mannerisms), but he, or rather, his character in CH really grew on me.

KJH's character's eccentricity was a breath of fresh air, even tho at times, he could drive you nuts.

Ham Eun-jung was adorable, but the writers dragged on the puppy-love story-line a bit too far which not only wasn't believable, but made HEJ's character a bit annoying/cloying.

Park Shi-yeon was simply a delight. I know she previously had been criticized for her acting, but she was great here.
She was totally able to express her emotions w/ changes to her facial expressions w/o overdoing it as some actors tend to do (ahem, Lee Seung-gi).

While there were some weak spots, esp. towards the end, it had pretty good humor and dialogue throughout.

Secret Garden -

I'm going to have to disagree w/ javab here by quite a bit.

SG, aside from a few amusing moments due to the body exchange, has been borderline AWFUL.

Pretty much all the characters are stereotypical and 1-dimensional and even the charisma and acting of the 2 leads can't overcome the poor writing for their characters.

None of the various relationships have been developed well and thus aren't believable, much less care-worthy (in all those moments where one is supposed to feel something - NOTHING, that is if one doesn't count the snickers due to it being so bad).

Not only has the relationship developments been a total fail, for a purported "rom-com", it fails in the comedy part as well.

Good comedy is largely attributed to clever, witty dialogue and SG is severely lacking in that dept.

SG may very well be worse than "Flowers For My Life" - another drama that javab liked (FFML started off delightfully w/ its eccentricity, but quickly devolved into the standard stereotypical plotlines w/o either a new spin or well scripted dialogue to keep it from mediocrity).

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Oh, and I started to watch "Cinderella’s Sister" but couldn't get past the 1st few eps.

But even in that sort time, Moon Geun-young impressed - too bad the rest wasn't good enought to hold my interest.

The only drama left on the list that I really want to see is "Joseon X-Files."

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I thought I'm the only one who abit dissapointed with Secret Garden.....
I really hope the second half of the drama would getting better..

but so far the humor keep me watching this drama

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I agree with you on Secret Garden. The dialogue isn't bad but the overall story, if you can find it, is badly written.

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I am glad there are others who think the same as me about Secret Garden.I watch dramas for their plot, characters development ,and dialogue. The body swap was a fail, and the comical parts are not that funny. Bullying of the female by a dominant male is stereotype.

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thankyou JB!!! I think my favourites for 2010 were Prosecutor Princess, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, Sungkyunkwan Scandal and (although i'm yet to make a final conclusion) I'm quite liking Secret Garden too :D its been a good year :)

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i hate cinderella's sister! OMG.. it's so overrated.. i think it will be the best drama of this year because of its great casts, great trailer, and great promotions from KBS.. but after i had watched 4 eps... taraaa.. SO BAD! ckck.. really terrible.. my girlfriend is a gumiho is the best!!

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thanks for the review JB!

got to say you got it right for some of the dramas!

and just wanted to ask if, i could repost some part of your review to our blog? just the playful kiss part.
promise full credit will be given!

thanks in advance!

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Thank you for this review!

My own year-end review based on your year-end review hahaha!

1.) Wish Upon A Star:
-totally agree with the parang-kangha relationship... biggest highlight of the story for me :)
-palkang's growth was good. it was fast(due to circumstance) but it was delivered well.
-"She’s one heroine who earned her happily ever after." totally AGREE! :)
-I LOVE THIS SERIES! my first finished(aka marathoned) series for 2010 :)

2.) The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry
-the reason i watched this was Kim Bum... lol. sue me.
-"this year’s gems and one of the most underappreciated" yeah... i thought so too...
-"Da-jung’s drunken faceplant into wet cement is one of my favorite comic moments" that was hilarious!
-for me it was really substantial, it has a solid story and they were able to relate it to the audience well... truth about noona love was put across properly with some sidings of fastpaced relationships (aka Dajung and her husband) and being single and happy (aka buki) to balance the atmosphere.
-actually im a one of the cynical regarding the kimbum-jinhee being on the ice skating rink thing... lol. a big-soeun-kimbum fan here! LOL. so again. sue me for this. sorry. hahaha.

3.) Oh My Lady
-"have much in the way of sexual chemistry" again... I AGREE! but individually they were adorable. i missed chae rim's acting and i am a big super junior fan! i know. hahaha
-i love how minwoo was able to change (just like palkang) though it was slow yet it was on the right time.
-"ditching his new burden on the street" i remember that scene... yeeun was so adorable standing there and looking at the giant stuff toy.
-and yeah i agree with the kaehwa analysis... no growth. it was like chae rim was put in the show to teach siwon how to be a senior actor. :)
-"When Min-woo pursues Kae-hwa, we get the sense that he’s drawn to her as a friend and as a mother for his child, not because he’s in love with her." soo true! it was like they decided in the end to put some romantic feelings on minwoo and pursue kaehwa.
-i just love siwon and yeeun... they were adorable! LOL

4.) Cinderella's Sister
-"Moon Geun-young did not fail to blow me away..." shucks... i missed her! and she gave me this awesome performance... i can't help but admire her more and more... (i haven't watched Mary Stayed Out Late... i hope its not disappointing has how its ratings show)
-Kim Gab-soo was an awesome stepfather. i can't help but cry during his death. damn show.
-"lack of forward movement..." yeah... angst all through out... made me feel like i am watching no realizations and change in desires but just a 'i want revenge' mentality SHOW good thing... cast made it worthwhile to watch. everyone was good in their acting.
-yeah. many may not have liked seo woo... but i did. I like her portrayal, she stuck to her role and made it true to her
-and lets not forget kihoon oppa! hahaha. love him. and also Taecyeon... yeah. just because he is Ok Taecyeon... i am bias... sue me.

5.) Personal Taste
-my must watch drama of the year. yes because this is the drama that my most favorite korean actress SON YE JIN has participated after a long time. yayy!
-"Casting, check." SO TRUE! ye jin + min ho... daebak! "Premise, check." YUP! "Hilarious sidekicks, check." LOVE THEM! "Chemistry of leads, check." YES YES YES! :)
-CHAINSAWS! yes.... hahaha!
-"didn’t overdo the feigned gay act" so true... i had this pre-conceived notion that he'll be like his sidekick in the acting part hahaha. good thing he was the tame and silent gay type hahaha. i really can't picture minho the other way.
-i love this series. seriously. though there were parts that i hate the writers because of the reasons behind the characters' actions... but i guess they were able to deliver the drama well as a romcom... or i may just be bias but wth... I LOVE IT!

thank you javabeans! :)

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Giant is far and away the best drama I watched this year. Like someone else said, I hope one of the other reviewers discuss it. Too bad for time constraints...I would have loved for you to have recapped it. All for the best I guess, since if you started now, you would be too addicted to do anything else.

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pleeaasee secret gardenn,, make a good ending... bad guy and CS disappoint me

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Despite its flaws (near ending) I liked SKK among all the dramas you mentioned. The plot was just so engaging.

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I am loving SG right now, but SKKS is the drama of the year for me.

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i feel the same way! SG is really good but only SKKS made me watch the raw epis...ADDICTION really!

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and the great : Will it snow for christmas ...maybe not in 2009 not in 2010 ?

I agree with you for Wish upon a star, oh my lady and Dr Champs, i get really addicted !

It's Kim So Yeon 's year !

thanks Javabeans for your comments (delicious as always)

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secret garden is best. esp te tracksuit

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Eun Soo was definitely the romance of the year for me. Even though they should have had more scenes and more comedy, their dynamic was too beautiful and sexy to ignore. I'd only seen Kang Ji Hwan in Fireworks and Si Yeon in My Girl so I didn't watch this for the cast but now they are among my favorite actors.

Oh My Lady was a waste of talent but the father-daughter story was cute.

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love this site.. thanks for existing!! haha Ive been referring to this site for new kdramas to pick and be obsessed with.. thanks for the review wnated to watch secret garden and joseon x files.. been eyeing on it since it came out.. too bad i have no time to watch. thanks JB!!!

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love this site.. thanks for existing!! haha Ive been referring to this site for new kdramas to pick and be obsessed with.. thanks for the review wanted to watch secret garden and joseon x files.. been eyeing on them since they came out.. too bad i have no time to watch. thanks JB!!! now i'll find time!! LOL

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This year was disappointment to me. Maybe I expected too much but dramas I watched were not all that. Dramas I was looking for fell badly (MGIAG, MSOAN...) and the ones I liked at first (CS, SKKS...) ended disappointing.

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Thank you so much javabeans! Its been so fun keeping up with this blog since...probably a bit before Coffee Prince when your website was still javabeans :D I can't wait to keep up with your blog and thank you so much for such a good end of year post. I don't watch kdramas enough and this really helps in helping me figure out what I should use my time in watching :D

Secret Garden is on my list :D and Sunakldj;a Scandal :D

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whoa. so comprehensive insights there! ^^
thank you for these JB, when i learned about dramabeans, my reading habit became part of my system already that every time i have a new/previous shown drama to watch , ill always jump to your box savoring the recaps .

i did not watch Coffee House, MGIG, R3 and Secret Garden yet. am reserving these goodies for the holiday vaca so it have been more helpful when you give your two cents .

Bad Guy was my first drama to watch religiously and after reading your final recap ,the ending episode is still on hold. LOL. maybe because im not yet done with the "dead end" characters of Kim Nam Gil or just because he is out for two years, and watching it now just will make me miss him more. ;)

MSOAN, oh MSOAN. i'll get off this bus ride when it's over. and i agree with you commending the peculiar acting of the three. (but am more hooked with KJW's acting in Bad Guy =D). the switching of writers was a lil bit late but yeah, partially redeemed the story.

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no mention about Baker King Kim Tak Gu? I thought that was quite a watch, with stellar acting by both the rookie actors (Yoon Si Yoon, Ju Won) and the veteran (Jun In Hwa, in particular. Eugene shined more towards the end, and Lee Young Ah, bless her).

another surprising favorite of mine was Birth of the Rich... i really didn't expect to like it much, but there was something about the chemistry between Ji Hyun Woo and Lee Bo Young that really grabbed me.

SKK Scandal, of course, has my heart :)

thanks for the review! looking forward to reading the rest.

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I kinda agree with most of your comments.
The biggest surprise for me was definitely Coffee House. I had actually stopped at about ep3/4 but decided to continue because I had time.

Luckily I did, when the romance picked up, it became really awesome...

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I didn't discover k-dramas until this past summer. While I have watched a few current ones (as in this year), the shows I'm knee-deep in now are mostly older stuff. Of the ones I can comment on:

Oh Bad Guy, I was willing and able to make gigantic leaps over your plotholes as long as I could drool over Kim Nam Gil, but you totally fell apart there at the end. I understand the show had to do some re-tooling with KNG having to leave, but it could have been done so much better.

Comrades was my drama, even though the last three episodes broke my heart in thousands of pieces. Damn you, show!

I got into Giant late in the game but it's sucked me in completely. I'm a little half-way through it now and might do a marathon over Christmas.

I couldn't quite finish the first episode of Secret Investiagion Record, but because of Dramabeans doing recaps of the show, I gave it another try and got through the rest of the episodes. It was entertaining enough. My Girlfriend etc. was also good for a laugh.

Didn't mean for this post to be so long. But thank you, Dramabeans, for providing a place for a newbie like me to learn about kdramas and discuss her addiction.

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Definitely Moon geun Young was great in Cinderella's Sister... she's the reason why I watched CS until the last episode. And amazingly, she portrayed 2 opposite characters this year, Eun jo and Mary! And she's effortlessly portraying both characters. Wow!

SKKS was also engaging, but I'm a little bit disappointed with lack of closure at the end.

Secret Garden is entertaining, but we still have to see how far can the plot go.

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I loved that you put the guys for the Plan B pic. Bromance FTW haha

I gave up half way. It gave me hope at ep 8, then it began to make me cringe more and More and MORE. Doesn't help that I had Yoon Hee withdrawal during that time. She really had witty, smart, good moments. Not always smart, but enough to make me believe she was. Plan B was ick. Felt like one of those guys who think they're smart but really ain't. I loved how I was surprised at rain's acting skills but I hated his cheesy character no matter what ANYONE says lol.

Honestly, I roll my eyes whenever I watch plan b. Like it's main lead, it always finds some stupid excuse to wriggle itself out of the way.

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Rock^3 is out... I gotta find that mini drama to watch.

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my fav this year def. is Coffee House :P

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:( Mary was my biggest disappointment of the year. I imagine how good this drama could have been to how disastrous it is and i think, what in the world made the writers think they could write something like this and get away with it???

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Thank you JB for the review!!

This year has had so many dramas, a lot of them not well written, some that have an amazing start but takes a nosedive, some starting silly but climbs uphill, and some that are just fantastically written.

1. GIANT.
-This, in my opinion, was the best drama this year.
I was one of those who remember reading the description (which really was bland), and pretty much decided to leave it be. But when the first episode premiered, and I didn't have anything else at the moment to watch, I checked it out. And got suckered it. haha
The fast pace of the plot made it amazing. And I cried buckets of tears. Even in that first episode. Family relationships, going for your dreams (or revenge in some cases), and finding love really made this the best for me.
Acting was superb.. but most of the cast were veteran actors.

2. PROSECUTOR PRINCESS.
While everyone else was choosing what to watch first, Cinderella's Sister or Personal Taste, I chose this. Maybe because of my love from Kim So Yeon from Iris or Park Shi Hoo (^^).
I felt their emotions, their struggles, their successes. And the lead's best friends were great, and didn't try to get in between. The kisses (!) hot hot hot! haha My favorite romance this year<3

3. PLAYFUL KISS.
Well, this one is really just okay but it can't be helped. I really only had one person keep me from dropping this. Jung So Min. Making a character that you feel frustrated with and can't really relate with, likable is great. I guess she breathed some of her persona into the character and made me like, and appreciate her even if I didn't necessarily agree with it.
The plot (ugh.), The pace is slow. But it's okay, since when I watched this it was a stress reliever. Just good fun, and time wasting. haha

Others that were good:
-Baker King Kim Tak Gu
-The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry
-Wish Upon A star (lol I just re-watched this XD)
-Dr.Champ

Others that didn't really appeal to me/didn't like:
-My Girlfriend is A Gumiho
-Coffee House (those fan wars of who's the otp...aish)
-Bad Guy

Thanks again Javabeans, Girlfriday, Kaedejun, Aberdeen_angus and the other guest recappers! :D
You've made my year of watching Kdramas much more hilarious, pleasant, and rad! Thanks so much for all your hard work ^^

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