Drama Reactions & Reviews
Finding the gems among the stones [Year In Review, Part 2]
by | December 23, 2010 | 174 Comments

[Now that you’ve read what I’ve had to say about the past year of dramas, please join me in welcoming a couple familiar guest bloggers, who have graciously written up their reviews as well. Here is Dahee_Fanel’s year-end write-up; you may recall her as one of my guests from last year. Enjoy! –javabeans]

What a fascinating roller coaster of a ride this year has been. There were many disappointments (most of which I stopped watching halfway, because Life Is Too Short For Bad Dramas (copyright Gangsta Kitteh and hjkomo)), but also so many unexpected gems that shone with a light that proved impossible to stifle. Maybe it’s just the swan song before an untimely death, but in 2010 at least, K-dramas had their moment of rebellion and glory. And I. Am. Ecstatic.

The following are divided between long dramas and short dramas, and are in alphabetical order.

SONG OF THE DAY

Comrades OST – “친구여” [ Download ]

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Cinderella’s Sister

I so looked forward to this drama, too.

I mean, really. This should not have been as bad as it turned out to be. With two skilled directors who’d already proven their talents through the short drama format, and a pretty amazing cast with the likes of Moon Geun Young, Chun Jung Myung, Seo Woo, Lee Mi Sook and Kim Gab Soo, this should have been GOOD, dammit. And yet it wasn’t. Most of this I blame on the writer, Kim Kyu Wan, and the rest I blame on behind the scenes politics that allegedly caused sudden script changes and shoved Kim Young Jo out of the main director’s chair. (It’s telling that after this Kim Young Jo became a supporting PD on King Geunchogo, while Kim Won Seok got to headline his own drama, Sungkyunkwan Scandal.)

Still. Still. Nothing excuses the steep nosedive this drama took, falling more and more with each succeeding episode. It was never all that great to begin with, but it became rather unbearable by the end, with so much pointless angst that it drove me nuts. I remember persevering to the end merely out of morbid curiosity on whether or not Chun Jung Myung and Moon Geun Young would ever end up actually touching each other. (That…sounds pervy. OH HOW I WISH IT WAS.) And poor Chun Jung Myung, being given this kind of terribly written character for his comeback after army service. What a waste of so much potential, so much talent. I can’t forgive you, Kim Kyu Wan!

Anyway. I’m tired of ranting about this drama, which I’ve done enough of to publish a book on it, so I won’t waste any more time on it. Maybe I was just so angry about how it turned out because I expected so much, because I was so excited about it before it aired. Which was silly of me. The higher you climb, the harder the fall…

 

Chuno

Oh, what glorious moments you gave me.

This was the first drama of 2010 that I became thoroughly addicted to, waiting on the edge of my seat for each new episode, and becoming thoroughly emotional with each new development in the story. I remember agonizing every time I had to wait a few more hours before I saw the next episode due to some pesky real-life interference. This drama had hooked me but good, and I was willing to forgive it anything. Well, almost.

But let’s look at the overall picture first. Kwak Jung Hwan’s directing was a sheer tour de force of technical mastery and visual brilliance, elevating the rather confused script (despite its amazingly creative dialogue) and giving the drama a focus, at least until the last few episodes. And Jang Hyuk. Oh, Jang Hyuk. Never did I imagine that you were capable of giving such a brilliant performance. It was like watching a ticking bomb with him. It took him a few episodes to explode, but boy did he ever. He was the heart and soul of Chuno, making Dae-gil an unforgettable character with so many flaws you could fill a book with them, and yet strangely sympathetic at the same time. It was for him my heart ached, for him I cried. And it is his moments I remember most, especially that greatest-of-all-eating-while-crying scenes. (Seriously, I sobbed like a baby while watching it.)

Chuno received as much hate as it did love, and thus I feel protective of it. People seemed relentlessly intent on nitpicking it to death, focusing too much on unimportant details (seriously, what was with all the Un-nyun hate? Who the fuck cares if she’s clean or not?) and often losing sight of the bigger picture. Okay, I have to say it: People, this show isn’t supposed to be realistic. I.e. if Un-nyun’s clean, there’s a thematic reason for it. Getting into debates on how much makeup Lee Da Hae is or is not wearing seems to me rather like a waste of time – time that could be spent debating actually interesting things about the drama. Just sayin’.

Chuno is a show that powered ahead on sheer power and emotional resonance, relying on the good acting, the chemistry between actors (Han Jung Soo, Kim Ji Seok and Kim Ha Eun will always be some of my favourite drama sidekicks), the amazing soundtrack, and the visual brilliance to make up for its defects. All in all, it was one thrill of a ride. So for that, despite all of its flaws, despite it being in retrospect a kind of swan song for its PD and writer, and despite it not fulfilling all of the promises it made in its first few episodes, I will always have a soft spot for Chuno.

 

Comrades

The other day, while preparing to send JB my choice for Song of the Day, I listened again to the song I had chosen. And as I listened my heart suddenly constricted, and memories of the drama whose OST it was a part of came flooding back. Sergeant Park, picking up Beom-woo in the snow. Sergeant Lee, standing on the beach. Soo-kyeong, staring at her hands. Each little moment, so tiny in the greater scheme of things, still managed to sneak up and choke me with their strength.

I wonder how many dramas possess that kind of power? I wonder how many I’ll remember twenty years from now? Will they lose their magic with the passage of time? Or will I always carry them with me, somewhere in a neglected corner of my heart?

For me, the Korean War has always been a hazy historical event that I could learn about in a detached manner at school, but never something I could attach to in a truly personal way. There was always a veil between it and my life, a darkness cast on the effects it had on my family. I could never see beyond a certain point. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to.

That’s what’s so great about Comrades. Rather than focusing on the historical facts or some kind of bleeding heart patriotism, it pours all of itself into the emotional impact of war, and the fierce bonds between the soldiers, the brothers in arms. And by doing that, it demands that you go along for the ride, and feel and experience every little event with its characters. It makes you fall in love with these human beings, with all of their flaws and quirks, and become invested in their fates. Your heart becomes vulnerable and raw…and eventually broken. And yet there is also a glow of happiness emanating from the bruise. Happiness that a drama like this managed to air at a time when K-dramas are increasingly choosing the easy way out, down the road to fame and riches. Happiness that I managed to meet these characters, and their stories. Happiness that, even though they shot the latter half of the series on the fly, and the show didn’t manage to break into the 20’s in ratings, it managed to hold on to its commitments and its goals until the very end. Happiness that it brought the Korean War so much closer to home, made it so much more personal.

None of this would have been possible without the controlled directing and writing, or the amazing cast that is surely the best ensemble of the year. One could fill a list of the best actor awards with just this cast alone, with stand-outs like Kim Myung Soo, Jung Tae Woo, Lee Tae Ran and Kim Roi Ha. But really, it seems pointless to pinpoint just a few, because Comrades is all about the group dynamic. It’s about the absolutely amazing chemistry between the cast, the rhythm and care they exchange. These are professionals getting the absolute best out of each other.

War dramas have a certain reputation. They bring up images of men in trenches, dirt, blood and horror. There’s a sense of women being left out, of puffed-up patriotism and “the enemy is eeeeevil” simplicity. If you’re uninterested in that kind of thing, it’s hard to break your preconceptions and get yourself to watch this show. Believe me, I’ve been there. But try and do it anyway. Let go of all expectations, because they will be meaningless here. Comrades refuses to be categorized and safely stowed away. It must be watched to be understood.

There were many great dramas this year. Each of them were special in their own way. But in terms of emotional power, Comrades outshines them all. Long after my mind has forgotten, I sense that my heart will remember this drama. Masterpieces always stay with you that way, quiet and eternal.

 

Dandelion Family

Oh, Kim Jung Soo. What has happened to you?

Dandelion Family was quite the painful watch. I was watching the downfall of one of the greatest family drama writers in Korea, so naturally it was difficult.

It started off okay. I was in the mood for a heartwarming family drama anyway, so Dandelion Family came along at a convenient time. And I liked that it concentrated on three sisters, and that each represented a certain group of women. The drama tries with some success to portray the societal issues of gender inequality in the workforce and spousal abuse, arguing for the independence of women and portraying all of the things that make it so hard for a woman in Korea to get a divorce and be granted equal treatment in such legal affairs. I loved Lee Yoon Ji’s character, the driven yet cheerful career woman who is vocal against all of the barriers she encounters at work, and is so uninterested in marriage. And I loved that her love interest was a man who believed in sharing the housework, supported her in her career, and had no moments of pigheaded sexist thinking whatsoever (so rare in Korean dramas!). Lee and Kim Dong Wook had wonderful chemistry that kept me waiting for their scenes to appear.

But as more and more episodes passed, it became increasingly evident that it was going down the makjang route. The evil rich husband became crazier and crazier, and was only saved from being a complete cardboard cutout by Jung Chan’s sympathetic performance. The divorce plot went on FOREVER, and far too much time was spent on it. And plot points began getting recycled, and yet another cliched, overly dramatic plot line came up that made me stop watching the drama for something like five months, with only a few episodes left until the end. When I finally came back to it and finished it, I didn’t really know why I had bothered.

Dandelion Family was listless, harmless, half-assed makjang by the end, with good intentions and kind of interesting messages, and some heartwarming moments…But ultimately, deeply forgettable. Kim Jung Soo is capable of so much more, but she simply didn’t deliver here. It’s a crying shame.

 

Flames of Ambition

I worship at the altar of Jung Ha Yeon. Let’s just get that out into the open, first and foremost. I trust him more than any other Korean drama writer. I always believe that he will not let me down. He is simply too talented and too dedicated to writing good dramas for that to happen. And he did not let me down. I know many people write off Flames of Ambition as trashy makjang, because that’s how it was advertised. But dudes, it’s written by JUNG HA YEON. He who detests brainless makjang. Flames of Ambition is his response to that icky trend, and a shining example of makjang that’s actually, well, smart. And classy. And so dark and unflinching that it makes your mind reel.

Despite all of its crazy plot lines with secrets of birth and fauxcest and murder, Flames of Ambition is deeply rooted in reality. I am blown away, over and over again, by the realistic portrayal of the chaebol family, which is free of clichés – the grandpa at the head of the family has had several children from numerous affairs, but he and his wife still get along and have a playful relationship; when all the extended family gets together, the kids are obviously bored and uncomfortable, while the adults slyly snipe at each other with a mix of real tension and familiar affection. And best of all, Na-young’s fierce insistence on gaining more riches and more power flows all the way from her impoverished roots, which is itself clearly tied to the particular moment in Korean history when she was growing up. This drama really understands the psychology of every single character, and gets that no one is separate from the times, and portrays their reactions accordingly. No one is a cliché or a convenient cardboard cutout. And all of them are honest mixes of dark and light, good and bad.

No discussion of Flames of Ambition would be complete without mentioning Shin Eun Kyung’s explosive portrayal of the difficult, ambitious, and wounded Na-young. This is easily the best performance of the year from a female lead. She is given an endless depth of complexity in her character, and she holds nothing back as she portrays Na-young’s hopes, her darkness, her despairs and her passions. Don’t expect to be given a single moment to breathe easily and become comfortable, because Flames refuses you any of that. This is, for me, one of the most addictive dramas of the year, and certainly one of the most intense.

 

Gloria

This is such a strange drama. I’ve seen thirty-something episodes now, and I still can’t make up my mind as to whether I like it or not. I mean, objectively speaking, it’s not good. It’s very, very conventional, often cheesy and old-fashioned, and most of the actors are just cruising along. And yet there are unexpected moments of charm. In the early episodes there were moments of quiet despair and hopelessness that oddly drew me in. (Or maybe that’s not so odd, considering it’s me.) And Lee Chun Hee proves once again just how talented he is (this guy needs to be given a meaty role again, stat!), making his third-rate ex-gangster character lovable, sympathetic, and even hot. As for Bae Doo Na, naturally she’s good, portraying all of the feistiness and fragile emotions of Jin-jin effortlessly.

So Yi Hyun and Seo Ji Seok are less effective, and it takes a long time for their characters to become even likeable. But they do, Seo’s more than So’s, which surprised me, since I think Seo is the weaker actor. But his character’s romance with Jin-jin, while slow to develop, was a real delight to watch. Here was an example of a couple with tangible chemistry, who grew with each other and were incredibly honest about their feelings, growing together without any pretenses.

But best of all, for me at least, are the moments of chemistry and camaraderie between the four leads. They do and say nothing new, but their warmth in scenes together reminded me of the wonderful chemistry between the cast in Hwang Jung Min’s The Accidental Couple. I only wish there were more scenes like this, and more between Lee Chun Hee and Seo Ji Seok, who are starting to hint at having quite the adorable bromance of their own.

But currently the drama seems to have lost its sparks of charm, and is spending far too much time with the ridiculous murder plot and the stereotypically evil half-brother. Makjang plot machinations ahoy! Really, the script deserves to be burned.

Still, I think I’ll continue watching out of hope that things will improve. Because there’s always that slim chance, right? (Why do I get the feeling I’m going to regret this decision?)

 

Harvest Villa

This is easily my pick for best comedy of the year, even if its latter half isn’t so comedic. Harvest Villa is dark but funny, and often caught me off-guard with its sly, quirky humour. I laughed my ass off at more scenes than I can count, and the one with the saturi-spouting Japanese sageuk warrior had me in stitches (funniest scene of the year! Or maybe I just think that because I myself speak saturi). This was a story of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances (the search for hidden gold), and the drama makes full use of each mundane but quirky and entertaining character. Naturally it brings up comparisons to 2007’s glorious little drama Mixed-Up Investigative Agency, with their similar treasure hunting stories and bumbling leads, but they’re actually quite different dramas. Harvest Villa is far darker and sadder than MIA ever was, although it is also less realistic and affecting. It’s like MIA’s dark, twisted little cousin.

It stumbles a little in its latter episodes, with some implausible changes in a certain character and a little too much simplicity in its villains. But it remains solid until the end, with wonderful directing and good acting (Shin Ha Kyun has gained a new fan in me. And Baek Yoon Shik is marvelous). The script, too, is overall surprisingly consistent and thoughtful (I say surprising because this is the same writer who brought us the hell on earth that was Winter Sonata). And its ending hit just the right note of bittersweetness and hope. All in all, it’s a lovely little watch. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is a testament to the power of (some) dramas produced 100% before broadcast, and is an entertaining, moving, and often morally ambiguous treat. Why can’t all cable dramas be this good?

 

Joseon X-Files

What a crazy little mindfuck of a show. I echo what I just wrote above about Harvest Villa: Why can’t all cable dramas, and indeed all dramas, be this good?

Joseon X-Files is amazingly creative, mind-bogglingly intelligent, and even emotionally resonant. Each second must be watched with your full attention, because if you blink at the wrong moment, it’s entirely possible that you’ll miss a crucial detail. I found myself rewatching episodes over and over, especially after I had finished the drama, looking for those puzzle pieces that are part of a greater whole. It really does all fit together seamlessly, even if not everything is explained or comprehensible. It made me think, not only while I was watching it, but long after as well – I spent days after watching the ending writing notes to get my thoughts in order, rewatching pivotal scenes, and going through theory after theory to finally settle on one. And then I immediately had it shot down as I discussed it with others who had seen it.

But you know what? I’m perfectly fine with that. In fact I love it. I love that the same scene can offer so many different interpretations and reactions. I love that Joseon X-Files doesn’t insult your intelligence for a single second, and indeed assumes that you’re smart and more than capable of catching all of its sneaky little clues. And I love that I fell in love with its characters, that I cared about them and the cases they went through. I even fell in love with Kim Ji Hoon’s battered gat, for Pete’s sake. (Best acting by an inanimate object? Hell yeah.)

This drama proved that Kim Heung Dong is a major, major directing talent, and it’s a shame that his work is being shuffled off on cable where few people will see it. He makes Joseon X-Files an amazing visual treat, with fascinating camerawork, lighting, and editing choices. He makes the already airtight script seem even better, and he captures the very best of the actors involved. (This drama has solid performances, but they’re not the main focus, not by a long shot.) I can’t wait to see what else he will come up with in future. As for right now, all I can do is thank him and all the cast and crew of Joseon X-Files for delivering something that changes the cards of the sageuk genre, and for offering the most creative and intellectually stimulating drama I have ever seen. If I could kiss their feet, I would.

 

King Geunchogo

This is a long sageuk (fifty episodes, I think?), and it hasn’t aired too many of them yet. But dare I say it? The episodes it has revealed so far are some of the best hours of the 2010 K-drama landscape, and certainly of the sageuk that have aired this year.

I have been craving a good old-fashioned sageuk for a while now, so this came not a moment too soon. It has everything – a daring and fiercely intelligent script that reinterprets history in a meaningful way, directing that works to emphasize the brilliance of said script, and some of the best acting of the year (Choi Myung Gil, I bow down before you). Not to mention all of the sexy, sexy men, who not only often walk around in vests that hint at their finely muscled physiques, but also deliver good performances and smoldering angst. What more does a girl need, really?

It’s a shame that this is doing rather poorly on the ratings front, but it’s not surprising. Viewers seem to be getting more and more indifferent towards sageuk, or any drama really, that demands too much from their brains. It saddens me, but I’m also happy that this show got made at all. Now if it just continues along this path until the very end, I swear I won’t ask for anything else. I won’t even ask for a nekkid Han Jung Soo in my Christmas stocking next year. (That’s someone else’s gift anyway. You know who you are.)

 

My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho

I have to ask myself this first of all: Why do I watch the Hong Sisters’ dramas? Why have I slogged through and actually finished so many of them? What is it that makes me continue watching them, even though they are clearly not my cup of tea? Seriously, why do I even bother?

I guess the answer is that the ones I’ve watched all came at the right times. Whether it was because a cousin forced me to marathon it with him, or because so many of my friends had enjoyed it, my viewing of these dramas have never really had much to do with the dramas themselves. This time was no different.

My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho came at a time when I really needed to watch something light and comedic. I was itching for a romcom, but there weren’t any options that truly appealed to me. So I just watched them anyway, whether I liked them or not.

MGIAG was a weird watch for me. I don’t really hate it, per se. But I don’t love it, either. I am, in truth, quite indifferent towards it. I watched the episodes with a straight face, laughing only once that I can remember, and forgetting each episode as soon as it ended. I was relieved that the mood wasn’t as hyper and that the moments of slapstick came less frequently than in their other dramas, but I also sensed a strange lack of passion or energy in the proceedings. There was some potential for quasi-feminist themes (although Mi-ho grew progressively tamer and less interesting as the episodes wore on), some clever ideas and gags, and a lot of dimples. But there were also a ton of cliches, the usual Hong Sisters’ angst, and too much simplicity to the plot and characters overall. The second half was kind of difficult to bear, with the usual Noble Idiot flag being bandied around like a beacon. And the acting overall was pretty mediocre, with the few veterans being wasted and even Shin Mina, the lone actor with lots of experience of the main young cast, giving a decidedly phoned-in performance. She’s always good at giving off that slightly mysterious, sexy yet innocent vibe, but as the episodes wore on she just seemed tired and didn’t really seem to be giving it her all anymore. (Not that the material she was given really helped any.) It was disheartening to watch.

In the end, what I really wonder is how this drama would have turned out if it had been 100% produced before broadcast. I wonder if the writing would have changed any if the Hong Sisters weren’t writing against the clock and had more time to flesh out their ideas. I wonder if it would stop them from resorting to cliches and incomprehensible angst in the second half.

Then again, maybe I’m just wasting my time thinking about all this. What’s done is done, and MGIAG turned out to be just another listless offering in a year that teemed with listless offerings, at least in the first half. Better luck next time, maybe.

 

Pasta

After the credits finished rolling on the final episode of this drama, I remember thinking: Why did I even bother?

This was such a pointless, meandering show with no plot to speak of. The writer clearly had no real clue as to what she was doing, choosing to stick to lazy episodic plots revolving around the restaurant, and not bothering to flesh out characters periphery to the leading couple. Some of them fared better than others thanks to superior acting, but most were useless and with no personalities of their own, placed strategically in order to impede the two leads and serve as pesky annoyances to make the scenery a little more interesting. Much like flies.

Then again, maybe the point was that there was no point, and that we weren’t supposed to notice anything other than the leading couple, who had super chemistry and were adorable and realistic, with their petty fights, their honesty, their camaraderie, and their mature giddiness (if such a thing exists). I do admit to being a little uncomfortable with the boss/employer, teacher/student aspect of their relationship, and with Chep’s blatant (fake) misogyny. And I was annoyed with how the romance was resolved in the end. Still. Still. Gong Hyo Jin and Lee Seon Kyun just killed it (Gong more than Lee), and their scenes together were absolutely alive with chemistry and a certain elusive mood of sweetness that somehow never ended up being saccharine. They didn’t do anything earth-shattering or overly dramatic for each other, but they didn’t need to. Theirs was a love that was so ordinary, but all the better for that ordinariness. It was for them that I watched this show until the very end, and for them that I will remember this drama without too much bitterness.

 

Sungkyunkwan Scandal

It’s always the dramas that let me down that leave behind the worst aftertaste. Unfortunately for me, the drama that did this for me this year was also the one that was the most popular. The roar of excitement over it online was everywhere I turned (go to read the news? Sungkyunkwan Scandal is there. Go to see the latest So Ji Sub pictures? Sungkyunkwan Scandal is there), and when one isn’t as obsessed or in love with a drama as the rest of the world apparently is, this can become rather aggravating. It didn’t help that the roar became loudest just as I was starting to lose my affection for this show.

I can’t say that I was ever addicted to or in love with Sungkyunkwan. But I did like it, and was charmed by its cuteness for about the first half of the series or so. It wasn’t brilliant, but it was solid, and was buoyed along by sheer giddiness. I loved the bromance between Yong-ha and Jae-shin, I loved the fights over sleeping spots in the bedroom, I loved Jae-shin’s hiccups, I loved that Yoon-hee was a bookworm and a scholar, and I loved the wonderful chemistry between the four leads. If the drama had continued along that vein for its entire run, focusing more on that oh-so-rare genuine connection between its leads and its strange charm, I might have ended up loving it. But alas, it did not. And I quickly became disillusioned.

I first became annoyed with the overwhelming concentration on the romance between Sun-joon and Yoon-hee, which I could never fully get behind on an emotional level, even if I understood it intellectually (I guess it doesn’t help that I found both characters boring and even annoying at times, especially Sun-joon). And then I was annoyed with the ever increasing leaps in logic and the growing evidence that this was a drama that was starting to concern itself with fanservice first and foremost, to the detriment of its story and its themes. The ending infuriated me so much that I immediately deleted all of the episodes out of my harddrive. Not only was that sorry excuse for a denouement a spit in the face of history and King Jeongjo’s legacy, it was also disrespectful of the very ideas it had set up for itself in earlier episodes. I had expected a cute, harmless ride, and got dangerously ignorant, idiotic Disney pap.

Sungkyunkwan Scandal betrayed me. It fooled me into thinking it might turn out well. And really, what worse sin can a drama commit than that?

 

SHORT DRAMAS

No discussion of 2010 would be complete without mentioning the return of the short drama format (read: KBS’s Drama Special), and the many hits (as well as misses) they offered. So let’s take a look.

Housewife Kim Kwang Ja’s Third Activities

This was the return of Kim Yoon Chul to directing three years after his last drama, Que Sera Sera. It also featured a strong main veteran cast, with Yang Mi Kyung and Kim Gab Soo. So I was kind of looking forward to it before it aired. Alas, it never really fulfilled those expectations, ending up being a very ordinary, if somewhat cute, drama that is a little too idealized and cheerful for its own good. It’s a shame, since I was completely open to the idea of focusing on a housewife who becomes obsessed with an idol, and recharging her dull existence. So many of us who love K-dramas experience becoming somewhat obsessed with a Korean star, after all, and I know several people in real life who’ve experienced this as well. But instead of dealing with this subject in any kind of intelligent or interesting or realistic way, this drama was content to simply go with the flow, not really trying to be anything more than average. It’s a shame, since Yang Mi Kyung could have so killed it with better material. Ah, well. If for nothing else, this drama is worth watching for Kim Gab Soo’s adorable little dance at the end. The fangirl side of me was content with that, so it’s not a complete loss.

My Sister’s March

There were a few dramas this year made to commemorate anniversaries of important Korean historical events, but My Sister’s March, which portrayed the Masan protests of 1960, was probably the most thought-provoking and courageous one of them all.

It’s only an hour and a half long, a TV movie, really. But in that short space of time it managed to portray a young woman’s growing political awareness and her devastating personal losses. Her move from a person who purposely blinds herself to the actions of the corrupt government to a brave protester fighting for freedom is respectfully and emotionally portrayed. All of this is of course wonderfully pulled off by a kickass cast and capable directing, but it’s really the script that shines here. Kim Woon Kyung’s writing is smart, sympathetic, and demands that the viewer use his/her brain while watching. That’s no small feat. And for that, as well as its incredibly topical themes (I wish every single person living in Korea would watch this and reflect on the current state of politics over there), this is my choice for best short drama of the year.

Freedom Fighter Lee Hoe Young

It would have been so easy for this show to become cheesy anti-Japanese propaganda. But thankfully, it is always too intelligent and too genuine to stoop to such lows, elevating itself to become one of the very best dramas of 2010.

The very premise of this five-episode long gem is of a Japanese reporter, Kimura Junpei, coming into contact with the legendary independence fighter Lee Hoe Young, and his struggle between the quest for truth and his loyalty to his father. Little by little, right alongside with Kimura, the viewer is offered glimpses of insight into Lee, all the while posing the question of what true freedom is, and how one can go about in attaining it.

This drama is fucking cool, with breathtaking moments of visual kickassery, thanks to the deft directing. But it is also incredibly heartfelt, choosing to concentrate on these characters as people first and foremost, with flaws and strengths and passions. It also never loses sight of the history it borrows from, and ends each episode with a few moments of a documentary, informing the viewer of the facts and the mysteries of Lee Hoe Young’s extraordinary life. By the time the screen faded on the final episode, I felt overwhelmed by the amazing sacrifices he had made for the sake of freedom, and was awed by the drama’s very topical message. Because history isn’t confined to musty textbooks, something that is easily ignored. It is constantly flowing, affecting us every minute of each day, and being created with each breath we take. We must never forget that.

 

Drama Special

Red Candy

It’s written by Noh Hee Kyung, so how could it possibly not be good? This was the first one-episode drama that Drama Special aired, and thus the series got off to an amazing start. If you really think about it, it’s quite an ordinary story. But Noh Hee Kyung elevates it with her incredible understanding of human hearts and her refusal to judge anyone’s actions. Her dialogue is thoughtful and intelligent, giving the actors plenty to work with. And the ending is as affecting and emotional as they get. It’s rare to have the kind of talent that can fully flesh out characters and make the viewer care about them, as well as affect them even to tears, not with some forced melodramatic outcome, but with the understanding of the tragedy of the failings of human nature. May she write on for many years to come, gracing us with the beauty of her pen.

The Scary One, The Ghost and I

When was the last time I saw an example of a writer and PD who were so suited to each other’s styles? Park Yeon Seon and Kim Yong Soo were clearly born to work with each other, and this beautiful sense of harmony brings about one of my favourite Park Yeon Seon works. The Scary One, The Ghost and I has her characteristic touch of humour and quirkiness, with ordinary characters who are somehow not so ordinary after all, at least in their portrayals. It’s black comedy at its finest, dealing with themes of death in a moving way, but also knowing when to laugh. It helps that Lee Won Jong’s performance is so wonderful. Plus, kittens! Who can resist kittens? Especially when they’re in a Park Yeon Seon drama?

Amazing Coffee

In a word: Meh. Ordinary writing, ordinary directing, ordinary story, ordinary acting. This was really just one big old bag of ordinary. It tries half-heartedly to be a heartwarming tale of a misunderstood single mother and her budding romance with an old classmate, but it never has enough emotion or passion to pull that off. It’s like being given a cup of stale coffee. And who on earth wants that? (Unless, of course, you’ve been coffee-deprived for days, and are desperately in need of an emergency fix. Then it’s acceptable, but only then.)

Our Slightly Risque Relationship

My main impression from this drama is that I wish it had been more than what it ended up being. I wish it was more risque, more emotional, more comedic, more thoughtful. I kept feeling like it was promising so much, especially with its solid leading pair, but it never delivered on those promises. In the end it wound up being just another love story, leaving me feeling oddly frustrated. Why do I keep getting the sense that I’ve been cockblocked?

Secret Garden

What a mystery of a drama. Its script is rather ordinary and cliched, and its acting is nothing to write home about. The directing is solid at best. And yet there’s a strange charm about it, a pull that kept my eyes fixated on the screen for every second of its hour. Maybe it was the moody atmosphere, or the vaguely indie vibes. Maybe it was the subject matter, dealing with homosexuality and inappropriate teacher-student relations. Or maybe it just found that elusive well of K-drama charm and rode with it. Whatever it is, it’s an intriguing little show, and one that is worth a watch, if only to puzzle over its success.

Spy Trader Kim Chul Soo’s Current Condition

Man, what a friggin’ intelligent drama. What interesting and deft directing. What awesome acting. And what an interesting story, dealing with a straitlaced North Korean spy who deals with stocks, who slowly comes unraveled as his world falls apart around him. The highlight of this drama, though, at least for me, was Oh Man Seok’s amazing portrayal of Kim Chul Soo, with all of his quirks, his insecurities, and his confusion. Plus, there’s an eating-while-crying scene, and a rather brilliant one at that. This only serves to further secure Oh as one of the top talents of his generation. I can’t wait to see him in the next four episodes of Drama Special, this time in a comedy. (Yes, I am a fangirl. Whatchoo gonna do about it?)

Aridong Last Cowboy

Oh man, this was FUN. An old man who spends way too much time alone watching Westerns gets caught up in a series of murders that occur in his apartment building. He befriends a retired cop who’s been chasing the murderer for years, and the two of them investigate together. This drama is crazy and creative, with an ambiguous sense of anxiety running underneath. It gets the mood down just right, with plenty of references to the Hollywood Westerns of old, and is alternatively funny and even a little scary. It’s no wonder it’s so good, what with people like Kim Yong Soo (yes, the one who also directed The Scary One, The Ghost and I) and Park Jin Woo (yes, the writer of Conspiracy in the Court) working behind the scenes. Why isn’t anyone giving these two a full-length drama to work on?

Stone

Brilliant. It takes a very simple premise, of a cowardly family man and teacher who is faced with a moral dilemma, and uses it to inject every single frame with its central theme: The power that a single stone can have in changing a person’s life forever. It’s such an obvious idea, but it works so well. Politics, if present at all, is very subtle here, but it manages to somehow convey with as much conviction the ideas that other short dramas like My Sister’s March and Freedom Fighter Lee Hoe Young state so loudly. Even the most timid of men, when faced with oppression and the option of choosing the easy but immoral way out, can do the tiniest of deeds for the best of reasons, and that makes all the difference. It might not solve all your problems, and life will continue to be hard, but one small act of courage is all one needs to live a life with conviction. What an ordinary and yet amazing lesson. And what a quiet yet masterful drama.

Rock Rock Rock

It is such a treat when something sneaks up on you by surprise and ends up being so much better than you’d expected. I did not expect to be so moved by Rock Rock Rock, or to enjoy it as much as I did. And I certainly did not expect to become so emotional while watching the final episode, or to spend hours watching clips of Boohwal’s performances on YouTube, or to spend every waking minute listening to certain songs. But that’s the power of Rock Rock Rock – that pure emotional pull.

It’s really quite an ordinary drama in terms of structure. It’s a typical biopic, depicting the life of an obsessed, tortured, drug-addled musician. It has bad acting (although Noh Min Woo is certainly far more palatable here than he was in My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho), is full of cliches, and is even kind of cheesy at parts. And yet it works. Why? Because it’s earnest, sincere, full of heart. Because you can tell that everyone involved poured all of their devotion into every frame. Because the incredible soundtrack makes you float along on a sea of audial bliss, elevating each tiny moment. Because it plays with non-linear storytelling and never disrespects the intelligence or emotional capacity of its viewers.

Rock Rock Rock embodies what I felt was so lacking in the K-drama landscapes of 2008 and 2009: Passion, a respect and deep love for one’s craft. And hope, because as long as shows like this exist, Korean dramas can cling to that magic that make them so special to so many people.

 
I’m closing off this year with something I haven’t felt in two very long years: a flicker of hope for the K-drama landscape. 2010 was a great year, full of disappointments, yes, but also some variety and plenty of proof that even in the darkest of times, talent will always be around to help light the way for the future. Looking at the list of dramas that are to come in early 2011, I can’t help but feel disheartened and uneasy. But at least I had my little oasis of contentment, a moment of rest in the middle of the desert. I can’t stay here forever, but maybe a temporary sense of peace was all I needed to recharge and forge ahead. And I say: Bring. It. On.

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174 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. jacq

    Loved Chuno. Still deciding if I’m going to start Sungkyunkwan Scandal or Giant.

    • 1.1 Bori

      Definitely go for ‘Giant’ my friend.
      Way worth it. I think of it as a masterpiece.
      Especially compared to Sungkyunkwan Scandal. Most of that was just eye-candy for me.

    • 1.2 crazyunnie

      Giant.
      It’s a must watch.
      I really, reeeaally love SKKS, but yes, I agree with bori… It was really just eyecandy. (Yoo ah in is delicious. lol.)
      Chuno was REALLY AWESOME. I don’t know why it recieved so much hate. I really loved it.

      • 1.2.1 Lise

        Yup! I third that! Giant didnt have much in form of eye candy (except for that yummy Seungri-lookalike Minwoo oppa!) but man did the plot reel u in! A masterpiece in my opinion!

  2. missjb

    I LOVE U!! hahahhah
    FINALLY SOMEONE wrote about HARVEST VILLA YAYYYY!!! MY BEST COMEDY DRAMA…

    Comrades, Giant, HArvest Villa are drama of the year for me…. Despite My Prosecutor Princess

    About Flames of ambition. I just wathed the first episode, and, I really can’t stand over the top crazy plot…

    Maybe It’s not my cup of tea…. I can see Why u love this drama.. Maybe I Will try this drama if my mood changed.

  3. Jenju

    Damn. I’m so used to nodding in agreement with reviews on here that I was very caught off guard by how often while reading this I was shaking my head and going “no no you got it all wrong”

    Overall thank you for that, it’s refreshing to read something from a point of view much different than yours and this article did it for me.

    While I don’t agree 100% with everything, it offers great food for thought and has me reevaluating my previous conclusions…

    Good Job!

    • 3.1 notimeforsleep

      i totally felt the same way!:)) i surprisingly disagreed with a lot of things. but all the same. great food for thought.:)

      thanks for the recap!

    • 3.2 pipit

      Yes, it’s shockingly refreshing.
      I think this is the first time I read this kind of opinions about MGIAG and SS being delivered without mincing words (very brave of you!)
      I don’t really get what makes other people love MGIAG so. I loved it enough while watching it but once it ended I don’t have things that linger on my mind let alone heart. The same goes for YAB.
      But SS is different. I loved it while watching it. And still have few memories after it ended. I don’t think I’ll forget the bromance between Yong Ha and Jae Shin anytime
      soon.
      Thanks for the reviews. It’s a great reminder that we all have different tastes.

      • 3.2.1 jose

        lol i was hurt ,but enough mature for tolerating another opinion about 2 of my favorite dramas of this year,my girlfriend is a gumiho and sungkyunkwan scandal,at least 1 or 2 person of this blog liked them(i am writing about the writers of this blog),that was enough for me,of all of my favorite dramas of this year i watched review of most of them ,but not 1,dong yi!!! i hope someone write their opinion here

        • 3.2.1.1 DRAMAADDICT4ever

          Thank you,for being mature enough not to rant or act immature when you read a post that does not agree with you,we should all behave the same way.

          I also disagree with a lot of things that were said on the post and also felt hurt when I heard a different oppinion about SSK and MGIAG because to me these where two of my favorite dramas of the year,secret Garden being my third
          (now I know how MSOAN fans feel when they read not so good comments about their lovely drama),but at the same time I appreciate these opinions because it lets me see a different type of view.

          How boring it would be if everyone had the same thoughts, and opinions. My conclusion is that at the end it all goes down to personal opinions and taste.

          On another note,I have not watched Harvest Villa or Joseon X-files, but hearing so many praises on these dramas I might have to give them a try(^^).MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!!

  4. hpn88

    This does it. Watching Joseon X-files. I need something to semi-marathon anyways

    • 4.1 Nano

      LOL. marathoning it here, as well :D

      • 4.1.1 UJ

        everybody likes it so much that i m gonna watch it too now :D

        • 4.1.1.1 foxbead

          i think i’m going to watch it too…..since everyone praise the drama….

          • 4.1.1.1.1 Linh

            that’s what i was thinking. i’ve heard so much praise for joseon x-files that i have to watch it

    • 4.2 maria

      i found it kind of hard to watch actually (meaning, some things you needed to maybe actually know korean to understand better)… it’s a good watch conjoint with reading the dramabeans recaps :)

      • 4.2.1 serendipity

        Excellent English subs can be found here:

        http://withs2.com

        Enjoy!

        • 4.2.1.1 maria

          SANTA, IS THAT YOU?! :P oooh! thank you, i love you! happy christmas!!

  5. Biscuit

    I really enjoyed this review!

    BTW, where did you watch some of these cable/special/mini dramas? They sound like they’re a MUST watch before the year ends off!

    • 5.1 crysalide

      You can get KBS Drama Special from D-addicts torrent. They have the tvrips from KBS WORLD

  6. Soua

    :D I’m so happy you talked about Chuno! I absolutely love, love, love Chuno, and I swear I have almost all the episodes memorized. :D Scary, ain’t it?

    And I agree about My Girlfriend is a Guhimo, and Sungkyunkwan Scandal. Disappointing endings… And I still don’t understand the connection between Yoon Hee and the main lead… O_o

  7. poyi

    felt the same way about
    DANDELION FAM & PASTA

  8. x3illusion

    Totally agree with you on Chuno. I think it may be at the top of my list for 2010. Oh yes and that particular scene also left me very emotional and was extremely moving. Jang Hyuk is definitely an amazing actor.

  9. xylophonic

    I always love your reviews, they’re very honest and well-thought out, and you won’t waffle around. Like.

    I admit I haven’t even heard of some dramas you talked about! Thanks for that, it’s really enlightening to hear about all the different offerings.

    Thank you for the review!

  10. 10 cont'd

    Lovely review =)
    All in all, 2010 was a good year, no?
    Yes, Chep!

  11. 11 missyxcindy

    First time commenting, but just had to say that I thought I was the only one that felt that way about SKK Scandal and My gf is a gumiho! Everyone else seemed to have loved them.
    Also, you and JB rave so much about Joseon X-Files. I think I might check it out!

  12. 12 l1lskyl1l

    thanks for the post. Some of the dramas that you mention I haven’t heard of them since i guess most ppl only watch what’s popular.
    I did watch Joseon X-Files and I agree with you 100%. I wish other dramas were like this.

  13. 13 punch

    oh i don’t know what to feel about your review when some of it are quite the opposite of JB’s

    anyway, thanks for the new point of view

    • 13.1 Biscuit

      Both reviewers have given very insightful reviews, but it all goes down to personal opinions and taste.

      I think that’s why both reviews can be quite opposite, and it’s the same way with viewers. Not all of us view a drama the same as another. Therefore the best way to review a drama and judge it is to watch it yourself ;D

  14. 14 JiHwan

    Harvest Villa was a nice treat indeed. Almost like finding money in your pocket after being dead broke. It’s amazing how the drama can change from being insanely funny to something so dark and mysterious. It’s the first time I have seen Shin Ha Kyun in anything, but I’m definitely impressed. Its unfortunate that this wonderful drama wasn’t shown more love and support.

  15. 15 Memei

    Seriously?

    • 15.1 cingdoc

      I agree…it was a seriously well written end of the year review…

      • 15.1.1 Memei

        uhuh.

        • 15.1.1.1 zach

          haha

  16. 16 Hannah

    There really is something very old-fashioned about Gloria, isn’t there? I keep thinking, man these adults behave kinda dorky. But I guess that’s part of its charm and its sweetness can’t be denied.

    I’m with you on SKKS too. I liked it for awhile but then it bored me and I dropped it.

  17. 17 Gummie

    Thank you for a very nice review. I only watched a handful of dramas in your list. But those I did watch, I share similar thought to yours. Since my expectation is a bit different, I often find myself liking things that the majority don’t or vice versa. So your thorough review with similar preference is a pleasant surprise.

  18. 18 QWERTY

    Happy early New Years! I saw quite a few of the dramas that you mentioned up here, but it’s been so long since then, so thanks for the review.

    I enjoyed Pasta and tuned in diligently every week, mostly because of the cotton-candy cuteness between the two leads (hearing “Yes Chep” was annoying but so adorable!). But there were some great moments with the secondary characters, although not nearly as many. Eun-soo was my favorite secondary character and made the drama worth watching in the middle episodes.

    I’ve also not been the greatest fan of Sungkyunkwan Scandal; I would have been perfectly happy if TPTB had stuck with the friendship-building for a bit longer and spent time on other events besides the games. The ending almost ruined the entire drama for me, but it still remains a personal favorite.

    Looking back at the dramas of the recent past, it seems like too few of them can maintain steam for more than 10 episodes. There’s this great buildup in the first episodes, a little bit of character development, viewers falling in love with the main leads, hating the second leads, rhapsodizing about the greatness of the scenery and dramatic buildup…

    And then writers tack on bizarre plotlines to keep the emotions high, which starts to create holes in logic and inevitably reduces the quality of the drama. The ending no longer is about the original conflict, but the plotline that developed later and doesn’t pack as much of a punch. Kinda makes you wish that more dramas were pre-recorded or fully developed beforehand, huh?

    Looking over the comment for Josen X-Files and Comrades, I should probably place those next on my To Watch list. All in all, thanks for the review!

  19. 19 Jo

    COMRADES
    such an amazing show.
    it didnt overromanticize war and I appreciate how we ended when the war wasnt ending yet…idk there is so much to talk about this intelligent, heartwarming, absolutely overlooked drama. It was so frickin intense I absolutely loved to watch it every week with my family. Amazing fucking amazing show guys. WATCH.

    • 19.1 row.an

      I totally agree. Thank you Dahee_Fanel, for mentioning Comrades. I didn’t plan on watching it, until my mom forced me to.

      And I got addicted. It just sucks you right in.

      It really is an understated and amazing drama. I remember trying very, very, very hard not to cry while watching the last episode. One of my favourites of this year, definitely.

      • 19.1.1 Robs

        Ditto on your comments about Comrades. It is by far my favorite drama of 2010. Even now when I think of or listen to the OST (which the cast actually recorded) I think of all the amazing moments in the drama.
        I wasn’t as good as you, I couldn’t hold back the tears during the last episode and just sobbed like baby.

  20. 20 Autumn

    whew, i am not the only one who didn’t like MGISAG that much. admittedly, it wasn’t all bad, there were cute, cheeky and memorable moments, but most of the time i was bored. I personally adore almost all of the Hong Sisters’ dramas, so i was devastatingly disappointed that Gumiho didn’t turn out to be as awesome as i hoped it would be. sigh.

    i agree with you about the OTP in SKKS. i just couldn’t get the emotional pull from them, i should have, since, theoretically speaking, they were so, so, so compatible, sigh, it was frustrating. yeh, but apart from that, i loved pretty much everything else.

    I heard a lot of good things about JXF, but i don’t think i will be touching that one any time soon, im a bit allergic to paranormal themes, esp the scary kind. Red Candy and Harvest Villa sounds good though, might give those ones a try.

    thanks for the review.

  21. 21 Sushi

    Yes yes yes!! your thoughts about sungkyunkwan exactly. i also found it hard to connect on an emotional level with the romance. most people don’t even know what i’m talking about… finally there is someone who agrees! -_-

  22. 22 Lovepark

    Thank you for the review. It was fun to read, and I agreed with you about a lot of things. I never really got into Cinderella’s Sister, Sungkyunkwan Scandal, or My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (I dropped or hardly bothered to watch these). I was glad to see Harvest Villa. I’ve yet to watch it all but it’s fun (does remind me of MIA at times) and I’ve always been a fan of Shin. Also, I liked your comment about Jung Chan in Dandelion Family and agree with your thoughts about the show in general.
    I haven’t watched all the special/short dramas you mentioned, but you make the ones I haven’t seen so much fun. However, I can’t share your love for My Sister’s March or Freedom Fighter (I didn’t finish the latter). First, Freedom Fighter Lee Hoe Young. I just dropped this and completely forgot about it because even though it was slick, I couldn’t invest in the main character or the story. It didn’t help that I was busy, and since it couldn’t grab me in the first two episodes, I didn’t bother. My Sister’s March, as you wrote, did make me use my brain, but once I turned away, it vanished. Even though it was sad and emotional, I guess I wanted more sadness because I felt bored at parts while watching it. Both were good (I might go back to watch Freedom Fighter), but I just didn’t feel that they were great.
    Once again, thank you for the review. It was a joy to read.

  23. 23 Celestical

    I’m so glad someone else didn’t find Pasta that interesting. I missed the chemistry between the leads (but then again, I was half asleep while watching) and only the food kept me interested. It became those dramas I had running in the background while doing other things. Sigh.

    With Sungkyunkwan Scandal, the only thing that kept me interested in that was Jae Shin, Yong Ha and King Jeong Jo. I had no interest in the leads. At all. They could have disappeared and I would have been happy. And it is sad that the rest of the world loves a drama that you don’t. And that ending? I get fans are important, but I don’t even want to consider how many were pissed off that a potentially amazing ending was ditched for…that.

  24. 24 Cheryl

    Haha I think another gem among the stones would be Kim Tak Goo. And I agree with you about Joseon X-Files! Might check out Harvest Villa now (cuz I loved Mixed Up Agency!! ^^)

  25. 25 Akex

    Comrades was a great drama even though many didn’t seem to take much notice of it. I admit that I initially had little interest in it and was looking forward to Road Number One but I was drawn to the relationships between the characters and the actors. This was probably one if the most underrated dramas this year and surprise favorite. Pasta was my number two drama, looking back I agree that their really is no point to the drama but hell I’d watch Gong Hyo Jin and Lee Seon Kyun stare at a wall for for an entire hour. Their chemistry was great and it carried the entire drama and I gotta admit it was pretty cute and a nice break in between sagueks(QSD-DY).

  26. 26 Jane

    Red Candy was well written and well acted but I didn’t like the story.

  27. 27 Julianna

    First off, thank you for your insightful reviews! I really enjoyed reading this even though your taste and mine are totally opposite. I’ve tried to watch dramas like Chuno but they’re too “heavy” for me. If it makes any sense…lol
    I love light, comedic dramas and occasionally some mind-twisting/mystery dramas like Joseon X-Files (this is THE one for me this year beside My Girlfriend is a Gumiho). ^_^

  28. 28 diorama

    I’m with you on Comrades, Dahee. This has got to be one of the few war-themed shows that actually get it right – more than that, it’s a drama masterpiece, period, regardless of genre. I love the show with both my heart and brain, something that rarely happens. It’s definitely going on my all-time favorites list.

  29. 29 danna

    what a lovely review as usual Dahee….i love how you are never afraid of speeaking ur mind….lol…..your bit on comrades teared me up…..i’ve always steared away from war dramas/movies for the exact reasons u mentioned…i’m glad Comrades is different…..now i gotta go watch it ASAP….it might be a teary Xmas for me… Merry Christmas to you and all the readers here

    • 29.1 missjb

      lol, same with me… I Hated a war genre Before…. I didn’t want to watched it at first, But Now…. This drama is one of my favorite this year.

  30. 30 Nomaden

    Harvest Villa has produced 100% before broadcast? OMG! Well Then It left me bitter…. I didn’t like the ending at all…. I could tolerate that if the drama not produced 100% before broadcast…

  31. 31 elisa

    YESS. FLAMES OF AMBITION AHAHAHA. i watched it for yoo seung ho at first (but was kind of disappointed when the first 10 or so episodes didn’t have much of him in it )BUT STILL – it’s so great. i’ve never been so addicted to a crazy makjang hahahaha. aghhhh love it :D

    idk that’s the first time i’ve seen such a critic critique (haha) of pasta and gumiho. i understand maybe they weren’t the best – but the lead romance were both so loveable. gong hyo jin totally won me over and i almost wished they weren’t married to their respective spouses *sighs*

    Our Slightly Risque Relationship – this was really weird. lee seon gyoon always plays that kind of character well, so i guess it was fine. and hwang woo seul hye is really pretty (i don’t think there are other words more degrading for a serious actress though oops)

    i really want to watch red candy still… will have to go check that one out!

  32. 32 bd

    The only one on the list that I watched which I had not already commented on Part I is “Chuno.”

    If one word could describe “Chuno” it would be “pretty.”

    Great cinematography, epic views of beautiful scenery, beautiful costumery; little expense was spared.

    Unfortunately, behind all that beauty, there was little substance.

    The main story line of Chuno was basically a long chase scene, divided up in parts (in btwn, nothing much memorable happened).

    That could have been forgiven if the relationships/interaction btwn the 3 leads had been scripted/developed better, but alas, there was little depth (I found the ancillary love story btwn the 2 slaves and the relationship btwn the 3 slave hunters more touching).

    Part of the problem was the portrayal of Jang Hyuk’s character – after a while, he became a caricature of himself w/ his moody ways and cackling laugh.

    LDH’s character didn’t leave any impression on me and I still can’t figure out if it was her acting or the fact that her character was so prim, proper and reserved.

    OJH, otoh, did a good job as the General turned slave, but the actor who left the greatest impression on me was Han Jung-soo was General Choi.

    Also, too many of the side characters were caricatures or not really developed (the one thief chieftan’s whinny laugh really started to grate on me after a while).

    “Chuno” is still worth watching for the beautiful scenery, etc., but expect to get much out of it in terms of storyline, dialogue or emotional attachment to the main characters, much less most of the side characters.

    It’s the type of show where 1 viewing is more than enough.

    (Not reviewed in either Part 1 or Part 2, but a much better sageuk was “Dong Yi.” While it also had its flaws – such as dragging on for too long and hence, repeating plotlines, or the overuse of the term “Juhn-ha”, 2/3rds of it was pretty enjoyable – due to there being actually interesting things in the storyline. While watching DY, there were numerous times when I couldn’t wait for the next ep; didn’t happen for “Chuno”).

    • 32.1 Sara

      thanks for putting it into words what I feel wrong with Chuno….can’t finish it and not impressed with too much of the slick camera work either…..

  33. 33 hjkomo

    Ah, dear Dahee…as always, thanks for your review! :D
    Life is too short for bad dramas…but I’m glad 2010 had more than a few glorious gems, even though it also had many awful stones as well.

    And you just HAD to use that song. *sob* :(

  34. 34 suzy

    i disagreed with a LOT of things,,

    • 34.1 cingdoc

      yes,I have the same problem with dairy products,too…

  35. 35 aisuzieya

    Thx for the review. I’ve always think that MGIAG’s overall acting is mediocre at best too. its painful to watch the drama towards the end.

    Chuno is really beautifully executed..altho i hope the pace is much faster than it wud be. no doubt Jang Hyuk steals the scene, making Lee Dae-hee almost invincible on screen

    SKKS..honestly, its disappointing.yes i loved the drama, but the ending kills it all! every ounce of love i had puff into thin air! n do i even need to explain y?

  36. 36 miss unknown

    I have to agree about My Girlfriend is a Gumiho…I watched it, thought it was funny, but I really don’t remember much about it either…the second half totally didn’t stick to me…I love the Hong’s sisters writing especially in the earlier days, but ever since You’re Beautiful, I find their drama repetitive and too childish…but maybe that’s just me…

    • 36.1 lazeolday

      same here

      i really love hong’s sisters early drama (SGCH). it led me to my addiction to kdrama. but they have lost their charm. since YB i found that their dramas were boring, like you said, repetitive and childish.

    • 36.2 Bori

      Totally agree with you.

      I didn’t get all the hype about this drama. But then again… I don’t really get the hype for any other dramas like MGIAG.

  37. 37 itz kiss

    is bad… all bad bad. You’re opinions wrong. You no vote for King Bread. You obviously mistaken.

    • 37.1 Gummie

      Drink some milk!

    • 37.2 cingdoc

      is ok…all ok…to have different point of views…we no clones…we can all think differently…or

      It’s really ok to be different. We are not clones,so it’s perfectly ok to have our own point of views :) Be nice

    • 37.3 ...

      Wait.. are you that same commentor in ockoala’s blog? Hahaha XD

      • 37.3.1 zoey

        Are you that commentator in Ockoala’s blog that made a lot of ppl mad? LOL I must say you are a person of few words but your words really make an impact haha

    • 37.4 zach

      You don’t mince words do you? LOL

      • 37.4.1 tanya

        What’s king bread? Is it a drama? The king fell in love with a loaf of bread and made it his queen? Or did the loaf of bread fall in love with the king, murdered the king and declared itself king?

        • 37.4.1.1 zoe

          I think she means king of baking. But as king of baking, he should be baking other stuff too, not just bread. After all, he’s the king LOL

          • 37.4.1.1.1 Queen Bread

            Actually I’m confused. if he’s the king, why is he baking bread? He can get his chef to bake bread. I haven’t seen this drama

          • 37.4.1.1.2 Jo

            @ Queen Bread

            I don’t think a chef bakes bread. A chef cooks dishes. Since he’s the king, he can hire a breadmaker to make bread.

          • 37.4.1.1.3 Zoe

            He can just buy a breadmachine. That way he can save money on hiring the breadmaker and use the money to build a bridge or something.

          • 37.4.1.1.4 Drama Queen

            Guys, allow me to explain. I haven’t seen this show but this much I know. The king of baking is not a real king. He’s just an expert at baking. Just like me, I’m a drama queen but I’m not a real queen. Comprehendo?

        • 37.4.1.2 missjb

          wait!!!!!!!! sorry, your comment are too funny… I can’t stop laughing. HAHA! :D

      • 37.4.2 jo

        no she doesn’t. she only minces bread.

        • 37.4.2.1 jo

          she doesn’t mince words I mean LOL

          • 37.4.2.1.1 Robs

            LOL..I’ve been laughing for 5 minutes, my sides ache, and tears are running down my face, all theses comments are just too funny. Who knew bread could be so hilarious!!

  38. 38 ahinfan

    i loved SKKS. I wasn’t onboard with the OTP and i agree that the ending sucked, i still consider it my favorite drama for 2010.

    so glad i’m not the only one who didn’t like MGIAG XD

    i think i’m gonna check out Joseon X files next!

    thanks for sharing your reviews!

  39. 39 serendipity

    The CAST version of chinguyeo — oh, that’s low, very low. I nearly cried listening to it. Then I decided to check out the high-def episodes of Comrades some kind angel sent me, and yes it’s fantastic in high-def. And before I knew it I was re-watching episode 1 and was halfway through before I made myself stop. Because sorrowing my way through the x’mas weekend would not be a good idea. But, by golly, that amazing show is SO COMPELLING, even on a re-watch.

    Love the review. I read it just relishing your writing. Then I skimmed it again and – yup – for every show I’ve also watched I happen to agree with your opinion. Match! (We may part ways on FOA – that is if I ever screw up the courage to watch it.)

  40. 40 evelia

    Thanks for the review. My Girlfriend is a Gumiho was my favorite drama this year. This is my first year watching korean dramas and there just is not enough time to watch them all. I might check out some dramas that you mention in your review.

  41. 41 Amg1

    @Dahee_Fanel , Thanks A lot!!!!!!!!!
    I always love your “Sarcasm” and your intelligent reviews!!!
    Joseon X-Files FTW!!!!!!

  42. 42 JD

    Dude. Totally agree with MGIAG. All fluff; no substance! I can’t understand why it’s such a rage.

  43. 43 laila

    YES finally someone speaks truth about Pasta. What a horrible drama: redundant, sexist, underdeveloped.

  44. 44 xiaoSxin

    Thanks dahee!! I knew you’d deliver and make us proud!!!! Great job on this review!!!

  45. 45 jandoe

    i hope you don’t take this the wrong way, because i’ve absolutely no intentions of starting of some weird cyber-comments-galore argument for, but i’ve been following these round-up recaps for all the years JB started this and i always feel that well… dahee, year in and out you just sound so cynical about the year’s turnout. my memory of your overview is always that ultimately, you’re disappointed. i don’t watch 3/4 of the shows you wrote here so i’ve no say on whether they’re good or not but frankly speaking, is it just that you’ve too much (or too few, depending on how one views it) expectations or… something about the Kdrama scene?

    i personally thought that 2010 was a pretty good year, better than last and all that. there were more gems than you’d perceived, or so i thought. but anyway, my two cents aside, i bet writing this hasn’t been easy work, so thank you for your insight. looking forward to the rest

    • 45.1 nycgrl

      Really, I thought Dahee was positively glowing with praise in this year’s review, she even said “but in 2010 at least, K-dramas had their moment of rebellion and glory. And I. Am. Ecstatic.”

      That is pretty high praise indeed compared to 2008’s “ocean of excrement”.

      • 45.1.1 doozy

        I agree. Comparatively, Da Hee’s year in review for 2010 was quite positive, less harsh and more “heeeeyyyy, what a wonderful drama!”

        • 45.1.1.1 lei

          yes, dahee’s review this year is much much more positive than last year’s.

          i see quite a number of people up in arms that dahee’s opinions were very different from theirs. i admit to feeling the same way last year when i read her review. but after thinking about it for sometime and looking at things more objectively, my favorite dramas weren’t all that perfect and they’re not about to win an emmy (or the korean equivalent) anytime soon. dahee was just pointing out things i didn’t see (or refuse to see).

          after a few years of reading year end reviews here at db, i’ve come to accept that dahee’s taste are far different from mine, but that’s alright.

    • 45.2 Anonymous

      I kinda agree, reading Dahee’s reviews (last year was worse I think) always makes me think that she’s a one ‘hard to please’ viewer.

      But since Dahee has been watching drama since she was (most probably) 5, I think it’s understandable that she always want and expect more from new drama.. and is easily bored/frustrated with “standard” ones.

      Awaiting for my favorite end of the year’s reviewer…Hjkomo!!!

      • 45.2.1 decoderblue

        Haha, same thought, Dahee is hard to please XD

        I’m waiting for….girlfriday? Will she do a review? Anyway I’m waiting for every review, hopefully more dramas are covered ^^

        • 45.2.1.1 TGIF

          Thank you Javabeans and Dahee_Fanel.

          Can’t say I enjoyed reading Dahee_Fanel’s review since we have different drama tastes. But always looking forward to reading her review every year.

          I’m waiting for Thundie’s. When will hers be published?

          Happy Holidays to those who read this message :-)

        • 45.2.1.2 Dee Dee

          Sadly, girlfriday hasn’t done a review in the past years! But, I really hope she’ll do one this year. After reading javabeans and Dahee’s reviews, I’m really waiting for some positive feedback on MGIAG!

      • 45.2.2 xiaoSxin

        hjkomo said she is not writing a review this year.. T_T

        • 45.2.2.1 Anonymous

          really? oh noo..why? why?

        • 45.2.2.2 hjkomo

          ㅠ__ㅠ

      • 45.2.3 Dahee_Fanel

        “But since Dahee has been watching drama since she was (most probably) 5″

        Try even younger, hehehe. My earliest memory is of watching a K-drama. ;)

        • 45.2.3.1 Anonymous

          thought so..tee hee.

    • 45.3 Sara

      am surprised too that the year end review is milder this year

  46. 46 nycgrl

    “The ending infuriated me so much that I immediately deleted all of the episodes out of my harddrive.”

    Me too sister and the deleting is even more satisfying on a mac when it makes that lovely paper crunching sound. A form of kdrama exorcism that will bring new hope in the new year.

    Any good will SKKS built in the first half was killed off by the other half. SKKS and PT will go down for me as the suckiest of the suck for this year.

  47. 47 celest1al

    Thank you for this. This was a very well written review, and you pretty much sold me on watching a few that I haven’t seen. I know many people watch Kdramas to escape reality (we all do at times), but I love that you don’t seem to approach them that way, hence the deep and insightful review.

  48. 48 pohonphee

    I thought I’m weird when I couldn’t stand MGIAG at its 1st episode. But…

    It is very interesting to see from a lot of different point of view. hey, thanks :)

  49. 49 enjoydrama

    Thanks for the review Dahee_Fanel. I am one of those who did not enjoy MGIAG, gave up viewing towards the last 4 eps and just read JB’s recaps. Same with Pasta, although I finished it.

    Agree with you about Joseon X-Files, it’s a gem!

  50. 50 yuvee

    Lol Love your review! There are a lot of things I disagree with but it’s great to hear a different point of view. I haven’t watched a lot of dramas you mentioned, so there’s a couple more to add to my list!

    I gave up on Flames of Desire a long time ago, but I though I should go back to it after reading this.

    Btw, I’m kinda disappointed at not getting your review on Secret Garden cause I’d love to hear what you think of it!

    • 50.1 Dahee_Fanel

      I’ve only seen one episode of Secret Garden, and ran away screaming. That should tell you more than enough, hehehe.

      • 50.1.1 mskololia

        I dropped SG after episode 12. I doubt that I will ever go back and finish.

      • 50.1.2 koreandramalover/kdl

        LOL!!! hehe…Dahee_Fanel, although i did not run away screaming after watching the first 4 episodes, i DID have no interest in watching it further…so, i can fully understand why you “ran away screaming”… ;)

        although i did not agree with some of your more strongly-worded comments on SKKS and MGIAG, i respect your opinion and thank you for the trouble to put together your thoughts on the dramas in this thread… ;)

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