Drama Reactions & Reviews
Dramaland: The gift that keeps on giving [Year in Review, Part 5]
by | December 24, 2012 | 142 Comments

If there’s anything that Santa has taught me over the years (other than a musical mnemonic about single-malt scotches), it’s that Christmas is a time of giving. Dramaland gives us so much throughout the year, that I thought it was finally time for me to stop being a grinch and give back, out of the goodness of my heart. *waits for credit*

So this year I’ve made a Christmas list, and every drama I’ve watched this year is on it. Because everyone deserves presents. Yes, even you, Show.


The King 2 Hearts OST – “Hang-ah’s Dream” [ Download ]

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The Moon That Embraces the Sun

My gift to you: A treadmill. So you can work out all your, um, frustrations.

There was perhaps no prettier drama in 2012 than The Moon That Embraces the Sun. Even twelve months later the visual appeal of its world still leaves a very distinct mark—one with rich, vibrant colors, costumes that made you want to twirl vicariously, and every single thing framed artfully for maximum purty factor. (Why yes, that is a technical term.) It was a version of Joseon told through the eyes of an art director. The politics might’ve gone to hell, but damnit, we were going to color-coordinate!

It was, in a word, beautiful. I’m about to tell you a bunch of things it also wasn’t, but I wanted to give it credit for that, because Moon/Sun was the kind of beautiful that made you take notice.

What it wasn’t: a complete story. This show did what a lot of dramas did this year in setting up a really great premise, and then letting it hang there like a limp rag. Or perhaps a vision more befitting this drama: What magic there was, made its grand entrance, and then flitted away like butterflies. It started out with a sense of grandeur and a touch of mysticism, promising a complex tale of how love, politics, and planetary alignment would change the course of a kingdom. What we got instead was a king who was hung up on his first love and a metaphor milked so dry it became a running joke.

One of the most common complaints about this series is that the child actors were better than the adults; I’d argue that the problem is not with the actors at all, but with the writing. The actors transitioned from teens to adults, but the characters remained exactly the same—stunted, immature, and therefore stuck. Things that were cute from the child set—the dedication to first love, the raw pain from that first scar—suddenly seemed weirdly obsessive, emotionally stunted, and just plain sad from the adults. And that sense of puerility informed everything in the drama, until our main characters became foolish people who had only one dimension, and would throw away a kingdom, or sacrifice themselves in turn so many times that you forgot who was being tried for what and why… all in the name of love. Sometimes all-consuming love can be romantic and grand, and other times it can seem harmfully persistent; the onus is on the writing to make it one over the other, and sadly this drama never managed to get there.

And while it was new, I suppose, to hinge an entire plot on a king’s inability to consummate his marriage (because One Twu Wuv will do that to a libido if you’re not careful), I really would’ve rather he’d gotten laid and moved the hell on, for his own sake. And okay, a little for mine.


Shut Up: Flower Boy Band

My gift to you: Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

If there was ever a show that could perfectly capture the quiet loneliness of adolescence or the universal feeling of being adrift in a big world, this is it. I have a feeling School 2013 will do the same in the new year, but for 2012, it was Shut Up: Flower Boy Band, which took the opposite approach from many dramas this year and told a very small story. But what a story, and told with such fire and raw emotion.

On the surface this is just a drama about a group of boys bound by music and their status as outsiders. But it’s in the telling of the story that this drama becomes a different beast entirely—it had a dark, realistic tone that felt like the expression of someone who has keenly felt the angst portrayed onscreen. Its world was stripped of that shiny drama polish, and there were no miracle cure-alls for those who didn’t fit, whose purposelessness defined them. It sounds rather bleak, but it wasn’t, really. Just… honest, or for lack of a less-cheesy word—real—about what it feels like to be young and a little lost.

But if it were just a gritty portrayal of teenage angst, it wouldn’t have done anything more than make me sad. What Shut Up did was turn angst into fuel for seeking out friendships, fighting against the world’s expectations, and for artistic expression. Music became a lifeline and the band became family, for boys who had no one but each other. There’s something about found families that will never fail to move me, and this drama had the best of them, hands down.

That doesn’t mean the show didn’t have its failings, like the rich high school setup with the competing rich boy band that was all a little too pat, or the record label conflicts that I ultimately never cared about. And even some of the main conflicts between the boys were misunderstandings that could’ve easily been avoided. But some shows burst onto the scene with such energy and force that they leave an aftershock and those things tend to fade away. Now, almost a year later, what I remember is the music, and the emotion behind it. This show did what I wished all dramas would do: it put feeling behind every beat and every line of its songs, so much that you really felt your heart go thud when Ji-hyuk pounded on his chest as he belted out that chorus. It’s not something big, but it is something amazing.


Twelve Men in a Year

My gift to you: 12 stuffed stockings.

This was a cute, light rom-com among the many cable offerings this year, and though it did hit all the right genre notes and was a really breezy watch, it was ultimately forgettable. It featured a good episodic premise—a woman dates a different guy for each astrological sign of the year, so she can write a featured column about it at her magazine.

It sounds great in a one-line description, but I think it would’ve worked out much better if the heroine had been a little more gung-ho about her own mission. For a drama titled Twelve Men in a Year, the heroine was rather unenthused about having to date a bunch of hot guys, which made me want to shove her aside and say, I’ll take the job. It’s just that we’ve seen this character in better incarnations before, and let’s just say, Carrie Bradshaw wouldn’t have let the opportunity slide.

There was a cute friendship at the core, and once the heroine was onboard there were some dating hijinks (and mishaps, oy) and she even ended up with the guy I wanted her to choose. So all in all good and happy and all that. But I couldn’t tell you anything memorable about it, a scene or a line that stood out, or one thing that made me laugh out loud. It was sort of a paint-by-numbers rom-com that did what it was supposed to, but not much more than that.

I’d rather have waited longer for her to go through more Mr. Wrongs before finding Mr. Right (She didn’t even date all twelve guys!), but the drama seemed content to have her dip her toe into the experiment rather than go whole hog, either fearing that she might’ve dated too many and sullied her image (Boooooo), or that we might’ve gotten tired of the parade of hot guys (Whaaaaat). It was perhaps a case of false advertising: if you hadn’t told me in your title that there would be a dirty dozen, I would’ve dialed my expectations down to a saucy six-pack.


Rooftop Prince

My gift to you: Ugly Christmas sweater. Werk it.

Rooftop Prince had the problem of being both too silly and too serious—there was about 50% of that drama that didn’t feel like it fit into the rest, and the tone suffered a great deal because of it. I basically loved the cute, light comedy, the fun chemistry between the leads, and the hallmark time-traveling hijinks that you’d tune in for in the first place. I mean, there’s just never a day that newness to the inner workings of a toilet isn’t funny.

The other half was this fairly convoluted family drama with a corporate takeover and a birth secret that sapped all the fun out of the comedic half. If it were done well, and made to be dramatically gripping and tense, heck believable even, I would’ve been along for the ride. But I just didn’t care about that family in the least, and any screen time spent away from our time-traveling prince and his minions made me less and less invested.

That’s not to say that the funny didn’t do its job in getting me to keep watching—Yoochun’s whiny displaced haughty prince is basically my favorite character of his, despite the fact that you’d have to sit through the rest of this drama to see it. The comedic gems are just that—gems—but there’s a whole lot of dirt you have to dig through to come out with a few precious stones.

It’s a drama that had about four good episodes’ worth of material, and decided to fill the rest with a stable of rotating drama clichés. And even then, I would’ve forgiven a lot of that if the endgame had left me with a resolution that capped off our initial premise with a sense of purpose and satisfaction. Instead I just wanted to throw things, because I may not know all the truths of the universe, but this I know: MY DOPPELGÄNGER IS NOT ME.


The King 2 Hearts

My gift to you: A shiny toy bot. *sniff*

The King 2 Hearts… was a weird drama. In the end it may have left a stronger impression as a romance or even a fantasy-political-action hybrid, but that’s not at all what hooked me on the show. In fact, it was its weirdness that made me watch in the first place. It was just strange—the farcical North-South war rooms, the fisheye faces talking into the camera, the absurd humor of a war breaking out over girl group fandom… It was basically juuuuuust off-kilter enough to make me curious, and then before I knew it, I was the lunatic going: What is this strange new crack and can I have some more?

I’m still hard-pressed to pick a genre for this show, because I don’t know what it is. Is it a love story? A political thriller? A comedy? A melodrama? Is it the unholy lovechild of Dr. Strangelove, Shiri, and The Princess Bride? Or maybe it was none of those things, and it was just your basic Romeo who fell in love with Juliet the Communist Capulet. I don’t know. But whatever strange alchemy it was, made it addictive like none other. It wasn’t the best drama of the year, or the most sensical, but I laughed out loud, cursed at the screen, and bawled my eyes out watching this show more than any other this year. That might make me a crazy person, but that’s just the bus I’m on.

What this show did right were two crucial parts of the story that really carried everything else—the character development of a weak, whiny, pessimistic prince into a king worthy of his best soldiers, and a love story between two strong-willed equals who represented each part of the North-South political divide. Without either of those things, this drama would’ve fallen apart under the weight of all the plotular political warring. But when you have each side of your war represented by the two leads in your love story, it gives narrative meaning to every standoff. Badass fight: cool. Badass fight where our couple’s future hangs in the balance: gripping.

I guess none of that would’ve mattered if the couple weren’t one that we were rooting for, but they were my favorite couple of the year, hands down. At times petty and immature, other times dangerous (Some couples fight with words; others fight with guns and atomic needles.), they were the most contentious pair of people to meet in dramaland this year, but also the two who would overcome the most together, as a team.

This show had a really wide pendulum: it ranged from wacky to sweepingly romantic, from action-packed to tear-jerking, and from beautifully-shot (and perfectly-lit) to inducing cries of WTF, bad guys, no really, WTF. But it was ambitious, and idealistic, and it told a complete story from beginning to end, of turning a prince into a person before he could become a king who was his people. And it turns out, when your people are badasses, you can become a pretty awesome king.


Queen In-hyun’s Man

My gift to you: A landline and a cigarette.

You know, despite romance being the central conflict of almost every drama out there, few are actually romantic. Queen Inhyun’s Man was going to be, by all accounts, just another time-traveling drama in a sea of time-traveling dramas. And an unnoticed underdog on a cable network at that. But it did something smart—it used that time/space conundrum as a device to fuel a romance, instead of the other way around.

That meant it was laser-focused on one thing and one thing alone: how can these two people be together when they are separated by time and space? Nothing else mattered and any secondary conflict that was there still came back around to that fundamental question. Narratively, it’s genius-simple: you separate two lovers by the biggest divide imaginable, and watch them fight their way back to each other.

And the romance isn’t in the chemistry (though obviously, there was enough of that to power a whole city) but in the grandness of that scale, and what distance they’re willing to travel to be together, and most importantly the conscious choices made at every turn. In a dramaland that is so often filled with characters who react to the whims of Fate, it was so nice to watch two people who insisted on being free agents, and called a horse a horse, and a physical attraction a physical attraction. The second the heroine grabbed our hero for a kiss in the elevator and lied that it was how people said hello and goodbye, I knew I loved her. And even with the fantastical premise, it was the characters’ ordinariness that stood out. It wasn’t that they were chosen or more special than anyone else; they were simply people who grabbed what chance gave them and chose love over everything else.

The drama stuck to its guns too, and carried that idea to its end—that love, and the human will, can overcome any divide and traverse any distance. I wish the magical mechanism—the how of it all—didn’t come from left field in the final hour, because the message behind it is one I can totally get behind. It’s the stuff of fantasies, the most romantic notion of them all: that love conquers all.


A Gentleman’s Dignity

My gift to you: Season pass to laser tag.

This show takes the cake this year for the drama with the least drama. And though you might think that doesn’t sound half bad, you’d be mistaken, or worse—bored. A Gentleman’s Dignity was a drama that put all its beans into a casting coup, and then stopped working. Because what else do you need when you have Jang Dong-gun headlining your drama?

Turns out a story with a conflict might be nice, but this show shied away from the conventional setups and chose instead to tell a loose series of vignettes, like taking a glimpse into the lives four forty-something best friends. It did make for a nice, easy viewing experience, in which you didn’t need to be fully invested to be a part of the world. In fact it was sort of like watching Saturday morning cartoons when you were little—even if you missed an episode it wouldn’t have mattered, because every episode sets back to zero and none of the characters change over the course of the show.

This show wasn’t quite so episodic or loose, but it certainly took a different approach in that conflict did not drive this train. Part of the reason is because the characters are fully-grown adults, and none of the problems they face are actually all that… problematic. At some point you just find yourself saying, “Well, you make your choices and you live with them. So… make a choice.”

What I did enjoy about the drama was the focus on men of a certain age, and all the attendant worries and insecurities. When the show was about the friendship, it delivered what we were promised—a frank and funny look at the everyday problems of the modern manchild. And that was fun. It was witty and charming, and the actors were willing to look ridiculous for the part. It just would’ve been great if they had been given a story worth their salt to go with.


The Chaser

My gift to you: #1 Dad mug.

Oddly enough, in a sea of fantasies, fusion sageuks, and melodramas in 2012, it’s actually a drama like The Chaser that stands out from the pack for being different. It’s best characterized as both a law drama and a political thriller, even though really, it’s just the story of a father trying to get justice for his daughter’s murder, and having to go up against the entire system to do it. It’s one man against The Man, and it turned out some of the most stirring ideas and quiet performances of the year.

The Chaser was a writer’s drama through and through, and I mean that both in positive and negative ways. Its star is the writing, with pages and pages of monologues and moving speeches, taut suspense and sharp dialogue, and the best character motivation I’ve seen all year, in any drama. Seriously, I’m pretty sure nobody picked up a spoon to eat a meal without proper underlying character motivation in this drama. But on the flipside, it was very lacking in production value in the other arenas (save for the actors, but I’ll get to them). It may have been budget, a limited director, or likely both, but the drama consisted mainly of talking heads. There were a handful of sets, the usual two or three camera angles, and the same people talked at each other in slightly varying configurations. All the time. It wasn’t a looker, this show. And what action there was, was quickly and cheaply done. To the show’s credit, it was written in a way that you could actually get away with it, but I would love to see this writer get paired with a massive budget next time around.

The drama featured two parallel trajectories: Dad (Sohn Hyun-joo), a detective who loses his daughter (and later his wife) as a result of a horrible homicide, and a presidential candidate (Kim Sang-joong), who is responsible for the crime. One discovers that the system he dedicated his life to protect and serve crumbles under the corruption of money and power, while the other uses that corrupt power to rise to the highest seat in the country.

It’s fantastic, and they’re both amazing in their roles—Dad of course is just the most upright stalwart hero and you love him right away, but even the villain is magnetic, and you catch yourself nodding along as he says stuff, forgetting that he’s eeeeevil. And one of my favorite performances in the drama was from the villain’s villain (everyone’s got a bigger foe, even the bad guy), played by veteran Park Geun-hyung. He’s usually the nasty chairman in every drama, but here he had this lilting accent and sweet country demeanor, and he’d smile at you, tell you your life was over, and then offer you dessert all in one breath. It was a thing of beauty.

But the standout was what the drama wanted to say. A man puts his trust in the justice system, and you watch as it fails him with one crushing blow after another, until he finally takes the law into his own hands. That much we’ve seen in every revenge film out there. But here he spends the drama finding a way to uncover the truth to the world, not because of revenge, but to make sure that no one else is fooled by this corrupt man’s power. And what he does is really moving—he gets the truth out there on election day, and the fate of the villain (and the country) is left in the people’s hands. There’s this sequence of people closing up shop and going out in droves to vote that really leaves a lasting impression. This show was dark in its characterization of human nature and greed, but it was also hopeful that the country would find a way to recover in a failed system. There’s a lot more to the hero and villain’s journeys that go beyond election day, but the fact that this man comes back and chooses to put his faith in the system again says it all.

Gaksital OST – “Gaksital” [ Download ]

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My gift to you: Steel underpants. Sumthin’s gotta holster those balls o’ steel.

That theme song just triggers such a visceral reaction in me: I suddenly feel like a masked crusader will leap down from a tall building and fly across my path, on his way to avenge the wrongs of my fellow man. All is right with the world because for every evil empire that springs up, so does a hero who protects the people. That’s the power of a comic book superhero—it’s the archetype and the belief that is more powerful than any one man or woman can ever be. And that, in a nutshell, is what Gaksital proved so compellingly as a drama, a character, and an idea.

As a show it wasn’t without problems; the writing fell short more times than I care to recall in its longish 28-episode run. There were huge character points that were left underdeveloped for long stretches of time, key hero moments for major characters that were totally wasted, covert ops that were hilariously simple. But then there were moments of absolute perfection too. It was a drama with peaks and valleys, where the peaks were so damn high that you got your head stuck in the clouds and forgot to look down. It was hands-down a director’s drama, and the best of the year in that regard. There is no other show that comes close to the heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, explosive visual energy of Gaksital, that could move you to chills or tears with action, movement, and music alone.

This drama dared to go to some really deep, dark pits of dank, dank darkness with its characters. I still feel a shudder when I think about our hero before he became Gaksital, or the long and harrowed road to hell that we watched our villain take one step at a time. Even if the Occupation/Independence backdrop hadn’t existed for their world, theirs would’ve been one helluva story.

What Gakistal managed to do with a fictional hero was imbue a painful part of history with the reminder that there were actual heroes—brave individuals who fought for their country against insurmountable odds, not because they thought they could win, but because they had to fight. Some dramas disappear from your memory like vapor the second you’re not watching anymore, while others leave a range of aftertastes that may be pleasant or terribly bitter. And some dramas cut you so deep you’re left standing by the side of the road, clutching your bleeding heart, and wondering when you’ll ever recover. Maybe never.

But maybe, that’s the way it should be.


I Do, I Do

My gift to you: A chance to raid each other’s shoe closets. This in no way benefits me alone.

I’ve never loved your run-of-the-mill workplace dramas, and will usually only watch them if they have a particularly great couple who makes the bulk of the corporate plot go by faster. I watched I Do, I Do expecting that with the oops-pregnancy storyline and the noona romance, the work stuff would really take a backseat. Sadly, I was mistaken and I had to sit through a lot of really boring shoe design and characters’ fates hanging in the balance over shoes, which I honestly couldn’t be paid to care about.

The other problem I ran into with this show is that I never liked Kim Sun-ah’s heroine. She was admirable, whip-smart, and she was a ball-buster for sure, but she was so cold that I watched the drama feeling a lot like our hero: berated, yelled-at, made to feel sorry without knowing why. It made me wonder why we couldn’t get a heroine who was successful without being so bristly. I loved the gender power reversal, but it seemed like they felt the need to compensate for that with such extreme characterization that it kept her from having more dimensions. In the end I appreciated her struggle with wanting to be a mom without losing the life she had built, but we were made to wait far too long before ever reaching that conflict.

It did turn out to be a great role for Lee Jang-woo, who was just adorable and perfect as the plucky Candy-hero, a character type I’d love to see more of in dramaland. The show itself didn’t live up to its potential, due in large part to the fact that it announced itself as a story about an unplanned pregnancy, and then took its sweet ass time in getting there when we already knew what was coming. I felt a little like Show had invited me to a party and I came with my party hat on, only to be told to wait eight hours till the hostess arrived. No amount of party punch will take the edge off of that.



My gift to you: A picture of the present I got for your brother.

So Big committed a lot of drama crimes this year, and many could argue that there are worse dramas (true), more appalling fails in logic (also true), and dramas far less enjoyable in the grand scheme of things (yes, I’ll give you that). But there is something fundamentally different about a drama that negates its own premise—we end up feeling cheated, in a way that overpowers the other stuff. It isn’t quantity, but an emotional response to being told it was all for nothing.

It’s funny, but in some ways, I’m not that disappointed with Big because the series failed to ever get me in the heart. And that was confusing most of all for me, who was pretty much primed to love this show from the moment it was cast. But there is a harsh truth in dramaland that we all learn sooner or later: Nothing, not even your love of Oppa, can win over bad writing.

I know. You hold on for longer than is reasonable, hoping against hope that it’s not true. But it is. It really is. The rub of it is, I already knew this to be true, having been burned by many a drama before. What I did not expect was to have the rug pulled out from under me by the Hong sisters. They’re far from perfect and I don’t love all their dramas, but this series actually felt like they had gotten their souls swapped out of their bodies, to be replaced by writers who were sleepy and a little bored. I missed their wacky humor, their crazy metaphors, and most all, their spark.

What’s even more puzzling is the fact that the premise is one of the simplest and most straightforward narratives you could have in the genre. It’s Big, 13 Going on 30, 17 Again, 49 Days, Who Are You?, on and on and on—you put someone in someone else’s body and difficult lessons are learned about what it’s like to be someone who is the total opposite of you. You get to live a little in someone else’s shoes that you thought were fancier than your own and then you are put back, having grown as a person and appreciating your own shoes, just the way they are.

And the thing you get to walk away from that with is: the person who loves you will see you for you, no matter whose body you’re wearing. That means you have one job—to show us that this love is the same, forwards, backwards, in the body of a man, woman, talking dog, or dancing mouse. That’s it. That’s all. There’s literally nothing else you have to do. It’s the silver platter of rom-coms. You just follow the formula and the win is handed to you, because it’s tried and freaking true.

It was clear early on that this show was never going to reach the head of the pack, but the contract you have with your audience is that you will do very minimal job of following through on your own premise. It’s actually mind-boggling to me that a pair of seasoned writers could muck that up somehow. But there you have it. Silver platter, blown to smithereens. Perhaps not the gravest crime ever committed in dramaland, but damn does it ever leave a bite.


I Need Romance 2012

My gift to you: What you gave me last year.

This was a spin-off of last year’s winning rom-com I Need Romance that never quite clicked for me. And strangely, I never could quite pinpoint why. I think it was a combination of a lot of little things rather than one gaping flaw, because it has all the ingredients and it tells a whole story, but it never moved me or made me care.

The first red flag: I didn’t love the heroine. Jung Yumi played her well, but she was finicky, often selfish, hot and cold, and seemed to put the blame elsewhere when she didn’t know what she wanted. I never felt completely with her, even though she was an empathetic character with cute quirks. And the hero was frustratingly closed off, only to find out later that it was because he’s been a big noble idiot his whole life. Sigh.

Maybe it was the living in a duplex with your ex that weirded me out, because no amount of real estate is worth that kind of aggravation in my book, no matter how many times you might get back together and break up again. I would still pack my bags and move out, even if it were the hundredth time. Perhaps if they had made the house a point of contention, it might’ve motivated the forced proximity, and I would’ve gotten over that hurdle.

I watched with a glimmer of hope that they might choose to tell a different kind of story this year, and give the second lead a chance. It was the only relationship that seemed remotely healthy, and I at least got a cute little romance out of their arc. Alas, the series decided not to do anything new this year, so what I got was a lesser version of the show that I saw last year, because I never really took to the characters. Nothing about this drama is bad in and of itself; it’s just tepid, in a genre where everything should be fire and ice.


Panda and Hedgehog

My gift to you: A wormhole. Everyone else got one this year. Thought you’d feel left out.

This was a bad drama. I was seduced by the pretty pastries, I tell you, and I paid the price. There were things about it that were cute and made it easy to watch, like the main couple who were ridiculously juvenile but also kind of sweet and simple. And the hero’s relationship with his gramps was actually the reason I ever even watched past the first episode.

But the story was terribly uneven: one half was birth secrets and corporate takeovers, while the other was cute flirting over baked goods. And really, even that might’ve been tolerable had any of it been acted well. But it had the one-two combination of a bad director and a not-so-great cast… and it turns out when you combine those things, they add up to less than the sum of their parts.

I think there were some salvageable threads, like the odd love triangle where the two boys ended up friends and kind of pulled the rug out from under the heroine by choosing bromance—that was unexpected and really funny. (It’s not like she totally gets shafted; they just beat her to the punch.) And it had a quirky collection of side characters that I thought were a nice change of pace from the usual friends you get in a rom-com.

Overall the drama was half-baked in execution, but I could see that the recipe had good intentions behind it. Too bad good intentions don’t count for beans in dramaland.


To The Beautiful You

My gift to you: A chance to explain yourself.

I did not understand why anyone did anything in this drama. The end.

H.O.T. – “Candy” [ Download ]

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Answer Me, 1997

My gift to you: My teenage diary, so you can feel MY embarrassing adolescent pain. It’s only fair. You did it to me.

High school dramas that are done well have this way of unifying an audience, because even though we all define ourselves differently as adults—by occupation, by nationality, by relationship status—the things we feel in adolescence are much the same. Like that terrifying first act of defiance, that all-consuming first crush, that rush of emotion at your first taste of fandom, all part and parcel of the same thing: heightened, intense, raw energy. And even though Answer Me 1997 told a very specific story about a group of kids in one town in the late 90s, it spoke to a larger audience because it captured that universality so pitch-perfectly.

For me, it was doubly so, because part of my actual adolescent memories include my first CD player, that first H.O.T. album, and watching copies of copies of dramas on VHS. But the more important thing is, if the show had just thrown a couple of jokes or references around to mark the time and moved on, it would have been set in 1997, but it wouldn’t have felt like 1997. I don’t know that it mattered much whether it was set in any one era over another; just that the sense of realism was faithfully translated, so it could transport us to a world like any other. This drama’s world felt lived-in, painstakingly and lovingly detailed by creators who had lived the moments the characters were going through, and it showed.

There are about a million things I loved about this drama, from its music, to its bright-eyed cast, to its directorial sense of humor. But if this show gets a trophy for anything, it’s the writers who get to take that sucker home. This is a show that knew what it wanted to say. And despite jumping around in time more than I could count, it never felt like there wasn’t a properly motivated, story-based reason why. They took their time to reveal things slowly, suddenly showed the B-side of a scene that changed its meaning entirely, and weren’t afraid to take storytelling risks. And of course the biggie: they created such lovable characters who were so flawed, so earnest, and so relatable in every way.

The thing that sticks with me now are the diary-esque voiceovers from the future that tinged everything with a layer of nostalgia and the tone of a bygone era (though not that bygone, *cough*). They capture in one very economical scene the gap between who you were—young, impetuous, passionate about everything—and who you are now. That to me encompasses the feeling of this show more than anything, because it’s that sense of distance and looking back on yourself that it conveyed so keenly. More than the first love, I remember the moments of insecurity, the fights with Dad, the misunderstandings between friends, and the fevered cries of fangirls that defined a generation and embodied everything amazing, overwhelming, and blindingly bright about being young.


Arang and the Magistrate

My gift to you: An audience with heaven. Wait… a chance to cheat death. No, no, I got it: another chance to cheat death. Uh… a gift certificate to Olive Garden?

Arang and the Magistrate was the most fun I had all year, as a recapper. Sometimes these things don’t always match up: just because a drama is amazing doesn’t actually mean it’s easy to recap, and just because a show is funny doesn’t mean that it’s fun to recap either. I don’t know what the science of it is, and if it involves math you know I’m down for the count. But whatever the reason, Arang and I had a grand ol’ time. It was just breezy, and whimsical, and mysterious in all the right ways, and writing about it was just plain fun.

That’s probably due in large part to the mythology of its world, filled with twin gods, grim reapers, ghosts, and portals to the netherworld. It was carefully planned in both an artistic and narrative way, which meant that I could delve into the world with the best feeling—one of trust, that we were going someplace that made sense based on the rules of this universe.

The thing that really drove the show was a winning couple, bursting with chemistry, and a high-stakes love challenged by the divide between life and death. There’s just nothing like knowing how doomed you are if you fall in love with someone… to make you fall in love with them. Lee Jun-ki’s magistrate had my heart in knots, and was one of the best drama heroes this year, in a year filled with some really strong competition. I’ve actually loved Shin Mina more in other roles, (It’s just frankly hard to top her gumiho.) and it would’ve helped if Arang had retained her spunk throughout the series.

But what I did love from her was the quiet journey of facing and accepting her death. I thought it such a poignant thing that Arang’s central journey was never to cheat death at all, but to find out who she was when she was alive, and to put meaning to that retroactively. I loved that she went from someone who didn’t care if she existed at all, to someone who wanted desperately to leave a mark that she was here, to be remembered and loved. It was so simple, and lovely, in the best way.

Arang had a great deal of missteps along the way, notably a scaling down in production as the live shoot caught up with them, a villain who was scary but rather one-dimensional, and a third act that palpably prolonged the conflict for no apparent reason other than it had more episodes left to go. But now that the year is over I can look back and say that Arang is among the best of the shows that 2012 had to offer—it’s not the loudest, the one that claims the most attention, or even the most memorable, but sometimes the wallflower has the most to say, if you just spend a little time with her.



My gift to you: Eggnog recipe from Santa. Puts hair on your chest and makes you forget the last year.

Faith is a production that suffered a great deal before ever airing one episode, languishing in development hell where it suffered its most crippling blow: the loss of a large part of its massive budget. And at the end of the day, it was a loss that it never truly recovered from. Here’s the thing though—that explains the circumstances, but isn’t a viable excuse. A creative director finds a way around any budget cut, because you film around your limitations to hide what it is you lack. This director had all the finesse of a bull in a china shop, and somehow managed to make the flaws even more glaringly apparent. And it kind of killed me.

That’s not to say that the rest of the production comes up smelling like roses either. There’s so much about Faith that interests me, on paper: the late-Goryeo-era politics, the fictional re-imagining of a real-life hero in General Choi Young, the epic love divided by time and space, the story of a weak king and his stalwart soldier, the outspoken contemporary woman thrown into a constrictive foreign society. All of it gripping, fantastic drama fodder. But… even after twenty-four episodes, I don’t think I got a full drama’s worth of any of those things. Maybe the writer should’ve given up one or two of those threads, for the sake of bringing fewer (or hell, even one) to a satisfying conclusion. Or maybe we would’ve had plenty of time for that with fewer poisonings and one less round of pass-the-doc.

What could be salvaged out of the wreckage was a sweet romance, though it never quite went to an epic place for me. I liked the humorless hero and the winning heroine, and they had an easy, cheery kind of chemistry that always put a smile on my face. But they didn’t have a magnetic force, nor was their story written to be that kind of love. It was as much about love as honor and duty to one’s promise, which I rather liked, because so often dramas pit love against those things, as if they’re naturally opposed. Though I wanted so much more from the story, it at least managed to do get that one thing right. I suppose a heroic warrior who loves, lives, and dies by his word isn’t the worst thing to walk away from a drama with.


Nice Guy

My gift to you: A lump of coal, you naughty boy.

Okay, I’m just gonna go ahead and say it, to get it out of my system: Dear characters of Nice Guy, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?

I feel better, don’t you?

I find the hype around Nice Guy to be really fascinating, because I watched this show calling it a guilty pleasure drama, the way you’d talk about your daytime soap addiction or that one summer you spent watching Temptation Island that you swore to never speak of. I don’t really mean it was of equal quality, but this show was sudsy, just dressed up in fancy clothes. That made it fun to watch actually, because it zoomed along with one life-altering secret exposed after another, memories gone, recovered, then gone again soon after, and the ace in the hole—exploding brain—rearing its ugly head whenever the threat of total destruction wasn’t quite up to par.

So I watched Nice Guy and enjoyed it immensely from hour to hour, but had no emotional attachment to any of the characters. Because, uh, they were all terrible people. There were certainly those who were less terrible than others, and some got much more pleasant personalities thanks to amnesia, but no amount of nice guy good intentions wrapped in a savior complex topped with lack of self-worth trumps acting like a bastard. Just sayin’.

The fun was in watching the performances, because the characters were so delightfully twisted. In fact, I would’ve rather it stopped trying to justify how Maru was really the most victimy martyr in the whole freaking universe, because I thought him far more interesting when he was leering and dubious and the One-Eyed Kissing Bandit. Not likable, mind you, but more interesting. It didn’t help that the latter half of the drama featured a corporation takeover plot that paled in comparison to leaping off bridges and moonlighting as a gigolo, which you have to admit, is as engrossing as it is nutty.

This show doesn’t leave much behind for me, because it’s the kind of drama that’s enjoyable at the time and doesn’t leave much of an aftertaste. Though I guess it does leave me with the faint association of sneaking around the parents’ liquor cabinet. Because if watching a bunch of people tear each other’s lives apart isn’t a guilty pleasure drama, I don’t know what is.


Vampire Prosecutor 2

My gift to you: Tickets to Muppets on Ice. I hear they’re doing Count von Count’s origin story this year.

This season of Vampire Prosecutor has me torn. On the one hand, I love, love, love Yeon Jung-hoon as this character. It’s just my favorite thing he’s ever done, and I want him to BE the vampire prosecutor in real life (okay, just the ‘tude, minus the blood-sucking). It’s the kind of character you want to see someone play for ten years and be so sick of that he refuses to talk about it in interviews afterwards because we can’t stop seeing him as that guy. And all signs point to cable network OCN wanting the same.

I was all prepared for this show to sustain that kind of longevity, which is rare in dramaland (though not unheard of). And though it’s still early in the franchise if you think about it that way, I feel like it’s that mentality that hurts the writing. Usually, when a multi-season show plans its arcs with a much longer scope (say year-to-year, rather than episode-to-episode), you get the goods. Vampire seems like it’s still feeling its way around that kind of writing, and it shows in the second season.

They pulled back and opened up the world, and I got excited that we would delve into the mythology of this universe’s vampires, and get some meaty backstory on how our pivotal characters are all connected. But what we got was piecemeal flashback after flashback, and a maybe-origin story in which we were never told whether or not Red Eyes was the first vampire of them all, and how (and if) and why he was made. We spent less time with our core team because of it, and if the time had yielded some mind-blowing answers, or heck, ANY answers, it would’ve been worth it.

Mostly we were left with a second season that felt like a bridge to somewhere else. And while bridges are necessary, if you don’t bring us to the other side of wherever it is you’re going by the end of it, you leave us annoyed and wondering if maybe we should just head back the way we came. The thing is, I’m not sure that the writers know where they’re going either, and if they do, they’re being so damn stingy about sharing any information that we feel left behind in the process. I want you to be better. I want to watch Yeon Jung-hoon be the sexy bastard until it is no longer believable that he is a vampire who doesn’t age. But you gotta give us more than breadcrumbs, no matter how hot, cold, or undead your hero might be.


King of Dramas

My gift to you: Your ego in cat form. So you can stroke it yourself.

What a fun show. So many (and really, too many) dramas use dramaland itself as a backdrop because it’s easy, familiar, and best of all, cost-effective. But few ever delve into the world in any meaningful way. That’s why King of Dramas, despite doing nothing particularly new, is actually immensely refreshing. It feels new because it’s unapologetic and incisive, and yet not so self-serious that you’d roll your eyes at the drama that wants to say something about Dramas. It has the perfect amount of undercutting and self-mockery to keep it firmly planted in fun and witty territory, even if you can tell this a show that loves itself, a whole lot.

This drama is basically a funhouse of mirrors, but one that remembered to have strong characters and an underdog story at its core. Because while self-referential humor is funny, it won’t carry a narrative alone. The key is that the characters are developed well enough that we care about the drama-within-a-drama only inasmuch as it matters to them. It’s pretty ingenious to set up a plot where all the things that could possibly go wrong behind the scenes of a drama are the things that go wrong in the drama. And even though it’s slightly unbelievable that all of these problems could plague one production, we know enough of what happens in real-life showbiz that it’s not that big a stretch of the imagination.

And really, any show that produces a riotous character like Choi Siwon’s diva actor deserves to pat itself on the back. Of course the winning combination in this show is the yin and the yang of our two main characters, one world-weary veteran producer who’s seen it all and one bushy-tailed rookie writer whose dreams are finally coming true. They keep the thing from going too far in either extreme, because for every jaded snarky meta reference, it also has an idealistic bright-eyed moment, reminding us that sometimes, the people who make dramas love them as much as we do.


I Miss You

My gift to you: A letter telling you that even though I’m standing in front of you to tell you that I miss you, I can’t face you because it hurts too much to miss you knowing you miss me, so I can’t tell you that I miss you. Hence the letter.

This drama wants to cause me pain, and I don’t know what I ever did to it. The thing is, I don’t actually feel all that much pain when I watch. It so clearly wants my tears; I can see the artifice in the drama’s execution, pulling every one of its drama muscles, begging me to cry. The story is engaging enough to watch, but for a melodrama that’s all about the tears, it isn’t actually very moving. It’s putting the cart before the horse; you have to give me reason to cry, not show me lots of crying.

I don’t know if this makes me the worst person ever, but I don’t like the heroine. I feel terrible for what happened to her, and I certainly don’t begrudge the drama for wanting to portray the seriousness and the trauma of what she suffered. But the grown version of her is perplexing, hot and cold, and stringing along two guys. No thank you. Her boyfriend isn’t any better, given his proclivity for watching people on monitors (Creepy), or plotting the demise of us all (Evil).

The hero is great when he’s the Crazy Rabbit, doing his detective thing or being adorable with Mom, but then there’s the other half of him too, who cries A LOT and is still hung up on his first love. At least I get the why behind both characters being sort of emotionally stuck at fifteen, but we’re more than halfway through the story and there’s been so little progression.

Of the love thread, the bad daddy thread, and the murder thread, I actually think the murder is the most interesting of the three major storylines, and would rather it be more of a murder mystery all the way instead of meandering a little here and a little there. I want the drama to commit to a direction, but I have a feeling it’s already chosen one and the only thing at the end of that road is TEARS.


And on THAT up-note…

Thanks to javabeans for being a kickass Head Bean In Charge, our recap minions kaedejun, gummimochi, and HeadsNo2 for sharing their reviews and recaps with us throughout the year, and mostly to all of you — our faithful, nutty, one-of-a-kind readers of Dramabeans — for making 2012 a fantastic year.

Stay tuned for more year-end goodness, including Editors’ Picks, coming soon!


142 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. Katie

    Haha. Love your gifts!

    Totally right call on basically all of them, especially To the Beautiful You. Also I agree with Gaskital and King 2 Hearts.

    Too bad you’re not currently watching Cheongdamdong Alice, I love it! King of Dramas is hilarious.

    Happy Holidays!

    • 1.1 yvette


      There is no other show that comes close to the heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, explosive visual energy of Gaksital, that could move you to chills or tears with action, movement, and music alone.


      thanks GF!

    • 1.2 Dominique

      Having digested all five reviews, I observe the following commonalities among all five reviewers:

      First, beware when the reviewers expected an epic but did not get one. That drama could do nothing right to redeem itself in the eyes of the reviews. This is what happened to the reviewers with Faith.

      Second, but if a drama starts out as an epic or pretends to be one for a while, all is forgiven by the reviewers even if the drama sooner or later drops its pretense and turns into a melo or whatever that the production believes will achieve or maintain the rating. Not a single complaint from the reviewers. This is what happened to the reviewers with Gaksital and Arang.

      It will be interesting to hear what the same reviewers will say about Cheongdamdong Alice at the end of 2013.

      • 1.2.1 liza

        Reason why we have to remenber Rule No.: 1.

        1.The reviewers are human and try as they may, their biases ( loyalty to their prefered genre ) will show.

        Relying on english subtitles can be problematic, so I use the the recaps as a ” full in the gaps” translation tool, more so than a review mechanism. However, I am always fully aware of reason No.: I

        The thing of it is, the recaps can a rib hurting, tear running down the face, funny read totally enjoyable to the point if Javabeans or Girl Friday ( I haven’t read enough of the others to want to invest in a book) would say that they have written a novel, not melodrama or mult-generational, I would most definetely buy at least one.

        Healthy New Year.

        • sarahana

          yep, I would buy Girlfriday’s novel as well!!

  2. bishbash

    Waiting for your review and here it is!!! Thanks girlfriday!!! 😀 Merry Christmas!!!

  3. Fab

    ”A chance to explain yourself” LOL. Girlfriday you’re one of a kind!
    I would like to give such a present to every -disappointing- flop this year. End.

  4. Dewo

    Yes, the fifth review. Can I have sixth? Before the final editor’s pick.

  5. addylovesbwood

    Haven’t read it yet because I’m too excited!! Lool. I’m bored out my mind at work @ 8:00am on Christmas eve!! Thanks in advance for this review… I know it’s gonna make my day!!!


  6. Rie

    “And some dramas cut you so deep you’re left standing by the side of the road, clutching your bleeding heart, and wondering when you’ll ever recover. Maybe never.”

    So true.

    Thanks girlfriday for all your awesome recaps and this wonderful review !

  7. Farpavilions

    Awww, Olive Garden might run out of breadsticks given all those ghostly appetites!

    Thanks for the spot-on review and merry Christmas everyone! Watching Cheongdamdong Alice now and trying to resist the buche de noel hardsell….

  8. Aiya

    This a great christmas gift to us readers! Thank you gf and the rest! Happy holidays!

  9. MAC

    You hit all the nails on the head, Girl Friday! Thanks for a great yearend recap.

  10. 10 Mystisith

    Squeeee! A review!
    Thanks GF and Merry Christmas to you.

  11. 11 pogo

    Ahhhhh, Arang. They could have turned that entire show into a romance and it would have been fully justified (because, well, LJK and SMA) – and that was exactly what made me tune in, but the baduk-playing and ghosts and reapers and flowery goats turned out to be an unexpected treat.

    And I must be one of the few who actually liked Arang’s character in the second half, as she realises what she’ll give up when her time is up and what it means to her (she still had enough spunk to sass Lord Choi when he was about to have our hero killed, I appreciate getting to see that). And her death march and the letter had me in tears – not too many heroines get to do that.

    And SUFBB is what I’m going to try to use as gateway crack to get one of my friends into kdramas – she loves rock, and I’m hoping to hook her by getting her to listen to Wake Up (which, in my head, was TOTALLY written by Ji-hyuk for Su-ah, as his muse this time). It’s also got multiple decently-written female characters, which – in a drama that is so bromancey – is unexpected awesomeness.

    • 11.1 pillowhead

      Hi Pogo, my fellow Arang-ga-tang. weeeeeee Arang my top pick then SUFBB, then K2H. I’m squealing like a pig.

  12. 12 ninji

    Awesome Christmas present!

  13. 13 pogo

    Also, the other thing I liked about Arang? Its comparatively small political scale.

    Though who needs kings and princes like every other sageuk when you’ve got GODS involved in your story – the disclosure of the magistrate’s family background was as high-stakes as this drama ever got, and like someone said this story needed a magistrate, not anyone higher-ranked.

    • 13.1 crazykel

      I completely agree here. After I finally finished watching the drama and contemplated what I liked most about it, this floated into my mind almost instantly.

      I liked that we had no earthly king present to deal with, though I suppose the royal order to have the Magistrate released may be its only intrusion. Nevertheless, we dealt with towns and the town dynamic rather than nations, and that I liked sooo much.

  14. 14 kelinci biru

    “Season pass to laser tag” reaaaally made my day…i love you all!!

  15. 15 Farhana

    Is it just me or do these year in review posts make anyone else highly emotional whilst remembering all the drama feels of the year gone by? *wipes a tear*

    I’m trying so hard to like Eun Hye’s character in IMY. In fact, I think I’ve been in denial about hating her all this time *sigh* can we just have Yoochun being a cutie pie all the time and can someone also give Yoo Seungho’s character his mother back?

    • 15.1 addylovesbwood

      I feel the exact same way! not sure if its my negative bias towards YEH but I totally feel disconnected from her/ her character.

      The strongest point of IMY was the era of the child actors. they killed it!!

      As adults, Yoochun is totally carrying the weight of drama in my opinion.

  16. 16 Jay

    Merry Christmas to every one here at DB! you guys are the best! i enjoyed all the year-end reviews and i must say DB is the place where i go to for honest views on Kdramas. keep up the good work and here’s to an awesome 2013! *yam-sengggg*

  17. 17 Arhazivory

    “What is this strange new crack and can I have some more?” lol…I feel that way about K2H too.


    and Araaaang~!

    Ok….that’s enough shouting from me. 😀

  18. 18 korfan

    Thank you GF for your review.

    Agree with your assessment of The Chaser. This drama kind of flew under the radar, but the writing and the villain politician’s performance did make it shine.

    I did watch I Do, I Do and while it appeared to be almost cutesy it could have been so much more due to the serious subject matter it chose to deal with. To its credit, kudos to the dramaland-people-in-charge for letting this story even see the light of day. This is a good thing.

    Nice Guy. Simply loved it. The whole package.

    Just started King of Dramas. I think I’m going to enjoy this one.

    Merry Christmas to everyone and best wishes for a wonderful New Year!

  19. 19 ladida

    Thank yooouuuuuu! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everybody! Sniff, sniff. Why am I suddenly tearing up?

  20. 20 SH

    Thanks for the review, GF. I’m on episode 7 of the Chaser and it is so moving and smart. You’re so right about the characterization of this show; every scene and dialogue is meant for something deep. The characters are flawed but so fascinating to analyze. Even ordering food has a significance. So far, I would say this is the best written show I’ve seen this year. I also agree with you about the visuals of this show. Not very crisp and sharp but I’m ok with it. I just love the story about society, government and people done in such a cerebral way.

    • 20.1 Jandoe

      GF you know I love you! Thanks for this awesome review!

  21. 21 mskololia

    Thanks GF for including the Chaser in your reviews. The election scene took me by surprise and knew the people would rise up in the end. Loved the F-I-L too. The whole Godfather backdrop was entertaining from his scenes especially as it related to collaborations with culprits or officials from his generation.

  22. 22 beachkay

    Another fun-read review, thanks gf.
    Merry Christmas!

  23. 23 addylovesbwood

    BRIDAL MASK:”It was hands-down a director’s drama, and the best of the year in that regard. There is no other show that comes close to the heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, explosive visual energy of Gaksital, that could move you to chills or tears with action, movement, and music.”

    KING2HEARTS “I guess none of that would’ve mattered if the couple weren’t one that we were rooting for, but they were my favorite couple of the year, hands down. At times petty and immature, other times dangerous (Some couples fight with words; others fight with guns and atomic needles.), they were the most contentious pair of people to meet in dramaland this year, but also the two who would overcome the most together, as a team.”


    • 23.1 Osi

      Ah, you’re one step ahead. I actually wanted to quote that exact paragraph from GF from The King 2Hearts. 🙂

      Thank you for the review GF. ^^

      • 23.1.1 anonymous

        LSG and HJW- the best couple of the year- hands down -Amen to that

        • sulthanah

          LSG and HJW has been my favorite otp couple for reel and real lol but…LSG has dated yoona now.

    • 23.2 Annie

      Yes. K2H had character growth as well as romantic growth. Although put that way, it sounds like a tumor.

      • 23.2.1 addylovesbwood

        King 2 Hearts, Gaksitaaaaaal, Gentleman’s Dignity! Handsdown, my favorite dramas of 2012.

        p.s, I feel bittersweet after realizing that I watched every single one of the dramas in GF’s review… omggg… I need a social life!!

    • 23.3 ilikemangos

      Totally agree on her K2H paragraph as well — seriously, my favorite k-drama couple ever.
      Hang ah and Jae Ha will forever go down in history as the epitome of what it means to be a team before anything else.
      Ah. My heart breaks to see this year over.

      • 23.3.1 Wood

        Hi mangos, Merry Christmas !

        Thanks gf for the best closing on K2H. Yes, it’s been the crack for so many of us, and the proof is in the 1,000+ posts every ep. What a emotional, crazy rollercoaster ride for us ! It’s everything and more, yet it can just be about a love story or strong characters all around atypical of kdrama, that is done right.

    • 23.4 bjharm

      May explain why I never finished watching it, I just stopped rooting for the king when he crossed a certain line too may times, and after that lost interest in the drama as a whole. Dramas and that most Korean one focus so much on the leads, that if one or both do not click for you, it can spoil the whole drama.

      • 23.4.1 anonymous

        What it showed was the character development from the prince to a king.Too bad you didn’t finished watching the drama. I too felt earlier in the episode that I would like to hit the prince but later on he change and the couple support each other and became one.

    • 23.5 Painter22

      Me too-eeeeeeeeeeevery thing you said about these 2 dramas was exactly what I felt!

  24. 24 Carole McDonnell

    Thanks for the funny recap. Chaser was soooooo good. And thisyear I’ve turned into a total fan of Park Geun-hyung. I really have to watch Gaksital, also.

  25. 25 SS

    Ooooh….we all knew the back was rock solid thanks to the best tailor in Kyeong Seong and possibly the whole of kdramaland, but I didn’t know it applied to the front as well. Hmmm…..any way to check? Maybe Horsital knows, yeah?


  26. 26 JoAnne

    a musical mnemonic about single-malt scotches ~ please share this!

  27. 27 latteholic

    GaksitalWhat Gakistal managed to do with a fictional hero was imbue a painful part of history with the reminder that there were actual heroes—brave individuals who fought for their country against insurmountable odds, not because they thought they could win, but because they had to fight.

    I love the way you put it, GF, and I think that is why I was so moved by Gaksital. Coming from a country that was occupied by Japan in the past, Gaksital also reminds me of the sacrifices made by the freedom fighters in my country and to not take that freedom for granted. I have never seen any drama/story that could stir that little-almost-none-love-for-own-country in me. And that’s why Gaksital will stay with me for a long time even though it trampled on my heart and left me bleeding on the floor at the end. And so true about Gaksital soundtrack. That theme is just so fitting for that show! 🙂

    King 2 Hearts – yes, weird drama because those villains really got me to tune out whenever they appeared on screen. But I did like everything else from this drama

    Nice Guy – I did like the first half of the story. I didn’t mean to follow it at that time, but I found myself tuning in every week. Despite that, I found the latter half to be a bit boring/confusing/frustrating that I almost didn’t finish it. And I’m still kicking myself for finishing it because after I let the ending marinated, I just found myself irked to the core. So many loose ends that appeared to be tied nicely but in fact NOT, because it was done in such a hurry!

    QIHM – loved everything about it, apart from how the show tried to solve the problem to reunite our couple (yes, I’m just one of those people – don’t shoot me). But I’m still happy with the way the show ended. I guess I can try to forget the minor hiccup before the ending, because this show is really awesome

    Arang – I enjoyed the ride it took me on. We slowed down towards the end but I was happy to see where I ended up with it 🙂

    Answer Me 1997 – I just love this show! It’s so relatable and so full of nostalgia that everytime I pick an episode randomly to rewatch, I just found myself transported back to my junior high year, to the land of walkman, tamagotchie, boybands craze and NOW album (I just noticed that the other day). I love how well written and well-planned out the drama is as well. I just… love it!

    King of Dramas – Yes! It’s definitely a fun fun show! And Kang Hyun-min kills me everytime!

    Finally, Merry Christmas to all of the wonderful recappers in db (javabeans, girlfriday, kaedejun, gummimochi, headsno2) and also to all the lovely beanies! It has been a fun year for me, but even more fun because I got to share my thoughts with you guys here! 🙂

    • 27.1 addylovesbwood

      I’m probably the only that can’t relate to Answer me 1997, partly due to the fact that I’m Nigerian. Nonetheless, I had a goodass time watching it!!

      • 27.1.1 latteholic

        Hi addylovesbwood, relatable or not, at least it’s good that you still had a blast watching it! 🙂

      • 27.1.2 Df

        Hey fellow Naija girl here! I was born in Nigeria but moved to the states in 95. I actually got my mom into a Korean drama and she fell in obsession with it haha (it was Lie to Me).

    • 27.2 Annie

      Your statement has me curious – what country are you from? (It’s totally cool if you’d rather not answer)

      • 27.2.1 latteholic

        Hi Annie, I’m totally cool with it. I’m from Indonesia btw. 🙂

    • 27.3 skelly

      Poor QIHM – one review complains that it spent too much time showing people talking on their phones…then the very next reviewer complains that the ending “came out of left field.”
      Put me solidly in the group that saw the ending and then realized all of the careful set-up that went into making the association possible. Do people really spend so much time on their cellphones, that they no longer notice how and when they are used?
      Sorry, I just think QIHM gets a bum rap for having a nonsensical ending – the PD and writer beat us over the head for 16 episodes with cellphones as a metaphor for every sort of life-saving device and lifeline possible. I honestly don’t see how it could have been made any clearer. Sigh.

      • 27.3.1 latteholic

        Hi skelly 🙂
        I still think that QIHM is an awesome drama, I just don’t get the how.. how can a cellphone suddenly work in a Joseon period (when it’s been dead for a year and there’s no provider), call it the power of love or anything.. I read all the commentary supporting how it is supposed to work, and admittedly they’re *clearly* written and explained but it just didn’t compute with my brain (I’m sorry I just get too technical sometimes or maybe I’m just too ignorant). And it’s not because I’m trying to look for the flaw in the drama, but instead because I liked it a lot and had a high expectation of how it will end its story. And it’s the one thing that had me curious in that one final episode. But it just didn’t compute with my brain. Nevertheless that is just my only qualm about the drama and I did enjoy watching it. I would still choose a “nonsensical” (not my word) ending over having our leads not ending up together.. 🙂

      • 27.3.2 Arishia

        I’m with you. That didn’t bother me in the least. If a ‘thingy’ made of silk and ink (that only works because someone wants to protect you, and loves you) is a convincing device for time travel, why not plastic and metal ‘thingy’ (that only works because someone wants to protect you, and loves you)? Maybe some people are to familiar with ‘cellphones’ and how they work to make the abstraction leap, but ‘silk and ink’ is just, idk, mysterious and spiritual.. or something? Or is it that cellphones have a function other than love induced time travel whereas talismans do not that makes it confusing. Anyway, it didn’t bother me, but I’m generous with attributing these things to artistic license when I like the drama.

  28. 28 Mawiie

    Woah thanks Girlfriday! It’s an awesome Christmas gift! Seriously, is your secret identity Santa??? xD

  29. 29 canxi

    “I’d rather have waited longer for her to go through more Mr. Wrongs before finding Mr. Right (She didn’t even date all twelve guys!), but the drama seemed content to have her dip her toe into the experiment rather than go whole hog, either fearing that she might’ve dated too many and sullied her image (Boooooo)”

    Word to this! I noticed that, too when I watched the show and immediately called false advertising, hahaha! It did become a little weird because she didn’t really want to do it but kind of put herself in that situation because she spewed out an article when she was angry,lol. But, I liked how she had her kind of reserved nature because that was relatable and her friend who was the opposite of her was lovely too. I liked that she was the voice in the show that was going “it’s totally fine!”. Now, I really didn’t like how that other younger girl was trying to slut-shame the heroine (for a guy no less) and how they’re was a whole press conference pretty much about her sex life but I think the drama saved it self by never going all the way with even that part of the show. In the end, it was enjoyable but, I agree, kind of forgettable too, which is a shame. Basically, it was a whole different show than what it was advertised to be, heh.

  30. 30 Yuhotarubi

    hi girlfriday !!!!! thank you so much for the review, I love every word of it. especially the one about TTBY,, one sentence is enough for it.

    I didn’t watch all the dramas in this list but out of the ones I did, my 3 favorites of the year are:

    GAKSITAAAAAAAAAL: the story of a man discovering that his loyalty was misplaced left a big impression on me, add to that the discovery of how a nice teacher can turn into a scary villain, and the path to takin back a country’s freedom, I cried with this show, laughed with it , and my head almost blew up because of its cliffhangers, so at the end, it will be one of the most unforgettable dramas for me.

    SHUT UP FLOWER BOY BAND: what can I say about this one ??? it taught me lessons, about friendship, and about life, ones I can’t forget, period.

    QUEEN IN-HYUN’S MAN: the thing I loved most about this drama was the writing, it was solid and almost perfect ( cause I din’t like the last two episodes) add to that the amazing portrayal of characters and the sweet love story, so as a result, it’s a must watch drama.

    2012 was a great year for K-dramas, hope 2013 becames greater 😀

    and thanks again for the review girlfriday.

  31. 31 Df

    I just have to say that you are a GREAT WRITER.

  32. 32 lennah-chan

    I really love QIHM. Recommended it to my mother and now she’s addicted as me. One of the most romantic shows I’ve seen. Thank you for the review GF. Merry Christmas!

  33. 33 Sue

    My two favorites this year were Arang and the Magistrate and Shut Up: Flower Boy Band. There was something so deep, beautiful, and painful in the relationship between Arang and her Magistrate. I loved that Shut Up was primarily about the bromance between these boys (Lee Min Ki! why did you leave so soon!). There were also moments in other dramas that I loved: the funny everything in Rooftop Prince; the badass heroine in King 2 Hearts; the romance in Queen Hyun’s Man; the bromance in Gentleman’s Dignity and Panda and Hedgehog. As a matter of fact, Panda and Hedgehog was the first time I’ve wanted the two male leads to end up TOGETHER, leaving the heroine (and I’m not sure that childish baby girl can be called that) in the dust. What a fun year!

  34. 34 Pat

    The best was Gak, but I will never forget the
    SHOES at the Bus Stop from Rooftop Prince. The greatest Kdrama gag EVER! Great job, GF, thank you so much for the insights of Dramaland,2012.

  35. 35 estelle

    Thank you so much girlfriday! Merry Christmas! 🙂

  36. 36 earthna

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. To the Beautiful You omg. I can’t even. I know I’m being mean but gosh that drama. Anyways, I was teary-eyed as I read your Arang thoughts. Made me remember the good times while reading recaps on Arang. Ahhh.

    I should really finish watching Queen Inhyun’s Man and Gaksital. And will just read recaps on Nice Guy. Also adds Shut Up on my to watch list (which is growing and growing)

    Thank you so much for this! And for everything, dear recappers. You’re the best! Merry Christmas~

  37. 37 Mar

    Thanks for helping me define the element of K2H that I could never put a finger on-The Weird. Ding Ding Ding. Thank goodness, because it bugged me WHY I couldn’t figure out what it was. Unfortunately, I was not as enamored of it as many were.

    And thanks for helping me recall one of the winning elements of QIHM that I forgot-why it was different. The no angst approach to sexual and emotional attraction. No wonder it was so refreshing.

    I’m not going to go into detail repeat myself on stuff I’ve said previously in posts on the shows I felt were overrated (Gakistal, Nice Guy), shows that I couldn’t get into (SUFBB), or the total fail of Big or the equal parts of disappointment and love for Faith and it just made me love LMH even more, what a great cast all around, and wow the girl that played the Queen, just outstanding.

    VP2-I’d watch another season.
    Arang-Beautiful, but something was missing, idk.

    I will repeat myself and say for me over all Reply 1997 was the best show of the year.

    Yoochun-RP made me realize he was more than just a pretty face and a k pop god, that he actually committed to the acting thing, or desperate, because it’s a fine line between the two when an established celebrity is willing to be silly and goofy, and I’m going to go with committed. And damn did I not think oh Hello Yoochun come sit beside me lol. I think I Miss You while not on my viewing list of fun things to do it is a great opportunity to gain acting chops and good grief that he gets to do romantic scenes with one of the queens of k dramas best romantic heat is serious gravy. There might be two noona killers in that drama, but that noona will be taking those two boys to school.

    I will also say again I think I Do I Do covered ground we don’t normally get to see with lead female characters in K drama. Do I think the drama was exciting and is my favorite? No. I think the male lead actor was about as appealing as a, well nothing. But I did like the story and the female lead character and I think it had something valid to say.

    Can’t wait to see what will give us happy making viewing in 2013. -Looks pointedly at Hyun Bin-

    • 37.1 Annie

      Love your pov although I’ll have to agree to disagree about Faith. What sort of drama would you like to see Hyun Bin in?

      • 37.1.1 Mar

        oh definitely Rom Com. I hope at least some with some brightness, nothing dark or melo.

        • anonymous

          I agree with you. I really think he is great with romantic comedy with fast talking script. I love him in Sega. Hope he’ll team up with HJW.As for me the best otp ever in k-drama.

  38. 38 Abriel

    “King of Dramas My gift to you: Your ego in cat form. So you can stroke it yourself.”
    Oh this just made my day. LOL Thank you so much.

    • 38.1 anais

      I second that. I laughed loud. Then stopped. Then, burst into a second round of laughter.

    • 38.2 korfan

      “Your ego in cat form ……” Hehehehe!!!!

      I read this early this morning …… just read it again ……and it’s still making me laugh!

      Thank you again!

    • 38.3 pipit

      “Your ego in cat form. So you can stroke it yourself!”
      The most lovable catch phrase of the year! Love it!

  39. 39 boholAnna

    Thank you for all your hard work!

  40. 40 lorac

    You know what irks me about Vampire Prosecutor after two seasons, I still don’t know how Soon Bum found out that Min Tae Yeon was a vampire. That seems to be an important piece of the puzzle.

  41. 41 jewels

    I’ve enjoyed most of the ones on the list, but the most memorable and touching ones are rarely mentioned. Maybe because they don’t have idol stars or cheeky story line??

    I think these represent the artistic height of what Korean dramas can be. Top three I recommend and loved…all for touching story lines, acting, photography and realism of the drama. FYI, they are more mature subjects (showing my age?? :))

    – Kimchi (Fermentation) Family
    – A Wife’s Credential
    – Happy Ending

    • 41.1 Mystisith

      Absolutely adored Kimchi Family: No equivalent. Heartwarming. Food for the soul and the heart. 🙂

    • 41.2 mskololia

      Yes, I loved Kimchi Family too. Good shout-out @jewels.

    • 41.3 Gaeina Lee

      I also love Kimchi Family. It warms my heart. It just simply captivating.

    • 41.4 skelly

      I loved Kimchi Family, as well. I can see how it would fly under the radar, though – no idols, no explosions, lots of dialog and expositions about history and family and finding your path and place in life – it was just a quiet, introspective little gem.

  42. 42 opheliadrowning

    Love the love for Arang. This is my favorite Kdrama ever so far and I love I see some love for it. Girlfriday, it did seem like you and Javabeans did really enjoy recapping the show, and as a reader to tis site I really appreciated your recaps and the speed with which you posted them so the rest of us beanies could squee and discuss!

    Lee Jun Ki totally stole my heart with his acting here and I loved he deep the love between him and Arang was, and how we got to watch them come to terms with what they thought their fate was. They plotted it so well and I agree–I could really trust the writing, which made me never worry that it would take a misstep.

    Also, one last note on it: can we agree that this had one of the best soundtracks of the year? The love theme gives me chills of one kind, and the spooky theme gave me chills of another kind!

  43. 43 MariD

    I have love every single obe of this reviews. Each if the writer of DB have very different styles but are very funny ladies. Thank you GF for all your work.
    I still can’t stop laughing at “To the beutiful you” it was such a pretty drama with no point. I just recently finish “kana Kimi” the 2007 japanease version, and wow.. What a difference. Still a pretty silly story but just more entertaining.
    I know this is mainly a Kdrama site, but I like to throw a shout out to my favorite jdrama this year. “Rich man, Poor woman”. Such a great story, I have rewatch it a few times since it ended..
    Merry Chritsmas to all you People!!

  44. 44 magnus

    I agree with everything you said. That is all.

  45. 45 Pink Violet

    thank u so much!i love your review the most;)X

  46. 46 Lovebug

    Thanks Girlfriday!

    Wow someone finally mentioned Panda and the hedgehog. I full recognize that this wasn’t a good drama but I honestly enjoyed for the bromance and the relationships between Donghae and the grandfather, in addition to the sister who called her brother hyung. I really liked the assemble cast. But yeah the plot and love story were weak.

    I really appreciate your assessment of Nice Guy. Its funny how when i was watching that Drama I was all about it but when it comes to ranking it I don’t have as much emotional attachment as I do to say Queen InHyun’s man or Answer Me or even King 2 Hearts. Though I was convinced it was the most awesome drama while it was airing. Not sure how to feel about it in the end.

    I completely agree with you regarding Arang, Lee Junki made that drama for me, and at times I was frustrated with Arang more than anyone else. But on the whole it was a really good and enjoyable drama.

    Lastly I had second lead syndrome sooooo terribly bad with I need romance 2012, that drama might have really been the biggest dissapointment of the year because I really feel like she should have ended up with Lee Jihyuk’s character, he made her a better person and they actually had a healthy relationship.(a rarity in dramaland). I was really hoping they would do something different that the first I need romance.

    Love reading your reviews! Thanks so much for making Drama watching in 2012 a blast!

  47. 47 AnotherFan

    “Sumthin’s gotta holster those balls o’ steel”

    • 47.1 Painter22


  48. 48 crazykel

    I’m still not sure which drama is my favorite of the year (and that’s probably because I haven’t watched Gaksital yet), but so far, it’s a tie between Answer Me, 1997 and Queen In Hyun’s Man.

    Both dramas were so romantic, but in a way that it didn’t seem overly sappy or contrived, like the romances in so many dramas.

    I also loved Arang and the Magistrate and I’m pretty attached to The King of Dramas. I love Siwon’s diva, I love the focus on the writer Go Eun (yay for writers), and I love the meta. SO. MUCH.

    Overall, 2012 is one of my favorite drama years. It is also the first full year that I have been watching Korean dramas. Here’s hoping for an awesome 2013!

  49. 49 exquisitemelody

    I’m rewatching QIHM again, and actually the final hour mechanism they pulled actually makes sense when you rewatch it again. I also thought it was something they pulled out of left field when I first watched it and it made me go WTF!? But watching it again, it really is a beautiful mechanism that works well with the rest of the story if you paid enough attention to it. The problem is that it’s so “common” that it’s not something you would actually pay attention to. But yeah…watching it again, all the hints were there. The set up was there for the final mechanism to be THE mechanism that brings them together.

    • 49.1 skelly

      Yes, I think this is one show that rewards multiple viewing. I’ve seen it about three times now, not including the multiple times I watched each episode when they became available (raws, first subs, completed subs). And each time I pick up a few more hints about where the drama is headed.

  50. 50 Garrdan75

    Happy Holidays, girlfriday!

    Thank you for the many enjoyable hours I’ve experienced—-tearing up, loudly sniffing, smiling, chuckling and downright bwahhaha-ing when reading your recaps of some of the dramas this year.

    I have said this before and I’ll say it once more:

    you are a wonderfully gifted writer!!…very talented and expressive with words…witty, smart, candid and spot-on with your observations and views.

    Your recaps have added to my enjoyment of the dramas that I’ve watched.

    A grand and blessed New Year to you!

    An appreciative fan of yours!! 🙂


    • 50.1 kfangurl

      Ditto everything!

      Love your writing, Girlfriday. Thanks for yet another fantastic, cracktastic read. You rawk 🙂

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