Drama Reactions & Reviews
Dramaland: The gift that keeps on giving [Year In Review, Part 5]
by | December 24, 2012 | 141 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.

 
SONG OF THE DAY

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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Gaksital

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.

 

Big

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.

 

Faith

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.

 
AND CURRENTLY AIRING…

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!

 
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141 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. 51 Dorotka

    Thank you. I especially liked your AGD review. Spot on. I will only remember the 5min introductories…
    BTW, just realized that KOD uses the same songwriters…

  2. 52 Gasenadi

    Gracias, girlfriday, for the insightful review. I especially appreciate your take on The Chaser. I only just watched it because of the comments to the previous year-end dramabeans reviews! And I was enthralled! It has everything I became addicted to in kdramas and movies, sans the romance, which wasn’t even missed. The story, the acting, the directing, the music – just exquisite. It’s going on my Rewatch List, as are:

    Padam, Padam
    QIHM
    Arang and the Magistrate
    GOLDEN TIME!

    A wonderful Holiday Season to all at Dramabeans. Thank you for all you do.

    • 52.1 Gasenadi

      Oh! And Gakistaaaaaaal!

  3. 53 sally_b

    Thanks so much Girlfriday ~ lifting a shot of Soju in your direction ~ Really appreciate all your hard work and am looking forward to the coming year of DRAMA !! ((hugs))

  4. 54 ladyana2j

    Thanks for review, I really enjoyed it,

    compare to other DB’s reviewer, I felt closest to your review, maybe because differences of drama you have watched with mine are the least..

    KoD and IMY are the only currently airing drama I am watching too, I really love it and cant wait to see how its are going to end.

    IMY : “This drama wants to cause me pain, and I don’t know what I ever did to it.”, I laugh so much in this part :D

    Now, cant wait to editors’ picks!!!

  5. 55 yellow buttercup

    oh my dear Girlfriday, how I miss your review!

    thank you for those recaps, I enjoyed some of these dramas here even more thanks to your witty reviews and comments.

    oh and I’m so with you about the TK2H

    happy holiday!

  6. 56 Miss D

    HAHAHAHAHA. Your review of To the Beautiful You basically summed it up and made my day.

    You mostly have fantastic taste. I loved King 2 Hearts, Answer Me 1997, Queen In Hyun’s Man, Shut Up Flower Boy Band and Gaaaaaaasitaaaaaal! :D

    Girlfriday, thank you so much for all your recaps. I loooooove, love, love everyone on the dramabeans team (remember I do love all of you) but Girlfriday you have to be my favorite. All the little details of attitude you add in to your recaps (especially on the Gaksital episodes when you would be freaking out and literally telling us about it as your wrote the recap) really capture what I feel as I watch dramas or even some times what I wished I had though. So thanks again for this year (which was my first with you all in dramabeans) and I’m looking forward to the next one.

    • 56.1 eternalfive

      Omg yes, the To the Beautiful You review was just perfect and absolutely hilarious. XDDD

      • 56.1.1 bjharm

        Beautiful was even more disappointing for those that have seen the other versions, its story lines where totally gutted leaving not much else behind.

  7. 57 eternalfive

    Thanks for the review, girlfriday! Witty as always. :)

  8. 58 RealKDramaaddict

    Merry Christmas girlfriday. Loved your review and biting descriptions of 2012 dramas.

    QIHM was such an honest, quirky, and straightforward drama. I did not get invested into Joseon’s era though. Cell phone magic was no better and no worse than the paper talisman. If love concurs all, it has to charge the batteries to, right?

    Nice Guy. He. He he. He he he. Hahaha. Twisted, sick, terrible people. All three of them. No need to shuffle through misdeeds of three characters arguing whose vomit smells nicer and why. It’s still vomit.

  9. 59 Chiomy

    Gosh Girlfriday, I wish I had your tongue…..and maybe your brain too…. does that make me a little creepy? Lovely stuff

  10. 60 SS

    Got too excited last night….

    Merry Christmas girlfriday! Love your review and all the recaps from you and the DB team. They offers so much insight and great humour too.

    I love what you wrote on Gaksital. So many people complained about the torture scenes but forgot that in reality, the victims went through much more. Ditto the issue on the comfort women, I am glad the show was realistic in that the hero only saved a truck full and there were hundreds who went on to a tragic fate.

    To all those who love Gaksital and the final scene, here’s the good news: Joo Won will be performing Judgement Day together with the choir and tenor Lee Jung Hyun on the KBS Drama Awards on the 31st Dec. I think they are re-enacting the last scene.

  11. 61 bjharm

    I watched 12 men in a year and think for a korean dramas where most heroines are shown as virgins still at 30, that went as far as they could with the idea without bringing down the wrath of the government watchdog, indeed the fact she did sleep with one of the guys, actually shocked me a little lol showing a guess i watch way too many k-drama that i started to think like them as well.

  12. 62 Ennayra

    I really enjoy these year-end reviews. Most of the time I don’t watch dramas when they first come out, so I get wrapped up in my particular take on the drama. But these year end reviews usually either inspire a validation of my opinion of a drama, make me grudgingly accept a valid point that I don’t agree with, and yes, make me rethink a drama that I decided not to watch.

    I have to day, Panda and Hedgehog was my crack. Never have I marathoned a drama so fast. It’s a new record. I didn’t even know who Donghae from Super Junior was, but now I think of him as rainbows vomiting butterflies. Loved the relationship between him and his grandfather in the drama.

    Happy holidays to everyone!

  13. 63 k-soup

    I’d love to see more of dramabeans. Great recappers!

  14. 64 bd

    I’m going to disagree w/ GF on a few things.

    1st off – INR2012

    Favorite romcom of the year and one of the best K-dramaland has done (I’d place it along w/ “The Man Who Can’t Marry” right underneath “Coffee Prince”).

    INR2012 has all the impt. elements which make a good romcom – fun, cute moments, snappy dialogue and a realistic change in relationship dynamics.

    Yeah, INR2012 may have played certain elements a little too strongly (such as the whole “noble idiot” thing, but even CP had some of that) and I can see how the 2 leads may have been off-putting to some, but I liked the fact that the 2 leads had flaws and weren’t some perfect creatures as is often the case (esp. for heroines).

    Jung Yumi’s character admits that she is a bit mean (I’d say more like being way too straightforward w/ people) and that she can be obsessive about certain things, and that’s what made here character interesting.

    The romance w/ male lead no. 2 was spot on (way better than how the secondary romance is usually handled) and all the stuff w/ the girlfriends was a lot of fun as well (it was pretty funny that lead male’s character was basically “one of the girls”).

    In “The Man Who Can’t Carry”, Ji Jin hee’s character is very quirky, or should I say particular, and that made his character not only really interesting, but was a cause of both laughter and pain.

    Btw, other actresses should take a note from Jung Yumi in how to cry in an emotional scene.

    TMTETS

    TMTETS was a lot like “Chuno” – a lot of beautiful scenery and costumes (‘Chuno” was even better, esp. the gorgeous cinematography) – but both suffered from being hollow from the inside (the stories really never went anywhere and none of the moments/scenes or dialogue were really compelling – in stark contrast to say, “Tree With Deep Roots”).

    I’m going to disagree w/ GF about the acting. The child actors were vastly superior to the adults. So what if the emotions were a redo – the adult actors couldn’t convey the same expression of feelings as the child actors who managed to convey a lot more w/ their eyes or slight changes to facial expressions.

    There are plenty of dramas where characters run into their long lost childhood love or go thru “puppy love” again as an adult (such as the King in “Dong Yi”) – some actors can make it work, others can’t.

    The problem wasn’t so much the actual emotions, but how it was conveyed in both dialogue, plot and acting.

    RTP

    Pretty much agree on that one.

    The Joseon Power Rangers thing was fun, but that only lasted for about 4-5 eps. The rest was filled w/ the tired K-drama clichés and stereotypical characters and much of the plot line didn’t make any sense (w/ characters all too often ending up doing really stupid things b/c the writers couldn’t come up w/ anything better to explain something or move the story forward). Even the romance btwn the 2 leads felt forced and artificial much of the time.

    If it weren’t for the JPR, RTP would be relegated to the same pit as “Lie to Me”, “Secret Garden” and “Big.” But it just barely gets over the edge of the pit.

    Big

    Pretty much the same as above. Even Gong Yoo’s acting couldn’t save this mess. Basically, there was maybe 2 eps which were fun, all thanks to Gong Yoo’s performance as the boy trapped in a man’s body.

    AM1997

    Don’t really consider AM1997 a romcom (even if it did have comedic moments) so that’s why I stated that INR2012 was my fav romcom of the year.

    Unlike GF, I didn’t get/couldn’t relate to all the crazy, girl fandom about HOT and the other boy bands of the time (my 1st exposure to HOT was seeing some of their members on X-Man, before that, I had no clue who they were; btw, did they have any other big hits other than “Candy”?)

    What really got me into AM1997 was the realistic portrayal of family and friends in every day life.

    The writers of AM1997 did a bang up job when it came to hitting you w/ raw emotion (such as the timing and manner of the reveal that the fiancé who died in the bus crash was the daughter/older sister and the phone call from the hospital relaying the message that Dad had cancer).

    Other dramas can learn a lesson on how to make the audience FEEL these emotions; all too often , it’s so poorly done where it feels forced/artificial (many times you start laughing instead of crying b/c of how bad it is).

    For me, the best character was the Dad (the actor just killed that role) – “those monkeys!”

    Arang

    Great chemistry btwn the leads, but the storyline went too much away from that and had too much to do w/ the evil triumvirate (none of whom were particularly memorable as a “baddie”).

    The actress who played the shaman just about stole every scene she was in (and that’s hard to do against Shin Mina).

  15. 65 enz

    thanks very much for the review. really enjoyed it. you articulated so well how i feel about some of the dramas and their characters.

    merry christmas and have a wonderful new year!

  16. 66 Fia

    I COMPLETELY AGREE WITH YOU ON I MISS YOU! When the characters cry due to a sad story line, I feel like I should cry but I can’t because it doesn’t make me want to cry… anyways, thanks for doing this, love the way you choose those gifts haha.

  17. 67 redwitch

    Hihihihihi… Thank you for such delightful wrap-up of this year dramas… You sure put a whole lot of time in order to watch them… I had so much fun reading this that people in my surrounding started to watch me with keen eyes.. I’m at the airport btw, and there are quite a huge number of people in my range… But your recap is so damn funny that I can’t help myself. Wish you a merry Xmas n may next year be a better year for all the kdrama lovers— <3 <3 <3

  18. 68 bigwink

    ah.. so that is the reason why your Arang recaps was fun to read. Not that other dramas not.. but you know what, I felt it, I can read the enjoyment. Its so great that it lead me to watch the drama too.. thank you!

  19. 69 keith

    why no one mention Cheongdam-dong Alice? Isn’t it also in the same year (2012)?

  20. 70 ro

    HAHAHA~ “A lump of coal for you, you naughty boy.”

    that was really really funny :P

    Nice Guy : good while you’re at it. Each episode leave you wanting to know what happens next but after that, you just kind of forget how much you liked it and you just don’t know why you even liked it. But I really like how Moon Chae Won and Song Joong Ki look so well together. Perhaps, I’d watch it with more emotional attachment if they were paired in a healthier drama with a less dysfunctional relationship. I loved Moon Chae Won’s character to bits though. Before AND after the amnesia.

    Queen In-hyun’s man : was soooo sweet and romantic so who wouldn’t love these two? They have that love story that you can tell over and over again and it would seem as if nothing would ever trump it. It was perfect in its own way. Who doesn’t love a heroine who is able to express herself? All us cowards who can never speak of how they feel will definitely envy this couple who are able to lay out there that they like each other because well, they do have a bigger hindrance (time, space and twisted fate) Besides, even that annoying ex-boyfriend is cute and love-hate-able in every possible way. What was probably executed flawlessly (at least to me) was the resetting of the time gap of our hero in the modern time when he got his magical talisman slashed into halves. I loved how everyone’s story was rewritten and retold. Everyone has their memories properly intact while our hero who came from the past is erased from everyone’s memories. Only our heroine has whatever remnant of memory of which she shared with our hero. Anyway, it’s definitely something that’s even worth rewatching. You know how good it is if you can rewatch it.

    King 2 Hearts : got pretty long-winded at episode 12 or so but picked its pace right back up almost instantly. But everyone would love how our cutie pie Lee Seung Gi, playing the role that reminds me of our ‘Woong-ah’ from his gumiho days. What’s good about this new role is that he actually grows up into a real man. Not told half-heartedly and definitely way more memorable. Ha Ji Won’s role with that accent can get me a teensy-weensy bit annoyed but it’s something i’m sure everyone can look past. I just love her glare. She played her role well. She’s a tough commies who can go kamikaze for her nation at any given moment but in essence, she is still a woman. I like how that was played out pretty smoothly. But still, the best part is seeing Seung-Gi’s character transform into a grown, respectable, King-worthy man. And before you think this ends, no one shall ever forget the infamous earnest-bot king’s right hand man soldier boy. Our princess loved him a lot and you have got to know why! He may seem like he couldn’t care less and barely has any emotions but you have no idea at all. He’s always concerned about our princess and he most definitely cares more than he would let on. (Thank god our princess is a smarty pants who catches on. I hate it when a female character fails to see it or just refuses to) He’s the best side-kick, second male lead ever, yet!

    Big : BIG CONFUSION DUDE! What the heck happened in the end?! But Gong Yoo was cute while we were at it!

    Answer Me 1997 : Awww yeah! Because it’s about first loves, long-lasting friendships, never-ending shoutings at home, the songs that survives through the passages of time. And what’s best is the props of the series. All the 90′s generation would always feel reminiscent of that cassette and VCRs, the old school first generation mobile phones and (what i miss the most) the static sounds of the internet server connection. (I actually even miss those days when i wish my mum would stop talking on the phone too so that I can stay online. AHAHAHA)

    I know how it feels like to be Yoon Jae. I also know how it feels like to be Shi Won. I know someone just like Joon Hee. I like whatever they say. Those quotes have become some sort of life motivation to me. The characters are as real as any drama characters can get and the setting is just flawless. Even Sung Jae reminds me of my high school days, the dorky, naughty dude who never stops fooling around. So cute!

    There’s a lot to say but I have got to go.

    This year was a good drama year (minus all the crappy ones that i’d rather ignore)

  21. 71 jae

    thank you for the gift, girlfriday… ^^
    i hope 2013 can also give us alot of fun and good dramas…

  22. 72 porcelain

    Merry Xmas everyone! Thanks for the awesome reviews and all recappers on this site. Been reading everyone review gratefully.

    This – “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.” IKR… I didn’t watch The Chaser, mostly recognize him as the grandpa from Panda and Hedgehog and seriously ahjusshi has that Clint Eastwood+Jack Nicholson+Richard Gere charm about him… like… wow…

    This – “Overall the drama was half-baked in execution, but I could see that the recipe had good intentions behind it.” Oh Donghae, I love you, I do… I can see that you improve, but goodness what’s with the romance and the female lead in this drama?! Yoon Seung Ah is as cute as a button but really did a disservice to her own resume! You watch a drama for the romance and find yourself rooting for the bromance instead… and loose ends was just too quickly tied up… but yeah the pastry porn lol… sometimes I watch just to see the pretty…

    This – “any show that produces a riotous character like Choi Siwon’s diva actor deserves to pat itself on the back.” Normally Siwon + drama = crazy fangirl mode for me… but this was the drama that I was least interested in at first all because I can’t get past that ridiculous hairstyle Siwon is having… But I overcome that and now totally have maniacal love towards this drama… Muahahaha! Love it! And I have not see Kim Myung Min in Bad Family or Beethoven virus… but man… oppa is such an awesome actor!

    and this… “My teenage diary, so you can feel MY embarrassing adolescent pain. It’s only fair. You did it to me.” To simply sum up how awesome this is, I watch it for 3x straight repeatedly. And random episode still on and off… Simple story but one full of heart… May not grown up in Korea but the fascination are so similar… tamagotchi, your first cell phone, fandoms, the lingering feelings… like how things aren’t perfect sometimes, but its the flaws that makes everything more real and remind you that hey that’s what life is all about sometimes. Maybe being the same age as the adult Shiwon and co right now, made me think a lot about the past and well being totally nostalgic… my favouritest drama of the year :)

  23. 73 Kiara

    Girlfriday thank you so much for your review. Fantastic as always <3333333333.

  24. 74 ck1Oz

    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.

    Thank you for summing up why Reply Me 1997 got me in the gut and resonated so much. Gaksital was heart wrenching true.
    But Reply Me 1997- when we think of the what we were when we were young? So apt the last line ” Answer me, my 90′s me “

  25. 75 dany

    Finally, Panda and Hedgehog, common, it wasn’t that bad, some parts have actually been enjoyable( Donghae and grandpa were sweet).
    Gaksital and Arang are the best in my list. Thank you for the review.

  26. 76 husnaa

    Thanks for the great article. As for me, Gaksital is the best drama I ever watched in Kdramaland. It had its weaknesses but as a whole, the drama is totally awesome.

  27. 77 djes

    girlfriday, you NEVER disappoint me.
    what a worthy-to-wait-every-goddamn-year review, as expected.

    thank you thank you.

  28. 78 wanne

    Thanks Girlfriday. Love this review! You are so witty and have a way to put your criticism in a nice way. And I agree with most of the things you said here especially on K2H. That drama is so special and precious to me. It’s not without flaws for sure, but I find such deep enjoyment and satisfaction in everything else that the flaws hardly matter. AM1997 is my second favourite drama this year. It’s real, nostalgic and the characters are just plain likable. I also love Jung Eun Ji’s Busan accent.

  29. 79 Lilian

    “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” ooh wow! That was an amazing scene. I cannot forget the necktie scene too. Fantasies to the max in this drama!

  30. 80 Dee Dee

    After reading all these end-of-year-reviews for Nice Guy, I really feel like I need to rewatch it. I love fast-paced dramas, but now that I look back, it seems that the pace was so speedy that I barely even remember what happened. I mean, I know that I was so addicted to it at the time of watching, but what was I addicted to?

  31. 81 goldeng

    interesting article! you’re hilarious :33 what you pointed out was the reason I still havent tried to watch “I miss you” and Moon/Sun.. the dramas that clearly wants you to cry a river are the ones that make me feel awkward cuz I know theyll od all they can to make me cry and end up saying NO to them… that was the reason I stayed away from nice guy.. but then I end up watching it anyways to regret it later… -___-
    in the other hand, I really loved shows like Answer me 1997, VP2, queen inhyun’s man and more recently school 2013 and King of Dramas… I cant stop laughing when anthoy acts all tough when hes a softie n the inside and Hyun min’s diva antics plus the infamous Shibrows and expressions make me rofl…!

  32. 82 NKOTB

    Wow, dont get why all DB bloggers/critics so hated Nice Guy. I thought it was fantastic, really well acted and absorbing. Great ratings too so lots of viewers tuned it. Was by far my favorite this year. Totally disagree about it being a shallow melo (aren’t they all on some level?), It was poignant and emotional and I thought tightly directed. Also played theme of redemption well. So not really getting all the negative criticism.

  33. 83 imeadd

    And my heart goes to “The King 2 Hearts”
    Thanks gf for your great recaps :)

  34. 84 gomigomi

    THE KING 2 HEARTS!!
    even if it weren’t anyone drama of the year,
    IT IS MY BEST DRAMA OF THE YEAR..
    though Answer 1997 came in close to 2nd in this little kdrama chart in my mind here..

    I love the drama’s progress.. the intensity of all the characters.. the balance.. I mean you can feel the presence of everyone in that drama and not just the main..

    the villain is weird but awesome.. all those meyer mayer is weird but since he’s a villain.. i’ll just forgive his weird and absurdness..

    some flaws are noticeable but the great storyline and acting is awesome enough to make me ignore them..

    and ah-ha couple is forever my favorite couple so far in my years of drama addiction~

  35. 85 missjb

    I agree, I don’t get the hate for Nice Guy… I know, the corporate thing is so boring that I really wish the drama drop this aspect and stop make it like a Big DEal. In fact, I would love it they showed more about a little moment I loved that make the drama richer and poignant. and I really wish they showed Maru’s desire to become a doctor as time progressed so I would find the ending he become a doctor more convicing. Ok I admit, I just love when see Maru as a doctor and doing the first aid rather than as a Team Leader Kang.
    But overall solid melodrama and didn’t lose the narrative purpose…

  36. 86 Elizabeth

    I am not sure if this was highlighted before but I was watching this movie Just visiting in a public area and realise to my horrors that Roof Top Prince has seriously copied the movie’s story. I went to research the movie and found out that it was screened in 2000/2001 and was a cover of a French movie.

  37. 87 Coo19

    Thank you girlfriday for the great review! I completely agree with you on Arang and the Magistrate, its my all time favorite. :]

  38. 88 bimbobunny

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

    Oh. My. Wordy. Word. I think I laughed so much snot appeared to drip without notice and tears began to slowly emerge in the corner of my eyes.

    What a pleasant review ^^ You were thorough and precise with each one. Thanks.

    Still can’t get over the, TTBY review. /ClassicLOL

  39. 89 Kate

    Thanks for this year-end review, girlfriday! :) I always enjoy reading your recaps.

    As for my favorite dramas this year, I can’t list them down in order because I just can’t bring myself to pick an absolute favorite. aaarrgggh! But here they are anyways.

    Reply 1997 – all sorts of funny, a story with heart (lots of heart), and pure nostalgia for all ’90′s kids like me! All the characters are also so fresh and adorable! hahaha!

    Arang and the Magistrate – Arang and Saaatooo!!! <3 They're just so cute together. And of course, who wouldn't love Jade Emperor and Hades' funny banters. And the goat! I love the whole atmosphere of the show and the soundtrack was amazing too, it went really well with the scenery in the drama. I just loved it since the mystical world it was set in is so different and creative. If I should describe the drama Arang in a word, it would probably be "magical".

    The King 2 Heart – I just love love love this drama, although I can't exactly explain why. It just sucked me in as a viewer and I found myself getting anxious like I was one of the characters every time any of them were in danger. It had a lot of heart, this show. And I loved the characters too! Jae Ha, Hang-ah, Earnest Bot, Princess, the North and South team, everyone! (Well, except the lame "foreigners" they used as extras. What was with that?! Seriously??!!) I think this and Arang were the two shows I read every recap for, at the very minute the recaps were up! Aaaah, I miss those mornings I spent refreshing dramabeans at work waiting for Javabeans and Girlfriday's recap of TK2H. :')

    The King of Dramas — H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S!!!! This drama is my crack as of this moment. What's not to love about this show? It's FUNNY, refreshing, has tons and tons of heart, adorkable characters, a fast-paced storyline (well, relatively…it doesn't drag on), and it mocks everything in dramaland. Hahahaha! I just love it! I love all the aww moments we get with the World Production Family. And everytime Anssony gets teary-eyed, I die laughing! LMFAO. And of course, Siwon's quips are GOLDEN! Just like Brad Pitt! Inevitable! =))

    Of course there were other dramas I enjoyed, too, like Queen In-Hyun's Man and A Gentleman's Dignity, and Nice Guy (the 1st half), but those four dramas above are the first things that come to mind when I think about the 2012 dramas I loved.

    I haven't watched Gaksital yet but I'll be sure to check it out soon since everyone's raving over it. :)

    • 89.1 Kate

      okay, reading my post again, I realize it seems like I did not like Reply 1997 as much as the others. Oops! It’s the first thing I commented on so I guess I wasn’t deeply immersed in my commenting yet. Hahaha! But I loved it a lot! It made me laugh out loud, cry (I think, or I just forgot), reminisce about my childhood, and all that jazz.

  40. 90 SweetiePie54

    “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.”

    LOVE IT!

  41. 91 Abbie

    Wow, so many dramas, but out of all of these, I’ve only finished seven, and I’m still watching King of Dramas. Many I started but either abandoned towards the beginning (Big, To the Beautiful You) or gave up towards the end (The King 2 Hearts).

    All in all though, it was a good year.

  42. 92 meanrice

    I may have to revisit Shut Up: Flower Boy Band. I stopped watching I think at episode 7. It just didn’t hold my attention.

  43. 93 snowdrop87

    I have a very great year to watch so many good drama.I think for Historical drama,Arang and Magistrate was d most favorable one though I love Rooftop prince too but becoz Arang really made me anticipated every week and for d 1st time ever my sis also started to watch Kdrama evryweek to gt to knw next epi;-) anywy For Modern Drama I would choose Nice guy(jz finished watching it this whole week,thx God I made d rite choice to watch it:-Pit)Im glad to see SJK took this project and I think he did a great job of portraying d character.I think im going to love him even more<3more
    Btw..a big thks to u guys to have been working hard to write d recap for my fav dramas(though u decided to pull out I Miss you,I still respect ur decision) My fav recap so far is Arang,Rooftop prince and Ghost(im planning to watch Gaksital cz it seems to b nice to watch since I love Joowon prev project o Ojakyo brothers:-)and I wish u guys keep continue recapping more nice drama next yr.Happy New Year 2013 to all Dramabeans writer n reader:-)
    Ps: as for variety,I wish u guys would continue recapping Shinhwa Broadcast cz I love that show so much n I glad u finally make d recap of d Anipang episode:-P

  44. 94 JT

    Thanks Girlfriday!!! My all time faves for the year ….

    Arang and the Magistrate, and The King of Dramas.

    What a wonderful end of the year present The King of Dramas is. Just sheer fun with great quirky characters. Si Won’s laugh is priceless.

    Shin Min Ah and Lee Jun Ki …. amazing chemistry – they made magic in the drama!

  45. 95 lastday

    Thank you for such a wonderfully hysterical and intelligent year, Girlfriday :)

    Although I consider myself a In Hyun’s woman, can someone please explain the cigarette gift?

  46. 96 The Quibbler

    I really enjoyed Shut Up: Flower Boy Band from start to finish. The actors had amazing chemsistry!

    Gakshital was amazing! There were moments when the storyline dragged, but on the whole, bravo! Park Ki Woong is an incredibly talented actor and I’m glad that he won the award for Supporting Actor. I wish him continued success!

  47. 97 Faranak

    Gaksitaaaaaaal!

    Wow! Now i feel better, :-D

    I totaly agree with you GF about gaksital,QIHM,king2hearts,rooftop prince

    Gaksital had a lot of pain and complicated emotionary scenes,a Lot of scenes that made me cry,shake,hold breath,think and feel proud,the soundtrack was so awesome and full of emotion that made u feel that you’re in that era and standing right there,watching gaksital,and yelling: Gaksitaaaaaaal! :-D

  48. 98 Indian Drama

    review is awesome. who’s name the publisher ?

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