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Sweet heroes and fierce heroines [Year in Review, Part 10]

Looking back, 2015 has been a really generous year for me in dramaland. Thanks to the overlords’ wicked sense of humor (or maybe just a belated sense of self-preservation…), the five-drama limit posed an interesting predicament. I found I didn’t want to expend my words or energy on the middling-to-mediocre shows, or indeed, the half-good-half-bad (both of which I watched too many). And without naming and shaming, I certainly didn’t want to waste any more time on the violently insipid. Instead, it seemed more fitting to pay back generosity with generosity.

Thankfully, my five picked themselves (well, four did — the fifth was decided in a council of war with my sisters). But I still want to give a shout-out to the other favorites that didn’t make it in: of course Kill Me, Heal Me (let my recaps prove how much I loved it!) and the adorable (yet eventually problematic) Oh My Ghostess, but also the criminally underrated Missing Noir M and Last. And finally: my little underdog that nobody watched, legal thriller Pride and Prejudice, which sadly wasn’t quite 2015 enough to count.

It’s been a case of working backwards to uncover my five’s unifying theme, but I found it! Or made it up. It doesn’t matter. In defiance of long-held trends, we’ve been seeing the slow-but-sure rise of fundamentally nice heroes, and my picks are by no means the only ones. It proves what we all knew: that you can be a complicated, conflicted man without being an ass. And where we’ve had great heroes, we’ve also had some really fantastic heroines. Much as my heart beats for bromance (give me bromance or give me death!), I am positively weak in the knees for strange, flawed women with hearts of fire. And paired up with a sweetheart of a man? Yes, please and thank you. In other words: squee. Now all I want for next year is for some of those ten-a-penny dramaland geeeeniuses to be WOMEN.

In my dark and murky past before K-dramas, I used to be a bookworm. I realized I consume dramas much the same way I do books, so there’s often not a clear line between them in my mind — my hunger is for absorbing stories, peculiar people, and complicated relationships. When I noticed that some of my picks paired themselves naturally with certain books, it became a fun challenge to matchmake all of them with their literary soulmates. You’ll find the results at the end of each review as a little reading suggestion — for when you’re between dramas, of course!

This isn’t short, so grab a banana milk and get comfortable…

 

Healer

A year on, it’s still hard to define Healer’s particular magic. From its earliest promos, I’d just been so hungry to get that action thriller-fix that I didn’t even try to moderate my high hopes (likewise for Yong-pal, which, meh) and they were SPECTACULARLY met. While it brought the same thrill and addiction as City Hunter, and they’re easy to compare, they’re distinctly different shows.

Writer Song Ji-nah has a genius for creating these wonderfully habitable characters that let the actors completely own them. What’s extraordinary about Healer is that it left no character unfleshed. The entire cast came iridescently alive, with the differences and oddities that made us so attached to them (this might be my favorite incarnation of Kim Mi-kyung as our beloved Hacker Ajumma). Ji Chang-wook and Yoo Ji-tae brought their characterizations as lost boys piercingly home, making the sense of team that emerged as the show went on even more heartwarming.

I know we all love Bong-sookie (and how~!), but it’s Park Min-young who stood out the most for me. She was absolute magic as Chae Young-shin. She’s written with so much quirk and texture, and she poured herself into this role as never before, holding nothing back. Her willingness to take her character all the way and inhabit her fully, without a shred of vanity… it was just magic, artless and frank.

And you know what? There’s no Bong-sookie without Chae Young-shin. Because of her, he rejoined the world in a belated socialization, which is exactly as funny and moving as it sounds. And despite his wounded, love-starved-puppy soul, he was nice — a sensitive, loyal hero. One of Healer’s strongest points lay in its alchemical romance, and it was everything you could ask for and so much more. Aside from being touchingly, achingly sweet, they were a couple who made time feel precious. They loved fiercely, trusted instinctively, respected unequivocally, and it was magic.

At the time of writing, I have no idea how much love Healer will get in this review series, but either way, Healer was personally special to me. It’s hands-down my favorite show of the year, maybe even my whole life, and it took root in my soul. It’s seen me do things for it that I’ve never done for TV before. Do you guys know how many times I’ve watched the elevator-rescue scene? Nope, me neither. I never get tired of it. I’m going to go watch it again right now.

I love that this show was just so…so EVERYTHING. Ardent. Bright. Badass. Funny. Bromantic. Stirring. On the one hand, it was every inch the exciting cross-generational thriller it was sold as, but on the other, it was pure love story. Amen and hallelujah hilleolujah!

Soulmates: Honestly, this is hard, because who is good enough for you, Healer? But I don’t want you to end up alone. How about…Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon? It’s girl-in-the-bubble meets the boy next door, and what happens when you can’t have personal contact.

 

Angry Mom

I fell in love with Kim Hee-sun in 2012’s Faith, so I was excited for Angry Mom and it didn’t disappoint. This one is the other kind of youth drama — moody, bleak, and bristling with dark energy, taking on the topical issues of bullying and school violence. At the same time, it’s also not a youth drama at all. There’s a fascinating underlying commentary throughout the show about what constitutes strength and who has it, and it goes much grittier and darker than we ever expected — and dark is good. Very, very good!

Kim Hee-sun’s fearless, fists-first character was a contrast to daughter Kim Yoo-jung, who was almost as badass, but used her words. There’s not quite enough of her in the show, and maybe that’s why I found that the most arresting mother-daughter relationship was the fake one, with her friend and co-conspirator posing as her mom as part of their disguise. It’s a credit to the show that the case for her going undercover was so compelling and well-constructed: When she took up her disguise, it wasn’t in fun, but in deadly desperation.

But for all its desperation, it was still ragingly funny for us as viewers to watch an ajumma go undercover as a high-schooler, and there was a certain amount of savage wish-fulfillment in her immediately staking out the top-dog spot (take that, Never Been Kissed!). In fact, Angry Mom reveled in playing its most ridiculous aspects totally straight. The gangster-princess posse provided a welcome river of wry, dark humor that cut across a quite genuinely chilling storyline. Despite its sometimes sprawling and convoluted storylines, this was a world where very bad things happen, and we didn’t forget it.

Angry Mom was full of these complex, interesting characters all at odds with one another, and it’s no accident that the worst evils came out of weak people. It’s a shame that Ji Hyun-woo’s role wasn’t bigger. But despite being less prominent, he had one of the most satisfying arcs, with his sunny idealism taking some harsh and painful growth. But we all know it was puppy Ji-soo who stole hearts, with his raw and impassioned breakout as a troubled bad-boy with an ajumma-crush. May you one day get your girl! Please, dramaland. Stop hurting Ji-soo.

Soulmates: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina. This book is a gritty, difficult, but brilliant read about the emotional reality of high-school bullying. People are bad. Bullying hurts.

 

I Remember You

Originally called Hello, Monster, this underwent a name change and performed poorly in the ratings (although obviously, those things aren’t related). For many of us, it easily qualifies as one of the best shows of 2015, all the more valuable in the slew of crappy cop shows dramaland spat out (and I watched, sob) this year.

“Elegant” is the word that comes to mind for describing I Remember You. A cleverly plotted thriller, it’s wrapped around a complex nucleus of estranged brotherhood. It’s part of a wave of dramas in recent years that take on difficult aspects of mental health and neurological difference. But rather than acting as a curious side-plot, it drives the very core of the story with its own fully formed narrative. In the case of I Remember You, psychopathy comes under the microscope, addressing the age-old question of nature versus nurture: Are monsters born, or are they made? The most important question it asks, however, is this: Are monsters worth saving?

Each character was handled with finesse and given a full and compelling arc. With an intricately laid plot, it allowed you to look back and find all the answers already woven into its build-up. Its magic was rooted in the writing, and it was finished in some extraordinary acting. Park Bo-gum brought a unique and inimitable chemistry with lead Seo In-guk, in a casting that could not have been more fitting, producing one of the most riveting performances of the year.

You could argue that I Remember You didn’t strictly need its romance, but it added a more humanizing element to a circuit of difficult players, because Jang Nara’s character makes people change. She rapidly became one of my year’s favorites as a smart and resourceful heroine, right up there with Healer’s Chae Young-shin. Efficient and grounded, tiny and badass, her warmth made her the right foil to Seo In-guk’s cool, detached personality. But a little absurdly, among a memorable and lively ensemble, Lee Chun-hee was my secret underdog-favorite, with his comical sincerity that nevertheless went all the way.

What’s wonderful about this show is how measured and understated it remained, leaving so many things latent. Its angst and suspense were perfectly rationed, developing storylines to just the right degree, and then leaving things open in a very satisfying way. And with all those murderers running around, it could run so blackly funny, but never to the point of farce. That kind of restraint is a rare jewel in storytelling, and it respects the viewer’s intelligence and ability to respond to the story. It didn’t spell everything out, and we didn’t need it to.

Between them, Missing Noir M and I Remember You reawoke in me a thirst for smart crime thrillers (also, those bad ones made me reeeally want good ones). The hunt sent me to the annals of dramas past, and I made my way through older works like The Devil/Mawang and H.I.T., not quite hitting the spot. But if there’s one thing that I’ve yet to see a cop show do wrong, it’s team-mance (is that a word?) — and that’s like bromance squared. In other words: soulfood.

I’m still amazed that we got such a subtle, sensitive drama in I Remember You, nearly without a single misstep. I think the show ultimately crafted a lovely testament to the complexities of conscience, morality and agency, as well as the possibility for redemption. I give it a fifteen plus alpha.

Soulmates: Fire, by Kristen Cashore. This book is all about monsters, and how hard it is not to be one when you’re born that way. Beautiful, disturbing and hopeful.

 

Twenty Again

Twenty Again comes from the writer of my favorite Two Weeks, and beginning to end, I adored every single minute of it. From the very outset, it handled its story with a lovely light-handed grace, gentle humor, and small storytelling that would go on to characterize the show as a whole.

And much of that is thanks to Choi Ji-woo, who played her character with such a sweet appeal that it just pulled you in by the heart. Playing her college-professor husband, Choi Won-young did a brilliant job walking that difficult line between doing hateful things while stopping short of actually being truly hateful. (He’s really had a good year, with Kill Me, Heal Me and a crucial role in I Remember You also under his belt.)

Lee Sang-yoon’s character made an important (and hilarious) counterpoint to hers, and it was hugely entertaining to see both adults revert to their teenage selves around each other, although, to our eternal amusement, he somehow managed to regress even further. And it was so rewarding to watch Choi Ji-woo’s timid, self-effacing character bloom and come alive under the affection and encouragement of her friends.

The poignancy at the heart of Twenty Again lies in two things. First, though late, we experienced along with her all her first times and the delight they brought, but second, the raw emotional struggle she went through in facing the reality of her life in the present. But the best thing was that finding herself again made her brave and hopeful about her life. Her grace was so affecting, I can’t say it enough. I love her.

Twenty Again is a show you look back on and realize that it had all the ingredients to go very melo. That it didn’t was the best choice anyone ever made about it. It was able to take itself seriously without becoming overwrought, creating the most inspiring, life-affirming drama I’ve watched this year. Full of rich conflict and character growth, it proved that it didn’t need to plumb the darkest depths of human nature to bring out an evocative, emotive story — you don’t need an evil villain when people’s own everyday flaws and weaknesses are their worst enemies. Engaging from the moment it began, Twenty Again’s eventual journey was moving, painful, sweet, and finally, healing.

Soulmates: The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery, who was writing K-dramas before there were K-dramas. I can’t tell you any more, because spoilers. But that Barney Snaith was a High Halbae of Grumpypantsing before Lee Sang-yoon was even a twinkle in his father’s eye! (This recommendation is dedicated to odilettante.)

 

Sassy Go Go

Sassy Go Go turned out to be one of the year’s surprises for me, and its tight-knit and devoted fandom has been the most heartwarming. After the woeful disappointment that Who Are You—School 2015 became, for me it became the true heir to School 2013′s legacy. I’m still sad that, at just twelve episodes, it was so short, but I’m willing to concede that as a blessing in disguise, keeping it fast-paced and tightly focused.

Another ratings-underdog, this show, too, stayed its course. It told the story it set out to tell, with self-awareness and a meticulous attention to detail. Watching the minutiae inlaid in the plot and character arcs come unfolded often made it feel like a treasure-hunt, and instilled the show with a sense of fun and meaning. And those perfectly sloganed clothes! No shirt has been more appropriate in dramaland this year than “FIND ME.”

The important thing to know about Sassy is that it’s not really about cheerleading. It’s about what cheerleading is about, which suddenly made it a rather different drama. Nevertheless, the spirit that defines youth dramas immediately popped out, its energy and exuberance clothing a heartfelt core. Friendship and loyalty were at the center of its world — qualities that didn’t come naturally to the competitive and elitist students at this school.

Jung Eun-ji had a natural chemistry with every cast member, and her character’s sunny, inviting personality played wonderfully off everyone else, although none better than cheeky, flirty, top-ranked student, Lee Won-geun. Newcomer Chae Soo-bin also made a strong showing as the achievement-obsessed antagonist, evoking the whole spectrum of emotions with her eeeeevil questionable acts. Against common opinion, I found her a sympathetic character whose beats, although they came fast (too fast, some would say), struck a chord of emotional truth. And what about Hurricane Ji-soo, you ask? Didn’t he deserve to be the lead? Let’s put it this way: The lead role in anyone else’s hands but Lee Won-geun’s would have made that the only question left by this drama. Instead, all I want to know now is, “When will we see these two act together again? Wheeeen?”

Sassy Go Go was a show where you don’t have to choose between things. You could have your cake and eat it. You want bromance? Have it. In spades and spades, until you cry at how moving it is. You want romance? Have that, too. With all the crinkly eye-smiles your hearts could desire. This show put friendship front and center, always and forever, and it gave us all the other good things, too — character growth, heroes to offset our villains, comeuppances, adults who really put themselves on the line. You could watch it just for the cute, but cut past it and there was a solid, compelling story backed up by really heartfelt acting.

Every so often, you come across addiction-affirming dramas, the ones that you watch and realize, this is why I do it all. For me, Sassy was it. Like Healer, it made me do things I’d never done for a show before, and I carried it in my heart long after it was over. Recapping it was like a gift. And if I still have some red and green gummy bears lurking at the bottom of the bag that I can’t bring myself to eat… I know I’m not alone.

Soulmates: Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. As addictive and warming as Sassy, this book is about a girl being badass at sports and at life.

~

And that wraps it up! I hope everyone’s found shows worth keeping this year, and done something a little crazy for them — but if you haven’t yet, not to worry, there’s still time!

And so to close: My eternal appreciation to javabeans and girlfriday for their patient guidance and support since taking me in. Recapping at Dramabeans is a pleasure and a privilege. Big hearts also to my fellow minions and recap partners, odilettante, purplecow, LollyPip, and dramallama, for being so generous in sharing in the squees and woes of our recapping trials.

And finally, my thanks to all of you reading! Your encouraging comments and energetic discussions always make that lost sleep (and there was so much of it) worth it!

 
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thank you, Saya, losed three of these shows. I am also a fan of Kim Hee Sun since Faith (and I re-watch that from time to time). she is really like a fast-track train, goes at her roles with a fierce energy.
and Ji Hyun Woo: at first I didn´t really get teacher Noah. But when I re-watched, I started to admire this character and take his side. his moral core was so strong, it really stood out on the background of all the filthy minds.

and I Remember You, I said in one thread that there are three C-s in this drama: control over the material being one of them. just having control over what you want to express and never losing the grip.

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* loved. I am typing in the dark

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Me too! I still love Faith and watch it over again when I'm in a drama slump. Healer will also become that other "go to" show for me now.

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I liked 4 of the 5 only because I haven't seen Twenty Again. My fifth would be KMHM. I agree that there's something so heart warming and awesome about a about a badass heroine plus a nice hero. I also loved that you gave a shoutout to the sweatshirts in SGG because they were on point. Seriously they matched the situations and characters so well. The coordis need a round of applause. Sad how the best shows of 2015 received such low ratings that do not reflect their quality in the least. It tells broadcasting stations to air more rating hits like Princess Aurora or Yong Pal which were confusing messes.

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I so agree that we need woman geniuses, too. or rather, a woman who is efficient in contrast to a male "genius" who might be intelligent but overthinking and often misses his shortcuts. in the last years, most of the inventions making life easier have come from women and necessity. simple blood testing devices among them.

Maybe we could have a female scientist or inventor travelling in crisis centers and putting her Female MacGyver skills to good use, meeting different situations and different people. open up the human nature when it comes to different cultures, different priorities, envy, corruption, maybe terrorism...

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I think a woman genius would be refreshing. If she could also be a chaebol/rich person, that's even better. I want to see - for once! - a strong and capable woman who also happens to have money, which she can manage well, and not be a terrible human being. Candy characters are great - they are honest and hardworking, we get it. Still, I want to see that a woman can be rich and successful and yet neither a carbon copy of a male "evil chaebol with a (frozen) heart of gold", no a cold schemer who wants to separate the OTP. I think that poor but honest female characters reinforce the idea that this is the only way for a woman to be "good", and that's unfortunate.

Give me a female scientist who is also a crimefighter, or a female executive who is excellent at business strategy AND managing people with empathy! Tell me about the grandma in Coffee Prince - how did she build her empire? Heck, if you're doing a story about a fashion magazine, tell me about that female editor! If there's a love interest, he doesn't need to be a bumbling idiot either, as long as he's not cold and/or boring.

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good example with Granny! I found her one of the most grounded and realistic characters, she kept all things together, and women often do carry everything on their shoulders. unfortunately their life expectancy is usually higher than mens´ as well. so often women have no choice but to take charge. But we rarely see that in dramas (maybe in weekend family dramas, havent watched those).

yeah, a powerful, influential woman with money and a heart and a mission - I know there are plenty in the real world who have a specific goal, some aspect of life they want to improve and invent for example cheaper affordable solutions for energy saving, blood testing, clean water etc for developing countries or for disaster relief. there are the female scientists that discovered the to-date unknown human ancestor in Africa.

and there are also female entertainers who have buildt an empire and a management company, helping young artists from their countries hit the scene. a lot of indiginous women who start huge campaigns against industrial developments - and sometimes win, too. not always. nobody can always be successful.

that´s another thing I would like to see: failure and accepting it as part of life. even geniuses can make wrong calculations, it is a hit or miss and life has unpredictable twists.

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Lee Yo Won in Empire of Gold she is portraying the woman you'd like to see: genius, strong, chaebol and fighter. But many people goes to Zzzzzz when they're watching it though.. ^^

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am one of the nut that didn't goes zzzzz when watching. and the show did have flaws, a lot of ping-ponging, not just two sides fighting for "the Gold", but three sides i remembers.
Lonely Lee Yo Won starts the show sad, ends the show even saddier, her lover-enemy died, walking into the sea.
look at her, i thank God that i am a nobody in "reasonable poverty".

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"it respects the viewer’s intelligence"

nuff said.

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+1 !!!

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Totally! One of my top three best drama this year!

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Healer was personally special to me. It’s hands-down my favorite show of the year, maybe even my whole life, and it took root in my soul.

You know my heart saya ..hi 5

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Hi @ Sumee

? Double double Hi 5!!! ?

:)

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And mine,Sumee! Loooooove your reviews Saya, keep up the good work in the new year. xxx

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lots of hugs @gb and @fab and wish a very happy new year
i hope Ji chang wook will do a k drama soon

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Happy New Year to you all! ??

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And Happy New Year to you too @ KDaddict?JCW!

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hmmm... lovely Healerites' warmth here.
so missed it.

Blessed New Year.
was kinda saddened by many anti-healers sharings.
maybe Healer sort of robbing many other shows of their beans or what...
(sob sob sob)

so, reading all of you, is feeling like "going home".
nice. truly missed you gals.
did went back Healer ep 20 recap to peep...but seldom drop anything there.

may the LORD bless all healthy, all with deeper relationships with whoever worthy of your love and cares. and bless all who has not find love, find someone at least a little like Healerya?

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I'm happy to read every review of Healer there is. Each one makes me happy, and let's me squee anew. TQ. Wish there are more shows like it.

Also loved Twenty and this review of it, esp. praise for Choi Ji Woo, my K-goddess. Lovely.

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Healer is my #1 of 2015. I am currently watching I Remember You because of the year end reviews and enjoying it so far.

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I remember you is awesome too.
but very diff from Healer.
beside the Bromance that everyone swooning over. maybe you can also focus on the many grey tone questions that pop up, the controversial issues. and maybe can appreciate Cha Jian a little more too.

I Remember you, is my #2 fav show.
sandwiches between Healer and Twenty again.

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Hi Sumee

Double double double high 5???

Healer is special to me as well, i have so many first with Healer in my kdrama watching...as Saya said it is just pure love that made it so magical

Happy New Year everyone and every Healerites!!!

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I watched healer and it was an okay drama for me,not that great as people are rating it.

And to think it even surpassed the most number of comments ever on db previously held by king2hearts baffles me. I need to check it out again

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I think with Healer it's quite subjective rating. For some (like me) I found it quite refreshing and new out of all the dramas I've watched so it has a special place in my favourite list :) everyone's different, so what may work for you may not work for others, and vice versa.

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Hopefully you take more to it upon second watching but I 100% agree with your first sentence. If you're still not really into it after the 5th or 6th episode definitely drop it. I always regret forcing myself to watch shows I'm "supposed" to be into but just not really feeling. Like the above poster said, everyone's different!

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Honestly, the first four episodes i was like why are people obsessing over this drama, i didn't see it's Greatness and i was only watching because i loved Ji Chang wook (i missed Peya -Empress ki) and i used to even skip it but I'm glad i stuck it out because from episode 5 i was OBSESSED, i would even watch it raw on YouTube in the tiny frames, discolored before they were taken down, then I'd re watch it raw on the site,watch it subbed then read the recap and spend hours in the comment section waiting for the next episode to air (The most painful wait by far) .it was honestly the first time i made a meme, all because of Healer. You should try it again but if after the sixth episode you're still not feeling it. Don't force yourself. They have been dramas that people raved about that till today i don't get.

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Thanks Saya, I loved ALL five of the shows you listed. We have the same taste in dramas! They are each special to me...of course for me it would gave to be I Remember You and Healer at the top spot ?

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Healer and IRY for me too!

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YAY!! I have been waiting since review season began for YOUR review, Saya!!! These were MY five favorites of the year, with the top two being, of course Sassy Go Go and I Remember You, because what you said, about giving you bromance or giving you death, yeah, that's me exactly!

I'm so sad SGG was so short and my only qualm with IRY was the fact that the bromance started a little late in the drama. Not that I'm complaining, because what we got was great, but SGG was wonderful from episode one, which means it got me in the heart a lot sooner.

If I've learned anything in my years of drama watching it's that high ratings do not mean the show will be good and low ratings do not mean the show will be bad. There are hidden gems and cult favorites and ones you can't believe aren't universally loved, but that's why you gotta keep searching because you might find the perfect drama under a whole stack of mediocre ones.

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yeah, I Remember You only really 'popped' for me the minute we saw Park Bo-gum and Seo In-gook together. While, as you said, Sassy Go Go made the grab for my heart a lot sooner.

They are both great bromances, but very different from each other - IRY's HyunMin were about trying to re-establish a broken relationship and Hyun showing Min that no matter what, he's still his hyung and loves him, while YeolJoon were all about trying to keep theirs intact, no matter whether the threat was from an asshole principal/parent or from their own feelings for the same girl.

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I positively enjoyed all of your picks, but when I look back at Healer, Twenty Again, and Sassy Go Go there is just something to be missed..I don't know what it is..perhaps its all the feels I got from my 2 fav dramas of this year IRY and Angry Mom. Healer was great but idk what it is..perhaps its just been to long. I love the two because of the tough issues and tough questions they dealt with. IRY is the ultimate fav now because of how it left me pondering those questions on nature/nurture and whether monsters should be saved..it even got me to talk over it @the dinner table and in the car...my mom thought it was a twisted drama and was concerned for me over it.lol I even just rewatched it. Also thankful it gave me Bogummy..since I already love SIG. :)

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You picked a great set of dramas Saya! I feel the same way you did and 2015 was a much better drama year for me than 2014.

That comes with the disclaimer that I spent most of 2014 in a severe drama drought but there were a few great gems. This year gave me some hope and I'm looking forward to 2016 kdrama year being even better!

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You had me at " I used to be a bookworm. I realized I consume dramas much the same way I do books... my hunger is for absorbing stories, peculiar people, and complicated relationships."

And then you went on to write a lovely, thoughtful review piece, touching on three shows I rate as amongst the best I've seen for their genres, Healer, I Remember You and Sassy Go Go.

I love how you put it in a nutshell "The important thing to know about Sassy is that it’s not really about cheerleading. It’s about what cheerleading is about, which suddenly made it a rather different drama."

That is the nexus of why that drama surpassed all expectations. I first decided to watch it because the name seemed upbeat and a little silly, the kids were good-looking, and I thought - ah it'd be a Korean version of those US cheerleading films. Could be fun. But the drama took me aback, despite the promises of cheerleading that never were fulfilled, I found myself not minding a jot, as it was the lives of the kids that mattered more. And wasn't that always the take-home?

I could keep raving about your review and pulling out quotes but this could turn out lengthy. So I'll just say your review this. I'm reminded of how sometimes reading reviews of shows that we've already watched might seem odd, but reviews aren't just about forewarning with information, it's also the pleasure of having someone describe more vividly exactly why things worked, in words you haven't/couldn't find yourself. It's so evident you're a reader, the way you write, every word is to be savoured. Thank you so much!

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"The kids are good looking." was truly the sole reason I started on Sassy Go Go since I needed refreshment after exams lol. Saya really nailed it by saying it's about what cheerleading is about no matter how confusing that sounds hahahaha. It's about cheering and supporting each other no matter whether one is winning or losing. To be that drive everybody needs when the game is getting crucial and our breathing is getting shorter. The fact that these kids are just mere young adults trying to adjust and that the importance of their lives were truly the highlight and that made me love every second of it.

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I first decided to watch it because the name seemed upbeat and a little silly

Me too! There's a certain, for lack of a better word, sass to the choice of the name that says more about the vision of the SGG team than any synopsis ever could.

It was the name+the cast that made me decide to start watching (I'd seen Eunji, Lee Won-geun, Ji-soo AND Chae Soo-bin all slaying at least one acting role before, and it's very rare for a high school drama to pack its cast with solid actors that way), but the drama itself made me stay.

And now I'm on my second bag of gummy bears and saving the red and green ones forever, ha.

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So I got sidetracked on my way to re-watching I Remember You, and now I'm on the roll with re-watching Sassy Go Go instead. Probably for the best, since I'm doing year end accounts and taxes, and that together with murder, mayhem and monsters might be too much for my little heart to bear.

I really like Jung Eun-ji as an actress. She seems so naturally and effortless likeable. And the kids, gosh they really do just grab your heart from the word, "Go". - the Real King kids and their loyalty to Yeon Doo and hers to them, cheerfully helping her with the punishments and accepting each other's weaknesses, and Kim Yeul and his way of helping Ha Joon normalise after a traumatic event.

It's like the kids, just as they are, have all the potential to be great human beings out in the real world, but for the rather warped grown-ups who control and manipulate them. It's particularly nasty that the principal would take such a sensitive and difficult issue as a suicide attempt and use it to blackmail.

Anyway, thank goodness, Cheerleading teacher has turned up now and together with the other sweet one, are bits of hope for the grown up world.

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Ahay, I wanted to start watching I Remember You but backed out since I'm gonna be away for a while for new years, so I found myself rummaging through my Sassy Go Go file. What a sweet bunch these kids are. Goodness me I love episode 4. One of my fave scenes will remain that scene where they got punished and ended up eating ramen with dirt all over them and literally being watched by the whole school. When even Kwon Soo Ah can't help but break into a smile, you know you've got some serious fun.

The Cheerleading coach is such a blessing to humanity indeed. I just realised now, when Yeol threatened Soo Ah not to mess with Ha Joon; Yeol said "I'm scared of what I might do when I get pushed.". I just realised his words there is a bit similar to what Soo Ah often says about how she doesn't want people to push her to do crazy things. Makes me realise that they really are desperate to hold on to the simplicity and innocence of their lives and often instead of sounding like they're threatening they sound like they're begging other people to stop triggering the bad in them. I forgot that so many things happened in this ep, hah. Even the whole being drunk in coach's house is in this ep, why are they all so adorable gosh. I love watching scenes where Ha Dong Jae lowkey treats 'second place Soo Ah' so nicely, I guess he wasn't lying when he said he'll remember her going onwards, just maybe in a way he never thought he would. The whole 'my head is eating up my heart' drunk crying speech. The the did Yeol kiss or not kiss. They stuffed in so much in one hour, no wonder they got it done in 12 episodes.

And plus, why are Chae Soo Bin's eyerolls so precious? Okay, let me rephrase that, why are they all just so precious? Ugh I'm falling in love with them all over again.

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Hah, it struck me as well as I going through the episodes - how much happens and how quickly the story moves. I think the writers did well to maintain a really good pace, so it never feels like things are just circling the drain. Already, by episode 6, Kim Yeol and Ha Joon have joined Yeon Doo's campaign to save everyone, and the cheerleading kids make their first united stand to bring back Teacher Yang. Seriously, these kids are wonderful.

Yes, ep 4 was lovely - the drunken scene was hilarious. The nerdy one got up to some weird stuff!

I like your point about what Yeol said. His character was interesting - I found him teetering on the edge at first, when his fear for his friend, and possibly the loss of him - made him quite sharp. Perhaps, if Ha Joon had killed himself, the way Soo Ah suffered the loss of her middle school friend - he might have become scarred and turned out more like Soo Ah. Being so clever, he's already able to play most people, and his threats to the reporters did sound quite scary, sounding quite savvy and intense, coming out of a high schooler's mouth. But I guess it is his attachment to Ha Joon, and then to Yeon Do, that brings him back to his more humane side.

Oh I really like the other Real King kid too - one of the guys, not Ha Dong. The one that got kicked out of the dorm for a bit. He's hilarious and such a good 'un.

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True that. I found myself seeing a lot of parallels between Soo Ah and Yeol/Ha Joon with the differences often caused by the fact that Soo Ah doesn't have that one friend she can always depend on. Heck, if she actually had one so many things in the drama wouldn't have happened and then I guess we wont be blessed with the beauty of SGG. Anyhow, that brings us back to her friend who had commited suicide. It really must have scarred her deeply, made her lost hope or some sort and left that emptiness and coldness in her heart that obviously the cheerleading troop could fill up but she rejected it. The fact that she rejects it I think is an important factor. Of course she could have just been obedient to her mother and listened to her about how friends are pointless and such, but it probably is a problem way deeper. Aside from losing her best friend and having her mother rub salt on the wound with the whole "people only remember your death if you're first place" speech - she might have felt guilty too. She may have loathed herself for not being able to save her friend, for maybe being too preoccupied with studies or such that she couldn't help her friend. I mean, we can all imagine how broken and self blaming Yeol would be if Ha Joon killed himself right? We would definitely not be able to see a happy, charming young adult. I think losing her friend also made her unable to fully enjoy the friendship she had with Yeon Doo, and she ends up convincing herself that she doesn't genuinely like Yeon Doo, convincing herself that she's a bad person that will only use people and uncapable of creating real bonds.

Thus this is why I think the kids saving Soo Ah was so beautiful. I'm sure she hadn't reach a point where she really wanted to die, she just desperately wanted to be rescued. Some may say she's guilt tripping the other kids and the other kids went a little overboard by putting the blame on themselves during the process of trying to save Soo Ah and get her to return; but it's very humane, it's just what happens. Sometimes only when another person gets hurt will we start seeing that we too have our flaws. And although that person doesn't necessarily have the kindest heart, they did spend a lot of time with her and they have laughed, cried, worked together so when they were tryna save her, it wasn't for her alone but literally for themselves too, for each other. And that there was that scene when they defended her to the other kids. That's what friends are, you can hate them all you want for yourselves but have some random outsider say anything and you'll flip haha.

Just proves over and over again how lovely those kids are. Each and everyone of them, really. Some of them didn't get as much spotlight but they all really managed to amuse with the short time they had, both Real King and Baek Ho kids.

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Someone actually did say that the difference between Yeol and Soo-ah, was Ha-joon - i.e. the fact that Yeol had a friend in his life who was everything to him, and whom he'd protect at all costs.

It's interesting how accurate that statement is, because while Yeol would do literally anything to protect Ha-joon, it's not just a one-way thing for them - at the start of the drama, Ha-joon's presence in his life is what keeps Yeol normal, while Yeol is the one keeping Ha-joon connected to the world of the living. And the smirky, flirty facade drops instantly to reveal deadly seriousness the minute Yeol perceives a threat to Ha-joon. Yeol pretty much thrives on strategy and control, but any threat to Ha-joon pretty much brings him undone.

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Yes, that is a big difference between Kim Yeol and Soo Ah.

The other is probably also the parent that plays a major part in their life. Yeol's dad had that incident with his mother that left a scarred memory in Yeol, but overall, his dad seemed less malignant and broadly well-meaning, even if he did not know how to be close to his son. However, Soo Ah's mother is just controlling and manipulative, and taught Soo Ah to actively reject any notion of friendship or compassion, so much so Soo Ah wasn't even able to have compassion for herself.

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yeah, Yeol and his dad had a very strained relationship which seems to have bordered on neglect at times because Dad had no idea how to build a relationship with his son, no matter how materially well-off they were.

But at least he never tried to deprive Yeol of his friendships or indoctrinate him into believing they were meaningless, like Soo-ah's mom did. Even Ha-joon's asshole dad left his friendship with Yeol untouched, though that was more by accident than actual benevolence (how else do you not know the name of your son's best friend of the last 5-10 years?) and he did enough damage otherwise. But Soo-ah's mom was a whole different kettle of fish - on the surface, she had a better relationship with her child than either Yeol or Ha-joon's dads but she did a special brand of damage to Soo-ah by teaching her to isolate herself emotionally from potential friends.

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Saya, you're the best, you have Sassy Go Go, I Remember You and Healer. Some of the dramas I enjoyed the most in 2015.

Thank you so much and Happy Holidays.

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I enjoyed all the dramas you picked, especially healer, I remember you and angry mom :D
I have rewatched the elevator rescue scene many many times too. Need to rewatch healer now lol

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Thank you for that review, it was quite touching in that I loved all these dramas but just didnt know how to put them in words as you so eluquoently did. But the best part? The book recommendations you put at the at the end of each section. I was a bookworm at one time too, then uni got in the way and i had to read textbooks meh...but if they are half as awesome as their soulmate kdrama then this summer is gonna be pretty awesome with these books to look forward to reading. Thank you!

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I could not love you more for picking my favorite dramas and then linking them the my favorite author and The Blue Castle. Any day with Kdrama and L.M. Montgomery is a good day.

Now I want to link all my favorite dramas with a Montgomery book.

Answer Me 1988 -- The Golden Road or Rainbow Valley (?)

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Mmm I'd say Rainbow Valley if there was a need to pick one...because there's not much romance in The Golden Road at all...

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Always Anne of Green Gables...

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nope, not Anne at all.

If Answer Me 1988 was a LMM series, it would be Pat of Silver Bush.

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No, not linking it. Just that it would be always my favourite out of all the Montgomery books.

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That it would, but since SB spoke of linking, that's what I thought fit best.

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I love the comparison of I Remember You and Fire. Both are so great. :)

Before reading you explanation I didn't really see a connection but wow.

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Hi Saya! Wow! You've chosen the exact 5 shows that I would have too. We have similar tastes in shows. :)

I love what you say about each of them and how your words bring back sweet memories. Thanks for your great reviews!

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Saya, thank you so much for sharing your insight on each of these dramas. They've inspired me to go back and watch 4 of the 5 dramas you've mentioned here. Keep up the great work! For non-Korean speakers, this blog is what keeps us sane from having to wait for dramas to be subbed! Thank you, thank you! Wishing you and your loved ones a happy and prosperous new year!

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Great review with lovely picks Saya, thank you!

I only have one thing to say. Those sloganed sweatshirts that they used in Sassy Go Go was life! I mean they were a bunch of attractive kids to start with, and then they wore such nice clothes! Hahahaha my favourite was definitely the "UGH AS IF" one. That was such a cute pink one with the thunder textbox :") I really want that shirt, istg.

Okay so maybe I have a little more to say. Your statement saying that SGG had it all is so accurate. I've talked so much about it and I honestly don't know when I'll stop feeling this way towards it lol, it was just the best surprise for me this year. With Healer and Angry Mom as my other absolute favourites, SGG had something that still made it stand out amongst them (although it was not necessarily better). I guess I'm just gonna back to patiently waiting for the cast to go back to work, especially Chae Soo Bin to land a new role in dramaland, girl left such a good impression I just want more more more.

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Darn it...I've now got a bug in my brain about those t-shirts and hoodies... I really want them.

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Me too! Even aside from SGG associations, the 'UGH. AS IF.' shirt is a great one.

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It's the best out of the best for me that one. I mean they were all great. I've been going around shop after shops and I see slogans but they're all so typical and not nearly as nice as the ones in SGG ugh.

Maybe we Sassy Go Go lovers should gather up and order a sloganed sweatshirt for all of us LOL. I find myself like a child wanting a candy everytime I see them.

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I wish I knew what brand they were, so I could at least try ordering off yesstyle or something. But the sheer on-the-nose nature of them makes me think the coordis customised them, which means we're out of luck there lol.

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@pogo we're out of luck indeed, sigh. This is why we need to print pictures of these lovely slogans and just order them ourselves.

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Ooh I found one - that Yeon Doo wears, it's not the best of the lot but perhaps there are others out there.

http://www.allkpoper.com/kpop-apink-sweater-eun-ji-f-x-amber-unisex-sweatershirt-hoodie-pullover-rckt.html#.VoEDzNCGT4o

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I know, right? I've liked quite a few dramas this year but Sassy Go Go just stands out, probably because it was such a surprise.

And count me in as another one hoping that the cast get worthy followup roles to this! I know Ji-soo's already at work on that Park Hae-ryun short drama (only 3 episodes, sigh) but I hope for great things out of Lee Won-geun, Jung Eunji and Chae Soo-bin too. Oh, and Shin Jae-ha.

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Ji Soo is clearly gonna be quite busy these upcoming months. I think this morning I just read an article that he has been confirmed for a drama remake Moon Lovers if I'm not mistaken? And the world could always enjoy Eunji so long she and Apink stay active (dat voice dat voice).

The rest of the cast I'm not so sure of. Hopefully Chae Soo Bin and Lee Won Geun will not go under the radar. I mean idk much abt LWG but I think CSB managed to carry a drama albeit being a rookie with Bluebird's House (I didn't watch it completely but she seemed really good in the bits that i watched).

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Moon Lovers?! That pre-emptively sounds like a mess, Chinese-to-Korean drama remakes have never gone well (other than Fated To Love You, and that rested solely on the leads). But if he's confirmed, I do hope at least the role is different from Bokdongie/Ha-joon. It's bound to be a supporting role, so at least he doesn't have to carry the thing.

Lee Won-geun has charm in spades, and that's served him very well in playing sweet but flawed heroes. (also, any actor who manages to register at all and not have us all slain by Second Lead Syndrome for Ji-soo, is probably well worth remembering - he's not as intense, but I hope he does well).

Ditto on Chae Soo-bin, she's astonishing for a rookie. I first saw her in Spy, and even though it was a small role, I wasn't surprised at all to learn that she'd landed a major role in a KBS weekend drama after that - girl is fantastic. I wish she got considered for more movie roles instead of the usual insipid idol 'It Girls' who can't act.

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Ugh remakes are really mostly a mess. I managed to finish FTLY but that was only after a one year break between the first half to the second half of the drama...

I saw her from time to time in the weekend drama because my dad watches everything that airs hah, but didn't really notice how good she was. Now I'm tempted to see it again for her but eh, it's a weekend drama. I should have been shocked when I saw that her second drama gig jumped straightaway to a lead, but seeing her in Sassy explained it all. I foresee her continuing to impress and I think she will have a great long career ahead of her hopefully. Chae Soo Bin has a role in Lee Sung Min's movie Robot, Sori this year though. I'm not sure if it's out yet and whether her role is big or small (she plays his missing daughter) but it looks plenty interesting so I'm gonna patiently wait a year or so till the subs come out haha.

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Really. This year has been good to us. Last year, aside from Misaeng, I found myself dropping 90% of what I watched. The ones I completed were barely above the average line. Thank you Misaeng, Healer and Punch for restoring my faith in kdramas!

What I loved about Healer was how each character felt truly alive and important. I always think about Secretary Oh when it comes to an example. His role could've been typical villain but he also had this interesting quirk of being much like a OCD robot. One scene in particular was when Jung-hoo was knocking stuff off of Moon-sik's shelves and Secretary Oh had no emotion or reaction except that he came along and straightened the shelves again. Sure enough, he was supposed to represent those who simply go along with the flow. Each character had a reason for existence.

I loved the whole concept of the dream. How each of our three got closer to actualizing more mature versions of those dreams as time progressed. I loved the backstory of ahjumma (I just wish there had been more time to finish telling it!). I actually loved that it wasn't about defeating all the elders and saving the world. I think that only works in storybooks. Rather, it was as simple as starting taking care of those around you. Saya, you have convinced me. Time to pull out my Blu-ray again.

I think I will pick up Angry Mom again for you. I think I will be able to appreciate it now.

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I hope you enjoy Angry Mom if you really do pick it up again! It's quite a gem.

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Thanks for the reviews, Saya!! I totally loved Angry Mom and Sassy Go Go!! Not only cuz of puppy hurricane Jisoo but for the rest of the cast that made both drama so compelling... It made your heart ache, it made you think, it made you want to join in the fight for justice, it made you want to be the student or the adult in the show just so you can experience that tight-knit friendship or shield the kids from being hurt... So much love and lingering fondness for these shows. And yes, I definitely need to see Eunji/Wongeun/Jisoo together again in any combo. XD

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Omg, I loved all the shows here, except Healer. I can't say anything, cuz I haven't watched it. I definitely loved all the rest though! I totally side with Saya as they r some of my top favs. And I was double excited when I saw Dairy Queen! Loved that book! And one of Montgomerys books was here?! Oh yeah! Now I have to go read the other books u recommended cuz I'm a bookworm myself. cause when I can, I read or watch dramas! It's a life necessity! :P
~off to go fangirl some more~

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The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery is my favorite of all her books and one of my top favorites of all time. I loved that story so much.

You're right she was writing Kdrama plots. And it's nice to see them compared to books. That's the main reason I watch kdramas is because the stories were different from what I had read before and these characters were new.

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Huh, weird, I love L.M. Montgomery and have no idea why I never heard of Blue Castle. I'll definitely have to get it!

You should write a book yourself, Saya, if you haven't already. You have a lovely way with words.

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Totally agree! I can't count how many times I've reread The Blue Castle. And I now realize it is SO kdrama lol.

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Huh, never realised Valancy was a k-drama heroine, but maybe it explains why I like the book so much! (and now that I look back, I recognise quite a few k-drama cliches in there ...)

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So now besides watching those dramas I haven't watched yet but I planned to (which there's way too many to list, but I mean both IRY and Twenty Again) now I have some books that I'm totally checking... Saya, I'm not really sure whether to thank you, curse you or make you buy me a time-turner ;)

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I really really like Sassy Go Go, even it's on my top all the time favorite drama standing next to Master's Sun. Yep, I never been this addicted to drama since Master's Sun. Heee.

Kim Yeol's character is sooo refreshing, different than any other hero I've ever seen. So, yes I am in love with him! That smiley eye~ squeeee~~

<3333

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Agree with every drama you choose, Saya. Those and plus heard it through the grapevine is my personal favorite.

I Remember You especially, since it introduce me with Park Bo-gum and D.O wonderful acting for the first time ever.

Also, in different note, after Healer I tried to watch Empress Ki. And oh boy, Ji Chang Wook really have one of the best loving eyes. The way he look at the heroine, like he's the most lovable and beautiful person *fan myself*

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Ah...seeing Sassy Go Go's review brings back all the squee-worthy memories. :) Thank you for recapping and reviewing~~

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*sighs wistfully* Those days where I kept refreshing the same page for days~ ♥

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"And it took root in my soul".... yes indeed. That is the reason why we watch dramas, and why this community continues to grow. I have the same utter and complete love for Healer, now and forever. And then there is Sassy Go Go and Twenty Again. Loved those too. I have not seen your other picks but will keep them in my back pocket. Thanks Saya for your eloquent review.

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You should have put Oh Ri Jin from Kill Me Heal Me on the list as well. She's pretty badass in her own way at handling different personalities of Cha Do Hyun well, is quirky, sensible, and compassionate. She's also intelligent and rational, proved by her noticing things that others tried to hide from her, and how she responded to baffling, ridiculous things (SSG's request to follow him and choose him, Chae Yeon confronting her, etc). She's able to stand up for herself without being intimidated by someone from higher social status. She's such a wonderful female character that she becomes one of my most favorite female lead of K-dramas (when it's pretty rare for me to have one).

However, from the list you put out, my most favorite is Chae Ji An (I Remember You). She's truly badass

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thank God someone remember Chae Ji An.
she is the most neglected female character. loving her after Chae Young shin.

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Thanks Saya!! OMG The Blue Castle!! I never thought someone will mention this book in DB!! One of my fav!!

Really love your take on Sassy Go Go! Couldn't put it better, especially when you say this is NOT really about cheerleading but rather about what cheerleading is all about (ok ok I'm not trying to rhyme or rap or get tongue-tied here keke). This drama stood out for me in 2015, besides Kill Me Heal Me. Both have refreshing takes on drama HEROs (intelligent, nice, gorgeous, humurous, loyal and just..... basically great guys!). Both have kick-ass independent heroines (no more candies please, kdramaland! Aaaargh). Both have stories that tug at your heartstrings and an ending that just give you HOPE and LIGHT.

I really need to go watch Angry Mom, although I don't really like dark stories but for the sake of JiSoo, hopefully I can get through the darkness......

Healer was good and I really enjoyed watching it and commenting here with everyone else about the drama. That was an experience I treasure coz you don't get to see such an phenomena in DB very often (thousands of comments for one episode? you've got to be kidding me^^). Although I really am sick of THAT song in the OST haha.

2015 was a year of surprises for me in kdramaland. I didn't watch that many dramas but those that I watched and stuck with are really good. Healer, KMHM, Sassy Go Go. 2015 was also a year I discover Saya at DB, one of my fav writers. Thank you Saya, for your heartful and beautiful recaps this year. Looking forward to your writing in 2016!

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Yeah, I struggled to nail just why Sassy Go Go's decreased focus on the physical act of cheerleading didn't bother me at all or make me feel like it was getting away from itself, when it was advertised as a cheerleading drama - but Saya nailed it when she said it was about what cheerleading was about, rather than cheerleading itself. Perfect description!

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It even made me glad that they hadn't focused too much on the physical act of cheerleading because watching them discover the true meaning of cheering on for each other was just precious beyond words.

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Speaking of OSTs, I am so glad that Sassy Go Go and IRY (which I just finished) chose theirs well, and so did my new fave, Splish Splash Love!

I know the feeling of weariness that comes when a loud pop song OST has been played one too many times and just dominates scenes. And while all the above named had pop songs in the OST, they were perfectly chosen and well balanced with the instrumental OSTs.

(and here's one last shout-out to the whistling tune from Sassy Go Go!)

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I love Some of these dramas and thanks for the books suggestions! Would read them some days. As a inspiring writer, I love how you write your recaps Saya. When you squee, I squee. When you sobs, I was sad too. Thanks for the great year and cheers to my new favourite recapper!

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Saya, I love you. Your review of Sassy Go Go is pitch-perfect and you love L.M. Montgomery? Come, let me give you a hug.

I was waiting for your end of the year reviews to feel completely satisfied, and now I am. You're right, this year we've had some delightful shows with spunky heroines and nice heroes, and this is definitely a trend that needs to stick around.
I'm just so glad both you and LollyPip picked Sassy Go Go, the little show with only 12 episodes and zero expectations, for one of your 5 in the year end review. I'm so happy it got this much love.
I used to devour books too, and now I do that to kdramas. Although right now I'm reading The Golden Road by L.M. Montgomery, having just finished The Story Girl. She wrote such delightful stories.

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I love LM Montgomery but have never read The Blue Castle. I am going to read it now to fill in the withdrawal for AM1988. Thank you for the great review and I really love Twenty Again and Healer.

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"No shirt has been more appropriate in dramaland this year than “FIND ME.”

I so love you for remembering this!! And that banana milk too... Gosh I miss Sassy Go Go! I hope dramaland will bring back the pairing of Jung Eunji & Lee Won Geun and have one for Eunji & Jisoo. I just miss these three so much!

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yeah, those slogan sweatshirts were THE most perfectly-chosen clothes of the year ('FIND ME' was my favourite, but so was 'STUCK ON U'). I'm still in awe of the Sassy Go Go team for managing to pack so much thoughtful detail into the drama when it was going through live shoots.

It's a shame dramaland so rarely reunites couples, though. At least Lee Won-geun/Jung Eunji got the perfect pairing as OTP here so I can't be greedy for a repeat, but Ji-soo/Eunji need a drama as OTP too!

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Yes I'll forever remember Won Geun's STUCK ON U black sweats at their first cheerleading stint (AND where he stuck out a hand with his "love weapon" THE banana milk, confessed and hugged Yeon Doo squeeeeeeeeeeeee!).

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I so loved loved loved the fact that you incorporated books into this post. I've always felt that books and dramas were the same but never went together. Gosh I loved this so much and would love if there were future posts that correlated kdramas to books on this site.

Have a happy new year!!

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My list:
Heard it through the grapevine
Healer
Kill me! Heal Me!
Hogu's Love
20 Again.

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Loved the book recommendations! Thank you!

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Yay for bonus book picks, can I just applaud how perfect The Blue Castle one is?

I also love that the unifying theme of this lot is heroes who aren't assholes. There's so much charm and sweetness in them that we would never have got from the standard jerk hero, especially in a high school drama like Sassy Go Go (and you get whole new worlds of flirtiness and cute to explore!). And it livens up the narrative in a whole new way, to be unable to fall back on that trope of 'nice girl changes the jerk'. I'd also add Lee Doo of Splash Splash Love to the list, now - it's just that his drama came out too late I guess?

And yay for the Sassy Go Go love! I remember being hooked right in the opening scene, the minute Yeon-doo's internal narration exploded the fantasy of a perfect youth and high school life with the words 'crazy bitch', ha. But it just kept reeling me in harder - Lee Won-geun and Jung Eunji's crazy chemistry, the Ji-soo/Lee Won-geun bromance, and even a villain I actually felt sorry for! Sassy Go Go is what happens when a high school drama does everything - and I mean everything, from writing, casting and directing, right down to costume design - right. I honestly wish we got more like it.

And someone pair up Eunji/Ji-soo in another drama or movie as OTP please!

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Aand it would'nt be a Sassy Go Go post of some kind without a comment from you, @pogo! And once more, ditto everything you said.
Can I just add how much I love the pic Saya chose for the collage? The one for SGG, I mean. Its the " If he cheats, come to me" moment. What a perfect choice, a moment when our three leads where perfectly happy and in sync with each other. One of my favorite scenes.

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yeah, that scene (and the two that came before it) just kills me in the best way.

And this is easily my favourite love triangle of all time ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥. Which is amazing considering I didn't want it to happen at first, and didn't actually think it would till halfway through the drama!

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Speaking of the collage, I wonder if any of @Omomo's lovely SGG headers have made it into rotation? I think I'll die a little inside if they ever show up on top of a db page :)

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oop, I meant *Lee Do* of Splish Splash Love.

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Also, my personal Best Of 2015 has been switched around again thanks to a certain recent short drama, so it's now something like this:

1. Heard It Through the Grapevine
2. Sassy Go Go
3. Splish Splash Love.
4. Angry Mom.

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@ pogo, Go Go!

Is Splish Splash Love really good? I've not seen the male lead (from some group?) projects before but I like the ghost from Oh My Ghostess.....

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It is! Trust me, Yoon Doo-joon is THE perfect match for Kim Seul-gi, he may be an idol but he's just as good an actor as any of the non-idol actors in his age range (and better than some).

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Wow thanks! I'm definitely going to check it out!

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That certain recent short drama is creeping up to the top of my fav list too and I'm conflicted inside because of that "Can I add this drama?", "But it's a short drama.", "Ahh I don't know I just love this drama THE END." xD

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lmao, throw in a few random squeeee distractions every time I thought of the OTP and you just described my thought process exactly!

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Yes I can't wait for another JiSoo project! Looks like he's confirmed to appear as the 14th Prince in the remake of that humungous Chinese hit "步步惊心" called MoonLover to be aired 2nd half of 2016.

I'm also waiting (in)patiently for Won Geun's next project!!

Indeed Sassy Go Go was the breakthrough for Lee Won Geun just like Angry Mon for JiSoo.

Looking forward to watching these young talented actors soon!

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I REALLY hope the Bu Bu Jing Xin remake isn't a disaster, and that it at least gives Ji-soo something different to do.

It's all too easy to waste career momentum with a wrongly chosen project or two, and I wish his agency took the same approach to choosing his projects as they did for Lee Joon (who followed up the role of the creepy serial killer in Ga-dong by playing a wimpy but sweet teenage boy in Heard It Through the Grapevine). He's too young to be typecast :/

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Agree! I, too, don't have good impressions of remakes, be it Chinese to Korean or Japanese to Korean or anything else (I'm looking at you Nodame Cantabile growl). You'll never be able to copy success and nuances like that. There is no exactly similar culture, society, history or even the sceneries. Things that touch a Japanese's heart may not touch a Korean's. Things that Japanese see as cute/funny/sad/touching are different from Koreans too.

Hence, Nodame-Japan being a huge hit does NOT equate to Nodame-Korea automatically being a hit. Too many differences in both countries and society and history and culture. Hell the producers and directors are different with different tastes.

So BuBuJingXin is still a huge unknown and seriously although the premise sounds really good in China, I really wonder how this is going to work out in Korea context. BUT, if JiSoo is inside, I'll try checking it out.

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I swear I keep finding myself replying to your comments but I just can't help it cause they're always so spot on hahaha. In a high school drama where most guys are potrayed to be jerks Kim Yeol was such a fresh character. And what you said about being hooked right away is so true.

My top 3 dramas this year I think is easily SGG, Angry Mom and Healer. With Angry Mom, despite having longer eps it was still pretty fast paced but the first few eps could have easily put people away cause it took me and my family quite a while to get sucked in too, it just felt very heavy from the get go and it takes some time to get used to the mix and match tone of Angry Mom. Healer - honestly I loved it, I remember loving every bit of it, but I can't remember why... after reading the year end reviews I'm starting to recall but it's still quite a blur. I guess it has been covered up in my brain by all those exams and tons of other dramas I watched after it (took quite a break from kdrama during the later half of 2014 so I ended up watching plenty of them in 2015).

I can't say Sassy was better than the other two, but to me it felt like trying out something so new and so fresh that it can't be compared. I mean really, it had it all!!! From the things you mentioned, I mostly appreciated the fact that it had a villain I didnt only not hate too much but I actually cared about - because I have seen lovely romance and bromance, but a villain like that is a rare gem. okay, Chae Soo Bin's puppy like face really did help a lot in me always wanting to hug Soo Ah but point remains valid.
And now I know we've talked often about how it failed to go cliche at every twist and turn, but now that you bring up the love triangle I am starting to remember how great that arc was too. It was handled so neatly and fitting for a bunch of 18 year olds. A crush is no reason to break your friendship. Before watching SGG I did read a little bit of episode 9's recap quickly and as I started watching, I really thought I had read wrongly abt there being a love triangle because I didn't see it coming and I really did not want it to happen. I thought Ha Joon was gonna go embark a twisted angsty relationship with Soo Ah (not necessarily a romantic one) where they'd realise how the world is jot mean to them alone only and kdrama laws would so easily assume it would have dong jae, the longtime friend that would start realising his love for yeon doo too. But then it went a different way and once again I was totally cool with it and I really enjoyed seeing the broken girl have a guy who seemed to not have much worries watch her every step of the way and gave her attention in the manner she maybe never thought she needed. Plus, the other thing that kept me happy while watching is that we didn't have to watch the girls fight over a guy. Heck, it happens way too often and it degrades female characters so much that I hate seeing women fight over guys so so much and I'm glad they had...

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... none of that. The drama was short and sweet but I seriously would not have mind a couple more episodes with more friendship between Yeon Doo and Soo Ah. These girls oozed out chemistry everytime they faced off, but their little moments at the beginning (singing together) and silly messing around and little chats at the end of the drama seriously left me wanting more more more. Kdramas are in desperate need of better girl friendships.

And darn, the more I read people's comments the more I wanna try Splish Splash. Kim Seul Gi looks adorbs in it. Guess will try it after new year's holiday.

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I agree on the tone of Angry Mom, the first few episodes took quite a bit of getting used to because it went SO dark, you know? Sassy Go Go also had a surprising amount of darkness at its heart, but kept its focus on how friendship can save anyone, from the ones who look like they don't need it and are perfect already (Yeol) to the ones who might reject it but actually need it most (Soo-ah).

Plus I liked the focus on a comparatively realistic issue - once you peel back the veneer of it being a cheerleading drama, it's really about kids learning to navigate high school and deal with the attendant pressures. Which is why I'll never agree with anyone who says it was low-stakes - as if grades and college applications are not a huge deal to high school students! Not to mention learning to navigate high school in general. I also loved Yeon-doo and Soo-ah's relationship, and that their conflict never had anything to do with a boy was so refreshing. It's very, VERY rare to see two actresses go at it that way, Jung Eunji and Chae Soo-bin killed it in their scenes together.

And the cast really made it. So many high school dramas have had a strong script marred by subpar acting (I can never really love Dream High for this reason), but Sassy had the strongest cast I've seen since the days of Answer Me 1997.

oh, and re: love triangle, one final minor clarification - remember the campfire scene in ep 9 when Ha-joon gets asked about his first love? The kids weren't asking WHO his first love was, but rather WHEN (which he couldn't answer because it was obviously right now for him, with Yeon-doo). Damn Dramafever and its wrong subs! We almost lost Ha-joon's final line and the continuation of the 'if he cheats on you, come to me' joke thanks to them too.

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The Blue Castle is the absolute perfect pick for Twenty Again's soulmate. ?

I loved all of your dramaland picks, and if the rest of your book picks match up as well as Tweny Again and The Blue Castle do . . . I have some awesome books to check out. Thanks for the recommendations!

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okay, so i'd been hearing SO. MUCH. about kill me heal me in all the year end reviews and in all the comments, that i downloaded the whole series a few days before christmas. started it on christmas, and am already halfway through. a little lightheaded and fuzzy from the 2-day marathon, which was filled with far too little physical activity and way too much junk food/hot chocolate, but now i know what people were raving about. ji-sung is amazing, and who knew shin se-gi would have such hilarious moments!?

i still wouldn't have included kill me heal me in my personal top 5 faves for the year, but it's certainly plenty entertaining, and i'm kicking myself for enduring jekyll & hyde when this was the other alternative. i remember switching off really fast when i saw the awful usa-based scenes in the first episode, and never gave the show a proper chance... bad me.

i tried really hard to get into angry mom, but i couldn't handle all the violence in it. i'm a wuss :(

for 2016, i'd love to see more thrillers, along the lines of stuff like god's gift and i remember you. i LOVE thrillers, and sadly it's not an oft-tackled genre in kdramaland...

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Wow! These were also my 5 favorite dramas of the year. I even liked your special mentions. Missing Noir M just lacked a little something in character development that kept it from a top spot for me. I guess I am also one of the few who watched Pride and Prejudice. I really enjoyed it until the very end, where I thought it fell apart slightly. I haven't watched Last yet, but considering how much I liked your other picks, I think I will have to!

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Very good review on Healer and Twenty Again! I was not interested in I remember you before, but your review makes me want to start watching it. Thanks!

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Saya, if asked to pick 5 shows this year, I too would have picked these! (If one considers Pinocchio a 2014 show- if not, then replace Angry Mom with Pinocchio :P).

I loved that you gave time to each review and said everything that I have been wanting to hear in these year- end reviews.

Plus thanks for the book recommendations. I am a bookworm myself (or actually, WAS, because kdramas have made me change my obsession) and I am definitely going to read these books :)

Oh and I saw what you did there. You very intelligently managed to talk about Kill Me Heal Me, Missing Noir M, OMG, Last and Pride and Prejudice, apart from the favourite 5. Hats off to you! :D

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Yes! Thank you for picking these five. With which, I totally agree with your choice. And, the points that you've identified in each drama are also what I found and loved in them.

Your writing is absolutely superb, as expected of the DB gang. What a gang! One reviewer gave us food for the tummy and you gave us food brain.

Thank you so much for the 'soulmate' reading materials.

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I'm so glad someone wrote about Angry Mom!!! It was my favorite this year and I thought it was going to get skipped over <3

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I loved that you found a book for each of the show. I have neither watched all these shows, nor read all these books. Holidays should be good with these.

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Yay! I really enjoyed your picks. Especially someone who appreciates Lee Won Geun's charm as the lead just as much as I did. I fell in love with him and the bromance. Ji Soo was good too but the show would not have been half as addicting without that eye smile making my heart flutter each week.

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Lovely review. Truly enjoyable to read.

While I watched only 3 of your 5 picks, it was fantastic to read your impressions about all of them. 2015 certainly gave us some good stuff.

Thank you for your reviews and recaps. Have a Happy New Year!

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'I want for next year is for some of those ten-a-penny dramaland geeeeniuses to be WOMEN.'

+100

SOMEONE FINALLY SAID IT

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Saya , I love love your writing ! A wonderful review from you . Sassy Go Go was one of my favourite drama this year . Lee Won Geun deserved the lead role he got in Sassy :)
Suddenly reminded how I would watch the drama 30 minutes before I go to school . I just can't wait to see those eye-smile from him and Ji Soo too . I have never done that with other dramas . I hope that a high school drama like Sassy will be written again and with casts that have awesome chemistry too .

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Saya dear, yes. three of my favourite KD in your list:
1. Healer
2. I Remember you.
3. Twenty Again (TA now speedily will be overtaken by "Remember War of the Son".)
loved the way you brought out Cha Youngshin's fearless, faithful, frank character. without PMY as CYS, this OTP cannot fly.
loved what you said about, "Aside from being touchingly, achingly sweet, they were a couple who made time feel precious. They loved fiercely, trusted instinctively, respected unequivocally, and it was magic." yes, they loved fiercely, trusted instinctively, respected unequivocally", you nailed it exactly.
why should anyone think if a drama scores in romance, in delivering a great relationship with perfect casting of OTP, means it "shallow"? why should anyone loved a great love relationship be "not so indepth, be superficial?". while Healer gains much beanie scores, and fandom feverish, the anti-murmurs also rises. was warm to read again someone (as recappers yourself) truly know Healer's worth, and it really "NOT ABOUT JI CHANG WOOK".

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No one wrote about 'She was pretty' on dramabeans for year end reviews. I wonder why? Is it because that drama has to little to talk about/ not much significant stuff to talk about?

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She Was Pretty got stuck in the editorial meetings. the best thing about it was Shin Hyuk... and maybe Mamma mia...

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I have to agree that Shin Hyuk was an unexpected surprise.

"Mamma mia"----- oh my gosh, those hats/hair decorations! *laughing*

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IKR! Regardless of how outstanding Shin Hyuk is in this drama, I think it is still a good drama overall. However, on the meter level, it is not on the 'very good' nor the 'very bad' side of things but more of the 'good' side, which makes it quite, erm, negligible, like 'Producers'. I think SWP is better than Producers though.

I am quite surprised that this drama is left out from the reviews as the response on dramabeans from the beanies was quite positive, and dramabeans editors seemed to like it too!

It seems that Sassy Go Go is a pet fav among the editors (of course, Healer is still the most popular, i think). I shall check it out!

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I'm still reluctant to check out She Was Pretty and I was expecting to read about it with the year end reviews, but none so far. I guess then She Was Pretty was an enjoyable and decent drama but nothing too special to write about?

Hope you have fun with Sassy Go Go. It may be a little bit of a hit or miss for different people but it seems like those who liked it (like myself) really did thoroughly enjoy. So I hope you enjoy it! It's only 12 eps and I found the pace plenty good that it's just short and sweet, nice to finish in one go.

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@deebs - She Was Pretty started off really good (if you ignore the male lead acting like a total ass to the female lead) - the acting and writing were solidly on point for several episodes.

But then it sorted out its central issue and just completely deflated, it was basically running on dregs of story for the last 4-5 episodes. By the end it was just like any old kdrama, nothing to write home about except some really good acting. So yeah, it landed in the camp of 'unmemorable' for me, nothing special about it.

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