21 times Oppa let me down (Bad dramas I have watched)
- Big. Gong Yoo and the Hong Sisters wonder writing duo! What could go wrong? *Waits for laughter to subside* Mind you, this was before it became apparent the Hong Sisters had lost their mojo and possibly their minds, so the answer to that question was not quite as obvious as it is now, filtered through the embittered lens of hindsight and disappointment. This was Gong Yoo’s first post-army drama and first drama in years since Coffee Prince, so what were we gonna do, not watch it? The Hong Sisters had 7 hits in 7 years—we weren’t crazy for thinking Big would be big! It was, however, not. This was a hard life lesson learnt, that the things you trust in will, inevitably, fail you.
- Warm and Cozy. Well, I didn’t say that life lesson was learnt quickly. Maybe the bigger takeaway from this was that hope still wins out in the end, because the Hongs followed Big with Master’s Sun, and suddenly we were all astir with cautious optimism that Big was a fluke, and that Warm and Cozy would be a return to form. Sadly, it was the WRONG FORM. I couldn’t stay away even despite my misgivings, because Yoo Yeon-seok had crushed my heart in Answer Me 1994—or rather, Answer Me had crushed my heart on his behalf—and here was a sure bet that he’d get the girl and soothe my ruffled spirits. Alas, by the end of this my spirits didn’t even care. #Chilbongie4eva
- Doctors. I love Kim Rae-won. He’s a warm, natural, genuine, charismatic, and just plain appealing actor and I’ve never found him unlikable. WELL I GUESS THERE’S A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING. Doctors was a breezy reunited-lovers romance with a slice-of-life feel and an assertive modern heroine that should have been a cotton-candy watch. But then you made Kim Rae-won fall for his student while he was her teacher and then fall for her again when he was her boss, and made him say greasy pick-up lines with a straight face, and because he’s such a good actor whom I usually find convincing, Kim Rae-won basically became icky to me. I watched this meandering plotless thing for Oppa, but then Oppa gave me the creeps.
- Joseon Gunman. This show wasn’t terrible. I even thought it worked in parts, and it had some amount of plot logic and appeal. But: It’s Lee Jun-ki! Doing action scenes in period attire! On a revenge mission! Shooting guns in Joseon! Working a new false identity every episode! With gorgeous cinematography! You just… expect better. Watching Joseon Gunman is like getting excited because your special someone hyped up your anniversary for weeks and told you to get dolled up for a special night out, and then took you to the Olive Garden.
- Scholar Who Walks the Night. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s not particularly shocking to find Lee Jun-ki in dramas I find subpar, because I see now that Oppa likely picks projects for their acting potential and possibility of expressive range, and perhaps less for overall big-picture reasons like being a decent drama. But taking away what we know now, think of Scholar Who Walks the Night as a popular webtoon property with beautiful characters and an existing youth fanbase not unlike Moonlight Drawn By Clouds, and factor in Lee Jun-ki, in all his ethereal elfin beauty, playing a tortured vampire with a conscience. COME ON! How were we to know this show would spend all their money on ubervampire Gwi’s wigs and have none left over for a writing team, leading to the first K-drama ever penned by a cadre of monkeys?
- Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. Okay, Oppa didn’t let me down here, exactly. Oppa was in fact the one true thing about this drama, the best and probably only reason I found it so gripping in all of his emotionally charged moments, which were unfortunately scattered in between large swathes of mindless tedium, jarring tonal shifts, abysmal acting, and close-up shots up IU’s nostrils. So strictly speaking, Oppa didn’t let me down in Moon Lovers, because Moon Lovers let Oppa down—but somehow those two concepts become conflated in my mind, so that for me, Moon Lovers equals Lee Jun-ki plus disappointment.
- Criminal Minds. There’s a pattern here! See if you can spot it.
Fyi, not gonna stop watching Lee Jun-ki dramas. #Iregretnothing #thatsalie #butloveovercomes
- Uncontrollably Fond. I’m so sad that this is the last Kim Woo-bin project we will have for the foreseeable future. (Cries.) He certainly did all the heavy lifting in this show, but as that mostly entailed being alternately miserable, repressed, and an ass, it did not show him at his most charming—although, to be fair, a certain amount of the charm did seep through anyway, since there’s no blocking that unstoppable force. It’s just, did he have to mope quite so much? Or be so self-defeating? Or DIEEEE?
- Entourage. I don’t care about the boys of this show, because I didn’t really expect much of them, but Jo Jin-woooooong, oof! What a lead balloon of a project to take on just as he was really taking off, after years and years spent in bit-part and side-character purgatory (remember how unepxectedly sweet he was as doofish Brutus in Sons of Sol Pharmacy?). He finally gained hardcore traction with a series of great roles—Tree With Deep Roots, A Hard Day, Signal—and then, he was gonna be so epic putting his spin on the pop-cultural phenomenon that was Ari Gold in Entourage… WAMP WAMP. Maybe one could argue that Jo Jin-woong wasn’t to blame for Entourage (there are so many other worthy targets of that blame), but I also think he fell short of the function of that character, mellowing him out overmuch, rounding off all the hard edges, and making him a little sad-sack-y. And what is Ari without all that douchenozzle swagger and hot air? Kind of a deflated little man, really.
- Secret Door. I’m sorry, Lee Je-hoon, for Secret Door… but also, you should be sorry to me, for Secret Door. Because I watched this whole damn snoozefest for you, and all I got was a three-month migraine from straining to stay awake. Yes, you were intense and captivating when the story made sense and had discernible direction, but not so much when you were falling in love with the side girl with no dimension instead of the awesome wife with the laser eyes and take-no-prisoners attitude at your side. Mostly, I’m still baffled at how they took one of the most thrillingly macabre, mysterious, and exciting bits of history and zapped all the interest out of it, and it certainly wasn’t Oppa’s fault that we got left with a flattened pancake of a story. But his performance notwithstanding, I would actually rather read history texts than watch this. I did actually read history texts rather than watch this.
- Records of a Night Watchman. Technically speaking, you could argue that Night Watchman shouldn’t be on this list because I didn’t actually watch it (above an hour). But, this list is about Oppa disappointments, and Jung Il-woo (my one true Iljimae!) disappointed me by being in this drama.
- Lie to Me. My days of following Kang Ji-hwan into the abyss are over (I most recently tried with Monster, but not that hard), but back in 2011 I was really excited about seeing him in a frothy rom-com with Yoon Eun-hye (now, talk about letting me down repeatedly) because he’s one of those actors who I think is just as great with comedic timing and physical gags as he is with weighty dramatic acting. But this opposites-attract, fake-relationship romance, which should have so been my catnip, was inexplicably boring and pointless, with episodes that never went anywhere or tried anything. Oppa lied, and there was no story.
- Level 7 Civil Servant. Given what a failure this show was, it’s hard to remember that there was, leading up to it, reason to be excited for it to be a joyful comic spy romp, having been based on the hit movie of the same name. And Joo-won was at this point coming off some major hits (Gaksital, Ojakkyo Brothers) and rising into his star, earning a name for himself as a good actor, before we realized how crap he is at romantic comedy. Make me cry snot-tears of grief or rage or despair, absolutely. But rom-com shenanigans? Not so much. Extra nope with this plot, which couldn’t even afford a cadre of monkeys and instead decided to string together plot points using the time-tested method of beer, darts, and Mad Libs. Never say we don’t have a sense of humor about it though.
- I Miss You. I have sadly had to retire Yoochun from Oppa status, but he’s one actor who crept up on me (metaphorically!) with every drama and did a good job each time, until one day I realized I’d seen everything he’d done without even trying. I Miss You seemed like a moody and possibly emotionally cathartic melodrama, and I’m a sucker for stories where something goes awry in a childhood romance and paves the way for a powerful reunion years later… but I wasn’t quite ready for that “something goes awry” to basically turn into misery porn. Yoochun did what he could to anchor the story in its relatable story of longing for redemption, but the story was determined to spin out of his control and into crazy wild possessive killer territory (sigh, maybe Yoo Seung-ho should also be considered the Oppa here—he has worse disappointments on his resumé, true, but I’d wised up by then and didn’t watch them) and I walked out of this show feeling a little traumatized.
- Poseidon. WHY DID I WATCH THIS SHOW. There is no reason to watch this show. I didn’t even think I liked Siwon that much when it rolled around, pre-She Was Pretty, pre-even-King of Dramas. But I guess I must have liked him way more than I knew, maybe deep down in my subconscious, probably sustained by the residual affection for two measly episodes of Story of Hyang Dan (admittedly great! But woefully short), because I watched every episode of this show about coast guards who… do coast guardy things. I don’t even know what happened. My mind is a blank. Revolutionary Love had better be good.
- Hwarang. I blame Park Seo-joon entirely for hooking me into watching Hwarang, enough to get me to stay with it but not being enough on his own to make it feel worthwhile. Which sort of feels like when a friend invites you to a party and drives you there, then leaves you to fend for yourself and you’re stuck at the snack table alone, wondering, “Uh, hello? What am I supposed to do now? At least I have my Cheetos.” To a lesser extent we can include Park Hyung-shik in this, except he was the second lead and I can assure you I wouldn’t have watched a silly, plotless sageuk just to see the second lead get his heart broken. Ergo: Park Seo-joon’s fault. For being so relatable and genuine, for making even thinly drawn characters feel alive, and for being unable, as a mere actor, to make up for all the other deficiencies outside of his control. Also, Oppa’s hair! Now, that was criminal.
- Emergency Couple. I blame Choi Jin-hyuk for having, up till this point, shown enough promise and charisma as a side character (I Need Romance, Gu Family Book, Heirs) to make me think he’d slip naturally into the role of a rom-com lead. Emergency Couple, which turned out to be way too angry to be a rom-com, was the show that made me realize he wasn’t as good as I’d thought; it wasn’t his fault his character was snappish and unlikable, but I felt let down that he didn’t somehow rise above it. Having your eyes opened can be a real pain sometimes.
- Air City. My OG Oppa! Lee Jung-jae was my first celebrity crush ever, back in the day with campus drama Feeling and then again the following year in Sandglass, in which he essentially created a whole new category for young, hot, rookie actors who have more screen presence than acting skill (yet): the brooding silent bodyguard. Then he did went away and became a big movie star, so when I heard he was finally returning to dramas, (1) I was beyond excited, and (2) it did not even begin to occur to me that the drama might be bad. Oh sure, now I know what I should have expected of a drama about an airport that was produced purely to promote an airport, but at the time I was promised Lee Jung-jae and Choi Ji-woo being chic and romantic with a dash of action and intrigue. I expected that promise to be honored. I was young and naive! What we got was way too little romance and intrigue, waaaay too much airport, and no point at all. I went back and rewatched Feeling to wash away the bitterness. (Upside: It worked!)
- Triple. We have established that I am not the fastest learner. Soooo, let’s just say that two years later came the same cycle of hype, squee, and deflated dreams with 2009’s aimless Triple. At the time, of course, it seemed so full of promise: Oppa’s back, now with more figure skating? Triple times yes. And you would think it would be hard to mess up this mix of talent: Coffee Prince’s director, Coffee Prince’s novelist and scriptwriter, Lee Jung-jae, Lee Seon-kyun, Yoon Kye-sang, and a totally rookie Song Joong-ki! But you know what happens when you mix together cookie batter with all those luscious chocolate chips and fancy ingredients, but you forget to add flour? YOU CAN’T FORGET THE STORY PART OF DRAMAS, FOLKS. THE WALLS FALL DOWN.
- Lucky Romance. I’m almost sorry to put Ryu Joon-yeol on my list of sad Oppas, because he was really very charming and unexpectedly funny in Lucky Romance (who knew he had such sharp and subtle comedic timing?), but I also blame him for making me watch the whole thing and sitting through that nonsense logic. Oppa tried, he really did, to make me believe that he was, at least, able to follow his own story, but in the end I was left perplexed and disgruntled.
- Strongest Chil-woo. This was one of the most bizarrely campy K-dramas I’ve seen, and while I have fond memories of the epic kitsch—Zorro Jesus Eric! Flaming bullwhips! Magic midnight transformations!—the show ended up losing a lot of its humor as it went on. And this kind of kitschy premise and look do not do well without a sense of humor. I stuck it through because Eric was doing the midnight avenger shtick with gusto (and also, a rookie Yoo Ah-in was a surprise scene-stealer), but that did little to mitigate the plot that grew flatter and the tone which grew drier the farther along we got.
But sometimes out of the muck grows a flower. Ahem: