[2018 Year in Review] Scrapbook escapades
by Guest Beanie
This year I spent less time watching 2018 dramas and more time catching up on old gems that I missed. Hence my pickings for 2018 hence are very slim. To liven things up, I’ve created a summery-vibe scrapbook (because it’s always summer here!) to commemorate my favorite K-dramas. (Currently airing dramas that have stolen my heart like SKY Castle, Red Moon, Blue Sun, Twelve Nights, and Boyfriend are not included because I don’t trust K-dramas until I’ve watched the end. See: Misty, Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food.)
Life on Mars was an adaptation done superbly well when most fell flat (see: Suits). In fact, it exceeded expectations by going above, beyond, and even further into intergalactic space. It was impossible to top the momentum it built but it charged forward, dished out surprises, and ended with a bang that made my head hurt. The ending left most confused, some even angry, but I loved every single microsecond of this riveting and almost hyper-realistic show that I’d sell my soul to get a second season. (Okay, not really. Second seasons and crushed disappointment scare me to bits. See: Mystery Queen 2.)
Life on Mars was a blend of reality and surrealism. A back-to-the-past dream world that was real. It featured thrilling action, a supportive squad, characters that went through actual development, Officer Yoon who deserves her own show, arcs that were adapted to Korean history, head-bopping ’70s and ’80s music, comedy that’d make the most sullen person laugh (silent hospital fight = gold), impressive acting on all fronts, and an experience that will make you question everything while it takes you for an intense ride.
This is the drama for me when people ask for non-rom-com recommendations. I’ve managed to rope in university peeps, oldies, teens, gruff I-refuse-to-like-anything people (my family!) and even those sustained solely by a diet of fluffy romances. It made summer 2018 such an enjoyable experience. Nothing else in 2018 comes close to the thrilling 4D experience it signs you up for.
Matrimonial Chaos flew beneath most people’s radars despite being a gem. The drama was a hard rock-lullaby: soothing at times and then unexpectedly real. It’s quiet, organic, blissful, contemplative, impressive, and utterly engaging. The drama was like a diary, detailing moments of vulnerability and the way cracks form in relationships when small, insignificant things pile up into mountains.
Both Sohn Seok-gu and Cha Tae-hyun did well nestling into their three-dimensional roles with a quirky bromance. Both Bae Doo-na and Lee El were a tour de force, immersing me in their lived-in performances. I’d crumple when they did, sniffle at their pains, understand their suffocating situations, question their decisions, and celebrate their happiness. Whether it’s simple dinner conversations, divorce parties, moments of joy–they’re all brilliant here. Even side characters like Halmoni and the families felt real with their own ambitions, fears, and problems to deal with.
The drama was never bogged down by divorce as a “sad situation.” Instead it was one of ambiguity, heart, breezy laughter, sincerity, and calmness. If I still haven’t convinced you, watch it for the unlikely female friendship between the exes. Where most dramas use the divorce as an opportunity for jealousy, hair-pulling, and manipulation, Matrimonial Chaos stands out by painting a heart-warming bond with lots of advice and sis-fists.
Mother ranks as the best 2018 drama in my books. It isn’t for everyone since it deals with child abuse and is very difficult to watch. But there aren’t enough words to describe how I felt watching it. It was an emotional rollercoaster, yanking me into the tough world of Hye-na and Soo-jin. It gets your blood pumping and mouth gushing with praise. The cinematography is art, each visual metaphor carefully chosen and every shot meaningful.
The characters of Mother are hypnotizing. Every possible form of motherhood, biological or not, is explored along with what makes one a stranger. I held my breath every time our main mother and daughter were in danger or in pain. There were so many times that I felt I needed to protect Hye-na’s childlike golden heart.
This drama is a powerful force to reckon with (a perfect 10/10) but must never be binged because the emotional burnout is real. It was the most visceral, blinding, and empowering drama to grace my screen and for that I’m thankful. But you must watch it yourselves and feel the emotions quivering inside you, waiting to burst. The dialogue is poignant, every scene perfect, the acting impeccable.
Veering away from the best, the grand honor for biggest 2018 disappointment was: *drumroll* Misty, a tantalizing show featuring one of the most morally ambiguous heroines ever.
Go Hye-ran was a charismatic news announcer who would stop at nothing for her ambition, including exploiting her family and connections. She had a complex, ruthless nature that knew no boundaries, coupled with a quick wit and tough façade that made everyone bow down to her. Every episode unraveled the bigger murder mystery, spilling secrets about our morally grey antihero. I was initially hyped up with adrenaline, awe, and curiosity as we constantly decoded her thought process while she was one step ahead.
That magnetism kept drawing me closer. That’s why I was crisped into ashes when the drama crashed and burnt as magnificently and spontaneously as it had begun. A “misty” ending indeed. Would I recommend this drama to anyone? Yes! The ending was horrible, its message disastrous and the loose ends were plenty to nitpick about. Yet Go Hye-ran, the five-star acting, and the masterpiece narrative before the ending were great. Watch it to be mesmerized by her power-hungry appetite, impeccable wardrobe, and stunning OST. Plus, I like to see others suffer at the end. *cue evil music*
Now onto the dramas that surprised me. Mr. Sunshine was one that I cautiously looked forward to but had zero hopes for. I was never a Lee Byung-heon fan and I never actively liked any of Kim Eun-sook’s works—I’d appreciate their killer OSTs (Goblin) or eye candy but never stuck to the end in anticipation. Especially since I found so many of her dramas problematic (Heirs). Mr. Sunshine, though, was incredible. Sure, it was languid in its pacing, kicking up only in the last quarter, but rather than dilly-dallying, I felt like I was immersed in a safari of sorts, stopping to view pivotal moments within the daily life that cruised by.
It’s a very slow drama and needed a much tighter hand script-wise but the atmospheric tension and cinematographic grandeur it crafts made up for it. It enveloped me in the story, making me care about the revolution: the tragic back-stories, their misplaced idealism, fears, guilt, and greed. The questions it raised about aristocracy and the status-quo made me question their individual motives. The cast was superb (Yoo Yeon-seok and Kim Min-jung in particular) and while not all the comedy hit the mark, there was plenty to laugh about (see: frustrated bromance). This is a drama to watch when you’re free. It calls for patience to appreciate the glory onscreen without rushing.
The other two dramas that surprised me were also from OCN. The Guest broke out in full force, the horror seeping from the screen in the grim darkness where the worlds of shamanism and exorcism collided. I barely watch K-drama horror but the gorgeous, suspense-filled teaser got me waiting for the premiere. Boy, did it not disappoint.
The fast-paced intensity that gripped you and scared you with the hundred possible ways to get possessed. The directorial hand was masterful in creating an eerie, anything-can-happen atmosphere. I’ll never forget some scenes, like the crow and the first shaman ritual. But it was really the acting, interwoven storyline, and characters that set it apart from other horror dramas out there. Every character took my breath away. Hwa-pyung scared me with his visions, Kil-young wowed me with her fearlessness, and Yoon’s exorcisms gave me the shivers then sent me into shock. This isn’t for the faint of heart, and you’ll probably never look at water being gulped down in the same way.
Mistress was an underdog that went unnoticed, but at twelve episodes it packed a serious, mind-swirling punch. With four lifelong friends experiencing um… outside relationships in the center of a murder, it’s a wild dash to figure out what’s going on, who murdered whom and how everyone is connected. The drama melds the past and present timelines together and introduces everyone in a shady light, making it difficult to connect anyone and pinpoint what really happened that night. Twists are carefully planned, hints left behind, and stakes amped up every episode. I loved the zingy thrill of it. It was so incredibly tight!
Finally, some love for my favorite special: to.Jenny, featuring some of the most addictively relatable songs (“Tiramisu Cake” and “Nonhyungdon Samgyeopsal”) where he sorrowfully sings about being the lone diner amongst couples. The two episodes are full of heart, youth, indie music, and laughter. The best part? The fabulous kid-diva Ok-hee who has a way better love-game than her Oppa. She’s such an adorable know-it-all. My advice is to watch it if you haven’t and relish the breezy ride about growing up, first loves, and chasing your dreams.
P.S. I’ll definitely watch the much-loved My Ajusshi. Give me time, I’ll make you proud.
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