[2019 Year in Review] The One Where…
Another year, another batch of dramas I fear I’ll never get to. What happened to the days when I would tune into every airing show? When my Watched list was longer than my To-Watch list? As I’m getting older and, subsequently, busier, I’m finding myself spending more hours re-watching sitcom Friends than exploring new dramas. With Friends, it’s something that’s in the background and easy to multi-task with.
Whereas, now, my favorite past times, such as YA novels, K-dramas, and *cough* serial killer documentaries, feel like procrastinating when I should be working. So you know the following dramas I’m about to discuss are special if I was able to squeeze them into my schedule. Maybe not “special” in the traditional sense, but they were certainly bright spots in my year. Even if they were God-awful.
My Strange Hero – The One Where Yoo Seung-ho Kicked Ass
Even in my twenties, I love a good underdog high school drama. While I also watched and liked A Beautiful World, a similar albeit darker drama, My Strange Hero was the one that stuck with me. It had all the elements I love — a sweet romance, a complex bromance, and, well, Yoo Seung-ho.
On top of all that, the drama’s strange and oftentimes random humor was just my style. The running gags of Jo Boa cursing and Yoo Seung-ho kidnapping his classmates made it that much easier to get through the dirty corruption and Eeeeevil Chairwoman/Mom. The ending left a lot to be desired, at least with Kwak Dong-yeon’s villain character. If they’d spent just a little more time on him, this could’ve been a near-perfect drama for me.
Kingdom – The One I Forced Other People to Watch
Oh yeah, this was that one drama I had everyone watching. My mom, my drama-watching friends, my non-drama-watching friends. I was pleasantly surprised to see the non-drama-watching folks genuinely interested not only in the zombie scenes, but the political ones as well. And I would smirk every time they reached the end of the last episode and demanded, “Where’s the next one?!” I’ve been asking Google that same question for almost a year now.
Korea just nails the zombie genre. I still remember watching Train to Busan in an independent movie theater and getting chills from the zombie extras’ performances. And to get something like that in drama form? Hell freaking yes. Kingdom’s zombies were so terrifying, especially in the open and vulnerable environment their victims were in. I’ve probably re-watched that one chase scene (you know what I’m talking about) more than a dozen times, and it never gets old. I’ll probably watch it a dozen more times before we get the next season.
Romance is a Bonus Book – The One With My Dream Job (and Dream Boyfriend)
The title for this one pretty much says it all. I was living through Lee Na-young’s character Dan-yi vicariously, for sure. She was in a very bad place in the beginning, and she had her hardships at work, but she made it through with her sunny disposition and affinity for the publishing industry. Then, of course, she had some colorful friends to cheer her up when she was too exhausted to cheer herself up. (Power pose!)
I already loved books, but after discovering alongside Dan-yi all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the publishing process, I developed a whole new level of appreciation. Being a writer myself, editors and publishers can seem incredibly intimidating, unapproachable even. And being in grad school, the literary world starts to feel more and more like cold, hard business. The Korean literary world is surely different from ours, but I really needed this drama and the warm way it portrayed Gyeoroo Publishing.
And yeah, I really needed Lee Jong-seok. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching his characters win over their noonas.
The Light in Your Eyes – The One With All the Tears
Oh man, this drama just tore me to pieces. I knew about the twist, and how sad it was supposed to be, beforehand, so I was nervous going in. And I was caught off guard by how funny the first episode was. I was thinking, “Wait, did I click on the right drama?” But then I started to pick up on things, make sense of things, and then boom: sobfest. It was a unique experience piecing everything together, one I’ve never had with a drama, or TV show in general.
If you haven’t seen The Light in Your Eyes, I’d say that it’s an important one to watch. It’s such a smart and beautiful take on life and the way we process it. I still think about Han Ji-min and Kim Hye-ja’s character and her wise words to this day. There were still a few things that left me confused, but I appreciated the writer for just laying it all out there for us to decipher. I’d go back to try to pick up even more hints, but I don’t think my poor heart could handle a re-watch. Even so, I’m grateful to have watched it at all.
Abyss – The One Where the Killer Couldn’t Kill
Okay, so I knew that this drama was a mess from the very first episode. Unfortunately, whenever I start a drama with a killer in it (which is, what, 75% of dramas these days?), I have to watch until all the mysteries are solved. At a certain point, with Abyss, I just didn’t care. I didn’t care about the characters, their romance, or hell, their fate with death. But I was too far in to quit, so I stuck it out and changed my mindset for sanity’s sake.
Once I changed the genre from thriller to comedy in my mind, the drama was ten times more enjoyable. I was laughing at all the ridiculous plot points, especially when the oh-so-terrifying killer was involved. He was just… oy. Still, I can’t help feeling sorry for the cast and crew — because this was one of the most disappointing dramas I’ve seen in recent years. I hope this talented group of people move on to better projects.
My Absolute Boyfriend – The One that Made My Inner Otaku Cringe
I’m a huge fan of the original 2004 Absolute Boyfriend manga. So, naturally, I was critical of every drama adaptation to follow, including the Japanese version, the Taiwanese version with Gu Hye-sun, and finally, the Korean version with Minah and Yeo Jin-goo. I was also critical of adaptations for manga Hana-Kimi (Korean version being To the Beautiful You), so… yeah. Maybe this is a sign that I should stop watching remakes.
I can understand when an adaptation wants to be its own thing rather than copy its source material, but when the end result comes out flat and lifeless, what’s their excuse? Perhaps these remakes can’t find the right balance of old and new, because I can see My Absolute Boyfriend being blah (for lack of a better word) to original manga fans and newcomers. I’m sure it didn’t help the drama to be stuck in development hell for so many years. Now, I kind of wish the drama had stayed in development until it was legitimately ready to be made.
Angel’s Last Mission: Love – The One that Should’ve Been Shorter
The first four to five episodes of this were crazy addicting. Shin Hye-sun was AMAZING as the cold, broken ballerina and L was… actually kinda good as the bumbling angel-out-of-heaven. Together, they had a hilarious rapport, which turned into a very sweet friendship and romance. In fact, their forbidden supernatural relationship carried many similarities with some of my favorite dramas, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho and You From Another Star.
Seeing hints of those tropes, I was excited to fall down that rabbit hole of emotions — to feel that heartbreaking angst of Dae-woong and Mi-ho or Min-joon and Song-yi. Unfortunately, the confusing theology and two-dimensional villains really bogged down the story. By the end, this felt like a charming five-episode drama that was needlessly stretched out to reach mini-series length. If I block out the last two-thirds of the drama, maybe someday I’ll be able to look back on the love story fondly. For now, I’ll just appreciate the superb acting.
One Spring Night – The One With the Horribly Catchy Music
What I remember most from this drama? The songs “No Direction,” “Spring Rain,” “Is It You,” and “We Could Still Be Happy.” I didn’t even have to look those titles up — they’re still locked away in the back of my mind, constantly playing like distant elevator music. Once I get past that, I remember one of the most real and heartwarming romances I’ve seen, maybe ever.
The pace was achingly slow, with a lot of brooding and confrontations, but there was never one moment where I wasn’t fully engaged in our characters’ story. More than a drama, it felt like a documentary on modern-day love. And when actors make you feel that you’re watching something real, you know they’ve done their job. With this and The Light in Your Eyes, 2019 was definitely Han Ji-min’s year.
Be Melodramatic – The One Where I Fell in Love with Chun Woo-hee
I’d only ever seen actress Chun Woo-hee in the movie The Wailing. And if you know her role in that movie, you’ll understand my surprise when I saw her as the hilarious and quirky drama writer Jin-joo. There were definitely times where she was over-the-top, hence the drama title, but for some reason, instead of annoying, I found it really cute and endearing. There’s just something about that girl’s smile — I can’t get mad at it.
I compared Be Melodramatic to the Age of Youth series quite a lot, and I still believe it’s the highest compliment I could give. I think these two drama series would be fun to watch back-to-back, as they go together so well. The characters in Be Melodramatic are obviously older, but their friendship rings the same, despite their busy personal and work lives. Some of the storylines played out differently than I expected, but hey, it is a slice-of-life drama. And life ain’t always predictable.
When the Camellia Blooms – The One Where My Heart Died Happy
FINALLY, KANG HA-NEUL OPPA GOT A FIRST LEAD ROLE. Hallelujah, amen. I’d been waiting for him to get a lead role since Angel Eyes. (Anyone else remember that drama?) And to be paired with Gong Hyo-jin and the rest of this amazing cast — I’m telling you, the stars were aligned. Though I would say that Romance is a Bonus Book was my favorite drama of 2019, Camellia was a very, very close second. I loved everything about this small neighborhood romance.
With the first episode, my heart was already full. Police officer Yong-shik and single mom Dong-baek were such lovable characters, and they eventually made up an adorable, funny, and supportive couple. But if that weren’t enough, the secondary characters and side characters had to go ahead and make me love them too! The overall sense of community was what made this drama the delight that it was. Whether it was the parent figures coming to eight-year-old Pil-gu’s rescue or the neighborhood ajummas coming to Dong-baek’s, the characters had each other’s backs. Just goes to show that a little love and hard work always tramples bad luck.
The Ones I Couldn’t Get To:
Arthdal Chronicles, Hotel del Luna, Rookie Historian Gu Hae-ryung, A Moment at Eighteen, Tale of Nokdu, Extraordinary You
May you find your way out of my To-Watch list in 2020.
Of course, thanks to the Dramabeans team, the drama community, and Beanies for keeping my love for dramas alive. I’ve been a recapping minion for three and a half years now (holy crow), writing about many hidden gems and colossal disappointments, and it’s been such a fun ride. I may abandon dramaland for Friends sometimes, but I always come back. I love y’all as much as Yong-shik loves Dong-baek. *finger hearts*
- [2019 Year in Review] My Top 20 Dramaland Moments of 2019
- [Theme of the Month] Your year in dramas
- [Theme of the Month] Family drama
- [Theme of the Month] The horror
- [Theme of the Month] Hey, that’s me (again)
- [Theme of the Month] Hey, that’s me
- [Theme of the Month] Villains
- [Theme of the Month] K-dramas and community