The Year in Review, Part 2: Thunderbolt’s hits and misses
[And now, please give your warm welcome to guest blogger Thunderbolt, who shares with us her year-end review! –javabeans]
Has this happened to you? You’re reading a book on the bus or train and all of a sudden you burst out laughing. Everyone’s staring but you can’t stop grinning. And all because that line you just read was so unexpectedly funny.
Here’s another scenario. You’re watching one of the hit kdramas of 2006 and after being entertained for the first eighteen episodes or so, you’re down to the last few episodes. And though you had been warned that it was going to be draggy from here, you had no idea how draggy. So now you’re climbing the walls. Your mood’s so foul from the plot shenanigans you want to hurl two cartons of rotten tomatoes at your TV screen.
That was my 2007. A year where I laughed and cried my way through dramas so good they made me even more of an addict. A year where I watched stuff that people were raving about and I shook my head and said, “Something’s seriously amiss with me because I. JUST. DON’T. GET. THE. HYPE.” I raved, I ranted, and just like that, a year has gone by. Here’s my “hits and misses” (how original a title, right?^^) roundup for 2007.
The best drama was one that I approached with some trepidation. Remembering how queasy I felt during the bloody scenes in two other 2007 medical dramas, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy White Tower as much as I hoped to. But I wanted badly to watch this for Kim Myung Min. I knew he had the acting chops but I had no idea he would be this good. He was so chillingly convincing it made me shudder. Could a surgeon this brilliant also be this crooked? How could he, who commanded the awe of his subordinates and the respect (no matter how grudgingly given) of his peers, stoop so low (literally) in order to achieve his highest goals?
What a ride White Tower was. There was nothing superfluous about it. Want romance? It isn’t here. First love, skeletons in closets from bygone years, and numerous other side plots? All missing from the script. I can’t even recall the music because the writing, acting and direction were so good everything else was secondary. At the center of it all was one man: the actor Kim Myung Min and the character he played, Dr. Jang Joon Hyuk. (Just writing the doc’s name makes me instantly teary.) And then the rest of the cast. Lee Sun Gyun whose deep velvety voice I didn’t even notice this time because I was too transfixed by the tighter-than-taut plot to do much swooning. Byun Hee Bong, Lee Jung Gil, Kim Chang Wan, Lee Hee Do, Cha In Pyo… A fantastic cast that lifted an already superb script to give us the best drama of the year.
Coming in second is The Devil. I prefer to call it by its Korean name, Mawang, because… well, “devil” just brings up all sorts of connotations which my mother doesn’t like. (See, mom, I’m not such a rebel after all.^^)
I didn’t expect Mawang to be so good. Granted it was by the same writer-PD combo of that masterpiece I loved, Resurrection/Rebirth. With the same awesome lead actor, Uhm Tae Woong. But surely nothing could top Resurrection in its genre. And then I watched Mawang. Dang! I shouldn’t have been in such a hurry to vote in dramabeans’ “How was 2007 for you?” polls. How could my original choice for best thriller or action drama come close to this? I love the premise of the plot: a mysterious mastermind orchestrating events as though directing a play. A “devil” bringing an unsuspecting cast on center stage to perform a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions, act after act after act. Everything, every little thing, just fitted together. The meanings of the tarot cards (gosh, I love all that symbolism!), the references to Dante and Rodin, the music that made my heart ached (only after I understood what the lyrics meant, lol), the unexpectedly strong acting of Ju Ji Hun, the joy of watching Uhm Tae Woong and Shin Min Ah in a comfy relationship without the teeth-gnashing theatrics that normally accompany unrequited love… I was spellbound from beginning to end.
The other night I was editing the subtitles for Mixed-up Investigative Agency. I pored over the subs line by line and then out of the blue I laughed out loud. It was one of Mu Yeol’s lines (the character played by Lee Minki). A few dozen lines later, it happened again because of something that Hee Kyung said (the fortune-teller character played so wonderfully by Ye Ji Won). I didn’t have to watch the video to enjoy the sparkling wit of the dialogue; just reading the subs on notepad was enough to make me grin and giggle. That is the wonder of this little gem, so unjustly underrated and thus loved all the more fiercely by those who can appreciate its charm and cleverness. Third best drama of 2007.
In fourth place is Time of Dog and Wolf. When I finished TODAW, I seriously thought of crowning it as my favorite of 2007. That was how much I enjoyed it (and because I hadn’t watched my top three yet). I thought I would die from the cliffhangers and having to wait one whole week to know what would happen next. The pace gave “pulsating” a new meaning, the music made my heart race and stop. But thrills aside (and TODAW executed those brilliantly in terms of suspenseful effect), I found the first few episodes boring and the plot initially farfetched. I couldn’t believe how incredibly easy it was for the Cheongbang Group or the NIS to outwit their opponents. Come on! But after the 6th or 7th episode, everything clicked and the drama took off. Lee Junki demonstrated again that he was an actor to watch. Although he overacted occasionally and could do without the numerous hairdo changes, his best moments in the drama gave me goose bumps. I hope he picks up an award or two for his role in TODAW.
Tying for fifth place: Dal Ja’s Spring and Surgeon Bong Dal Hee. I can give several “deep” reasons why I enjoyed these two dramas immensely (acting, plot, humor and so on) but I’ll just come straight to the point (even if it makes me sound utterly shallow… which I am) and name the two that really mattered to me: Lee Minki and Lee Beom Soo. Ha.
Herein begins my trembling…
And now for the ones that I didn’t get. As in they seemed widely loved but I didn’t get why they were so popular. And because I don’t understand their appeal (not fully) and am about to say why and thus provoke possible mass outrage, I’ll make this part as short as possible and then disappear. Maybe resurface with a new nick or something (although that might upset my namesake now frolicking in hamster heaven; RIP, thunderbolt…).
I watched Legend for four main reasons: Kim Jong Hak, Song Ji Na, Park Sang Won, and Choi Min Soo. Kim Jong Hak directed Eyes of Dawn and Sandglass, both written by Song Ji Na. I can go on endlessly about these two dramas (the dream cast, the sheer scale of production, the historical ripples, the heartbreak, etc.) but they are already so acclaimed I don’t need to. I loved Park Sang Won in Eyes of Dawn and he and Choi Min Soo were so good in Sandglass. And now both of them together with their Sandglass PD and writer were reuniting in Legend? Wow!
But something didn’t feel right from the start. I hated the first episode. The special effects felt amateurish and both Bae Yong Joon and Choi Min Soo made my hair stand with their creepy appearance (one all white flowing locks, the other so alien-like). I wailed when I saw Park Sang Won. Those dangling earrings!! He looked like a drag queen with a beard! Other things continued to niggle throughout the series. The Grecian attire of the priestesses and how their temple looked more Greek than ancient Korean. That mosquito-breeding (I swear those are larvae floating on top!) stagnant body of water around which the Goguryeo elders sat and yelled their heads off at each other. Dishy Chuh Ro’s original abode (before he became dishy) which looked like it came straight from that Disney staple, Beauty and the Beast. And the fact that he had a Darth Vader voice too (amazing how much echo you get from just wearing that mask). Jumuchi’s electrocuted hairdo (which I didn’t really mind because he was one of my favorite characters) and how quickly he and Dalbi fell in love (ah, that one I minded because it made no sense; hello, wasn’t she like just widowed?). The ordinariness of the four coveted symbols (one of them – I forgot which guardian it belonged to – looked particularly hideous). The ages of Dam Duk and Ho Gae (I about fell off my chair midway through the series when it dawned on me that Bae Yong Joon was playing a teenager).
I know. Artistic liberties and all. Stop griping. It’s a fantasy tale so cut it some slack. I honestly wouldn’t have minded so much if the writing was good. But it wasn’t and that was my biggest issue with Legend. This was the same Song Ji Na who wrote Eyes of Dawn and Sandglass? The plot felt loopy, the lines repetitive. I thought the story was headed in one direction (reuniting the four guardians and their symbols with the Joo Shin king) but the last few episodes took off like wayward horses and suddenly it was mostly politics. I won’t go into how I feel about the final episode since enough unhappiness has been expressed about it by even people who loved the drama.
But there were things I did like. The OST which I still can’t get enough of. Philip Lee who plays Chuh Ro with a presence that makes me do a double take and go slightly fangirly (just slightly, lol). Bae Yong Joon’s charismatic acting. His dedication despite his injuries. Lee Ji Ah who pulled off a surprisingly commendable performance after some act-y acting at the start. Choi Min Soo, black nail polish and bewildering “Now I’m wrinkled, now I’m not” transformations notwithstanding, who stole the show from even Dam Duk.
My final verdict? Legend’s quite good but there are much better period dramas out there.
Another drama that didn’t quite make it for me this year was Thank You. Which was a bummer because I really loved it for three-quarters of the series. It felt like a winner from Episode 1. Magical Blue Island. My favorite Gong Hyo Jin and Shin Goo (both of whom I first saw in that 2002 gem, Ruler Of Your Own World). Crackling chemistry between Jang Hyuk (who looked nothing like how I last remembered him in Please Teach Me English) and Choi Kang Hee. (Aside: I don’t understand when people say these two had no chemistry. I thought they had awesome chemistry! I thought he could never love another woman the way he loved her.) A winsome child actor whose acting made my jaw drop. Never mind that the medical scenes in the first few episodes were so sloppy and laughable (not that I laughed; I was too busy shielding my eyes from the blood that was splattering everywhere on screen). Never mind that this was written by Lee Kyung Hee whose last piece of work before Thank You was a real stinker. She did write Sang Doo! Go to School and Sorry I Love You, both of which I loved even if I thought the plots had a few holes. So I was cautiously hopeful. And I did feel so transported watching the first 12 episodes.
What went wrong then? I can’t pinpoint it exactly but starting from Episode 13 and especially in Episodes 14 and 15, I began to feel a growing dissatisfaction with Jang Hyuk’s character and with the writing (among other things). I found faults that weren’t apparent before. “Gee, stop posturing so much, Dr. Min!” It felt like Thank You had chosen to go down a very safe route, one that no longer held interest for me because I didn’t like how it left some things unresolved just so it could have that happily-ever-after ending that would please most people. I’ve read comments about how this drama was so uplifting and how it made you appreciate your loved ones, etc. But I didn’t feel uplifted at the end. I felt indignant and disappointed. I guess it’s my fault for switching affections midway and rooting for the second male lead instead of hottie Jang Hyuk. Don’t get me wrong. I liked Jang Hyuk and thought he delivered (for the most part). But oh, why did his character become so flat and predictable as the drama progressed?
Thus, after camping in the Thank You thread at soompi for weeks, I packed my bags sadly and left. Reading all the accolades there just made me feel so weird. Like my head needed examining because I was one of the rare few who couldn’t appreciate what made this a gem.
To end, 2007 was a great year for a kdrama addict. The ones I loved were really good and the ones I didn’t weren’t half bad at all. Thank you, sarahbeans, for your friendship and for the privilege of contributing a little something to your amazing blog.^^