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[2019 Year in Review] Memorable characters of 2019

Characters frequently determine how much I enjoy a drama. Even a bad drama can keep me invested if I find the characters interesting or likeable enough. Although there were only a few dramas this year that truly had an impact on me, I realized that there were a host of characters that left an impression. Whether they were hilarious, strong, lovable, complicated or downright strange, they stayed on my mind long after the drama was over. So this post is dedicated to those memorable characters from this past year that kept me hooked.

 
Quirkiest of the bunch

These aren’t your typical cutely quirky characters we get in many a drama. No, these people are straight-up weird, and I’m here for it.

 

Im Jin-joo and Son Beom-sooBe Melodramatic

From a drama filled to the brim with fantastic, quirky characters that feel lived in, I feel like Jin-joo (Chun Woo-hee) and Beom-soo (Ahn Jae-hong) come as their own bizarre set. Their romance was certainly one of the stranger ones I’ve seen, but their weirdness made them an oddly compatible pair. Whether they were refusing to acknowledge the awkwardness in the air after a night of drunkenness or Jin-joo was whipping a guitar out of nowhere and “serenading” Beom-soo with his ex’s song, their scenes were frequently hilarious. I honestly can’t say that I always liked them, but I always appreciated their uniqueness. I love seeing unconventional characters on screen, and these two definitely fit the bill.

Director Kim Sang-sooBe Melodramatic

Although he was a minor character, I always enjoyed Director Kim’s (Sohn Seok-gu) scenes. This dude cracked me up. He was such an oddball with his hilariously misplaced dramatic pauses. I loved his reluctant friendship with fellow director Eun-jung. A scene that illustrates his unique character is the one in the picture above in which he spontaneously offers Eun-jung a hug since hugs are “… [dramatic pause] warm.” A minute later a kid jumps into his arms for a hug and the look he throws Eun-jung as he whispers “warm” just killed me.

Veronica ParkThe Secret Life of My Secretary

The embodiment of extra, the awwwwwesome Veronica Park (Kim Jae-kyung). What a scene-stealer. While her privileged upbringing made her cluelessly self-centered, she never comes across as unfeeling or intentionally rude. Her harmless nature makes her endlessly entertaining dramatics more cute than anything else. Despite being so extra as to be practically a caricature of herself, there’s a genuineness to all her antics—she wears her heart on her sleeve. It’s a wonder how such a loud, over-the-top character could be immensely entertaining without veering into obnoxious territory. Props to Kim Jae-kyung because this character could have gone horribly wrong in less capable hands.

 
Go on with your badass self

Over the years, dramaland has gotten much better with diversifying its female character types and making them less damsely. But these women are on another level. They’re not the damsel—they’re the knights in shining armor fighting off dragons. Scratch that. They’re the dragons.

 

Lee Yeon-seoAngel’s Last Mission: Love

The highlight of this show was undoubtedly the incredible performance by Shin Hye-sun as cold, chaebol heiress Lee Yeon-seo. In a fun gender-reversal, she’s the tsundere who gets a sunny, literally angelic male lead to help her out of her hard shell. Yeon-seo is not just cold, she’s downright hostile at the start. I’ve rarely, if ever, seen a female romantic lead be allowed to be so unpleasant. But what kept her from being unlikable was Shin Hye-sun’s deft touch. Yeon-seo’s loneliness and fear shone through, giving her a vulnerability that made you root for her to overcome her trauma and self-isolation. As she starts to let her guard down and rediscover her passion, you can’t help but admire her tenacity and strength.

Mo Seok-heeGraceful Family

Mo Seok-hee (Im Soo-hyang) turned out to be one of my absolute favorites of the year. What makes Seok-hee so special is her tough-as-nails yet empathetic persona. She is unapologetically herself and refuses to back down from what she believes is right, no matter the cost. Seok-hee’s brazen approach garners respect and disbelief in equal measure, but girl gets results. Regardless of how many times she gets pushed down, she comes back up swinging. Somehow, despite her horrible chaebol family and tragic circumstances, she’s warmhearted and kind. Watching her fearlessly go toe-to-toe with those much more powerful than her, all while looking fabulous, will make you wish you were half as cool as her.

Gu Hae-ryungRookie Historian Gu Hae-ryung

By far my favorite role of Shin Se-kyung’s, Hae-ryung came out the gate as a woman ahead of her time. Despite everyone trying to convince her she needed to underplay her intelligence to secure a husband (ugh), she decided to go ahead and become one of the first batch of female government officials instead. Her determination, self-respect and bravery in simply refusing to be anyone but herself, even if that meant going against powerful people to stand for what she thought was right, earned her the respect of those around her. She was a quiet badass, if you will. She wasn’t loud or glamourous, but she held her ground when it counted and didn’t let anyone sway her.

 
Who’s bad?

It’s always nice when we get villains who do more than laugh maniacally and give grandiose monologues about their twisty plans. When done right, villains can be some of the most intriguing characters. The following three antagonists stood out to me for their different representations of “evil.”

 

Seo Moon-joHell Is Other People

Who knew Lee Dong-wook could be so creepy? Moon-jo is definitely the most straightforward villain on this list, but he never felt flat despite being your standard serial killer (since that’s a thing now). Every time he uttered his signature “jagi-ya” (term of endearment like “honey”), I got the creeps. His unnerving smile and soft mannerisms made his heinous acts even more unsettling. That’s how you do a conventional villain right.

Mo Tae-kangWhen the Devil Calls Your Name

Despite technically being an evil supernatural being, Mo Tae-kang (Park Sung-woong)—or more accurately the being possessing Tae-kang’s body—is interestingly the most ambiguous villain on this list. Sure, he made Faustian deals with people to steal their souls, but he didn’t exactly feel “evil.” He even got a bromance with Ha Rib! Not to say Tae-kang didn’t commit unethical acts, but as we learn more about his history, it becomes clear his actions serve as a rebuke more out of disillusionment than evil intent. Now if only he could’ve done that without stealin’ souls.

Han Je-gookGraceful Family

As the power behind the powerful, what made Han Je-gook (Bae Jong-ok) an interesting adversary was her firm belief that she was in the right. She saw what she did as necessary to maintain the status quo. So she might engage in coverups or frame innocent people occasionally—small price to pay for the sake of maintaining the power structure. She didn’t create the system; she just took advantage of it since she was able. She was typically the smartest and most capable person in the room, and everyone knew it. Although her lack of ethics was disturbing, there’s no denying her impressive ability.

 
Poignant journeys

The following three women stand out for their poignant stories of love and loss. Breaking free of the past or self-imposed suffering isn’t an easy task, especially when you’re not sure you want to. But with a whole lot of strength and the support of loved ones, it may just be possible.

 

Lee Eun-jungBe Melodramatic

Eun-jung’s (Jeon Yeo-Bin) struggle to move past the death of her boyfriend was heart wrenching. Her grief manifested as hallucinations of her dead boyfriend she would talk to throughout the day, to the distress of her family and friends. For me, one of the most affecting scenes was when she was going through documentary footage and saw herself on camera talking to thin air. It’s one thing to be aware no one else can see your boyfriend, but it’s another to be confronted with the image of that from the outside. Her grief and subsequent mental health struggle were sensitively portrayed without being romanticized or pitying. And it was great to see a drama actually promoting therapy alongside the support of family and friends.

Oh Jung-sookWhen the Camellia Blooms

The character that stuck with me most from this drama was the heroine’s mother Oh Jung-sook (Lee Jung-eun). Her character was shrouded in mystery for much of the drama, but it’s clear from the start her backstory will be a painful one. She was plagued by one misfortune after another, and I was rooting for her and Dong-baek to repair their fraught relationship and bring each other some comfort. Thanks to Lee Jung-eun’s emotionally resonant performance, Oh Jung-sook is a character I won’t soon forget.

Kim Hye-jaThe Light in Your Eyes

Whew, this one got to me. From the start, I was pleasantly surprised by the way it highlighted how society dismisses the elderly through the lens of a 25-year-old trapped in the body of a 70-year-old. But then the big reveal hit, and I was not prepared. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that I thought the way things played out was wonderfully done and made Hye-ja into a character I will long remember. Strong performances from Han Ji-min and, especially, Kim Hye-ja helped make this beautiful story a standout for me.

 
What could’ve been

Dudes with tragic pasts have never been lacking in dramaland. You know the type. They’re often complicated and misunderstood with hidden vulnerability and loads of paaain. They’re “good at heart,” although life’s unrelenting misfortunes may have taken care of that. They also have an uncanny ability to doom themselves through poor decision-making.

 

Mo Wan-sooGraceful Family

I enjoyed Mo Wan-soo’s (Lee Kyu-han) character from the start, but I didn’t expect his story to be so affecting. He was overlooked in favor of his more well-behaved, moldable younger brother and deprived of affection from a young age. His natural sensitivity made him particularly vulnerable as he strove to survive in his cold household. In the face of his family’s hostility, he cultivated a carefree persona and used his flippant demeanor as armor. At the very least, all Wan-soo truly wanted was the love of his mother, so it was hard to watch her blatant favoritism and casual cruelty towards him. There has to be a happy chaebol family in dramaland at some point, right?

Baek Yi-hyunNokdu Flower

Baek Yi-hyun’s (Yoon Shi-yoon) journey to the dark side was riveting and heartbreaking. He started out with noble intentions, earnestly fighting on the side he thought was right for the good of the people. But war changed him, and he was never able to rid himself of the horrors he’d been forced to take part in. Wanting to return to his more innocent self, he struggled to fight the newfound darkness that had taken hold, but some changes can’t be undone. His story stuck with me, thanks in large part to Yoon Shi-yoon’s nuanced performance.

King Yi HeonThe Crowned Clown

While I never felt fully invested in the Clown’s arc, the same can’t be said of the King’s. Yeo Jin-gu does dramatic roles like nobody’s business, and this was no exception. He acted the hell out of King Yi Heon. Despite being a pretty awful human by this point, you couldn’t help but pity this broken, young king who was unimaginably lonely and frightened. Repeated assassination attempts and betrayal drove the once well-intentioned king to paranoia, and as he spiraled deeper into despair (and his drug addiction), he became unrecognizable. He’s easily the most memorable aspect of the drama for me.

 
Why so lovable?

You know those characters that are just so cute it makes you want to pinch their cheeks? Often squishy and always endearing, you can’t help but smile when they’re on screen.

 

Chun Deok-guSpecial Labor Inspector Jo

I knew from the moment Deok-gu’s (Kim Kyung-nam) face crumpled and he started sobbing upon seeing his favorite high school teacher again that I loved this kid. He may technically be a gangster running an illegal business, but he’s the squishiest little gangster that ever could. This kid is loyal to the max, and his love for his teacher knows no bounds. He and his adorable team even lent their skills to aid Deok-gu’s beloved teacher in bringing the baddies to justice. This makeshift family with Deok-gu at its center brought a lot of heart to the drama.

Do Min-ikThe Secret Life of My Secretary

Do Min-ik (Kim Young-kwang) is the type of character whose likeability greatly depends on the actor playing him. Thankfully, Kim Young-kwang is awesome and rather than coming off as cringey or a spoiled man-child, Min-ik instead came off as an adorable, slightly clueless puppy. His sheltered, privileged life may have made him a wee bit entitled, but unlike many a chaebol, he isn’t cold or belittling. Quite the opposite, as he’s naturally warm and good-natured. And we all know that finding a squishy chaebol in dramaland is like finding a unicorn.

Lee So-minBe Melodramatic

Bizarrely straight-forward yet hard to read, actress Lee So-min (Lee Joo-bin) was frequently misjudged to be vapid and rude by those around her. Even her college friend Eun-jung mistook some of her behavior as due to entitlement rather than her blunt and aloof personality. Although high maintenance and pampered, she is surprisingly endearing beneath her misunderstood exterior. I found So-min refreshing in her almost childlike tendency to say (or act on) what she felt or thought without calculation. That’s a rare quality.

 
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