[2019 Year in Review] My Top 20 Dramaland Moments of 2019
Everyone likes to close the year with lists and countdowns, so I thought I would bring that concept to my year in dramas. So, in no particular order, here are my top 20 dramaland moments of 2019. Fair warning: this list contains some in-drama moments and some personal drama-related milestones, but mostly just thoughts, feels, meta, and a side dish full of fangirling.
20. Books, books, and also books
Starting off my drama year with Romance is a Bonus Book was a pure delight. Dramas are often full of writers and writing, but it’s been a while since I met a drama that was so much about the love of books — every part of them, from the writing to the publishing to the reading. This drama breathed some new life into the English major bookworm that was in hibernation, and I love having a stack of books around me again, even if that means a couple less dramas (see #18).
19. I survived weecapping what’s probably The Biggest Drama Disappointment of 2019
Yes, I’m definitely talking about Melting Me Softly. And yes, I’m pretty sure everyone is done talking about this flop by now – and that includes me. Drama pitfalls aside, I actually had a lot of fun weecapping this drama, and wanted to thank everyone for all the stiff drinks, cookies, and awards that were offered over the course of several weeks in the comments. I enjoyed all of them.
18. Low quantity, high quality?
I didn’t watch as many dramas as I wanted to this year. While a good part of this is because writing about dramas takes up almost as much time as actually watching them, another more subtle reason is because I’ve been trying to manage my time better, and choose delicious quality dramas instead of devouring every drama in sight. Do I still want to devour them madly sometimes and spend a day binge-watching? Yes, I do. But I also want to cherry pick the dramas that make my heart explode. So, my drama year was very much about trying to find a good balance.
17. I made some new oppa friends
One of the many things I enjoy about following K-dramas is seeing actors make their way to stardom. Sometimes it’s one role and a rocket ship to leading man status, sometimes it’s a slow and steady progression of supporting roles that brought them to where they are today. In the past, I’ve loved seeing this with Jung Hae-in and Yang Se-jong (to name two faves), but this year, I’ve loved watching Wi Ha-joon, Jang Ki-yong, and Lee Jae-wook (among others) making their way. Some are in the skyrocket phase while others are still putting in hours, but these are some careers I look forward to following. More dramas, please.
16. The only way to know someone is to love them without hope
Every now and then there comes a hero that I love so much that it hurts. It goes beyond the actor and the story and drives into the very soul of the character, and that’s what happened with Kim Jae-young as Yoon Sun-woo in Secret Boutique. Kim Jae-young is finally getting some more roles and recognition — by gosh, I love him, and his performance as Sun-woo was one that will stay with me for a loooong time. I’m a sucker for stories of unrequited love and devotion, and the relationship between Sun-woo and heroine Jenny Jang was one for the books. The drama also chucked in a quote from Walter Benjamin that I’ve loved for ages (the title of #16), which was basically like the drama promising me I would love it through and through. And I did.
15. Product placement (PPL) round-ups
Writing regular PPL round-ups for Dramabeans has made my PPL experience all the more entertaining. Rather than getting irritated when the PPL is so loud it takes over a scene, paying closer attention to it actually made me enjoy it. How well was it integrated? Or how loud and incongruous was it? Could they turn it into meta, or would it just be left there as an elephant in the room? And most of all, did it push me to buy anything? [Answer: If I could afford that Dyson vacuum, it would already be mine.]
14. The times I cried over dramas this year
I don’t consider myself a big crier in real life, but crying in/over dramaland is a whole other thing entirely. Some of my best cries have been brought on by dramaland. There were tears for mowed down Jang Ki-yong in Kill It, even though the drama didn’t deserve it. There were tears for Romance is a Bonus Book, which was so moving in parts, with its old novelist and reconciliation element. Then there were some tears for the heart-rending reunions and renunciations in Secret Boutique, too. And lest we think all tears are for catharsis and sadness, what about tears from fits of insane laughter? This happened too. Thank you fish CPR from The Secret Life of My Secretary. Thank you cat CPR from Kill It. Thank you ripped duffle bag/pseudo murder scene in Psychopath Diary. I laughed till I cried.
13. My summer of classic dramas was an epic fail
I had the cool idea to lay low on current dramas over the summer, and just dig into some of the classics I have missed and been dying to watch, like Something Happened in Bali, Goong, Autumn Fairytale, and more. Well, that plan sunk. Something Happened in Bali was a rough one to get through, and I kind of stalled there. This project seemed like a pretty sad failure, but now I’m thinking maybe the winter is a better time for it. Short days, long nights, and the need for hot beverages and cozy blankets — this seems like a good time to drink up the slowness of some classic dramas. Will she try again? Stay tuned, folks.
12. A page from my heart
Did you ever watch a drama that seemed to peel a page from your heart and then make a drama out of it? At first, it feels like an affront (“Hey, that’s mine! Give it back!”), but later, it turns into an expression of something you wanted, needed, and craved to see expressed. That’s what One Spring Night did for me, with its subtle exploration of a couple coming together under complicated circumstances, and a woman who becomes a step-mom.
11. K-drama front kicks
I haven’t written about it much on Dramabeans, but I’ve got a secret penchant for the front kicks of righteous fury so often featured in K-dramas. While the all-time gold medal still goes to Lee Min-ho in Heirs (if you know the scene, you know the scene), this year the winner is Choi Kyu-jin as Lee Ki-hoon in Class of Lies.
10. Feed me carbs
I love the strong presence of food and eating together in K-dramas, and this year I think I was most affected by the depiction of neighborhood eateries — like the tiny udon place in Romance is a Bonus Book. Oh, for a little place around the corner to grab a bowl of hot noodles and sake and run into your neighborhood crush…
9. Dramas + social commentary
We’re all too familiar with dramas exposing webs of corruption, where the powerful prey on the weak. Whether it’s an attorney fighting through a wall of deceit to expose the truth, an orphan fighting to reclaim her rightful place, or any other K-drama scenario from this year’s dramas that you can cook up, these conflicts make for great storytelling. While it’s fine to enjoy these as stories, if there’s anything we saw this year from the disgusting scandals and corruption to the heartbreaking suicides, it’s that sometimes this stuff is all too real. Let’s not forget that for all the wonderful music and TV media that this industry gives us, there is a lot that is broken about it, too. And that above everything else — money, fame, success, entertainment, etc. — it is people’s lives that matter the most.
8. Fashion forward
A lookback at my 2019 dramas wouldn’t be complete without a comment on fashion! While I got my fix of high-end fashion in Secret Boutique and VIP, there’s no outfit that can beat the beloved red cardigan in The Secret Life of My Secretary.
7. Here comes winter
I’m not a fan of winter, and the season is settling in for keeps where I live. The bright side? Dramas with a winter setting that feature visible breath, a freezing cold city, and lots of great winter coat PPL. Watching winter stories while enduring winter helps me get by. I don’t know how it works, I just know that it does.
6. Digital lives/lies
There was a lot I liked about Love Alarm, despite the annoyance of waiting for Netflix to release the second half, but my favorite was the commentary on our digital lives. Love Alarm had a concept that let it delve into the repercussions of our cellphone/social media culture that not many dramas have had a chance to. Sure, dramas are full of timely text messages, and conveniently dead batteries, but Love Alarm had a lot to say about how we can rely on fake mechanisms to feel validated, and even to display and share our own emotions. Touché.
5. To all the dramas I left behind
Dear Justice, A Moment at Eighteen, and Be Melodramatic, you are the three dramas I most regret missing live this year. Please don’t take it personally — I really intended to watch each of you, and I promise I still will.
4. To all the dramas I dumped
I really hate to dump a drama, but sometimes it doesn’t work, doesn’t resonate, and doesn’t click. I feel slightly bad, but I totally off-boarded Reach of Sincerity and Search Query: WWW. And, if I wasn’t so invested (read: stubborn), there’s another drama I thought about dumping a few times, too (see #19).
3. Meta and magic
There’s a reason why “saving the best for last” is a thing. I could tell from the get-go that Extraordinary You was going to be a favorite drama this year. But, rather than gobble it up live and join in the weekly recap excitement and chatter, I decided to squirrel it away like a, uh, squirrel, and save it up to later devour. Which I did. No drama is perfect, but my favorite ones always wind up being stories that dig into meta, play with storytelling rules, and make me think about those rules and constructs in a whole new way. Extraordinary You did that for me, as did other favorites from the past like W – Two Worlds and Memories of the Alhambra.
2. The year of the heroine
Originally, this was going to be the entire topic of my year-end drama review, till I found I had too much to say, and opted for the Top 20 list instead. But, that being said, I flat-out adore the heroines I met in dramaland this year. They were imperfect, petulant, angry, and pushed to the brink — but they were also strong, hopeful, determined, gentle, and forgiving. In other words, these women were so easy to stand behind and cheer on from the drama sidelines. Some of my favorite headlining and secondary heroines this year were: Kim Sun-ah as Jenny Jang in Secret Boutiquee, Lee Chung-ah as Lee Hyun-ah in VIP, Jung Yoo-jin as Song Hae-rin in Romance is a Bonus Book, Dasom as Eun Ji-soo in That Psychometric Guy, and of course, Kim Hye-yoon as Eun Dan-oh in Extraordinary You.
1. One year anniversary + some Dramabeans love
I recently hit my one-year anniversary writing for Dramabeans! One year and over 100 posts feels like a huge accomplishment — and a huge blessing. I love this community, and I’m so grateful for all the lovely people that visit, hang out, and sometimes pitch a tent here. The drama bond is a strong one, and I find it so strangely encouraging to know there are other people out there (everywhere!) that appreciate the same things I do about K-dramas and their stories. Thanks everyone for such a fun year! ♥