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Five drama recommendations… with the best found families

The concept of the “found family” is something that dramaland has always embraced and expressed quite wonderfully. Done well, and you’re clutching your heart strings all the way through your drama; done poorly, and you still know what they were aiming for. One of the best things about the found family dynamic is that it can exist in any genre — so here are some of our favorite found families of dramaland, from the superheroes and soldiers to the bar owners and doctors.


Five drama recommendations… with the best found families
Lookout (2017)

 
In my opinion, found families are something that K-dramas in general do exceptionally well. I could point to many examples, but there’s one found family that always seems to pop into my head first whenever the topic is brought up. That, of course, is the team from Lookout. With a rogue cop (Lee Shi-young), a secretive priest (Shin Dong-wook), a bubbly hacker (Key), a surveillance specialist who literally never leaves her house (Kim Seul-gi), and an anonymous team leader, this vigilante crew is colorful, memorable, and masterfully acted as they fight against the so-called justice system that has failed them all. Not only do they operate like a well-oiled machine, but their shared passion and respective traumas bind them together into a tightly knit family who are willing to face their greatest fears to keep each other safe.

Every family has its… complicated member(s), and for Lookout, that person is Kim Young-kwang’s deliciously gray prosecutor, Do-han. In a show of standout characters and performances, his was the best character and performance of the bunch for me – followed closely by Key and Seul-gi, whose chemistry was so off-the-charts, you could feel it even when their characters had never so much as been in the same room together. Honestly, I don’t know that Lookout would quite make it on a shortlist of my favorite K-dramas of all time just based on the story alone. But because of the characters and their team dynamic, it will always hold a very, very special place in my heart.
@mistyisles

 

Five drama recommendations… with the best found families
Crash Landing on You (2019)

 
If you’re anything like me, just the thought of Crash Landing on You makes you clutch your heart and think of how wonderful the romance was, and how the drama’s setup did everything to make it even more so. (Not going to mention the DMZ goodbye scene. Nope. Not gonna.) Even though our wonderful hero and heroine (Hyun Bin and Sohn Ye-jin) are firmly lodged at the center of the story — and our hearts — Crash wouldn’t be Crash without the found family element that is our North Korean soldier “ducklings.” Indeed, that was a big part of the magic.

When our heroine is dropped (quite literally) into a scary scenario of political tension and life-threatening stakes, a squad of soldiers that couldn’t care less about a self-inflated South Korean heiress reluctantly agree to hide her. And that’s just the beginning, because what starts with antagonism, annoyance, and dislike between our heroine and the soliders, slowly unfolds into everything we love about the found family dynamic. They couldn’t be more different — or on more opposing sides of basically everything — but the affection that forms between them is truly heart-warming. Watching them come to rally around and support each other through thick and thin not only made this drama fun, but made it comforting and beautiful. –@missvictrix

 

Five drama recommendations… with the best found families
Hospital Playlist (2020)

 
I absolutely adore Hospital Playlist, and a large part of this drama’s appeal (for me) is its portrayal of adult friendships. This slice-of-life story is centered on a group of five doctors in their late thirties who have been friends since med school, but — as is the case in the real world — life and careers have intervened and made it hard for them to hang out regularly. Until, that is, they’re all given the opportunity to work for the same hospital, and Seok-hyung (Kim Dae-myung), the most introverted among the friends, persuades the rest of them to revive their college band.

While all five of the main characters value this long-standing friendship, the idea of a “found family” is most important to Seok-hyung, who doesn’t have any strong interpersonal connections with anyone outside their close knit friend group — and his cantankerous mother. He claims to be a voluntary loner who doesn’t desire a romantic relationship, but he was the one who brought the band back together in order to see his friends more often, revealing that he’s the most reliant on this found family of his. It’s a feeling I find extremely relatable the closer I inch to my forties and my friends pair off and start their own nuclear families, and perhaps that’s why I identify the most with Seok-hyung even though he isn’t my favorite character on the show. Luckily, like Seok-hyung, my friends and I have our own “band” (i.e. hobby) that we use as an excuse to meet up regularly. –@daebakgrits

 

Five drama recommendations… with the best found families
Itaewon Class (2020)

 
At its base, Itaewon Class is a traditional revenge story, with all the elements of a classic, multi-generational vendetta. What gives this story heart is its contemporary cast of characters that break from tradition both in who they are and how they ultimately define family. Many revenge stories center on an underdog hero — that’s part of what makes them satisfying. Here, we get a whole band of motley misfits, coming together to run a pub, who journey from broken beginnings to grow their business, their self-confidence, and their connections to each other.

Park Seo-joon plays Sae-ro-yi, a kid imprisoned for being poor and standing up to powerful people. When he comes out of prison, his plan to become a successful restaurateur involves hiring people he knows to help him get started — people like him who need the second chance (or maybe even the first) that society won’t allow them. On one side, the show is a social commentary about discrimination. On the other, it illustrates the steel bonds that form between people with strong convictions, cast outside the bounds of societal norms. I rooted for these characters from start to finish, as I watched them support each other, fight for each other, and even fight with each other — just like any family. –@dramaddictally

 

Five drama recommendations… with the best found families
The Uncanny Counter (2021)

 
I love a good found family of misfits, so this was one of my favorite aspects of The Uncanny Counter. Here we have a group of “counters” — people who have supernatural abilities that allow them to hunt evil spirits and restore souls to their rightful place in the great beyond. And during the day, they run a noodle shop. When high school student So Moon finds himself with new counter abilities, he’s brought into the fold and the Unni’s Noodles family.

One thing I liked about this found family is how each of these very different people – Yoo Joon-sang as a brash ex-cop, Kim Se-jung as a cool yet somewhat prickly young woman, Yeom Hye-ran as the mother hen, and Jo Byung-kyu as the sweet and clueless teenaged newbie – are bound together due to their unique situation. Even if they could talk about their special night job, no one else could relate, so they only have each other to lean on.

Given the inherent danger of fightin’ evil, they have to trust each other if they want to survive. But they don’t just rely on each other in a fight – they prove to be a family in every sense of the word, supporting and caring for each other in their daily lives too. They may bicker and disagree, but they always have each other’s backs. So if you enjoy found families full of tracksuit-wearing, noodle-shop-running superheroes who vanquish evil spirits, The Uncanny Counter is a fun ride. –@quirkycase

Five drama recommendations… with the best found families

 
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Our beloved Summer Ung sharing his parents with Jiung so he didn’t have to be alone while his mum was away.

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Their relationship was one of sweetest ♥️

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The two Ungs are adorable together.

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CLOY, HP and Itaewon Class are among my fave found family shows. I would include TUC too but I didnt like the last few episodes and the ending as much.
I think this also counts Prison Playbook, Reply 1988 and Reply 1994. I really like the group of friends on both. Plus there is also Still 17 and Chief Kim.

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Still 17 if that’s the one where the brother and his teen friends (one of whom looks like a man) adopt her as one of them developmentally despite her chronological age then yes that is definitely the sweetest one of all of the list as she needed that to help her transition.❤️
Prison Playbook when the soldier learns to get over himself and the young man comes back for his father figure😭
Reply 1988 for the long lasting friendships within each generation that was the only time I have seen that happen on multiple levels on a drama.

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Yup that one with Shin Hye Sun, Yang Se Jong and Ahn Hyo Seop as the teen nephew.

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I recently started re-watching CLOY, and I fell in love with the Ducklings little family all over again. There is so much I love about this drama but they are near the top of the list.

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@jls943: One of my favourite bits is the meta commentary on KDramas including the makjang ones. I laughed so much at the scene where Jumeok is telling the rest about how often people in the south have amnesia, and IIRC, Chisu concludes that is because the people in the South are debilitated by capitalism.

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Yes! CLOY was my first drama, and it's so fun to rewatch now that I have way more drama knowledge! Jumeok being the authority on the culture of the South because he watches old dramas is the best thing ever.

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The Ducklings are the cutest. The maknae, Eun Dong and successful kdrama fan, JuMeok are my faves.

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I was thinking of Still 17 myself <3

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Lookout ❤️

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Wok of Love
Confession

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The description of Lookout makes me think of Leverage, my daughter's absolute favorite US TV series. We watch it from start to finish every year. The Korean version was one of the only 3 Kdramas we watched during my hiatus between 2015 and 2022. Can anyone tell me how Lookout compares to the Korean Leverage?

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I can't help compare it to the Korean Leverage (I didn't know there was such a thing!), but if it's anything like the US version, then, noooo, Lookout has a VERY different feel. It's often rather dark? bleak? (Lots of stomach knots. Lots of "No. No! No!!! ing at your screen) I totally agree with everything mistyisles said, but it's not really a "caper" drama per se....

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Thanks! If you like the US Leverage, give the Korean version a try if you can find it. Several nods to the US version in it :)

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I most definitely agree with Hospital Playlist 100%. And I think I enjoyed reading about the unholy alliance described in Lookout.

My best found family will be Start Up with the focus on the strong familial relationship between Choi Won-deok(Kim Hae-sook) and Han Ji-pyeong (Kim Seon-ho).

This two had a relationship so profound you'd think they are actual parent-child. I don't recall how they actually came across each other but right from the beginning it was clearly shown that they held each other like eggs and always rooted for each other. No one messes with either of them except themselves. I guess the point where it struck the most, where it hit a focal point for me was Won-deok telling Ji-pyeong never to shy away from her after she learnt that her granddaughter rejected his hand. To always come to her whether or not he's feeling lonely. Even if they have nothing to say to each other...just to bask in the warmth of a mother's touch and savor the presence of each other. The bonds that bind this two strangers is so strong...and raw, without blemish. She knew that left alone, Ji-pyeong wouldn't bring himself reach out to her even if he wanted to out of necessity and she helped him to process the words he needed to say. This happens to be one of the few times I see Han Ji-pyeong this openly vulnerable throughout the course of Start Up.
In later episodes when the tables slowly turned and Won-deok was the recipient of Ji-pyeong's reassurance, she got it. He did everything possible to ensure that she felt comfortable, safe and secure even if it meant working grudgingly with a 'piece of work' character.

The love between this two if I must say, transcends blood. I knew that this two will be with each other each step of the way.

Honorable Mentions
- King Moo-hyul * Maro * Hye-ap * Chu Balso in Kingdom of the Winds. (😓 Remembering Ma-ro's death. It took a lot of strength to finally sit through this scene).

Gwangaetto, the Great Conqueror - Damdeok * Sagal Hyeon. Damdeok x Yeon Salta. Truly deep family-esque connections.

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Yes this is so true it went full circle with them helping each other when they were most vulnerable at the two ends of the age spectrum. He was a newbie adult and for her it was managing her disability

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Park Hye-ryun is particularly good at writing found families well I think. Someone already mentioned Grandma and Han Ji-pyeong in Start-up. But before that we also had Dal-po and his adoptive family in Pinocchio as well as the joint breakfast group of While You Were Sleeping with all the people they helped.

If we could extend the trope a little, I also thought the village of Gongjin in Hometown Cha-cha-cha functioned like one big, weird-but-loving family.

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In the same vein, I thought the building tenants in Vincenzo had a really endearing family structure by the end of the drama. They really came to rely on each other and unite against people who wanted to take advantage of them.

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Ah yes the Geumga Plaza residents. Another group that can be described as weird-but-loving!

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Work Later, Drink Now
These ladies got each other’s back, besties forever

Age of Youth S1&2
While their relationships might not be permanent, their current living situation is very family like, warts and all. And what’s a family of you can’t live together eh?

Coffee Prince
Yeah I hate the capitalist mindset where your coworkers are apparently your ‘work family’ 🤮🤮🤮
Buuuut with their stunning good looks, friendship and horny customer base, they truly represent the capitalist’s dream no?

Let’s Eat Franchise:
What’s a family if you can’t eat together eh?

I’ll Go To You When The Weather Is Nice
I got nothing snarky to say about this, their book club is wholesome and sweet, and I wanna, I wanna, I wanna so be apart of it!

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I’ll Go To You When The Weather Is Nice book club…🥰❤️ Such a great example with the different ages of the members and the way they all contributed to the feel of the group from practical needs girl stealing from the chemist shop to help out those in need, the grandad figure making the snacks they were all so sweet.

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@linarrick: “I’ll Go to you when the weather is nice” is difficult viewing in parts but I loved so much about it including the book club meetings, Kim Hwanhee as Imhwi, Lee Jaeook as Lee Jangoo and Nam Giae as Yoon Yeojeong, Eunseob's adoptive mother who loves him so fiercely.

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The Welcome to Waikiki crew from both seasons are a great found family/s too! The best parts of the show, aside from the comedy, is the bits where they all band together to help each other out (especially when they do so with Baby Sol in the first season) 💕

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There are some other dramas that came to my mind
Manager Kim
Forcasting Love and Weather (not favorite of many, but the forcasting team was a reall team and work family)
Imitation (all the characters united and became friends, snd maybe soon to be family)
Fermentation Family (here love was only one of the many stories we had and stragers became reall family)
Sell your haunted house (If we can count addition of two new figures in price of two old ones, yeah )
Jirisan (again not accepted by many, but the way colligues looked after eachother, definitely made them family)
Because this is my first life(this isan exciting example because two distinct group met each other and unified. Technically they formed three families but their lives are sooo interwoven...so...one big family)
Come back Miseter
Mustic pop-up Bar
A poem a day
Blossom
The Witch's Dinner
Doctor Romantic
Buldusal(somewhere midway of the story)
Midnight dinner
Misaeng

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Fermentation Family is such a lovely underrated show, even if it does have way more plot than it needs. I just wanted to watch everyone hang out in the restaurant, bond, and make yummy food.

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The first one that came to my mind is 30 but 17.

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I was surprised when it was not included in the original list. It certainly belonged there.

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They're #1

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I think my favorite found family K-drama is still Mixed Up Investigation Agency. It's such an odd mix of characters and personalities, yet they end up complementing each other perfectly in one of the best friendship-driven shows I've seen.

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Yes!! Mixed Up Investigation Agency is always the first drama that comes to mind when I think about found family. Such a gem.

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My extended definition of "family" means living under the same roof, eating together, and supporting each other. Found family means the same but under usual circumstances. What comes to my mind is MASTER OF STUDY where 5 failing students camp themselves in 24/7 study hall.

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Just Between Lovers, with Kang-doo, loan shark halmeoni, room salon madam Ma-ri, earth angel Sang Man, and their friends providing the mutual support and kindness their damaged or non-existent families couldn't.

CLOY and Chief Kim were also at the top of my list, along with the oddball law office crew in Suspicious Partner.

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Honestly, do the kdrama found families beat Dramabeans and our Brotherhood of Beanie Buddies?

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Siblinghood of Snarky Smartasses FTW.

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Our extended title being:

Clocker of Drama Cliches, Unraveler of Theories

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Mystic Pop-up Bar - literally.

Father is Strange - where he thought he found his birth family, but this was some other family, which worked out perfectly in the end.

Be Melo - the friends who stay together to help raise a kid and prevent a beloved friend from spiraling from grief. They got each other through rough times.

Business Proposal - Young-seo ends up being like a second daughter in Hari's family, even helping out at the chicken store sometimes. Her bio family sucked.

All the replies, but Reply 1988 - families finding other families until they become one Big Super Family.

Vincenzo - in that building, you got family members of different ages willing to come together, dress to the nines, and get revenge!

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Be Melodramatic definitely as they all gained from the shared living experience as they held each other through the worst of times; relationships ending unexpectedly in the worst way through death, rejection of responsibility by a father and partner and rejection by parents of what their son represented. But they all grew and came to a place where they could live independently of each other and still cherish their bonds with each other.

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Another might be Life on Mars. Especially for Han Tae Joo's character.

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Love this retro cop family!

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My personal recommendation for this category: Racket Boys. Totally love all the kids and how they created a wonderful relationship with each other alongside their coaches.

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Best found out family would be The Guest.

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I agree with Lookout. I loved Ksg and Key together! I also would add 30 but 17. The cobbled together family with the housekeeper as the matriarch of it all. Loved that.

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Jennifer!!! How I wish I had a Jennifer in my life!

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My pick for the worst found family…Taxi Driver! (Yes I know, I’m sick of myself too)

Dealing with their emotional angst by kidnapping the baddies of the world ain’t gonna yanno help them heal, therapy might help tho

Regardless, a family of vigilantes is a recipe for disaster, but then again I wouldn’t have my show otherwise, soooooo who really benefits?

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Romantic Doctor teacher Kim. I’m surprised I didn’t think of it immediately because I wrote an essay here about it a long time ago! http://www.dramabeans.com/2018/03/best-friends-forever-when-work-friends-are-best-friends-and-family/

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Thanks for the link to another of your great posts. I remember loving the series when I watched it but it has faded in my memory now so Hospital playlist is in my top ten and has the friendship group I love. If I had watched them closer together who knows. The woman who plays the nurse made her stand out as a powerful character and I have just realised she played the mum in Uncontrollably fond who stands out in my mind as all a mum should never be. She is a very good actor.

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She is currently the mother of Extraordinary Attorney Woo. Jin Kyung is one impressive actress.

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Prison playbook - my first pick for the best found families.
Misaeng - the rookies should be here too
Hospital playlists, Age of youth, Waikiki, Vampire detective - I love their bonding and friendship goals

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There are great squad of friends but for found family, I think they need to live together.

Be Melodramatic is a good one. They lived in the same appartment and they all got something about it : No rent to pay, free babysitter, emotional support.

Age of Youth 1 and 2 : they really helped and supported each other. They had very different personality but it works.

Welcome to Waikiki 2 : I liked how they helped the FL to become independent when themselves were completely struggling 😅

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LOL Hwang Jung Eum and all the personalities of Ji Sung in Kill Me
Heal Me haven´t been mentioned yet. Same body 7 people...

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Be Melodramatic!

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Padam Padam-First one that comes to mind is this drama written by Noh Hee Kyung. I didn't care much for the love story but the found family part was really good. And a few of her other dramas feature a similar vibe.
Strongest Deliveryman and Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol before the I famous ending.

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I like the article but wanted to point out that in Itaewon Class, Park Saeroyi is imprisoned for beating someone nearly to death, not for “being poor.” His Dad was an executive at a large company and he’s not actually poor at any point in the drama.

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It may be not totally considered a "adoptive family", but in Oh My Venus... the ML, FL, best friend, and side-kicks created a little bit of a "found family" that was kind of cute. I enjoyed the fact that the boys said they will be uncles when they knew the FL was pregnant... (sorry for the spoiler)...
It was cute.
Not my favorite... but it brought lots of light to the drama.

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Quickly scrolled to see that it wasn't mentioned by other comments. For me Bossam; Stealing Fate had the absolute best found family to date. Comprised of dad and cute-as-a-bug son, dad's scene stealing best friend, a steel magnolia princess and her nanny, they initially bond over shared hardship. Eventually they develop such tender regard for each other and willingness to risk everything to keep everyone safe. That dynamic made the first half of the drama a true joy. Show got a little lost there near the end but that's true of so many Kdramas, eh?

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Terius Behind Me
Fight For My Way
Still 17
The Fiery Priest
Zombie Detective
Uncle
Showtime Begins
Couple or Trouble
Stars Falling From the Sky
The Suspicious Housekeeper
+All the dramas about three girlfriends (Melo, Drink Now, 20th Century, WWW, Hi Bye Mama, etc)

Bonus: Kim Bum's found family from Tale of the nine tailed or wtv the title is.

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It is a Chinese Show but "Go Ahead" is my favourite in this genre!

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