Beanie level: Noble idiot

Day 31 – Favorite Show I Watched This Year

After not watching tons of shows in 2019-2020, I spent the end of last year and much of this year catching up on shows I’d missed. This led to some wonderful, late discoveries (why hello, My Mister and Someday or One Day). It also led me to my hands-down favorite show of the year, which for the first time in over a decade of drama watching wasn’t a K-drama. Have you ever had the experience of watching something and realizing that’s it’s telling a story you always wanted to watch, but have never actually seen on screen before? That was my experience with The Untamed. It’s not a perfect show. The acting levels are all over the map, the editing and pacing can be odd in places, the first two episodes are messy and confusing, and some of the supernatural critters look ridiculous. And yet by the third or fourth episode I was in love, a feeling that only grew stronger as the show went along. Why? Well, in part because unlike so many shows that tease LGBTQ+ relationships, this one is unapologetic about its queerness, even in the face of the ridiculous Chinese censorship rules. There is zero internalized homophobia and very little of the external variety – everyone owns who they are and acts on it, and everyone else just rolls with it. It goes a step further though by challenging gender roles in general, presenting a vision of masculinity that upends centuries of warrior tropes. While most sword and sorcery shows lean hard into the idea that honor, ego, status, and the size of one’s “sword” determines one’s value in society, this show features a male protagonist who ditches all of that for empathy, sacrifice, and love. And is still a total badass. And still triumphs in the end. And gets to have an equally awesome romantic partner. And neither one is dead by the time the final credits roll. It was so unexpected, and yet it all felt so natural and inevitable. It also made me wonder why stories like this are so rare in countries that don’t have government censors working overtime to blot out any trace of queer representation. Because I honestly can’t imagine a mainstream Hollywood film or TV show doing what this one does, and that’s sad. And I haven’t even touched on how the show pushes back against group think, ethnic cleansing, and surveillance states, or its insightful exploration of families, both biological and invented (particularly its examination of the messiness of sibling relationships). Oh, and it’s also a fabulously entertaining genre piece. So thank you all the brave writers, actors, directors and producers who decided to tell this story despite the very real dangers of being censored, blacklisted or worse. And here’s to more storytelling that pushes boundaries in beautiful, compelling ways in 2022!

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Day 24 – Secret Pleasure

Well, if by “secret” pleasure, you mean “guilty” pleasure, then that would be the first 18 episodes of Vincenzo. Until it went full-on torture porn in the final episodes, it was way more fun than it should have been watching Song Joong Ki and the gang set things on fire and take down the baddies in stylish slo mo. The ethics of everything were highly questionable from the beginning but for awhile it was easy not to care too much given the general ridiculousness (hey, is that a marching band carrying a “Corn Salad” banner?).

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Day 23: Best bromance/womance

I’m not sure I’d call it a bromance, as that sounds a bit too warm and fuzzy for this particular duo, but Lee Dong Shik and Han Joo Won in Beyond Evil were definitely the most electrifying same-gender pairing of 2021. Two phenomenal actors proving that chemistry ain’t just for rom-coms.

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Day 22 – Best Secretary

Hands down Yeo Miri in Dali and Gamjatang. Just wish the show had had the guts to give her the girlfriend she deserved.

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Day 16 – Best non-human character

Tie goes to Vincenzo’s lighter and the dishwasher in On the Verge of Insanity

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#2021RoundUp

Day 15 – Most unnecessary sageuk death

Not gonna name names (cough, Bossam, cough) but there really are other ways to resolve a love triangle than killing off one of the contenders.

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    If I took today’s round up as it was intended, I would have picked him too. 😭

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    I was going to write Bossam too but went with the more recent one. I’m still mad about Bossam though.

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    Thank you Shin Hyun-Soo for your portrayal of Dae-yeop in BOSSAM: STEAL THE FATE. Dae-yeop RIP.
    (SHS I hope to see you back dressed in hanbok soon.)

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#2021RoundUp

Day 14 – Most memorable scene

The scene in the last episode of Beyond Evil after the Big Bad is arrested. If you watched, you know which one I mean.

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    Ok. I just convinced me to go and finish BE

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    I know many raved about Shin Ha-kyun’s performance in BEYOND EVIL and de deserves all the accolades. For me however, I think the edge goes to Yeo Jin-goo’s performance. Honestly I had not seen much of YJG’s work but before BE I thought his best work had to be episodes 7&8 in THE CROWNED CLOWN. I think (in toto) he surpassed himself in BEYOND EVIL. Just wonderful. He has a certain maturity/gravitas about him. If I recall correctly in BE at age 23 in rl he was playing a character that was supposed to be 27 (I think.).

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      I agree – I thought YJG was phenomenal in BE, and the way he and SHK played off each other was extraordinary. He’s been on my radar since I saw him when he was 13 in Giant, and I went “who is this kid and why is he so talented?”.

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      I wouldn’t want to choose between them, and they played off each other so well.

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Day 11 – Secondary character who stole the show

I mean, Inzaghi the pigeon, of course.

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#2021RoundUp

Day 10 – Best Confession

Not exactly a confession, but the gallery kiss in Vincenzo was both hot and hilarious (I might have watched it three times).

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#2021RoundUp

Day 9 – The oldie you loved the most

For k-dramas, this goes to Chief Kim, which somehow managed to make a show about accounting fraud delightful. Lots of goofy hijinks and humor balanced with moments of real emotional engagement and outrage at the specific damage financial fraud can cause, all performed by a talented ensemble cast. Not always the most original show, but a joy to watch.

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#2021RoundUp

Day 8 – The drama Beanies convinced you to watch

I love seeing other folks’ reactions to shows and often pick them up if there seems to be lots of love flying around. This year I was particularly grateful for comments that guided me towards Beyond Evil, On the Verge of Insanity, and The Imperial Coroner.

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#2021RoundUp

Day 7 – Best OTP

This goes to Dali and Moo Hak in Dali and Gamjatang – they were funny, awkward, adorable, sexy, and they actually talked to each other (most of the time).

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#2021RoundUp

Day 6 – The OST you’re obsessed with

While I enjoyed how shows like Vincenzo, Dali, and Bossom used music, the two OSTs that really stood out this year were neither Korean nor from 2021. Someday or One Day and The Untamed are the two scores that remain permanently stuck in my head, and I also loved how music was used a major plot element in both shows. Because really, if your OST can’t whisk you through time or assassinate people, how good is it anyway?

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#2021RoundUp

Day 5 – The drama that will always live in your memory

Beyond Evil was the 2021 show of the year for me, and I almost didn’t watch it because I thought it would be all about the plot twists and gruesome serial killer violence. While both make an appearance, it’s really a story about processing trauma, and the twists are far less important than the character arcs. A gorgeous show, anchored by the most compelling actor pairing of the year.

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#2021RoundUp

Day 4 – That mess you watched and you still wonder why

I think I dodged most of the truly dreadful shows this year, but the most frustrating show that I finished was probably Bossom. There was so much potential, but I would have given anything to kidnap a compelling plot structure and thematic coherence.

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#2021RoundUp

Best Costumes

Got to go with the tailored glory of Vincenzo on this one, although Dali and Gamjatang was fun as well.

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#2021RoundUp

ML you will never forget

Well, this was easy. Shin Ha Kyun as Dong Shik in Beyond Evil. Hands down. Fight me!

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    Both of us!!!

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    Why bother fighting when you’re correct? There’s no disagreeing with this choice.

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    Another fangirl. Shin Ha Kyun is just Amazing in every show he is in.
    I miss Han Suk-kyu this year.

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      Han Suk-kyu! I haven’t seen him in anything in a really long time and I miss him! I know the young actors (and actresses) tend to get a lot of the attention and buzz, but it’s so much fun to watch highly skilled veterans do their thing, especially when they’re given complex, meaty roles to play.

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#2021RoundUp

I watched more dramas than usual this year (for me), but most of them were pre-2021 and/or non-Korean. Beyond Evil, Someday or One Day and The Untamed were definitely the highlights, with Chief Kim and The Imperial Coroner close behind. All in all, it was a really solid year of drama watching!

2021 K-dramas
Beyond Evil
Bossom: Steal the Fate
Vincenzo
On the Verge of Insanity
Dali and Gamjatang

Pre-2021 K-dramas
Chief Kim
Her Private Life
Hot Stove League
Mad Dog
Moon that Embraces the Sun
My Unfamiliar Family
Reply 1988
The Crowned Clown
The Fiery Priest

Non-Korean
Joy of Life
Someday or One Day
The Imperial Coroner
The Untamed
The Victim’s Game
Word of Honor
30-sai made Dotei Da to Mahotsukai ni Nareru rashii

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    Shout out to 30-sai made Dotei Da to Mahotsukai ni Nareru rashii aka Cherry Magic! I couldn’t stop grinning the whole time I watched it.

    I also heard they’ll be making a movie 👀

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      It was super cute, although I got a little frustrated with what felt like unnecessary plot complications in the second half. However, Udon the cat is the best matchmaker ever.

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Day 1: Best Female Lead

For 2021 k-dramas, I’d probably go with Moon So Ri’s prickly Dang Ja Yeong in On the Verge of Insanity. For 2021 Asian dramas overall, I’d pick Chu Chu in Imperial Coroner.

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    Yes. Both were amazing.

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    Chu Chu was incredible! It’s a kdrama roundup but it’s great to see her getting some love. She’d definitely be my pick for FL if this was for cdramas.

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      Yes, I loved her character! There wasn’t a female k-drama lead that I loved as much as a character, but I thoroughly enjoyed Moon So Ri as an actress – I love it when top notch 40-something actresses get to play complex, nuanced roles.

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I track what I’m watching and post periodic reviews at MDL (profile link): https://mydramalist.com/profile/wonhwa. I’ve also posted/reposted reviews here for shows I’ve watched that have DB pages

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