14 February, 2015

2014 Reel Rewind: The Year in Review


Hi there drama lovers!!! I was hemming and hawing about whether or not to do this review post because it's already February, but then I figured that I have benefited so much from other people's review posts that I should pay it forward. Despite 2014 being a rather insane year for me, and part of it featured some K-drama desert spells for me, I still watched a few dramas. Okay, I admit that a couple of them I marathoned in January, but I still managed to watch a chunk in 2014. I've ordered the dramas how many points they scored on the final ratings page, which you can check out here. I've only included the dramas I actually finished from 2014 though there are a bunch that I watched several episodes of. Maybe I'll do a part two if once I finish them. And these reviews are spoiler free.

Misaeng (92/100)


A Korean friend of mine (who works in business) recommended this drama to me and so not really knowing what I was getting into, I started watching it. Let's just say that this drama manages to make your heart ache in all the right places, and still make you love it. While I myself don't work in business trading like the Misaeng crowd did, I felt I could relate to the ups and downs they portrayed with a real life emotion and pathos.

Im Siwan gave an absolutely standout performance as Jang Gu Rae, and his fellow interns were so excellently cast as well. Each character added to the story elements in the drama and made one feel like someone out there gets how difficult, unfair, and challenging life can be. The real star of the show though was Manager Oh. I already loved Lee Sang Min, but this drama showed just how spectacular he is as an actor. He embodied his character so fully and with such invested emotion, depth, and intelligence in acting, that I was blown away. Despite the heartache this drama caused while watching, it was a beautiful catharsis to watch. It made me laugh. It made me cry. And it made me feel like hugging everyone involved in the drama, the writer and director especially. It was a really excellent slice-of-real-life drama.


Marriage, Not Dating (90/100)


This drama was one of the pleasantest surprises in 2014 K-dramaland for me. I think I read MarlubsGD's post about 2014 couples in dramas and thought, hmmm, I think I should watch this drama and it became one of my all time favourite dramas of the year. It's hard to put my finger on why exactly, but it was a drama that never for a minute forgot it was a romantic comedy, and stayed rooted to core emotions and character motivations without moving into complete melodrama land and never coming back to happy and cute.

Han Groo and Yun Woo Jin also had absolutely lovely and tangible chemistry and they threw themselves into their characters heart and soul, and it made the drama. What I also loved is that the drama explored the many facets, motivations, and reasons people love, hurt, and harm each other all in pursuit of personal and perhaps marital happiness. It also described relationships and hypocrisy, marriage and genuine love in a realistic way. It didn't steer away from K-drama tropes, but it also didn't wallow in them, and for that I will be forever grateful. Just thinking about this drama makes me smile. It is definitely worth a watch if you're in the mood for a good rom-com with plenty of cute. The drama also managed a rather fun and satisfactory ending. It's not a perfect drama, but it is perfectly lovely and has one of the cutest main lead couples and plenty of other characters to love as well.


Let's Eat (90/100)


I know this drama has been accused of blatant food advertising to the extreme, but I'll be honest, I was mostly oblivious. I sort of just let that slip by me because I just loved everything about the characters and their stories. Yoon Doo Joon's Goo Dae Young will be a rather quirky and unforgettable character for me and he really showed that idols turned actors aren't necessarily all that bad. Lee Soo Kyung was just brilliant as an office-worker trying to figure out life despite its rather mundane drudgery. And all the other characters were smartly written, memorable, and not a one of them was irritating. Soo Kyung's dog, Barassi was also a show stealer with his antics. This show is also guaranteed to make you hungry while watching, that's for sure. So watch it while eating dinner or something like that.

Blademan (88/100)


This drama didn't fare super well in the ratings game and it was definitely a love or hate sort of thing for most people. I most definitely fall into the former category and I think that the drama really should be given more credit. It was a rather whimsical and fairytale-esque take on emotions, love, healing, hatred, and heartbreak. It's sort of hard to say why I loved the drama so much, but I think a lot has to do with a heroine who was truly good in all the best ways and a hero who asked himself some really hard questions about love and how to find happiness. It was also beautifully paced and filmed. I remember being blown away at the slow and gentle pacing, sparse dialogue that allowed emotions to mature and feelings to be shown, rather than explained, and a really beautiful soundtrack to accompany all of it. It was a drama that was really comfortable being quiet and still when it needed to be and that is a rarity among pretty much all film, not matter which country or genre.


At the core of the drama's relationships lies a rather beautiful essay on father-son relationships and how they are important and an important part of a man's future and his identity and ability to love, for either good or ill. Jung Yoo Geun, who played Chang, Joo Hong Bin's son, was also just lovely. And Shin Se Kyung's performance was warm and lovely and beautiful. She was really and truly lovely and good to her core.


Secretary Go also absolutely stole a good chunk of the show with his goofy antics. It was nice to see the often dour Han Jung Soo be absolutely and completely adorkable. And Lee Dong Wook. He was just marvellous with such a lovely and wide array of facial expressions. Haha. I just adored him in this. This drama was a sort of a comic book anti-hero meets Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, wicked witch, monsters, and all, but all grounded in a wonderful emotional reality and depth.


It's Okay, It's Love (86/100)


This drama was all the rage  and there's good reason why. Jo In Sung was absolutely superb in his role and he and Goo Hyo Jin had absolutely lovely chemistry. While the drama had some flaws, for the most part they escape me, I remember the drama as being an excellent watch. The drama explored and talked about mental illness with truth and a level of care and kindness that K-drama rarely exhibits with the topic (in the past it hasn't really talked about it that much I think, though I could be wrong) and this allowed for it to have some meaningful ideas in its execution. Jo In Sung in particular was excellent and shone in his role as troubled writer Jang Jae Yul. EXO's Kyungsoo (or D.O.) also portrayed his character so well.


Another highlight of the drama was the roommate crowd and all their antics. There was just so much great banter and dialogue among them that I love them just as much as their storylines. They were well-fleshed out characters, and we also were able to explore meaningful questions about mental disabilities and shortcomings.

Lee Kwang Soo is already one of my Korean entertainer favourites and he also did an absolutely excellent job in his portrayal of Park Soo Kwang. Sung Dong Il of course also continues to showcase his excellent comedic acting chops while still remaining grounded and relevant. The drama was an excellent one, and Jang Jae Yul and Ji Hae Soo will remain one of the more memorable, realistic, and most pleasant to watch couples in drama for me. The characters dealt with their weaknesses and struggles with dignity, humanity, and sincerity, and it made for a completely lovely and memorable drama.


And last but not least, I also absolutely adore this OST piece "Best Luck" by EXO's Chen.


A Witch's Romance (84/100)


I haven't seen the Taiwanese drama of which this drama is a remake, so I won't make any comparisons here. The vast majority of the drama was pretty darn cute and I really loved Park Seo Joon and Uhm Jung Hwa together when they weren't being noble idiots and acting like teenagers.


The drama started out strongly with a more mature look at relationships but then quickly settled into teenage style tropes that completely undermined the ideas that the drama was trying to explore about older women dating younger men and career choices and struggles for a working woman in Korea (and I am sure it applies elsewhere as well).

Lest I sound too critical, for the most part I enjoyed the drama and I especially loved the casting choices. Park Seo Joon especially. He has that sort of charm that seems everyday and normal, and then he smiles and your knees go weak and your heart sort of constricts and you can't breathe. Okay, I am a little besotted ;) He was excellent as the earnest Yoon Dong Ha. I felt that in many ways his character was a whole lot more mature and grounded than Uhm Jung Hwa's Ban Yi Jun. That said, the drama was for the most part rather pleasant and I remember it fondly. Maybe I'm just choosing to block out all the things that frustrated me in the drama. Let's not mention the Polar Bear. 


Yoon Hyun Min and Park Seo Joon also had an excellent bromance. So yup. That's about it for this drama. That and some more Park Seo Joon and his lovely, lovely face and voice.



You From Another Star (80/100)


This drama was 2014's cult classic. While I get the hype, I have major criticisms about the drama's writing, a rather two dimensional villain, and a somewhat rushed and lacklustre ending. All that aside, I still thoroughly loved and enjoyed the drama and was just as swept up in Do Min Joon and Cheon Song Yi love. And for good reason. Kim Soo Hyun and Jun Ji Hyun were just spectacular. Whenever they were onscreen together, the drama was sparkling, witty, laugh out loud funny, romantic, moving, emotional, romantic, wistful, and when they weren't...well, the drama sort of fell flat. Well maybe except for when Lawyer Jang was onscreen too.

Despite my misgivings for the drama and the technical things that needed work, this drama couple and story remains particularly moving and meaningful. So much so that I wrote several pieces on it and I do have a final one half drafted that I really need to finish. But seeing as I am terrible at finishing dramas and blogging, we shall see when it appears. If you don't mind spoilers, here are those pieces for your perusal.

You From Another Star: The Small, Warm, Beautiful Things
You From Another Star: Love, Loss, Hope & Heartbreak
The Fairytale in the Drama: Edward Tulane and Do Min Joon

Fated to Love You (78/100)


This was one of the dramas I marathoned in January. I think that if I had live-watched this one, I might have disliked it more. Unfortunately the second half of the drama lagged and moved at snail's pace with much too much of the K-drama tropes that need skill to execute, but often are just thrown in there to ill effect. So first half I loved, second half I tolerated.

Jang Hyuk was of course lovely and memorable and Jang Na Ra was lovely as well and I really enjoyed most of the drama. The forced living trope is actually one that they executed well (it's also a favourite of mine) and the drama did a really great job of showing love blossoming and developing. Jang Hyuk's Lee Gun was also just wonderful and lovely. He managed to be totally goofy, gruff, tender, and just a tad silly and somehow it worked. Jang Na Ra's Kim Mi Young was a little too on the mousy side at the beginning, but they did a wonderful job of developing her character and storyline until she became one of my favourites in the show. There was also plenty of sad puppy eyes Choi Jin Hyuk (who I always like to listen to and look at).


Writing this review, I am realizing I have much fonder feelings for the drama than I remember.

Cunning, Single Lady (76/100)


Hmmm. I really think that Joo Sang Wook needs to do lots and lots of comedy. He was perfect for this drama and he and Lee Min Jung were perfectly paired in it. The drama, however, struggled with pacing and a rather chaotic storyline. And the more I think about it, there isn't much to the drama to make it exactly memorable. This is what I said on my ratings page, and I don't think I can add much else.

Despite its occasional shoddily paced and chaotic storyline, the drama as a whole was a charming, funny and sweet take on exes loving to loathe while falling back in love. Joo Sang Wook will be sure to make you fall in love with his adorkable charm and sheer good looks and Lee Min Jung is as compelling, plucky and lovely as ever. Definitely worth a watch. 


So I guess I stand by that description. I liked the drama and I definitely don't regret watching it, but yeah, it just lacked something. Seo Kang Joon was nice to look at though ;) And of course I really loved the leads.


Bride of the Century (72/100)


I think that with some major editing with the writing and pacing of this drama, this could have actually been one of the better dramas of the year. The final few episodes were so detached in tone and pace from the rest of the drama that it was rather jarring. They were beautiful and if they had come earlier in the drama, it would have helped so much in the back story and helping us care about what going on. It's sort of one of those things where it felt like the writer was hiding all the details from the watchers and the characters and that takes skill to do it effectively while still keeping the watcher motivated to watch further. It doesn't mean that the characters have to know all the details.

Lee Hong Ki was great as the lead, but I did hear that he isn't so keen to lead dramas after this one (though he did do Modern Farmer later on in the year, so go figure). I was super impressed though with Yang Jin Sung who very believably played two roles. She was really great! I could have done without the loooong noble idiocy stretch and the over-played chaebol issues plot line. I think that the drama could have also really played up the fantasy element and it might have helped the story a little more. It was like they needed to go through more a couple script edits before filming. Oh well.

The drama did give us some really lovely moments and plenty of cute. So yeah, I am sort of torn with this drama. I liked it, but I also think it had major issues.


Nae Il's Cantabile (72/100)


I wanted to love this drama more, but while pleasant, it wasn't ever really excellent. I've actually never seen or read Nodame Cantabile, so take this review with that in mind for those of you who watched this comparing the two. I really loved much of the storyline, many of the episodes, and I adored the music, but the drama failed to really connect each moment into a pleasing story arc that had lasting meatiness. Basically it fell a little flat (pun intended). It was sort of like a bunch of really great instruments, but they failed to find that amazing connectedness of an orchestra in harmony. It played the notes of the storyline, but didn't deliver that missing element of unique emotiveness and performance it really needed. *sigh* I still really love Joo Won though.

The supporting cast was great fun and I loved all their little stories and details and growth. Go Kyung Po shone particularly. And the music was really fabulous. But yeah, this drama doesn't get a standing ovation from me.

I Need Romance 3 (69/100)


I really only watched this for Sung Joon. I feel like there were some really lovely storylines and plenty of depth to be plumbed in this drama, but it just never really explored any of its characters enough. Kim So Yun is gorgeous and I am sure could have pulled off a more complex role, but the character as written just irritated me. So let's just revel in the pretty a bit.


Everyone was really nice to look at and the stories of the supporting cast in some ways were better than the main romance. Oh well. I guess I shouldn't have expected something full of depth from the I Need Romance franchise. And Park Yoochun's little brother is adorable!


Emergency Couple (69/100)


This was another drama that I watched because of the stars. I am a huge fan of Choi Jin Hyuk and of Song Ji Hyo, so this was my major incentive to watch the drama. Here is what I said on the ratings page and I don't think I have much else to add to that.


I started watching it for Choi Jin Hyuk and Song Ji Hyo and stayed for them and the completely gruff and lovable Dr. Gook played by Lee Pil Mo. It had some great moments, but overall nothing really completely amazing and wonderful. The hospital politicking also really annoyed me. Not a complete waste of time, but no great work of art either. 


Lee Mil Po was really lovely as Dr. Gook and I also really loved Choi Yeo Jin as well. I did like many parts of the drama, but it's another one where the sum of the parts does not make a greater whole. Oh, there was a really funny cameo by LeeSSang's Gary (he and Song Ji Hyo are part of the Monday Couple on Running Man). It wasn't so much a bad drama as just not a very good one. And they actually had some decent medical stories that weren't too crazy as sometimes K-drama medical dramas go.


I guess that's all folks. Congratulations on making it to the end!!! That was rather a long post. I hope you enjoyed it. What dramas did you watch in 2014? Let me know in the comments and if you have others that you think I should have watched. I guess I should add that I watched a good chunk of the following: The Greatest Marriage, The King's Face, High School King, Prime Minister and I, and Empress Ki. Hopefully one day I will get to finishing them.

◀ Whatcha Watchin'? A dewaanifordrama Update 

8 comments:

  1. Whoa, I totally slacked off compared to this, I only watched maybe 4 on this list? Thank God "Witches Romance" was one of them, Park Seo Joon is a new discovery. :D
    Thanks!

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  2. Haha. Apparently I got some drama binging in there because there were several months last year where I didn't watch any drama at all. Park Seo Joon is LOVELY!!! A little while back I was sitting in a food court here in Korea and he was on TV in a CF and I got totally distracted and the friend I was with was like: what's up? and I was like: um I just got distracted by Park Seo Joon ;)

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  3. Makes sense to me and perfectly understandable. I woulda embarrassed myself jumping up and down and pointing, screaming "Oppa!" (even though I'm 3 years older)

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  4. Haha. That is a tempting thought to do that. I'm four years older than him, so it would be even funnier if I did that ;) I don't know what I would do if I really met him in RL though. I might faint ;)

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  5. This post convinced me I need to give Misaeng another try.

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  6. You really should! It's definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but it's a really great drama.

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  7. Hi there! It's my first time to your webpage and i find your honesty in your evaluations refreshing. I too rate Marriage Not Dating higher than You Who Came from The Star, despite the latter's huge following. 2015 will probably be tougher to judge, as we see some pretty strong contenders (in production and/or popularity) from the get go - leading in terms of popularity is of course the recent KMHM & HJM that you've recently compared. I would love to read more of your views of cable drama such as Heart to Heart and Ho Goo's love, as cable drama has a smaller following and is less promoted (such as MnD).

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  8. Welcome to the blog d! We do try to keep things fresh here. I like to look at dramas as a whole based on many elements (there is a longer description on our Ratings page). I don't look at popularity and I also judge from what I enjoyed. I really loved YFAS and wrote several posts on it, and I would watch it again, but in terms of other elements, I could not rate it higher. I wrote a little about Heart to Heart in this post, and I am working right now on a post that talks more about Heart to Heart and Hogu's Love. I really like both those dramas and I find them fun and refreshing. Thank you for commenting!
    http://www.samsoondowntherabbithole.com/2015/02/whatcha-watchin-dewaanifordrama-update.html

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