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WWATD?! Spring is here! 2011

April 15, 2011

This edition of What’s with all the Drama?! finds us in a bit of an in between mode on our dramas. We had a bunch of dramas wrap up, and we’re now in full search mode to figure out which of the new ones we should be watching!

A show that we really enjoyed was Queen of Reversals.

Korean drama Queen of Reversals poster

There was no doubt that we would be watching this series, due to the presence of Park Shi Hoo, Sunnie’s current obsession, playing the rich but tortured chaebol Goo Yong Shik.  Surprisingly, a wait-and-see approach by the network on how many episodes the series would end up being relegated him to a very minor role in the early episodes, and the expected development of romance between he and the female lead, Hwang Tae Hee, played by Kim Nam Joo, took a lot time to get going. That being said, it set up the drama to really take its time dealing with what really was the main theme: the break up of a marriage.

This series was sometimes hard to watch due to the frustration of the injustice with which its characters were treated by the cruel and greedy bosses at their workplace, Queens, as well as the sadness of seeing two likable characters, Hwang Tae Hee, and her husband, Bong Jun Soo, played by Jung Joon Ho, struggle to hold their marriage together. Chae Jung Ahn, marking her best appearance since Coffee Prince, is Baek Yeo Jin, Tae Hee’s rival at work and in her relationship with her husband.

Once the series finally got rolling, we saw a classic Korean drama love quadrangle but despite plenty of romantic scenes, it was always tinged with elements of sadness as the only way for the couples to realize their love would be for the other relationships to break apart.

Queen of Reversals piggy back ride in the snow

A further element of sweetness and sadness was brought to the series by our favorite (who we named our “Joy to Watch” award after in our year-end drama awards), Kim Chang Hwan, who plays a terminally ill worker at Queens who is hiding his illness to earn as much money as he can for his wife and children who are living in Canada. This was probably my favorite amongst the dramas that just wrapped up due to its depth, and how it tackled several difficult topics in life. It certainly could leave you feeling hollow at times, not knowing who you should be rooting for and what you should be hoping for, and they maintained that feeling throughout the drama. They also had a nice OST with several songs we really liked:

To counteract the occasional melancholy of Queen of Reversals, we turned to a nice piece of fluffy confection for our weekly k-drama dessert: the K-pop idol-fest, Dream High.

Kdrama Dream High poster

Dream High was about a performing arts high school (think Fame), and starred a number of Kpop idols: Miss A’s Suzy, 2PM’s Wooyoung and Taecyeon, T-Ara’s Ham Eun Jung, and most importantly to us, IU. Singer and music mogul JYP also played a feature character, and I was looking forward to seeing him after his hilarious turn as a singer trapped on a toilet in the Wondergirls’ Nobody music video:

And he certainly didn’t disappoint. Probably the biggest star from the show ended up being the non-idol Kim Soo Hyun as Song Sam Dong, who did a passable job singing and dancing amongst his idol peers, while showing off some nice acting chops. Honestly, we were pretty surprised at the quality of acting by all of the idols, and IU did a nice job in her debut playing an overweight girl who is told that she must lose weight to be a singer. She and Wooyoung formed a really cute couple who ended up being given the moniker, “Milky Couple” by fans (due to a play-on-words when combining their names).

Dream High's Milky Couple

A pleasant surprise was IU’s character’s refusal to be defined by her weight. Outside of one horrific episode that took place in Japan (it was like some mystery director kidnapped the production and totally messed things up) this was an easy and enjoyable watch with nice performances by the idols and adult actors alike.

Plus, Dream High gave me an idea for a brand new award for next year’s K-drama awards: Drama Most Likely to be Mistaken for a Budweiser Commercial. In the early episodes, filmed in winter, they had the heating system shut off on the set and every time any of the actors said anything, huge clouds of breath would come rolling out. It was totally distracting, not for the least because you were thinking of the poor actors having to act in what looked like arctic conditions!

Dream High breathingDream High breathing 2

Somehow we missed the mega-hit Iris, but we ended up watching the spin-off, Athena.

Kdrama Athena poster

Athena started a little slow for us because of a uber-hyper focus on action, if that makes any sense. They put so much focus on action scenes that I had a hard time understanding what the heck was going on. Ultimately, it settled down to a really gritty and dark series. It never came close to being the hit that its predecessor was, but we were pulled in by the actors, who were solid across the board (and very very good looking, which never hurts). While there were times reality seemed to be taking a vacation, I liked this series and am probably going to have to go back and give Iris another try. SNSD’s Taeyeon had a nice contribution to the Athena OST:

One fun bit of voyeurism that came from Athena was the revelation of a secret off-screen romance between two of its stars. The Korean paparazzi managed to track them down as they met up in Paris and took the following shots:

Jung Woo Sung & Lee Ji Ah in Paris

Jung Woo Sung & Lee Ji Ah in Paris 2

Now normally I would feel very sorry for Jung Woo Sung and Lee Ji Ah  for not being able to have their privacy and rage against the inhumanity of the paparazzi, but the pictures are just so funny that I kind of got a kick out of it. They just look like they’re trying so hard to be secretive that the only way left to go is to pull out the glasses and rubber nose with a mustache, so I guiltily confess to getting a kick out of this. The couple initially denied the romance, but soon admitted that the gig was up.

The biggest K-drama amongst these that garnered much of the attention in Korea was Secret Garden.

Korean drama Secret Garden poster

We previously blogged about Secret Garden due to the vast amount of fur they were throwing in our faces, but they unfortunately are hardly alone in this. The show had charismatic actors, and the male lead, Hyun Bin, rode this show to huge stardom right before heading off to fulfill his military service requirement in the marines. We enjoyed this show but were a little bit mystified at what all the fuss was about. Outside of the initial zaniness of the body switch early in the series, it was a pretty cut and dry romance, dealing with the challenges of class issues. There were certainly some of those iconic scenes ripe for parody, notably the sit-up scene:

Secret Garden situp scene

but ultimately we felt the last half couldn’t match the first, and while we easily watched the whole series, we weren’t really blown away at all. One place that Secret Garden wasn’t over hyped though was its OST, which was dominant in the ratings and really, really good:

We felt a little lost at all our dramas wrapping up at once, or come to think of it, it may just have been this particular group of dramas which were pretty dark at time. We’ve since tried on a couple of the new ones. Sunnie started watching My Princess, which inexplicably does not have subtitles on the American broadcast, and she enjoyed the early episodes but it’s started to creep a bit during the later episodes. The main new drama we’re enamored with is The Duo.

Kdrama The Duo

There’s something very satisfying about a well done historical K-drama, the injustice is INJUSTICE, and the stakes just seem higher. We’ve really been enjoying this one; although, to this point, it’s been the younger actors we’ve been watching, and it looks like they are about to switch over. We really enjoyed the younger versions of the characters quite a bit.

The Duo Young Cast

Plus, I really like the score for the series using traditional Korean instruments, another bonus to historical K-dramas. I loved the Painter of the Wind music, for example.

We’re still probably missing some good K-dramas right now, as there are always too many to keep up with. What are you watching now? What are we missing out on?!

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. linda permalink
    April 16, 2011 3:35 am

    o this is really useful for an outsider in london!!
    i liked secret garden..any insight into korean culture is good for me…and i loved hyeon bin’s clothes..he wore vivienne westwood and comme des garcons..2 of my faves!!
    and the house he lived in..wow..what great architecture!!
    i recently watched an oldie..my sweet seoul…do you like it?
    i love to see seoul!!

    • Bill permalink*
      April 16, 2011 11:36 am

      Hi, Linda! I hardly ever notice fashion whatsoever; I have to rely on Sunnie to help me in that department, so beyond the “Italian hand-stitched” jump suit he was so fond of, I was in the dark! :)

      I haven’t seen My Sweet Seoul yet, but Sunnie has and really liked it. It’s on my list to catch up on as I’ve heard it mentioned again and again. So many dramas, so little time….

    • Sunnie permalink*
      April 16, 2011 11:36 am

      Hi Linda! Hope you’re well!! I loved Hyeon Bin’s clothes and house in the show too, and it was so funny how he would always try to brag about them when everyone was not interested! :) My sweet Seoul was great, I remember watching it a couple of years ago and really liking it. The story was really good and the director added a nice delicate touch to every scene, I thought. Now that you reminded me, maybe I will watch it again and ask Bill to watch it with me! Thanks Linda! :)

  2. BarbwireCowgirl permalink
    May 13, 2011 7:29 pm

    I watched the historical drama Chuno within a week, couldn’t stop until the end. There was hardly anytime for a slow-down, lots of action, drama, and even romance. Have you seen it yet?
    As for another historical, Iljimae has a nice addicting tone. Seeing how popular it was you guys have probably seen it. :)

    • Bill permalink*
      May 13, 2011 8:36 pm

      You know, Chuno is another one on our list of kdramas that we haven’t seen but want to. If you watched it in a week, we’ll have to check it out for sure. Our record is still Dae Jang Geum, which we finished in under a month. As for Iljimae, do you mean Iljimae or Return of Iljimae? We actually never watched either. We tried Return of Iljimae because of its popularity, but it didn’t stick with us for some reason, so we quit after the first episode. You never know what’s going to work for you. Like Joseon X-files was highly rated by a bunch of bloggers, and sounded like it was right up my alley, but I didn’t make it past the first episode. It just didn’t grab me for some reason….

      We’re definitely going to try out Chuno at some point, and if we hit a patch where the current dramas aren’t working for us, we may give Return of Iljimae another try as well. Thanks for the recommendations!

      • BarbwireCowgirl permalink
        May 14, 2011 3:01 am

        Indeed, I agree with you on Return of Iljimae, I didn’t even finish with the beginning episode. But the original Iljimae was good.
        I really appreciated your insights for some of the other dramas out there, like Personal Taste, which I am only on the third episode but am already waning on.
        One drama that I really enjoyed from beginning to end is Life Special Investigation Team with Uhm Ki Joon. He was also in Hero (good drama) with Lee Joon Ki but as a more bad guy character, which was hard getting used to after watching him as a lovable guy in Life Special.
        Wow, it certainly is nice having someone to talk to about kdrama, and you replied swift, even though your on a vacation! You guys have fun! Can’t wait to hear about new recipes and adventures!

      • Bill permalink*
        May 14, 2011 5:39 pm

        Ah, good. Now we can cross Return of Iljimae off our potential list. We sometimes feel remorse when dumping a series so quickly and think about giving it another go. We’ll definitely have to consider the original Iljimae as it has Park Shi Hoo in it which always raises the likelihood that Sunnie will want to give it a try! We’ll keep an eye out for Life Special Investigation Team as well as we haven’t seen any of it yet. Still battling the jet lag but hope to get out to some vegan restaurants and post about it soon!

      • Sunnie permalink*
        May 14, 2011 7:29 pm

        Hello BarbwireCowgirl! Thanks for finding us; it really is wonderful to be able to get some insights about the different kdramas that we haven’t watched from you. We now know what we need to try! ;) Yes, we will definitely be sharing our visits to different places in Seoul, including veggie restaurants. Take care!

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  1. WWATD?!: 2011 Kdrama Awards (March Madness Edition) « The Vegan 8 Korean

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