End of the Year TV Report (2016): Part 1

I never seem to be getting any better at this procrastination thing.  But I’m officially done with all of my full-length reviews of 2016.  Here’s a better-late-than-never recap of the K-Drama year.

The rating system:

Must Watch – Watch and watch again.
Watch – Entertained.
Just OK – Just alright.  Nothing more, nothing less.
If you’re bored – It’s not the worst but that’s not a compliment either.
Pass – Not worth the time.

COMPLETED K-DRAMAS

OH MY VENUS – 오 마이 비너스

The entire cast is incredibly cute and hilarious.  Where She Was Pretty lacked in substance about the subject of body image, I liked that Oh My Venus picked up on the slack in an entertaining way.  However, you can’t overlook the fact that the anticlimactic conclusion to Young Ho’s insecurity is done behind-the-scenes fizzling some of the main tension within the drama.

Verdict: Watch

IMAGINARY CAT – 상상고양이

I wasn’t expecting much from this drama and the drama does lack on substance storywise.  However, if you’re into seeing up and coming actors, it’s worth watching to see the talents of Jo Hye Jung and Kim Min Suk, the latter from Descendants of the Sun and Doctors.  Not wanting to dismiss the talents of Yoo Seung Ho, he’s able to bring out the emotional elements of loss, trust and friendship through his character despite the weak writing, especially considering that most of his scenes are with a cat.

Verdict: Watch

ANSWER ME 1988 – 응답하라 1988

The first two episodes put me to sleep a few times.  But don’t let that turn you off.  The first two episodes introduce a lot of characters and set up the various relationships and backstories.  There’s a lot of digest here.  However, by the end of the series, there’s be a heaping mound of tissues as you watch these heartfelt stories about love, friendship and family.  Unlike the previous Answer Me series, the format for this one focuses on the family drama such as the dramas that were popular at the time.  If you like the American seriesThis is Us or Parenthood, this one might be right up your alley.

Verdict: Must Watch

CHEESE IN THE TRAP – 치즈인더트랩

What is it about Park Hae Jin that always makes him come across as creepy?  He was just too convincing in Bad Guys.  However, I think here he shows that first impressions may not be as they seem.  It’s a coming of age tale about college life meeting adulthood.  Other than the four main actors, Ji Yoon Ho gives a noteworthy performance as a creepy stalker.  So much so, that I think a lot of fans of the drama applauded his realistic performance rather than vilify him for playing an antagonist, as some people find it hard to separate fiction from reality.  As expected of Tearliner, the drama has a great indie soundtrack.

Verdict: Watch

SIGNAL – 시그널

This drama was the first real crime thriller of the year that kept viewers on the edge of their seats.  I think I’ve seen everything Lee Je Hoon has done since I first saw him in Bleak Night and Just Friends?  I’ve been with him through the good times (The Front Line) and through the bad times (Fashion King).  But the one thing that has never changed is my love for him.  He is not only an actor’s actor but he commands the screen.  That’s why I had no qualms that his skills could stand up next to veterans like Jo Jin Woong and Kim Hye Soo.  I really thought I would walk away from this drama with all things biased towards Lee Je Hoon but the one thing that surprised me is how much I loved all 3 main characters equally.  I was a little disappointed by the open ending only because the likelihood of getting these in-demand actors in the same drama again is slim to nil.  I could have used a bit more closure at the end but the positives outweigh the negatives by far.

Verdict: Must Watch

NEIGHBORHOOD HERO – 동네의 영웅

The drama has a great cast and the first episodes are exciting and well-paced.  It also marks the return of Park Shi Hoo to Korean television audiences.  All of the character have unique and interesting backstories, especially the villain Yoon Sang Min’s (Yoon Tae Young).  However, the main plot gets diluted with various subplot that don’t add much to the overall story that the intricacies of their backstories fizzle by the drama’s third act.

Verdict: Just OK

JANG YOUNG SHIL – 장영실 (蔣英實)

The drama follows one of the most influential scientists of the Joseon Dynasty.  In many ways, the drama has a typical traditional sageuk feel.  It’s about class structure, court politics and the positive representation of Korean history.  In other ways, the unique thing about this drama is how Jang Young Shil’s scientific thought process is dramatized in a visual way for the viewers making it a historical science drama.  I could be wrong but I don’t think that many people will be drawn to this drama because a lot of the drama focuses on chronicling the history which can be quite dry but the drama also bring in a human element by depicting a rivalry between Jang Young Shil (Song Il Kook) and Jang Hee Je (Lee Ji Hoon) in their quest for knowledge.

Verdict: Just OK

DESCENDANTS OF THE SUN – 태양의 후예

There are those friends in which you discuss about life and tell your deepest darkest secrets to.  Then, there are those friends who are incredibly fun to party with.  That’s how I feel about Kim Eun Sook dramas.  I now come into these dramas knowing that there will be plot developments that will be inconsistent about following through on plot points and there will be implausible twists.  Some might find that aspect of her writing to be unacceptable.  However, there is something to be said for her dramas consistently pulling in high ratings.  Her dramas are usually entertaining with a cast of pretty stars in which the drama makes them into bigger stars.  I do think that since more and more dramas are being pre-produced, the pacing of her dramas has shown some improvement.

Verdict: Watch

MARRIAGE CONTRACT – 결혼계약

While I expected this weekend family drama to be formulaic, I had hoped that the performances by Lee Seo Jin and Uee would give the story a boost.  Sometimes it’s enough for the casting and the actors’ chemistry to make a run-of-the-mill story compelling.  I do believe that Uee does continue to expand her portfolio as an actress but I’ve seen Lee Seo Jin in roles like this before and am unimpressed by it.

Verdict: If you’re bored

MEMORY – 기억

If old Hollywood had Jimmy Stewart and current-day Hollywood has Tom Hanks, I think Lee Sung Min would be Korea’s equivalent.  As Park Tae Suk, he gives a compelling performance as a flawed character who gets another opportunity to reevaluate his life before he succumbs to his illness.  Beyond Park Tae Suk, I liked that many of the show’s supporting characters were broken in their own way.  The drama explores depicts different levels in humanity in the various supporting characters, whether they’ve been corrupted by greed, scared of the consequences or overcome by grief.  Unfortunately, there are moments in which I wished that the drama developed the backstories of certain characters a bit further but overall, the drama is incredibly captivating and cathartic.

Verdict: Watch

NEIGHBORHOOD LAWYER JO DEUL HO – 동네변호사 조들호

The charming thing I’ve always found about Park Shin Yang’s acting is that he can be zany while unearthing the deeper psyches of his characters.  Even though I’m quite fond of Lovers in Paris, I think that’s why I always liked it when he would the underdog in his dramas.  In the same light, I think Kang Sora can be most charming and compelling when she plays the every woman instead of roles like in Agreeably Warm.  While the drama has a great cast and a feel-good storyline overall, I  do think that the drama oversimplifies the themes of good versus evil and it detracts from what could have made a good drama great.  Having said that, I could completely seeing this drama being remade as the format is solid and straight forward.  With a great lead and good weekly stories, I could see this drama finding an audience that would tune in week after week.

Verdict: Watch

MASTER: GOD OF NOODLES – 마스터: 국수의 신

With its vintage, timeless feel to the drama, it starts off with a bang unfolding the story of the mysterious Kim Gil Do (Jo Jae Hyun), a Keyser Soze like character.  This dark drama weaves an exquisite tale involving a large cast whose only aim was to take Gil Do down.  As much as the main themes of this drama is about revenge and allegiances, I’m still not really sure what point the drama wanted to make about that as the ending is very ambiguous.  That ambiguity is unsettling and it left me feeling unsatisfied.

Verdict: Just OK

ANOTHER OH HAE YOUNG – 또 오해영

What’s unusual was that this wasn’t one of those dramas that I had planned on watching.  But with its hilarious cast and relatable themes about love, I grew quite fond of this drama and its cast.  Certainly, this drama rocketed Seo Hyun Jin to fame and rightly so as she embraced Oh Hae Young’s wackiness.  However, that wasn’t the only reason why fans loved the title character.  It was because Oh Hae Young wore her heart on her sleeve and wasn’t ashamed of it.  We could see that that was characteristic that she learned from her parents whose unconditional love could not be overlooked.

Verdict: Must Watch

DEAR MY FRIENDS – 디어 마이 프렌즈

At first, I worried about whether anyone would want to watch a bunch of aging friends as they navigate their twilight years together.  However, I couldn’t but help feel as to how modern their stories resonated with me.  From defending your daughter from an abusive husband to dealing with dementia to opening your heart again, it was these kind humane stories that drew me to these characters.  Just because you’re old it doesn’t mean you have all the answer and the journey of navigating that uncertainty is half the battle.

Verdict: Watch

MIRROR OF THE WITCH – 마녀보감

This drama blends history with fantasy in this tale about Heo Joon, a court physician during the Joseon Dynasty.  As much as the two leads, Yoon Shi Yoon and Kim Sae Ron, had a big age gap, I did feel that they had a cute chemistry.  However, so much of the drama seems to go in circles when it comes to Heo Joon and Yeon Hee trying to defeat Shaman Hong Joo (Yeom Jung Ah).  The drama should have focused more time developing the relationship between Joon and Yeon Hee as that seemed to fall by the wayside.  I will say that it is worth watching Lee Ji Hoon’s performance as the vulnerable King Seonjo before watching him in Legend of the Blue Sea.

Verdict: Just OK

LUCKY ROMANCE – 운빨로맨스

While Lucky Romance is a fun and easy drama to watch, the drama felt like if you’ve seen one romantic comedy, you’ve seen ‘em all.  Hwang Jung Eum has decent chemistry Ryu Joon Yeol, I couldn’t help but compare her chemistry with Park Seo Joon and Ji Sung from the dramas she did with them the previous year.  Although, I will say that Jung Sang Hoon and Lee Cho Hee and the banter between their character left me cracking up throughout.

Verdict: Just OK

DOCTORS – 닥터스

I could see that this drama was trying to emulate the style of American medical dramas with its doctors dealing with cases from episode to episode.  The highlight of this drama was watching the guest stars and the various medical issues they faced.  Even within the short amount of time, they brought their emotions to the surface.  I have to admit that I was less interested in the drama going on between the doctors but will admit that enough tension was written in the story to keep it going until the end.

Verdict: Just OK

LET’S FIGHT, GHOST – 싸우자 귀신아

With it’s cute, zippy premise and its feisty leads, there was a lot about this drama to enjoy.  Ok Taek Yeon had excellent chemistry with Kim So Hyun and Kang Ki Young and Lee David were hilarious supporting characters.  If there was anything to criticize about this drama, it’s probably the fact that the overall story is predictable but don’t let that deter you.  It’s a fun and easy drama to watch with a twist of intrigue.

Verdict: Watch

THE GOOD WIFE – 굿와이프

I’ll just say that if you’ve seen the original American series, then it’s hard to stop making comparisons and knowing how the cases turned out.  The Korean version did little to write many of the elements in a different way.  However, there’s a great cast and storyline works so well for Korean audiences.  If you haven’t seen the original American drama, this drama explores the flaws in all humans.  I will admit that the ending to this drama is unsatisfying because of the open ending.  It’s not the open ending itself that bothered me but the fact that we skip a number of months and there no lead up to how our characters got there.  I think Korean dramas need to understand that if you adapt an American drama for Korean television, it’s not beneficial to leave emotional loose ends.  I can live with cliffhangers but emotional there needs to be some resolution.

Verdict: Just OK

W – 더블유

I found the writing for this drama to be unexpectedly innovative.  Have you ever watched dramas and felt like if you were the hero and heroine, you would do things differently?  Keeping in mind that each episode needs to end with a cliffhanger?  The drama takes all the K-Drama tropes and twists the plot for its own benefit.  It was almost like looking into an infinity mirror and seeing all of the directions that the drama could go in.  In that respect, I found the drama quite thrilling.  I could also see why there are other viewers who simply don’t get what the fuss of this drama was about.  The best way I can explain it is the movie, “Scream”.  The reason why that movie was so unique was that the plot itself was a critique of the horror genre and I view W in that same light.  Plus, Lee Jong Suk and Han Hyo Joo has an irresistibly cute chemistry that had me in stitches.

Verdict: Must Watch

MONSTER – 몬스터

Even after all these years, Kang Ji Hwan and Sung Yuri’s chemistry is undeniable.  However, there weren’t enough lovey dovey scenes between the two of them that made the 50 episodes worthwhile.  On the plus side, I really enjoyed watching the badassery of Soo Hyun and Jo Bo Ah’s multi-leveled performances that ranged from comedic to dramatic.

Verdict: If you’re bored

MOONLIGHT DRAWN BY THE CLOUDS – 구르미 그린 달빛

I get it.  Park Bo Gum is preeetty.  Kim Yoo Jung is adorable.  And the drama’s cinematography makes the main cast seem like they have halos behind them.  The drama veers far from the historical reality of Prince Hyomyung, which is fine, but sometimes you need a little more character development and a little more plot.

Verdict: Just OK

DRINKING SOLO – 혼술남녀

This drama is about the everyday struggle , and that happens everywhere, even at the Noryangjin learning prep center.  It’s about characters who finds ways to relieve that stress by drinking.  That’s a pretty relatable topic.  With its big cast of characters who range from hilarious to emotional, I think the drama offers a realistic look at life.  That portrayal might not be as profound as it was in Misaeng but it’s still engaging.

Verdict: Watch

MOON LOVERS: SCARLET HEART RYEO – 달의 연인: 보보경심 려

Where Moonlight Drawn By the Clouds lacked substance, I thought Moon Lovers had a lot of character backstory to work with.  I was riveted by Lee Jun Ki’s portrayal of Wang So as the psyche of his character made us fear him and sympathetic of him at the same time.  The cinematography and the soundtrack completed the drama’s epic feel.  Despite that it’s hard to overlook the inconsistent editing, even more so if you saw the non-Korean broadcast version.  It really does the drama a disservice as the emotional connection with the characters is fractured as we watch this drama.

Verdict: Must Watch

JEALOUSY INCARNATE – 질투의 화신

I fully realize that this drama is about jealousy.  It is expected that the characters will be petty, immature and underhanded.  However, I really just didn’t like the main characters.  Pyo Na Ri (Gong Hyo Jin) is needy, Lee Hwa Shin (Jo Jung Seok) is mean and Go Jung Won (Go Kyung Pyo) becomes desperate.  Perhaps I could just plodded along with the drama if it were just a mere 16 episodes.  24 episodes pushed it far over the limit.  The drama also confused me as to what the tone should be.  Is it a slapstick comedy?  Are we talking a dramedy here?  Or is it a black comedy?  The drama tried to do too much with its music montage and internal fantasies with little character development, especially that of the supporting cast.  It was just hard not to get exasperated with the drama.

Verdict: Pass

ON THE WAY TO THE AIRPORT – 공항 가는 길

With its vivid cinematography, this drama isn’t simply about a married man and married woman having an affair.  It’s about the unexpected events in their life that brings them together and suddenly finding a unique connection.  I think what was important about this drama was the personality traits of the four main characters.  Without a clear outline of what made these people who they are, it would have been hard for the drama to build up the emotional connection.  It’s a slow burn but I still haven’t been able to leave behind my feelings for this drama.

Verdict: Must Watch

THIS WEEK, MY WIFE’S HAVING AN AFFAIR – 이번주, 아내가 바람을 핍니다

Unlike On the Way to the Airport, This Week, My Wife’s Having an Affair left me with a different emotional resonance.  It was interesting the various perspective about cheating versus the affect cheating can have for those individuals who are involved.  Each couple seemed to have their own tone/genre, whether it was a romantic comedy, comedy or drama.  The drama also explored distinct, and sometimes unexpected, resolutions.  I think everyone will find someone to identify amongst these characters and the choices they make.

Verdict: Watch

THE MAN LIVING IN OUR HOUSE – 우리집에 사는 남자

It’s a cute drama.  Soo Ae is hilarious.  Kim Young Kwang is hot.  The cast all seem quirky and funny.  I was just disappointed by the trite plot.  The characters just seem to be very understanding.  And the story doesn’t seem to progress quickly or enough.  We’re just left waiting and waiting and waiting for them to do something about their situation.

Verdict: If you’re bored

ENTOURAGE – 안투라지

Flashy, cool and extravagant.  That’s probably the last thing Korean people want to watch right now considering the political landscape.  I grew increasingly exasperated by Cha Young Bin’s (Seo Kang Jun) indecisiveness and lack of resolve.  However, I did quite enjoy the journey of the other characters, Cha Joon (Lee Kwang Soo), Lee Ho Jin (Park Jung Min), Geobook (Lee Dong Hwi) and Kim Eun Gab (Jo Jin Woong).  The OST is off… the… hook.  Even if you don’t watch the drama, go ahead and download the OST.

Verdict: Just OK

_____________________________________________________

BEST K-DRAMA: DRAMA

I had to split my decision on this one as I love the writing for both of these dramas.   They not only became huge hits but I’m still reeling from the story and its characters.

SIGNAL – I initially was wary about this drama because the story sounded too much like the movie, Frequency.  I kinda wanted to see if this drama could do a better job than the movie because I had enjoyed the movie.  Then, I saw the big name cast and I couldn’t believe that they were all committed to this drama.  The cases were thrilling and the performances by some of the guest stars gave me chills.  As viewers, we even became active participants in this drama as we were invested in the main characters’ finding their happy ending.  I’ll admit that I was entirely happy about the ending because it was coup to get all these mega-stars in one drama at the same time.  I’m pessimistic that it’ll happen again and therefore I don’t see Season 2 happening.  However, the ride was awesome while it lasted.

W – I was quite taken by the drama within a webtoon premise.  The characters are all so lovable and memorable that it was hard not to see why this was the trendy hit of the summer.  I was also impressed by the artwork that was created for the drama as they were a character in and of itself.  Also, I liked that the drama could predictably satisfy viewers while unpredictably keeping them at the edge of their seats about the ending.  That’s not an easy feat.

BEST K-DRAMA: COMEDY

ANOTHER OH HAE YOUNG – It’s hard to deny that this was the comedy hit of the summer.  When you watch a comedy, you expect over-the-top, wacky characters but what this drama brought to the table was so much more.  Just Oh Hae Young’s (Seo Hyun Jin) situation or the guilt felt by Park Do Kyung (Eric) or the unconditional love Hae Young’s parents (Kim Mi Kyung and Lee Han Wie) had for their daughter were only some of the reasons that made this drama relatable and emotionally connected the viewers with the drama.  I literally did watch some of the episodes again with my sister as she finally committed to watching this drama over the Christmas/New Year’s break and it is still resonated with me.

BEST K-DRAMA PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR

JO JIN WOONG (SIGNAL – LEE JAE HAN) – While there was no doubt that I’d love the main cast, I honestly came to this drama for Lee Je Hoon.  I will watch anything he’s in.  Having said that, I had grown quite a crush on Jo Jin Woong in Full Sun.  Previously, I knew he was great character actor and over the years, I had seen him play a number of tough gangsters and lots of bad guys.  I never really saw him as the romantic lead until that drama.  I think someone else was able to see that quality but made him into the hero in this drama instead.  Here in Signal, Jo Jin Woong was able to play a variety of levels of the same character from the shy romantic to the cynical senior while yet not losing sight of his morals.  These were all reason why we rooted for him.

BEST K-DRAMA PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS

SEO HYUN JIN (ANOTHER OH HAE YOUNG – JUST OH HAE YOUNG) – This was Seo Hyun Jin’s year as she went from this successful drama to the next.  What made Just Oh Hae Young relatable to viewers is that she was a character who was dealing with heartbreak, lack of confidence and loneliness.  That’s bound to make anyone snap.  However, what endeared her to viewers is the fact that Seo Hyun Jin was able to embrace the uncouth qualities in her character and act it out without any pretense.

BEST K-DRAMA ENSEMBLE CAST

ANSWER ME 1988 – Not only was this cast able to make viewers laugh but they brought a lot of emotion and heart.  About halfway through the drama, I ended every episode in a ball of tears as it was a drama about life, love and family.  Somehow by watching this drama, they became part of my family.  Even now, just listening to the drama’s OST makes me tear up and I wouldn’t feel this way if the performances were so on point.

BEST K-DRAMA OF THE YEAR

ANSWER ME 1988 – What’s surprising is that this drama aired early on in the year but I can still feel the emotional resonance of this drama even now.  From its cast, to the stories, to the drama’s running gag and gimmicks and the OST, this drama made just a lasting impression because the tale is so universal.

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3 thoughts on “End of the Year TV Report (2016): Part 1

  1. Wow, you watched so many dramas! So impressed! I loved what you said about the intrigue of W. I also appreciated how the entire, infinite reality of possibilities sort of stretched out before us, and as viewers, allowed our imaginations to run with what we thought could happen. It was a comic book, and therefore could have taken any path, any twist. Because of that, it kept me hooked and wondering which way the writers were going to go with the storyline.

    Your reviews are perfect–succinct, and informative. I haven’t watched Signal yet. I tend to shy away from Kdrama thrillers/action genres because I’m a spoiled American, and we have lots of those that are so well-done. I usually turn to Kdramas for romance because Americans just can’t seem to get that right lol. But you’re making me want to try it.

    Thanks again for reviewing and sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would definitely try Signal because it did feel have more of an American crime drama feel. I don’t watch as much anymore simply because of time but I typically find that the British crime dramas are grittier and more thrilling than the American ones and I’m quite partial to them. Although lately, the cable programs have been fantastic. I assume by your username that you watch the British ones as well? 🙂

      Like

      • That would be a totally fair assumption, except that I actually don’t, lol! Devon and Cornwall are our pen names, and they’re from a movie called Quest for Camelot. There’s a two-headed dragon in the movie, with one head named Devon, and one head named Cornwall. We love the movie, and the two-headed dragon is a perfect representation of how we write one book with two voices. 😀 So that’s where that comes from.

        Liked by 1 person

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