I’m going to make it easy on myself and tell you that you really have to preview these to be sure they are family friendly. I can’t take responsibility for somebody watching one of these on my say-so and then being embarrassed because we don’t have the same standards, or because I dozed off and missed an important scene. This is a place to start, not the ultimate guide to family friendly viewing- plus, most of these I would not watch with younger viewers anyway (mostly they’d be bored and couldn’t keep up with the subtitles).
Here are some basic things I’ve picked up from watching K-dramas and reading up on them. I am undoubtedly wrong about some of them, but that’s okay. Culture Clash may also be useful.
Note- if it’s one of my top ten (so far), I’ve asterisked the title. Do bear in mind that this is all about dramas I liked. I don’t usually review dramas I disliked. I also do not generally review any K-dramas that I think are unsuitable for watching with teens at all.
I don’t watch K-dramas to get deep insights into life, to be given some philosophical questions to ponder, though there are K-dramas that certainly do that, I don’t watch them. I watch for escape, for distraction, for PTSD thereapeutic purposes.
There are certain things I especially like in my K-dramas, and if these elements are in a show, I am predisposed to be smitten. Those elements are (and not in any special order):
- Cute kids
- Warm sibling/family bonds and connections
- Certain types of fight scenes- mainly scenes that require wire work and utilize high kicks. I don’t know why.
- Lots of Korean cultural elements (this is why I liked Gourmet and Hello, Miss, even though otherwise, they were kind of slow).
- large families
- Heavy on the cute and adorable
I don’t have to have all of these things in any given drama. It’s just that any drama that has a strong showing of any one or two of these things goes to my head- the more of these elements the more smitten I am. Your list may be different than mine. I like other things, too, of course, good soundtrack, witty writing, fine acting, good production values- but these are things that make a show. The list above are the things for which I am willing to forgive a show that might otherwise be lacking.
So here’s my list- in mostly random order-
**********The King 2 Hearts; My favorite, and the only one I watched twice just because I loved it that much (I have watched two or three others twice to preview them for my kids, but this one I watched just because I loved it). Longer review here.
This is a crime/revenge story with multiple twists and just enough romance to make it a nice compromise between those who only want chick flicks and those who prefer more adrenaline. I really enjoyed it, and not just because of Lee Min Ho. Reviewed here.
Jumong– historical drama. Jumong is the third son of the king, his mother is not the King’s first wife, and he is the sort of male Cinderella character typical in fairy tales, bumbling, lazy, goofy, despised by his older brothers and the Queen. Naturally, this is the story of how he grows up and overcomes his disadvantages and becomes King.
Secret Garden: nothing to do with the British book of the same title. It’s a body swapping romantic comedy. Naturally, there are some jokes about the body swapping issues that are related to the fact that it’s the male/female leads who have somehow swapped souls and are now trapped in other body of the other person. Being that this a chaste (ish) Korean drama, the first time the newly swapped female character has to go to the bathroom in her now male body, you don’t see it, you just hear her screams of horror and then watch her washing her hands over and over, which, actually, was pretty hilarious. There are some very weak plot points involved in the storyline of just how and why their bodies are switched and how to get them back, but it’s worth the ride. Huge bonus, and to me more fun even than the romance- you get one of the best bromances ever between the two male cousins, who are first and second lead, and they only get better as the story progresses. Oh, that Oska. A side character is gay. I wouldn’t watch this one with my youngest kids and maybe not my son (I’m thinking he wouldn’t really enjoy most of it anyway, not being a chick flick kind of dude), but I liked it. The humour is a bit racier than you may like at times, but I didn’t think it was vile.
You’re Beautiful: romantic comedy- the twin sister of a newly recruited (male) idol-to-be has to pretend to be him while he recovers from a botched cosmetic surgery in order to save his huge big break for him. She’s slightly more believable as a boy than most of the other shows I’ve seen with the same premise, mainly because she fits the flower-boy image so popular with Korean idols (a flower boy doesn’t mean what it sounds like to American ears- he just is pretty, fresh faced, very young looking and dream-boaty). Lots of improbable plot points, some annoyingly tedious shenanigans from third parties who mainly exist to prolong the agony, along with the usual obnoxious misunderstandings based on somebody being too proud or too bashful to speak up when speaking up would clear everything up instantly. However, cute, cute, cute, and I loved the transformation of the main male lead from mean jerk to devoted lover. Lots of funny moments, some iffy.
Faith, or The Great Doctor– I’m watching this one with my 14 y.o. son. It’s not epic, but it’s fun. Some of the main characters have some special powers and that aspect of the program is a bit cheesy and comic booky, but then, so is the idea that there is a time traveling door that opens once in a while and people can slip in and out, and the main female lead is a modern day cosmetic surgeon kidnapped from the modern era by a warrior sent to bring her back to the middle ages of Korea to save the Queen’s life. Ignore that and enjoy the ride again. The parts I especially enjoy: The main lead’s droll delivery of most of his lines, his dry wit, his growth; The little king, who learns how to be a king worthy of the name, the young queen who loves him with all her heart but it takes him forever to figure that out; the delicious Court Lady Choi, who says things like, “Can I stop bowing now, because I am busy and have many things to do?” The fight scenes. The acrobatic Dae-man and his hair, which should be a character all its own. Also, Lee Min Ho, and if that means nothing to you, maybe you’ve only been watching K-dramas since yesterday.
What I don’t like: the female lead is shrill, trivial, annoying, and cringe inducingly shallow at times. A flaming fay warrior in white who is just a bit creepy. Flute boy is beautiful to look at but really doesn’t do much to progress the plot and his side-kick Firehand Girl is equally pointless to the plot.
Caveat- we skipped through part of a scene in, I think, the 4th episode. It’s a recounting of the behavior of a previous king who ran a very loose and promiscuous court- all the retainers and the king are drunk, they all have female companions wearing strapless gowns, and there is a scene where he orders another female to undress. It stops before you’ve seen anything you can’t see on the cover of Cosmopolitan, and maybe less, but it’s suggestive and I don’t think you can be too careful with 14 year old boys.
********The Man of the Vineyard: Also called Vineyard Man- romantic comedy, pro-agrarian theme, lovely scenes, noble farmer- I loved this. It’s a bit slow at times, and the main actress is not one of my favorites. She is hugely popular in Korea, but I find she plays essentially the same part the same way all the time, and that part includes a lot of whining and muttering and trailing off into inarticulate slurred speech in whatever she’s saying. She’s kind of mush mouthed- I can’t distinguish any words she says. You’d think it wouldn’t matter, since I don’t speak Korean or understand more than about ten words, and those ten words need to be spoken slowly. But her trailing mutterings irritate me after a while and I want to shake her and ask her to ENUNCIATE! For family viewing there is a scene in the first and second episodes you might prefer to skip- she is a struggling fashion designer wannabe, and her boss hires three thugs to steal her newly designed outfit- which she is wearing. She’s stuck in the bathroom in her slip, and then there is confusion that would take too long to explain but ends up with her and Vineyard man stuck at the police station swapping accusations of sexual assault. Really, I think the first two episodes are mostly skippable- read a recap to get up to speed and then watch the rest. I thought it was incredibly sweet, and I loved the pro-agrarian theme.
Hello Miss / Hello My Lady: romantic comedy with some lovely background scenes on traditional Korean culture. I would so love to have the male lead’s character as a son-in-law. He’s so sweet. This is one of my favorites, but that could be because it was one of the earliest ones I watched. There is another drama called Hello, My Lady that is totally a different story, but I loved it, too.
My Girlfriend is a Nine-tailed Fox, also called My Girlfriend is a Gumiho– romantic comedy, total chick-flick, frustrating and irritating conflicts at times, but both the leads here are so ridiculously cute that I’d forgive a lot just to watch them be unbelievably adorable and mischievous together. Some of the jokes are around her matter of fact remarks about ‘mating,’ and that is the word she uses. She is a fox, after all. A Gumiho is a Korean mythical creature, a nine-tailed fox. She is a nine-tailed fox who wished to become human. The real legend of the Gumiho is altered significantly for the show, and that was kind of a neat storyline. Probably more ‘off color’ jokes than most of the others (with the exception of Hong Gil Dong) I like, but this is very sweet, funny, and adorable. Longer review here.
Coffee House– Romantic Comedy (not to be confused with Coffee Prince, which I do not recommend)- an early scene involves a lot of toilet humour, which is more common in Korean dramas than in American (I find it interesting that toilet humour is crass and vulgar here, but sexual jokes are perfectly acceptable), and there is a really irritating part of the story that involves the female lead being so dumb- the dumb is way overplayed here, and I could hardly stand to watch her on screen in the middle of the series- it was uncomfortable because she was so dumb that in real life a character that clueless would actually belong in the special ed class at school so it was like making fun of somebody for being disabled. However, I love the main actor and the second female lead and I really liked the story, so I just gritted my teeth and pushed through it. The female lead does grow up and wake up a few brain cells, but I never really cared very much about her, I just wanted to see the antics of her boss, her boss’s boss, and the guy in the building across the way.
There’s some lazy writing where some major story resolution occurs off screen as though by magic, some steamy kiss scenes, and a couple other scenes I’d rather my son didn’t watch- it’s really a chick flick, anyway. Did I say I like this actor a lot? He’s really quite good, especially at portraying slightly offbeat, quirky people.
Detectives in Trouble / Crime Squad / Homicide
– I liked this, but at the moment I can’t remember anything else about it except that I liked it, and it was as the title suggests – crime/suspense, not comedy..
Iris- this is the first drama that I watched, and I really enjoyed it at the time. It’s action/adventure/spy material. Reviewed here. Athena is similar, but the best episode turned out to be a dream. I won’t be watching Iris 2, the sequel.
Iris I has a fascinating usage of Christian symbols and terms.
I also really enjoyed the squeaky clean and incredibly sweet Heartstrings / You’ve Fallen for Me , a teen romance (the kids are in college). There’s an annoying Noble Idiot theme in the second to last and part of the last episode, and that really is a buzzkill, but I just pretend that’s not how it all happened and edit it out in my mind and rewrote it to make sense and not totally shred the character that has been built up through the entire series. The first episode is incredibly sloooooooow (this tends to be true for me for most Korean dramas- I have to watch two, and sometimes three episodes before I think I’ve seen enough of the storyline to know if I like it or not- or I read a recap of the first and second episodes to see where they are going). Other than that, this is really a sweet chickflicky romance that I really enjoyed. Added bonus- the music is delightful, and if you wished the second lead got the girl in You’re Beautiful, that actor plays the main lead here, and he’s still the best boyfriend ever and he finally gets the girl. Just remember to rewrite most of the Noble Stupidhead plotline in your head, because it totally doesn’t work, well, just about ever, but it was really jarring here..
******Another one I love that isn’t for everybody goes by the names Shut Up, Flower Boy Band/ Shut Up and Run/Shut UP and Let’s Go, and a couple other titles I forget. For me, this one is up there with King 2 Hearts, probably one of my top five favorites of the dramas I’ve watched. It’s also clean in regard to relations between the sexes, deliciously full to the brim of some truly delightful bromance, and loaded with rock music and sass. It’s really well done, and it just gets better and better, apart from the noble idiot theme again, although the noble idiot totally gets called on that, so that was good.
It’s about a high school rock band of near delinquents, mostly from broken homes, and their search for fame. They aren’t so much bad as they are a bit wild, independent, and quick to defend themselves with some handy fisticuffs. They never start the fights, but they usually end them, with smiles. They are also cuter than a basket full of puppies, and I am not just talking about their looks, but about their interactions with each other. The Chemistry and Charisma, it is strong in these boys.
I watched the first two episodes and thought it was okay, but not really my thing. Then a recap made me think otherwise and I watched the rest. I am glad I did. But if rough around the edges teens who get into fights and sass their teachers (with wit, charm, and sharp insight into what those teachers are doing wrong) is a turn off, you won’t like it. I really, really loved the way they worked out the plot in this drama with some really nice coming of age resolutions. I found this series overall to be very heartwarming and endearing, once you get past the first 3 episodes or so, when you might think you’re only watching a fangirl’s dream show about teen rockers and James Dean types, but if you pay close attention even in the very first scene you’re getting much more than that. It starts out looking like a show just for teens, but I don’t think it is at all limited to teens for its appeal. Also, spoiler, spoiler, spoiler- the leader of the band is only a cameo role by a real-life Korean rocker. He dies dramatically and abruptly in the second or third episode, and I was a bit shaken by that scene.
For me, this is definitely one of my top ten. I would even suggest going back and watching the first scene of the first episode once you finish it, to see how well the foreshadowing was done.
Hong Gil Dong
– lots of caveats required for sexual innuendos,so preview. This is another one where I watched it because I really like the main actors- the male lead is the guy in Coffee House and as I said, I think he’s really talented at quirky, zany characters. Hong Gil Dong is a Korean Robin Hood character. This one starts out as a great comedy/adventure show for about the first half, and then became political tragedy, which was frustrating. Both were well done, but I prefer to watch one or the other at a time, or at least know what’s coming. Now you know, so maybe you’ll enjoy it.
Dream High Romantic comedy, high school musical, coming of age, figuring out who you are and what your dreams are- Dream High just got better and better as it went along. It’s kind of like Fame, only way better, cleaner, sweeter, cuter, and with a set story arc heading toward a solid conclusion. Cutest pairing ever- Pil-sook and Jason, who are not the first or second leads, but the third, and I want to take them home with me. When I say it’s kind of like Fame I mean if you liked Fame, you’ll probably like this, but if you hated Fame, you still might like this because it’s so much better (IMO). Or maybe you aren’t old enough to remember Fame, in which case, I hate you. No, I mean, never mind that comparison.
What we have here is a bunch of talented kids, some with great egos to match, at a performing arts high school competing for honors and glory, and a quick run through on their after high school story. There’s some hilarity, some bromance (YAY), lots of cuteness, teen-age angst, parent troubles (because a couple of the parents are real losers), warmth, and lots of affection. Sweet show, but does not sacrifice some genuine realism and pain for the sweet- there is a very well done thread (as in realistic without being graphic or needlessly detailed) involving an unscrupulous mogul assaulting a sweet young thing (that happens off screen), and the aftermath, and how the scandal ends up hurting her more than him, even though she’s the victim. It was done as discretely and tastefully as it could be done, and would go right over the heads of most kids- you have to know something about the seamy life to know what they are talking about in this part of the story, and i thought it was well-done and worth watching.
Set in the Joseun era, a girl must support her widowed mother and sickly younger brother, and she does it by dressing up as a boy in order to be a scribe. Through a series of unfortunate events all of which are driven by a well meaning busy body, she ends up as a scholarship student at an all boys’ school (the only kind there were), where she has to share a room with two boys while keeping her identity a secret, because she’s risking her life to be there. But then, she’d have been risking her life to turn down the scholarship, too. Mostly a romantic comedy with adventure elements.
Requires previewing, it’s not really for everyone and there are the caveats you can imagine would occur with the main plot point, although it was all handled much more delicately than it would have been in an American version. Other caveats center around some of the manuscripts our main lead copies for pay- they are the sort sold in the back room.
I thought it was witty, well acted, and funny for the most part. there were especially wonderful performances by all four of the main young actors, but i particularly enjoyed Song Joong-ki’s performance as the wealthy young merchant’s son and all around frivolous playboy with a secret serious side (I like him in Innocent Man or Nice Guy, too, and the movie Penny Pinchers, though there was a lot of totally not family friendly stuff in the first third or so of that movie. He is outstanding in Werewolf Boy).
The King of Dramas:
This is about overcoming your past and the makings of personal growth, about the proper use of power, about hubris, about keeping your moral compass in a world that doesn’t have one, and it’s told through the vehicle of the throat cutting competition and high powered stress inside the world of Korean drama making- the live shoots, the scandals, the time pressures, the back stabbing, the idols, the third rate lives actors have to live while shooting, and more. It’s sometimes tongue in cheek, often hilarious, other times gut punchingly sad. the music and cinematography is crisp and beautiful, the acting is impressive. The female lead is just luminous, the male lead’s voice sonorous, the directing and editing is tight and often gives us some sharp hairpin turns that I love. Dramabeans’ recaps are a must, because there are a lot of inside jokes here. The soundtrack is another character in this movie- they use it and don’t use it equally well to communicate and drive the story at just the right times. This is a great show to watch to get some understanding of the inside world of K-drama making.
It is one of the most tightly crafted dramas I’ve seen yet. Also, Siwon playing Hyun Min= Belly Laughs. That boy is hilarious, and I love how he throws his whole Idol Self into the role and isn’t afraid to make fun of himself, and the whole idol world in which he actually lives and moves in real life, if you can call the idol lifestyle real life.
The ending was a tad weak, but it wasn’t awful, and over-all, I really enjoyed this series and thought it was a great romantic comedy for grown ups, as opposed to the school dramas which seem to be heavily represented in my list.
*****Stars Falling from the Sky or Pick the Stars: LOVE this. Totally in my top 10. I have a long review here. Six kids,, the oldest being a 25 year old big sister who is now responsible for the care and feeding of her five younger (adopted) siblings. The five younger kids are adorable and range in age from a baby to a boy about 12. Big Sis is broke, has been foolish and irresponsible but is now trying to do right with now skills and loads of bad habits. Love this family, love the highjinks. There’s a sideplot involving villains that is tired and not of much interest, but the kids make it all worthwhile.
Glove– a movie, rather than a t.v. series, based on the true story of a baseball team at a school for the deaf and the down on his luck, ill tempered baseball player who coaches them. I reviewed this here, and I highly recommend it.
Panda and Hedgehog– Charming candyfloss, sweetness, light, lots of cute, and some serious stuff about family, love, support, and sibling adoration. I LOVE the sibling interactions here. There are a couple of scenes I could totally do without, and one of the worst offenders also made no sense in terms of the plot- it’s like they meant to do more with it but forgot it was there. There were other things I did not love, but overall, this was a sweet, happy making show.
The general idea is that Panda (a pun for her name) owns a failing bakeshop and cafe. Hedgehog (a pun on his name) is an unbelievably skilled pastry maker who comes to her rescue. He is supposed to be prickly and harsh, and he can be, but mostly I couldn’t buy the prickly part, he is just too sweet. Maybe if I understand his use of banmal more, I would have thought otherwise. He has a prison record and it’s kind of a scary one, and he’s lived a very rough life, although he’s been clean and straight for the last five years. Panda’s old friend Won Il is the heir to a huge and glamorous bakery chain, and he’s come back to Korea after nearly 15 years in the States. He needs to wrest control of his family’s bakery from his evil Step-baddy. He also loves Panda.
Other characters include the adorably gruff and kind grandfather, the taxi driving aunt, various siblings and friends, the weak but willing to overlook crimes wife to evil Step-Baddy (and the mother of Won Il and his roguishly tomboyish little sis). Other plots include a missing child, a jailed mother, a detective, embezzlement, and even child abuse, but the Show manages to tell most of these with a light and uplifting hand.
ALL the sibling relationships and the Grandpapa and grandson are my favorite parts of this show.
Operation Proposal, reviewed here.
Extravagant Challenge/Skip Beat!- This is a Taiwanese drama, but I found it because it had two Korean actors who are in two of my other favorite dramas (Donghae from Panda and Hedgehog, and Si Won from King of Dramas and Oh, My Lady, both of whom are in the boy band Suer Junior). It’s based on a Japanese comic book (lots of dramas I’ve liked are). It’s kind of quirky and strange with a ridiculous premise but lots of heart and charm.
Gong Shi, the main character, played by Ivy Chen, has always loved Shan, whom she grew up with. He runs away from home to become a famous musician and takes her with him. After three or four years of working three jobs to support him and keeping herself and their connections a secret, she discovers he only thinks of her as his housekeeper and has other girlfriends. In spite of the fact that she lived with Shan for three years or so, she’s never been kissed, and I take it we are supposed to understand that it was more of a room-mate situation. Gong Shi vows to become a famous star herself and get revenge on him.
The main character has some cute little ghosts or demon selves (that sounds worse than it really is), they help her persuade people to her way of thinking sometimes. She can outpace a train on her bike, which also comes when she whistles. She unleashed the little ghosty creatures from within herself when she was in such a rage over Shan’s betrayal.
However, what happens in her fight to revenge herself on Shan is that she learns about herself, about life and love, about doing a good job, about dedication and consideration for others, and about acting.
There is a love interest, but there is not a conclusive ending wrapped up in a tidy bow. I usually like the tidy bow, but I was fine with this somewhat open-ended final, because it fit well with all the characters, and fit in particularly nicely with the concerns expressed by Si Won’s character.
SiWon’s character has a manager who is the nicest guy ever, and the actor playing him did a great job.
Creating Destiny: romantic comedy with some of the most adorable couple chemistry ever, and this couple actually got married in real life. Reviewed here.
It’s Okay, Daddy’s Girl: Reviewed at the link. I like it, but it’s not in the top ten. Written by the same team as Panda and Hedgehog with several of the same actors and many of the same things I love (notably warm sibling relationships and lots of cute).
71:Into the Fire– a movie rather than a drama, and it’s heart-breaking. Based on a true story, fabulously well done, gripping heroic story of some of the student soldiers of the Korean War. Reviewed at the link. Would be in the top 10, but I don’t put movies that break my heart in the top 10. I am the mother of a 14 year old boy, the mother-in-law of a veteran of the Iraq War who enlisted at 18 (I babysat him at 13), the wife of a veteran. This is about boy-soldiers, high school students defending their country in the midst of the Korean War. I will never forget it, but I can’t watch it a second time. I can even talk about it out loud. I will have my 14 year old boy watch it- it’s ‘clean’ as far as war movies go- I mean, as clean as you can make a war movie that is still about war, which is after all, a very bloody business.
**********Greatest Love with Cha Seung-Won- reviewed it here. Love it. Definitely in my top ten, probably my second favorite rom-com in K-drama land.
Flower Boy Next Door: Reviewed here.
Werewolf Boy: I loved this movie. If you liked Edward Scissorshands you should love this one, too. If you would have liked ES, but the scissors kind of freaked you out, you’ll like this one. I don’t want to give spoilers, but if you would avoid this one because you don’t do supernatural stuff, it’s okay. The werewolf boy is not that kind of werewolf. Reviewed here.
1% of Anything: I liked it, but it’s not where you should start if you are new to K-Dramas. Reviewed here.
Gourmet: 24 episodes. The romance is there and it’s cute, but not really strong.
The main character: Korean Food- featured in every episode, in detail with close up shots, mood music, and descriptions that will have you licking your lips and wishing for some Korean food. It will make your mouth water even when you have no idea how it tastes. In fact, in some cases it makes you drool and have a craving for a nibble even when you do know exactly how something tastes because you ate it in Korea and you also know you don’t have the palate to appreciate it, but it still looks so good on screen and the descriptions are so tantalizing that you want to try it again just in case you were wrong and that little incident about setting your tongue on fire and melting your tonsils so you couldn’t taste anything else for a week was just a silly misunderstanding between you and the spicy chili paste. Also stars Kim Rae Won who really made the emotional connection for viewers in this show. Reviewed here.
My Love Patzzi : Patzzi is the name of the mean sister in a Korean folk tale similar in some ways to the Cinderella tale. Only ten episodes, light rom-com with a kind of silly but fun ending. Mostly squeaky clean except for one very regrettable scene in the first episode. I also really like Kim Rae Won as an actor, or maybe he just chooses roles that are well suited to him. He does the genial, warm, friendly, bumbling but kind-hearted thing really well. Reviewed here.
Dream: Reviewed here. Ostensibly a boxing show, really about family, friends, loyalty, honor, and success. Also, Bromance! Lots of bromance. Kim Bum and Joo Jin Mo own the screen in every one of their scenes, and whenever they are together, the bromance just snap, crackles, and pops. There’s a very sweet hyung/dongsaeng connection developing between them. Jang Seok is adorably insolent and cheeky and Nam Jae Il responds with a totally believable older brotherly mix of a cold and gruff ‘mind your manners’ exterior at war with the fact that he’s actually mostly amused and charmed by the younger boy’s antics, while at other times warmly compassionate and protective over the rough hand that life has dealt the motherless boy. Beefcake abounds, too, so if you are offended by scenes of shirtless males, you should omit this one.
The Righteous Thief– a movie, so it’s only about a 2 hour commitment. Rom-Com, very, very funny. By day our main characters are an ordinary family of housewife mom, college prof dad, high school music teacher son, and high school student son. By night, they are James Bond figures, direct descendants of Hong Gil Dong (Korea’s Robin Hood) who rob from the rich to give to the poor= except the high school student, who isn’t allowed in the family business because he’s too young. The family is adorable together. The high school music teacher is in love with another teacher, whose brother happens to be a prosecutor who believes Javert was the hero of Les Miserables. There’s a wonderfully over the top villain. Strider’s family, the Boy, Jenny, and my husband watched this one with me, and they were all laughing at all the right moments. Three caveats- I can only find it at Viki.com and the English subs include some really awful language, including a number of f-bombs. Girlfriend is seriously into passionate kissing. She makes one blunt reference to the, er, intimate relationship she’s had with the oldest son. These are fixable with some good previewing and some tedious attention to detail (turn the subs off during the swearing and her reference to the physical aspect of their relationship, ffwd the kissing if you desire, although the first of those is also one of the funniest scenes in the movie).
**** (this would be in top 10 if I were likely to stick tear jerkers in my top 10): Scent of a Woman– this is a PG-13 with some smoldering hot tangos and issues with getting the wedding and bedding in the wrong order, but, oh, my stars and garters. Whew. It’s also outside the norm for the types of dramas I normally like. I don’t like tear-jerkers. I like ridiculously happy and unlikely smiley faced endings, tied in a lovely bow. Nevertheless, I liked this even though I needed a full box of tissues and some Gator-ade to replenish my body salts after I cried so much that basically my skin turned to leather and my blood was reduced to dehydrated dust. But this, this was fairly incredible. The acting was outstanding, right down to the minor detail that Korean characters using English were actually using English with skill.
It’s visually lovely as well, and it takes you to areas like Korea’s Wando Island, and Japan’s Okinawa and Hondo islands.
The first episode was draggy, and the whole show had far too much time given to the nasty chaebol daughter/would-be-girlfriend and the nasty chaebol fathers on both sides. There is the incredibly annoying noble idiot theme, which I really, really, really hate. and the last bit of the final episode was a tad weak, but I was okay with that.
But for the rest- well scripted, well acted, well directed, and genuinely funny and darling in many scenes. It really is a combo of comedy, wonderful love story, and messily sobbing heart-break. If you like movies like Walk to Remember, you’ll probably love this.
There is more than one cancer patient, but that’s no coincidence since one of the male leads is a cancer doctor and he meets the female lead (again, they were friends in grade school) in the hospital when she’s being checked out after a car accident and the scans show a suspicious mass, which is raising enough red flags to call in the oncologist.
The female lead begins the show as an employee of a large tour company. The main male lead is the son of the owner and one of the major CEOs, newly appointed. They begin to fall in love after she has already been diagnosed with cancer, but she doesn’t tell him about the cancer because she doesn’t think things will really go anywhere. There is growth, change, and development in all of the characters who matter (annoying chaebol sorts just didn’t matter to me). Note: the blogger at Yarns and Storys also reviewed this one.
Daddy! Where Are We Going? – Yummy, delightful, fun, charming, heartwarming, unique, and loaded with real life cuteness- This is a ‘reality’ show- a genre I usually hate. But it’s kind of like what you’d get if Kids Say the Darndest Things married the Korean show 1 Night 2 Days and they had beautiful babies. Only way cuter than whatever it is you are imagining. Review here.
That Winter the Wind Blows– If I read only the description, I never would have watched this one, but I read a recap that was soaring in its praise, so I took a chance. Click on the title to read my review.
Because I get asked about it often, I finally did a sort of review of Boys Over Flowers (or Boys Before Flowers) with Lee Min Ho. You can read it here.
Ad Genius Lee Tae Baek; Rom com, understated, no fireworks, but I thought it was really, really sweet and I loved the warmth between the two romantic leads and the way their connection grew out of shared values and friendship. Squeaky clean. Review here.
Detective K: Secret Of Virtuous Widow: a movie rather than a drama, with some interesting Christian themes. Reviewed here.
Nine Times Time Travel- time travel series with an interesting premise and trick to the time traveling. Big adrenaline rush, love this actor. But there are some caveats, see what they are here.
Prosecutor Princess– much sweeter and cuter than I expected, and not nearly as shallow as I presumed it would be. I liked this- but it is pretty much totally a chick-flick. Reviewed here.
Dating Agency Cyrano– rom-com sort of like Hitch on steroids, maybe not quite so funny as Will Smith, but cleaner and lots more cutesy stuff. It’s a show based on a Korean movie with a similar or the same title, which I also enjoyed. The premise is that a dating agency based in an old theater and staffed by people with connections to theatre (most of them) works by secretly setting up scenarios designed to appeal to the object of one’s affections and sort of drive said object into one’s arms. It’s cute and pretty funny, with a little bit of a mystery edge. The main character is one of the dads in Appa! Eodiga?, a show I love. Here he plays a slightly coldhearted, very brilliant tactician always three steps ahead of everybody else (his nickname or pseudonym, Seo Il Rok, is a play on Sherlock in Korean). Cute and clean with some angsty, mysterious stuff. Also part of the flower-boy set, so, again, lots and lots of pretty.
Charming. Total chick flick, clean, sweet, funny- a strange to American tastes but typical for K-dramas diversion from mostly cute and funny into fortunately brief but strange psycho territory, and the ending wasn’t totally unpredictable but it did have a cute twist.
Accidental Couple: Contract marriage, forced proximity, rom-com- loved it. THis is probably the best of the contract marriage/forced proximity genre. Full review at the link. Totally, delightfully, Adorkable.
Review at the link.
Monstar– cute, teen romance, lots of gorgeous music. Almost all of the main actors are singers (the main character plays a teen idol in a boy band, and he actually is a teen idol in a boy band, but surprisingly, he can really act). Watched it with my 17 year old.
Review at the link.
Gu Family Book: Set in olden days Korea, features a man who, unbeknownst to himself, is actually half human, half divine creature of some sort (his father is a gumiho, a guardian of the forest). Very funny, lots of action, sword fights, martial arts, ninja stuff, lots of cute. I find the ending somewhat dissatisfactory, but to explain why is a spoiler. I would watch this with my kids with a couple caveats.
Protect the Boss– Rom Com, seems cliched but it is not entirely- some of it is poking fun at those cliches. Review at the link.
49 Days: I’m not going to write a longer review- this was very well done, good writing, good acting, good story telling. Romance with many comedic moments, suspense, drama, and some heart-ache. I cried buckets. It’s a great movie show for when you need a good therapeutic sob-fest. I watched it mainly because of the description of Jung Il Woo’s character (you might have seen him in Iljamae or Flower Boy Ramyun Shop) as a sassy, hip, Angel of Death who prefers to be known as The Scheduler, and he was everything I hoped for more besides, and so were his co-workers. I take issue with one very contrived plot point, and the basic theology is reincarnation centered, and, you know, I hate to be made to cry and then cry again, but I never felt like I was being manipulated. Otherwise, yes. Oh, yes. Also, very, very clean. It’s hard to discuss this without spoilers. I liked this one a lot, though, even though it broke my heart in surprising ways (I love it for the surprises).
Ugly Alert: I loved this longer, family drama series. I loved the strong, yet still feminine, women characters- all of them (except one). I loved the central love story, and I loved the family connections between siblings who had no blood bond. I loved the acting.
Oh, My Lady– Oh, my goodness, I loved this. SO CUTE! Idol star discovers he had an child five years ago. He learns this when the mother deposits the child at his doorstep, by taxi cab, and flees, and his (divorced) housekeeper takes the child to the apartment without realizing it’s a secret love-child. More at the link.
Master’s Sun: The ending was so so, but the rest was riveting, and the acting was incredible (by both parties). A ghost story and a rom-com.
Who Are You?-2013 with Taecyeon, and an actress who doesn’t bring a lot to the screen, and Kim Jae-Wook, who, oh, my stars and garters, made me sob and broke my heart without saying a single word. He is good. Another ghost story.
Who Are You? (누구세요), 2008 (this is not the 2013 Who Are You ghost story starring Taecyeon, which has this transliterated English title in Hangul:후아유) Starring Yoon Kye Sang and Go Ah Ra Yoon Kye Sang is the second male lead in Greatest Love (which I loved), and the younger brother in My 19 Year Old. Review at the link. Like 49 days, involves body swapping and 49 days for the soul to take care of things on earth.
Dad, Where Are You Going?– Chinese version of the variety show, five dads, five kids, exponential amounts of adorable.
***** You Who Came From the Stars- 10 out of 10 stars. I loved this. Review here.
God’s Gift- 14 Days: Kelly, Badgermum, reviewed this one on her blog.
Just You- a sweet TW drama (Taiwanese) is reviewed here.
The Prime Minister is Dating– 10 0ut of 10 stars for the first 3/4 of the show, 6 out of 10 for the rest.
Let’s Eat: Loved this lightweight rom-com with the emphasis on Korean food. Yum. Review at the link.
You’re Surrounded (Lee Seung-gi, who was the prince/king in my favorite King2Hearts, and the lead in My Girlfriend is a Gumiho and Gu Family Book, and Cha Seung Won!!! He was the lead in my other favorite Greatest Love, the N. Korean general in Into the Fire, and he has a long line of other credits; Go Ara, from Answer me 1994; and the actor who played the little brother in You From Another Star)- A group of cops, four newbies and their chief, played by Cha Seung Won. Lee Seung-gi became a cop to find out who is behind the murder of his mother, which orphaned him as a child. So much fun.
Big Man: Kang Ji Hwan- I love him. He cracks me up. He was the lead in Incarnation of Money, Coffee House, Hong Gil Dong, and plenty of others. In this story he plays an orphan who had some experience as a gangster, but cleaned up his act. A scheming chaebol family needs a heart transplant for their son, discover he’s a good match, and they have him conked on the head and hospitalized, where they put him on their family registry as their long-lost son- this is because if he is a family member, they can jump to the head of the line in heart transplants. They drug him with some concoction which should certify him as brain dead, but it turns out this street rat is not that easy to kill. They intend to quietly remove him from the family registry and just go find a donor in China- but what with one thing and another they lose control of the charade and now have to pretend to accept him as their son. According to the drama write up, at some point he will discover he is not their son, and he’ll learn why they really wanted him, and they will regret ever messing with him. Great cast, the story got weak at the knees toward the end, but the acting was strong all the way through.
Triangle- (Lee Bum Sook, the Prime Minister in the Prime Minister and I, JaeJoong of the K-Pop group JYJ and the lead in Protect the Boss and the movie Heaven’s Postman and Jackal is Coming, also in Dr. Jinn; Im Siwan of a famous idol boy band)- Three brothers were separated as children and have lost all contact with each other- they may not even know the other two are alive. One is a cop, one a low level gangster, and one was adopted by a wealthy family. They are all a bit of a mess with various issues stemming from their losses and separation. This story so far combines a zany mix of crazy humour, deep pathos, and melodrama. Also, JaeJoong spends a lot of time in one episode running around in nothing but a pair of red boxer shorts with a Chinese dragon imprinted on them.
I enjoyed it all the way through because the actors playing the 3 brothers continued to hit it out of the park, but honestly, the plot got boring and repetitive, and the end was weird- there was this huge climax at the beginning of the last episode, and then the rest of the episode was jarring epilogue. Even when I enjoyed it, I still had half my mind on the early climax.
I’ve mentioned before how the Korean style of shooting dramas seriously influences the way some of them turn out, and this is one of those cases. Triangle got an extension of two episodes, but some of the actors already had commitments, and that actually changed the storyline.
Here’s JaeJoong in an interview (spoiler alert!):
“The drama has ended and I know I can speak up about it now, but honestly, Jang Dong Chul’s death was certain. He was supposed to die at the airport on the way to attend the Hold ‘Em Championships. However, the drama was extended by two episodes, so the ending changed. Im Siwan had other filming schedules and could only attend the filming of one extended episode, so that is why his character Jang Dong Woo died instead.”
Kim Jaejoong further explains, “Oh Yeon Soo, who plays Hwang Shin Hye, had to go to the U.S. for personal family matters, so we weren’t able to film together at the end. Lee Bum Soo and I had time, so we were together until the very last episode.”
The Huntresses: Movie rather than a drama. I loved this. JennyAnyDots watched it with me and she thought it was cute, too. It is that uniquely Asian mix of hilarious hijinx and deep pathos. I’ll give you a spoiler that I would want- it ends on a fun, upbeat note. The basic story is that the “huntresses’ are bounty hunters, three girls highly trained in martial arts and various tools of warfare, one of them also with a bent for science and inventing things. It’s a sort of fusion sageuk, in American terms, a little brush of steampunk now and again, with some highly entertaining kung-fu mojo and ju-ju (love the yo-yos of death). The three young women are played by Ha Ji-won, Kang Ye-won and Son Ga-in . Ha Ji-Won is one of my favorite actresses. She was the North Korean girl in King2Hearts and the female lead in Secret Garden. I haven’t seen Kang Ye-won in anything else, but she was great here. Son Ga-in is better known as a singer in the K-pop girl group Brown-Eyed Girls. That surprised me- I hadn’t seen her before and I looked her up after the movie and was suprised that she was a singer rather than an actress. She was adorable and feisty in her role.
Caveats- very, very few. The translated subtitles often translated various Korean slang words as the name of a deity and I don’t think that was always accurate. There’s one hot kiss scene, one scene where a man who can’t believe he’s been bested by a girl grabs her breastplate to convince himself she’s really a man, one scene where a thug mistakes her role and calls Ha Ji-Won’s character an, um, lady of the night but he is cruder (he regrets it about two seconds later), and one longish bellydancing scene. Probably the belly dancing scene is the one I’d be likely to skip.
There is a lot of violence and bloodshed, but most of the violence is fun, cool, and campy- Ha Ji-Won wading through a dozen or more soldiers, mowing them down with her two swords which remain pristinely spotless (as does her cool white costume) through the whole scene is just fun to watch.
Trot-Lovers– The story is every K-drama rom-com- poor girl meets rich snot of a boy who treats her rudely, there are misunderstandings, they get thrown together, fall in love, meet obstacles, etc. Trot is a style of Korean music that I find similar in style and feel to the early 20th century, mostly WW2 era songs like Sentimental Journey, Shoo-fly Pie, etc. I like it. So I enjoy the songs. Eun-ji of APink has a gorgeous voice, and she’s an adorable little actress. In this drama she is raising her little sister who is another adorable, much littler actress, and her character and the main lead’s are perfectly adorable together. Lots of adorable, fun music, little substance. IOW, Perfect.
Marriage, Not Dating: I am loving this one so much, although elements are a bit more risque than my usual k-drama fare.
Gong Ki-tae is a successful plastic surgeon of marriageable age, but he hates the idea of marriage for good and sufficient reasons and wants to live alone forever. His mother owns the apartment he lives in and loves and generally runs everyone and everything around her with a smile and a velvet glove over the iron fist. They are in a battle of wits where the goal is not just to get their own way, but to get the other to concede. Mom (who is an amazing actress, i have loved her in every drama she’s been in) wants him to get married to the girl of her choice, and soon, or move out of the apartment and come live at home. Ki-tae wants to bring home a girl Mom can’t approve of and have Mom actually say, “No, I don’t approve of her.”
Toward that end, he’s talked his best friend’s ex girlfriend into playing the part of the girl no mother could love for him.
That girl is Jang-Mi, played by the absolutely adorable and excellent at comedy Han Groo. Jang Mi is the total opposite of Ki-tae, she is warm, affectionate, goes out of her way to help others with no expectation of receiving something in return, and she’s terrified of being alone.
Other characters include Ki-Tae’s cheating dad, spying aunt, and dark horse Grandma; Jang-Mi’s ex boyfriend, who dumped her cruelly but now wants her back, Jang-Mi’s co-worker who has a crush on the ex boyfriend, Han Yeo-reum (jeong jin woon, the macknae of the boy band 2 a.m.) a young aspiring chef who is something of a player and now finds himself falling for Jang-Mi, and Kang Se-Ah, Ki-Tae’s ex-fiance, who now wants him for his sperm and is willing to blackmail him to get it. Yuk.
There are sad (and in the case of Se Ah, disturbing) elements, but mostly, this is funny and touching, as the main pair keep trying to end their fake relationship and go their separate ways but keep getting drawn back into it and all manner of hi-jinks follow. But again- much more risque than the ones I usually preview. Nothing much compared to American standards, but if we liked American standards many of us wouldn’t be watching K-dramas, now, would we?
High School King of Savvy– high school student looks just like his older brother, ergo, older brother gets in a pickle of some sort with his new job (we don’t know what until later), and asks dongsaeng to pretend to be hyung at the office. I love the main actor a lot (Seo In-guk). It was cute, funny, with the right touch of pathos, but then the plot was also weird and confusing at times. The Grandpa is adorable. The love story was annoying to me (I really dislike wide age gaps and underage/ten years older pairings, even when it’s reversed).
Fated to Love You- This is a Korean remake of the TW version. I loved it, but it begins with the premise that two strangers accidentally end up in the same room at a resort, both have been sort of drugged with a home-made island remedy for, er, certain marital problems (one by mistake, one on purpose, but the neer do wells are comic relief and it really comes across that way), and, um, create a situation where they need to get married. Once you get past that, it’s cute, really cute. All the actors hit the right beats. There’s some really sad stuff, Spoiler, because some of us really need to know this stuff in advance, but I’ll put it in white, so highlight the text here—-> There is a miscarriage, and it’s pretty traumatic.
The Huntresses: a movie rather than a drama, sageok-fusion (that is, historical drama with totally anachronistic stuff mixed in). The three main characters are female bounty hunters. A mix of comedy and a touch of heartache and lots of fun, over the top, martial arts and steampunky inventions with occasional gory bloodshed. I thought this was mostly great fun. Jenny watched it with me, and she laughed in all the right places. I vaguely recall that as we watched it, there were two scenes where I said “oops, I forgot that was there,” but I’ve already forgotten again. I think one was an innuendo and one was a rather kissier than strictly necessary kiss, but don’t count on me for remembering that accurately.
Trot-Lovers– The story is every K-drama rom-com you have ever seen- poor girl meets rich snot of a boy who treats her rudely, there are misunderstandings, they get thrown together, fall in love, meet obstacles, etc. Trot is a style of Korean music that I find similar in style and feel to the early 20th century, mostly WW2 era songs like Sentimental Journey, Shoo-fly Pie, etc. I like it. So I enjoy the songs. The setting is a music company full of K-Pop idols and trainees, so lots of opportunities for music. Eun-ji of APink has a gorgeous voice, and she’s an adorable little actress. In this drama she is raising her little sister who is another adorable, much littler actress, and her character and the main leads are perfectly adorable together. Lots of adorable, fun music, little substance. IOW, Perfect.
Marriage, Not Dating: I enjoyed this one so much, although elements are a bit more risque than my usual k-drama fare. I probably wouldn’t watch it with my teens, even if they’d be willing to watch a K-drama with me, which they aren’t.
Gong Ki-tae is a successful plastic surgeon of marriageable age, but he hates the idea of marriage for good and sufficient reasons and wants to live alone forever. His mother owns the apartment he lives in and loves and generally runs everyone and everything around her with a smile and a velvet glove over the iron fist. They are in a battle of wits where the goal is not just to get their own way, but to get the other to concede. Mom (who is an amazing actress, i have loved her in every drama she’s been in) wants him to get married to the girl of her choice, and soon, or move out of the apartment and come live at home. Ki-tae wants to bring home a girl Mom can’t approve of and have Mom actually say, “No, I don’t approve of her,” and then he can say, “Well, it’s her or nobody,” and Mom will be so horrified she will say, “Remain a bachelor forever, that’s preferable,” and he will say, “fine. I will.”
Toward that end, he’s talked his best friend’s ex girlfriend into playing the part of the girl no mother could love for him.
That girl is Jang-Mi, played by the absolutely adorable and excellent at comedy Han Groo. Jang Mi is the total opposite of Ki-tae, she is warm, affectionate, goes out of her way to help others with no expectation of receiving something in return, ridiculously impulsive, and she’s terrified of being alone.
Other characters include Ki-Tae’s cheating dad, spying aunt, and dark horse Grandma; Jang-Mi’s ex boyfriend, who dumped her cruelly but now wants her back, Jang-Mi’s co-worker who has a crush on the ex boyfriend, Han Yeo-reum (Jeong jin woon, the macknae of the boy band 2 a.m.) a young aspiring chef who is something of a player and now finds himself falling for Jang-Mi, and Kang Se-Ah, Ki-Tae’s ex-fiance, who now wants him for his sperm and is willing to blackmail him to get it. Yuk. That was about the weirdest, most annoying twist ever.
There are sad (and in the case of Se Ah, disturbing) elements, but mostly, this is funny and touching, as the main pair keep trying to end their fake relationship and go their separate ways but keep getting drawn back into it and all manner of hi-jinks follow.
City Hall- this is an older rom-com starring Cha Seung Won (just google him. He’s amazing) and Kim Sun Ah (My Lovely Sam Soon; Scent of a Woman; I Do, I Do). She’s a low ranking employee at the mayor’s office, he’s an ambitious politician currently stuck as deputy mayor but with much bigger aspirations. She ends up forcing the mayor to resign due to corruption, and then runs for mayor herself and wins.
It’s hard to peg this one- it’s not just a rom-com. It’s a slice of life, a political fairy tale, a morality tale with strong plot and characters, and a beautiful, complicated romance. Elements of it remind me very much of some British shows- Doc. Martin, Stephen Fry’s Kingdom, for instance.
High School King of Savvy– So funny, and it’s even a noona romance, which I generally don’t much care for. Seo In-guk (Answer Me, 1994; Dream High; My Rascal Sons) – is a high school student who looks just like his older brother (also played by Seo In-guk). Hyung has been in Germany, has run into some trouble while he’s supposed to be starting a new job in Korea in their hometown, so he convinces his little bro to pretend to be him until he can extricate himself and come to his new job. Lee Ha-na, Lee Soo-hyuk and Lee Yeol-eum are also in it. I liked this- there are a couple off colour moments, and hyung’s issues don’t really make that much sense. But Seo In Guk sells everything he does.
Fated to Love You- This is a remake of a Thai Drama. The Thai drama was something like a 100 episodes, and there was a lot more going on. The Korean version is only about 16, so they tightened it up immensely, and also made the lead far more likable. The premise to both is the same, and it’s a bit of a doozy- there is a one night stand between two otherwise moral and upstanding citizens because of reasons, as well as a case of mistaken identity. It’s not totally plausible, but if we cared about total plausibility would we be K-drama fans? No, we would not. So, go with it. Naturally, since this is a drama, she gets pregnant, and they get married. I liked both versions, and think whether one or the other is better depends a lot on what it is you want from a drama, with my thumb leaning a bit on the K-version scales for this one.
It’s Okay, That’s Love: Okay, this one is REALLY different from my usual fare, and the cover image for the show (a pair of apparently unclad people in a bathtub under a blanket) will really throw my usual readers. I don’t know what to tell you. It does deal with the topic of sex more than the usual drama. There is a girl in a towel in at least one scene. But there is far more to this than meets the eye- that cover, for example, six episodes into the show, the bathtub scene (which I don’t think even happens in the show, unless I dozed off) means something COMPLETELY different than you expect.
The show deals with head-doctors and various mental health issues, and I think it’s brilliant and insightful and lovely. The main character is dealing with the trauma of some horrifically brutal child abuse from his step-father and older brother, and his insights and comments about it just make me fall in love with the writer of this drama. She’s brilliant. Now, it is full of triggers of all kinds of things, as there is a different mental health issue each week (at least one,s ometimes more, and several of them have to do with sexual issues). I had to skip watching one or two sections completely and just go with re-caps. But I love, love, love, love this one.
Also, the soundtrack is simply brilliant. If you read anything about the show anywhere, almost immediately somebody will mention the soundtrack. Keep your eyes on this post, as the writer here is updating the soundtrack regularly. I skipped a couple of songs because I don’t like them, or I do like them but found them inappropriate, but by and large, I just love this. I don’t know how many other ways to say this.
All the actors are brilliant, and include two of my favourites, Jo In-sung and Gong Hyo-jin, as well as the delicious evil ajusshi from Appa, Eodiga, Sung Dong-il, giraffe from that famous Korean game show that the title of escapes me just now-Lee Kwang-soo- and Do Kyung-soo.
The ending is a trifle unrealistic but I was perfectly fine with that.
Pinocchio– The Pinocchio of the drama is a syndrome, not a puppet. It’s a made up syndrome for the purposes of the drama. Those with it cannot lie or they start hiccuping until they tell the truth. Using that vehicle, the drama has a lot to say about the media, honest reporting vs emotional punch reporting, ethics in journalism, and, of course, there’s pathos and romance. It kind of broke my heart and horrified me for a bit. That part was never satisfactorily resolved to my mind, but over all, I enjoyed this.
Shows I am currently watching but haven’t finished yet are described here.
You might also enjoy:
Dramas I’ve completed, recommend, and reviewed: see here.
K-Dramas I almost liked– most of these are just darker than I usually prefer. Some are just flawed. If you’re looking to see what I thought about a K-drama and you don’t see it on this post, you just might find it here.fa
Things to know when watching a K-drama
Where to get your fix: Sites where you can find subtitled K-dramas (and dramas from other countries, as well.