This post will be updated often as I find new ones to review.
Some of these I liked much more than others, but I reviewed them here anyway because they are darker, or otherwise not a great fit with my other K-Drama reviews. In the end, it’s all kind of arbitrary.
Level 7 Civil Servant: I started it, so even when it began to make no sense at all, I thought I would finish it, but I just couldn’t. I am obsessive about finishing books and shows once I start them, so when I don’t, that’s kind of significant.
It’s really too bad for the male lead, who was being very adorable and fun all by himself. I loved his character, and I loved the actor.
I had a hard time shipping the main female lead as a believable love interest to the main male lead. Her character just doesn’t work for me at all. I saw no reason for the lead to like her, let alone both of the male leads. She made him do all the work in the relationship and never gave him a reason to trust her. I don’t like her acting, and I don’t think the actress fits the role. And this would not be the aggravating distraction that it is if all those other things weren’t true, but she has an irritating habit of pursing her lips which was probably cute when she was four, but I don’t think it’s been cute for many, many years. Mainly it makes me want to give her a glass of water and some chapstick.
To watch this ‘spy’ show, you have to think of it as just one step above Get Smart- a little less slap stick, but the spies are just as bumbling. It’s just not clear that this was intentional instead of garden variety really bad writing. The bad guys are far more serious about their spycraft than the ‘good’ guys, who mostly act like they are 13 and are far more interested in their crushes than in doing their jobs.
I finally had to quit watching. Here’s an excerpt from Dramabeans which totally sums up why:
I don’t actually plan on numbing my logic center this much to get through every single episode of this show (we don’t want to end up in the hospital, now!) but if it was ever true that you should shut your brain off to watch a show for your own safety, this is its poster child. Surgeon General’s Warning: Show contains highly dangerous plotholes, character inconsistencies, and irrational behavior from adult human beings. Not recommended for those with alcohol dependencies, high risk of drama-related depression, or sense. May cause blindness.
I continued reading DB’s recaps. Because those are Ddaebak!
Powerful Opponent or Formidable Rivals, or Formidable Foes: a 16 episode rom-com with some suspense elements. I enjoyed 15 episodes, and then the ending was a jarring misstep. The series itself had my three favorite elements in a K-drama- really cute kid, warm family connections, and a fantastic bromance, but basically Show set me up, fed me a fairly decent dinner and then yanked away the dessert without even letting me see what it was. I mean, I spent 15 episodes wondering why on earth this show wasn’t more popular and better known than it is, and then in episode 16 I didn’t have to wonder any longer. It’s not that it was a bad, horrid, or shockingly not in keeping with the rest of the show ending ( like Fashion King or Single Father in Love), it’s that it was a non-ending, and I don’t mean open ended. It’s like they got interrupted making the show, and just quit.
Description: Cha Young Jin is the first female to ever work as a bodyguard in the Presidential resident, Chungwadae. Young Jin and Yoo Gwang Pil work as bodyguards assigned to watch over the president’s son, Kang Soo Ho. They are assigned to guard Soo Ho for 15 months. -DramaWiki
One of the things I liked about it is that it was a wee bit more realistic about the tension created by the gap between the female bodyguard’s skills and the limitations naturally inherent in being female and considerably smaller than everybody else, and being part of a culture where good guys do not hit women. She is very skilled, but she’s also slight of build, so as capable as she is, in training she does not win every fight, and several of those she seems to win are because her male sparring partners cannot bring themselves to rough up the only girl in the class.
I watched it because I was curious about Lee Jin-Wook after watching Nine Times Time Travel, where he’s amazing. He has a totally different role here, and it’s always fun to see an actor who has blown away your socks with one role showing off his acting chops in a totally different character. Just for fun, there is a reference to this show in the more recent Nine. So, like I said, I loved this show and wondered why on earth it wasn’t more popular right up until the last episode, so if you’re aware that you’re not getting any candy at the end, and you like rewriting endings in your head, it’s a good one to watch. Lots of good, warm, loveliness about family, roots, and love that transcends blood, as well as some good stuff about growing up and being a man.
Good Doctor: I had to drop this for a while because I just cannot stomach the portrayal of autism. Very frustrating. Same lead as Level 7 Civil Servant, too. The actors are good, the rest of the story is interesting, but… Hmmm. Si won is struggling because his autism hasn’t been ‘fully cured’ yet- but the impression is that it will be by the end of the series. I managed it for a while by telling myself, “This isn’t really about autism, it’s about some other problems caused by childhood trauma that they are just *calling* autism but they mean something else altogether.” But still. Ugh. There are a lot of things I really adore about Korean culture. The cultural differences between Korean and American and how they approach disabilities is not one of them.
This is a real shame, because I picked it up again and the show gets better and better- there is so much cute and funny, great stuff about forgiveness and overcoming obstacles, and for once there is an abusive jerk of a parent who doesn’t look like he’s going to be totally redeemed and everything is okay at the end (so unrealistic). My brother once pointed out that being old and too feeble to abuse anybody anymore is not the same thing as being redeemed and repentant, and shows that act like they are the same thing stick in my craw. This doesn’t. BUT, but, but…. the autism thing. If they just had called it something else- attributed the tics and quirks and emotional issues to the child abuse instead of calling it autism and talking about curing it and sending a false message like just have enough will power and you can overcome just about any disability. Gah. But, again, very sweet and funny apart from that.
Company Man: I watched this because it stars So Ji Sub (Master’s Son; Ghost) and Kwak Do Won (Ghost, Good Doctor), and on one level, I liked it a lot. It’s really very well done, and the writing is tight, the plot hangs together, the acting is incredible, the action shots are well executed. The premise is an assassination agency run much like any other company in Korea- offices, huge building, bureaucracy, suits, ties, and, um, killers for hire. So Ji SUb’s character wants to quit, but you don’t quit this company. You retire at the end of a long career, or you die.
I liked the acting. I would have liked to be sympathetic to So Ji Sub’s character and his desire to get out, and to help a 20 year old who also wants out. But it was hard to root for any of them, since they were all cold-blooded killers with a long list of deaths to their names, even the 20 year old. As far as sexual scenes, there were none. Language is pretty awful, and the violence is what you would expect. I liked almost of the fight scenes because I like well choreographed fight scenes, and that’s what most of these are. So, loaded with testosterone, and, you know, Ji Sub. Morally, better than the American Mr. and Mrs. Smith since it doesn’t really make light of the fact that they are all actually killers, nor does it glamorize it. But… they are still cold blooded killers.
One redeeming quality I did appreciate- one of the higher level managers actually isn’t a killer. He’s a family man, and a white collar bureaucrat. He knows what they do, he’s just never personally bloodied his hands. That’s not okay in this movie. In fact, they do kind of make the point that he’s actually the worst of all of them. Most of the others were recruited and trained because they couldn’t work anywhere else in Korea’s culture- they don’t have good family backgrounds, they don’t have college degrees, some of them didn’t finish high school, but he’s upper management and obviously could have. So much to like here- high production value, crisp writing, excellent acting, intriguing story, well told. But in the end, the fatal flaw with all of it is that all the ‘company men,’ including our hero, have been killing people in cold blood for years, and I’m just not down with easy redemption outside of any religious conversion, and the killings just made a bridge too far for my sympathy to pass.
Ghost: The ‘ghost’s here are cyber ghosts- it’s not a supernatural series. I also watched this for So Ji Sub, and he did deliver. The premise of the show is the cyber investigative unit of a police squad, hacking, company badness (sort of a Blue Thunder premise, but with cyber stuff instead of military choppers), corruption, and getting to the bottom of it all. It’s interesting, the actors are good, there was an excellent bromance and I love bromance as anybody who has read three or more of my K-drama reviews knows. It was pretty clean- although there is one plotline involving a mistress- clean enough I would let my teens watch it. The main problem with the show is that the good guys are so, so, so, unforgivably slow and even just plain stupid at figuring out who the bad guys are and what they are up to. It was maddening. They are supposed to be this crack team of cyber investigators and hackers, and they consistently make incredibly dumb mistakes. Just one example, but it’s quite typical- they come across this key piece of evidence, a USB with all the information they need on it, and they don’t make a copy, don’t back it up, just hand it over to the same place where other evidence has previously turned up lost or damaged- and they do this episode after episode.
Daniel Choi is also in it, and he was good at his role, and I really liked Kwak Do Won here as well. There is a light romance theme, but it’s not primarily a romance, it’s a cop show, a mystery, a show about loyalty and friendship and just how far one is prepared to go to protect your best friend and his family, and about always being three steps behind the bad guys until you suddenly accidentally aren’t. If you can get past the inexplicable stupidity, it’s a good show.
The main character is a cop who is passionate about his job, especially when it comes to putting away kidnappers, but he isn’t a particularly successful cop. He’s also something of a loner with a tragic past of his own. Kim Kang Woo plays the part, and he’s very good but only does film so I haven’t seen him in anything else since I mainly do dramas. The second lead is Kim Bum, and he’s, of course, the reason I watched. Man, is he good here. This kid is astonishing to me (he was in: Boys Over Flowers; The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry; Dream; Padam, Padam; and That Winter the Wind Blows).
Here he plays a disturbed, Emo like street artist and loner with a troubling supernatural talent- when he touches somebody or something, he sees and feels their most recent and/or strongest memories- which means, it seems, mostly the bad stuff. It would be hard enough to process than as an adolescent, which seems to be when the (inherited) gift started taking hold, but in a culture that favors fitting in and being one of the team over rugged individualism, such a gift is even more of a curse (that’s just my own observation) than a blessing.
There has been a series of child murders (which, fortunately, are not shown in any detail, and what detail there is, centers only on the bare outlines of the most recent case). Kim Kang Woo remembers seeing a graffiti artist painting a scene that looks remarkably like the scene where the latest victim was found- only it was almost a month before the police discovered the body. He assumes the street artist had something to do with it, and goes looking for him.
Naturally, at first he believes the boy could only paint that picture if he was an accomplice or the killer himself. After a talent demonstration or two, Kim Bum’s character convinces the cop to believe in his supernatural ability, and they form a loose bond of sorts, broken when the boy is arrested by the other cops, thanks to Kim Kang Woo. Meanwhile, the killer has kidnapped another little girl, and the hunt is on to find the child before it’s too late.
Here’s one of the previews (sorry, no subs).
It’s billed as ‘horror,’ but I wouldn’t call it that genre- although, of course, child murders are horrors, and chilling to the bone. Filmwise, I’d call it mainly suspense, with a bit of supernatural thrown in. The bad guy is indeed creepy, scary, and deeply disturbing- he does a creepily good job playing the role.
What I mainly didn’t like about this is the police brutality and the fact that it was okay. Maybe this is a cultural thing, maybe this is a fact of life in Korea, but even the ‘good’ cop is okay just beating somebody up. The bad cops care more about their jobs and their finances and getting ahead than they care about catching a child killer or the families of those children. And there is one bizarre plot hole scene in the middle of the movie- it makes no sense, nor is it ever resolved. It wasn’t really necessary, either. There are about ten other more plausible ways the issue could have been resolved that would have made more sense, but since it isn’t really necessary to the overall story line, I could let it go. Except for that, and the rapid turn around in Emo-boy’s attitude toward Cop-hyung, I thought the story hung together very well. The speed with which Emo-boy goes from not trusting Cop-hyung to seeing him as hyung could be put down to the needs of a film vs a drama as well as the fact that Emo-boy had access to Cop-hyung’s memories so he understood better than others what the ‘hyung’ title and hyung/dongsaeng relationship means to him.
If you like dark urban mysteries and nail biting suspense, this is for you. If you’ll watch Kim Boom/Bum in about anything, this is for you although there won’t be enough of him for you.
Slight spoiler: With only rare exceptions I never review movies with hopeless, totally depressing endings. I wasn’t completely overjoyed at the ending, but I wasn’t crushed and in need of chocolate and a goofy laughter filled drama pick-me-up over it, either.
Main actors: Park Shi Ho (or Park Si Ho, depending on your Romanization), and Jung Jae Young (he is the coach/disciplined baseball player in the heartwarmer Glove). They are both excellent actors.
Loads of testosterone, improbable, absurd, and adrenaline pumping car chases and brutal fights (not the pretty, unrealistically choreographed sort I enjoy) where people are still conscious about thirty body blows after they’d be brain dead in real life.
Premise: a serial killer murders eleven women and badly wounds the cop who is nearest to catching him, then disappears. Korea doesn’t have a statute of limitations on murder, and at one time it used to be just fifteen years. On the eve of that statute of limitations, Lee Do Suk comes forward publishing a book titled “I’m a Killer,” outlining the first ten murders of the serial killer and sharing details only the killer and the police could have known. He’s incredibly handsome, so fan clubs arise supporting him, groupies follow him, he gets talk show and other television gigs, and family members of his victims try to kill him, while the cop has to do his job and keep him from being killed. There are a couple of very interesting twists here. One of them I saw coming, the other I didn’t.
The show does bring up issues of fandom, the strange disregard for evil behavior by fans, and the shallowness of celebrity culture (one of the reporters asks the killer about his skin care regimen). This is pretty ironic considering the reaction of Park Si Ho’s real life fans later when he faced what looked to me like a very credible accusation of a particularly ugly date rape.
The serial killer is horrifyingly chilling and creepy. The cop is believably gritty, determined, and grim. The family members are believably grieved and nearly crazed in their desire for revenge- one particularly moving scene has no dialogue at all, just a veteran actress and a long, moving stare. I rewound it just to watch her again, she was that good without saying a word. The car chases and fight scenes are brutal, adrenaline pumping, and over the top. I think there are too many of them, most males won’t feel the same way. One or two scenes (including the very first one) is slasher movie fodder. The plot twists and turns are really well done. The criticism of celebrity culture is sharp, witty, and pitch perfect without beating you over the head. The final scene is a little jarring in tone. The language is awful, the violence very violent. No sexual content to speak of except for one comment from the serial killer. I’m thinking if you like the Chuck Bronson style revenge films, you’ll probably like this. I didn’t realize what I was getting into until I already had to finish the film because not getting a conclusion was going to be harder to deal with than watching the whole thing. Be aware that I don’t use the term brutal here lightly.
Premise: “A not so smart female killer (Song Ji Hyo) is hired to kill a popular singer (Kim Jae Joong). The killer then kidnaps the popular singer and tries to kill him in a bold manner which the customer requested, but the police arrive.” The police are staking out the same motel where she’s kidnapped the singer. They are looking for another assassin known as The Jackal. Mistakes, potential hilarity, and confusion ensue. A crazed fan shows up and tries to hurt the singer, putting the would be assassin in the strange position of having to rescue him and the subsequent bonding over that bizarre reversal occurs, while both are trying to avoid police attention because he doesn’t need another scandal, and she, of course, is a criminal.
Kim Jae Joong is a popular singer (he’s with JYJ now), and he was also in Protect the Boss. He is a K-Drama Idol who can also act.
This should have been cuter and funnier than it was. It had its moments. It also had a very cool couple of plot twists. But, and maybe this was just the translating, it just didn’t make sense in important moments where it needed to make sense. Explanations didn’t explain anything. This seems to be the most common complaint about the movie- the ending was rushed, the explanations were confusing and I can’t find any review where the reviewer understand the details behind one of the most important plot twists any better than I did. There are some innuendos, inappropriate scenes, and I wouldn’t watch it with my teens.
In the first ten minutes we have a hijacked plane, a 1st yr pilot and Eugene as a first year poli sci major who talks the hijackers down through a heartfelt and deliciously comical speech entirely lifted from Louis Armstrong’s song. When a passenger starts to blurt out the source of her text, Eugene’s character quickly crams a stuffed animal in her mouth. I am laughing hard. I have no idea where we will go with this one, and according to the blurb about it, the subject matter includes a one night stand and an illegitimate child, but I had hopes they will take it the right direction.
They did take the illegitimate child theme in the right direction. I liked most of how this side of things was handled. It’s the drama trope of a shotgun marriage where our couple goes through much hardship and difficulty and then fall in love some time after the marriage. I like that in a drama. I also really liked one side theme where the 2nd male lead, unbeknownst to Eugene’s character, loves her too. She thinks they are just friends because she’s a bit naive. Everybody else knows better. I loved the way she cut him off the minute she discovers that he does like her, and I appreciated the way the film writing underlines the point that his pretending to just be her friend in order to ‘help’ (he does help, but what he really wants is just to be near her) is selfish and, as our scheming, malicious 2nd female lead tells him, “It’s more harmful than being malice.”
But…. then we have a six episode detour into melo-land, to deal with kids with leukemia and a six episode long commercial for being a bone marrow donor, which is a worthy and noble cause, but I don’t watch K-dramas for this. Those first ten minutes were the funniest of the series. There’s a couple years where the bickering and misunderstandings between the pair in front of the poor little girl were over the top, although just about the time I was almost too appalled to take it any more I they did make it clear that this was harming the child and I thought it was handled well, even if the bickering had gone on too long. I probably wouldn’t watch this with younger teens. I might consider it with older teens.
Heaven’s Postman: Cheongukui Woopyeonbaedalbu, Heaven’s Mail Deliverer, Postman to Heaven, 天國的郵遞員, 천국의 우편 배달부
Jo Ha Na’s boyfriend has died, and she writes letters to him to get in Heaven- they aren’t exactly kind letters, she has reason to hate him, and she wishes she could put a bomb in them, but since he’s already dead, there’s not much point to that. Shin Jae Joon (played by JYJ’s Young Woong Jae Joong (he was in Protect the Boss), is Heaven’s Postman. His job is to screen the letters people write to their lost ones, and keep out the spiteful letters such as HaNa’s, as well as to look for letters that express problems he might be able to help the survivor with. He hires Ha Na to work with him.
This is a cute movie. There’s nothing objectionable about it exactly, beyond the bad theology, but it doesn’t really purport to be a theological statement about the afterlife, it’s more of a fairy tale. It’s cute, sweet, whimsical, and a little fay. I really like Jae Joong in everything I’ve seen him do (including singing). Ha Na is adorable here, although the childish weepiness does pale on me. It’s just only on a list of dramas I almost liked because there’s just not much to it, and sometimes it’s a little confusing. There’s a strand of Korean mysticism that I don’t get. It’s not just that I disagree with it, it’s that I don’t even really understand it. Maybe it’s that whole linear/nonlinear divide between some strands of East vs West. It was charming, and I liked the little twist at the end. I don’t feel like it was a total waste of my K-Drama time. But there really isn’t all that much substance to it, either.
Jo Ha Na is played by Han Hyo Joo and she’s been in Dong Yi, Iljimae, Shinging Inheritance, Spring Waltz, My Boss My Teacher, and too many others to mention.
Haeundae Lovers: This was hilarious, adorable, heartwarming, funny, cute, well told, and delightful in 101 ways. The actors were terrific. I pretty much loved them all. The story was great- it was ridiculous sometimes, but they knew that it was ridiculous. It was tongue in cheek a lot (“If this were a drama, when he comes to, he’d say, ‘who am I? Where am I?”‘ And then of course, when he comes to, that is exactly what he says).
There was only one serious flaw, but to me, it was the bright red line between a K-drama I could recommend with all my heart and one that never engaged my heart because that line was crossed. Without it, I’d be able to recommend this for family viewing- although it’s largely a chick flick.
Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers: Our main character, Lee Tae Sang, is a tenacious, highly skilled prosecutor. He’s adopted, but his adoptive father and he clearly adore each other. His adoptive mother is a cruel, nasty woman, and fortunately we only see her for a few minutes. He’s a workaholic, and though he’s getting married and he likes his bride well enough, it’s obvious he is not at all in love, but is marrying out of duty to his father, because this marriage brings about a merger between Father’s law firm and father-in-law-’s legal skills (former justice). But Lee Tae Sang is in the middle of a major case and he wants to close it out- he almost misses his wedding because he stays too late at a drug bust. After the wedding, on their way to the airport the bride collapses from a burst appendicitis (she’s been being ‘brave’ and ignoring it for his sake). He takes her hospital recovery time as an opportunity to go finish catching the bad guy, and she sends him off with her blessing.
Only…. while he’s gone, he gets in an accident, loses consciousness, nearly dies, loses his memory, wakes up with no idea who he is or where he is or why. Because he was undercover, the bed and breakfast where he stays believe his name is Nam Sae and he’s a body builder in between jobs. His family has reason to believe he is dead, so nobody is looking for him. He continues his life in Haeundae, falling in love with the daughter of the bed and breakfast (she’s the daughter of a former gangster who is brain injured from a gang fight ten years prior. She runs the bed and breakfast, a little restaurant, and a fishing boat with her three ‘uncles,’ also former gangsters. The gangster Samchoons are a hoot. They are a delight. Oh, the trouble they get into, the loyalty and love they have for their former boss (they still call him Hyungnim, even though he’s mentally six).
As Nam Sae, our hero goes through a sham marriage with the gangster’s daughter to help her save face as well other good reasons when her groom (also arranged) was a con artist who scammed them for advance money for various things and he stands her up on the wedding day. They fall in love, and he tells her he no longer cares if he ever gets his memory back, he is now happy.
And then, of course, the real wife, because he was married, even if it was only for two or three hours, discovers him, and his father discovers him, and everything goes catty wompus until it’s all better again and he’s back with his Haeundae bride. We learn the father son relationship was not so sweet as we thought (there were hints of that already)- as Father mainly is delighted with this son only because of the prestige his son can bring him, and a son married to a former gangster’s daughter is of no use to him at all. He adopted him in the first place only because he was so incredibly brilliant.
And I can’t get past the fact that he was married. He made a promise, signed a covenant, contractually agreed to be a husband, and he broke that promise. I understand how short the marriage was, I understand it was a loveless marriage (on his part anyway, and to some degree on hers, although she wanted to love and be loved), I understand all the reasons why he will really be happier without that wife and with the Haeundae gangster’s daughter instead. I understand that I am nitpicking over, essentially, two hours. Had they had him leave the bride at the alter before she became a wife, I could have enjoyed the rest of it without that cold, hard rock of objection in my path- the one that kept saying, “But he’s married.” Those two hours matter, because they are the difference between married and single. So I could not enjoy it, although I told myself all the way through “Just rewrite it in your head so they aren’t married and never were.”
There were some other little flaws, and bumps in the plot road, but overall, it was just darling, and also brought up lots of issues about what constitutes family, loyalty, and what does an adopted child owe his parents, both biological and adopted, or does he owe them anything? And what do they owe him? But the big issue for me was the marriage.
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.
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. I’ve watched a handful of J-dramas (Japanese) and TW (Taiwanese) dramas, but I vastly prefer the K-dramas, even though I know more Japanese – I got an A in my Japanese 101 class back in the day, when we actually lived in Japan and once I even knew both hiragana and katakana- but still K-dramas interest me vastly more).