Current K-Dramas, Take 2

By ‘current,’ I mean dramas I am watching now.  That may also mean dramas that are still airing, but it might just mean some ten year old drama that I am currently watching. (Okay, but also by ‘current,’ I mean dramas I’m watching now when I remember to update this post!)

I continuously- but quite irregularly- update and revise this post, as well as the first two and last links below on an as needed basis, so you might check back from time to time.

Currently:

Temperature of Love – 4 short episodess so far, and it’s drama-crack, baby.  I hope this continues to be this good.  I really wish I understood more Korean, because I suspect the dialog is even better, snappier, wittier, more crackling, in the original.  I’ve read a couple reviews which are positive but talk about how these two are opposites. Don’t believe it.  They are not opposites.  They are soul-mates.  They have the same attitude about work and they have the same level and style of wit and snappy repartee.  The ‘opposites’ is because, what? She’s a writer and not very physically fit, and he’s a chef who cannot spell and he likes to run?   They have differing backgrounds, his is obviously sad and bad, hers is a loving family with some sibling drama but not much above the level of constant bickering (her kid sister lets her live in the apartment for free, after all, so there’s a bond there).   I expect we’re going to learn he has dyslexia or something like it in addition to his other baggage from his past.   But they match each other in word jousting and in their enjoyment of skilful verbal jousting.  That matters.
-Halfway through and it’s kind of slowed down. Main couple are cute. Everybody else is boring or annoying or boring because they are annoying and make no sense at all.

Saimdang (also gorgeous)- Historical fiction- set in two eras. In the historical part, it is based on a real life female Korean artist and includes some of her art and some real facts about her life and a lot of speculative, fill in the blanks stuff. One of her sons grew up to become a significant Korean philosopher and scholar, and here he is a child prodigy, clearly guided by his mother (which is also true in the real story). There are two stories, and we go back and forth between them. In the modern era, she seems to be reincarnated, maybe, as a modern art student who has been trying to become a professor for years, but the professor overseeing her program is a real piece of work. There’s a conflict over a piece of art that he has erroneously attributed to an older artist, and she’s embarrassed him by accidentally calling his scholarship into question, and she’s also discovered a previously unknown piece and is trying to keep him from stealing her work, or rather, more of her work. She’s also I can’t describe it very well, but it is a truly beautiful drama, the visuals and the music are stunning, the art work lovely, and I like the actors and the story told in both eras. A little bloody in places in the older era, otherwise, I think it’s mostly family friendly. There are some accusations of unfaithfulness in a marriage that are not true, and in the older era her husband, who is a loser, does cheat on her, but I would watch this one with a middle school or older student, especially if we were also studying Asian art or literature (lots of poetry references as well).

 

Because This is My First Life: – Oh, gosh. It’s another contract marriage, forced proximity drama, which is my favourite drama trope. It gets harder and harder to do this without being ridiculously dated, but four episodes in, the writers and actors are carrying this off well. Lee Min Ki is the lead (Spoiler: he’s the guy who breaks your heart when he dies a couple episodes into Flower Boy Band, Daljae’s Spring; Spellbound, I Really, Really Like You and others) , and I love him. He’s always kind of quirky and in this drama, he plays an almost autistically disconnected from human emotions Spock like character with an underlying streak of just basic kindness and human decency that he has odd ways of expressing. He’s stiff, unyielding, prickly, disconnected, and utterly adorable. Jung So Min is the lead female. She was in Bad Guy (the rich girl little sister, and I didn’t care for her, but Bad Guy was a total mess anyway), Playful Kiss, Can We Get Married, and some others. She’s really good here. I have laughed out loud more than once. There was one scene in particular in the first episode that I found totally out of character and weird and it bugged me but in the 4th episode there’s a conversation and bit of back story that shows that character in a new and different light so it made more sense. I liked the way they unveiled these characters. I am almost in pain hoping the keep up this pace and these two main characters all the way to the end. I am watching for them. I don’t much care about anybody else so far.
All that said, this is not a PG drama. It’s at least a PG-13. There are other characters- friends and family of the female lead, coworkers of the male, and all of them seem to live rather messy lives, the kind of lives where one character says to another, “I usually remember the guys I sleep with, but I don’t remember you.” In one of the earliest scenes one character walks in on two others who are in the midst of, well, you get the picture. There’s an attempted rape- followed by coworkers of the victim trying to treat it like a spilled drink. There are also variations of workplace harassment and some serious treatment of double standards, patriarchal household rules and how unfair they are, and I do appreciate what the drama is trying to do here, I just prefer to have less detail about the sex lives of, well, anybody else in the world. There are only two people in the world whose sex lives I want to know about in any detail whatsoever, and I wish neither to see them online or read about them. So you don’t want to watch this one with your kids. You may not want to watch it for yourself.
Me? I am shallow and I am still giggling over the way Lee Min Ki’s character’s jaw drops when his tenant talks about recycling and when he’s gloating over his peace of mind. This is the drama I got up at 6 this morning to watch the latest episode, and I haven’t done that in a long, long, long time. (Episode 7 and i am still in love with the lead pair, although the girl character is annoying at the moment, and really wish the couple who have been living together for 7 years would just go away).

Avengers Social Club (English title) / Buam-dong Revengers (literal title). You might be able to watch here.
Revised romanization: Buamdong Boksoojadeul
Hangul: 부암동 복수자들
Leads: Lee Yo-Won; she was Queen Seonduck, among other roles. Here she plays Kim Jung-Hye, a seemingly icey wife of a jerky and immature chaebol who abruptly saddles her with his newly discovered 18 y.o. illegitimate son. She has an adorably cute side, although it takes a few episodes before you get to see that.

Ra Mi-Ran- you’ve seen her if you’ve watched more than 3 or 4 K-dramas. She’s a prolific supporting character, often cast as best friend, Ajumma, mom, scary thuggish market ajumma, etc. This woman can act. Here she plays Hong Dong-hee, the loving, devoted widowed mom to two kids, one grown, one in high school. She owns a fish stand at a market. Her character is a jewel, down to earth, kind, loving, practical, hard working, wonderful friend and mom.

Myung Se-Bin- also a prolific actress. Here she plays Lee Mi-Sook, the self-effacing, somewhat OCD housewife of a professor, who is a brute in private, with social and political aspirations. They had two children, and are burdened with a dark secret. She’s on the timid side, and it’s hilarious to watch her to agreeing to take part in the revenge seeking social club but only if they aren’t really mean and don’t hurt anybody or anything like that.

Jun, idol singer with U-Kiss, here plays Lee Seo Gyum, the illegitimate son. He’s a pretty great kid, having been reared by his grandparents until their recent death. His strength, he tells his new step-mom and her friends is that he’s wily. My heart aches for this character but I have high hopes. My best wish for the show would be that he and his stepmom learn to love each other like Mother and Son and fill those family roles for each other and run off and leave jerk husband/daddy to live and die a lonely failure. Or he could end up with Lee Seo Gyum’s birth mother, a dreadful woman. They deserve each other.

I LOVE this so much, and it’s weird, because it has some hard, triggering stuff- illegitimate child, mistress, loveless marriage to selfish jerk, infertility, sexual harassment in the workplace, domestic violence, bullying- yet it manages to also be sweet, funny, hilarious, endearing, poignant, very watchable- and I am rooting for all the main characters. The friendships of the three women are solid gold. The illegitimate son has done a number on my heartstrings. I want so much for him to forge the family he needs and for he and his stepmother to find healing together.
The darker issues- I really don’t know how they manage the balance between the dark, heavy issues and the sweet, fun, lighter tone. They take the dark issues seriously. They do not make light of them. They may not get everything exactly right, but they do not blame the victims and they don’t make it nothing. One of the women tells the victim that it is not that her husband is a good guy except for this one thing, but that her husband is a bad guy because of this one thing and it’s not okay for her to be treated like this. Yet at the same time, the drama is full of love and humour and light. The three lead actresses deserve a lot of the credit for this, but the writing and directing are part of it as well, and kudoes to them all.
Sadly, it’s not getting much attention or love and it really deserves both. I’m watching it on Dramafire in the Philippines. I don’t know where you can watch it elsewhere, but if you can, you should.

Mad Dog- a touch of leverage style entertainment. I really like this one (on episode 7)
 

On Hold, but I still plan to  some day I might finish (you may have grasped I have trouble finishing things):

Evasive Detective Agency– Drama.net- this one goes by a lot of names. It stars Lee Min Ki (current singer with JYJ, lead in Protect the Boss)- who is a delight as he plays a Taekwondo instructor with lots of energy, but not so strong on brains here. Other actors: Lee Eun-sung, Ryu Seung-soo, Yeh Ji-won- all of them fantastic in their roles, especially the latter two (partly because I do think they are better actors, definitely more experienced, but also because their parts are rich and deliciously funny). This is a goofy, hilarious show that is light on the romance, heavy on the antics.  It’s not just slapstick funny- it has a plot, it has characters I like and really enjoy, as well as find believable. I’m not very far. Episode 4 had one scene I’d want my son to skip- the guys are at the beach, and you can pretty much skip all of it. Nothing happens there that furthers the plot or introduces any characters you need to know. Otherwise, so far this has been nothing but fun.

 

 God’s Quiz– at Hulu.

Unusual for a K-drama, this has three seasons. However, Season 1 can be watched as a stand alone series, and it’s only 10 episodes long (2 and 3 are 12 each).   This is a medical/crime drama starring Ryoo Keok-hwan,  the same actor who played King Gongmin in Faith.  He was one of my favorite characters in Faith because he brought so much heart to that role, and he’s fabulous here, too.  It doesn’t hurt that he’s not quite your typical K-drama male star- he’s cute, but he’s awfully short for K-drama idol standards and he’s cute, not hot, not beautiful.   Just… cute, with an engaging grin and his character has a really delightful brand of witty sass (kind of reminds me of my son, actually).

I’m loving it so far. I can’t watch the autopsies, but I like the characters, the stories are interesting, often including some social commentary which I find informative and thought-provoking,  rather than heavy handed. It’s not a comedy, though there are plenty of  funny moments.  I really like this one the best, I think, of all of the above, and if it keeps up this pace and style, it’s got a fair chance of being in my top 20, maybe even the top ten.

Why the title? Dr. Han, our young star, is a genius (I know, tiresome, but he’s not tiresome) who knows it. He’s one of the youngest doctors ever because he’s such a whiz kid.  For some reason, he leaves the hospital where he’s the bees knees and a highly admired (nearly worshipped) young surgeon and moves to an investigative unit where he helps out with autopsies and crime (think Bones, with a more Korean moral compass, which I appreciated).  He thought he was going to be placed somewhere else, but he ends up here, and he’s miffed at first. His mentor, Dr. Jang, asks him at the end of his probationary month if he still wants to be moved:

Dr Jang: So you want to quit?
Dr Han: No. I want to continue. I want to go out and investigate as well.
Dr Jang: Why the sudden change of mind?
Dr Han: What should I say? For the first time in my life I feel like I met the biggest textbook in my life. It’s so hard to even flip the pages and even if I do, it si just so hard to read. What is it that makes it so hard? Now I want to know.
Dr Jang: I understand what you mean. The problems you have to solve through the cases are like a quiz from God. A Quiz made so that the arrogant human won’t get too proud. God made it for that purpose. But in these quiz there are no hints in it. It’s a question you have to solve forever. A very brutal homework.
You have to watch this one closely- at first it feels like each episode is a tightly wrapped package all of its own, but actually, the episodes are beads, and some details in each episode serve to create links to a chain that strings those beads together in a cohesive fashion to tell a story with a surprising twist (and I am not often surprised)
I finished the first season, and while it was not always easy to watch because the crimes are more serious than my usual K-drama fare, and because there is a bad guy who is brilliantly horrific, I was really blown away by this one.  The ending was better than the beginning.  A very strong show- the weakest point being the romance, but I didn’t mind.  If you hate crime shows, you probably won’t like this in spite of the very interesting social, moral and ethical questions it presents with each episode as well as the overall theme. If you like them even a little bit, you should watch this.
God's Quiz with 류덕환, Ryu Deok Hwan
Season Two:  They chose a different writer for season 2, and that shows. There’s a continuity issue with season 1.  There are a couple things that look like plot holes, but maybe they will be fixed. The romance side of things just beggars believablility, even for a K-drama.  It’s the most platonic dating relationship I’ve ever seen.
However, I still like this. It has the same actors with a few new faces, and these actors are great for their roles.  I like it a lot.  One of the strongest things about it is also the hardest- they deal with some hard issues about society, disabilities, abusive adults, exploiting the weak (including the disabled as well as children), and I like how they handle these issues better than any other K-drama I’ve ever seen.  I generally hate how K-dramas handle disabilities (and adoption issues), which made this show all the more special to me.  This show pretty much gets it right.
 Episode 8 about killed me, it broke my heart so bad, and if child abuse of a particular sort is a trigger for you, you won’t want to watch this one, but it was powerful.
It also fascinates me how well they are able to communicate what happened, and the tragedy of it all, without ever showing anything remotely graphic.  It’s good story-telling and  good directing.  Seriously, the most graphic (and all the more heartrending) scene in an episode about a molested child shows a tearful face and a broken shoe buckle. That’s all.  It puts the tell-all and bare-more genre to shame, it really does.
Season 2 was not quite as cohesive as season 1, and there are a couple of plot elements that bordered on jumping the shark. However, I love the questions this season asks about faith and I love even better the way Dr. Han answers them.
God's quiz 3 안내상 or Ahn Nae Sang season 3, which is back to being written by the same writer as the first season.  The lady cop is away ‘studying,’ which is what they always do to break up a romance or to handle an actor or actress who for some reason cannot return to the role.  To replace her we have veteran actor Ahn Nae-Sang (pronounced more like nay-song), or 안내상.  He’s been in just about everything, and he is always a treat to watch.
Here he plays a 20 year veteran of the police, a down to earth, very rough around the edges, somewhat jaded cop who relies on his experience and his gut. This makes him a great foil for the smart alec genius young doctor.
It’s kind of interesting as a drama buff to watch the way this writer undoes all the changes the second season writer made to the story and put things back, and then begin retelling the story the writer wanted this character to have.  So far, I can unreservedly recommend the first season as excellent viewing with remarkable twists.  The other two seasons are interesting, but not nearly as tight and good as the first, and you don’t need them. the first season does stand alone.
I don’t think I like where God’s Quiz is going in the third season.  But now I should finish it because I hear tell there’s going to be a fourth season, which would ordinarily kill a K-drama for me, but I do really, really enjoy this main actor’s work.
And now Season 4 is airing.  I really need to catch up.
 turtle dragon blog link

turtle dragon blog link

Dramas I’ve completed, recommend, and reviewed: see here.

K-Dramas I almost liked– most of these are  darker than I usually prefer. Some are also-rans- I thought I was going to like them, which is why I started reviewing, but they there were just too flawed.

Things to know when watching a K-drama

More Things To Know

Addiction, and why I like K-dramas

You might be watching a K-Drama if….

More K-Dramas I’ve watched

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).

Need to read still more about K-dramas?

CrazyforKDramas

Dramabeans– must reading.

Outside Seoul

Learn more background stuff about Korean culture from askakorean

belecticground

The social commentary at one of the above sites  in particular drives me nuts. It won’t take long for you to figure it out. You can tell they were well indoctrinated either by direct contact with a woman’s studies program in college, or by some secondary influence. The double standard is bad, but it’s the near complete blindness to it that is absolutely jaw dropping.  They freak out over all alleged, perceived, imagined or real disrespect, misogyny, and patriarchy involved in a wrist grab (a common K-Drama thing, and also something I actually do to my husband and kids when I am really excited about something and want to drag them over and make them share the moment with me).  I understand that many of the wrist grab scenes are about asserting male power, I just don’t agree that all of them are, nor do I agree that asserting one’s gender is always and everywhere a bad thing.

But what really sticks in my craw is having somebody who cannot bypass a wrist grab without genuflecting to one’s Womyn’s Studies brainwashing also giggle, chortle, and cheer like spiteful school girls when a female character is violently abusive towards a male. I’ve witnessed the giggling and cheers over scenes like  a female kicking a male character in the shins, or worse,  between the legs, merely because he has annoyed her by being in her way, making a dumb suggestion (not a lewd suggestion, I mean coming up with what she deems is a foolish suggestion for fixing a work problem) or had the audacity to ask her out or tell she’s pretty.

I have watched them issue virtual high fives of delight over scenes which have the female lead demonstrate her ascendancy over the male lead by leaving him with a fat lip, black eyes, and/or a bloody nose- again, only because he’s annoyed her, not as a matter of self defense against an actual attack.

They think wrist grabs are abusive but male battering is hilarious. I think the double standard is disgusting, and I’ll take honest patriarchy over the hypocrisy and vicarious thrills over violence of this brand of feminism any day of the week.  And twice on Sundays.

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One Comment

  1. Christine Shah
    Posted June 4, 2017 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I have been disgusted by the double standard you speak of for 20+ years. Idiotic. Ptooey.

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