Beruntung aku berkenalan (kembali) dengan Hallyu di awal 2014, because for the next two years, I got to experience what fans dubbed as the golden era of K-pop. Probably the second, because many also said 2008-2011 (or in between 2007-2012, it’s debatable really) is the first golden era of K-pop.
2014-2016 were definitely my formative years. Segala yang berkaitan dengan Hallyu kulahap, from its pop culture; cultural, social and political history; gender analysis, to US imperialism. I practically watch/listen/read-hopping everything.
Mungkin itu juga sebabnya saat itu aku belum fanatik terhadap apapun, atau siapapun. Variety shows, terutama Running Man, berkontribusi besar atas pengetahuanku karena banyak membukakan jendela budaya populer Korea Selatan yang dari luar seringkali dilihat secara sempit hanya sebagai K-pop, lebih sempit lagi, musiknya idol groups. Itu sebabnya dalam konteks musik, segalanya kudengarkan.
Now, back to mainstream K-pop. More often than not, most albums consist of a few hits and the rest are fillers (and by this, not just K-pop), but 2015 saw a change with many artists released solid songs well-curated albums.
Great songs were released one after another making 2015-2016 arguably the most exciting years for K-pop (on a side note, even “Heard It Through the Grapevine”, the best K-drama of all time (for me lol)), by far, was also released in 2015).
Whether the song(s) laid a foundation for the artist’s future sound or marked a turning point in their sound and artistry, here are the songs that define the year:
11. AH-CHOO (LOVELYZ8) – LOVELYZ
Ah-Choo is that simple, banal, fun song that I just could not stop replaying. There’s nothing much to it, but the notes are so addictive, making you feel like you just took on a happy pill. It also has that happy-adventure animation movie soundtrack feel.
10. IF YOU DO (MAD) – GOT7
GOT7 released ‘Just Right’ (EP) in July, but it is If You Do, the lead single in ‘MAD’ (which was released in September, also as an EP) that marked a turning point, shaping GOT7’s future sound and their more mature and sexier image.
9. BANG BANG BANG (A) – BIGBANG
Never quite a fan of Big Bang’s sound (or YG’s in general), but MADE is phenomenal and Bang Bang Bang from the single album ‘A’ is just too distinctive and iconic to ignore, despite the sound was not much different from most Big Bang’s songs.
8. SPRINGIRLS (SPRINGIRLS ) – SUNWOO JUNGA
Finding Sunwoo Junga was like finding a gem. Whereas so many female vocalists sound pretty much the same (this also applies to male vocalists, don’t get me wrong), especially in mainstream K-pop (though she’s more of an indie artist), her husky timbre (probably a contralto, my favourite type) and her music set her apart.
7. UPGRADER (SIMPLE MIND) – LIM KIM
Upgrader definitely sounds less experimental than Awoo, but this B-side synth-pop was the one that I played in an infinite loop at the time.
6. LOVE ME RIGHT (LOVE ME RIGHT – REPACKAGED ALBUM) – EXO
‘Love Me Right’ perfected the already great ‘Exodus’ album, making it one of the impeccable albums of the year. Love Me Right and Call Me Baby marked a shift in EXO’s music, setting the tone for the group’s future sound.
5. 4 WALLS (4 WALLS) – f(x)
4 Walls is SHINee’s View soul sister sharing a similar sound of electropop/UK garage/house/synth-pop, thanks to LDN Noise who was responsible for both songs’ tunes. ‘4 Walls’ as an album could have been a musical turning point for f(x), but unfortunately, the rest of the songs are just not on par with 4 Walls. Plus, they are on indefinite hiatus now, so what will happen with the group’s future is still unclear.
4. AWOO (SIMPLE MIND) – LIM KIM
My friend, Ninin, introduced me to Lim Kim. I think we were on some sort of a quest to explore the K-indie scene at that time. Simple Mind has a meticulous tracklist that I feel every single song in this album should have been included in every 2015’s best list. SHINee’s Jonghyun composed, wrote, and produced a track titled No More.
3. CALL ME BABY (EXODUS) – EXO
It is extremely difficult to be distinguishable in a saturated industry and to achieve that, an artist must have a distinctive identity to be recognised. Call Me Baby did exactly just that for EXO. The cohesiveness of thumping beats, vocal harmonies (one of the best in the industry), the sliding-staccato sexy choreography topped with a slick (and sick!) look created an identity that is distinctive EXO’s.
2. MARRIED TO THE MUSIC (MARRIED TO THE MUSIC – REPACKAGED ALBUM) – SHINee
Married to the Music is an homage to 80s-90s pop/R&B tunes with a quirky music video that’s reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and The Rocky Horror Picture Show meet American-college-party-turns-into-a-disaster movie
The fact that they played with a completely different theme of the same concept, but taking the oddness up a notch for this song, only strengthens the group’s brand as THE experimental contemporary group.
With this album, the group ventures a new area in their vocal arrangement experimenting with overlaying vocals, equally divided parts (which made possible because they are all vocal lines, though objectively speaking, Minho is on the weak side), and interspersed raps everywhere in between singing parts.
1. VIEW (ODD) – SHINee
View was probably the first song that opened the floodgates of UK-garage/deep-house-infused and retro-inspired songs in K-pop. Odd & Married to the Music also marked SHINee’s another turning point, which they have created constantly with every album up until now (2021) since their third. At this point, we don’t even know what’s a turning point for them anymore because they always bring something new to the table, but Odd was definitely a major one for them as it was also the first album they had direct involvement in the production.
It is still mind-blowing how they thoroughly conceptualised every little detail, from music, vocal arrangement, tracklist, choreography to stage outfits! View & Married to the Music era also have the most gorgeous stage outfits and looks I’ve ever seen K-pop. Not even once did they set a foot wrong in those comeback stages. Brilliant job by Key who since then has been involved in designing SHINee’s stage outfits (and he never disappoints). A truly wholesome experience which makes the series a masterpiece.
Lastly, SM basically crushed 2015 by delivering some of the best albums of the year. Not only did they make brave shifts in musical and artistic direction, but they also executed them flawlessly.
Because this is the time to revisit all-time favourites.
These are probably my all-time favourite Korean romantic/romantic comedy dramas. They are not entirely the ‘best’ ones (some even have red flags all over them), but the ones that I keep coming back to over and over again.
1. Emergency Couple (tvN, 2014)
Emergency Couple is my first love, as with Oh Jin Hee (Song Ji Hyo) and Oh Chang Min (Choi Jin Hyuk) with each other. The drama follows the rise and fall of Jin Hee and Chang Min’s relationships post-divorce – including the people around them – as the couple’s separation left so many unfinished businesses. There’s no excruciating push and pull in sorting out their unresolved feelings. No glorious wake-up calls and grand romantic gestures, only reflections and introspections in retrospect of their failed marriage. Their going back and forth came from confusion and uncertainties towards their own feelings. Their enlightenment appeared slowly as they find small awakenings along the way.
The beginning and ending show Jin Hee runs in the emergency room as patients come rushing in, but for a moment she stopped and paused to reflect on her life in the slow-motion of the emergency room’s chaos. Jin Hee’s life has come to a full circle.
2. Discovery of Love (KBS2, 2014)
I guess unfinished business always gives a spacious room for exploration. Or maybe it is the spot on depictions that makes the story feel so familiar.
Han Yeo Reum (Jung Yu Mi) has been dating Nam Ha Jin (Sung Joon) for a year when her ex-boyfriend, Kang Tae Ha (Eric), suddenly appears in front of her. As the three of them try to resolve their past and current feelings, they find the answers to their long unanswered questions.
“And… let’s break up. Let’s break up properly now. I didn’t know why we broke up, so I couldn’t break up with you. And you’ve hated me this whole time. While you still hate me, it hasn’t over yet.” – Kang Tae Ha, episode 10.
(By the way, still one of my favourite lines of all time)
“Can’t you be happy? Don’t think about lying, just because you’re doing fine. I know you’re not okay. Tae Ha, you said you wanted me to be happy. I too want you to be happy. But, why do you keep looking for me? Go and live your life. Why do you keep looking for me? If you keep looking for me like that, I’ll start waiting for you. Do you know how many times in a day I look out the window?” – Han Yeo Reum, episode 11.
“I realised it then why Yeo Reum acted that way. Why she said those mean things to me. Why I held back so much like an idiot. I’m the kind who can’t say, ‘let’s break up’. I don’t know how to break up properly. So I have nightmares, I take pills for headaches, Yeo Reum knew that’s how I was. That’s why Yeo Reum waited for me even when her heart already left.” – Nam Ha Jin, episode 15.
“Yeo Reum waited for me even when her heart already left.” Sobs.
3. Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo (MBC, 2016)
Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo fooled us into believing that this cheery and youthful show was nothing more than the typical cute coming-of-age story, but it turns out to be so much more than that. Inspired by Olympic weightlifting gold medalist, Jang Mi Ran, teenage love story, the show initially gained criticism for its lookism.
Despite their age, Kim Bok Joo (Lee Sung Kyung) and Jung Joon Hyung (Nam Joo Hyuk) show what a mature and healthy relationship looks like. A quality that many dramas with supposedly more mature characters fail to achieve. Their relationship grows slowly but steadily from frenemies to lovers. The young love is sweet and supportive. No nonsensical demands and expectations, and misunderstandings only came from pure innocence and naïvety. Rather than projecting adults’ perspectives into her characters, writer Yang Hee Seung tried to explore what’s in young adults’ hearts and minds. Their search for love and identity creates conflicts and problems that for many of us who have passed that phase might feel familiar.
4. Fight For My Way (KBS2, 2017)
Though still beautified, Fight For My Way depicts quite a realistic portrayal of the lower-middle-class young adults, making it a refreshing and pleasant break from the overused middle-upper social class settings. Despite some unnecessary stories, the undeniable charming chemistry between Choi Ae Ra (Kim Ji Won) – Go Dong Man (Park Seo Joon) and Baek Seol Hee (Song Ha Yoon) – Kim Joo Man (Ahn Jae Hong) as romantic couples and the four of them as a group of friends make up for what the drama lacks.
Their non-privilege start inevitably leads to mediocre jobs. Go Dong Man was a former high school Taekwondo hotshot, but now works as a pest exterminator while going after the UFC title. Choi Ae Ra always dreamed of being a TV anchor, but after failing too many times, she gave up her dream. Now, she works as a customer service representative at a mall information desk. Both Baek Seol Hee and Kim Joo Man, who have been dating for six years, work at a home shopping network. Seol Hee as a customer service and Joo Man as a buyer. They call themselves the Fantastic Four Knuckleheads. No victorious end for these four, but they do find love in the end. And that’s enough to get them to go through their ordinary lives.
But I have to admit that the strongest attraction of this drama is the pairing of Park Seo Joon & Kim Ji Won. They look great together from the get-go. Their strong chemistry and adorable portrayal of (what I like to call as) dumb and dumber couple are probably their best and most favourite performance of them I’ve seen so far.
5. Ex-Girlfriends’ Club (tvN, 2015)
The idea of four ex-girlfriends lives become entangled in the same ex-boyfriend’s present life can really be a turnoff, but Ex-Girlfriends’ Club managed to (kind of) dodge the bullet.
Kim Soo Jin (Song Ji Hyo) is a producer at a film production company. Her failing company decides to make a film based on a popular webtoon. Only later did Soo Jin find out that the webtoon writer is her ex-boyfriend, Bang Myeong Soo (Byun Yo Han), who writes about his ex-girlfriends. As the movie starts shooting, the project also brings Myung Soo’s other ex-girlfriends back into his life all at the same time; Jang Hwa Young (Lee Yoon Ji), Na Ji A (Jang Ji Eun) and Geun-hyung/Ra Ra (Ryu Hwa Young).
Interesting storyline, good execution, quirky narrating style, catchy tunes from South Korean indie scene, and its casts’ wonderful chemistry are some of the show’s charms; but it is probably Byun Ho Han’s stellar laidback performance (in his first leading role) and his chemistry with Song Ji Hyo that makes it one of the most memorable (though way too underrated) romantic comedy dramas. Sadly, the drama was abruptly cut short because of the low rating, making the ending felt rushed.
6. Just Between Lovers/Rain Or Shine (JTBC, 2017)
Ha Moon Soo (Won Jin Ah) and Lee Gang Doo (Lee Jun Ho) are both survivors and also the family of victims of a mall building collapse. Though the world around them seems to have moved on, their lives; along with the lives of the deceased families; are still somehow trapped in the past. Today, Gang Doo suffers a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and a liver malfunction, while Moon Soo seems to suffer amnesia, where she selectively erased some part of her past memories. Through a series of coincidental encounters, present Gang Doo and Moon Soo slowly enter each other’s lives. Jun Ho and Jin A’s relationships feel so real, organic and sincere that my heart is shattered too as they crawling out of the hole of despair. Their relationship feels sincere and is built gradually upon candor and empathy.
Not all stories have to end with a happy ending. Some relationships have to end to give new beginnings a chance, and some resume with a lot of struggles and require hard work. Nothing is binary in Just Between Lovers. And that’s how life is. Suffering shows you that you are still alive, whether that means good or bad depending on the circumstances.
7. Personal Taste (MBC, 2010)
Park Gae In: “Your back is really warm. I wonder if my father’s back was warm like this too.” Jeon Jin Ho: “Hasn’t your father ever carried you on his back?” Park Gae In: “This is the first time I’ve been carried on anyone’s back. I always thought that people’s backs were just cold.”
Personal Taste has all sorts of classic Korean drama clichés, from ridiculous misunderstandings to toxic masculinity and false wokeness. But it was lines like the above, the chemistry between Son Ye Jin and Lee Min Ho (despite Lee Min Ho’s flat expressions) and the underrated amazing performances of Jo Eun Ji (as Lee Young Sun, Gae In’s best friend) and Jung Sung Hwa (as No Sang Jun, Jin Ho’s colleague/fake boyfriend) that stole my heart and making me keep coming back to it despite all its cringes and cheesiness.
8. Familiar Wife (tvN, 2018)
It was inevitable that K-drama fans instantly compared Familiar Wife to Go Back Couple with the latter being aired almost a year ahead. Both dramas told a story about married couples struggling to keep their marriage alive and suddenly one day they find themselves travelling back in time.
But that’s as far as it goes. Though sometimes touching and heartwarming, but most of the time Go Back Couple feels immature and juvenile. Plus Jang Na Ra and Son Ho Jun are pale in comparison with Han Ji Min and Ji Sung. True that both couples portray their characters very well, but Ji Min and Ji Sung’s versatility as actors create much more realistic and nuanced characters, hence a more believable portrayal of struggling and tired married couple who is given a chance to re-examine their relationship to eventually re-discover their love for each other.
9. It’s Okay, That’s Love (SBS, 2014)
As banal (and possibly misdiagnose and misrepresent) as it might be, It’s Okay, That’s Love is one of the very few dramas that specifically address mental health issues. Jang Jae Yeol (Jo In Sung) is a bestselling mystery fiction novelist and radio DJ. Because of his troubled past and obsessive–compulsive disorder, Jae-yeol can only sleep in his own bathtub. Ji Hae Soo (Gong Hyo Jin) is a psychiatrist in her first year of fellowship. She self-diagnosed herself as having insecurity/anxiety issues, a fear of commitment, and sex phobia due to an incident where she saw her mom cheating on her dad with another guy. Together, they go through a tumultuous relationship to eventually heal each other’s deep-seated wounds and face their own battles.
Said to be the first Korean psychiatric drama, as expected, Hae Soo and Jae Yool are not the only ones with mental health issues. Most people around them are also dealing with their own psychological problems, which in a way gives solid backgrounds for their actions and behaviour.
Just like in most of Noh Hee Kyung’s dramas, the heavy subjects are balanced with wits. Gong Hyo Jin and Jo In Sung’s sassiness is a fundamental trait in carrying Hae Soo and Hae Yool endless bicker and banter, making them the coolest couple in romantic K-drama land.
10. Fated To Love You (MBC, 2014)
The ridiculous plot and overdramatic storyline did not hold Jang Hyuk from delivering one of the most iconic performances (and hairstyles) of his career and probably in the history of K-drama.
I don’t think anyone else can pull off portraying the eclectic Lee Geon better than Jang Hyuk. He makes the character looks like it is made and tailored just for him. Sometimes comic-y, extravagant, over the top; especially with the laugh; and even unnecessarily bizarre, Lee Geon is also warm and fragile. Jang Hyuk flawlessly glides from one emotion to another. One wrong step can turn Lee Geon into a despicable character, but instead, he makes Lee Geon’s flaws (kind of) understandable and even makes us empathise with him.
Lee Geon’s antics is in contrast with Kim Mi Young’s unassertiveness, even submissiveness, which suited Jang Na Ra’s melancholic face perfectly. So great their chemistry is, they were paired up for the third time later that year for a one-episode drama special, Old Goodbye.
11. Something About 1% (Dramax, 2016)
Almost everything about the show screams political incorrectness. The toxic masculinity is quite disturbing, moreover, in this age of #MeToo. Many K-dramas have been criticised for romanticising rape culture and this one ticks so many alarming boxes. The story is also a conservative cliché with too many unnecessary sub-plots (it is a remake of 2003’s same-titled drama starring Kang Dong Won and Kim Jung Hwa. And apparently the writer didn’t bother to update some of its outdated aspects).
Lee Jae In (Ha Seok Jin), a rude, mean, and arrogant heir of a wealthy family, is forced to get married in order to inherit his grandfather’s fortune. Unable to escape his command, Jae In engages in a six-month contract for a pretend relationship with Kim Da Hyun (Jeon So Min), an elementary school teacher chosen for him by his grandfather. Predictably enough, both Jae In and Da Hyun slowly fall for each other and it is Da Hyun who softens his heart and transforms his attitude. This ‘bad boy turns into a good boy with the help of a good girl’ and arranged marriage (without the woman even knowing!) formula is rather appalling in this age of gender equality and female empowerment.
But Ha Seok Jin and Jeon So Min save this drama with their wonderful display of emotion shifts which helps us get through the lousy story. Not to mention Ha Seok Jin’s sexy flirt. If only their sincere chemistry is shown in a more woke drama, their sweetness will be so much more worth watching.
12. You Drive Me Crazy! (MBC, 2018)
You Drive Me Crazy was almost out of K-drama fans’ radar when it aired. Maybe because it was a filler (drama special) in between dramas with only 2 episodes, there wasn’t much anticipation about this drama.
Han Eun Sung (Lee Yoo Young) and Kim Rae Wan (Kim Seon Ho) are friends for years, but a few months ago they slept together. Now, though nothing changes on the outside, but it seems that they never really get over it as the incident affects their present relationship.
Short, sweet, and cute. A classic ‘friends or lovers’ dilemma. It would be perfect if only it was longer.
“I always find the most successful K-dramas (read: satisfying) are the ones that meticulously connect multiple aspects of human lives, where individuals are part of a larger collective, hence our personal problems always intersect with larger and more complex problems within the social system. And this is what sets Secret Forest apart from the surge of legal dramas in 2017.”
Still rings true.
This year, Lee is back with another drama that once again sets hers apart from the others of the same genre. Last year she did law, this year she does medical, but the objects of her interest remain the same. Socio-Politics.
If there is one subject that most medical dramas try to avoid, it has to be the capitalism in health care. In Hollywood, where most of the country’s systems are built on capitalism and liberal values, drama makers take a long detour from going to the roots of health care problems and instead, they choose to present feel-good and inspirational stories that come out from (supposedly) though times, and of course, the no-exit labyrinth of love relations among hospital workers. But so strong is Hollywood’s influence that we also find these patterns elsewhere.
For the first time in I can’t remember how long (probably never), we see doctors and medical practitioners portrayed as mere humans. No superheroes with hearts of gold, just human beings whose idealism is often times overpowered by their own ego, ambition and agendas. Leemocks doctors’ deep-rooted elitism which for the longest time has made them arrogant beings playing demi-God.
Ye Jin Woo (Lee Dong Wook)
Goo Seung Hyo (Jo Seung Woo)
Ye Jin Woo (Lee Dong Wook) & Goo Seung Hyo (Jo Seung Woo)
Set in a top university medical centre, Life depicts what seemingly a power struggle between a patient-centred ER doctor and the hospital’s newly-appointed CEO, but as it progresses, the show unveils unequal fights in every level of hospital’s hierarchy. Oppressing from the very top of the hierarchy is the chaebol (a large family-owned business conglomerate), and oppressed on the very bottom is the pariahs, ER personnel. But the real battle here is none other than socialism VS capitalism.
Much like Jung Sung Joo (Heard It Through ‘The Grapevine, Secret Affair, A Wife’s Credentials), the charm of Lee Soo Yeon’s works is her eloquent multilayered narration. She understands the great importance of individual-collective interrelations in dissecting systemic problems within a society. And because of that, her stories always need a troop of actors to portray the complexity. Some of Life’s casts are also part of Secret Forest’s ensemble. In fact, it almost feels like Secret Forest + Prison Playbook + Just Between Lovers big reunion.
With an impressive assemblage of talented actors, it’s a bit of a let-down to see that the weakest link lies in the performance of the lead actor, Lee Dong Wook, who plays Ye Jin Woo, the ER doctor. Though still considered good compared to his previous works, he’s obviously no comparison to powerhouses such as Jo Seung Woo (Goo Seung Hyo, Sangkook Univerity Hospital’s newly appointed CEO), Lee Kyu Hyung (Ye Sun Woo, Judge of the Health Insurance Evaluation Committee and an orthopedic specialist, who is also Ye Jin Woo‘s brother), Yoo Jae Myung (Joo Kyung Moon, Head of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery), and Jung Moon Sung (Jo Nam Hyung, Chairman of Hwajung Group). Thankfully, he is saved by the immaculate script and great directing.
Goo Seung Hyo (Jo Seung Woo)
Ye Sun Woo (Lee Kyu Hyung)
Yoo Jae Myung
Jo Nam Hyung (Jung Moon Sung)
Jo Seung Woo, Lee Kyu Hyung, Yoo Jae Myung, Jung Moon Sung
With two consecutive outstanding dramas as a start, I can’t wait to see what Lee Soo Yeon has in store.
Earlier on, I thought 2017 was all going to be about time travels in the land of K-drama. The year is opened with Tomorrow with You (내일 그대와), then followed by Tunnel (터널), Chicago Typewriter (시카고 타자기), The Best Hit (최고의 한방), My Only Love Song (마이 온리 러브송), Reunited Worlds (다시 만난 세계), Deserving of the Name (명불허전) and Go Back Couple (고백부부), just to name a few.
But halfway to the end of the year, 2017 turned out to be about upholding justice and deconstructing and reconstructing traditional and conservative values. From feminism, gender equality to social justice, many 2017 dramas are offering alternative perspectives to the rather demanding and exhausting widely accepted values. This probably can be seen as a means of escapism from the dreadful reality of Hell Joseon. Strongest Deliveryman in particular talks about escaping this heartbreaking living conditions.
Quoting from Korea Exposé, ”To the South Korean state demanding life, denizens of Hell Joseon answer: “The best thing for a South Korean is never to be born; the second best is to die as soon as possible. For the young South Koreans who have grown to detest their nation, the Republic of Korea — Daehan Min’guk — already ceased to exist some time ago. They now call this land Daehan Mangguk: the Failed State of Korea.”
Age Of Youth 2 (청춘시대 2), Temperature of Love (사랑의온도) and Because This Is My First Life (이번생은처음이라) argue the gender stereotypes and reconstruct conservative family and relationship values. Age Of Youth 2 even brought up issues still considered taboo in South Korea.
I also find a pleasant progress in many of this year’s romantic themed dramas, which is consent. More and more writers seem to emphasise the importance of consent and mutual agreement as K-dramas, especially in the romantic themed ones, are so used to patriarchy, and even worse, misogyny. Man grabbing woman’s hand and drags her around, man forcefully kiss woman where she eventually gives up and falls into his charm after a short resistance are some of the common scenes seen in K-dramas. Romanticising dating violence unfortunately is (unconsciously) widely accepted, that even The Korean Communications Standards Commission (KCSC) ruled out one very problematic scene in Our Gab Soon as portraying dating violence. The scene looks like a rape attempt. Misogynist.
Temperature of Love (사랑의온도), Because This Is My First Life (이번생은처음이라) and again, Just Between Lovers (그냥사랑하는사이) came like a fresh breeze, the answers to misogynist dramas, where consent does matter, and men and women are not an entirely different breed, and women have the initiatives and make the first moves. Without belittling the effort, the offered ideas may look slightly basic or elementary, but it also needs to come into consideration that many things are taken in an extreme level in South Korea, these also include patriarchy and gender biases, and not to be left out, superficiality.
2017 also sees K-drama writers exploring new themes, like sci-fi in Circle, said to be the first in K-drama, followed by Duel; a common theme in movies, but rather rarely seen in K-drama and a prison life in Wise Prison Life / Prison Playbook (which is introduced as “Black is the New Orange” spin-off in Netflix).
If last year tvN and JTBC’s dramas dominated the top list, this year tvN’s sister station, OCN shoots to prominence with its signature crime dramas. OCN even pulled off a hat-trick with Tunnel, Duel and Save Me.
No drama really stands out this year, which makes it more difficult in compiling the list. Having said that, there are so many good, even great, dramas with varied themes that are really worth to watch. So, here are the top 10/11 of 44 dramas I managed to watch in 2017.
2016 had been a year of K-drama for me. Of the 137 K-dramas aired in 2016, I gave in to 33 of it. Thirty three… that’s like… a huge waste of time *sigh* I feel I missed one drama still, Memory. I’ll probably watch it sometime soon.
[Update] “Memory” is a nice drama. Both Lee Sung Min and Junho did deliver, but the drama is definitely not as solid as other tvN’s dramas will be mentioned in the list.
Mostly popular for its romantic comedy clichés, tragic melodrama or over-the-top family conflicts and never ending feuds, much like its counterpart in the cinema world, K-drama is at its best when it touches subjects with sincerity and genuineness (that of course applies to basically any kind of work of arts).
Of the 137 K-dramas, I passed the daily and weekend dramas which are mostly equal to our daily sinetron. Think of dreading love story which includes conquering abusive mother-in-law’s (to her daughter-in-law) love, betrayal, all sorts of illnesses, from sudden nosebleed to amnesia you name it, the daily and weekend dramas have them all. But once in a blue moon there’s family drama like “Five Enough” which is just sweet and simple (still with a bit of touch of silly and unreasonable but tolerable conflicts, of course) like the good ol’ TVRI’s family dramas.
2016, for me, belongs to Jo Jin Woong. Underrated oftentimes and mostly played supporting roles, 2016 finally saw Jo in two strong leading roles. Early in 2016, Jo played an upright and morally conscious but heartbroken Detective Lee Jae Han in Signal and in the second half of 2016 he came back to small screen transforming into an uptight and ambitious, rough-spoken but a soft-hearted family American television series’ Entourage. And in between, he starred in the highly anticipated and critically acclaimed “The Handmaiden”, a Park Chan Wook’s mesmerising erotic fantasy/thriller.
So I guess it’s only fitting to start this list with one of the dramas he starred in this year, Signal.