It is the end of another year in K-dramaland and time to look back and count how many hours I spent watching dramas, running my drama blog, and working on drama-related projects. Since I watched twenty-eight 2013 dramas, recapped three and reviewed nine, and delved into past dramas, that would give me a total of...
...let's just not say how much time I invested in drama. Instead, let's talk about which of those twenty-eight dramas stuck in my head and why they did.
I chose these dramas because they stuck with me long after I watched them. They were full of heart, well-acted, well-produced and had me complete invested for the duration of the drama. I would watch (and have watched) them again and again. All of my chosen dramas have what I call "the feeling". What I mean by that is that I can escape into the world of the drama, feel what the characters feel, be where the director intends for me to be and really be in the moment with the characters. This does not mean a drama is without flaws, but that the quality of the show supersedes them.
So with all of that said, here are my top six dramas of 2013 in alphabetical order:
"The Pretty Boy Next Door"
"The Pretty Boy Next Door" surprised me with its psychological depth and profound insight into the human psyche. It didn't need a grand premise, blazing guns, or car chases. Instead, it found its niche in an apartment building with a reclusive woman who was scared of the world. She finds a helping hand in another damaged soul and together, they and their neighbors, journey through life, learning how to appreciate relationships and love. The bohemian nature and affability of Yoon Si-yoon's Enrique Geum gave the show a levity that would be sorely missing with another actor. Park Shin-hye was acutely aware of Go Dok-mi's sensitivity and played her with finesse. The supporting cast was wonderful as well as wonderfully quirky.
What captured me, however, was the slow, thoughtful pace this drama took. It explored relationships in a purposeful, meaningful way and never rushed. I thought the pace was remarkable because most dramas blaze through the kinds of small disagreements these characters had.
This show was ridiculously addicting despite the simplicity of the drug ring's and the legal system's representations. This show was, at its heart, about Jung Shi-hyun (played by the amazing Jung Kyung-ho) and how he was trapped by the drug world and human greed. He tried to fight his way out and forged some steadfast relationships on the way. He was a character that made me root for him every step of the way and made me love him as fiercely as his friends and comrades did.
Lee Jin-sook (Kim Yoo-mi) is the strongest female lead I've seen to date. She is 100% woman, intelligent, clever, ruthless and sadly vulnerable. I love that she never lost her femininity despite being used as a prostitute and by the men in the real world and in the drug world. She kept who she was despite it all and was a rock for Shi-hyun to lean against until the bitter, bitter end. Even her antagonistic friendship with Kim Hyun-soo (Yoon Hyun-min), Shi-hyun's best friend, was poetic and beautiful.
It was also beautifully shot and choreographed and timed and the wardrobes were exquisite. Thank you, cable!
This show has made it on my list because my heart still knots when I think about the characters and what happened to them. I still hate the villain and cheer for the hopeless romance. That, my friends, is what makes a powerful drama.
This shows made me fall in love with the concept of "love" and being "in love". There is such raw passion in the way that Lee Jong-suk's Park Soo-ha loved Lee Bo-young's Jang Hye-sung. Actually, he fell in love with her twice. And the way she loves him back is full of fear, but so clearly undeniable by her or by anyway. It's in the way she lives and breathes and acts. He learns to love her with all of her strange foibles. And with a crazy killer coming after them.
The other thing I love about this drama is how clearly all the characters change each other from beginning to end, even the valiant, intelligent, noble Soo-ha. The villian wasn't a mindless badguy there to plague the good guys. He actually garnered a bit of empathy and came to an important realization by the end. Plus, he was wonderfully played by Jung Woong-in. Sure, the law was a child's plaything in the storyline, but that didn't really matter. What mattered was that this drama I was always in the moment, right there with Soo-ha and Hye-sung, watching them interact with the other two marvelous leads who also learned as throughout the drama. By episode 18, not one person was left unchanged or without a touch of wisdom to walk away with, including me.
Ah, highschool angst at its best. "Monstar" hit me all the right ways because it addressed all the different ways kids suffer and grow in high school and how adults do the same along with them. It also introduced me to how amazing Yong Jun-hyung is as an actor. He was my secret treasure find for the year. (Kang Chan as Park Kyu-dong as well!) They cannot be mentioned alone: all of the members of Color Bar were skillfully acted, wonderfully understated, and great musicians. I loved the open-endedness of the ending despite the pacing flaws throughout the short run of the drama (it was only twelve episodes).
As a musician, a cellist, I reveled in the fact that Kang Ha-neul played cello (badly, but still played) and that music was a well-integrated key in the drama. I loved discovering the talents, like beatboxing Park Kyu-sun and sweet-voiced Kim Min-young, and re-experiencing the talents of the idol actors like Kim Si-won-III and Yong Jun-hyung.
Mostly I loved that this show brought me the same feeling of nostalgia as the Answer Me ("Answer Me 1994", "Answer Me 1997") franchise did. It's a gift to be able to take a time in everyone's lives that holds so many powerful memories and to be able to evoke those memories in a consistant, beautiful, sad way rather than coming off as hokey.
This drama is epic and is especially skilled at forcing me to glue my eyeballs to the screen for twenty hours. The characters are loveable five minutes into the show. By fifteen minutes into the show, I was crying along with Jung Sun-woo (Lee Jin-wook) and invested in his plight and the plights of everyone around him. Save for the fish-faced ahjussi (Choi Jin-cheol played by Jung Dong-hwan), I was there with everyone as they dealth with the repercussions of time travel.
Speaking of time travel, I adored how the rules behind it were concrete and how those rules were slowly revealed through character discovery. I was mentally and emotionally engaged in this show, trying to keep up with Sun-woo and Jin-cheol. The show wasn't afraid to give us a really pathetic character (Jeon No-min as Park Jeong-woo) and keep him weak and in need of his younger brother's aid. What I especially appreciated about his character was how understandable and pitiable he was, even in an annoying state of perpetual weakness of mind.
While this show was billed as a romance, I didn't feel like this was a "romantic" drama. The romance was just an integral part of Park Sun-woo's life and therefore it was a central part of my watching exprience. It was one of the many parts of his life that I was invested in.
Just for the record, I thought the ending rocked. So did Park Hyung-sik as Young Sun-woo. I was actually blown away by how he kept up with the experienced adult cast. Bravo idol actor!
I could rave about this drama for days, so I will say only one more thing: this drama is goreous. The lighting, camera filters, camera work, everything.
Come on, let's be honest. This show was all about Lee Joon-gi's Jang Tae-san and the heartbreaking relationship he has with Lee Chae-mi's Seo Soo-jin. That was the addictive part of the show, watching a man become a father for the love of his wonderful little girl. As a daddy's girl myself, I especially related to little Soo-jin and watching Tae-san learn to reciprocate that love.
Actually, I Just loved watching Tae-san grow up in two weeks by finding someone to live for, finding a reason that he wants to live, learning that he wants to improve his life and feeling a regret that will fuel him to consistently be better. Take all of that character goodness add in a sick child with a surgery deadline, Joon-ki's martial arts skills, explosions, terrifying badguys, and some cops chasing Tae-san, and you have one heck of a show. It balanced the emotional with the action very delicately and kept a few wonderful, tension-creating consistencies like having Soo-jin cross a day off the calendar at the end of each episode.
Like "Heartless City", this show really hinged on one character and one actor, Jang Tae-sang and Lee Joon-gi, who blew the role out of the park. As he rediscovers his humanity through his child and the woman he loved who is now a mother, Joon-ki pulls out some wonderful face acting: softening around the eyes, a twitch of the mouth. It's exquisitely done on his part and it is the strongest I've ever seen him.
The rest of the cast was stellar too: the bad guys, the prosecutors, the mother of his child/his love and her cop boyfriend. It was just finely made and even writing about it makes me want to watch it instead of finishing this review!
There you have it, folks, Raine's Top Six Picks of 2006 plus 6! Okay, of 2013, but I really wanted to use that as the title 'cause the rhyming was so fun, but I decided against it to avoid confusion. Whatever.
I hope you all have had a wonderful 2013 and will have an even better 2014. Let's pray to the drama gods for some more awesome drama to watch, read about, and write about. If you have other or different favorites, leave a comment and let us know about them!
Have a safe, fun, wonderful New Year!
Happy 2014 everybody!
Written by Raine from Raine's Dichotomy
Follow on Twitter @raine0211
Journalist, drama lover, and foodie, Lisa enjoys exploring Korea, speaking the language, and soaking in all that dramaland has to offer. Her Korean husband laughs that she knows more than he ever will about dramas and K-pop. Lisa Espinosa can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Year in Review] Raine's Top Six Picks of 2013"
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