Drama Year 2012: The Really Long Review aka The Good, The Bad, and The Ones That Smell Funny

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The drama year 2012 has finally closed in and every Asian drama blogger out there is probably measuring the quality of the past year's dramas in their own year end reviews. I am writing a year end review for the first time. 
Overall, I think 2012 was a pretty good drama year. For me at least. I watched three dramas that made into my all-time favourites list and managed to avoid most of the bad dramas. And there were several other gems that made me very happy. My only regret is that I spent very little time watching Taiwanese and Japanese shows. It was hard to find J/TW-dramas that really interested me. And since new promising K-dramas kept on coming, I just had no time to spare for others. Better luck next year, I hope. 

So in this review I categorize dramas like I would categorize the leftovers in my fridge after the holidays:
Good - enjoyable, with few or minor flaws or none at all. Looks good, smells good and tastes good. Yummy and fulfilling.
Bad - the negatives outweigh the positives, either frustrating, boring or ridiculous. It's gone bad, but you won't necessarily notice the moldy spots right away. If you're lucky it just leaves a bad aftertaste, if not then you'll spend the rest of the holidays in the bathroom.
Smells funny - has some good points, but disappoints with the execution or writing. For those with a stronger stomach. Only good if you're really hungry or if there's nothing else left in the fridge. 

AS FOR THE SPOILERS, this review may contain some minor ones, but all the major spoilers have SPOILER note next to them and can only be seen if you highlight them. 

Dramas that aired this year and which I watched in their entirety.

What's Up?
Falls into the category: Good

What's Up? wasn't the most popular drama and didn't gain much attention from viewers in its 20-episode-long run. For me, however, What's Up? became my first favourite of the year. Aside from some minor flaws in the story-writing (mainly the ending), the show has wonderful music, interesting characters, layered relationshipssurprisingly good acting performances and great filming.  
While I started the drama a little hesitantly, I was quickly caught up in the story and how the underdog characters aspire to find their place. The overall tone of the drama is slightly darker, which makes it quite different from your usual K-dramas. Yet there is much fun along the way thanks to the quirky character set  (especially Jo Jung Suk's as Kim Byung Gun) and a great use of humor. The dialogue is also witty and I liked quite a few quotes from the drama.
The most unique aspect, perhaps is the way each character gets to be in the focus and has their own story to tell. The show lets these little storylines intertwine with one another and reveal new things along the way. You could say that What's Up? is more of a character drama, than a musical drama. The relationships and interactions between the characters are in the focus and music is more of a nice addition, rather than a central topic.
I can't guarantee that What's Up? will end up on everyone's fav-list, like it did in mine, but it is definitely a drama that needs more viewers. If you like great music, endearing characters and a good underdog story, then please do check it out. 
Plus, the people who didn't like Kim Ji Won in To The Beautiful You this is the show that will totally make you love her. Her role Park Tae Yi is such an oddball and kind of an ironic take on your usual naive heroines. Loved her to bits.

Falls into the category: Bad/Smells Funny.

It's no secret that I was disappointed with Big. It started out funny, breezy and unique, but ended up confusing, frustrating and cliched. The drama had potential to become one of my favourite Hong sisters' dramas had the plot turned out the way I thought it would.
I did enjoy the first half of the show for its cute summery feel and comedy, but the second half dragged on and never addressed the issues I cared about, like what was up with Yoon Jae or when will Kyung Joon get his body back? And then it ended with with a big WTF. SPOILER. Highlight between the brackets to read the text: (Aside from just leaving a bunch of unanswered questions, the drama also treated the real fans of the show as stupid. I mean, couldn't you give the fans just one scene of Kyung Joon in his own body? To give Shin Won Ho a chance to act the role he signed up for? It's just baffling that the actor for the main character slept through 15-episodes of the drama and never got a decent goodbye scene.)
Big let me down a bit at a time with each episode. I hoped that the story would revolve more around Kyung Joon finding himself a real family, blood-related or not, through the body-swap. And I would have liked to see Da Ran and Yoon Jae solving their problems. Especially since I felt Yoon Jae's character got screwed over big time. I mean, the guy might have been poor at expressing his feelings, but he did love Da Ran and never cheated on her. So instead of writing him off, he deserved at least a chance to tell his side of the story and to fight for her love. I wanted to to know who Yoon Jae really was. This is one of the major things where the show went wrong for me and the reason why I didn't buy the romance. 
The reason why I can't decide whether Bad or Smells Funny is the fact that I wasn't that invested to begin with. Visually the drama is lovely and it has plenty of fun to make it enjoyable at least to some degree. And Gong Yoo is great. BUT the writing is just crappy and the show is a mess. Hong sisters really disappointed me. It's cute, no doubt, but is it worth the disappointment? Can you really watch Big without thinking how much better it could have been?

Shut Up: Flower Boy Band
Falls into the category: Good

Shut Up was the second drama that made into my favourites list. Last year's Flower Boy Ramyun Shop, the first of the Flower Boy series, was quirky, but never it quite hit the right note for me. So I didn't go into Shut Up with very big expectations. Actually, I didn't know much about the cast or the premise and started watching it only because Dramabeans started recapping the drama. But boy was I glad that I did. 
Shut Up has a story that has been told before, but rarely with so much heart. The rookie cast is pretty, but also well-chosen for these particular roles. Ji Hyuk's role was made for Sung Joon, and despite being inexperienced, he really gave his all for the role. And Lee Min Ki's cameo was just so incredibly epic. The boys had great chemistry, which in turn made the bromance so sweeping. I loved that the whole drama was well-balanced all around and the writers knew exactly what kind of a story they wanted to tell. The story never wandered off, nor were hackneyed plot devises used to fill up the airtime. It didn't drag, kept me craving for more, and had a clear climax and a clear ending. 
What can I say, I'm a sucker for well-done teenage dramas. Because what is better than a story about finding yourself, something that we all struggle with even long after we've grown up. Shut Up focuses on the friendship of a group of boys, who are more like a family than anything else. But it also addresses the issue of how to stay close when you want to pursue different things. When growing up means that you have to walk different paths from your friends', can you really chase your dreams without regrets? It such a great conflict, because for them it's basically "us against the world" and breaking off from each other would be unthinkable. The drama handles this conflict well - relationships become tense, but not enough to ruin the friendship. The boys realize that they don't need to chase the same things to be there for each other every step of the way. 
Youthful, edgy and rockin', yet sweet, funny and heartwarming. Shut Up is more realistic than your usual fluffy teenage drama, but the story of friendship will keep your heart warm for a long time. And when it is all set to such a great soundtrack, it makes you wonder if you should start your own rock band full of flower boys...because that is exactly what I'm thinking.

Answer Me 1997
Falls into the category: Good

Well, I probably don't need to tell you how much I loved this show and say that it became my third favourite of the year. Answer Me 1997 came out of nowhere for many, but quickly became one of the most loved shows of the year, among both Korean and international viewers. The show did well in all areas - the directing, acting, writing, music, story, humor, characters. But above all, Answer Me had lots of heart. 
I think the reason why this show appealed to so many was because it was such a fresh idea, being relatable for not only teenagers, but for adults as well (not to mention, even for non-Koreans as myself). The feeling of nostalgia  was just so perfectly captured in the show. And the cast was winning, even though it included either unknown or inexperienced actors. Characters were already well-written, but it was the personal charm and the nuances that the actors, namely Jung Eun Ji and Seo In Guk, provided for their roles that really made them believable. It was as if they were the people I grew up, just a bit more Korean, but still. I could not imagine anyone else doing a better job as Shi Won and Yoon Jae.
The only criticism I've heard about Answer Me 1997 is concerning the second half. Some argue that the second half of the drama was weaker. I agree that "Who's the daddy?"-storyline lost its kick when we all knew what the answer to the question was. But at the same time, I think that by that point it wasn't about guessing the daddy, but about why the daddy wasn't the other guy. So, I'm actually glad that the show didn't pull some last-minute twists just to make the ending more exciting, and I was quite satisfied with seeing just the how the lives of our characters went on. These days when all dramas seem to strive for the open-ended finales, it's kinda nice to have some assurance that all went well with our characters. Fanservice yes, but I'm not complaining.
In any case, Answer Me 1997 is a show that every drama-addict should try out. If this won't rock your world, then I don't know what will.

The King 2 Hearts
(They should have named the drama I Am King, IMO)
Falls into the category: Good

This was one of the dramas that I thought would flop, but ended up enjoying. The disappointment of the last North-Korean spy-South-Korean playboy romance in Spy Myung Wol was freshly in my mind, when I first started watching it. But surprisingly, the drama excelled in things I worried about the most - the chemistry and the acting.
TK2H is also one of the few dramas that didn't bore me with the political affairs. Although the drama was set in an alternative Korea with South-Korean monarchy, I think it did a nice job at showing us the mistrust and misconceptions that the two countries are struggling with. I found the North-South politics quite well-balanced in so that neither side was completely right or wrong. I can't say the same about the depiction of other countries, namely America, as they were written as quite stereotypical and acted by terrible foreign actors. The latter being also one of the biggest flaws of the drama for me.
Aside from the foreigners, the acting was something that I really loved about this show. Lee Seung Gi, who so far had been a very mediocre actor, totally caught me off-guard with his much improved performance. He showed flexibility by being funny in comedic situations and then delivering a variety of emotions in dramatic scenes. Jo Jung Suk, whom I loved in What's Up?, did another wonderful performance in TK2H as the earnest and awkward soldier Eun Shi Kyung. His character was well-written, but you could see that the real sincerity of the character came from how Jung Suk portrayed him. Actually, pretty much the entire Korean cast of the drama was perfect.
What made TK2H such a good drama, despite it's flaws in the writing and pace, was that it successfully worked with so many genres at once. The drama was simultaneously romance, comedy, action, politics and melo, but the transitions from one genre to another were never abrupt. On the contrary, the drama actually tied them into this one epic tale that actually made you feel like things were either life or death. And that excitement is exactly what I want from a drama.
So, while I wasn't so madly in love with it like most TK2H fans, it made me quite happy. The drama wasn't perfect and needed to smooth its edges a bit, but it definitely took me on a very emotional and thrilling rollercoaster ride. 

Dream High 2
Falls into the category: Bad

This was the worst drama that I finished this year (there would have been other contenders for the place if, for instance, I had suffered through Fashion King or Dr. Jin). It was exactly the kind of sequel you hope you won't get to a series you loved. I think Dramabeans rating page says it all: "It tries both too hard and not enough."
Actually, Dream High 2 did have some potential to it. I liked that DH2 made Kirin a run-down school, where teachers had no authority and students were a bunch of underdogs whose dreams were bigger than their skills. And then we had idols as rivals and I was totally excited about how these two groups would clash. It was a promising set-up and I couldn't wait for our underdog characters to show just how powerful dreaming can be. The drama, however, never really embraced the idea of "dreaming high". The characters, who previously dreamed of becoming singers, seemed very indifferent about their dreams by the end. SPOILER. Highlight between the brackets to read the text: (It was almost like the drama contradicted itself by showing us that you should work hard for your dreams, but if a pretty idol boy steals your heart you just throw it all away. Speaking of, the love lines were plain angering. Not only did they sink my ship, but none of the love lines reached to a conclusion. The ending overall made me think that all the pain I went through watching this show was worth nothing because none of the conflicts were resolved. All I learnt is that there is not point of dreaming to become a rock star, you'll just end up as a school teacher. Might as well give up from the start.
Characters were the other main issue for me as I pretty much cared for none of the characters in the show. It wasn't because they were unlikable from the start, but because the writing and constant plot changes (due to the low ratings) made them very inconsistent. Most of the time I had no idea why they did the things they did. The acting was lacking also, but I wouldn't mind the bad idol-acting if the characters made sense.
Dream High 2 is a bad sequel and a bad drama, inconsistent and contradicting itself. Despite the title being Dream High 2, isn't about working hard to achieve your dreams, in fact, I think it isn't about anything really. I think there are several  5-minute K-pop music videos that tell a better story than this 16-episode musical drama.

Nice Guy/Innocent Man
Falls into the category: Good

Shows revolving around revenge aren't exactly my thing, but surprisingly this is the first melodrama I've actually finished. The reason why I stuck with the drama was because it wasn't as super melodramatic as I figured it would be. There are some common tropes and outrageous coincidences, but the great acting and the directing balanced these makjang elements out. 
I loved the dark theme of the drama and how we were rooting for the flawed and broken characters. None of the positive characters were completely good and none of the negative characters were downright bad. But it was the nuanced acting that really made you feel for the characters even when they did awful things. Song Joong Ki was, of course, the one that stood out for me the most. Although his face is still cute and youthful, this role shows that he is ready to take on mature roles. Moon Chae Won and Park Si Yeon also carried their roles well. But my favourite scene and the best example of acting from the entire series is the bench scene in episode 19.
The one major flaw that I can't ignore, however, is the ending. SPOILER: Highlight between the brackets to see the text: (Ma Ru's WTF amnesia was just too convenient. I mean, amnesia isn't a cold or something that you catch from your girlfriend. Even worse, it was the selective kind of amnesia that mysteriously wipes away all the bad memories, but lets you maintain all the things you learned in medical school. It's just so incredibly far-fetched, even for a K-drama. I know I am in the minority saying this, but I would have been okay if Ma Ru had died. Maybe not 200 metres away from the hospital by a stab wound, but I would have liked a darker ending. The whole drama was supposed to be about how bad actions have bad consequences and basically how karma will always get you in the end. In that sense, the ending totally contradicts the rest of the series. And the very last scene made no sense.
Overall, Nice Guy is a well-packaged show with pretty cast and cinematography that also delivers a pretty intriguing story. Enjoyable on many levels and definitely one of the better examples of melodramas, though not completely unflawed. Worth a watch.

Queen In Hyun's Man
Falls into the category: Good

Another show that I wasn't really anticipating, but that totally caught me off guard when I decided to check it out. Out of all the time-travel dramas I saw this year, Queen In Hyun's Man probably used time-travel aspect the best. And it probably had the smartest time-traveller also.
What Queen In Hyun's Man does right is that it concentrates on the things we care about the most, not on plot-fillers like silly side-characters, meddling relatives and bitchy ex-girlfriends. The main focus is on our main couple and how their relationship progresses from attraction to love. And instead of a complicated love quadrangle, we have a much  better conflict - 300 year time difference. Because while our hero wants stay with the heroine, there are just couple more important things he needs to take care of in the past. So when he goes back and forth in time, risking his life to set history right and save his queen, it inevitably makes it more difficult to return to his love. And this is why the show is epic - because the love is just so epic. I doesn't hurt that Yoo In Na and Ji Hyun Woo turned their on-screen chemistry into reality and became a couple. 
The show didn't always make the right turns. SPOILER. Highlight between the brackets to read the text: (The ending, while it gave us the outcome we really wanted, was a tad bit too simplistic and thus disappointing. There seemed to be no logic reasoning behind why exactly did Boong Do travelled back to the present day and how it was possible for the mobile phone to have enough batter to last a whole year in Joseon. But hey, who needs logic when you've got the almighty fate to fix everything. While I myself wasn't that upset about the ending, I can realize why some people were.)
Despite a less-than-perfect ending, Queen In Hyun's Man is great show that delivers romance on epic proportions. The leads have killer chemistry and show us how real kissing goes. Watch it if you want a sweeping love story with a little bit of fantasy and a lot cute. 

Rooftop Prince
Falls into the category: Smells funny

I actually liked the drama, despite the fact it lacked in quality. It may not be the smartest time-travel drama, but it had four cutest characters ever to mess with time and space and land in modern day.
However, my interest in Rooftop Prince dropped dramatically when the second half of the show started dragging out the conflicts and added more makjang. And since my favourite characters of the show - the Joseon F4 - were pretty much tossed aside to give more screentime to the characters I hated, it took longer to finish the show. I have said this many times already, but the show is best when it's light and sweet and funny. Rooftop Prince does comedy so well that it could easily just focus on that and remove all the drama. It's the makjang, the company stuff and the ridiculous villain that put me off. I would have loved if the show was more about the misadventures of four time-travelling Joseon puppies and the cute romance between the bossy king and our modern-day heroine. It could have made a pretty awesome sitcom actually.
While the romance isn't as sweeping as for instance in Queen In Hyun's Man, Han Ji Min and Park Yoochun have this cute chemistry and their characters are really adorable together. While I'm usually not that keen on watching drama couples to couple stuff after they've gotten together just to fill out airtime, in this show I would have been totally okay with it. When you're forced to watch controlling grandmoms, jealous step-sisters and murderous cousins scheming and fighting for the company, you learn to appreciate the cute. Though, it was kinda entertaining to see our villains taking each other down.
So, while Rooftop Prince spent half of its run to silly plot machinations and annoying villains, I will always remember it fondly for it gave me the four Joseon ducklings. Not worth all 20 hours, but worth the first 10 for the comedy.

I Need Romance 2
Falls into the category: Good

I Need Romance 2 is one of those dramas that I wish I could have liked more. The show has a summery setting and a breezy feeling that I liked, but the heavy relationship drama, especially constant break-ups and make-ups, made the plot repetitive and a bit difficult to enjoy.
The thing is that the show really is a fresh and realistic take on love, but you keep wondering whether these relationships are really worth saving. Most of the time I was just too infuriated with the characters and they way they handled problems that I thought maybe they should just move on. I am all for making an effort for your love, but our main couple Yeol Mae and Seok Hyun didn't really seem to try that hard. They constantly fell into same arguments and did the same mistakes, even though they knew it was the wrong way. While Yeol Mae laid out her every thought and feeling, pushing Seok Hyun to do the same, he didn't trust her enough to tell her what was really bothering him. I had a hard time convincing myself that these two should really end up together. 
The other thing that I was rather disappointed with was the friendship between the girls. As much as I've heard about the first season (haven't yet watched it myself) the friendship was one of the best things about the show. Having seen so much bromance in dramas I was kinda looking forward to seeing a female counterpart to it. In the second season, however, the girlfriends seemed somewhat unnatural and awkward together. It was as if the director watched an American chick-flick with a slumber party and tired to imitate it. There just wasn't real depth.
Overall, I did think INR2 was a pretty good show, despite the fact that it didn't entirely do it for me. Still a recommended watch for the new romance angle and a great soundtrack, even though the characters and their actions might drive you nuts most of the time.  Meanwhile, I'm going to give a try for the first season.

Dramas that aired this year, but which I haven't completely finished.

Gaksital/Bridal Mask
(7 episodes watched)
Probably falls into the category: Good

I really hoped I could finish this drama before the year ended, but I was forced to put it on hold at episode 8, when I realized I was moving at a snail's speed while others had already finished it. I can't say that I am loving Gaksital as much as the majority of viewers, but the emotionally strong narrative and intriguing characters keep me invested. Plus, the historic background, mixed with fictional elements and adding a masked hero and lots of action is a great combo. And I like that the show isn't afraid to paint our characters in really grim tones. Thankfully pretty much all of the characters are also well-acted and don't feel one-dimensional. So you can't entirely blame them for all the awful things they do. They are all victims of the most cruel and evil force in dramas - fate. Though flawed, the intensity and the excitement of the overall story is what makes me determined to finish it. 

History Of The Salaryman
(6 episodes watched)
Probably falls into the category: Good

This show might just become my fourth favourite of this year. I wasn't sure if the drama was exactly for my taste when I watched the first episode back when it aired, but picked it up again November and think it's totally awesome. Frankly speaking, this drama is probably one of the best in terms of quality and production value, not to mention the cast, the humor and the writing. This is not for the usual drama lover, but if you're looking for something different then this is definitely it. It feels like something I could actually recommend to a non-Asian drama fan, without constantly apologizing "I know this part is really cheesy, but it gets better I promise". I love the quirky characters, especially Jung Ryeo Won's Yeo Chi. It's amazing how differently I now see her now from her role in My Name Is Kim Sam Soon. Since I've read only positive about this show, I have faith it'll be good til the end.

The Moon Embracing The Sun
(9 episodes watched)
Probably falls into the category: Good

I had totally forgot about this show. When someone mentioned recently that TMETS actually aired in 2012, not in 2011 as falsely I remembered, I was really confused for a second. The thing is, I actually enjoyed the drama, the childhood part being one of the best I've seen. The show is also incredibly beautiful from the costumes and the setting to the cast. But the story itself isn't something that I was awfully thrilled about. If I look away from all the visual grandeur, the plot is really quite simplified - a king is hung on his first love, and that's it. It is the cast and the the way they play the characters that makes me think that the story is more epic than it really is. I still like the drama though, and once I get time I will finish it. A bit overrated, but a nice show. Watch it if not for the sweet romance, then for the simple fact how wonderful Yeo Jin Goo and Kim Soo Hyun are in it.

King Of Dramas
(8 episodes watched)
Probably falls into the category: Good

I picked up this show mainly because of my newly-found love for Jung Ryeo Won. But it actually a pretty good drama, and a pretty funny one. The main reason why I find it humorous is the fact how epic it is made to be with action movie background music, thrilling situations and evil masterminds, even though you're thinking "come on, you're  just making a drama". It's hilarious. And I think the characters are really quirky, especially our three leads the "drama king" Anthony, spunky writer Go Eun, and nutty actor Hyun Min. The only thing is that I wish the show would reveal us bit more about them and the interactions between each other. The show is so concentrated on the drama-making business that it kinda starts to lose my interest. It was fun and exciting first, but now I just wish that the fictional drama would air already.

A Gentleman's Dignity
(4 episodes watched)
Probably falls into the category: Smells Funny

It started out funny and light and fresh, but I quickly realized that it's really hard to root for the characters who act like kids even though they're in their forties. The bromance between our ahjussi F4 is quite cute and funny, but I find it a bit difficult to like these guys. They cheat, insult and are very possessive of the women in their lives, except for the only decent guy Yoon. The show kinda feels like it's degrading women. The romance already seems very frustrating as we are supposed to believe that our hero is secretly love with our heroine, yet all he does is hurt her and make her feel bad. Am I supposed to feel root for him, when he doesn't really deserve her? I just wish this show would realistically portray grown-up relationships and had a better message to convey.

Can We Get Married?
(14 episodes watched)
Probably falls into the category: Somewhere between Good and Smells funny

I am still only kinda watching this show, skipping large chunks just to get to the scenes of Dong Bi, Ki Joong and Hye Jin. As much as I love Sung Joon and Jung So Min, I find their characters and their love story to be infuriating. It just seems to me that they don't trust each other and don't stand up for each other at all. I know that in Korea you can't be disrespectful towards your parents. BUT there is a line that parents shouldn't cross and that line is seems very clear to me in this show. If your parents don't want you to be entirely unhappy then it should be possible to work out things by sitting down and being honest with them. I just really want our main couple to actually work for their relationship, not break-up every other episode. Overall, I think it's a nice realistic show, but way too frustrating for me to enjoy it. I will probably finish it, though.

Missing You
(9 episodes watched)
Probably falls into the category: Leaning towards Smells Funny

What started out as a terrible tragedy and teary agony, turned into into a dark murder mystery, and recently fell back to just being kinda "meh". I watched the first episodes for the beautiful cinematography and our child actors Kim So Hyun and Yeo Jin Goo. Then, when the adult cast came in I suddenly found hope that the show could actually intrigue me more, but now a few episodes later I'm not so sure anymore. The writer is capable of setting up interesting conflicts and developing the characters, but she still doesn't handle the plot well enough. I feel she is a bit over her head. The show still offers some nice scenes and adorable interactions, but I feel that it's too much to hope for something more.

Padam Padam
(8 episodes watched)
Probably falls into the category: Good

A drama I really wanted to finish, but didn't when I should have, and later got deprived from time. It's one of those dramas that I wish would have had more attention and though it isn't pitch perfect, I do think it's too underrated. I loved the fantasy elements in it,  enough to bring some mystery in the show, but not too much to make it fairytaleish. For a melodrama, the show is quite enjoyable and keeps me interested in our main character's journey. I'm not a big Jung Woo Sung fan, but I have to admit that he really is great in Kang Cheol's role. On the other hand, though, I am a fan of Kim Bum and love almost every moment our cheeky guardian angel is on screen. The writing could need a better sense of direction, but the overall story is gripping and the beautiful cinematography keeps me distracted from it's flaws. 

To The Beautiful You
(7 episodes watched)
Probably falls into the category: Smells Funny

To The Beautiful You didn't quite turn out as cool as I hoped it would be after seeing the teasers. Actually, in many ways it's quite embarrassing to watch this show. The characters aren't exactly smart and most of the time you wonder why the hell are they doing the things any normal person would never do. But I guess logic and reason aren't the strongest points of this show. On the other hand though, the gorgeous cinematography helps you to forget that you're watching something nonsensical. The cast is also good-looking and I can't help but admit that for the first episodes I had slight a crush for Minho. And well, if you accept that this is a show that has no depth, then it's a quite an enjoyable watch. Plus, if nothing else then the cute high school romance should motivate me to finish it.

Rich Man, Poor Woman
(5 episodes watched)
Probably falls into the category: Good

Another show I wished I had finished this year. When I first started this I wondered if this was a K-drama dressed up as J-drama. I mean, it had the basic premise of your usual K-drama has - poor spunky hard-working girl and a rich arrogant guy with weird habits, forced to work together in close proximity. But as it is a Japanese show, there is still more focus on work and the company business than on romance. I wish it was the other way around as I haven't watched a good Japanese romance drama for ages. In quality, the show is definitely better than most Japanese dramas and the acting is also quite good and not too overdone. I find Shun Oguri's and Satomi Ishihara's on-screen chemistry sweet. Yet, the show seems to be lacking that certain quality - the addictiveness. However, if this is the preview of what future J-dramas might bring then I'm all aboard.

(5 episodes watched)
Probably falls into the category: Somewhere between Smells funny and Good

I only started Hungry! because I hadn't watched a J-drama for a long time and wanted know what has the J-drama market been like lately. It's not a bad show, but it is unremarkable. It has quirky characters, but they are not developed enough to really draw you in. It has a story about an ex-rocker/aspiring cook who wants to succeed with his restaurant, but as we switch between his small victories and defeats the plot gets a bit repetitive. I'm not sure how big of a role the romance will play in this show as I only got as far to see Chie developing a crush on Eisuke. Knowing how most Japanese dramas are more about the workplace storyline I wouldn't count on romance too much. All in all, it's a short likable show I would finish if I had too much time to spare. The food looks yummy, though.

Arang And The Magistrate
(14 episodes watched)
Probably falls into the category: Good

This is such an awesome show filled with my favourite elements - action, comedy, romance, fantasy. And the show does well tying all these aspects together. The world that they've set up is quite impressive, with an interesting mythology and magical characters. Arang And The Magistrate is almost like a fairytale, only instead of a princess who needs rescuing we've got a brave ghost Arang that can totally take care of herself. Shin Min Ah rocks the role and her chemistry with Lee Jun Ki is so sweet. The only thing I would change is the pace. The show isn't exactly slow, but it could gain so much from a faster tighter plot. I'm still wondering how the story wraps up and whether we get some new twists and turns along the way. Hopefully the end will be a satisfying one.

Panda And Hedgehog
(4 episodes watched)
Probably falls into the category: Smells Funny? Bad?

When I started Panda And Hedgehog I was sure it wasn't going to be anything more than just a fluffy cupcake. But at that time I precisely wanted something cute and light, so I didn't care how superficial the drama would be. I actually really did like the first episodes and  the bromance between our two male leads, played by Lee Donghae and Choi Jin Hyuk, is absolutely adorable. But while Panda And Hedgehog might seem like a cute romcom, it's definitely more makjangish than you'd expect from the promo posters. Behind all the cake-baking unfortunately lies a very awkward and dramatic plot of daddy issues and missing relatives and such. I might tune back to the show just to watch our puppy male leads be all cute again, but probably it isn't going leave any other kind of impression on me.

Haeundae Lovers
(4 episodes watched)
Probably falls into the category: Smells funny

I'm not exactly sure why I quit watching this one, because I actually did enjoy the first episodes. Though, I have to say that the show wasn't as witty as I wanted it to be. The humor was there and I did laugh out loud, but it was more because it was so crazy all around. I guess if you go for this craziness that is all over the place nobody can really take you seriously anymore. I do like the chemistry between our main leads and the ahjussi gangsters are so awesome. So in that sense, the show does seem fun and kinda worth watching, but I would trade the silliness for witty humor and a sensible plot instead.

Operation Proposal 
(11 episodes watched)
Probably falls into the category: Smells funny

It's not a bad drama, but it is more frustrating than it is enjoyable. The plot isn't exactly slow, but the story takes one step forward and then two steps back. You feel like you're on a treadmill, running for your life all tired and sweaty, but in reality you're still in the same spot. One the one hand, I do like the characters and want the main couple to get together, but on the other, they just keep doing the same mistakes over and over. Just how many times does our main lead Baek Ho go into the past to fix things and come back empty handed? I can't completely blame him either as even if he does change things the fate keeps screwing with him. Yet the conflict of this show is just so simple that you keep wondering why is there so much trouble to get our OTP together? Because of three unsaid little words, do we really need a time conductor and 16 time travels? I want like you drama, but I just wish you were less painful and less time-consuming. The end better be worth it. 

Fashion King
(2 episodes watched + recaps)
Probably falls into the category: Bad

Dodged a bullet right there. I tried watching the first two episodes for Yoon Ah In, Lee Je Hoon and the fashion, but none the three, even, weren't good in this show. The first episodes were most of all ridiculous, while trying to be all serious and dramatic. They tried to set up a relatable underdog story, but what we got was weak pathetic people getting beaten up by everyone. The writing of both the characters and the story was just so bad that I felt no connection to the show. And from what I've heard and read, the show kept just going in circles, made the main characters unlikable and ended plain stupidly. It's not even atrociously funny-bad like Dr. Jin, but just downright awful. 

Love Rain 
(5 episodes watched)
Probably falls into the category: Smells Funny

Love Rain was just sooooo slow. It's not love rain, but love pain and very slow pain. Started it only because it looked so darn pretty, and the first episodes where the story was set in the 70s really were super beautifully filmed. BUT the story is just boring. During the 70s part all the characters did was just stare each other and do nothing. I know it was supposed be this lingering innocent first love, but after four episodes of moping and gazing you could care less whether they get together or not. The present-day lovers were a bit more charming, but not enough to keep me interested in this drama. I think I have mentioned how I don't care that much for Jang Geun Suk, especially now with his strange fashion sense. He can act, but in a drama that is so unspectacular and with an idol-actress counterpart I just don't see him as enough reason to sit this one through.

 Dr. Jin
(1 episode watched + Dramabeans' recaps)
Probably falls into the category: Bad

Dr. Jin was never on my watch-list and only watched the first episode because I was feeling a bit experimental. It was even worse than I expected, all through that first episode I thought "this has to be a joke". Aside from the strange baby fetus that messes with time and space, the drama is just so terribly directed that you can't take it seriously even for a second. I can't even blame the actors, because as bad as Song Seung Heon's acting was, this show would have been an abomination nevertheless. How can you expect an actor to convey the emotions naturally when the whole show is as unnatural as it can possibly be? Terrible camera-work, abrupt scene transitions, awfully placed music, crappy writing - and I picked this all up from one episode only. To the drama's credit, it did seem to entertain viewers. It's funny, but only because it's so ridiculous. As much as I read from Dramabeans' recaps the show continued to be bad in many levels, but it seems to me that it was mainly the directing and the writing that really sunk the ship. Too bad  the actors sunk along with it (why Lee Beom Soo?).

Dramas that I ALSO finished this year, but that didn't air in 2012. 

White Christmas
Falls into the category: Good

This was a show I picked to have some variety in my watch-list, you know, something that isn't a romance drama. The first episode didn't immediately grab me, but the dark creepy atmosphere made me intrigued (I like scary things). Soon I was totally digging the show. White Christmas may not be a horror drama per se, but it is pretty thrilling to watch.
As it is a psychological show, the characters play a big role in understanding the story. We have a flawed people, each dealing with their own past. With every episode the drama reveals something new about our characters or the relationships between them. As the plot is focused on the question "Are monsters born or made?" the same thing is reflected in the actions of our characters. They struggle with their moral dilemmas throughout the series, often giving us a glimpse of their darker side. Though the show doesn't really give us clear answers, each viewer can reach their own conclusion to the question  - can certain experiences in life make us bad or were we like that all along? 
I really liked the storytelling of the drama. The plot was exciting and filled with twists and turns that I didn't see coming. The beautiful cinematography and a great choice of music really complimented the story and emphasized scenes that were filled with suspense. But the plot wasn't entirely flawless and there were some gaps in the logic, especially in the last episode. There were times where I was wondering about the possibility of some situations. And as much as I liked the cast I felt that the acting needed some work. Not so much the facial expressions, as the body language. There was awkwardness in their movements and it was particularly evident in suspenseful scenes. But appearance-wise I think they all fitted in the roles.
White Christmas is a show I would recommend if you're feeling a bit tired of the same old stories and want something new and exciting. If you like creepy stuff then you'll definitely enjoy it, if you don't then there's nothing to worry about as this is unlikely to give nightmares. 

In Time With You
Falls into the category: Good

My first and only Taiwanese drama this year. I wasn't immediately impressed by this show and it took a few episodes to really get me into it, but I was sure glad I gave it a chance. In fact, this is actually the best Taiwanese show I've seen yet.
I like that the show handles the romance in a realistic way. Our main character You Qing has two men in her life and thus faces a dilemma. You Qing knows that she's attracted to Da Ren, but he is her life-long friend and she can't bear to risk their friendship to act on it. Then there's her cheating ex-boyfriend Li Wei, for whom she still has feelings for but who she can't trust. Even though we viewers know that she's wasting time trying to repair their broken relationship, I can also understand her - Li Wei was her big love and she wants back what they once had. As You Qing makes sacrifices in order to fix her relationship with Li Wei, she ultimately realizes that she shouldn't change herself for anyone, and the one who loves her the way she is has always been by her side. 
As for the technical side, In Time With You proves that not all Taiwanese shows are poorly directer, filmed or acted. Even though I was streaming the show online with a lousy quality, I could see that the way the show was filmed was so much better than other TW-dramas I've seen. Good camera angles and great directing was clearly felt in every scene. And I was so pleased with Ariel Lin's and Bolin Chen's on screen chemistry. Acting-wise Bolin Chen was actually even better than Ariel and he totally stole my heart in his role. 
Even though the drama is fairly slow-paced (despite the fact it's only 13 episodes) and it takes some episodes to get you invested, it's totally worth it. Mature, realistic and relatable, ITWY gives you inspirational thoughts on friendship, life and love.

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  1. first thing: congrats on making a twitter account! I was pretty surprised to see you there looking forward to your comments and spazzes about dramas ;)

    second thing: I really envy you for watching a lot of dramas this year. I don't know what happened to me but I could feel that I've become pickier compared to last year. I find myself nodding and agreeing with you said for the dramas I've watched. I also think 2012 is the year with a handful of good dramas but there are some that are forgettable.

    Thanks for the review :D

    1. Thank you :)

      Twitter is kind of new to me, but I hope it'll be just the place for me to spazz about the things I don't write in the blog. It may take a while though before I get the hang of it.

      Actually, I don't know how I managed to watch so many dramas this year, because I've been quite busy and during the days I'm in university I usually don't watch dramas at all. But I did try to be more diligent this year. Last year I hadn't watched enough dramas to write a year-end review, but I wanted to write one this year. So I guess a drama addict always finds time. But I am quite picky myself and this is why I start so many dramas, but I only finish a few of them.

  2. Love the 'smells funny' category. :)

    I guess I should watch What's Up? It's been languishing on my plan to watch list for a good while..

    1. I totally loved What's Up?. It's not perfect, but it definitely deserves more fans.

  3. Thanks for your end of the year thoughts! I feel the need to salute anyone that writes these kinds of time-consuming posts for the sake of the vast dramauniverse.

    Just one comment on Gaksital. I totally didn't start obsessing over it until the latter teen episodes, so if you hang on you may be rewarded by understanding the hype and feeling the love! :)

    1. Yup, this post was quite exhausting to write and when I realized how many dramas I had to write about, the review got longer and longer, but I really wanted to make one this year.

      You may be right. I try to make some room for Gaksital in my watch list, so I can wholeheartedly concentrate on it.

  4. Thanks for the review! Just got around to watching kdramas so this comment may seem a little too late haha

    One thing regarding the ending of Nice Guy: I think Maru didn't have amnesia, he remembers everything and Eun Gi but he pretends not to know so that he can start everything over again with Eun Gi with a clean slate. You know the kind of 'ordinary love' that he talked about in his monologue voice over. The ending is sure clouded with ambiguity, just wanted to share my two cents worth :)

    1. Thank you for reading :)

      Well actually you might be right. Maybe Maru really didn't have amnesia (as you said, the show didn't really make it clear) but to me the ending kinda sucked anyways. Didn't match the tone and the way things were resolved seemed way too easy for the characters. It's just a shame because the drama was otherwise quite good.


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