Friday, June 15, 2012

K-drama Rama: Where to start

It's a tricky thing giving recommendations. Whether or not you like a book or movie or show depends quite a bit on your expectations going in and where you are in your life. I like to relate it to the book Twilight. I had a chance to read it when it was new and I didn't know anything about it other than Madre Dos lived near the author and told me, "It's about vampires. I think you'll like it."  As a newlywed I wasn't sure what made her think I was into vampires (this was pre-vampire craze so I was of the mind that vampire love required copious amounts of black eyeliner). Madre Dos was absolutely right though. I LOVED it and told every girl I knew to read it. But if you read it after the mania hit, you probably couldn't figure out what the big deal was. Your real life may have made you want to slap Bella silly because you just wish people could make up their minds gosh darn it! Or if you can relate to junior high angst you may have cried along with Bella. Totally get it either way. It depends on the person you are at that moment of reading it. Love it or hate it though, you can't sit and tell me what a stupid story or how poorly written it was. It's young adult lit. You should know what you are getting into. And if it was such terrible book, it would be rotting in the bin of a dollar store, not the million dollar franchise.

What were we talking about? Oh yeah, Korean dramas. That prologue was more of a disclaimer. And I should also say you are not allowed to judge me for how many I have seen already. Lil' Sis and I had a big debate on which title to recommend to people first. Do we initiate people with the best first to try and get them hooked? It risks disappointment with all others. Or do we start off with a pretty good one so they have the best to look forward to? With reluctant readers, you start them off with the best book you can. But with a tv show, you have to start people off on a mediocre pilot so they get enough back story to think the funny episodes are funny. Tricky business. You know your personality best so I'll let you choose. Netflix has most of these titles, as well as hulu and for you viewing pleasure.

The Top Picks:

The first Kdrama I recommend watching is Boys Over Flowers

This is sort of the Gold standard of Kdrama. It started out as a Japanese manga, had a Japanese drama made out of it (those are called Jdoramas in case you wondered) by the name of Hana Yori Dango. I watched a couple episodes of the Jdorama and the Korean is WAY better. I'm pretty sure the title is the Asian version of Bros before Ho's.

Why I love it: Geum Jan Di is a strong female lead, a bit of a bad-A, and is always working hard for what she wants. The side romance stories are also top notch when you can't figure out who you want the lead to end up with.

Downside: It's long. 25 episodes. There are moments of total soap opera silliness near the end, but that isn't always a downside.

Next is my personal favorite, You Are Beautiful

Why I like it: What's not to love about a girl training to be a nun who pretends to be her twin brother in a Korean boy band to find her long lost birth mom? You just can't go wrong with that story line. I really like how light-hearted it is and it is full of comedy.

Downsides: The leading man's hair. We are talking Spiderman 3 emo. Then there is the multiple man pony tail going on later. Overall though, only a minor issue. If you don't like cheesy awesomeness, this is not for you. I happen to love the balance of it in this one, but I can see how it might be a little much for others. These others should probably not watch Kdramas and should stick with Cannes award winners if they are going to view subtitles.

Then there is my most recent love, City Hunter

It's like the Bourne Identity and As The World Turns had a korean love child. It is the only kdrama  I've watched with a male as the driving character. I mean, the cover doesn't even have a girl on it. This made me put it off until recently, but I was not disappointed in the romance department.

Why I like it: The villian is a complicated man who is legitimately bad (with redeeming qualities), not just a conniving family member like in almost every other drama. This one has another strong leading lady (I'm prejudiced against girls who get walked over). There is also a lot of fun action scenes so if you have to make your spouse suffer through a kdrama with you, this is a good pick. Mine still declined, but what can you do? This was also the first drama I actually found an actor attractive. Only took me 10 dramas for the asian persuasion to hit :) Then to my surprise, I find out that my mind wasn't playing tricks on me! I thought I was falling into the "all asians look the same" trap, but Joon Pyo is Lee Yoon Seong! I should also include the music in this one, both instrumental and kpop.

Downsides: The last episode needed some kissing in it. Hand holding just didn't cut it for me.

Second Tier Dramas:

(These are still good. Just not "I am in desperate need to talk to someone who understands!" good)

Lie to Me

No, not the same as the Cal Lightman crime fighting fellow. This is the second one I had ever watched and a great pick if you want to work your way up to phenomenal.

What I like about it: The chemistry between the leads is awesome. You get drawn into the plot rather quickly.

Downside: It looses steam in the last few episodes and sort of fizzles out near the end. They should have just crammed the last 4 episodes into 1 and finished it already.

Secret Garden

I think it should be translated as Mystic Garden, but that is my translation snobbery showing.

What I like about it: The body switching is especially funny to me, even though I'm not a huge fan of the Freaky Friday genre. Except for 17 Again. That one was a good time. The gender switch makes this one particularly funny. I also really like the runner-up fellow in this one. He wins for best English accent.

Downsides: Ugg. The dude is a bit of a d-bag and the girl is a push-over despite being a super cool stunt woman. Apparently, I really don't like sissy females. Still worth watching though, if only to hope she ends up with the runner-up.

Star Falling From the Sky

This one is a little more serious than the others. It makes you wonder what you would do in the same situation.

What I like about it: The little kids are cute. I like how the lead girl really grows up through the end. This one also gives a bit more info on Korean parenting culture. Take it with a grain of salt, since it is a hollywood equivalent, but I liked seeing what a Korean baby carrier looked like and things like that.

Downsides: I found the nephew to be annoying by the end. I know he was supposed to be the comic relief of sorts, but it got a little old.

My Princess

The one that started it all. My sister had already watched the first 5 or so episodes so when I joined her so I still haven't seen them. But I still enjoyed it enough to get hooked on Kdramas, despite being the annoying person asking 100 questions on the back story the whole time.

What I liked about it: The main couple had a great style of banter for me. There were also some really funny jokes about "erotica" and I laughed every time they said the word. It just doesn't sound dirty the way they say it.

Downsides: I wanted to yell, "STOP BEING A BABY AND MAKE A DECISION ALREADY!" a couple times. It also started to fizzle out in the last few episodes.

Flower Boy Ramen Shop

My friend posted on facebook that she liked this one. Technically she commented on a post a made to my sister, so I thought she was making fun of us with the crazy names of kdramas. Nope, she was a believer and Flower Boy Ramen Shop is an actual show. It was so highly rated online that I sought it out on Hulu and actually watched commercials. The same three commercials. Over and over. Husband did the math and said there was about an hour of commercials throughout the whole series. I mourned how I could have spent that hour on yet another episode.

What I liked about it: It was very light and playful. They have funny drawings on the screen and the girl is delightfully awkward. Not always delightful I suppose. Lots of bathroom scenes about constipation. Poop does make everything funny though. Now that I think about it, there were lots of important scenes that happened in the bathroom in this drama. My favorite part of the series was probably this fellow. <---link to gratuitous scene of the fellow showing off his muscles.

I had to call my sister and ask if he was real life attractive or just kdrama attractive. She said real life attractive, but I don't know if I can count her opinion because she is living in kdramas too. Thankfully there are enough korean fangirls on the internet so we can share this picture with you and you can decide on your own.

Downsides: I just couldn't shake the teacher-student yuckies. Sure the student is 19, she stops being his teacher, and there is only a 5 year age difference, but gross. And the kissing scenes are awkward at best. Like slobbery 12 year old awkward. And the creepy winking. But really, isn't winking almost always creepy?

Kdramas I'd pass On Unless You Really Need a Fix


What I liked about it: I liked seeing how all the food was made. It made me crave pasta every night for a week until I finally made some. The meet-cute in the first episode was sweet. There was also more to the story line than just romance and that was nice.

Downsides: AGG! The chef yells at the girl all the time. Yes, they try and spin it so that yelling is his sign of affection but, dude, terrible message to send. I love you, so I'll yell at you. Bleck. The girl had no backbone. From the cover photo on netflix, I thought she'd be cute and quirky, but instead she was meek and submissive. Of course she's going to fall of the guy who yells at her all the time, not for the sweet one who has been looking after her for years. Although he didn't really have much backbone either.

Playful Kiss

I probably shouldn't review this one because I only watched one episode. It is also a classic and highly recommended so there may be some Korean girls yelling the equivalent of "Blaspheme!" seeing it in the "I'll pass" column. It could be in part because it was more high school than I was in the mood for at the time. It may still be good. Yet Lil' Sis watched them all and said the lead fellow is a total jerk and doesn't even get nice after the whole "I'm mean but I have a heart of gold" part of the story. If I'm going to waste so many hours, I want a strong leading lady.

Husband keeps trying to tell me they are all the same plot: rich guy who is a jerk, poor girl is nice and falls for the jerk, runner up guy is nice and loses.

I tell him all stories are the same. A girl pretending to be a guy, that's never been done before in a rom-com. Shakespeare anyone? A girl falls in love with someone she originally hates, ever heard of You've Got Mail or Pride and Prejudice? It's the characters and the flow of the story that makes it fun so keep that in mind if you work your way through these.

Enjoy! And feel free to call me when you need someone to fangirl to because your husband just doesn't understand your need to tap his knee repeatedly when a good part happens.


Lauren said...

Oh good I can stop watching Dawson's Creek now. I am excited, I think this will be perfect for my place in life right now.

Marilyn said...

You should give Hana Yori dango another chance. It starts out super cheeses but gets better. I'm probably biased since it was the first Asian drama I've seen.

Love Boys over flowers and haven't any of te other ones your posted but I want to try some out - if Andrew let's me. I'm such a terrible mom when I watch them.

Elena said...

Did I tell you that I started riding the exercise bike so I can peddle faster when it gets good? It works so well and I'm exercising :)

Alicia W said...

I'm addicted! Curse you! But seriously, I watch them and need to gush. I hate feeling so adolescent, but I love it too. When Jun Pyo kisses Jan di in the road, I died. It was like I had my first kiss all over again.


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