I found last year’s Korean programming exceptionally interesting. Obviously I had no time to watch all of the shows nor has every drama been great, but still, most of the series I did manage to see represented high level of quality and entertainment, and few of them became some of my favorites. Making a best of list in April is also hilarious but I’m gonna go with it anyways.
5. Pride and Prejudice (20 episodes) – the list opens with a TV series which is misleadingly named (it has nothing to do with Jane Austen’s amazing novel) and I could not figure out the thought process of the people responsible. It is a legal drama with a dose of romance and on and off humor. In main roles we can see Choi Jin Hyuk – as Koo Dong Chi (this actor had really busy last two years but as I heard he signed up for mandatory military service last week or something, God bless), Baek Jin Hee (Han Yeol Moo), and Choi Min Soo (Moon Hee Man).
Dong Chi is a talented hotshot of a prosecutor; enter Yeol Moo, young trainee who starts to assist him while trying to find the truth behind death of her brother. Moon Hee Man becomes a director of a new legal team, which consists of our two main heroes and characters presented by Lee Tae Hwan, Choi Woo Shik, Jung Hye Seong and Jang Hang Sun.
With each episode we learn that several people close to Yeol Moo are one way or another connected to her brother’s murder. In order to discover the truth, she will need to make difficult choices and sacrifices.
Sometimes the drama could keep you on the edge of your seat – too bad it usually happened only when Choi Min Soo was involved. Unfortunately, Baek Jin Hee’s acting was really flat (probably the biggest minus of Pride and Prejudice), and the segments unrelated to legal proceedings or uncovering of the secrets from the past sometimes could drag dreadfully. We especially could see that in last few episodes, when the writers, I believe, didn’t precisely know how to wrap things up. I suppose that cutting down the number of episodes to 18 or even 16 could make it much more smooth.
Despite the fact that Pride and Prejudice is far from being perfect, fantastic acting by Choi Min Soo and Choi Jin Hyuk and the office romance of secondary characters played by Choi Woo Shik and Jung Hye-Seong made me watch this drama every week and it was worth it.
4. Misaeng (Incomplete life) – (20 episodes) drama which turned South Korea upside down and become a real cultural phenomenon. It had enormous ratings even though it was broadcast on cable television (tvN).
Jang Geu Rae (Im Si Wan), a boy who played go for the majority of his life but ultimately failed to become a professional player, has to adjust to work in a corporation. Together with a group of newbies – Ahn Young Yi (Kang So Ra), Jang Baek Ki (Kang Ha Neul) and Han Suk Ryul (Byun Yo Han), they gradually familiarize themselves with the work mechanics of a big company. They learn that work can bring you joy and satisfaction (something I can’t really relate to) but at the same time they are required to accept all sorts of rules, strict hierarchy and sometimes glaring injustice from some superiors, particularly in regards to women.
Manager of the third sales department Oh Sang Shik (incredible Lee Sung Min) becomes a father figure of sorts to Geu Rae. He is a man’s man, who has years of experience but still cannot accept certain aspects of the firm he works for.
Misaeng is a bitter commentary on corporate approach to work and a human being, who becomes but a cog in a big machine. One of the reasons Misaeng is so big is that countless people can relate to many different characters in this drama.
It was an extraordinary show and I suppose we will need to wait a great amount of time before we get to see something of this caliber again. Why is it only number 4 on my list? It won’t be too big of a spoiler if I say that Misaeng ends fairly well. But in my opinion the realism and the drama were too much to handle for me. I realize it is life but usually in TV I expect some idealism and escape from the pains of life. Here every other episode I was like ‘Tell him off!’, ‘Enough! You won’t treat me this way!’ Humor and small victories made it less pronounced but Misaeng was a scream of despair of society. Without a doubt some cultural differences come into play, e.g. sunbae – hoobae relations do not exist in my country, which is why we perceive certain actions differently.
All in all Misaeng is a show like no other, watch it now!
3. Marriage, Not Dating – Korean romantic comedy dramas dominate the television each year. The majority of them use the patterns that have been tried over and over again and rarely stray off the well-defined path. It’s the same in this case. Or is it?
Marriage, Not Dating chose the route of relationship through a contract. Joo Jang Mi (lovely Han Groo) loses a boyfriend the moment she starts thinking about marriage. At the same time she meets Gon Ki Tae (Jun Woo Jin), popular plastic surgeon, whose family insists he settles down as soon as possible. Ki Tae comes up with an idea to make Jang Mi his fake girlfriend – he’s convinced that his mother would never accept her as a daughter-in-law (she’s a bit on the wacky side), and eventually would let Ki Tae live however he wants. As episodes go by we get to know Ki Tae and Jang Mi’s families and their friends. Han Yeo Reum (Han Ji Woon) becomes interested in Jang Mi, while Kang Se Ah (Han Sun Hwa of kpop band Secret) appears again in the life of Ki Tae. Although the close relationship between the main characters is part of an agreement they realize not everything is phony.
Marriage, Not Dating doesn’t bring many new ideas story-wise. But it’s little quirks that make the difference. Additionally, Han Groo and Jun Woo Jin make for such an amazing bickering pair of lovers. Several secondary characters are played by great actors and actresses who make the drama all the more pleasant – Park Joon Gyu, Kim Young Ok, Im Ye Jin or Kim Hae Sook as Gi Tae’s mother.
2. Bad Guys – when the police is hopeless and there are dirty deeds to be done, sometimes there’s a need to turn for help to people who should be sitting in jail. We’ve known this since the Silence of Lambs… We’re also aware that such cooperation brings trouble.
Kim Sang-joong becomes Oh Gu-tak, a detective with grim past, who comes back to force and becomes a chief of special police team which will apprehend the most dangerous criminals. Gu-tak recruits 3 dangerous bad guys – a brawny gangster Park Woong-cheol (Ma Dong-seok), hitman for hire Jung Tae-soo (Jo Dong-hyuk) and a serial killer Lee Jung-moon (Park Hae-jin), whose IQ is 160 and has degrees in Math and Philosophy. The team is also joined by an ambitious female detective Yoo Mi-young (Kang Ye-won).
Over the course of eleven episodes this unusual group of people conducts few investigations. Solving them is possible thanks to the abilities and methods of the criminals. We also find out more about the past of detective Oh Gu-tak, who’s also known as ‘Mad Dog’, and the three convicts. It soon turns out that… never mind, see it yourself.
The drama is full of violence (well, everyone’s shooting, everyone’s getting a severe beating, but still knives are censored on Korean tv) so it might not be a good choice for everyone. But, if it’s not an obstacle, the show is really addicting. I was impressed by the acting, Kim Sang-joong rocks. My only complaint is that Bad Guys had 11 episodes only which is why we didn’t get to see more cases to figure out.
1. You Who Came from the Stars aka My Love from the Star – For me the absolute hit of 2014 (I realize that the first episode aired December 18, 2013). Jun Ji-hyun returns to the world of drama in a grand style. The actress is mostly known from movies – her My Sassy Girl from 2001 was a top-grossing movie of all time in Korea and it enjoyed enormous popularity in south-east Asia. The picture even got a Hollywood remake in 2008 with Elisha Cuthbert in the lead role.
In My Love from the Star Jun Ji Hyun plays a confident but slightly naïve popular actress Chun Song Yi, whose presence in social media is endlessly mocked mostly because of her ignorance and the blatant common knowledge mistakes she makes. As her image falters even more because of educational scandal (she’s a student yet never attends any classes), she starts to go to lectures. It turns out her professor, Do Min Joon (Kim Soo Hyun) also lives in the apartment next door… and is an alien who came to Earth in 1609. Despite rough beginnings of their acquaintance, Song Yi and Min Joon get closer, but both have to deal with all sorts of problems.
Professor Do keeps his distance when it comes to humans, as he got to know them quite well over the centuries. On the other hand, Song Yi, being a Hallyu star, desires a true love, but she must hide her sensitive nature as she realizes that she can be easily cheated on or exploited if she opens herself up to a wrong person. The main characters slowly realize there’s this soul connection between them.
I fell in love with that drama from episode 1. Jun Ji-Hyun is absolutely phenomenal in the role of an arrogant actress, who might appear dorky every now and then, but has a big heart. Kim Soo Hyun as Do Min Joon doesn’t disappoint either. The alien appears to be calm and indifferent to stuff happening around him, but because of Song Yi’s inborn curiosity and importunate nature of hers he starts to act out of character. It is the source of some of the funniest scenes in the drama.
Drama also has a villain, who’s like some evil mastermind straight out of some American comic book. Shin Sung Rok as Lee Jae Kyung is great as a horrifying CEO, who makes you scared, but at the same time it’s so over-the-top that the writers avoid over-dramatizing.
You Who Came from the Stars had gigantic viewing figures and enjoyed massive popularity – it definitely was reflected in the number of awards the drama got. Highly recommended!
Some other picks for the drama-starved:
High School King of Savvy
You’re All Surrounded