The best 7 Korean dramas of 2015

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Time goes by very quickly, especially if you’re always watching dramas. There are already plenty new shows running and others are on the horizon, but I’d like to take a moment and look at my favorite titles from last year. I always find it odd that each drama cycle brings two or three shows of similar theme or main motif – so in 2015 we had the abundance of studying moms, chaebol identity disorders, vampires and ducklings-turn-princesses.

7. The Producers

(12 episodes) The moment I saw the cast it didn’t take much convincing for me to pick it up instantly. Huh. Originally it would seem The Producers were going for a goofy and witty look into the TV industry, the light-hearted version of King of Dramas (I miss Anthony!). PD Ra Jun Mo and PD Tak Ye Jin (Cha Tae Hyun and Gong Hyo Jin respectively) have to tackle any problems that may occur in the variety department of KBS. Baek Seung Chan (Kim Soo Hyun) is an oddball rookie who joins the crew, while IU plays Cindy, an idol singer who consistently ends up in arguments with Tak Ye Jin and her agent mother.

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There are a few issues I had with this drama. After a couple of episodes The Producers suddenly gave up on the mocumentary style and went for the common romantic comedy route. Also, for whatever reason the episodes were 80+ minutes long totaling 12, and in my opinion it messed up pacing very hard. On one hand I thought I need few more episodes, on the other some parts really dragged on.

The Producers is by no means a bad drama though. Kim Soo Hyun proves that he evolved as an actor, his deadpan humor carries the show. IU gave an authentic and satisfying performance. Kim Jong Kook, of Running Man fame, has a supporting role and provides a solid dose of comic relief. Cha Tae Hyun and Gong Hyo Jin are veterans so they’re usually good, but their plot was kind of lackluster. The producers of The Producers simply didn’t utilize their assets properly. Ultimately, it was a breezy watch that ‘could-have-been amazing’, but settled for ‘decent’.

  1. Kill Me, Heal Me

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(20 episodes) The better of the two identity disorder shows (the other being Hyde, Jekyll, Me). Ji Sung stars as Cha Do Hyeon, a rich dude who has not one, not two, not three, but freakin’ seven different personalities he got due to childhood trauma.

It sounds ridiculous, yet somehow it works.

Hwang Jung Eum is Oh Ri Jin, a first year psychiatric resident who winds up treating Do Hyeon. Obviously, romantic feelings soon begin to spark, and we learn that in the past there might have been some connection between the two. There’s also Park Seo Joon playing Oh Ri Jin’s brother.

Hats off to Ji Sung, he delivered definitely one of the best character portrayals last year (Shin Se Gi and Terry Park rocked hard). His fight for truth and the fight with inner demons (?) was fantastic, but I found the company monkey business going on behind the scenes quite ludicrous. The contest for power over the firm appeared to be a bit forced. Hwang Jung Eum was adorable – for as long as she wasn’t screaming. Kill Me, Heal Me was an enjoyable experience, but I don’t think it has much of a re-watch value.

  1. Oh My Venus

(16 episodes) a Korean goddess Shin Min Ah returns in this ‘beauty who got chubby, but wants to get fit again’ tale. So Ji Sub becomes her private trainer, Kim Young Ho aka John Kim, who’s accidentally also a heir to a large company (shocker). The characters in Oh My Venus are just so cuddly and lovey-dovey that you forgive every misstep this show takes. Honestly, turning Shin Min Ah into a fatty girl was a silly endeavor, even more so because the actress did not actually put a lot of weight (if any) for the role. Still, it added to the frivolous nature of the drama.

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The pairing of Kang Joo Eun (Shin Min Ah) and Kim Young Ho (So Ji Sub) apparently was so heavenly, that the duo did not really run into any deep conflicts throughout the run… What makes me wish the secondary characters received more love, Oh Soo Jin (Yoo In Young) and Im Woo Sik (Jung Gyu Woon), and more importantly Jang Yi Jin (Jeong Hye Seong) and Jang Joon Sung (Sung Hoon) could have had more interesting developments happening to them.

The show in a way promoted the notion of healthy lifestyle. I’m glad that the message was not about having a perfect body and completely giving up on burgers, but it’s about being sensible. Eat that pizza but run a bit as well.

  1. She Was Pretty

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(16 episodes) Another drama with Hwang Jung Eum and Park Seo Joon. Kim Hye Jin was a pretty girl whose family goes from the riches to bankruptcy, and after growing up she kind of loses her beauty (Korean drama beauty standards are odd). She starts to work for a popular magazine publishing team. Go Joon Hee stars as Min Ha Ri, Hye Jin’s best friend, while Choi Si Won plays a wacky editor who becomes interested in Hye Jin. Park Seo Joon is Ji Sung Joon, Hye Jin’s childhood friend who was tubby, and other kids bullied him and stuff. Now he’s coming back from America, with chiseled model looks and a fresh vision to save the magazine Hye Jin’s working for. However, she changed so much he does not recognize her…

Say what you will, but Choi Si Won was the true star of this drama. I don’t care if he’s idol or whatnot, the guy knows how to act. I’m not sure if he could do a leading role, but eccentric, loony characters are totally his thing (I was pleased with his appearance in King of Dramas that I mentioned earlier as well). I don’t buy ‘the looks don’t matter’ aspect of the show (they’re all Hallyu stars for god’s sake), but I liked the friendship and the reunion themes.

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  1. Sassy Go Go

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(12 episodes) It’s depressing that I’ve been already out of high school for like 8 years now, but well, I still highly regard these coming-of-age dramas. I continue to relate to them on so many levels. Sassy Go Go / Cheer Up! was a hilarious and endearing series with a range of quirky individuals, both on the students and adults side.

A-Pink’s Jung Eun Ji (more known to me for the leading role in the hit Reply 1997 drama) stars as Kang Yeon Doo, a member of a laid-back dancing group which has to live in the shadows of the school where good marks are everything that matters. The fate of the dance club gets intertwined with the study group led by Kim Yeol (Lee Won Gun). With each episode, we get to know more characters and all sorts of problems they have to deal with. Success in one thing in life leads to sacrifices in other areas and we can observe the youngsters mature through hardships that pop up in their way.

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Every time you see Ji Soo’s puppy eyes you can only feel solidarity and compassion for the characters he played in 2015. What an impressive young actor he is.

  1. Healer

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(20 episodes) This one was a wild ride. Weekly waiting periods between the episodes were killing me, and actually watching the drama was making me way too excited for my own good. There were City Hunter/ Bond-esque vibes around it, but Healer was even better. Suspenseful, uproariously funny, dramatic. The intriguing plot that will keep you right on the edge throughout the whole run. That was ‘the’ series of 2015 and the series which is going to be recommended to new viewers from now on.

Ji Chang Wook was simply excellent. I haven’t seen him in anything else, but now I’m scared to even check out his other roles, because Seo Jung Hoo aka Park Bong Soo aka Healer is a performance to remember. Park Min Young, whose career I believe is full ups and downs, went wildly above my expectations as Chae Yeong Shin. Seriously, in my eyes she finally beat her role from the forgotten by many I Am Sam drama (shame, coz that was one of the funniest Korean productions I ever watched).

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  1. Angry Mom

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(16 episodes) While Healer is surely a winner if I were to tick up all the right stuff a perfect drama should have, if I listen to my heart the victor of 2015 is Angry Mom. Kim Hee Sun was my favorite female actress last year and Ji Soo’s one-sided love was making me turn into a fangirl. Kim Hee Sun’s Jo Kang Ja and Kim Yoo Jung’s Oh Ah Ran created a powerful mother-daughter relationship, which made me feel that there’s always some hope left for dialogue between generations, between parents and kids, between teachers and students. When I commented on Angry Mom mid-run, I was disappointed with Ji Hyun Woo who played a teacher Park Noh Ah, but his character actually grew on me.

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By the end of the drama the gangster Ahn Dong Chil (Kim Hee Won) is the one I was rooting for the most. The world is not black and white, and it’s not an easy task to judge that gray area. We continue to make choices in our lives and doing the just thing at the right time is what matters at the end of a day.

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Angry Mom may be tagged as ‘comedy’, but it also contains some really sad and horrifying moments. It was a great mishmash of emotions, believable characters and great acting.

 

The two that fell short of the list:

Ex-Girlfriend Club (12 episodes) – I have a soft spot for Song Ji Hyo and Do Sang Woo’s acting was really refreshing, but the moment the show’s episode count was cut from 16 to 12, the drama became a complete mess. I’m afraid that the leading role proved to be too much to handle for Byun Yo Han (Misaeng).

Second Time Twenty Years Old – Choi Ji Woo stars as Ha No Ra, a 38-year old college student. Giving up on personal growth and happiness in order to raise the child is a difficult issue that many women have to confront and the drama addresses it. Some characters acted up on their selfishness too often.

The two you should stay away from:

Blood

Super Daddy Yeol

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