Korean Dramas April 19, 2016Posted by General Zod in KDrama, Television.
Not many people actually know this about me, but… I’ve been addicted to Korean Dramas since 2011. You see, … many years ago, I realized that I was becoming increasingly bored with American television. Every show seemed to be either a teen drama which depicted the title characters acting inappropriately for their age or yet another uninteresting reality show wherein the participants were constantly bad-mouthing and backstabbing one another. I yearned for something different…
With the exception of the news and a beloved cooking show, I was struggling to find anything that would hold my interest and keep me entertained during the downtime.
At first, I retreated into the past. I spent more than 6 months taking solace in watching wonderful older TV shows from the 1950s – 1980s off of channels that provided nostalgia programming, such as MeTV. (Old westerns, like Bonanza and The Rifleman, were always a favorite!)
Eventually, I started wanting to find something “new” again, so I started looking around. I spent the next few months experimenting with various online streaming services. Then, sometime in 2011, I happened upon a TV show called…
2010, 20 episodes
This series is about a young woman who is struggling to become an Italian cuisine chef. (I didn’t realize it then, but this was to be my first exposure to Gong Hyo Jin, an incredibly talented actress.) See Yoo Kyung has been working as the kitchen’s assistant for 3 years, and is about to be promoted to junior Pasta Chef, when a new Head Chef, Choi Hyun Wook, is hired. Hyun Wook is determined to fire all of the female kitchen staff as he refuses to work directly with women due to his own personal baggage. Yoo Kyung has to dig in her heels and find a way to hang onto her job in order to fulfill her dreams.
As strange as it sounds, watching this program felt like I was breaking the surface from the sea of entertainment monotony, and was finally gasping in desperately needed oxygen. It started me upon a path which has given me a new appreciation for foreign television and film. Over the next few years, I’ve experimented with various programs from several eastern countries, including Japan, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, etc… but I keep coming back to the dramas of South Korea.
Now, I do consider myself fortunate to have started with “Pasta”, because not all Korean Dramas (or KD’s, as I refer to them) are good. Had I began with a bad series, I may have never gone back for a second look. There are definitely some real stinkers out there, but there are also some real gems that shouldn’t be missed. Whenever I discuss them with a newcomer, I always make suggestions to good shows that I consider to be worth the effort… because I wouldn’t want to waste anyone’s time.
Anyway, very recently, a work colleague found interest in watching KDs and asked that I make her a list of programs which would be worth her time. I took this very seriously, and did so. Mind you, I’ve only seen so many, so there are probably several favorites out there that I still haven’t seen… so I could only assemble such a list from my personal experience and opinions. There’s no countdown here. The following list of the Korean Dramas (which are in no particular order) are simply some of those that I’ve enjoyed the most over the past few years… with the exception of “Pasta”, as I’ve already mentioned it as my first.
[Also known as “The Great Doctor”]
2012, 24 episodes
Traveling forward in time from the 14th century, General Choi Young (royal bodyguard to King Gongmin of Goryeo) must find a doctor capable of saving his queen who has been fatally injured. Arriving in modern Seoul, he abducts Doctor Yoo Eun Soo, and drags her more than 600 years into the past. With no way home, Eun Soo must adapt to her new environment. Due to her extensive medical knowledge, she quickly becomes a political pawn between several factions of power. Her daily life becomes a struggle for survival while awaiting the reappearance of the magical portal which could transport her home.
My Lovely Sam Soon 내 이름은 김삼순 [Literal Translation “My Name is Kim Sam Soon”]
2005, 16 episodes
Kim Sam Soon a French-trained pastry chef with a real talent for baking. She is also loud, brash, insecure about her weight, embarrassed by her old-fashioned name, she just lost her job, and to top it all off, she makes a crying spectacle of herself when she gets dumped by her cheating boyfriend on Christmas Eve. Witnessing her humiliation is Hyun Jin Heon, the owner of a French restaurant, who’s mother is pressuring him into finding a wife via a series of matchmaking dates. Upon discovering her talent, Jin Heon hires Sam Soon as his pastry chef. However, both of them soon find themselves needing something else from each other. Sam Soon has to come up with ₩50 million to save her mother’s home from foreclosure, and Jin Heon needs a girlfriend to keep his mother’s demands at bay. They draw up a contract wherein Sam Soon publicly pretends to be his girlfriend in exchange for the money; with the most important condition of the contract being that they cannot allow themselves to really fall in love. However, as they spend more time together, not breaking the rules of the contract becomes increasingly difficult.
Love Truly 진짜 진짜 좋아해 [Literal Translation “I Really, Really Like You”]
2006, 34 episodes
Yeo Bong Soon (played by Kpop star Eugene) grew up on a small, archaic farm with her grandmother. One day, she meets both Jang Joon Won (a doctor, and son of the President of South Korea) and Nam Bong Ki (a lazy and egocentric presidential bodyguard). After her grandmother passes away, both of these men become central points in her life, each feeling a need to watch over her. Traveling to Seoul, she eventually finds an opportunity to become a chef at the Blue House (the Korean equivalent of the USA’s White House), but her colleagues find her to be a naive bumpkin. Bong Soon must start over in the big city and make a new life for herself.
The Greatest Love 최고의 사랑
[Also known as “Best Love”]
2011, 16 episodes
Ten years ago, Gu Ae Jung was a member of a popular Kpop girl group named “National Treasure Girls”, but scandal and strife split the group apart. Now, Ae Jung is hoping to remind people of who she was by appearing as a participant on variety game shows and a TV dating show. Then, her path crosses with Dokko Jin, the nation’s top action film star and a man with several character flaws. Soon, Jin falls for Ae Jung; but finds it harder than he expected to win her heart.
Emergency Couple 응급남녀 [Literal Translation “Emergency Man and Woman”]
2014, 21 episodes
Seven years ago, medical student Oh Chang Min and dietitian Oh Jin Hee fell madly in love. Despite their family’s opposition, they rush to be married. Finding themselves cut off from their family’s financial support, Chang Min drops out of medical school to sell pharmaceuticals, but he is miserable in his work. Meanwhile, the stress of their situation has given Jin Hee a deep inferiority complex. Their troubles come to a breaking point, and they get a divorce. Over the follow 6 years, unknown to each other, both of them attend different medical schools. The divorcees meet again, both as new interns at the same hospital where they must work side-by-side in the emergency room.
Hogu’s Love 호구의 사랑
[Also known as “Fool’s Love”]
2015, 16 episodes
Kang Ho Gu has never had a decent girlfriend. Girls have always seemed to take advantage of his sweet nature, and always seem to break off any romantic relationship before it can begin… which is a source of teasing by his friends and his twin sister, Kang Ho Kyung. Periodically, he pines for a crush from his high school years, Do Do Hee (portrayed by Uee, best known as a member of the Kpop girl group “After School”). Thanks to her beauty and athleticism, Do Hee was the most popular girl in high school. Today, she is on the Korean National Swimming Team. Do Hee is still driven and competitive, but prone to outbursts of cursing, as she’s never been able to win anything grander than a Silver Medal. Then, running into her at their high school reunion, Ho Gu is shocked that Do Hee remembers him; and leaps at the chance to spend some time with her. She seems distracted, but he still enjoys his time with her. Then, the two decide to meet again in the near future, but Do Hee does not show up. Months later, Hogu meets Do Hee again, and discovers that she was pregnant during their last encounter.
This was a rather charming series that really held my attention, but mostly because I enjoy Uee’s work. I’ve been watching Uee’s career closely for a few years, and have definitely seen an improvement in her acting abilities. However, this role was really customized towards her strengths. For instance… during her high school years, Uee was a member of the swim team (and even competed in the Korean National Sports Festival). Drawing on this experience, she was able to give her swimming scenes an almost mermaid-like quality.
Sassy Girl Chun Hyang 쾌걸 춘향 [Literal Translation “Delightful Girl Chun Hyang”]
2005, 17 episodes
Lee Mong Ryong is miserable after being transferred to a new high school. Then, the unintentional snap of an embarrassing photo leads him to his accidentally swapping phones with Sung Chun Hyang. The two discover that they go to the same school and soon settle into the roles of annoying each other. Then, Mong Ryong and a couple friends visit Chun Hyang while she is sick. He accidentally gets drunk on “juice” from the refrigerator, and unknowingly crawls into bed with the sick Chun Hyang. Nothing sexual takes place between them, but misunderstandings snowball when they are discovered in the morning. To protect everyone’s reputations, their parents mutually agree to marry these two teens… which results in their annoying each other even more.
It’s Okay, That’s Love 괜찮아, 사랑이야
2014, 16 episodes
Mystery Novelist and Radio DJ Jang Jae Yeol is loved by his public, so he works hard to hide his obsessive-compulsive disorder. Doctor Ji Hae Soo is a Psychiatrist doing her University fellowship. When the two meet on a talk show, they immediately start to rub each other the wrong way. Their lives continue to intertwine when they become roommates, because Jae Yeol decides to move into the empty room in a home he owns that is currently being shared by Hae Soo, another psychiatrist named Jo dong Min, and Park Soo Kwang, a young man with Tourette syndrome. As their personalities continue to clash, the unlikely pair begin an awkward relationship and attempt to heal each other’s emotional scars. Soon, Hae Soo comes to realize that Jae Yeol is suffering from much more serious mental issues than was originally suspected.
Little Mom Scandal 리틀맘 스캔들
2008, 16 episodes
This is the story of two high school girls, Na Hye Jung and Jang Sun Hee, who share a mutual interest in promiscuity. Hye Jung is wiser than her years, and uses her appearance to get what she wants from older men. Sun Hee is rather inexperienced, and is in a big hurry to “grow up”. Through a series of events beyond their control, the 2 girls become best friends; a relationship which is repeatedly tasked when Sun Hee gets pregnant.
This KD is actually much racier than most of that I’ve seen. It wasn’t “gritty” per se, but it definitely doesn’t sugar coat some of the more serious themes that the story brings up (such as teen pregnancy, abortion, prostitution, kidnapping, attempted rape, suicide, etc.) However, I did find it to be a nice change from the typical “Cinderella” formula that runs heavily through many KD’s. The entire story is split into 2 separate seasons of 8 episodes each, so plan to watch them both… and don’t expect everyone to have a happy ending.
Surgeon Bong Dal Hee 외과의사 봉달희
2007, 18 episodes
Dr. Bong Dal Hee has recently graduated from medical school, and is fortunate enough to be accepted into the residency program at a prestigious University Hospital in Seoul. The pursuit to become a cardiothoracic surgeon is always challenging, but Dal Hee’s struggle is complicated by her own pre-existing heart condition. As the story progresses, she endears herself to her patients, but is tagged as a troublemaker by her colleagues.
On a side note, I’d like to observe that when I watched the first episode, I found several parallels between this series and the early seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. I don’t know if this was done on purpose, or if it was just coincidence, but that’s really not important. My point is that if you like Grey’s, then you might find this program more relatable. I’m kind of fond of medical dramas in general, so this one was an easy sell for me.
The Vineyard Man 포도밭 그 사나이 [Also known as “The Man of the Vineyard”]
2006, 16 episodes
Lee Ji Hyun is a spoiled city girl who aspires to a career as a fashion designer (or if that doesn’t work out, to marry a rich husband). However, she puts all of her plans on hold when her grand-uncle makes an offer that’s too good to pass up. If she makes a serious effort to work in his vineyard and learn the business for one year, then she can inherit it. She takes up the challenge, but secretly plans to sell the vineyard to finance her dream to start her own fashion label. However, adjusting to country life is more challenging than she expected, and it is further complicated by Jang Taek Gi, a crude young man who manages the vineyard’s plants. Ji Hyun attempts to threaten to have Taek Gi fired, but she quickly realizes that she won’t last a day without him.
I think that’s enough for now. I have others that I can recommend, but my hands are getting tired, so I think I’ll save them for another post.