Saturday, 23 June 2018

KDramas and Me

My descent to the addicting world of Korean dramas came at a time when I wanted to escape from reality (don’t we all do?) and watching other's fictional lives unfold seemed to be an exciting alternative to my First World problems. It was much like my youthful addiction to paperback novels where I had devoured books in one seating, pretended to be sick so I wouldn't have to go to school and hid under covers well into the wee hours of the morning. Except I am now supposed to be a fully functioning adult with a corporate job and family responsibilities so it is something I should be ashamed of (I am!).

Korean dramas are not new to me. Back when I was a young city mouse trapped in a rat race, I had found a weekend home with these fictional characters who became my friends and family. But when I moved to Europe, my taste in television have become that of my husband's - documentaries that deal with social issues and climate change or travels and nature. Occasionally, I would get hooked on British and Scandi noir with a lot of dark humour and slices of real life.

BBC dramas are worlds different from Korean dramas which is mostly inhabited by jerky chaebol heroes who get redemption through the poor and endearing candy girls of heroines. They are peppered with tropes too - family secrets, childhood connections, contract relationships, tragic backgrounds, cross-dressing, cohabitation, amnesia, noble idiocy, family opposition - you name it and you find it in EVERY kdrama there is.

So why, John would often ask in exasperation, would I subject myself to watching the same thing over and over again. But that is the point, I explained, much like why most people often end up in McDonalds while in Paris (which we totally ended up doing). Because it is cheap and cheerful, you know what to expect (the menu may be slightly different but they are basically the same thing) and salt (or the case of kdramas, romance) is addicting.

The dramas are far from realistic of course and we, the avid viewers know that. Much like how the middle class British tune in to the bleak fictional lives of council estate dwellers which contrasts their quiet suburban existence, most audiences of my Asian roots take pleasure in the peeking at the lives of the super-rich, powerful and successful simply because they are not our reality.

Still, they carry messages of hope in this uncertain world that we live in, much like religion does to the poor in spirit. Through the lives of others, some people learn to re-evaluate their own, revisit their dreams and gain new appreciation for the things they already have. Of course this only happens once you have kicked off that addiction and learned to get your life back in track. Because Korean dramas can take over your life and get you stuck so you must tread with caution.

BUT if you are in need of escapism, then here are few of my favourites.

Kdrama recommendations
Reply 1988

Reply 1988. This 37-hour drama is part of a successful TvN franchise about youth revisited, families bound not by blood but friendship, love fulfilled not by fate but by choice. Of all the Kdramas I have seen, Deok-sun's family was a mirror of mine - my dad was hers, and I have come to understand him through her eyes.
You Might Also Like: Reply 1997, Reply 1994

Kdrama Recommendations

Healer. A cheeky hero, a plucky heroine and a clever story. I am yet to find a drama that mixes tragic childhood history, epic romance and satisfying revenge as beautifully as this 20-hour drama did. Not with the sword but with the pen, in drama land, it still works.
You Might Also Like: City Hunter

Kdrama Recommendations
Chicago Typewriter
Chicago Typewriter. This is one of the most underrated dramas of 2017. A story of friendship about a famous writer, a ghost writer and an avid fan that spans two lifetimes - the 1930s Japanese occupation and modern day Seoul - in search of their shared history. The modern day part may have been weak in comparison but the past was as evocative and as heart-wrenching as any war romance stories are supposed to be.

Kdrama recommendations
Because This Life Is Our First
Because This Life Is Our First. When a homeless drama (romantic) writer enters into a contract marriage with her house-poor software developer (pragmatic) landlord they would of course fall in love. But this drama has creatively subverted the many obvious kdrama tropes to make it into a social commentary on the marriage pressures in South East Asian societies, sexual harassment of women in the workplace and the gender imbalance in the patriarchal system.

Top Korean Dramas
Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo
Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo. Childhood friends reunite and you thought they would fall in love instantly but she was busy looking elsewhere and he ended up "helping" her. That's when the magic happens of course! This is a charming coming-of-age story which makes us remember what it was like to be young and insecure but still brave enough to chase after our dreams. Plus, every couple should be like Bok Joo and Joon Hyung - loving, unfailingly adoring with each other while still being honest when needed.

Top 10 KDrama Recommendations
W: 2 Worlds
W: 2 Worlds. Our heroine gets dragged inside the world of a popular webtoon and finds herself saving its hero. He follows her in the real world and discovers the truth of his existence. To find their ever after they must defeat the villain with no face who took over her father's form. The concept was fresh, the cinematography beautiful but the story lost its steam in the end. Still it's Lee Jong-suk and I'll take him anytime.
You Might Also Like: Queen In-hyun's Man, Live Up To Your Name

Top 10 KDrama Recommendations
I Remember You
I Remember You. This drama is a character study of psychopaths and reopens the age-old debate on the role of nature vs nurture. A criminal profiler (Seo In-guk) works with a cop (Jang Nara) in investigating crimes while trying to solve the mystery of a shared tragedy that changed the course of their lives. The romance is sweet and subtle. The bromance is heart-breaking. The story is gripping and thought-provoking.
You Might Also Like: Gap-dong

Top 10 KDrama Recommendations
I Hear Your Voice
I Hear Your Voice. My gateway to noona romance (older women-younger men)! A young man (Lee Jong-suk) with supernatural ability to hear other's thoughts is reunited with the woman (Lee Bo-young) who once saved his life in an act of courage that would eventually put both their lives in danger. While he imagined her with halo on her head, she has in fact become a lawyer who is pragmatic, jaded and self-serving. But she is still one of the best kdrama heroines of all time: strong, independent and genuine and he is a puppy I would take in anytime.

Top 10 KDrama Recommendations
Age of Youth
Age of Youth. What happens when a group of girls with completely different personalities and backgrounds share a house? Girly bonding, misunderstandings, ghost stories, mysteries and kick-ass friendship, of course. Anyone who has ever lived in a shared home should watch this slice-of-life coming of age drama and be reminded of the friends who became our family, even for just a short time. And of course, to fall in love with Park Eun-bin, as I did. Season 2 was even better although it did have the most frustrating will-they-wont-they love story that deserves a whole drama of its own. #justiceforJiwon&Sungmin

Top 10 KDrama Recommendations
Pinocchio. Our hero (Lee Jong-suk) with a tragic history gets adopted by the heroine's (Park Shin-hye) family whose absentee mother turned out to be the news reporter who wronged his own. This drama is a social commentary on the dangers of exploitative journalism in a world where corruption is easily hidden by society's hunger for sensational real life stories. Strong issues aside, it is light and cheerful and yet heart-breaking with lovable characters and redeemable villains.

Sungkyungkwan Scandal Kdrama
Sungkyungkwan Scandal
Sungkyungkwan Scandal. My ultimate reverse harem of a drama which was set in an era where women are not allowed to be employed and educated, so of course our smart and fearless heroine (Park Minyoung) pretends to be a man to earn a living. She unintentionally got roped in to become a scholar in the prestigious Sungkyungkwan, Joseon's highest educational institute, where she had to navigate the complications she keeps finding herself into with the help of her mischievous upperclassman (Song Joong Ki), her moody roommate with a secret identity (Yoo Ah In) and the upright hero (Yoochun)who got her in that stitch. It is light and funny and the political machinations needed in sageuk dramas are bearable watch.

KDrama Recommendations
Flower Boy Next Door
Flower Boy Next Door. This is a drama about loneliness and inner turmoil and how the right kind of love can take you out of it. I started this drama without knowing who the actual hero is supposed to be - the sweet web toon writer who has quietly watched over the overly introverted heroine, the man-boy game designer who constantly evaded her space or the kindly doctor she was infatuated with. But I came out satisfied that the right person got the girl and became a fan of Enrique who should be every woman's man.

KDrama Recommendations
Flower Boy Ramen Shop
Flower Boy Ramyun Shop. I loved this drama because it was simple - an endearing and spirited heroine who got kicked out of her teaching job (because of our hero) decides to run the noodle shop her father left her with the lovable second lead and a group of juveniles which ultimately included the jerky hero and together they all become a family. It's hilarious and full of puns with some heart breaks and with no real villains to get annoyed at.

Kdrama Recommendations
Moonlight Drawn By Clouds
Moonlight Drawn By Clouds. This is my gateway to sageuk (period dramas) and my favourite go-to drama recommendation. At its heart is a very charming and lonely prince (who pretended to be anything but) who's befriended by the sassy cross-dressing heroine who was sold off to be a palace eunuch. Everything is beautiful in this drama - Park Bogum, the cinematography, the music, the lovable characters, the bromance, Park Bogum, the settings and did I mention Park Bogum?

KDrama recommendations
School 2017
School 2017. I am not a big fan of high school dramas but this was one of the rare few I actually enjoyed with a flailing man-child of a hero hopelessly infatuated with the oblivious heroine. It reminded me of how frustrating it had been to be young and powerless with passion greater than your abilities, to live in a world where the adults are villains who keep pulling you down and to believe that our lives are determined at the age of 18. This drama made me remember my own youth and look back at that time with wistful laughter.
You Might Also Like: School 2013, Reply 1997

Solomons Perjury Kdrama review
Solomon's Perjury
Solomon's Perjury. This is another coming of age drama that felt close to my heart. A high school student committed suicide and a group of friends decided to hold a school trial to find out the truth about the tragedy. Set in a gray and white background of monotonous winter days and inhabited by people with regular families and everyday problems, this drama is a commentary on society and mental health through a tight and well-written plot and a very endearing cast.

KDrama Recommendations
Go Back Couple
Go Back Couple. An estranged couple (Jang Nara and Son Hojoon) decides to call it quits after 18 years of marriage but are magically transported to the year they first met (while leaving behind their young son in the present), thus facing the central and thought-provoking question: If given a second chance, would you make the same choices all over again? It's a drama that warms and tugs your heart (oh the tears I cried) and though I squealed at the what-could-have-been romance with the second lead (Yang Ki-yong), there was no doubt as to how that question could ultimately be answered.

KDrama recommendations
Fight My Way
Fight My Way. This is a classic friends-to-lovers story with characters very rare of Kdrama land - ordinary people living in an ordinary world with very human struggles, unfulfilled dreams and failed relationships, in short, losers (for haven't we felt like that at some point in lives?). And yet it drives in the message that our dreams have no expiration date and that the lost passions of our youth can be reignited. Stars Park Seo-joon and Kim Ji-won.

Kdrama recommendations
Tomorrow With You
Tomorrow With You. Our time-travelling hero (Lee Je Hoon) sees his death in the future, discovers a connection with a woman (Shin Min Ah) who might be able to save him and decides to marry her. As he slowly starts to fall in love with her, so does the urgency to save their future selves escalate and he finds himself obsessing over the known future to the detriment of their present lives. This drama is often funny though understandably melancholic, with well-written characters, subtle music score and beautiful cinematography. More than a time-travelling drama, it is love story that is both heart wrenching and heart- warming.

KDrama recommendations
Circle. I have never been a fan of sci-fi but this drama was something I easily got on board with. It's a tale of two brothers' search for the other, across two different time-lines with the key question: What is a man without his memory? It is a fascinating thriller with a lot of moral questions that needs to be debated on.
You Might Also Like: Duel

KDrama Recommendations
The Liar and His Lover
The Liar and His Lover. This is a drama that is a remake of a famous Japanese film, which follows the romance between a genius music producer (Lee Hyun Woo) who is hiding his identity and a high school girl (Joy) with a beautiful voice who falls for him at first sight. It is a very sweet and engaging coming-of-age story that follows the struggles of musicians in a very competitive industry with well-developed characters you couldn't help but root for.
You Might Also Like: Cantabile Tomorrow, Monstar

Kdrama recommendations
Marriage Not Dating
Marriage Not Dating. A young, successful doctor (Yeon Woo-jin) defies his family's wishes to get him married by introducing to them a woman they would surely dislike - our loud and nosy yet well-meaning heroine (Han Groo) who wanted nothing more than to get married. It is sharply written with witty dialogue and playful surprises that keeps you in your toes.

Kdrama recommendations
Strong Woman Do Bong Soon
Strong Woman Do Bong-soon. It is a show with a plot that didn't really make a lot of sense with side characters we could do without and low brow humour that is rather insensitive but the romance, it makes your heart flutter and flutter more. Min Hyuk (Park Hyung Sik) has set the bar high for dramaland's chaebol heroes as the adoring CEO of a gaming company who falls in love with his uber-strong bodyguard (Park Bo Young). For friends to become lovers, it only takes one step, he says, and that was definitely the swooniest line I've heard in my entire Kdrama experience.

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