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End of the Year Review: A Light at the End of the 2011 kdrama Tunnel

Hello, world! I'm going to warn you, this end of the year review is embarrassingly short because I didn't finish many dramas this year. I don't finish many dramas every year because I hardly ever finish sageuks (shame on me), don't really like Korean action-oriented dramas (i.e. Iris), and have a life outside of dramas that doesn't allow me to watch everything that is airing, unfortunately, but this year seemed especially low. 
Just a heads-up, but I'm going to talk about three unfinished dramas because, though I didn't watch them in their entirety, I feel like I've watched enough where my opinion won't change. That doesn't mean they are the only dramas I didn't finish this year (hardly), and neither is this a list of all the 2011 dramas I've seen. I've seen Birdie Buddy, Athena, The Princess's Man, Man of Honor, and many others that would take up too much space and brain power to list them all.
[WARNING: there will be potential, minor spoilers sprinkled throughout (so read at your own risk), but intentional, major spoilers will be labeled]

The Unfinished (the dramas for some reason or another, I just couldn't get to the end of)

My Princess
One word: fluff.
Song Seung-hun and Kim Tae-hee were, quite simply, cute together, and Ryu Soo-young was adorable. Besides these characters' appeal, there isn't really anything else worth mentioning from this drama which is probably why I dropped it in the end of the middle half. The female second lead was completely bland and one-dimensional as a villain (sorry Park Ye-jin, but it's the truth). The plot became dragged and ridiculous to the point where I just stopped caring all together. The big press conference, running away, coming back, more running away; my brain, I think I lost it at the door. Sadly, I don't even remember where I ended this drama because that's how much it is has lasted an impression on me, barely any.
Miss Ripley
In the beginning, there was darkness. In the end, I had hightailed it out of there.
At first, Miss Ripley seemed to try and push the boundaries and paint things in shades of gray, but unfortunately, the edginess that I thought would be present was nowhere to be found. The story seemed to switch gears from what it had originally intended which was seen in the lack of presence of the two secondary leads: Kim Seung-soo and Kang Hye-jung. What a waste of talent!
Towards the latter half of the middle, I just didn't find the urge to continue. I really wanted and was expecting a heroine who I would want to see fall and receive her due punishments yet secretly want her to succeed a little more so the eventual fall would be even more satisfying to watch. I probably stopped when  Yoochun's character fell in love with Miri's, and I was just aggravated as I saw the plot making a left turn and sort of giving the heroine an excuse and undeserved love. The story lost its steam as the heroine turned more pathetic and less lioness ready to lash back at the world. It's not that I disliked this drama, but like My Princess, I thought it was boring. I want the hours I invested back.  
Scent of a Woman
A woman has terminal cancer and is told that she only has a couple of months to live, so what happens in kdramaland? She finds her one-true love and "lives" happily ever after.... but it's a melodrama so scratch out the whole last part about living.
The plot was relatively simple enough, and the story, despite the bleak and inevitable ending, was able to be somewhat uplifting. I don't have any negative feelings towards this drama because towards the part where, apparently, the drama was at its lowest point narrative-wise, I was already semi-gone. Before it hit its low, there were signs that the plot was slowing which is why I slowly started to lose interest in the fate of the heroine. However, I did tune in here and there to catch scenes of Dr. Poopy-seok aka the wonderful Uhm Ki-joon.
Despite the dragging plot line that destroyed the potential of the show, there were some highlights. The camera and directing were fantastic. The directing, like it should be, enhanced the tension and emotions, and some of the scenes were simply gorgeous with their soft colors and ethereal atmosphere. On a more superficial note, Uhm Ki-joon looked adorable, spectacles and all. Uhm, as usual, was wonderful and did not disappoint. The way he portrayed the cold doctor slowly breaking down his wall of indifference and bluntness was endearing to watch. The man is simply amazing at what he does.

The Completed (I'm crying inside... I've only finished this many, but I swear I picked up triple this):

Dream High
I'm both surprised and a little sad that this happens to be one of the few dramas that I've finished this year.
Dream High was surprisingly not that bad. I initially started it just so I could watch Uhm Ki-joon but was taken aback when I realized that I was somewhat enjoying the show. Sure, there were plot points that didn't make sense, but I watched it for the simple nature of the story and rooted for the underdogs to prove to the world that they were important.
This is a drama that knows itself and tries to play on its strengths rather than concentrate on its inherent weaknesses. Yes, a lot of the cast can't act, but they can dance, sing, and be cute! Yes, the plot doesn't make sense, but it can be uplifting, cheesy, and fun! Dream High is one of those dramas that is simply an enjoyable ride. While watching, I was entertained which is one (major) aspect of watching dramas. Though Dream High was fun, it wasn't all that memorable. I don't regret watching it, but neither would I ever watch it again.

Twinkle Twinkle
Two girls are switched at birth. Both of them fall for the same guy. Said guy falls in love with the perky heroine who switches from rich family to poor family. Two are separated per noble idiocy. They get back together again. There, I just saved you 50+ hours.
Twinkle Twinkle was a long weekend drama that was made longer by being given an extension, but it actually wasn't that bad. In the beginning, it was enjoyable. The plot wasn't anything totally original, but it was fun to watch the spunky heroine tell her family that she was going to stay with them. Who cares if some random stranger now happens to be your birth daughter, I've lived here all my life, and I'm staying! It was refreshing to see Han Jung-won not be the self-sacrificing lead that keeps feelings bottled up. She was blunt and straightforward.
It wasn't only the main character that kept me going when the plot turned twisty and dumb. The best part of the drama that kept me invested until the end was the relationship between Song Soong-joon (Kim Suk-hoon ) and Han Jung-won (Kim Hyun-joong). They had chemistry; it just happened not to be the sizzling kind. Their characters had such an easy charm together that it was quite a shame when they sort of acted out of character towards the end for the sake of making the drama longer and creating contrived conflicts to fuel the story. The way they bickered, helped each other, smiled bashfully, and acted like a cute couple who cared about each was sweet to watch. I just wanted to see them get married and have adorable babies together. This drama was really a revelation of Kim Suk-hoon for me. I've seen him before, but I've never found him attractive. This time, I was in love with his character, and found Song Soong-joon and Han Jung-won the saving grace of this drama.
The best actor that wringed my heart, though, was Go Doo-shim. She was fantastic as the mother who put her family above herself. It was a conventional character that could be found in a majority of dramas, but the way Go Doo-shim smiled at her children's successes and at life's little joys, yelled in frustration at her inabilities and the unfairness of her situations, and cried for her children wishing them a happier life that she couldn't give them made me feel alongside her. A veteran truly is a veteran.

49 Days
It might have sounded good on paper, but on the screen... eh.
It was Jo Hyun-jae's post-army, debut drama. I thought he was fine before, but the army did him wonders! However, despite the abs and all the prettiness on screen, 49 Days was a bit boring that it barely held onto my interest. I admit that I dropped this towards the end of the middle (it's a cursed spot for kdramas) but because I really wanted to know the ending, I picked it back up.
Episode one was corny with the super-smiley heroine and the saccharine that sort of filled the beginning. Luckily, the plot picks up pace and stakes are put out as the protagonist has to obtain three true tears from friends, not family. Unfortunately, the same conflict can only fuel a drama for so long before the plot becomes less engaging and you begin to wonder why you're watching the same thing over again. The thing, though, the writer did right was make me invest in the relationship of the main couples which is the main reason why I came back and finished.
[ENDING SPOILER!!] This is one of those dramas that can't really be fully discussed without mentioning the ending because it just has that much of an impact. My initial response was positive. I enjoyed the parallelisms and understood what the writer was trying to emphasize. However, someone mentioned a detail in the ending that triggered me to reanalyze and revise my opinion. On the surface, just looking at the ending by itself, it was meaningful, but an ending isn't suppose to be a standalone but a conclusion to an arc that was being built up. That is where the ending fall shorts... by a lot. The details don't make sense (if she was in such a critical condition, why didn't the doctors tell the family so she could be, you know, better supervised) and the ending seemed rather like a sudden u-turn rather than the straight path down the road it was headed. Instead of being a twist in the plot, it was an illogical and mean move by the writer.

Protect the Boss
Unconventional characters + wonderful acting = bucket of fun
This was the best drama I finished this year, but that's not saying a lot. Choi Kang-hee plays a spunky heroine who knows how to throw a punch. Ji Sung plays an eccentric, third-generation chaebol with a bird nest for hair. It's Ji Sung's character's growth that drives the plot as he transforms from a little boy with a lot of fears to a man able to overcome his weaknesses. Choi Kang-hee's character doesn't have much growth but rather is the firm pillar that supports our crazy chaebol as he learns life lessons and starts to put on big boy pants.
The leads were great, but it's really the side characters that truly made this show enjoyable. The second leads played by Jaejoong  and Wang Ji-hye were unconventional and hilarious. Wang Ji-hye was especially adorable as the simple rich girl who shoves ice-cream at her rival's butt and cries in the bathroom while making sure her mascara doesn't run too much. Even the evil mothers weren't truly evil. They were quite silly with their petty tricks and frivolities. My favorite side characters were Chairman Cha and his mom (Park Young-kyu and Kim Young-ok). Their relationship was sweet, and it was a hoot to watch grandma being awesome. It was great to see Chaebol parents not look down at the lower class girlfriend as if she was a bug and actually appreciate her good attributes. [Spoiler] The scene where the chairman takes Noh Eun-sul shopping was cute beyond words. [End Spoiler]
Then, the drama got an extension, and the plot began to slowly drag. I don't know if the writer intended it to happen with or without the extension, but I was very disappointed at the development of the characters near the middle-end of the series. [MAJOR SPOILER] My favorite character, the chairman, starts to act out of character and loses a lot of the charm he used to have as the unconventional chaebol who hits his son but can't dare watch another person lay a finger on him, and despite his rough actions, is actually a doting father and pretty reasonable person. It was to my great dismay as I saw him change into a cardboard cutout of the awesomeness he used to be. [End Spoiler]
It's a great shame and waste that the latter half just couldn't match the brilliance and wit the first half had. What started off as completely dazzling, ended as merely shiny. Overall, it was a fun drama with amazing characters and still the best 2011 drama I finished.

Best Love
Punch lines, potty jokes, and meta upon meta... yep, it's a Hong sisters' brand comedy.
I enjoyed Best Love and found Cha Seung-won's man-child cute. If he existed in real life, I'd probably be more annoyed than moved by his selfishness and arrogance. This is most likely why it wasn't a great drama. It didn't convince me why Goo Ae-jung (Gong Hyo-jin) fell in love with Doko Jin. In the end I understood why someone would fall for him (heck, I did, too), but before he was actually endearing, he wasn't exactly a charmer (the kind oriental doctor played by Yoon Kye-sang was definitely more appealing than him).
My biggest gripe about this drama was the buildup of the life-or-death surgery and then the flat... "oh yeah, by the way, he's fine." Way to kill the tension. It felt like a cop-out as if the writers weren't confident or just didn't know how to successful maintain the tension while drawing things to a conclusion that was worthy of all the buildup.
Overall, this is the first Hong sisters' work I've completely finished since Couple or Trouble/Fantasy Couple  back in 2006, and I did enjoy it. You could easily tell it was their work, and if you enjoy the Hong sisters' previous dramas, I think Best Love is a fine drama for a quick laugh and entertainment.

The Still Airing (Whether this be fortunate or unfortunate, the still airing dramas are the best ones I've seen this year):

Shin Ha-kyun!!  'Nuff said.
It's a medical drama with character's we've sort of seen before. The plot isn't anything groundbreaking and the directing is nothing to write home about. Production wise, it's okay. However, the solid cast really boosts a mediocre scripts to great heights.
The character relationships in the drama are weakly constructed. Even though I love Shin Ha-kyun and think he's handsome, I still don't understand why his character has two completely self-sufficient women in love with him. Lee Kang-hoon is brash, arrogant, and self-centered and was a total jerk to Yoon Ji-hye, but she falls for him. Luckily, I find their interactions cute (SPOILER- when she gave him the picture of her brain, and he pocketed it... SWOON) but that doesn't excuse the lack of sustenance as to why they formed feelings for one another- I guess Yoon Ji-hye just likes jerks.
[Major Spoiler] The character development of Dr. Kim Sang-chul (Jung Jin-young) is also a bit poorly written. He suddenly changes after regaining his memory, and I feel like the writer did a poor job transforming him. The transition was shoddy and forced as if the plot just needed him to be the villain, so they threw reason and the character they created over the past 10+ episodes out the window. [END SPOILER]
The drama still has a couple of episodes left, so things can either get better, worse or stay the same. Overall verdict, I think the plot is okay, directing is fine, some character details are mediocre bordering irrational, but the acting is fabulous and allows me to overlook some of Brain's shortcomings.    
By the way, congratulations to Jung Jin-young for his Excellence Award and Shin Ha-kyun for his Daesang!

Fermentation Family
A good cast, a PD-writer team with a good history... I feel like if this isn't great, it'll at least be good.
The directing is wonderful and the writing is great so far. The plot is driven by small story arcs that pan from one episode to a couple that fuel the main plot and character developments. The writing for Fermentation Family, unlike Brain, is tight and flows naturally. Things are drawn and laid out rather than thrown at you at the last minute. Characters are developed and layered, and the writer appears to have put effort in trying to create a drama that is knit together with nonlinear characters and a definite story line.
In addition, the directing is beautiful and the scenery is quite appealing. The director was really able to capture the beauty of the restaurant and its surrounding  background. The glow of the sun, the slight breeze in the air, or the reflection on the surface of the cool water leave me oddly peaceful. I truly appreciate his artistic touch.
There's still a lot more of Fermentation Family left (more than half!) and, as of right now, I'll just say that I'm eagerly waiting the next episode. The drama definitely does not have jaw-dropping cliff hangers that make me want to know what happens next, but it has an odd charm that keeps me tuned in and curious to what will happen to our little family at Chunjiin.

Final Comments:
2011 was not a very bountiful year for good kdramas but, then again, I did miss out on some of the ones that were supposed to be pretty good (yes, I'm talking about you, City Hunter). However, the end of 2011 looked bright, and the new year looks even brighter! Happy New Year, may your drama-watchings be filled with beautiful directing, tight scripts, wonderful character developments, and a whole lot of entertainment!


  1. Brain was my favorite pick for 2011. I am now watching Fermentation Family after finishing Brain and I really like it so far, for its food and family themes. Very heartwarming! Based on the two dramas that your like (though not yet finished), it seems that we have similar tastes in kdrama :). Thanks for the review!

    1. You are welcome. Thanks for commenting!
      I'm glad to hear that you're enjoying Fermentation Family. It is a good drama.
      Unfortunately, I thought Brain really derailed towards the end, but I still hold to my opinion that Shin Ha-kyun was amazing in his role despite everything else.


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