Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Dramas I Adored

Happy New Year! This final part of my year-end review series is short, but full of things that that I honestly have enjoyed watching from beginning to end, which are surprisingly rare to find these days. You'll note that my favorite shows have started shifting from traditional K-drama fare to the more serialized western shows, which I haven't engaged this much in for years. For these, I reviewed my thoughts on the season(s) that aired this past year:

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Dramas I Dropped like a Log

Part 3 of the review series includes those dramas I took a few looks at and zoomed away from. One thing I've learned over time is that if after ~3 episodes a drama fails to get you in the heart, it likely never will. I may not have gotten that far with all of the ones here, but I think it's safe to say I won't be returning for more:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 Dramas I wish I hadn't wasted so much time on

We all have these, right? This is different from plain disappointing dramas, and in many cases, far worse. These are the shows I either never connected with from the beginning but for some reason forced myself through for far too long, or ones that I just look back on and want to burn from my brain. There were a number this year, some of which are viewed in a similar light by the drama-watching community, others of which are raved about like there's no tomorrow. Anyways, to the drama regrets of 2012:

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Gossip Girl: Series Finale Thoughts

Just finished the series finale, and was pleasantly surprised by how the show wrapped up. I mentioned before that the series had started getting derailed, especially this season with the nonsensical and often unbelievably outlandish twists. This was unfortunately true until the end (ahem, demise of Bart Bass), but the final few minutes and reveal of Gossip Girl recaptured my attention and left me smiling. (Spoilers ahead)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cheongdam-dong Alice: Episode 8

Oh Se Kyung. How much further must you go with this plan of yours? Can't you see a chance for honesty and trust when it comes, rather than continuing to wade in a path of lies and deception? Our heroine's gone further down the rabbit hole of her marry-rich plot, and has made it clear she puts highest priority on the fake, guaranteed route over the slightly riskier, truthful one. I'm conflicted because we finally get to see a truly non-Candy, immoral heroine in dramaland, but she's not exactly as I'd hoped. I don't mean in terms of the deception, which I can understand, but more in terms of why she continues to cheat her way through when a much cleaner path stands waving its arms in front of her.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Cheongdam-dong Alice: Episode 7

Alright, Se Kyung just lost almost all the good points she gained in the previous episode. We all knew she was determined in her goal, but it's one thing to hear it stated, and quite another to see her stomp in poor Park Shi Hoo's face because of it. I can't even say I completely dislike her, because she's at least reluctant about her actions. I am very curious on how she'll be able to recover from the face of her own selfishness, both personally and to the audience. All in all though, a very satisfying episode as usual, with steady progression and some long-awaited reveals.

Book Review: Insurgent

I literally spent ~6 hours straight today reading Insurgent cover-to-cover. Was it because it was that exciting? Sadly, no, but I'd put it off for so long already and felt like I needed to just get it over with. There were some gripping moments and a wonderful concluding arc that got me very excited for the next book, but as a whole I just didn't feel quite as drawn-in as I did with Divergent.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Disappointing Dramas of 2012

This year, instead of doing a single mega-year-end review, I'm dividing the dramas I watched into categories to review separately. First up are the dramas that sadly failed to deliver, or as I call them, ones with "fast starts" that eventually peter away. The majority of these are Korean, unsurprisingly since these were what I watched most of, but later reviews will include more shows from other regions.

Some of these I dropped, but a large number I forced myself through due to residual affection, all the way to the disappointing end. There's no particular order to this, but here you go:

Monday, December 17, 2012

King of Dramas: Episodes 1-5

I suppose it's time to do at least a preliminary assessment of this drama, considering it's currently my header and all. I haven't been able to progress further, but it does sit on my wait list for marathoning through once I get the time. I had very high expectations going into this because of all the positive comments online. It's not the type of drama I'd watch otherwise, since I'm not interested in the premise (especially not after what I saw of On Air), the male lead doesn't appeal to me, and I'm only somewhat fond of the female actress. It's been interesting enough so far, but I'm not sure it warrants all the hype.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cheongdam-dong Alice: Episodes 5-6

These past two episodes of CA weren't as outlandishly hilarious as the previous ones, but I loved every minute of it. For once, a drama has managed to successfully fuse humor with character progression and depth. We continue to see Seung Jo's nuttiness, but it's counteracted by a visible undercurrent of compassion, sadness, and persisting love for those around him. He's definitely gone through the wringer, both from his gold-digger ex-wife and his outwardly hostile father. It lends perspective to his eccentricities, and starts to dig into the person he is underneath all that. Yet what really makes these two episodes stand out is that Se Kyung is finally rising to meet him, demonstrating a complex, conflict-rich character core of her own.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cheongdam-dong Alice: Episodes 1-4

I just couldn't skip out on the new Park Shi-hoo drama, right? So the original plan was to wait until a good chunk of this had already aired before diving in. BUT I have no self control when it comes to my favorite leading man, and ended up marathoning all four episodes this week. And guess what - I think this is my new favorite show :)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Beauty and the Beast: Episodes 2-7

Ok, so somewhere along the way this show went from a spectacularly corny first episode to becoming a rather addicting, fun piece. I think episode 7 was the major turning point for me, in that I'm actually eagerly waiting for this week's new episode. I have a weakness for alter egos with hidden soft spots (e.g., Hulk never hurting Betty), and I'm intrigued by the similar set-up they have here.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Missing You: Episodes 1-6

I'm pretty good with pain in dramas. But even knowing about what would happen didn't really help dull the wrench of actually watching it all unfold on Missing You. It's not just the horrific portrayal of pedophilia and rape, it's also the frustration of watching literal stock villains prance about with no hope of redemption. Our leads are hopeless against these caricatures, whom no pleading, begging, or rationalization will work with. It's sickening.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Those of you in the mood for a good holiday action film probably won't need to look much further than Skyfall. Now there's an action movie done right - dark, well-acted, tightly edited, and with a soundtrack worth listening to on its own. I daresay in terms of logic and pace it even manages to outshine The Dark Knight Rises.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Book Review: Divergent

Anybody else notice the fact that almost all the major buzz bestsellers these days are written in first person? (Twilight, Hunger Games, 50 Shades, Divergent, etc.) It's understandable, since this narrative style allows for a more immersive storytelling, perfect for today's shorter-attention span audience.

Divergent isn't anything mind-blowing, but it's a fun read and one I thought would be worth sharing my thoughts on. So far, I'd say the story seems more intricately crafted than the Hunger Games, with a world that's crystal clear and holds a logic of its own. I'm also liking Beatrice better than Katniss, and unless the author pulls a Mockingjay, will probably continue to prefer her. Tris isn't all that original of a heroine, but she shows herself to have enough fortitude to be admirable.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Amazing Spiderman

The Amazing Spiderman was a disappointing miss for me as far as movies go. It's a harmless, fast-paced action flick, but without much heart or logic to enrich the CG-ified, all-too-familiar story. The script, acting, and directing are all quite frankly middling, and put together result in a piece that feels flat and forced.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Binge Dramas Round 2: Sandglass and Man of Honor

Here's to the second round of binging, after an unsuccessful Round 1. This time we've got two very disparate pieces - legendary old-school drama Sandglass and more recent, acknowledged trashy piece Man of Honor / Glory Jane. I'm 4 episodes into both of them, and wanted to share my verdict with those interested in pursuing one or the other.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Faith: Finale

Watching the end of Faith felt oddly like closing a chapter – bittersweet, ripe with both good and bad memories. It’s odd because I didn’t actually enjoy much of the latter half of the drama, yet I’m really sad to lose this as part of my weekly viewing routine. Probably because it’s been 3 months, holy crap. Why do dramas seem to come and go so quickly now?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Nice Guy: Post-Episode 14 Thoughts

I'm not as excited about NG as I would like anymore, which disappoints me. It's still a gorgeous drama to watch, but I'm just not feeling the characters and instead getting bored by the amnesia + schemes. Not to mention, episode 14 felt like torture to watch - all the irrational stubbornness, the screaming, crying, moping, combined with the wastefulness of food and glasses...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Faith: Pre-finale RAGE

Alright, Eun Soo is officially pissing me off. For the past few episodes she's done NOTHING but sit around and cry, mope, cry more, and essentially be a wet towel. Seriously, when I think back to the first few episodes of Faith, I feel like we were watching a different drama altogether. Not only did LMH have much better hair earlier on (seriously, wtf is with his randomly shorn hair?? Did they run out of time to put the wig on everyday? And why has his hair changed more than our leading lady's dyed do?), Eun Soo used to actually have a personality. Now both her and him are "madly in love" and consequently endlessly depressed on a daily basis.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsmen

Wow was this a strangely plotless movie, despite being so pretty and having such a kickass trailer. I didn't want to believe all the online reviews about how not-good this ended up being, but unfortunately they were right.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Week of Premieres: Fall Dramas

One of the best things about this time of year are all the long-awaited season premieres. This year is one of the first in a while where I've been so excited at all the returning and new shows. It definitely has to do with the many series I binge-watched in the past year (Vampire Diaries, Hart of Dixie, Revenge, and many others), and at the surprisingly strong quality of many recent shows. Yet one thing I've noticed is that season premieres tend to be among the weakest of episodes in terms of plot and acting quality, just as season finales tend to be among the most exciting.

I think it has to do with the cast and crew coming back rusty after months off (like any job) and with the oftentimes anticlimactic resolution to whatever conflicts surfaced in the finales. Not always the case, but usually. The most boring premiere in my memory? Smallville season 2, where we end up following Clark on a dull stroll of probing about and post-tornado busywork. One of the best? Gossip Girl season 4 in Paris, and Mad Men's season 5 opening in mid-life with Don and Megan (heck, all of their season premieres were strong).

With that, I've been busy making the rounds in catching up with my favorite shows and peeking at some new ones. Here's my thoughts:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Faith: Post-First Kiss Thoughts

I'm not sure why I'm as fond of Faith now as I am. It remains the drama I'm most excited to watch each week, even though I keep peeking at the clock while I'm watching. Truthfully, it's not all that fun to sit through, as our characters have been behaving dully and the plot is suffering from the expected repetitiveness of a 24-episode run. I think it's my lingering hope that it'll somehow get better, and my still-strong goodwill for the two leads. Neither Choi Young nor Eun Soo have been all that great lately, but there's always flashes of the earlier qualities that made me love them (Eun Soo's humor and CY's broody coolness).

The Avengers

I finally got around to seeing The Avengers, after watching all the lead-up Marvel films (here and here). Even though some of those were painful to sit through, I'm glad I did, because it made all the character interactions that much more meaningful and fun to watch in this film.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Nice Guy: Episodes 1-8

Finally, I'm caught up enough to do a review of Nice Guy. I saw the first two episodes the week they aired, but didn't get a chance to watch the rest til this week. Now that I'm done with episode 8, I can finally weigh in on the show.

Overall, I'm impressed. It's a clear winner in the cinematography, acting, and general attractiveness department. It's so refreshing to find a director who knows what he's doing, and I love the score. It's so very reminiscent of Bad Guy. The big plus here is that the women are able to hold their own - Eun Ki and Jae Hee are incredibly nuanced characters, and even more fascinating to watch than our titular Maru. Plus all three are stunning.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Binge Dramas: Sign, Joseon X-Files

For those of you that are as tired of waiting for new episodes on newly aired shows as me, I'm starting up a new series of posts dedicated to previously aired dramas, e.g., ones you can binge on. There's nothing so satisfying as getting swept up in a new show, and even better, to have all episodes at your fingertips! However, the challenge to this is where to find the good shows. Which are the ones worth watching versus the too-boring-to-sit-through or the aged-beyond-saving? I'm going to be taking this dive, and hope anyone who visits this page might help pitch in with suggestions. The plan is to pick up a few already aired dramas and go through them, hopefully finding a few good ones to recommend here.

My rules here are to 1) Pick dramas I haven't already watched (as we all get the itch to go back to old faves when we're bored) and 2) watch at least 10% of a drama (~2 episodes) before deciding to drop. With that, here's my thoughts on the first two I went through:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Faith: Episode 7 disappointments

Sigh. There went all of the goodwill Faith garnered from me with its fantastic first 6 episodes (and especially episode 6). 7 decided to take a few big steps into angstville and cheeseville territories, resulting in giant cuts to the glorious humor and overall flow of the story.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

To the Beautiful You: Episodes 3-6 Update

Alright, so I take back what I said before about the director's seeming improvement. Nope, he's as illogical, gimmicky, and corny as ever. But regardless, TtBY has become something of a guilty pleasure watch. It's qualitatively awful, but I find myself enjoying the episodes and always looking forward to the next one. I continue to find Tae Joon and Eun Gyul cute, and am able to at least tolerate Jae Hee. I mean, compared to Gu Hye Sun, Sulli isn't so bad. Inexperienced and dense-acting at times, but not terrible.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Arang vs. Faith

I love, love Faith. It's the most engaging drama I've seen in a while, with that rare quality where I like both the hero and heroine plus the actors playing them. People are smartly but wryly written to where you know the show isn't taking itself too seriously but still manages to carry a hefty plot and rich array of characters.

Sadly, I can't say the same for Arang. This show, while having a similar fantasy element and ironically with Jun Ki of almost-Faith status helming it, just isn't doing anything for me. It's very obviously trying to be original and cool and funny, to the point where the humor, action, and "creepy story" are straining at the seams. I also don't have much affinity for Shin Mina or Jun Ki, and could care less to see them together.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

City Hunter

I did a quick review of City Hunter during my end of year post, but wanted to take a deeper dive into the show now that Lee Min Ho is back in a new drama. I took the time to rewatch much of CH recently, and found myself surprisingly engaged, at least for the first half. While I condescended about the parental flashback portion in episode 1 previously, this time I forced myself to buckle down and watch it without the fast forward. And surprisingly, I enjoyed it and have a far greater appreciation for Jin Pyo’s character as a result.

My Favorite Drama OST Tracks - Taiwan / China

And now for part 2 of the Drama OST series, Taiwan / China. See my previous post on Part 1, Korea. Taiwan drama tracks are more deeply rooted in my heart, perhaps because I started my drama watching experiences here, and can actually understand what they're saying. Thus, you'll see the span of these reach further back in time than with Korea.

It's also the one country whose OSTs I often like even without watching the show. A lot of these are actually from dramas I either didn't like or stopped midway through, but the music is good enough to where I want to keep listening and watching.

Rich Man, Poor Woman: Episodes 1-7

An easy-to-watch, zippy piece, but unfortunately one lacking in much substance or grip. I remember the days when I was in love with Oguri Shun - but this drama doesn't quite do it in terms of adequately calling back on his charm and screen adorableness. Maybe J-dramas in general have lost some of that charm, as it's been almost years since one managed to catch my attention.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Answer Me 1997: Episodes 1-6

To put it straight - I'm not a fan. I think this is a show that tries too hard to be funny and meaningful and mysterious, resulting in obvious strains to character dialog, plot, and behavior. Things come across manufactured rather than heart-warming, and I could care less about any of the pairings (even the boy-boy one, which I'd normally be all over). The reason? The final couples are all ridiculously predictable.

Friday, August 17, 2012

To the Beautiful You: Episodes 1-2 Thoughts

Damn, I really shouldn’t have started another currently airing drama. But whadya know, against all expectations, I really like To the Beautiful You. Episode 1 was meh, but episode 2 cinched the deal, which, coincidentally or not, follows the same pattern as BOF. Despite hating the PD for churning out such a messy version in his previous manga adaptation, after watching this, I have to hand it to him for knowing how to create an addicting rom-com. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Faith: Episodes 1-2 Thoughts

I think my instincts on potential drama loves are getting more accurate with time. I was intrigued by this show the moment I heard of it, and even more once the teasers started coming out. And sure enough, so far I LOVE it. It's so ridiculously wacky, but also contains the potential for some serious depth. The characters are also surprisingly likeable despite their exaggerated antics, owed largely to the streak of heart and commitment I see in them.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Haeundae Lovers: Episodes 1-2 Thoughts

I predict that Haeundae Lovers will be cute and enjoyable but not addicting (at least for myself). It's pretty obvious the show is going to rely heavily on the sexiness of its leads and oddball humor to appeal to those in the mood for a summer fling of a drama.

I like the premise, and I'm intrigued by the slippery set-up of having our lead man be already married by the time he starts interacting with our official heroine. Divorce is no small issue in Korea, and I'm curious how the conflict will be resolved. Despite this, after seeing episodes 1-2, the premise is so predictable and shallow that I'm having trouble connecting with it on anything aside from a purely visual level. Gangsters, fish, and amnesia? All pretty much standard fare in kdramas, and with an expected dose of wacky humor.

My Favorite Drama OST Tracks - Korea

Aside from good acting and plot, we all know that music can make or break a show. Unappealing tracks can destroy an otherwise decent drama, while lovely, mood-appropriate pieces can make even the most dull of scenes fun or heartbreaking.

I realized while compiling this that I've watched a scary number of dramas :). Originally I had all of my drama favorites in here, but as it turned out far longer than expected, I'm splitting into separate posts by country, starting with Korea. Unlike with Taiwan/Japan, Korea has differed in that while I've adored many of their oldie dramas, I've only more recently started getting into the music.

This is a fairly exhaustive list of drama songs that I loved both while watching and long afterwards. Ranking is roughly in order of how much I like the songs (although I love all of them). Unfortunately blogger doesn't allow embedded music yet, so I've put up the youtube vids, plus some download links where applicable.

Have fun looking through! 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Introduction to Architecture

Intro to Architecture is really two movies in one - the first following the reunion and budding relationship between the adults, played by Han Ga-In and Uhm Tae Woong, and the second of their personas 15 years ago, played by Suzy and Lee Je Hoon. Both are bittersweet tales, and play out in the typical snail-paced, minimal dialogue way that most Asian movies do. As you might expect, there are plenty of misunderstandings paving the way towards the 15 year separation, along with the natural barriers to their reunion in the modern day. I loved how gorgeous the film looks, with not only its lovely cast but also the broad sweeping angles over an ocean landscape and the almost rustic portrayal of the nineties. I was not, however, much impressed with the plot, which is strained at best and boring at worst.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Big: Final Review

The huge, disappointing ending arc to Big now makes me more than ever willing to scoff at the Hong Sisters and declaim any of their future work. Yes, there have been a couple hits for me in their series (My Girl and YB), but the vast majority have been either boring as hell with a lead couple I care next to nothing about (Best Love, Fantasy Couple) or worse, silly and boring (Gumiho). Even the two shows I liked had gaping plot holes and more useless angst than can be counted. Earlier on, I really thought they'd turned it around with Big, only to be shown in the eleventh hour that if anything, they're getting old and running out of ideas.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

This was undoubtedly my most anticipated movie of the year. I'm a tremendous Nolan fan, with both Batman Begins and Inception as two of my favorite movies. My expectations were therefore very high, and overall the movie delivered. But just not as strongly as I would have liked.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Marvel Superhero Movies part 2: Iron Man 1 and 2

Robert Downey Jr. has such a recognizable acting style, at least in Holmes and Iron Man. It makes me wonder if the characters he plays are written to be so tongue-in-cheek and rapid-speaking, or if Downey simply chooses to handle his dialogue that way.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Vampire Diaries

I don't think this series could have a more embarrassing name. I feel silly telling anyone I watch it, and for a while refused to watch it myself thanks to its tween-overdone title. BUT for anyone who hasn't seen this, it's surprisingly mature and well-produced. I don't think it's fair to compare it to Twilight, but if we did, I'd say this show is significantly (like in the hundred-folds) better in terms of plot, darkness, depth, and production value. It's actually sad how much better a TV show is than a billion-dollar movie franchise.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Gentleman's Dignity: Halfway Review

This is hands down one of the most boring dramas I've ever gotten so far through. It's soooo pointless and circular that despite all the pretty, I've decided I need to stop before my brain withers away. There's absolutely no direction or soul to this show - flaunt all the pretty older ladies and men you want, that's not enough to hide a complete lack of story. The Secret Garden writer must have used up all her plot ideas in that last work.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I Do, I Do: Episode 9

I almost wanted to strangle Ji An when she YET AGAIN put off telling Tae Kang about his fatherhood in episode 9. I can understand her perspective (sort of), but really, at this point in the story I want some faster developments already! Luckily the sweetness at the park scene more than made up for it. The almost kiss and the foot comparisons was so cute. Unfortunately, it was weighed down by a number of nonsensical and painful to watch scenes, which is tarnishing an otherwise good story.

Marvel Superhero Movies: Thor and Captain America

I've gone through a spate of Marvel's superhero films lately, with the intent of catching up for The Avengers. The first two on the list include Thor and Captain America. While CA was a decent flick, Thor was appallingly bad, which you can read my thoughts on below.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Queen In-Hyun's Man: Final review

I know there was a lot of antagonism at the end, both with the last-minute plot twist and RL love confession. It made me delay the watching of both episodes 15-16, as I feared both the angst and the silly reveal. However, having just finished them, I have to say I remain highly satisfied with the series and its conclusion. Yes, there's some logic-suspension required, but since this is a time-travel series that requires a level of that anyways, I didn't feel my mind stretched beyond believability. In fact, I liked the ending, with its perfect turmoil and sweet resolution.

I Need Romance 2012: Episode 1 Thoughts

I was pretty excited about this show, because even though I never finished the first INR, I liked its fast-paced and mature storytelling. The only problem there was that I never once sympathized with the main couple and jumped ship the moment I learned about the ending. I was hoping Jung Yumi would bring a more mature and candid portrayal to the lead role, but unfortunately am not impressed after the first episode.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The K-drama Dress Code

One of my favorite parts of watching a drama is to view the enviably put-together looks of the characters. We usually can't take their outfits realistically, since even the poorest of heroines has a brand-studded wardrobe with matching bags. But it's still fun, and offers plenty of good fashion advice. Here are some of the recently aired or airing ladies whose styles I totally want:

I Do, I Do: Episodes 3-8

Episode 6 was where it clicked. I officially LOVE IDID, and it's inched above Big to be my most anticipated watch of the week. Prior to 6, I wasn't as excited for this show because our leads' chemistry was tepid, the plot rather mechanized, and there was no line of dramatic tension except waiting for the big reveal. However, both during and post-6, I started to adore Tae Kang, and we all know how great a drama becomes when we love the leading man and his budding relationship with a realistic and strong heroine.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dr. Jin: Episodes 3-4

This show continues to be true to its initial two episodes, offering plenty of medical grossness, dramatic sudden diseases, and stony-faced hero + morally upright heroine. But I like it, despite how poorly executed everything is. Unfortunately, our hero's acting hasn't been much to boast about, and he's much like a pale, moody, smooth-faced shadow next to our emotive heroine and over-emotive Lee Beum Soo.