Best of Dramas 2011, part one

So many dramas this year. May be getting carpal tunnel from typing my babble. #realtalk

ATHENA

I never got around to writing thoughts on Athena and shall rectify that here!

I honestly loved Athena. It’s not as well-written or layered as I want my dramas to be, but I think it’s fair to judge action thrillers on a different scale than dramatic ones. With that said, I enjoyed pretty much everything about Athena and think it’s a much better version of what IRIS could have been. IRIS felt too much like all flare and no substance, whereas Athena actually felt compelling and suspenseful.

Both dramas were high budget dramas, both with ridiculous production and star-studded casts. To be completely frank, the star-studded casts did nothing for either dramas as the characters were all so vague and uncompelling that it didn’t matter who played them, the star talent was wasted anyway. What Athena did have over Iris then was a more genuine take on the action thriller genre. Iris felt like overkill at every story turn, and all the bombs, explosions, and fights felt like they were done purely to impress the viewers and as a viewer who came from the Land of Action Flicks, I do not need to be wowed by the same American mechanisms, that’s an exercise in futility. While Athena still aimed to impress on the same level, the action sequences felt less overly stylized and much sleeker and subtle. Case in point: one of the best action scenes from Athena was when Siwon’s character ran against grain during a parade — something as simple as that was actually really effective in creating high action arousal. We don’t need Lee Byung-heon running from a building and then bombs blowing up left and right.

I didn’t pay attention to reviews of Athena when it aired, primarily because I was on vacation then, so I was surprised to read commentary afterward and to find almost all of it negative, saying that Athena paled in comparison to Iris. That, I will never understand.

DREAM HIGH

I was fighting against Dream High because it was everything awful about K-pop rolled over into a landscape that I care about–TV. The idea of throwing Taecyeon, Suzy, Wooyoung, IU, Eunjung, JYP, Bae Yong-joon, and cameos from Kim Hyun-joong into a drama seemed not unlike impaling myself with a rusty sword that didn’t kill me immediately, but rather gave me a nice bout of fatal infection before I wasted away. Yes, my feelings were that strong prior to this drama’s broadcast.

So then I was surprised beyond belief when I found myself really liking it and wanting more. It’s not the most well-made of stories, nor is it anything that frequent TV watchers haven’t already seen, but it had a lot of heart and warmth going for it. In addition, there was a nice touch of humor that kept the whole thing from being Too Into Itself and veering into the dramatic underdog story that I dislike in K-dramas.

I can’t say that Dream High left a breathless impression on me, nine months after it wrapped up broadcast, but all-in-all it was a fun and entertaining watch. (Dream High 2 though? No thanks, bye!)

49 DAYS

The premise of 49 Days seemed gimmicky when I first heard about it, and the cast was not the most promising. But then unraveled one of the best dramas of 2011, and my personal favorite of the year. The story was nuanced, the writing was detailed, and the acting did not disappoint. This drama laid firmly in the fantasy camp, but the writers paid attention to the rules they created for their version of the universe, and stuck to them, which is truly impressive and admirable to me, because this genre could have been fodder for all kinds of unbelievable and unrealistic things to happen.

I felt satisfied at how the entire story played out and it carried a lot of philosophical weight with me, even if that’s one of the last things I strive to take away from a K-drama. I firmly stand by the fact that the lesson learned from this drama is greater than the turns that the story took, and I think that most of the people who did not enjoy the ending [spoiler alert] did not enjoy the death because they weren’t satisfied on a feel-good level. While I usually am also one of those suckers who demand a feel-good ending, I don’t think that was the point of 49 Days at all, and I was wholly and completely satisfied with the ending.

LIE TO ME

Lie to Me had a good feel-good rom-com premise and two actors who are very good with rom-com: Kang Ji-hwan and Yoon Eun-hye. What it did not have were good writers, or writers who knew how to progress a story beyond “they hate each other, and then they love each other, and then they try to fight their feelings for each other.” This drama left me frustrated beyond tears because the first six episodes or so were funny, zippy, and light enough and then Ze Shit came and left a huge unremovable stain from everything and mucked up the remainder of its 16-episode run.

This is a drama that could’ve and should’ve been a movie instead of sixteen agonizing hours long. The writers forgot their basic Character Creation 101 lessons and took all the shitty things you expect from Rom-Com K-dramas circa 2000, and stuck them into this 2011 drama. Broken engagements that end with someone moving to Paris? Brothers who loved the same girl? Older brother who selflessly drops his current love out of guilt of not hurting his brother again?

Wait, come the fuck again?

GREATEST LOVE

No matter how fresh the material in a Hong Sister drama, every time I watch a new one, I find myself enjoying them less and less. Yes, Greatest Love was a good story. Yes, it was funny as hell. Yes, it was well-written. Yes, the cast was awesome. But after six prior dramas in the same vein, even the freshest becomes redundant. The story is different, but the ideas and the essence are still the same. The Hong Sisters have a way of spinning their love stories in the most particular and creative ways, but do we need a metaphor in a metaphor in a metaphor for love?

I found Greatest Love to be one of the funniest dramas all year, and maybe that I’ve ever watched, but that doesn’t take away from my incredulity at believing in the Hong Sister male leads. How is it that the Hong Sisters keep writing the same sort of dense-but-loveable-but-amazing-but-STUPID-and-immature characters, and in seven different ways? Even if they’re in the seven most distinct ways possible, doesn’t it all boil down to the same annoying thing?

I guess my biggest problem with Greatest Love is that I both loved and hated Dokko Jin. There was so much unnecessary conflict and indecisiveness because he didn’t know what love was and had to defer to his heart — LITERALLY — to figure it out. I didn’t find this cute and I found the repeated symbolism — potatoes, heart machines, sneakers, curry — annoying after the first time they were introduced because I knew the sisters were going to repeat them until they were bashed and etched into your brain. Used once or twice, metaphors and symbolism is just awesome. Used to death and it just comes off as a crutch, and metaphors are the Hong Sisters’ biggest crutches.

CITY HUNTER

City Hunter definitely is one slick mofo. The characters were slick, the visuals were slick, the cast was slick, and the story was slick. This is the cooler hipster brother of the action thriller drama, complete with pink skinny jeans and Justin Bieber hair.

Half a year after the drama has finished broadcasting, I do have to reconsider the praises to high heavens that I doted on it prior. It still remains one of the best of 2011, but I do admit that I found it exhausting to watch at times because of the same sort of repetitive patterns within the storyline. Bringing down bad guy #1, bringing down bad guy #2, bringing down bad guy #3 — it was all essentially the same. In addition, I found Lee Min-ho’s character’s romantic story with Park Min-young’s to be a complete drag, and I found non-daddy’s conversations with Lee Min-ho grating after the first six thousand times.

Lee Min-ho acted the hell out of his character, adding both humor and some much needed gravitas to the character, making him one of the most compelling heroes this year. But I am far from immune from criticizing this drama because of the sheer star power and magnetism of Lee Min-ho provides, who — while was great — was not an infallible actor who can make story contrivances go away.

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Up next: Protect the Boss, Scent of a Woman, Spy Myung-wol, Warrior Baek Dong-soo, Flower Boy Ramyun Shop, Me Too Flower.

  • guest

    I’m glad someone other than myself felt completely satisfied with the ending of 49 Days. 
    To address your twitter question above…even if it was just rhetorical…TWDR, in my opinion, was pretty good and worth the watch.  I guess you can say that it’s a typical saeguk and if you just aren’t into saeguks it’ll probably be hard to start watching.  However, I found this one pretty exciting to watch and far more rewarding than last year’s Chuno.  If for nothing else, I think the acting was really great and the characters themselves were written with much depth.  Han Suk-kyu literally stole the show because no matter who he was acting opposite, he delivered.  There’s not a lot of fight sequence, but more mental games.  Although there is a ‘fated to be couple/love-line’, it’s not the main focus. 

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