Friday, January 2, 2015

The Crazy Ahjummas End of Year Countdown - Best Dramas of 2014

There are just so many dramas out there that I want to talk about.  So many great moments and characters that I learned to love.  How can one just whittle the list down to a small handful of options.  It's impossible.  So instead of doing the usual top 5  I decided to go all rebel and have 7 categories with my favorites listed within.  What?  Dramas are like my children, you can't just pick one over the other.

Modern Classics: Those must watch dramas that are going to be suggested to all and watched over and over for years to come.  These are the dramas that are not only the most talked about, but also watched by the largest amount of kdrama viewers since they tend to be romantic comedies.
My Love From Another Star
To say that this was the drama of the year in terms of viewership and overall social chatter, would be an understatement.  Luckily, unlike Heirs the previous year, this drama actually lived up to most of its hype.  It has it all, opposites-attract OTP (one true pairing), murderous bad guys,  a swoon worthy leading man who actually bends time and space to be with the woman he loves.  How can a normal drama top that?  It also helps that the leads, Kim Hyun Soo and Joon Ji Hyun, had a previous movie which proved their amazing chemistry that followed them onto the MLFAS set.  Their easy chemistry really translates well to the masses and I personally would love to see them in as leads in a future drama or movie.

Dongsaeng's take: Okay, so, first off, I have to say that I really loved this drama. It was wonderful. I enjoyed every minute of it. Drama of the Year is not too far-fetched. The entire cast was great and the concept was intriguing. Even the ending surpassed my expectations which is really, really, really hard to do with a drama like this. All that being said, and loving it as much as I did, I still fail to see what it was that made a number of people go bat-poo crazy over it. Did you hear all the stories coming out of China specifically? From the innocuous increase in fried chicken sales to the more extreme rumors and stories of miscarriage, heart attacks and breakups, people were really, really into this drama. I am curious to know what it was about this one in particular that caused such a stir and landed it in the spotlight so deftly. 
I can't decide who I love more in this drama, the intelligent & motivated Dal Po or plucky, blunt In Ha.  Both characters are beautifully written and their interaction is both heartwarming and unique for a kdrama.  Add in a wonderfully developed extended cast with great writing and you have a true must-watch kdrama. (I know this drama technically has a few weeks to go, but since I will not remember it next year, it is going into this countdown.)

Dongsaeng's take: This drama rocks. If you aren't already watching it, go ahead and start it, you won't be sorry. And then come read our recaps of it ;) I can't promise you won't be sorry for that, but hopefully you won't be ^^
High School King of Savvy
Come on, did you really expect me to have a Best of 2014 post and not include Seo In Guk's double life drama?  And no, it is not just me with my bias goggles on, this truly was a great romantic comedy despite the occasional squeamish-inducing age difference between the OTP.  It has all the signs of a great romantic comedy.  Wonderful hijinks (can't get better than a high school kid faking 10 years and managing a company), sweet romance (some of the BEST creative kissing in a kdrama this year), and a bunch of quirky and ofttimes bumbling friends.  I am sure I won't be the only one to have this drama on repeat in the future.

Dongsaeng's take: Gah! The "sling kiss"!!!! Oh! And the "pull-up bar" kiss!!!!  No, Kmuse, it isn't just you with bias goggles on. This was one incredible drama with so many wonderful things to love - Seo In Guk being top of that list for me of course, but certainly not the only thing. The depth of character in our leads and supporting cast was noteworthy. And well, yeah, SIG is hella hot. There, I said it. Deal ;)
Marriage Not Dating
If you are looking for a more "mature" drama where the OTP is not afraid to do more than hold hands, then "Marriage Not Dating" is the drama for you.  It is more realistic in that the leads have to deal with issues such as exes (and not just in a first love perfect memory way), imperfect parents, and deciding if what they feel is really love or lust.  Don't get me wrong, the kdrama fairytale style will always work for me, but sometimes a kaddict wants variety.  And if it is realism with a huge side helping of comedy then all the better.

The Tears Just Keep Coming: Sometimes you are just in the mood for a good cry and look towards kdramas to fulfill that need for you.  If that is what you are looking for then get your box of tissues handy and try out one of these emotional picks.
Misaeng proves that you don't need to use the usual kdrama trope to get high ratings.  You don't have to have angsty romances, crazy hijinks, and evil stepmothers.  Instead, fill an hour with four idealistic interns and throw them into the deep waters of a Korean conglomerate (I swear it is more interesting than it sounds).   Let your reality flag fly while watching these yearlings suffer through trials with coworkers, bosses, and their own ego's (or lack of).  You won't get a romanticized work environment with this drama.  Nope you will watch good guys falter, total jerk succeed, and bad things happen to those that don't deserve it.  However, you will keep coming back because the writing, directing, and very heart of this drama fill you with a sense of awe.  Everything about it from the cast to the music is pure perfection and deserves the accolades that it is receiving.
My Spring Days
When the perky part of the drama is a super sweet heroine throwing over one fiancee in lieu of his older brother, you know you have an epic cryfest coming your way.  I was a bit surprised that the writers chose to focus on something other than the already set problems of falling in love with the woman who received your dead wife's heart and also the whole stealing your brother's woman aspect of the drama (doesn't that seem like enough angst for one drama already?). Instead we switch tracks and get to cry through the trials of loving someone with health issues.  It left me crying Wae? Wae?  sob.....sniffle.......sob  Wae?  Despite the tears I suffered because of this drama, Kam Soo Wong and Choi Soo Young's toothache sweet chemistry sucked me into their story and I ended up loving every moment.
It's Okay Its Love
Who knew that mental illness could actually be sexy?  I have to admit that until watching It's Okay It's Love I didn't, but if it is in the form of Jo In Sung, maybe I could make an exception.  Hmmmm, okay, not maybe not, but it makes for very intriguing drama when it is someone else.  This must watch drama mixes witty dialogue with serious taboo subjects such as mental illness and dating people who have those illnesses.  I would not want any of these people involved in my mental health, however for characters in a drama they are engaging, entertaining, and often heartbreaking.  All necessary things for a good melodrama.

Dongsaeng's take: After I watched this one, I declared it to be the best kdrama ever. Not necessarily my favorite, though I adored it and it may very well be my favorite of the year, not that I ever choose favorites, but still, the absolute most perfect drama. Why? Because it was refreshing to see a storyline that played out in non-typical Kdrama fashion. I realize the conundrum I am placing before you with this - the idea that the most non-kdrama story is the best kdrama story - but go with me here. Let's take this scenario as an example. In the story, the idea that being in a relationship is making the main male lead's illness worse comes up. Now, what would happen in a typical kdrama when the female lead finds this out? She of course would dump him for his sake, right? Sacrifice for love, blah, blah, blah and all that rot. This drama, however, doesn't go there. Just when you think it's about to happen, boom! It doesn't. She never dumps him. They make it work. And it is a wonderful and magical moment where I just wanted to fly to Korea and hug the writer(s) and thank him/her/them profusely for bucking the norm and thinking outside the typical kdrama plot devices. And this happens time and time again throughout the drama - the avoidance of the same tired plot devices. I can't even begin to tell you what that meant to me. Well, maybe I can, when I declare this to be the most perfect drama.

Oh, and on a personal side note: I started this drama in order to bash it for its expected inaccuracies in dealing with some of these mental illnesses, namely the Tourette's Syndrome that one of the secondary characters has. Being married to one and mother to another with this particular syndrome, I got all set to tear it to pieces, expecting it to be way off base, but you know what? While I can't vouch for the other conditions in the show that I don't have personal experience with, like schizophrenia, I can tell you that they were pretty accurate with the Tourette's. I especially appreciated the fact that, unlike every other dramatization of Tourette's out there that I've ever seen, they didn't just turn him into a random screamer of curse words. That was refreshing and unexpected. Just like the entire drama. Good job to the production team on that win!  
Getting My Hanbok On: For those that love all things Sageuk.  These were the best of the best historicals South Korea had to offer.  Sadly, the list is not as long as I would have liked but at least the first half of 2014 gave us some true gems.
King's Daughter Soo Baek Hyang
If you have read my previous end of year lists (feel free to check for links on my blog) you will know that this drama features very heavily in my "love" list.  That is because it was flipping awesome.  It gripped me from the first scene and I was entranced for the full 108 episodes afterwords.  I know, you are saying to yourself "screw this 108 episodes, is she crazy?"  No! I promise you will not regret your decision to give this drama a try.  The episodes are only 35 minutes long so it is very easy to watch (barely more time than you would invest in a regular 2 episode a week drama).  And since it includes two of my favorite actresses, my favorite romance, and some pretty stellar leading men, it is something that everyone should give a try.  After all, as long as something is well written, isn't it worth it?  Also you get to see what a male version of Ha Ji Won would look like since her brother is the 2nd lead and there is a definite family resemblance.
Empress Ki
Talking about Ha Ji Won, she happens to be the leading lady in the other Sageuk I enjoyed this year.  Bringing girl power to the forefront, Ji Won plays Ki Seung Nyang later to be known as Empress Gi.  Born in Goryeo, she ends up marrying the Emperor of Yean.  Full of romance, action, and enough political shenanigans to make any political analyst happy, this drama loosely depicts the historical events of the end of the Yean dynasty.  But who needs historical accuracy when you have the sexy Ji Chang Wook playing her husband (I might have been highly biased during this OTP war).  Empress Ki is also written by my favorite writers (History of a Salaryman & Incarnation of Money) and their winning streak obviously did not falter with Empress Ki which brought record ratings.
The Admiral: Roaring Currents
Since truly great Sageuk dramas were a tad scarce this year, I decided to add in a film to the mix.  It was a true miracle that this movie actually made it to my neck of the woods in Portland (for such an artistic mecca, we sure lack Asian film outlets) and I was able to go see it in a real theater.  Sure I was the only white girl in a sea of Asians, but it was totally worth it.  This film was truly epic and a must watch, not only for Kaddicts like myself, but for anyone who loves war movies.  The battles were gripping, the lead is beyond heroic, and the directing was award winning.  If you get the chance, be sure to check this movie out when subs become available online.  Or who knows, maybe we will get lucky and it will be released at a Walmart near you.  It was the #1 film to come out of Asia after all.

Dongsaeng's take: Like Kmuse, I was all excited to see this movie on an actual movie screen in my area too. That just doesn't happen here. I was even more excited that I got to see it with actual Koreans - two visiting and one transplant. My only regret was taking my 11 year old son to see it. He is easily disturbed by violence, so this one wasn't the best fit for him. Just keep that in mind if you want to see it - it's a war movie and not for the squeamish. Oh, and good luck watching a movie about Lee Soon Shin and not picturing IU. Or was that just me? 
The Suspense is Killing Me: These are the dramas that perfected the cliffhanger.  Those pesky end scenes that make sure you will suffer for a full week before finding out if your favorite characters really are killers or just misunderstood.
Bad Guys
Eleven of the sexiest hours you will ever watch where the whole cast goes around beating up, occasionally torturing, and intimidating everyone.  All in the name of justice, of course.  If you can get past the concept that the police are condoning the release of 3 killers to go on field trips where they get to cosplay the Hardy Boys, then we are good.  Because nothing makes me feel safer then the thought of a serial killer being kept in check by an ankle monitor.  Yup, I feel super duper safe.  All joking aside, this show was one of the best action/crime kdramas that I have had the privilege to watch.  Sure there were some aspects that you had to just chalk up to being a kdrama and focus instead on the cast's epic hotness and mad fighting skills.  It just goes to show that killers are just so much more likable if they are sexy and look good dressed in black.
Gods Gift: 14 Days
I chose to add this drama onto my list because, despite the last five minutes, the rest of the show provided hour upon hour of nail biting intensity.  It also introduced me to actor Cho Seung Woo who became more enthralling with every episode.  However, I will warn you that this drama does make you confront that age old kdrama question - just how important is an ending to your overall enjoyment of the drama?  I personally took the ambiguous and made it fit my idea of what I wanted the ending to be and, with that ending in place, I chose it as one of the best of 2014.
Crack Dramas & Guilty Pleasures: I will openly admit that these dramas are 100% over the top cheese, which is fried up and dipped in a bowl of more cheese.  I don't love them for their brilliant writing or amazing acting talent (would like to clarify, however, that Hotel King actually is pretty well written and acted, or at least is in comparison to the other two).  I love them because they are entertaining and they are absolute drama crack for this ahjumma.  So if you don't mind huge plot holes big enough to drive a bus through, then these dramas are for you.  Its time for some guilty pleasure of the kdrama variety.
Hotel King
My first guilty pleasure pick is by far a step ahead of the rest when it comes to this grouping.  Although it does have a lot of "what the flipping fudge is going on?" moments, it mostly makes sense and, once you get past the distraction of Lee Da Hae's plastic surgery, the OTP create a lot of sparks together.  What makes it a guilty pleasure is the simple staggering amounts of makjang events that the writers smashed into 32 hours.  From birth secrets, suicides, murder, revenge, incestuous love, both parents & BFF's returning from the dead, and so forth, the list goes on and on.  It is enough to make a kdrama addict's head spin.  If you decide to jump into this drama, be sure to push your way through the first four hours (by far the slowest/most disjointed of the series) since it really starts picking up after that.  Also, give yourself a lot of free time since you will be wanting to marathon this one.  It is hard to stop once the cliffhangers make an appearance.
The Night Watchman's Journal
I suspect that the writers might have revisited their youth and Dungeon and Dragons gaming days while brainstorming for this drama.  Not sure if there is an explanation that makes more sense, at least not that this viewer can think of.  Over-the-top was obviously the concept as we start off with enough CGI to choke, well, a dragon (hehehe, they got super ambitious and had a literal dragon flying about).  Followed by the a bi-polar cast who either overacted (Jung Il Woo, Seo Yu Ji, Kim Sung Oh) or utterly lacked the ability to change their expression....EVER (Yunho, Ko Sung Hee).  Despite all of the overacting, underacting, dragons, and magical mystical objects that seemed to pop up anytime the plot needed to move forward, "The Night Watchman's Journal" was very watchable.  Watchable if you enjoy cult classic style shows that is.
This Thai Lakorn is going down as my #1 Guilty Pleasure of the year.  It is not good, and for that matter it might even be on par with "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" bad.  It is an overacted, what the fudge, headache-inducing mess, but I seriously could not stop watching.  I sub stalked, I marathoned 12 hours in a row while lying sick on my couch, I was 100% addicted to this Lakorn.  Why?  I don't know. There is no epic plot (at least one that I can admit to), there is no passionate chemistry (they are cute but there is not even a real kiss), and the plot has enough cheese to cover all the nachos at a Dodger's game.  But despite its flaws, I love this horrible show.  Just to give you a glimpse into its epic awfulness: The leading man abducts a 16 year old high school girl and makes her work for him to pay her father's debts.  The leading man is the head of a crime co-op.........and the CEO of a construction company............and the principal of a school in which he walks the halls with a fully armed herd of bodyguards (the school that his love interest is a student at).  Uh-huh, let your mind wrap around those facts, baby!  So next time you are sick and your mind can't seem to comprehend Korean, take a trip down south and try this little gem of a drama out.  There is a good chance you will be sorry but will probably be too ill to change the channel.
Underrated Winners: These dramas did not stray from the kdrama wheelhouse, but what they did do was create some really solid and memorable dramas.  Dramas that deserve to be recommended despite their lack of flash or ratings.
Beyond the Clouds
It is hard to find a truly well done revenge melodrama.  They tend to either be over-the-top when it comes to the crying, or the revenging, and most often fall flat at the end.  So it was a surprise that Beyond the Clouds succeeded in finding just the right note and stayed true to tone from beginning to end.  I was truly surprised that this drama did not get more PR since they obviously invested money on this one.  Exotic scenes in Thailand were filmed (beautifully I might add) and the wonderful directing and location shots continued back in Korea.  The cast really worked well together and I can't state enough times how refreshing it was to get a really solid ending that wrapped up all the storyline to my satisfaction.  It is a shame this drama was so overlooked since it could be the set standard that other revenge dramas hope to achieve. 
Come Jang Bo Ri
I was not planning on enjoying this drama.  I had pretty much thrown it off of my radar after hearing the synopsis.  But, thanks to an entertaining blog that was recapping the 50 episode drama, I reluctantly picked it up. Who knew that the world of traditional garb could be so cutthroat, Makjang, and entertaining?  Skipping quickly through the kid segments (oh my gosh they were such horrible criers) I began watching the adult cast and quickly found myself highly involved in the lead's stories.  Also a surprise is that I enjoyed the evil villainess Min Jung much more then the sweet loyal lead Jang Bo Ri.  So in essence, start for the sweet but stay for the evil. After all, the dark side does have more fun.
Tomorrow's Cantabile
Oh Joo Won, why didn't people love you as much as I did in Tomorrow's Cantabile?  Yes I know that it was different from the original Japanese version, but that is what I actually liked about it.  I am one of those rare people that disliked the Jversion.........A LOT.........would rather suffer through a re-watch of Gap Dong than suffer through that show again.  So I went into the kdrama with low expectations.  The only reason I was even giving it a chance is because of Joo Won's immense talent.  I am so glad I stuck with it.  It took a few episodes but Joo Won and Shim Eun Kyung won me over with their cute chemistry and subtle character growth.  It ended up being a drama that surpassed the original in character depth and developed its own identity separate from its Japanese counterpart.

Dongsaeng's take: This drama captured me from the onset and I honestly can't even tell you why. I found the lead female's character to be intensely annoying and obnoxious in the beginning - to the point where I wanted to douse her in cold water to calm her the heck down. I really don't understand what the draw to it was for me, but like I said, I was hooked immediately and could not get enough. Maybe it was the music. I loved the music. Whatever it was, it worked for me and I stayed all the way to the end. By the end, I was less hooked than I was in the beginning, but I don't have anything bad to say about it. It was overall a cute drama. Not one I am likely to watch again in the future or necessarily recommend to everyone, but good. Oh, and for the record, I never saw the J-version so I have nothing to add to that argument. 
Across the Border: While I tend to watch mostly kdramas, there are some other Asian countries that produced some "must watch" TV this year.  So order some sushi and Chinese takeout as we dive into my foreign favorites!
Our first stop is in Japan where Oguri Shun played one of the most highly developed characters of 2014.  The leading man, Ango Ishikawa, is a detective who is shot in the head by a suspect, and after he is revived, sees the ghosts of the victims.  He continues his work as a cop with the added bonus (or curse) of being able to see and talk with the recently dead. Problems arise when Ango must decide on where the line is when one knows the killer, but can't provide the evidence to convict.  It is a powerful drama that has an even more powerful ending. I personally am hoping we get a season 2 sooner rather than later.
Boss and Me
Ever wondered what a drama would be like if the OTP did not have all the usual angsty problems?  Yes, I am talking about a drama where the leads support each other, respect each other, and for the most part, talk things out.  Well, you can find out in the super-duper sweet Chinese drama "Boss and Me" (also known as "Shan Shan Comes to Eat").  Leading lady Shan Shan is hired for the sole purpose of being a blood cow (she has the same rare blood type as the boss's sister) so when a medical emergency happens, the Chaebols can call on her services to donate a pint.  They even go so far as to prepare Shan Shan's lunches full of things to make one's blood healthier, much to her dismay. Little does boss, Feng Teng, know that he will fall under his sweet underling's spell.  If you are looking for a romance that will have you gasping at a simple look or a held hand, then this is the drama for you.  I have convinced scores of my friends to watch and I have yet to hear anyone that disliked it.  There are even those that enjoyed the drama so much that they went so far as to create their own version of Shan Shan hair and posted Selca's (you know who you are).  So fall in love again with love by checking out "Boss and Me".
Full House (Thailand Version)
My last drama was actually one of my all time favorites out of all the dramas I have watched to date.  The Thailand version of the kdrama classic "Full House" had everything fixed that I hated about the first one.  It had a more likable leading man (sorry Rain fans, he was a bit of a jerk in that drama), a less vindictive leading lady who plays "perky" perfectly (you can understand why the guy would fall for her), and it also had a much better written 2nd half (I just wanted to FF through half of the Kdrama).  Add in some creative kissing, great chemistry between the leads (for once I would not be surprised if they were a couple in real life), and a house worth drooling over (I covet that lakeside house), and you have a truly entertaining drama.  While Lakorns are not for everyone, this one kept pretty close to the kdrama story so it won't be too difficult for kaddicts to enjoy.  And did I mention that it has one of the sexiest on screen kisses ever?  If nothing else, it is almost worth watching for that kiss alone.
Finally done!  And made it before the clock turned midnight and it became 2015.  This is Kmuse signing off for 2014 and I hope to watch a lot of new dramas and chat with all my readers in 2015.  
Come follow The Crazy Ahjummas on Facebook or Twitter for info on all our newest recaps, posts, and to join in our kdrama discussions. 

Related End of Year Posts
Kmuse's End of Year Countdown:
Best Leading Men
Best Secondary Characters of 2014 -

Worst of 2014 -
Favorite Actresses of 2014
Best Couples of 2014

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