By Colette Fitzpatrick
A few weeks ago, I posted an article entitled, “Korean Dramas To Get You Sucked Into A Whole New World of Entertainment,” in which I introduced my love for Korean dramas and five of my all-time favourites, from heart-smashers to light and fluffy capers.
Dramas, a catch-all term that refers to all scripted, fictional programming in Korea, can vary in content, style, audience and more and include teen romances, medical dramas, courtroom dramas, crime procedural dramas, thrillers, rom-coms, horror, melodramas and more. They are aired by television networks, cable channels and online as web-shows (which are usually shorter in length per episode and as a series as a whole). Generally, there are two episodes a week of each show, each lasting an hour to up to ninety minutes in length, on two consecutive days, falling into one of the following categories; Monday-Tuesday dramas, Wednesday-Thursday dramas, Friday-Saturday dramas or Saturday-Sunday dramas. Most shows only last for one season and have 16 to 20 episodes in total.
When done correctly, this model allows for snappy and effective programming that takes over your life for the couple of months that a show airs. Shows are traditionally produced while airing and turning out two to three hours worth of programming per week can be very tough for the writing and producing teams and the cast, meaning that many lose steam. Many also pay attention to the audience reaction week-to-week and alter storylines accordingly, giving popular characters more airtime and tweaking relationships. This can sometimes be delightful as it might mean the second male lead can get chosen by the female lead (Second Male Lead Syndrome is one of the first you’ll face as a K-drama fan no matter your orientation and can be devastating when the clearly better man loses out) but can also cause a story to fall apart and writers to have to ignore their vision for the whims of an audience that may not always know what’s good for them and the story.
However, if these pitfalls are overcome, then you really will be enraptured. I regularly find myself very upset when the second weekly episode of my current favourite drama ends because I don’t know how I can possibly wait a whole week to find out what happens next. This rarely happens to me with television shows anymore and I find that this Korean model of intense contact with a show and characters on a weekly basis really gets you emotionally invested in a very addictive and delightful way…
So, if you really want to go full hermit, like my ultimate form, then here are even more of the best of the best K-dramas that I’ve ever watched and that will have you cancelling plans left and right.
This 2016 drama tells the story of a resident cardiothoracic surgeon named Oh Yeon-joo (played by the stunningly beautiful Han Hyo-joo) whose father, Oh Seong-moo (Kim Eui-sung), is a very famous author of a webtoon (internet comic), by the same name as the drama, in South Korea. The whole country is on the edge of their collective seat, waiting to see where his story will go, with the main character Kang Chul (Lee Jong-suk) presumably about to die. We become privy to the information that Seong-moo wants to end the story and be done with it and when he goes missing before drawing the last chapter of W, Yeon-joo goes to his office in search of him. She finds his tablet with a scene of the dying Kang Chul on it and while at the desk, an arm suddenly extends out of the screen. She finds herself on the rooftop of a building next to a bleeding man and saves him, realising him to be Kang Chul. The story follows Yeon-joo and Kang Chul going back and forth from the fictional and real world and the mysterious force trying to harm them all.
Innovative, riveting and fast-paced, with some gorgeous leads with great chemistry, I was obsessed with this from beginning to end. In fact, I’m now going to re-watch it when I finish this piece…
2. Reply 1988
The highest rated drama in Korean cable television history, this is the third installment in the Reply series, a group of dramas made by cable channel tvN over the years that are set in distinct time periods and each follow a group of teenagers and their families and friends as they grow up and become adults. Each has been popular but this highly atmospheric installment is set in a crucial moment from Korean history when the Olympics were held in Seoul and the whole world was changing and launched several beloved stars including the great golden boy of acting, Park Bo-gum. Bittersweet and very relatable, it’s hard to summarise the plot succinctly but if you like a slice-of-life story, great storytelling, wonderful acting and a heaping of nostalgia (no matter where you grew up or when), then this is the one for you.
3. Wednesday 3.30 PM
My first web-drama on the list, this impossibly sweet drama stars VIXX’s Hongbin (#supportingmyfaves) and Jin Ki-joo as Yoon Jae-won and Sun Eun-woo, friends who pretend to be in a fake relationship and create a “lovestagram” when Eun-woo is dumped by her boyfriend.
A typical rom-com plot of making an ex jealous in order to get them back but falling in love in the meantime but done with such charm and skill that it’s highly entertaining, even though it is rather predictable. You will find yourself falling in love with the two leads yourself.
4. One More Time
Another web-drama, this one a joint production with Netflix, this show messed me up. I thought I was just messing around, watching something quick and easy on Netflix, when I clicked on it while browsing their K-drama section lazily on a rainy Saturday but, next thing I knew, it was Sunday and I was feeling so many things. I’ve never really heard anyone else talk about this one but I adored it. I want to watch it again but I don’t know if I can. Seriously, it made me have a minor existential crisis. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away but, briefly, it tells the story of Yoo Tan (played by Infinite’s L), the lead vocalist of an indie band called One More Time, and his girlfriend, Da-in, and explores fame and what is important in life.
Just watch it, it goes places you don’t expect.
5. Just Between Lovers
This drama made me fall madly in love with 2PM’s Lee Jun-ho, who plays Lee Kang-doo, a former athlete and now construction worker, and Ha Moon-soo (Won Jin-ah), as a young woman traumatised by her past who is working with an architectural firm. Both characters come together on a project to rebuild on the site of a mall that dramatically altered both of their lives. The leads are both revelations and the plot will hurt your heart and rebuild it over and over again. This drama will take you places and then some. But it is also so, so lovely at times that I had heart-squeezing, second-hand romance flutters and that is a rare and wonderful thing. Plus, the OSTs (original soundtrack tracks) are beautiful. One of the best dramas of 2017, hands down.
As I mentioned in the last post, you can get some dramas on Netflix, in this case One More Time is the only one currently on Irish Netflix, and all of the others on Viki, an Asian drama streaming service. But don’t say I didn’t warn you if you end up cancelling all plans and becoming one with your couch.
If you’re looking for even more entertainment recs check out the Bean Autumn cinema guide and Philippa’s guide to getting started with podcasts.