K-drama is back!

It's been a while so you might be thinking I haven't been watching too many dramas lately. Well, you'd be wrong. I've just been watching several "live" instead of marathoning them one at a time which makes it harder to write about them. But several just finished up so I had to share.

Lie to me - 2 stars

Don't. Just don't. I watched this because I kept hearing about it in certain contexts and wanted to know what the fuss was about. I hesitate to say more because I don't want you to get sucked into this mess but if you are curious it has to do with "cola" and "karaoke" and if you are really curious, just watch those scenes on youtube and skip the rest of this mess. I actually liked the main female lead, partly because Yoon Eun-hye is very talented and partly because she was an interesting character - in the beginning at least. But they never really developed the other characters - or the plot. And I really liked the younger brother but all of a sudden, the basically dropped his character. My guess is that Eun-hye had too much chemistry with him :-) So, as I said, just don't.

Dating Agency Cyrano  - 3.5

Fluffy and Fun. It's not deep, it's not emotionally moving and compared to the other "Oh Boy" series (SUFBB, FBND, etc) it's was a bit of a let down but it's still super cute and fun to watch. Gong Min Young joins a troop of (emotionally stilted?) guys as part of a undercover dating agency that works to set up crushes. The show does a good job balancing the shorter term cases with the long plot arc and ties them in together is not overly obvious and obnoxious manner.  And the story has a number of mystery and question but does a good job of slowly tying everything together instead of trying to keep all their cards hidden then dump all the answers on you in the last episode.

But I watch it mostly for the characters, both the main team and the cameos are pretty great. The boys, the sidekick goons which crack me up, and Master (is he or is he not evil?) I liked the main leads although as a couple they aren't my favorite OTP ever, but I gave in to them by the end.

The show takes a little detour at the second to last episode which leaves you wondering what show the writers thought they were writing for but at least they kept that kidnapping relative to the plot unlike some other show I might mention (MSOAL - I'm looking at you!) and they quickly get back on track for what else but a cute ending. If you're looking for a fun and breezy summer drama to fill your free time, this one's a good bet.

Monstar - 4

I wasn't sure what to expect from this one as it was the first from Mnet and in my experience, music networks are not know for quality original programming. But then again, MTV isn't korean and Mnet is and it's connected to tvN so perhaps I should have expected more.

Monstar is the story of K-pop idol Seol-Chan's (played by Beast idol Jun-hyung) stint in high school. It starts as a PR move to salvage his image but ends up being a chance for him to grow, fall in love and befriend a small gang of "surprisingly" talented musicians. Of course, it's not surprising at all but either way, the music is great. And with a few exceptions, the music is woven into the story surprisingly well. Even if the rest was awful, it might still be worth watching.

Luckily though, that is not the case because beyond the soundtrack, this story has a lot of heart. It's this sort of dreamy land high school in which idols and students can suddenly form a underdog band and battle the snots one sense but on the other hand, the problems are very teen, in a good way - crushes and first loves, parenting issues, bullying, more crushes and first loves. I loved watching the teens figure out their emotions when it is soooo obvious to us. The first 7-8 episodes were awesome. I felt for all the Color Bar Members and really enjoyed watching them grow as people and as a band.

And seeing as how we are dealing with a k-pop idol, his first love and their friends, there was bound to be cutesness but so much cuteness! Almost too much. It's like a kitten ate cotton candy and threw up this show. There is one scene with Seol-Chan and Se-Yi, our main female character, in which they walk up and down stairs over and over again. You wouldn't think that would be especially entertaining but it was probably one of the sweetest and funniest moments of the show. You might be thinking that there must be more to it than that, like I'm leaving so important detail out and I'm really not. It's just that much adorableness that it can't help but explode  So it's cute and funny and full of feels but...

That said, it wasn't perfect. Now this show is more about the heart than the plot, I just wish the writers had figured that out earlier instead of teasing us. They started out with a lot of sub plots and I liked that because it really drew us into the whole story and all the side characters but then it just stopped and became all about the OTP. And I liked the OTP so I liked those parts too but they kept that going until the last episode and then couldn't put it all together in time. The ending was pretty open. I'm okay with a fairly open ending considering that this is highschool. It's not like I was expecting anyone to get married or anything but there were a few storylines that I really wish had at least some semblance of a resolution one in particular Still, that didn't dampen my enthusiasm for the show too much in the end because it was more about the feels than the plot.

Spoiler points
  • Sun-woo? What happened to him? He was the biggest disappointment. I never shipped him with either of our girls but still, he was at least decent in the beginning so I'm sad with how he ended things with well, everyone! I could try and look at his last line as redeeming himself with Nana but I almost want better for her
  • Nana. She probably did get the best ending just because she's awesome and now has two devoted fan boys. Just don't end up with one of them or you'll start another fight 
  • Those boys, probably my favorite side relationship. I really do love a good bromance.
  • Aunt and her teacher friend. Not a big storyline but I would have liked a kiss. Just sayin'
  • What was with that pillow?
  • What was with the snails? I mean, I guess I understand what they were going for, trying to tie some scene together, moving slow, etc but really, snails? That's the best you can come up with? They are all oozy and buggy and snailish.
  • Seol-Chan and his mom. Heartbreak. I still don't really get how Sun-woo was involved, did I misunderstand or did they just not tell the full story. Not sure. Three names, poor guy. That said, I really loved the scene where she keeps interrupting them. So funny. And it's true, she should have been listening. Good mom! (At least right then, still not enough to redeem that other stuff but at least your trying)

I Hear Your Voice - 5 

I didn't start watching it because the premise, two lawyers and a high school mind reader solving crimes, seemed a bit odd. And I, like everyone else I'm sure, was confused as to who was the male lead (the high schooler or the other detective) and how they would handle that if this was a romantic comedy. But I joined mid-way because of all the talk and I'm so glad I did. This show was awesome - and everything! A rom-com, heartbreaking law show and intense revenge thriller rolled into one. Normally when someone says that about a k-drama they mean the writer couldn't decide what type of show they want to do and gives the viewers whiplash but in this case, it is a compliment of the highest order.

The cutesty parts were super adorable but then BAM and you heart would be racing and you'd be yelling at your screen "Don't do it!" or "Ahhh, don't die!" I'll warn you, it gets intense. I was really really glad it showed on Wednesday/Thursdays because those were Craig's days off and I don't think I could have watched in alone in my house at night. He might have wished that at times though, I think there were at least two parts where I actually put the computer down and walked away for a minute.

I loved all 4 main characters and how they all developed over the course of the show.

Hye Sung is an awesome lead. The lawyer that you love in the beginning because you think you know who she is. Of course, just like Park So Ha, you don't know the whole story but you stick with her despite her flaws, root for as she grows, and are so proud of in the end. One of my all time favorite k-drama leads.

Park So Ha is just adorable that you worry about not just because you know his sad story but because while you don't really know how he feels (well, unless you are a mind reading orphan whose one goal is to protect the women who saved your life), you still feel what he feels. And his puppiness kills me whether it is slightly cocky 19 year old with a noona crush puppy face or the completely lost please help me puppy face.

Lawyer Oska Cha could easily lead you into a case of Second Male Lead syndrome but he's also more than just the really good guy. He's got a great heart but that isn't always for the best when you are a defense lawyer so he definitely has some flaws too. You love him and want to hate him and then you love him all over again.

And Seo Do-Yeon seemed like she would be another standard despicable female lead but she completely surprised me. In one episode, I may have actually shed tears for her. Tears for a second lead! And not in a "my goodness, why has someone not run this person over with a bus yet" way. I hope this actress gets a first lead role soon because I would love to see more of her.

So the four main leads are awesome in terms of both writing and acting but it's really the combination that takes this show to a next level. The relationships keep changing which is great. All too often you get stuck with characters rehashing the same stuff just different situations but that is not the case her. The writing is so good. The extension from 16-18 episdodes hurt it slightly in terms of pacing (all of a sudden our super bad guy resorts to sending mail?) but it is a testament to how great the show is because those filler moments were still gold. I loved all these guys so I didn't mind things getting stretched out a bit if it meant I got more cute stuff amidst the heart attack moments.

Final verdict - You must watch this show! Just not alone.

Answer Me, 1997 - 4.5

It's not quite a 5, but it's pretty darn close. High school nostalgia at it's best. I loved it even though I know I couldn't even appreciate it in all it's glory because I didn't grow up in the 90s in Korea. Of course, I did spend my 16th and 17th years in Korea, just 5 years later, but I don't think that has much to do with it.
 In the same way you don't have to have lived in the 60s to appreciate The Wonder Years (or the 80s if you're a fan of Freaks and Geeks), you can still appreciate this show because in so many ways, the teen years are universal. But I did appreciate a few of the meta jokes and quite a bit of the 90s paraphalia (and the one and only boy band concert I ever attended was in Seoul and I think it might have been at the concert venue seen in one of the last episodes. Fun!)

This drama shows the lives of 6 friends starting in 1997 and moving to current times (with a few big jumps). It starts when they are 18, which seemed a bit old for me until I remembered that is korean age so that really means 16/17 for us Americans. And I would say Shi-Won's obsession with k-pop band H.O.T. stuck around a little longer than is plausible, but I also know fully grown women who attended the NKOTB tour so that throws that theory out the window.

And unlike many other teen shows, this one was very relateable.  The family drama, fighting and love. The many relationship, daughter and father, brothers, friends, crushes and first loves. It has so much heart and so few drama tropes (although it did have one big one and while I wasn't a fan, it was done well for being what it was).

One of the drama cliches they managed to avoid was the side characters - no psychotic, clingy second female leads, the parents were decent people who loved their daughter, and the other friends actually had plot points and developed characters as well. I loved them all. (Hmm, does this sound familar. Why is this such an issue. Great dramas have 4+ drama characters. Crappy dramas have 2 good characters and a bunch of stock ones. It's not that hard people!)

Shi-Won is a great female lead. Fun and loveable and spunky but it's Yoon Yoon-Jae, played by Seo In-guk, arg. Your heart breaks for him. He's an great character because he isn't that annoying, haughty know it all guy that so often k-dramas rely on for first lead material - but he isn't perfect either. You want so much for him at different points but he can't help being who he is. And I get to see more of him because he's in Master's Sun, the new Hong Sister's drama starting up soon! Yah!

Other highlights:

The haircuts. The first - classic korean parenting! The second - true best friend love. The third set - that's what high school and "discovering yourself" is all about, right?

The continuity and attention to detail - the broken arm story coming back illustrates this perfectly but the way they tie things in and make a complete story. It's just awesome!

The reunion mystery. I didn't even mind it continuing to the last episode. If they had actually kept us in suspense, it would have gotten old but as I was completely sure who our mystery fellow would be, I didn't mind going along for the ride.

So with all this gushing, why not a 5? The last two episodes mostly. They just didn't fit the pacing of the others. I didn't really mind because by that point, I loved everyone so much I didn't want to see them go, but narratively speaking, they probably should have kept them shorter. I also wish they had kept is in the 90s for another episode or two although maybe if they had I would have felt the ending was cut off. It's not that the 2000s were bad, it just that the 90s were better so they suffered in comparison.

The timing of all the episodes was off, although that might be an issue of episode division online because of the odd 2 episodes a night format. This is more FYI than a score effecting negative but it was disconcerting to watch a 45 minute episode followed by a 20 minute episode and sometimes it seemed like they cut off mid-episode. Not really an issue if you marathon it so just keep going and it will make sense. I had this problem on both dramafever and Viki.

The only other issue I had was the one storyline. I would have liked a second character much better without it. I'm trying to be vague so as not to spoil things but now I'm realizing that could apply to two different guys but I'm mostly talking about Han Chan. If not for "Russian Unnis" I would have loved him. The bus scene(s)- so sweet! On a related note, it's another tvN drama (as all the best usual are) so standard cable caveats apply although they are fairly minor (PG13?)

*Sidenote #1 - Blogger's spellcheck really wants to me change marathoning to marinating but no, that is not the word I want. I wrote marathoning and I meant marathoning, thank you very much

Sidenote #2 - Yes, I did say that I didn't like watching show simulcast as much but their happened to be a cluster of really good dramas on and once you start one, it's easy to just add another and now I really do like watching them that way. Of course, its more risky and there are still lots of older shows I want to go back and watch but I think I've found room for both in my life. Well, maybe not room, but who needs to do laundry anyway - I kid, I kid - dusting is the first chore to get dropped :-)

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