The First Annual 2013 Soju DramaQueen Awards

sojuaward

The First Annual

2013 Soju DramaQueen Awards

 

I did not realize what a busy, amazing year 2013 has been until I consulted the all-knowing Excel Spreadsheet and compiled the Contender’s List. Of the 35 dramas that I viewed, am viewing, or in very few cases, abandoned mid-series, just this year, the list was finally narrowed down to the following Top Ten Must-See Dramas for 2013. (A difficult choice, but my editor insisted…)

 

 

Cheongdam-dong Alice

Dating Agency Cyrano

Good Doctor

Gu Family Book (Kang Chi: The Beginning)

I Hear Your Voice

Jang Ok Jung, Live in Love

Jung Yi: Goddess of Fire

Monstar

Sword and Flower

The Master’s Sun

 

The choices were difficult, but listed are the nominees in each category, with the winners highlighted:

 

park shi hooBest Actor (tie)

It was tough narrowing down this category to just 5 nominees, but the winners were pretty clear. Scandals aside, Park Shi-hoo was positively brilliant in Cheongdam-dong Alice. I sincerely hope he make a comeback soon! Park Shi-hoo화이팅!  Joo Won also put in an amazing performance as the autistic Doctor Park Shi-on (Good Doctor). It was a difficult role played with empathy and credibility.

 

 

Nominees:

good doc joo wonPark Shi-hoo “Cheongdam-dong Alice”

Joo Won “Good Doctor”

Lee Jong-Suk “I Hear Your Voice”

Park Yoochun “I Miss You”

Jo In-sung “That Winter, the Wind Blows”

 

 

jae hee

Best Supporting Actor

This is another category with more nominees in the original list than I could include. The choice was more difficult here, but I settled on Lee Jae-hee. His character in When a Man Loves was very well-developed and complex.

 

Nominees:

Choi Jin-hyuk “Gu Family Book”

Seo In-guk “Master’s Sun”

Jo Jae-Hyun “Scandal: A Shocking and Wrongful Incident”

Kim Bum “That Winter, the Wind Blows”

Lee Jae-hee “When A Man Loves”

 

Masters_Sun_taeBest Actress

There were many fine performances this year by Korea’s leading actresses, but Gong Hyo-jin stood out with her quirky performance in The Master’s Sun.

 

Nominees:

Lee Bo-young “I Hear Your Voice”

Kim Tae-Hee “Jang Ok Jung: Live in Love”

Moon Geun-young “Jung Yi: Goddess of Fire”

Gong Hyo-jin “Master’s Sun”

Jo Yoon-hee “Scandal: A Shocking and Wrongful Incident”

 

master funny face

Best Supporting Actress

Secondary actresses typically have pretty one-dimensional characters, but Kim Yu-ri was blessed with an extraordinary role that she made her own. The character was engaging in all it’s iterations and aspects. Bravo!

 

Nominees:

So Yi-hyun “Cheongdam-dong Alice”

Hong Soo-hyun “Jang Ok Jung: Live in Love”

Kim Yu-ri “Master’s Sun”

Park Ha-Sun “Two Weeks”

 

kang eui shikBest New Actor

It’s no surprise that Monstar garnered most of the new actor nominations as the drama sported a cast composed almost entirely of newcomers. The stand-out male was Kang Eui-shik who played “Radio”, an intriguing character. The performance was outstanding, especially the tear-filled solo sung in defiance of his bullies.

 

Nominees:

Kang Eui-shik “Monstar”

Park Kyu-sun “Monstar”

Yong Joon-hyun “Monstar”

Park Hyun-shik “Nine: Nine Time Travels”

 

Monstar-1

Best New Actress

There were fewer notables among the new actresses, but those on the list were stellar. Kim Min-young gave a stand-out performance in Monstar. With her incredible voice and acting talent, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of this fine young woman.

 

Nominees:

Choi Soo-young “Dating Agency: Cyrano”

Ha Yun-soo “Monstar”

Kim Min-young “Monstar”

 

Monstar-Poster2Best Music

There were really nice OSTs this year and a few songs on my iPod that I admit to listening to repeatedly. While I had a difficult time not choosing I Hear Your Voice, in the end, Monstar had to win out with it’s outstanding mix of creative covers, fun mash-ups and and all-around great music.

 

Nominees:

“Cheongdam-dong Alice”

“Good Doctor”

“Gu Family Book”

“I Hear Your Voice”

“Monstar”

 

 

gu moon

Best Cinematography

Creativity seemed to be the order of the day this year. With a plethora of fantasy-type dramas, special effects were necessary and were, in general, very well done. Gu Family Book stood out, however, for its sheer beauty.

 

Nominees:

“Cheongdam-dong Alice”

“Flower Boy Next Door”

“Gu Family Book”

“I Hear Your Voice”

“Sword and Flower”

 

Cheongdamdong_Alice-p1Best Drama

Looking at the overall charisma of a drama, the acting, the script, the cinematography, the music and the ending (too many were really weak!), the list was slowly whittled down. The one drama that intrigued me from the start and held me to the end, keeping me entertained and captivated by brilliant performances and a great story was Cheongdam-dong Alice. I gave I Hear Your Voice a close second as it, too, was intriguing throughout and was a marvelous feel-good drama.

IHearYourVoice_Slider

 

Nominees:

“Cheongdam-dong Alice”

“Dating Agency Cyrano”

Close Second: “I Hear Your Voice”

“Gu Family Book”

“Jung Yi: Goddess of Fire”

 

2013 has been a good year for Korean dramas, and it’s not over yet. At the time awards were selected, the much-anticipated Heirs, with its all-star cast was still in progress, and Marry Him, If You Dare was shaping up well. Still others have just begun and will bleed into 2014.

Congratulations to this year’s Soju DramaQueen winners. I’m looking forward to another great year with these amazing actors and actresses!

 Happy Drama Watching!

Advertisements

Sunday Drama Review – Dating Agency: Cyrano

(연애조작단; 시라노) Dating Agency: Cyrano

Flower Boy Edition #4

Secret Flower Boy Cupids? Where can I find this dating agency?

Summary:

Based on 2010 romantic comedy “Cyrano Agency”, Dating Agency: Cyrano is the fourth installment in the Flower Boy series. Cyrano Theater faces being closed down for good, so director Seo Byung-hoon takes over his friend’s theater and starts a dating agency to pay back that friend’s debt. Assisted by the younger flower boys, Moo-jin and Ah-rang, and the spirited Mi-young, these four put together romantic situations for their clients and help them woo the people they love.

Characters:

Dating Agency (3)Seo Byung-hoon (played by Lee Jong-hyuk) is the older director who comes back to Korea when he hears of his friend’s death. He vows to restore the rundown theater to its once renounced glory, but he can’t do so until he pays off the enormous debt. Despite love being the core element of his work, he doesn’t believe in love and has a very disagreeable attitude towards others. He is the natural leader of the four – not only because of his age, but because he is a mastermind when it comes to thinking of heartfelt and touching lines for his clients to say to the targets and planning intricate operations to show off their client’s positive aspects and sincerity.

Dating Agency (2)Gong Min-young (played by Choi Soo-young) is the bubbly new member of Cyrano and the only female of the group. She gets recruited after expressing strong determination in her previous matchmaking job, and demonstrates that she is willing to do whatever it takes to get two people who love each other to be together. She is diehard romantic. Despite being shown the cruel sides of relationship, she still remains positive on true love and believes everything in life happens for a reason. A bad experience means one is just a step closer to finding their soulmate.

Dating Agency (4)Moo-jin (played by Hong Jong-hyun) is the genius engineer of the group and is in charge of all the technical devices used in their missions. As one of the flower boys, he is strikingly handsome and paired with his black motorcycle and dark and mysterious personality, he is an obvious attraction to the girls around him. However, he is completely clueless on the matters of love, never having been exposed to any in his life, thus keeping to himself and saying as little as possible.Dating Agency (5) Do Ah-rang (played by Jo Yoon-woo) is the youngest member of the group, a 19-year-old high school student who wants to be an actor. He is a kind-hearted individual who tries to keep the mood up between the somber Moo-jin and the irritable Byung-hoon. He has yet to fall in love, making him naïve on the topic of love as well as Moo-jin.

Cha Seung-pyo (played by Lee Chun Hee) is the chief and owner of the restaurant next door to the Cyrano Theater.  With a sketchy past he tries so desperately to keep hidden, he finds himself drawn to Gong Min-young’s peppy personality, while at the same time displays a remarkably cold persona to Byung-hoon, indicating a troublesome past between the two. He often helps the Cyrano gang with their missions, even lending his restaurant on occasion for one of their “set-ups”. He even comforts Min-young whenever she gets frustrated with the boys’ lack of compassion towards their clients.

Dating Agency (6)

Other characters in the drama were the different clients/targets (as each mini storyline lasted from 2-3 episodes before it switched to another “job”). Many of these roles were filled by familiar faces. Jin Ji-hee, Lee Chung-ah, Choi Won-young, Lee Yoon-ji, Lee Tae-min (SHINee),  Lee Kwang-soo, Gong Yoo and Jung Yoo-mi all played a variety of characters – from ballerina to chef, magician to even idol singer. (And I think we can all guess who that one was!)

Themes:

Sincerity:

“True love can only be achieved through true feelings.” – Gong Min-young

“Sincerity doesn’t always come in straight balls. Sometimes you need to throw curve balls or throw outside the strike zone.” – Gong Min-young

The reason why the Dating Agency: Cyrano worked is because it didn’t try to fabricate love out of thin air. They simply dug up sentimental emotions, turning points for the clients/targets, and launched them into full view. They waved the hidden feelings around like obvious flags, but played them off as circumstance or coincidence. For all of their “missions” to work, the sincere emotions of the client had to be there. And that became the basis of all their work – sincerity and true love.

Dating Agency (7)Manipulation:

There were many accusations that Dating Agency: Cyrano was not a morally abiding business, simply using tricks and manipulating the emotions of others to fit into their perfect situations. The group consistently tried to prove to all of those who criticize their work that they are not “creating” any emotions that were not already there. None of their plans are 100% guaranteed. Human error, no matter how effectively they are trying to convince the target to look upon the client, might not be swayed enough.

Inner Love:

“The most important part about loving and being loved is loving yourself first. A person that doesn’t love himself/herself cannot shine. They cannot be loved by others.” – Gong Min-young

The clients that Cyrano received were people who cannot express their love. They don’t know how or are simply too shy to make a move or confess. Cyrano helped these individuals who were not confident by being their cupids or guardian angels; they hide in the background and control the scenarios so that they are able to let their client shine in their moment. In a particular case, a client had difficulty approaching the guy she loved because she did not have enough self-confidence to even speak to him. Before the group could begin to alter the heart of the target, they had to first change the heart of the client to love themselves before they could even begin to love someone else or allow themselves to be loved.

Moving on from Past Love:

“Nothing happens by mistake, it was all meant to be…You never know who you are going to end up with” – Gong Min-young.

 “What are you afraid of? You can focus on the present with that attitude. Focus in the present. Be happy in the present. Love in the present. That’s the most important thing for you as the person alive in this moment” – Seo Byung-hoon.

Occasionally, people can get caught up in their first loves. Even though they are over, they are not able to forget the memories, and that stops them from being able to love another. This struggling to let go off the past not only was shown through the clients but through some of the main characters as well.

Symbols:

Love Personified: Love was without a fail the main theme of this drama, and it was able to expand on the different levels and ranges of loves with the numerous examples. Love was occasionally personified, and Byung-hoon gave it this negative strength to show how powerful love can be to an individual; it could either make or break someone.

“The most powerful venom in love is false hope” – Seo Byung-hoon.

“There is no vaccine for love; you can never have immunity for it” – Seo Byung-hoon.  

*Spoilers* (Do not read if you don’t want this drama spoiled for you, you have been warned!)

Dating Agency (1)

What I Liked:

  • Archs: I enjoyed how the mini love stories end up being a reflection of the main characters. It either becomes a lesson to re-think a previous notion of love, or it also allows them to grow and learn from this new exposure to love. Each time, the main leads were able to undergo character development in a natural way that spanned over time and was logically backed-up by the “missions” that they went under which changed their minds.

Dating Agency (8)

  • The Guest Cast: I loved that the “clients” and the “targets” were famous actors or actresses, idols or comedians who made cameo appearances. This might have been the drama’s saving grace (in terms of ratings) for it brought along a wider audience to view a specific episode(s). I personally loved the format of little mini-episodes, where the story-line only last 2-3 episodes before it changed to another one. It allowed for more variety and kept things interesting without running the rhythm or pace of the drama.
  • Choi Soo-young: I have become a bit skeptical of idols acting in dramas these days, but I was glad that this Girl Generation member was able to convince me otherwise. Her acting was great and she really brought the character to life, stealing many of the scenes where the Flower Boys should have done easily just by smiling (or in Moo-jin’s case glaring) at the camera.
  • Loan Shark Goons: Otherwise known as Lee Min-shik (played by Bae Seong-woo) and Go Young-dal (played by Kim Min-kyo). These were the two “henchmen” or muscle guys for the loan shark Cha Seung-pyo and also the comic relief characters of the drama. They tried to be tough in front of others but they were simply dorky guys who really adored their boss (even when he yelled at them). And how hard they tried to set-up their boss and their idea of romance was really fun to watch.

What I didn’t’ like:

  • The Age Gap: There was an age gap between the two leads that distracted me to no ends. Choi Soo-young is 23-years-old, but her two love interests were 12 and 15 years older (respectively). The fact that there was an age gap was not a problem for me, but seeing it on the screen was very distracting because she looked and acted so much younger than the two male leads. Especially when she had the school uniform on for four episodes straight, that made the two leads really looks like father figures instead of potential boyfriends.
  • The Loose Ends: There were so many loose ends in this drama despite how sweetly this drama ended. For instance, it was never really made clear what happened between Byung-hoon, Yi-seol, and Do-il that their friendship became so estranged before Do-il’s passing, or what exactly happened that night that would make Byung-hoon guilty. What happened to the chefs Min-ji and Dal-in’s relationship? Last time we saw that they had broken up because Min-ji had found out they got together because of the matchmaking of Cyrano, but the drama never hinted if they got back together or if the issue was resolved. What about Hye Ri? Even though she did change sides at the very end, she was still an accessory to a kidnapping/murder attempt. And there were many more things that left me pondering the realistic nature of this drama.

Dating Agency (10)

  • Do Ah-rang’s disappearance: I was personally very excited that Jo Yoon-woo was going to be back in another drama and another Flower Boy edition as well! He showed so much potential in “Flower Boy Ramyun Shop”, however they seemed to have given him the exact same role: a very happy, sweet flower boy who is only kind and selfless to others. And as well as he pulls this character off, I was unhappy by the fact that they only gave him attention during the first five episodes and then cut his time in the drama by a lot. Moo-jin’s character development was executed a lot better by lasting throughout the drama, going at a slow pace and building with each new “mission”.
  • The Kidnapping/Action attempt: Honestly, if it wasn’t for episode 15, I would have given this drama a higher score. That “action” twist only ruined the drama for me. The drama was a nice romantic comedy, a slow but sweet summer drama. But the random change to an action/thriller was not only jarring but seemed to have been thrown in last minute. The episode itself was not bad; it just didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the drama. All it did was make me feel guiltier for our poor gangster-turned-into humble-chef, Cha Seung-pyo, who not only gave away his life to serve under a different mobster, but also got stabbed trying to protect the girl he loved who was in love with someone else.

Dating Agency (9)

 

Author’s Final Remarks: 7.5/10

Dating Agency: Cyrano was a cute drama. In some moments it blew away my expectations with great acting or an amazing line/scene. But then on other occasions it left me with a sense of disappointment. It’s the kind of drama that one can watch casually, but doesn’t leave you at the edge of your seat wondering what is going to happen next. And in some ways that’s kind of its charm; that this drama is so laid-back and quirky in its own way. It’s portrayal of love was so diverse and refreshing, and with the initial plot of having a dating agency that makes their love come true, it lived up to the creative freedom it was given.

~Millie

Friday Drama Review: “Dating Agency: Cyrano” Another fabulous installment in the Flower Boy Series

DatingAgencyCyranoWill Cyrano, Playing Cupid in the Theatre, Overcome his Sense of Inadequacy or Will Roxanne Perish Rejected?

 

Storyline/Synopsis: My Rating 8/10

Based very loosely on the famous Cyrano de Bergerac, Dating Agency: Cyrano introduces a modern and uniquely Korean flavor to a classic tale.

Once a financially struggling theatre, The Theatre Cyrano has become a secretive agency that hires itself out for high-tech matchmaking services. The owner, still struggling under a debt burden left by his deceased friend and partner, is the stoic, intelligent, emotionally blunt Seo Byung-hoon. He is assisted by engineering whiz Moo-jin, a sweet, but romantically naïve young man, and Do Ah-rang, a high school kid who dreams of becoming an actor.

Their well-scripted world is turned askew when Gong Min-young walks in the door. Her highly romanticized view of the world is a source of scorn for Byung-hoon, curiosity for Moo-jin, and admiration for Ah-rang. Min-young is intrigued by the work done by Cyrano Dating Agency and is drawn towards the ascetic and impersonal Byung-hoon, despite his best efforts to dissuade her.

Cha Seung-pyo is the romantic, mysterious “Master” next door – a chef by current trade, who we soon realize has had a dark past. He is captivated by Min-young and perturbed by Byung-hoon. The early episodes point to a deeper story between the two men.

The drama features fun vignette-type stories spanning a few episodes each. The narratives follow the matchmaking shenanigans between two seemingly impossible-to-match people. Each vignette features cameo appearances of well-known Hallyu stars, upping the ante for viewership ratings.

 

 

Script/Acting: My Rating 8/10

dating seoThe ‘Cyrano’ theme was an interesting and unique choice for a Korean drama adaptation. Lee Jong-hyuk (A Gentleman’s Dignity, Chuno) was a thought-provoking choice for the lead role of Seo Byung-hoon, our contemporary Korean Cyrano de Bergerac. Although attractive, his features are not the standard pretty-boy adorable, nor are they ruggedly handsome. While he does not sport Cyrano’s renowned beak, his personality, as portrayed in the drama, had both the panache and emotional shortcomings relevant to a Cyrano-esque character.

dating min youngBy far the best actress that I’ve seen amongst the women of SNSD, Choi Soo-young, (The 3rd Hospital, Unstoppable Marriage) was delightful as Gong Min-young, the charming Roxanne of the Cyrano story. The love interest of two rival males, Soo-young played the role with the wide-eyed romantic optimism critical to the role.  Her character was not, however, weak, but able to stand up to the strong men around her. Engaging and attractive enough to gain the loyalty of those around her, the Min-young character was like whipping cream on an espresso – a dollop of sweet joy floating atop the darkness.

Dating 2Rounding out the Cyrano Agency were two young men: Hong Jong-hyun (Jeon Woo-chi, Wild Romance) as Moo-jin, and Jo Yoon-woo (Strongest KPOP Survival, Flower Boy Ramen Shop) as Do Ah-rang. Both young men provided interesting characters integral to the plot but also appealing in their own datingCyrano04right. While the Do Ah-rang character was sweet, it was not as well developed or as intriguing as the pensive Moo-jin. Although identifiable by his economy of words and notoriously expressionless face, he was always understood, his meaning and his revelations clear despite their subtle presentation.

Dating-Agency-MasterThe character of Cha Seung-pyo, restaurateur, was a collection of contradictory actions and emotions mixed to create a well-thought-out, well-rounded character with complexity as rare as thundersnow. Lee Chun-hee (Take Care of Us, Captain, Road Number One) perfected the bad-boy glare, yet tugged at our emotions with his sincere attraction for Min-young. Along with his two comic henchmen, Min-shik and Young-dal, played by Bae Seong-woo and Kim Min-kyo, (two goons plucked straight out of Kiss Me Kate!), Seung-pyo provides mystery and intrigue throughout much of the drama.

dating taeminAs stated earlier, the cameo appearances of A-list stars was a fun treat: Lee Chung-ah as a ballerina and Choi Won-young as the sommelier she likes; Im Hyung-joon as veterinarian Jin Joon-hyuk, who is crushing on librarian Lee Yoon-ji; Lee Taemin (yep, from SHINee) as (what else) and idol singer; Lee Kwang-soo as a baker with a crush on Goo dating gong wooEun-ae, a chef; Jung Yoo-mi as a hilariously creepy girl with a crush on Gong Woo, a magician; and Ye Ji-won as a nurse in love with firefighter Im Won-hee.

Quite the all-star parade.

 

 

Cinematography: My Rating 7/10

Due to the surveillance work necessary to the Cyrano Agency agenda, interesting and fun camera shots/angles were often seen. The majority of the drama took place inside the Cyrano Theatre or the restaurant next door, limiting the need for extensive sets. The theatre set, however, was a fun construction consisting of multiple rooms, glass enclosures and enough silly eye-candy details to please a Willy Wonka fan. The creative lighting used inside the theatre evoked a sense of make-believe – perfect for the ‘creative’ scenarios dreamt up by the Cyrano team for their clients.

 

Music: My Rating 7/10

Jessica Jung (Girls’ Generation) “That One Person” http://youtu.be/w0nDNuEzYHw

The theme song: Peppertones “Chance” http://youtu.be/S2sEMs5j8WU

An excellent ballad!: Ra.D  “Something Flutters” http://youtu.be/RDc7JP5-0QA

Big Baby Driver “Take My Hands Tonight” http://youtu.be/3xO0VpQlkzQ

A fun 60’s-ish folksy ballad: Big Baby Driver “In The Same Storm” http://youtu.be/Q72DOWGwYl8

 

Overall Charisma: My Rating 8/10

All of the “Flower Boy” dramas, save Ramen Shop, have a certain flavor that sets them far apart from the standard table fare served up by the drama industry today. While Ramen Shop was sweet and fun, it followed the standard formats and had the same general romantic comedy feel of its contemporaries. The others in the series have all been just a bit edgier, a little off-center, slightly off the beaten path in a direction that makes them fresh and fun.

Dating Agency: Cyrano did not disappoint in that respect: a little bit of quirky, a lot of fun. In some respects it solidly nailed what Nail Shop Paris tried and failed to accomplish: a vanguard drama with fun sketches to capture the feel of the short story or single-episode series.

All in all, it is a wonderful addition to the Flower Boy Garden.

 

 

 Happy Drama Watching!

 dating couple

Director: Kang Kyung Hoon

Writer:  Shin Jae Won