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!

Friday Drama Review: “Jung-yi: Goddess of Fire”

jung yi 1

A beautiful historical drama filled with the majesty and drama we have come to expect from this genre, Jung-yi was an epic tale worth the re-telling.

 

Storyline/Synopsis: My Rating 8/10

Set in the Joseon Dynasty, Jung-yi is based on the story of a real historical figure: Baek Pah-sun, the first woman to become a potter by trade. Although she was kidnapped during the war and taken to Japan, the drama deals with events leading up to the kidnapping. The story begins before Jung-yi’s birth and chronicles her struggles through young adulthood. She was much loved by the prince, Gwanghae. Palace politics abound as three brothers vie for the position of crown prince.

 

Script/Acting: My Rating 7/10

The pace was a little slower than other dramas, but that is often the case with sageuk (historical) dramas. A multigenerational story was being told, and many intriguing characters came into play.

jung yiIn the title role (Yoo Jung-yi) was Moon Geun-young (Cheongdam-dong Alice, Cinderella’s Sister). Born of parents who were gifted in the art of pottery and raised by a man who was treasured by the realm for his artistic porcelain creations, she grew into a young woman with exemplary talent. She had a birth secret, though: her real father was none other than the man she despised most – the man who had the father who raised her killed and who despised her temerity for aspiring to be a potter in a man’s world. Requiring a multitude of emotional changes, the part was well represented by Moon Geun-young who gave a very credible performance.

jung yi gwangLee Sang-yoon (Life Is Beautiful; I Love You, Don’t Cry) was prince Gwanghae, a scholarly and upright young man, but second son to the king. His suitability for the throne made him a constant target of conspiracies by his brothers. He spent his life in service to the king, which seemed to include the constant covering for mistakes made by his power-crazed and irresponsible brother, Prince Imhae. He met Jung-yi as a youth and kept a torch burning for her throughout his life. Lee Sang-yoon displayed the noble bearing necessary for the role and convincingly played “fall-guy” for his brother.

jing yi kim bumKim Bum (Boys Over Flowers, That Winter the Wind Blows) finally scored a role in a sageuk drama, and long, flowing hair seemed to suit him well. His role was that of Tae-do, a young man who grew up alongside Jung-yi in a brotherly fashion but who harbored a deep love for her. His was the Ji-hoo* role of he drama, following, protecting and loving Jung-yi, who saw him only as a brother. With a talent for martial arts, Tae-do assisted and was trusted by two Princes, Gwanhae and the youngest prince, Shinsung.

jung yi hwa ryungSeo Hyun-jin (The Peach Tree, Magic) was cast as the evil villainess of the story, Shim Hwa-ryung. Growing up as a friend and classmate to Jung-yi, the friendship dissolved into jealousy as she failed to win Tae-do’s heart. Aspiring to become a powerful merchant, she went to great (and disturbing) lengths to secure her own wealth and influence at the expense of everyone around her. Ms. Shim was quite convincing as a covetous and resentful woman.

jung yi fathrHer business dealings brought her to the unscrupulous Lee Gang-chun, Jung-yi’s biological father and head of Bunwon, the home of the Royal ceramists. His rivalry with Yoo Eul-dam, Jung-yi’s adoptive father, set in motion a chain of events that gave meat to the drama in the story. He acquired great wealth by illegally selling off Bunwon pottery and in doing so secured the sponsorship of Lady Kim, In Bin consort and mother to Prince Shinsung. The role was portrayed by Jun Kwang-ryul (I Miss You, Warrior Baek Dong Soo), a man with a gift for looking innocent while delivering bald-faced lies.

jung yi yook doLee Gang-chul’s main motivation is the success of his son, Yook-do, portrayed by Park Gun-hyung (I Do, I Do; Syndrome). This poor, hapless young man was unfortunate to have a  father, whom he idolized, who was an unprincipled crook. He also fell for the wiles of Shim Hwa-rung, who seduced him in order to win favor with Bunwon. This character ended up being one of the more complex of the series: initially a talented and principled young man, he entrapped himself by falling into his father’s deceitful ways. Yet he was an innocent, and in many respects, a pawn used by many others for their own purposes.

jung yi kingThe king was another interesting character. King Seonjo, as played by Jeong Bo-seok (Arang and the Magistrate, Can You Hear My Heart), was a weak ruler whose sole interest appeared to be looking good to the populace – and he had little tolerance for the truth, a trait that often put Prince Gwanghae at odds with his father.

jung yi moon

 

The kindly grandfather of the series was Byun Hee-bong (Glory Jane, My Girlfriend is a Gumiho) as Moon Sa-seung. A gifted potter and former head of Bunwon, he protected Jung-yi for the talent he saw in her. As a former friend to Yoo Eul-dam, he took on the role of Jung-yi’s caretaker after her adoptive father was killed.

jung yi imhaeLee Kwang-soo (Dating Agency: Cyrano; Innocent Man) played a role far from his usual. The unprincipled Prince Imhae was the source of many conspiracies in the drama. Although it seemed a stretch for him, the role suited him as there was a comical component to Prince Imhae’s often inept maneuverings.

 

Cinematography: My Rating 7/10

Gorgeous scenery and costuming was evident throughout the series. It was obvious that the actors had spent some time learning the basics of spinning a pottery wheel and the scenes were credible.

 

Music: My Rating 7/10

“Tears Are Also Love” Baek Ah Yeon  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m44ysL6460c

Great ballad: “Tears Flow” Noel  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_mXuV45reo

“Forever You” Bobby Kim  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWzfVvCnRt4

“I Love You” Park Ji Min of 15&  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jA9d5DoW5-c

“Though I Close My Eyes” Lush  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_nmIhM0S8k

“Monologue”  Kim Hyung Joong  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATuQCNBzAyY

Overall Charisma: My Rating 8/10

The slower pace of Jung-yi in no way detracted from the appeal of the drama. Character and story development progressed naturally, allowing viewers to follow the complex plots and sub-plots. If there were a criticism, it would be that, as in many dramas these days, the wind-down and conclusion appeared a bit rushed. It was, however, a beautiful story, a beautiful drama, and definitely worth the viewing time.

  

 Happy Drama Watching!

jung yi young couple

*Yoon Ji-hoo: A character from the drama series “Boys Before Flowers” that has come to represent a wonderfully sweet, attentive man who has an unrequited love for a girl and who becomes her friend and/or protector. He never gets the girl.  :-p

 

Friday Drama Review – “That Winter, the Wind Blows”

winter1Classic Melodrama – Prepare to Cry.

 

High-tension melodrama may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but add a few gangsters, throw in a spunky, in-your-face wanna-be girlfriend, exploit great cinematography and put it together with fabulous music and you might even entice the most hard-core melo-haters. Superb performances by Song Hye Kyo and Jo In Sung were icing on the cake.

Here is a remarkably well-done trailer for your viewing pleasure:

 

 

Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 6/10

wintercoupleIt doesn’t get much more melodramatic than this: Oh Soo (Jo In Sung) grew up in an orphanage having been abandoned in the cold, hard winter by his mother. He leads the life of a playboy gambler with little self-esteem, but with great loyalty to his friends, Park Jin Sung (Kim Bum) and another friend coincidentally named Oh Soo (Lee Jae Woo). Oh Young (Song Hye Kyo) is an orphaned, wealthy heiress who was tragically left blind at an early age. Although Oh Soo (Lee Jae Woo) confides in in friends that he’s actually the only son of a chaebol (wealthy conglomerate) family, they don’t believe him until circumstances lead his sister, Oh Young to come find him. Brother Oh Soo is tragically killed just before meeting his long lost sister, but friend Oh Soo, hounded by death threats from debt collectors, steps in to try and fill his shoes, at least long enough to scam the blind sister. Tragically, he falls in love while attempting to implement his devious plan.

Script/Acting: My rating 7/10

Now while my synopsis may sound tongue-in-cheek, the writing for the script and acting were actually quite good. Jo In Sung, back from an extended hiatus, has proven that his absence did not in any way dull the edginess in his acting style. Voice and gestures carried details that made each scene dramatic and memorable. He cries very convincingly, too. Song Hye Kyo is one of my favorite actresses, even if I do question the mental stability of any woman breaking up with Hyun Bin, but that is another story.  I loved her in Full House. I loved her in Worlds Within. I also really liked her in this drama. I read an article where she talked about the challenges of playing a blind person, not being able to look Jo In Sung in the eye, having to watch scenes after they were shot to gauge their effectiveness. She was amazingly convincing as a blind person and amazingly convincing as cute couplethe emotionally closed, psychologically complex Oh Young. Kim Bum also did a decent job. His character was rather one-dimensional, although rather sweet and sometimes comical. Jung Eun Ji, on the other hand, is really beginning to come into herself as an actress. Moon Hee Sun was an intriguing, character with a mind of her own. Jung Eun Ji expressed her personality well and fashioned what could have been an antagonistic persona into a strong-willed character with whom we could empathize.

The script did have issues: hopelessly twisted character plots that were not successfully resolved, a weak ending, and characters that ended out of character. While redeeming individual people is standard fodder in melodrama, redeeming nearly everyone is verging on the ridiculous, not to mention the fact that it negates much of which happened previously. I can agree that the main character develops in such a way that redemption is inevitable, but trying to create happy endings all around, while viscerally satisfying to some, is completely disconcerting to me.

Drama clichés: Siblings in love, orphans (again), rain scene. I’m sure I forgot some. Help me out and post them in the comments!

 Cinematography: My rating 8/10

cottoncandykissThere were some really epic scenes. Love the snowy mountaintop with the windchime sound of the icicles in the trees. Love the, now somewhat iconic, ‘cotton-candy-kiss. Love the repetition of the bell that Oh Young cherishes and the tinkling of the bracelet Oh Soo wears. Love the masterful use of close-ups. Loved the wardrobe, by the way, but then this main foursome would probably look good in most anything. Overall, the general impression was impressive. Great shots, dramatic filming. In tribute to Siskel and Ebert, “Two thumbs up!”

Music: My rating 7/10

The soundtrack and ballads were quite memorable.

“And One” Taeyeon (Girls’ Generation) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAi6wIilOWQ

So sweet… “Snowflake” by Gummy – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjfrsvOrhLo

“Tears Falling” Kim Boa http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GULDAXrJX1s

An outstanding ballad: “Gray Paper” Yesung (Super Junior) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1l0o5Pl5tlA

One of the best ballads I’ve heard in a long time: “Winter Love” The One http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEhQKr6VCMU

 Overall Charisma: My rating 6/10

I give this drama high marks in acting, music and cinematography. I was pretty engrossed throughout the entire series, too, right up until the last episode. Unfortunately, last impressions are kind of important to me and if there is one area in which many Korean dramas fail, it is going to be the endings. Now a friend of mine and I will voice the same opinion with different reasons. She likes a happy ending, I need endings that make sense and are in keeping with the tenor of the drama in general. In “That Winter, the Wind Blows”, two things happened that didn’t work. (I’ll try hard to make my point without too many spoilers…) One – they tried too hard for a really dramatic twist at the end that would have been more in keeping with a dark drama, than the touching, sweet melodrama it had been until this point. Two – too many characters were wrested from the personas that had been developing throughout the drama and were taken in a totally different direction, purely for the sake a tidy ending. Ugh. So much potential…

Despite the poor ending the rest of the drama is definitely worth watching. Indulge in your fantasies and create your own ending if you, like me, find yourself dissatisfied after the final episode. Lets share notes later, shall we?

Happy Drama Watching!

tender

“Countdown to Lee Min Ho” Drama Review: “Boys Over Flowers”

The “Countdown to Lee Min Ho” will now commence. Yup. I won 2 of the coveted tickets to see the man himself, live and in person, March 10th in Los Angeles. So to celebrate I will be publishing 2 critiques a week until the glorious event. I will review all of the Lee Min Ho dramas I’ve seen to date: “Boys Over Flowers”, “Personal Taste”, “City Hunter”, “Faith” and “I Am Sam”.

-Boys-Over-Flowers-boys-over-flowers-26731658-1024-768We’ll begin with “Boys Over Flowers” for several reasons. It was, after all, my very first Korean drama and continues to be a ‘gateway’ drama for many a new drama fan. It is also rather iconic in its own right. Iconic in that it contains all of the classic elements (and clichés, of course) of the standard Korean drama, and that it launched several young people into international stardom.

Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 7/10

Geum Jan Di is a spunky poor girl who, by a twist of fate, is given a scholarship to the most exclusive, expensive school in Korea: Shin Hwa. She promptly butts heads with the school’s elite, the “F4”, not only known at Shin Hwa School, but apparently famous throughout Seoul by reputation (and good looks): Goo Joon Pyo, leader of the F4 and heir to the Shin Hwa fortune, Yoon Ji Hoo, grandson to the former President, So Yi Jung, a famous artisan and well-known ‘player’ and Song Woo Bin, son of the Mafia boss and playboy. The story centers on the difficult romance between Geum Jan Di and Goo Joon Pyo, with Yoon Ji Hoo thrown in to make a nice love triangle. (One of the few real triangles seen in dramas!)

Script/Acting: My rating 8/10

familyClassic drama elements and a certain amount of predictability prevail, but somehow they don’t detract much from the overall entertainment value in this delightful, now classic, drama. The overacting seen on the part ofJan Di’s family adds a campy feeling their scenes. Interesting side note: Park Ji Bin who plays Jan Di’s little brother, Kang San, plays the character of the same name inKim & Kim May Queen. (He plays the younger version of the lead.)  Lee Min Ho played Goo Joon Pyo superbly, bringing out the vulnerable side of the arrogant young plutocrat in such a way that viewers could only hope for his success. Koo Hye Sun as Geum Jan Di was, in my opinion, one of the weaker points of the drama. Her character did not always come across as endearing enough to be the F4’s beloved little sister. Kim Bum was charismatic as the potter and ‘player’, So Yi Jung. KimSo Eun meshed well with him as well woo binas with her best friend Jan Di as Cha Ga Eul. Kim Joon as Song Woo Bin was probably the most underused and underrated actor in the drama. His was a well-played character that could have been put to greater use. Joon Pyo’s big sis was fabulously portrayed by Kim HyunJoo.

junpyosisterAnd by the way, is there anything Yoon Ji Hoo cannot do? Horseback riding, cooking, playing violin, guitar, piano, singing, dancing, fighting, fishing, sailing, swimming (lifesaving), and cutting hair like a pro. Let’s not forget that he’s wealthy and has an impeccable family background. OMG. All that and a tender heart jihoojandito boot. A more than perfect man wrapped up in a more than gorgeous package? A normal woman would have given up on the high road long before. Kim Hyun Joong was perfect for the role.

While overall the script is fun and well written, there are definitely parts that could easily have been left out. Take Macau, for example: It seems the writers decided they needed an excuse to spend a bit more time there so JiHoo’s ridiculous friend pops up out of nowhere just as they are about to depart and waylays them for a day. The potty tantrum and the one-sided bromance are incidents that added little or nothing to the overall charisma of the drama. The same goes for the memory-loss episode. Some time-fillers just don’t need to happen.

Cinematography: My rating 9/10

The cinematography is unparalleled in terms of locations. With filming in Seoul, New Caledonia, Waiheke Island (off the coast of New Zealand), Macau and Jeju Island, the settings alone are stunning eye-candy. Much effort was put into making this drama appealing visually and the efforts definitely paid off. Although the video quality in the following clip is not spectacular, it gives you a good idea of some of the great filming locations used:

Music: My rating 8/10

The music is a varied selection of ballads and pop tunes. All are widely available on YouTube, iTunes and your local Asian market.

There are actually 3 separately released track lists with a myriad of songs available. The above are the most widely known and the most used throughout the drama.

Overall Charisma: My rating 9/10

So despite the criticisms, I give this drama high marks in overall charisma. Why? It’s fun. It’s charming. The actors are worth watching. The music is evocative. ? I’ve seen it myself 4 or 5 times now. (Omo – should I really admit that?)

As a woman, both the Joon Pyo and Ji Hoo characters are deeply etched in my psyche. While Joon Pyo is infinitely attractive, what woman doesn’t ache for Ji Hoo and his forlorn love? For that matter, what woman doesn’t yearn for a Ji Hoo in her life? Sorry guys, those boys have set the bar really, really, really unapproachably, unrealistically, fancifully, castle-in-the-sky high! LOL But that’s why it’s fiction, right?

Happy Drama Watching!

Goo JoonPyo