The First Annual 2013 Soju DramaQueen Awards


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


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.




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.



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.



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!



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.



Kang Eui-shik “Monstar”

Park Kyu-sun “Monstar”

Yong Joon-hyun “Monstar”

Park Hyun-shik “Nine: Nine Time Travels”



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.



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.



“Cheongdam-dong Alice”

“Good Doctor”

“Gu Family Book”

“I Hear Your Voice”




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.



“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.




“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 – “When A Man Loves”

When_a_Man_Loves_-_Korean_Drama-p1Gangsta Love (No, it’s sweet, really.)


I fell in love with this drama when Han Tae Sang hit the internet for serious dating help. With no experience of his own, he was seeking advice the best way he knew. With the naiveté of a young teen he takes advice from all sources and self-consciously attempts to put into practice what it takes to woo a woman. For a rough-around-the edges former loan shark enforcer, it’s pure charm.

Yet it’s also dark, sexy, full of tension and angst.


Storyline/Synopsis: My rating 6/10

Honest and uncomplicated in love, Han Tae Sang is a character that brings something new to the table when it comes to Korean dramas. He does not play the usual games or follow the standard formalities because he simply does not know how. It’s a refreshingly delicious combination that excites and confuses the heroine of the story. The charming and adorable way that he attempts to court Seo Mi Do, the young woman he once terrorized, draws the empathy of the viewer as he obsessively bumbles around creating a romance.



Yet the dark past that was forced upon him as a young man remains as a stain that colors the way he handles potential loss – be it business or love. And that same dark past makes it difficult for the woman he pursues to completely trust him, especially when suspicious incidents inspire distrust. Her past is colored with the shame of poverty, the memory of injustice, inexplicable mercy, and unwanted financial support from the man who humiliated her father. And now that same man is pursuing her as a man pursues a woman.

Enter the sweet, young Lee Jae Hee, raised by his brother, educated by Han Tae Sang, and who fatefully runs across Mi Do in Guam and falls in love with her. Her attraction for the young, earnest, fun-loving Jae Hee threatens to complicate a life that is finally settling into something resembling a secure and settled, if not entirely satisfactory, existence.


Script/Acting: My rating 8/10

Looking back, the storyline itself was not the main focus of the drama. The extremely interesting cast of characters and their development throughout the drama provided the focus and charisma. Indeed, there were parts of the script that seemed a little sensationalized and not necessarily true to the characters. In order to pull off this sort of production, extra care had to go into casting and I believe some excellent choices were made.

When_A_Man_Loves-KD-0005Song Seung Hun (“Dr. Jin”, “Autumn in My Heart”, “Summer Scent”) was cast in the difficult role of Han Tae Sang. As a gangster manager he was rough and tough, but still had the integrity to instill complete loyalty in his friends and subordinates, much to the dismay of his mobster boss. His ability to empathize with Seo Mi Do’s strength was the beginning of a journey towards love for the first time in his tragic life. The ability to show such strength and determination in one scene and be so completely, emotionally vulnerable in another was stirring.

shinThe fickleness and coldness of Seo Mi Do’s character made her a difficult one with which to empathize. However, the ‘cold fish’ aspect of her character is one of the defining features that made her uniquely compatible with Han Tae Sang’s stoic personna. Shin Se Kyung (“Fashion King”, “Deep-Rooted Tree”) was intriguingly enigmatic throughout the drama. Unlike so many of today’s heroines whose motives are easy to parse and who emotions are displayed for everyone to see, the character of Mi Do kept her thoughts and feelings a little closer to the vest, partly because she was growing and changing, but also because her character maintained an uncertainty of purpose and will throughout. This sense of indecision was something that did not have to be spoken, but was conveyed through the script and acting. I know that this style of acting is not going to be everyone’s “cup o’ tea”, but an overdramatic portrayal of the Mi Do character by a more expressive actress would have, I feel, ruined the ambiance of the drama.

When-A-Man-Loves Jae HeeYeon Woo Jin (“Arang and the Magistrate”, “Cinderella’s Sister”) was Lee Jae Hee, Lee Chang Hee’s ‘dongsaeng’ (little brother), and Han Tae Sang’s employee. Chang Hee and Tae Sang were best friends, so to accidentally fall in love with his boss’s girlfriend, (the man who also put him through school) was a tragedy indeed. Yeon Woo Jin’s manner of portraying the sweet, honest yet recklessly in love Jae Hee was definitely entertaining and in some places rather spicy. His character grew and changed into something darker as the competition for Mi Do’s affections intensified.

Kim Sung Oh (“Man Of Honor”, “Midas”, “Secret Garden” and countless others!) was Chang Hee, Jae Hee’s brother, Tae Sang’s friend and right-hand man. When I first looked up this drama on I admit to being more than a little disappointed when I saw Kim Sung Oh listed in yet another minor “cameo” role. I was gratified to find that the site was wrong! This is not a cameo role! Sung Oh-씨, I am indignant on your when a man - chang heebehalf! This was a fantastic role and I was thrilled to finally see Kim Sung Oh in a major part. OK, he was still type-cast as a thug, but at least he was a caring, empathetic man with the scruples to care unceasingly for his younger brother, and to always do the right thing when it came to friends. It must have been an interesting challenge to play an ‘enforcer’ who ‘mother-hens’ his baby brother and is caretaker and moral compass for the other guys as well. Additionally, his role was one of the main sources of character inconsistancies in the script. Despite the discrepancies, Kim Sung Oh created a much-loved and credible character.

When_A_Man_Loves-Korean_Drama-0034Baek Sung Joo was the head mobster’s woman who actually loved Han Tae Sang. (This, also, did not endear Han Tae Sang to the head mobster…) Chae Jung Ahn played a character who single-mindedly pursued – nay stalked – Tae Sang throughout the entire drama. As one of the ‘villains’, she went too far in her pursuit of Tae Sang, but in some ways it was difficult not to empathize with her. The character was predictable and one-dimensional, but necessary to the story.

when a man gapAn interesting person orbiting around the main characters was Goo Yong Gap, right-hand-man to the head mobster, and the man who had a long-standing one-sided love for Baek Sung Joo. Also a ‘bad guy’, his personality changed little throughout the drama, although his character brought in many a plot twist. This was the villain that everyone wanted to hate and Lee Chang Hoon did a superior job in provoking that ire.


blackboardCinematography: My rating 6/10

Part of the drama was filmed on location in Guam. The scenes were lovely and photography was fun. Costuming was nice. Using the cinematography to play up the ‘classic movie’ melodrama feel that the musical scoring lent to the ambiance would have been an interesting touch. There were a few recurring themes/props that were especially touching: the blackboard – used to express what cannot be said in words, the bean-sprout soup – used to express comfort and remembering.


Music: My rating 8/10

The violin-laced music had a texture that sometimes gave the drama a feel similar to classic romantic movies from the 40’s. There was definitely a quality to it that was unique with respect to current dramas. Then the mood would shift to a funky 60’s beat. The background melodies were indeed moving. The vocal music was also first-rate:

“Introduction to Love”  Bae Ah Yeon

Fabulously, smoky, jazzy, feel: “First Button” Jung Dong Ha

Soft, sexy: “Same Place” Hwa Yo Bi

“Bye Bye Love” BEAST & BTOB

Another haunting, sexy, ballad: “Secret Note” JeA of Brown Eyed Girls

“Goodbye Is Coming” Sung Hoon of Brown Eyed Soul

“Don’t Go” PIA


WhenOverall Charisma: My rating 7/10

A stronger, more consistent storyline was really all this drama needed to created a truly masterful piece of dramatic work. Since character development was accomplished so nicely, the story is still worth following and the characters are ones in which you will want to invest. I think an appreciation for subtlety is key in recognizing the value of this drama. Because it does not follow the same ‘formulae’ as many Korean dramas, I predict a somewhat less than stellar popularity rating for this drama. I, on the other hand, appreciate the elusiveness and restraint used in the acting and filming of this drama. Perhaps you will, too?


Happy Drama Watching!



Writer: Kim In Young

Director: Kim Sang Ho & Choi Byung Gil