For The Love Of K-Dramas: A Couch Kimchi Roundtable
In our past roundtables, we’ve talked about several aspects of K-dramas, and now, we’d like to start the year waxing nostalgic and discussing what attracts us to K-dramas and why we’re sticking for the ride.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
How did you get into K-dramas?
What attracted you to K-dramas?
The first drama you marathoned?
Why Korean dramas?
Why K-dramas over everything else?
Mini-series vs. Weekend dramas vs. Daily dramas
K-drama squee moments of your life
WTF K-drama moment of your life
Embracing the ridiculous: Best WTF moment
Favorite K-drama of all time
Favorite of 2014
What would you change?
HOW DID YOU GET INTO K-DRAMAS?
Clockwatcher: I stumbled upon Korean dramas about a decade ago when I got sick of falling asleep to the late-night talk shows. In fact, I remember just changing the channel and having it in the background during my late-night phone calls. Then, I somehow started paying attention to my television screen and got sucked in. That was “One Million Roses,” a daily drama that aired on KBS.
Leila: I watched “Lovers in Paris” first. The setting really attracted me since Paris is one of my dream destinations. As the story progressed, I fell for it. However, it was really “Boys Over Flowers” that got me on board writing and posting comments on a local thread, and then, there was the powerful charisma of Lee Min Ho. Heh. Kidding aside, it’s the ambiance in my K-dramas and the actors that really made me an addict.
Goodange: It was my cousin who introduced me to K-dramas. While vacationing with us, she would watch “My Lovely Samsoon” on our computer, and when she talked it up with me, I only mildly entertained her. However, a couple of weeks after she left, I gave it a shot. I don’t know what lit a fire under me because as I recall, I wasn’t even that curious, but since then, I haven’t stopped trying to convert others to becoming K-drama addicts.
Tessieroo: Mine began with Rain. My experience is similar to Clock’s: I was bored with American television programs. While searching for information on another Asian artist, I came across Rain, Song Hye Kyo, and “Full House.” I pulled a 20-plus hour marathon to watch all 16 episodes. From there, it took over my life—from downloading some of his music to downloading almost the entire “Full House” OST and ordering a Rain poster for my room. (Stop laughing.) Before I knew it, I was seriously addicted. Clockwatcher: Haha. So basically, it was all about Rain.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO K-DRAMAS?
Clockwatcher: It’s been a while but I suppose the romance? While I enjoyed “One Million Roses,” the drama that turned me into a fanatic, who taped the show during the week to binge-watch first thing on Saturday morning, was another daily called “Yellow Handkerchief.” The main story was about a pregnant woman whose longtime boyfriend dumped her for a rich woman. Now, that one had tons of drama. Other than her sweet relationship with a chaebol, which had the expected (grand)parental disapproval, there was child custody drama and a teenage romance story that appealed to me.
Leila: Romance is key. You know us girls, we swoon over a guy who would do everything for a woman, and of course, the gorgeous stars can really sell the love story. The chemistry has to be there, too. Back then, even when a story was awful, I sometimes stuck with a drama because of the chemistry between the characters/actors. However, after “Coffee House,” my standards as a K-drama follower changed. I’m more attracted to the foundation of a show; it has to be well-written. Even if the show stars Lee Min Ho but it bores me, then, I’ll easily drop it.
Goodange: K-dramas were just different from what I was used to watching, which comprised mainly of American programs. I guess, it was a lot of the K-drama staples that hooked me. Since I was a newbie, I wasn’t familiar with the staples; they were fresh to me then. Rather than a triangle, I liked the idea of a love square, and of course, I got a kick out of the piggyback rides. To this day, I appreciate that there aren’t many seasons to complete an entire show. I like having the story be resolved in 16 or 20 episodes.
Tessieroo: Rain’s hair! It’s always about longer hair on men. LMAO. Beyond that, the innocent romance, which I found very sweet, and the humor. I laughed through every fight the OTP had in “Full House.”
THE FIRST DRAMA YOU MARATHONED
Clockwatcher: That would be “My Lovely Samsoon.” I had a few hours to kill, so, I remember planning to watch a few episodes before breaking to do something else. Instead, I changed my plans and pulled an all-nighter to complete it. I finally slept at like 9 or 10 am the following morning.
Leila: It was “My Girl” for me. Lee Dong Wook and Lee Da Hae‘s chemistry was just beyond cute. I laughed watching Yoo Rin having fun lying and making fun of Gong Chan, with whom she eventually fell in love. It was my first Hong Sisters drama, and it was great watching it on repeat.
Goodange: Again, I’d have to say “My Lovely Samsoon.” After the second episode, I couldn’t stop, spending two days watching all 16 episodes, and the following week, I had another marathon round while I waited for my order of the DVD box set to arrive in the mail. When I received the DVD, I marathoned the show with my mom for the third time, and soon after, with my sister for a fourth go. “My Lovely Samsoon” is my first recommendation to anyone who wants to be inducted into K-dramaland.
Tessieroo: For me, it would be “Full House” again. This obsession threatened my senior year because I pulled nightly marathons whenever I found a K-drama I wanted to watch and that resulted in droopy eyes during class. I eventually figured out to plan ahead and watch on the weekend.
WHY KOREAN DRAMAS?
Clockwatcher: I got into Korean dramas at the same time I got into Bollywood movies, so, I suppose I enjoyed the strong, innocent romances. Oddly enough, I disliked romance stories as a child, so, I don’t know what happened to me. LOL. I think they are very emotionally engaging with a large emphasis on family, which makes me sound like a sap, but I love that K-dramas are full of heart. Plus, their one-season format means that they won’t get dragged on forever and the audience gets their payoff sooner.
Leila: I have to agree with you, Clock. K-dramas have creatively romantic moments, exceeding my own fantasies. I also agree that the family ties in many dramas are heartfelt and relatable to anyone. K-drama writers know their audience; they know how to make a kind of life that we’d love to see happen. Production also makes use of amazing visuals that break the language barrier somehow.
Tessieroo: Completely agree, it was the high school innocence of the romances plus the strong family connections. I found myself fascinated at the thought of an entire family living together, even after the children get married, as is the case with the oldest son in Korean families. I could never imagine myself living with the parents of any guy I was dating. The strongest impression is the level of respect towards elders.
Goodange: I’m Asian-American, so, I can relate to a lot of the family dynamics in K-dramas. There aren’t a lot of American shows that feature or delve into family interactions in an Asian household. Margaret Cho had a shot at diversifying American primetime programming with “All-American Girl,” but it was a ratings bust and was criticized for playing into stereotypes of Asians. I think even now, when Asian families are explored for a moment on American shows, quite often, they’re stereotypical, like having the cold, controlling, strict Asian parents demanding perfection from their academically obsessed kid. Sadly, we haven’t really seen an Asian family like the Chois in “Pinocchio” on American primetime.
Other than the emphasis on family, I also like what I have learned from Korean dramas, such as the culture and some history. However, for the most part, I’m into K-dramas for the romance, the stories, and the actors. Also, I’ve been a viewer since 2006, so, it’s too late for me to become unaddicted now. LOL.
WHY K-DRAMAS OVER EVERYTHING ELSE?
Clockwatcher: I admit that when K-drama was like a shiny new toy to me, I stopped watching my American shows, but as we know, most binges lead to tummy aches. I’ve pulled back a little and enjoy my shows in several languages. To be honest, there isn’t a lot of variety when it comes to Korean dramas, so, I get my fix of crime elsewhere. It honestly depends on the genre.
Leila: Ever since I became hooked on K-dramas, I never went back to watching any American shows. However, as I said, what matters to me is the story; it has to grip me. Sometimes, the simplicity of a K-drama stands out as opposed to a 7-season show with a plot that can beat around the bush.
Tessieroo: I’ve stopped watching the majority of American television, too, with the exception of a very few, but I agree with you both: It depends on the story. Sometimes, I wonder why I stop watching a certain K-drama when others are still going insane over it or why I’m still watching something everyone else dropped! LOL. I’m becoming more picky after 10 years of watching, but I can say, with certainty, that the story determines whether I’m in or out.
Goodange: I like variety, too. So, I haven’t abandoned American programming all together, but I mix up my viewing experience with some British shows and of course, K-dramas. I do barely tune in to the four major American networks because it’s overcrowded with reality shows and singing competitions, neither of which I’m a huge fan. So, a lot of my favorite programs are on American cable. However, I’m like the rest of you: Depending on the genre, I won’t always pick up a K-drama, even if it is popular.
What I do love about K-dramas over their counterparts [from other countries] is that the romantic moments have become more imaginative over the years. In “Pinocchio,” it would have been enough that the first kiss between In Ha (Park Shin Hye) and Dal Po (Lee Jong Seok) just happened, but the way it happened was disarmingly special. When she blocked her lips with her hand, it didn’t put him off nor did he force himself on her. Instead, he gently pressed his lips on her hand as though asking her permission for a real kiss. In “Marriage, Not Dating,” Jang Mi (Han Groo) and Ki Tae (Yeon Woo Jin) had a cleaning session that may have been over the top, but it was also fun and cute.
MINI-SERIES vs. WEEKEND DRAMAS vs. DAILY DRAMAS
Clockwatcher: Although I got introduced to the K-drama world via daily dramas, I can only watch mini-series. I don’t have patience for endless episodes even when the show is good because I get depressed when I realize I still have 45 or more episodes to go. Heck, even 24 episodes are like 12 episodes too many, so, I stick to my mini-series.
I have to say that I find it a little disheartening that 20-episode dramas are becoming the norm these days instead of the previous standard 16.
Leila: The longest Korean drama I ever watched was “Shining Inheritance,” which had 28 episodes! I find it daunting to engage my time in a drama that’s set to be longer than 16 episodes. However, I have been sticking through 20-episode shows that have compelling stories, like “Angel Eyes.”
Tessieroo: I actually made it through “A Thousand Kisses” (or the “drama-that-shall-not-be-named”). It was 50 episodes long, and it did become annoyingly stupid at the mid-way point. I think the majority of us who were watching kept thinking it would eventually get back on track, but it never really did. I’ve tried a few weekend dramas but figured out the plots and the lack of revenge/consequences for the bad guys are identical, so, I’ve mostly given up on those and daily dramas.
Goodange: “Misaeng” stands out as a weekend drama, and while I was anxious for the final episode to air, I would have watched additional episodes if production decided to make more.
I have tried a sitcom once. It was “Standby” with Jung So Min and Lee Ki Woo. It started out funny, but the writers shuffled around the love lines and the leads, and it was downhill from there. Ryu Jin‘s character, who was supposed to be the show’s main guy, remained a bungling moron throughout the show; he hardly grew up.
I can’t follow another daily again. I’m strictly a 16- to 20-episode drama viewer, though the longest drama I’ve watched was 24 episodes long, and that was “Goong.” Whenever I marathon it, I skip a number of episodes, the ones that are unnecessarily makjang.
Clockwatcher: I have to say that I would probably watch more daily dramas if I was still watching them on television. For whatever reason, watching them online somehow makes it more difficult for me to keep up with them.
K-DRAMA SQUEE MOMENTS OF YOUR LIFE
Clockwatcher: This is a tough one because there are so many moments to choose from, so, I’ll just mention the first one that got me choked up and grabbing a tissue. It’s somewhat embarrassing when I look back because it was so cliché and not particularly great, but it was a scene in “My Love Patzzi” when Kang Seung Joon (Kim Jae Won) got on stage and saved Yang Song Yi (Jang Nara), who had been set up to be humiliated by the evil second lead. There was something about him stepping in at her worst moment that made my heart flutter. And to think that I was rooting for Kim Rae Won. LOL.
Tessieroo: The ending of “Queen InHyun’s Man“! I screamed, squealed, and danced around my room. I laughed, I cried … it was epic. That’s the only “moment” in a K-drama that had me doing all of it.
Leila: It’s hard to choose a single favorite, but if I have to, then it would be one from “Answer Me 1994.” He had almost given up on her being at his final baseball game, but when Na Jung (Go Ara) arrived, Chil Bong (Yoo Yeon Seok) felt and looked like a winner.
Goodange: Do we have time? LOL. I don’t have a squee moment of my life. I have many! So, I’ll pick one from a recent show, “The Three Musketeers“: Crown Prince Sohyeon (Lee Jin Wook) kissing Crown Princess Yoon Seo (Seo Hyun Jin) in the penultimate episode. While this was their second kiss in the series, it was better than the first because the prince initiated it, finally confirming that he liked her. He had held out for so long that he deserved a parade for owning up to his feelings for her.
WTF K-DRAMA MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE
Clockwatcher: This is another tough one because with time, you get desensitized to them. This is another oldie, but the entire storyline of Ji Eun‘s (Song Hye Kyo) friends who sold her home just because of their unplanned pregnancy was one huge WTF.
Goodange: Every time I see a dead fish kiss is a WTF moment for me. LOL. I am with Clock though. That part in “Full House” was the first WTF moment for me and probably why I couldn’t get past the first episode. (Sorry, Tess.) For the first 30 minutes of the pilot, I was too wrapped up with questions: ‘Can they just do that? What kind of friends are those? What the eff?’ I don’t know how she could have continued being friends with them.
Tessieroo: For me, it was “Temptation,” when the female lead decided to test another couple’s marriage, firmly believing she had the right to do so because she was rich, powerful, and in love for the first time in her life. Morals, honesty, and respect be damned. Seriously? MAJOR WTF moment.
Leila: Honestly, WTF moments are forgettable to me. LOL. They’re so bad, they don’t last on my mind.
EMBRACING THE RIDICULOUS: BEST WTF MOMENT
Clockwatcher: How Sa Geum Ran‘s (Ha Jae Suk) transformation to Sara (Han Ye Seul) took only 45 days in “Birth of a Beauty.” We’re talking several plastic surgeries as well as significant weight loss, and in 45 days, she had healed and was scar-free. Perhaps I should put this in the previous category? LOL.
Tessieroo: Ji Hyun Woo‘s Boong Do teleporting to the future via a phone in “Queen In Hyun’s Man.” Just from a phone call, he was able to time-travel to the female lead’s location, but it was the best and made everyone happy.
Goodange: As mentioned before, we’ve desensitized ourselves to K-drama logic over the years, and there’s a lot that I’ve accepted that they might not be ridiculous to me anymore? LOL. Recently, I have been wondering why Jung Hoo (Ji Chang Wook) in “Healer” hasn’t used a ski mask for some of his combats and missions to keep his identity more foolproof. On the one hand, it’s nail-biting and thrilling that he’ll be recognized; it adds to the suspense.
Clockwatcher: I suppose I’m a typical international fan who likes the trendy dramas. I enjoy the romantic comedies because they aren’t something you easily find on American television … Or should I say on American television, they usually get cancelled by the fourth episode.
Goodange: Yes, many good American shows that have received wide critical praise have been cancelled because of their ratings. At least, in K-dramaland, a show being cut down doesn’t happen often. Even if a show tanks in the ratings, production still pushes through to the finale, and faithful followers of the drama have closure.
Leila: Rom-com is definitely my favorite genre. It’s the right combination for a hopeless romantic like me.
Tessieroo: It’s a rom-com for me, too, but I sometimes enjoy family dramas.
Goodange: Slice-of-life dramas with a touch of comedy and romance are my favorites. Many of them faithfully render the ups and downs of the real world, and so, I’m able to connect with the characters more, which I like.
FAVORITE K-DRAMA OF ALL TIME
Clockwatcher: This is a hard one. I already mentioned “My Lovely Samsoon,” so, perhaps it’s my favorite? Do I love it so much because it was the first miniseries that I truly fell in love with? Nothing has surpassed my love for it, so, I suppose it’s that one. My favorite in recent times is “Answer Me 1994,” which I find myself loving more as time passes.
Leila: The “Answer Me” series come to mind first. I love the “throwback” concept, the slice-of-life style, and how the shows reminded me so much of my youth, my family, and my friends. The series made me feel like I was a part of it.
Tessieroo: “Queen In Hyun’s Man” will forever be my favorite. I loved Boong Do more than any leading male character I watched before or since. He was warm, kind, funny, and extremely intelligent—the perfect man. I don’t like male (or female) leads who are jerks but then “change.” I can’t connect with the idea that a woman can change a man or vice-versa. It works great in dramas, but not so much in real life. LOL.
Clockwatcher: The perfect drama character for me is Yoon Hyung Chul (Jang Dong Gun) in “All About Eve.” He’s that dream man with qualities like Boong Do, so, I definitely understand how you feel. We certainly need more of these characters who are sweet and warm-hearted even before they meet their true love.
Goodange: As I said in the previous roundtable, “My Lovely Samsoon” and “Misaeng” are a tie. There was no romance in “Misaeng,” but I really admired the devotion between Manager Oh (Lee Sung Min), his team, and the newbies.
FAVORITE OF 2014
Clockwatcher: To me, 2014 hasn’t been a stellar year. I’ve probably dropped more dramas than I completed this year. I’m really enjoying “Pinocchio” and “Healer,” but they are yet to complete, so, I suppose “Misaeng” is my 2014 pick? I personally thought it lost a bit of steam towards the end, but it gave me a lot of feels at the beginning.
Leila: “Angel Eyes.” I’ve repeated this series countless times, and I’m never bored. If Lee Sang Yoon hadn’t play Dong Joo with all his heart, then I would have bailed out on this melodrama. I am also putting “Misaeng” as the top fave of 2014; it deserves that honor.
Tessieroo: I really loved “You Who Came From The Stars,” but is that considered a 2013 show? For 2014, “Misaeng” is definitely a favorite. I’ve never been so obsessed with other people’s jobs in my entire life. I would also give honorable mention to “Marriage, Not Dating.”
Goodange: Tess, could I just re-type every word you said? LOL. I loved every drama you mentioned, but hands down, “Misaeng” was the best of 2014.
Clockwatcher: I go through phases. I fell for Kim Rae Won after watching “Attic Cat,” and he was a favorite for a moment. I love Won Bin for his beautiful face. There’s something about Kang Ha Neul that makes me smile whenever I see him. LOL. I guess the list is long. How about a favorite actor that I know will always deliver? There was a time actor discoveries got me binge-watching their work, and every single time, I came across at least one drama that sucked. So, these days, it’s less about the actor and more about the plot.
Tessieroo: Currently it’s Park Seo Joon. I find him amazing in everything I’ve seen him in, and I’ve been looking forward to his performance in “Kill Me, Heal Me.” However, my favorite actor of all time would be Ji Hyun Woo, but I wasn’t impressed at all with his first post-military project. I also usually love Jo In Sung‘s performances, but he takes long breaks. Wehhh??? LOL.
Leila: Right now, my favorite is Lee Sang Yoon. He was lovable in “Angel Eyes” and amazing in “Liar Game.” I also have to include Yoo Yeon Seok, Yoon Kye Sang, and Lee Seon Kyun in the list, too. They can do any show, and I’ll likely watch them.
Goodange: I’d partly attribute my unhealthy obsession with “Misaeng” to Lee Sung Min. He might not get CF deals for not having idol looks, but he’s an all-around actor, so, I’d like to see him offered more stellar roles.
Clockwatcher: I will always love Kim Sun Ah. Other than her, I really like Lee Bo Young, and I enjoy most of Gong Hyo Jin‘s work. I think she picks good projects.
Tessieroo: Han Groo! She has remained fairly consistent (so far) in all of her projects. I was also blown away by Hwang Jung Eum in “Can You Hear My Heart” and “Secret,” but she can be iffy in acting.
Goodange: I have to agree with you about Han Groo, but while she’s among my favorites, she’s not my number one, which is a three-way of Kim Sun Ah, Jeon Ji Hyun, and Bae Doo Na. Because they were the first Korean actresses I was introduced to, my admiration for them is partly out of loyalty; however, they’re also reliably good actresses. Kim Sun Ah has made some missteps with her drama picks, but usually, when she’s in tears, her character connects with me. On the flip side, she does comedy really well without trying hard. Meanwhile, “You Who Came From The Stars” absolutely highlighted Jeon Ji Hyun’s versatility. She’s an ace at being bitchy, heartwarmingly sad, vapid, embarrassingly drunk, aegyo, etc. As for Bae Doo Na, she’s a natural and daring. She challenges herself by working with directors in other countries. I especially respect her gumption to audition for “Cloud Atlas” after the Wachoswkis sent her the script; she was in between managers at the time.
Leila: Gong Hyo Jin is my favorite, too. I’ve watched her since “Pasta,” and I’m never disappointed in her roles. I’ve always related with every character she’s assumed. I also think she’s the kind of girl we ought to be. She’s always fun, hard working, and confident about her individuality. She’s a simple beauty, and I love how raw and seemingly eccentric she is.
WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?
Clockwatcher: If I were a network executive, I would try to encourage variety. I love romance, but that’s not the only thing I want to watch. I think one thing Japanese dramas have over Korean dramas is exactly that. I know that we’re getting more genres these days, especially on cable, so, I hope that the success of “Misaeng,” “Bad Guys,” “Gap Dong,” et al., will embolden broadcast companies to diversify their offerings. In addition, I think they should also look to American and Japanese dramas for ideas when writing suspense, crime, mysteries, law, etc. Nobody wants to spend 16 episodes on the same case. I find myself losing interest because after [like] episode 4, the entire drama revolves around one mystery with several obvious twists and turns. An offshoot of this would be more variety in roles for both men and women.
Leila: I’d change nothing. Haha. I had dropped most dramas shown in 2014. I can only count a few that I’ve finished, and even less that I truly enjoyed. As a blogger/writer, I’ve become more choosy. If the story doesn’t make me anticipate for the following week, then I’m out. K-dramas, surprise me more! I love watching and anticipating for the unexpected. I also hope that more actors will be like So Ji Sub. LOL.
Tessieroo: I hope they eventually try new things, too. The same basic story of a candy who meets the rich chaebol with an evil mother-in-law just doesn’t cut it for me anymore. I’m also really tired of the clichés. Although some are part of the K-drama charm, I find myself rolling my eyes at the piggyback rides nowadays, and I hope I never see another wide-eyed, frozen kiss in my entire life. “Misaeng” was a revelation for me. There was essentially no romance, no kissing, etc., but I loved it and couldn’t wait for each new episode. I hope the networks discover similar scripts or great stories and find new ways to keep us interested and entertained.
Goodange: I second nixing dead fish kisses! LOL.
Anyway, I loved that “Answer Me 1997” featured a subplot of a gay man falling for his best friend, but I’d like to see more K-dramas exploring same sex relationships. So, yeah, in the same vein as your sentiments, I’d like more variety. I’d certainly like dramas to spur a discussion of [controversial] social issues rather than promote censorship. I’m hopeful these changes will come.
The K-drama landscape has clearly evolved, and we can look forward to more as the audience’s taste expands and becomes more sophisticated. Still, we can depend on our favorite classic shows to comfort us with the staples, reliving the start of our K-drama addiction.
We hope you enjoyed this roundtable, and please share your memories of your first K-drama!