K-Dramas vs. J-Dramas vs. TW-Dramas: A Couch Kimchi Roundtable
As if there isn’t enough on our K-drama plate, the girls of Couch Kimchi still manage to squeeze in some time for J-dramas and TW-dramas! In this roundtable, we’ll be discussing the differences between the three and our appreciation for the unique elements of each one.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
How long have you been watching dramas?
What attracts you to Japanese dramas?
What attracts you to Taiwanese dramas?
K-drama vs. J-drama vs. TW-drama: Which floats your boat?
Let’s talk remakes!
How about other Asian dramas?
Which elements from all three would you combine to make your perfect drama?
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WATCHING DRAMAS?
Tessieroo: I started watching Korean dramas at the beginning of 2005, but I didn’t begin a Taiwanese drama until I read buzz about Ariel Lin. I decided to watch “It Started With A Kiss,” which I didn’t like. LOL. I loved some of her later work, especially “In Time With You.” From there, I would search actors’ names and watch other dramas or movies they starred in; it’s something I still do. Also, if a drama tackles a particularly tough subject, like the TW-drama “Mars“ which dealt with rape.
And then Japanese actor Haruma Miura took over when I saw him in “Kiozora” (“Sky Of Love“). Even with that horrible pink/white hair, it was clear this kid could act. His performance in “Hours Of My Life” was amazing. I still try to follow everything he does. So, I guess I’ve been watching Japanese dramas for around seven years.
Clockwatcher: My memory is fuzzy, but I’ll say I’ve been watching Korean dramas for a little over a decade and a little less than a decade for both Taiwanese and Japanese dramas. I started watching J-dramas because I became bored with the lack of variety in K-dramas. I can’t remember my first, but I think my first attempt at “Hana Yori Dango” put me off them. LOL. However, I gave it another shot after I’d gotten use to the J-drama style and enjoyed it after skipping to the fourth episode. I also can’t remember my first Taiwanese drama, but unlike Tess, “It Started With A Kiss” was the first one with which I fell in love. It’s still one of my favorites.
Rinchan: I’ve been a K-drama and J-drama viewer for four years. Although it has been a short time, I have binged through quite a lot since I discovered Asian dramas; however, I have only been watching TW-dramas for a little over two years.
WHAT ATTRACTS YOU TO JAPANESE DRAMAS?
Tessieroo: Most J-dramas I’ve seen deal with real life issues and have a less romantic, fairytale vibe than Korean and Taiwanese dramas. My first introduction to Japanese entertainment was “1 Litre Of Tears,” and I sobbed for days. J-dramas seem to veer away from the typical boy-meets-girl fluff every now and then and offer up some really tragic, heart-wrenching stories. There’s also the occasional oddball like “Liar Game,” which was just quirky fun, or the steamy “Love Affairs In The Afternoon,” which provided a very different perspective on women having affairs.
Clockwatcher: Once again, I differ with Tessieroo because it’s the romance that really got me into J-dramas. The romance is more realistic, and that’s what made me love J-dramas more. Shows like “Long Vacation,” “Orange Days,” and “Virgin Road” really got me addicted. Then I branched out and started enjoying the procedurals and live action manga adaptations. Other than the realism of J-dramas, which had less chaebol and candy pairings, and the unique or more daring stories, like “god hands” or people born intersex, I love that they are a lot shorter and get to the point quicker. Plus, there is a wider variety of genres than with Korean dramas.
Tessieroo: At least where length is concerned, we can agree on that. I really love that most J-dramas are only ten or eleven episodes.
Rinchan: J-dramas get me in the feels. Before dramas, I used to watch anime and read manga, so for me, it was worth checking out the live action versions. I agree that J-dramas have a lot of diversity—that is, if you avoid the school life dramas. LOL. Those are the areas where you will find the candy character and either a perfect loser or a delinquent male lead. At times, I feel miffed over the short number of episodes, because I have become spoiled, thanks to K-dramas. However, the trade-off is a really well-written, meaningful story around a simple concept. An example would be “Attention Please,” a drama about a tomboy who trains to be a flight attendant. Although it doesn’t sound like much, “Attention Please” chronicles the ups and downs of her training and the growth she gets out of it. Also, the show portrays being a flight attendant as a noble art that you can be passionate about; it’s fantastic. I think there is no drama that portrays working hard better than J-dramas.
Tessieroo: That’s true. I remember being surprised to discover that when they leave work each day, Japanese employees bow to say, “Thank you for all your hard work.” I can imagine the looks on the faces of my co-workers if I did this! However, it shows the level of respect and importance they place on each other at work.
Clockwatcher: I agree with you ladies. These characters are often people you can imagine meeting in real life. I do like that a lot of J-dramas are hopeful and not just in romance, but in life. I don’t like preachy stories, but I do love narratives about underdogs who strive towards a goal and achieve it.
Rinchan: Yeah, I think it is great how relatable the characters can be. In truth, some characters seem more real than the people on reality shows. LOL.
WHAT ATTRACTS YOU TO TAIWANESE DRAMAS?
Clockwatcher: I find Taiwanese dramas to be much like Korean dramas. I think that unlike with J-dramas, my love for K-dramas drove me to TW-dramas because I just wanted more.
Tessieroo: Agree! I wanted more! LOL. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen anything I’ve enjoyed as much as I did “In Time With You.” This year in particular, TW-dramas seem to be offering up some pretty lame stories that have zippo appeal. I wonder if they’ve lost some great writers or have run out of ideas? I don’t think this has been a great year for TW-dramas.
Rinchan: I feel like I have a love-hate relationship with TW-dramas. There always seems to be a good start, but after some point, things play out repetitively. I find myself watching the same thing episode after episode; there’s no development at all. Sadly, the redundancies aren’t even the shallow fan service that can be enjoyable, but they involve the most frustrating and saddening plotlines. On the other hand, I feel like there are two extremes to the expressions of love. In one drama, the leads can have the steamiest love scene, but in later episodes, they share a chaste kiss like in “Love Now.” At the end of the day, I still like TW-dramas ,but the repetitive plotlines become an endurance test for viewers.
K-DRAMA VS. J-DRAMA VS. TW-DRAMA: WHICH FLOATS YOUR BOAT?
Clockwatcher: It depends on the day. Right now, I’ll say I’m into K-dramas the most. A few years ago, I would have said J-dramas. While Japan beats Korea in terms of variety and length, the latter beats the former with heart. While I loved 90s and early 00s Japanese romance dramas, I think that somewhere around 2005 or so, they started to get really shallow. There are some good ones these days, but in general, they don’t delve as deeply into the romance like Korea does. For a nice cop show or psychological thriller though, I travel to Japan, but the Korean cable shows are now giving them a run for their money. As for TW-dramas, I fall hard when I find a gem, but I find too many of them draggy.
Tessieroo: I’m going back and forth right now between K-dramas and J-dramas. One of the best dramas I’ve seen this year was the J-drama “Dear Sister,” which I adored, and I’m waiting for something from K-dramaland to top it. It’s strange that “Dear Sister” had very little romance. The story was about the love between sisters, but it moved my heart in a way no K-drama has done so far this year (with the exception of “Kill Me, Heal Me“).
I think we can agree that it hasn’t been a great year for TW-dramas, and they tend to be draggy. I almost always end up being disappointed with the ending.
Rinchan: I feel a little bit conflicted, but I’m leaning towards K-dramas. When it comes to romance, K-dramas have it all figured out. I find the romance in TW-dramas start just as strong, but eventually, the overemphasis on conflict and less attention to the development on the relationship of the OTP make me weary. I would find myself there for the love of the couple but hating the trajectory of the plot. J-dramas often paint beautiful love stories, but the deep feelings of love are broadcasted in a different way. I feel K-drama writers try to court viewers with the overflow of swoon-filled OTP scenes. In J-dramas, both characters grow together, solve a problem together, or simply learn from supporting the other. When it comes to other genres, Japan comes up with the most interesting non-romantic content and yet the narrative is cleverly written. “Hanzawa Naoki“ was a very interesting, non-romantic drama that had me waiting for a season two. The story got better each episode and built up to an amazing finale. “I am Mita, Your Housekeeper” was also a well-made drama that needed no love line. The development of the characters and the life lessons they learned were enough to make the show riveting.
Tessieroo: That’s exactly the way I feel about “Dear Sister”! It didn’t need a strong romance to bolster its story.
Clockwatcher: Having said that, I still loved the younger sister’s romance.
LET’S TALK REMAKES!
Clockwatcher: “Hana Yori Dango” has got to be the most successful remake as it worked for both the Taiwanese and Korean markets. I’ll also say Korea’s “Boys Over Flowers” became some kind of phenomenon that I think is more popular than its previous renditions. Why do you think that is?
Rinchan: It has the classic Korean and Taiwanese drama makeup: Rich male lead with poor but hardworking female character.
Tessieroo: Agree, plus the K-drama version made things really pretty; it was jazzed up a bit. LOL.
Clockwatcher: So, it’s largely related to the whole chaebol thing already being common in Korean dramas?
Tessieroo: I think it was that, and they were young. High school heirs weren’t something I had seen before. Seeing them as small children was fun, but it was all that teenage angst with which a younger audience connected.
Clockwatcher: I think that in general, the Japanese humor doesn’t translate well, which is why I think Japanese-to-Korean remakes often fail. It also doesn’t help that they are much shorter, and so, they have to be padded to fit the Korean market. You end up with flops like “Playful Kiss” and “Tomorrow Cantabile.” However, since TW-dramas are somewhat closer in style and execution, the Korean remakes are better received even if they don’t become ratings blockbusters, like “Fated To Love You” and “A Witch’s Romance.”
Rinchan: I thought that it was odd that they tried to even incorporate Japanese humor in a Korean drama, but the comedy of the initial episodes of “Tomorrow Cantabile” were funny enough, and then, everything was toned down in the later episodes. Although I agree the Japanese humor didn’t translate well in “Tomorrow Cantabile,” I feel it was not the only thing that went wrong. The perception of both female leads, Shim Eun Kyung and Ueno Juri, were different. Shim Eun Kyung was dwarfed by Joo Won, but some had seen her character as childish and strange. I thought her acting was great, and she did the best she could with the script that was dealt her, but the feel between her portrayal and Ueno Juri’s was different. Ueno was older and had a more mature appearance; therefore, even though the character Nodame was childish, Ueno’s natural qualities added to the comedy and also matcheed the atmosphere of the drama. No one was normal in “Nodame Cantabile,” but in “Tomorrow Cantabile,” Naeil’s eccentricity outdid those of the other characters. The quirkiness of the rest of the troop was not fully expressed while Naeil’s weirdness was out of place as it was more of a Japanese fixture. I expect weird characters in Japanese dramas but not in Korean dramas; so, it is possible that this expectation probably shapes how some remade characters are readily accepted.
“Tomorrow Cantabile” seemed like a Japanese drama with a Korean cast but with too many episodes to accommodate a straightforward story. To the Korean version’s credit, it did eventually go a different route with the addition of Yoon Ho (Park Bo Gum), but I think one of the drama’s biggest obstacles was always going to be the fact that the Japanese live action is so well-loved, and you can’t satisfy a purist. Any remake would have failed in comparison to the original.
Clockwatcher: In other words, the whole point of doing a remake isn’t making a Korean-Japanese drama but a Korean version of a Japanese drama. Keep the story, but execute it in your country’s style.
Rinchan: I think remakes involve a delicate process because it isn’t simply copying and pasting the plot and making minor edits. I enjoyed the Korean “Liar Game” and thought it was a first-rate remake. The Korean characters were different interpretations of their Japanese counterparts. The Japanese female lead was self-described as stupidly honest, but the Korean female lead was just too nice for her own good and so, naively trusting. Although both were easily fooled, their characters didn’t really resemble each other, and the same goes for the male leads. In the Japanese version, he was a con man while in the Korean remake, he was a psychology professor who went to jail for murder. Although both were geniuses, the Japanese lead was cocky, but the Korean hero seemed cold and calculating yet capable of sympathy. I also appreciate how the Korean writer changed the premise of the story. While the Japanese version was about a tournament where participants went into debt if they lost money, Korea’s “Liar Game” revolved around a TV game show that turned out to be more than just harmless. Even adding things like Da Jung‘s (Kim So Eun) interesting friendship with her loan shark was a break away from the original.
Tessieroo: I agree. I love the Korean interpretation of “Liar Game” and feel it is one of the best remakes I’ve seen. The characters were tweaked to suit a different audience, and it worked well. For me, the Japanese version had too much slapstick humor, which I didn’t get.
Rinchan: Another thing I like to see in remakes is when they improve on the original. I loved the Hong Sister‘s “You’re Beautiful,” but I liked the addition of certain aspects in Taiwan’s version, “Fabulous Boys,” such as the brother actually being a character rather than a side note presence. I also liked the ending, which was still happy but distinct from the original. This is what remakes should be about—taking a similar concept and adding some touches that appeal to a different audience. Put something extra that makes it stand out as that country’s version.
Clockwatcher: Perfectly said, Rinchan! It’s hard for me to watch remakes because the mystery is gone, but I found myself enjoying the latter half of the Korean “Fated To Love You” because of its different takes on the characters and the story’s development. As many have noted, it was like watching a different drama from the Taiwanese original.
Clockwatcher: I keep saying “My Lovely Samsoon” for K-dramas, but I feel like I should update it or something. I promise to pick a different one next time. LOL. From Japan, I’ll say “Long Vacation.” It would have been “Orange Days” if the last three episodes weren’t annoying. From Taiwan, it’s “In Time With You.” Prior to seeing it, it was “My Queen,” and I wondered if I was just obsessed with noona romances, which the other two were, so, I’m glad I can add a friends-to-lovers drama to my list!
Tessieroo: My favorite K-drama is “Queen In Hyun’s Man.” My favorite J-drama is now “Dear Sister,” and my favorite TW-drama is “In Time With You.” My recommendations for K-dramas usually involve an amazing love story with an OTP that have off-the-charts chemistry (like the leads of “Healer“), but the J-dramas I recommend are very different. Some have romance, but the majority are about family, which is strange. Hmmm, does that mean K-dramas do the romance right, but J-dramas do the family relationships better?
Rinchan: J-dramas know how to complicate the situation in intriguing ways. At times, the family issues in K-dramas can be watered down to fighting between ahjummas whereas the detail given to relationships is not overshadowed by classic drama tropes or ridiculous antics like throwing water in people’s faces, forcing people to kneel, or bribing people over beverages at a café. J-dramas are not usually watered down by numerous subplots because of the limited number of episode that must air.
Anyway, my favorite K-drama is “Secret Garden,” and my favorite for J-drama is “Nagareboshi.” I have yet to find an all time favorite TW-drama, but I really liked “Prince of Lan Ling,” and I also enjoyed “Love Myself or You.”
Clockwatcher: Kimura Takuya for Japan? I feel like I’m living in the past and should also update this list, but he’s one reason I became obsessed with Japanese dramas. I just fell for him. He’s not even the most gorgeous man (even though he’s damn fine!), but he’s just so charismatic. He’s been disappointing me lately, though, but I don’t know who else I’d pick. Actors like Oguri Shun and Matsuda Shota steal my heart, though, and there was a time I was all about Eita. Okay, I think this list has gotten too long. As for a favorite TW-drama actor, I suppose Ethan Ruan? And I’m only saying this because mentioning Wu Zun would be too embarrassing. Yes, he can barely act, but he’s just so hot. I only watch like one Taiwanese drama a year these days so I’m not up-to-date on the current stars.
Tessieroo: Oh, I like Eita, too! He hasn’t done much lately; I think he only did one drama in 2014. From Japan, I really like Haruma Miura as well as Matsuda Shota, but his choice of projects sometimes has me scratching my head. He’s a bit of an odd duck. I also enjoy Masaki Okada‘s work. From Taiwan, my love is George Hu. I’d pay to watch him read the phone book, but I’m also a fan of Chen Bolin and Mike He.
Rinchan: Haruma Miura is so delectable! LOL. I love his looks and his dramas. Masaki Okada and Saito Takumi are also Japanese actors whom I adore. From Taiwan, I’d say George Hu all the way, but I also can’t forget Aaron Yan and Roy Chiu. These guys are a good combination of good looks and acting.
Clockwatcher: I suppose I have a soft spot for Taiwan’s Ariel Lin, seeing as some of her dramas are my favorites. From Japan, I just love Shinohara Ryoko. Even though not all her dramas are the greatest, she’s so full of charisma.
Tessieroo: Japan’s Nao Matsushita is amazingly funny! I also like Saki Aibu, but she usually plays the best friend or oddball co-worker. From Taiwan, my favorite drama leading ladies are Puff Guo, Annie Chen, and Ariel Lin.
Rinchan: Japan’s Aya Ueto is an easy fave, and so are Haruka Ayase, Maki Horikita, and Nanako Matsushima. As for TW-drama actresses, I find myself really liking Puff Guo and Annie Chen a lot.
Tessieroo: Ah, yes, Haruka Ayase was awesome in “I’m Taking The Day Off” this year! She was also my first J-drama actress crush when I saw “Tatta Hitotsu no Koi” (“Love Of My Life“)’ she’s a really good actress.
Clockwatcher: I can’t believe I forgot to mention Haruka Ayase because she’s my queen! I also adore Ishihara Satomi; she’s so pretty and her interpretation of her roles is so bubbly that I love watching her on screen. I enjoy watching Puff, too, and I think she starred in the only two dramas I recently tried (and failed) to complete.
HOW ABOUT OTHER ASIAN DRAMAS?
Clockwatcher: I’m going to be boring and say dramas from Korea, Japan, and Taiwan are it for me. I once tried a Filipino drama, but I honestly can’t remember what it was. I also tried Thai, but I wasn’t feeling it either.
Tessieroo: I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but I highly recommend the Thai version of “Full House.” The story is much better than the K-version. They managed to fill in some gaping holes, which makes it awesome. I’ve also seen maybe five or six Thai lakorn dramas, but none of them stuck with me. Still, it’s fun to try something different every now and then.
Rinchan: I have watched some Chinese and Hong Kong dramas, but none I can recommend yet. I did watch some Thai dramas. I don’t think they are bad, but I enjoy Thai movies more. They are lacking that extra kick found in the other more popular Asian dramas, but I do admit the stories are good.
WHICH ELEMENTS FROM ALL THREE WOULD YOU COMBINE TO CREATE YOUR PERFECT DRAMA?
Clockwatcher: Korean drama heart + Japanese drama length/editing + Korean drama cinematography + Japanese drama realism + Korean drama costume design/fashion + Ariel Lin = My perfect drama.
Tessieroo: LMAO! I would add the close family relationships from Japanese dramas into that mess, but I agree with Ariel Lin. She just makes everything better.
Rinchan: Shows need to have the cleverly written and original storylines of Japanese dramas with all the passion in Korean dramas.
So, there you have it. In addition to Korean dramas, we have a strong preference for Japanese ones. Let us know what you think and feel free to recommend dramas from other countries to us. Thank you, and we’ll meet again at the next roundtable!