So, I’ve watched quite a few Korean dramas over the last few months but none of them made me immediately run to the keyboard to write a review. There’s a few that I’ve been stewing over and will probably cover in more depth… but for now… a quick summary:
All of Use Are Dead – Rating: 10/10. Unexpectedly amazing.
Money Heist: Korea – Rating: 8/10. Good but was annoyed it wasn’t a complete series.
Romance is a Bonus Book – Rating: 9/10. How did I miss this gem of a show for so long? Classically good K-drama.
Tomorrow – Rating: DNF. I wanted to like it… but it was just so dull.
Twenty-Five Twenty-One – Rating: 8/10. Loved the first half… then it meandered a bit… then lost me at the end.
Business Proposal – Rating: 7/10. Cute. Nothing new.
Our Beloved Summer – Rating: 8.5/10. Excellent, a bit like an indie romance, could have been stronger but still a strong tea of a romance.
Our Blues – Rating: DNF. I might get around to finishing it this summer… possibly.
My Liberation Diary – Rating: 8/10. Not quite as good My Mister but definitely wanted to compete… a depressing examination of the disillusionment of adulthood and floundering through life.
The Sound of Magic – Rating: DNF. I should have watched the trailer cause I was not vibing with a musical.
Juvenile Justice – Rating: DNF. Meh. I like the premise but wasn’t sold on the execution of this story.
Currently, I’m watching Alchemy of Souls (meh) and Tale of the Nine-Tailed (also meh). But really, there’s only one show from Asia that is truly captivating the web. I mean… is there any other show even on right now? Cause all I see on my socials is a billion gif sets and memes and giddy gushing of fans who are obsessed – OBSESSED, I tell you – with the Thai BL drama KinnPorsche.
So… KinnPorsche review coming soon! The final episode aired yesterday and I am still high as a kite on the endorphins. Rarely has my fangirling heart been so richly rewarded by a show.
UPDATE: FULL INSANELY LONG & CRAZYREVIEW OF KINNPORSCHE NOW AVAILABLE!Read Review.
BL, or Boys Love, is nothing new to the scene. It’s been around for quite a while, largely in print or anime format. It’s also been extremely diverse from the get-go with many different genres and settings offering us male/male relationships from super sweet romance romances to intensely sexual content. I still remember stumbling across the anime Ai no Kusabi (1992) – which was burned onto a CDR and stuffed in as some free bonus content from my order of Wolf’s Rain (2003) I’d received off eBay.
Ya’ll. I was not prepared for Ai no Kusabi.
I’d stumbled across the Finder manga in 2002 and thought I’d found the peak pervy storyline of the sexy mafia boss and his feisty reporter twink… but no. Ai no Kusabi created an entire world around sex pets, like the Claiming of Sleeping Beauty trilogy and Exit to Eden books by Anne Rice, this was a society built upon BDSM and sexual servitude.
So, like many others, I discovered BL through Japanese manga and anime. Some of them creeped me out with their childlike boy characters (No Money, Boku no Pico), while others made the age-gap work for them (Junjou Romantica). And of course, there were plenty of manga and anime series with heavily implied gay storylines and artwork, giving us “manservice” if you will, where they would show you they were gay but wouldn’t tell you they were gay. One of my all time favorite series X/1999 is one such storyline. I mean… that entire story is just queer escapism. The manga, the anime, even the weird movie… it’s good stuff. Super gay. And yet… not.
The 21st Century has already seen many cultural shifts and changes, one of the most positive of those has been the push for global acceptance of LGBTQ+ people. We have seen gay marriage, gay rights, and gay issues become major movements around the world. My ardent wish is that by the mid-century, LGBTQ+ people will have equal rights and protections under the law everywhere.
In the past few years I have watched an explosion of BL live action dramas coming out of Asia, the popularity of this genre increasing almost exponentially whereas now it seems a global phenomenon. This is largely due to the fact that gay content has always been enjoyed outside the gay community. Love is universal, after all, and whether it’s two boys, two girls, a boy and a girl, or a pairing of other gender or sexual identities, it all reads the same – people falling in love.
Since 2020, BL is increasingly common in the live action drama market. So… which country does it best?
I’m not sure there is a real answer to that, as everything boils down to preference. Whether you prefer Thai, Taiwanese, Korean, Filipino, Japanese, and Chinese dramas will, undoubtedly, heavily influence your rankings. I certainly have my preferences, as I am sure you have yours (if you have watched more than one BL, that is). My preferences tend to be related to the storylines and dynamics more than the country, though. So in the genre of BL, I tend to stray from my preference for Korean Dramas, though there are a few from Korea that I enjoyed.
Anyways, without further adieu – here are my favorite BL drama series that I’ve seen from various countries….
I have been watching Our Beloved Summer on Netflix (which is awesome), and even though the leading male and female are perfect and captivating, it’s the second male lead that keeps stealing my attention. Kim Sung-Cheol plays Kim Ji-Ung, the psuedo-adoptive-brother of the male lead. In the show he’s a videographer, best suited to remaining behind the camera, observing everything but rarely taking part in it. He’s stubborn, a bit arrogant, closed-off, and terribly sad. He’s hyper-aware of other people’s feelings yet completely ignorant of how they feel about him. The sensitive person with the hard shell.
He’s so in his head all the time and has no idea he’s telegraphing all this emotions for anyone bothering to pay attention to him.
As these things go, once you notice an actor you start to see them everywhere.
I finally watched Sweet Home, which blew me away, and lo and behold… towards the end… in walked Kim Sung-Cheol. Once again playing this nuanced character that called for your sympathy and your criticism with equal measure. He was a member of a street gang that was going around terrorizing survivors of the apocalypse, but he stuck out from the group. His calm demeanor, his sad yet cold eyes, his world-weary posture. It was not surprising when his character ended up being a major focus of the plot. I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping we’ll see this character return should we get a second season of Sweet Home.
He’s the only one without a giant weapon but he’s the one you’re most wary of.
As if the K-Drama gods were rewarding me, I ran into him again when I was rewatching Arthdal Chronicles (speaking of second seasons – I find myself checking for news of this show’s next installment at least once a month). Though I’ve watched this show about four times now, I had never bothered to look up this actor. He’s one of my favorite character’s in the show, arriving mid-season to co-star with Song Joong-Ki’s Eunseom. This time, I recognized him instantly. Kim Sung-Cheol!
In Arthdal Chronicles, he plays a plucky foil Ipsaeng, a young man who has experienced the hardships and treachery of the world first-hand. He’ll do whatever it takes to survive, whether its lie, cheat, steal, or betray. He’s made his peace with the horrors of the world and is disturbed, greatly, by Eunseom’s alternative perspective and continued belief in humanity’s goodness. Kim Sung-Cheol is so good at playing these conflicted characters, whose eyes show so much emotion even while they are desperately denying they feel any.
He’s also really funny and gets into the physicality of his performances.
But most of all, he’s got that Je ne sais quoi – that undeniable something that draws your eye. I find myself focusing on him even when he’s next to the lead actors, some of the biggest stars in the game. He’s distinctive. His face, his voice, his performances are memorable and unique.
I’ve already added his other dramas to my que – and look forward to seeing him playing other characters. I doubt we’ll have to wait long for him to be cast as the lead in a drama – seems inevitable to me.
Korean Drama Awards of 2021 – According to me. Featuring only shows that came out in 2021 (with Eng Subtitles)… and to be fair, I certainly didn’t watch every show that came out this past year. But of the ones I did watch… here we go!
I woke up yesterday with this brilliant (let’s call it brilliant, shall we?) idea to combine my two favorite things: Star Wars and Korean Dramas. And make short silly videos and possibly some memes.
Just for funsies.
Here’s what I made tonight using She Was Pretty audio/subtitles and Star Wars footage:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens X She Was Pretty
Star Wars: The Last Jedi X She Was Pretty
Star Wars: The Last Jedi X She Was Pretty
This last one keeps getting flagged… so I guess it’s too long? I’m going to have to do a little research into the algorithms that flag content. Though this project is safely within the “Fair Use” guidelines, having to appeal to automated content protection bots constantly is not appealing.
It’s been a year. Since last summer I have tried, and failed, to get back into Korean dramas. I found myself watching a lot of Scandinavian shows and a few made in Germany. But 2020 and now 2021 have been nothing if not strange times.
More Korean dramas are popping up on Netflix, which is great, and I’ve renewed my Viki subscription to get more variety. Slowly but surely I’ve found several that I’ve enjoyed enough to review – and a few I completed but haven’t bothered to review cause there’s not much to say about them (such as Lovestruck in the City).
But overall it’s been a lot of ship jumping.
These are some shows I started but did not finish… and most likely never will. In alphabetical order, for my OCD and your viewing pleasure.
100 Days My Prince – ep 1 – cutesy and not my style.
Absolute Boyfriend – ep 20 – I honestly don’t know why I watched so much of this… it was just kinda on in the background. It felt like a cartoon.
Abyss – ep 5 – certain aspects of this show annoyed me considerably… though I like both actors, I was not charmed by the body swapping shenanigans.
Alice in Borderland (Japanese) – ep 2 – eh. Killer escape rooms is kinda a worn out concept at this point, isn’t it?
Angel’s Last Mission: Love – ep 3 – too cutesy for my taste.
Beauty Inside – ep 9 – what the…? Did we just stop trying, Korea?
Beyond Evil – ep 8 – sigh. Shin Ha-Kyun and I just don’t mix, apparently.
Born Again – ep 6 – what a waste of potential. Felt like a day time soap opera.
Devilish Joy – ep 2 – meh.
Doctor Prisoner – ep 16 – It was exciting but unfortunately it spent all its time trying to be exciting. You can’t stay on Code Red every minute of the day, Doctor Prisoner. Without some calm to contrast your high stakes over zealous plotlines, it’s just cheap tricks. You know the music they play in game shows, right before a contestant chooses and they’re building the excitement and tension? They played it like that the whole hour, episode after episode. It was exhausting.
Doom at Your Service – ep 11 – another show that thinks two attractive leads is all it takes to charm an audience (which apparently is true from how many positive reviews this got). The plot line is paper thin. With some script development this could have been a more interesting and beautiful story – the outline is there, but right now it’s just a child’s coloring book and not a work of art.
Find Me In Your Memory – ep 9 – I like it and I wanted to keep watching… but this drama is soooo long and not enough is happening. My time is precious, people.
Flower of Evil – ep 10 – The sadness of the wasted potential! These are the kinds of story lines that generally suck me in. But… not this show. To be honest, I will probably try to finish this one at some point cause I do love a psycho killer story and Kim Ji Hoon is fun to watch. (update: I finished it. The ending was fun. 8/10)
The Good Detective – ep 7 – meh.
The Guest – ep 2 – really wanted to like this one. Shaman, Catholics, demons, and murder? Sign me up! But it felt unfocused and after the second episode ended, I hadn’t been hooked. Is there a plot? Or just an idea of a plot? Should I give it a few more episodes? Has anyone watched this one?
Guardian (Chinese) – ep 2 – not my style.
Hello, Me! – ep 8 – very cute idea and overall not a bad show… just not that good either. Love the leading actor, Kim Young-Kwang, in particular, though he seemed pushed to the background in this show.
Hotel Del Luna – ep 7 – decent concept but felt like someone just cut out characters from better dramas and didn’t bother to try to make them work for this particular show.
I’ll Go When the Weather is Nice – ep 6 – I generally adore slow melodramas but this one just didn’t grab my emotions.
Into the Ring – ep 2 – meh.
The Last Empress – ep 2 – dreadful.
Less Than Evil – ep 7 – started out okay but I’m not a fan of the male lead…
Kiss Goblin – ep 1 – ack, no thank you.
Live Up to Your Name – up to ep 7 – time travel comedies are hit and miss, and this one was a miss for me.
Mad for Each Other – ep 8 – fun concept but not quite funny. It’s Okay That’s Love or Heart to Heart are far superior, if you like love and mental health stories. Kill Me Heal Me is also a zany romantic comedy that was better. I dunno… this felt like something slapped together over a luncheon. 2020 was a tough year, though, so… it is what it is.
Melting Me Softly – ep 11 – snaps for a fun plot line but thumbs down for not putting any real effort into how to hold up such a plot line with narrative structure and intrigue.
My Country : The New Age – ep 11 – it wasn’t awful but kept reminding me how superior Six Flying Dragons was.
My Strange Hero – ep 28 – the show that is just one head-shot after another. It’s like a teenager who can’t stop taking selfies of itself. Soooo many giant heads on the screen. And I just don’t care to watch even one more minute of these continuous, tedious tight close ups of people’s faces. We get it! They’re attractive! Geesh – just back up, man!
My television is eight feet from my couch and I felt like my personal space was being invaded by this show. I snapped. Honestly, it’s not a bad storyline… and the actors are good. I just couldn’t take one more close up – to the point where I don’t care how this show ends, even though I only have about two hours left. I can’t! Call it a protest.
Private Lives – ep 3 – nope. This is gonna sound mean, cause maybe it is… but Ko Gyung-Po does not have leading man charisma… he’s awesome as a second lead, though. Anyways… dropped it.
Psychopath Diary – ep 6 – cute but sadly does not have a complex enough plot to justify the run time. If they would have developed the whole angle of the killer/cutie weirdness… then yeah. That was truly complicated and strangely sexy and just… wow, what a fun concept! But nope, they hopped over that before it even warmed up. Just watch Me Too Flower or one of his other shows if you wanna see Yoon Si-Yoon be adorable.
School 2017 – ep 9 – School 2013 is far superior in every aspect.
School Nurse Files – ep 1 – too camp
Sisyphus – ep 8 – I’m hard pressed to think of a show where the leading actors had less chemistry. When separate their storylines are interesting but together they just drag this show into a dull sci fi landscape.
Sky Castle – ep 7 – I might give this another shot eventually… maybe… I do love scheming rich ladies.
Start Up – I made it through the first 3 eps before I realized what direction the love story was headed. This is not to say this drama is bad – it may very well be awesome… but I kinda fell for the second male lead, apparently, and I just can’t support a show that created a leading character who is not the leading love interest.
Tale of the Nine-Tailed – ep 7 – ugh.
Tell Me What You Saw – ep 2 – overacting anyone?
Train – ep 7 – nice idea but lackluster execution
True Beauty – ep 2 – Did we need an entire show about the power of makeup? No, no we did not. We still have access to the old YouTube video Contouring 101 by Sailor J… and that’s all we need on the subject.
The Uncanny Counter – ep 1 – too goofy for me. (Update: I finished this and absolutely loved it… so first impression was wrong on this fun gem of a show. Rated 8.5/10)
The Untamed (Chinese) – ep 11 – I tried, ya’ll. This is as far as I have ever gotten with a Chinese drama. I love some smoldering gayness, but gheesh, these plotlines… I just can’t get into it.
Vagabond – ep 3 – I love an action drama but… not this one.
Vincenzo – ep 2 – I love this actor but could tell I was not going to vibe with this drama.
I think we were all stunned and deeply saddened by the unexpected and untimely departure of Dramafever, one of our beloved streaming services. Dramafever passed away October 16, 2018, without warning. Known for its large collection of Korean Dramas, spanning multiple decades, and pristine quality videos… Dramafever was a close friend to so many of us K-addicts. It let us comment and review. It offered us helpful collections. It provided adorable fan service. And it held the solitary rights to some of our favorite K-dramas (Goblin! Where will we watch you now???).
I read the articles detailing the reasons behind your demise and, okay, some of them made sense. Basically this is what happens with conglomeration mergers and bidding wars for content that drive the prices too high for our favorite “independent” stores to survive. But Dramafever was more than a profit generating vehicle that bridged the gap between Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Thai content with international viewers. It was a safe haven. And with its departure, I feel like one of my private spaces has been invaded and blown to pieces.
There is a Dramafever shaped hole in my heart.
You will be missed.
Funeral donations may be made to our closest family member, Viki.
Viki.com (Great site, includes lots of shows from all the major channels -fork out for the premium, it’s worth it – $9.99USD/month or $99.99USD/year – almost always sale offers going on)
And more questionable relatives may seek comfort from…
Kocowa.com (SBS, MBC, & KBS dramas – $6.99/month, or $69.99/yearly)
AsianCrush.com (more movies, limited tv dramas – $6.99/month, or $69.99/yearly)
OnDemandKorea (lots of dramas, but not everything has english subtitles – $6.99/month)
DramaGo.com (free with tons of dramas – but an external link maze and popup nightmare)
GoodDrama (… I think it’s just a mirror of DramaGo… same boat)
K-Drama romcoms have always been hit or miss, but there’s a troubling amount of “middling” and “mindless” romcoms coming out lately. Lazy writing, relying too heavily on cliches, rapid jumps in behavior without foundational character development… I find myself bored before each episode ends.
I will also admit to be very cranky today… so throwing some romcoms into the shredder is just an outlet. I’m sure I’ll finish each of these shows and may have a totally different perspective once I do… so wait for the reviews. Until then, let’s pounce on some current summer snoozers!
Example 1: ABOUT TIME, a new romcom with two outstanding leads… and so problematic. Character development? Forget it, not happening. Chemistry between the leads? It’s there… but they forgot to actually build up a solid romance before slapping these two together. Problems in the relationship? They’re almost entirely manufactured… which is just lazy writing. We need a conflict! Oh yeah, let’s just use this jealous rich gal – AGAIN – to randomly throw conflict into the story. It’s shameless for a show about knowing you’re going to die soon (seriously, has anyone felt the impact of that, cause I haven’t felt the urgency at all) and musical theater (unbelievably dull musical theater… compounded by cheap, corny background music in the actual drama… it sounds like a kid playing on a toy xylophone! Background music is not supposed to be that noticeable, people… it should enhance the story, not attempt to direct it). Also, how old is our lead male supposed to be – because he keeps acting like a fourteen year old boy instead of a man and it’s confusing, cause the actor is quite manly looking and what’s supposed to be endearing comes across as pathetic.
Example 2: WHAT’S WRONG WITH SECRETARY KIM? Another great cast with an outstandingly stupid plot. I love a show about an extreme narcissist (Secret Garden, Greatest Love), but it’s important to balance that with commendable naivete and charm. We have to like you. We have to… get it. I don’t get this show. The perfectionist secretary who all but wipes the butt of her OCD CEO has finally decided to call it quits – but then doesn’t. OCD CEO very quickly goes into woo-back-my-secretary mode, in an attempt to keep his slave-girl and possibly develop common emotional responses in the process. It’s actually a cute premise, I mean yes it’s well worn territory, but everyone likes a story about a good-natured woman saving a dumbass from his own self-sabotage . So why can’t they do it right? It’s rushed, fails to be charming, and relies too heavily on cliches. Disneyland? Already? And how many shirtless scenes are we going to have? The oooo la la moments of a glimpse of sculptured man flesh become ordinary if you throw it out daily. It’s not a dinner special if its always on the menu. (update: this show is getting more interesting as it goes, introducing a nice mystery)
Example 3: ARE YOU HUMAN TOO? Someone tell this show you can act like a robot without looking like you had a frontal lobotomy. There is nothing sexy about a full grown man staring at you like a four year old boy. Gag. I have always loved the idea of androids – super smart, effective, built to run space ships and bridge the communication gap between complex technological systems and humans. I also like the robot-soldier idea. But the robot house-mate / child-replacement theme is odd. There are deeply rooted societal implications in the creation of robots to replace humans in a world where the human population is so vast. It seems off putting not to have these issues addressed. Even in the bubble-gum I AM NOT A ROBOT they at least attempted (poorly) to dive into the sociology of relationships, replacements, servants and subservient, power and powerlessness.
I love romcoms – in particular, “feel good” romcoms – and have rewatched most of my favorites mulitple times… so until another good one hits the market, here’s a list of some alternatives to help us get through the dry season.
Nam Da-Reum has been popping up in dramas for a while now, since he was seven years old, actually – usually playing the “young” versions of male leads in flashbacks. I’ve been watching Come & Hug Me, and he’s the young male lead. And perfect. He was the young version of Lee Bang Won in Six Flying Dragons. The young version of our prosecutor in While You Were Sleeping. The young version of our celebrity DJ in Radio Romance. His acting profile is long already, and he’s only sixteen.
I love this guy. He’s got the sweetest face. And he’s intense as all get out, too. The boy can pull off an impressive emotional range. I can’t wait until he’s old enough to play lead male roles – you know, the grown up versions. But then again… can we just slow down time a bit so we can keep those innocent eyes a little longer? Oh, the conflict!
P.S. If you’re not watching Come & Hug Me, you should be. It’s great.