Robin, I checked out the site that you recommended and was happy to find one drama which I couldn’t find elsewhere – the new one with Yoo Inna and Eric Mun — a pleasant surprise. Don’t know how good the actual drama is but I always enjoy watching her… I’ll think about getting the trial month, probably when I have more time to explore better. Luckily this drama is free, with the usual commercial interruptions.
There is another drama that I’d heard a lot about called The World of the Married. I was interested because someone wrote that it had a Doctor Foster-like plot and I did enjoy Doctor Foster. I was hoping to find it there…no luck. Unfortunately it only seems to be available on Netflix US and not on Netflix Canada — hopefully it will be available here soon but I’m not keeping my fingers crossed. Such a pity not all Netflix sites are created the same. I got excited for a second until I realized that fact!!
For all of us Christmas this year is so different from any other but the spirit of Christmas remains the same and now more than ever we are in sore need of kindness, patience and generosity… not for presents but for contact. We can’t hug each other..we can’t even see ourselves smiling at each other but let us smile with our eyes instead and give with our words and time. We look forward to next year with more hope than we did a mere few months ago and that’s a good thing.
Lastly, I’m so pleased to pass on my review of the kdrama that I just finished. 100 Days My Prince which was an unexpected but delightful surprise. I confess that the only reason that I checked it out was because I wanted to see more of Kim Seon Ho whom I’d just discovered in Strongest Deliveryman but I discovered the charm of the main couple and loved them to death. Though it’s historical and it had a bit of politics it was not heavy which I really appreciated. And the possibilities of shenanigans that arose when you have a haughty prince who has lost his memory but not his arrogance is a hoot. For various reasons he finds himself foisted with the wrong identity and a new wife and he struggles in all ways — of course he does!! He had great chemistry with her — the boy has amazingly piercing eyes…the side characters weren’t too annoying and I still go to see the charming Kim Seon Ho dressed in all his finery… thumbs up from me. It’s not perfect really..there are lots of little things..one of which is the inconsistent use of the “face blindness” issue which irked me but nothing major at all!
This post was inspired by a Twitter conversation; the poster had just started Crash Landing On You (first k-drama experience) and no IRL friends were watching and able to dish. The next question was, what can I watch next?
The limitation is Netflix (for now), but I thought, let’s go through what’s on offer on the site and discuss what I think is a solid choice, and why… so let’s go!
From this batch, there are some clear winners and interesting choices, beginning with It’s Okay to Not Be Okay and Crash Landing On You. Both feature attractive leads (though with K-dramas, it’s safe to assume this will always/mostly be true), strong ensemble casts (ditto for this being a truism in K-dramas), and interesting and fresh stories. Okay touches thoughtfully on mental illness (a rarity in Asian topics) while the couple learns the truths behind their connection to each other. Crash flirts playfully with a NK/SK romantic entente and has fun too with life on the other side of the border. Boys Over Flowers is one to watch for its archetypal formula (hey, it’s been adapted at least 5 other times that I know of!) It’s not the best version (I prefer the Japanese and Taiwanese iterations), but it put Lee Min-ho on the map and its even more of a Cinderella tale than the cute Cinderella and Her Four Knights (which has an appealing ensemble of swains for the leading lady). Romance Is a Bonus Book isn’t perfect, but it’s a pleasure to have two leads with acting talent pine in a book-world setting.
If we’re going to talk about books, Rookie HistorianGoo Hae Ryung is a contemporary twist on the historical genre, with a sassy, smart, career-minded heroine and a sensitive author prince. Strongest Deliveryman is a little guys against the big, with a likable cast and it makes for easy watching (unlike The Winter the Wind Blows with a charismatic cast wasted in an unpleasant story). Hospital Playlist is from the same team as the “Reply” dramas and offers up a smart, ‘you feel like you know these people’ ensemble storyline. There are others in this group worth a look, but later, okay?
This grouping features some titles that started really well but lost their way at the end; I have my eye on The Uncanny Counter because I read good things about it daily, but for my money, the winner in this group is BecauseThis Is My First Life. The old ‘contract roommates’ trope is done right with this smart cast. I may also be one of the few who likes Cheese In The Trap, but the casting worked for me and I appreciated the difficulties of navigating university and love lives.
Oh My Ghost is a winner on 2 counts: not only does it feature one of my favorite leading men in a fun story, but one of my favorite actresses in a very amusing and touching turn as the virgin ghost in question. Kim Seul-gi makes every drama better. Hello My Twenties is a solid ensemble cast going through pretty normal romantic and not-so-romantic issues, but the young women who share the house get thru things together. Mr. Sunshine is not a sunshine-y story, but its setting in one of Korea’s troubled points in history and a top-notch cast make it work a look. Just a reminder: Korean dramas do not always believe in HEAs for everyone. Which leads me to the strongest title in this grouping: My Mister. When the cast was announced I was in a quandary: I adore the male lead and like the work the female lead has done, but I really, really did not want them in a romance. The good news is that this is a love story, in many ways, but not a conventional one where they are concerned. We’ve written a lot about this drama on this site (which is searchable), so I won’t go on too much about it, but suffice to say, this is deep, dark, complex, thoughtful, and lovely (not to mention at times heartbreaking).
When the Camellia Blooms is one of the few chances to enjoy the work of Gong Hyo-jin on Netflix, but she’s always won me over and this ‘found family’ drama is charming. I don’t know if it’s everyone’s cup of tea, but The School Nurse Files is an almost recommended one for its quirky but incomplete story. Save Me is Dark, so definitely not for all, but if you’re into stories of cult-like religion, try it!
Seriously, I don’t know why you haven’t watched Stranger (there are now 2 seasons) yet — what are you waiting for? This is complex, Korean politicking and corruption and murder mystery-ing at its finest, and lead actors Cho Seung-woo and Bae Doona are incomparable together. This is another I’ve written about in detail, so search here for more. I am also very fond of the history-driven, winning ensemble casts of the ‘Reply’ dramas: Reply 1994 and Reply 1988. The mixture of ‘who ends up with whom’ and the period details formula works in all 3 settings. (And btw, note the Xs on some of these non-K-dramas, some are even dreadful!)
Misaeng, this remains one of my favorite K-dramas of all time, for its perfect casting (Im Siwan and those Bambi eyes…) and the slice-of-life setting in the workaholic business world in Korea today (aka Hell Joseon). Much more info is available about it on this site. Also, I didn’t highlight Hymn Of Death because it’s on the war/bad things happen spectrum, but it is well done if you’re curious, and it’s short. [An aside, when searching for Korean dramas on Netflix you’ll see recommendations for other titles, often Chinese. I enjoyed the Love O2O drama and movie adaptations, even though I’m not into gaming.]
I hope you’re still reading, because there are some real winners in this grouping! Another Miss Oh has a couple with Chemistry in its leads, and it feels very contemporary in its telling of a couple who think they’re doomed because of misunderstandings. She’s also very good in (not pictured) Let’s Eat 2 (aka outstanding Korean food porn disguised as a romance, like the first Let’s Eat). Reply 1997 is the first of the ‘Reply’ series (in spite of the year) and is a fun start to the formula, touching on the early days of Korean music fandoms. Finally, don’t sleep on the writer-with-a-haunting problem in Chicago Typewriter with its excellent cast and a house all of us envy.
Some really good dramas are really great bromances and Prison Playbook is that (as is the yellow boxed Chinese drama The Untamed). An unconventional setting and an unforgettable cast are always a winning combination in my playbook. The other I’ll recommend is Dear My Friends for its focus on the difficulties of making life and love work and dealing with older relatives and friends as they age. This is a great introduction to some of the best mature actors in Korean television if you’re new(ish) to the genre. Every single actor in this drama has a long resume of great works.
That’s all for this post! There are many titles available that I did not discuss — some because it’s kinder to say nothing at all (and hey, some people may like them) and in some cases I’ve not yet seen them and/or they’re not my cup of tea. But there are so many choices that are very much worth your time — I hope that you have a lot of fun exploring them and discovering what tickles your fancy!
This review was written for the next issue of the Korean Quarterly. It contains no spoilers regarding the outcomes of the story.
For fans of “Stranger” (aka “Secret Forest”), it’s been a long 3-year wait to continue exploring the intricate mind of Prosecutor Hwang Si-mok, but 2020 has rewarded their devotion with season two in the series. Just what changes have occurred in the interim, and what has changed in his life, and that of his unlikely friend, police detective Han Yeo-jin? And one might also ask, can the second series live up to the incredible achievements of the first?
It’s worth mentioning that while it is not essential to have watched the first series before beginning “Stranger 2” to have a sufficient working understanding of the nature of various characters and who they are as individuals as they are sketched out within the first episode or two, however, to get a fuller portrait of who some of the key players are in this season, or who are referenced within it due to their relationship to secondary plot points in the new season carried forwards from the first, it is recommended that the viewer begins with season one (or re-watches it) before continuing with season 2 for a fuller picture.
“Stranger 2” begins approximately 2 years after the events concluding the first series, which saw Prosecutor Hwang Si-mok (once again played brilliantly by Seung-woo Cho) exiled to a remote prosecutorial district, nominally following a relocation policy schedule to avoid prosecutors get too close to cases (avoiding potential corruption or collusion risks). This assignment is over and he is on his way to a new one when he inadvertently becomes involved in what appears to be an accidental drowning by two young men after heavy drinking, but may also have occurred because of protective barriers negligently removed by another couple. Having traveled the stretch of coastal road the same evening, the circumstances of the case raise questions in Hwang Si-mok’s mind and, never being one to accept the facile answer, he looks into it further to resolve the discrepancies he intuits. It had happened in his district, when he’d been there, and he cannot leave the puzzle behind as he sets off for his new district.
Coincidentally, the case comes before Police Detective Han Yeo-jin (Doona Bae reprising her role), now taking part in a high-level task force looking into ways to improve the visibility of the police, and negotiate the right to have greater investigative control in cases (as opposed to the current investigative power balance held by the prosecutorial services). She too embarrassed police higher-ups with her successful teamwork with Hwang Si-mok in the first series, so while this assignment appears to be a plum reward, there’s a feeling that it’s a bit of “window dressing.” Her new task force leader, Choi Bit (played by Hye-jin Jeon), is the first female intelligence chief of the National Police Agency and bringing in a female detective adds to the gender balance on the team. Han Yeo-jin is asked to review cases where prosecutorial investigations could come in for criticism, supporting the police argument. She is troubled by the easy dismissal of charges against the negligent couple, in light of the fact that 2 people have died, and begins her own examinations.
Little do Hwang Si-mok and Han Yeo-jin know, but their mutual concerns will lead them to cross paths once again, and as potential adversaries!
Each in their own way, their investigative actions alarm their respective leaders. Choi Bit, prior to her new position as Intelligence Chief, was police chief for the district in question where the drowning case occurred, and in questioning aspects of that case, another even more curious case comes to light; the apparent suicide of a police detective, which was also conveniently buried as a suicide, but may have been more insidious — a police-on-police murder. This is not the kind of investigation that looks good for the task force or for improving the public’s opinion of the police in general.
Hwang Si-mok’s questions have him looking into the role of the prosecution team that lead to charges being so quickly dropped against the well-connected man who’d been negligent. A former judge, Oh Joo-sun (played by Hak-seon Kim) now established as a lawyer, looking to capitalize on his reputation and connections, has cut some deals to make the charges go away. This investigation may result in the prosecution looking bad, and with the current agitation to have investigative powers relinquished to the police, the higher powers want to sidetrack Hwang Si-mok so he is re-allocated temporarily to the Prosecutorial side of the joint task force, reporting to Woo Tae-ha (Moo-sung Choi) and his new assignment temporarily deferred. They figure his dogmatic and rule-oriented persona is just what they need on the task force; he’s not connected, unimportant, and if they need a political sacrifice if the negotiations break down or fail, he’s perfect for being a fall guy.
New boss Woo Tae-ha needs to figure out how to get Hwang Si-mok focused on things he wants him to do, but this is not as easy as it looks because he’s not familiar with Hwang Si-mok’s medical history and his resultant lack of emotional reactions (or his incredible, single-minded focus and intelligence). But in walks someone else from the past with a gift that “seems” to be the perfect distraction for Woo Tae-ha to assign to Hwang Si-mok. Season one viewers will rejoice to see the smarmy and borderline corrupt (is he or isn’t he) Prosecutor Seo Dong-jae (once again played by Joon-hyuk Lee), looking to escape his reassignment to the purdah of juvenile case prosecutions in a district outside of Seoul any way he can. He’s brought three cases to Woo Tae-ha that raise questions of police corruption and/or investigative failures that would be perfect ammunition if they can be proven to quash the Police’s argument for investigative rights. Seo Dong-jae is disappointed in his quest; Woo Tae-ha judges him to be exactly who he is, a side-stepping, on-the-make, politically motivated and ambitious type who is of little interest, but he holds onto two of the cases as a token gesture. He hands one of these over to Hwang Si-mok to investigate; it just happens to be the death of the police detective under questionable circumstances and the bribery case behind it that Han Yeo-jin has uncovered.
Needless to say, the first meeting of the joint task force in which the two sides meet are an unexpected but welcome reunion for Hwang Si-mok and Han Yeo-jin, which is at times awkward as each is called upon to defend the respective arguments for why or why not the standards should change, but that soon evaporates as they find themselves working together once again to investigate the same case, and subsequent parallel cases.
A good portion of the story’s investigations pursue three cases that may or may not be linked — as with the first series, the plot threads are complex and tightly interwoven — and there are liberal sprinklings of ‘red herrings’ to further keep the viewers on their toes. In addition to the initial drowning deaths, investigations will explore suicide or murder, another questionable death, conspiracies to hide answers, and the kidnapping of a favorite character.
In another plot wrinkle, there is another link between Hwang Si-mok, the judge, and his recent past. Oh Joo-sun comes to the attention of the new majority owner of Hanjo Group, the widow Lee Yeon-jae (Se-ah Yoon reprising her role) as someone who may be an effective liaison with/weapon against the Prosecutor’s Office, which continues season one’s efforts to pursue Hanjo for tax and other legal misdoings. Seo Dong-jae also approaches Hanjo Group for apparent personal gain, further complicated matters. Just how deeply involved is Lee Yeon-jae, aided by a new assistant, Director Park (played with a slightly sinister touch by Sung-il Jung) in what is happening? That remains to be seen.
This season benefits from some of the same factors that contributed to the successful and highly-rewarding first series, namely the excellent chemistry of Seung-woo Cho and Doona Bae as the unlikeliest of friends and collaborators. Their onscreen rapport is the keystone of the piece, and they work equally well with the veteran actors of “Stranger” as well as those who joined the cast of “Stranger 2.” Though screen time for returning characters such as Sung-gun Park as the head of the Third Prosecutors Division, and former Homicide squad chief Choi Yoon-soo (Bae-soo Jeon), detectives Jang Geon (Jae-woong Choi) and Park Soon Chang (Ji-ho Song) respectively, is relatively brief, they provide not only a link to the past story, but help ground the story in its setting. The script is once again penned by Soo-yeon Lee — worth noting that this is only her third work and that “Stranger” was her first — manages once again to create a tension-filled plot that has strong ties to actual, recent events in South Korea, making for a plausible and emotional story. There is, however, a different director for this second season, Hyun-suk Park, and with him you will see a different tone to the piece. This is most notable in portions of the first few episodes, with a slightly choppier narrative to aspects of the early investigation processes in particular. More backstory, particularly why Hwang Si-mok is the way he is would make for an easier entry into the story if a viewer has not seen the first series, and make various actions in the story more compelling and logical and the omission of this is one criticism that can be made against a generally very satisfying second season.
The new characters of Woo Tae-ha and Choi Bit expanded the exploration of the roles of power and the potential for corruption, as well as decency and righteousness, within the Prosecution and Police Agencies in South Korea that were so crucial to the first story. In these complicated stories we see just how universal the potential is for authority to be misused and used fairly, and how politicized these agencies are. Those familiar with current affairs in South Korea will find familiar events disguised in the plot, and those who are not will see common themes within their own agencies. The actors themselves are excellent choices because they bring something different to the existing cast and contrast with prior characters. Woo Tae-ha is a canny, political animal, but he also seems to act on an almost instinctual level; as smart as he is, he is also impulsive, and not above throwing his authoritative weight around as it suits him. He’s not above being a manipulative bully when it suits him. Choi Bit is a more subtle character, and it’s easy to see how she would succeed as a woman in a man’s traditional world by being low-key and decisive. By glimpses of her home life (she appears to be a single mother) the viewer is led to see her as a woman who’s sacrificed to get to where she is now. She’s risen to her position when a predecessor falls and the question becomes “what will she do to hold on to her position?”
Se-ah Yoon also has an expanded role as the widow and Hanjo Group power figure; her father and brother (primarily offscreen in this series) are her challengers as much is the Prosecution Services looking to cripple the company with tax charges and seeing her begin to step up into this new role is also a welcome addition to the “Stranger” world. Aided by the rigid and perhaps a little too slavishly devoted Director Park, she will become a force to be reckoned.
And that leaves us on a gratifying note for fans of the series, the writer leaves us and her characters in a similar situation as at the end of the first season — their world continues to be complicated, there are threads still to pick up, and new positions and roles to be explored, with a possible third season (perhaps more) yet ahead to delight and confound us!
Had no intention of watching this but I needed some reprieve from the disappointment of the King and this one was short and sweet at only 12 episodes.
Enjoying it so far – half way through..I love the main characters..each one is doing a great job of keeping me entertained..you have your sweet innocent young man who is cursed with the fact that whenever he touches someone they immediately need to share their thoughts..then you’ve got the two supernatural beings..she is able to go into people’s dreams and fix their problems (he does all the grunt work) but she is being punished and must fulfill a quota of clients – that’s where our young man comes in..he brings them in and she fixes them..sounds like a yawner but each case is interesting and as they work with each other they become closer too. Think a condensed version of Hotel de Luna without Iu’s wardrobe..lol..
Sigh….so disappointed so far… I can totally see why the ratings were so low.
I’m up to episode 7 right now and the one and only highlight is the eye candy that our King provides..he’s never looked better in my eyes..but that’s not enough to last through 16 episodes!! I like the main actress but they have no wow factor during their scenes at all..I think it’s suffering from very bad writing..the love story just has no real substance and definitely no progression..the plotline is convoluted and hard to follow (at least for me)..and to tell you the truth I don’t care about following it at all. It’s not the first time that I gave up on trying to understand the twists and turns but I was always compensated by the rest of the positives but I can’t say the same for this one. There are quite likeable secondary characters (like Woo Do hwan in a duo role for instance) but I keep nodding off while watching this…not a good sign..I hope that it improves..fingers crossed!!
By the end I was chafing for it to be over. Once again I am stunned that this achieved such stellar ratings! It’s probably my fault. I came away from this drama with the feeling that these were all one-dimensional comic book characters when they are INDEED comic book characters so I shouldn’t be complaining. Yet I did and I do.
You guys are so horrible. How could you tell me to watch this. So chock full of unpleasant characters of dubious morality I could barely get past the first episode, yet when I finally did… Continue reading →