Looking at offerings on Netflix

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 Historian Goo 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 Because This 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!

#because-this-is-my-first-life, #chicago-typewriter, #crash-landing-on-you, #my-mister, #netflix, #reply-1988, #reply-1994, #reply-1997, #stranger-secret-forest

Chicago Typewriter – Final impressions

As always, without too much spoilery ado, I’ll say that this one rang pretty much all the bells for me.

I enjoyed the performances by all of the actors, and the blending of Occupation Korea with the modern day, plus the conceit of reincarnation and a ghost with a mission were satisfying on so many levels. There was a thoughtfulness to the way the plot unfolded — which is not to say that there were not a number of subplots left unaddressed (who were Han Se-ju’s parents, or did it not really matter?) — but you know, if it’s a minor subplot I don’t have a problem with those holes. If it’s a major plot point okay, I’ll take issue with unanswered questions, but with minor ones I can just wonder for a minute or two and then move on because they are, after all, minor.


I have to swoon a little over Yoo Ah-in in this one because whether it was the leader of the resistance movement or the successful “Stephen King of Korea” writer in his modernist 50s retro look (baggy clothes, crewcut and big glasses), he looked great. Without being a pretty boy, he has some distractingly pretty features, like the cleft in his chin, gorgeous skin, and oh… those lips. If he were a woman with those lips he’d be doing nothing but lipstick commercials in “her” spare time. He’s playing two incarnations of a guy who’s basically pretty buttoned-up, keeping things close to the vest (albeit for two very different reasons), and it just worked for me.

Im Soo-Jung is equal parts tender hearted and bad-ass in her roles, vulnerable and holding fast to her convictions, and although initially I thought they’d made her look a little too plain (and yes, older than her costars), I have always appreciated her talents as an actress and I was happy to let her grow on me in this drama too. Once her character of Seol starts making the connections work with Se-ju, it all fell into place.


I like Go Kyung-po a lot, but his character was more compelling than he was at times. I just think that he felt a little “greener” than Yoo Ah-in in their scenes together. That’s not to say that he was bad, per se, but there is a naturalness in YAI’s portrayals – it’s as if he underplays a scene just so – and this is due to his experience. He’s done a lot more drama and film work as a lead, so while this is not a guarantee of talent in every instance, it was the case here. I think GKP will continue to improve, and hope so as he’s got a lead role in his next production.

Another performance I can’t overlook is the relatively small one of Se-ju’s manager/publisher. This is the same actor who was ‘Secretary Kim’ in Goblin, and I have seen him in trailers for about 5 different movies coming out or recently released. It is “his” breakout year, it seems. And he’s delightfully flamboyant and loyal to Se-ju here.

One final note: the sets are gorgeous in this one. I know that part of the house used for Se-ju’s was used in another drama and I’m still trying to place it, but they went nuts with the books in this one! Now… I wonder who would dust all those?

#chicago-typewriter, #go-kyung-po, #im-soo-jung, #yoo-ah-in

Chicago Typewriter – First impressions

How could I resist any drama that includes “Chicago” in the title and stars Yoo Ah-in (who first won us over in Sunkyungkwan Scandal), Go Kyung-po (who was so darn appealing in Answer Me 1998 and Jealousy Incarnate), and Im Soo-jung (who first broke my heart in I’m Sorry, I Love You and who gets all the best leading men in her movies)? No way, no how!

As these are my impressions, I’ll avoid anything spoilery (going beyond any very basic set-up information).

I’m 4 episodes in and I am very intrigued – more so it seems than some people in my tlist, and I’m surprised that more don’t relish the tone and novelty of the drama so far. I see a lot of “I don’t understand what’s going on” and “I’m not connecting with the story yet,” but this has not been the case with me.

Tonally, this drama has the kind of dark vibe of Heard it Through the Grapevine and the same type of visual elegance of that drama. They’ve created a strong visual world for the main characters, particularly Yoo Ah-in’s, to in habit and the book lovers amongst us will pretty much go gaga over his house (though wonder privately how and who would dust those shelves of very tall floor-to-ceiling books). They’re dribbling out the pieces of the mystery – and this is a mystery/supernatural-oriented drama – slowly, but cleverly (IMO) letting me figure out what I’m seeing and indulge in speculation in what’s happening and what will happen next. As a heavy-duty analyzer, this suits me to a T.

The basic set-up of the plot is this: Yoo Ah-in is a highly successful author of novels in what is referred to as sort-of Stephen King-like, but something (no spoilers, remember) happens to upset his mental equilibrium, resulting in a major case of writer’s block just before he’s ready to start on the biggest project he’s ever tackled. Dokkaebi fans will be tickled to see the actor who played Secretary Kim here as his publisher – wearing clothes you’d never imagine him in ever before in a 180˚ turn on his prior persona. I’m not too proud to admit that I spend a portion of every episode a little too focused on his perfect lips – he’s got a pre-army enlistment buzz cut most of the time which oddly suits him and sometimes makes him look a little crazy at others – but his mouth and chin and beautiful skin tone are some of his best features. His character also has an array of eyeglasses and they’re not for show as the writer needs them.

Im Soo-jung is an actress I’ve enjoyed seeing in everything she’s done but I’m not sure (yet) how well she works out opposite him; she’s been given the makeup-less look for her contemporary character and the result is that she looks a little drab and older visually, though her other character looks a lot younger and more vibrant.

And yes, there are two versions of our leads; contemporary and pre-war Japanese occupation era versions, and somehow the lives of the three leads are intertwined in both the past and present. That connection is being kept fairly sketchy so far, and this is where the less invested are complaining, it seems, but I don’t mind. The only thing I mind is that the Chicago connection didn’t involve lots of scenes shot in Chicago and that Go Kyung-po takes his time in appearing in the present settings. But he’s “here” now and I’m going to settle back and enjoy letting this one unfold.

#chicago-typewriter, #go-kyung-po, #im-soo-jung, #yoo-ah-in