Annus Horribilis – An Aotearoa Ajeossi’s Antidote

Few would argue against the view that 2016 was a bleak year. So I’m going to celebrate  Dramas that provided moments of relief. On Twitter and Instagram I’m a Happy Harabeoji, here are some of the highlights that helped me stay that way.

This is NOT a “Best of” list. These were my “Happy Pills”. Some were flawed, one was  mediocre (to be kind), but I loved them all for making me smile, and laugh, and swoon.

Contentment

Yeah, That’s How It Is

I’ve already waxed rhapsodic about this outstanding unseen gem, so won’t repeat myself too much. It tops this list because it provided a special kind of pleasure. There were funny scenes, most courtesy of a stellar comic turn by Wang Ji Hye, but the overall feeling it generated was quiet satisfaction, the contentment of knowing that “Yeah, that IS how it is”. 2017 WILL see a rerun of this Drama in my household.

Aesthetics 

Immortal Goddess

NOT a classic for the ages, but still a real highlight of my year. I am even more fond of my beautiful ballet-schooled bias than I am of alliteration, so an entire Drama built around showing just how beautiful she is was addictive ambrosia. The only complete Drama I’ve watched unsubbed from beginning to end, but I understood everything I needed to.

Jimi Ni Sugoi (Pretty Proofreader)

Ishihara Satomi may not have the greatest range as an actor, but she is really, really, really, ridiculously good-looking, and when she smiles, dazzlingly pretty. So a Drama that played to her strengths was a guaranteed winner. Much like Immortal Goddess, the Drama is built around showing off its lead’s beauty. The English title really is a good description of the Drama, it delivers exactly what it says. And that is definitely cause to smile.

Adorable Age Gaps

Beautiful Gong Shim

In a year dominated by Korean Dramas’ repellently creepy ephebophilia fixation, one of the biggest shots of happy came from a Drama with a big OTP age gap but without the female lead either in or eligible for a school uniform. Beautiful Gong Shim suffered from bloat toward the end, but the pairing of Namgoong Min and Min Ah was pure magic. A true ajeossi romance, the thirteen years between them disappeared onscreen, replaced by irresistible fun.

We Married As a Job

This Japanese gem is now my firm favourite in the contract marriage genre, thanks to the leads. Hoshino Gen’s Hiramasa is frustratingly low on self-esteem and awareness, but his gradual awakening is satisfying to watch. Aragaki Yui shines as Mikuri, a gangly bundle of sweetness looking for fulfillment in life and love, and Ishida Yuriko’s Yurichan is all kinds of awesome, a role model for the fifty-ish everywhere. Even the end sequence deserves special mention. It may be the best I’ve ever seen. It’s definitely the most FUN end sequence I’ve ever seen.

Joie De Vivre

Juhan Shuttai

Joie de vivre is literally the very essence of this nearly flawless Japanese Drama. The lead character exudes joy at being alive. It gushes out of her so irrepressibly that it infects everyone she comes in contact with, both characters and viewers. A rare 10/10 in my personal Drama list, there were no villains, but there was a heroine, and watching this cute, perennially happy bear cub grow was a recipe for uncomplicated joy. I am 99% certain that the clip below describes the reactions of 99% of this Drama’s  viewers.

Lame Humour

The Gentlemen of Wolgyesu Tailor Shop

This fifty episode Drama still has sixteen episodes to go, but even though the requisite conflict is starting to seep in as we enter the final third, I don’t recall ever laughing so much through a weekender. I look forward to each new week with almost as much eagerness as I did for Yeah That’s How It Is. Up to this point, it has been a lowkey laughfest The OTP is similarly rare, a slow-burning, muted merging of two very quiet characters. The remove from Drama stereotypes is highlighted by the male lead’s love of puns and similar wordplay, the “lame humour” referenced above. Throw in the unique talents of Ra Mi Ran, and the implausibly cute Lee Se Young and the result is a gentle confection, the Drama equivalent of a hot chocolate with marshmallows. I hope that it ends similarly, leaving me with a warm smile, like the ones it features so prominently.

 

 

 

 

Besides the Dramas above, the biggest Drama-related source of happiness for me has been my bias, Wang Ji Won. 2016 began with her shooting her first film, and ended with her getting a new agency, one I hope will support and promote her much better than her last one did. 2016 was also the year she got her first magazine cover article, which meant that 2016 was the year I bought my first 400 page magazine in a language I don’t know. Letting my bias know I’d bought a copy earned me a second DM from her, which made it a very worthwhile investment. Making a sizeable contribution to a very well thought out gift package was another highlight of my fanboy’s year, and as I look forward to her movie releasing early in 2017, I’m already considering gift options for THAT milestone in her career.

Another reliable source of smiles this year has, once again, been my remarkable Twitter timeline. While 140 characters is not optimal for nuanced and complex conversations, it is a great medium for fun and frippery, and my diverse Twitterati have supplied plenty of both all year, thank you all. A professional polyglot man of mystery with an adorable niece, a pharmacist with a cute nephew, a salty film student in a VERY complex long distance marriage, an itinerant Aussie and a friendly Frankfurter are among those who deserve special thanks for having provided many smiles through the year as victims of my maliciously bad wordplay.

An end of year post traditionally references the year ahead, and my Drama calendar for next year includes checking out two sageuks, a development so shocking I’m surprised Dispatch didn’t break it as front page news. I am interested to see how Lee Young Ae’s return to acting goes in the fusion sageuk written specifically for her, Saimdang. I am also keen to check out the upcoming Hong Gil Dong sageuk, mostly for the talented and beautiful Lee Ha Nui. Fingers crossed she plays the gayageum in it! 2017 might also be the year I finally clear my backlog of both K and J Dramas waiting to be watched.

Other things that have brought this Aotearoa Ajeossi happiness this year have included seeing a lot more of Aotearoa, and getting to play Harabeoji a lot more often. I hope that any who read this have had real life joys and seen Dramas that provided entertaining distractions too. It is a festive time of year, so I sincerely wish everyone a happy, safe and satisfying holiday season. May you be snowed under with happiness, or baked brown with bliss, according to your hemisphere. Ka kite ano, noho ora mai!

The Best I’ve Seen? 그래, 그런거야

This is the first time I’ve been moved to write a review of a single K Drama. It’s also the first time I’ve cried when a drama ended. I didn’t cry because of how it ended, but because it ended. That’s a mark of how very special Yeah That’s How It Is has been for me. Before I get into the reasons why, I’m going to start with a lament.

Ratings show that this exceptional drama was watched by almost no one in Korea. It was watched by even fewer international viewers. I have a very strong aversion to watching dramas streamed. I will only watch dramas streamed as an absolute last resort, if they are not available at all for download, and assuming the streaming sites will even let me – the two biggest don’t. It seems the overwhelming majority of international viewers take the opposite position. The only way most international viewers will watch dramas is if they are streamed. If a drama is not streamed they will not watch, period. This means that for them, if a drama is not streamed it effectively does not exist. In a guest piece for couch-kimchi I wrote about taking the road less travelled, but on my Twitter timeline of over 400 , I was 50% of this drama’s audience. That really was the road less travelled. It saddens me that no streaming sites picked up this drama, consigning it to the abyss of nonexistence for all those international viewers who will not download dramas to watch.

My fan’s lament out of the way, onto the celebration. And there is so much to celebrate. Of the 160 or so K dramas I’ve started, Yeah That’s How It Is is probably the very best I’ve ever seen. It did pretty much nothing wrong. Ironically, my aversion to watching dramas streamed is partly rooted in the inability to fast forward them, while this drama which I downloaded required almost no use of fast forward at all. The big ratings winner among weekend dramas during the period that Yeah That’s How It Is aired was Five Children, which had many, many fans on my timeline. Many of them also tweeted advice to skip certain storylines or fast forward through sections. This is standard practice among experienced viewers of K Dramas. We all know that in many cases, K Dramas are unwatchable without the a significant use of the fast forward function. Not so with Yeah That’s How It Is. There was one character whose loud ranting dialogue I did fast forward at times, when I was not in the mood for noise, but in the end those apparently unbalanced rants proved to be yet another example of the drama’s excellence.

Yeah That’s How It Is is a slice-of-life drama. I would say it is THE slice of life drama. There is absolutely no makjang. There were no cheating spouses or exes, no birth secrets, no amnesia. The only thing that happens in the 54 episodes of the drama is life. Ordinary, everyday, relatable life. All of the characters are believable as real people, even the one who seemed most like a cliched OTT bullying drama Mum. Im Ye Jin’s character was hysterical and screaming a lot, and when watching the drama in the wee small hours of the morning I would often fast forward her scenes simply because I couldn’t handle the noise. She seemed so OTT it was like she was off her meds. As it turned out, she literally was. Her character turned out not to be another one in the endless conveyor belt of shrieking harpy K Drama Mums, but rather someone with a diagnosed and treatable medical condition, whose behaviour changed when she resumed taking her medication. That’s life.

Every character in the drama was very well written, and easy to accept as a real person. There are two main age groups represented in the drama. Three brothers and their wives in their late 50s to early 60s, and a group of half a dozen cousins and friends in the thirtysomething bracket. With my own age being neatly between those two groups, I found both very relatable. I also loved the simple genuineness of the relationship between the grandparents. The ever-reliable Lee Soon Jae and Kang Boo Ja gave me an aspirational image of what I hope my own marriage will be like in another 30 years.

I know that not many people will read this. I also know that because of the “no download” rule, of the  few who do, even fewer will watch the drama. So I’m going to take some time to celebrate some of the standout individual performances from this exceptional ensemble. Not a recap, but a tribute to excellence, a public shout out to hard-working professionals who’ve had some of their very best work almost completely overlooked. It is the very least I can do to express my gratitude to the writers and cast. I will start with the character who was the most fun:

Continue reading “The Best I’ve Seen? 그래, 그런거야”

Number 1: Day 19

Drama That Started Your Bias

 

 

I NEED ROMANCE 3

I said in the introductory post to this series that “The ten I’ve chosen are going to be listed more or less in chronological order.” We’ve had the nine less, here’s the one more.

When it comes to my bias’s fandom, I’m the ultimate outlier. I am the wrong age, the wrong gender, in the wrong country and speak the wrong language. I am, in short, just plain wrong.  Despite all of that, I AM  a fan, and as such will gladly seize any chance to sing her praises.

This was a challenging category to answer  because my crush on my bias did not start from Dramas. I fell hard for Ms Wang Ji Won (yes, that is her NAME, Google Translate) by following her on her first Instagram account. Before being hounded out of SNS  her Instagram showed a young woman with an irrepressible sense of fun, who loved being silly, with a  killer pout that captured an old man’s fan heart “with a wink and a smile”.  Add in the cat she rescued from a freeway and doesn’t torment  for SNS fodder, and she had my vote before any Drama.

A big part of that SNS fun also revolved around the first of her Dramas that really did cement her as my bias. The cast of I Need Romance 3 spent a lot of time together in social settings, and continued to get together as often as possible long after the Drama had ended. Following her IG at the same time as watching the Drama was a double whammy of cute and pretty, with a  large side order of fun. It also foreshadowed “the start of a beautiful friendship” with the scene below being re-enacted endlessly on Twitter by two fans of the actors involved:

 


fight

If INR3 was the Drama that came closest to being the start of my bias, Fated To Love You was the one that sealed the deal. The Taiwanese original featured a bad actor playing an awful character, a ballerina. The Korean remake featured a better actor playing a less horrid character, and was played by a real ballerina. Ji Won’s story of building a new career after the injury that put her in a wheelchair for 6 months and ended her 17 year ballet dream was a big part of what made me such a fan, seeing her dance again, even fleetingly, in FTLY ,  completely shattered any chance of my escaping the thrall of my bias. When she first shared the clip below, of her practicing for the FTLY role,  she said it had been 5 years since she’d danced ballet. I can’t help thinking it may have  been a bittersweet moment for her
Many of the people I follow on Twitter get to tweet enthusiastically and  at length about the aesthetic appeal of their male biases. When one’s bias is both female, and a second lead, such opportunities are rare. A sign of how low profile my bias is can be seen in the way Google treats her name. Of seven actresses I know called Ji Won, she is the only  one whose name is not recognised as such, and a youtube clip entitled “Wang Ji Won ballet”, actually features a compilation of several Ji Wons, much to my annoyance, So the missing piece of the “cement my bias” puzzle was finally supplied by the web Drama Immortal Goddess. The whole Drama was built around Wang Ji Won, with the key plot point being “Wang Ji Won is really ridiculously good looking”.

 

She got to do things  she’s never done  onscreen before, including throw up, get piggybacked, and laugh.
 FINALLY, I got to have the pure fan service experience so many of my Twitter friends get so often, and it was, as the lady herself might say, “wangderful”. While looking forward to her first movie role, a lead in a con film One Line,  I’ll close with some of my favourite shots from Immortal Goddess,  ones that highlight the Wang Ji Won I will always support:

 

And now it’s done. Thanks again to Indigo/Helena for her truly excellent Drama Challenge and for the chance to challenge myself by writing ten positive pieces. Incredibly self-indulgent they were, and that may have been off-putting to some. As a gracious host AND hardcore Wang Ji Won fan, to any who have waded through my waffle and now feel worse for wear, I will let my beautiful ballerina bias convey my sincerest regrets:

Number 3: Day 25

Drama Character You’d Actually Want To Date

As a happily-married man, I used this entry to celebrate female characters who appeal for their authenticity, the sort of characters I might want to date were I single. The fact that there’s zero chance they would want to date me is happily irrelevant.The clear winner here is the remarkable woman above. And what makes her such an attractive person is the self-awareness summed up in that screencap. She was called Ms Temper by others and the mental images people had of her ranged from this:

To this:

but the reality is she was neither, and both. Ok Da Jung was a woman who knows herself, and that is very attractive. She owned her past mistakes and had learned from them. She refused to bullied and cowed, and it’s that lack of servility that earned her the Ms Temper tag from the chauvinist men she worked with, who all either struggled to, or were completely unable to come to terms with a competent, confident woman who was good at her job and who knew it. She confronted incompetence and the patriarchy head on, every time, usually at the same time:

I really enjoyed the progression of her character throughout the Drama. She was not a one-dimensional Superwoman. She had a fractious relationship with her mother, and having been divorced several times, she had a wariness of emotional closeness. Again, she knew and accepted these things about herself, and tried to change them when she saw a need.

In terms of the Drama Challenge category there was a similar progression. The “I’d like to date her” went from the perhaps predictable attraction felt by a (very) beta male for an alpha female to the attraction felt by an adult who saw another adult. That sense of grown up realism is exactly what I’d be looking for, and the end of the Drama was perfectly in tune with that reality. Too bad that I know for a fact I’d be at the back of a LONG line of people wanting to date this awesome woman!

Option B
Hayako Sensei
Not a runner up, since she’s also someone I’d be happy to date in this hypothetical alternate reality.  I tagged the image Hayako Sensei because being a teacher was at her core. Like Ok Da Jung, she was very good at her job, and knew it. She was thoroughly committed to her job too. The whole Drama was about her looking for someone she wanted to marry, but when she found one, both their respective jobs were put first, and the marriage was left as an assumed future event.
Again like Ok Da Jung, the 34 year old Hayako knew herself quite well, except when it came to love. Towering above everyone else in the Drama, “awkwardly gangly” would also be a good description of her personal interaction. Seeing her get advice from her married and pregnant little sister showed her uncertain hesitancy in understanding her own feelings. Staying at home all her life to help and support her parents and pouring herself into her work as an elementary school teacher had been her focus, leaving her uncertain and awkward in dealing with romantic love.
Another woman who knew who she was, in terms of her strengths and weaknesses,  Hayako had a sweet heart, and a disarming diffidence. Like the Drama she was in, she was a no-drama person. Her description of what constituted her ideal marriage gelled very nicely with mine, perfectly summed up here:
Two women with much in common and some significant differences. The hypothetical harabeoji would be happy to date either one.  Such a pity that one is far too alpha, and the other far too tall!

Number 4: Day 21

Favourite Ajeossi Romance

BEAUTIFUL GONG SHIM

“It takes one to know one” – that age old childhood taunt explains why I feel uniquely qualified to tackle this category of the Drama Challenge. I am an ajeossi, nicknamed 나쁜 아저씨 by one acquaintance, a badge I wear with amused pride.

If  I’d done the 30 Day Drama Challenge a year ago, I’d probably have picked My Spring Days as my favourite ajeossi romance.  But  a new Drama has come along to claim this coveted prize. It’s so good that I’m risking The Fates by awarding it while it’s still airing. So if it tanks in the last four and becomes so bad it looks like the bastard spawn of Dr Jin  and BoF, y’all will know who to blame. Sawwry!I put a 90 second clip at the start of this piece because it so perfectly captures why this Drama is a great ajeossi romance. The 15 year age gap simply doesn’t exist, all we see are 2 people having a GREAT time in each other’s company. The onscreen chemistry between 38 year old Namgoong Min and 23 year old Minah is simply superb, a surprise and a delight.The other thing that marks this Drama as different from other ajeossi Dramas I’ve seen (so far!) is that there’s no looming end to the OTP. In both Marriage Contract  and My Spring Days, the beautiful young girl had a terminal health condition, generating a melo air, and guaranteeing a downbeat ending of one sort or another. Here, the only one likely to die IS the old man, at his young girlfriend’s hands!


choke

As natural and unselfconscious as the chemistry is between the pair, the age gap is not hidden. One scene in particular had me in stitches precisely because I’m an ajeossi. It was built around the (at time of writing) current Korean SNS trend to append the  (ng) character to words for “cute” or “aegyo” effect. Barely two weeks before the scene below aired, I’d made a jokey comment on SNS playing with this trend, so it scored a direct hit on my funny bone. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! 
 
 

KAMSAHAMNIDANG

There are plenty of flaws in Beautiful Gong Shim, but it’s still a fun watch, lit up by the performances of the two leads, their great onscreen chemistry, and the rarity of a non-tragic ajeossi romance. It’s been a great display of comic acting, especially by Namgoong Min, long typecast as evil psychopath type characters. And Minah has been a wonderful surprise for me, one more young idol whose acting has been a delight to watch. I hope both of them get to show off their comedic skills in future Dramas, and  I really, really hope that it stays like this for the 4 episodes that haven’t aired as I write this. Stay beautiful, Gong Shim!

Number 5: Day 20

Favourite Non-Romance Drama

Those who follow my twittering know that I’m an out and proud brony, not ashamed  to bawl at sad scenes (e.g. K-FTLY)  and swoon over cute OTPs (too many to mention). So non-romance Dramas don’t figure prominently in my viewing list. Of those that did, the one that really snuck in past  the rainbow arch and marshmallow gates and made a permanent home in my heart was Punch.The Drama is the story of an estranged couple, and the ex-wife of one of them.  That line was too easy for me to omit, but for all its lazy jokiness, it does touch on one of the key features of the Drama. The relationship between  pragmatically corrupt prosecutor Park Jeong Hwan (Kim Rae Won) and his mentor Lee Tae Jun (Jo Jae Hyeon) might have seemed like that between Anakin and Palpatine, except that there was a very real, very deep mutual affection. One of the best bromances I’ve seen in a K Drama, very well-depicted and so strong that jealous  resentment of the bond was a driving force for another character.For me the show did so much right, in both plot and characterisation, that I have no real quibbles (aside from miraculous neurosurgery that left KRW’s hair unscathed), but I want to single out one truly remarkable element. PPL.

PPL is a necessary evil in K Drama production of course, and the source of much tired amusement from long-suffering fans. We all know that there is a subway on every corner in Korea, and apparently even in domestic kitchens  and military tents in one recent Drama. Generally the words “subtle” and “thoughtful” are not well-suited to describing PPL insertion in K Drama: “You must be hungry” “I am, you know what feel like?” “A sandwich”  That more or less verbatim dialog from a currently airing Drama I like helps explain why I’m in awe of the way the Punch team inserted PPL into the Drama. They made it fit, and made it integral to the storyline in a way that actually made sense!

What makes that all the more remarkable is that the PPL in question was  for a smartwatch/phone combo. Smartwatch PPL is generally really bad, cringingly awful shots of a character paying for something by waving their watch or laboriously crafting a message on a watch, when both actions would’ve been done in half the time by normal people using normal devices. In Punch the smartwatch and phone’s pairing was exploited sensibly, in a way that served the needs of the manufacturer to promote their product by actually showing how the pairing could be used productively in a situation where other methods would not work.

Of course, I didn’t watch the Drama for the PPL, but the fact that they were able to insert it so intelligently is an example of the skill and craft that went into the making of the Drama. From the dual “it’s complicated” relationships of the lead (with ex wife and ex boss), to the “no looking back” Smeagol-Gollum  conversion of the jilted wannabe lead second, this Drama did everything right. Including the way it kept characters true to themselves to the end. Jeong Hwan may have ended up more or less fighting on the side of the angels, but he never was one, And then of course there’s this – a remarkable scene in which dramatic tension came to a  surprisingly tiny conclusion:

The subset of  “people who will read this” who are also “people who haven’t seen Punch”  is likely to be very small, but I urge both of you – WATCH IT!
Silver Medalist
Achiara’s Secret, about which I’ve raved here and here.

Number 6: Day 18

Favourite Second Female Lead

한고은 Han Go Eun

This was a REALLY hard one to write up. Two strong candidates, but in the end,  Ms. Han wins for the role above, for the reasons outlined below.

In Capital Scandal Ms Han plays Cha Song Joo, a high-profile gisaeng, Beautiful, sophisticated and whip smart, she is the best friend of the lead Seon Woo Wan, played by Kang Ji Hwan. It’s one of the many strengths of her character that theirs is a strictly non-romantic relationship. Genuine platonic male-female friendships are vanishingly rare in K Dramas, especially when they sizzle like this one does:


Capital Scandal by inorogbarbatesc

Cha Song Joo plays mentor and confidant to Seon Woo Wan, teaching him about love and life. The latter is where her role really shines. More than just a pretty face, she’s a resistance fighter, who turns out to have hidden depths. It’s almost certain that anyone reading this has seen Capital Scandal but just in case any reader hasn’t, I won’t give any spoilers. This post is about what makes her character and performance so special, and that is her independence and drive. Cha Song Joo stayed true to her character from beginning to end. She was never an accessory, never a damsel in distress and never suffered the dreaded love lobotomy so common in K Dramas, when a once competent independent woman becomes a simpering simpleton who can’t do anything except pine for Oppa. There was none  of that with this character. She did fall in love, hard, but she remained the same strong, intelligent and capable woman throughout. Her story arc was meaningful and satisfying, and I’m sure Ms Han considered it a role to die for.  .
Runner-Up
채정안 Chae Jeong An

When the Drama opened the lead female in 용팔이 (YawnPal) was in a coma. Long before it finally ended, many of its viewers were. This is another instance where I find myself praising something I really liked about a Drama I really disliked. Chae Jeong An plays the sister-in-law to the comatose lead, and like Ms Han’s character in Capital Scandal, hers is a confident, intelligent, independent woman. Also like Ms Han’s gisaeng, Ms Chae’s character plays up the superficiality of her beauty, pretending to be an empty headed piece of pretty fluff, all the while playing her own game. She was on no one’s side but her own, as the screencap above nicely captures, and her character revelled in the ambiguity and uncertainty she generated, as in this clip. The bright pink jacket and sunny yellow skull another nice example of  the duality of her character.


yawnpal by inorogbarbatesc

After lauding Ms Chae and her character so much, why did I end up awarding her only the runner up position? Because of a critical flaw that was absolutely no fault of hers. In Capital Scandal,  Ms. Han’s character stayed true to herself right to the end of her arc. Sadly, that did not happen to Ms Chae’s character. In an inversion of what happened to her Once Was A Romcom character, the “writer” of this Drama, with about four episodes to go,  gave her character the love lobotomy I mentioned earlier. Gone was the acerbically funny, clinically self-focused and ever guarded super second. In her place, a simpering, helpless waif who would do anything to “save her man”. The evisceration of her character made no sense, and Ms Chae did what she could with the hollowed out remains of her character, but this sadly familiar tragic end to a promising second lead denied her the win. The late stumble allowed Ms Han to steal first place by virtue of her character’s consistency. In the event that Ms. Chae  ever sees this, it is my hope that memories of her pay cheque from the Drama may at least slightly take the edge off the bitter taste of defeat.

Number 7: Day 17

Your Favourite Sidekick Character in a Drama

Henry
I stated in my introduction that I was doing this series to focus on the positive, so it’s ironic that I keep coming back to Dramas I didn’t like, The clear winner of this category is another example. Oh My Venus  had a couple of good points, including an almost unheard of maturity in its approach to the concept of people falling out of love and then in love with someone else. It happened, and when it did, it didn’t make them evil people – by  K Drama rules, that’s blasphemy! For me, though the Drama overall was Oh Meh, Venus,  Except when Henry was on screen, then it became  Oh Ma’am Venus


The Drama was my introduction to the sickeningly multi-talented, multi-lingual Henry Lau, one more Canadian tiresomely flaunting his all round awesomeness on the world stage. His impact on this Drama was such that I’ve breached one of my few cardinal rules about Drama watching.  I normally rant against the use of actors’ names to refer to the characters, but I neither know nor care what his character’s name was, he’s just Henry.Some people found his character’s sweet silliness too much, but for me, it was a treat. He was the perfect “sidekick” character. He had no dark back story, no crushing emotional or psychological baggage, he was just a genuinely sweet, fun kid, like a cute clown, one that didn’t give little kids nightmares.The other reason I’m sticking to using Mr Lau’s real name is because of the huge distance between him and his character. Fluently quadrilingual and musically talented in both performance and composition, Henry Lau is clearly the antithesis of his laid back, leisurely comic relief character. His performance is one more example of something I’ve been tweeting about a lot  – how hard good comedy is, and how under-rated, at least in K Dramas. To consistently come off as happy-go-lucky, sweet and smiling for the duration of a gruelling live shot K Drama strongly suggests that Mr Lau’s talents as an actor (in this genre at least) match his others. I hope to see him get many more chances to show off his skills. Until then, enjoy three minutes of Henry happiness!



Honourable Mention 

 

이시언 Lee Si Eon

In  Falling For Innocence, Lee Si Eon plays Oh Woo Shik, the loyal sidekick to Jeong Kyeong Ho’s chaebol-with-a-change-of-heart. Right from the start he never hesitated to offer his boss and friend forthright good advice, as in the screencap above. More than just a straight shooting confidant, though, like a true sidekick he provided moments of light relief to break the melo tone, as here


wooshik by inorogbarbatesc

And of course, he was part of one of the ultimate noona/dongsaeng, alpha female/beta male pairs. Jo Eun Ji’s performance as the wonderfully written Wendy was so good I struggle to remember her real name, and the STP that formed between her and Woo Shik was a big factor in his clinching the honourable mention award in this category. Enjoy the heartwarming start to their epic romance!




Number 9: Day 8

Worst Case of Second Lead Syndrome You’ve Experienced

Aptly enough, this is a dual winner category. Also, I went with a broader definition of SLS. In neither of these cases did I want them to “get the guy” or “get the girl”, but in both I strongly felt they were way better than the lead.

 Winner Number One 

최시원 Choi Si Won
 
The photo above relates to the Drama for which Mr Choi wins this accolade, She Was Pretty. Append the word “mehdiocre” to the title and you’d have a perfect summary of the Drama, though Go Joon Hee was VERY pretty. Choi Si Won’s second lead stole the show. Probably best known as part of Super Junior (one of Ariel Lin’s two favourite members thereof) his was almost the only role worth watching, as he rose above the  many weaknesses of the tired, unimaginative script to deliver a stellar comic performance. K Dramas tend to disdain real comedy, thinking something’s only funny if there are rivers of tears, so true clownish comedy is rare. As the reason I stuck with the Drama to its end, Choi Si Won earned his place on my Drama Challenge list, by showing he has a  gift for comedy. Some may have thought that last line was a segue.If so, I’d hate to disappoint:

 Winner Number Two

채정안 Chae Jeong An

Sometimes, a Google image search turns up a result for which the only response can be, “the level of perfection is too high”. The photo above is a great example. Ms. Chae shrugging her shoulders in bemusement at being stuck, quite literally, on second floor in her career.I first saw her in Coffee Prince , but it was the next role of hers I saw that cemented her in my mind as a super second. The Drama  총리와 나 (Once Was A Romcom) distinguished itself by taking a surprisingly strong, vibrant OTP, full of genuine romantic chemistry and comedy, and sucking the life out of both the characters and their arc. Which is why I only ever use the more accurate English translation of its Korean name. Ms Chae’s character though, went in the exact opposite direction. As Seo Hye Joo, she morphed from a clichéd clingy second, nursing unrequited love and bitterness toward the female lead,  into a strong, independent and self-assured character, master of her own destiny, and slave to no zombie spouse.

The next Drama in which CJA showed her super second skills was one featuring Joo Won and Kim Tae Hee as leads, but I’ll be writing more about that one in a later post. For now, suffice it to say that though she’s ten years younger than I am, I  happily use the hashtag conferred on her by a longtime fanboy. She definitely is #AwesomeNoona  — sheer magic!

 

Number 10: Day 3

Actress(es) That Proved You Wrong About Their Acting Abilities

 
이열음 Lee Yeol Eum
It’s perhaps a little misleading to say  this young woman “surprised me” about her acting ability. That implies I thought she was a bad actress and was pleasantly surprised to find that she was not.  In fact, she simply surprised me, period.
Student Stalker
She appeared on my Drama viewing radar very suddenly in King of High School Savvy, playing the clingy, borderline psychotic-stalker wannabe girlfriend to Seo In Guk’s lead character, and dongsaeng to Lee Ha Na’s female lead.  She was playing more or less her own age, and delivered a credible performance for her first major supporting role. The character’s arc was predictable, going from crazy stalker to revealing hidden vulnerabilities, but her performance did not strike any false notes with me.
Office Maknae
Just eight months after KoHS ended, she was back in another supporting role, as the office maknae in Divorce Lawyer in Love. A certain stunner in a blue dress excepted (stay tuned), DLiL was NOT a good Drama, but Ms Lee’s performance was one of the few bright spots. Her character was worlds away from the high schooler she portrayed in KoHS, as shown in the clip above. Despite the obvious age gap, her character was very much the alpha in the pair. Once again, I did not ever find myself thinking that she was out of her depth or lacking credibility in the part. Her best was yet to come, though.
Little Lolita Lost

lye2 by inorogbarbatesc

I raved about Achiara’s Secret in  more general terms  elsewhere, so this time I’m focusing on Ms Lee’s performance. This Drama came just four months after DLiL,  but was worlds away in tone from it. No fragile clingy high school crush here, nor a matter-of-fact young office worker. She was back playing a high schooler, but this one was a bully and a scheming manipulator who made a concerted play for someone who turned out to be very much off limits. Her character was not “nice” by any means, but she was definitely a victim. Despite the magnitude of her sins, she turned out to be very much more sinned against. As the clip above shows, she thought she was a big bad wolf, but was nearer to being Little Red Riding Hood.  I thought Ms Lee handled the challenge of portraying the differing yet closely connected facets of the character well.

 
Onward and Upward
 

After Achiara,  Ms. Lee secured her first lead, as the young version of the lead character in Monster. Fifty episode revenge melos are really  not for me, so I didn’t watch it, but it’s an important part of the reason I chose her for Day 3 of the challenge. She is a very hard-working young actor. While both DLiL  and Achiara  were airing, she had a small part in a KBS daily, Save The Family,  and she maintains a very astutely thought out and ruthlessly managed presence on Instagram, helping to maintain and grow her public profile. She is in short, a young lady who is clearly serious about her chosen profession and works hard to grow her skills and challenge herself by taking on a variety of different roles. In a world where more famous faces get cast as leads on debut despite reservations about their talent, it really is  a pleasant surprise to see an actor “doing her time” as it were, working her way up by diligent practice in honing her craft. I look forward to seeing her in other  roles and will not be at all surprised if she becomes a big name in the future.



Addendum: Two others I considered strong candidates for this category were Dasom for her work in Shut Up Family  and  Eccentric Daughter-in-Law  and Minah for her great performance in Beautiful Gong Shim