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My First K-Dramas

After writing last week’s review for My Princess and Queen Seondeok, I started reminiscing about the earliest K-dramas I watched as a new K-drama watcher. What drew me to them? Did I enjoy them or did I try to forget them immediately after finishing them? I thought I’d put a brief compilation of the first K-dramas I watched and my thoughts and feelings I have for these dramas then and now.

Kim Su-Ro, Iron King
Type: Korean Drama
Year: 2010
Episodes: 32
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5

                Ahh the days when I was searching for saguek dramas. After watching Queen Seondeok, I really wanted to find another great historical drama. In some ways, Kim Su-Ro delivered, but the drama still left a lot to be desired for me by the end.

the beautiful Heo Hwang-Ok

            The story-line follows the life of Kim Su-Ro, the first king who founded the state Geumgwan Gaya, one of the three countries in the Three Kingdom period of Korea (roughly early 1st century). Kim Su-Ro is separated from his birth mother, who goes on to marry a village leader and have another son. Su-Ro grows up as a vagabond and eventually finds out the identity of his mother. He becomes entangled in a rivalry with his half-brother to lead Gaya and fights political enemies including a ruthless village lord and an old friend. Meanwhile, two women have claims on his heart – his first love, Ah-Hyo, and a Korean-Indian girl, Heo Hwang-Ok.

If only the writers let them have as much chemistry
as they have in this picture 
              This drama stars Ji Sung, which I felt was great casting. Ji Sung fleshes out Su-Ro, starting out as a playful, mischievous youth to a somber leader who leads the people of Gaya. He makes Su-Ro likable and enjoyable as the main character – someone you don’t have trouble rooting for. I really liked Ji Sung’s romance with the spunky Ah-Hyo. This led to some difficulty in accepting his later romance with Hwang-Ok. I blame the romance issues mainly on writing, though, as the writers showed Su-Ro and Ah-Hyo as very affectionate with cute banter, but made Hwang-Ok and Su-Ro strangely quiet and passive. I remember that I stopped watching the drama half-way (mainly because I was annoyed at where the love triangle was going) and then ended up returning and finishing the drama later on. I do give this saguek points for having a happy ending. That is really difficult to find in historical dramas, but again there were a lot of tears during the middle of the show, so it probably all balanced out.

Gourmet
Type: Korean Drama
Year: 2008
Episodes: 24
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5

                Nothing like a drama about food and brotherly competition to pass your time with. This contemporary k-drama details the adventures of a young, likable cook, Lee Sung-Chan, who leaves his family’s restaurant business to learn about more food. He meets a girl reporter who he has a love-hate relationship with. Meanwhile, his step-brother, Oh Bong-Joo, feels threatened by Sung-Chan when Bong Joo’s dad refuses to automatically give the restaurant to him just because he is his son.

Kim Rae-Won as Lee Sung-Chan

I believe this was my second contemporary Korean drama after My Princess. Kim Rae-Won stars as the adorkable Lee Sung-Chan and was most definitely the reason I stuck around. He had a very down-to-earth charm to him and I’ve always been a sucker for brother stories (whether the brothers get along or are at odds with one another). I also liked the silly fighting between him and the reporter, Kim Jin-Soo. I distinctly remember laughing at the part when he thought she got a snake bite, lol. The story is very predictable and most of the episodes are about Sung-Chan solving someone’s problem with the power of food. Overall, I think if I watched this drama today, I wouldn’t have finished it. It’s 24 episodes long, pretty slow, and doesn’t have a lot of plot. Still the cute moments have left me with fond memories of this 2008 drama.

The Kingdom of the Winds
Type: Korean Drama
Year: 2008
Episodes: 36
My Rating: 2.5 out of 5

                Another attempt of mine to find an epic saguek. The Kingdom of the Winds had a lot going for it – beautiful period feel, intense dramatic moments, and a very somber veneer that promised style. In the end, I think style overcame substance and left me with very little to remember.

                Prince Muhyul was born under a horrific prophecy; that he would be the cause of death of his family and his country. His father, King Yuri of Goguryeo, abandoned him, and Muhyul grew up oblivious to his past. Through complex events, Muhyul ends up joining assassins of Buyeo to kill King Yuri, who he blames for the death of someone close to him. There he befriends a prominent assassin, Dojin, and the princess of Buyeo. Only Muhyul learns that he is really King Yuri’s son and destined to bring ruin to the nation of Goguryeo. Despite this, Muhyul comes back to the palace only to face the queen, a cruel step-mother, and his competition, his younger half brother. Across the border, Buyeo’s is still intent on destroying the nation of Goguryeo and makes Dojin his heir.

Well hello, Prince Muhyul
                What I liked about this drama: the childhood part of the story is extremely brief. I’m not a huge fan of so many episodes dedicated to characters as children. Instead we are immediately swept into the first few episodes of this drama. A huge battle intro, a mysterious, deadly cave keeping an ancient sword inside, terrifying prophesies involving a prince – it seemed like the beginning of a compelling drama.

Warrior pose
Only too late did I realize this drama was nothing but angsty pain and unsaid feelings. There just weren’t enough humorous or light-hearted moments. Muhyul spent most of his time brooding. Other characters only brooded. I can’t remember if Dojin ever smiled. He probably didn’t even know how to.
"If I ever smile, kill me." - probably Dojin's opening line
                Sadly, I was not a huge fan of the romance. Muhyul and Princess Yeon were extremely restrained as characters and I didn’t feel the chemistry. Even worse, I began shipping the princess with her loyal assassin and childhood friend, Dojin, which meant constant disappointment that Yeon wouldn’t respond to his feelings for her. Especially since Yeon as a princess of Buyeo was destined to never be with a prince of Goguryeo. Which just meant more longing and angst.

Compassionate Princess Yeon
                The Kingdom of the Winds is best labeled as a tragedy. About halfway in the drama, I had an inkling this drama was only going to keep darker and darker. I decided to do what drama watchers should never do – I skipped ahead and watched the ending. I was a bit disappointed to find so many characters were killed leaving Muhyul alone. In the end, I didn’t go back and watch the other episodes. There just wasn’t enough interesting character growth or exciting moments to garner such effort from me.

Tamra, the Island
Type: Korean Drama
Year: 2009
Episodes: 16
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5

                If The Kingdom of the Winds was attempting to be slick and cool, Tamra, the Island just wanted to be fun and cute. Well, at least it started that way…

                Even though it’s the 17th century, young William Spencer wants to travel the world. He joins a Japanese merchant, Yan, intent on traveling to Japan but gets shipwrecked on the island Jeju (also known as Tamra) which is a part of the isolated kingdom Joseon (former Korea). He meets a cute, spunky diver, Jang Beo-Jin, who hides him and takes care of him. Meanwhile Beo-Jin is dealing with a young aristocratic exile, Park Gyu, who is staying at her family’s house. Can Beo-Jin keep William a secret to the suspicious residents of the island, and can she find out the strange mysteries surrounding the rich but bumbling Park Gyu?

Park Gyu, the newest exile to Jeju Island
                I love stories like this – different cultures and peoples meeting each other in a time that made it a rarity. There were plenty of comedic moments in this show involving William, the blond foreigner hiding out on Jeju island, and also with Park Gyu, the aristocrat exiled to country life. Tamra, the Island began on a few strange notes with odd humor, bathroom jokes, and some erratic pacing. The drama slowly gained its footing though and it wasn’t long before I thought it was sweet, funny and adorable. Things took a turn once they left Jeju island to the mainland, Joseon. I wasn’t a huge fan of the added melodrama and tears or Park Gyu’s overbearing mother who kept hounding Beo-Jin. Thankfully the drama pulled itself together at the end and delivered a happy ending.

Beo-Jin and Park Gyu
                Casting wise, I thought Seo Woo brought the perfect amount of adorableness to the young heroine Beo-Jin. My favorite character was Park Gyu, who clearly thought he was serious and all-that, but was really just a cute dork. William, on the other hand, was a character that I had a lot of trouble accepting. This is mainly to blame on the fact that he’s really a model and not an actor. On top of that he’s actually French not English. And that terrible blond wig that made him look like a surfer-wannabe. Ha. There were a lot of great supporting characters, the highlight being Beo-Jin's family who play a sizable role in the story as they help their daughter find her place in the world.



                In the end, this story was really about family and growing up. This cute, at times silly, coming-of-age story drama still has that ability to speak about the joys and pain of moving from childhood to adulthood. If you like coming-of-age tales or enjoy alternate history stories as much as I do, I'd definitely give this a recommendation.

Comments

  1. I love this idea, of going over what your first dramas were! I can't say that I have seen any of these, but Gourmet was very nearly one of the first ones I watched. I don't know why I never went back to it though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is a lot of fun to think back on the first shows you watched that made you a drama fan.
      I think some of my tastes have changed (and some have remained the same). I definitely watch less saguek dramas (back then I was searching for another Queen Seondeok to love, hehe). I'd probably still have watched Tamra the Island today, simply because I love culture cross-over stories like that. ;)

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    2. I want to give Tamra a try, because I really loved Im Joo Hwan in Oh My Ghostess and What's Up. Not to mention all of his guest appearances on Running Man!

      I think it's really interesting to see how tastes can change! Lord knows mine have! I am a lot less forgiving of dramas now than I was in the beginning. Though, I still can't watch straight up comedies. They can be a little too slapstick for my tastes!

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    3. Tamra was definitely cute. And you watch Running Man? Oh my goodness, I love that show! I literally went back and watched every episode lol. Needless to say, I was watching the show daily for quite awhile.

      I'm less forgiving myself. I used to just pick a random drama, now I try and find a recap or something about it so I know if I want to spend 16+ episodes on it. I don't think I've watched any straight up comedies but I'm not a big fan of slapstick. And straight screwball comedies annoy me too. Just because I need some grounding of reality or it makes me crazy.

      Delete

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