Must Watch K-Dramas of 2011

With the end of 2011 and a new year beginning, what better time to look back at the fantastic entertainment the Korean drama scene has given us. Over the past 12 months there have been drama releases that have had us laughing hard and moments of pure sadness. Although I can’t list every single drama I have had the pleasure of watching this past year, I have decided to at least share a few of my favourites, the ones I would recommend watching.

Secret Garden – 20 Episodes

Starting November 2010, and finishing in January 2011, in a short amount of time this managed to grab many awards at both the “SBS Drama Awards” and the “47th Paeksang Arts Awards in 2011. 

Revolving around a wealthy CEO (Hyun Bin) and a poor stunt woman (Ha Ji Won), and a little help from a mysterious person in a secret garden, their lives are turned upside down and thrown into turmoil as suddenly the two main characters switch souls. Through the grueling time of body swapping, the pair learn more about each other, making sacrifices and learning of the others painful past and slowly love is found. Delving into the story telling of  “The Prince and the Pauper“, but with a very cleverly thought out twist, this is one of the highest rated dramas that I would recommend to all old school and new comers to the Kdrama scene.

The acting is of high quality, to the point that you grow attached to the characters and forget they are movie stars in Korea. The story has many twists and turns that will have you cheering, sobbing, laughing and shouting at the screen. This is one of those dramas you never want to end and you will not be disappointed in watching. The OST is fantastic, and really helps the flow. Hyun Bin even showed off his many talents and did his own cover of “That Man” causing many fans to applaud him for his hard work.

Dream High – 16 Episodes

Kirin High School Of Arts is host to six hopefull outcast teenagers who set out to pursue their dreams in entering the entertainment business. Coming from completely different backgrounds the six pupils become friends and rivals as we see them fight for the chance to become a star.

With the popularity of “High School Musical” and “Glee” Korea certainly jumped on the bandwagon and created a rather popular teenage school musical drama. Filled with Kpop idols such as Taecyeon (2PM), Wooyoung (2PM), EunJung (T-ara), Suzy (MissA), and IU, the series also includes some big name actors and musical actors from Korea, not to mention Park Jin Young the CEO Of JYPEntertainment. The musical side of the drama is completely breathtaking, with dancing and stunts to make your jaw drop, but there has to be something to criticise, and unfortunately it would be the acting. The acting could be a lot better from the Kpop idols. I understand that it’s their first time doing something like this, but in some parts it really made me cringe. 

The OST is one that I recommend, filled with the typical orchestral and instrumental songs, but more prominently the covers of new and old Kpop songs and the release of new songs by the Kpop idols. If you like your teenage musicals, you will love this drama, or even if you like a story about those going from nothing to something, then this is the drama for you.

Paradise Ranch – 16 Episodes

Once married at the age of 19 and madly in love, the two main characters played by Changmin (DBSK/TVXQ) and Lee Yeon Hee try desperately to convince their parents that they are doing the right thing. Six months later, they are divorced. At a horse auction in Australia six years later, the two meet up by accident and through a lot of ups and downs, with the obligatory interferences of other people, they realise that all the feelings they let go years ago, are still lingering. 

With the expertise of Lee Yeon Hee, she made the acting debut for Changmin a lot easier, where you could see the chemistry between the actors and characters. In Kdramas it seems the storylines always revolve around happiness and pathos; this is no different. The lead characters had their moments of sadness, but I found myself drawn to the supporting characters lives as a love triangle forms. The OST for the most part gives over a sense of silliness and a happy go lucky sound, though at some points the scene and mood is ruined by misjudged background music. There are still some amazingly beautiful instrumental songs on the album. Not exactly a favourite drama of all time, this story is still a good watch, and one I would recommend to others.  

49 Days – 20 Episodes

If you were given a second chance before your death to right your wrongs and say your last goodbyes, would you? Given 49 Days by her scheduler (one of the Angels of death) Ji-Hyun (Nam Gyu-Ri) has to find three people who will shed genuine tears for her. Before her death she had a perfect life, but being given a second chance she takes over a more distraught lady’s body and realises that her life wasn’t as perfect as she thought. Hyun finds out that there was a love she never knew, and the love she thought she had was all part of a masquerade.

The love triangles and twists in this drama are what kept me hooked. Storyline wise it’s very unpredictable and you’re constantly wondering what the director is going to throw at you next. The one little gripe I have about the drama is the ending, which left me so dissapointed at how rushed it felt. With a huge major twist there wasn’t enough time to grasp it before the series ended. The best thing to come out of this series was actor Jung Il Woo, his emotional scenes totally made him the next best upcoming drama actor, but with the help of the cast you are completely thrown into a roller-coaster of emotions. If you like something with a good balance of funny and sad moments only to end in an all out tearfest, then this is the drama to watch, although be warned, tissues will be needed. 

City Hunter – 20 Episodes

Based on the Anime and Manga of the same name, we follow the life of Jun Pyo, portrayed by leading hallyu star Lee Min Ho. An action drama that shows the work of spies in North Korea against the president of the South, with a subplot involving kidnapping and revenge, this is packed with intense gunfights.

I do like my action dramas, but they are extremely serious, and usually have a meaningless relationship or love story thrown in. This drama was completely different. Incorporating a meaningful love story and moments that make you giggle and cringe (with the help of his “uncle”) to having a battle to the death with extremely realistic acting. 

I completely take my hat off to the actors and actresses in the show. Never have I been so attached to a storyline, wanting to see it go on forever. With twists and moments that will have your brain working overtime, it’s like a James Bond movie made into a TV series. The OST is also one that you can listen to at any point of the day or night. Filled with retro and modern sounds, classical instrumentals and soft vocals, the music alone can tell a story. I applaud the director and actors and sit patiently awaiting news of a possible second series.

Scent Of A Woman – 16 Episodes

Having a life with only the troubles of working, Lee Yeon Jae (Kim Sun Ah) lives her days freely. A routine medical checkup after a minor car accident and she is diagnosed with Cancer. Thus starts a story of how this lady fights to change her ways and tries to achieve everything she has wanted to do before she dies, a bit like a bucket list. Along the way there are some funny moments, and an unthinkable love begins to bloom. A doctor who is actually an old friend then forms a love triangle, and whilst showing the difficulties and heartache the leading lady goes through, it also brings a sense of hope.

There is a prominent scene in this drama revolving around the use of the main characters learning to dance the tango. This one scene has so much lust and chemistry, it puts you on the edge of your seat, willing it to go further. The music is very fitting throughout the drama, light, softhearted, yet not to depressing, and the character development is once again fantastic. My only gripe is the ending, although possibly a clever way to conclude, I was not happy and felt like there could have been a few more episodes so that we could have complete closure.
 

Protect the Boss – 18 Episodes

Originally I only watched this drama to see JYJ’s JaeJoong. It tells the typical story of an heir to a huge company being a spoilt brat, with the father bringing in a little help from a person he would never associate with. The twist with Protect the Boss, is that the person with a bad past is the female, and one who won’t stand for any back chatting. Taking her first real job seriously she is thrown into a pit of despair, but with a love square happening in front of her face, she is drawn between two good looking men, both with different characteristics. Will she choose the gentleman, or the one who needs some work?

Character development is actually fast. After seeing the leads in a few scenes you already know what stereotypical characters they are going to be, which can sometimes be a bit monotonous, but in the case of this drama all the actors portrayed it professionally and then added their own twist. The music is a great addition to making the drama work, filled full of kpop stars with a mix of pop, metal and ballad, it covers every genre you could want, and presents it in time with the emotions the characters are portraying. Defiantly a must see drama.

 

Vampire Prosecutor – 12 Episodes

Prosecutor Min Tae Yeon (Yun Jung Hoon) is set on revenge after he receives knowledge of his sisters death. A car chase begins which ends in a crash. Looking through dazed eyes, the assumed killer of his sister is shrouded in a dark cape, hiding his face from view, and feeds on his next victim. Through ten mini stories it shows how our prosecutor uses his vampire abilities to help the truth be seen. But through a gentle twist to the storyline as a whole, you realise that each victim suddenly becomes part of a whole bigger picture.

Depending on what form of vampire you are used to, it makes a real nice change to see the basics are still placed within this story (drinking of blood, eternal youth, pointy fangs), and seeing an Asian man with bright blue eyes totally won me over for the portrayal of a vampire. It’s a little monotonous how each little story is told, but the replay scenes of how each victim dies makes up for it. The characters are well thought out, and although there is a very small glimmer of a love story, you are definitely left craving more on its development by the last episode. For fans of this drama there is a trailer out currently stating that there will be a second season.

 A Thousand Days Promise – 20 Episodes

After just turning 30, a fantastic future and a perfect job lies ahead for Lee Seo Yeon (Soo Ae). Believing nothing can go wrong, even breaking up with a to-be-wed man didn’t phase her. Suddenly her brother notices she is forgetting more than often, which sends alarm bells ringing. Thinking she is overly exhausted she goes for a routine check up, only to be told she is in the early stages of Dementia. Best friend Park Ji-Hyung (Kim Rae-won) realises he does not want to marry the woman that has been arranged for him, and decides to look after Yeon instead. Slowly poems and riddles she used to know disappear and the simple task of walking a road she walked twice a day suddenly becomes a labyrinth. Lastly names and faces of her loved ones suddenly become ghosts. It shows how a young person copes with dementia and the knowledge that in the end, no matter how hard she tries to fight it, she will eventually die.

The OST completely made this drama for me. The music is a huge factor, to the point where I was sat feeling sad at many points, but when the music came onto the scene, I ended up sobbing. The acting is done seriously and instead of pointing fingers and laughing at the disability, it’s done in such a way that you are informed. The idea of losing all memory of your life and the people in it is a scary concept, and I don’t think you could ask for a better portrayal of that feeling. A completely moving drama.

Flower Boy Ramyun Shop – 16 Episodes

Yang Eun Bi (Lee Chung Ah) is an intern teacher, trying to prove that she can be a great teacher, but along the way her love life turns for the worst, as she sees her long term boyfriend cheating on her. The snob nosed son and heir to a big company enlists in the school and decides to make her life a living hell. With the sudden death of her father, the intern leaves her teaching job, and runs a ramyun shop, where she finds out that her father gave all the rights to an extremely handsome stranger, Choi Kang Hyuk (Lee Ki Woo), who turns out to be an adult with autism. Through lots of love, laughs and crying, the shop turns from a heartless battered shop, to a fresh, clean, flower boy filled ramyun shop, telling the typical love story, with a few obligatory twists thrown in.

If you love your good looking men, with a little bit of silliness and a little sadness, then this drama is for you. Very upbeat, but I would have liked a little more character developmental time. In places it does seem very drawn out, and then in others it seems too rushed. The OST is alright, nothing overly impressive, though Jung Il Woo, our lead man, did do one of the OST songs. 

Every year the Kdrama scene gets better and better, but 2011 has definitely been one of the best in all the many years I have been watching them. 2012 has a lot to live up to, and with the release of “Whats up?” “Colour Of Women” and “Dream High 2” it seems that 2012 is not going down without a fight.

Sources: HanCinema, AsianMediaWiki, Dramacrazy

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