Ever year Korea produces between 140 and 150 dramas for TV and Cable. Not all of these are easily accessible to the overseas fan, although the export of Korean content has been improving more and more each year. We did take a hit, however, with the sudden shut down of Drama Fever.
Most years have a mega-hit drama, like Coffee Prince for 2007, Boys Over Flowers for 2009 and Heirs in 2013. More recently who can forget Descendants Of The Sun, or Goblin. Unfortunately I didn’t feel that 2018 had one of those unforgettable, almost iconic dramas. That’s not to say that there weren’t some enjoyable and good dramas, just for me there wasn’t a great one.
For 2018 I only watched 14 dramas all the way through. I did however start watching over 20 others. Some of these I dropped after a couple of episodes, while for others I lasted more than half way through. I’ve been watching Kdramas for almost a decade now and I think that I’ve moved on from the novelty of the genre to being a more discerning viewer, which means if the actors and plot aren’t engaging enough I lose interest. Yes, even if it has a favorite actor or idol bias in it.
So what did I enjoy enough to recommend?
What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim. ( June 2018 – July 2018 )
I didn’t rush to watch this when it first came out because yet again it contained so many of the old tropes, the rich standoffish chaebol boss, the efficient female assistant, the shared past trauma, and of course the realization they were each others first love. But with the talented cast of Park Seo Joon, Park Min Young, Lee Tae Hwan, and Kang Ki Young it was inevitable that I would watch it anyway. And of course I’m so glad I did.
I was pleasantly surprised.
Park Seo Joon is a fantastic romantic comedy actor in that I can totally fall for his looks one minute, and be laughing at his goofball actions and expressions the next. He has a fantastic sense of the comedic and it doesn’t look forced as it does with some other romantic actors. He also doesn’t steal the limelight, for example when Kang Ki Young is being funny Park Seo Joon becomes the perfect straight man.
Park Min Young who plays Secretary Kim proved herself to be perfectly capable, both as her character Kim Mi So, and as the lead actress. She had a charm and inner strength that shone through as Secretary Kim had to deal with her socially clueless boss, as well as the demands of her work and home life. Not a typical female leading character, she had her own thoughts and opinions which she usually kept hidden under a ‘perfect’ secretary image. She was in no way the weaker partner in the romantic relationship. In many ways it ended up showing a much more adult relationship than is seen in many Kdramas.
There always has to be a third wheel, or a character that tries to spoil the lead character’s plans and love, here it was Lee Young Joon’s unhappy and vindictive older brother played by Lee Tae Hwan. As the disruptive force on the lead’s relationship he was sufficiently manipulative and disarming. At times he even evoked sympathy from the audience, even though we knew his intentions were selfish and hurtful towards his brother.
To counter the darker aspects there needs to be comedic relief which was admirably performed by Kang Ki Young who played the part of Lee Young Joon’s friend, adviser and confidante. Kang is one of the most talented and like-able supporting actors around and has a prolific and stellar resume. He adds something to every drama he’s been in.
The supporting cast was made up of some familiar faces and they all added to the high quality of the drama. Their subplots also added some levity and interest to the story and added depth and a counter balance to the development of the main love story.
The plot was somewhat predictable, but it turned out that really didn’t matter. The story was carried and uplifted by the performances of all the actors. There was sufficient mystery to keep one guessing for just enough time before it was overdone. There were plenty of romantic moments to tug at our hearts and enough comedy to cheer us along. The writers did a good job of keeping the story moving and thankfully refrained from having all the members of the hero’s family dislike the heroine.
Overall it was an entertaining drama that I would recommend. Although many people don’t like the word, it was a pleasant drama in that it gave me a sense of happy satisfaction and enjoyment. It was also one of the highest rated dramas in Korean cable TV history so I obviously was not alone in my enjoyment of What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim.
Kdramas stories often go in cycles with certain themes being more prominent for a couple of years before something else takes its place. 2018 started off with the rise of AI in I’m Not A Robot and Are You Human Too. Based off slightly fantastic concepts they showed Korea’s new focus in their real life technology industries. I’m Not A Robot had some funny and touching scenes, but overall I thought it was a little lightweight. It was cute and fun for a quick binge on a rainy weekend, but it didn’t demand all my attention. I never actually finished Are You human Too although I might go back and finish it as it showed some potential, and the first episodes showed some lovely overseas footage. It also seemed set up to have more depth in asking the questions about what makes someone, or something really human.
There were also a lot more crime, lawyer, courtroom type dramas than is usual. Lawless Lawyer, starring one of my favorite actors Lee Joon Gi, was a little more physical that the usual ‘law’ themed dramas as the writers also focused on the lead character’s martial arts skills. I did enjoy this one but there were a couple of times towards the end when I was tempted to skip an episode or two. I think the plot could have been tightened down to 14 episodes and produced a more impacting story. Still worth a watch though if you like Lee Joon Gi, or an underdog wins the day type drama.
My favorite ‘law’ drama was story about a newly appointed judge fighting the system. Although taking place in the courtroom in many ways it was a drama about people, how they act, react, how they make mistakes, or even how they can be truly evil. How power can corrupt and how one righteous person can make a difference.
Starring the talented Go Ara backed up by L, Sung Dong Il and a wonderful supporting cast the drama managed to make me smile, laugh, and cry. Some of the stories outraged me and made me furious, while they also showed how legal rights may not be the same the world over. It seems though that all over the world the rich have an advantage over the average Joe so it was nice to see Go Ara’s character bring them down a peg or two.
There was romance running through the storyline as well as growing up, and learning to be a better person, but none of it was particularly preachy. Well except occasionally the main character was a bit like a steamroller in her righteous indignation at the way the court system actually worked versus how it should work. This drama is quite timely as Korea is going through some issues with its Judicial system.
Not a heavy courtroom drama, it remained watchable throughout and I do recommend it.
There are other Kdramas on my favorites list and will continue in part 2. Please watch out for it. If you want to share your favorite dramas for 2018 in the comments section below I would love to hear from you.
Have a great day everyone.
Please do not copy or use without permission and accreditation.
All photo credits go to original owners.