TV / Movies

Korean Dramas: 2012 Best of the Best, Part 3

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In the final installment of hellokpop’s 2012 Best of the Best Korean Dramas, we delve into the realms of eclectic romance, melodrama, romantic comedy and historical fantasy. We are, of course, talking about the dramas Love RainNice GuyA Gentleman’s Dignity, and Faith. While all four of these dramas bring something different to the proverbial drama table, their love stories are at the heart of their appeal.

Our definite pick for the best romance drama of the year, Love Rain tells the story of of young college student, In-ha, played by the world-renowned actor and “Prince of Korea” Jang Geun Suk, who falls in love with Yoon-hee (Yoona from Girl’s Generation) after seeing her for a mere three seconds on campus. This drama is a multi-generational love story beginning in the late 1970’s and then flashing forward to present day with the main leads playing dual roles, as younger versions of their parents and as their present day counterparts.

In-ha, a somewhat introverted and quiet yet bold art student, is instantly captivated by Yoon-hee’s beauty. After later seeing her sitting on a park bench outside his studio, he does something that he swore he’d never do. Inspired by her resounding beauty, In-ha paints the first and last portrait of his life with Yoon-hee as the subject. Determined to get to know Yoon-hee better, In-ha tries to talk to her and eventually turns her heart towards him, when tragedy strikes. Yoon-hee is diagnosed with a disease and after a difficult decision made by her family, she decides to leave Korea for America, leaving In-ha and her new friends behind. In-ha, devastated by Yoon-hee’s abrupt and somewhat cold departure, throws himself into his work and becomes cold and distant to everyone except his closest friends and singing buddies Dong-wook (Kim Shi-hoo) and Chang Mo (Seo In Guk).

The series then flashes to present day, where In-ha (now played by Jung Jin-young) is a world-renowned and divorced painter with a son named Seo Joon (Jang Geun Suk). He has spent his life emotionally withdrawn from the world due to the loss of his beloved Yoon-hee, and has alienated not only his ex-wife but also his son. Seo Joon has grown up to be an arrogant, cold playboy and similarly world-renowned photographer who has seen his share of dysfunctional relationships. While on a trip to Japan for a photo shoot, he randomly bumps into Ha-Na (Yoona), daughter of Yoon-hee, on a train station platform, causing her cell phone to fall out and land in Seo Joon’s pocket. Later Seo Joon hears a strange ringtone and finds her cellphone. After several hits-and-misses to meet back up with each other to return it to her, they meet up on a mountain known for its “Diamond Snow” legend, which states that if a couple watches the diamond snowfall they will love each other forever. Unbelieving of the old legend, Seo Joon watches the snowfall with Ha-na, never realizing that there was truth to that legend after all.

As the story progresses, Ha-Na is hired as a gardener by Lee Sun Ho (Kim Shi-hoo), son of Dong Wook (now played by Kwon In-ha) and owner of the building where his medical practice and Seo Joon’s studio is located. Ha-Na sets to the task of repairing and replanting the patio garden when she runs into Seo Joon again. Over time, Seo Joon and Ha-Na fall madly in love with one another and all seems like a bed of roses – until it is revealed that Ha-Na’s mother Yoon-hee (now played by Lee Mi-sook) and Seo Joon’s father were once in love and still harbor that love to this day. Conflicted between love for Seo Joon and love for her mother, Ha-Na decides to break off the relationship with Seo Joon for the sake of her mother’s happiness.

Love Rain is a romance addict’ dream. Full of emotional ups and downs and twists and turns, Love Rain leaves its romance drama predecessors in the dust with a captivating and unique story, heartbreaking dialogue, and interpersonal relationships that leave the viewer stunned, devastated, and sobbing. For our hopeless romantics out there, this drama is definitely a three-boxes-of-tissues kind of show.

One of the biggest draws of this drama is the internal conflict that Seo Joon and Ha-Na have to deal with in regards to their parents’ past relationship. Falling in love with someone so deeply and so strongly, only to find out that you shouldn’t be together because of the past generation, brings forth an emotional reaction in the viewer that leaves them begging the fates to allow their love to endure. Jang Geun Suk and Yoona give heart-wrenching performances as Seo Joon and Ha-Na. Jang Geun Suk, a highly sought-after and adored-the-world-over actor and model, gives a performance that leaves you not only thoroughly impressed with his abilities but downright shocked over how a mere mortal could give such a passionate and believable performance. Yoona gives a stellar performance and shows off her true acting abilities that, up until now, seemed to have been stifled by her previous roles. Their onscreen presence, charisma, and passionate chemistry, mixed with the drama’s dialogue and reoccurring symbolism, make Love Rain truly a drama to remember for a lifetime.

The general use of symbolism in a drama isn’t a rarity, but is usually less subtle in most dramas. However, unlike past dramas, Love Rain’s symbolism is quite obvious and leaves a lasting impression. During the 1970s, when In-ah and Yoon-hee meet, falling rain becomes a reoccurring event that persists to the future. The highlights of the romance that occurs during the past repeat themselves in the future with Seo Joon and Ha-Na, with slight differences. This use of rain and the emphasis of its affect on the deepening of the characters’ love for one another become even more apparent as time goes on.

The musical score for this drama is also very noteworthy. We all know that dramas have continually improved over the years when it comes to background music and official soundtracks (OSTs). Love Rain’s use of the theatrical score and title track from the OST enhances the emotion felt from the drama and dialogue on an epic scale. One of the things that draw the viewer back for every episode is this incorporation. Without the music, Love Rain would lose that something extra special that it has with the music included.

As a hopeless romantic myself, I can honestly say that Love Rain quickly earned a spot in my personal all-time favorite romance drama list. Watching this drama left me not only crying like a child but gave me a renewed hope that love can stand the test of time. All in all, Love Rain is definitely a drama to watch if you haven’t.

 

Our next drama, Nice Guy (Innocent Man), is a romantic revenge melodrama filled with love, hate, betrayal, amnesia, heartbreak, corporate espionage, and tragedy. It stars Song Joong-ki as Ma-roo, a promising young medical student with dreams of lifting himself up from his station in life, and his childhood friend Jae-Hee (Park Si-Yeon), who is now the hottest reporter at a broadcasting station. One day, Ma-roo returns to find his little sister Cho-ko (Lee Yoo-bi) once again feverishly ill, and before he can manage to take her to the emergency room, he receives a frantic call from Jae-hee.

She tells him that she thinks she killed someone and begs for Ma-roo to come to the hotel. Forgoing his sick sister, Ma-roo leaves her side and runs to Jae-hee. Arriving at the hotel, he finds Jae-hee crying on the floor a few feet from the body of an unknown man in a pool of blood. Ma-roo convinces Jae-hee to turn herself in to the police on the grounds of self-defense, but at the last minute decides to take the rap himself.

The drama flashes to six years later, where we find Ma-roo has turned into an arrogant and sly conman after serving a five-year prison sentence for Jae-hee. Still dedicated to his friends and family, he travels to Japan to confront a con-woman (who has conned his best friend Jae-Gil (Lee Kwang-so) out of his life savings) when he runs into Jae-hee, who is now a wealthy heiress to a multimillion -dollar company by marriage. Cold and distant at their impromptu reunion, Jae-hee is unfazed by seeing Ma-roo but he is devastated and feels betrayed.

While on the return flight to Korea, a passenger becomes deathly ill. After incessant pleading from Jae-Gil, Ma-roo goes to help. The patient is none other than Eun-gi (Moon Chae Won), a cold and stern woman and the now step-daughter of Jae-hee. Ma-roo soon realizes Eun-gi’s connection to Jae-hee and decides to enact revenge on Jae-hee by using Eun-gi. The plan is to make Eun-gi fall head over heels for him and use her position to oust Jae-hee from the company and eventually from the family. This plan hits a speed bump when Ma-roo begins to realize that not only is Eun-gi madly in love with him, but he’s started to fall for her as well.

http://youtu.be/bKMLHes2KOo

Nice Guy is definitely a drama for those viewers who love tons of plot twists and cliffhangers. From the first scene to the last, this drama pulls the viewer through so many twists, turns, ups, and downs that you feel like you’re really riding a roller coaster of emotion. This drama incorporates not only the intricacies of corporate scandals and underhanded dealings, but an unbelievably dramatic and, at times, frustrating love story.

As we follow the story of Ma-roo and Eun-gi, we are dragged through a love story racked with tragedy. Ma-roo goes into the relationship with Eun-gi with no intentions of actually falling for her, only to use her to exact his revenge upon Jae-hee, but finds himself beginning to fall for her. When his revenge plot is figured out, Eun-gi breaks off the relationship and then her father suddenly and mysteriously dies. She suffers an emotional and mental breakdown and decides to exact her own revenge on Ma-roo. Distraught and devastated, she sees Ma-roo driving through the same tunnel as her, and in an instant swerves into his lane and hits him head on. After a year passes, we find out that Ma-roo is still suffering from injuries sustained during the accident, and Eun-gi is suffering from amnesia.

When the amnesia card is pulled in a K-drama, fans oftentimes roll their eyes as it’s one of the most overused plot twists in history. In Nice Guy, though, it becomes an integral part of the story. Eun-gi must now try to recover her memories, relearn everything, figure out why this now mysterious Ma-roo’s name is the only thing she can remember, and fight back against Jae-hee, who is not only trying to make her disappear forever and keep her father’s company all to herself. Constantly in danger from the sinister and dangerous dealings of Jae-hee and her pet lawyer, Ahn Min-Young (Kim Tae-hun), Ma-roo has no choice but to do all he can to protect Eun-gi’s life and help her recover all she has lost. While hiding the fact that he has loved her since before the accident that took her memories, and the dangerous blood clot hiding in his brain, Ma-roo gives his all to help Eun-gi while confronting his past and old feelings about Jae-hee.

From beginning to end, this drama will make you frustrated, happy, mad, and extremely sad; for those reasons, Nice Guy makes our list. Many dramas out there meld the love story with the subplots, making the love story the main plot, but in the case of this drama it’s the other way around. What’s going on with the company is the main plot, and the tragic relationship between Ma-roo, Eun-gi, and Jae-hee become a strong secondary plot that you can’t ignore.

Next on our list is A Gentleman’s Dignity, a drama that was extremely popular this year – it averaged over 23% in viewership ratings in Korea, according to the TNMS Daily ratings service. This drama stars Jang Dong-Gun as Kim Do-jin, an architect with a somewhat abrasive personality, and Kim Ha-Neul as Seo Yi-soo, as strict high school teacher with a heart of gold.

Do-jin has had a up-and-down life, but through it all he has kept a close group of friends since high school. Do-in and his closest friend and business partner Im Tae-San (Kim Su-ro) are always attached at the hip with their friends Choi Yoon (Kim Min-Jong) and Jung-Rok (Lee Jong-huk). Now in their forties, the four friends are beginning to realize that they are getting old, even though they don’t want to believe it. An everlasting bachelor,  Do-Jin, after losing his first love, has never really fallen in love with anyone else and is quite shocked at his sudden change of personality when he randomly sees Seo Yi-soo outside a cafe and instantly falls for her. Suffering from a one-sided love, he decides to pursue Seo Yi-soo, not realizing that she has her own one-sided love for his best friend, Im Tae-san.

One evening, Do-jin heads out to a market when he is stopped by two teenagers who try to intimidate him into giving them money, and a scuffle occurs. At the police station, Do-jin refuses to forgive the two teenagers, and threatens to prosecute. The two teenagers happened to be students of Seo Yi-soo, and with a sense of resolution, she reaches out to Do-jin to get him to forgive her students. Upon seeing Yi-soo again, Do-jin is thrown back and realizes that this is the opportunity to get to know her better that he had been waiting for.

If you love what we call “corny love stories”, A Gentleman’s Dignity is definitely a good choice. While not overly dramatic, this drama incorporates a great deal of extremely funny moments and the atypical romantic misunderstandings that always seem to occur in romantic comedy scripts. When we say extremely funny, we really mean it. One of this drama’s highlights is the use of flashbacks to tell the backstory of the relationship between Do-Jin and his three friends. Always located at the very beginning of each episode, the flashbacks entail life events involving the four friends from high school and college. These not only incorporate some very nostalgic music and sets, but always leave a moral or social lesson. Through these flashbacks we learn more about the Do-jin’s friends’ past, how they met, what difficulties they had to face together, and even how the group met their first love.

The love story is quite interesting in that the male lead instantly falls for a girl, who obviously doesn’t love him, and spends most of the drama trying to catch her. He must figure out away to not only get Yi-soo to let go of the one-sided love for Tae-san that she’s harbored for years, but find a way into her heart himself. It’s quite entertaining to watch their love story play out, and you, as the viewer, can feel the desperation and longing that Do-jin feels in every scene.  As their relationship slowly begins to progress, we are hit with the conflict their relationship is causing between all the friends, including when Yi-soo’s one sided love is found out not only by Tae-san but also his girlfriend and Yi-soo’s roomate, Hong Se-Ra (Yoon Se-ah). This conflict between Se-Ra and Yi-soo becomes an integral part of the midseason conflict and cause Yi-soo to rethink her life and who she should be in love with.

Last on our list, and my personal favorite of the year, is FAITH. It stars Lee Min Ho as Choi Yong, a battle hardened Wooldalchi soldier and bodyguard of the king with a mysterious inner power that gives him the ability to control lightening, and Yoo Eun-soo (Jun Hee-Seon), a strong-willed plastic surgeon from the present day. Faith is a drama with a beautiful mix of romance, fantasy, history, and action that will leave the viewer on the edge of their seats.

As the story begins, the newly crowned monarch of Goryeo, King Gongmin (Ryu Deoh-hwan), is traveling back to his kingdom with his new queen No-goog (Park Se-Young) and bodyguards to take his throne, when they are attacked by assassins and the queen receives a life-threatening wound. The king’s renowned doctor, Jang-Bin (Phillip Lee), does all he can to save her life but can’t. The king’s vassals beg the king to go pray on a nearby mountain, where a mystical source of light suddenly appears. When they arrive they find that the light is in fact a magical portal to heaven. The king is insructed to send someone through the portal to retrieve the legendary great doctor from the heavens, Hwa-Ta. The king orders Choi Yong to go retrieve the great doctor, and after entering the portal, he materializes in Seoul in the present day.

Finding Eun-soo at a medical symposium, Choi Yong kidnaps her and brings her back to his time. As they materialize in Goryeo, Eun-soo is shocked and confused at what is going on. Believing that this is all a joke, she agrees to treat the queen with the understanding that she can go back immediately to her own time. They bring her to see the queen and Eun-soo treats her. When they return to the portal. the king refuses to let her return, and now Eun-soo is trapped in the past. Choi Yong promises that he will protect her and do everything he can to return her to her time, no matter if he must sacrifice his life in the process.

As the story progresses, we find that the legend of the great doctor’s arrival in Goryeo has spread to the ears of the drama’s villain and uncle of the newly crowned King, Ki Cheol (Yu Oh-Seong) – a devilishly cruel man with the power to control ice and an unnatural passion for the Hwa-ta legend who vows to have Eun-soo for his own. With the help of his two blood-sworn siblings, Hwa Soo-In (Shin Eun-Jung) (with the power to control fire) and Cheon Eum-Ja (Sung Hoon) (with the power of sound), Ki Cheol sets out to ruin his nephew’s rule and kidnap Eun-soo.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9Y4xw-F64A

As a huge fan of any drama that incorporates fantasy or magic powers, I was seriously excited for this drama, and I was not a bit disappointed. While being the third story of the year that incorporated time travel in its main plot, the casting of Lee Min Ho and Jun Hee-Seon as the drama’s main leads drew me to it like a moth to the flame. Lee Min Ho is one of the hottest actors in Korea right now and his performance in Faith is exemplary. Jun Hee-Seon brings a passion to a character that would, if portrayed by any other actress, seem quite ordinary. Her natural ability to bring life to every character she plays makes her not only an actress to look out for but makes Faith a drama that will stand the test of time.

From a fantasy standpoint, Faith incorporates great CGI and special affects that will impress even the most skeptical of viewers. While the powers that some character possess aren’t used continuously throughout the drama, they are perfectly placed in the story to compliment not only the characters’ story arcs and personalities, but also gives you something exciting and entertaining to watch. As with any historical drama, there are lots of action scenes. From episode one’s assassin attack to the last episode, a myriad of sword fighting and martial arts-centered action scenes occur, exemplifying and solidifying Lee Min Ho’s place as one of the best of the best action actors to date.

To say that the love story is at the heart of this drama would be an understatement. At the beginning, Choi Yong only cares about keeping his promise to Eun-soo and returning her to her time, but as time passes he finds himself fighting his own growing feelings for her. Eun-soo, a woman with the pure and caring heart of a doctor, befriends Choi Yong and treats him as a confidant. Her feelings slowly begin to grow for Choi Yong after he saves her life. Never admitting their feelings towards one another until late in the drama, the two spend the majority of the time longing for one another. Choi Yong is adamant that his duty must come before his feelings for Eun-soo, but no matter how much he tries to deny them, they begin to affect his thoughts, actions, and decisions. This eternal struggle between duty and love has become a reoccurring yet beloved theme in K-dramas in recent years, and Faith gives the viewer a great twist on that theme.

Faith is riddled with political and social strife as Ki-Cheol continues on his quest to ruin his nephew’s rule. From assassinations of political officials and bribery to political alliances with China and poisonings, Ki-Cheol does everything he can to rid the world of the king and place himself or his puppet Prince Deokheung (Park Yoon-Jae) on the throne. This part of the main plot becomes vital throughout the story, and through his subversive dealings Eun-soo and Choi Yong’s relationship is drastically affected. Through all the seriousness of the political drama, Faith also sprinkles in a fair bit of comedy in places that you’d never expect and leaves the viewer shaking their heads in amusement.

 

What did you think about our list of 2012’s Best of the Best Korea Dramas? Did your favorite drama make our list? Which drama do you think we shouldn’t have overlooked? Let us know in the comments, and if you missed any of these great dramas this year, we at hellokpop highly recommend you check them out!

Sources: [Video] Youtube (1,2,3,4) – [Photo] (1,2,3,4)

Collages created by author.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely of the reviewer and not of hellokpop as a whole. Selections took into account average viewership ratings.

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