Once upon a long, long, time ago (okay, it was about three years), this girl was obsessed with Asian dramas. Mostly Korean and Taiwanese with a smattering of Japanese. A Taiwanese friend in college introduced me to Asian TV series, widely available with English subtitles via various streaming sites, and the rest, as they say, is history. Throughout college, I went on a long spiral of total obsession, and even spent two years doing freelance writing for Dramafever.com, the U.S.-based “Netflix for dramas”. Be that as it may, the spark eventually faded and I’m largely moved on, but I still have a huge amount of fondness in my heart for this genre. So here is my list of my 12 favorite dramas, culled from the hundreds I watched or experienced during that time period. Will be split into three parts; this part covers #9-#12.
9)FULL HOUSE (Korean, pictured in header)
Synopsis: One of the most famous Korean dramas of all time, Full House is the first Asian drama for many people and the one that gets them hooked on the genre. When Han Ji Eun(Song Hye Kyo)’s friends buy her a plane ticket and a vacation to China, she is ecstatic, having never left the country before. On the flight from Korea to China, she ends up sitting next to superstar actor Lee Young Jae(Rain), and promptly throws up on him as an introduction as the plane takes off. Once in China, however, the paid vacation vaporizes and she realizes her friends have pulled a hoax on her. Stranded in a foreign country without money and unable to contact her friends, Ji Eun manages to swindle money from Lee Young Jae, who is staying at the same hotel. She returns to Korea expecting never to see him again, but, surprise! her money-scheming friends have sold her house and run away, and guess which celebrity they have sold it to? Yup, Lee Young Jae. Young Jae agrees to let Ji Eun buy back the house if she works for her him as a housekeeper/cook for a while, and bam, you have one of Korea’s penultimate romances.
My take: Full House is just so completely adorable. As is common with many, it was my first Asian television series ever, and sold me on the genre. In retrospect, and having watched many dramas since, it is riddled with flaws (overly and repetitive in the second half being the main one), but there’s an indefinable magic about it that holds up and which has won it a place in so many heards. And as such it was always keep a place in my affections:) It’s hilarious, well-written, with great characterizations, sufficiently angsty subplots underneath the romantic bickering/cuteness to anchor the story, and scads of adorableness and chemistry between Rain and Song Hye Kyo.
Why you might not like it: If you hate Rain or Song Hye-kyo, it’s over. Although in my personal opinion, and to my own utter disbelief, Rain actually is a good actor and does a good job in this one. Also, like most older dramas, the production values ain’t the greatest. What it lacks in glossiness, however, it makes up for in script.
When it gets good/Got me! moment: The moment she decides to scam him – whenever in the first or second eps that was:)
Synopsis: When Lee Soo Kyung (yes, all the characters in this drama go by their real-life names)’s long-term boyfriend proposes, she expects to be overjoyed. Instead she finds herself embarrassed, confused, and oddly reluctant to accept, but ultimately does so anyway. Shin Dong Wook, meanwhile, is an inveterate playboy who has finally met a woman he believes he can have a serious relationship with, sweet, old-fashioned Hong Yu Jin(Sa Kang), a friend and co-worker of Soo Kyung’s. When Soo Kyung’s fiance falls for another woman, man-eater Jang Min Ae(coincidentally Hong Yu Jin’s mentor and – roommate, if I remember correctly) and breaks up with her, the stage is set for these two soulmates, whose lives have brushed past each other so many times already but who have yet to meet, to finally collide.
My take: Oddly enough, two of my top 10 dramas star Lee Soo Kyung(the other being Lawyers of Korea), and both are as overlooked as she is. Soulmate is a lighter drama, in some ways, although in some ways also very wistful and sad(everyone has lost out in some way by the end of the drama). It also has hands-down the most beautiful and compelling first meeting between the main couple of any drama I’ve ever seen apart from perhaps Kurosagi.
Soulmate marketed itself as a different sort of drama – it’s more frank about sex than usual for a kdrama, for instance, and all the main characters go by their real life names, and indeed it is, but not for any of those reasons. Soulmate is just totally different in vibe and concept than any other kdrama I’ve seen – it’s simultaneously somehow very modern and very sweet, combining the freshness of approach with the pure-love heart of the traditional kdrama. More than that, however, it it somehow captures something of the wistfulness and transcendent beauty of life, the way, living in a world with millions of people, sometimes, the lives of strangers can collide – or can just as easily slip past each other, never knowing…The only other drama I’ve seen do this – capture something of the fragile wonder and mystery of life and human interactions – is Taiwanese drama Silence. Soulmate is also beautifully filmed, with a delicacy to it that creates many ethereally, heartbreakingly beautiful shots and scenes, and deeply romantic, with a standout indie soundtrack only rivaled by Coffee Prince. What can I say? It’s funny, it’s beautiful, it’s heartbreaking, it’s heartwarming and addicting…go watch it.
Why you might not like it: People tend to stay away from Soulmate for one of three reasons: 1)it looks like it’s all about sex based on the alternate cover 2)The love in it looks too “pure” and overly childlike based on above cover 3)The lead doesn’t look attractive, again based on above cover. I’m here to assure you that, whatever reasons you might not have to like Soulmate, none of those three should be it, as they’re all rampant misrepresentations.
There’s also a number of supporting characters who figure largely, from man-eater Min-Ae to Dong Wook’s adorkable wannabe-womanizer friends to good-hearted Ryo Hei; I personally enjoyed all of them and found them pretty harmless but if you are easily impatient or like your supporting characters of a certain type then this drama might not be the one for you. It also does have its sexual moments, though nothing too terrible or overt, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a kid.
When it gets good/Got me! moment: it’s hard to remember, actually, but I think it was partway through the first episode when Lee Soo Kyung plops down on her bed after her fiance proposes to her and all sorts of ridiculous scenarios start going through her head on the ideal marriage proposal, and then eventually of course she realizes that it wasn’t the mode but the man himself that’s the problem
11)METEOR GARDEN (Taiwanese)
Synopsis: Shancai(Barbie Hsu) is a poor girl unhappily attending a wealthy school in which she doesn’t fit in at all. The school is led by four boys called the F4, a group of handsome, incredibly wealthy, domineering boys who hold absolute sway over all the school attendees and are headed by Daoming Si(Jerry Yan) the richest of them all. When one of Shancai’s friends is bullied by them one day, Shancai snaps and openly defies them, and immediately finds herself the target of bullying by the whole school. Daoming Si, however, fascinated by her stubborn courage, soon finds himself falling for her…Meteor Garden is a little bit of everything – part underdog story, part tragedy, part comedy, but mostly a Cinderella tale, and one of the original Asian dramas that contributed to the craze. It’s pretty much a must-see for Asian drama watchers. It’s also the drama that started Vic Zhou and Rainie Yang on their road to fame. And it came before Hana Yori Dango, the Japanese adaptation of the same manga(and of course that addicting trainwreck Boys Over Flowers).
My take:You know, I was watching an MV of Meteor Garden the other day, and just remembering how much I love it. It was my first Taiwanese and my second Asian drama ever, and while I wasn’t initially impressed with it, I fell fast and hard at some point. Barbie Hsu absolutely lights up the screen as the most kick-ass girl ever(easily the best interpretation of her manga character) and she and Jerry have amazing chemistry and the script is just incredibly well-written and well, it’s just really good and has this magic about it that I can’t quite pin-down. It’s one of those classic stories that draws on some of the most basic ideas and impulses that drive us as human beings.
Why you might not like it: its production values are kind of low(it’s one of the older dramas) and Jerry Yan isn’t the best actor in the world. And the male fashion is odd at best, though nowhere near approaching the atrocity of Full House.
When it gets good/Got me! moment: When Lei comes by and picks up the basket that the others kicked over(1st episode if I remember correctly)
12) Pride (Jdrama)
Synopsis/My take: Pride is one of the most perfect and seamlessly written dramas I’ve ever seen. It’s about a lot of things – people and their relationships and how they work and what drives them, and hockey and friendship and loyalty and “pride” – but above and beyond all that – it’s a story about two people. Halu, a smart-mouthed, offbeat, bad-boy hockey captain with a playboy past and a set of emotional issues a mile deep, and Aki, an old-fashioned, spunky “good girl” committed to her long-distance boyfriend whom she hasn’t heard from in two years. Highlighted by exquisite acting and a fiery central-couple chemistry that can shift from nuanced and low-key to heartbreakingly intense in the space of a second, it’s just a brilliant love story and a really really good story, so real sometimes that it hurts. It’s never over the top but can pack a powerful emotional punch in a single scene or moment, and the writing is impeccable, as is the production and directing(Queen’s “I Was Born to Love You” is a wacky but inspired choice as the theme song, and the opening credits are so so pretty). If I were to describe it, I would say that it’s a cross between Mars and Tatta Hitotsu no Koi(the former for content and the latter for the straightforwardness of the plot/story arc).
When it gets good: End of episode 1
Tagged: Asian dramas, Bi Rain, Coffee Prince, Daoming Si, Full House, Full House kdrama, Full House review, Full House synopsis, jdrama, Kdramas, Kimura Takuya, Lee Soo Kyung, list, Meteor Garden, Meteor Garden drama review, Pride jdrama, Queen, Shancai, Shin Dong Wook, Song Hye Kyo, Soulmate drama, Soulmate drama review, Soulmate drama synopsis, Soulmate kdrama, TV list