[Continued from Kdramas for beginners, part 1]
My taste in kdramas is a bit idiosyncratic, as I don’t care for several of the most popular series. Here are three of my personal favorites, though one is unfortunately quite hard to find.
Dal Ja’s Spring (2007)
Korean title: 달자의 봄
Also known as: The Spring of Dal Ja, The Spring of Dalja, Dalja’s Spring
Availability: Sadly, hard to find. The Region 1 dvds appear to no longer be available at YesAsia.
Length: 22 episodes
A romantic comedy very much in the tradition of My Lovely Samsoon. Dal Ja (Chae Rim) is a successful thirty-something career woman who comes to a romantic crossroads. Following a difficult breakup, she pays Tae Bong (Lee Min Ki) to pretend to be her boyfriend. As so often happens with this sort of thing, the pretense of love proves to be the precursor to real attraction.
My take: Possibly my favorite kdrama ever. I especially like the drama for being interested in Dal Ja’s career as well as her love life, and for giving props to female friendship and family. It’s often very funny (Dal Ja has a very active imagination), and the main couple is one I can actually root for. I’m hoping this will show up on one of the licensed streaming sites so more people can watch it.
Coffee Prince (2007)
Thanks to various plot maneuverings that I will not even attempt to summarize, tomboyish Eun Chan pretends to be a man to secure a job at a coffee shop run by the rich and cocky Han Kyul. Complications ensue, of course, when Han Kyul finds himself becoming attracted to his hardworking employee.
My take: If you’re willing to go along with the trope, this one’s pretty adorable. Both the leads and supporting cast are really well-cast and appealing, and the excellent soundtrack, featuring a number of indie Korean musicians, doesn’t hurt one bit. I will confess that I have never gotten around to watching the last couple episodes, though that’s more a reflection on my laziness than anything else.
Korean title: 식객 / 食客 / Shikgaek
Also known as: The Grand Chef
Availability: DramaFever, Netflix (as The Grand Chef)
Length: 24 episodes
[Description adapted from my earlier write-up]
Two brothers with different cooking philosophies become rivals when their father, the owner of a famous traditional Korean restaurant, decides to choose his successor through a cooking competition.
My take: The wannabe Top Chef competitions are hilarious in both good and bad ways. What really makes this drama shine is Kim Rae Won’s immensely likable performance as the lead, Seong Chan. And all the food porn doesn’t hurt either! Watching this one always makes me hungry.
Queen Seondeok (2009)
Korean title: 선덕여왕 / 善德女王
Also known as: Queen Seonduk
Length: 62 episodes
Retells the life story of Shilla’s first ruling queen, with a focus on her many run-ins with a scheming court lady, Mishil. In good sageuk fashion, this story starts before Princess Deokman (she takes the name Seondeok upon becoming queen) is even born and spends several episodes on her childhood before getting her time as an adult. So far, the drama has managed to include dire prophecies, fancy swordfighting, twins separated at birth, secret children, crossdressing, camels, and a solar eclipse. I rather suspect that many of these details have been added to the historical records by the producers for entertainment purposes. (Especially the camels.)
This series is still airing in Korean and is the current ratings champ there; its individual episodes have had ratings as high as 45.4 nationwide.
My take: My current obsession! Gorgeous costuming and Go Hyun Jung’s awesome performance as Lady Mishil make this series extremely watchable, but be warned that the first ten episodes are a bit slow. Things pick up after that. Also, the subtitles are very strange at times, as the translator is attempting to use archaic language.
Dramas and sequential art
If sequential art is your gateway to the world of Asian dramas, here’s a list of some of the kdramas adapted from sequential art properties. Alas, much of the source material is not available in English.
- Boys Over Flowers (manga by Kamio Yoko)
- Damo (manhwa by Bang Hak Gi)
- Full House (manhwa by Won Soo Yon)
- Goong (manhwa by Park So Hee)
- Gourmet (manhwa by Heo Yeong Man)
- I Love You (manhwa by Heo Yeong Man)
- Kingdom of the Winds (manhwa by Kim Jin)
- Strike Love (manhwa by Lee Hyun Sae)
- Tamna the Island (manhwa by Jung Hye Na)
- Tazza (manhwa by Heo Yeong Man)
- War of Money (manhwa by Park Yi Kwon)
(Source for some of the above: YesAsia article on manhwa adaptations.)
And of course, there are lots of dramas adapted from sequential art in other Asian countries, especially Japan, Taiwan, and mainland China. But that’s outside the scope of this post.
General note on availability
In additions to the sources noted above, try your local public library if it has strong Asian language collections. Dramas may not be as well known to the general US public as anime, but within Asian American communities, I suspect dramas are much more popular than anime because they are watched by everyone, not just otaku. Don’t believe me? Come to my library someday and watch the mad rush for the Asian-language dvd cart someday.
The genius of Bobby Lee
Finally, once you’ve watched some kdramas and are familiar with the clichés, check out these hilarious parodies by Bobby Lee and MadTV. The following links will take you to articles about them from Asia Pacific Arts that provide some language notes for non-Korean speakers: 1, 2, 3, 4.
Happy watching! Don’t blame me if you end up getting hooked!