K-pop has its legions of fans, but K-dramas arguably make up a larger part of Hallyu. From sageuks, to action thrillers, to the staple rom-com, there is a K-drama to suit almost every taste; this diversity is a key reason for its popularity, with shows reaching various countries across Asia… and even the US. And while K-pop has variety as well, the length of dramas mean that, generally, more dedication and time is required to make it to the end of one drama than to the end of a music video.
We had two year-end polls focused on K-dramas: one for favourite drama and for favourite actor and actress. While one drama in particular dominated the voting, other K-drama shows and stars also received love from our readers. Below, Patricia, Gaya, Ambika and Laverne give their thoughts on the best dramas and actors of 2013, as chosen by you.
Patricia: I’ve never been much of an avid drama watcher, but as I look back on 2013, I’ve somehow convinced myself that I spent much of this year watching dramas. I don’t remember the last time I’ve spent so much time and energy angsting over make-believe drama couples or waiting restlessly for the week’s episodes to be subbed. But upon tallying up my drama count this year, it appears that I’ve only watched a grand total of… four dramas. Save your slow claps, people.
Even with such a small amount of dramas under my belt this year, however, there’s no doubt in my mind which drama was the most memorable to me. I Hear Your Voice was an imperfect drama, and its compelling message was somewhat weakened by its contrived plot and misuse of its law-centered premise to ultimately propel the storyline surrounding its central romantic couple. Nevertheless, I loved the nuanced message behind Voice — a message that was carried seamlessly by its lovable and compelling cast of characters.
School 2013 was among our readers’ top picks for drama of the year. School 2013 was the fourth installation in the classic School series, but it will probably go down in history as the drama with the most high-profile bromance of all time. While I personally found the Go Nam-soon/Park Heung-soo pairing somewhat overrated and overbearing, it’s undeniable that the amount of effort the writers put into cultivating the relationship between these two male leads (as well as the not-quite-as-well-marketed relationships between the other characters) resulted in a highly memorable drama that had a lot of heart.
Gaya: Last year I said I was too busy to watch dramas; this year, however, the K-dramaverse has provided me with a much needed chance to wind down and relax. Or rather, an excuse to get worked up over OTPs instead of school papers and dance rehearsals. Two dramas stuck out to me the most, the first being SBS’ winning melodrama Secret, which was a thrilling watch that satisfied all the requirements of the genre, and then some, within a slick presentation. However, my second pick is one that still makes me smile just thinking about it.
Good Doctor is not quite in the same mould as other medical dramas, and thank god for that. We have our typical genius physicians, but autistic savant Park Si-on meets all types of people who show him (and us) that being a good doctor is a lot more than just being brainy (and cranky, and egotistical…). Joo Won is absolutely precious as the childlike protagonist who learns to find his own way in the world, and manages to help others find their own as well. The drama also does a great job in integrating their patients into the narrative (by stretching out their storylines to cover more than one episode) and giving issues like abuse and suicide the serious attention they deserve Good Doctor may be slow at times, but the payoff is definitely worth it.
Those looking for a bit more excitement, though, would find it in I Hear Your Voice; and a lot of you definitely did, as the drama dominated in both the mid-year and end-of-year polls for 2013. I agree with Patricia on its shortcomings, but the characters and, perhaps more importantly, their relationships were what stayed with viewers long after the final episode.
Ambika: I’d like to give a nod to Nine: Time Travel Nine Times. The tvN drama handled time travel within a lifetime well. The build-up of consequences that change the past — not just on the life protagonist Park Sun-woo (Lee Jin-wook) was living, but also other aspects including his health — was done with great care. The existence of two versions of the same life that progress with the same pace — one in the past and one in present-day — kept the drama running because the future could regularly change to adapt to new decisions and vice versa, while also introducing the difficulties of multiple sets of memories. The series wasn’t perfect, but it certainly kept viewers on their toes.
The reader’s choice Two Weeks also kept audiences on the edge of their seats. The story depicts gangster-turned-desperate father Jang Tae-san’s struggles, as he fights to survive and donate his bone marrow to his daughter. His journey is also one of self-discovery, of a realisation one’s self-worth. One episode contained the events in a single day, and viewers followed the show in anticipation of Jang Tae-san’s fate. One of the most positive aspects about this drama is its grounded, realistic plot(s); the drama illustrated the unending assault of bad luck (on Jang) in a relatable way. Surprises, via story twists, were also thrown in to shake up any attempts at predictions. The cementing factor to the drama’s quality was the relentless drive to portray real human reactions to high-stress situations. The last episode left the drama with a satisfying open end, making it clear that life wouldn’t be able to return to normal without reflection.
Patricia: My pick for actor of the year is Choi Minho.
I haven’t gotten around to watching the final few episodes of Reply 1994, and while there are some legitimate reasons for why I’m dragging my feet to finish this drama, Go Ara‘s acting isn’t one of them. Who would’ve thought that an actress whose primary claim to fame was being a punchline would emerge as one of the most respected and beloved talents of the year? By shedding her well-cultivated beauty queen image and taking on the decidedly unprincess-y role of Sung Na-jung in 1994, Go Ara put on a performance that was as entertaining as it was humbling. Sung Na-jung is just an all-around awesome character to work with, and Go Ara fully embraced the challenge and stretched it to its limits — resulting in a performance that not only endeared the character to the audience, but finally allowed Go Ara the chance to prove herself as an actress.
I Hear Your Voice main leads Lee Jong-suk and Lee Bo-young were among the highest voted actors amongst our readers in this year’s poll. The pair brought the primary romantic couple to life in Voice, and sealed into K-drama history a noona-dongsaeng romance for the ages. Even after seeing him in a variety of different projects, I don’t think Lee Jong-suk has reached his peak yet; he possesses a lot of potential to refine his skills and become a more mature actor.
In some ways, his greenness as an actor makes for a good match with Lee Bo-young’s maturity and experience in Voice. Lee Bo-young brought an edge to Lawyer Jang in the courtroom that didn’t clash with the softness she expressed when with Lee Jong-suk’s Soo-ha. Not only were the two well-matched for the drama, they were able to stretch the limits of the chemistry between their characters and create a drama pairing that was memorable for reasons apart from the shock factor of their 10-year age difference.
Laverne: Kim Woo-bin. It’s no secret that I am a Kim Woo-bin fan but I chose him for best actor because 2013 has truly been his standout year. Although having appeared in dramas before, Kim Woo-bin gained traction with his performance as troubled teen Park Heung-soo in School 2013. His on-screen and off-screen bromance with Lee Jong-suk added to his popularity, but he finally got the chance to shine solo with his role as Choi Young-do in Heirs. Kim Woo-bin charismatically brought Young-do to life and indeed became the reason why many viewers stuck with the drama at all. In addition to his drama roles, Woo-bin starred in his first movie, Friend 2, impressing fellow actors and the public alike. Kim Woo-bin is able to display a full range of emotions and bring depth to his characters and that is why he’s my pick for best actor.
Ambika: My personal choice for one of the best actors this year is actress Kim So-yeon in Two Weeks. Kim So-yeon as Park Jae-kyung was reckless and rowdy. She took on physical fights, plotted to take down the schemes of one of the most beloved senators, and stuck to her convictions despite relentless resistance. Her story was just as captivating as Jang Tae-san’s and it served as an excellent contrast to how they fought and what they fought for. One of the most haunting things was the emptiness that Park Jae-kyung was left with in her final scenes of the drama: alone in a colorless apartment with the bare whiteboard that was once filled with purpose. Kim So-yeon’s portrayal captured the contrast between her calculated thoughts and outer persona without a fault, putting an engaging and strong character on the screen.
The reader’s choice of Lee Jun-ki as Jang Tae-san of Two Weeks is a good one. It can’t be easy playing a man that loathes himself and believes he can’t ever do anything right, which is why it wasn’t surprising to hear of the actor’s darker mood after investing himself in this character. Jang’s transition from a man with nothing to lose, to one with everything to lose, showed in Lee’s portrayal of desperation and skill under pressure. Some of Lee/Jang’s best moments were when he was alone or “with his daughter,” a figment of his imagination. In those instances, questioning stances on why the world was against him shifted to challenging stances on overcoming his obstacles — this showed a stronger man who could step forward to gain power. Lee Jun-ki’s acting moved from helpless and hopelessly angry to restrained and nuanced, as his character won his largest battle by gaining personal strength and conviction.
(KBS, MBC, SBS)