Let's face it - not all K-Dramas are created equal

Avid K-Drama fans often attest to the genre's captivating nature as a whole, but if we're being honest, though there are spectacular shows that leave us mind-blown, there are also a handful that either underwhelm or simply, don't live up to the hype. 

Here's a truly honest review of some of the most popular Korean Dramas that graced the silver screen this year. 

 

THE BEST

Vincenzo

It comes as no surprise that Song Joong-ki’s comeback on the small screen started on a high note—the fourth highest-rated drama premiere of tvN at that—and ended with peak ratings that merit its inclusion in the top 10 list of highest-rated drama in Korean cable television history.

Besides its award-winning cast, screenwriter and director, the series connects with the audience in many ways: viewers get to love who the characters love; hate who they hate; and laugh, cry and fight with and for the epic Cassano Geumga Family. Fans followed the not-overly-cheesy love affair of the dashing Mafia consigliere Vincenzo Cassano (Song Joong-ki) and feisty lawyer Hong Cha-young (Jeon Yeo-been) while some wished they could crash Babel, its diabolical chairman Jang Han-seok (Ok Taec-yeon) and his allies from Wusang Law Firm with their own hands. 

The plot is nothing short of impressive with its twists and turns that made viewers glued to their seats. The validation? Nine awards from some of the most prestigious award-giving bodies in South Korea and abroad including a Presidential Commendation at the Korean Popular Culture and Arts Awards for the screenwriter Park Jae-bum,  a Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Commendation at the Korean Content Awards 2021 for director Kim Hee-won, Special Award for Foreign Drama at the Tokyo Drama Awards 2021 and several “best drama” for the team and acting awards for Song Joong-ki and Jeon Yeo-been. Who needs a Baeksang then?

Read also: 10 Vincenzo Scenes That Speak Louder Than Words

Move to Heaven

While it may be quite the challenge to find a tear-jerker that isn't pandering or overly melodramatic, Move to Heaven successfully finds the sweet spot between emotive storytelling and subtle cinematic exposition. Although the show uses common K-Drama tropes, it sets itself apart by applying a light hand with narrative development.

Its 10 episodes follow an eponymous corpse removal company composed of recently-orphaned Han Geu-ru and his ne'er-do-well uncle Sangu. Together, the odd pair discovers unsettling truths about those who have passed and find an understanding of life's nuances through each other's eyes. This drama is definitely one for the books and will surely stand the test of time for its thoughtful and skilful writing.

In Case You Missed It: Move to Heaven Review: How the Netflix Series Explores The Difficulty of Losing a Loved One

Hometown Cha Cha Cha

What was a rather quiet start for Hometown Cha Cha Cha eventually led viewers to anticipate weekend nights full of its light, funny, wisdom-packed and sometimes tear-jerking scenes that are relatable and on point. This remake of the 2004 film titled, Mr Handy, Mr Hong—follows the love story of Hong Du-sik (Kim Seon-ho), the village chief and most reliable handyman of the fictional seaside town of Gongjin, and Yoon Hye-jin (Shin Min-a), a chic and go-getting dentist from Seoul who ended up moving to the suburbs.

More than the heart-fluttering romance between Du-sik and Hye-jin, the overall story gives a glimpse of the lives of the villagers—their ups and downs, break-ups, dreams, family, and friendship issues, and a lot more. There’s a roller-coaster of emotions involved, which makes viewers wish they have their own healing place like Gongjin to run to in this year of uncertainties.

Despite the controversies that exploded a day after Hometown Cha Cha Cha's finale on various allegations against Kim Seon-ho, his fans from all over the world showed massive support. Will he be able to bounce back just like the character, Du-sik? We leave it up to the Year of the Tiger, the same Chinese zodiac he was born in.

Read also: 5 Kim Seon-ho Shows To Watch This 2021: Start-Up, 100 Days My Prince, And More

Hospital Playlist 2

There is more to this medical drama than patients being wheeled in and bleeding bodies being sutured. Spotlighting five doctors—Lee Ik-jun (Jo Jung-suk), Ahn Jeong-won (Yoo Yeon-seok), Kim Jun-wan (Jung Kyung-ho), Yang Seok-hyeong (Kim Dae-myung), and Chae Song-hwa (Jeon Mi-do)—who remained best friends since medical school, the series is like a kaleidoscope to their demanding careers at Yulje Medical Center and the personal challenges they face mid-life.

While friendship and family are the main focus, Hospital Playlist 2 gives viewers the chance to swoon over capsule love stories, get thrilled with life-and-death situations and shed tears over wins and losses. It’s light but never boring, with a tinge of good music to match the dynamic melodies of life.  

Read also: Hospital Playlist: 12 Reasons It’s the Healing Drama We All Need Right Now

Beyond Evil

This award-winning drama is a breath of fresh air in the field of psychological thrillers. It focuses on fleshing out characters rather than simply banking on its interesting and convoluted plot (an easy pitfall for most dramas of the genre).

It's one of the best shows of 2021 simply because of the irrefutable technical prowess all-around. From unique cinematography, a truly engaging screenplay, to sound scoring, and stellar acting—there's no shortage of artistic elements to be found and admired from this series. It's definitely worth the binge.

OKAY BUT NOT MINDBLOWING

My Roommate is a Gumiho

Fans of leads Jang Ki-yong and Lee Hye-ri will definitely vouch for this drama's likeability and re-watchable flair. It is equal parts exciting, cute, and engaging—everything you'd hope from a romantic comedy. Though there's no shortage of fun and entertaining moments from the series, its simple and formulaic narrative lands the show a score of 'truly lovable' but nothing to call home for. 

See Also: 8 Jang Ki-yong Shows to Watch

My Name

Tatler Asia
Above Yoon Ji-woo (Han So-hee) in My Name. Photo: Netflix

Han So-hee is proving to be one of Korea's most adaptable and diverse actresses. No matter the role, the young star always shines and steals the show. However, her John Wick-esque performance in My Name is indeed one for the books and proves just how talented this fresh-face beauty truly is. The show itself is strong from start to finish and in many ways reinvents the femme fatale trope, especially in the backdrop of Korean television. The plot, however, is as predictable as the action scenes are satisfyingly gory. It is an action drama through and through, it wears its narrative on its sleeve, and what you see is what you get. 

In Case You Missed It: Exclusive: Han So-hee on Transforming into an Action Star

Happiness

For zombie apocalypse fans, this drama is an oasis in the desert. Finally, a zombie series that adds a new twist to the formula. Happiness marks the comeback of Park Hyung-sik after military service, and boy, does the actor deliver. The show's strength lies in its character-forward writing and intricate world-building.

Set in the current COVID-19 pandemic, residents of an upscale condominium complex find themselves facing a new, more inexplicable virus that turns humans into flesh-hungry beings. But the caveat is that their zombie state comes and goes. A zombie with human agency? Well, that's just fodder for even more moral dilemmas. The drama excels in many parts but falls victim to what one could guess as a ratings battle - its ending, while satisfying to most, robs the show of its initial bite (pun intended) and artistic edge. 

Tatler Asia
Above Yoon Sae-bom (Han Hyo-joo) and Jung Yi-hyun (Park Hyung-sik) in Happiness. Photo: Viu

Squid Game

Yes, we are scoring this phenomenal drama as 'okay but not mind-blowing'. Despite its meteoric success and rise to the top of the K-Drama sphere - even gathering a global fanbase like never before seen from a Korean show - its folly is mirrored in its strength as well. Its universality lends itself to predictability. 

Squid Game's premise, while invigoratingly captivating, is nothing new - battle royale style stories and novels have been around for decades. The show's strength truly lies in its directorial execution, sound mixing, acting, and cinematography. These amazing points, however, are dulled by the story's many loopholes and narrative cop-outs. Yes, it is amazing, addictive, and utterly satisfying - yet a deeper look and a rewatch or two will have you questioning a few bits and storylines. 

Read More: 'Squid Game' Earns Three Nominations at the Golden Globes 2022

 

The Devil Judge

The Devil Judge pictures the dystopian version of South Korea. In the story, the government plans out a trial judge live show where all its citizens are eligible to participate and judge. Kang Yo-han (Ji Sung), a ruthless trial judge takes the role of 'Chief Judge' who punishes evil people mercilessly. 

In the show, Ji Sung and Kim Min-jung both command attention through their flawless deliveries. Every word that comes out of their mouths grabs the audiences by the collar and allow them to have more immersive watching experiences. 

When it’s a Ji Sung drama, you anticipate depth and interesting character dimensions only he can pull off. However, this isn’t the only thing that makes a drama a success, such as in the case of The Devil Judge.

The story, written by a former judge who also brought to life the 2018 legal drama Ms Hammurabi, exhibits an extraordinary blend of unique twists and creative depiction of a dystopian version of South Korea. So out of this world that some scenes and characters seem rather disturbing and unnecessary. The cherry on top was of course the inclusion of Got7’s Park Jin-young, who, nevertheless, delivered but nothing to go crazy about.

OVERHYPED

Jirisan

Helmed by director Lee Eung-bok, the man behind Descendants of The Sun (DOTS)Guardian: The Lonely and Great God; and writer Kim Eun-hee (who also wrote the zombie series Kingdom), Jirisan is a show that revolves around the story of mountain rangers who want to save people in Jiri Mountain National Park.

Seo Yi-gang (portrayed by Jun Ji-hyun / Gianna Jun) is the best ranger at Jiri Mountain National Park. She knows everything about the area, including how to climb the mountain. Kang Hyun-jo (portrayed by Jun Ji-hoon) is a rookie ranger at Jiri Mountain National Park. He graduated from the military academy and was once an army captain. He has a secret that he can't tell anyone. These two people become partners and they work to save people around Jiri Mountain National Park.

After two high-rating episodes, the show's audience dropped from 10.7 per cent to 7.9 per cent in the third episode, a dip can be traced to the online clamour and negative criticism met by the series because of its "poor computer generated imagery (CGI)".

Other complains include 'annoying' soundtracks and excessive product placements that left viewers distracted. Many also claim that Jirisan, despite of its captivating plot, 'did not live up to its budget.'

Related: 7 Shows to Catch on iQiyi This Season: Jirisan, Yumi's Cells, and More

Nevertheless,

Never has there been a more infuriating couple in Korean Drama history than Nabi and Jae-on. In a modern tale of push-and-pull, the two friends-with-benefits struggle to find a balance between their late visits and life the morning after. The first few episodes were quite strong due to Han So-hee and Song Kang's electric chemistry, although a few more episodes in, and the actors could only carry the show's hodge-podge plot so much. 

Nevertheless, is a perfect example of all flair and little substance - perhaps a perfectly parallel description of the lead characters' relationship as well. The show's biggest strength would have to be its amazing OST. While we can never get our precious hours of watching back, we can at least have Sam Kim's Love Me Like That on loop.

Read also: Song Kang: 5 Things You Need To Know About The ‘Nevertheless,’ Actor

Now We Are Breaking Up

The much-awaited comeback drama of Hallyu royalty Song Hye-kyo after a two-year hiatus stirred excitement among fans from all over the world. However, the ongoing show is being criticised for its frustratingly slow plot and for the actress’ lackluster acting that is obviously outshined by the superb talent of young actor Jang Ki-yong.

While the storytelling is notable and the set design is as chic as Hye-kyo’s character as a fashion designer, fans are apparently waiting for more oomph than her monotonous voice and dreary crying scenes. The series isn’t over yet and followers are hoping for a good, heart-stopping ending, at the very least, to merit the hype.

Read also: 8 Jang Ki-yong Shows You Need to Watch Now: My Roommate is a Gumiho; Now We're Breaking Up

Sisyphus: The Myth

Science fiction thriller Sisyphus: The Myth is a story that revolves around a genius engineer Han Tae-seul (Jo Seung Woo) who gets involved in a chaotic situation and is saved by a skilled warrior (Park Shin-hye) who comes back in the past.

With Shin-hye as the lead, the show inevitably garnered so much attention on social media, something that it rightfully deserved given the well-plotted lines and mysteries that were slowly peeled at the latter part of the series.

The show also had solid characters and heart that anchored the story. The budget laid out for Sisyphus: The Myth also paid off, evident in the number of scenes from the dystopian future of South Korea.

DP

DP revolves around the story of a band of Korean military police whose mission is to track down and capture all deserters of the military. Its screenplay writer, Kim Bo-tong, who adapted the series from his popular online comic book of the same name, based the plot on his own experience as a former DP soldier.

In South Korean, the conscription or military enlistment law that has been around since 1957. It requires all male citizens between ages 18 and 28 to perform military services for the country, this means that depending on the branch of the military they are in, Korea's male stars will be out of sight for a long period of time. Typically, men assigned under the Army and Marine will have to perform their duties for 21 months, those who are assigned in the Navy will serve for 23 months, while those in the Air Force will serve for 24 months. 

Behind all the series'  lighthearted and funny moments, the show highlights the physical, mental, and emotional mistreatment of men in military camps. DP perfectly encapsulates and magnifies the undesirability of serving in the military.

Tatler Trivia: The show's title 'DP,' refers to 'deserter pursuit'.

Related: 10 K Stars Who've Already Enlisted For Military Service: Gong Yoo, Lee Min-ho, Song Joong-ki, And More

So Not Worth It

So Not Worth It is a Kdrama that revolves around a colourful college dormitory in South Korea that is home to students from all parts of the globe. In this place, new friends, lovers, and experiences are formed.

The coming-of-age story highlights the importance of having vibrant and harmonious relationships among big and small communities. Funny and often times relatable, the show's biggest advantage is the unique concept of combining sitcom with Korean culture. But everything in the show will make one think, is it worth it?

UNDERRATED

Doom at Your Service

With an A-class cast and indisputable chemistry between the two leads Park Bo-young and Seo In-guk, this fantasy romance could have been one of the top dramas this year, except that it garnered mixed reviews and below-average ratings in South Korea and other territories of the digital entertainment platform, Viu around the world.

While the storyline is quite impressive and unique especially in the first half of the 16-episode series, others find the latter half to be a little loose and cliché. The characters let viewers feel their pains and sorrows despite the lack of interesting character development. No matter your take on this, there is one thing that this drama brings to the table: it is that love conquers all, death included. Oh, is that too cliché? 

Read also: 10 Seo In-Guk and Park Bo-Young Korean Drama Series And Films To Watch in 2021

Dali and the Cocky Prince

Never mind the average ratings because this series has so much depth enough to make you realise how money, influence and one's past can spin the wheel of life. This romantic comedy revolves around Jin Moo-hak (Kim Min-jae), the rags-to-riches director of a global food service company, and Kim Dali (Park Gyu-young), the director and heiress of the Cheong-song Art Museum, who eventually developed feelings for each other.

But more than the cute romance this series brings, the plot, the climax and the location and set design are truly impressive. And did we mention it’s hilarious, too?

Read also: These Upcoming Korean Dramas Should Be on Your Radar in 2022

Monthly Magazine Home

Its viewership may be one of the lowest this year but the story has more angles to offer beyond the romantic relationship that flourished between Yu Ja-seong (Kim Ji-seok) a real estate expert and Na Young-won (Jung So-min), the young editor of lifestyle magazine titled Monthly House.

It subtly teaches practical hacks on investing as well as gives a glimpse of the not-so-glamourous behind-the-scenes of the publishing industry. The witty storytelling is enough to make you laugh and forget your deadlines at work while it also teaches you how to deal with other people who, for all you know, are fighting their own battles behind the smiles on the surface.

Read also: 7 Movies And TV Series For Magazine/Publishing Lovers: Younger, She Was Pretty, And More

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