After years of reading your reviews I decided to take the plunge and write for 2 reasons:
1. To tell you how much I enjoy your reviews and admire your work ethic. I’m a recently retired critical care nurse (an old white lady) and over the years have found so much joy in korean dramas and films. When I am contemplating what to watch next I turn to you.
I’ve seen more dramas than I care to admit and I’ve read many varied reviews but you are the gold standard. On the rare occasion that I disagree with one of your reviews I am so shocked and sometimes delighted. I only wish I could become a Patron.
2. A question….Why so often in k dramas does the story/writing go downhill later in the drama. I’m noticing an increasing pattern with this. I’ve seen videos of table reads and it makes wonder…If they are indeed reading the entire script in that sitting do they not notice they are reading what I can only describe as foolishness?
The most recent example of this was Bossam. I really loved this drama. I felt it was well written and reminded me of a good old-fashioned k drama but I feel like it eventually went off the rails. This may not be the best example but I’m sure you know what I’m trying to express.
I wouldn’t send this as an Ask fangirl question at the risk of sounding whiny and stupid. Is there a logical explanation. Since I know little about the making of dramas I thought you may have insight.
Again, please know you bring fun and joy to this old lady and be proud of yourself.
If you ever need a place to stay in California, I have plenty of room and no weirdos!!
P.S. Loved your participation in the podcast!
Thank you for the kind words! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoy the blog as much as you do. Thanks for allowing me and the blog to be part of your world! ❤️ Also, yay that you enjoyed the podcast; I had great fun chatting with the ladies!
For anyone who’s reading who’d like to know more about the Patreon experience that Linda mentions, you might like to check out my latest Patreon monthly update post. Shameless plug: you can support the blog, for as little as US$1 a month! 😋
As for the reasons why dramas have a tendency to go downhill in later episodes, I do have several factors to offer up for discussion. If I missed out anything, or you guys have more thoughts or insights, please share them in the comments!!
PS: The screenshots I’m using in this post, are from 2012’s King of Dramas, which is a great tongue-in-cheek look at the kdrama-making industry. If you can find it, it’s a very illuminating watch!
BROAD FACTORS THAT AFFECT DRAMA INTEGRITY
Before I get into the factors themselves, I felt it would be important to state upfront, that some of these things are changing, so these factors wouldn’t apply equally to all dramas. In particular, not all shows are made using the live-shoot system.
Just thought that would be important to point out!
THE LIVE-SHOOT SYSTEM
From what I can tell, more than half of the kdramas on our screens today are filmed using the live-shoot system. What this means, is that the drama is not only being filmed as it airs, it’s also being written as it airs. Yep, you read that right.
This means that the table reading that you see, is only for the first few episodes of the drama, because.. that’s all that’s available, at the time.
When an actor signs on for a drama, it’s essentially a leap of faith, because all they have to go on, is:
1, the story synopsis,
2, the first few episodes that are already written, and
3, the names attached to the production.
If the writer and PD have good track records, it might give an actor some assurance, but as we know from experience, a good track record does not guarantee, well, anything, right? You could have written or directed some excellent dramas, and still serve up a stinker this time.
Why is the live-shoot system favored, you might ask?
Well, this is to enable the production team to react to audience feedback, in real time. Based on audience feedback, a writer might tweak the storyline differently, or take the story in a different direction than originally planned, or end the story differently than originally planned.
Examples of how audience feedback has affected dramas include:
1. More (or less) screen time given to a character because of audience response.
Audiences responded so positively to Ahn Jae Hyun in 2014’s You From Another Star, that more scenes were written for him.
2. A switching of the male lead.
Sometimes, audiences favor the second male lead so much, that the second male lead gets swapped with the original male lead, so that he’ll end up as romantic endgame for our female lead.
In 2001, Bae Yong Joon overtook Kim Seung Woo as male lead in Hotelier, while Lee Byung Hun took over Ryu Si Won as male lead in Beautiful Days.
In 2007, Park Shi Hoo overtook Kim Seung Woo (poor Kim Seung Woo! This has happened to him twice!) in How To Meet a Perfect Neighbor. And in 2010, Park Shi Hoo overtook Jung Joon Ho as male lead in Queen Of Reversals.
In 2017’s The King Loves, Hong Jong Hyun, who is Show’s second male lead, ends up being romantic endgame for our female lead, but I’m not sure whether this was in reaction to audience response.
3. Shows getting extended, shortened or canceled.
Fan reaction is a major contributing factor, and can directly affect the longevity of a show. 2020’s A Piece Of Your Mind (which was quite lovely, by the way) was cut from 16 episodes to 12, because of low ratings (ie, poor audience response).
And this year, the plug was pulled on Joseon Exorcist after it had aired just 2 episodes, because of viewer dissatisfaction with the show’s historical inaccuracies and cultural insensitivity.
On the flip side of things, positive viewer response has led to some shows getting extended – to the detriment of its story.
For example, 2010’s Smile You was so popular, that it was extended to 45 episodes from its original 30.
As a result, in its effort to muster up a sudden demand for 15 more episodes of story, Show reached for tired tropes and logic leaps in order to fill up air time. This made Show’s last stretch tiresome to watch, which was a huge pity, because the earlier episodes were so sparkling and fun.
The effect of the live-shoot system on the writing
Of course, all these audience considerations mean that the writing can and does wobble. Not only can the story direction take weird turns (as in, it’d look weird to the uninitiated), the ending can turn out pretty underwhelming, when all is said and done.
An example that I remember quite clearly, is 2010’s Queen of Reversals. It took the production team a bit of time, in Show’s mid-section, to decide whether or not to promote second lead Park Shi Hoo to male lead, displacing original male lead Jung Joon Ho.
While the discussions were on-going, the show had to go carry on, because, well, live-shoot system. However, without a clear decision on who was romantic endgame, the story could only cycle in place for an episode or two, until the decision had been made.
I remember watching this, and thinking, “We are just going around in circles; I hope they decide on the male lead soon.” 😅
Now, if you were watching this and didn’t know the production was thinking about changing male leads, you’d just think that writer-nim had no concept of how to drive the story forward.
Another example I’d like to mention, is 2001’s Beautiful Days. In Show’s early episodes, female lead Choi Ji Woo has all these meet-cute / hyperawareness moments with original male lead Ryu Si Won.
But before we’re even halfway through the story, Show changes tack, and all the sizzle is between her and Lee Byung Hun (because Lee Byung Hun was the crowd favorite).
If you didn’t know that there had been a decision to switch male leads while the show was airing, you’d find the initial stretch between Choi Ji Woo’s and Ryu Si Won’s characters really odd.
And, if you didn’t know that Smile, You (which I mentioned above) was suddenly extended, you’d think that writer-nim had simply lost their mojo partway through writing the script.
Are pre-produced dramas in a better position?
Theoretically, fully pre-produced dramas ought to be in a better position to deliver a coherent story with maximum narrative integrity, but that doesn’t always happen.
For example, 2016’s Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo was 100% pre-produced, and yet, I found it quite underwhelming, to be brutally honest.
The details are in my review, but in a nutshell, I felt that Show couldn’t make up its mind on what it really wanted to be. This, despite not having to deal with the uncertainties of writing on the fly, while Show was airing.
..Which brings me to talk about:
OTHER SOURCES OF PRESSURE
It’s a tough game, making dramas. Aside from fan reactions, there are other things to factor in as well.
Product Placement (PPL)
Someone’s gotta pay the bills when it comes to making dramas, and a big chunk of that income comes from product placement.
The thing is, sometimes the products that need to be featured are more organic to the story than others, but there is so much pressure on the writer to include those products (otherwise, there’s no product placement income), that sometimes, the plot can take weird turns, in order to create a halfway suitable space to insert said product placement.
2019’s Be Melodramatic does a nice job of showcasing what it’s like trying to squeeze PPL into a drama, and 2012’s King Of Dramas does give us a good glimpse into this as well.
Unexpected real-life developments
Sometimes, stuff happens that affects the show’s ability to carry on as planned.
For example, 2018’s Let’s Eat 3 had to be shortened from 16 episodes to 14, because male lead Doo Joon suddenly received his military conscription letter, and there was no way to defer it.
The production had to scramble to finish writing and filming the last 2 episodes (which turned out to be episodes 13 and 14), which definitely affected the quality of the ending.
Not only did the story direction have to be adjusted, whatever had been originally planned for episodes 13 and 14 had to be scrapped as well.
Siwon‘s character in King Of Dramas has a manager played by Park Kyu Sun.
Apparently, Park Kyu Sun received his military conscription letter while the Show was airing (and filming), and so, writer-nim wrote him out of the story, by having his character be suddenly summoned for military service.
HA! That was a stroke of meta brilliance, and a rare example of a show finding a suitable way to work around an unexpected real-life event. However, I do think this worked only because Park Kyu Sun was playing a minor supporting role.
Aside from pressure to swing the story in a way that pleases fans, there could also be pressure from, say, a senior executive at the network, or an influential sponsor of the drama, for things to be written a certain way, for whatever reason.
There could also be creative disagreements between writer & PD, which would then affect the creative outcome.
For example, 2020’s The Uncanny Counter had a change in writers in its last few episodes, because the original writer left the production, citing creative differences with the PD.
While Show managed to stick a decent enough ending, I will say that I did feel the change in writers, when it happened.
Altogether, you can imagine that there is a lot of time pressure involved in writing scripts for a drama being produced under the live-shoot system.
There are so many moving parts, and so many things that can trip up the process of producing 2 episodes’ worth of scripts for the week’s filming.
There’s a scene in King of Drama, where a delivery rider is charged to transport the latest footage from the location of the shoot to the studio, and he’s literally on the road, even as the first part of the episode airs.
The thing is, I believe this tidbit was inspired by true events.
..Which is why so many of us felt that King Of Dramas was required viewing for drama fans, when it aired. 😉
There have also been stories of the latter part of an episode still being edited, while the initial edited chunk of the episode goes on the air.
The live-shoot system is a literal jungle, and it’s honestly a miracle that we actually get some amazing dramas out of it. 😅
With writer-nim already dealing with so much pressure, it’s an even bigger ask than usual, to want a solid ending that feels organic to the story, and – dare I say it? – fresh to the viewers.
The fact is, we need dramatic tension in order to make an interesting story. Without dramatic tension, there is basically no story (yes, this is true even for slice-of-life, which is a genre I personally really enjoy).
And, it’s good story sense, to have a Final Conflict at about the three-quarter mark, to bring us into the home stretch.
But now that you see everything that writer-nim’s dealing with laid out like this, it’s easier to understand why it’s tough for writer-nim to pull off a solid, steady landing, isn’t it?
With writer-nim having to deal with so much pressure, and probably, by this stage, a whole lotta sleeplessness and exhaustion as well, it’s no surprise that many writers reach for frustrating tropes like noble idiocy, to fulfill the need for a Final Conflict.
It’s easy; it’s there; it’s worked before.
..But that’s also exactly why we have more underwhelming drama endings than we’d like.
Have there been dramas that are born of the live-shoot system, that have managed to serve up solid endings that don’t have to do with noble idiocy? Yes. (And that’s another post for another day – thanks Antonio, for the question!)
However, they aren’t quite the norm, unfortunately. But at least now we know the general whys?
I do hope that this post gives you a better idea of why dramas tend to go downhill more often than we would like.
I personally find that knowing what our writers have to deal with, gives me more sympathy, patience and understanding, when I encounter an underwhelming drama ending.
Meanwhile, let’s root for Dramaland to get better, and do better, not only at giving us solid endings for our dramas, but also, at creating a space where creative integrity – and all those who work for it, and all those who love it – is protected.
Like I said earlier, if you guys have other thoughts or insights to add, please share in the comments!
Thanks, you guys.
1. If you feel that I missed anything, or if you have your own insights that you’d like to share with the rest of us, do tell us about it in the comments!
2. Do you have a question of your own? Drop me a comment here or on the Dear kfangurl page, or send me an email!
Misaeng stayed good until the end.
I think Bossam stayed good through the end, but I know I am in minority. I think it would have been better if there were fewer episodes — some editing always seems called for in dramas. I thought The Red Sleeve was torture.
As much I love KSW I think the switch in Hotelier 2001 was necessary. His chemistry with SYA wasn’t good and getting wooed by a young broken heiress was more suited to his character. SYA’s character and acting was too strong and both would have fought for the limelight every time. I think KSW is a really great movie actor but with Dramas he is unlucky bc of the ones he was in and the audience prefer looks (okay, for me he is hot but I don’t think I’m in the majority) over ability.
I rarely watch dramas as they air but I raved about Flower of Evil (2020) to everyone I knew only to be… underwhelmed? disappointed? by its last few episodes. Maybe shooting during the pandemic greatly affected them, I dunno. I’ll try to watch it again later and see if I still feel the same.
Yong Pal (2015) had an interesting premise but the male lead was nearly gone from any actual “gang doctoring” towards the end. River Where the Moon Rises (2021) had to replace its male lead because of a scandal.
Big (2012) is almost universally hated among all of the Hong Sisters’ works but I’ve always been alright with its ending, funnily enough.
And, on the other side of the fence is City Hall (2009) with the most embarrassingly difficult first few episodes, then gets alright, then better, then builds up to one of the most memorable last few episodes I’ve seen in k-dramaland.
@jiyuu Oooh, Yong Pal – yeah that was a show that started off delightfully twisted and makjang-y and then went completely off the rails – it was an interesting premise so I don’t understand why they abandoned it so quickly and tried to turn their antihero protagonist into a traditional romantic lead.
@BE – Then it must’ve been my loved for Gong Yoo that kept me mesmerized. 😆
@Everyone – DOTS & Goblin IS MY S’ish!
I get that DOTS has its critics, rightly so (but it’s still my ‘ish. I was so mad when the actors got together in really life because I knew that was going to crap up the memory of it. I don’t want real life interfering with my dramas.) I don’t know what’s not to love about Goblin. It’s fantasy so… Are people expecting realism so they’re disappointed? I’m really curious as to what the expectations were and what let you down?
As the young folks used to like to say beez: BO-Ring!
And in my more tolerant iteration everyone’s taste is different; I accept that….some folks like their steaks burned to a crisp.
@Antonio – that goes ditto for Western women (but in reverse) who watch Kdrama (at least for me and the women whom I know that watch Kdrama. And for the nostalgia of what family and respect used to look like.
@merij1 – bad endings have been a thing, at least as far as my Kdrama watching goes back. It used to really bother me – disappointment from outright anger and disgust. But then I decided to judge a show by its overall journey and let whatever feelings I had about the ending go. I also thought about all the American shows that I’d invested hours upon years with and could not think of one that had ended satisfactorily. So now I don’t look for good endings on Kdrama and when we get one, that’s just time to sit back, savor and feel satisfied.
Great post Fangurl. I remember when you started doing ‘Dear Fangurl” posts, thinking how much I liked the format. 💖
Your captions on some of the above photos (to caption or not to caption, yes, that is the question 🤨) are really hilarious. I read every one.
I think what makes bad endings worse is when the beginnings are so good that you became engrossed in the characters and their journeys, only to be thrown off the ‘Happy Land Bus’ into the sewer of ‘WTH just happened’. 😂
I do feel badly for those that have to live under the pressure of getting a drama out to the public. I feel for not only the writer, but the entire production team. Having to scrub video is painful enough, but having to do it at 3 in the morning with all that time pressure is a whole different kind of pain.
Yes Fangurl, it is a miracle with all these factors that many dramas do turn out so well. I am looking forward to that post!
I nominate Stranger as a twofer: both that rare k-drama with a second season (that is equally as great as the first), and two seasons that featured great endings, which clearly were planned in advance to tie up the many developments that occurred prior.
I second that merij1! What a great two-fer this series is, and I would sit and wait for a third if they can keep the same cast.
Absolutely with you there, phl 😊
Hi! I would like to suggest a Japanese drama which is meta too: Can’t Write!?: Sceenwriter Keisuke Yoshimaru’s Life Without Synopsis (with Ikuta Toma). It’s more on the fantasy side but it gives an idea about drama writing and drama production.
I love your drama reviews but it’s my first time commenting…
Thank you for your job!
Thanks for that recommendation — I researched “Can’t Write! (AKA Life Without Synopsis) and it looks great, though hard to stream here in the US. Welcome to the non-lurking KFG community!
Welcome, Cris!! Thanks for the recommendation, and glad that you’re here! ❤️ (Also, thanks for enjoying the reviews! 😃)
Before going to sleep, I need to say that most of the k-dramas we’ve seen had solid endings. Solid, as in at least good enough not to detract from our good feelings about the show.
Of course, the shows my wife and I watched are not a random sample. After Something In The Rain, we became very careful about which ones to start.
Regardless, I don’t think it’s an aberration for k-dramas to manage a good ending.
I wonder, has there been a downtrend on this? Or has it always been hit or miss?
@merij1 I haven’t seen too many shows that went totally off the rails at the end (maybe because I tend to wait to watch shows until I know they won’t do this), but there are definitely some that started strongly and then fell apart (Cheese in the Trap and W, I’m looking at you) or simply didn’t end at all (hi, Arthdal Chronicles). There is a much larger category of shows I’ve seen where the ending was less interesting than the rest of the show or felt rushed/sloppy – this seems to be more common and may be a result of live shoot exhaustion or the challenges of crafting solid endings in general.
Didn’t they originally intend for Arthdal Chronicles to have a second series? And then it just kind of hasn’t happened?
It’s been kind of provisionally on my list for awhile, because it looks like my kind of crazy, just off-the-wall “mythical past” fantasizing
@Trent yeah, Arthdal is supposed to have additional “seasons” but given how messy the initial ones were, I’m not holding my breath. It’s definitely crazy, but not in a good way, which is frustrating because so many talented folks were involved in making it. Also, whoever decided that the production design should aim for a mix of neo-primative mumbo jumbo meets goth 80’s vampire flick should be shot.
Well, based on my 10+ years of watching kdramas, I’d say there’s always been dramas that go to pot towards the end. Thankfully just a few I’ve seen have been with a totally WTF! endings… those are the ones you tend to remember though, even after years have gone by. 😀
So true. A broken heart is hard to get over.
I wonder if anyone knows if Vincenzo was made using live shooting model or preplanned? I bailed on the show at around the three quarter mark because I disagreed with the morality of some of the story decisions, also lost steam…. But I also heard that viewers were disappointed in the ending. No spoilers please, just want to know if I should finish it! And curious as the show had very high production values and was interesting in swinging between high melodrama Godfather epic style and slapstick comedy. Seemed quite meta and savvy, has a clear concept, yet didn’t stick the landing?
Vincenzo was a live shoot, and actually took a week off to give everyone more time to finish filming without having to rush. I had major issues with the ending, but I don’t necessarily think this was a case of the writer not having a plan. It was more a case of the writer having a plan that I had major moral issues with.
See my comments below on Vincenzo. I was quite okay watching show’s amorality thru 16 because it was so well balanced out by this inventive absurdist comedy, allowing me as a viewer to regard the whole as a guilty pleasure entertainment. But it lost all that for me in the final four episodes, because quite simply it was not done very well. I was rooting for show till then. And judging from your comments, I would say it may well be elements of show you already found distasteful were exaggerated by the end. Most viewers remained faithful to the end, but I was disappointed.
@Elaine Phua I would say that if the morality through the three quarters mark was bothering you, you are…not going to feel better about it by watching through to the end. No spoilers, other than to say that I (and others) have previously described the climax as “torture porn,” and I’d stand by that. It went over my line, personally, and that’s setting aside BE’s insights into how they kind of bobbled the delicate balance between grand operatic over-the-top humor and cutting crime-n-action that (for me and others, at least) worked so well through the first sixteen episodes. (The final ten-twelve minutes of episode sixteen was brutal but compelling, in my view, and in many ways would have worked as a fairly decent capstone to the show, albeit it would have left various loose ends dangling).
In spite of all that, I did on balance like the show and view it positively, so take that for what it’s worth…
I completely agree Vincenzo with a brief coda after could have ended at 16.
And if it had done so would have blown the lids right off K drama land.
From a different perspective, I think folks want different things out of shows, and that has a great deal to do with whether one is satisfied with the ending. For example, Ele and others here would like a romantic ending to Chuno, but while I love Seol Hwa, what makes Chuno more than epic for me is
And unlike European tragedies, Korean ones have an element of heroic to them. Dae Gil is a hero at the end. Mr. Sunshine is a heroic and tragic folk epic, and yet I have come across folks who wished it would have ended differently. How could it have ended differently? I quite liked the ending tho the Youth of May, whereas many were disappointed, but
Likewise many people wanting the otp of Mr. Queen to stay together
So in this there is also a bit of different strokes for different folks, the week ending a ubiquitous kvetch, which if someone has one expectation or another about might not be the same as the next person’s.
weak ending. s’embarrassing, my old man’s eyes are shot.
I simply cannot imagine a different ending for Chuno or Mr. Sunshine. The endings of these dramas had maximum emotional impact. Anything else would have felt flat.
I more or less agree with you on all of these; Chuno in particular, I think it is possible to simultaneously “ship” Daegil and Seolhwa (i.e. wish for them to be together in an ideal world which is not this one) as a fannish “what if” exercise, while acknowledging the dramatic force and logical culmination of Daegil’s story-as-presented.
Likewise agree as to Youth of May, it was strong and forceful and
And I am with you in the apparent minority (which I didn’t realize was actually a minority until it ended and I read other people’s commentary) of thinking Mr. Queen had a good ending and being satisfied with what it did with the characters and the resolution of their relationship(s).
Not being a particular partisan of Mr. Sunshine, I don’t have such a rooting interest, but I think it was probably the fated ending, so…
Ooh, BE, good use of the spoiler tag. Hmm, should I have used it before? Er, I’ll try this time.
Maybe, using the Daegil end (it was his specific end – the Chuno finale was as splendidly epic as the whole series 😊) as a case in point, we all want different things from endings. For me, the reason I cry bitter, bitter tears over some whole end episodes
Vincenzo ending (oh, hello there Vincenzo,, learning absolutely nothing and, worse, spouting some terrible life philosophy that only evil can fight evil 👿)
Money Flower ending (oh, there you are Mal Ran in Money Flower apparently, conveniently mad)
or just a fragment of the finish
is I’m so invested, it hurts not to feel justice is served.
It’s because I personally am hung up on the idea of character arcs and it’s something I need to get over because kdrama character arcs are regularly swerving in ways that aren’t, well, an arc. They flat line. Or jump off a cliff.
Yes, OK Daegil’s story arc is cracky. I just… I wanted just once… once… for him to be… happy 😭😭😭 And that’s my heart talking. My head agrees with you really BE, that there was no other way 😶
@ele nash -Agree with almost everything, except I felt I saw glimpses of Mal ran’s madness throughout Money Flower.
Indeed, but she seemed to “get away” with all of her terrible crimes, kind of living a lie in a psychiatric hospital. It felt convenient to me. She had issues for sure but I don’t believe those issues meant she didn’t comprehend the murders she ordered to be committed. It’s not like she was in psychosis or some other dissociative state.
For a long time I only watched completed dramas because I didn’t want to invest a ton of hours in a drama only to have it crash and burn at the end. I will now live watch some shows, but usually only if I generally trust the writer(s) and the rest of the production team. I do think creating compelling endings is hard, so when a show absolutely nails one, I’m extra impressed.
Also, out of curiosity, what are shows folks felt had awesome endings?
Chuno, Damo, Conspiracy in the Court, Mr. Sunshine, My Mister, Secret Love Affair, Racket Boys
Chocolate (on Netflix) is an interesting example, because its ending was so very good, other than arriving 51 minutes too soon. lol.
The peak greatness happened at the very end of the penultimate episode, with another full episode left to fill. How they got that pacing wrong still puzzles me. So they did one of those ridiculous out-of-country disappearance acts by one of the romantic leads — for six months, in the story, at least — with no clear explanation. Then they reunite the OTP at the end of the episode. It was hilariously dumb and super odd, coming after one of the best finale scenes in any drama I’ve seen yet.
I really liked Chocolate as well, would recommend it to anyone, but this is a problem of long serial dramas. It is interesting how shorter works are more recently coming into play, which work because they are not left at the end as this was.
@merij1 I have not seen Chocalate but the title alone sounds tempting. It is odd when a show has a great ending and then feels it needs to add on more stuff after that – sometimes knowing when to stop is really important.
Chocolate has a lot of cooking in it. The FL is a chef and the ML wanted to be one, but his Chaebol grandmother wouldn’t allow it.
Mostly it’s about damaged people learning to help one another heal from past trauma. It takes place in a hospice. although at first it seems like it will be a hospital show.
Pretty darn good show and if you skim through most of the last episode, the ending is fantastic. Not just the OTP resolution, but the various resolutions for the secondary characters.
The OTP does a great variation on the “shared childhood trauma/secret” trope, building all season long to an incredible epiphany for the ML. She recognized him but he had no clue until the very end. Which leads to a huge “mind blown” scene when he finally makes the connection.
The odd thing about the weak final episode is that it was foreshadowed in the first episode. So it was planned from the start, and yet makes no sense. I almost wonder if it no longer made sense due to evolution in the script but they stuck with it anyhow since they’d led with the foreshadowing. (Kind of like the final church scene in Lost, if you know what I mean.)
But I’ll say this for Chocolate’s weak final episode: at least they didn’t break anything. A waste of time is far better than lasting damage. Looking at you, Something In The Rain/Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food...
You know, every time I start to hear the siren call of “but it’s got Son Ye-jin and Jung Hae-in, they’re top notch!”, someone will come along to dump on Pretty Noona Who Buys Me Food all over again, and no doubt save me from the angst and disappointment!
(I will say I love that title and irrespective of any other issue will always gladly use it…)
Thing is, Pretty Noona is a really, really, really great romance show for the first 2/3’s. If you had the willpower to stop before it went sideways, I’d recommend it without reservation.
Hmmm. Thing is, everyone seems to peg its departure sideways at a different point…
(Ditto with DoDoSolSolLaLaSol; if you are able to bail at about the thirteen and a half or fourteen episode point, it’s a sprightly, breezy little noona romance with lots of fun Go Ara at her most delightful).
With the gift of hindsight we sometimes peg the start of the decline earlier than we noticed it at the time.
If you ever decide to watch Pretty Noona, I’ll look back and will offer my advice on when to pull the ripcord.
(Ha. I almost edited this to cut back on the mixed metaphors, but they make me laugh.)
(Oh, and my own candidate for breaking things and causing lasting damage with its ending will always and forever be DoDoSolSolLaLaSol. Yeesh.)
Fyi Trent, saw it before I knew Son Ye-Jin was Son Ye-Jin and I thought it was okay. I was not sorry I watched it. I think a show featuring an actor of her fame and accomplishment comes with high expectations.
Now, don’t get me started on Descendants of the Sun or Goblin, each of which I found entirely unwatchable.
It’s true, when we see “big names” in a cast list, or to a lesser extent, a proven writer and/or production team, expectations are definitely heightened.
I suppose one of these days I’ll get around to starting it, not least to see where my own personal opinion of when it goes south ends up.
And yeah, I really enjoyed both DotS and Goblin, so… ::shrug emoji::
I too enjoyed DOTS.
Damo and Conspiracy in the Court are actually two dramas whose endings made me really angry, not because they were tragic, but because I felt they relied either on random chance or on forcing characters to do things that felt deeply out of character given the shows’ set up. Conspiracy in the Court was particularly frustrating because up until the last episode I really liked it. I agree on My Mister and Secret Love Affair, although I had some issues with SLA as an overall show. I wasn’t a big fan of the screenwriting in general on Chuno, but it wasn’t the ending per se that bothered me.
Ah, good one, the reverse question.
Just looking through the list of shows I’ve seen just this year, and I’d say there’s definitely a few that power through and finish strong. Although maybe there’s a fine distinction between “consistent, satisfying finish,” and “awesome ending?”
Anyway: My Mister, of course, stays good through the end; Law School, I thought, stayed interesting all the way through; Youth of May, it’s a tragic ending, but it was powerful and internally consistent, so definitely worth it if you are prepped for it; Beyond Evil, managed to both wind up the mysteries and also complete the character journeys in a believable manner; Thirty but Seventeen, lovely little character evolution of the main characters throughout, perhaps dragged a wee bit in a couple episodes near the end but delivered us in fine shape by the finale; I Am Not a Robot, so much cracky goodness here, and it was fun all the way to the end; Money Flower, a wee bobble or two near the very end, but not enough to make it not compelling or watchable and I think ended in just about the right place; Prison Playbook, some of the secondary characters had flat or disappointing resolutions, including a really big one at the end (Loony, what the hell?!), but the main character and the overall arc was strong to the end; Lie After Lie, makjang as all get out, it dwelt on one of its final subplots for a couple episodes too long, and it manipulated us right up until literally the last minute, but it did deliver us there in the end.
That’ll do to be going on with?
A big yay for Money Flower, Thirty but Seventeen, Beyond Evil, and Youth of May! Their endings were just right. I Am Not a Robot just moved higher on my watch list.
Ah, I envy you your first watch of I Am Not a Robot! Such a silly premise, enfolding an absolutely addictive OTP. I binged it in two days, no lie.
@trent I have not seen a bunch of these, so thanks for the list. Beyond Evil had one of the best endings I’ve seen in awhile, so I totally agree with you on that one.
I hope you take the chance to enjoy some or all of them; I enjoyed all of the ones I listed, quality dramas all in their various ways…
I wouldn’t have even bothered with Beyond Evil if it had not come along and won best drama and best actor at the Baeksang Arts this year, but I’m glad I did.
The first time I watched Money Flower, a show I could not rewatch with folks here cause the characters, every one, disgusted me, my feeling was that it could have been much better as a sixteen episode drama, that show writers dragging out the plot complications ad nauseum, and despite liking Jang Hyuk’s performance, that on my initial viewing really marred the show for me.
I mean, I understand where you’re coming from; I didn’t find every one of the characters disgusting, and the plot twists and complications were compelling rather than boring to my eyes, but I can see the opposite reaction.
I will say that I loved the heck out of the show, and more, immensely enjoyed the weekly group dissection by the erudite assembled of the characters and their motives and so forth and so on. It really enhanced the watch experience.
Thanks K for the nuts and bolts look at it, to which I must add, if show runners want Ahn Nae Sang, K Drama land’s leading support actor (I bet he has appeared in at least 7 shows since January), each has to work around his schedule. Joking somewhat, but it does strike me that these shows do have a collection of actors that to feature them must take them into consideration as part of the live shoot deal adding stress to the whole.
I would to emend that point out that Ahn Nae Sang’s role in On the Verge of Insanity, a support role, was pretty much cut out of the show with about a third of it still remaining. I do not know if that was because he had another commitment, but I was watching Raquet Boys, Devil Judge, and just starting The Road, all four being presented in overlapping real time, and he is in all of those. It made little difference to the show’s story, but I wonder if he had been available would the OTVOI showrunners have tossed him a bon bon at the end as they did with other players.
He was also in Law School, and not just a cameo (through the device of series-long flashbacks).
Think on that: over the course of two and a half months a single actor in real time performed meaty roles in 5 dramas. As I queried of K, does the man sleep?
Oh, this was such a good question and a great answer, kfangurl! The live-shoot system sounds so stressful and absolutely can ruin a promising story.
But I wonder if it actually works in great actors favour. There’s often something theatre-acting-like about kdramas. I so regularly watch even shakily-changeable-wavering plots and still marvel at the acting. Perhaps the immediacy of getting the scripts, acting the scene, little time for retakes, makes for visceral performances. That’s why I love kdrama so much; I get swept up believing in the characters, even while the drama can get bumpy.
I just wanted to point that out! But, oof, the landing of most shows (around the world, to be fair) can tumble. Notable exceptions: My Mister, Healer… Actually, I’m a bit stumped, but then I haven’t watched that many shows 😊 Even brilliant shows like Chuno, Money Flower and Signal have odd elements in the endings that spoil things somewhat. OK, Chuno is perfection but why did Daegil have to die 😭 Don’t answer that; it’s my own private, rhetorical lament 😆
Anyho, any show I’ve enjoyed I get nervous heading into the end, but an awful lot of the time it’s because I kind of don’t want it to end…
Ah Ele, why did Hamlet hafta die? Just asking. Why do any of us, when we get down to brass tacks.
No, I only care about Daegil and, you know, I’d settle even just for an extra year of life. For him to be with our Seol Hwa. Just, One. Year, BE 😭 Is it too much to ask?!
Get on the ship, my friend, the Daegil-Seolhwa ship. There’s plenty of room…
@Trent, there are so many people on board of that ship (myself included), yet there is always room for more.
@ Ele 😂🤣
@Ele – You cracked me up with this comment. 😆 Thanks for that laugh!
Chuno! Daegil!😭 It hurts so good
I absolutely love this question by Linda and the analysis provided by kfangurl. There is nothing worse than when you start to realise the final scenes of a favourite kdrama are going to tank, or worse still, are inconclusive. To me, it is almost the equivalent to when you realise the leads are going to die in the final episode of a cdrama (which happens way too often).
I have read a number of fascinating academic papers on kdramas, including masters theses on their rising popularity. Some of these studies address the nature of the hybridisation of genres incorporated into kdramas, the reasons why and dissect some well known shows, including why they are popular and how they are driving change in SK society. However, none of these explain the washed out endings that sometimes occur.
Anja in her guest post on Dramas Over Flowers adds another factor and that is, perhaps Writer Nim, after a couple of episodes, realises the subject matter can only support a few pages of script at best. Because the time slots for the drama are booked, the writer has to keep producing content. Hence, the plot might start to become non sensicle. The show must roll on.
The one additional thought I have is the pressure to wrap up a show in making way for the next show. This is pertinent when a current show hasn’t done as well as expected and so the resources are thrown behind the new show to help it get off to a better start. This includes moving the current show around into different time slots and writing, or rewriting, what will become a threadbare ending.
The King of Drama was excellent regarding the production pressures in the SK drama industry and I consider Fantastic gives us a very good overview on how script writers pull a drama together. That being said, it looks like I might have to revisit Be Melodramatic and the challenges of PPL 😊
Agree–LOVE the question and Kfangurl’s answer. It captures the essence of my earlierq question to Kfangurl about kdrama writers using a “pre-determined” forumula (1-6 character intro & plot outline, 7-10 enhance secondary characters, explore background of main characters, add more humore, 11-14 wrap most of initial plotline, 15-16 add in a new but smaller conflict to resolve in last episode) to fulfill contractual obligations.
I think the Live-Shoot System is quite dumb but necessary in korea. Public opinion matters way too much over there.
But to be honest I can count the dramas I watched with a nice and logical ending on one hand. So this is nothing new and it will probably get worse (just from my perspective when I compare older dramas to newer ones it feels like it increased in nonesense)
The most memorable drama that left me completely confused was „Mama fairy and the woodcutter“ till this day I have no clue what the ending was supposed to mean.
I always thought that shows go downhill also because most must be 16 or 20 episodes long, no matter what. Most shows that I haven’t dropped after 1-2 episodes, I have dropped around episode 12. I think we may get less of that now that apparently shows can be 10-12 episodes long. It will help writers to better focus and avoid using weird or tired tropes to buy time.
The first show that came to mind when reading the question was The Tale of the 9 Tailed, which to me was uneven through and through. It started well, the interest started waning, then there was one excellent episode (9 or 10), and then it was really hard to finish. It felt as if a group of writers were involved in this show.
Moon Lovers, if you said that it was pre-producted, I could certainly believe that it was one of the cases where the show decided to change the OTP.
Flower of Evil, to me is a typical case of a good show that needed to end 4-5 episodes earlier.
And Iljimae (the Lee Joon Ki one ) that I watched in parts because well, I was fangirling, apparently is one of those shows where they edited the last episode while it was airing. Also, I think there was a story of how Lee Joon Ki was down with pneumonia or something, so the lead simply is not there for most of the last episode (and is obviously ill in the 1-2 episodes before that)!
Above all, plot complications. In long dramas in order to keep viewers coming back week after week, show writers feel compelled, especially with dramas in the 20 + episode range, to drive up the ante with an ever more complicate plot that would take some gumption and ingenuity with which to provide satisfying closure. The World of the Married was such a show. Despite an excellent cast, and a superlative performance put in by Kim Hee Ae, show writers wrote themselves in a corner and all they could do was come up with a very strange set of resolutions that made no sense in relation to everything that preceded it.
This could be easy to contrast with Kim Hee Ae’s other great starring vehicle, Secret Love Affair, which was a much simpler plot despite its twists and turns, and had the courage to follow through with an finish that felt anything but cheap the way the final episode of the World of the Married does.
I will wait till K has a review Devil Judge to avoid spoilery but imo it belongs in the above discussion. However, Vincenzo is long enough past, where I can identify a second kind of problem, show runners lack the courage of their convictions which made show so entertaining to begin with in their closing argument. From episodes 1-16 of Vincenzo show was nothing short of brilliant, especially in elevating the Korean mash up drama to hitherto unknown heights. The humor was not just broad, it was absurd, surrealistic, playful, sophisticated, and the menace of the action element served as an intense percussive instrument that heightened the whole. But in the final four episodes show writers lost their courage and their imagination. What little comedy that remained became comic bookish and juvenile, and the action turned into one long cliche after another and rather than thrilling, bitter and sadistic, not nearly so satisfying as it had been. While show managed to tie all its loose ends up at the end, the show writers lost faith or energy to dance the dance that brought them to the stage with so much elan.
Another factor is show runners from get go do not have a clear vision of what they are trying to do in their show. And here I will bring another pair of recent dramas to contrast with one another. Seon Hyun Jin delivered a spectacularly fetching performance in You Are My Spring, every single one of her virtues as a rom com actor extraordinaire on display, her facial expressions, their plasticity, simply delightful. ML Kim Dong Wook also put in a very good, complex performance, and Nam Gyu Ri was just a ton of fun. The rom com support ensemble all quite likeable. After a rocky start, first two episodes, show between episode 3-10 just took off, each episode more heart warming than the previous one–and you can go to sites where audiences reacted in real time and see that this was not just my opinion. But there was a problem in the script and basic premise of the show that could not tonally be reconciled with the show’s more charming aspects, and so show writers became half baked about one of the basic premises trying to finish that plot out, while stopping the development of the more charming plot mid stride. I still think any fan of Seon Hyun Jin will get a kick out of show, and it had wonderful and humane motivations, but the lack of clear vision crippled the final six episodes.
On the other hand, On the Verge of Insanity, had a very clear vision of what it was trying to do, what the journey it presented would comprise of, the themes it wished to convey, and the feeling, the unity of tone, lacking in You Are My Spring, throughout. It’s finale, almost making no sense at least with regard to one character, and a poofy happy ever after, just felt right: it did not miss a beat, hit its marks, hit the right notes, tossed in the whipped cream, topped it with chopped nuts, and put a cherry on top. The issue of clear vision for a satisgying finsh cannot be overestimated.
This is another great question, and it definitely describes something that I’ve noticed…the show that starts off fresh and exciting and then just kind of fizzles to an ending eventually.
I do wonder if having big OTT streamers dumping buckets of cash into the system (most obviously Netflix), and having a model that requires pre-production (i.e. all the episodes drop at once; although the Netflix series that stick with that pattern are so far all shorter in length) makes a difference at least in making a show overall more consistent or coherent?
Aren’t the Korean shows that are pre-sold to air in China finished in advance — to get approval from the censors? If so, there you go! A more cohesive show, but no gay male leads. lol
Huh, could be? I’m no expert, so I don’t actually know.
And a few short webdramas that show up on Viki, aside, I don’t think we’ve been getting any straight out gay male leads in any public broadcast or mainstream cable kdramas, unless I blinked and missed them?
(It was actually kind of notable that Eun-jung’s brother in Be Melodramatic was openly gay, and in a relationship with another guy).
Oh sorry, I was using that merely as a stand-in for “censorship being the price of franchising to China.”
My bad, merij1, I shouldn’t have been reading that at face value… But I do sense (again, not that I’m an expert), that even if they weren’t facing overt censorship in China (and hence the need to tailor characters and storylines for that), the generally conservative nature of Korean society would exert a damping effect.
I’m always kind of interested in keeping an eye on LGBT representation in kdrama-land, and it seems to be coming along slowly…the mainstream dramas are willing to have the very occasional secondary characters be gay (ex: the aforementioned Be Melodramatic); they are definitely willing to play with gender switching and confusion of roles (ex: Coffee Prince, Mr. Queen); and they have even thrown in a trans character now, as Natalia points out (Itaewon Class).
It’s going to be a huge leap for a mainstream drama to have anyone in the lead 4 billing who’s in a gay relationship that’s actually given serious on-screen time (I’ll be delighted if anyone can jump up and give me an example that I’ve overlooked!)
@Trent The drama that comes to mind is 2010’s Life Is Beautiful. It was a 63-ep weekender with a family of main characters – and one of the sons is in a gay relationship AND the show treats it sympathetically and even respectfully (and it’s not relegated to the sidelines; it’s a legit arc alongside everyone else’s). It’s a rare gem of a drama, if you can find it!
Ah, yes, thank you, come to think of it I think I do recall people mentioning this one before. Thanks for reminding me!
@Trent I hope you manage to find it! It’s my favorite family drama of all time. 🥰❤️
I can see it’s going to take some creative searching + VPN work, since it’s not on my immediate go-tos of Netflix and Viki (and not on iQIYI, obviously).
I’ll have to put it on my list of “hard to find but give it a shot anyway” dramas, along with Winter Sonata, Sandglass, etc. (parenthetically, I used to have Princess’s Man on that list, but I just saw that Viki has it on its “coming soon” list, so yay).
Oh, cool that TPM is coming to Viki!! I know some folks have been looking for that one!
Also, Winter Sonata is available with subs on OnDemandKorea, so you could give that a look!
That is cool, I let out a happy little cheer when I saw it a few days ago. Love me some Moon Chae-won!
I looked at OnDemandKorea, and a search didn’t turn up Winter Sonata (is it geo-restricted? although I thought I did try it with VPN turned on). It did show that it had Stairway to Heaven available, so it does have some classic hallyu tearjerkers available at least… (I know I’ve seen Winter Sonata on one of the various free-with-ads services in the last few months, I just can’t remember which one).
Dang, I know Winter Sonata was available there when we last brainstormed for group watch titles.. I just checked again, and I don’t see it either. Guess they must have taken it down. Sorry! 😔
It’s all good, it seems to migrate around where it is available at any given time. When I feel ready to actually watch it, I’ll run down where it happens to be hanging out at that point and watch it then…
Fangurl, I am now pushing Life is Beautiful way up the list to watch. Thanks so much!
Not gay, but there’s the trans character in Itaweon Class. I can’t think of anyone else (except for a few minor gay characters used for laughs now and then.. 😒)
I’m just saying that the censorship of ideas that are not aligned with politically correct and woke culture is really strong in the US.
For example, before I stopped watching Western TV, I was desperate for stories not steeped in feminism and misandry. Really, I and many other Westerners who watch kdrama do it also and above all because we can finally fall in love with really strong women that have not lost their femininity, purity and sweetness. Women who have not already been in bed with 50 men within 3 minutes and who do not hate all males, on the contrary they are looking for their other half exactly as men do.
I thought that China censored anything supernatural – ghosts, aliens, exorcism, reincarnation etc. However there are loads of K dramas featuring the supernatural – apparently My Love from the Star was huge in China so how to they get past the Chinese censors?
-Great question/observation about OTT versus live production!
-I also wonder about product placement when the dramas go international. Do local Asian brands strive for more global recognition? Do global brands (Subway) strive for more incorporation by locals?
-How is the selection of the cast affected by global distribution? Interestingly, in Bollywood films, some movies/plotlines are way more popular in global distribution that in domestic outlets. How is the career of a star, including product endorsements, impacted by the global distribution of OTT? Also, the setting of the story, the values portrayed
, etc. ?
Yeah, I would be super-interested in getting any sort of reliable breakout for how particular dramas do in the non-domestic market. I know we occasionally see articles to the effect of “CLOY was a smash hit overseas!” but I’d like to see some more empirical, solid data on how various dramas do in the overseas streaming markets.
Like for example, my first kdrama (The King: Eternal Monarch), well before I even knew the difference between broadcast and cable in kdrama-land, I remember seeing articles about how it was “disappointing” ratings-wise, and the counter-point from its defenders that it didn’t matter because it was doing really well on Netflix. True? Who knows?! (presumably Netflix and the account auditors know, but so far as I know, they aren’t sharing). But those are pretty interesting questions, I think.
Healer is the show I usually hear mentioned as never taking off in SK despite being a big hit elsewhere.
Be Melodramatic. Just a terrific show, but perhaps it featuring three women leads in their early thirties with a less than swashbuckling male lead, in a down to earth, not very tension laden relationship with the quirkiest of the female leads, a kind of slice of life show hard to pull off about that age group, unlike us poor old heartstring pulling old folks, had no real swoon hook to it, thus rendering it less popular in South Korea than in other parts of the world, where the story might also feel somewhat familiar.
It is a puzzlement, because Healer was just such a perfect mash-up of different elements that through some crazy alchemy just blended smoothly and made pure entertainment.