We’re having guest posts from the lovely folks on Patreon, to help us take stock of our drama years, kinda-sorta like what we had last year, woot! 🥳
We’ll be seeing about 2 guest posts per week, and this will unfold into January 2023, and that’s perfectly ok. AND, my annual year-in-review, which usually comes out in December, will also come out in January (or thereabouts 😅), after all the guest posts have been published.
Today, I’m pleased to announce that Elaine is sharing her drama year!
Elaine’s a busy lady who juggles motherhood AND a full-time job with her love for dramas, so I’m really grateful that she carved time out of her hectic schedule, to make time for this post!
I am also grateful to Elaine for not only being so positive and thoughtful in her comments, but also, for always reminding me to pace myself, and not work too hard. Thank you, Elaine! 🥰😘
I hope you guys enjoy!
ELAINE’S BEST DRAMAS OF 2022
Hello! I’m Elaine, a mother of two kids living in sunny Singapore (same country as kfangirl!).
For those who are curious, my daughter is 7 and my son is 4. They are at a very cute, innocent age, but also at the age where they desire a lot of parental attention, so I am trying to soak up all the cuteness I can, while also finding ways to juggle work demands and get time to myself to watch dramas!
I live in sunny Singapore, which has the odd distinction of being the only place outside of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to have a majority Chinese population.
But we are not a “Chinese country”, we are a multiracial one. (According to the 2019 census, Singapore’s population comprised 76% Chinese, 15% Malay, 7.5% Indian and 1.5% Others.)
Because of our history as a British colony, and because of the policy decisions by our government since independence, English is the main medium of instruction in schools (i.e. Mathematics, Science, History, etc are taught in English) while the other official languages (Mandarin for the Chinese, Tamil for the Indians, and Bahasa Melayu for the Malays) are taught as a subject in school.
This means that while there are many Chinese Singaporeans who are primarily Chinese-speaking and prefer Chinese pop culture, there are also many like me who are primarily English-speaking, and imbibed Sesame Street, X-Men comics, Enid Blyton, Jane Austen, Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes and the like growing up, and watched primarily American TV shows.
But I also had a fondness for watching Chinese dramas and Hong Kong action or wuxia movies with my parents, especially the Jackie Chan and Jet Li films of the 90’s which were humorous and family-friendly.
This short intro is to explain why I have found that Korean dramas resonate with me.
They are a blend of modern, high production value shows with strong plotting that rivals American productions, yet with a core of East Asian values, morals and traditions which I identify with.
(Along with the usual cited values like respect for elders, caring for the family and putting the good of the community before one’s self, there are also other quirky things common in East Asia like the expectation that food is for sharing, nosy aunties, and eldest siblings seeing it as their duty to guide and teach their younger siblings, which often takes the form of nagging and scolding.
I am the eldest myself, and nagged my younger brother for many years until I was told by my friends that I should respect him as an individual too! =P
But I can definitely say that I have never whacked him upside of the head like so many K drama elder siblings are wont to do, sometimes multiple times in a single conversation!!).
I started watching Korean dramas during the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020.
Netflix kept promoting Crash Landing on You, and finally I clicked in out of curiosity.
I really enjoyed the chaste romance and glimpse into life in North Korea (the scriptwriters apparently got input from real-life North Korea defectors, so it does have some authenticity), the caring community of aunties and bumbling soldier-buddies, and the overall story, although it did go a bit melodramatic towards the end.
Also, Hyun Bin on a motorcycle is too cool for school!
Since then, I’ve gradually watched more and more K dramas, guided by the fantastically discerning recommendations of kfangirl and other Patreons on this blog!
2022 was a pretty awesome year for me in terms of the quality of dramas watched.
I even watched a few currently airing shows, which I’ve rarely done in previous years (this was the reason why I sat out the year-end posts last year.
2022 was also the year that I engaged much more actively on Patreon, and it has proven to be extremely rewarding to bounce thoughts off this bunch of kind-hearted, generous, eloquent and passionate drama lovers!
Below is my humble list of 9 top dramas and a couple of non-drama bonus recommendations. I have chosen the dramas based on a variety of criteria:
- How “spazz-worthy” they were (i.e. regardless of the objective quality of the show, did they get me buzzing with excitement?)
- Whether they resonated with me and helped me reflect on my own life
- If they were simply outstanding dramas, or exemplars of their genre
Best Dramas of 2022
As I began thinking about my year-end post, I found myself pairing up certain dramas in my mind, either because of similar elements (e.g. time-travel or a crackling OTP) or a certain resonance they had for me.
Some of the pairings might seem odd, unusual or forced, but I hope the comparisons spark useful insights!
These two shows aired at around the same time.
I thought, wow, kfangirl has watched scads of dramas for years, if she is impressed this show must be something!
I can’t remember what turned me on to A Business Proposal but there I was in March-April, waiting for new episodes from both shows to drop and then DUN-DUN-DUN arrrrgh both shows ended the same week and frustrated me with their endings!
Ah well, but I spazzed so much over both of them, and they have so many good points that I will still put them on my top list for the year.
Also, because I was live-watching in a spazzy, avid way, that pushed my engagement with the other Patreons up to an unprecedented frequency!
I previously hardly dared to even dip my toes into the Deep-Dive Zone for fear of spoilers, but I simply had to engage to let off steam week-to-week with these two shows.
This show is HILARIOUS, I loved the send-up of rom-com tropes (kimchi slap! Weak disguise! Mistaken identity hijinks! Contract relationship!) and likeable leads & second leads.
Perhaps the best running joke? One word – archaeopteryx! Hahaha.
Tied for best running joke – the show-in-show spoofing romantic melodramas which our characters watch at various junctures and get stunned by the similarities (e.g. the fall-down-kiss trope LOL!)
Yes, show had its weaknesses.
Even though ML was more socially awkward and dorky rather than cold tsundere, I felt he occasionally went overboard in his actions e.g. his petty revenge at being lied to felt too much like workplace bullying.
The second leads started off great but then 2FL got unreasonable and screechy.
Also, I didn’t like how the last two episodes didn’t follow through on some of the narrative threads set up earlier in the series and didn’t keep up the satirical comedic tone, such that it almost felt like a different writing team came in.
But there were nice moments in the last two episodes helped to cement that FL and ML were good for each other.
If you have watched the show and feel as I do about the ending, have a read of this incredibly funny, creative alternative ending that I feel is more in keeping with show’s vibe from earlier in the series.
I give show top marks for its fresh and vibrant depiction on that magical last year of high school where everything is intensely felt and the choice of where you go on from there feels momentous.
I loved the underdog sports story as Na Hee Do came from behind to become a top fencer before you go on to choose your path in life. And I loved the tight friend clique that formed.
Favourite supporting character/actor of the year – I loved Seung Wan!!!!
Smart, dry, sardonic with wild plans and derring-do, Seung Wan was awesome and I would have loved for more of her; I felt she was a bit underserved by show especially in the last third as the romance element came to the fore.
I hope for more great things ahead for actress Lee Joo Myung, she is da bomb.
THE ENDING. Grr. I can kind of understand it, but I was annoyed by the whole “mystery box/who is the father” thing they kept going for so much of the show, so that they could drop a bomb in the penultimate episode.
Never mind, enough ranting.
Show is still worth watching, just adjust your expectations that with the ending YMMV.
Two twisty, breathless edge-of-your-seat dramas where you never know what happens next!
Little Women and Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area
These two dramas have very different plots. But they are both high-budget, high-concept 12-episode extravaganzas which scratched the itch when I wanted to see some mystery/intrigue/suspense/thrills in my shows.
These shows delivered that, in spades.
There is also a definite artistic and visceral pleasure to seeing gorgeously shot productions featuring extremely beautiful people who acted their socks off, so I was prepared to give a pass when there were inevitable logic lapses or bizarre plot points.
Money Heist: Korea
I had never watched the Spanish original, so I could really enjoy all the twists and turns in this show with fresh eyes.
I also have not watched Squid Game, so I was extremely impressed with Park Hae Soo’s performance as the dangerous Berlin.
I think show more than delivered on its KPI (“key performance indicator”) of being twisty, exciting and thrilling.
Now that all 12 episodes have dropped, you can watch from start to finish, and it tells a complete, satisfying tale.
I did notice, however, that I did not think much about show or dwell on it and reflect on it as I did with others in my top list.
Also, from what I’ve read online, the show hews too closely to the original storyline when it might have been better served by doing more of its own thing, particularly in exploring the dynamics of its premise – the trial unification of North and South Korea.
Definitely a worthy watch if you have not watched the original Spanish Money Heist.
I enjoyed this show tremendously from the get-go.
The painted opening credits sequence intrigued me with its gothic aesthetics and creepy-cool music. The movie-style cinematics were breathtaking.
Show combined elements of crime thriller, John-Grisham-style political corruption investigation, gothic fairytale and full-blown makjang theatrics with verve and panache.
Sure, the ending could have been tighter but I really enjoyed the overall ride.
What puts this show a cut above Money Heist is the rich characterisation of female characters, particularly our central three sisters and their awesomely cold and fearsome great-aunt.
I’m trying to keep this write-up spoiler-free, but I do want to point out that while the sisters might do aggravating or foolish things, particularly in the early part of the series, this is due to their specific character traits.
I respect the writing team for keeping character integrity for our main characters throughout the show.
They do not magically wise up or become super-competent, but their innate strengths, like In Joo’s willingness to trust, In Kyung’s thirst for truth and justice, and In Hye’s wisdom beyond her years, combine in unique and surprising ways to drive the plot forward.
Although I have nits to pick on certain ridiculous plot points towards the end, overall I was very satisfied with how everything tied together.
Link: Singapore locations featured in Little Women (some spoilers for the show) – check it out here!
[SPOILERS FOR LITTLE WOMEN]
I read this article about how some Singaporeans were concerned about a major accident involving a truck in the central business district, not realising it was actually part of filming for Little Women.
I was pretty chuffed when watching the drama that Singapore now had a truck-of-doom scene to call our very own! Not a white truck, but a blue one, in keeping with the recurring theme of the deadly, blue Ghost Orchid in the drama.
Bonus bonus: Show introduced me to the phenomenal Wi Ha Jun as the mysterious-sexy Choi Do-Il. Reader, I was NOT prepared. *fans self*
Two Chinese dramas ostensibly with time travel hijinks but with deeper themes of loss, regret and what-could-have-been
A cracking good drama that is only 15 episodes of 42 min each, really short by the standards of Chinese dramas.
The premise is a college student keeps waking up on her bus shortly before it explodes.
She gets slightly more time each time a loop occurs, but will that be enough for her to unravel the mystery and prevent the explosion?
A bit like a combination of the Keanu Reeves movie “Speed” and “Groundhog Day”, the show has good action/mystery/investigation elements but also has deeper themes of regret and the wish to do over parts of your life.
The theme of regret is even stronger in a firm favourite of mine this year – Shining for One Thing.
Based on the premise, you might think it to be a fun, frothy high school do-over drama.
Indeed show seems to start off that way. Our protagonist, Lin Beixing, feels like a washout at the young age of 28.
She is in a dead-end job, and worse still, her fiancé dumps her shortly before their wedding.
When she finds her old cell phone that she used in high school, it magically transports her to her high school year, shortly before her final exams.
She vows to use the do-over time to do better in the exam, and ignore her douche of an ex (whom she had chased since high school but who’d dumped her before the wedding).
[MINOR FOUNDATIONAL SPOILER]
But when she finds out that her schoolmate fell off a tall tower on that fateful day of the final exams, she gets an added mission to prevent his death.
What unfolds however, was much more engrossing than I expected.
Instead of a simple high school do-over romance, we get a very nuanced treatment of friendships, romance, and regrets in life.
In fact, thanks to this show, I learned the difference between two Chinese phrases that can mean “regret” in the English language. 后悔 (hou4 hui3) was the first phrase I learned. I was less familiar with the phrase 遗憾 (yi2 han4).
But thanks to a blog post about Shining for One Thing, I learned that 后悔 means to regret something you had taken action on (e.g. dating a douchebag) whereas 遗憾 means that sadness and feeling of loss at the path not taken (e.g. not having dared to leave your family and go overseas to study, which meant missing out on a potentially rewarding path of discovery).
I don’t want to spoil the story further, but one thing I found excellent about the show is that with each time loop that Beixing experiences, we see how her attempts to solve problems and fix things either don’t truly address the real problem, or have unintended consequences.
We also see her grow in character to learn how to be true to herself, and it is a truly rewarding journey. I loooved the OTP very much. Highly recommended!
Two dramas with outstanding OTPs who challenge each other and are absolutely perfect for each other
This might be an odd pairing as these shows are from vastly different genres and have very different plotlines and premises.
But what I feel is that both share absolutely cracking OTPs who, in my opinion, are each brave and strong individuals on their own, yet their unique combination of strengths, weaknesses and quirks make the OTP couple absolutely, perfectly suited for each other.
In these two shows, the ML and FL fire each other up to be the best version of themselves, their characters complement and spark with vibrant chemistry, and they clearly admire each other’s core characters deeply.
(In contrast to some other rom-coms where it seems like proximity, time, physical attractiveness, and drama logic are enough to bring the OTP together and yet show expects us to root for them.)
Both shows also feature the OTP growing and evolving over quite a span of time, and do not shy away from showing the conflicts, hurts, disappointments and disillusionments that can happen between couples.
And I think the conflicts were handled in realistic, meaningful ways, and were not just idiotic misunderstandings as can happen in many other romances.
The other element both dramas share is a thoughtful tone, and meaty exploration of questions such as “What do you really value? What do you believe in? What defines a life well-lived and is a romance necessary for that?” and deeper themes like the dilemma between one’s personal onus of duty and responsibility (to family, to the throne) vs seeking happiness with a romantic partner.
Another similarity that comes to mind is that both shows treat with respect each FL’s professional ambitions and path to growth as an individual, not simply as a match to the ML.
When we first meet our OTP, they are high school classmates and polar opposites. Unexpectedly, they form a romantic relationship.
But when we next meet them as adults, they are successful professionally but living separate lives, having broken up some years before the present timeline.
The true reason why they broke up is teased through conversations, selective flashbacks and some of the most realistic depictions of hurt between romantic partners I’ve seen yet in K dramas.
Choi Ung and Yeon Su at times trigger each other’s sensitivities and reawaken bad memories. It is a delicate, awkward prickly dance and an emotional high-wire act.
We as the viewer can see that they absolutely are still perfect for each other. But they have so much broken trust and shattered dreams lying between them, as well as relatable (instead of blockheaded) misunderstandings to navigate.
It is not an easy journey, and I love how this show artfully balanced the light romcom hijinks with heart-in-throat magic chemistry moments and heartbreak.
The suspense as I rooted for them to get together, and the lump in my throat every time one or both of them got hurt, whether in the present or past timeline, was compelling and rewarding.
This show was extremely compelling and thought-provoking from start to finish.
I made no secret on Patreon that I loved Duk Im as a heroine, finding her to be a mix between Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Nancy Drew, teenage detective.
She is intrepid, whip-smart, fearless and loyal and opens pathways to help the good eggs in court in ways that the experienced male advisors do not expect, not by being a tough warrior, but by using her brains and unique access as a court lady to find solutions or powerful backers.
Lee San is no marshmallow either, I found his character, as written and performed marvellously by Lee Jun Ho (hat-tip to kfangirl’s fave man!) to be the embodiment of the East Asian standard of a virtuous ruler.
Even as Crown Prince, he is not frivolous but studies the classics long and hard and trains in fighting. He endeavours to develop wisdom and to become a good king, even as he suffers silently with the emotional wounds wrought by his grandfather and father.
I rooted for the two of them to be together, but I could also understand why they came into conflict with each other, being such strong personalities and having differing views of what it means to be a good person.
While Lee San cares for Duk Im, his duty is to the nation, and he is constrained in what he can bend for her.
As for Duk Im, she struggles to have choice and agency in a powerless position as court lady.
Show doesn’t shy away from dealing with the implications of the huge power disparity between the Crown Prince and the court lady, questioning whether they can have an equitable romantic relationship when he literally holds her life in his hands.
These questions – duty vs passion, choice and independence vs connection & love, power vs disempowerment – are weighty and mean the path to romance often feels complex and treacherous in this drama.
But show deals with these and other issues with grace and nuance, and it is this weightiness that made show linger on in my mind, many many days after watching it.
And my Number 1 show for 2022, the one that spoke to me the most…
The three Yeom siblings – Gi Jeong, Chang Hee and Mi Jeong – are different in character, but at the start of the show, each of them are frustrated with their lives. In a word, they feel stuck.
They expect and desire certain things – professional achievement, romance, to be appreciated by their parents – but are not getting it.
Then things happen.
One catalyst is the mysterious Mr Gu (played by Son Seok Ku!!!) who started working with their father over the past year.
Mi Jeong and then Chang Hee approach Mr Gu, each for their own reasons, and stuff happens.
Show’s title comes from a “Liberation Club” Mi Jeong forms at work with other introverted, struggling oddballs like herself.
These meetings were an utter highlight for me, at times sardonically poking fun at corporate culture in South Korea, at times beautiful in their sharing and commiseration on their frustrations with life.
Of all the shows I watched in 2022, this show spoke directly to my heart and my personal challenges.
At times it is firmly in the slice-of-life genre, showing the minutiae of getting ready to go to work, the little frictions that come from living with your parents and siblings, work conflicts etc.
But yet it is not a pure slice-of-life show like Misaeng, which is firmly grounded in the real world.
My Liberation Notes occasionally takes dreamy detours when the characters get more reflective, and certain sequences seem somewhat surreal and out of place, leading you to question whether it happened for real, or was a magical realism event.
Where My Mister (by the same screenwriter) referenced Buddhism, in My Liberation Notes, none of the main characters are shown to be religious, but recurring imagery (such as a church poster featuring the Bible verse “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid” from Mark 6:50, certain metaphors characters) and music reminiscent of choral hymns indicate that the creative team is trying to convey messages which are arguably spiritual and transcendent.
Show resonated with me emotionally, and gave me comfort.
Even as the characters struggled with feeling stuck, and even when they irritated each other (and us as the viewer!) with their aggravating traits at times, I was still heartened to see each of them taking steps towards growth and change.
Even though this show shares the same screenwriter as My Mister, come to this drama with no expectations.
My Mister has a lot of plot development, and a hero’s journey for our two main characters.
In My Liberation Notes, the growth and change for each character is much less marked, it is much more subtle but it is there.
This was a drama I rewatched immediately after I finished it, and I will probably revisit it again in time to come, and learn even more.
Link: YouTube MV with minor spoilers for episode 1 and 2 of My Liberation Notes
Bonus Non-Drama Recommendations
In the Soop: Friendcation
I have waxed lyrical on Patreon about this little gem of a reality show.
In real life, Park Seo Jun, Park Hyung Shik, Choi Woo Shik, V from BTS and Peakboy are a tight group of friends. But they don’t get to see each other very often due to their busy schedules.
With the help of the show producers, V plans a staycation in a winter villa and off the five of them go!
I had no idea what to expect, I started watching both because I like the actors (I had no idea who V and Peakboy were) and also intrigued by the trailers on YouTube which showed moments of reflection and sharing, not just games and hijinks.
I think show paid off well.
It is a soothing kind of show, nothing too crazy happens. OK maybe a funny ice skating expedition and some wacky games with forfeits in the house.
The boys take joy in simple pleasures like hot steamed buns on a cold winter day, and cooking for each other.
But the highlight for me was the open and honest sharing with each other about how their friendship started, how they each feel about their own respective stages in their careers, including the stress and expectations.
This is when you realise they are not boys anymore, but young men maturing and musing about the next stage of their careers.
And super highlight bonus: in one episode, the boys huddle together in the living room to watch the live broadcast of an episode of Our Beloved Summer starring Woo Shik! The playful ribbing of Woo Shik, and then the boys’ collective “awwwws” at romantic moments is beyond cute!
Spy x Family
What a riot!
I’m generally wary of Japanese anime which can sometimes be extremely dark, grotesque and/or violent. But this is actually pretty family friendly (with the exception of a few short scenes).
The premise is that a top spy must form a fake family to infiltrate an elite school to get close to a key enemy politician.
Through a series of fateful encounters, he fake-adopts a 6 year old who turns out to be a telepath, and then fake-marries a civil servant who has a secret night job as a deadly assassin!
There is a lot of comedy and sending up of Spy tropes. I love the humour and am rolling on the floor laughing more often than not! It also has a lot of warm, found family vibes. Highly recommended!
Over an eventful year for me juggling work and family, Asian dramas have been a solace, distraction, balm, but also occasionally a mirror reflecting elements from my own life, or a light providing illumination and insight that I could learn from.
Hope you guys enjoyed the list. Pardon me if I ran on too long. And a very Happy Lunar New Year to everyone who celebrates it!
In this Year of the Rabbit, may we all find new areas of growth in our personal emotional and spiritual journeys, and may we continue in this friendship bonded by a shared love of dramas. =) =) =)