There was a time that all Valentine’s Day meant to me was stress. No tingling, romantic feelings; just STRESS. Being a single girl back then, the red-letter day brought about worries, like: will anybody ask me out on a date and do something special? Or will someone send me flowers and chocolates? Anyone, please! Otherwise, my self-esteem would take a dive. But now that I am older, self-assured, married, wiser, and with a heart of stone—erm, I mean a heart of gold—I realize that love goes way beyond these warm, fuzzy feelings. Love is greater than romantic gestures: showing kindness is love; embracing life is love.
K-dramas are not all kilig and for muni muni-muni. There are some dramas that have a bigger scope in terms of themes that go beyond the lovey-dovey. So on Valentine’s Day, let me recommend K-dramas that are not-so romantic (or only a little bit), but are nevertheless deeply touching, or oh-so-exhilarating.
Before I give my personal review of this drama, I would like to say that I won’t be rewatching it for a while after the sad demise of Lee Sun-kyun. My heart can’t take it. I’ve watched it a few times though, and My Mister has always had the same soul-stirring impact. This is a story of redemption and the universal healing power of kindness and compassion. K-pop queen IU delivers an impeccable performance as Lee Ji-an, someone who has been hardened by a harsh and painful life. Lee Sun-kyun’s character, Park Dong-hoon, is a man who has lived rightly, but is so deeply sad due to his wife’s betrayal and work drama. His subtle acting here is brilliant. Park Dong-hoon and Lee Ji-an form an unexpected friendship at their lowest moments. The most touching scene is when Lee Ji-an’s grandmother dies, and she said it was the saddest and happiest time of her life. You have to watch it to see why.
My Mister is on Netflix.
This drama blew my mind. Well, there are multiple scenes where Park So-dam, as Death, literally blows off the head of Choi Yee-jae (superbly acted by Seo In-guk) with a gun. Violent? Well, yes. But the story takes you on an extreme roller coaster ride of different lives that somehow intertwine. It all starts with a suicide. Dark, right? But go with it, because the end will leave you loving life and embracing it. Death’s punishment for Choi Yee-jae for taking his life is to be reincarnated into 12 people who are about to die. Each reincarnation is to teach him a lesson, and understand that life is to be cherished. He realizes that ending his own life due to his woes has had a ripple effect on those who loved him, and was ultimately a selfish act. Most importantly, the drama conveys that we all have good days and bad days—but to remember that, no matter what, it is just a day.
Death’s Game is available on Amazon Prime Video.
My Liberation Notes
Worship me!” is my favorite line from Mi Jung played by actress Kim Ji-won, in this deeply insightful K-drama about the small struggles of ordinary people. The ordinary people here are three siblings who live in a rural town outside of Seoul, but work in the city. The other character, the mysterious Mr. Gu played by Son Suk-ku, tries to find some sort of solace or meaning in alcohol. Why did Min Jung ask alcoholic Mr. Gu to worship her? It wasn’t coming from a place of vanity, but from need. She was so down from a lover’s betrayal, financial problems, and just the vapid, daily grind of office work. Determined to pull herself out of her slump, she forms a Liberation Club at work. The club asks each member to write down and share what they want to be liberated from in their lives. Isn’t that amazing? It makes you think as well. The end of My Liberation Notes is open to interpretation, but it is evident that each character has liberated him- or herself somehow from what was imprisoning them.
My Liberation Notes is on Netflix.
I am not a superhero-movie type person. So I wonder why I was entranced by this K-drama and every character in it who has supernatural powers. Perhaps it’s because of the excellent writing, which adds depth to the roles. Despite it having a popular superhero theme, it is quite original. Moving is not entirely bakbakan, but the many action scenes are breathtaking. The heroes deal with life’s challenges, human problems, and their vulnerabilities, while fighting the evil head of a secret society. The superheroes (also called monsters) with special abilities include: Jan Ju-won (Ryu Seung-ryong) and his daughter Hui-soo (Go Yoon-jung) who instantly heal from injuries; Lee Mi-hyun (Han Hyo-joo) with superhuman senses; Jeon Gye-do (Cha Tae-hyun) who generates electricity; Lee Jae-man (Kim Sung-kyun) who has extreme strength despite a mental illness, among others. My favorite heroes though are Bong-seok (Lee Jung-ha) and his father, Kim Doo-sik played by Jo In-sung (his other super power is being super handsome). They can fly, and so does this drama. It takes flight and soars.
Moving can be viewed on Disney+.
The Good Bad Mother
Actor Lee Do-hyun knows how to pick excellent dramas. He stars in really well-written projects. This is one of them. I love storylines that delve into second chances, which The Good Bad Mother is essentially about. The relationship between mother Young-soon, wonderfully acted by Ra Mi-ran, and son Kang-ho (Lee Do-hyun) is a complicated one. Due to a tragedy and injustice, Young-soon was awfully strict with her son growing up. To protect him and make him rise up in status, she aspired for him to become a prosecutor. She was so determined, she neglected the emotional needs of her boy. She just wasn’t loving. He becomes a cold-hearted prosecutor, moves to the city, and cuts her off from his life. Then he gets into an accident that affects his memory, and mentally becomes a child again. This is the premise of the drama’s wonderful storytelling, which leads to mother and son changing the narrative of their relationship, and solving their issues. This K-drama is full of heart, without it being cheesy.
The Good Bad Mother is on Netflix.
This is a period/fantasy/horror/monster thriller, a little strange but thoroughly fascinating. The period is Korea in 1945, specifically in the city of Gyeongseong. The country was still under Japanese rule. The protagonist is Park Seo-joon as Jang Tae-sang, a cunning pawnshop owner who has enriched himself. There is, as always, a love angle, and his love interest is Yoon Chae-ok, the character of actress Han So-hee. This love angle, though, is eclipsed by a monster. In Onseong Hospital, experiments are made on human life, specifically on Koreans. One such project involves the creation of a monster with unbelievable strength. It looks like E.T., but a giant, vicious version with supreme powers. The historical background of the drama has the Japanese imperial army losing the war, and desperate measures are taken to create a new weapon — namely, this monster.
The drama takes you on twists and turns, and moments where you pity the destructive creature. The monster was once a mother and wife, and has the most bizarre family reunion. Just go with it, it’s a fun ride.
Gyeongseong Creature is on Netflix.
You can consider Doctor Cha as a love triangle story, but I see it as a drama about a woman finding her self-worth and falling in love with herself. The title role is played K-pop goddess Uhm Jung-hwa (she’s the Madonna of South Korea), who really makes you believe she’s a plain housewife, loving mother, dutiful wife, and subservient daughter-in-law. As her children get older to pursue their dreams and careers, she resumes her hospital internship, which was cut short due to marriage. Doctor Cha interns at the hospital where her husband, played by Kim Byung-chul, works. She really loves being a doctor and has a knack of handling difficult patients. However, she discovers that her husband was having an affair. She also realizes how her mother-in-law has treated her like a slave. Doctor Cha then starts to navigate her way to independence and believing in herself. It helps her confidence that she handles some medical issue successfully, and a hunky younger doctor (Min Woo-hyuk) sets his sights on her. But in the end, does she choose a man to give her a sense of worth? No, Doctor Cha did no such thing. She chose to be alone, and undeniably happy.
Doctor Cha is on Netflix.
This gripping political K-drama about revenge centers around Hwang Do-hee (the role of actress Kim Hee-ae from The World of the Married), who is an intelligent and resourceful strategist (a fixer, in non-glamorous terms) for the Eunsung conglomerate. She is a legend in her field. She has covered up the misdeeds and crimes of the horribly dysfunctional Eunsung family (similar to the Roy family in Succession). Amoral Do-hee usually uses bribes and blackmail to solve their problems. Unexpectedly, she starts feeling guilty over a tragedy caused by the son-in-law of the Eunsung chairwoman (Baek Jae-min), which she refuses to cover up. This was the start of her alienation and eventual removal from the company. That cruel family even ejected her terminally ill father from the hospital. Her chance for revenge is to back civil rights lady lawyer Oh Kyung-sook (Moon So-ri) to go against Baek Jae-min in the election for Seoul mayor. At first, there’s distrust and tension between the ladies: Kyung-sook is very principled, while Do-hee is a shark. The political maneuverings and surprising scenes make this drama so thrilling. I was so nervous throughout. But the success and triumph of good over evil is so satisfying. Hail to the Queenmaker!
Queenmaker can be streamed on Netflix.