Time to wrap this baby up for good. Just a note before we begin: this isn’t meant to be an overarching commentary on the state of the Korean or Japanese drama landscape but a summary, if you will, of what I watched last year. I don’t think I’ve reached the stage where I can declare the year to be a wasteland or a bountiful one in terms of the quality of its dramatic offerings but I do know what I liked and what I didn’t.
So with that said, onwards ho!
My Drama of the Year: Soredemo, Ikite Yuku
Soredemo swept the awards at the 70th Television Drama Academy Awards and rightly so. It would have been a travesty of justice otherwise because this drama is, quite simply, in a league of its own. The subject matter it deals with may not be everyone’s cup of tea (though I should add that I didn’t really find it that depressing or dreary) but there is no way anyone can deny that the acting and writing are miles ahead of a lot of other dramas, past and present. In a way, this shouldn’t come as a surprise because Soredemo was written by Sakamoto Yuji, who is no stranger to the Best Screenwriter prize, having won it on two previous occasions for Mother and Watashitachi no Kyohasho. A must-watch.
Best Actor: Cha Seung-won
If there’s one thing that Athena proved, it’s that Cha Seung-won has the ability to rise above a lacklustre script. He gave one of the year’s most memorable performances as a villain hellbent on nuking South Korea to the ground and then did an 180-degree about turn and followed it up with an equally charismatic performance as the larger-than-life Dokko Jin in The Greatest Love. This is one actor who is truly at the top of his game.
Eita, Soredemo Ikite Yuku
Eita is someone who habitually makes those “Actors to Watch” lists and for good reason — the man is a chameleon. Give him a role and he will wear it like a second skin. In Soredemo, he plays a man who’s spent the last 15 years of his life being haunted by the murder of his sister and the knowledge that he could have prevented it from happening. The most striking thing about his performance is how controlled and understated it is despite the maelstrom of emotions that Hiroki goes through. I may not have watched every single drama that aired in 2011 but I will stick my neck out and say that it is miles ahead of anything that his peers did last year.
Best Actress: Mitsushima Hikari, Soredemo Ikite Yuku
The cynic in me suspects that Mitsushima Hikari was placed in the same category as Shinobu Otake at the Drama Academy Awards so that Soredemo wouldn’t bag all the acting awards. If this had been a K-drama, her character would probably have been a plucky heroine but thankfully this is not the case here. Futaba is a broken character who has been living with the shadow of her brother’s crime hanging over her (her family keeps having to move to avoid being harassed and her relationships have all failed because no one wants to be associated with the family of a murderer.) Mitsushima captures her nervous stutter and skittishness so well that it’s hard to believe she’s just acting. What’s harder to believe is that she used to be an idol. Definitely one to watch.
Soo Ae, Athena, A Thousand Days’ Promise
Like Cha Seung-won, Soo Ae was stymied by the script in Athena but she managed to give us a glimpse of how freakin’ badassed she could be before everything went pear-shaped. If the scriptwriting team had been more astute, they would have included a showdown between her character and Kim So-yeon’s.
Her character in A Thousand Days’ Promise may not be the most sympathetic but it’s a role that showcases her strengths as a dramatic actress and her ability to carry a drama. Also a plus is that you can always count on her to give a measured performance without any overblown histrionics or aegyo. Not to mention, I LOVE her voice. She’s the female equivalent of Lee Sun-gyun for me.
Best Supporting Actress: Shinobu Otake, Soredemo Ikite Yuku
There aren’t enough superlatives to describe Shinobu’s tour de force performance as a grieving mother who tries to carry on living normally for the sake of those around her. Her emotions are so raw and unscripted that you often feel like a voyeur trespassing on the character’s privacy as you watch her struggle with the anguish and heartbreak that have been eating away at her for more than a decade. Outstanding.
And now, for the fun stuff…
Least Appropriate Role Model: Megumi, 11 Nin mo Iru
The boy’s only seven. Can’t you offer him money instead?
Ryoko Hirosue plays Megumi, a deceased cabaret hostess who haunts the Sanada household. She’s a friendly enough ghost with a drinking habit and a bone to pick with her ex-husband. Since she can only be seen by Saigo, the youngest son, she offers to let him touch her breasts in exchange for his help…I know this sounds so wrong but her interactions with Kato Seishiro are pretty hilarious.
Kids these days.
Best Candidate for Sterilisation: Sanada Minoru, 11 Nin mo Iru
Sanada is an unemployed photographer but that hasn’t stopped him from siring eight (yes, you read that right) children. He’s one of those suffering artist types, which means the entire family has to rely on his eldest son (who is still in high school) to take on a variety of odd jobs to support them. Use a friggin condom, you idiot, or offer yourself up as a stud to help your country combat its low birthrate problem.
Most Emo Display of Angst: Kame, Youkai Ningen Bem
Kame plays a kind-hearted monster who, together with his two companions, fights to protect humans from harm. Why he continues to help the ungrateful bitches when they chase him out of town all the time is beyond me but that’s why I’m not the main star of an anime or a drama.
Kame Bem wants nothing more than to be human and the fact that society continues to ostracise him and his companions is enough to drive him to despair, which means taking long walks alone in the rain…
because it isn’t angst if the weather isn’t attuned to one’s inner turmoil.
Or if one’s hair isn’t falling into one’s eyes as one broods balefully in the rain…OH THE PAIN. LET ME SHOW YOU IT.
And because it’s Kame, he gets an especially dramatic transformation sequence.
I can’t tell you how much this drama cracks me up.
The Shipwrecker Award: Ootori Kyouya, Ouran High School Live Action
Who would have known before the drama aired that so many TamaxHaru shippers would defect and cross over to the dark side? I’ve seen my stats and the fan MVs, all right. This is not someone you want near your OTP.
Dumbest Parent: Mr Shin, 49 Days
So you discover that you do not have long to live. Most successful businessmen would give their family lawyers a call, get their legal and financial papers in order and groom someone in the family to take over their company. Unfortunately, Mr Shin is not like most businessmen. What he does is hand practically all his assets over to his future son-in-law because he doesn’t want to bother his daughter’s pretty little head over boring, useless things like the family business. And what is even more unbelievable is that he doesn’t even make his son-in-law sign a prenup. Would Richard Branson or Donald Trump give their daughters’ husbands the key to their entire fortune just on account of their marrying into the family?
Worst Friend: Shin In-jung, 49 Days
She’ll pimp her boyfriend to you and plot your family’s downfall. Nice.
The FML Award: Baek Jin-hee, High Kick 3
It ain’t easy being Jin-hee. One moment you’re being evicted from your dorm and the next someone’s drilling a hole in your butt. Your life’s nowhere near tough till you’ve walked a mile in her shoes.
Most In Need of a Suntan Lotion or Baby Oil CF: Lee Ki-woo, Flower Boy Ramyun Shop
This one is completely self-explanatory.
Hottest Makeout: Ki-joon and Ah-jung in Lie to Me.
[ETA: Okay, I had to edit this. When I saw gifs of the ep 10 kiss in Flower Boy Ramyun Shop, I thought it was pretty hot. But after viewing the clip of the actual scene again, I just had to remove FBRS from this category. Eun-bi looks like she’s in shock most of the time and she’s doing that dead fish thing while Chi-soo is doing all the work eating her upper lip. Uh, that’s not hot at all. Sorry.]
Honourable Mention: Son Hyuk and Jae-hee in Athena
Now if only we’d get the same kind of lip service in J-dramas.
And with this we’ve come to the end of
this last year’s round up. Do check out Part 1 if you haven’t, otherwise here’s to more drama crack in 2012!