Before anything, I need to ask for forgiveness for my prolonged disappearance. I recently started to write a novel, and it is taking all my free time, and quite frankly also all my thoughts. But your comments and likes gave me the strength to write a little bit more on the blog. Thank you for your support!
As we just entered into a new year, I think it is a good moment to look back at the past year in Asian drama-land. I need to admit that this year has been a year of drama dropping for me. I started countless dramas this year, mainly Chinese and Korean but also Thai, and probably dropped more than half of them midway. I don’t know what virus spread among Korean screenwriters this year, but they all took the same messy pill. Many Korean historical dramas, King in Love or The Emperor: Owner of the Mask started strong with an original premise and interesting characters, only to completely let go to chaos and finish weakly. It wouldn’t be a big spoiler to add, that even the titles of these two dramas were misleading (no ‘King’ or ‘Emperor’ but two pretty useless and powerless crown princes); and I managed to finish these two hot messes of dramas (so imagine the ones I dropped). So to give you a top 5 of my favorite dramas of 2017 (or late 2016 beginning 2017), I had to mix genres, time periods and even combine both Chinese and Korean dramas – the struggle was real!
That being said, the 5 dramas I selected, are each special in their own way, and the Chinese fantasy drama Ten miles of Peach Blossom even made it into my all-times favorite selection. So, let me explain in more details.
Let me start, for a good warm-up, with an easy breezy romantic comedy: Weightlifting Fairy Kim Boy Joo. As the tittle suggests, we have a young girl, called Kim Bok Joo, that is studying to become a professional weightlifter. She is no fairy, as this is not a fantasy drama, but she is indeed quite cute and extremely talented. The story is set at the Haneol College of Physical Education, which makes it a nice college type of drama in the vibes of Chinese drama Love O2O. Our Kim Bok Joo, along with love interest swimming student Jung Joon Hyeong and female antagonist the gymnast Song Shi Ho, will face all the perks of youth from love and friendship, to doubt and failure.
In my opinion, it is a nicely directed, well played drama that is just very enjoyable to watch and simply cute. It definitely helps that the main actress is extremely talented (I looooved her performance as a crazy girl in Cheese in the trap), beautiful and funny.
It seems like an easy ‘coming-of age’ type of story, and it certainly is, but more than that, it carries powerful messages about what it means to succeed. Success is the outcome of hard work, and the ability to overcome failures. It is a feel-good drama, especially recommended if you feel a bit down during these cold winter months.
Where to watch it? You can watch it in the US on viki.
No*4 – Princess Agents
Princess Agents was undeniably one of the biggest hits of Chinese dramas this year. It ranked extremely high in online views, and was very popular among international fans. This is a dramas I wanted to love to pieces, but that turned out to be bit of a dissapoitnment. With the help of the ‘fast forward’ button whenever the 65 episodes drama was getting too draggy, I mainly went for the positives this drama had to offer.
The story is about a young girl with a mysterious past (her past and destiny are one of the drama’s mysteries) who looses her memories and becomes a slave at the noble Yu house. Once there, she catches the attention of young lord Yu Wen Yue who will start training her to join his network of highly skilled spies. The drama doesn’t leave much space for romance, but we do have a small love triangle involving the Prince apparent of Northern Han (and of course Yu Wen Yue, you guessed it). We also have a ton of interesting side characters, like the lovely 13th prince of Wei or the despicable Zhao Xi Feng.
The drama mainly suffered from poor budget (some of the settings are borderline ridiculous, making it look kind of unprofessional) and a messy scenario, especially toward the end of the drama. But, the actors did a very good job which managed to save this drama, even though the girl lead and Yu Wen Yue sometimes act without displaying any emotions at all (but it was kind of the point of their characters). The music in this drama was EPIC (I added most of it to my playlists on Youtube), and the story, despite all the messiness was addictive. I am probably not as angry at the ending and dragging of the drama as some reviewers online are, because I abused the ‘fast forward’ button starting approximatively at the 22 episode. I would be curious to have your thoughts about this controversial, but impactful, hit of 2017.
Where to watch it? You can watch it on viki.
No* 3 – The King’s Woman
Another Chinese Historical drama I loved, this time a much more coherent one. The King’s Woman, imagines the life of the first Chinese Emperor, remembered in history as the one that unified China. It is based on pieces of historical facts, mixed with a hot romance story. If you are into impulsive, obsessive, love stories – search no more, the King’s Woman has it all. The story is delivered by my currently top favorite actors, the gorgeous Zhang Vin in the role of the Emperor (and Yes! He is a real Emperor, not some cowardly crown prince) and Dilmurat Dilraba (aka the most beautiful of them all), and is wrapped in stunning, cinematographic visuals. Just watch the opening titles to have a taste of how dark and gothic this story can get, with all the blood, deaths and jealousy.
I personally loved this darkly romantic story, the acting and the visuals. It featured a very dark palette of colors, mainly composed of red and black. I loved the way the camerawork made everything so much more intense. I could think this drama won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, as the main girl gets pretty much abused most of the drama starting from being imprisoned against her will and kept away from her lover, the third wheel, fighter Jing Ke. But of course, the Emperor is not at all that bad, and the drama also has tons of sweet and romantic moments.
Where to watch it? It is licensed in the US on Dramafever.
Roll the drums, cause’ here comes Goblin the most original and successful Korean drama of 2017. The drama started in late 2016, but for me it is still pretty much part of this past year. Goblin is a fantasy drama set in modern times but with multiple historical flashbacks. It’s actually two stories intertwined in one drama. The first, is about the Goblin, who was an ancient general that rebelled against the king and became cursed with eternal life. The second, is about a mysterious grim reaper (note: in Asian culture, the grim reapers are the one that accompanies souls to the other world) who lost all memories of his past life. Both characters will have their own, special, love story.
In my opinion it is a very beautiful and poetic drama. It has a couple of mysteries to uncover, but also lots of romantic and funny moments. I enjoyed both love stories, even thought I have a preference for the grim reaper part of the drama. Also, the ‘bromance’ between the grim reaper and the Goblin was pure art.
The drama was well directed, with emotional camerawork (that we love so much in Asian dramas) and haunting soundtrack. The episodes are a bit long (1h 15min) but trust me, you will not want the episode to end at all. Good thing I was watching this drama as it was still airing, otherwise I would burry myself at home for the next 16+ hours straight.
Where to watch it? In the US it is licensed on Dramafever.
A few words of warning before I start. There are a couple of dramas/movies with the same or similar title that have been released this past year. So it is important to write the whole name of the drama when you will be looking for it. And trust me, you need to watch this.
Ten Miles of Peach Blossom, belongs to the fantasy/wuxia drama category I have been consistently avoiding in the past. If you can’t handle a bit of fairies, magic, and flying around it may not be a drama for you. But if you are like me, and enjoy occasional sparks of magic, and mostly look for an intense and romantic love story, then come forward, this drama is for you.
In this drama everything is perfecty beautiful. The characters, the actors that play them, the settings (most of them digitally designed) and the story. It is quite a long drama, but that follows distinct ‘phases’ which makes it more dynamic. We start with our female protagonist, cross dressed as a man, joining a community of scholars-fighters led by the powerful God of War, Mo Yuan (allow me to sigh with love here). Without giving too many spoilers, I can tell you, our young (just a couple of thousands years old…) girl Bai Qian, will have to leave the comfort of her heavenly home to lead a temporary human life. During this trial she will meet another man, Prince Ye Hua (played by the same actor as Mo Yuan). As both herself and the prince, believe she is nothing more than an ordinary peasant girl, they will face many challenges to stay together.
This drama has this special something that makes it an instant classic. Yang Mi, already one of my favorite Chinese actresses, surpassed herself in the leading role of Bai Qian, but also all the other characters were compelling. The filming was beautiful, even though they abused a bit of digital settings. The costumes, all in pastel colors, were stunning, and the music very pleasing. Let me also tell you, that this drama has some hot kisses (and other…) which is quite rare for Asian dramas in general.
I was so compelled by this drama, that I even read the book on which it was based (To the Sky Kingdom by Tang Qi, not recommended due to poor translation) and watched the movie (different actors, and one hot badly edited mess). Overall, I loved this drama to pieces and I am already preparing to watch it again.
Where to watch it? It is licenses in the US on Dramafever.
Currently watching: Tribes and Empires: Storm of Prophecy (2017-2018)
I have recently started the historical fantasy drama Tribes and Empires and so far, I love it. It is a very slow paced drama, as it tries to tell three stories at once (they are three main male characters scattered geographical in an imaginary world called Novoland) and the drama seems to enjoy dwelling into long scenes. BUT! Despite this slow pace, the drama is absolutely stunning. I developed a habit of skipping scenes in Chinese Historical dramas, but I never did it so far in Tribes and Empires (I am halfway already). Even in seemingly insignificant scenes involving side characters, there can be a sentence or two that makes them absolutely special. There is a lot of thought provoking observations, about the nature of people and the sense of life in general. One of my favorite scene was when prince Muyan Sheng talks about his Imperial father: “Could it be that this is how humans are? Once you made a choice, you will always have to remember not choosing the other. Is this what greed is?”
The drama is often compared to Game of Thrones, and it’s true it has something of its epic feel and ambition. The visuals are beautiful, honestly high five for the camera man and screenwriter. There is a hell a lot of characters, and I admit being initial a bit confused on telling who is who (especially that we start with a young cast and then move to a different older cast), but most of them are very interesting.
The romance comes slow, and I don’t anticipate it to be the major focus of the drama. Interestingly enough, the kisses so far have been rough and there was even a bit of nudity (which hints again toward Game of Thrones type of drama). The music is discreet, there is no songs everything is instrumental, but I catch myself humming its tune during the day (that’s how addictive it gets!). So far, I really recommend this drama, even if only for the quality of the visuals (no digital settings here, but instead majestic beauty of Chinese plains and forests).
Where to watch it? It is also licensed by Dramafever.
Note for comments: I listed only legal streaming sites to watch these dramas – please do not include any links in the comments below, I will be filtering out these comments. Thank you for your understanding!