This year was especially plentiful in well-written dramas, and while I’m a fan of many, four of them left a lasting impression on me for various things ranging from original themes and innovative perspectives to straight up fan girl appeal. While this is by no means a definitive list of the best of the best, here are my favorite dramas of 2008:
Hmm. Okay, so let me try to get this list straight: domestic violence, transgender identity issues, sexuality, rape, sexual molestation, cheating, and bad marriages. Am I missing anything? The people behind the script of this drama were pretty ambitious. I mean, why address any issue one at a time when you can throw them all into a rumbling pot of neuroses? In fact, the opening montage spotlights the players like characters from a Shakespearean tragedy: Love, Liberation, Agony, Solitude, and Contradiction. Strangely enough, they really pulled it off, and pretty damned well at that.
Last Friends follows the lives of a group of friends who live in what they constantly refer to as a Share House (in other words, they’re roommates), though it does start to feel like more of a Halfway House. “Love” is co-dependently involved with a guy whose favorite sport is giving her a one-two punch to the face. Oh yeah, and her boyfriend would be “Contradiction.” Her best friend from high school, “Liberation,” is in love with her and desperately wants to move out of the country so she can have a sex change operation. Their roommate “Agony,” is a guy who has been so traumatized by childhood sexual abuse that he pretends to be homosexual in order to avoid intimacy with females. And then there’s “Solitude,” who is involved with her married work supervisor. Well, that one’s not so interesting… but I can tell you it tries to legitimize being the other woman.
Initially, I was ready to write this off as a composite of caricatures, but the drama isn’t about parading them at all. Rather, the drama does a great job of examining new definitions of family and friends. While I can’t say much without giving away the good stuff, it ends on what many may consider an unconventional or unorthodox note. However, after taking a journey with these various characters, I would defy you to call it anything but natural.
You really can’t go wrong with Hyun Bin in a lead role, especially after his hiatus from the drama realm in more recent years. This drama follows the lives of people behind the scenes of drama productions. Could you call it a meta-drama? Maybe. Sort of. Yeah, it’s about drama production, but it’s not like it’s a documentary: the faces behind the cameras are as gorgeous as the mugs of actors and actresses they’re directing, so it doesn’t really pull off the stark contrast that they may have been aiming for.
It feels a little bizarre trying to buy into the illusion that there are barriers between the people in front of and behind of the camera: in reality, they’ve all acted with each other at some point. As far as the “world” that they live in: Hyun Bin and Joo Joon Young play directors with a hefty amount of personal drama within their own lives. They’re non-dramatic people working in the drama world, which makes them end up with their own little dramas—and all this is the drama that we, the audience, are watching. Savvy? Maybe it’s just me, but it’s kind of a mind warp, and I found it distracting because I kept thinking about the illogical relationship between the drama’s concept and it’s execution.
All my critical nagging aside, what separates a good actor from a bad one is being able to suspend the reality of his or her celebrity status while performing, and Hyun Bin and company do just that. It’s a worthwhile watch for a peek into the behind-the-scenes world of filming dramas, as well as for the personal asides of the characters and the ensemble cast chemistry.
Does anyone remember Slam Dunk? Fellow Chinese readers were really into that manga when I was growing up—not sure how big it is nowadays. Anyhow, this drama isn’t an official adaptation of Slam Dunk, but who are you kidding—it might as well be. Normally, a drama about basketball isn’t something I’d be dying to check off my watch list, but I was instantly sold on the lead: Alan “Show” Luo of last year’s “Corner with Love,” which is one of my all-time favorite dramas. I know a lot of girls are all up on Jerry Yan (F4 and “Meteor Garden”), but I just don’t see the appeal, especially in Hot Shot. Trust me, I gave him a chance, but I guess I’m just in the minority camp of Jerry Yawn. Ah yes, and then there’s Wu Chun (Fahrenheit, Hanazakarino Kimitachihe aka Hana Kimi TW), for all of you that delight in the boy band wonder.
Back to Luo: when it comes to portraying an honest portrait of Taiwanese youth, he’s got it down pat. This drama has all your typical pop-drama elements: 50 obstacles per love interest, hysteric meltdowns, a cocky enemy in the way of your goal of being #1 _____ (insert noun here), elaborate character histories and relationships, physical comedy, and good ol’ local humor. I’ve always enjoyed watching Luo in his various roles, especially as quintessentially Taiwanese characters (he’s a country boy in this drama), and I have to say this is his best performance to date. With crazy ass and hilariously unbelievable slam dunks like this one, I actually found myself enjoying the whole basketball thing. All in all, this was my guilty pleasure of the year.
Unlike most Honey and Clover fans, I got into this series via this year’s drama adaptation. To be honest, I was only interested in watching it for Ikuta Toma and Narimiya Hiroki, but after the first ten minutes I realized it had so much more going on for it other than the idol factor. The series pretty much belongs in the canon of dramas about yearning for those sweet and green days of college, but it’s set against a refreshingly creative backdrop: art school.
While I enjoyed the mixed bag cast of new and established talents, I was mostly baffled by Narumi Riko’s interpretation of the character Hagu, which consisted of constantly looking dazed and speaking like a sleepy five-year-old. I loved Aoi Yu’s take on Hagu in the film adaptation, so I was especially disappointed with Narumi’s take on the endearing head-in-the-clouds artist. The primary focus of the drama is on several love triangles (well, a long chain of one-sided loves is probably more accurate). Even with such a typical drama element, Honey and Clover kept me immersed because of its equal focus on the hobo lives of college students, as well as their personal hurdles when it comes to art.
The first episode starts off with the main characters—older students—trying to devise a plot to steal a vat of curry from the freshman welcome festival. I don’t know about you, but I can totally relate: I spent most of my senior year trying to sneak into the various cafeterias on campus. To all you freshmen out there, you don’t know how good that millionth slice of cardboard pizza is until you’re cut off entirely. If you haven’t yet, you will come to appreciate the little adventures depicted in the Honey and Clover drama. I guarantee it.
Hana Kimi Special
Miss No Good
Which dramas did you love this year?