My Top 5 K-dramas on streaming

If you’re looking for something on Netflix to watch with your sweetheart either today or this weekend, or you just want to reaffirm your belief in the power of love, may I suggest checking out a Korean drama?  K-dramas come in a range of genres, but there’s usually a little romance in there somewhere. I’ve talked about some classic K-dramas before, so here are some of my more current favorites.

Descendants of the Sun (2016)

Sadly, since I started writing this post, this show has been removed from Netflix (it’s still on Hulu), but I’m leaving on the list because it is my favorite K-drama of all time.  Sometimes when I’m watching a show and it’s dragging a bit or the male lead is a jerk, I think, “I could be watching Descendants of the Sun again instead right now.”

A love story between Captain Yoo Shi Jin, Korean Special Forces, and Doctor Kang Mo Yeon, surgeon at Haesung Hospital. Together they face danger in a war-torn country. –Google

This story has a little bit of everything: thrills, tragedy, action, romance, humor.  Shi-jin and Mo-yeon are very compelling leads that will quickly get you invested in the story.  It’s set in the present day, and even though it’s a few years old it still feels current in its cultural references (cameos by K-pop megastars Red Velvet for example). The soundtrack is so wonderful that you will be humming along to the songs even if you don’t understand the language.  

A couple other bonuses: there’s no stupid love triangle (a hallmark of bad K-dramas), just relationships that grow naturally over the episodes, with a few realistic ups and downs.  Also, Onew from SHINee has a small role.

The country of Uruk is kind of a stand-in for Iraq (though it was filmed in Greece).  One of the things I like about foreign media is the chance to reflect on how the rest of the world views the US, and Descendants of the Sun does not paint a perfectly rosy picture of our military involvement in the Middle East.  In fact, the main antagonist is former US military. There is also some insight into the conflict with North Korea.

Mr. Sunshine (2018)

Mr. Sunshine was written and directed by the same team that did DotS, so it’s no surprise that this is a strong candidate for the top of my list as well.

A young boy who ends up in the U.S. after the 1871 Shinmiyangyo incident returns to Korea at a historical turning point and falls for a noblewoman. –Netflix

This historical drama takes place at the end of the Joseon era, an interesting time period most Americans (including myself) know little about.  Much of the plot centers around the politics of the era, the incursions of Japanese and American representatives, and populist revolutions.

But that doesn’t sideline the personal drama.  The show is an emotional rollercoaster from the first episode.  Eugene and Ae-sin both have such complex backstories and personalities, you’ll be holding your breath when they come together.  It does develop a bit of a love triangle (more like a pentagon), but it’s well done.

Not to mention, the show is absolutely beautiful.  It has great production quality and loves to linger on the most beautiful shots.  I also appreciated that it includes lots of well-spoken Japanese and English (even though Teddy Roosevelt has a European accent haha).

Mr. Sunshine is considered a Netflix original and was actually simulcast on Netflix last year (the show is now complete).

Hello, My Twenties! (2016)

Netflix recommended this one to me, and its algorithm was definitely on point as I quickly got sucked into this female-driven, contemporary slice-of-life drama, which is also known in Korean as Age of Youth.

Five female housemates and college students meet and live at the Belle Epoque….Together they juggle the perils of adult life. –Google

Right off the bat, the opening song of this show is great!  You’ll be singing along after a couple of episodes.

I love that the show gives time to each of the housemates and their problems, which sometimes involve romance and sometimes don’t.  I liked all of the girls, but the oldest Jin-myung (far right in the image) stood out as my favorite. Something about her struggle, her drive and determination, and her reserved personality spoke to me.

I think of this as being a “light” show, but it does actually get intense in some places.  Overall it has a really good balance of drama, comedy, and romance. It’s really nice to have a show every once in a while where the main cast is all women.

Season 2 is now on Netflix as well.

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Misaeng (2014)

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this office drama; there’s less romance, but it makes up for it with a great cast of characters.

Equipped with nothing more than a GED and strategies for the game of Go, an office intern is thrown into the cold reality of the corporate world. –Netflix

This show centers around Geu-rae, a washed-out student of baduk (Go) who never went to college yet somehow lands a coveted internship at a big trading company.  The title “Misaeng” is a baduk term meaning “an incomplete life.” Geu-rae starts as a fish out of water, not even knowing how to use the copier, but soon learns to adapt using the lessons he learned playing baduk.  He’s very easy to relate to, plus the actor looks a little like a cross of Jin and V from BTS.

The supporting cast really shines, too.  You will grow to love and root for the rest of Geu-rae’s sales team as well as the three other company interns struggling to prove themselves.  It’s a great view into the realities of the corporate world, especially regarding the extra hurdles for women even in the modern day.

Something in the Rain (2018)

I was a little hesitant to include this one because I’ve only watched a few episodes, but it has already hooked me.

When a single career woman reunites with her best friend’s younger brother after he returns from three years of working abroad, their efforts to reconnect grow into romance. –Google

The original Korean title of this show translates to Pretty Noona [older sister] who buys me food, which is more lighthearted than the English title.  It refers to Jin-ah and Joon-hee reconnecting by trading off who pays for their meals together. Joon-hee is always asking her to treat him.

I fell in love with Jin-ah from the first episode, where she dances around her empty office to “I am the Best” by 2NE1, my favorite K-pop group.  Being above 30 myself, it’s great to have a romance that features an “older” female lead.  I am a little confused by the show’s obsession with Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” but hey, why not?

This show also has a glimpse into Korean office culture, mainly because the two characters work in the same building.  However, their two companies have a vastly different culture, so it’s interesting to compare their jobs (some of it does relate to their different ages).

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Honorable Mention: Oh My Ghost (2015)

I wanted to mention this one for some diversity because of its fantasy elements and large dose of comedy.

Possessed by the ghost of a lustful virgin, a timid assistant chef becomes confidently libidinous, drawing the attention of a haughty culinary star. –Netflix

While this show’s writing and storytelling is not as high in quality as the others, relying more on tropes, it is still really funny and I enjoyed the frank way it discusses sex, which is fairly rare in K-dramas.

The Thai version of this show, also called Oh My Ghost, is also available on Netflix, though I haven’t seen any of it yet.

Hope you guys are able to check out some of these K-dramas and enjoy them!

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The Frankenstein Chronicles

If you guys are looking for something spooky to watch this Halloween, check out The Frankenstein Chronicles on Netflix.

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Sean Bean stars as John Marlott, a London investigator tracking down the origin of a disturbing creation: a corpse that is actually an amalgamation of multiple children.  Does it have something to do with the Anatomy Act that the Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, is trying to pass?  Or with Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein and theories of galvanism?  The show has wonderful atmosphere and suspense.  I really liked the twists in the first season, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes in the second season, which is now available.

The science of the show is pretty hand-wavey, but that’s forgivable given the show’s strengths.  It does incorporate several real historical figures and events, including Peel, Shelley, and William Blake.  It is set about ten years after the publication of Frankenstein, which was a great choice because not only can we see the impact of the novel on society, but it also gives the show a more steampunk vibes, being closer to the Victorian era than the Regency.

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The show is clearly inspired by Frankenstein itself, and I think this interpretation is preferable to another straight adaptation of the novel.  It gives a great perspective on the monster!  When Marlott reads the novel in the show, it inspired me to finally read the classic story, which is very different than the popular conception of it.

Here are some Frankenstein Facts:

  1. This year is the 200th anniversary of its publication.
  2. Mary Shelley was only 18 when she conceived of the idea for the novel, after a suggestion by the poet Byron that he, Mary, and her future husband poet Percy Bysshe Shelley each write a ghost story as a kind of party game.
  3. It is an epistolary novel, written as a series of letters and journal entries.
  4. Its subtitle is “The Modern Prometheus,” after the Titan that helped create man, then gave them fire in defiance of Zeus (only to be sentenced to an eternity of solitary torment).
  5. It was ranked #43 on the Great American Read list.
  6. Popular conception of the story comes from the Universal Pictures 1930s series of movies starring Boris Karloff as the monster, as well as the later Hammer Films series of movies starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
  7. It is considered one of the progenitors of the science fiction genre.

As a novel, I found Frankenstein mildly underwhelming.  I’m not sold on the framing narrative involving an Arctic explorer writing letters home to his sister, and the prose lacks the wit of my Regency favorite Jane Austen.  However, as a forerunner to modern sci-fi, its importance cannot be overstated.  At its heart, science fiction is not about spaceships and plagues, but about society.  Frankenstein deals with scientific inquiry, or more specifically how far it should go.  Just because we are capable of doing something, should it be done?  Is it ever okay to “play God?”

In this way, the story is similar to another sci-fi favorite, Jurassic Park (#52 on the GAR list).  Holly at Nut Free Nerd has a great comparison of the two stories as part of her Classic Couples series.

 

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What are you reading and watching for Halloween?

 

Things I’ve watched on Netflix while feeding my infant

Before they send you home from the hospital with your newborn, they really should surgically attach two more arms to all moms.  Because everything with babies requires two hands: nursing, feeding bottles, holding them while they cry for seemingly no reason, making sure their pacifier doesn’t fall out of their mouth. Et cetera.

So all you can do to keep your brain from turning to baby mush is watch TV, because this requires no hands at all.  Bonus points if you never have to change the channel.  At Christmas, I watched every single holiday movie on the Hallmark channel at least once.  Now it’s HGTV or Food Network.

But the better option obviously is binging TV shows on Netflix.  So here are a few of the things I’ve enjoyed recently.

Castlevania

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This is a Netflix original animation inspired by the classic video game of the same name.  The story follows vampire hunter Trevor Belmont as he and his group attempt to stop Dracula from taking revenge on humanity after the vampire’s wife was unjustly executed for witchcraft.  I’ve never played that game series, but my husband recognized several elements from it.  It is also quite violent and gruesome, so I wouldn’t recommend it for children despite the fact that it’s animated.

I give it major points for the quality of the writing and animation, plus the voice cast is great, featuring Richard “Thorin Oakenshield” Armitage as Belmont.

The first season is only four episodes, which mostly just sets up the story, introducing characters, etc.  The second season will be out this year, and there are more planned after that.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

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I read and enjoyed this series of books around 15 years ago, and this adaptation is quite frankly all I could have asked for.  The story follows the three Baudelaire orphans as they try to escape the clutches of the evil Count Olaf, who is after their fortune.  It is narrated by the fictitious author Lemony Snicket with a tone of surrealist dark humor.  Also the theme song is absurdly catchy.

The cast is excellent, featuring Patrick Warburton, Alfre Woodard, Catherine O’Hara, and especially Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf.  The three Baudelaire children are also excellent and carry the series easily.

The first season covers the first four books in the series, with two episodes per book, and the pacing is perfect.  The second season, which I am looking forward to in March, with cover the next five books over ten episodes.

The Punisher

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I’m still working my way through this one, but so far it’s been on par with the better Marvel Netflix series.

This is a series I certainly would not have had much interest in…until the portrayal of Frank Castle was the best thing about season two of Netflix’s Daredevil.  Now he has his own series, and his own season two is on the way.  Frank is still dealing with the loss of his family as well as secrets from his time serving in Afghanistan; after the events of Daredevil, only a few people even know he’s alive.

This show has the intensity you would expect, and I thought the violence was about on par with Daredevil, perhaps a little more brutal.  I tried watching this back in December, and while I thought the first episode was a great start to the series, I just could not handle it in my post-partum state.  I cried straight through the last ten minutes of it.  So now I’m trying again.

I don’t think this show has gotten as much hype as the other Marvel Netflix shows, so I would encourage you to check it out even if you haven’t seen the others.  It’s nice to have a story with an antihero every now and then; Punisher is much more “grey” than the other Defenders main characters.

Sword Art Online

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People have been recommending this one to me for years, and with good reason.  It follows a group of gamers stuck in a virtual reality MMORPG.  The premise reminded me of .hack//Sign, an anime from the 2000s that I enjoyed.  Having played MMORPGs, a lot of the concepts were familiar and worked well with the story (but you don’t need to be a gamer to enjoy it).

I actually watched the English dub for this one and I thought it was pretty good.  The animation is nice, too, but nothing revolutionary.  I very much liked the episodic way the story is laid out; it sometimes skips ahead months to the next quest/raid/boss battle.  The two main characters, Kirito and Asuna, are great, and there’s a nice supporting cast.

The tone of the story is a nice balance; it’s not very dark, but it does deal with some serious concepts about life and death and reality.  The second story arc is less impressive, sidelining Asuna in a weird, rapey plot.  Overall I would definitely recommend it, but it’s probably not among the best anime I’ve ever seen.

Others

I’ve been further catching up on my anime with Death Note, and enjoying the new Japanese drama The Many Faces of Ito.  I always enjoy a good BBC drama, and Call the Midwife has been really interesting to me, having recently had to do just that!

What are you guys watching right now?  Any recommendations?  Especially light comedy or drama!  I also have Amazon Prime, and I’m contemplating getting Hulu so I can watch The Handmaid’s Tale and Runaways.

Iron Fist: Yup, it’s just kinda there.

The latest Marvel Netflix outing, Iron Fist, came out last Friday with some pre-emptive strikes from critics.  But keep in mind, critics only saw the first six episodes; I (and many other fans) have now binged the whole thing in less than a week (less than a weekend for some), so I’m here to give my spoiler-free thoughts.

Marvel's Iron Fist

In short, I enjoyed it, and if you were already planning to watch it, or have seen the other shows and are interested in The Defenders, I think you will too.  Just keep your expectations on the low side going in, because it is not nearly as good as the three previous series (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage), and if you have no interest in superheroes/the MCU/etc. don’t even bother.

I went into Iron Fist hoping for a kung fu show, but what I got was a corporate drama with some occasional ninjas…sorry, not even ninjas, mostly just random thugs.  Unlike the three previous shows, this show didn’t really have much to say.  Danny Rand’s origin story appears as a watered-down version of Batman or Oliver Queen.  His parents are killed in a plane crash in the Himalayas; he’s rescued to the hidden mystical city of K’un Lun where he trains and earns the title of Iron Fist; he returns to reclaim his parents’ company.

It gets off to a very slow start.  The first episodes that the critics saw could easily have been condensed into two or three with better pacing.  (It even manages to make sex scenes boring.  How does that happen?!) But it does pick up quite a bit in the second half as new characters are introduced and twists revealed, and I really enjoyed the ride.

Unfortunately, we hardly get to see anything of K’un Lun or Danny’s time there.  There are a few flashbacks, but mostly just the same one of his parents dying over and over.  There’s a reason the first season of Arrow worked so well, and I think this show should have taken some notes.  We don’t get any sense of where Danny is coming from until really late in the season, which I think hampers our ability to relate to him and understand his mood swings.

The show also suffers from lack of focus on a villain.  DD season 1, JJ, and the first half of LC all have one thing in common: a strong, compelling, central villain.  There are several antagonists throughout this series, and while some are great (particularly Madame Gao and Harold Meachum), it sometimes felt more like a set-up for the Defenders series than a story for Iron Fist in his own right.

The side characters are the real shining light in the show.  Colleen Wing is great overall and has a great character arc.  The clip of her cage fight in her classic white tracksuit had already convinced me I would like her.  Ward Meachum consistently improves as the series progresses, also getting his own character arc.  Danny’s friend Davos is a wonderful foil for Danny, and I hope we will see more of him in the future.  And Claire Temple immediately breathes life into the show when she appears in episode five.

My biggest disappointment with the show was probably the martial arts action.  Again, it wasn’t bad…it was just kinda there.  I was hoping for a real martial arts show, but the choreography was no more impressive than Daredevil, and I really disliked the use of lots of quick cuts during the fights.  There is a bit of discussion of different styles of martial arts, but I wish they had shown the differences even more, especially when Colleen with her katana faces off against a Chinese wuxia-style fighter.

The best fight comes in episode eight where Danny faces a Hand guardian who’s using the “drunken master” style.  (During that fight, I said to my husband, “Can we keep this guy instead of Danny?”  Because he has about 10x the charisma.)  But if you really want to see a martial arts show, go check out Into the Badlands instead—the first season is now on Netflix and the second season is currently airing on AMC.

I would put this show at least on par with the DC shows currently airing on the CW (Arrow, Flash, etc.)–least anyone think that is an insult, I’ll reiterate that I enjoyed all of them.

Anyone else have opinions?  We can get spoilery down in the comments if you want.

Luke Cage

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The third Marvel/Netflix series released last weekend, and why, yes, I have already watched all 13 episodes of Luke Cage.  Although it didn’t quite reach the heights of Daredevil s1 and Jessica Jones, it’s a solid addition to the line-up and really has me excited for the upcoming Defenders team-up.

Luke Cage, previously introduced in JJ, has decamped to Harlem where he’s trying to hide his super strength and impenetrable skin while working two jobs.  He’s trying to live a normal life.  But he gets caught up in protecting a local kid who’s crossed a powerful nightclub owner known as Cottonmouth, and little by little he steps up into his role as a protector for the neighborhood.

My primary issue with the series was that the story did not have as tight a narrative as DD and JJ.  It was slightly messy at times, which lead to a little unevenness and confusion.  I felt the series started out a little slow, but it really picked up steam as it went, and by the second half it was definitely binge-worthy.

Luke Cage has a very different feel, lacking the exciting fight choreography of DD and the psychological thrills of JJ.  I think this is the first time I felt like a Marvel property was not made for me…and that’s great!  I lacked a lot of cultural touchstones that would have helped me relate to LC.  I never felt that way before because of elements like the Catholic guilt that infuses DD and the unapologetically female lens of JJ.  But LC doesn’t slow down to explain African American cultural references; it just lives and breathes them.  (For a black perspective on the show, check out Evan Narcisse’s roundtable on io9.)

It’s about time we had a superhero show like this.  The creators don’t shy away from social commentary, whether it’s the difference of opinion between the characters on the use of the n-word, or the powerful image of a bulletproof black man in a hoodie.  I think Luke Cage is the best contemporary update of a superhero since the first Iron Man movie eight years ago.

Also, the use of music is amazing.  The score had echoes of Daredevil to me, and the club scenes allow for a constant flow of hip hop, R&B, jazz, soul, etc.  And even I know who Method Man is!

Marvel fans will notice plenty of little fun details throughout the series.  There’s a great visual joke about Power Man’s original costume, a flier for Colleen Wing’s self defense classes, and the requisite Stan Lee cameo.  There’s also some great crossover with DD and JJ, including characters Turk and ADA Blake Tower from DD, and an episode of Trish Talk from JJ.  (I was hoping for a Danny Rand/Iron Fist appearance, but no such luck.)

The crossover with the rest of the MCU is less impressive.  The “incident” of the first Avengers movie is still mentioned and seems to have lingering effects, but there’s no mention of the Sokovia Accords, or Ultron, or Inhumans, any of which might have been known to the characters.

One last gripe: the science is…not good.  They did try a little to explain scientifically how Luke got his powers, but they just kind of ended up flinging around sciencey terms like CRISPR that don’t really add up to a plausible explanation.  But it doesn’t bother me too much because, hey, superheroes.

Favorite good guy: Misty Knightmisty-knight-poster

Misty’s character has a pretty rough job in LC: she’s both a black woman and a cop, and she has to carry a good chunk of the show.  And she pulls it off with flying colors, showing great range of character.  In a show that featured so many different of women of color, Misty stood out to me as being intelligent but still having her heart in the right place.  She’s already confirmed for Defenders and I couldn’t be more excited.

Runners up: Bobby Fish and Claire Temple

Bobby Fish, the chess-playing fixture at Pop’s barber shop, contributed his humor and practicality, helping to keep this superhero show grounded.  Claire Temple, who has already appeared in DD and JJ, kept on being awesome.  I was pleased with how much she was in the show, and I loved her “old married couple” relationship with Luke, but it does seem to be a little problematic that she keeps falling for all the superheroes she patches up.

shades-posterFavorite bad guy: Shades

Shades really stood out to me with his ubiquitous sunglasses, unshakably cool demeanor, and “I know something you don’t know” attitude.  He always has a plan, and I had no doubts he’d come out on top.  Also, I swear this actor looked super familiar but I can’t figure out what I know him from.  Any ideas?

Runner up: Mariah Dillard

Mariah, played by the wonderful Alfre Woodard, had the most interesting character arc in the whole show.  She’s the only bad guy here that could possibly reach Wilson Fisk/Kilgrave territory in terms of awesomeness.  Looking forward to seeing more of her in the future.

What did you guys think of Luke Cage?  How did it compare to the other Marvel properties for you?