Korean Drama 2010 reviewThe third and final part of the 2010 Korean drama year-end review. This time we'll take a look at some of the big historical and action dramas to come out the past year. Don't forget to read Parts One and Two.


This was much too long to be a perfect drama - 60 episodes inevitably engenders cyclical conflicts and plot repetition - but Giant was overall an excellent, brilliantly acted historical drama which ably maintained a number of different storylines without losing control. The always-stellar Lee Bum Soo rocked his role as the ever-an-underdog, ever-fighting-his-way-to-the-top Kang Mo; Park Sang Min and Lee Duk Hwa as Kang Mo's brother and archenemy, respectively, were also wonderful. Park Jin Hee as Kang Mo's love interest was less than convincing in the early part of the drama, but as soon as she transformed into a revenge-driven mover and shaker she became much more assured and compelling. It was breakout stars Hwang Jung Eum and Joo Sang Wook as tortured secondary couple Mi Joo and Min Woo who who really caught my attention and the attention of Kdrama fans, however. Possessed of a shimmering chemistry, they positively shone in their roles, and may have stolen the stage completely from the main couple if the drama had not been long enough to contain them all (they won the Best Couple Award at the 2010 SBS Drama Awards). Hwang Jung Eum has been gradually building her visibility for a while now, appearing in East of Eden and High Kick Through the Roof; with the pitch-perfect warmth of her performance here she's finally on track for bigger things and perhaps even a leading role. Joo Sang Wook has had a similar career and Giant has been the big push forward for him; he won the New Star Award at the 2010 SBS Drama Awards and will next appear in Paradise Ranch. The drama was an unusually well-done revenge tale, though it did lose track of itself a bit toward the end. It could also be beautifully atmospheric and ably evoked 1970s Korea. Long historical dramas do tend to pull in better ratings than short trendy ones (more time to build up an audience) and Giant was no exception, breaking 40% ratings with its final episode. Giant premieres January 20 online at DramaFever.


Chuno is not, in my opinion, a brilliant drama. The plot was simply not original. Yet fierce performances, groundbreaking action sequences, great directing and the stunning, stunning cinematography lifted it above its unimaginative plot into easily one of the best dramas of 2010. Chuno is a drama which is excellent in all of its part save for writing alone, and because of that, I appreciate it for what it is. Watch Chuno online at DramaFever.

Baker King Kim Tak GuBaker King

What a lovely drama. Quite a number of brilliant young actors had breakout roles this year, and Baker King was the vehicle for two of them, Yoon Shi Yoon of the camera-loving grin and Joo Won of the compelling broodiness. Yoon Shi Yoon technically broke out in High Kick through the Roof in 2009, but Baker King, one of the biggest hits of the year, swept him to well-deserved fame. As for Joo Won, Baker King was his first drama ever, and he ate up the screen with his performance as a complex, tortured rich kid. Eugene, who has never been a great actress but who is always lovable in her bright, cute roles, was surprisingly good as a woman driven by circumstance and her own inner demons to seek revenge upon the rich classes that have always oppressed her. Lee Young Ah, as a quirky baker girl, was wonderfully appealing. Baker King took a standard plot, one which includes most of the cliches which are staples of kdramas, and mixed them together to somehow create a drama which transcended them (not unlike Brilliant Legacy of the same year). The characters were well-written and developed, the romantic pairings were nuanced, and the story had a nice narrative arc to it, taking responsibility for all its characters and threads. All the cast had chemistry together, and Yoon Shi Yoon's titular Kim Tak Goo grounded and centered an already good story. The drama doesn't necessarily rock the boat as far as story elements, yet by deft writing and directing it makes everything feel new, and Baker King becomes a wildly addicting, almost classic drama in the process. In a year full of higher-profile, higher-concept dramas, this is one of the few dramas that I remember as being truly satisfying. Who knew a drama about baking could be so good?

Runaway: Plan BRunaway Plan B

Flawed but enjoyable is how I would characterize this one. I was disappointed in Runaway as a vehicle for Rain's return to dramas -to my eternal surprise, the superstar actually is a brilliant actor, and his past two dramas, A Love to Kill and Full House, have both become classics. He delivers a fantastic performance here in the most overtly comedic role he's done, as a zany, slightly sleazy private detective, underscoring again his incredible range. His monkey, mobile face can also switch instantaneously from over-the-top comedy to bleak longing or emotion and back again, a quality possessed by only one other actor I've seen, Japanese actor Kamenashi Kazuya. The drama, however, was too taken with itself as an action comedy, spending much of the first half straining against and avoiding the darker plot elements that pointed inevitably toward romantic thriller. The action sequences were impressive and Rain successfully pulled off the zany, over-the-top hijinks (ably supported by Lee Jung Jin), but the fundamental trauma which was underlay much of the drama - the execution of all of Jin Yi's family over the course of her childhood and her subsequent quest for revenge - was too serious to gel with the comedy of the rest of the drama. Ironically, the drama was almost self-defeating by a)setting up a genuinely horrific tragedy - take notes, Bad Guy! The death of a dog is not that bad - the execution of first your parents and grandparents and then your foster family/adopted parents is - and b) explicating it well, showing Jin Yi's past in a concise, black-and-white flashback which skipped straight from the initial horror of her parents and grandparents death to the much later horror of her adoptive parents death, revealing the horrific repetition that she experienced. Most dramas exhaustively explicate the past tragedies of their protaganists and reiterate them to the viewers over and over - Runaway showed simply the manner of the deaths and moved on. Jin Yi's trauma was vastly more compelling as a result, allowing the viewers to fill in the blanks about what that must have felt like and what drives her now. Given such a darkly compelling story at the heart of the drama, it seemed like a waste then for the plot to spend so much time focusing on chase hijinks and the missing money. Had the drama actually been about a mysterious, highly capable revenge-seeker who teams up with a PI who has his own reasons for revenge, it would have been a much more interesting story. At the least, I would wish that the main storyline from the beginning had been Jin Yi, and to a lesser extent Ji Woo's, quest for revenge, with the cat-and-mouse games and treasure hunting the secondary storyline to add action onto this the emotional heart. As it is, the action took center stage and so for its first half Runaway was a fun but slight drama.  When it got down to the serious stuff and upped the emotional and physical stakes in the second half, it became much more compelling - a change I only wish had happened sooner. Watch Runaway: Plan B online at DramaFever. Check out Part One and Part Two if you missed them.