Top 5 – Secret Garden References

Secret Garden parody collage

Much too long intro:

Secret Garden was my gateway drug into Korean pop-culture, stemming from randomly watching it on Netflix. I fully embraced the crazy, the repetitiveness, the odd couple(s), and the ridiculata.  It wasn’t till months later I started watching dramas regularly, so I really had no idea of just how crazy popular it was both in Korea and world-wide.  But once you watch three dramas in a row using the Secret Garden OST, suddenly the 8th billed actor is getting their own starring roles, and you see articles from the WSJ on Hyun Bin’s return date from the military, one begins to think that this show might have had some cultural impact.

It will be interesting to see if such similar phenomenon will occur with My Love From the Star, which IMO has been the next drama that enraptured world and provided gangbusters ratings.  Thus far MLFTS has sold out lip-stick, opened drama based-exhibits, and made Jeon Ji-Hyun (and chicken with beer) more popular than what was thought not possible, but I feel it’s star will fade faster then SG.  Mostly because there is so much more material rife for parody with SG.  Simply put, the humor from SG came from a mix between laughing at it, as well as with it, whereas MLFTS has decidedly less mockability.  This may seem like a total take-down, but it’s not my number one drama for nothing.  It’s much easier to remember Gil Rae Im and Kim Joo Won walking at a turtles pace in tandem then even a well-crafted joke or one-liner.  Which is why I took note of the many, many times Korean shows payed homage to the body-switching phenom, and before you can say “but the cheesecake, that was some other bitch” here is number 5.

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Dishonorable Mention – IHYV not Including Secret Garden Reference

Note: What follows is nothing but nonsense, but can be considered a precursor to the next Top 5- Best instances of dramas including a reference to the massively popular 2010 hit.  Hopefully, that should be released before the weekends out, but in the meantime, enjoy… whatever this is.

Seriously what gives? as its been shown previously, have SG cast member, will often produce SG callback. So have two SG cast members (possibly 4 with guest roles), who were always in scenes together which also featured an unrequited love – crickets.  UGH.  It could have been as simple as a glance of recognition, or upon meeting having one of them remark about having deja vu, remarking on his sexiness and/or musical ability, I mean come on! Soooo what follows is an excerpt of a conversation I  had with myself while watching an episode of I Hear Your Voice.

Me: Oye! Another scene with both of them [Sang-Hyun and Jong Suk], emotions running high, tempers flaring, obvious jealousy but not a single twinkle of some Secret Garden recognition, it’s like they are hiding the truth!

Myself: Calm down geeze, Sometimes I can’t believe we come from the same genetic material. Check what network IHYV played on, bet it’s different than SG.

Me: Googling..Googling…and both are SBS affiliated. Got anymore ideas Einstein?

Myself: You really need to work on your clichéd putdowns… Well, and I know this hurts, but perhaps the writers didn’t want to draw attention to other dramas because it takes you away from this one.  This is a fully immersive story and universe, with detailed attention to its characters.  So even if a couple of actors happen to have worked together previously, the fact is these are different fully drawn characters that don’t need to rely on silly references to appease a small section of viewers like some pop-culture parody laden Shrek movie.  This is like Pixar Y’all – all world building, no filler.

Me: Wow your out of your chair and everything, which is strange considering we’re the same person..  Well fine then, you [Myself] make some decent points.  But I still feel they are missing the easy lay-up to referential humorville. Population: me. Oh well tis not to be I reckon…Hey whose that guy on-screen meeting Oska?

Myself: Le sigh, you mean Yoon Sang-Hyun? His name in this drama is Kwan-Woo just ya know FYI..  But I haven’t a clue, appears to be a cameo of some sort.  Let me check.  … … …

Me: Hey, who is the ajusshi? Been in anything worth watching?

Myself: Definitely not.

Me: Okay, whose acting weird now. What’s he been in?!?

Myself: erm hes fromgentlemansdignity.

Me: You just quickly whispered Gentleman’s Dignity didn’t you? Which is preposterous as whywould a drama as refined as this not only refer to another drama, but refer to one whose creator/writer created Secret Garden before writing this Gentleman’s smignity nonsense.

Myself: I never said I was right, it was just a theory.

Me: Hm, well you were so full of it you were practically on top of that Greek Trojan thing, declaring the drama of having such dramatic purity that IHYV would never stoop so low.  Well here’s a thought – This drama is really just platform in which copious amounts of products can be shilled out to the masses.  I mean Lee Bo-Young would go into caffeinated shock with how much the character uses her special tea filters and coffee shop lattes.  Plus this cameo is the character from Gentleman’s Dignity meaning that show takes place in IHYV’s universe.  Thus taints your idealized IHYV world, that one where serial killers get the job done decades at a time, almost dying gives you sucky magical powers, and where the law was created by toddlers.

Myself: 1st off, was that a thinly veiled reference to “get off your high horse”? Not your worst I guess. Secondly, this hypocritical nonsense coming from the fan of said drama where switching bodies is caused by precipitation. And lastly, you done venting yet?

Me: Never! In fact this is why my snark needs to be let free, as taking everything so seriously watching these dramas will drive me nuts! So, since Me wins this round I will say that the slight mockery snarkfest will not be reined in!  At least not until the day comes when YSH and LJS are in yet a third drama together where the only other possibility remains.  They become the OTP of all OTP’s and ride off into the sunset.

Myself: And that my friend, is why we are the same person. I concur vehemently. Let it commence!

Lee Jong Suk Yoon Sang Hyun SG IHYV

Top 5 – Alternative Pairings/Couples in Dramaland

When watching Pasta,(no major spoilers here)  my 2nd favorite relationship outside the main couples epicenter of cuteness, was the blossoming friendship of Gong Hyo-Jin and Choi Jae-Hwan’s characters.  They were lowest on the literal and metaphorical food chain (basically kitchen grunts), and often helped each other out when in dire straits.

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I then realized that outside of a OTP (and let’s face it, sometimes in spite of) it’s these types of relationships that are my favorite part of any show.  Not to deviate from K-Dramas but Mad Men has perhaps the greatest male-female platonic relationship of all-time, but watching I realize how rare that is in any storytelling medium.  So that was the basis for this top 5, but I’m making it a little bit more interpretive.  Basically any sort kind of special connection between two characters that is not easily definable (mom daughter for example), a one true pairing, or a 2nd leads thang is fair game. Hopefully that works…

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Good to know! and without further ado, here is number 5!

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Top 5 – Favorite K-Drama tropes

Incest, wrist grabs, comas, EEEEVVVIL mothers, bitchy second leads.  What do they have in common? They are the annoying cliches and tropes used in Korean television.  But not all tropes are created equal, so this list will attempt to find the rose amongst the thorns, or is it supposed to be the other way around?

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Drama and television viewing habits (narcissism edition!)

Here is a rundown of some of my viewing habits/bias which is probably for my own sake but might give insight into some of my ranking.  In all likelihood its the narcissist in me who needs to be seen.

  1. Characters >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Plot – It’s why Mad Men is my favorite show even with episode descriptions like “A computer comes to the agency while Peggy receives a flower delivery.” Or why I find dramas with mixed receptions like Flower Boy Next Door or Pasta intriguing long after others have deemed them “boring”.  As long as the characters are interesting and well rounded, I will never require any long standing mysteries,  parents or second leads used as plot devices,  or makjang elements to shake things up.
  2. That said, though I prefer my characters to be realistic and 3 dimensional, I don’t really have a similar issue with sci-fi or gimmick elements that become plot devices instead of being thoroughly integrated into the story.  For instance, some of Secret Garden’s complaints (similarly You Who Came from the Stars) dealt with how the body switching/sci-fi element was wishy washy, and never fully explained. I liked that it was used further character development, provided ample comic fodder, and was used enough to add tension and stakes, but not so much as to get annoying or for the audience to lost track of the whose who.  Basically it all comes back to characters. (for an English example, I much prefer the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who, compared to the Moffat reign, as one featured a delightful cast of recurring players, while the ladder had a series of convoluted plots.)
  3. Did someone say comic fodder?  One thing thats is necessary in my TV and can make a average plotted show into complete chamazingness territory is a funny bone embedded into the shows DNA.  The King of Dramas and History of the Salaryman are two of my favorite dramas, and I can easily say both shows had several flaws, missteps, and plot holes.  The single characteristic that kept me throughly entertained was that both were “mother father” hilarious. I recall History did an especially good job of adding humor throughout an episode, no matter how sad or dark things became for our heros (See a Weekend at Bernie’s elevator ride). Breaking Bad‘s pitch black comedic sensibilities were the only things that kept me going during the darkest hours of that depressing show.
  4. Can’t be too long – self explanatory but I’ve never watched a drama longer than 28 episodes. So many dramas, so little time.
  5. Other kinds of dramas I’m not crazily into – the revenge and/or serial killer thriller, ANY medical show (E.R. did  me in when I was 12), the traditional sageuk (though I still need to watch one..), and your standard melo.
  6. Things I totes adore! – slice of life dramas(Coffee PrinceFriday Night Lights) genre hybrid hodepodge (think I Can Hear Your Voice or Chuck), sci-fi or supernatural premises, subverting gender dynamics, biracial characters (mixed baby I am), bromances, shows not set in Seoul, NYC or LA, and of course romantic intrigue!
  7. Interestingly enough, when I choose a drama, its not based on the actors but heavily weighs on the plot description, trailers, and other people’s opinion.  This definitely varies from movies where even if Matt Damon is rocking a fat suit, I’d still buy that ticket.  Guess its really the instance of having a dynamic actor make a 2 hour film watchable vs. suffering through 20 hours of So Ji Sub trying to convince the audience (and himself) that his love for Ha Ji Won is worth it (I wish I never wanted to know What Happened in Bali).  That said, if a drama has two actors I like, it has a much better shot at me watching it even if the description seems average (por exemplo -the two Gongs in Biscuit Teacher and Star Candy).
  8. Now disregard everything I just wrote.  I mean all rules are made to be broken right?  none of these are rules but “It’s more like guidelines anyway.” Another of my favorite shows is Nine Times Travels as it’s possibly the most tightly plotted (and best use of time travel) show in recent memory.  Basically, where is the fun in getting everything you want?

Any show that does right by its acting, writing and directing will be good, and with that surely controversial statement those are  my 8 simple rule for dating  viewing biases,  yay lists!