K-Drama Rating Underdogs: ‘Come Back Ahjussi’ & ‘Memory’


K-drama blockbuster KBS’s “Descendants of The Sun” ended its highly successful run after sixteen episodes with a nationwide viewership rating of 38.8%, a feat that has not been accomplished ever since 2013’s “The Moon That Embraces The Sun.” With its stylish cinematography, gorgeous cast and riveting storyline, it is no wonder that the drama attracted so many viewers, both in Korea and all over the world. For an industry that has not seen dramas with greater than 20% in a long time, “Descendants” has brought about a revival and perhaps even started a trend for pre-produced K-dramas. For all its success, however, there were dramas which suffered because of Descendants, such as SBS’s “Come Back Ahjussi,” which shared the same time slot, and other dramas who are severely underrated such as tVN’s “Memory”.

”Come Back, Ahjussi”

Although the drama featured familiar names like Rain and Oh Yeon Seo, “Ahjussi” suffered from dismal ratings which further deteriorated as “Descendants” became increasingly popular. While the drama cannot be seen as a commercial success, it certainly delivered in terms of its production quality and hilarious storyline. At times ridiculous and side-splitting, at times emotional and heartwarming, “Ahjussi” achieved a perfect balance and was a thoroughly enjoyable show, despite its slightly illogical plot.

While the show was largely advertised to be one about reincarnation and gender-switching, it was actually one big family drama. The main ahjusshis in the show came back to Earth from Heaven because they were not ready to leave their “families” behind. Their main motivation was love, and through the comedic hijinks and craziness this motivation always showed. Along the way, new relationships were formed both with these reincarnated characters but more importantly between their loved ones who were left behind. The characters learnt to move on with their lives and the growth in each character through the show was lovely to watch.

The main standout of the series would be lead actress Oh Yeon Seo. She’s always been recognised for her good acting but it was not until this drama that she displayed her full comic potential. Without regard to her image or dignity, she perfectly portrayed her role of Han Gi Tak, a middle-aged man who got reincarnated into a woman’s body, all the way from the gruff mannerisms to the awkward balancing on high heels. Oh Yeon Seo imitated original actor Kim Soo Ro successfully and created a beautiful character that stole the show. She was fearless, innovative and steadfastly loyal but yet remained so human that it was easy to sympathize with her. She also enjoyed a surprising winning chemistry in her part love part BFF relationship with Honey Lee, who managed to show off her humorous chops as well. Oh Yeon Seo really put on a stellar performance in this series and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her.

via @banghae on tumblr

Her co-actor Rain did splendidly as well and it was great to see him embrace his comedic side once again in a drama (the previous comedy he did was “Full House” in 2004). From admiring his ass in a lift to spazzing about his own chocolate abs, his portrayal of Kim Young Kwon was flawless and totally believable. Young Kwon might have been narrow-minded and slightly frustrating but Rain’s portrayal helped to make the character more lovable, if not relatable. His relationship with Oh Yeon Seo defied all the K-drama rules of romance and was really refreshing to watch. This drama is a rare gem which got the gender switching right and used it to its full potential.

via @dalpengi on tumblr

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While “Ahjussi” did not pull in high ratings in Korea it did garner an international fanbase but there is another currently airing K-drama that has been floating under the radar ever since it started its run. This is none other than the drama, “Memory” which stars Lee Sung Min (known most recently for his role in “Misaeng” ) as a lawyer with Alzheimer’s. At first glance, this plot seems extremely similar to the recent drama Remember: War Of The Son,” which featured Yoo Seung Ho in the similar role of a lawyer who also suffered Alzheimer’s. At a deeper level, however, the dramas are inherently different, in terms of realism, themes, and even the focus of the drama. For one thing, “Memory” definitely gives a more accurate portrayal of Alzheimer’s Disease. With the disease striking a middle-aged character like Lee Sung Min’s Park Tae Seok, the symptoms and problems that he goes through as a result of his diagnosis definitely feel more real and recognisable in our current society.

Despite its title, “Memory” isn’t all about Alzheimer’s; it is a drama which has many important messages to convey whether it is highlighting social inequality or bullying situations in schools. The conflicts and tragedies in this drama are fleshed out and realistic and could occasionally make for a depressing watch but at the same time is trulycaptivating. There is also an undercurrent of hope that ties the drama together, a sense of optimism which is present in each character, even if it’s not explicitly shown. It’s the same optimism which drives Park Tae Seok to keep fighting his disease, the same spirit that keeps his colleague Jung Jin (Lee Junho) motivated to stand up for justice, the same courage that allows Seo Young Joo (Kim Ji Soo playing Lee Sung Min’s character’s wife) to keep smiling even as her family falls apart.

“Memory” is a beautifully produced drama, with poignant and relevant scenes at every bend. The character arcs of the various main characters are nicely drawn out, the best of which would be Park Tae Seok. He started out looking like a heartless and vicious lawyer but as his disease started to change him, both physically and mentally, his perspective on life shifted. Rather than dismissing him as a normal cliche character who turns over a new leaf because of a terminal illness, I would argue that Park Tae Seok was just reverting back to his original self – the self that would fight for justice even if he would not benefit from it, who valued his family and friends over money, the self that would not give up. Watching him evolve as a character and the transformations in his relationships with his family or the people around him is a gratifying experience, one which I can only credit to the tight writing of the drama.

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Lee Sung Min, of course, is killing it in his role. His ability to internalize and inhibit his character is astounding and is a big reason why Park Tae Seok has become so real in the drama. His every word and action is sincere and he really carries the show emotionally. He also has great chemistry with the other members of the cast like Jung Jin whom he has created an adorable bromance with. Their banters are natural and light-hearted which bring about some much needed humor in an otherwise melancholic story.

Speaking of Jung Jin, Lee Junho ( of the K-pop boy band 2PM) is doing a great job in his debut drama role. Granted, he has quite a lot of acting experience from the few movies that he’s starred in, but the natural way he presents the character helps to make the character more relatable and likeable. He’s holding his own well in front of veteran actors like Lee Sungmin too and I hope he’ll get more opportunities to act in the future.

The two underdog dramas I’ve mentioned above are underrated for different reasons, but here’s to hoping that they’ll get their due recognition soon.

Have you watched any of the dramas listed above? What is your opinion on K-drama viewership ratings? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

5 Underrated K-Pop Solo Debuts of 2015

5 Underrated Solo Debuts of 2015

2015 was a year chock full of K-pop goodness, both for groups and for solo artists. In particular, there were many idols who made their solo debuts this year. While some of them were well-received in Korea and on international charts, there were also some others who didn’t garner so much attention. As with most K-pop related things, album sales largely have nothing to do with the quality of the music produced, so here are five underrated solo debuts that deserve more love.

1. G. Soul

At the start of the year this soloist made headlines when he finally made his debut after 15 years as a JYP Entertainment trainee. With his album “Coming Home,” G. Soul thoroughly showcased his vocal abilities and charmed listeners with his silky emotive voice. His lead single “You” was also a strong track complete with wonderful composition and a catchy chorus. He even released an acoustic version of the song subsequently, which further highlighted his amazing voice, and it was this version that made me a fan of his.

Unfortunately, despite releasing three EPs and singles over this year (most recently in September), he is still relatively unknown in the K-pop industry. With almost zero promotions on music programs and variety shows, it’s not very surprising that he’s unable to compete in popularity with other idols who are very active in the entertainment scene. However, one of his newest songs, “Beautiful Goodbye,” has been gaining attention recently because of EXO’s Kai, who performed a cover of the song during their concert.

Hopefully this trend will continue in the future and he will become more well-known. With the quality of music that he’s been creating and his voice, he certainly deserves all the respect and more that he’s getting now. In fact, he recently made Kultscene’s Top 50 Songs List for the year with his latest release “Crazy For You.” 

2. Mckay Kim

I’ve watched this soloist since his early days on “K-pop Star Season 2.” Mckay Kim‘s voice was so charismatic that I fell in love with it (and him) almost instantly. From his wonderful partnership with Brian Shin and Kim Min Suk (Raccoon Boys) on the competition to his solo debut earlier this year, his music has always been amazing. He debuted with a collaboration with Jeff Bernat, a Filipino-American singer songwriter who is quite well-known in Korea, and their voices blended together perfectly through the song “Angel 2 Me.” Kim, in particular, has a soothing and smooth voice that is so comforting to listen to. Whenever I listen to this song, I feel relaxed even if I’m on a crowded public bus or doing math problems in my room. The harmonies and chill beat of this song are therapeutic but still alluring and charming.

Mckay also came back with another track in June, appropriately titled “Month of June,” but this release gained even less attention than his previous one. It’s a sweet song filled with the light-heartedness of summer and being in love. On his own this time, Mckay was able to show off even more of his vocal skills and musical ability, which is why it’s even sadder that this song wasn’t as well-received. Both in terms of natural talent and music quality, Mckay has the potential to become a mega star in this K-pop industry, he just needs a chance to break out now, and the sooner the better. I can’t wait for his future releases (he really needs an album) and I’m confident that he’ll continue releasing great music.

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3. Park Jimin (15&)

A member of K-pop girl duo 15&, Park Jimin made her solo debut in March this year with her title track “Hopeless Love.” Despite having amazing vocal talent and good songs, she has been an underrated singer ever since her debut in 15& and as a solo artist. Another alumni of “K-pop Star,” she won the first season of the show in 2012 but has been relatively low-profile since then. With “Hopeless Love” however, she brought something new to the table with this ballad that isn’t really a ballad. With her strong high notes and charismatic voice, Park Jimin brought out the various emotions that are presented through the lyrics of the song. In particular, one line that sums up the pain of having an one-sided love: “Even though it hurts I just can’t turn away.” It’s a great release and solo effort so it’s such a pity that she didn’t get more attention for it. As of August this year, she formed a project group called M.O.L.A with Seungyoun of UNIQ and another rapper Nathan with whom she released tracks showcasing her rapping skills as well. For a singer as talented as Jimin, she deserves so much more success in her career so I’m hoping that this won’t be the end of her solo efforts!

4. Minah (Girls’ Day)

Unlike 15&, Girls’ Day can’t be said to be unknown or underrated, not by a long shot. So what is Minah, the popular main vocalist of the girl group doing in this list? She has made her name as a soloist a long time ago with the various drama OSTs she has released and has already acted in several dramas herself but her solo debut earlier this year largely went under the radar of most K-pop fans. While she did debut at a time filled with several other hot comebacks like EXO and Miss A, I fail to understand how she received so little praise and attention from the public.. With “I Am A Woman Too” Minah showed off her impressive vocal talents and her ability to sing strongly and yet gently at the same time. However, her release received criticism in regards to the choreography, which netizens complained looked awkward. In terms of song quality however, this song was produced well and is catchy. While Minah does shine even within the rest of her group, her solo effort was a chance for her to showcase different sides to herself and in my opinion she managed that. I hope that this debut’s lack of commercial success would not affect her chances for a comeback in the future because I’m eagerly waiting for it!

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5. Lee Junho (2PM)

I’m not saying this just because I’m a Hottest but Junho’s solo debut was one of the best and yet most underrated debut I have ever seen. As the lead vocal of 2PM, Junho’s charming voice has been showcased ever since their group debut but he’s been continually improving his vocal skills over the years, something which is evident in their later releases. Apart from just working on his singing, he’s also been composing and writing songs for the group, the most recent of which is “Nobody Else” from their latest Korean album “No. 5.” As a solo artist, he debuted in Japan two years ago and has produced three Japanese albums since then. He only made his solo debut in Korea this year however, with his album “One,” which he promoted for a short period of music shows. This album, with title track “Fire,” displayed not just his amazing singing but also his compositions because he wrote almost all the songs on the album.

With an addictive chorus “Fire” isn’t just a good song it also thoroughly shows how self-aware Junho is as an artist. He knows his voice and abilities very well and is able to present the best side of himself through his songs. In this album he also tried more rapping to very satisfying results, as evidenced by tracks like “Pressure” (the rap starts around 3:12).

Thankfully for Junho it seems like JYP recognises his potential as a soloist so here’s to more amazing albums in the future!

What do you think of these underrated soloists? Who else do you think should have made the list? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

‘Twenty’ Is The Korean Coming of Age Film That Will Make You Laugh Until It Hurts

Twenty, directed by Lee Byung-Heon, premiered in New York City on April 14th  and quickly filled the theater with laughter and praise for the coming-of-age film. Twenty, starring Kim Woo Bin, Kang Ha Neul, and Lee Junho of K-pop idol group 2PM, is a story of three extremely different friends who struggle with first loves, family issues, sexual urges, and career paths.

Kim stars as playboy slacker Chi Ho who is obsessed with sex and has no goal other than to breathe. Kang plays type A college student Kyeong Jae who falls in love for the first time with someone already in a relationship, and Lee rounds out the crew as cartoonist Dong Woo who works part-time to support his mother and brothers after his father goes to jail on corruption, leaving the formerly wealthy family penniless.

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Essentially, the movie is about three men who have no idea what to do with their youth and who are nowhere ready to be adults, leading to many humorous situations.

The movie is a comedy with many poignant moments, highlighting the struggles and strengths of being twenty years old: Old enough to have responsibility, but young enough to make mistakes and learn from them. The three friends antics were full of humor but dealing with tough situations (bank account balances at zero, enlisting in the Korean army, heartbreak) kept Twenty grounded in reality.

Even while the situations are sometimes ridiculous, such as Chi Hoo deciding to hit a woman with his car in order to get her sleep with him and a memorable scene where he pitches a movie idea to a director, Twenty portrays these things as normal craziness from twenty-year-old men in Seoul who don’t really know what they’re doing with their lives.

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The three leads dominate the film, but out of the primary four female characters in the movie, Lee Yoo Bi’s character So Hee is the most captivating. So Hee, the younger sister of Kyeong Jae, brings youthful innocence to the film, a counter to the other women who tend to be a bit more bitter about their lives. She makes fun of her brother and his friends for things twenty-year-old men find natural, like masturbating and drinking, while still showing wisdom despite being a high school student. She puts the whole film into perspective in one line: “The three of you remind me of dumb and dumber, and dumb again.”

Director Lee Byung Heon, who was a screenwriter for Sunny and the director of indie Cheer Up, Mr. Lee, used familiar elements from his previous works including fight scenes and characters working on the set of films to help portray the confusion and exuberance of the three men in the beginning of their roaring twenties. The film utilizes a bright palate of colors, but some of the more serious scenes hint to Lee’s indie elements. The choice of songs for the soundtrack, particularly during a memorable fight scene towards the end of the film, adds some depth and additional humor to the comedy.

Twenty takes itself seriously enough to have a point as Dong Woo, Kyeong Jae, and Chi Hoo figure things out, but doesn’t do so in a way that makes it anything other than a feel good, laugh-until-you-cry film. CJ Entertainment and MOI’M worked to bring the film to the US, and there will be several showings throughout North America on April 17.

What do you think of Twenty? What other Korean films would you like to see in theater? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.