A Quartet of Musical Dramas

My first Asian drama came by the title of Hua Yang Shao Nian Shao Nv, otherwise known as Hana Kimi Taiwan. That was roughly four years ago. Since then, I’ve also been a fan of Japanese and, more recently, Korean dramas – but there are always moments when I’m more partial to the entertainment scene of one country more than another. For now, I’ve been on a roll when it comes to Korean dramas because I just came back from teaching there for a year and when I’m feeling particularly bereft at how I’m back in the States, I go to a drama and I reminisce about it along the way. It also comes in handy when I’m bored and have time to kill.

Well, these days, it seems as if there has been a recent trend of band/music-related dramas:

Perhaps it’s a promotional scheme for the actors/actresses themselves, as some of the lead characters are already in well-established bands with a strong fan base (and hence, attract more viewers), or it was just a way to put people new to the scene out there – hey, I can act, sing, dance, and play a musical instrument! Either way, I like music and I follow some of those k-pop bands so I was eventually drawn to them one by one. In actuality, they all have their characteristics that set them apart, but they all revolve around one common theme: music.

Oh… it brings me back to my orchestra, mariachi band, and piano-playing days. Was it really just six years ago? Wow, that question made me feel old.

First up is You’re Beautiful, otherwise known as Minami Shineyo (미남이시네요) in Korea.
Rating: 4.7/5

It stars the incredible spreader of the Hallyu phenomenon (especially in Japan), Jang Geun-seok [I admit this drama was my first exposure to him], then there’s Park Shin-hye as the leading [fe]male lead, and Jung Yong-hwa (of CN Blue) and Lee Hong-ki (of FT Island) as the other two supporting leads. These four make up the band A.N.JELL, made specifically for the drama. The synopsis from DramaWiki:

The management company of the idol group A.N.JELL insisted on adding a new singer to the group as the lead vocal, Tae Kyung’s voice was hurting. However,the new member, Mi Nam, had to go to the States to repair a botched eye job just before signing the contract. His agent came up with the idea of having his twin sister, Mi Nyu,to stand in for him and pretend that she was her brother. The two of them grew up in an orphanage and Mi Nyu, who was all set to become a nun, agreed to this charade as she didn’t want to spoil her brother’s chance of fame which would make it easier to look for their mother.

First off, I’m a sucker for anything where gender roles are switched (my first drama was Hana Kimi) and I’m all for that androgynous, tomboy look. This drama had that. Then, I love music and with the hilarity of an ex-nun joining a band of guys works for me as well. Aside from what makes an Asian drama a drama, I love how it followed an idol band and it gave a peek into what life is like for them – dorm life, member interactions, schedules, performances, publicity, etc. In addition, it was a well-scripted drama with great acting that portrayed the ups and downs of each character. Each of the four main leads had their own parts and we got to know them much better as time went on. The references to pop culture were a hit, as well.

However, there are moments where I have to repeat to myself that it is a drama so I should suck it up. For one, Park Shin-hye’s voice (and especially singing voice) is in no way manly. The way her character acts and holds herself often reminds me of a puppy – sometimes a kicked puppy. Even so, I realise that it’s a part of her charm and I even read up that some people were mimicking her speech patterns from the drama. However, she makes a very good looking boy-girl. I like realistic things, but I know what I signed up for when I tuned into Asian dramas. I know I squee-ed a lot so her character isn’t all that bad – plus I’ve rewatched the drama thrice. However, it’s also her whole innocent side that completely bugged me, haha. Ah yes, and that whole religious side of it. I’ll just leave it at that. Props to the idea of her on the road to being a nun though – it made the drama a little more interesting. I also like their OST songs, Promise and Still (As Ever), and Park Shin-hye’s Lovely Day became my sister’s ringtone. It was on repeat in my playlist for quite a while.

Next, there’s Heartstrings (aka You’ve Fallen for Me), or Neon Naege Banhaesseo (넌 내게 반했어) in Korean.
Rating: 4/5

Here, we have Jung Yong-hwa and Park Shin-hye as the main leads this time – and he finally gets the girl. There are also other characters like Kang Min-hyuk (left), the drummer of CN Blue. Min-hyuk completely melted me every time he appeared in the drama. Heartstring‘s synopsis–

Lee Shin is a university student majoring in modern music. He is also the vocalist and guitarist of the band “The Stupid.” Shin is known for his good looks and strong passion for music, but in reality he is cold, lacks interest in anything unrelated to music and has neither dreams nor plans for the future. He initially likes Jung Yoon Soo, a dance professor at university, but this all changes when he meets Lee Kyu Won.

The drama is set in a high school for the performing arts. I was a little hesitant to start it just in case it was just another drama that pulled in viewers because of pre-existing idol fan bases, but I liked the chemistry of Yong-hwa and Shin-hye from You’re Beautiful, so I ended up watching it. Although it is a school drama and there are mandatory elements to every drama present, it was refreshing in its own way. Why? Because in addition to showing school dynamics (the popular crowd versus the rejects) and fierce competition within the school, it goes into both “modern” (rock) music as well as traditional Korean music, as Park Shin-hye plays someone whose family is deeply rooted into the traditional arts and she plays the gayageum. And, of course, the two end up needing to work together and I have to say I liked the hybrid song they came up with. The drama was cute as their relationship develops and the script wasn’t bad and it kept me going, so I would say that the drama wasn’t bad. I only have one comment though: The Stupid? Really?? Anyway, Yong-hwa’s You’ve Fallen for Me was nice. ^^

Then there’s Shut Up Flower Boy Band, or Dakchigo Kkotminam Baendeu (닥치고 꽃미남밴드).
Rating: 5/5

This drama that blew me away stars a number of new actors/actresses to the scene: model and occasional actor Sung Joon, L from k-pop band Infinite, halfie Lee Hyun-jae, newbie Kim Min-seok, model turned actor with this drama Yoo Min-kyu, Lee Min-ki with his riveting cameo, actor/model Jung Ui-chul as the leader of the rival band, and newcomer Jo Bo-a as the girl.

Eye Candy is a six member underground rock band led by Byung Hee. When the group transfers into the prestigious Jungsang High School, they find their rival, Strawberry Fields. This is a story about the two rock bands and how they deal with friendship, relationships, and their passion for music.

I heard a number of positive comments (and about how mouth-wateringly hot Lee Hyun-jae was) so I got curious. It immediately sucked me in from the first five minutes of the drama and everything else was history. What really got me was how this revolved around rock, my music genre of choice, and it also called into play the idea of social differences within school and society. A group of rebellious boys make up a band coming from a high school from the bad end of town, each with their own stories, dreams, and hardships, goes to a prestigious school with people who care about outer appearances, brands, and the “proper” way of doing things. Lee Min-ki’s two-episode long cameo set the tone for the rest of the drama and although it was short, he was ever-present.

I loved the band’s drive, motivation, strong friendship (the band reminded me somewhat of a group of friends bordering on becoming a delinquent gang), and freewill that set them apart from others – they love what they do and they do it well. The whole bad boy image and their popularity as Eye Candy added onto that making them enviable and that much more shiny, but still unreachable. Then there are the Strawberry Fields (I have to hold back a snort) – they’re from wealthy families and probably received proper training and lessons ever since they could walk. Who would win in the musical arena and out? The drama was so multi-faceted and perfect, from the OST (Jaywalking, Love U Like U) and each individual character (Kim Min-seok’s adorable Busan accent called to me) to the evolving relationships and plot and what the future holds for them as they get a taste of what being famous and under the spotlight is all about. What’s awesome is that the actors and actresses are, for the most part, not completely experienced within acting but they encompassed their roles so well.

And the latest in the quartet that I watched: K-pop Extreme Survival or K-pop – The Ultimate Survival, also known as K-POP Choikang Survival (K-POP 최강 서바이벌).
Rating: 3.7/5

The drama stars Go Eun-ah (Mir of MBLAQ’s older sister), Park Yoo-hwan (Micky Yoochun of JYJ’s younger brother), and Kwak Yong-hwan (general newbie to the scene). Then there are the supporting roles (aka the trainees) played by Leader Song Se-hyun (he was also in Heartstrings), addicted-to-cussing-in-English Tagoon (from k-pop band BoM), needs-to-think-before-he-talks Maeng Se-chang (also of BoM), adorable Jo Yoon-woo (from Flower Boy Ramyun Shop), voice of reason Jin-hyuk (noob), and Kevin (from k-pop band ZE:A). MBLAQ also made brief cameos. And the synopsis:

Ji Seung Yeon dreams of becoming a hip-hop legend and unexpected events set her on the path to achieve just that, although there is an added obstacle – she has to dress up as a boy in order to join a male idol group. In the process, she meets Kang Woo Hyun, the leader of the popular idol group, M2, who captivates fans with a killer smile that masks his rude and selfish personality.

You’ve seen those auditioning reality shows, correct? You know, like American Idol in the States and Super Star K in Korea as well as the real life k-pop auditions that are held annually (or something) but aren’t broadcasted. Well, this drama depicts what happens if you get in the Korean entertainment industry and it only gets harder. This perked my interest; after reading some articles on it, I wanted to see how the drama would portray it since some of the actors are in actual k-pop bands themselves. Just think of it: you’re chosen along with a select few strangers-turned-colleagues, each with their own personalities, and you’re all stuck together in a dorm (think of it like a mass arranged marriage but you guys are also constant rivals) where the management tells you what to do, where to go, and what to eat. That last part really kills me – I still remember the scene of their first meal together as official trainees and it was just sad. Not to mention their inhumane schedules filled with lessons, exercise, and practicing. Then the whole sunbae-hoobae dynamic and who wants what more. The relationships between artists within the same company was interesting too, ranging from pure hostility to a supporting role, like when Woo-hyun tried to help his hoobae’s by having his fans help. Sort of like how Lee Hong-ki updated his twitter not long ago, promoting Mighty Mouth’s new single and urging his followers to support them-

In addition to that, as this is a drama, there is, of course romance. I actually thought the female lead was refreshing: she was The Man and she totally rocked my world, though her significant other isn’t someone to be pushed around either. It was an equally strong couple with equally stubborn qualities. Perfect! On the romance front, I give it a 5 out of 5 without any second thoughts. However, the only reason why my overall rating was so low was because the drama didn’t have many viewers while it was airing so it was cut from 16 episodes to a mere 14 – and it wasn’t decided on until later… in fact, it didn’t seem like it was official until halfway through the 14th episode. It makes me mad because it had so much potential. You know how hard it is to get a couple in a Korean drama to be different?? I suppose how I watched half of it on Vikii where the subbers(?) included their comments at the top of the video as an annoying running commentary, though it was occasionally amusing (note: they’re roughly based on what I remember reading, but they’re not direct quotes)–

He’s mine! Ji-woo’s mine!
Someone should just shoot her.
HAH! She’s not pretty at all!
I cannot unsee Mir. O_O
Noooo!!! I get the feeling something bad’s going to happen.

Anyway, I liked the drama well enough, however it wasn’t the best. It was something to watch for fun and honestly, that lame ending that made it seem incomplete as it didn’t really tie up all the ends (literally, the drama was going on fairly smoothly, but then, it’s like you missed an entire scene or two and you’re no longer on the same wavelength and then there are tons of flashbacks). So, if you’re interested about k-pop idol siblings and behind-the-scenes of being a trainee as well as a girl with a backbone, go for it! However… the ending reeks.

Slightly Off Topic: having titles like “Shut Up” and names such as “The Stupid”, characters who enjoy cursing in English, and characters who spontaneously spout off bad English is probably the reason why my students in Korea knew the oddest and inappropriate things in English. T__T I do not approve. I mean, seriously – firetruck?? Where do they get these things???

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