Q3 Pitstop: The Kdramas of 2016

 

W – Two Worlds
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The gist

W is the title of South Korea’s most popular webtoon/manhwa, which follows the revenge story of its hero Kang Chul. Oh Yeon-joo is a resident surgeon and the daughter of W’s creator. One night she suddenly finds herself sucked into the world of W.

The good

– The game-changing concept. Talk about being fresh and original, W took suspense-fantasy melodrama genre to a different level. This drama had the most unpredictable episodes I’ve seen in recent years, maybe ever. Just when you thought it’s yet another romance between a rich guy (this time a super-chaebol) and a quirky girl (albeit a doctor), then you’re clearly not ready for the surprises that W can pull in a matter of minutes. The heart-pounding suspense can make you crazy like Crazy Dog, and make your heartbeat erratic like poor Soo-bong. It’s something you rarely get to see in dramaland and now I get why the teasers were quite vague.

– Amazing cinematography. I love the level of quality of this drama, with its glossy finish/CGI and stunning art style. An elaborate setup like this had the danger of looking cheap especially with the transitions and the crossovers, but the execution was so smooth, seamless, and suspenseful (also thanks to the musical scoring). This production made a complex storyline watchable and entertaining.  And you get nail-biting episodes with Romance 101 as breathers in between.

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The bad

– It’s bad for your brain. When a drama throws logic out the window, it can be pretty exciting but at the same time unsettling. I’m a little obsessed about understanding flow and characterization, so having no ground to stand on can sometimes get frustrating. While I looooove a clever show that can surprise me with twists, I sometimes catch myself thinking “okayyyy, now it’s just playing with me” whenever there’s a new rule (or a change in the rules) when we don’t even know which ones ever existed in the first place. There’s a different satisfaction when you unearth a twist by yourself vs. having the main character explain to you what the heck is happening. Since everything is a variable, there’s really not much use analyzing everything because it will change by the next episode. Or maybe even within the next 20 minutes. Sometimes I even think the twists are cover-ups for previous loopholes. Thrilling? Sure. Tiring? After a while, possibly.

And I had soooo many fundamental questions about the dimensions and the “art” of dimension-bending but they were left hanging in the air as the drama ended without a solid explanation. At the beginning I was excited to geek out on the sci-fi/fantasy/meta elements of this drama and I patiently waited for the answers to unfold – but to no avail.

– Probably an unpopular opinion: I didn’t get pulled into the romance. Lee Jong-suk and Han Hyo-joo were a nice couple to ship and you just wanted them to be together (in the drama), but I personally wasn’t swept away by their love story. Maybe it’s because of their circumstances, or maybe because there’s some imbalance in the relationship (or at least in affection). Maybe it’s the thought that she fell for him as a concept first rather than as an actual person, or maybe Kang Chul was just so cool and perfect to be emotionally-accessible. Maybe the leads had more personality before they became a thing, or maybe the drama just didn’t have time to set up character development with all these plot twists. Or all of the above? I’m not really sure myself.

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The verdict

An obvious crowd-favorite and a visual masterpiece, W – Two Worlds is a standout among the 2016 dramas with its mind-bending plot and skillful directing (round of applause, everybody). Not to mention it’s acted by a reliable cast who brought the characters to life with their strong performances – main and supporting roles alike (it’s my first time seeing Kim Eui-sang and he was amazing).  Though not without flaws, this is a solid drama where WTF moments are the norm, and gave action-packed, mind-boggling episodes every single time. My amazement did wane after sometime as it pulled its biggest tricks too early in the game, but I won’t deny W the praise it deserves. I really did appreciate the series as a whole. W may not have reached massive ratings leadership, but it has proven its popularity through online buzz and the sheer number of fan theories about it. And hopefully it paves a new wave of thoughtfully-written Kdramas that experiment with genres and execution.


Whew! That wraps up the most buzzworthy Korean dramas of Q3 2016. Which one was your favorite? Any Q3 drama not in the list that I should check out? Let me know!

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