[2017 Year in Review] A year of relatable heroines
One of the best things about 2017’s dramas was the sheer diversity of heroines across every genre, which feels especially meaningful in a year where women have been reclaiming ownership of their own narratives more fiercely than ever before. This growing trend of self-aware women who are allowed to be strong (or not) in whatever way suits them is one I’m so here for, and it’s K-drama’s forte to create characters who speak to us on a really personal level. All I’ve got left to wish for in 2018 is Kim Seul-gi to finally have a really good lead role…yes?
This collection is by no means exhaustive and had many contenders. I hope you guys will add your own and ease the torture of having to choose!
In a drama landscape dominated by maladjusted personalities and extraordinary abilities, the heroine of Solomon’s Perjury is refreshingly ordinary. She works hard at school, is popular with her friends and respected by her peers, and has loving parents with a stable home life. After the death of a classmate, however, she struggles to make sense of it and her possible role in it, which leads her to conduct a school-wide inquest. Though a powerful performance from Jang Dong-yoon later steals the show, Seo-yeon is our glue and guides us to an emotional sendoff, and at last, closure.
The show can come off a little cerebral, but I loved it, and it left a deep impression on me of the warmth of friends, mingled with the pain of living in a merciless world. With the sad news the death of Shinee’s Jonghyun still fresh in my mind, that feeling of loss and the need for hope stabs as sharply at my heart now as it did at the beginning of the year. This show is essentially hopeful, and I always need that.
In keeping with its atmosphere of wistful melancholy, fantasy romance The Lonely Shining Goblin created an ethereal, fey character in its central heroine, Kim Go-eun. But with one foot always in a world beyond the mortal one, she was sometimes just a little out of reach—which is never the case with Yoo Inna’s character: smart, streetwise unni Sunny.
Though Sunny has a touch of eccentricity to her, she remains fully grounded in her present reality, even when those layers come loose. Her choices always made sense to me on a deep level, like her decision to part ways with Lee Dong-wook’s Reaper. When all your choices will bring a measure of pain, choosing the one you can live with best in the long term takes an uncommon measure of clarity and pragmatism, and that endears her to me so much. When drama truly captures the complexity of real life choices—where sometimes there are only “endings” without the “happy”—it feels satisfyingly real. Now tell me what I have to do for the Sunny-Reaper spinoff where everyone lives happily ever after!
The bromance game was so strong in OCN’s time-travel thriller Tunnel that I’m afraid it overshadows one of my favorite women of the year: Lee Yoo-young’s captivatingly straitlaced criminal psychologist, Shin Jae-yi. She’s a difficult character to read at first, and her cool detachment hides a traumatic past. A heart without a home, she doesn’t fit in anywhere, until she meets detectives Sun-jae (Yoon Hyun-min) and Kwang-ho (Choi Jin-hyuk)—the former who shows her attention, and the latter who demands it.
Literal and inquisitive, she’s always digging into other people’s emotions (particularly Sun-jae’s and Kwang-ho’s), but hers are locked away. When that all comes undone, it’s kind of harrowing: She’s okay until she isn’t. I’ve lovingly described her as a little broken robot, and her character arc is all about her struggle to heal herself and turn into a “real” girl. Jae-yi has to learn to relate both to herself and to other people, and she does so with honesty and childlike vulnerability. As a result, she goes from having no one—and needing no one—to finding a whole lot of people who love her and would do whatever it takes to keep her safe. Sweetest of all, she also becomes that person, though I definitely wished she risked herself a little less. I love you, Jae-yi.
Watching Temperature of Love was like looking in a mirror and seeing unexpected pieces of me everywhere, to the point it felt uncanny. This was so much a writer’s drama, and I just loved every second. It’s a well of introspection and little things which added up to an aching realism that got me right by the heart. Love is easy, relationships are hard. That’s what this show is about.
Hyun-soo is complicated and contradictory; I love that she doesn’t bother acting cool, and it doesn’t embarrass her to be truthful. In that way she’s just like her love interest, Jung-sun (Yang Se-jong), but where he’s steadfast and constant, she changes. Rather than fickle, I see her as someone whose self-knowledge is imperfect, and that’s why she can seem changeable. But she always owns it, and I love that her study of herself is ever a work in progress. I think one of the things Temperature of Love shows best is how a relationship is a place where you learn not only about the other person, but also about yourself.
Perhaps what delighted me most about this couple, and why they’re my favorite romance of the year, is their ability to always meet in the middle. With love left in no doubt, their challenge is negotiating a way to be together that answered both of their needs. Their conversations were charming from the start, but it’s their disarming frankness that allows them to eventually get themselves on the same page—to love at the same “temperature.” As they’re shaken by outside forces, they learn the hard way that empathy requires effort, and that their ability to talk is only as helpful as their ability to listen. But most of all, they come to understand that while the fullest relationship will always require the deepest digging, they each have to do their own.
And that’s a wrap, 2017! My thanks as always to javabeans and girlfriday for your tireless efforts in sailing the Dramabeans ship; to my fellow recappers and partners for always keeping things fun; and to everyone reading, I’m pretty sure I say this every year, but it’s still true: I love you guys, you make all the lost sleep worth it.