What I’m Watching: Korean TV

Through the 2020 Pandemic, I, like many other folks, found myself with a lot of free time available to observe the available streaming services.  I have always been a sucker for films with subtitles.  They take place in exotic foreign locations, not often seen on American TV screens.  I fell down the rabbit hole of several amazing South Korean TV shows, featured on Netflix.  The more I watched, the more I found.  Today in What I’m Watching I will cover several of these great shows and encourage you to check them out.

Most South Korean TV dramas have a 16-episode season.  It makes them easy to binge watch in a few days’ time.  I always prefer to watch in the original Korean and read the English captioning.  In this way you can really follow the vocal and emotional ups and downs of every scene. 

The King: Eternal Monarch

The first one I found was “The King: Eternal Monarch”.  After the King of an alternate Earth’s Imperial Corea is brutally murdered in 1994, the murderer escapes through a mystical portal to our Earth’s Republic of Korea.  The King’s young son becomes King and grows to become a wise ruler, always searching for the mysterious stranger who saved him on that fateful night.  In the present, he eventually finds his way to our Earth and gets involved with a female detective.  Together they work to find the remaining conspirators from his Earth, hiding out on ours, to bring them to justice.  This has one of the coolest opens I have ever seen.  The drama is compelling, and the scenery beautifully shot.  Check this one out!

Designated Survivor: 60 Days

Next, I found “Designated Survivor: 60 Days”.  Based on the American version starring Kiefer Sutherland, the South Korean version centers on a terrorist attack on the National Assembly and its aftermath.  It was educational, in that I learned about some of the similarities and differences in our governments.  It was a lot of fun to watch, as I often found myself going back and forth between the American and South Korean versions to watch and compare them.

Hyori’s Bed and Breakfast

“Hyori’s Bed and Breakfast” (also known as Hyori’s Homestay”) is a fun reality series about K-Pop star and model Hyori Lee, and her music producer husband, who turn their Jeju Island home into a bed and breakfast for random guests, chosen by the producers to arrive at random times, often overlapping with other guests.  With the help of a surprise celebrity guest, working as their assistant each season, they treat their guests to Jeju island hospitality and show them the sights.  Unlike American reality shows, where there is a competitive edge, this is simply a high-definition mix of pure travelogue and Korean culture.  There are two seasons of this well-built show, with 30 episodes in all.

Itaewon Class

“Itaewon Class” is about a young man, who stands up to a class bully and meets nothing but trouble and tragedy for his efforts.  He then grows to seek vengeance and justice, all while building up his dream of a successful Seoul restaurant.  One of the stars of this series led me further down this South Korean TV rabbit hole to four other excellent series in which he co-stars, which I will discuss in the next part of this article.

As I have stated before, I just love subtitled programming.  I have found a great appreciation for South Korean TV dramas, which are assembled in a very American fashion.

Yoo Jae-Myung

Yoo Jae-Myung co-stars in four of my favorite South Korean dramas, currently featured on Netflix.

The first is “Itaewon Class” does an incredible job as he plays the father of the bully mentioned in our previous article. 

In “Stranger” he plays a chief prosecutor who is often at odds with the main character, Hwang Shi-Mok, a mid-level prosecutor, who completely lacks any sense of empathy, due to a radical childhood surgery to correct extreme hypersensitivity.  In season one Hwang Shi-Mok works to help a female detective solve a murder.  In season two they team up to investigate a drowning that may have been a murder, and work to find a kidnapped colleague.

In “Vincenzo”, an Italian/Korean Mafia Consiglieri leaves behind his past and his Italian family, to return to South Korea, and to acquire the millions in stolen Chinese gold, hidden in a vault under the Buddhist Temple in an occupied shopping plaza, soon to be scheduled for demolition.  He must get involved with his tenants, including Yoo Jae-Myung, now playing a lawyer, to convince them to clear out as soon as possible, so he can get at the gold!  This 20-episode comedy/drama series drops new episodes on Saturdays and Sundays, after the episodes have premiered in South Korea.

In “Life” Yoo Jae-Myung plays a surgeon at a University Hospital.  This program focusses on the melodramas of the doctors, and patients of this hospital as a new administrator, actor Cho Sueng-Woo (Hwang Shi-Mok in “Stranger”) comes aboard and makes drastic changes in hospital operations, in favor of making it more profitable, wreaking havoc on the hospital staff.

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