Rating Korean TV Shows

boys over flowers episode 1 gu jun pyo lee min ho that fur collar
Just because I don’t always award you 10/10 doesn’t mean I don’t like you, Lee Min-Ho. But we need to be objective and admit that sometimes in “Heirs” you were phoning it in.

When I decided to post reviews of Korean TV shows, I considered omitting a numerical rating. I love reading reviews, but I’m not usually interested in an exact rating. It’s more interesting to find out why the reviewer felt that way. A number doesn’t tell me much.

But some people like to see numbers. And publishing numbers in specific categories (story, production values and music) makes it possible to give credit where credit is due. I like being able to give an otherwise mediocre show a high mark for music.

And the numbers give readers a chance to disagree violently with me. I hope you’ll share your own opinion in the comments! Even best friends can disagree about K-dramas. And when you do, tell us a little identifying info, like your age and/or part of the country.

My point-of-view is influenced a lot by who I am: born in the suburbs in 1974. This means I was raised on romance classics (Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters) and black-and-white movies with Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant. I can quote “The Princess Bride” beginning to end. That scene in Merchant Ivory’s “A Room with a View” where Julian Sands kisses Helena Bonham-Carter in that field full of flowers is printed on my soul forever. And I will always have a soft spot for Lloyd Dobler holding that boom box over his head.

So I’m a typical GenX romantic. I believe in true love. I also believe it’s really hard to find. And after spending many years in graduate school, I’m pretty sure it’s a lot easier to talk about love than it is to find it. Hence my enjoyment of K-dramas! Because what is a K-drama but a bunch of good-looking people talking about love?

About the ratings: I use a 10 point system, because there are some important shades of difference that get lost in a 5-star scale. Let’s face it, I wouldn’t finish watching the thing if it was really bad. But there is a difference between “good” and “very good.” Or at least I think more deeply about a show when I’m trying to decide whether it’s a 7 or an 8.

Because K-drama fans are an enthusiastic group, most subtitled series on the web have high scores. You’ll notice that the scores I assign are lower on average than the crowd-sourced scores. I get a ton of enjoyment out of all the shows I review here, but as a former high school English teacher, I believe in leaving room for improvement. I’ll try to give an honest assessment here.

Even though it’s tempting to pretend that all subtitled K-dramas are similar, the fact is that there’s a wide range. Quality varies, creativity varies, acting varies. I don’t want American viewers to watch one K-drama and then think they’ve seen them all. Especially if you didn’t like the one you watched! Maybe you just didn’t watch the right one.

its-okay-thats-love-episode-16-gong-hyo-jin-jo-in-sung-kiss
I resisted giving “kisses” a ratings category of their own. Not because they aren’t important but because You Tube has the topic covered.

Here’s how I think about the scores:

10 — Masterpiece. I would buy the DVDs, if they weren’t a nearly obsolete technology.
9 — Excellent. I have probably watched this series three times all the way through.
8 — Very good. I loved it and I still go back and watch the good bits over and over.
7 — Good. I probably stayed up late once or twice to find out what happened next. But I haven’t re-watched it.
6 — Decent. I enjoyed this series okay, but I can’t remember much about it.
5 — So-so. Now we’re getting into the series that were hard to finish.
4 — Not really good. I only made it half-way through the 16 episodes.
3 — Weak. I only made it two episodes.
2 — Bad. I couldn’t even get through two episodes.
1 — Awful.
0 — Worst ever.

To be honest, I won’t bother to write a review if it’s bad. Maybe someday I’ll publish a list of shows I couldn’t watch for more than 20 minutes. But it’s more fun to write about the many good shows out there. Thank you South Korean producers, directors, writers and actors for all your hard work!

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Love and thanks to everyone in Seoul who is working hard to tell these great stories!