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Best Korean dramas on Netflix: K-drama shows that have taken India by storm

Netflix has some of the most amazing Korean shows, and not just those which I love - the ones with blood and gore from swords decapitating heads and gouging torsos and arrows piercing eyes - but also romance and comedy and family dramas.

March 20, 2021 / 07:42 AM IST
Lee Jong-suk, Song Joong-ki, Gong Yoo and Lee Sun-kyun​ are some of the biggest names in Korean entertainment

Lee Jong-suk, Song Joong-ki, Gong Yoo and Lee Sun-kyun​ are some of the biggest names in Korean entertainment

It started a while ago, with Gangnam style playing endlessly in clubs and at kiddie parties. Then came BTS that stormed the music scene, and they were such a sweet boy band, it was the easiest thing ever to join the BTS Army. I do not know when, but I became one of the 12 million viewers of J’Adore (a Korean YouTuber) making dalgona coffee. The Koreans make a candied version of dalgona coffee sold on the streets of Seoul which is practically brilliant. And before you say you thought only Kimchi was the biggest thing to come out of Korea, let me share my Joseon journey.

Netflix has some of the most amazing Korean shows, and not just those which I love - the ones with blood and gore from swords decapitating heads and gouging torsos and arrows piercing eyes - but also romance and comedy and family dramas.

I am not alone in becoming a serial binge-watcher of K-Dramas. Our tribe is so strong there are more people learning Korean than ever before, changing their Twitter bios to include Korean words expressing fandom, expressing appreciation.

Their storytelling is just better than what we had and have on Indian TV and showcased in India-based originals on Netflix and other OTT platforms. Here is a simple plotline: a gangster has hidden gold in the basement of a building. He comes back from life in another country to demolish the structure to access the gold, but cannot because of the motley tenets. Plus there are bad guys who want the building for shady purposes.

Wait a minute! Is not this plotline similar to Bobby Deol, Bipasha Basu, Shilpa Shetty starrer Chor Machaye Shor (2002), which was a ‘comedy’ remake of Blue Streak? Maybe so, but look at what the Koreans did to up the ante of the style and story. It is so good, even the most impatient among us is waiting for the next episode that uploads Saturday the 20th (when you are reading this!). Vincenzo is currently the hottest drama on Netflix.

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They make stories about a disruptive angel sent down to save 10,000 souls in order to get redemption for herself (Mystic Pop-up Bar), a man who cannot deal with people falls in love with a life-like robot (I Am Not A Robot), friends trying to start a bar fighting the big bad guys (Itaewon Class), families in a posh neighborhood pushing and forcing their children to study hard to get into university in a story of humongous upmanship (Sky Castle), traditional medicine man travels through time because he is connected to a doctor in present time (Live Up To Your Name), even the story of an ignored housewife who helps the police solve crime (Queen Of Mystery). A friend shared downloadable links, it is that much fun.

But, what Koreans do to their historical tales is 21 gun salute worthy. On top of the list is Kingdom which is one of the best mix of period drama and zombies. Yes, zombies! Queen turns the dead husband king into a people-eating monster trying to keep him alive until she gives birth to the heir. With the crown prince sent off like our own in Ramayana and a strange plague of zombies taking over the territories what will happen? Will a young medical assistant help create an antidote...There are more twists and turns in the plot until we know exactly what happened.

The production values of every show - whether the stories are psychological, family drama, romance, action, or historical - are so good, even the most exacting will approve. You will not laugh at the jewelry or the clothes the royalty wears, or scoff at the gilt-edged throne. Whenever we make historical shows (and they have been mostly on Indian television), the swords look like cardboard and wood, the jewels seem over the top and fake and extras in the army look hastily put together especially in the desultory fight scenes. In Kingdom, the zombie extras are so good, you will find yourself asking, ‘When is season three?’

Even when they’re telling us a romantic tale, their storylines are not random. Coffee Prince has a do-nothing rich guy struggle because he is attracted to a slip of a chap who is really a girl disguised as a boy. It is romance, you will not want to puke your dinner out. I have a long list of boy meets girl in different time zones, Pride & Prejudice retold, police detective married to a murdering vampire, and more. Each one binge-worthy.

But, what struck me was a totally poetic and yet sighting romantic Romance Is A Bonus Book. The setting is a book publishing house, the hero is in love with a much older woman who is attempting to keep her job as an office help by lying about being uneducated when she is a college graduate. Bollywood has made those awful older men ogling at younger women move into the neighborhood movies, but this empowering show where there is hope for women to get back into the workforce with romance added to it is amazing. The writing as always is practically flawless with an ensemble cast that plays its part well.

I save the best for the last! I have watched just about every police/crime drama coming out of Europe and South America. But when I watched Stranger, The Good Detective, Signal, Tunnel, K2, Forgotten, and the historical police drama called Hae Chi, I realised that police stories can be told in such an engaging manner that you cannot help but hope the good guys win. The courtroom scenes in these police dramas are so good, they make you believe.

Yes, they show corrupt judges, and bribery from rich men who want to save their delinquent sons, but the police work is brilliantly written, They make you wonder where the case will go next. And yes, the action is thigh-slapping good! And they do not hesitate in showing women snipers and fighters at all. You might say that they are all shows about David fighting the Goliath, but hey, why would not you want to find a serial killer even though you traveled in time and are trying to get back? Stranger made me search for a dashboard camera because it may come off use someday…

Do not get me wrong, I loved Scam 1992 and Patal Lok and Delhi Crime; enjoy watching unusual gems like Soni and laughed when I watched the Kandasamys: The Wedding from Africa. But, the Koreans make practically everything eminently watchable. And, yes, everything and everyone looks so good, you learn to say, "Aah! It’s Lee Jong-suk! It’s Song Joong-ki, Gong Yoo, Lee Sun-Kyun!"
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.
first published: Mar 20, 2021 07:42 am

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