Lately there has been a new trend in Korean dramas to feature K-pop musical stars as newbie actors and actresses in various television dramas; for instance cutie-pie D.O. of the popular boy idol group EXO appeared in It's Okay, That's Love (2014) and did a fabulous job as a fledgling actor, quite breathtaking, really: I was mightily impressed by his performance. So I thought I'd check out a series of short dramas featuring the girls' idol group Kara, which has five talented singing and dancing members, but who are relative newbies as actresses.
Kara: Secret Love (2014) is like watching five individual and independent short stories, with characters unrelated to one another; there are only two episodes each, so ten episodes in all for the whole series, each story featuring one of the 5 Kara girl members. Each girl star is lucky enough to act opposite experienced male drama stars, all of whom I've seen in longer dramas than this one. If you like stories about young people, and if you like inspirational love stories in general, then by all means give Kara: Secret Love a try. They're pleasant to watch after a long day at work when you want to unwind with something whimsical and soothing.
My own personal favorite story was called Lilacs (episodes 5 and 6, above) because it was so beautiful, sweet, and dreamlike, with a poignant ending that made me cry. It also gave me a chance to see actor Bae Soo Bin in a chivalrous, gentlemanly role again, like he appeared in Shining Inheritance (2009), as opposed to so many more recent dramas where he has played heels and villains, (i.e. The Greatest Marriage, and 49 days). I was able to fall in love with him all over again. For this alone I am super glad I watched this show. Maybe because Bae Soo Bin was working with someone so much younger than himself he actually looked younger in this drama too. Very enjoyable. The girls acted very sincerely for the most part, and I am sure being with the more experienced male thespians helped them reach emotional ranges they wouldn't have achieved normally on their own.
Another plus for this show: for some reason the cinematography was literally some of the most gorgeous I have EVER seen from Korea and its amazingly romantic locations! Many times I was gasping and saying, "Awesome!" at many of the beautiful backdrops, and in one of the stories we go hang-gliding with two of the characters and see magnificent scenery filmed on Jeju Island, one of the most stunning places to visit in the world. If you have a ROKU set up at home please watch this show on your big screen TV set, to see the perfect cinematography at its best quality. (3 Inch Cell Phone screens don't cut it with this one, folks!). The series also features a lovely musical intro with beautiful images, and sometimes in the series nice songs of the Kara girls singing together were featured as well.
STORY ONE: MISSING YOU (Episodes 1 and 2)
In Missing You Ji Hye (Han Seung Yeon) is a popular model who is in love with her professional photographer boyfriend named Hyun Woong (Yeon Woo Jin from When A Man Loves and Arang And The Magistrate). Ji Hye rashly decides to break up with him because she is convinced he doesn't really love her since he's never said "I love you" to her in words, but then he proves how wrong she was by preventing her from being hit by a truck on the highway; he pushes her out of the way of the vehicle and takes the hit himself. He is killed instead of her. She is devastated and filled with guilt, realizing that she was the one who had had trouble loving him fully, and not the other way around.
A grim reaper, played by spooky-faced actor Lee Soo Hyuk from Shark, says to her that she will be given a chance to go back in time to save Hyun Woong's life if she can prevent the schoolgirl version of herself from ever meeting Hyun Woong in the first place. There are so many precious memories to her that will have to be lost if she agrees. Then Ji Hye sacrificially decides to attempt to save Hyun Woong from his destined death. Back in time, she prevents the first meeting with him as a schoolgirl, but then as her older self she confronts him and pretends to need a professional headshot for her work, just so that she can be near him. She tries to tell him the truth of who she is, and what he must do to avoid his future death, but of course he thinks she's a crazy person -- at first!
Ji Hye is able to spend some time with him to create new memories but time is of the essence. Will Ji Hye be able to save his life? I liked this short story overall, but I wouldn't have placed this one as the first story in the series since it seemed to me to be the most depressing of the five stories, but with the silliest and most abrupt ending considering the seriousness of the storyline. That actress pouted and whined too much for my liking, too.
STORY TWO: THE THIRTEENTH BUCKET LIST (Episodes 3 and 4)
The Thirteenth Bucket List I enjoyed a lot more because I felt the actress was better: a young motherless woman who works in a retail store, named Hyun Jung (Goo Hara), lives with her neglectful father and younger brother, and has been secretly in love with her childhood crush for ten years, though he never seems to have eyes for her. She is dejected and feeling down and then she shockingly discovers that she has pancreatic cancer and has about three months to live. What other tragic events can possibly happen to this precious girl?
She has to decide what she wants to do with the remainder of her time on earth. She takes a trip to Jeju Island and there meets a young soldier named Yoon Joon Moon (Kim Young Kwang from The Good Doctor) on leave who seems to have ideas of committing suicide because the girl he loved was getting married to another man. She tries to stop him from drowning and tries to tell him how important life is, but he belittles all her efforts -- until he later happens upon her laptop and realizes from the info on it that she is dying. He reads a "bucket list" of what is important to her to achieve before she passes on and helps her achieve it, including a hang-gliding session over Jeju's beautiful mountains and seaside. The couple quickly become fond of one another but then suddenly Hyun Jung hears there was a patient record mix-up and she is not the person dying after all. She rushes home without any time to meet her new soldier love. He stands alone waiting for her for hours, but she never shows up. Will they ever be able to re-unite and commit to one another? Will her childhood crush come back into her life and try to win her love?
This story was sad in the beginning but never really felt tragic. It just didn't seem that probable that a girl so young would develop pancreatic cancer, which is more commonly seen in middle aged people. However, through her ordeals and her meeting with the soldier, the girl quickly matures, becoming a glowing and happy person. I responded to that reformation, like I always do when characters make an effort to improve their lives in the Korean dramas.
STORY THREE: LILACS (Episodes 5 and 6)
Oh, this is my absolute favorite, it's so romantic, I've watched it three times already! Partly because I loved this actress the best and felt she had the nicest chemistry with her male co-star. In this story Lilacs, So Yeol (Kang Ji Young) is a teenager who is finishing up her last year in high school while at the same time performing with a local girls' singing group. She has a bright and cheerful personality and tells her girlfriends she is patient to wait for True Love in her life. One day, So Yeol and her friends are singing and dancing on the stage at her school event and she spies a butterfly fluttering around the stage; she is transfixed by it and then faints to the floor, which stops the performance. Rushed to the hospital, she becomes comatose for several weeks, and then she awakens to see a strange man named Hyun Joon (Bae Soo Bin) with a kind face looking down at her. "Are you all right?" and she asks, "Ahjussi, who are you?" It turns out he is the boyfriend of the lady patient next to her in the hospital room who is in a comatose state after a car accident they had both been in together.
Relatives come and go in the room but slowly So Yeol and Hyun Joon develop a nice friendship as they are thrown together a lot in the hospital and discuss their lives and interests together. With his girlfriend unconscious, Hyun Joon seems to have a lot of spare time on his hands and likes to take strolls around the hospital gardens and especially to try and feed the shy kitty cat who frequents the hospital grounds. Once So Yeol is strong enough she starts to accompany him on his walks and they have a lot of fun and laughs together.
Reality hits So Yeol at one point when she walks into her hospital room and finds Hyun Joon kissing his comatose girlfriend in the next bed. She can't help but feel sparks of jealousy because she had started to consider him her knight in shining armor who has helped in her recovery, and for a young girl it's easy to forget that his first concern would always be the woman he loves.
He confesses to So Yeol that during the car accident he had lost the engagement ring he had planned on giving his girlfriend, and So Yeol deliberately sneaks out of the hospital to go to the area of the crash to look for the ring. Will she find it? What will he do when he realizes her feelings are far more serious than just friendship? Will his betrothed ever wake up from her coma? Will she recognize him or feel the same way about him if she does? What about So Yeol's own health situation, which is just as precarious and requires surgery? Will she be able to recover if she doesn't have the man she now loves by her side?
There is a BIG twist in this story that really surprised me (though I felt I should have seen it coming!), so I just had to put this story at the top of my list for this series. When a show isn't predictable, and keeps me guessing, that's when I REALLY like and admire it. K-dramas have a lot of cliches in them, but I didn't see too many in this story and I loved it for that reason. If there is any story out of the five you care to try, this is the one that's not to be missed. From discussions about lilacs and rainbow flowers, to love and truth and commitment, this story runs the gamut from lighthearted to serious to incredibly poignant and unforgettable.
STORY FOUR: A SEVEN DAY SUMMER (Episodes 7 and 8)
In A Seven Day Summer, an American-Korean visitor to Korea named Mary (Nicole) arrives to collect an inheritance from a biological father (played by Gyu Chul Kim from Shark and That Winter, The Wind Blows) whom she believes she has never met. The inheritance is in the hands of a Catholic church priest for safekeeping. However, before Mary can receive it, she runs into a young man running from bill collectors named Tae Yang (Lee Kwang Soo from It's Okay, That's Love) and it turns out they had met before, on Mary's one other visit to Korea when she was seven years old: they had both been entertained together for a week by a mysterious magician and neither could ever forget him.
Mary hires Tae Yang to help her find this magician .... not knowing that he had been her own father, who had wanted to spend one week incognito with his little daughter before he died from a terminal illness. Her discovery about the circumstances surrounding her birth and her life ends up meaning more than any financial inheritance to Mary. Mary meets the ghost of her father and each time she sees him her friend Tae Yang never sees him, so this ends up being a blessing to her when she finally realizes how much God loves her, to allow her this incredible chance to make her peace with her father, whom she had felt abandoned by, and to finally move on with her life. Will she go back to America, or will she stay in Korea?
There was little to no romance in this story, which I found refreshing. The real emphasis was on Mary and her relationship with her father. Since I have seen this actor Gyu Chul Kim play some rather nasty characters before, it was wonderful to see him play a loving father for a change. These character actors add SO MUCH to these stories because they always know exactly how to flesh these characters out and make them realistic and believable ... even when they are playing ghosts! My favorite scene is when Mary meets the ghost of her father in church for one last time .... and he envisions her running to him as that seven year old little girl he had welcomed into his heart all those years before. He hands her a rose and then the little girl transforms into the older Mary, who has been able to say her goodbyes to him one last time.
STORY FIVE: HAVE YOU EVER HAD COFFEE WITH AN ANGEL? (Episodes 9 and 10)
Have You Ever Had Coffee with an Angel? is probably the most simplistic and predictable of all of these little stories, but its biggest charm is that the now wildly popular male lead in the story is the star of the recent mega-hit Healer (2015), actor Ji Chang Wook, as "Guardian Angel 2013", who looks after his female human charge with a wry sense of humor and devotion, to the point that his own angelic feelings get involved with her, reaching a crisis point.
Guardian Angel 2013 watches over a girl named Sun Woo (Park Gyu Ri) who is totally bonkers for this college classmate of hers and eventual co-worker, who is embarrassed by her constant attentions to him for years, and especially when she gets hired at his workplace after college. He tries to avoid her at first, but she's always underfoot. Then of course we have a series of events that makes this guy pay some attention to her at last .... but then Sun Woo has been falling in love instead with Guardian Angel 2013!! As Gomer Pyle used to say, "Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!" (Not).
Who will be the winner for the heartstrings of the effervescent Sun Woo? (You probably don't even have to watch it to figure it out). This story was enjoyable, of course, but rather forgettable in the long run.
To sum up: my order of favorites in this series is: 1) Lilac, 2) The Thirteenth Bucket List, 3) A Seven Day Summer, 4) Have You Ever Had Coffee With An Angel?, and 5) Missing You. I think most people would enjoy this series, so give it a try, especially to see some of your favorite male Korean drama stars, or if you love the girls' group Kara.