by Yoon Na Rae, July 19, 2016

What about Drama Specials? Anything Worth the Time?

Trying to find a middle ground between TV series and films has been the call of many people for a long time. What do we do with the huge number of scenarios, actors and production teams? Some stories are not tense enough to become films and aren’t complicated – or let’s say detailed - enough to be dramas. What do we do? We produce an episode that’s shorter than a film and without its tension. The episode has the potential to be a drama but it will never be one. It’s like a pilot episode with no plans of developing.

Drama Special anthology started in 2010 but originated way before. Starting 1984, KBS2 had a one-episode drama programme called Drama Game. Drama Game gave way to Drama City which ran for 6 years and was replaced with Drama Special in 2010.

The thing about drama specials is that just as they leave you hungry for more, you get the feeling that it’s a healthy hunger. You know if you eat more, you’ll explode and lose the taste. So you just stop right there. Of all the drama specials I watched, I remember finishing each with a smile. And that’s the point.

There’s also the Drama Special Series where the drama special idea is developed in mini-series.

I can’t claim I’m the best when it comes to this field. And I admit it’s my 3rd priority. I’ve watched a number of drama specials, but not all. I cannot claim these are the best. But I can at least guarantee they are some good ones. If you have great drama specials that I haven’t watched or mentioned, please do share them.

1) The Secret Garden (2010)

Starring: Baek Jin Hee & Min Ji


Love might be the most relative concept in this world. Everybody has their own definition of love and acts upon it. The Secret Garden narrates the story of two friends entangled for life because of their different notions of love. How misunderstandings and miscommunication ruin entire lives. Sad but insightful. Beautiful acting by Baek Jin Hee – liked her for a change.

2) Summer Story (2010)

Starring: Son Yeo Eun & Yeo Wook Hwan


Have you ever experienced a life-changing incident? One that stopped time for you and froze you there? The drama special is about a young man whose life stops at one point and nothing can bring him back to life, except years later when he meets a lively young woman. It’s the story of people who comfort and complement one another, about people who really matter, about second chances at happiness; about rebirth.

3) Stay Still (2015)

Starring: Lee Moon Shik & Lee Joo Seung


Despair… Absurdity… Misery… Emptiness… Hopelessness… This drama special

Ordinary people can’t get out of their situation no matter what. In a world where the fittest survive, the weak have no place. They’re underestimated, unappreciated, trampled upon and even eliminated. Life doesn’t give chances. The weak gets no chances at starting anew; once a suspect, forever a suspect. It’s about the moment when you want to believe you can do something but you know deep down you can’t. You’re too weak to protect the ones you care about. You’re too weak to survive. You don’t matter, in this world of injustice and inhumanity, you don’t count.

A hard watch but a brilliant ride of complicated ideas and piercing emotions.

4) Middle School Student A (2014)

Starring: Lee Yul Eum & Kwak Dong Yun


Between the pressure of parents and society and the sensitive teenage years, many kids are lost. In a world that values grade more than human traits, building and preserving relationships might not be the easiest task. But it is not impossible. For those – like me - who are tempted to give up on humanity every other day, this drama special is made to remind us that there’s a weak beam of light at the end of the tunnel.

5) The Crying Woman / The Dirge Singer (2014)

Starring: Kim Yoo Jung & Seo Jung Yeong


People who cannot cry and people who cannot smile do not actually differ. They both have pain suffocating their ability to express their emotions. When a girl who’s supposed to cry for a living determines to laugh for life instead meets a boy who cannot smile, things are bound to change. A story revolved around life and death and their endless connotations. Everyone hides their share of suffering that nobody cares to explore. But when someone does, healing accompanies in various ways. A tear jerker with outstanding acting by the two leads.

6) Mother’s Island (2013)

Starring: Kim Yong Rim & Yoo Oh Sung


What’s better to portray the loneliness and disappointment of a neglected mother than a horror episode?! Whoever came up with the idea is brilliant. A mother sacrifices her whole life for the sake of her children but she’s neglected – and even used- by them when they grow up and get busy. We see the unconscious perspective of the mother, what she herself doesn’t know she’s feeling. Intriguing!

7) Boy Meets Girl (2010)

Starring: Seo Shin Ae & Yoon Hye Suk


Telling a child that their parents believe in them, telling them that they’re outstanding, egging them on and keeping them aware of what they should be and do might not always produce positive outcomes. The child might be motivated by the constant attention and encouragement, but they would lose in other aspects. They won’t be able to enjoy what other children their age do. They’ll feel lonely and troubled, get anxious and violent. This drama special, though, saves the child from the grip of ‘’genius’’ and parents’ expectations through meeting her up with the only person who might save her, a person who absolutely does nothing and has nothing but a kind heart. A warm tale of friendship that saves two people. Absolutely beautiful.

8) Little Girl Detective Park Hae Sol (2012)

Starring:  Nam Ji Hyun, Kim Joo Young, Lee Min Woo


A girl involved in a case and is determined to solve it. This drama special is a quirky detective story with air of mystery and fun. Strangely addictive.

9) SOS- Save Our School (2012)

Starring: Jung Woong In , Seo Shin Ae


When Thomas Hardy was called a pessimist, he denied it. He claimed he was a ‘’meliorist’’, one that believes that the world can be made better by human effort. If Thomas Hardy is no pessimist, this tale is not either. Bullying cannot and should not be adorned. Bullying is terrible. Being a child that bullies doesn’t change the fact that you’re committing a horrendous act that might ruin entire lives. Having a child that bullies comes with a huge responsibility. Unconditionally taking the side of a child isn’t the best way of protecting them. True, some kids bully under different circumstances. Some want attention. Some are too weak to refuse following other kids’ instructions. I can understand those cases. I cannot justify but I can understand, and it’s curable. But the kids who bully for the hell of it! I cannot understand or justify their actions, much less their parents’ reactions. The thing about this drama special is that it tells you, some kids are awful. Some kids do lack human traits. Some kids are potential monsters. Not everybody is forgiven magically at the end. This is not High School Love On where students almost murder one another every 10 minutes and at the end are saved and live happily ever after. It doesn’t work that way. It isn’t this easy. Forgiveness isn’t easy. Change isn’t easy. This special sends an SOS to all the adults out there. Bullying IS a serious issue. Please do something.

10) Adolescence Medley (2013)

Starring: Kwak Dong Yun, Lee Se Young, Kwak Jung Wook, Choi Tae Joon, Park Jung Min, Bae Noo Ri, Yoon Park


But there is hope. Even with all the terrible things happening in Korean schools, there’s hope. There’s space for love and friendship. There’s a chance of smiling. There’s much goodness in us if we look carefully. This drama special sends such messages. It isn’t all grey.

Overflowing cuteness by all characters. A drama that leaves one with a smile and a tingling heart.

11) Pitch-Black Darkness (2014)

Starring: Kwak Jung Wook , Danny Ahn


We all have that moment in life that we think it marked the turning point. If you could go back in time, where would you go? And we point that moment which we think changed our life for the worse. But if we allow ourselves to delve back in time, we’d realise that moment was only the climax, that our life was going that way before the decisive incident. And we stop there, at that moment. Whatever the emotions involved are, they drown us. Guilt is the worst of all. I was watching the other drama special The Unwelcome Guest when the main character said, ‘’Guilt is what makes the human a noble being.’’ It keeps them on track. Pitch-Black Darkness is a story of guilt. Can people live with their guilt and be happy? Or will it encumber them down for life, preventing them from leaving that point in the past?

12) Page Turner (2016)

Starring: Kim So Hyun, Ji Soo, Shin Jae Ha


We all need someone. Those who are self-sufficient with glowing self-image and an aura of independence and who claim that they need nobody, need people even more. Let’s be honest. I know because I’m like that. Our way of self-protection is to become stronger with days. We know our loneliness might just bury us into forgetfulness. We cannot allow that, can we? In this utterly mind-blowing 3-episode drama special, Kim So Hyun is such a girl. Scarred and traumatised with a history of domestic –mmm maniac pressure!-. She needs someone to take some of that burden off her shoulders or at least support her shoulder as she carries it. But she’s the last person on earth who’d admit that, to herself or to the world. Now she met someone like Ji Soo who was ready to keep up with her and her mental and emotional luggage. We know that’s not a simple matter. Are we easy to keep up with? Hell, we fight against our own selves daily. No way would it be easy. So in order to find someone who’s capable and willing to share our space with us is miraculous.

Heart throbbing music, wonderful acting and myriads of emotions. BEAUTIFUL drama special.

13) Land of Rain (2013)

Starring: Jung Eun Chae & Yoo Min Kyu


So we’re ill-fated! So we’re people who should have never met! So life is smirking at us right now! Good! Since we cannot escape this ridiculous fate, let’s embrace it. People who are connected through misery and entangled for life might as well accept it. At least our heroes here do. Someone should laugh in life’s face for a change.

14) White Christmas (2011)

Starring: Kim Sang Kyung, Baek Sung Hyun, Kim Young Kwang, Lee Soo Hyuk, Kwak Jung Wook, Hong Jong Hyun, Esom


Ain’t this the very mini series that swept girls off their feet? Sure it is.

In one word, exhausting. This mini series was murder. I literally had no energy left after finishing it. I couldn’t properly walk or talk. My eyes felt heavy and my head about to explode. Not like it was one of my first dramas where any drama leaves incurable after effects. It was my 222nd drama. But it left me paralysed. All those questions I escaped from were presented there. 8 episodes like 8 light years. How could a mini series tackle all those existential questions? It didn’t leave me time to breathe. Question and after question attacking me like bullets. Questions I thought about a trillion time. Questions I ignored and refused to think of. Questions I knew I shouldn’t even try to find answers for. Is the monster born or made? That was not the hardest question the drama presented. It was the search for the monster inside that spent me out. We all know there’s a monster inside everyone of us. Some pretend it doesn’t exist. Some reject it, push it to their subconscious and forget all about it. Some relent to it, and some live with it, always being conscious of its presence and always refusing to let it take over. Who do you think has it the hardest? The last group of course, which our series is about. When you’re aware you belong to the last group, when you fight every second against your inner monster by keeping it as close as possible, only then will you understand and feel White Christmas. But there might be one group that would have it harder. Calling it a group is more of wishful thinking though. There might appear few individuals who through works like White Christmas identify their inner monster. For those people, the war has just begun. Crossing my fingers.

I can claim this is the best drama special KBS came with. I applaud them from the bottom of my heart. I applaud the breathtaking acting of stars as young and inexperienced as our actors were. I applaud the courage, the spirit and the strength. A hard ride indeed. Very difficult. One needs rehabilitation after finishing it.

* Of the other specials I watched and were not bad: Our Slightly Risqué Relationship (only for Lee Sun Kyung), Cupid Factory (cute, and Kim Woo Bin), A Faded Memory (ok), Bride in Sneakers (good or meh depending on the mood, sweet for me), The Unwelcome Guest (interesting story, poor presentation. Could have been much better), Noriko Goes to Seoul (warm and cute, nothing more).

What are your favourite drama specials?