Korea’s Worst of the Worst

Netflix recently added the Korean drama, About Time. This drama about a woman who can see a person’s life clock is widely considered one of the worst Korean dramas ever made. So with all this talk about the Best of the Best I decided to take a minute to reflect on their dark mirror: the Worst of the Worst.

What is a ‘bad’ drama?

Before we get into the truly truly bad dramas, we first have to ask ourselves what a ‘bad’ drama is. There is a school of thought that a bad drama is one that starts off well and sucks you in before betraying you with a terrible ending. Some contenders for this might be the gloriously labyrinthine and ultimately pointless Black or anything written by the Hong Sisters.

For the purposes of this post, I’ve concentrated on dramas that are bad from scene one. Dramas with almost no redeeming features. Dramas that are unlikely to make you throw something at your television because you knew better than to become invested in them. In fact, if you’re like me, you may even take an almost masochistic pleasure in subjecting yourselves to them.

And don’t think this is a conclusive list – there are and will be many more dramas so bad they go down in kdrama history for their terribleness.

Avoid or enjoy these terrible dramas. It’s up to you.

The leads of About Time

About Time (2018)

There’s a scene in the wonderful Korean drama My Ajusshi where a former Director talks about filming a bad movie. There’s a point, he says, at which you realise the script is just bad and there’s nothing you can do about it. All that’s left is to persist till the bitter end.

The best thing about watching About Time is everyone’s dawning realisation that the drama they’re stuck in is just flat out bad and there’s nothing they can do about it. At one point you expect the actors to hold up signs saying HELP ME as they’re held hostage through to episode 16.

Regardless of any other problems, About Time is boring. Even the actors look bored as they sleepwalk their way through 16 hours of predictable plotting, pedestrian characters and cliched “twists” we see coming from miles away.

What is it about?

The very popular model-turned-actor Lee Sung-kyung plays aspiring musical theatre actor Choi Michaela who can see life clocks – including her own. When she realises that her imminent death can be delayed by contact with Director Lee Do-ha (Lee Sang-yoon) she tries to extend her life by staying near him.

From its first episode, About Time struggled with its tone, pace and plotting. Clearly sponsored by a Chinese resort, the show turned its musical theatre lead into an expert international scuba driver and then a trained driver in the same episode it told us her dream was to be a stage actor before she died. Moving through the romcom trifecta of tsundere lead, stalking and cohabitation, the show then treated us to a unique Double Truck of Doom (ToD) before finally, blissfully, putting everyone out of their misery.

R.I.P About Time

Cha Min eyes a glowing ball called Abyss while Se-yeon looks on.

Abyss (2019)

The annoying thing is, like About Time, Abyss could have been fantastic. It has a great premise, a decent cast. It could have been an hilarious – almost farcical – comedy of mistaken identities, body swapping, and annoyed aliens. Instead what we got was a turgid, unfunny mess underpinned by a philosophy that was at times confused and at others actively offensive.

What is it about?

Wealthy idiot, Cha Min has long been in love with beautiful cop, Go Se-yeon but his feelings were never reciprocated. Both these characters die and are brought back to life by a glowing alien marble called Abyss. The unattractive Cha Min is suddenly gorgeous, while the stunning, willowy, Go Se-yeon is… Park Bo-young. Which is to say, she’s a super adorable tiny person so the idea she’s now “plain” is just ridiculous. Nonetheless, that’s what the script tells us. She’s now “plain”.

As the two try to navigate the world with their new faces, they fall in love and deal with a serial killer who’s using Abyss to change his face.

Abyss is a woefully written drama that’s structured like a bad video game. With the show’s mythology changing weekly and Abyss throwing up new rules once specific ‘tasks’ are concluded, you’re never entirely sure what’s happening – and not in a good way. The show’s plot is madcap and nonsensical with things happening randomly without any thought or meaning.

Both the lead roles were poorly developed, with Ahn Hyo-seop’s Cha Min changing from scene to scene depending on what the writer needed him to do – at times an uber genius, at others the dumbest male lead to ever appear on screen. And while he’s a pleasant enough actor with a lot of potential, he was far too green to be given a lead. Park Bo-young is the veteran of the two but her character was so paper thin she was given almost nothing to work with. She pulled out her career big guns and opted for cute. It was an interpretation that did not work.

Watching the two fall in love finally, you’re plagued with the uncomfortable feeling that the romance is predicated on him being good looking and her being knocked down a peg. It’s an uncomfortable feeling that grows as the drama builds an image-obsessed philosophy that equates someone’s looks with the quality of their ‘soul’.

Characters were made happy through plastic surgery, found love through beauty and had better wedding days due to dieting. Apart from the dumb, messy plot, the poor characterisation and the wall-to-wall stupidity of the characters, it’s ultimately this utterly shallow and almost vacuous underpinning philosophy that makes Abyss truly awful.

Appearance is everything. Nothing else matters.

And that’s why Abyss is one of the worst of the worst.

A close up shot of vampire claws in surgical gloves covered in blood

Blood (2015)

Tortured vampire doctors, medical experiments, fangs, robots. Blood is so bad that it’s frequently so-bad-it’s-good.

What is it about?

Park Ji-sang (Ahn Jae-hyun) was born a vampire to vampire parents. Nonetheless the condition is not genetic but instead viral. He is infected with the vampire virus VBT-01, as were his parents. As a child, he uses his abilities to help a young girl and then dedicates his life to developing a cure with the help of his best friend and confidante Joo Hyun-woo (a Jung Hae-in who is no doubt scrubbing this show from his resume as we speak).

Park Ji-sang is lured to Taemin Cancer Hospital by the clearly-evil Hospital Director, Lee Jae-wook (Ji Jin-hee) who is running experiments using the vampire virus. Director Lee spends a lot of his time drinking red wine and listening to classical music. This is how we know that he is evil.

Of course the girl Ji-sang saved as a child is now a doctor at the very same hospital (Yoo Ri-ta played by Ku Hye-sun) and becomes the resident love interest. Since this is the drama where Ahn Jae-hyun and Ku Hye-sun fell in love on set, there’s a certain voyeuristic factor to watching it. It’s strange to think this is both the pinnacle and nadir of their careers.

Blood is the kind of drama where everything is so bad – the script, the directing, the acting, the cheap production values – that you’re not entirely sure what to focus on when explaining just how bad it is.

But if you wanted to try, you can look at the show’s promotional material where it looked like Ahn Jae-hyun was in an erotic thriller with himself.

A promotional poster with the case of Blood. A black clad Ahn Jae-hyun has his arms wrapped around an Ahn Jae-hyun wearing a white surgical gown. He's breaking the fourth wall with a smouldering look on his face

I could give the show some credit and say that it was trying to make an old-school schlock vampire story on the par with classic American films; with their shoddy sets, bad acting and tsundere male lead lost to his vampire pain. But I feel like I’m giving it far too much credit.

Although of all the truly bad dramas on this list, this is the one I enjoyed the most – admittedly while working my way through a bottle of gin.

So bad it’s good. But not to be attempted sober.

Haebaek in robes with an extraordinary black wig tinged with green-grey highlights reclining on a chair of what looks like bones

Bride of Habaek/ Bride of the Water God (2017)

There can be no greater sin for a drama than boredom and so Bride of Habaek is legendarily one of the worst of the worst. A drama that had to use pointless filler to pad out its very first episode, it dragged on nonetheless for two endless months while the OST desperately tried to make us believe it was epic, romantic and funny (the OST is one of the bright spots of the drama and is well worth a listen).

The actors in About Time may have realised their script was a dog as the show went on. The actors in Habaek seem to have worked it out before filming even began and face even their initial scenes with a kind of grim determination.

What is it about?

When the god of the Land of Water, Lord Ha-baek (Nam Joo-hyuk)is ready to claim the throne of the Divine Realm, he is told he must retrieve some sacred stones from Earth. Lost on Earth without his powers and opposed by Gods who don’t want to give up the stones, he seeks the help of a human woman Yoon Soo-ah (Shin Se-Kyung) whose family are pledged to serve him. As they develop feelings for each other, stuff happens around them about other Gods and destiny and stuff but none of it ever really seems to matter and it’s hard to know where the stakes are here and why the characters seem to think they’re high.

Based on a popular Manwha, Bride of Habaek was a slipshod adaptation that failed to capture any of the romance, tragedy, or even the Godliness of our Gods and the human servants caught up in their machinations. Nam Joo-hyuk’s acting has thankfully improved a great deal in the last few years. In Habaek he doesn’t act so much as look blank or constipated, a fact that the liberal use of his impressive abs was supposed to distract us from.

Ironically, as the show went on it developed an excellent sub plot in the form of demi-god, Shin Hoo-ye (Im Joo-hwan) who has lived on Earth in a desperate fascimile of a human being but is now discovered by his rival, Habaek. It’s a beautifully-acted unfolding tragedy that is then ignored completely in lieu of an insipid and boring romance between an impotent God-child and the planet’s worst psychiatrist.

However, Habaek makes this list not just because of its general, overall level of badness but because it has several moments of almost iconic badness. One that actually involved a boar. Yes, you read that right. A boar.

The two leads of Melting Me Softly in suspension pods

Melting Me Softly (2019)

It seems appropriate to finish this post with a drama widely considered the worst ever made.

As Ji Chang-wook’s comeback drama after his military service, there was a great deal of anticipation around it in the lead-up to its premiere. There were also some mutterings from people who remembered the very worst parts of the writer’s previous drama, Strong Woman Do Bong-soon.

With Melting Me Softly, she outdid herself. The show is not just crass, offensive and nonsensical, it’s accompanied by a host of other problems. This is one of the few dramas where nobody involved did anything right – not the writer, director, producer, actors or anyone responsible for anything. Even the music is wrong.

What is it about

Ma Dong-chan (Ji Chang-wook) is a smoking hot GENIUS film maker who wins awards and grasps complex scientific theories in mere days. He agrees to get frozen for 24 hours but ends up being frozen for 20 years instead. There is a female version of him but she is mostly just pink. No, really, this excruciating Candy gets literally dressed as candy. I feel quite bad for Won Jin-ah who has a thankless role as Go Mi-ran – forced to be nothing more than a bright, happy, naive love interest for a man who’s kind of a jerk.

Both Dong-chan and Mi-ran find themselves 20 years in the future and forced to keep a hypothermic body temperature to survive. While Dong-chan’s fiance is now 20 years older, Mi-ran’s narcisstic Freud-quoting ex is now a lecturer at her university. There’s a lot of potential conflict to work with here but the show ignores almost all of it; steaming full speed for a somewhat-icky romance between a man who doesn’t like his fiancé now she’s old and the comparatively-uncomplicated Candy he starts making googly eyes at ten seconds after his break up.

The humour of the show is similar to the worst of Strong Woman Do Bong Soon and the show insists on undercutting any moment that could be powerful and emotional with bland, tasteless slapstick. Between the shrieking and the flailing and the forced romance, the show fails to make you care about either of these people. Compared to a show with a similar premise – the charming Thirty But Seventeen – it’s shallow and trite with the 20 year time jump treated like a mild inconvenience and the hypothermia a mere romance roadblock.

Crass, offensive, unfunny and poorly produced, Melting Me Softly would definitely be a contender for worst drama ever.


14 thoughts on “Korea’s Worst of the Worst

    1. I haven’t seen seen Was It Love and To All the Guys Who Loved Me but Meow the Secret Boy is indeed awful. Kind of like a horror movie with weirdly upbeat music.

    2. Was It Love is definitely one of the worst dramas I’ve ever seen. It would be on my list. I wrote a thing about on my own blog as a way to try and understand what went wrong. In summary, the heroine is the worst person alive – she’s supposedly a great PD (but we don’t get any proof of that – it seems that the only reason her film gets made at all is because some famous people love her and do favours for her) and a great Mum, but in any moment she is the most selfish and stupid person in the room. Her love interests aren’t much better. The Teacher is pushy, The Actor does some questionable things, and The First Love sorts himself out but is insufferable at times. I like The Gangster, but the fact that there was a gangster plot in this show just to cause some episode 14 conflict cancels that out. A waste of Son Ho-jun, a waste of the excellent child actors, and just generally a mistake of a drama. May be worth trying to see Song Ji-hyo scream a lot, because comedy.

  1. There are very few who don’t agree on Melting Me Softly and Blood was just terrible, ridiculous but terrible. I was okay with Habaek though I suspect it had to do with me watching with my sister.

  2. Why do I feel like this is what your history of hate watching has been leading to? 😂

    Reading about Blood was especially fun because I wasn’t aware that vampirism in the drama is caused by a VIRUS. Sounds stupid and delicious, I love it.

    (Also, I’m aware that Risky Romance is a GREAT DRAMA, but also… where is it?)

    1. I couldn’t include Risky Romance on the list because it is clearly one of the best dramas ever made 😂😂😂

  3. I find it uhm disturbing? Interesting? Mind boggling? Ah, masochistic! (Must be a better word!) That you actually finished all of these dramas. The closest I came to finishing one was The Bride… as for Melty, I read your comments and never pressed play.

    I do appreciate your essays!

    1. I have a confession in that I could not, in fact, finish Melty. Even I, the Queen of Trash, could not finish that show. Sometimes I think masochism is the right word…

  4. I still don’t get why people don’t like Abyss.

    To me it was pretty great. Yes the foundation can seem a bit iffy at times. Yes it can somewhat give the vibe of “you good lookin, you get the girl”

    But apart from that. I unironically think it’s a pretty entertaining show.

    There is tension but always in short burst. Just enough to stay fast paced and not feel dragged out.
    Park no young is cute (sometimes annoying, but mostly cute)

    The Abyss ball has its own system which is pretty consistent throughout.

    Yes there’s not much character development but I feel the way to enjoy this ones is to go in for a jank sci fi.

    I honestly don’t get why no one likes it. I mean it’s not even my preferred genre. But I still genuinely enjoyed it. No cap.

  5. So, I’m commenting very late but anyway, I love the leads of Melting and did watched that crapped to the end!🤦🏽‍♀️
    It does takes the lead but for me, ‘Lovely horribly’ was just downright horrible. The fact that I finished this drama will always be something I myself, would never understand.
    I dropped ‘About Time’ in Ep 15 and I still don’t know if I should classify it as dropped or completed with very bad ratings.
    Bride of the water God was okay for me (I honestly can’t remember if it was bad or okay but whatever).
    Never watched ‘Was it love & Abyss’. I watched blood when my drama standard was still very low so might be why I managed to finish it without a hitch.
    1. Lovely horribly: 16 hours of my life wasted🤦🏽‍♀️
    2. Evergreen/That man oh soo was the worst of the worst that I dropped in Ep 13 or 14. Usually it doesn’t exist for most people and I’m quite glad about that.
    3. About Time
    4:Melting me softly

    I’m pretty sure there are more but these are the ones that came to my mind as I’m writing this comment. That went in for so long and I’m sorry about that😄.

    1. Sorry for the typos in advance. Seeing them now but I’m just going to act like I didn’t. Thank you😂

    2. Hmm I never watched Lovely Horribly because I have a lifetime ban on its male lead but I did hear it was pretty bad. As for Evergreen – the only drama where the antagonist was a tree! – I watched that nonsense right to the end. It was indeed rather terrible.

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