Unpopular K-Drama Opinions: 3 Extremely Popular K-Dramas I Didn’t Like (And Why)

I don’t write about dramas I don’t like for several reasons:

  1. There’s already enough negativity in the world; I like to keep this space positive.
  2. I enjoy writing about things I like and I don’t enjoy writing about things I don’t like. Simple as that.
  3. If I don’t like a drama, I drop it. This means I did not watch the whole thing, so I don’t feel qualified to give a complete review.

All of that being said, I’m going to give this a shot anyways. It’s a post idea I’ve been chewing on for a while now and kept putting off because I did not want to be negative. But I realized this is something I’d be truly interested in reading if someone else wrote about it — so here we go.

Before continuing, I want to throw a giant blanket disclaimer out there: if I say something about disliking characters, I am talking about the characters, not the actors or actresses. I greatly admire the hard work these actors and actresses put into their roles and am not disrespecting them, their abilities, or their performances.

Anything in the drama that I didn’t like is my own very personal opinion — nothing more. And I’m not going to just dump on these dramas, either. They are/were popular for a reason — a lot of people like(d) them. I’m simply going to state why I, personally, didn’t. So without further ado, let’s get into it!

Warning: frightfully unpopular opinions lie ahead.

First up is (please don’t hate me)…

The Penthouse: War In Life

The title says “popular” dramas, right? Clearly, I wasn’t kidding.

Simply put, Penthouse was too melodramatically soapy for me. I like dramas that veer towards the realistic and slice-of-life. And if you’ve seen Penthouse, you know it’s a far cry from both.

Is that done on purpose? Absolutely! It’s not like the creators were trying to make a relatable, realistic drama and accidentally popped out something way over-the-top. Its soap opera style is a creative choice, and I applaud the creators for making the bold decisions they did, especially considering how many people initially complained that Penthouse was copying SKY Castle. (It’s not, by the way. In fact, when it first aired I wrote a post defending it, insisting it’s its own drama and expressing hope that it would soon come out from under the shadow of SKY Castle one day…little did I know how soon that day would come.)

No, the creators made it how it is on purpose and it was (and is) extremely popular. But as satisfying as it might be to crash your ex’s wedding in a helicopter with their childhood nemesis…Penthouse simply is not my cup of tea.

Tempted (The Great Seducer)

I wanted to like Tempted so badly, and was especially looking forward to this iconic trio:

But I could not get into it. In fact, the only reason I dragged myself through Tempted (this was one I actually did finish) was to see if the only storyline I truly cared about — Soo Ji (Moon Ga Young) and Se Joo (Kim Min Jae) — was satisfactorily wrapped up. (It wasn’t. Leastways, not to my liking.)

The main reason I didn’t like this drama is because I didn’t like any of the characters. This includes Joy‘s character, who was definitely supposed to be likable. It turns out, there’s only so much I can take watching entitled, filthy-rich snobs playing around with other peoples’ lives.

(Which would be the perfect segue into Heirs, had I been able to make it past Blonde Surfer Dude in the first episode or two — sorry, man. As such, I haven’t seen enough of the drama to feel like it’s fair to include it on this list.)

The Smile Has Left Your Eyes

This drama truly irritated me. In fact, it’s difficult to pinpoint one solitary thing I disliked because I really couldn’t stand it as a whole. I didn’t find the story interesting and didn’t find the characters interesting enough to make up for the lack of engaging story. It came across as a bunch of angst with little substance. The male lead was cold and insulting to the female lead, who was whiney and clingy. I quickly tired of her waiting around for him at his apartment only to be disappointed when he (surprise, surprise) didn’t show up again or was sitting inside pouting with the doors locked. (Yes, I know he has a whole history that explains his behavior, but that didn’t make him more palpable as a character.) For the progressive-prone era we live in, I felt like this was such a step backwards for drama characters.

I can’t help but wonder if so many people were taken with The Smile Has Left Your Eyes because it showed more of the leads’ physical relationship than most K-dramas. There, I said it.

Who knows? Maybe I should have given it more of a shot. Maybe now that I’m older, I’d watch it with a fresh perspective. But I truly don’t care enough about it to even give it a second shot — and goodness knows it doesn’t need me to…The Smile Has Left Your Eyes has a ton of fans who loved it.


Which leads me to my next point: if you’re a fan of any of these dramas, good for you! I mean that sincerely. My intention is not to slam these dramas and insult viewers. I simply thought others might find my unpopular opinions interesting, especially since these were widely very well-received dramas.

Ultimately, I hope this post promotes constructive discussion rather than arguments. Whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your opinions on this post!

To stay updated, simply follow my blog to receive an email every time I post. And/or you can follow me on Twitter at @kaylamuses where I tweet every post I publish (as well some of my extra thoughts here and there in between blog postings).

As always, thank you for reading — and happy drama-watching!

Drama Battle: ‘Penthouse’ vs. ‘SKY Castle’ (*Updated*)

*Update as of 6/6/2021: I wrote this post when Penthouse had just begun airing. Some viewers were comparing it (in a negative light) to SKY Castle, so I thought I’d go ahead and write objectively about the similarities and the differences between the dramas. This post is not an in-depth analysis of the two dramas, a fact I find pertinent to disclaim since Penthouse is now already on its third season. Incidentally, if you’re interested on hearing my opinion of Penthouse as it continued airing, simply click here.

I have to begin by saying that those who are not even giving Penthouse a shot just because it has a lot (truly a lot) of similarities to SKY Castle are sorely missing out. If you liked SKY Castle, wouldn’t you want to watch something with the same vibes? If you’re purely not interested in the drama, by all means, drop it. But if the only reason you’re not watching it is because of peoples’ comments saying it’s a SKY Castle copycat or whatever, I’d encourage you to still give it a shot. I confess I almost dropped it after watching a few minutes’ worth and seeing the similarities. But I decided to dismiss SKY Castle from my mind and give Penthouse a fighting chance. And you know what? I’m glad I did.

It’s not my new favorite drama or anything, but I’m sincerely enjoying Penthouse as its own cinematic piece. In fact, check out my review of its first two episodes if you’d like to see more of my thoughts on it.

Also, just for the record, I’m not Team SKY Castle or Team Penthouse. I like both, and I aim to keep this comparison post objective and fun.

Hopefully Penthouse can come out from under the shadow of SKY Castle someday; for now, let’s look at the two dramas when stacked side by side. Just for giggles and grins.

Warning: If you haven’t watched SKY Castle or Penthouse: War In Life, not only will you probably not enjoy this post to its fullest, but be warned there are spoilers for both dramas ahead — especially the fully-aired SKY Castle (as opposed to Penthouse, which only has four episodes out at this point).

Starting off with similarities (buckle your seatbelts):

The good ole boys’ club

Let’s start off with the most obvious, which is that both dramas have an elite, exclusive group that most of our characters belong to. Both groups are filthy rich, entitled, and snobby (with a couple of exceptions, but that’s something that exists in both dramas as well).

the adults of ‘SKY Castle’
the adults of ‘Penthouse: War In Life’

The twins

One set sweet; one set cruel. Both have daddy issues.

‘SKY Castle’ twins:
Cha Ki Joon (Jo Byeong Gyu) and Cha Seo Joon (Kim Dong Hee)
‘Penthouse’ twins:
Joo Seok Hoon (Kim Young Dae) and Joo Seok Kyung (Han Ji Hyun)

The poor girl who bests all the other teens and ends up dying under suspicious circumstances

In one case, it’s schoolwork — and in the other, it’s classical singing. Either way, both girls beat out their financially wealthy peers whose families are well-connected. Neither girl comes from wealth or power, and both actually end up tutoring in the richer families as well. Kim Bo Ra’s character is much more well-liked by the other teens in general, however, while Jo Soo Min’s character is despised by the others.

Kim Bo Ra as Kim Hye Na in ‘SKY Castle’
Jo Soo Min as Min Seol A in ‘Penthouse’

How they die is also comparable: both girls fall from a great height either into or next to a fountain. Both deaths initially seem like suicides, but deeper investigation proves otherwise.

The two women who knew each other as children and reconnect as adults

And neither pair got along when they were kids either.

Han Seo Jin (Yum Jung Ah) and Lee Soo Im (Lee Tae Ran) in ‘SKY Castle’
Oh Yoon Hee (Eugene) and Cheon Seo Jin (Kim So Yeon) in ‘Penthouse’

The birth secrets

I ask you: can a true drama even exist without at least one birth secret? SKY Castle and Penthouse don’t seem to think so.

quininee
Kim Byung Chul as Cha Min Hyuk

And in order to keep those secrets truly secret, I won’t even include pictures here. Because I know there’s someone out there who ignores spoiler warnings. Mwahaha.

The loud, flamboyant mom

Who sometimes provides comic relief, but other times provides the need for an Aspirin.

Oh Na Ra as Jin Jin Hee in ‘SKY Castle’
Shin Eun Kyung as Kang Ma Ri in ‘Penthouse’

The overarching theme of motherhood

While both dramas revolve around families and include mothers, fathers, and children — both also specifically zone in on the relationships between a mother and her child(ren). Every adult female character in both Penthouse and SKY Castle is either a biological mom or a stepmom (each one has stepmothers represented). Both dramas explore what caring for one’s child looks like and — just as significantly — what crossing the line looks like as well, even when a mother thinks she has her kid’s best interests at heart.

Kim Jung Nan as Lee Myung Joo in ‘SKY Castle’

Now for some key differences between the two:

  1. To my recollection, SKY Castle doesn’t have anyone cheating on anyone. Not so with Penthouse, where a pivotal plot point involves two married individuals being caught in an extramarital tryst on camera in the titular penthouse.
  2. In SKY Castle, the “good” adults are ones that come from the outside and move into the neighborhood where all our main characters live. In contrast, Penthouse‘s “good” adult is a woman who is already in the exclusive inner circle, not someone who comes from the outside (though let’s wait and see what happens with Yoon Hee because I’m wondering where the drama is going with her).
  3. In general, I think the characters of Penthouse are worse than those of SKY Castle. There’s no middle ground with them; most seem super evil and manipulative. On that note, Penthouse seems to generally be much more of a soap opera/melodrama than SKY Castle, which tends a lot more towards realism (at least, as far as K-dramas go).
  4. The overall theme of SKY Castle — and one reason it was such a success — revolves around the cutthroat methods used by the parents to ensure their children’s “success,” specifically in the realm of education. This drives the entire plot and storyline of SKY Castle. While the parents of Penthouse are certainly concerned about their kids’ images, the drama has a wider scope of storylines driving the action (i.e. the illicit affair between two of the parents, the birth secret I mentioned above, or the classical singing aspect — to name only a few). Rising to the top and staying there by whatever means necessary isn’t the core of Penthouse, as it is in SKY Castle.

Of course I can’t write a 100% complete comparison yet because Penthouse: War In Life has only just begun airing. But, so far, these are the major differences and similarities that strike me. Please feel free to comment your thoughts below! Do you agree that Penthouse should be given a shot as its own drama or do you think it’s a copy of SKY Castle? All thoughts are welcome. And of course, if you think I forgot something that should be listed in either the similarities or differences, please let me know in the comments!

If I’ve learned one thing from writing this, it’s that I want to re-watch SKY Castle again.

As always, thank you for reading and happy viewing!

And if you want another interesting read, be sure to check out my most recent post about the unique presentation of domestic abuse in the recent K-drama, At A Distance, Spring Is Green.

Would you rather listen? Check out my podcast: i dream of dramas

Or, you can follow my blog, Twitter, or Instagram accounts (also linked in my bio) to stay updated and also get some extra thoughts of mine that don’t necessarily always make it into my blog.

New ‘SKY Castle’?: ‘Penthouse’ Episodes 1 & 2 Review

While this post is not a Penthouse vs. SKY Castle discussion, a short address of the topic seems inevitable. (Check out my most recent post where I compare the two dramas right here!) So, I’ll do my best to be concise and we can get on with the review. Yes, the two dramas share quite a number of similarities and the vibes are certainly comparable, but they are two different dramas. I advise viewers to give Penthouse: War In Life the space it deserves to make its own impression. I guarantee you’ll find it stands just fine on its own.

Enough said. I am 100% hopelessly hooked on Penthouse and can’t wait any longer to talk about it. So let’s dive right in with my thoughts and observations on its premiere episodes.

Warning: spoilers for episodes 1 and 2 of Penthouse lay ahead.

These two are back together and I’m so here for it.

One of my favorite things already is that Yoon Jong Hoon and Bong Tae Gyu reunite in this drama — once again playing filthy rich men, á la Return (though these characters are different…fans of Return should definitely watch them in this as well). Their chemistry is ever brilliant — and though I wouldn’t call them the comedy relief (both characters are downright unsettling…as is basically everyone in this drama), I find myself chuckling at their interactions with each other. In retrospect, I’m realizing how telling it is of the drama’s dark nature when the only semblance of comic relief revolves around two creeps who aren’t even comedic characters… .

Love it.

The twins are the most intriguing characters so far.

And that’s saying a lot because this cast is full of interesting characters. However, twin siblings Joo Seok Hoon (Kim Young Dae) and Joo Seok Kyung (Han Ji Hyun) are the most fascinating to watch unravel. They’re nasty, conniving, and most will probably find them incredibly unlikable. But these two are utterly, utterly wretched and pitiful. It would be easy to feel sorry for them if they weren’t such punks (which is not to say that I don’t feel sorry for them — I do). But that’s part of the fascination: the complexity of these roles. I don’t know how things will end up for our twins, but so far their choices are proving they have a long way to go towards redemption…if they’ll get any at all.

Seok Kyung is outspoken and cruel. Her twin brother Seok Hoon is quieter than she — and I was actually expecting him to be an ally to our main teenage protagonist. After all, he isn’t outright verbally abusive to her like his sister is. However, we see at the end of episode 2 that Seok Hoon has the same mean streak Seok Kyung does. The only thing more unsettling than her penchant for cruelty is his ability to hide his own.

Now for the million-dollar question: can we fully blame them? Everyone has the power to choose how they act, sure. But the line between Nurture and Nature is not always crystal clear. Sometimes people are more a product of their environment than we initially realize — especially if all seems well on the outside. Cushy and rich don’t necessarily equal happy and functional, though. In a particularly weighty scene, we find out that their dad physically abuses them. (He even has a secret room in his study where he beats them. It’s horrifying.) Oh, and Stepmom (who is one of the only good characters so far) has no idea.

Despite their terrible behavior to everyone else, I find the brother-sister relationship between these two touching. Although Seok Kyung was the one who got in trouble in the abovementioned scene, Seok Hoon takes the beating for his sister so that she doesn’t get hurt. Later, when she’s dressing his wounds, he tells her that he’ll always protect her while she tearfully clings to him and says she’s sorry.

As in all instances where there is a villain in a drama, the handling of that villain’s backstory speaks volumes as to the drama’s quality. Thus, it is to its credit that Penthouse doesn’t use these brutally sober scenes to shove desired emotions down viewers’ throats. Instead, the scenes are tactfully allowed to play out how they might in real life: as a viewer, it does not feel like a show put on for my viewing experience, but rather as though I’m intruding on painful moments in these kids’ lives. The scenes are not emotional beacons, but tools that further tell the twins’ story — and that of Penthouse.

The protagonists are underwhelming at this point…except one.

This might be because I usually like watching antagonistic characters better anyways, but so far I’m not super invested in the main protagonists, with one exception.

I really like Shim Su Ryeon (Lee Ji Ah), the stepmother of our above-mentioned twins. How she ended up with their sadistic father, I have no clue. (And she doesn’t even know the half of it.) Maybe we’ll find out how the two came together later on, but so far we’ve seen that he’s able to mask his true nature when he wants to…the key phrase here being “when he wants to.” (By the way, Uhm Ki Joon is tackling this difficult role — of father and husband Joo Dan Tae — with incredible dexterity and I’m so impressed with his acting ability. How he can look so tame and kind and yet be such a believably violent creep is absolutely terrifying.) Contrary to her husband, however, Su Ryeon is kind and caring. She also has a biological daughter in the mix who seemingly has been a vegetable in the hospital for 16 years. Su Ryeon is so far the only good one in all of our penthouse residents. It’s nice to know we have someone we can trust on the inside.

Now, to the protagonists I’m not necessarily loving at the moment (but I don’t flat-out dislike either):

Min Seol A (Jo Soo Min) is a poor highschool girl who charaded as a college student so that she could get paid to tutor the teens of the penthouse. She’s found out, however, and obviously loses her position. But she stays in the game when we find out that she won first place in the classical singing audition for this prestigious arts school all the kids are trying to get into. Which of course only makes them hate her more than they already do.

I can’t put my finger on why, but I don’t really like this character much so far. She seems extremely mousy and submissive at all the wrong times. At first I thought she’d be the type to stand up for herself, especially when she jousts verbally with the intimidating and quick-witted Seok Kyung. But Seol A’s really letting these nasty people walk all over her right now and I wish she wouldn’t. Of course, it could be that she’s biding her time until she reveals the hidden ace she has — the incriminating video she took of two married (to other people) members of the penthouse kissing passionately.

I’d say mom and daughter team Oh Yoon Hee (Eugene) and Bae Ro Na (Kim Hyun Soo) wrap up our protagonists. The major reason I’m not too fond of them is because so far their roles revolve completely around the classical singing aspect; I’ll get into that more in a second, but let’s just say it isn’t my favorite element of the drama.

We know Yoon Hee has a bad history with a particular member of the penthouse, esteemed vocal coach Cheon Seo Jin, played by Kim So Yeon. Yoon Hee’s daughter, Ro Na, auditions for the prestigious arts school I was talking about and guess who one of the judges is? Seo Jin — who of course makes sure Ro Na doesn’t get in. Somehow, I doubt Yoon Hee is going to let that slide.

The lip-syncing is — well, it’s a thing.

A rather large plotpoint is that several of these kids are training to be classical singers, and the lip-syncing is…okay. It’s not so awful that I can’t watch. But it’s not fully believable either. So far I think young acting veteran Kim Hyun Soo is doing the best with it. At least it looks like she’s really singing, even if the voice that’s supposedly coming out of her doesn’t necessarily sound like her own. Squinting kinda helps. But the slight cringe is still there.

I’m not trying to bash anyone involved in the making of this drama. I can’t imagine how much work goes into syncing voices with mouth movements, not to mention making it look like you’re actually singing an incredibly difficult aria when you’re not.

The story’s build-up is intense & I’m loving the thrill.

The very beginning of the drama kicks off with an extremely unexpected death. This poignant sequence sets the tone of the entire drama right off the bat: it’s a world full of ritz and glamor on the surface, but penetrated with extreme darkness. The drama then goes back a couple months to begin its story. And thus far, no one has died — but I feel as though that won’t be the case for much longer. There’s way too much going on and there are way too many evil characters.

It’s time to wrap this up, so I’ll end by saying that despite some of the things I’m not terribly fond of (i.e. the whole lip-syncing thing and a couple of the protagonists), I’m completely invested in this drama. It is overwhelmingly more of a positive viewing experience for me. The acting is phenomenal, the story is well-written and unpredictable, and the characters are captivating. We’re also given hints here and there that there are a lot of secrets to come to light, which I can’t wait for.

I love Penthouse: War In Life and can’t wait to see where it’s going. And I definitely recommend giving it a watch.

Until next time, dear readers!

Happy watching.

If you’d like to get an email notification every time I post, just hit the “Follow” button. And/or you can follow me on Twitter at @kaylamuses where I tweet every post I publish as well some of my extra thoughts here and there in between blog postings.