It's that time of the year again. The hit K-drama of the season has walked off into the sunset and, once again, you have nothing to watch.
Truthfully, as a romance, My Love From The Star left me lukewarm. Clever, glossy and pleasurable, it often felt like a fabulous advertisement in which an actress endorses the ultimate accessory - an alien superhero as boyfriend and all-round useful guy.
Its finale, true to form, was picture-perfect. The alien, who has to return to outer space to recharge, reappears back on Earth to kiss his girlfriend on a red carpet.
I enjoyed the show as a pop product but I didn't buy it as a love story.
In 21 episodes, it never reached that magic moment when an emotional wall comes down between two individuals and they become truly close, or that heart-melting point when people risk everything for love.
In the past year, as far as I am concerned, just a handful of South Korean dramas have found the sweet spot: Reply 1994, a show about first love, and Seo Young, My Daughter, a drama about marriage, lies and intimacy (its finale, where two proud individuals finally open up to each other and dare to be vulnerable in the 49th episode, is wonderful; I must have watched it thrice).
I recommend both shows to anyone suffering withdrawal symptoms since the end of My Love From The Star. Reply 1994 is repeating on channel M now and Seo Young, My Daughter, on VV Drama from April 23.
But in the current crop of K-dramas, is there anything for a love addict? Well, Emergency Couple, where a broken marriage stirs back to life, should speak to never-say-die romantics.
Song Ji Hyo (the smart girl of the variety show Running Man) and Choi Jin Hyuk (Lee Min Ho's surly big brother in last year's drama The Inheritors) are the divorced couple of the title, whose lives seem to spin out of control whenever they are near each other.
Years ago, they had a miserable marriage which ended with them trashing their apartment.
Now they are housemen in the same A&E department, where all hell breaks loose on a daily basis.
However, although they show each other open hostility, their colleagues, who don't know about their history, sense undercurrents of other feelings between them.
The show isn't the most imaginative, and resorts to jealousy and other old tricks in the romcom book to jump-start the couple's relationship.
Choi is concerned that Song keeps tripping and falling into the arms of their supervisor (Lee Pil Mo), while she is curious about a colleague (Clara Lee) who seems to be friendly with her former mother-in-law (Park Jun Keum, Choi's scary stepmother in The Inheritors).
But the show has sensitive moments, offering glimpses of the causes of the divorce.
On the surface, Choi's wealthy mother is the bully who emotionally abused Song and his scholarly father is Song's ally.
But a scene from the older couple's marriage - the father is indifferent to the mother, who feels ignored and is increasingly hysterical - casts a different light on them, as well as the younger couple's relationship.
Under the slapstick, the show turns out to be a study of the mystery of why people stay together.
The King's Doctor, my other K-drama of the week, casts a spell with shades of My Love From The Star. If that show made you care about an alien, this one will make you care about horses and vets in the Chosun era.
Justice is miscarried, two babies are swopped at birth, and a genius (Cho Seung Woo) rises to an important position in the kingdom.
It is hard to sit down for an episode of The King's Doctor and escape the conclusion that the show is a reunion of historical-romance cliches.
Then again, the drama is earnest - it's the opposite of tired - and it is just as hard not to be carried away by the wonderstruck story-telling.
One thing the show does brilliantly is how it makes Cho's aptitude for surgery incredible, yet believable and relatable.
A prized horse, which has been promised to China, is suffering from a condition which stumps even the royal vet and it falls to Cho, a stable lad, to save the day with acupuncture.
The scene is nail-biting, showing you not only what is around Cho (a crowd in the royal stable waiting for him to fail) but also what is inside his head (a flashback of him practising in the woods, poking a needle through a precise number of pages in a book).
A horse's life, a man's career and a country's fate are all held to a needlepoint. Isn't it breathtaking how the show milks the tiniest things for an epic?
channel M (StarHub TV Channel 824 or mio TV Channel 518)
Mondays and Tuesdays, 10pm, from April 21
THE KING'S DOCTOR
VV Drama (StarHub TV Channel 855)
Mondays to Fridays, 5.45pm
This article was published on April 3 in The Straits Times.
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