What to Watch While Waiting for..."Crash Course in Romance"
Updated: Feb 15
Crash Course in Romance is the latest in the rare genre of middle-aged k-romances, and it’s been Netflix Asia's top show for a few weeks now. The slow-burning romance between principled but brash "star" teacher Choi Chi-yeol (Jung Kyung-ho) and the warm entrepreneur Nam Haeng-son (Jeon Do-yeon) has been a joy to watch so far. Because these two characters have had their share of difficulties in life as well as some hefty emotional baggage, the show is a sweet reminder that love can be sweeter when both parties are more mature and wiser.
While waiting for the next episode, why not seek out these shows and movies?
If you like romance with more mature leads…
When the Camellia Blooms (2019)
"Steam is all you need to cook dumplings. You don't have to boil them. Forget fire. Why don't we just take it slow and be warm together?" With lines like that, how can this show not take the top Baeksang prize? This grab-bag of a show smashed tropes and stereotypes, as well as kept an interesting romance/murder plot from beginning to end. Cleverly coded grassroots feminism, a focus on community, and a believable romance between a small-town cop (Kang Ha-neul) and a single mother (Gong Hyo-jin) make Camellia one of the best shows of 2019.
Available on Netflix
Terrius Behind Me/My Secret Terrius (2018)
So Ji-sub is Kim Bon, codenamed Terrius, in this family-friendly spy drama that flexes both his physical dexterity and his comedic chops. As a spy who has left the NIS, Terrius has resigned himself to a quiet life in a suburban condo complex. But when a woman in his neighborhood (Jung In-sun) loses her husband under suspicious circumstances, Terrius finds himself back in his old spy games to track down the killer. He also realizes he has it in him to be a babysitter, and it's not long before he finds himself falling for a widow and her adorable kids. While it can be campy at times, this show is perfect if you need something light and funny, and the romance between Kim Bon and the single mom is a slow, adorable burn.
Available on Viu
Another Miss Oh (2016)
This 2016 show is an angsty rom-com that follows the story of Oh Hae-young (Seo Hyun-Jin) and Park Do-kyung (Eric Mun). Betrayed his fiancee Oh Hae-young, Do-kyung swears to get back at her….only to find out that he’s been exacting revenge on an innocent woman who just happens to have the same name! What starts out as animosity slowly becomes a serious relationship, but with so much emotional baggage between them, one has to wonder if they’ll make it.
Available on Netflix
If lingering love after a divorce is more of your jam, then the 2018 angsty melodrama Misty should be on your radar. This is largely Kim Nam-joo’s show, and her flawless performance of the flawed broadcaster Go Hye-ran is unforgettable. Go’s failed marriage to lawyer Kang Tae-wook (played to aching perfection by Ji Jin-hee) is also heavy with tension and longing. Not many k-dramas deal with the unpalatable realities of women in Korean workplaces, or even touch sensitive issues such as abortion, female-initiated adultery, and divorce, but that is exactly what Misty is fearlessly all about.
Available on Netflix
For more Jeon Do-yeon...
While many new fans are discovering her because of Crash Course in Romance, Jeon has long been a fixture of Korean cinema, and her filmography is worth exploring. She remains the only Korean actress ever to win Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival and was even made a panel member of the 67th Cannes Film Festival.
On the small screen, Jeon is best remembered as the lead of Lovers in Prague, which won her the coveted Grand Prize (Daesang), and also as the lead of The Good Wife k-drama remake. Beyond the Cannes trophy, she has continued to win all the major acting awards given by illustrious bodies such as the Blue Dragon, Grand Bell, Baeksang, and Chunsa Awards.
She is also a recipient of the Korean Order of Cultural Merit, as well as a grantee of the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres for all her contribution to the arts.
Secret Sunshine (2007, where she won Best Actress at Cannes)
Lee Chang-dong, one of the most esteemed filmmakers in Korea, directs Jeon and Parasite's Song Kang-ho in this tale of grief, single motherhood, and spirituality. Widowed early, Shin-ae (Jeon Do-yeon) has her faith tested once more when she discovers that her son goes missing. Although the film received mixed reviews, critics at Cannes were unanimous in declaring Jeon's performance as worthy of the Best Actress trophy.
Available on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, iTunes, and the Criterion Channel
A Man and A Woman (film, 2016)
Rumor has it that Gong Yoo only agreed to this risque film because Jeon would be his co-star. Unlike most movies that focus on the sexual aspects of an affair, A Man and a Woman gets credit for not only delving into the difficult emotional tradeoffs of an affair but also for exploring the unspoken heartbreaks and personal torments of parents of children with special needs.
Jeon stars in this intimate drama about two people finding passion in the most unlikely of places: an empty sauna in the middle of a Finnish forest. The director uses the setting to convey a character’s feelings. Jeon matches this with a skill for subtlety and understatement that you only notice after the last scene plays. When Sang-min (Jeon) is in a foreign country, she is raw, vulnerable, and almost untethered. Her face is free of makeup, and her hair is let loose. Back in Seoul, she is as slick and lacquered as her urban surroundings, reflecting the assured confidence of a successful career woman. Jeon's acting here is cool and self-possessed on the surface, but it starts to crack slowly when a handsome stranger (Gong Yoo) re-enters her life.
Available in some Netflix territories
Birthday (2019 film, where Jeon won the 2020 Baeksang for Best Actress)
The 2014 sinking of the MV Sewol, South Korea's largest maritime disaster, finally gets a small film that explores the unspeakable pain of parents who lost their children (around 250 high school students) in the tragedy. Jeon won the Best Actress Baeksang for her performance as the bereaved mother Soon-nam who had lost her son in the sinking. She not only struggles with immense grief but also refuses to process it three years after the tragedy.
Available on Amazon Prime Video
Beasts Clawing at Straws (film, 2020)
Winner, Jury Award (2020 Rotterdam Film Festival)
Something as elegantly titled as Beasts Clawing at Straws with two Korean megastars Jung Woo-sung (of #PremiumOppa status) and Jeon Do-yeon deserves a watch. This ensemble caper filled with violence, cheap gangsters, and clichés about debt will inexplicably reel you in all the way to its amusing finale. Beast feels like those retro Hollywood caper movies but infused with enough Asian gangster flavors and cliches to keep you hooked until the (strangely) satisfying end.
Available on Amazon Prime Video
For more Jung Kyung-ho...
It might surprise people to know that the son of famous Korean director Jung Eul-young had a falling out with his father when he decided to pursue his career in acting. It took a while but they eventually patched things up and Jung Kyung-ho has been slowly and steadily making his mark in both films and dramas.
Jung's filmography shows a wide range of genres and a penchant for interesting characters. In 2004, he played the supporting role in the drama I’m Sorry, I Love You with So Ji-sub. In 2007, he starred in the film Herb for which he won Best New Actor at the Chunsa Film Art Awards. In the same year, he starred in The Time Between Dog and Wolf, an action-romance. More recently he has been in Prison Playbook (2017), Life on Mars (2018), and Hospital Playlist (2021).
Cruel City (2013, also known as "Heartless City)
One of the more memorable dramas of 2013, Cruel City is the show responsible for galvanizing Jung Kyung-ho as leading man material. As Jung Shi-hyun, Kyung-ho plays a new boss of a drug cartel. With no real friends and an identity buried deep in the past, he is on track to becoming a key figure in the underworld…until he is accused of a murder he did not commit. Now on the radar of a relentless detective, Jung must use all his nefarious skills and connections to prove his innocence.
Life on Mars (2018)
The Korean adaptation of BBC's Life on Mars was so well-made that even the BBC was impressed. A detective from the present (Jung Kyung-ho) finds himself transported back all the way to 1988 and now has to work with the Inseung Seobu Police Department of 1988. Not only does he have to learn how to do forensics at a time when forensics didn’t exist, but he also has to get along with his teammates who all exhibit the chauvinism and macho culture that was so prevalent in the day. Definitely one of the better slow-burn nostalgia shows of 2018.
Hospital Playlist (2 seasons, 2020-2021)
As the seemingly cold-hearted surgeon Kim Jun-wan, Jung Kyung-ho flexed his comedic chops alongside a stellar ensemble that included Jo Jung-suk and Yoo Yeon-seok. You’d think an icy doctor like Jun-wan wouldn’t have friends or find love, but Hospital Playlist proved that even the most stalwart of people have the softest spots. His blunt confession to his long-time crush (who happens to be a soldier) at a breakfast food truck is still one of the most unique and memorable confessions in k-drama.
*written with contributions from Joyce R.