Itaewon Class. What a strange love story to Capitalism, am I right?
Here is how I imagine this drama was pitched between the writer and the studio executive.
Executive: “So what have you got there? You said it’s a revenge story set in the food industry?”
Writer: “Oh yeah. It’s gonna be great. We’ve got this stubborn, solitary guy who doesn’t need anyone’s approval, he’s just gonna go his own way and do what’s right. Stick to his principles. Never budge an inch.”
Executive: “Like a John Wayne type?”
Writer: “Teenage John Wayne.”
Executive: “But better looking than John Wayne.”
Writer: “Much better looking.”
Executive: “Who does he want revenge against?”
Writer: “A CEO of a worldwide food company. This guy is just super rich and powerful, so it’s gonna be hard to get revenge, ya know?”
Executive: “He’s gonna get his revenge by becoming rich too, right?”
Writer: “Of course. That’s how justice works.”
Executive: “It’s how product placement advertising works too. Sounds like a win!”
Itaewon Class had all the elements of a quality fairy tale K-drama: A strong archetypal hero with impeccable values and a heart of gold who rises over adversity, meets his goals, finds loyal friends and allies, and of course discovers true love. There was a nice sized cast of diverse characters with unique plot lines and motivations. I was interested in the fates of everyone I’d been introduced to, good and bad. It was far better than the majority of K-dramas I have seen in the past year and not bothered to review.
And yet it had serious problems. The last few episodes really fell off the gas pedal and the plotline slowed down considerably. Ironically, the most dragging episode was the finale – which had a preposterous amount of exciting things happening and somehow managed to muffle all the energy of the climax. And worst of all, in my opinion, there was the problematic underlining theme of the entire show. It’s what I like to call the Capitalist Dream, the lie we all tell ourselves: If you just work really, really hard then you can achieve anything. Entry into the golden palaces of the 1% is possible for anyone willing to work overtime. This idea has tucked the poor into bed since the dawn of time, soothing their anxieties about class inequality with a little fairy tale about how some people sneak into the castle… and get the prince to fall in love with them… and that could be you.
So, yeah, there were issues. But I still highly recommend this drama. It’s 16 episodes, which is a nice length for a series. They managed to fill each episode with enough plot that we didn’t have to over indulge in excessive flashbacks, pointless walking or staring scenes, or other fillers. It was lighthearted and funny at times without being silly or cartoonish. I especially enjoyed the spunky, quasi-sociopathic lead female. And who doesn’t love a good revenge story?
Itaewon Class – Overall Rating: 8.5/10. Feel-Good Capitalist Propaganda.
More – about characters and themes below. SPOILERS GALORE so watch the show first, my dear readers.