Review – Itaewon Class

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!”

Social taboos unveiled in hit South Korean drama Itaewon Class ...

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 let the foot fall 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.

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Review – Extracurricular

Extracurricular is a dark k-drama that serves up another thick slice of social commentary pie. In particular, it wants to feed you a little story about class warfare.

About inequality.

About capitalism.

There have always been dramas that focus in on this particular subject, of the vast differences in the lives of the rich and the poor. South Korea is generally better at realistically portraying poverty than we are here in America. Unfortunately, they suffer from the same tendency to paint the extravagantly rich as something to aspire to and admire. Namebrand recognition. Mega mansions, fancy cars, and shopping sprees. It’s not just enough to be in the middle, you want to be on the top. And if you’re busy focusing on the top, you might not notice that the middle has disappeared.

In South Korea, they tend to layer messages in their social commentary – from the obvious to the more obtuse. Especially when focusing on class and inequality. Some are better than others. What Happened in Bali and My Mister are two that are particularly good in this layering. What makes them good, in my opinion, is that they expose how bleak reality is for those who are struggling financially, how easily things spiral out of control for them, and how easy it is for others to look away.

Extracurricular is a layered story of class inequality that uses this lack of control to illustrate its message and push the narrative. Just like the characters in the show, as a viewer you’ll find yourself constantly surprised by the ever-increasing disasters that occur with even the slightest misstep. This drama has layers of crime, of bullying, of shocking violence, of consumerism, of abuse and of so much more. It’s layered like a Greek Baklava.

Extracurricular shows how integrated the “unseen” is in the seen world. And it doesn’t make it easy for the viewer to determine the moral of the story or process all the information it provides. It’s messy. And it’s dark. And I enjoyed it, as much for the plotlines as for all the ambiguities and questions it forced me to ponder long after it was over.

Rating 8/10.  Mild Mannered Pimps Always Get Screwed.

Further analysis of the story and the characters follows – with spoilers galore – so you have been warned….

SPOILERS AHEAD ———————-

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Review – Witch’s Court

Review – Witch’s Court

God, I hated this show.  I’m usually a big fan of characters that break that mold – and our leading female certainly did – but unfortunately all that emerged from the mold was a jerk.  I found the lead female to be annoying and groan inducing.  I’ve read a lot of praise for this show for having a strong female protagonist… and I feel like they were watching a different show than I was.  This is exactly the kind of person I can’t stand in real life, so it’s no wonder I didn’t care for this show.  Even with the handsome Yoon Hyun Min playing the altruistic shrink turned prosecutor.  Even with the much needed social commentary on sexual assault, misogyny, and personal responsibilities.  Even with the pretty compelling mini-plots, aka the cases that were being solved as we waited for the “big case” to be solved.  Even with all this going for it… I just couldn’t get past episode six.

Hey, not every show is for everyone.  That’s why there’s so many of them.  Something for everyone.  This one just wasn’t for me.

ugh…

You wanna see a show with a strong female protagonist?  They’re out there.  Remember.  City Hall.  Let’s Eat.  Queen Seon Duk.  Healer.  It’s Okay, That’s Love.  Sungkyunkwan Scandal.   Signal.  The K2 (the evil queen, not the princess).  There are plenty!  I usually don’t even bother writing “reviews” for shows I’ve abandoned, but this one compelled me to complain.

Witch’s Court final verdict:  Abandoned to the Graveyard.

Review – Cheer Up / Sassy Go Go

Review – Cheer Up / Sassy Go Go

Plotline:  The top 5% of an elite high school belong to the Cheerleading Club, but in name only… these kids just use the club space to further their studies.  Next door, the bottom 5% dance their pants off in a Hip Hop Club, annoying the nerds who share a wall with them.  When one of the top students worries her extracurriculars aren’t meeting Ivy League standards, it is suggested they turn their fake cheer club into a real one and try to win Regionals.  Unfortunately, none of the nerds can dance… so the school officials help them blackmail the Hip Hop Club into joining their team, increasing their chances of success.  Love, anger, friendship, betrayal, and lots of lost sleep over exams follow.

This show was a joy ride.  Just… a bunch of fun, from start to finish.  The problems of these students at their high pressure school were interesting to watch.  All the parents, officials, teachers, and outside pressure illustrated how complicated and stressful the system was.  But overall, it was just fluffy feel good fun.  Nothing too deep, nothing too serious, nothing too overdramatic.  The characters were cute and likable, even the unlikable ones (shout out to Chae Soo-Bin who killed it as the near nervous breakdown #2 in the school desperate to climb to the top at any cost), and the plotlines moved quickly through the 12 episode series.

I had just finished the book Revival by Stephen King… the ending of which left me slightly traumatized… so I needed something light weight and heart warming to ward off the nightmares.  This show as perfect for that.

Overall Rating – 8.5/10 – Bring It On, Elite Boarding School Style.