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 – Stranger

Review – Stranger / Forest of Secrets

So, I had a weekend to kill and loaded up Stranger, on Netflix.  This is a mystery-thriller that, honestly, would have been outstanding if they cut it in half.  It just didn’t have enough plot for 16 episodes – 8 would have perfect.  As it was, it drifted along with  mellow intrigue, excellent character development, and quality drama… but geesh, was it long.  I stuck it out, cause I was committed, but dang… even the British, who are famous for their leisurely plot development, would have added some caffeine to this weak tea.

Being a sucker for romance, I think the complete lack of it also made the show seem longer.  I knew these characters were all going to grow as people and be the better for knowing each other – but I got the impression right away there would be no breakthrough moment or cuddling happy ending for our lead protagonists.  Cho Seung-Woo played the detached prosecutor who’d basically had a lobotomy in his teens, removing the emotional part of his brain.  I kid you not.  Medically created sociopath.  He was dreamy and cool and collected and I loved him to death.   The gorgeous Bae Doo-Na, whom I have only seen in the delightfully pervy globe-trotting disaster of a show known as Sense 8, was perfectly cast as the tough as nails cop with a strong moral compass.  She and Cho Seung-Woo had oodles of chemistry – and my favorite aspect of the show was watching her casual, slow approach to winning him over and digging out his humanity, one cute sketch at a time.  Her sketch of his brain, in particular, was endearing and had me laughing.

The real stand out performer was Lee Joon-Hyuk, who played a crooked prosecutor who lived on paranoia and cockiness.   What a smug mug, eh?  He was the true sociopath, dazzling one second, violent the next, spinning from one extreme to another in an ever increasingly mad dash to stay one step ahead.

So… there’s corruption and scandal and a murder mystery or two.  I must say, personally, I was not a fan of how this unraveled at the end.  It was just too random.  After all that build up, it felt like a smack in the face to bring in something so out of left field.  The last episode made up for it, though, and there was a nice chunk of “what happens next” with your key players so that you weren’t left wondering.

But still.  It was just… really slow.  If you don’t like romantic dramas, you will probably like this one a lot more than I did and maybe not even mind the pace, but for me it was almost torturous near the end to finish it.

Overall Rating – 6.5/10 – Don’t Have Private Conversations In Rooms With Open Windows.