The First Annual 2013 Soju DramaQueen Awards

sojuaward

The First Annual

2013 Soju DramaQueen Awards

 

I did not realize what a busy, amazing year 2013 has been until I consulted the all-knowing Excel Spreadsheet and compiled the Contender’s List. Of the 35 dramas that I viewed, am viewing, or in very few cases, abandoned mid-series, just this year, the list was finally narrowed down to the following Top Ten Must-See Dramas for 2013. (A difficult choice, but my editor insisted…)

 

 

Cheongdam-dong Alice

Dating Agency Cyrano

Good Doctor

Gu Family Book (Kang Chi: The Beginning)

I Hear Your Voice

Jang Ok Jung, Live in Love

Jung Yi: Goddess of Fire

Monstar

Sword and Flower

The Master’s Sun

 

The choices were difficult, but listed are the nominees in each category, with the winners highlighted:

 

park shi hooBest Actor (tie)

It was tough narrowing down this category to just 5 nominees, but the winners were pretty clear. Scandals aside, Park Shi-hoo was positively brilliant in Cheongdam-dong Alice. I sincerely hope he make a comeback soon! Park Shi-hoo화이팅!  Joo Won also put in an amazing performance as the autistic Doctor Park Shi-on (Good Doctor). It was a difficult role played with empathy and credibility.

 

 

Nominees:

good doc joo wonPark Shi-hoo “Cheongdam-dong Alice”

Joo Won “Good Doctor”

Lee Jong-Suk “I Hear Your Voice”

Park Yoochun “I Miss You”

Jo In-sung “That Winter, the Wind Blows”

 

 

jae hee

Best Supporting Actor

This is another category with more nominees in the original list than I could include. The choice was more difficult here, but I settled on Lee Jae-hee. His character in When a Man Loves was very well-developed and complex.

 

Nominees:

Choi Jin-hyuk “Gu Family Book”

Seo In-guk “Master’s Sun”

Jo Jae-Hyun “Scandal: A Shocking and Wrongful Incident”

Kim Bum “That Winter, the Wind Blows”

Lee Jae-hee “When A Man Loves”

 

Masters_Sun_taeBest Actress

There were many fine performances this year by Korea’s leading actresses, but Gong Hyo-jin stood out with her quirky performance in The Master’s Sun.

 

Nominees:

Lee Bo-young “I Hear Your Voice”

Kim Tae-Hee “Jang Ok Jung: Live in Love”

Moon Geun-young “Jung Yi: Goddess of Fire”

Gong Hyo-jin “Master’s Sun”

Jo Yoon-hee “Scandal: A Shocking and Wrongful Incident”

 

master funny face

Best Supporting Actress

Secondary actresses typically have pretty one-dimensional characters, but Kim Yu-ri was blessed with an extraordinary role that she made her own. The character was engaging in all it’s iterations and aspects. Bravo!

 

Nominees:

So Yi-hyun “Cheongdam-dong Alice”

Hong Soo-hyun “Jang Ok Jung: Live in Love”

Kim Yu-ri “Master’s Sun”

Park Ha-Sun “Two Weeks”

 

kang eui shikBest New Actor

It’s no surprise that Monstar garnered most of the new actor nominations as the drama sported a cast composed almost entirely of newcomers. The stand-out male was Kang Eui-shik who played “Radio”, an intriguing character. The performance was outstanding, especially the tear-filled solo sung in defiance of his bullies.

 

Nominees:

Kang Eui-shik “Monstar”

Park Kyu-sun “Monstar”

Yong Joon-hyun “Monstar”

Park Hyun-shik “Nine: Nine Time Travels”

 

Monstar-1

Best New Actress

There were fewer notables among the new actresses, but those on the list were stellar. Kim Min-young gave a stand-out performance in Monstar. With her incredible voice and acting talent, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of this fine young woman.

 

Nominees:

Choi Soo-young “Dating Agency: Cyrano”

Ha Yun-soo “Monstar”

Kim Min-young “Monstar”

 

Monstar-Poster2Best Music

There were really nice OSTs this year and a few songs on my iPod that I admit to listening to repeatedly. While I had a difficult time not choosing I Hear Your Voice, in the end, Monstar had to win out with it’s outstanding mix of creative covers, fun mash-ups and and all-around great music.

 

Nominees:

“Cheongdam-dong Alice”

“Good Doctor”

“Gu Family Book”

“I Hear Your Voice”

“Monstar”

 

 

gu moon

Best Cinematography

Creativity seemed to be the order of the day this year. With a plethora of fantasy-type dramas, special effects were necessary and were, in general, very well done. Gu Family Book stood out, however, for its sheer beauty.

 

Nominees:

“Cheongdam-dong Alice”

“Flower Boy Next Door”

“Gu Family Book”

“I Hear Your Voice”

“Sword and Flower”

 

Cheongdamdong_Alice-p1Best Drama

Looking at the overall charisma of a drama, the acting, the script, the cinematography, the music and the ending (too many were really weak!), the list was slowly whittled down. The one drama that intrigued me from the start and held me to the end, keeping me entertained and captivated by brilliant performances and a great story was Cheongdam-dong Alice. I gave I Hear Your Voice a close second as it, too, was intriguing throughout and was a marvelous feel-good drama.

IHearYourVoice_Slider

 

Nominees:

“Cheongdam-dong Alice”

“Dating Agency Cyrano”

Close Second: “I Hear Your Voice”

“Gu Family Book”

“Jung Yi: Goddess of Fire”

 

2013 has been a good year for Korean dramas, and it’s not over yet. At the time awards were selected, the much-anticipated Heirs, with its all-star cast was still in progress, and Marry Him, If You Dare was shaping up well. Still others have just begun and will bleed into 2014.

Congratulations to this year’s Soju DramaQueen winners. I’m looking forward to another great year with these amazing actors and actresses!

 Happy Drama Watching!

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Sunday Drama Review – I Hear Your Voice

(너의 목소리가 들려) I Hear Your Voice

The mouth can lie, but the mind can’t.

Summary:

Park Soo-ha is a high school boy who has the unusual ability to read people’s thoughts by looking into their eyes. He develops this ability after getting into a car accident with his father at ten years old, the same accident where he witnesses his father’s brutal murder. His father’s death is originally thought to be caused by the accident until a young girl, Jang Hye-sung, comes forth as the scene’s only credible witness. She points out the killer, who then retaliates by threatening Hye-sung with a promise that he will kill again once freed from prison. Feeling gratitude and indebted to the girl, young Soo-ha vows to protect her from all danger. Eventually the two are separated, leading Soo-ha to spending his life in search of her in hopes of continuing his promise.

Characters:

Main character Park Soo-ha is played by Lee Jong-suk. Because of his traumatic past and his secret skill, the quiet Soo-ha remains distant from his peers to keep from drawing too much attention. Past experiences have shown him that people only treat him like a monster if they find out about his strange gift. Filled with an immense sense of loyalty, Soo-ha spends ten years looking for the “noona” who saved his life and brought justice to his father.

I Hear Your Voice (2)I Hear Your voice (3)

Lee Bo-young plays Jang Hye-sung, the “heroine” of Soo-ha’s dream. She has a not-so-pleasant personality – stubborn and prideful with a prickly attitude making it difficult for her to interact with others. She was wrongfully expelled from high school, and lived a life of poverty with her single mother. As a result of the hardship, she studied diligently, eventually becoming a lawyer so that she would never have to worry about money again. Even though she is good at what she does, Hye-sung lacks passion and motivation, opting to become a public defense attorney only to gain the benefits of a government job.

I Hear Your Voice (4)Cha Gwan-woo, played by Yoon Seung-hyun, is a policemen-turned-lawyer with office practices completely opposite of Jang Hye-sung. He shows 100% dedicated to his job, trusting his clients to a fault. Friendly and polite with everyone he meets, Lawyer Cha shows the humane side of the justice system. He tries his hardest to get Hye-sung to go on the path of honesty, not just money and glory. Seo Do-yeon, played by Lee Da-hee, is the long-time enemy of Hye-sung. The two girls were once classmates until Do-yeon and her friends caused Hye-sung’s expulsion. I Hear Your Voice (6)Since Do-yeon also turned toward a career of law, the two often meet at the courtroom, battling out their own personal vendettas against each other as a prosecutor and public defense lawyer. And because she is a prosecutor, she is often skeptical towards others and their ability to tell the truth. She is very cold, ridged, and professional, resisting emotional attachment to cases with unusual circumstances.

Min Jong-gook, played by Jung Woong-in, is the antagonist of the drama, the obvious villain since he was the one who killed Soo-ha’s father. He was a simple food cart owner until boiled up anger from his wife’s unjustified death caused him to lash out at Soo-ha’s father, sequentially beginning the dramatic turn of events for Soo-ha and Hye-sung. Their futures changed the night of the accident, causing all three of their fates to become intertwined in a deranged battle of revenge. Min Jong-gook is smart and calculating; with an acting ability that convinces everyone of his innocence.

I Hear Your voice (5)

 Themes:

Honesty:

“If you are confused whether to tell or not – telling the truth is the right answer. That’s the right thing to do.” – Lawyer Shin

“Because of 1% lie, the other 99% can become a lie.” – Jang Hye-sung

Lies and honesty are huge factors in this drama. As a lawyer, Hye-sung’s job is to determine if someone is lying or not and to defend them. And with his ability to read minds, Soo-ha becomes continuously exposed to the truth. Throughout the drama, the two are constantly thrown into situations where lies are told to cover up a painful truth. The story proves that despite how painful they can be, even the most difficult truth is always better than the exposed lie.

Revenge:

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. If we live that way, all the people in this world would become handicapped.” – Eo Choon-shim

Revenge is one of the strongest motives for wrongful action. Some kill for love or jealousy, but revenge comes from anger. Yet it may also come from a morally honorable seed – for example, the need to avenge someone you love that was hurt, deceived, or scorned. People who act in revenge seldom do so for themselves, but for someone close to them. Nonetheless, such strong sentiments toward justice can develop and form from a dark place – a place of anger and hate that takes over “pure” intention and transforms it into malice. It changes the person, making their moral compass switch routes and leading them on a path of self-destruction. Both Jong-gook and Soo-ha have reasons for revenge, as their love ones were taken from them unfairly.

 Symbols:

I Hear Your Voice (7)

Rotating Door: When stressed, Hye-sung has a habit of heading to rotating doors outside either her office or courtroom. She is often cornered with making hard decisions, ones that don’t necessarily affect her as much as the clients who would spend their lives in jail if she didn’t win their case. Overwhelmed by the pressure, she is often soothed by pushing through the rotating door over and over again, spinning in circles and causing everyone to look over at her strangely. The physical dizzying motion appropriately mirrors the dizzying thoughts going through her mind at the time. Somehow the two seem to cancel out, allowing her to focus and gather the thoughts needed to make a confident decision.

Spoilers (Do not read if you don’t want this drama spoiled for you. You have been warned!)

Things I Liked:

  • I Hear Your Voice (10)Lee Jong-suk’s acting: The acting in this drama is excellent! I can’t even find a weak link. I have, however, found my personal strongest link – Lee Jong-suk as our mind-reading Park Soo-ha. Every emotion is graphically strong. Whenever he is happy, you can see it radiate from his eyes, his smile widening so much that you can’t help but mimic the sentiment. The same occurs when he is mad, bored, tired and so forth. You can clearly feel what he is feeling. His top moments are times he freaks out whenever he fears Hye-sung is in danger.
  • Unusual Secondary Character Roles: Lawyer Cha and Prosecutor Seo are, in a sense, the typical secondary characters – the all-around ‘nice guy’ who never gets the girl and the mean rival. However, their characters soon expand from their roles, developing a lot further individually. Lawyer Cha is introduced as a naïve person, too trusting of his clients. By the end, he learns the hard way that people can lie, and they do not always have a justified reason for their illegal actions. It hardens his soul, such a discovery seemingly turning his optimism into skepticism. But because he carries such strong morals, he does the correct thing and learns from this harsh life lesson. Prosecutor Seo sticks by the rules of the law, but then eventually learns that the rules might not always be correct. There are exceptions in everyday life, and the ‘human error’ of the justice system should be taken into account.
  • Multi-genre: I tend to get fearful when I see dramas lined up with multiple genres. It is a hard task to balance them all or resist becoming stereotypical. This drama, however, does an excellent job! From the tension/suspension of Min Joon-Gook’s dangerous existence to the crime/drama element of the character’s profession, to the comedy of Hye-sung’s working environment to the tear-jerking moments of characters’ deaths, topped off with the fantasy addition of Park Soo-ha’s mind-reading, this drama is such an excitement to watch and allows itself to be viewed by a wide-ranging audience.
  • The Characters’ Backgrounds (Episode 1): Episode 1 is quite an emotional start, yet instantly draws the audience in and pipes their curiosity. It does a beautiful job of laying in the foundation, giving the back story to the main characters. It explains how they become the person they are in the present time, allowing for the drama to continue forward in their development instead of having the storyline be caught up in their past.
  • I Hear Your Voice (8)Eo Choon-shim (Hye-sung’s mother): Kim Hae-sook’s character Eo Choon-shim is easily one of my favorite ‘mothers’ in a drama series. Every time a scene comes on with Choon-shim, she commands attention with her strong personality. She is a character to be easily fond of, which makes her eventual death such a heartbreaking and sentimental moment.

Things I didn’t like:

  • Go Sung-bin and Kim Choong-gi: Now let me clear something up – I loved this pairing. Go Sung-bin, played by Kim Ga-eun, was such a strong character, and I’m glad she wasn’t written off after her major portion in the first few episodes. Kim Choong-gi, played by Park Doo-shik, was never really on my radar until halfway through the drama when I really looked at the ‘Tom and Jerry’ dynamic between him and his classmate (and crush). He behaves like a five-year-old, pulling at her figurative pigtails and teasing her like boys do toward the girl they like. She is completely oblivious to his feelings towards her because he is always picking on her and calling her names. (Note to all guys: Calling a girl ugly almost every day does not really get you on their good side.) The only issue I have with the couple is that they don’t really have a strong ending. Yes, it is inferred that eventually Choong-gi builds up the courage to confess, but it still ends the same way it began – with them acting like five-year-olds. I kind of wanted that happy typical Korean drama ending for them. Am I the only one?I Hear Your Voice (9)
  • Hye-sung’s innocence is never proven: Hye-sung was unfairly kicked out of school because she was accused of harming Do-yeon in a firework incident when they were in high school together. Even though Hye-sung receives an apology at the very end from Do-yeon, she is never really found innocent. Do-yeon’s apology is mostly centered on lying about having seen Hye-sung shoot the firework into her eye, but not about ruining her life. No, it’s not possible for them to go back in time and fix Hye-sung’s past, but at least a proper apology from Do-yeon’s parents would have sufficed for me.
  • Min Jong-gook’s Murder Sentence: Initially, Min Jong-gook is found guilty for killing Soo-ha’s father. That’s why he goes to jail, and this whole crazy adventure begins. But what has been bugging me since the beginning is why did Min Jong-gook only receive 10 years? For first-degree murder (because it was premeditated and executed in such a brutal way) and a count of first-degree attempted murder (towards Soo-ha), Min Jong-gook should have been put away in jail for at least 20-25 years and would have been issued on parole if he was released. Does this sentence make sense with the Korean judicial system, or have I been watching too much ‘Law & Order’ lately?

I Hear Your Voice (11)

Author’s Final Remarks: 9.9/10

‘I Hear Your Voice’ is one of the best dramas I have seen in a long time. It had me at the edge of my seat and sent me on a whirlwind of emotions. The storyline, the acting, and the balanced pace is executed perfectly. Soo-ha also became my favorite role with Lee Jong-suk, boosting him up even higher on my favorite actors list (making my only sadness be that Kim Woo-bin doesn’t make a surprise appearance). I highly recommend this drama to everyone, and I hope that more screenwriters take note of its success and produce high-quality works such as this one.

Friday Drama Review: “I Hear Your Voice”

 

I_Hear_Your_Voice_Official_Poster

 

 

(Even the one in your head!)

 

I had to remind myself a number of times that this was, in fact, a fantasy drama (as a genre, I mean!) I think that as an audience we are so used to ‘reading the character’s mind’ that Soo-ha’s ability did not always appear very strange, until it was pointed out, that is.

 

Storyline/Synopsis: My Rating 7/10

kidsThe story begins with a brutal murder witnessed by the son of the victim. As the murderer attempts to eliminate the young witness he realizes he is being watched by a young girl and gives chase. The girl risks her life, becoming the key witness needed to put the criminal behind bars. She also becomes a hero and life-long first love to the young boy, Park Soo-ha, now injured, orphaned and alone but mysteriously left with the ability to read other peoples thoughts.

The girl, Jang Hye-sung, disillusioned by adults she had trusted in her childhood, grows up to be a feisty, but jaded defense attorney. She and Cha Kwan-woo, an idealistic and dedicated young policeman-turned-lawyer join the public defender’s office together and in their own unique and entirely contradictory ways manage to defend suspects who have little chance of a positive outcome in the courtroom.

 

Script/Acting: My Rating 9/10

I Hear Your Voice was a drama that captured attention from episode 1 and continued to keep the excitement building throughout. The series combined a great main storyline with well tied-in side stories that were expertly developed to build not only interest, but also enhance the content of the main story. The writer kept the intrigue factor cranked to the maximum setting. As one subplot wound down, another ramped up quickly to fill the gap. I liked the fact that the fantasy element, Soo-ha’s mind-reading ability, was not such an important aspect to the drama that it overshadowed everything else. In fact, even without the extrasensory perception element, the story would have been engaging.

i-hear-your-voice-ep-14-img-2Lee Bo-young (Equator Man, Athena: Goddess of Love) was a good choice for the somewhat cynical, yet morally upright and gutsy lawyer, Jang Hye-sung. The role was a studied contrast in world-weary resignation and angry indignation. Her emotional struggle with her feelings for Park Soo-ha parallel her worldly struggles: take the safe, easy, socially proscribed path represented by Lawyer Cha Kwan-soo, or succumb to the risky love – the younger man with a questionable past who tugs at her heart.

IHYV1Lee Jong-suk (School 2013, Secret Garden) is fast becoming Korea’s latest and greatest ‘noona-killer’. With his endearing pouty smile and adorable facial antics, the ladies are dropping like flies. As Park Soo-ha, Lee Jong-suk was ideal as the younger leading man. His understated acting style was well suited to this role as a man haunted by voices no one but he can hear, the studious, quiet fellow searching for the ‘noona’ who saved him. He does ‘angst’ well. He does ‘silly’ especially well since it seems to appear out of nowhere in the usually reserved Soo-ha. And oh man, can he do flippin’ out crazy.

IHYV JHA character that started off strong and faded as the drama progressed was the lawyer Cha Kwan-woo. The role was brought to life, quite appealingly, by Yoon Sang-hyun (Secret Garden, Take Care of the Young Lady). His part not only provided the secondary love interest (yes, the “Ji-hoo Role”), but his somewhat naïve personality was also a critical foil to the sardonic antics of lawyer Jang. As the drama progressed and the Park Soo-ha character began to take front seat in the romance category, lawyer Cha faded almost to oblivion. Indeed, it wasn’t until the final wrap-up episodes that he finally regained significant airtime.

IHYV 3Lee Da-hee (Birdie Buddy, Myung Wol the Spy) was Prosecutor Seo Do-yeon, the no-nonsense long-ago ‘frenemy’ of Jang Hye-sung. The sometimes antagonistic, sometimes empathetic relationship between the two women was an unusual and intriguing variation from the garden-variety friendships so common in dramas. The character of Seo Do-yeon could have easily been brushed off as an irritant, but instead, Lee Da-hee’s portrayal humanized the prickly woman.

i hear your voice bad guyThere were two interesting villains with wonderful parallels between them (delightfully illustrated in the final episode, I might add.) Min Joon-gook (Jung Woong-In) and Judge Seo Dae-seok (Jung Dong-hwan) were both men who could not admit fault in their actions. The judge, also Seo Do-yeon’s father, caused a man to be falsely imprisoned for a quarter century and felt no guilt. The other spent his life murdering those he held responsible for injustices in his life. Jung Dong-hwan, by the way, showed his acting prowess as an amazing crazed madman killer. His transformation into a charismatic gentle man that people trusted was chilling.

 

lipsCinematography: My Rating 7/10

The filming supported the story without distraction except for a minor irritant that caught my attention: whenever Soo-ha was reading Hye-sung’s mind, the cameras froze – all action stopped while the sound (and subtitles, in my case) rolled by. It felt unnatural and was disruptive to the flow. Aside from that issue, lighting and sound were well synced to the mood of the scene.

 

Music: My Rating 8/10

Theme song: “Echo” Every Single Day “Echo” Every Single Day

Love this song! “Why Did You Just Come Now?” Jung Yeop

“The Days We Were Happy” Na-rae

Nice!: “Words You Can’t Hear” Shin Seung-hun

“In My Eyes” Kim Yeon-ji”

Sweetly Lalala” Melody Day 

 

Overall Charisma: My Rating 8/10

I learned many interesting tidbits about the legal system in Korea. Juries don’t have the final say-so – a judge’s opinion can outweigh what a jury decides. The rules regarding what prosecutors and defense attorneys share with one another seems not nearly as strict or tight as in the American judicial system. There are also many, many similarities with our own legal system.

Overall, the script was nicely paced and the action kept viewers interested. Originally scheduled to be 16 episodes, another 2 were added due to the popularity of the drama. The final episodes show some signs of stretching – more flashbacks than usual, extra time tying up loose ends that might normally have ended up on the cutting room floor, etc. That’s not to say those final episode are not worth viewing. They are. The endings seemed appropriate for most characters creating a sense of satisfaction and conclusion.

Happy Drama Watching!

IHYV4

Director: Park Chan-hong, Cha Young-hoon
Writer: Kim Ji-woo

Sunday Drama Review – School 2013

(학교 2013) School 2013

It’s time to go back to school…

Summary:

School 2013 (1)“School 2013” is exactly how it sounds like – a drama that takes a look at the modern day school life in South Korea for high school students and their teachers. This drama however, focuses on the harsh realities that come with the prestige and honor of the advancing Korean education system; the bullying, violence, corruption and intense competition that students have to face in order to live up to the high expectations put forth from both society and their parental units. As well as bringing an outlook from the teacher’s perspectives; Old-fashion teaching vs. college preparations, the manipulations from parents who are determined to make sure their child not only succeeds, but comes out at the very top, and re-evaluates the standard of how involved teachers can really be in their student’s lives.

The story line centers on “Classroom 2-2” (Second Year High Students); the runt sophomore class of Victory High School was where most of the trouble-makers resided and the slackers doze off (however the class was sprinkled with some extremely studious students that only broke the class division between the top and the bottom students).  Teacher Jung In Jae is the short-term teacher who gets cornered into becoming the homeroom teacher/literature teacher for Classroom 2-2, and later is assigned a Co-Teacher, Teacher Kang Se Chan. Both teachers face the difficulties of running the class smoothly due to their polar opposite teaching methods and disciplining standards. But in order to make sure that all 35 of their students graduate and finish off their Third Year (Senior Year), they must put aside their differences and find a way to not only raise their student’s grades, but actually teach them and show them how the real world is.

Characters:

School 2013 has a wide range of characters, mixed mostly between the different types of teachers (and principals) and the students in Classroom 2-2, which therefore means that there is no real lead male or female character. It rather focuses on a select couple of characters and throughout the drama starts revealing the nature of the rest of the other classmates who all have their own hidden sides and inferior complexes.

School 2013 (4) The two co-teachers, Teacher Kang and Teacher Jung, receive much of the spotlight since they are the advisers for all the  students. Teacher Jung (played Jang Nara) is the kind and good-nature female teacher who takes an immense interest in her students. She makes her students write poems instead of giving them demerits for coming in tardy, she texts message her students if they absent to find out why and if it is a family problem, she is right there at their front door to talk to them about it and then drag them back to school. Teacher Jung is overall an excellent teacher that manages to inspire her students and give them confidence enough to follow their dreams no matter what they are. However as most teachers, she does have some flaws. She gives second, third, fourth, etc…chances to students that miss weeks of school or show violence or unethical type of behavior. And while as viewers we know she is doing the right thing, helping out the troubled students, it does not mask the preference she shows towards the underdogs which in turn, gained resentment from the “model” students. Her character overall though was one of my favorites and she played the role amazingly.

Teacher Kang (played by Choi Daniel) could not be any more different. He is strict and quite frank with his opinions (which usually come off as rude to everyone else even though he sincerely does not mean for them to be so). His idea of a teacher is someone who simply helps raise a student’s grade and does not believe in becoming emotional attached with any of them. His character added to the conflict in the drama but also helped fix it in several occasions, with his acts of yielding to his co-teacher’s wishes to “save” her students from getting expelled or transferred.

School 2013 (6)Go Nam Soon (played by Lee Jung Suk) played one of the main student characters; an outcast student who slept through most of his classes and was the favorite target by the class bullies. Later it is revealed that Go Nam Soon flies under the radar due to his dark past that he wants to keep from his classmates, however this is not the case when his is elected the new class president and has to be involved with the classroom activities. This character was very consistently stubborn yet extremely endearing due to the loyalty he portrayed to his teacher, his classmates and even towards the ones that once tormented him. Becoming the leader of the classroom helped him take his own stand in his life. Park Heung Soo (played by Kim Woo Bin) is the mysterious transfer student who is linked with Go Nam Soon’s dark past, and while this character does not display very dynamic traits for the drama, he is in fact used as the foil for our dear Go Nam Soon. Helping him face his past and get rid of the guilt that taints his spirit.

Theme(s): 

Bullying/Violence: One of the most distinctive problems seen in high schools around the world and not just in South Korea, is the high amount of bullying and violence between students. However, the root of the problem for Korean high schools seems to grow from the intense competitions on who gets the best score on the SATs or who is ranked top of their class. Those who get higher marks then turn on the ones “lower” than them and either verbally or physically abuse them to continue the psychological deception that they are less than them. Though, in this particular drama, must of the bullying was done physically by the main male students.

School 2013 (5)Hierarchy of the Classroom: Very much tied in with the concept of bullying, the “positions” in the classroom reflect the same issues. A perfect example from this drama was the need for the male students to decide who was held the “top position” in the classroom, mainly who was the strongest (physically) in the classroom. Once it has been decided who is the top dog, everyone else forms alliances and brown-nose to the fullest by becoming “shuttles” (basically errand boys). The “top position” constantly changed, as well as the alliances, showing the lack of loyalty  that the students owed to one another.

 

School 2013 (7)Friendship: When family is not there and the school cannot help you, friends can help by simply be there right by your side, without saying a word but instead offer silent assurance and confidence. We see most of the “friendship” between Go Nam Soon and Park Heung Soo as they try to rebuild one that had been completely smashed into pieces. But a lot of the friendship themes were used in example with the female students. Between Song Ha Kyung (played by Park Se Young) and Lee Kang Joo (played by Ryu Hyo Young), their friendship was tested through school competitions in which they had to determine what was more important, their friendship or “specs” for college.
Symbols:

Teacher Kang’s “Golden Notebook”: it appears from the very beginning as the item that all the competing students dream of, the one thing that can make their studying a lot easier. However this special book of notes can only be obtained by being a student of the highest private academy – meaning only the wealthy students can even have access to.

Ramyun: While this was a small symbol, it had its reoccurrences between go Nam Soon and Park Heung Soo’s as sort of a “peace” treaty between the two. Each time they sat down to drink the ordinary soup it would remind them of their good days growing up together and the memories they formed. For those couple of minutes of slurping, they could only reflect on the better times and find a simple parley for their fights.

*Spoilers* (Do not read if you don’t want this drama spoiled for you, you have been warned!)

School 2013 (3)

Things I liked:

  •  Go Nam Soon/Park Heung Soo Bromance!: Who doesn’t like a good bromance? I have the wonderful habit of shipping…well everything together (shipping= picking two people in a fictional movie, T.V shows that you would like together in a relationship). But I had to leave this one alone because I have not seen such a close bromance in such a long time. Go Nam Soon’s guilt over hurting his friend and killing his dreams and Park Heung Soo’s angst over the decision of keeping his anger with his best friend or forgiving him…oh these boys were just pulling at my heartstrings. Every time either one of them cried, I started tearing up as well.
  •  Kim Min Ki: Hands down my favorite secondary character. This character was so sweet, and every time his mother would just ignore his words or interfered with his schooling I just started cussing at the screen. It had to take his attempted suicide for her to finally slowdown from the marathon she was running to see that her son was being dragged behind, getting hurt the entire way.
  •   The lack of love interests: I repeat, THIS DRAMA HAD NO LOVE INTERESTS…HUH? This was the first time I had seen a drama that had no crushes, or unrequited loves, or love triangles. Nope. Nada. Nothing. But strangely, it only made the drama better. Without school love (or any kind of romantic love for that matter) there was no distraction from the plot and it was able to go deeper into themes other than love. And while I would have loved to see Teacher Jung and Teacher Kang get together (because come on…they would have been perfect together), their connections as teachers was so well developed and simply magical in this drama.

Things I didn’t  Like:

  •  Han Young Woo (played by Kim Chang Hwan): Now wait, don’t kill me! It’s not that I didn’t like this character, I really like him actually. My complaint is that I wished there was a bigger appearance from this character. After the fifth episode, he just sort of disappeared from the drama and only reappeared every once in a while with a line or two. I feel like he should have been given the opportunity to grow and develop, but the only reason why I think he didn’t was because they had to give that room for other students. Which makes sense, but still…this guy was adorable.
  •  Campus Couple: Did anyone else noticed that couple in the classroom? They had no lines (or not any that I can remember which shows they weren’t that important) and were just being an antagonizing cute couple in the background that took selcas together. They were sort of a distraction from the scene at hand.
  • “Really? Seriously?”: Aka. Dani from T-ara who was put in the drama to “act” but only gave one-worded lines of random English. I’m assuming it was supposed to be a comic relief, but it only made me cringe.
  •  The Ending: Now this ending was quite controversial because of the open ending with everyone’s favorite bad boy: Oh Jung Ho. Did he ever come back to school? Or did he actually give up school? At first I was upset because I felt like this drama already emotionally tore me apart with the bromance, and now was not giving me closure with the biggest conflict: whether or not Oh Jung Ho will turn around his life. But after further thought (and several tissues later), I realized why the ending was so open ended and it was actually quite simple. This drama is supposed to give us a realistic view on high school and how it affects our future, right? Well life is open ended, which is why this ending and the ending of all the other students is open ended as well.

School 2013 (2)

Author’s Final Remarks: 9.1/10

As much as I want to move to South Korea and live my life there; you wouldn’t be able to pay me even a million dollars to attend a Korean High School. Not only do I not want to stand back from my newly founded freedom called “College”, but also because frankly…Korean high schools scare me. The pressure and strict structure to studying just makes me want to run to the door. Yet, why is it that I want to become an English Teacher in the very same school I want to run away from? Because I want to help all those students that are pushed down due by the daily stress society throws at them.  If I can, I want to be that role model, that inspirational voice or word of encouragement that a student needs to get them through the day. “School 2013” not only helped me understand the world as a student, but helped me understand the world as a teacher.

~Millie