So I did love this drama. It’s not perfect and I have some complaints about it (see below), but it’s one of the best depictions of community and how it actually works that I’ve seen onscreen. It’s honest about our responsibilities to each other and how they are and aren’t affected by our feelings for each other. It’s honest about the limits of those responsibilities and how no matter how hard you may try to help someone, people are ultimately responsible for their own decisions and you can’t place their burdens entirely on your own shoulders. And it’s honest about how sometimes we reach out and help each other and it’s so beautiful because it makes the world better—but sometimes we do the same thing and it doesn’t change anything because the world is still harsh and unforgiving—but the reaching out is still beautiful. It’s always beautiful. Hope isn’t futile and while we can’t always save each other, we can make a difference in each others’ lives.
It’s also really honest about how messed up education systems are (Korea’s is messed up in different ways than, say, the US’s, but they’re both messed up) and how teachers are in a bind and how students all have different motives for how they behave in the classroom. And there’s room in the world for hardasses who lay down the law in an attempt to protect the community and also for people who are endlessly encouraging and patient and generous and forgiving.
So I think it’s a really solid show. It’s certainly nothing lovely to look at cinematography-wise, but honestly maybe that feels more realistic? My one major complaint is that I think in the second half it got too bogged down in the boys’ stories and didn’t pay enough attention to the ladies. I LOVE the Nam Soon/Heung Soo friendship/enmity plotline so much and I also really like the Jung Ho storyline, especially how they handled the ending. But the ladies were SO EXCELLENT and I just feel like their storylines got sidelined so the boys could have more screentime and it hurts my heart. I especially wanted more Ha Kyung/Kang Joo ladytime bonding and to see In Jae interact more with the young women she could have mentored. That didn’t really happen, and I’m disappointed by that. The female characters were FANTASTIC, they just didn’t get enough attention. The lack of romance was okay, though.
A word on the ending:
This drama didn’t end with a big fluffy group hug—there are still people in the classroom who don’t like each other, people who are still selfish and weren’t particularly changed by what In Jae (and Se Chan) tried to do for them. But they weren’t untouched by what they experienced—it’s still going to be a part of them, just maybe not in the way they expected.
In Jae and Se Chan are going to be back, together, helping another classroom full of kids to figure things out. And it’s going to take a while to do that figuring, because as Nam Soon and Heung Soo learned, you can’t just fix all your problems immediately. You need time to think really hard on where you’re headed and what you’re going to do. This show gave us closure, but it didn’t solve all the problems the kids’ have and it definitely didn’t tell us for sure where they’re headed. We just know that now that they had that year with their teachers, they’re on a steadier path than they were before. And that’s beautiful. THE LACK OF EPILOGUE WAS THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS ENDING LBR.
And In Jae still waiting for him at the end? I don’t think he’s going to walk in at the last minute. That’s not going to happen. But the waiting is beautiful, because it shows her heart. The waiting is important itself and it isn’t a waste. And Se Chan understands that now. And that’s amazing.
Summary: Seungri High School ranks as one of the worst of the 178 high schools in Seoul based on academic scores. Seungri High School is now busy preparing presentations for its new students. Class 2 is at the bottom of grade 2 at Seungri High. Nam-Soon is elected class president for grade 2, thanks to the support of Jung-Ho, who is a member of the school gang.
Se-Chan is the top Korean language teacher at a famous institute in Gangnam. In order to improve the student's scores at Seungri High School, the school hires Se-Chan. - asianwiki
Starring: Lee Jong Suk, Jung Na Ra, Choi Daniel, Park Se Young, Hyo Young, Kim Woo Bin, Kwak Jung Wook
Watch it if you like: stories about high school, stories about community, examinations of idealism versus cynicism, enemies learning to appreciate each other, honest but sympathetic characterizations of teenagers, explorations of different ways of approaching education, honest depictions of friendships where people hurt each other but forgive and become even better friends later, realism, stories about the ways we help and hurt each other just by being in proximity to each other, lots of twists and turns in the plot that never really go into the realm of melodrama, hopeful but not tidy endings.
Why you might not like it: If you really want a female-driven show, this isn’t the one for you. What ladies there are are EXCELLENT, but they don’t get nearly as much of a focus as the guys. Also if you have no desire to revisit the hell that can be high school, might want to steer clear of this one. It’s full of hope, though, so that may help to know.
Those of you who follow me on tumblr might know that I did a marathon watch of White Christmas over the holidays and fell all over myself with love for it. It’s shot to VERY close to the top of my favorite-dramas list; the top five or so are really impossible to rate in order because I love them all so much. But at any rate, it’s completely excellent and unique and I very much recommend it.
Let’s start with the synposis, because it does a better job of explaining than I would:
Susin High School, nicknamed "Prison High," is an elite school attended by the top 1% of students in the country. Their stellar marks are the result of constant pressure and a strict punishment system, to the point where students avoid from any activities outside of studying. It is in this atmosphere that seven students and a teacher remain at school for the winter break, joined by Kim Yo Han, a psychiatrist who was forced to take shelter with them after he was involved in a car accident nearby. At a time when everyone else is celebrating Christmas Eve, the students realize that the anonymous letters they each received were not the result of a harmless prank; there was a murderer in their midst. A question lies unspoken: Are monsters created, or are humans born monsters?
This is a drama full of plot twists and surprise reveals and characterization porn. It’s basically about what happens when you lock nine people up in this giant school building that’s half labyrinth, half jail of glass and then put them in danger. Someone’s writing threatening letters. Someone is a killer. No one knows who, and since they’re trapped, they only have themselves to rely on. Who’s going to trust who? Who’s going to turn on who? Who’s going to snap under the pressure and strike out at anyone?
There’s a touch of Lord of the Flies in this—there are moments when you feel like any sense of humanity’s going to break down and it’s going to turn into a bloody free-for-all (and there is blood spilt in this one). You’re not sure as a viewer who to trust or even who to like, half the time. There’s questions of guilt and responsibility, the nature of humanity, trust and retribution, misunderstandings and lack of communication weaving through the whole thing. Everyone has layers, everyone has secrets, everyone has scars. And everyone will surprise you at some point. That’s what people do.
This drama’s got a really great cast of young actors, almost all of whom are models, but they’re all competent (and most of them are incredibly striking, too. Plus, you’ll recognize a lot of them from lots of other shows—quite a few of them have gone on to have really fantastic careers. Yay this cast!). The setting, in this labyrinth-like school of glass and staircases all by itself in the mountains, is perfect for the plot. The writing doesn’t lag and the focus is always on the characters and their interactions. It’s basically a thriller meets character porn. You won’t like everyone, but by the end you’ll feel like you know them. And what’s mindblowing about the way this drama is made is that so much attention goes into every single detail. Almost every single thing onscreen is important. There’s SO MUCH richness and texture—so many motifs and symbolism. I’m sure I could watch this a dozen times and not pick up on everything. You really get the feeling that the creators were absolutely committed to every detail. How often do you feel like that with a show?
That said, I do have some quibbles with the final episode. Up until then, I think it’s perfectly written, but the last episode isn’t quite so perfect. It’s still a satisfying ending and certainly not enough to ruin the whole ride—this is still going to be one of my all-time favorite dramas. But there are a few things to touch on.
I also wish we could have seen the other kids’ parents. I feel like a few of the character examinations were just dropped at the end and I don’t like that. There was more to learn about some of them, and I missed out on that.
I do think Angel killing himself was the right decision writing-wise, though I still don’t understand 100% what was going on with him and the lady and his mom and the other little boy. Confusing stuff. And it hurt so much that he died, but it worked as far as the story goes.
Summary: Susin High School, nicknamed "Prison High," is an elite school attended by the top 1% of students in the country. Their stellar marks are the result of constant pressure and a strict punishment system, to the point where students avoid from any activities outside of studying. It is in this atmosphere that seven students and a teacher remain at school for the winter break, joined by Kim Yo Han, a psychiatrist who was forced to take shelter with them after he was involved in a car accident nearby. At a time when everyone else is celebrating Christmas Eve, the students realize that the anonymous letters they each received were not the result of a harmless prank; there was a murderer in their midst. A question lies unspoken: Are monsters created, or are humans born monsters? - asianwiki
Starring: Kim Sang Kyung, Baek Sung Hyun, Kim Young Kwang, Lee Soo Hyuk, Kwak Jung Wook, Hong Jong Hyun, Esom, Kim Hyun Joong/Kim Woo Bin, Sung Joon, Jung Suk Won, Lee El
Watch it if you like: psychological thrillers, suspense, complicated plots, characterization porn, small groups of people who don’t know/like each other forced to interact and get to know each other, symbolism, plot twists, Sung Joon’s everything, examinations of the nature of humanity and of evil, tight writing, perfect soundtrack choices, Kim Woo Bin’s beautiful devil face, attention to detail in every shot.
Why you might not like it: If you don’t like stories that go dark, this is not the story for you. And there aren’t enough ladies, which is one of the few weak points of the show. But the few ladies are fascinating, so.