Is ‘Extracurricular’ Worth The Hype?: Honest First Impressions Of The Netflix K-Drama

Whatever you’re expecting out of Extracurricular, chuck it. This drama will obliterate your expectations as effortlessly as it sucks you into its story. It’s deviant, dark, and incredibly addicting. And after getting about halfway through, I realized I have many thoughts on this baby that I need to sort out. So, another session of writing therapy for me — and hopefully another thought-provoking (or at the very least, amusing) read for you.

I’ll be talking about the main characters and specific elements of the drama I find especially interesting and/or noteworthy. Happy reading!

Spoiler warning: I’m about halfway through the drama, so unless you haven’t even started it, I’d say it’s safe to continue reading. Nothing outrageous is spoiled, but if you haven’t seen any episodes yet and don’t want to know anything going into it, I’d skip this read.

Age rating warning: TV Parental Guidelines has assigned an age rating of TV-MA for Extracurricular. It’s for mature audiences, and I do not recommend it to my young readers. Please pay attention to this rating and view responsibly.

Oh Ji Soo

Kim Dong Hee as Oh Ji Soo

When the summary talks about a high school student doing something illegal, I was thinking something along the lines of drugs — not human trafficking. But no, Ji Soo is our baby-faced pimp of a protagonist and actor Kim Dong Hee is killing this role.

Ji Soo is a layered, complicated character — there’s a lot (and I do mean a lot) more to him than initially meets the eye. At first glance, he seems like a regular high school kid. He’s tender-hearted, slightly socially awkward, and super smart. He is neither the bully nor the bullied. He’s…pretty normal. But underneath it all is a seasoned pimp who has painstakingly built up a secret empire, justifying what he does as a “safety protection service” for his young ladies (in case there is a mishap with a client). Kim Dong Hee himself calls Ji Soo “two-faced,” which is spot-on. (I’ll link the interview at the bottom.) A testament to the young actor’s talent — as well as to the show’s writing — is how consistent Ji Soo is as a character despite his different sides.

I really didn’t want to like this kid or feel bad for him…but so far Ji Soo is genuinely likable and even pitiable. It’s an odd sensation as a viewer because — hello — he’s doing something horrible in every sense. But for whatever reason — whether it’s Dong Hee’s exceptional performance or the superb writing — you really like this kid and root for him. Not for his business to flourish, but for him as a character to get what he wants. Which brings us to my next point: Jisoo’s dream, a.k.a. the entire reason he started all of this in the first place.

Ji Soo’s dream is revealed very early on and is so simple, it’s almost tear-jerking: he wants to go to college and have a family. And when we find out what kind of family he has, it’s no wonder having a decent one is on his bucket list.

Lately, I find myself puzzled by (and slightly irritated with) Ji Soo. Although he’s quiet, he voices his opinions boldly…when he wants to. He’s stood up to Ki Tae, teachers, and policemen alike. But for some reason, he really lets the girls in this show push him around. We know you have a backbone, Ji Soo — use it! Don’t be a jerk, but stand up for yourself, kiddo.

Bae Gyu Ri

Park Joo Hyun as Bae Gyu Ri

At the moment, I cannot stand Gyu Ri (Park Joo Hyun), but I’ll try to keep my emotions in check and write at least semi-objectively.

Gyu Ri is Jisoo’s best friend/girlfriend/fellow pimp/classmate who barges her way into his carefully-constructed world and basically blows it wide open. She’s aggressive, outspoken, and incredibly unpredictable. She’s also a master manipulator, which makes her one of the scariest characters so far. And that’s saying a lot considering the entire drama is full of characters who aren’t exactly stand-up citizens.

I liked Gyu Ri a lot at first. She initially provided a friend to our friendless protagonist. She was one of the only people Ji Soo trusted — if not the only person. When she finds out his hard-kept secret, you can’t really blame her for messing with him at first; after all, she just found out her new friend is actually a pimp. But the blackmailing soon takes an unforeseen turn as we find out Gyu Ri wants in on Ji Soo’s scheme.

I appreciate acting talent, so let me clarify that Park Joo Hyun is doing a fabulous job; it’s just the character of Gyu Ri I’m disliking at the moment. I feel like I’m going to say this with every single character, but this girl is complicated. She longs for control and will manipulate any situation to get it. She’s confident with a capital C on the outside — but when we get a peek into her home life, we find out Gyu Ri has a lot of darkness holed up inside of her.

Any time we get to see even the tiniest morsel of Gyu Ri’s vulnerability, I remember why I liked her in the first place: she’s a hurting kid who puts on a tough face to cope. But regardless of parental derangement pressure, her choices are beginning to look a lot less like “coping” and a lot more like some bizarre power trip. She doesn’t need the money like Ji Soo does. Does it make his actions any more excusable? Not at all. But at least his reason is clear. Right now, Gyu Ri doesn’t have one…which is unsettling.

Seo Min Hee

Jung Da Bin as Seo Min Hee

Popular student Min Hee (Jung Da Bin) is secretly one of Ji Soo’s girls, and is surprisingly the most pitiable character so far. I say “surprisingly” because she isn’t pleasant. At all. She’s a whiney, bratty bully.

She’s also insecure and desperate for genuine connection with someone — with anyone. She validates herself by how her rotten boyfriend treats her, which isn’t great because he’s a little punk (who we’ll get to in a minute). A telling conversation is had between the two at an internet cafe, where she tries coaxing some form of affirmation from him — to no avail. Instead, it further proves how shallow their relationship is. Ironically, her deepest and healthiest relationship is with Mr. Lee (Choi Min Soo), Ji Soo’s middleman and muscle when it comes to their “business.” The two have a sort of faux father-daughter bond that is as interesting as it is dysfunctional.

Min Hee so clearly desires genuine, deep connection in a relationship (romantic or otherwise) and it’s heartbreaking watching her search for it in all the wrong places. And as you can see from the paragraph above, that isn’t even in reference to her selling herself. I hope Min Hee discovers self-love and self-worth before the drama ends.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how great of a job young Jung Da Bin is doing. She is the youngest out of an already-young main cast (she was born in 2000 while the eldest is ’94-er Park Joo Hyun). What a tough role to nail at any age, let alone such a young one!

Kwak Ki Tae

Nam Yoon Soo as Kwak Ki Tae

Ki Tae (Nam Yoon Soo) is Min Hee’s boyfriend — and top dog at school. He’s a bully, but keeps his bad behavior from teachers in case he needs them to be on his side. He’s manipulative and selfish. I have nothing positive to say about him except that actor Nam Yoon Soo is doing a tremendous job in this role.

Ki Tae confuses me, actually, because I’m still trying to figure out his character’s significance. Don’t get me wrong — he’s clearly important…but only as Min Hee’s boyfriend. His connection right now to what’s going on in the drama is solely through Min Hee. He’s messed with Jisoo a bit — but again, that was because of his girlfriend. Other than that, he’s disconnected from the story and is basically just another antagonistic character for the other three to keep their secret from.

Now, I don’t believe for a second that he’s going to remain this way until the end of the drama. I fully believe Ki Tae is going to be the driving force for some sort of big action. But as to what exactly that is, I have only two very faintly-formed ideas.

The first is that he is connected to the lady at the karaoke bar. When he, Min Hee, and their buddies are celebrating Ki Tae’s birthday, the woman calls him to the side to share a smoke and the two are clearly flirting — something Min Hee notices. Was that merely setting the scene for the woman to cheat on her freaky fiance (which happens later, and not with Ki Tae)? Or is it an indication that Ki Tae knows her? I tend to think it was the first scenario, as well as a moment for Min Hee to realize (again) what a crappy guy he is — but I’ve also learned that when it comes to this show, you never know.

My second idea of how Ki Tae may be used as a pivotal plot device was formed during a casual conversation he has with his friends at the pool hall. He bemusedly recalls once bullying a kid so badly that he attempted suicide (I don’t remember if the kid succeeded or not, but obviously neither scenario is good). This scene feels like it’s setting us up for something — as well as proving that Ki Tae could actually be a lot more sinister than any of us realize.

Comedy

I was genuinely surprised at how funny this show is because nothing about the premise is funny. What provides the most comedic relief is the subtle behavior of the actors — specifically Kim Dong Hee, who is demonstrating his excellent comedic timing with this role. The funniest moments are often in painfully relatable, awkward conversations or situations. It’s comic relief in the realest sense of the term.

Ethics (or lack thereof)

Ethically and morally speaking, this show is all wrong. It disregards ethical decorum in the same flippant way it disregards typical tv tropes. The protagonist himself is a pimp; the main characters are either ruthless bullies or devious liars. There’s almost no one trustworthy or even who most would probably consider to be “good.”

It’s a bizarre viewing experience because you know all of this is wrong, yet you find yourself pulling for Ji Soo. It will keep you questioning, debating, and coming back for more. To call it thought-provoking is a gross understatement.

Hope (in the form of adults who are actually trustworthy)

So far, there are two adults who seem 100% trustworthy: teacher Jo Jin Woo (Park Hyuk Kwon) and policewoman Lee Hae Kyung (Kim Yeo Jin).

Jo Jin Woo is hilariously down-to-earth. He is the only one who sees through Gyu Ri’s manipulation tactics. He treats the students with respect and seems to genuinely care about them. He’s laid back, but takes his job seriously. And he just seems pretty awesome at this point. In any case, he’s someone the kids could trust if they’d let their guard down…but something tells me that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

Lee Hae Kyung is the spunky policewoman who is quick to catch on to what Min Hee’s been doing. Under guise of giving her counseling, Lee Hae Kyung takes the girl aside at school and asks her what’s up, assuring her that she only wants to make sure Min Hee is safe. I believe her, and I think Min Hee does too — at least partly. It’s too bad they didn’t get to finish that conversation….But this woman isn’t done searching for the truth and I can’t wait to see her in action as she gets to the heart of it all.

So, is Extracurricular worth the hype? Absolutely. If anything, it deserves more.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to share your thoughts below. But no spoilers, please! We all like dramas, so let’s be kind drama-watchers to each other.

Interview video:

Trailer:

image source: IMDb

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