Those to whom evil is doneW. H. Auden, September 1, 1939
Do evil in return.
Spoiler warning: This post contains spoilers for ‘Weak Hero Class 1’.
Rating warning: This drama is rated R and the content discussed in the following paragraphs reflect that rating.
Trigger warning: child abuse, bullying
The moment I realized what Beom Seok was becoming, I knew I had to revisit scenes from the beginning of Weak Hero that foreshadowed this kid’s fate. Hong Kyung is an extremely focused and thoughtful actor, and, sure enough, even Beom Seok’s earliest on-screen moments are saturated with nuance. Every choice Beom Seok makes is part of the journey that ultimately leads to his steep decline into the violent hell he builds for himself — with help from his surrounding environment. And it all happens right before our eyes.
Let’s start at the beginning, where we meet the object of today’s musings: Oh Beom Seok (played by Hong Kyung).
We meet the bespectacled, be-cardigan-ed Beom Seok in episode 1. He’s a new transfer student who is introduced to the established characters like Soo Ho (Choi Hyun Wook) and Si Eun (Park Ji Hoon) at the same time as we are. Viewers quickly learn that Beom Seok was bullied at his former school and, sure enough, is targeted by this new classroom’s main bully, Young Bin (Kim Su Gyeom).
It’s not long before he takes Beom Seok aside and coerces him into putting a patch of fentanyl onto Si Eun’s neck (though Beom Seok doesn’t know what it is at the time). The conversation is outwardly casual and even friendly for the most part, but this scene is dripping with unspoken dialogue: Young Bin daring Beom Seok to push back against his orders and Beom Seok struggling not to fall into the victim’s mold he’s already being shoved into unwillingly. He concedes in the end, verifying what both boys already knew: Beom Seok is once again in the role of the bullied.
You see, Beom Seok’s surrounding environment both at home and at school has tragically perpetuated the notion that one is either the abused or the abuser. He’s adapted to this harsh reality of his by taking any measure possible to protect himself. Every single choice he makes throughout the series is in the interest of self-preservation, even ones that might not seem like it at first. I’ll go over a few examples in this post, but there’s no way I can cover every single subtlety in these scenes, so if this is something that interests you, I’d definitely encourage you to rewatch the drama for yourself (like I did) and watch Beom Seok carefully. The instinct — the need — to protect himself dominates every aspect of his demeanor. Because if he doesn’t, no one else will. (Or so he believes.)
This brings us to the fascinating dynamic of our main trio: Soo Ho, Si Eun, and Beom Seok. Have you heard the saying, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”? Well, after Si Eun finds out about the fentanyl patch (which does indeed mess him up during the mock exam), he beats the crap out of Young Bin — which is kind of putting it mildly. Of course, Beom Seok sees this and makes a snap decision: this guy is someone he needs to get close to. Because if Si Eun can beat up Young Bin — but is close to Beom Seok — then Young Bin can’t beat up Beom Seok. What begins as a self-preserving calculation, however, becomes a genuine bond as the three boys become closer.
It’s moments like these in the first couple episodes that Weak Hero establishes Beom Seok’s true character with its viewers: he’s a kind-hearted and loyal boy who’s hurting inside (we just don’t know the extent of it quite yet). I have to once again commend the writing and performance because Beom Seok never becomes a one-dimensional evil villain. Even at his darkest, we always see a struggling kid who’s damaged from the violence that surrounds him on all sides. We see someone who sleeps in his closet at home, who overthinks what to say in a text message, who expresses genuine concern about his friend’s welfare even though he’s the one who sent him to the hospital. Regardless of what you think of Beom Seok or what your stance is on Nature vs. Nurture, it is undeniable that Beom Seok is a product of his environment.
Now, because it’s an excellent drama, Weak Hero never allows his actions to be excused or go without consequence. But because this show does such a brilliant job crafting Beom Seok from the start, we as an audience are not able to forget who he is, even at his most despicable. This is because a) Hong Kyung is a master of his craft and perfectly embodies the hurt and anger Beom Seok constantly holds inside, and b) Weak Hero establishes Beom Seok as a victim of violence before he ever becomes a perpetrator of it.
Even in these earlier, positive moments of Beom Seok’s, we already start to see some potential red flags in his character. A specific example is when Si Eun gets taken by the group of teenage thugs and runaways. Beom Seok runs up to the classroom and wakes the sleeping Soo Ho, offering to pay him to go save Si Eun. He’s likely doing this in part to make it up to Si Eun (for the fentanyl), but also because Beom Seok is a sensitive, caring kid who doesn’t want a fellow classmate to get hurt. Objectively, this is a good thing he does. But this scene teaches us a few things about Beom Seok: a) he knows he can use money to get others to do what he wants, and b) he is not willing to go into a fight by himself. Both of these character traits may seem harmless at this point in the drama, but end up hurting him (and those around him) later on.
To move on to our next point, I need to fill us in a little about what’s happening with our main trio. The boys have had several interactions with the group of thugs, and the action culminates in a brawl at an abandoned amusement park. The police come and everyone is taken in to the police station. And it’s in this police station that we see one of the first very pivotal moments for Beom Seok.
At the station, Beom Seok learns that his father (who we’ve yet to see at this point) has made everything go away; all the kids need to do is keep their mouths shut. A couple scenes later, his dad’s secretary brings in the handcuffed thug ringleader. (I really enjoyed this actor’s performance, by the way. Na Chul presents a villain that is simultaneously captivating and terrifying.) The secretary guy relays a message from Beom Seok’s father: do to this thug what was done to you. So, Beom Seok’s dad is encouraging him to beat up someone with no legal consequences. (If you don’t think his dad is a real piece of work at this point, just wait a few scenes.) Beom Seok — visibly uncomfortable and afraid — resists the sick invitation and walks out of the room, but not before the thug taunts him by telling him that the other guys (Soo Ho and Si Eun) are not really his friends, but rather that he is their minion. This strikes a nerve with Beom Seok because the devastating words just voiced his own (possibly unrealized) fear and deep-rooted insecurity: he is not worthy of love and will always just be used by someone else.
The next time we see Beom Seok is at the end of this episode (episode 4) when his dad beats him with a golf club, all the while spewing a toxic flood of verbal abuse. Remember how I said that in Beom Seok’s world, you’re either the abused or the abuser? I’m not saying that if he had used violence on the thug that his dad wouldn’t have beat him; doubtless, the outcome for Beom Seok would have been the same either way. What I am saying is that the sequence of events may have registered in Beom Seok’s brain like this:
- He chose to walk away instead of using violence, even when it was used on him.
- And what happened? He got hurt anyways.
Not choosing violence still led to violence, with him on the receiving end. That kind of subliminal message might be starting to bleed through.
I find it noteworthy that this occurs the same evening the other three kiddos have an especially sweet bonding moment in the hospital when Si Eun and Young Yi visit the injured Soo Ho. Beom Seok does eventually find this out, which of course only rubs salt in an already-raw wound. I think it’s the first moment significant resentment takes root in Beom Seok’s heart towards his friends, something the upcoming scenes only amplify.
This brings us to episode 5, which is where I believe Beom Seok begins physically manifesting the hurt he constantly holds in.
The next day at school (after the police incident and his dad beating him), Beom Seok receives positive attention from curious classmates as they ask about the showdown with the thugs. He’s visibly pleased by the validation he’s so clearly starved of. And it’s no wonder; when someone who is supposed to nurture and love you, constantly hurts you and tells you you’re worthless and trash, I’d imagine validation from any source might feel like a lifeline. And notice that this particular instance with his classmates marks the first time in the drama Beom Seok receives validation or kindness from someone other than Si Eun or Soo Ho.
I thought almost nothing of this short sequence until later, which is once again a testament to the drama’s expert handling of Beom Seok’s development. There is no singular, catastrophic event that snaps him suddenly into bad guy mode. It’s a journey, a process — one the audience is present for from the start, even if that’s not something we’re aware of right away. So much so that when Beom Seok starts displaying worrying signs, we can easily look back on moments we might have thought nothing of initially — and recognize that they are all a part of his growth as a character.
Since we’ve paused from the action briefly, this might be a great time to introduce an element of the drama we haven’t mentioned yet: social media — more specifically, how much stock Beom Seok puts into it. I already explained that Beom Seok seeks validation from friends, right? Through a combination of several scenes spread throughout the drama, we find out that someone following him on Instagram is very meaningful to him. In fact, he seems to equate this with true friendship.
In one of the early episodes — after a tussle with the thugs — our trio goes out to eat and has their first real friendship bonding moment. Beom Seok apologizes to Si Eun about the fentanyl and Si Eun quickly forgives him. That night at home, we see Beom Seok carefully look through Soo Ho’s Instagram, then type out a text asking Soo Ho to follow him back, only to erase it after overthinking it. As the episodes progress, we see Beom Seok look at social media a few more times: when he looks through Soo Ho’s and Young Yi’s pictures (which fuels anger, resentment, and perhaps even jealousy), when he is visibly pleased that one of his other classmates follows him without him having to ask, and then — ultimately — when he unfollows Soo Ho.
In episode 5, we get a confrontation between Young Yi (Lee Yeon) and Beom Seok, but to truly understand its significance, we need to look at the scenes building up to it, starting earlier in the day when the group goes for coffee. In a very visually-telling scene, Beom Seok walks slightly behind Soo Ho and Young Yi (Si Eun hasn’t joined them yet). The two in the front talk comfortably and casually, while he tries several times to insert himself into the conversation. Physically, the characters show the audience how Beom Seok feels inside: left out.
When they enter the café, the two others order and then walk to their table, leaving Beom Seok to pay by himself. This might seem like a jerk move (and it kind of is honestly), but I truly think they were just wrapped up in their conversation and thought nothing of it. In addition, Beom Seok has offered to pay every single time the group has gone out. (Which is not an accident, by the way. He knows by this point that he can buy people, even if he’s not consciously doing that.) He seems particularly defeated when Si Eun walks in and waves to him (standing at the register) but joins the other two at the table. Again, no one is being unkind to him purposefully, but to an already-insecure Beom Seok, thoughtless gestures that are harmless to an objective viewer can still be devastating because it just adds to the hurt that’s been building up on all sides of him.
The point is driven home in a beautifully nuanced sequence just a couple scenes later when the kids are at karaoke. Beom Seok goes to get drinks from a vending machine for the group and three sodas falling to one side while the fourth one — which he pauses before ordering — falls to the other side. It’s subtle; the camera doesn’t linger and it’s not at all on-the-nose. But it does it’s job: it visually represents Beom Seok’s feelings of isolation, unnoticed by the group.
As someone who has struggled with feelings of inadequacy in friendships, this entire sequence of scenes really hit home. If this isn’t something you’ve dealt with, then first off, I’m genuinely very glad for you, and secondly, let me assure it is totally spot-on. I understand completely what it feels like to take yourself out of a situation, to spiral down when the rest of the group doesn’t even seem to notice you’re having a hard time, to know in your head that technically nothing is wrong because no one is being actively mean to you — but to still feel so isolated and excluded. It’s hard enough when you have a healthy support system (as I do, thankfully). But Beom Seok has no one. The one who is supposed to support him most, abuses him. When you take a step back like this, it’s easy to see how it took only a few key events to so quickly accelerate Beom Seok’s downfall.
Alright, let’s get back to karaoke. Beom Seok is getting the drinks like I mentioned when he runs into the bullies from his former school. They, of course, cannot leave well enough alone and start running after him, but he’s able to escape. Once he gets back to the room with his friends, he finds Young Yi talking on his phone (which he had left in the room when at the vending machine). Beom Seok knows its the bully, but of course Young Yi doesn’t and goes about confirming that they’re at the karaoke, even providing their room number. While it wasn’t the brightest moment for Young Yi (Who answers someone else’s phone?), she didn’t mean any harm. But of course, this is devastating to Beom Seok. Not only will his bullies find him, but his new group of friends will see one of his greatest vulnerabilities. This is where the altercation between Beom Seok and Young Yi takes place, which ends with her leaving the karaoke. Little did I know while watching, it only goes downhill from here. Because the next sequence of scenes we’ll discuss really seals Beom Seok’s fate in Weak Hero.
Although Young Yi has quite literally the least to do with anything that happens to him, she is the first character we see Beom Seok get angry at. See, he is afraid to confront anyone who actually had (or has) a negative impact on his life — his dad, the bullies at his former and current school, any of the adults who stand by any time he’s being beat either at home or at school, and even Soo Ho at times. So he ends up misdirecting his pent-up anger towards someone he deems a safe target — someone physically weaker than he — Young Yi. And interestingly, Young Yi is not only the first person he’s visibly angry at, she’s also the first person he squares off against — as if he’s about to strike. That moment right there was the first time I felt that Beom Seok could be dangerous, and it was a frightening realization.
In case you’re a bit lost (which would be no fault of yours, but rather of mine), we are currently in episode 5 of the drama — a little over halfway through the series.
After the night at karaoke, the bullies from his old school begin harassing Beom Seok and he skips school because of it. Soo Ho and Si Eun know something is up, so they visit his house. In a sweet, hopeful moment, Beom Seok chooses to trust his friends and tell them the truth. (Silly me for thinking at this point that there might be a happy ending for the trio.) They convince him to take them to meet up with the bullies (who are at karaoke again) so that Beom Seok can receive the apology he deserves.
One scene isn’t necessarily more important than another because they all work together to build the character of Beom Seok, but if there were to be super pivotal scenes for his character development, the following ones would be the them.
I’m not sure what Beom Seok was hoping for, but I have a suspicion that he wanted Soo Ho and Si Eun (both incredible fighters) to lay waste to the bullies. They’ve already beat up dozens of people; surely they’ll kick the butts of the guys who tormented their buddy. (I’m not going to lie, I would not have minded that myself.) What actually happens is much tamer: Soo Ho tells the bully leader to apologize, grabbing his ear and twisting it until the kid concedes and says (very insincerely, I might add) that he’s sorry. Beom Seok knows it’s fake so he says he wants to hit him, which he does. The bully hits him back, however. While Soo Ho pins the kid to the karaoke room wall, Beom Seok grabs the microphone and charges. But Soo Ho turns around and stops him.
I imagine this all felt something like a betrayal to Beom Seok. Although Soo Ho and Si Eun were doubtlessly trying to do what they think is best for their friend (a.k.a. dealing with this as violent-free as possible), it probably seemed to him as though his problems weren’t worth their effort.
Beom Seok is visibly shaking from anger and adrenaline after the three leave the karaoke. The whole ordeal is the final peg driven between him and the others, and he stalks off on his own. This scene also marks a physical change in Beom Seok: he lost his glasses in the scuffle, and goes the rest of the series without them.
A few scenes later, Beom Seok witnesses a tough group of his current classmates harass the group of bullies from his former high school. He watches as the kid who tormented him is kneeling and essentially pretty helpless — and Beom Seok snaps. He walks over and viciously kicks the head bully repeatedly. Notice that this is done when others have already subdued the victim and Beom Seok has the upper hand physically. I’m guessing that he felt as though this group of his classmates (who are all bullies themselves) succeeded in helping him enact physical revenge on his tormenter — whereas Soo Ho and Si Eun failed in this. Additionally, these guys hollered and cheered him on as he beat up his bully. So he’s receiving the validation and group protection he felt as though he was lacking. And to top it all off, he got to let loose and hurt someone else for a change instead of him being the one who gets hurt.
Afterwards, he joins his classmates as they drink and eat (which he pays for) and one of the guys follows him on Instagram without Beom Seok having to ask — and we as viewers recognize how meaningful that is to him. He’s inadvertently protecting himself emotionally and physically by adapting — by surrounding himself with guys who will subdue others for him (though they, of course, didn’t do it with that specific purpose in mind) and who will easily give him attention and validation he desires because their relationship with him is shallow and based on the money he provides them with.
During this scene, he also unfollows Soo Ho. And I don’t think I need to spell out the underlying meaning that holds for Beom Seok.
This brings us to the end of episode 5 — and to that of our journey together today. Because although there are many more scenes with Beom Seok that I skipped over or haven’t even gotten to, I really wanted to focus on the ones I found most condemning in the beginning portion of his evolution.
I can’t praise Weak Hero Class 1 enough; I thought it was excellent in every way and deserves all of the very positive attention it’s receiving. In particular, I found the character of Oh Beom Seok to be the most well-developed antagonist I’ve possibly ever seen. As soon as I saw what he was becoming, I wanted to go back and re-watch the drama, paying close attention to how Weak Hero does it — how it painstakingly morphs a soft-spoken dweeb into a violent, unpredictable bully who viewers’ hearts will break for because we see it all unfold before us.
Earlier in this post, I said that we never fully lost sight of Beom Seok, and that rings true until the end. After everything — all the damage he does and hurt he causes — viewers bid Beom Seok goodbye with a shot that frames only his back as he steps onto the airport escalator to fly to the Philippines. And it’s in this moment, as he silently wipes away falling tears — clad once again in light colors — we are reminded of the lonely transfer student we met all those episodes ago.
Check out what Hong Kyung himself says about the role of Beom Seok in this article published on K-odyssey.
Psst! I made this post into a video essay on my YouTube channel. Personally, I think it’s kind of great. So here’s that:
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All-time favorite drama: Sakura no Oyakodon: Season 3, Weak Hero Class 1
Currently watching: Somebody
Mind-blowing character development