Drama Battle: ‘Penthouse’ vs. ‘SKY Castle’ (*Updated*)

*Update as of 6/6/2021: I wrote this post when Penthouse had just begun airing. Some viewers were comparing it (in a negative light) to SKY Castle, so I thought I’d go ahead and write objectively about the similarities and the differences between the dramas. This post is not an in-depth analysis of the two dramas, a fact I find pertinent to disclaim since Penthouse is now already on its third season. Incidentally, if you’re interested on hearing my opinion of Penthouse as it continued airing, simply click here.

I have to begin by saying that those who are not even giving Penthouse a shot just because it has a lot (truly a lot) of similarities to SKY Castle are sorely missing out. If you liked SKY Castle, wouldn’t you want to watch something with the same vibes? If you’re purely not interested in the drama, by all means, drop it. But if the only reason you’re not watching it is because of peoples’ comments saying it’s a SKY Castle copycat or whatever, I’d encourage you to still give it a shot. I confess I almost dropped it after watching a few minutes’ worth and seeing the similarities. But I decided to dismiss SKY Castle from my mind and give Penthouse a fighting chance. And you know what? I’m glad I did.

It’s not my new favorite drama or anything, but I’m sincerely enjoying Penthouse as its own cinematic piece. In fact, check out my review of its first two episodes if you’d like to see more of my thoughts on it.

Also, just for the record, I’m not Team SKY Castle or Team Penthouse. I like both, and I aim to keep this comparison post objective and fun.

Hopefully Penthouse can come out from under the shadow of SKY Castle someday; for now, let’s look at the two dramas when stacked side by side. Just for giggles and grins.

Warning: If you haven’t watched SKY Castle or Penthouse: War In Life, not only will you probably not enjoy this post to its fullest, but be warned there are spoilers for both dramas ahead — especially the fully-aired SKY Castle (as opposed to Penthouse, which only has four episodes out at this point).

Starting off with similarities (buckle your seatbelts):

The good ole boys’ club

Let’s start off with the most obvious, which is that both dramas have an elite, exclusive group that most of our characters belong to. Both groups are filthy rich, entitled, and snobby (with a couple of exceptions, but that’s something that exists in both dramas as well).

the adults of ‘SKY Castle’
the adults of ‘Penthouse: War In Life’

The twins

One set sweet; one set cruel. Both have daddy issues.

‘SKY Castle’ twins:
Cha Ki Joon (Jo Byeong Gyu) and Cha Seo Joon (Kim Dong Hee)
‘Penthouse’ twins:
Joo Seok Hoon (Kim Young Dae) and Joo Seok Kyung (Han Ji Hyun)

The poor girl who bests all the other teens and ends up dying under suspicious circumstances

In one case, it’s schoolwork — and in the other, it’s classical singing. Either way, both girls beat out their financially wealthy peers whose families are well-connected. Neither girl comes from wealth or power, and both actually end up tutoring in the richer families as well. Kim Bo Ra’s character is much more well-liked by the other teens in general, however, while Jo Soo Min’s character is despised by the others.

Kim Bo Ra as Kim Hye Na in ‘SKY Castle’
Jo Soo Min as Min Seol A in ‘Penthouse’

How they die is also comparable: both girls fall from a great height either into or next to a fountain. Both deaths initially seem like suicides, but deeper investigation proves otherwise.

The two women who knew each other as children and reconnect as adults

And neither pair got along when they were kids either.

Han Seo Jin (Yum Jung Ah) and Lee Soo Im (Lee Tae Ran) in ‘SKY Castle’
Oh Yoon Hee (Eugene) and Cheon Seo Jin (Kim So Yeon) in ‘Penthouse’

The birth secrets

I ask you: can a true drama even exist without at least one birth secret? SKY Castle and Penthouse don’t seem to think so.

quininee
Kim Byung Chul as Cha Min Hyuk

And in order to keep those secrets truly secret, I won’t even include pictures here. Because I know there’s someone out there who ignores spoiler warnings. Mwahaha.

The loud, flamboyant mom

Who sometimes provides comic relief, but other times provides the need for an Aspirin.

Oh Na Ra as Jin Jin Hee in ‘SKY Castle’
Shin Eun Kyung as Kang Ma Ri in ‘Penthouse’

The overarching theme of motherhood

While both dramas revolve around families and include mothers, fathers, and children — both also specifically zone in on the relationships between a mother and her child(ren). Every adult female character in both Penthouse and SKY Castle is either a biological mom or a stepmom (each one has stepmothers represented). Both dramas explore what caring for one’s child looks like and — just as significantly — what crossing the line looks like as well, even when a mother thinks she has her kid’s best interests at heart.

Kim Jung Nan as Lee Myung Joo in ‘SKY Castle’

Now for some key differences between the two:

  1. To my recollection, SKY Castle doesn’t have anyone cheating on anyone. Not so with Penthouse, where a pivotal plot point involves two married individuals being caught in an extramarital tryst on camera in the titular penthouse.
  2. In SKY Castle, the “good” adults are ones that come from the outside and move into the neighborhood where all our main characters live. In contrast, Penthouse‘s “good” adult is a woman who is already in the exclusive inner circle, not someone who comes from the outside (though let’s wait and see what happens with Yoon Hee because I’m wondering where the drama is going with her).
  3. In general, I think the characters of Penthouse are worse than those of SKY Castle. There’s no middle ground with them; most seem super evil and manipulative. On that note, Penthouse seems to generally be much more of a soap opera/melodrama than SKY Castle, which tends a lot more towards realism (at least, as far as K-dramas go).
  4. The overall theme of SKY Castle — and one reason it was such a success — revolves around the cutthroat methods used by the parents to ensure their children’s “success,” specifically in the realm of education. This drives the entire plot and storyline of SKY Castle. While the parents of Penthouse are certainly concerned about their kids’ images, the drama has a wider scope of storylines driving the action (i.e. the illicit affair between two of the parents, the birth secret I mentioned above, or the classical singing aspect — to name only a few). Rising to the top and staying there by whatever means necessary isn’t the core of Penthouse, as it is in SKY Castle.

Of course I can’t write a 100% complete comparison yet because Penthouse: War In Life has only just begun airing. But, so far, these are the major differences and similarities that strike me. Please feel free to comment your thoughts below! Do you agree that Penthouse should be given a shot as its own drama or do you think it’s a copy of SKY Castle? All thoughts are welcome. And of course, if you think I forgot something that should be listed in either the similarities or differences, please let me know in the comments!

If I’ve learned one thing from writing this, it’s that I want to re-watch SKY Castle again.

As always, thank you for reading and happy viewing!

And if you want another interesting read, be sure to check out my most recent post about the unique presentation of domestic abuse in the recent K-drama, At A Distance, Spring Is Green.

Would you rather listen? Check out my podcast: i dream of dramas

Or, you can follow my blog, Twitter, or Instagram accounts (also linked in my bio) to stay updated and also get some extra thoughts of mine that don’t necessarily always make it into my blog.

New ‘SKY Castle’?: ‘Penthouse’ Episodes 1 & 2 Review

While this post is not a Penthouse vs. SKY Castle discussion, a short address of the topic seems inevitable. (Check out my most recent post where I compare the two dramas right here!) So, I’ll do my best to be concise and we can get on with the review. Yes, the two dramas share quite a number of similarities and the vibes are certainly comparable, but they are two different dramas. I advise viewers to give Penthouse: War In Life the space it deserves to make its own impression. I guarantee you’ll find it stands just fine on its own.

Enough said. I am 100% hopelessly hooked on Penthouse and can’t wait any longer to talk about it. So let’s dive right in with my thoughts and observations on its premiere episodes.

Warning: spoilers for episodes 1 and 2 of Penthouse lay ahead.

These two are back together and I’m so here for it.

One of my favorite things already is that Yoon Jong Hoon and Bong Tae Gyu reunite in this drama — once again playing filthy rich men, á la Return (though these characters are different…fans of Return should definitely watch them in this as well). Their chemistry is ever brilliant — and though I wouldn’t call them the comedy relief (both characters are downright unsettling…as is basically everyone in this drama), I find myself chuckling at their interactions with each other. In retrospect, I’m realizing how telling it is of the drama’s dark nature when the only semblance of comic relief revolves around two creeps who aren’t even comedic characters… .

Love it.

The twins are the most intriguing characters so far.

And that’s saying a lot because this cast is full of interesting characters. However, twin siblings Joo Seok Hoon (Kim Young Dae) and Joo Seok Kyung (Han Ji Hyun) are the most fascinating to watch unravel. They’re nasty, conniving, and most will probably find them incredibly unlikable. But these two are utterly, utterly wretched and pitiful. It would be easy to feel sorry for them if they weren’t such punks (which is not to say that I don’t feel sorry for them — I do). But that’s part of the fascination: the complexity of these roles. I don’t know how things will end up for our twins, but so far their choices are proving they have a long way to go towards redemption…if they’ll get any at all.

Seok Kyung is outspoken and cruel. Her twin brother Seok Hoon is quieter than she — and I was actually expecting him to be an ally to our main teenage protagonist. After all, he isn’t outright verbally abusive to her like his sister is. However, we see at the end of episode 2 that Seok Hoon has the same mean streak Seok Kyung does. The only thing more unsettling than her penchant for cruelty is his ability to hide his own.

Now for the million-dollar question: can we fully blame them? Everyone has the power to choose how they act, sure. But the line between Nurture and Nature is not always crystal clear. Sometimes people are more a product of their environment than we initially realize — especially if all seems well on the outside. Cushy and rich don’t necessarily equal happy and functional, though. In a particularly weighty scene, we find out that their dad physically abuses them. (He even has a secret room in his study where he beats them. It’s horrifying.) Oh, and Stepmom (who is one of the only good characters so far) has no idea.

Despite their terrible behavior to everyone else, I find the brother-sister relationship between these two touching. Although Seok Kyung was the one who got in trouble in the abovementioned scene, Seok Hoon takes the beating for his sister so that she doesn’t get hurt. Later, when she’s dressing his wounds, he tells her that he’ll always protect her while she tearfully clings to him and says she’s sorry.

As in all instances where there is a villain in a drama, the handling of that villain’s backstory speaks volumes as to the drama’s quality. Thus, it is to its credit that Penthouse doesn’t use these brutally sober scenes to shove desired emotions down viewers’ throats. Instead, the scenes are tactfully allowed to play out how they might in real life: as a viewer, it does not feel like a show put on for my viewing experience, but rather as though I’m intruding on painful moments in these kids’ lives. The scenes are not emotional beacons, but tools that further tell the twins’ story — and that of Penthouse.

The protagonists are underwhelming at this point…except one.

This might be because I usually like watching antagonistic characters better anyways, but so far I’m not super invested in the main protagonists, with one exception.

I really like Shim Su Ryeon (Lee Ji Ah), the stepmother of our above-mentioned twins. How she ended up with their sadistic father, I have no clue. (And she doesn’t even know the half of it.) Maybe we’ll find out how the two came together later on, but so far we’ve seen that he’s able to mask his true nature when he wants to…the key phrase here being “when he wants to.” (By the way, Uhm Ki Joon is tackling this difficult role — of father and husband Joo Dan Tae — with incredible dexterity and I’m so impressed with his acting ability. How he can look so tame and kind and yet be such a believably violent creep is absolutely terrifying.) Contrary to her husband, however, Su Ryeon is kind and caring. She also has a biological daughter in the mix who seemingly has been a vegetable in the hospital for 16 years. Su Ryeon is so far the only good one in all of our penthouse residents. It’s nice to know we have someone we can trust on the inside.

Now, to the protagonists I’m not necessarily loving at the moment (but I don’t flat-out dislike either):

Min Seol A (Jo Soo Min) is a poor highschool girl who charaded as a college student so that she could get paid to tutor the teens of the penthouse. She’s found out, however, and obviously loses her position. But she stays in the game when we find out that she won first place in the classical singing audition for this prestigious arts school all the kids are trying to get into. Which of course only makes them hate her more than they already do.

I can’t put my finger on why, but I don’t really like this character much so far. She seems extremely mousy and submissive at all the wrong times. At first I thought she’d be the type to stand up for herself, especially when she jousts verbally with the intimidating and quick-witted Seok Kyung. But Seol A’s really letting these nasty people walk all over her right now and I wish she wouldn’t. Of course, it could be that she’s biding her time until she reveals the hidden ace she has — the incriminating video she took of two married (to other people) members of the penthouse kissing passionately.

I’d say mom and daughter team Oh Yoon Hee (Eugene) and Bae Ro Na (Kim Hyun Soo) wrap up our protagonists. The major reason I’m not too fond of them is because so far their roles revolve completely around the classical singing aspect; I’ll get into that more in a second, but let’s just say it isn’t my favorite element of the drama.

We know Yoon Hee has a bad history with a particular member of the penthouse, esteemed vocal coach Cheon Seo Jin, played by Kim So Yeon. Yoon Hee’s daughter, Ro Na, auditions for the prestigious arts school I was talking about and guess who one of the judges is? Seo Jin — who of course makes sure Ro Na doesn’t get in. Somehow, I doubt Yoon Hee is going to let that slide.

The lip-syncing is — well, it’s a thing.

A rather large plotpoint is that several of these kids are training to be classical singers, and the lip-syncing is…okay. It’s not so awful that I can’t watch. But it’s not fully believable either. So far I think young acting veteran Kim Hyun Soo is doing the best with it. At least it looks like she’s really singing, even if the voice that’s supposedly coming out of her doesn’t necessarily sound like her own. Squinting kinda helps. But the slight cringe is still there.

I’m not trying to bash anyone involved in the making of this drama. I can’t imagine how much work goes into syncing voices with mouth movements, not to mention making it look like you’re actually singing an incredibly difficult aria when you’re not.

The story’s build-up is intense & I’m loving the thrill.

The very beginning of the drama kicks off with an extremely unexpected death. This poignant sequence sets the tone of the entire drama right off the bat: it’s a world full of ritz and glamor on the surface, but penetrated with extreme darkness. The drama then goes back a couple months to begin its story. And thus far, no one has died — but I feel as though that won’t be the case for much longer. There’s way too much going on and there are way too many evil characters.

It’s time to wrap this up, so I’ll end by saying that despite some of the things I’m not terribly fond of (i.e. the whole lip-syncing thing and a couple of the protagonists), I’m completely invested in this drama. It is overwhelmingly more of a positive viewing experience for me. The acting is phenomenal, the story is well-written and unpredictable, and the characters are captivating. We’re also given hints here and there that there are a lot of secrets to come to light, which I can’t wait for.

I love Penthouse: War In Life and can’t wait to see where it’s going. And I definitely recommend giving it a watch.

Until next time, dear readers!

Happy watching.

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Beyond The Classroom Walls: Top 3 K-Drama Teachers

Teachers have an enormous responsibility because few other adults have such massive potential to impact students’ lives. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, how many years you’ve been in school, or what kind of school you attend(ed): everyone remembers the people who taught them.

The impact a teacher may have on his or her students can be positive or negative, but today we are going to focus on the positive as we take a look at three of the most amazing teacher characters in K-Dramaland. These characters encourage their students, treat them with respect, and sincerely care for their wellbeing.

Just as in real life, these teachers aren’t perfect and certainly make their share of mistakes along the way. I just want to put that out there so as not to appear to paint these characters as flawless. I think that an important factor to consider is that when they do make mistakes, they reflect upon them, learn from them, and move on while striving to do better in the future.

Enough talk; let’s enter the classroom. First up is a classic (from one of my first K-dramas ever)….

Jung In Jae – School 2013

Jung In Jae (Jang Nara) in School 2013 is spunky, resilient, and — despite her petite stature — firmly stands her ground when some of her bigger-framed students (namely, a couple of the teenage boys) begin acting up. She listens well to her instincts, even when it means risking her popularity among her coworkers by going against the grain.

As tough as she is, however, Teacher Jung has a kind and compassionate heart. When her colleagues warn her that her notorious class of mostly troublemakers are a bunch of hopeless cases, Teacher Jung chooses to give them a chance and believe in their potential even when the students themselves don’t. She truly believes that these young people — in this instance, some of her more rebellious students — have underlying reasons for acting as they do. Rather than glossing over these particular kids and ignoring their problems (like her predecessors seem to have done) she does her best to get to the root of their issues and help each one overcome his or her personal obstacles.

As I stated in the introduction, these teachers are not portrayed as perfect — and Teacher Jung is no exception. She definitely makes mistakes. A particularly poignant example is when she slaps a student across his face. It’s crucial to note that School 2013 aired in (drumroll, please) 2013 — not long after corporal punishment was banned in schools in South Korea. The drama itself openly makes a point of this issue, exploring how teachers and students alike might fit into this (at the time) fairly new dynamic. (This is not to excuse, justify, or rationalize her behavior by any means. But it is something to think about as you watch.)

Oh Han Kyeol – Moment of Eighteen

While watching Moment of Eighteen (also called At Eighteen), I found an unexpectedly favorite character in the a-dork-able Teacher Oh (Kang Ki Young). His contagious smile and happy-go-lucky attitude are delightful, but don’t be fooled by his playful demeanor; Teacher Oh will not hesitate to go to bat for any of his students — even if those he must protect them against are their own parents.

He doesn’t play favorites, but sincerely cares for each student equally as he strives to gain their trust in a world where not every adult is trustworthy. He listens to his students — really listens to them — and makes it clear through both his words and actions that he is ready to fight on their side against whatever obstacles might come their way. He thinks for himself and refuses to be intimidated or controlled by those with more power, money, and influence.

While a lesser teacher might dismiss his or her students’ problems as trivial trials of adolescence, Teacher Oh is a careful observer who quickly realizes that a couple of his students are struggling with hefty issues that span far beyond the classroom walls. As each student fights his or her own individual battles, Teacher Oh does his best to be someone they can rely on in those tough times.

(I actually wrote an entire blog post on Moment of Eighteen, so if you’re interested in reading more of my thoughts on it, click here!)

Ha So Hyun – Mr. Temporary

Ha So Hyun (Geum Sae Rok) in Mr. Temporary (also known as Class of Lies) is definitely one of the best teachers in K-drama history. Something that immediately stood out to me about her is how passionate she is about her job, which she sees as far more than merely a way to earn money. Teacher Ha truly wants her students to learn in school so that they can make the best lives they can for themselves. And when it comes to protecting them, this woman is fearless. She will promptly face off with those who have more power than she does if it means shielding those under her care from harm.

The two dramas mentioned before this one are far more mellow and slice-of-life than Class of Lies, a mystery-thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the (slightly controversial) ending. (Speaking of which, if you’re interested in reading my review of the final episode, here it is.) The reason I mention the genre difference is because very little of the drama is spent in the classrooms themselves, so we actually don’t get to see Teacher Ha teach very much. That said, she still absolutely deserves to be on this list. Why? Because sometimes it’s the behind-the-scenes, unnoticed, and unappreciated work teachers do that demonstrates how much they care for their students. (And no, that behind-the-scenes work doesn’t necessarily involve solving murder mysteries, but I think you get the idea.) This is exactly the case with Teacher Ha. Even though we don’t get to see too much of her interacting in class with these kids, the way she joins forces with the drama’s main character to find out the truth behind a student’s death is totally admirable and just plain cool. Perhaps the occupation of “teacher” can sound mundane, but I think Teacher Ha shows more than anyone on this list how courageous and powerful a teacher can truly be.

Geum Sae Rok as Ha So Hyun

There are tons of teacher characters out there; these just happen to be three of my faves. Who are your favorite teacher characters in Dramaland?

If you’d like to get an email notification every time I post, just hit the “Follow” button. And/or you can follow me on Twitter at @kaylamuses where I tweet every post I publish as well some of my extra thoughts here and there in between blog postings.

5 Asian Movies I’m Always In The Mood To Watch

I seem to be in the mood for listicles lately — since I just finished off a post surrounding my top five K-dramas, I felt it would be fitting to head over here to talk about some of my favorite Asian movies (only some, mind you; I have to cap it off somewhere).

The theme for this post is simple: great films that I’m basically always in the mood to watch. The genres range, so hopefully there’s something here for everyone. And who knows? You may just find an unfamiliar gem or two you’d like to check out.

Let’s get to it.

*Parents/guardians of younger readers are strongly cautioned to research and okay the films before any viewing takes place.

Hot Young Bloods

One of the most iconic coming-of-age films out there, South Korean 80’s-era Hot Young Bloods tells the story of Joong Gil (Lee Jong Suk), the guy all the girls like. He’s dorky, clueless, and a total player. His childhood friend Young Sook (Park Bo Young) is the leader of a tough girl gang who harbors a one-sided crush on him. She, however, is the object of affection of boy gang leader Gwang Sik (Kim Young Kwang). Throw angel-faced new girl So Hee (Lee Se Young) into the mix, and you’re in for one serious mess of adolescent hormones — and one of the sweetest (and most hilarious) love stories ever.

This one can be pretty violent, especially in terms of bullying and gang violence. It’s not gory per se, but the film is about a bunch of angry, hot-tempered teenagers with little to no adult supervision…you do the math.

Animal World

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to gamble for your life in a lethal game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, you’re in luck because that’s the bare bones of Mainland China’s manga-to-film adaptation of Animal World. It tells the story of Zheng Kai Si (Li Yifeng), a debt-ridden young man who barely makes enough money to keep his comatose mother in the hospital, let alone marry his girlfriend (played by Zhou Dong Yu). After losing his last hope for survival, Kai Si’s only choice is to gamble his life for money in the highest-stakes game of Rock-Paper-Scissors anyone’s ever seen…and he must rely on his killer math skills to survive.

The cinematography of Animal World is mind-blowing, with stunning, high-quality graphics to boot. It’s well-filmed, well-acted, and the story is so engaging that the 2+ hours go by quickly (and with a lot of nail-biting because this baby’s intense). This was one of those films I randomly started — with zero knowledge about it — and was hooked immediately. And I do mean immediately…that opening sequence, though. Oh, and the fact that we get to see Li Yifeng and Zhou Dong Yu as a couple is a total bonus.

(If you don’t know a thing about gambling and your math skills aren’t your proudest attribute, don’t worry! I fit both of these categories and was still able to keep up with the film and enjoy it thoroughly…that’s why it’s on this list.)

My Little Monster

Getting back into light-hearted territory is Japan’s film adaptation of both the manga and anime of the same name, My Little Monster. It tells the story of two lonely teenagers: studious Shizuku (Tao Tsuchiya) — who thinks only of her academics — and eccentric Haru, (Masaki Suda), whose bizarre and uncouth ways give Shizuku little choice but to venture out of her comfort zone as the two form a fast (albeit odd) friendship.

My Little Monster is refreshingly honest and unapologetically offbeat. It refuses to remain tucked into any solitary category, focusing on friendship and family just as keenly as it does romance. It contains both heavy and whimsical material that will leave you deep in thought one moment, and chuckling (or shamelessly laughing out loud) the next. Characters are larger than life, yet beautifully relatable — a tribute to the film’s excellent way of transitioning manga characters to real life ones while still maintaining the general vibes of anime that we all know and love.

Psst! If you’re a fan of Masaki Suda, you must check this one out. The character of Haru allows Suda (who is often cast in darker, heavier roles) to showcase his brilliant comedic timing while also highlighting his physical versatility as an actor. (Haru’s crouchy, twitchy movements are often animal-like.)

Shoot Me In The Heart

Speaking of offbeat films, South Korea’s Shoot Me In The Heart tells an unconventional tale of two unlikely protagonists — Soo Myung (Yeo Jin Goo) and Seung Min (Lee Min Ki), two psychiatric patients whose friendship fuels hope for each other and their fellow patients in an otherwise bleak, oppressive environment.

The plot is simple and about as slice-of-life as it gets. Aside from the abusive male nurse Jeombak-yi (Park Doo Sik), there’s really no physical villain of the film; the antagonist manifests itself in the form of stigmatization and the patients’ own feelings of self-worthlessness. But it’s not all doom-and-gloom; clever humor and powerful moments of truth pervade the overwhelming hopelessness, creating an overall uplifting, upbeat film.

I’d like to point out that I believe the trailer and promotional posters make it look far more light-hearted and comedic than it is. I don’t think it was anyone’s intention to deceive viewers, but I just want to highlight that the film itself is really a lot more thought-provoking, artistic, and deep than the trailer (at least, any trailer I could find) makes it look.

A Werewolf Boy

An unconventional love story spans across species and time in South Korea’s A Werewolf Boy. When a young girl’s family moves to the countryside, she finds an unusual friend in the feral boy living in their barn.

Before we get into the characters, I have to point out one of my favorite aspects of this film: the aesthetics. It’s. So. Beautiful. If you didn’t already want to move to the Korean countryside, you just might after watching this.

Park Bo Young plays protagonist Soon Yi, who befriends the wild feral boy (Song Joong Ki) her family finds living outside their home. Neither are trusting of other people, yet the two develop a deep bond. He is fiercely loyal to her and her family (especially when it comes to their sleazy landlord, played by Yoo Yeon Seok) and she teaches him manners and how to behave more human-like. (This was the first thing I ever saw Song Joong Ki in and I was blown away watching an actor who has essentially zero lines deliver such a compelling performance.)

A Werewolf Boy is the epitome of what I believe is an oft-overused description when it comes to film: a timeless classic. If you want to see what this expression truly means, give this movie a shot.

Thanks for reading!

What are some of your favorite Asian movies?

If you’d like to get an email notification every time I post, just hit the “Follow” button. And/or you can follow me on Twitter at @kaylamuses where I tweet every post I publish as well some of my extra thoughts here and there in between blog postings.

Why I Almost Quit K-Dramas (& My Top 5 Faves)

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just cut to the chase: I haven’t been watching K-dramas (or any Asian dramas) lately. Why the hiatus? I started watching Outer Banks on Netflix. Then I finished it…and watched it again. And again. (I think that show broke me.) Now, I know my blog is mine and I can write about whatever I want to — and although I’m sure the niche of Outer Banks and Asian drama fans is out there and going strong — I simply didn’t feel like contributing my thoughts to that inevitably-awesome fanbase.

So as a re-entrance into my own blog, I’ve decided to compile a fun listicle of my favorite K-dramas. Please note I’m specifying that these are Korean dramas — I have other non-Korean Asian dramas that are list-toppers as well, but in order to keep this article a decent length, I’ll separate the categories for now.

These are in no particular order; they’re just my top five faves. (And in order to save us all from repetition, let me say this now: every single one of these dramas is exceptional in quality — acting, production, everything.)

Come And Hug Me

Come And Hug Me follows a young law enforcement officer as he reconnects with his childhood love — the girl he once vowed to protect from his serial-killer father.

Watch carefully for how Come And Hug Me portrays the power of words, the most poignant example being how the father of both of our main brothers uses his words very carefully: to mold one of his boys into what he wants him to become and to tear the other down to nothing. It’s a devastatingly truthful portrayal of the long-lasting impact words have.

Speaking of brothers and their father, this drama gives “family drama” a whole new meaning by questioning the very definition of family — biological or otherwise. One example is when our main protagonist’s stepmother treats him and his brother (who are unrelated to her by blood) with the unconditional love of a caring parent while their own biological father is…well, an abusive serial killer.

The drama also explores individuality and the power of choice. An iconic example is embodied in our main protagonist, who fiercely goes against all his father stood for by becoming a kind-hearted law enforcement officer.

If you’re looking for light and fluffy, skip this one; it’s on the darker end of the spectrum (yet somehow still manages to tell one of the most deeply beautiful love stories of all time). It will forever be one of my all-time faves.

Starring: Jang Ki Yong, Jin Ki Joo, Heo Joon Ho

The Crowned Clown

When the king’s life is in danger, his right-hand man comes up with a plan after seeing his lookalike on the street: get the clown to stand in for the king. What could go wrong? Well, The Crowned Clown answers that for us.

What could possibly be better than Yeo Jin Goo in a drama? Two Yeo Jin Goos in a drama. That’s right — the talented young actor really shows off his versatility by playing both the king and the clown (who are nothing alike; one is selfish and vicious while the other is gentle and fun-loving).

Action, intrigue, betrayal, friendship, comedy, tragedy, and romance — The Crowned Clown has a bit of everything and it’s all incredibly well-done. I honestly believe almost anyone would love this drama. It’s always one I suggest if someone isn’t sure what to watch next — even if historical dramas aren’t your thing. (They aren’t usually my cup of tea, truth be told).

And although there is far more to this drama than romance, the love story in The Crowned Clown is unbelievably beautiful. I can’t say too much without giving away spoilers, but trust me — you’ll be rooting for the two main leads to be together. Probably really loudly and with a lot of tissues.

*Quick hint to viewers: Don’t go into this expecting Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. The drama has nothing in common with it except that two young men look alike.

Starring: Yeo Jin Goo, Lee Se Young, Kim Sang Kyung

Save Me

Save Me follows a young woman whose family is trapped in a pseudo-religious cult. Although isolated from society in the cult’s commune, she — along with four young men — risk their lives to expose its evils.

This one has a special place in my heart because it was the first K-drama I watched in real time as the episodes were airing. (On DramaFever, mind you…R.I.P.) I remember trying so hard to pace myself, but of course as soon as the episodes aired, I gulped them down.

This is the darkest one on my list, so please keep that in mind if you’re interested in watching it. The overhead theme of a pseudo-religious cult is just the tip of the iceberg — it also deals with vicious bullying, abuse of all sorts, and contains a lot of potentially upsetting scenes. I definitely do not recommend it to young viewers.

Since I’ve addressed the love stories in the first two on this list, I’ll go ahead and address it here: it’s non-existent. If you want a sweet love story, this one is absolutely not for you because these teenagers are far too invested in saving their own lives and those of their loved ones to be worrying about romance. If nail-biting psychological thriller is more up your aisle, however, check Save Me out ASAP.

*Read my thoughts on Save Me (and it’s second season, Save Me 2) right here.

Starring: Seo Ye Ji, Ok TaecYeon, Woo Do Hwan

Mr. Temporary (Class of Lies)

When a student’s murder is covered up quickly and quietly, a former lawyer goes undercover as a teacher at that student’s school to find out the truth.

Mr. Temporary (also known as Class of Lies) is a classic whodunit. We are given a murder at the very beginning and don’t know until the end who the murderer is. It’s interesting and quick-paced, with enough give-and-take between the good guys and the bad guys to keep you on your toes all the way up to the finish.

One of the first things that struck me about the drama is its young rookie cast, specifically all of the student roles. It was a treat to watch talented new faces perform. And these characters, by the way, are layered and multi-faceted. No one-dimensionality here, even for side characters. Casting essential newbies might have seemed like a bold move when beginning the project, but it truly paid off; they all did phenomenal.

This drama has an…interesting…ending that left viewers debating; if you’d like to hear my thoughts on the controversial finale, check out this earlier blog post of mine.

Starring: Yoon Kyun Sang, Lee Jun Young (Jun), Keum Sae Rok, Choi Kyu Jin, Han So Eun, Kim Myung Ji

Beautiful World

When one member of a family ends up in a coma, the rest of the members suspect foul play…and won’t give up until they reach the truth.

Beautiful World is shrouded in suspense and mystery, which are thrilling to watch play out. But the drama’s main focus always comes back to family — specifically the strength and support a family can provide for each other in trying times (and contrariwise, how an unhealthy family dynamic can tear each other down and lead to destruction).

I wrote a post about this one after it finished airing. To check that out — and to read a more detailed account of my thoughts on the drama — just click here.

Starring: Nam Da Reum, Kim Hwan Hee, Park Hee Soon, Choo Ja Hyun

Until next time, friends. Happy drama-watching.

And as always, thank you for reading!

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10 Scenes In The ‘Extracurricular’ Finale I’m Still Thinking About

I finished Extracurricular about two weeks ago and still find my mind wandering back to it sometimes. So I compiled a list of ten moments in the last two episodes that especially stuck out to me. These scenes are either simply awesome to watch in general, or they seriously left me thinking afterwards. Or both. I hope you enjoy the read, but that’s not a requirement.

Spoiler warning: Lots of spoilers ahead. This post is intended for those who have seen the drama.

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.

Worlds collide at Banana Karaoke Club

If you read my previous post where I did a sort of midway, spoiler-free review of the drama, you’ll know that I strongly suspected that Ki Tae (Nam Yoon Soo) was going to be at the center of some sort of big action — but I did not expect a full-on, bullies-united raid on the karaoke bar. They come to Banana Karaoke Club as a massive, pipe-wielding pack of trigger-happy teenage boys and they absolutely tear it up. It’s honestly so epic; the entire scene was possibly my favorite of the drama.

The bullies aren’t the only ones to show up; Mr. Lee (Choi Min Soo) is there to kill Dae Yeol, more affectionately known by our protagonists as Psycho Guy (Lim Ki Hong). Now, we know well by this point that when Mr. Lee sets out to do something, he does it. And I pity anyone who stands in his way. Because they’re probably going to die.

It’s so cool watching the different worlds of our characters collide: the bullies are fighting the karaoke bar goons, Mr. Lee is just taking out whoever gets in his way as he hones in on his target, and our third party of players in this insane mass of chaos are just trying to get the heck out of there alive.

That third party is Gyu Ri (Park Joo Hyun) and Ji Soo (Kim Dong Hee). Gyu Ri went there by herself to try to take out Psycho Guy, but not before texting Ki Tae from ‘Uncle”s phone, saying Min Hee (Jung Da Bin) works there and to come on over (hence, the attack of the bullies). She also plants the phone there, essentially pinning everything on these people.

Just when Gyu Ri needs it most, Ki Tae and his blindly loyal buddies show up and chaos ensues, creating the distraction she needs to get away. Thankfully, Ji Soo figured out what she was up to and comes to help. However, the two are grabbed by Psycho Guy and one of his goons before they can run away. As they’re being dragged away, Ji Soo accidentally drops the hat Min Hee gave him…which comes back to haunt him later, courtesy of Ki Tae. Luckily, Mr. Lee bumps into the group, grabs the karaoke bar goon, and bashes the dude’s face in. He then starts going up the stairs after Psycho Guy, leaving Ji Soo and Gyu Ri free to leave. Before Mr. Lee reaches the top of the stairway, he turns back and — true to his nature — tells the kids something very short and simple, but saturated with meaning: Let’s never meet again.

I believe he knew the almost-inevitable probability of what was coming next: on the rooftop, Psycho Guy stabs him with a pole, and the two fight to the death — literally.

As awesome as the entire scene is, it’s gratifying when the police show up — because Min Hee finally told policewoman Hae Kyung (Kim Yeo Jin) what’s going on — and arrest goons and bullies alike. But our two main protagonists have already absconded to Ji Soo’s apartment — safe…for now.

Someone grieves for Mr. Lee

Contrary to the scene above, this one stands out in a quiet way. When Min Hee is told about Mr. Lee’s death, the tough young girl breaks down in tears. It’s heartbreaking to watch, but I’m happy Mr. Lee has someone to grieve for him — and that Min Hee has someone that she cared for so deeply. Also, kudos to actress Jung Da Bin for the long camera shot that remains on her face while her character processes the news and tries not to cry, but does. The talent of these people astounds me.

Gyu Ri blackmails her parents

The heading says it all. Now, I don’t condone blackmailing anyone (much less your parents) — and I’m not a Gyu Ri fan by any means — but this was such a you-go-girl moment for her because her parents are a bit…much.

Ji Soo almost spills the beans

Teacher Jo Jin Woo (Park Hyuk Kwon) is one of my favorite characters because he’s one of two trustworthy adults in the drama (the other being Policewoman). He is the kids’ cheerleader whether they want it or not. And I love this final scene between him and Ji Soo.

Ji Soo — who is likely very nearly on the verge of a heart attack by this point in our drama — asks Teacher if he’s ever endured something even though he felt like he would explode. Teacher confirms that he has felt that way and Ji Soo asks what happened. Teacher says he eventually did explode, but had someone there to pick up his mess. He then asks Ji Soo if he wants to explode in front of him…so that he can be the one to help Ji Soo pick up the pieces. It’s a touching moment — and for a few seconds, it really seems like Ji Soo is going to open up all of the crap he’s been keeping down this entire time.

And I’m happy to report that Ji Soo tells Teacher everything, they go to the police station together so that Ji Soo can take responsibility for his actions, and the two form a father-son bond that lasts forever and everyone is happy. The End.

Just kidding. If only, right?

Ji Soo and Gyu Ri romantic(ish) moments

I didn’t expect any type of romantic anything between Ji Soo and Gyu Ri — and although calling these interactions “romantic” is stretching it a bit, they were tender moments of genuine care for each other in a more-than-friends way. And despite myself, I thought the moments were really sweet.

The first is the almost-kiss that occurs right after the Banana Karaoke Club bully raid. Because both kiddos are so on edge with all that’s happened, they’re startled out of their reverie by what they think is a police siren but is in fact that of an ambulance.

The second is a scene that happens after Gyu Ri gets the money from her parents. She meets up with Ji Soo and the two of them sit by the water, looking at the city lights. She asks him to fly to Australia with her and they fondly daydream about a possible future for a bit. But he ultimately turns her down.

I don’t necessarily like them as a couple for many reasons — I don’t even like Gyu Ri as a character, honestly — but it was still nice to see a few brief moments of affection between these two. And in a drama like this, I’ll take all the softness I can get.

Min Hee finds out who ‘Uncle’ is

Remember when I said Ji Soo leaving the hat Min Hee gave him at the Banana Karaoke Club would come back to haunt him? Yeah. So, it turns out that Ki Tae finds it while destroying the club with all of his bully buddies. He keeps it to show Min Hee, saying its proof she was there. She, however, knows that it actually means Ji Soo was there. So she calls him to meet up.

By this point, Ji Soo is essentially losing his mind. (Ji Soo’s entire mental breakdown is a fantastic sequence of scenes, by the way! It warrants its own segment, but I’m already almost done writing this, so we’ll leaves things as they are. Let it suffice to say, Kim Dong Hee’s acting blew me away in this drama — particularly in Jisoo’s losing-it scenes during the last episode.) Holed up in his apartment, this kid is very literally worrying himself sick. Gyu Ri has left (or so he thinks…dun dun dun) and Mr. Lee is dead. He feels alone and is no longer able to push down the guilt and fear that are threatening to consume him completely. He suddenly gets the call from Min Hee and goes to meet her.

After she confronts him, it all comes out. Ji Soo is sobbing and begging Min Hee to forgive him and repeating over and over that he meant nothing by it. Again, the talent here is simply incredible.

It all goes downhill when Min Hee does…or, rather, “downstairs.” Because that’s where she ends up, unmoving and bleeding from her head, after the two of them scuffle over Min Hee’s phone which recorded all of Ji Soo’s confession.

Ki Tae finds out the truth

Finally Ki Tae is in the loop! And his reaction is drastic. I knew he’d be angry; I definitely thought he would beat the crap out of Ji Soo. But stabbing him with scissors is more violence than I was expecting from Ki Tae. It just further proves this kid is way more sinister than he initially comes off (which is saying a lot because he’s a ruthless bully).

Stairway ending + a theory

After Ki Tae comes in and stabs Ji Soo, Gyu Ri shows up and busts a lamp or vase or something over Ki Tae’s head. The two of them run out and end up on the stairway landing as they catch their breath for a moment.

Before the scene cuts, Ji Soo looks up and his face changes: it seems as though he sees someone at the top of the stairs. We then see policewoman Hae Kyung — who’s been figuring things out on her own — running into Ji Soo’s apartment, taking in the mess, then following the blood trail out of the apartment and to the stairs.

But the kids aren’t there anymore. Instead, we see more blood smears heading further down the stairs.

My thoughts? Ki Tae recovered from Gyu Ri’s blow and was the one Ji Soo saw standing at the top of the stairway. By the time Policewoman gets there, Gyu Ri and Ji Soo are already gone, but someone was at the top when Ji Soo looked up. It would also explain why Ki Tae isn’t in the apartment when the policewoman gets there: he already left the apartment, most likely finding the two since they left a trail of blood behind them.

If there is to be a season 2, it would make sense to continue with a Ki Tae vs. Ji Soo and Gyu Ri struggle/chase. He was definitely furious; there’s no way he’d let something like this slide.

Hermit crab

The last time we see the crab is for a split second at the very, very end of the drama’s final episode when we see a hand feeding it and the screen suddenly goes black. Prior to this, the last time we saw the crab was when Ji Soo took it to go meet up with Min Hee. He asked her to take care of it for him, but seeing as their altercation ends up with Min Hee bleeding out from her head at the bottom of the stairs, it’s understandable that the crab was left forgotten on the bench.

I’ve done an absurd amount of going back and forth to check the accuracy of the above statements and have the pictures to prove they’re correct. Towards the end — directly before Ki Tae enters Ji Soo’s apartment — we see the crab’s regular container on Ji Soo’s desk, but no crab.

It could be argued that the crab is too small to see in such a shot — but there’s also no green-lidded carrier, which is what Ji Soo takes it around in. He has two containers for the crab, which we can see in this shot earlier on in the episode:

The crab is in his regular container while the green-lidded carrier is in the background.

So the last time we see it was indeed when he met up with Min Hee. But then who picked it up? Because someone is clearly taking care of it. It seems as though someone would have had to follow them to the meeting spot. Otherwise, how would he or she have seen the crab? And if they were followed, did that person see everything?

Feel free to join in the conversation and drop your thoughts on Extracurricular below. As always, thank you for reading and happy drama-watching!

And if you want another interesting read, be sure to check out my most recent post about the unique presentation of domestic abuse in the recent K-drama, At A Distance, Spring Is Green.

Would you rather listen? Check out my podcast: i dream of dramas

Or, you can follow my blog, Twitter, or Instagram accounts (also linked in my bio) to stay updated and also get some extra thoughts of mine that don’t necessarily always make it into my blog.

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

9 Signs You’re Truly Addicted To K-Dramas

One great thing about finding yourself in between drama reviews is that you’ll probably end up sifting through old drafts, which is where I found this little number. After some tweaking here and there, I present you with a list of some personal K-drama-watching experiences that hopefully a few of you can relate to.

And remember, this is just for funsies.

Okay, let’s go: You know you’re a K-drama addict when…

…you understand the significance of bangs placement.

While bangs down often denote innocence/youth/good, bangs worn up with the forehead exposed usually indicate the presence of villainy and/or that a significant period of time has passed by in that character’s life.

Iconic example: Oh Se Ho (Kwak Dong Yeon) in My Strange Hero.

teenage Se Ho
present-day Se Ho

…you accept glasses as a perfectly suitable form of disguise.

I mean, it worked for Clark Kent, so why not?

Iconic example: Ki Moo Hyeok (Yoon Kyun Sang) in Mr. Temporary.

…you find that your speed-reading ability has become rather remarkable.

Because we aren’t just reading quickly; we also have to catch what’s going on in the scene.

(In fact, does anyone else’s eyes have to adjust when watching a movie or drama in their native language? My eyes always have to take a second to chill out because they’re so used to jumping all over the screen between reading subtitles and watching the scene.)

…you find yourself — while watching with a K-drama newb — inserting helpful bits of knowledge about the Korean language that you’ve picked up solely through exposure.

Which probably means your definitions are not exactly technical, to say the least. Explaining “hyung,” for example, usually goes something like this for me: “Hyung” isn’t his name; it means older brother. But that guy’s not his biological brother. And that’s just if you’re a male saying it — if you’re a female, it’s “oppa”. Which can also be for a boyfriend. Okay, now we need to rewind; that part was important.

…you feel out of the loop when your friends talk about actors, actresses, and tv shows from your native country.

But by golly, you can school everyone when it comes to Korean celebrities and/or variety shows.

So there.

…you have watched an episode before it was subtitled in your native tongue.

And you’ll do it again.

(Thank you, by the way, to every subber — you guys are awesome and your work is so appreciated!)

…you realize that either you or the set designer is spending (arguably) too much time at IKEA.

I’m flattered because it makes me feel as though my home is at least somewhat on par with a K-drama home. But seriously, in my latest drama, I recognized an IKEA fake plant on the main character’s balcony. So if there’s a line here, I believe I might have crossed it.

…you first discovered idol-actors through dramas, then found out they’re also K-pop idols.

In my case: D.O (EXO)…

Joy (Red Velvet)…

Hyeri (Girl’s Day)…

Jung Eun Ji (Apink)…

and Kim Myung Soo (formerly of INFINITE), to name only a few.

…you have a prompt answer for anyone wondering what the time difference is between where you live and South Korea.

But you try to answer casually as though you’re not constantly calculating the time difference so that you know when your drama’s next episode airs.

That’s it for now — thank you for reading!

Which do you most relate to? Anything not on this list that you think should be? Feel free to comment your thoughts below and join in the conversation!

Closure At A Bittersweet Cost: ‘Nobody Knows’ Final Episode Review

Nobody Knows is the best drama I’ve seen in a long time — and its final episode does not disappoint. It maintains pace and character consistency while wrapping things up satisfactorily — all of which can be a challenge to nail down in any finale.

Keep reading to find out which moments stand out above the rest…and which unanswered questions I was left pondering at the end.

Spoiler warning: Since this post is discussing the final episode of Nobody Knows, there are major spoilers ahead.

This moment between Sang Ho and Hee Dong

In a heated moment between Baek Sang Ho (Park Hoon) and Go Hee Dong (Tae Won Seok), the latter reminds Sang Ho of a frightening childhood memory: a day when the other kids at the orphanage locked young Hee Dong in a storage shed with a vicious dog. He recalls freezing in fear as the animal charged towards him, but the young Sang Ho came to his rescue by shoving his arm between the dog’s jaws. Hee Dong says that he believes his heart and mind never fully thawed after freezing like that, and admits he can’t exist without Sang Ho. One of the most poignant things about the scene is watching a tearful Hee Dong gently stroke Sang Ho’s arm, which is still forcing him up against the wall.

The reason this scene sticks out to me is because in a simple yet meaningful exchange, it completely explains Hee Dong’s blind devotion to Sang Ho. I mean, this is the guy who burned his hands willingly because Sang Ho told him to. We know they grew up together in the church’s orphanage — and since we know how Sang Ho was treated, we can assume that Hee Dong was abused as well. In an environment rife with distrust and uncertainty, a heroic act like the dog incident would understandably have massive impact on a young mind. It’s now clearer why Hee Dong follows Sang Ho without question, despite how often the latter hurts him.

Rather than hurriedly finishing off the villains in order to move on to its “good” characters, Nobody Knows takes the care its antagonists deserve as it wraps up everyone’s stories. So even though giving us a snippet more into Hee Dong’s and Sang Ho’s past wasn’t expected at this point in the story, it’s a refreshing move — and I’m thankful the drama let us in on such a private moment between the two.

Sun Woo’s redemption

When a furious Sang Ho barges into Eun Ho’s hospital room, Lee Sun Woo (Ryu Deok Hwan) doesn’t hesitate to put himself between the two. When Sang Ho begins beating him ruthlessly, Sun Woo bravely stands his ground and does his utmost to protect Eun Ho…even up to his last moment of consciousness.

Just like the character of Sun Woo, the scene seems quietly unassuming at first glance. It isn’t a dramatic showdown nor a grand finale, yet it’s one of the coolest scenes in the last episode — and one of my favorite moments of Sun Woo’s in the entire drama.

It holds an incredible amount of depth for several reasons. First of all, Eun Ho gets to see a male authority figure fight tooth-and-nail for him — something he likely hasn’t seen before. Secondly, whether it’s consciously or not, Sun Woo is proving to himself that he is not the same man he used to be — that he won’t sit back and watch injustice ensue around him. And lastly, Sun Woo is going up against Sang Ho, whom he’s known since childhood and once respected as a brother-figure. Sun Woo’s gesture is a big deal in every sense and the fact that his opponent is stronger than he is only makes his actions (despite inevitable fear) all the greater.

Sun Woo is later shown laying in a hospital bed, bruised and bandaged. He grins as he admits ruefully to Young Jin how much it all hurts. But, for the first time in the drama, he seems to be proud of himself — and rightfully so. Even if we liked him already (How could you not?), Sun Woo had to forgive himself and we get to see that in this last episode.

“What if you had saved me?”

During Young Jin’s and Sang Ho’s showdown on the rooftop, there is a brief moment suspended in time when Sang Ho glances at Eun Ho and wonders quietly — to himself more than anyone else — how he would have ended up if his own figurative Young Jin, rather than Seo Sang Won, had saved him when he was young.

This scene isn’t an attempt to victimize Sang Ho. Only moments before this one, Young Jin herself says that he chose to become a monster, something he doesn’t deny. Instead, the moment leaves viewers with a thought-provoking image of what could have been when we see Young Jin opening the door of the room Sang Ho was abandoned in as she extends her hand to his younger self.

What if someone like her had saved him instead of Seo Sang Won? It’s something to think about.

Sang Ho’s final scene

After his trial, Sang Ho is led to his single prison cell where we quickly glimpse his panic as the door clangs shut and is locked from the outside. He crouches down and pulls the provided blanket around him, mentally transporting himself back to the little room his abusive mother locked him in when he was a boy. And with a chilling smile and tearful eyes, he looks up to the camera and sardonically muses that — once again — he’s back in that room.

This drama is chock-full of powerful imagery, and this scene is no exception. Viewers may be reminded of an earlier scene in the drama when Sang Ho is about to kill Lim Hee Jung: tied up and wounded, she hisses that one day the police will catch Sang Ho and he’ll be locked up with no escape, just like when he was younger. A lesser drama may have felt the need to flash back to this earlier foreshadowing, but Nobody Knows gives us the courtesy of drawing the connection for ourselves.

As my favorite character, Sang Ho’s final moment was one I was on the lookout for and I salute the drama for giving such an iconic villain a truly proper goodbye.

(By the way, I wrote an entire post about Sang Ho and his villainous squad, which you can read here if you so desire.)

Ki Ho’s and Eun Ho’s meeting

One of the final scenes in the drama is between Ko Eun Ho (Ahn Ji Ho) and Jang Ki Ho (Kwon Hae Hyo). At one point in the conversation, Eun Ho shares that he used to feel anxious every single night as he tried to gauge his mom’s mood. But his anxiety ceased when Young Jin moved in upstairs. Ki Ho regretfully states that he wishes he had been that kind of adult, but figures it’s too late now. Eun Ho’s response is golden truth:

This scene is special because it’s a conversation between two characters who were so vital in (unintentionally) setting everything into motion, yet haven’t been able to speak to each other since the very beginning of the drama.

It’s also a reminder of this universal truth: you’re never too old to change.

Young Jin’s closure

Near the end of the drama, Cha Young Jin (Kim Seo Hyung) is sent a package. Inside is the camcorder in which young Sang Ho recorded himself killing Soo Jung. After much inner struggle, Young Jin makes up her mind to watch it as she sits alone in her apartment.

Picking one beautiful scene out of an entirely beautiful drama is a challenge — but if I had to, this one would definitely be in the running. Interestingly, it’s the lack of fanfare that makes this scene all the more striking. We aren’t shown the camcorder’s contents; instead, we are briefly shown Young Jin’s face, then the back of her bent head as she watches the utterly tragic moment that has plagued her entire life.

Young Jin gets her closure, yes, but it’s not necessarily how she imagined or perhaps hoped for. In the rooftop showdown, she is finally able to face her demons — the man who murdered her best friend and, consequently, her own desire to kill him. She also gets the (bitter) satisfaction of cuffing him herself and arresting him for his crimes.

But I think the moment that Young Jin truly frees herself from guilt is the one mentioned above, which brings me to my next point: how the drama handles the camcorder is brilliantly executed and I can’t praise the writers enough for how they chose to incorporate it.

I love that the camcorder isn’t used as a showy piece of evidence whipped out at the last second to convict Sang Ho. In fact, he’s already locked away in prison by the time this shot happens. I was half-expecting a semi-forced court scene with a melodramatic reveal, but I should have known better because this drama is too good for something so potentially kitschy. Instead, the camcorder is a quiet addition — almost an afterthought — to an already nearly-resolved ending. It’s sent from Ki Ho directly to Young Jin, who sits at her kitchen table alone as she presses play.

The bittersweet irony of the camcorder is not to be lost on viewers: a vital piece of evidence that holds such agony is not used for more damage, but for beauty in the freedom that comes with letting go.

Concluding thoughts:

As a whole, I think this final episode — and the entire drama, for that matter — is simply stellar. That said, it left me with a few open-ended questions. Now, don’t get me wrong; these aren’t plot holes by any means. They’re issues the drama purposefully left as they are, welcoming viewers to fill in the gaps. However, I still want to throw them out there for the sake of discussion:

  1. Did Jang Ki Ho lead Young Jin to the wrong place on purpose?
    • It would seem so, because he later goes out to find the evidence (which we learn is the camcorder) and sends it to her. Did he suddenly figure out what the numbers were actually for? Or — more likely — did he know what they meant the entire time and was waiting to make up his mind about Young Jin?
  2. Speaking of the numbers…what did they mean? How did Ki Ho crack the code of the ‘New Life Gospel’? And where was the camcorder hidden?
  3. What was Sang Ho’s and Sun Ah’s relationship? How did he save her? And what did he say to her at the end before killing her?
    • I have to read the English subtitles, so I wonder if the answer to this last question is inferred in their dialogue but perhaps lost in translation. (Thank you to any translators and subtitle-writers, by the way; the work you guys do is much appreciated!)

Again, these aren’t pivotal to the drama’s plot, and they certainly weren’t left out by accident. The creators of this drama are too excellent at what they do to leave us with any plot holes. Instead, I think the writers’ exclusion of these details are meant to provoke thought…which is clearly exactly what they did.

Bravo to the entire cast, crew, and everyone else involved in creating this spectacular work of art.

On to the next drama!

Why ‘Nobody Knows’ Oddball Villain Is Giving The Joker A Run For His Money

As someone who typically likes the antagonistic characters in dramas, finding a villain I love to hate (and hate to love) is exhilarating because — let’s be real — not every antagonist is created equal. Yet, from the moment Baek Sang Ho (played by the brilliant Park Hoon) first strolls on-screen in Nobody Knows — with his boyish charm and sinister finesse — I (along with viewers across the globe) was left captivated, curious, and wanting more of this new villain.

Baek Sang Ho is a peculiar juxtaposition in and of himself. On paper, he sounds like a stand-up guy: he’s a philanthropic hotel owner who seems to derive genuine joy from helping sick, abandoned, and/or troubled youth. Yet, he’s easily one of the most terrifying villains I’ve seen on-screen. Simultaneously friendly, charismatic, and utterly, utterly unpredictable, Sang Ho is just as likely to embrace you in a warm hug as he is to beat you half-conscious. It’s a gross understatement to say he keeps viewers on their toes like no other character I’ve seen before. (In fact, it took me several episodes to even realize which side he is on — if any!)

Park Hoon as Baek Sang Ho (with Ahn Ji Ho as Ko Eun Ho)

He’s remarkably quick-witted, often one step ahead of others. Because of what we know of his backstory, I’d say this is due not so much to the power and influence he has accrued for himself, but rather to his heightened survival instincts bred from an unfortunate upbringing. (But more on that later.)

Simply as a reference point to those unfamiliar with the drama, I’ve compared him in conversation to both the classic Joker and Andrew Scott’s Moriarty. This is not to weigh characters against each other (because I strongly dislike doing so), but is only an attempt to portray — at least in part — the general vibes of Sang Ho’s absolute bizarreness.

Not only is he both friendly and freaky, but Sang Ho is also incredibly funny — which is always an added bonus for any villain in my book. Of course, if your main villain’s sense of humor often includes the moral agony of others, things can get disturbing real quick. But Park Hoon’s comedic timing is definitely 10/10, and I’ve found myself chuckling when I’m not sure whether I should be laughing or not. It’s definitely unsettling, which seems to be the epitome of our oddball villain.

Yoon Chan Young as Dong Myung

Of course, his character is beautifully written (the entire drama is), but let’s give credit where credit is due: Park Hoon is owning this role. It’s his. Every movement, no matter how subtle — every idiosyncrasy, glance, nervous tic, hand gesture– every single choice Park Hoon makes as an actor is what creates Baek Sang Ho. His performance is truly nothing short of genius.

It should be noted that Sang Ho’s antics are not merely to amuse (or startle) viewers. His behavior is likely in part due to his bleak backstory, something we’ve only been given morsels of thus far. But it’s been enough to keep us anxiously waiting to find out more. And finally, in the last two episodes to air (11 and 12), we’re given a clearer sense as to what his childhood was like.

Warning: spoilers ahead about Sang Ho’s backstory, but I’ll tell you when they’re over.

In a couple well-placed flashbacks, we see that Sang Ho was abandoned by his mother, who never registered his birth. He was found by Seo Sang Won, who took the boy back to the church where he abused him daily, forcing young Sang Ho to memorize the entire ‘New Life Gospel’ by heart — and whipping him cruelly if he got even one word incorrect.

There’s no doubt we will find out much more about Sang Ho — but for right now, we are shown (at least in part) what life was like for him as a kid: full of abuse from adults who should have cared for and protected him.

End of spoilers.

Nobody Knows is doing a fantastic job with its main antagonist. While honestly presenting a fellow human being, the drama never crosses the delicate line of excusing Sang Ho’s crimes with a tragic childhood; instead, it simply reveals a person who may indeed be a product of his environment, but is making his own choices too. He’s not paraded around as one to pity, which makes him all the more pitiful.

Bonus mind nugget (a.k.a. something to think about until the next episode): Baek Sang Ho’s obsession with choice. Several times in the drama, we’ve seen how significant the power of choice is to him. (This is spoiler-free, so don’t worry.) In a recent episode, the group is discussing their next move and one of them declares that Sang Ho has no choice. He suddenly throws an almost childlike tantrum, viciously insisting over and over that he does have a choice. In episodes before that, he’s let a couple people he intends to get rid of choose their own path, essentially allowing them choose how they die. It should be noted that he’s remarkably casual and polite about it, which of course only multiplies the creep factor.

On an ending note, I have to say that I am loving Sang Ho’s little gang as well. Doo Seok, Hee Dong, and Sun A (played by Shin Jae Hwi, Tae Won Suk, and Park Min Jung, respectively) are totally killing it as Sang Ho’s group of buddies/henchmen.

Tae Won Suk as Hee Dong
Shin Jae Hwi as Doo Seok
Park Min Jung as Sun A

It’s both surprising and immensely refreshing that these three aren’t merely Sang Ho’s underlings, but also his best friends. Instead of churning out tool-like characters who remain in the shadows of the main antagonist and have minimal (if any) character development/backstory/personality, the drama paints three very distinct, vibrant characters who are just as important to the story as anyone else.

Sang Ho himself says that if you don’t trust people, you won’t get betrayed. Interestingly, however, he seems to trust Doo Seok, Hee Dong, and Sun A implicitly…I wonder why. We know he saved Doo Seok and that he and Hee Dong knew each other in childhood and possibly even grew up together — but we haven’t yet learned about Sun A. However, I have a feeling that we’ll soon find out a lot more about this trio…as well as our main villain.

Nobody Knows deserves all the attention and support from viewers it can get (and then some), so let’s spread the love for this drama!

What do you think of Park Hoon as Baek Sang Ho? Who’s your favorite character so far? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Happy viewing, friends.

(Psst! If you’d like to read my first impressions of Nobody Knows, you can check out that post here!)

Sang Ho’s character poster image source: https://programs.sbs.co.kr/drama/nobodyknows/visualboard/63073/?cmd=view&page=1&board_no=293626