Abusing Jun: The Way This K-Drama Deals With Domestic Abuse Hits Different

Spoiler warning: This post contains spoilers for the drama At A Distance, Spring Is Green.

Trigger warning [TW]: This post contains mentions and discussion of physical abuse and psychological abuse.

I wrote on At A Distance, Spring Is Green when it had a mere two episodes out — and as much as I casually enjoyed it then, I had no idea what I was getting into (or how hopelessly invested I’d become). I recall thinking I was signing up for a lot of fluffy cuteness. And though we do get that in the form of basically everyone in the drama (because they’re all adorable), our story goes far deeper and darker than anything I was expecting. It’s full of smiling, beautiful faces dealing with some of life’s ugliest issues. The most obvious example, of course, being Jun.

Since episode 1, At A Distance has made no secret of the fact that Yeo Jun (Park Ji Hoon) suffered some sort of abuse as a child. As the episodes air, viewers find out more of what that looked like as well as the current dynamic he has with his family. And as truly heartbreaking as all of these scenes are to watch, I found myself struck by the rather unique way this drama presents different forms of domestic abuse and the affects such abuse can have on a family.

Have other dramas done an incredible job portraying tough subjects like abuse? Absolutely! Yet the way At A Distance does so stands out to me — particularly considering the slice-of-life story about youth that it is. Perhaps this lies in just how much of the plot revolves around Jun’s struggles with his family; perhaps it’s because we get to see how damaging psychological (specifically verbal) abuse can truly be. Or perhaps it’s how Jun’s abusive dad is appropriately humanized.

Whatever the case, what At A Distance does feels like a step forward — a road paved, a way made. It feels progressive because, honestly, this type of social problem should be talked about more in dramas so that awareness can grow and we as humans can collectively face these issues together and proactively create change.

It just hits different.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at some specific aspects of At A Distance that aid in the unique way it goes about telling its toughest storyline.

The drama calls it like it is.

At A Distance takes a stand by showing how physical and verbal abuse from his parents have negatively affected Jun’s entire life. No meek skirting around the subject and no conveniently pulling it out when a character needs some “edge.” (Forgive the calloused phrasing, but we’ve all seen it done in shows.) Instead, the drama boldly faces the issue by calling it like it is: beating up your kid and telling them they shouldn’t have been born is not okay — it’s abusive.

The abuse theme is heavily featured.

Not only was I surprised by how openly the abuse is addressed, but also by how much focus it gets throughout the drama. Typically, an abusive past in TV shows means we get flashbacks here and there, maybe some references to it when called for. But in this case, it’s a massive part of Jun’s character arc, so At A Distance fittingly tackles the tough subject matter with plenty of screen time. (To clarify, that’s screen time spent on the topic in general, whether that means the abuse is being spoken of or thought about; I don’t mean “plenty of screen time” as in literally watching Jun get abused on-screen, though of course we do see some of that as well.)

And no, abuse is not fun to watch, hear, or think about. But it’s vital to address nonetheless because it is a social problem that exists in our world. The more it’s talked about, the more awareness it accumulates. (I know I said that in the beginning of this post; I’m perpetuating the point.) Then these behaviors — these cycles of toxicity — can be recognized, called out, and (hopefully one day) stopped as much as can ever be possible. And what better way to jump-start such critical conversations than via media?

Jun’s dad is humanized, which is actually a good thing in this case.

Before you say anything: yes, the line between trying to evoke sympathy for an antagonist and trying to further understand that antagonist is a fine one, but I think Drama does a superb job displaying the latter. Allow me to explain.

We see Jun’s dad (Kim Hyung Mook) on his own just enough to allow us to see him as a human being — one Jun has a very tangible history with — but not so much as to attempt to evoke sympathy for him. Now, it’s not like we see a ton of him when he’s not in a scene with Jun; there are only about two or three scenes I can think of where that’s the case. But because of these few purposeful, brief moments, viewers get to witness more of a character arc for him. So, rather than a flat archetype, we get a husband and a father with feelings and struggles of his own. In fact, I’d venture to say he’s more developed and well-rounded than most abusive drama-dads — and I think a lot of that is due to this particular creative choice.

Take the following scene, for instance: after his wife leaves him and his domestic violence becomes public knowledge, Jun’s dad wanders around his vast home by himself and eventually gets super drunk. It’s at this point that the drama gives him a few beats on-screen by himself as his new reality sets in. He then goes to visit Jun. In the ensuing conversation with his son, he yells about others looking down on him, to which Jun astutely counters that no one else looks down on him; he’s the one looking down on himself.

To my point, this already-excellent scene holds even more weight after having just witnessed Dad wandering alone around his gigantic, empty house and drowning himself in alcohol. Suddenly, his deep insecurity and loneliness (the latter of which is completely self-imposed) can be felt a lot more acutely; suddenly, everything feels a lot more personal. Without this scene, it would have been much easier to simply view him as an angry, drunk man yelling about people looking down on him.

This brief peek into Jun’s dad’s life without Jun present didn’t suddenly make me feel sorry for Mr. Yeo. But it did help me assemble a more complete picture of the father-son relationship he and Jun have.

The drama validates how damaging psychological abuse is.

Enter: Jun’s mom (So Hee Jung). The reason this mother-son relationship is such a tough pill to swallow boils down to the fact that it’s honestly just really difficult to watch her be so severely cruel to sweet Jun. He is starving for even a morsel of affection from her and she not only withholds that from him, but also actively psychologically abuses him. It’s brutal.

One example of this occurs very early on in the drama after Jun gets verbally attacked and slapped by Dad. After her husband leaves, Mom swoops in with a gentle cheek caress and what initially appears to be concern but quickly turns into a barrage of soft-spoken, devastating verbal abuse.

It’s extremely telling, too, that this is the part where Jun’s tears start to fall — not during the aforementioned altercation with Dad.

Physical damage is simple to portray on-screen, but not so psychological. Drama does a great job showing that the words we say hold power — so, wield them wisely.

(Is it any wonder that Jun collects as many “friends” as he can get so as to receive affirmation from large amounts of people in the hopes of filling the void left by his worthless parents? And on a separate note entirely, is it possible to adopt drama characters?)

the drama shows how the abuse also affects jun’s brother.

At A Distance does a great job of showing the Yeo family dynamics as they might exist in real life; and it takes it one step further by not only showing us how things look between Jun and his parents, but also between him and his older brother, Jun Wan (Na In Woo), a.k.a. Dramaland’s Best Big Brother Ever.

Jun Wan quite literally sacrifices his entire life to keep Jun safe the best way he knows how — by keeping him away from their parents. As a child, Jun Wan was also abused (by their dad) and makes up his mind to protect Jun from what happened to him by distancing his younger brother from their family as much as possible. How does his pre-adolescent mind decide to do that? By ostracizing Jun. It’s dysfunctional and backwards — but then again, what isn’t with this family?

To add to the utter, gut-wrenching tragedy of all of this is, of course, the fact that Jun has no idea what Jun Wan is doing. He genuinely thinks his older brother hates him and even remembers Jun Wan as being the one who abused him (which is false, but we won’t get into that aspect of the drama in this post).

I was amazed at the character of Jun Wan. I had an inkling since the start that he isn’t as evil as he is made out to be by Jun (who, at that point in the drama, sincerely believes that himself). But I wasn’t prepared for how truly selfless Jun Wan is, going so far as to give up incredible job opportunities to teach at Jun’s less affluent university just so that he can keep an eye on his younger brother from afar.

If there was any pair I could have used more screen time of, it’s definitely these two; I love watching their relationship grow from so dysfunctional and damaged to — still damaged, but a little more functional…and with a lot more hope.

tragically (but realistically?), jun’s family never reconciles.

Not going to lie: this irritated me at first. No, I did not want a neatly-wrapped-up-with-a-bow happy little family picnic at the end here — but I wanted closure, which I felt never happened in regards to Jun’s family. When the drama ends, Jun’s mom is still gone and his dad’s on his way to prison. As far as we know. And to be honest, it feels inconclusive. Rather than dwell in that frustration, however, I decided to look at it as being a choice towards realism instead. It makes it a bit more palpable.

Seriously, though, Jun’s dad makes it clear in his last scene that he’s not going to change. And Jun himself (very understandably) says that he’s not sure he can ever forgive his mom. So, there’s really no realistic way this family could somehow patch things up or even get halfway decent closure for Jun — at least not in the finite span of our drama’s run time.

And remember: a significant reconciliation within the family does happen — between Jun and his brother. And I love that.

we get to see Jun open up to someone about the abuse for the first time in his life.

This was one of my favorite moments between our male leads. After recalling a repressed memory and finding out about additional abuse going on within his family, Jun asks close friend and roommate Nam Soo Hyun (Bae In Hyuk) to sit and talk. The subject: fathers. Soo Hyun shares about the hero his own dad was, then asks about Jun’s father. And Jun tells him the truth. The scene poignantly ends with Jun tearfully asking Soo Hyun: “What do I do?”

These moments are so quiet and unassuming that such a scene might have been overlooked in a lesser production. But it’s such a significant turning point for Jun because not only does he recognize that he has a trustworthy friend he can lean on, but he also releases some of the darkness that’s been holed up inside of him his entire life. It’s a beginning step to healing for Jun, and I’m grateful the drama included this moment for viewers to witness.

Before moving on to my outro, I’d like to quickly highlight the brilliant performance Park Ji Hoon gives as Jun. He’s truly spectacular, and I wish him luck in his future projects. To say he owned this role is an understatement.

I love this drama as a whole (sans the final episode, but we aren’t going to get into that right now). So many things had to come together for this project to turn out so beautifully. All of the creators involved, every actor and actress, and — of course — the original webtoon writer themself. Bravo, all, on creating something meaningful.

And in conclusion, I’d like to end on a positive note because, let’s face it, this is a really heavy post. I mentioned I don’t like the finale, but one thing I do like about it is seeing the abundance of hope Jun now has in his life. Early on in the drama, we became acquainted with a happy-go-lucky young man whose sweet, bright smile was his armor. By the end, we get to see Jun find a tightknit group of people (including his older brother) who truly love him unconditionally. And as kitschy as it sounds, someone loving him for who he is — without him feeling like he has to earn it — is what he needs most. So I love that At A Distance gives him that.

Park Ji Hoon (Yeo Jun) with Kang Min Ah (Kim Soo Bin)

I could probably talk about this drama for hours, but alas: my free time is finite, as well as is yours. So, I’ll leave it here for now. I may not be going into as deep analysis as could be done, but hey — I’m starting the conversation.

Feel free to join.

As always, thank you for reading — and happy drama-watching! Until next post.

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Familiar Yet Refreshing: 7 Reasons ‘At A Distance, Spring Is Green’ Is The Perfect Watch For K-Drama Fans

I was excited for this drama back when Seo Kang Joon was in the works for a main role. However, as the years passed, I eventually forgot about it. So, when I saw it had begun airing — with tons of fresh new faces — I couldn’t hit ‘play’ fast enough.

…And I’m already head-over-heels.

Alright, I’m excited to start talking about it. So grab your favorite drama-material-reading beverage of choice (mine’s coffee), and join me as we go through some things about At A Distance, Spring Is Green I believe will especially appeal to K-drama lovers.

Quick disclaimer: I have not read the webtoon this drama is based off of, so of course I cannot provide any insight as to how the on-screen adaptation compares.

It’s got the great, old-school K-drama qualities we all know and love.

At A Distance strikes me as a perfect drama for K-drama fans because although it possesses familiar qualities and tropes, it’s saturated with refreshing details that will keep viewers coming back for more. It tugs at the right heartstrings; it hits the right notes. It’s a perfect watch for K-drama lovers who want that delicious love triangle (or pentagon…or hexagon…not sure what this is going to look like quite yet) but with new, vibrant characters who you haven’t seen before.

We’re already seeing heavy subject matter.

Jun’s family problems are the most obvious (I’ll get to that in a bit). But we also have Nam Soo Hyun juggling work and school as his family’s financial provider. And even though we don’t know what her family situation is like yet, Kim So Bin is feeling the intense, very real pressure of getting enough experience under her belt before graduating college.

I’m pleasantly surprised at how deep the drama is going with characters already. From the reason behind Jun’s forced smiles to So Bin’s crippling insecurities, At A Distance gets to the kids’ issues quickly. As a viewer, I appreciate not only the pace that the story is progressing at, but also the fact that the drama isn’t remaining at the surface of fluffy angsty made-up problems. No, we’re dealing with young people who have real struggles that, tragically, a lot of viewers will probably be able to relate to (at least, in some form). We’re definitely in for the long haul and I can easily say I’m already invested in these characters, even though we’ve only seen them for two episodes as of yet. Love it.

Our female lead might seem weak at first, but she’s actually Superwoman.

As mentioned above, So Bin (Kang Min Ah) struggles with feeling inferior and insecure (at least, that’s how I interpret her words and actions). Several times, I found myself slightly irritated with her for how weakly she inserts herself into conversations. Are we going to have a mouse-y female lead?

Nope. So Bin is anything but weak.

After taking a step back, I realized that what So Bin is accomplishing is actually incredibly admirable. We don’t have a weak female lead. She can speak up for herself when it comes down to it; she’s done that several times already. What we have here is a young woman who feels behind her peers in accomplishments and grades. She says herself that she goes unnoticed because she’s not memorable. She feels inferior, but voices her opinions despite that. And if she needs to practice standing up for herself at her own pace in order to gain confidence, then let’s applaud her for it. Asserting yourself is not an easy thing to do for everyone — and I believe viewers should recognize the fact that she’s trying rather than criticize the fact that she might not have it mastered quite yet. (I don’t know if that’s what people are saying or not, but since I found myself initially concerned that we’d have a weak female lead, I’m assuming there are folks out there who might have thought so too).

I look forward to watching So Bin gain confidence as she overcomes personal obstacles, celebrating her victories with her, and rooting for her along the way.

You’ll want to save Yeo Jun from his abusive family.

TW: mention of physical abuse and emotional abuse

Oof. I was expecting a sad story as soon as I saw some of Jun’s (Park Ji Hoon) brief flashbacks, but I was not prepared for how abusive his parents are — both physically and emotionally. His dad slaps him once, but it’s very clear that the hitting would have continued if Jun’s older brother had not been waiting for him outside. He’s also verbally assaulted by both parents in this particular scene. I was especially struck by how completely devastating his mother’s cruel words are to him. Does she realize the irrevocable damage she’s causing? Does she even care? It’s honestly difficult to watch.

No wonder Jun tries his best to get everyone to like him — he’s totally starved of love at home.

I really hope Jun finds happiness and someone who loves him for who he is, whether that’s in a romantic or platonic sense. Also, I’ll be setting up a GoFundMe so that I can adopt him.

The other male lead says what everyone is thinking (but too afraid to say).

I find Soo Hyun’s (Bae In Hyuk) forthright, no-nonsense attitude refreshing. Sure, he could be friendlier sometimes. But I like that he says exactly what he thinks, even if it’s socially deviant (like in the flashback to his freshman year when he asks the younger girls why he has to pay for them when he doesn’t even know them).

He is the only person who doesn’t fall for Jun’s charms (or wallet), which is why Jun clings to Soo Hyun so desperately (remember, Jun wants everyone to like him). He prefers unpleasant truth over ignorant bliss, something we witness when he tells Jun it’s easier to hear his honest opinion than to bear his fake friendliness.

Soo Hyun has a lot on his plate right now, so I hope he’s able to find a healthy balance between work, school, and personal life. And I hope he takes his qualities that could easily be used for malice and employs them for good.

The side characters are just as cute and interesting as the leads.

So far I’m especially enjoying two surrounding our female lead: poker-faced roommate Min Joo (Woo Da Vi) and charismatic childhood friend Chan Gi (Choi Jung Woo). I’m excited to see these characters — as with all of them — develop as the story moves along.

The college campus setting is both beautiful and fresh.

I like it physically (it’s gorgeous) and I like the unique fact that our characters are in college. It’s fun to see a new drama where the main leads are in that gray area between carefree youth and full-blown adulthood (which you’ll quickly see is a recurring theme in the drama).

And wherever you live in the world, you’re probably going to get some serious weather-envy.

Well, there you have it. At A Distance, Spring Is Green is such a solid drama overall. The acting is excellent (Ji Hoon’s performance is particularly notable because a number of his scenes have been tough), the story is engaging, and the cinematography is super pretty. I’d encourage anyone to add it to their watch-list immediately.

Currently watching: Mine, At A Distance, Spring Is Green

To stay updated, simply follow my blog to receive an email every time I post. 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).

Photos from MyDramaList and the drama’s website

When Less Is Truly More: ‘Move To Heaven’ And ‘Navillera’ Prove The Best Stories Are Simple

*This post is spoiler-free for both dramas.*

Quick caveat: I use the word “simple” several times in this post (and in the title, of course), so allow me to define it by the standards with which I am using it. By “simple,” I mean “not complicated.” I am not inferring, by any means, that these dramas are of poor quality, writing or otherwise. Quite the opposite, in fact. No, “simple” is good. And I’ll tell you why.

Ultimately, Move To Heaven and Navillera are simple stories with straightforward plots. There are no forbidden loves or birth secrets, no intricately interwoven webs of deception or melodramatic tales of a rags-to-riches protagonist. In fact, neither drama even has romance as a main plotline. Yet, I adored both dramas immensely. And I’m not the only one — tons of viewers globally are freaking loving them. Naturally, this got me thinking: why are these modest stories garnering so much worldwide attention?

Allow me to clarify that I’m not asking “Why?” because I don’t think they deserve praise or recognition — on the contrary, I think both dramas deserve all the attention they’re getting and more. Rather, I’m questioning their success in light of our current world. Cynicism aside, I think it’s undeniable that so many things in this world are complex — and I think media in general strives to meet those attention-grabbing standards with the likes of intersecting timelines, criminal masterminds, serial killers, melodrama, etc. The louder, crazier, more twisted and colorful, the better. And while all of these things have their time and place in movies and on television (because believe me, I love a good crime/mystery drama as much as the next person), it’s just plain refreshing and renewing to watch something without all of that once in a while.

Let’s take a brief look at Move To Heaven; I was struck almost instantly by how incredibly predictable this drama is. Nearly nothing about it surprised or shocked me. I don’t say that to diss it, but as an observation that fascinated me because — despite the lack of shock and awe — I was absolutely hooked. Which, of course, caused me to wonder why I loved it so much. Hence, this post.

Same goes for Navillera. I wouldn’t call it predictable, as I just did with Move To Heaven. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the ending. However, I found myself asking the same question because, when asked to describe the drama, I said, “It’s about a 70-year-old man who begins learning ballet…”. That’s it; that’s the bare bones. Now, I have issues with concision (read: I talk way too much), especially in regards to Asian dramas. (Hence, this blog, in all honesty.) So, the fact that I was able to give a short answer when asked what Navillera is about slightly astounded me. And, once again, I found myself wondering why I was so wholly invested in such a simple story.

I think I wrote this post for myself. I needed to figure out what it was about these stories that struck me to the core so unapologetically. The answer?

Move To Heaven and Navillera reminded me of the things in life that are truly meaningful: family, love, friendship. Human relationships. People growing, developing, failing, learning, and overcoming personal demons. People living life.

I don’t always need to watch murder mysteries or melodramas to feel invested. Once in a while, I may need to take a step back from all that and remember that sometimes the simple things in life are the most valuable, the most beautiful. Sometimes less is truly more.

As far as dramas go, Move To Heaven and Navillera can really ground you if you let them. They’ll also likely make you ugly-cry. At least, that’s what my friend said… .

As always, thank you for reading and happy drama-watching!

Currently watching: Mine, Law School

Next on my watch-list: Imitation

To stay updated, simply follow my blog to receive an email every time I post. 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).

Unpopular K-Drama Opinions: 3 Extremely Popular K-Dramas I Didn’t Like (And Why)

I don’t write about dramas I don’t like for several reasons:

  1. There’s already enough negativity in the world; I like to keep this space positive.
  2. I enjoy writing about things I like and I don’t enjoy writing about things I don’t like. Simple as that.
  3. If I don’t like a drama, I drop it. This means I did not watch the whole thing, so I don’t feel qualified to give a complete review.

All of that being said, I’m going to give this a shot anyways. It’s a post idea I’ve been chewing on for a while now and kept putting off because I did not want to be negative. But I realized this is something I’d be truly interested in reading if someone else wrote about it — so here we go.

Before continuing, I want to throw a giant blanket disclaimer out there: if I say something about disliking characters, I am talking about the characters, not the actors or actresses. I greatly admire the hard work these actors and actresses put into their roles and am not disrespecting them, their abilities, or their performances.

Anything in the drama that I didn’t like is my own very personal opinion — nothing more. And I’m not going to just dump on these dramas, either. They are/were popular for a reason — a lot of people like(d) them. I’m simply going to state why I, personally, didn’t. So without further ado, let’s get into it!

Warning: frightfully unpopular opinions lie ahead.

First up is (please don’t hate me)…

The Penthouse: War In Life

The title says “popular” dramas, right? Clearly, I wasn’t kidding.

Simply put, Penthouse was too melodramatically soapy for me. I like dramas that veer towards the realistic and slice-of-life. And if you’ve seen Penthouse, you know it’s a far cry from both.

Is that done on purpose? Absolutely! It’s not like the creators were trying to make a relatable, realistic drama and accidentally popped out something way over-the-top. Its soap opera style is a creative choice, and I applaud the creators for making the bold decisions they did, especially considering how many people initially complained that Penthouse was copying SKY Castle. (It’s not, by the way. In fact, when it first aired I wrote a post defending it, insisting it’s its own drama and expressing hope that it would soon come out from under the shadow of SKY Castle one day…little did I know how soon that day would come.)

No, the creators made it how it is on purpose and it was (and is) extremely popular. But as satisfying as it might be to crash your ex’s wedding in a helicopter with their childhood nemesis…Penthouse simply is not my cup of tea.

Tempted (The Great Seducer)

I wanted to like Tempted so badly, and was especially looking forward to this iconic trio:

But I could not get into it. In fact, the only reason I dragged myself through Tempted (this was one I actually did finish) was to see if the only storyline I truly cared about — Soo Ji (Moon Ga Young) and Se Joo (Kim Min Jae) — was satisfactorily wrapped up. (It wasn’t. Leastways, not to my liking.)

The main reason I didn’t like this drama is because I didn’t like any of the characters. This includes Joy‘s character, who was definitely supposed to be likable. It turns out, there’s only so much I can take watching entitled, filthy-rich snobs playing around with other peoples’ lives.

(Which would be the perfect segue into Heirs, had I been able to make it past Blonde Surfer Dude in the first episode or two — sorry, man. As such, I haven’t seen enough of the drama to feel like it’s fair to include it on this list.)

The Smile Has Left Your Eyes

This drama truly irritated me. In fact, it’s difficult to pinpoint one solitary thing I disliked because I really couldn’t stand it as a whole. I didn’t find the story interesting and didn’t find the characters interesting enough to make up for the lack of engaging story. It came across as a bunch of angst with little substance. The male lead was cold and insulting to the female lead, who was whiney and clingy. I quickly tired of her waiting around for him at his apartment only to be disappointed when he (surprise, surprise) didn’t show up again or was sitting inside pouting with the doors locked. (Yes, I know he has a whole history that explains his behavior, but that didn’t make him more palpable as a character.) For the progressive-prone era we live in, I felt like this was such a step backwards for drama characters.

I can’t help but wonder if so many people were taken with The Smile Has Left Your Eyes because it showed more of the leads’ physical relationship than most K-dramas. There, I said it.

Who knows? Maybe I should have given it more of a shot. Maybe now that I’m older, I’d watch it with a fresh perspective. But I truly don’t care enough about it to even give it a second shot — and goodness knows it doesn’t need me to…The Smile Has Left Your Eyes has a ton of fans who loved it.

Which leads me to my next point: if you’re a fan of any of these dramas, good for you! I mean that sincerely. My intention is not to slam these dramas and insult viewers. I simply thought others might find my unpopular opinions interesting, especially since these were widely very well-received dramas.

Ultimately, I hope this post promotes constructive discussion rather than arguments. Whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your opinions on this post!

To stay updated, simply follow my blog to receive an email every time I post. 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).

As always, thank you for reading — and happy drama-watching!

Why ‘Law School’ Is The Drama I’ve Been Waiting For

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, Law School is very possibly the K-drama I’ve been waiting for. For my entire life. Allow me to sort through my thoughts on it because so far, I’m completely on board. In fact, if I have any reservations at this point, it’s only in the form of desperately hoping this drama stays as good as it’s starting off.

Keep reading to find out what I love so far — and what I would caution viewers to be wary of.

What to look forward to:

The story wastes no time getting started. We find ourselves in the midst of a mock trial, where an actual murder takes place during the allotted break time. You mean we get to the interesting part right away? Sign me up.

The characters are immediately fascinating. I won’t name names but lately I’ve dropped several dramas (that appeared very interesting initially) because I was simply unable to invest in the bland characters. It doesn’t matter how clever a story might be; if you have no characters to empathize with, root for, or at least be fascinated in, the drama won’t be worth watching (in my humble opinion). So far, these characters’ subtle glances and gestures draw the viewer in right away — and in mere minutes, I found myself both interested and invested in characters I know next to nothing about.

The mystery is far more complex than it initially appears. What starts as a classic whodunit quickly spirals into an intriguing web of deception and secrets. And it seems like nearly everyone has something to hide.

The leading lady is both humorously relatable and intelligent. I’ve only ever seen Ryu Hye Young in Reply 1988, but that was enough for me to know she has excellent comedic timing — something she brings to this role in a subtle, down-to-earth way. But we know it won’t only be giggles and grins when it comes to Kang Sol; she’s putting herself through law school for a very personal reason and something tells me this girl won’t stop until justice (in her eyes) is served.

The soundtrack is phenomenal. I don’t usually get too enthusiastic about soundtracks, but this music is incredibly gorgeous (and haunting). It’s used tactfully, supporting scenes properly rather than distracting from them.

The cast is stellar. If you’ve been watching K-dramas for any length of time, you’ll likely notice several extremely talented and familiar faces right off the bat (Lee David, Ryu Hye Young, and Kim Beom, to name only a few). Those you don’t recognize will quickly grab your attention. Everyone is doing a phenomenal job in the mere four episodes out, which makes me all the more excited for what’s to come!

A word of caution:

The time hops require careful following. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that I often have to pay extra close attention when a drama involves several timelines. Please don’t let this deter you from watching; the different timelines (which are really just large flashbacks) are well-done and are no doubt presented as clearly as the production team deemed possible. They’re also absolutely necessary for the story. And once you get into the swing of it, they’re not difficult to follow. But if this kind of thing is typically harder for you to keep track of (again, maybe it’s just me!), I’d suggest simply going into the drama expecting it and you’ll be fine.

(Update as of 05/12/2021: These time hops/flashbacks really only occur heavily in the first episode or two. It’s not something that continues consistently as the drama airs. I just thought that was worth noting.)

If it seems like I’m grasping for straws with the “timelines” thing, it’s because I am. I simply don’t have anything truly negative to say about the drama yet. And like I said in the beginning of this post, I’m hoping beyond hope that it remains that way. Because right now, Law School is the most interesting drama I’ve watched in a long, long time.

In short, if you’re on the hunt for a new drama in which to fully invest your time and soul — er, I mean just your time — then I highly suggest giving Law School a shot. Unless you hate interesting stories, you likely won’t be disappointed.

Follow my blog to receive an email every time I post. 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). As always, thank you for reading — and happy drama-watching!

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.

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.

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.

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