So a few days ago, I finally got Netflix back after months of hiatus. Occasionally I like to just put my subscription on hold and watch other outlets and media. When I’m ready, or when a new season of a series I enjoy is about to premiere I rejoin.
This was one such case.
I have this ever-growing list of topics and shows I’d like to cover. Namely The Dragon Prince, seasons two and three. I think it’s been a whole entire year now since I covered season one. Anyway, after watching The Crown Season 3 and The King, I decided to scroll through what was trending to…add more shows to my ever-growing list. Because I seem to enjoy torturing myself under the burden of unwatched stories and their adjoining ideas looming over my head.
It had been a while since I sat down and watched a kdrama. To be quite honest, this is something I usually watch with my mother. She absolutely loves Korean dramas since I introduced them to her some years ago. Netflix for whatever reason has great already-completed series (Signal, One Spring Night, Age of Youth) while their ongoing weekly series (Mr. Sunshine, Crash Landing on You) tend to be…different.
Not to say that those series are bad, I just don’t find them appealing to watch. I usually stumble upon the period dramas or political ones where I am ignorant of the subjects and era being portrayed onscreen.
This may be why I tend to gravitate towards the emotional, slice of life-esque dramas. Despite being in a location foreign to my own, the human experience is not something that needs to be translated. Yes, I am watching English subtitles on the screen, but the tears I see are real. The situations depicted are something I can relate to within my own culture.
So when I stumbled upon Itaewon Class, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Like Hoshiai no Sora, it starts off generic enough: an antisocial high school boy gets transferred to a new school due to his father’s promotion. There, he clashes with the school bully and is reprimanded for his actions.
Here’s where the series deviates from the path of clichéd mediocrity: he is expelled.
Park Sung Yul sticks up for his son Park Sae Royi and does not throw him under the bus. He does not allow his son to be humiliated or demeaned. A corporate man through and through, Sung Yul resigns from his job and does not reprimand his son – but applauds his conviction. The two have a drink and start over.
Sae Royi helps his father clean up a newly-purchased shop and life slowly goes on.
One night, while on his motorbike Sung Yul is killed by none other than Jang Geun Won – a spoiled chaebol who is the reason for his son’s expulsion. Despite being an accident, Geun Won elects not to call an ambulance and presumably flees the scene.
At his father’s funeral, Sae Royi learns the true fate of his father through his frienemy Oh Soo Ah – the case has been fixed. Jang Dae Hee has planted the accident on the gardener, who will take the fall for his son instead. Furious, Sae Royi leaves the funeral to quite literally go and murder Geun Won, who is now at the hospital with an injured wrist from the accident.
Before dealing the finishing blow, Soo Ah arrives with the cops. The police threaten to shoot Sae Royi, and after talking him down he is arrested and taken to jail. And there, the first episode ends.
Needless to say after watching what felt like a short film converted into an episode, I was hooked. We were taken into this character’s origins, see him lose it all, and try to gain it back. The sheer amount of time this eighteen – nineteen year old boy loses of his youth is staggering. It is unfair.
After getting out, we see the newspapers sprawled out in his room of what Jangga Corp and the Jang family have been doing.
One incident after the other of Geun Won causing trouble and being as reckless as humanly possible – with no repercussions. Nothing has changed.
If anything, things are worse for the family as Geun Won does not have the aptitude for business like his father does. Or even possibly his bastard half-brother. But, we’ll get to him in a moment.
Sae Royi decides to settle in Itaewon after visiting it seven years ago on the night of Halloween. At the culmination of his unnecessarily difficult and bitter ten year journey, here he is – in one of the hottest neighborhoods in Seoul. And man, does Itaewon feel alive. The energy is palpable through the screen. To be quite honest, it reminds me of all those college nights I spent in the village here in the city (Manhattan).
The shots of the characters stumbling out of the Itaewon subway and looking up and around feel very nostalgic, for some reason.
Unfortunately, Sae Royi’s frenemy and first love Soo Ah oversees work at the flagship Jangga pub basically next door. His friend has been busy these past ten years.
Although being an orphan and having a different way of living than Sae Royi, she seems to try and undermine him at every turn. As is mentioned numerous times, Soo Ah has no interest in making her life more difficult than necessary. I have no problem with this – we all survive and cope with situations in different ways. I will not fault her for her life ideology, but I can fault her for hypocrisy, conflicting actions and thoughts.
Soo Ah was Sae Royi’s first friend. Soo Ah was also close with Sung Yul and he believed in her so much that he paid her college tuition. Soo Ahh warned Sae Royi not to get involved with Geun Won when he was bullying a student, stayed with him at his father’s funeral and called the police to deter further escalation of the situation at the hospital.
However, before Sae Royi is even convicted she is willing to testify against him when offered tuition money and living expense fees by Chairman Jang.
When personally turning away a minor from her pub and noticing the group had gone to Sae Royi’s DanBam, she calls the police. This results in the pub being shut down for two months, when it was already running at a loss. In episode 5, it seems she along with Chairman Jang personally go to view DanBam to scope the location out – and plot its demise.
Soo Ah may truly love Sae Royi, but as clichéd as this sounds if you opened a page in the dictionary and looked up the word ‘social climber’ there would be a picture of Soo Ah’s face. She is the chairman’s trained obedient dog, who keeps touting how much she has changed but in reality she is still the same – a selfish girl who puts her own well-being before that of someone she outwardly considers a friend.
Luckily, local social media star and high school sociopath Jo Yi Seo is on the case. Yi Seo sees right through Soo Ah’s facade and in the next episode decides to begin working at DanBam. Although she is a bit young, deciding to turn Sae Royi into her latest pet project may not be an entirely bad thing. I am excited to see how the pub transforms under her watchful eye.
There are about four other characters that will seemingly be rounding out the core cast: Gangster Choi Seung Kwon, FTM(?) cook Ma Hyun Yi, yet unintroduced Kim To Ni and Chairman Jang’s second son – Jang Geun Soo.
I feel like Geun Soo has a very important role to play in this story. He is living a normal life right now as a high school student with a major crush on Jo Yi Seo, but may have more going on beneath the surface. During his first introduction ten years ago he was shown outside the Jang residence smashing ants with a stick. That could be interpreted as a sociopathic tendency.
Chairman Jang ended up threatening Geun Won with turning the company over to Geun Soo in retaliation for Geun Won wishing to tell the truth after the hit and run of Mr. Park. Geun Won has clearly been shown to have an actual conscience, and despite having no interest in company policy or business feels threatened by his younger brother’s very existence. Coupled with the chairman now checking on his other son’s wellbeing…maybe there will be a showdown between these two brothers, after all.
Either way, I am so intrigued and excited to see all of these characters and their stories intersect.
I will be doing weekly reviews of Itaewon Class every Friday as it airs on Netflix. Especially since the upcoming spring anime season is literally a season filled to the brim with sequels I have zero interest in. I think adding a kdrama weekly review to the website will be fun, and it switches it up a bit. ☺
So with that being said, thank you for checking out my first review for this series! (And actually, first weekly review for a kdrama series on the website!)
Have you read the Itaewon Class webtoon? Have you watched the Netflix adaptation? What are your thoughts on the cast so far?
Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more Itaewon Class reviews!