KDRAMAGUK : Korean Drama Soup

a landing site for quick, completely biased, and totally snarky korean drama reviews


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

School 2013 (2013)

School 2013
학교 2013 / School 5
(Dec 2012 – Jan 2013)

who’s in it
Lee JongSuk (High Kick 3, I Can Hear Your Voice)
Kim WooBin (Vampire Idol, Gentleman’s Dignity)
Park SeYoung (Faith)
Ryu HyoYoung (Greatest Love)
Jang NaRa (Baby-Faced Beauty, My Love Patzzi)
Choi Daniel (High Kick 2, The Musical)
Uhm HyoSup (Golden Time, Nine: Time Travel 9 Times)
Kwak JungWook (Queen SeonDuk)
Lee YiKyung (Nine: Time Travel Nine Times)
Lee JiHoon (Lee SoonShin is the Best)
Choi ChangYeob (Faith)
Jun SooJin

what’s it about 
The question posed: is school merely a building of stone and mortar created to drill book knowledge or is it an organic womb that should nurture and guide kids in more than just test scores? School 2013 follows the blood that is shed when a school system intent on profit fights against its own teachers and students, creating an environment bent only on survival. The drama is a collection of stories about teachers, administrators, parents, and of course, the students caught in this pressure cooker.

The entire cast is a fairly long list of people but the chief figure is played by Lee JongSuk. He is an underachieving young man who spends most of class time asleep. He’s a kid of few words, a lone wolf cub, but despite his standoffish demeanor, he is mostly well-liked by his classmates. While outwardly meek, there is a self-possession about him that irritates the class bullies Kwak JungWook, Lee YiKyung, and Lee JiHoon, and the three make daily harassment of Lee standard practice.
As if his conflicts with the local class jerks weren’t headache enough, when a new tough guy transfers into their school, Lee’s world gets rocked to the core. You see, Kim WooBin isn’t just any new punk on the block, he’s a blast from Lee JongSuk’s mysterious past, and this old ‘friend’ brings the walls of Lee’s carefully constructed image of ambivalence crashing down. When a past comes knocking with bloodied fists, wanting an accounting of all the wrongs done, is it for better or worse? Does one face it, or run away?

This is where teachers Daniel Choi and Jang Nara come in. Not only do they try to defuse Lee JongSuk and Kim WooBin’s seething student war, but they also try to solve the many other tough personalities resident to Class 2-2, and in doing so, walk the line between being teachers and guardians. How invested should teachers get in the personal lives of their students?

16 episodes + Special

Be sure to watch the talk show style special. It was a totally weird and awkward talent show kind of thing, but the behind the scenes clips of the drama filming was enjoyable. For one, we got to see how cold the entire cast was during the shooting. What’s with KBS and their refusal to heat their sets? Remember Dream High and the huge fogs of breath throughout the show?


Lee MinHong
Lee EunBok (Dream High)

Lee HyunJoo
Go JungWon

first impressions
I never intended to do a full review. In fact, I had already posted a blurb months ago in my Bite-Sized Reviews section, which went something like this, in brief:

Enjoyment Factor: 6/10
The underlying argument in education philosophy was interesting, but the tale itself often took easy shortcuts, as it was overburdened with a huge cast of young people with too many problems and only 16 eps to sort it all. The show was at times completely engaging, other times profoundly dull, and in the end, turned out
School was mostly only interested in the bromance between Kim WooBin and Lee JongSuk. Specifically, what was most obviously not present was a more thoughtful development of the female student leads. Overall, an imperfect but enjoyable boyhood schoolyard romp powered by some fun glower power.

But lately, I’ve been feeling pretty warm and fuzzy with a lot of overflowing good will toward dramas and felt like enjoying some gangster-lite tales + a Lee JongSuk, thanks to current enjoyables Heartless City and I Can Hear Your Voice. So I went back and rewatched a few dramas, including School 2013, which lead to some refreshing new feelings on my part.

My second verdict for this drama: I don’t necessarily disagree with what I wrote earlier this year, as I still think the show was too short for all the serious problems these kids faced and wrapped too quick/handily, and I still wish the two main female students had been given more time, but I was clearly in a bad mood about something when I first watched it.

Warning: it is quite possible that below is The Longest drama review I have ever written on this site. So much for the quick in my ‘quick and biased’ tag. On the bright side, it’s a totally positive review.

wildcard factors
Little Lee JongSuk has come a long way from being Sandara Park’s cheating boyfriend wallflower extra in 2NE1’s 2009 music video for “I Don’t Care”; his big break a small sassy part in Secret Garden (he was the intriguing new face in my 2010 Biased & Worst). In a short amount of time, he has become a career to follow and invest for anyone who cares about such things. His acting has matured, and so has his ability to most effectively assail with all his natural charisma.
Next, his co-star Kim WooBin is a plain marvel. The camera clearly adores the look of him and so does every pair of human eyeballs that spy him. But good looks aside, the thing that has made him the newest darling of the K-industry is that this boy can really act. As the really talented oft do, Kim is already making the quick jump over to films. Also in a fairly short span of resume, he’s proven to be good at both comedy and serious drama. Sky’s the limit for this kid. The first three episodes of School were good with its introduction to Lee’s quietly miserable young man, but when Kim popped in to help carry 50% of the show at Episode 4, it was daebak.

These two were explosive wildcards and despite Daniel Choi and Jang Nara being the higher-billed veteran actors, the show rested wholly on these two young shoulders, and they did a tremendous job…not making 16 hours of young boy angsting a boring redundant drivel.

As everyone already knows, both Lee and Kim are model-turned-actors. In an interview with CéCi (March 2013), Kim WooBin compared his face to a dinosaur’s while LeeJongSuk admitted he thought his looks ordinary. They believe that their faces are being accepted by today’s masses because they fit the modern sensibility and trend toward uncommon looks. I don’t know what kind of dinosaurs Kim saw in his coloring books when he was a tater tot or how Lee’s pretty little rods and cones interpret ‘ordinary,’ but they might be true about one thing, their visuals are very modern feeling and neither have typical leading man faces. Unconventionally handsome with unexpected edges and unique angles, they are both nevertheless completely mesmerizing on camera. Because they look so young, likely they will continue to be cast as students for a while, but it will be great to see once they start taking on real adult roles.

The second wildcard will probably be a big one for most drama watchers. You may have wondered why I mentioned no ladies in the drama summary above. Expect a lack of loveline in this one. In fact, the two really likable female leads, Park SeYoung and Ryu HyoYoung, had very few scenes with the boys. You guessed it, that means no cute flirty teenager moments or the usual lovey dovey push and pulls. Pretty amazing for a kdrama about high school, and trust me, everyone noted it. But there you have it, a show that was a wild success even without one. The world tilted a little in shock, but recovered, and life went on, lions continued to eat zebras, and all was right with the jungle again.

gave up

snoozer moments
could have improved 
Daniel Choi and Jang Nara reunited (since Baby-Faced Beauty) to play two teachers with contradictory teaching styles that ended up making a world of difference for the cast of troubled teens.

Choi played a famed private tutor forced to do community service as a regular high school teacher. His problem was a fear of getting too attached to his charges because of a past tragedy and found it too difficult to handle when the kids got too “heavy.” Too bad for him, highschool-sized kids tend always to weigh a lot. He was the Grinch teacher who grew a heart.

Jang’s problem was the complete opposite—she always got too involved, and not always with the best results. She was also pint-sized so the kids didn’t take her very seriously either. Basically, she was the Hobbit teacher, not only because she was really short (which she was), but mostly because she was a wuss with a big heart. She needed to learn how to stick up for herself, but also learn how to be less a mother hen and more an effective educator.

The story following the two oppositional teachers finding the right balance with each other and with their students remained a prominent theme throughout, but they definitely took a backseat to the student stories. They were ok but occasionally drifted toward dull territory. As I thought in Baby-Faced, I just don’t see these two as having all that much chemistry. They did their required duty to proliferate the heart-warming student-teacher moments, but they were never the stars of the show and added to the slower moving aspects of the drama.

The adult character I did grow rather fond of was played by Uhm HyoSup, the scary head teacher who ruled with a stick. He was that strict teacher every school has, the type that all students everywhere fear. But this guy was also fair, and what made him the most likable was the fact that he wanted the best for the students and knew when they needed authority, but more importantly, when they needed an encouraging pat on the back instead. He never took the actions and attitudes of the kids personally, or made them about himself; he recognized their rebellion for what it was: growing pains. Self-assured and good people, he was the definition of the sort of level headed educator all institutions need.

soju guzzling (angst factor)
For a secondary character that was first introduced to us as a bully to our protagonists, it was interesting that Kwak JungWook was given so much room to develop. 
He had quite a meaty role. He started out as the main hater of our lead boy Lee JongSuk, but then we learned he was a victim of a battered home life, and then in an even more surprisingly reversal, later turned into…JongSuk and WooBin’s trouble child? By the end, the senior jjangs almost became the younger ones’ parents. Kwak and his crew had a lot of growth to do, and this drama actually let them do it during airtime. 
There was a deliberate spotlighting of the fact that while Lee JongSuk and Kim WooBin’s characters were troubled, the two had always had each other, and actually also had normal families who supported them, unlike Kwak’s wounded delinquent. His spiral down to violence was partly the effect of an abusive home life. It is rare to find a drama that will offer up a really detestable character, then explain him in a way that a viewer ends up understanding that person by the final episode.

The sad fact, all of Class 2 was unhappy. Here are a few of the other notable unhappy subsidiary characters that made good impression.

Lee YiJung and Lee JiHoon 
Lee YiJung and Lee JiHoon played Kwak JungWook’s two hench boys who didn’t want to stay nobody street punks all their lives…but were clueless as to how to live a straight life. Lee YiJung was especially likable. Even competing with Kim WooBin and Lee JongSuk, he still managed to shine very brightly. Impressive. 

Choi ChangYeob & His Overbearing Mother
Choi ChangYeob was a nice kid under too much pressure from his mother to get into the best university and be the best in his class. Voted almost out of malice by his peers to be the class president (before Lee took over), he was also victim to abuse by Kwak and his gang. He was a kid on the verge of cracking under all the stress, even going as far as contemplating suicide. His was a storyline that was especially sad due to the real world resonance in the ROK.

Jung SooJin 
In a class full of large personalities, Jung SooJin played a student who always felt overlooked and ignored, even by her own friends. And unlike most of the troubled kids in this show, she was one of few who starved for attention in a quiet way. Hers was the kind of sad story most readily sympathetic, it was easy to see how the quiet ones could feel ignored in the daily grind, enduring the simple woes until one day those small sadnesses build up to become a big emotional explosion. Her type of sadness, the small depressions, are the sorts that can go unnoticed until it’s too late.

what didn’t work
what made me disappointed
Until the very end, I still wanted a story that involved more of the two girls Park SeYoung and Ryu HyoYoung. Both young ladies were infinitely wonderful to watch. Park’s studious and serious young woman was a great center for all the mayhem her classmates caused, and one that was a good match for Lee JongSuk. 
Ryu was even more lovable as the happy-go-lucky tomboy who was besties with Park SeYoung. She was also Lee JongSuk’s steadfast supporter and galpal, even though he often seemed confused by her meddling attachment to him. She had a few great scratchy scenes with Kim WooBin early on in the show which hinted at a potential attraction to come, which had good roots, but unfortunately never grew any leaves.

what did
These two real life pals really sold their friendship. Kim WooBin admitted in an interview that Lee JongSuk is a really touchie feelie type of guy with a lot of aegyo in real life and their friendship grew during the filming of this show. “When I was acting as Park HeungSoo, I think I really loved Go NamSoon,” he said, referring to their characters.
OK, I thought Lee MinHo and Kim Bum’s midnight-bike-riding-by-the-Han-River friendship was mind-blowing, but this might even outrank that fantastic image. Touchie-Feelie best friends? Lordy but that’s just an invitation for minds to explode.

notable scene(s) 
There were plenty of emotional scenes between the main boys, which do make up most of my favorite scenes. There were way too many to list them all, but here’s a few:

Ep 2
Usually nonvocal Lee JongSuk breaks his tough guy act to recite a poem...about how much he does care on the inside. 

So there was this kid in the class that was last in test scores, last in being liked, but first in being weird, so he was mocked and bullied by everyone. Lee JongSuk, the guy who slept and silenced his way through most of school, however, protected him. So when the boy no one else took the time to befriend got unfairly pushed out of school, our reluctant hero Lee made us all fall for him just a little bit more when he broke character to say his good-bye in the most heartbreaking but beautiful way, by reciting poetry:

You have to look closely…to see that it’s lovely
You have to look a long while…to know that it’s lovable
You are also…this way.

Ep 7
Whenever JongSuk makes the decision to speak in class, why does it always make people want to cry big fat elephant tears? 

It was obvious from the beginning that the emotions running between the two main boys were not all bad, but smooshed between love and hurt, but none of their classmates knew the truth of their history so they only wanted to protect Lee, one of their own. When Class 2 made its choice to force Kim WooBin out of school thinking that Lee was being bullied by the new kid, things got strained to a breaking point. The speculation by the other students was so far removed from the truth that Lee JongSuk decided to stand up in class...to share a very sad story about two best friends whose lives became broken when one of the friends ruined the other’s soccer playing dreams. The twist? The villain in this tale wasn’t Kim WooBin, but Lee JongSuk.

Ep 12
Bromance mending...is really awkward stuff. 

I think the pictures speak for themselves. The boys were on their way to reconciliation, but these were two non-sentimental characters, and well, turns out it just ain’t that easy for two tough guys to go from glower to glee in seconds. This first effort at lunch together became a painful exercise in awkward. Silence. Fake smiling. Self-conscious chewing. Pretty adorable, really, and absolutely funny. At one point, Kim pointed to another table, pleaded, “This is really uncomfortable. Go eat over there.” JongSuk cutely replied, “I don’t wanna. Just endure it, because that’s what I’m doing.” Ha-ha, like it was a war zone they were battling through instead of sitting at a cafeteria table picking at rice and kimchi.

Ep 12
It gets even more awkward when Their Enemy sits down with them for lunch...to pay his respects to the new jjangs of the school. 

A continuation of the scene above, our two boys were still battling through the awkward murk of their first friendly lunch together when their formerly biggest antagonist Kwak decided to plop himself down at their table. He offered up some choice banchan for each of the top dogs of his class, the pecking order having recently been updated, while voraciously shoving food into his mouth. He pointedly ignored the dismayed stares from the other two boys leaving Kim and Lee both completely and hilariously speechless.

Ep 16
Comic book reading, sleepovers, and pillow fights!

Oh my. 
Our boys are besties again! If you want to see the delicious images of pillow fighting that happened in this scene, you’ll just have to go watch the show. Seriously, I’m not lying. I know it sounds unbelievable, but there really was a pillow fight!

what made me want to pull out my hair
what kept me going
Lee JongSuk’s love story reconciliation with Kim WooBin. I imagine this was what kept many people going. And it wasn’t just because they were two pretty boys. Their heartbreaking story about a friendship gone wrong was genuinely touching and the two actors made us care.
When it came time to finally bury the past, the two realized they had both suffered, and not because of the violence between them, but because they had lost each other. When JongSuk insisted on blaming himself, unable to move past his guilt, Kim asked, “Have you ever said that you were hurt, too, you pitiful bastard?” And ultimately, that was the truth. Only one had broken actual bones, but both had been handicapped by deep emotional wounds, and they really required each other to heal. When we met Lee JongSuk in the beginning of the series, he was a guy who curled up on his bed, holding his tears back while comforting himself quietly, “You’re okay. You’re okay.” For a long time, he had lived alone, ate ramen alone, and endured alone. And all the while, somewhere else, Kim WooBin had been doing the same.
These two boys made me tear up, and frankly, too often. “We’re just friends…really unlucky friends,” Kim WooBin described their relationship, and that was a big part of what this show was about, mistakes being made, hardships being endured, but also young hearts being healed.
Other factors:
predictability N/A
cheese/engrish Lee JongSuk huffed a lot of exasperated “aigoos” in here like a tired old lady. It was just really cute and funny.
originality 5th of its namesake, the 4th having aired all the way back in 2001; notable School alums include Kim RaeWon, Ha JiWon, Lee DongWook, Jang Hyuk, Im SooJung, Bae Doona, Jo InSung, Gong Yoo. Hopefully, there will be a 6th to come.
eye-candy It was like being bathed in sugar.
hair and fashion Whaddaya think? The two kids who played the leads used to be runway models, school uniforms never looked so high fashion.
why you might like it
Bromance, bromance, and more bromance.

why you might not
Lack of any other kind of romance

a list:
Besides the Bromance, Other Major Reoccurring Themes

5: Community Service
When Lee JongSuk and Kim WooBin weren’t fighting, or crying, or dozing off in class, they were forced to clean the school to atone for all their delinquent misdeeds. A clean school makes for cleanlier student hearts? Kwak JungWook joined in on the cleaning action later in the show, but mostly he just did a lot of recycling, which of course, is no joking matter either.

4: I’m The Hot One!
Youthful tempers were fiery hot in this one…even the freezing wintry Seoul temperatures could not cool down these angry kids. It was especially difficult to tell who was hotter between the two above...either in looks or inner fury. Both boys often wore bloodied faces and pavement-smeared school uniforms.

3: Boys Over HotDogs
One of the rare instances where I didn’t want to eat what all the kdrama kids were eating: hot dogs. Actually, more accurately, this probably should be HotDogs Over Boys, for it seemed our girls preferred eating junk food with each other over hanging out with Lee or Kim. Boo. Anyway, clearly sponsored by the brand, these dang hot dogs were everywhere.

2: Ramen For Real Men 
Is eating ramen a macho thing? Ramen was the beginning and end of everything for Lee JongSuk, he sure loved it, and the noodles seemed to carry a lot of symbolism in the show. This particular cheap instant eat was the physical manifestation of Lee JongSuk’s heart. When he ate it alone, it was his own heart he was crying down, lonely and eggless. When he ate it with Kim WooBin, it was his heart he was sharing. To share ramen was to share real man love. Well, between these two anyway.

1: Cafeteria Chronicles 
Every corner of Seungri High was a place of territorial skirmishes, but nowhere especially dangerous than the cafeteria. But bap (food/rice) was a significant metaphor throughout, with good reason. For Koreans, asking if someone has eaten is the greeting of love. To care that one ate well is to care at all, period. I know that is the first thing my mother always asks me on the phone after “hello,” followed by what did I eat? Funny how love sounds so much like plain old nagging. Heh. I digress.
In one episode, Jang Nara bought all her punks a round of gukbap, significantly not hot dogs or pizza, and that cozy little restaurant practically radiated love simply from the steam of all the soups mixed with rice. The association of school as bap itself, always a place where a warm meal was available, for everyone equally, felt deliberate. The show even started with Lee JongSuk heading for school without having a hot breakfast at home. Later, we learned from JongSuk that when he woke up in the mornings, he went to school out of pure instinct. He ate and slept at school, and considered it the only purpose to his life.
Speaking of the cafeteria food, their lunches looked delicious. All that mixing of rice, soup, and kimchi! There was a scene where Kwak JungWook poured his soup all over Kim WooBin’s lunch tray in a gesture of hostility. I, however, thought: “Delicious. More miyukguk for WooBin!” The best thing about Korean food, it tastes just as good compartmentalized, or all mixed together!

total enjoyment factor 
-1 because as good as it was, for me, not perfect. Close, but alas, no. Unusual complaint from me, but I actually thought it was too short. Needed more time to wrap up stories, plus I really think some teenage romance could have been added. It didn’t have to take over the show, but just a scene here or there. Would that have been so bad?

why this review is completely biased
So I get why the couple lines weren’t there, how the story had so much going on that there just lacked the minutes for its inclusion. Unfortunately, like most people, I see a bunch of attractive young people, I expect them to be drawn to each other like pretty little teenager magnets. I doubt I could attend class day in and day out with Lee and Kim and be all ambivalent about it. This show was enjoyable, had a lot of heart, and seemed to hit all the right teenage angst notes but for that one big human element missing, the one as natural to everybody as breathing in and out.

The actors came out in defense of the plot to say they thought the writers made the right choice in letting the lovelines fall wayside, as the importance of the message was left to shine without distraction. Nevertheless, really, it must have been the pits to be the actresses cast with two cuties and not even get passing skinship with them. And vice versa.

So in the end, I had to let go of my biased need for some lovelines, but a fangirl can still dream and contemplate, can’t she? Could we not have extended this one to 20 episodes and given WooBin and JongSuk a little bit of a love life?

Here’s my episode 17-20: 
Now that most of the other school time dramatics are over and they are BFFs again, the two gals hang while eating hot dogs (of course) and discuss boys, as girls do. Lee KangJoo teases that it seems like even the cool Song HaKyung has fallen for a boy. Does she like Go NamSoon? KangJoo has caught HaKyung sneaking glances toward the back of the classroom quite frequently of late! Song mourns that she thinks she might have fallen for the sleepy class prez!

The newly reunited boys, on the other hand, are busy arm wrestling and loving each other because these two have a lot of male bonding to catch up on. And also, unfortunately, despite their good looks, these fellows go against the teenage boy grain. They are most oblivious to everything else but fighting and eating ramen. It is difficult to say if they’ve even noticed that half their class consists of cute females.

Thankfully, the girls in this show have proven over and over that they are strong-willed and pretty aggressive about their wants. HaKyung is the smartest girl in her class for a reason and she takes the lead, letting NamSoon know that just as they are a great Prez-Veep duo, they would make a great outside-of-class pairing as well. And of course, she will help him raise his grades so that he can attend college with her.

Elsewhere, KangJoo and HeungSoo keep bickering like Tom and Jerry, she having not quite forgiven him for tripping and kicking her in their earlier encounters with one another. He’s not the talkative apologizing sort either, so their antagonism should go on for a fun few episodes, and naturally, somehow they might also get trapped on the school roof together for a bit. Forced companionship always works to mend young civil wars and give couples a chance to notice the chemical attraction they are working so hard to deny.

Or if a lot of kdrama-contrived close encounters can’t melt their adorably stubborn hearts, since their best pals are kind of a study hall couple now, NamSoon will end up asking his best gal pal to try to get along with his best guy pal. KangJoo is such a teddy bear kitten with a heart bigger than her whole body so she promises to make an attempt to be nicer to HeungSoo. “He seems tough on the outside, but he’s a really tender-hearted guy,” NamSoon the Matchmaker assures her.

And so our favorite tomboy KangJoo, bossy and lovable to the core, commands a friendship out of HeungSoo. Since they were halfway adoring one another anyway—why else do boys and girls ever kick and hiss at each other in school?—they have some hot dogs together at KangJoo’s fave joint and totally dig each other’s tough guy/tough girl groove. Although they can only admit it indirectly—she buys him hot dogs, he stops kicking at her shoes.

And that is how two new couples are born.

My Fake Ending. 
Perhaps all this will go down in their senior year.  
Heh. I know, I’m being silly, but let a lady dream, will ya?

some serious thoughts
Don’t these kids have XBOX 360s to pound their life frustrations out on after school? Plants v Zombies is quite a stress reliever. Totally kidding.

Parental neglect is definitely a problem the ROK shares with every over human civilization on the planet. Schools end up being responsible for the emotional development of their charges because most of the time teachers spend the most amount of daylight hours with them. One of the more plainly preachier statements in this drama was when the teachers complained amongst themselves that schools try to teach students right from wrong, but the parents undo all the good at home. A vicious cycle: parents spoil and enable rotten children, which in turn create kids that become rotten parents for the next generation.

By the end, it was understood why Kwak JungWook’s angry bully character played such a meaningful part in the story. He was representative for the kind of student this show hoped to shed light on, the niche of kids who fall into and get lost in the cracks of the educational system. The saddest conclusion ended up being the reality that in their rapidly changing society of hustle and bustle, school was often the only constant for many kids, as it was for the students of Class 2. For some, it was the only place they could reliably acquire a decent meal, the only place they were safe from the violence of the streets, and for students like Kwak’s character Oh JungHo, the only refuge from violence within their very own homes.

In School, teachers had no filial ties to the children they taught, but they seemed to be the only adults the kids could turn to for some small measure of kindness. Jang Nara and Daniel Choi were painted less as teachers, but more as role models and guardians, and shockingly, sometimes the only thing that stood between these kids and a life of crime, or even death. To take the analogy further, if Jang and Choi were like a mother and father to Class 2, then the classmates themselves were almost like dysfunctional siblings to one another, some great, some hateful, but all bonded together because they were one family (in the same class) struggling through the same pessure cooker.

However, School also asked, what happens when even school, the last bastion of security for students, becomes a hostile place? Another most important topic addressed was the contemplation of suicide by students as a means to escape the grinding pressure. The choice of death is never a thing easily understood by those left behind, but it feels especially tragic when young people choose it. How much does a student have to be bullied, whether by their peers or parents or society, to think that there is no option other than death? How much pressure is too much? What is the line between a life lesson in coping and just plain unbearable torment? And forget about the pressure of getting good grades, what about the stress caused by extreme bullying within the classroom?

Suicide is hardly just a Korean issue, even here in the US, bullying-related incidents and teenage suicide pop up in the news with disturbing regularity, stories that astound with their amazing cruelty.[1][2][3] There are always movements across the US to spread awareness and establish many different support networks for young people, outreach programs designed to promote tolerance and curb bullying, but also to be a resource for youths looking for help so that the ending of their young lives is never a choice taken.[4][5] As an example, where I live, city buses are just one example of a safe place for minors. Should they need any kind of emergency help, bus drivers are a resource for them. Lost, abandoned, beaten, and bullied young people are a world problem. But sadly, South Korea has earned the undesirable statistical distinction of having the highest suicide rate among developed nations for the eighth year running.[6] Even worse, the numbers are highest for the younger and older generations—suicide has become one of the leading causes of death for Koreans aged 15-24.[7]

In fact, from what I understand, this drama was especially relevant during its airing in the ROK because its broadcast followed a string of real life news stories about extreme bullying and suicides in their school systems,[8] teachers losing control of classrooms, and the overall hyper competitve nature of an educational system that seemed to be hurting instead of helping students.[9] The depicted mob mentality exhibited in this particular drama by students, parents, and teachers was rather unsettling. Considering the amount of shocking real life bullying and suicide stories,[10][11] School appeared to be depicting a tragic reality, not a sordid Hallyu yarn. And from this fictional drama, it does not take much imagination on our parts to see the crushing weight that must be endured by students when they are pressured by both peers and educators at school, and then by parents home.

(Recall even the Hana Yori Dango/Boys Over Flowers series and their depiction of school socialization. Strip away all the Flower Boy romantic comedy of it, and it becomes a truly frightening display of organized bullying. As examples: in the Japanese version, the female lead was almost raped by two aggressive boys; in the Korean one, Geum JanDi was often brutally attacked by a crowd of her peers.)

The serious issues discussed in School about the educational system in their country were not the kind of problems that can be fixed and packed away overnight. And certainly no happy solution can be found in a mere 16 episode television show. On the other hand, a wildly successful kdrama like this one can open up new avenues of dialogue, humanizing in a personal way ordeals that may have only read like someone else’s problems in the nightly news. 

The point being, between the squee factor of this drama, aside from the delinquent appeal of Lee and Kim’s characters who were reformed gang members, there was a very real pro-compassion message to this drama—a call for compassion between teachers and students (going in both directions), compassion for special needs students, compassion for the troubled kids, and compassion for the smart ones, too. This drama was a call for a compassionate humanity, the idea that as a society people are not only in competition with one another, but actually responsible for the well-being of our fellow human beings. The South Korean government has been rallying in this direction as well, and not just for students, but for their entire nation.[12][13] Moreover, the newly elected head of state, South Korean president Park Geun-Hye, has even dubbed school violence as an issue she considers one of the four social evils of her society.[14][15]

Thanks for indulging my unwarned tangent into such a serious matter in an otherwise lighthearted review, but a drama like this almost demands at least a glancing commentary on the issues it worked so hard to bring to attention. For an interesting and researched discussion on the topic of the recent upticking suicide trend in South Korea and its possible causes, including an eyeball on the merciless pressures faced by students and the ROK population post-1997 Asian Financial Crisis, visit Ask A Korean’s thoughtfully considered six part post: Suicide in Korea Series.

Back to School 2013, the drama:
In the second to the last scene of the show, Lee JongSuk and Kim WooBin were on the school roof, releasing their pent up breaths, gazing up at the sky. They’d come a long way, but survived. “School’s really…” Lee sighed, trailing off, leaving the thought unfinished.

What is school? A microcosm of the larger world? Yes, but not really. Highschool is an extreme mold, a bubble that is both protective, but cruel in that we live through it when our minds and bodies are transforming, somewhere between child and adult, our feelings and emotions a wild mix of change and extreme. We scar the most in this twilight period, and have the capacity to be the cruelest to others as well. The aches and pains we have as kids are small when compared against a big vast world, but they feel too big when we are so tiny. Everything seems so much larger when we are smaller, and just as trees are taller when we are shorter, young untested hearts see challenges looming above as indomitable. And those problems can feel so large that they block out any ray of sunlight in the horizon. 
In this parting shot, when the camera pulled back, the landscape broadened, and the show gave us perspective. It conveyed that no matter how big a problem may feel up close, in the scheme of the world, it really isn’t, and it can be overcome. These kinds of wide shots are often used to communicate loneliness, but on a bright day like this one, the sky so blue and expanse, it was a picture of hope. It is a matter of how we look at the vast unknown—when we gaze upon the endless open of a blue sea, do our hearts do it with fear or adventure? School ended with us looking upward and forward, our two protagonists looking ahead to their new adventure together with hope for the first time, so we, too, felt hopeful for them. And, of course, we are hopeful for South Korea and their growing pains, as well.

drama verdict
Truthfully, and with a little yolk on my face, I admit it wasn’t just loads better on the second watch, it was like a whole new drama for me. I can’t quite figure out where and why the shift. I can only chalk it up to either a fangirl’s whimsy or maturity on my part, willing to accept it for its flaws and lack of a loveline. The first watch was with mild dislike. The second watch, I actually found I loved almost everything about it.

Dramaland is crazylandz. Or maybe I’m just crazy.

My Lovely Samsoon was a drama that did this to me, actually. That one was not love at first sight either. First watch, I thought it was good, but I didn’t care for it. Second watch, I liked it. By the third and fourth, it was an all-time favorite. I’m still debating if this might be worth putting on my all-time fave list or if I’m just experiencing some kind of drama hot flash? Stay tuned to see if it ever makes it onto my top favorites list!
The lesson I was reminded of once again is that some dramas demand a second watch when you’re in a better mood for them and can become a favorite. Dramas are like people playing in the seasons, they have to match. We can’t ski in the summer, we don’t BBQ in the winter. I was wrong. I dunno what cranky pants crab crawled up my ass when I first watched it, my original score being a lowly 6. My new score is obviously insanely higher. Guess I wasn’t just wrong, I was daebak wrong.

Song below:
“Friend” by TOP & Taeyang (of Big Bang) from the Friend drama OST, because the song totally fits School 2013 better than its actual parent drama, but also because WooBin has been cast in the movie sequel. Another reason why it fits? Because Kim WooBin kind of totally insanely looks like TOP! What a great world, to have two of them walking among us! Good job, world.

src: lyndaishh

My personal epilogue: I want to add, I had a mild heart attack writing this (ridiculously) long ass review. I was practically done, had moved my review online, and in the midst of editing, I stupidly involuntarily hit a computer key shortcut that does not work on Blogger and suddenly my entire final draft was gone. In a blink of a second just GONE. And no thanks to their ridiculous autosave feature, I was screwed. There was no way I was going to be able to rewrite and remember the final edits. I thought, no way, I am too furious to even attempt it, I will not be able to post my School 2013 review after all! All I will say is, after my panic attack of epic proportions, something I had not felt since sleeping through a freshman year calculus exam, I calmed down. And I managed to get back my review. Thank you Firefox, I think I have never loved an inanimate digital thing more than I loved you in the moment that I found your Tab Recovery feature.

For the interested, a few references:
[1] Eckholm, Erik. Zezima, Katie. 6 Teenagers Are Charged After Classmate’s Suicide. The New York Times, 29 March 2010. | [2] Pittman, Genevra. One in 25 youth attempt suicide: U.S. study. Reuters, 9 January 2013. | [3] Matthew K. Nock, PhD; Jennifer Greif Green, PhD; Irving Hwang, MA; Katie A. McLaughlin, PhD; Nancy A. Sampson, BA; Alan M. Zaslavsky, PhD; Ronald C. Kessler, PhD. Prevalence, Correlates, and Treatment of Lifetime Suicidal Behavior Among Adolescents. JAMA Psychiatry, 9 January 2013. | [4] About School Violence. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, February 2013. Web. Retrieved 23 July 2013. | [5] Teen Suicide is Preventable. American Psychological Association. Web. Retrieved 23 July 2013. | [6] Korea's Suicide Rate Remains Highest in OECD. The English ChosunIlbo, 24 July 2013. | [7] Suicide No. 1 cause of death for younger people. The Korea Herald, 2013 May 2. Web. Retrieved 23 July 2013. | [8] Woo, Jaeyeon. South Korea Struggles To Rein in Bullying, Student Suicides. The Wallstreet Journal, 13 March 2013. | [9] Choi, Tae-hwan. School 2013. The Korea Times Online/Opinion, 16 January 2013. | [10] McDonald, Mark. Elite South Korean University Rattled by Suicides. The New York Times, 22 May 2011. | [11] Lee, Kyung-Min. Urine-related bullying at Hampyeong Golf School resolved. The Korea Times, 16 July 2013. | [12] Yoo, Audrey. Seoul Launches Suicide Watchdog. Time. Web. 7 June 2012. | [13] Chung, Jane. South Korea Suicides: Mapo Bridge Gets Uplifting Signs To Prevent Suicides. Huffington Post, 3 October 2012. | [14] Kim, Tae-Gyu. 'Exam-free' semester to start in 2016. The Korea Times, 28 March 2013 | [15] Kang, Jin-Kyu. Anti-bully plans are announced. Korea JoongAng Daily. 24 July 2013. Retrieved 28 July 2013 |


  1. Aw, LOVED this review!! :D I've had radical changes of heart towards certain dramas too, and have swung from hate to love before, even! So, you're not crazy! And you're not alone either ^^

    I particularly love your point about how Nam Soon & Heung Soo required each other to heal. So spot on. Those 2 were the heart of the drama, for me <3

    Thanks too, for the insight and perspective in terms of how School 2013 puts the spotlight on some of the very serious student issues in Korea. It's sobering, how many student suicides occur on a regular basis. Props to the show, for not glossing over issues like suicide and violence, and for not tying everything up in a neat happy bow.

    1. I guess I should be grateful to I Can Hear Your Voice for making me want to go back and rewatch it! Heh

  2. So...I have been obsessively trawling through your ENTIRE list of reviews which I have just enjoyed reading soooooo much. I really like your writing style and really enjoy your opinions, serious or amusing!!
    Thanks so much!!

    1. Aw, thank YOU! For saying such nice things and for taking the time to drop a comment! By, I love the feel of that word trawling, might have to find a way to sneak it into my next review...

  3. This is a really awesome review! I loved that you covered both the eye-candy stuff (the bromance was truly epic and I think a huge reason the show was so popular) but also the really serious and relevant social commentary the drama included. (That it was such a popular drama will hopefully help further the conversation.)

    Thanks also for all the lovely footnotes! I look forward to deeper exploration. :) I'm so pleased your review didn't get eaten by bad shortcut keys. ;)

  4. You are without a doubt my favorite kdrama reviewer! I love that you incorporate real life issue into the review. It led me to read about all kinds of stuff about bullying and teenage suicide and it is indeed really troubling.

    School 2013 is not really my kind of drama, with the lack of romance, but reading your review made me want to watch it. I have experienced this a couple times over the year by reading your blog. You made such compelling arguments and in-depth analysis about a drama that I can't help but be interested. Keep on writing, you're a very very good writer :)

    1. damasdamas, ahhhmygosh, thank you so much for saying such nice things!!! Your comments really keep me encouraged and motivated and are so so very appreciated!!

  5. Awesome review! Fun and thought provoking! And I like the citations too.

    I think the reason the show dropped any love line is to bring to light the real issues you discussed. However, and I'm so with you, what's high school life without love interests? Now, that 's not realistic. Hence, I love your episodes 17-20!

  6. Okay, I know this post has been a while, but I've only recently watched this drama and I saw your post while looking to feed my need for everything School 2013. You're review is not for the faint of heart (since it's exhaustive!), but it's fab.

    Your ending would have been awesome. Namsoon/Hakyung and Heungsoo/Kangjoo had such promise, didn't they? It would be too cute to have those two clueless boys (who, yeah, aren't like other teenage boys who notice girls) be brought around by our cool, take-charge girls!

  7. Two full thumbs up for this magneficent article of yours. I've really enjoyed reading this article today and I think this might be one of the best article that I've read yet. Please, keep this work going on in the same quality. writing papers help

  8. Going to graduate school was a positive decision for me. I enjoyed the coursework, the presentations, the fellow students, and the professors. And since my company reimbursed 100% of the tuition, the only cost that I had to pay on my own was for books and supplies. Otherwise, I received a free master’s degree. All that I had to invest was my time. cours à distance


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