27 February 2021

K Drama Review: Dream High (2011)

Oppa is so smitten with IU Lee Ji Eun that apart from buying an IU lightstick pillow (because the real one's so hard to find and expensive), he picked another IU drama for us to watch. He picked Dream High and I was curious about it too after watching a Kim Soo Hyun and IU clip from the show where they sang a song in perfect pitch. And it helped that I love Kim Soo Hyun too (that I included him in my Oppa List).  

Initially, I thought it was going to be a very youth-oriented show that an oldie like me might have a hard time appreciating. But I was pleasantly surprised that I actually enjoyed and loved it. :)

Plot


Dream High tells the story of high school students enrolled in Kirin Art School. It takes us through these students' quest to have a spot in the entertainment industry. 

Bae Suzy as Go Hye Mi

I've mentioned before that it was not love at first sight for me and Suzy. I didn't really like Vagabond and it affected how I felt about her. But she won me over in Start-Up. And Dream High helped me appreciate her even more. 

We see a very young version of Suzy in this 10-year old show. As Go Hye Mi, Suzy looked pretty cute and in some scenes where she had her hair down with soft curls at the end, she actually looked like a doll. 

Suzy was a very effective feisty bitch. If you didn't know her background, it would have been easy to dismiss her as a proud brat. But knowing that her mom left their family for another man, her dad left her and her sister to fend for themselves because he was running away from creditors, and she now had to carry the burden of her father's debts - you would understand where all that angst was coming from. You'd even admire her for being such a fighter. Sure, there were moments when I was annoyed with her incessant refusal to accept help from the people around her. But when her walls finally broke down, we can see what a kind-hearted person Hye Mi is. 

Oh the lengths she would go to help her friends. She took notes for Song Sam Dong (Kim Soo Hyun) when he refused to attend their songwriting class and she patiently brought him those notes every night. She made a pledge/bet that if all regular track students would get an A in the songwriting class, their teacher, Mr. Kang Oh Hyuk (Uhm Ki Joon of Worlds Within), should be reinstated as a teacher after he was unfairly forced to resign. And while she started out really competitive and vengeful, I loved how Hye Mi never sought revenge against her former best friend, Yoon Baek Hee (Ham Eun Jung), even if the latter bullied her. Hye Mi remained selfless in her desire to protect Baek Hee. 

Among the main characters, Hye Mi's attitude probably improved the most. From someone who looked down on pop music since she was a classical singer by training, it was amazing to see her aspire to become a pop idol. And Suzy played that transformation so well - from a lifeless singer to one who actually had great moves on stage. 

Kim Soo Hyun as Song Sam Dong

Kim Soo Hyun played the awkward role of a rookie producer in The Producers really well. And I was amazed that he also started out with quite a weird character in this show. I love how he does not seem to mind playing all these silly roles and how he blends in really well with whatever role he has to play. 

Sam Dong was from the countryside. He had a very simple life prior to going to Kirin. People looked down on him when he first arrived and they made fun of his accent. But the great thing about Sam Dong was his very strong fighting spirit. 

When his rare disease began to recur, Sam Dong almost quit. He left Mr. Kang's house and he wandered around until he ended up staying in a bar. He broke down a lot of times because of his condition and those moments of weakness were so convincing that I wanted to run to and hug Sam Dong. But when Hye Mi gave him a much needed pep talk and after she helped her survive his frightening ordeal on stage during his showcase performance, there was just no turning back for Sam Dong. He worked so hard that he even managed to attain perfect pitch despite his illness. And he even got an international recording album and he got to perform in the Grammy Awards. For someone who came from a simple background, he surely achieved so much. 

Another testament of Sam Dong's strong will was how he never gave up on Hye Mi. He knew she lied when she told him she liked him to convince him to go to Kirin. He knew Jin Guk (Ok Taec Yeon of Wonderful Days) probably had the advantage in their love triangle since he had history with Hye Mi. He even got some sort of confirmation in that very heartbreaking moment when he saw Jin Guk kiss Hye Mi on the ferris wheel. But our boy never gave up. Sam Dong remained loyal to Hye Mi. He always protected her even if it meant putting his life at risk like when he shielded Hye Mi from the pot that almost hit her head. That scene where he broke down when he thought Hye Mi left for the US was really very heartbreaking. 

And because hardwork really pays off, we get that very nice and surprising twist in the end...Hye Mi actually liked Sam Dong too, for real. I always thought that she was confused or that she preferred Jin Guk. But that scene where she left her wallet and Sam Dong saw and opened it and saw his photo inside was a very, very nice plot twist. I was squealing with delight. And who can forget how Sam Dong said that ever since, Hye Mi has always been music to him. *sigh*

We don't know how they ended up. Sam Dong went on to have a career in the US. Hye Mi still pursued singing. Hopefully when things settle down, they'll find their way back to each other. 

Ok Taec Yeon as Jin Guk

I didn't really like Taec Yeon when I first saw him on Wonderful Days. He seemed to try so hard to look angry. But I loved the gentler, softer, and less angsty version of Taec Yeon that I watched in this show. 

I loved how he was such a gentleman despite his seemingly tough image. He risked his career (and even a lawsuit) in order to protect Baek Hee. And I loved how gracious he was when Hye Mi rejected him. I thought I was rooting for him and Hye Mi but I found out I wasn't when that surprising plot twist was revealed. But I will always have a soft spot for Jin Guk since he also went through so much to get to where he is. Perhaps he can be with Baek Hee? :D

I would have to admit though that I didn't really like Jin Guk's moments with his dad (Choi Il Hwa as Hyun Moo Jin). They felt so fake and insincere, even during the moments when they were supposed to be really okay already. 

Ham Eun Jung as Yoon Baek Hee

When she was still Hye Mi's bestfriend and known as Hye Mi's tail, Eun Jung as Baek Hee appeared adorable. 

Then she transformed and she looked even more interesting. However, her character also changed (in a very swift and quite unconvincing way and pace, if I may say). From a sweet, meek, and angelic friend, she turned into a vengeful monster. She wanted to reach her dream at all costs - even to the point of physically harming other people who got in her way. And while the things she did were really despicable, I agree with her that it was really the competitive environment in the school along with that enabler teacher, Ms. Si (Lee Yoon Ji), that created that Baek Hee monster. Being told that a little lie to further her goals won't hurt and letting her get away with her crimes would naturally embolden Baek Hee to plagiarize a song to achieve her dreams. And while it would have been easy to judge her, I still sympathized with and rooted for Baek Hee. She had a few wrong turns but I wanted her to get back up so she can compare how rewarding it is to work hard in an honest way. I was silently hoping that she would bag the EMG contract so she can have a fresh start. 

IU as Kim Pil Sook 


We first see IU in a sushi costume in this show. IU as Kim Pil Sook was so insecure because of her weight. So despite having a really great voice (and a perfect pitch), she felt the need to hide behind a mascot costume. 

We get loads of IU cuteness in this show. And while she probably had the least screentime among the main characters, she still managed to impress me with how wide her range is as an actress. I have the tendency to get stuck with an actor's best role/character. And sometimes, the more I watch an actor, I tend to find more flaws with their acting. But that does not seem to be the case with IU. She was perfect as a subdued and scheming character in My Mister and I honestly thought nothing could top that or that her other roles would disappoint me. But she was also effective as a lonely and bitchy pop star in The Producers. And she pulled off the cutesy chubby role here as well. We seem to like her more, the more we watch her. :) 

I loved Pil Sook's cute love storyline with Jason (Jang Woo Young). And I super loved Pil Sook's realization that it was so wrong to lose weight just to get Jason to like her. And I loved how she addressed the issue of her weight when she guested on TV. Instead of feeling awkward about it, she just dealt with it matter of factly. Although it would have been nicer to see her resist when the host suggested that they break the old photo of Pil Sook, it was important to send the message that her past is part of who she is and she should not be ashamed of it. 

Uhm Ki Joon as Mr. Kang Oh Hyuk

I didn't really warm up to Uhm Ki Joon in Worlds Within. His conceited character annoyed me. But he totally won me over here. I found him really charming even if he was projected as a home wrecker in the beginning. There was something so sincere about him. 

I loved how he sacrificed so much for his students. He risked losing his job just so he can provide a fake showcase for them. He spent his own money for them and he even used his sister's house as collateral for the debt of Hye Mi's family. 

My favorite Mr. Kang moment was when he was telling Ms. Si about his students before he resigned and he told her to take good care of them. I loved how he knew each of his students on a very personal level. He gave up his job just so they won't get into trouble. And that plot twist about him resigning only to apply again was really interesting. 

I loved how selfless Mr. Kang was especially after finding out how he agreed to play the role of home wrecker to help shield Hye Mi's family from the pain of losing their mom. 

Lee Yoon Ji as Ms. Si

Lee Yoon Ji as Ms. Si was quite intriguing. She looked cool and scary at the same time. And while I resented her in the beginning for allowing Baek Hee to go unpunished, I loved her character development as a teacher. She learned the hard way that it's not always about the talent. Her students needed her to care for them too. I loved that moment when she hugged Baek Hee after she found out that the latter was sexually assaulted by her manager. 

I also enjoyed that little love triangle she had with Mr. Kang and Mr. Yang (Park Jin Young). And I loved that she ended up with Mr. Kang, who deserved to have a very happy lovelife. 

Park Jin Young as Mr. Yang

We saw a bit of Park Jin Young in The Producers but not enough to really appreciate him. I know he's popular and Rain considers him as his mentor. And I was glad that we got to watch him longer here. I have so much respect for people who are fine with being made fun of for their looks. And it's even more amazing when that person has the stature that JYP has. It was funny when the principal said Pil Sook's obesity in the past might haunt her if she debuts and I loved how JYP defended her and said it's not always about the looks since the face does not do the singing and the dancing. It's a given that JYP can dance well but it was a revelation that he can be funny too. 

Execution 


The thing I loved the most in Dream High were the motivational/inspirational parts. I super liked that theme about sometimes, we all just really need one person to believe in us - Mr. Jung (Bae Yong Joon) believing in Jin Guk, Hye Mi, and Sam Dong that he took them in as conditional students, Mr. Yang and Mr. Kang believing in the students that they risked losing their jobs when they staged that fake showcase, Hye Mi believing in Sam Dong that she delivered songwriting class notes to him every night, Hye Mi guiding Sam Dong from afar when he was struggling with the ringing in his ears during his performance (which was a very, very powerful moment for me), and Hye Mi singing to Baek Hee over the phone while the latter was on the way to the police station to report the sexual assault (which was very powerful and poignant). We don't really need a lot of friends. We just need at least one person to have faith in us and that's enough to help us overcome whatever comes our way. 

I also loved how the show tried to explain that every roadblock is actually just a detour and in the end, we'll still get to wherever we're supposed to be. I loved how Mr. Kang told Hye Mi that even if Baek Hee debuted ahead of her, she should look at it in a positive light because those who take longer actually learn and experience more and they tend to shine brighter too. 

And I also liked that message about attitude being more important than talent such as in the case of Jason. He was extremely talented but he didn't seem to take things seriously. Thanks to Pil Sook lashing out at him, Jason finally made good use of the opportunities that were given to him. 

Watching this show made me realize how much idols sacrifice to get to where they are. The trainings, the bashing, the pressure, etc - a really high price to pay for their fame. This show seems like an admonition to viewers/fans like us - while these idols are flawed and they make mistakes, we also need to look at their struggles so we can fully understand where they're coming from before we judge them. 

I loved how that EMG audition was added to the story as a sort of recap of how far each of our main characters have come. 

Music

Being a show set in a performing school, we hear lots of good music in this show. The theme song's really catchy and IU's Someday and her duet with Kim Soo Hyun, Can't I Love You, were really nice too. 

Things That Were Not So Okay

The treatment of some scenes/storylines didn't work for me. I felt that the fight scenes involving Jin Guk and the loan shark guys were very flashy, orchestrated, and scripted. 

I also didn't like the illegal detention stuff - Jin Guk's dad having Jin Guk kidnapped to take him by force to the US and Mr. Kang locking up Ms. Si so she can't interfere in their fake showcase. Maybe it's supposed to be funny but I think we need to draw the line when it already involves a crime. 

And of course, it was not cool to allow Baek Hee to get away with a lot of crimes - putting thumbtacks on her classmate's shoes that injured the girl, dropping a flower pot on Hye Mi that Sam Dong had to undergo surgery for, and plagiarizing a song. Yes, her reputation suffered but it would have been nice to at least see some concrete kind of punishment to emphasize that these things were so wrong. 

While the ending was okay in general and I liked how things were resolved and I felt that everybody got what they deserved, I just hoped that Mr. Jung's connection to Sam Dong, Hye Mi, Jin Guk, Mr. Yang, and Mr. Kang was explained.  I know he saw something in the three students but how did he find out about them? How did he end up with Mr. Kang's notebook? That curiosity was part of the reason why I got hooked to the show because I couldn't wait to find out about those connections. And I felt sort of cheated that the show didn't resolve that for me. 

In the end, I was glad that I didn't dismiss Dream High as just another youth show that I won't be able to relate to. It had so many heartwarming messages and moments that even grown-ups like me need and appreciate. :) 

Oppa says...3.8. 

Noona says...it's a 4.5. :) 





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