06 May 2021

K Drama Review: Itaewon Class (2020)

We're on some sort of IU hiatus and Oppa picked Itaewon Class as our IU-breaker. No complaints here because I love Park Seo Joon. He was okay in She Was Pretty and that cameo in Record of Youth so I included him in my list. But I totally fell in love with him in Youn's Stay. How can you not love a responsible guy like him who cooks really well? 

Judging by the photos that I saw for Itaewon Class, I admit that this was not the best looking version of Park Seo Joon that I've seen. But we're supposed to go beyond the superficial, right? And I'm glad I did. 

Plot

Itaewon Class tells the story of Park Sae Ro Yi's (Park Seo Joon) misfortunes in life. Right after moving to another part of Korea, he gets kicked out of his new school for defending a classmate (David Lee, who had a cameo in Hotel Del Luna, as Lee Ho Jin) against a bully (Ahn Bo Hyun, who was on Descendants of the Sun, as Jang Geun Won), who happens to be the son of the owner (Yoo Jae Myung of  Reply 1988, Vincenzo, Prison Playbook, and Strong Woman Do Bong Soon, as Chairman Jang Dae Hee) of a big conglomerate company, Jang Ga Group. 

Shorty thereafter, Sae Ro Yi's dad (Son Hyun Joo) was killed in a hit-and-run incident caused by Geun Won. To make matters worse, Chairman Jang covered up his son's crime. Sae Ro Yi assaults Geun Won and lands in jail because of that. 

Itaewon Class takes us through Sae Ro Yi's struggles in putting up his own bar, Dan Bam, in Itaewon and his quest for revenge against Jang Ga. 

Park Seo Joon as Park Sae Ro Yi

Park Seo Joon impressed me right away in the first episode of this drama. He immediately exhibited his wide range as an actor. He played the awkward and socially inept character of Sae Ro Yi really well. I loved how he ignored the girl who gave him chocolates. Even the haircut that seemed weird when seen outside the context of the drama worked. And I don't know how he did it but he managed to still inject life to the dry, boring, and straightforward life of Sae Ro Yi. He did not bore me at all. And yes, he still looked credible as a high school student despite his age. 

But even if he were socially inept, there was a certain kindness and softness in Sae Ro Yi. Like how he helped the beggar who was ignored by Oh Soo Ah (Kwon Nara of My Mister). Or how he saved Ho Jin from Geun Won when everyone else just looked the other way. And those few moments he had with his dad. I totally felt his regret when his incident with Geun Won caused his dad to lose his job. 

She Was Pretty already gave me a glimpse of what Park Seo Joon is capable of doing drama-wise. And Itaewon Class further reinforced that PSJ is probably one of the best dramatic Korean actors I've seen. I super loved that restrained but very pained acting he delivered when his dad died. He did not wail unnecessarily but I felt him just the same. 

One of the nice things about Sae Ro Yi, which could also be one of his weaknesses, is his strict sense of justice and integrity. He sticks to what he believes is right even if it causes him trouble and difficulties. He must defend the oppressed, never mind if he gets expelled or his dad loses his job. 

But he also knows when to give up - like when he had to kneel down before Chairman Jang to get Geun Won's location so he can save the love of his life/manager, Yi Seo (Kim Da Mi).

Park Seo Joon also shows us his tough side here. I was gushing while he was taking that police academy test. And he was totally badass in all those fight scenes with Geun Won. 

I loved how Sae Ro Yi was a go-getter who remained practical. He had dreams but he never resented people who got in the way of his ambitions. He totally understood that people around him need to live too and they have reasons for doing the things they do (like Soo Ah working for Jang Ga). Yes, they were probably obstacles that derailed him but he never demanded anything from the people around him. He never asked them to give up their own happiness to further his goals. 

And who wouldn't want to have a boss like Sae Ro Yi? He trusted his people and he always got their backs. Like how he trusted his cook, Hyun Yi (Lee Joo Young of Something in the Rain), to improve.  Or how when Hyun Yi was outed as a transgender, he never pressured her to proceed with a cooking contest even if their investment depended on it. But Sae Ro Yi won't baby you either. He'll call you out when you're out of line like Yi Seo's numerous tantrums. I love his mantra that business is all about people and trust. That truly worked for him seeing how far Dan Bam has gone. 

Park Seo Joon is probably synonymous with romantic dramas because he always does them so well. (And his kisses too!!!). I liked how he started out awkward and shy around Soo Ah. And how he has always liked her for about a decade. And then came his slow but steady realization that it was actually Yi Seo who was always there for him and how he had fallen in love with her. I loved how Yi Seo pointed out in one scene where Sae Ro Yi was acting all awkward that he was finally seeing her as a woman. :) 

And despite his strong desire for revenge, I loved how Sae Ro Yi remained classy after he finally defeated Chairman Jang. No, he didn't let him get away with his crimes. But he never humiliated him. 

Both Park Seo Joon and Park Sae Ro Yi were perfect here. Now I'm not sure if PSJ has already overtaken Jung Hae In's spot as number 1 in my heart. :D

Kim Da Mi as Jo Yi Seo 

We were surprised to know that Kim Da Mi is a newbie. Her portrayal of Yi Seo made her look like a veteran. 

I loved her spunk, boldness, and grit in getting what she wants. Yes, she was bossy most of the time but the people around her had no choice but to do as she says because she was really good. She's the kind of bitch you want to have on your team. :)

But she also knows how to atone for her bitchiness. Like how she vandalized that bar that refused entry to their African colleague (Chris Lyon as Tony Kim) even after she told Tony matter of factly that he was not really Korean. 

And she knows when to mellow down and use her charms to convince people. Like when she gently pushed Hyun Yi to continue with the cooking show despite her personal crisis. 

Kim Da Mi is a bundle of cuteness and pettiness. She's naturally funny too. 

Like how she always interfered in Sae Ro Yi and Soo Ah's moments or how she tricked her admirer and Geun Won's half-brother, Geun Soo (Kim Dong Hee), into attacking their kidnappers only to leave him alone when he did. 

What I liked best about Yi Seo was how she was a perfect fit for Sae Ro Yi. She kept him grounded and pulled him back whenever he was being too righteous. 

I loved her fierce loyalty to Sae Ro Yi. Who can forget how she trapped Geun Won to admit that he caused the hit-and-run incident that killed Sae Ro Yi's dad? And how she was still full of energy after Geun Won beat her up for that because Sae Ro Yi defended her and got angry for her. :D

Despite her age and the shorter length of time she's spent with Sae Ro Yi, Yi Seo definitely deserved him more compared to Soo Ah. She did so much more for Sae Ro Yi unlike the fence sitter Soo Ah. Or as Yi Seo said, Soo Ah who was still all the time, who did nothing but be selfish, and who never thought of what she can do to help Sae Ro Yi. 

I loved how nicely executed Yi Seo's breakdown scene was after she confessed her feelings to Sae Ro Yi and he told her not to like him. I totally felt her pain. 

I'm glad that Yi Seo's persistence paid off. I loved how she looked genuinely giddy in love with Sae Ro Yi. And how she was never afraid to broadcast her feelings for him, even if it made Sae Ro Yi uncomfortable. 

And let me just say that it was refreshing to see Yi Seo's mom (Kim Yeo Jin of Vincenzo and Worlds Within) in a more pleasant role. She was totally despicable in Vincenzo. And while there were still traces of toughness here as Yi Seo's mom, she was much tamer than that crazy prosecutor. Although that loony lawyer would have been a perfect mother for Yi Seo too. :D

I admit that there were moments when Kim Da Mi stole the show from Park Seo Joon, thanks to her bright character as opposed to the often dry and boring Sae Ro Yi. And that's saying a lot knowing that she's a newbie compared to the other actors. I really look forward to seeing more of her because she has so much potential for a newcomer. 

Kwon Na Ra as Oh Soo Ah

Although she looks leaner here compared to My Mister, Kwon Na Ra is still as pretty as ever. Just like Park Seo Joon, she still pulled off playing the role of a high schooler who bloomed into a sophisticated working girl. Although I was not really a big fan of her stoic acting moments, this seems to be her expertise. 

Before I saw Yi Seo, I admit that I was rooting for Soo Ah. But she lost me when she thought of reporting to the police that there were minors in Dan Bam. Why did she even think of doing that? It just didn't make sense especially after she revealed in the end that she had always been indebted to Sae Ro Yi's dad. It was so ridiculous that she even thought of doing that. 

I loved her confrontation scenes with Yi Seo and how she always looked so annoyed everytime Yi Seo beat her in their arguments. 

I hated how entitled she was when she said that Sae Ro Yi should still like her after all these years. What did she even do to deserve all those years that Sae Ro Yi devoted to her? 

For all her inaction, Soo Ah at least redeemed herself by being a whistleblower. Thanks to her, Chairman Jang finally lost Jang Ga. And I did feel bad for her after knowing that she endured all of those hardships under Chairman Jang to repay Sae Ro Yi's dad for all the help he's given her. I was happy that at least there was a hint of a new love for her in the finale with the cameo of Park Bo Gum (Wonderful Days, Reply 1988, The Producers, Encounter, Record of Youth, and Seo Bok). 

Kim Dong Hee as Jang Geun Soo

Kim Dong Hee was another impressive newbie in this show. I loved his gentle portrayal of Geun Soo and how he worshipped Sae Ro Yi. That's why it was so heartbreaking to see him betray Sae Ro Yi and his Dan Bam friends. 

I loathed how he pushed Sae Ro Yi to admit that he didn't like Yi Seo in episode 11 that forced Yi Seo to confess her feelings. And what he did to out Hyun Yi was totally vile. I didn't quite like how he turned into a villain all of a sudden just because Yi Seo didn't like him. I felt that it was just out of character for someone as nice as Geun Soo to do those things. 

At least he was able to apologize in the end. And I absolutely loved that sweet moment he shared with Yi Seo before he left for the US. I liked how Yi Seo acknowledged that even if she could not accept and reciprocate Geun Soo's feelings, she felt all the love he had for her. 

Yoo Jae Myung as Chairman Jang Dae Hee

Although I don't usually talk about villains, I make exceptions for those who are really good. And Yoo Jae Myung's portrayal of Chairman Jang definitely qualifies for that exception. 

We've seen Yoo Jae Myung as the funny dad in Reply 1988. Then he was meek and endearing in Vincenzo. But he was totally scary here - everything from his face, stare, laughter, etc. depicted his strength, power, and dominance. 

And while his character did seem quite unrealistic because I can't imagine how a petty person like him would succeed in business, I still loved how Yoo Jae Myung gave a solid performance as Chairman Jang. I especially liked his confrontation scenes with Sae Ro Yi. 

Dan Bam Staff

We first saw Ryoo Kyung Soo in Lovestruck in the City. Although he had his funny moments there, the show was too short and his screen time was limited for us to fully appreciate him. I'm glad we were able to see him here as Choi Seung Kwon. He really is funny. And he's not bad in his fight scenes either. I loved his loyalty to Sae Ro Yi, even if they were not on good terms right away. 

We loved Lee Joo Young as Son Ye Jin's colleague in Something in the Rain. We've been meaning to watch her movie Baseball Girl but have not found time to do that. Hopefully, we've now found a reason to finally watch that. 

I loved how credible Lee Joo Young was as transgender Hyun Yi. And how she bravely fought all her detractors. Yes, she's still human who gets hurt and affected by all the criticisms. But after crying, she faces them head on. 

I loved how she reprimanded Geun Soo for humiliating Yi Seo in front of Sae Ro Yi in episode 11. And her breakdown scene after she was outed as trans was so raw and real. 

Other Characters

Although he had limited screen time, I acknowledge that Ho Jin was instrumental in a lot of things that happened in Sae Ro Yi's life - his expulsion and his triumph over Jang Ga. David Lee played the role of a nerdy guy quite well.

I also loved how Tony Kim's grandma (Kim Mi Kyung of Hospital Playlist and Juror 8) saved Dan Bam after the original investor ran away. Who would have thought that the old lady who always ordered rice and side dishes was actually a real estate mogul? 

It was also nice to see Kim Hye Eun (Encounter) as a Jang Ga executive who was on Sae Ro Yi's side. And I liked how she was being paired with Detective Oh (Yoon Kyung Ho of Juror 8 and Vincenzo), the one who knew that Geun Won was really the culprit in the hit-and-run incident that killed Sae Ro Yi's dad. 

It was quite weird to see Yoon Park (What Happens to My Family) playing the role of Yi Seo and Geun Soo's friend. It was not clear if he was supposed to be a minor like them but he didn't really fit in that well. 

Execution

Some dramas start out slow, probably to properly pace the story. But Itaewon Class didn't bother with that. It delivered a fully loaded pilot episode - a new job, home, and school for Sae Ro Yi and his dad, passing the police academy test, bullying, expulsion, hit-and-run incident that killed Sae Ro Yi's dad,  and Sae Ro Yi assaulting Geun Won. I worried that the pace won't be sustainable but the show didn't have any problems with that. 

The actors were great and everyone was perfect for their roles. The story was very compelling too especially after Chairman Jang went all out in making Sae Ro Yi's life miserable. I loved the corporate power struggle although I would have probably appreciated it more if Chairman Jang were not too vile. 

I loved the plot twist about Tony's grandma. And I loved how the show focused on even the little details like contrasting the IC and Jang Ga offices and companies with the former more modern and flexible while the latter was old school and stiff. 

I loved how the show bravely talked about topics that are usually taboo in Korean society like the issue on transgenders. I liked how they showed the struggles of these people and how most of them are outed (and humiliated) against their wishes. 

And the issue on racial discrimination and the opposition to inter-racial marriages too. I'm sure these are things not talked about in the open and I'm glad Itaewon Class had the guts to include these storylines. 

And of course the issue of bullying. I often come across this in my dramas and it's sad that no matter how hard the society seems to be fighting against it, it still seems prevalent. And as Ho Jin showed us, the trauma it brings can haunt you even after many years later. 

And I liked how the drama included stories of people who are not neurotypical. Both Sae Ro Yi and Yi Seo were socially inept and Yi Seo was even close to being a sociopath. It's great that the show acknowledged that although you might think and act differently from others, you can still succeed and be good in what you do. 

One thing I didn't like about the show was the excessive use of flashbacks. It was disappointing actually because I don't usually see this in newer dramas. I thought this was buried with all those old dramas. The only time it really worked for this show was when Sae Ro Yi looked back at his life and realized that it was Yi Seo that he really loved. 

I'm not quite sure too if the growth IC achieved in a span of four years was realistic. I'm not a business person but I wonder if that was quite fast? 

Another thing I didn't like was the kidnapping bit in the end. It felt like it was too much or too extreme. I'm pretty sure the show could have achieved their goals by using other non-violent means. 

But having said that, I liked the ending. It was a very satisfying one because everything was resolved. Geun Soo was able to apologize and Soo Ah broke free from Jang Ga and might have a new love. And of course, Sae Ro Yi will now be able to live a happy and peaceful life and Yi Seo will no longer have to compete with any other distraction for Sae Ro Yi's attention. 

And I loved Start Over by Gaho. It's the perfect anthem for Sae Ro Yi and Dan Bam. :) 


Oppa says...4.2.

Noona says...4.7. 




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