14 September 2022

K Drama Review: Sky Castle (2018) 4.8 || 4.7

We've heard good things about Sky Castle. But we delayed watching it because we knew it was going to be a very heavy drama. We generally want to keep things light and I honestly thought we'd never get to watch this. Thanks to one boring night when we couldn't think of anything else to watch, we finally had the courage to give this a go. 


This drama tells the story of rich families living in a community called Sky Castle. Most of the families are obsessed with getting their children to good universities. Hence, they are very grade conscious and competitive. They are always on the lookout for ways to pull up their children's grades and to make sure that they achieve their university goals. All seems well at first glance. Like when Park Young Jae (Song Geon Hee of Snowdrop, Love Alarm, and At Eighteen) made it to the Seoul National University (SNU) Medical School. Things go crazy however when all of a sudden, Yeong Jae's mom (Kim Jung Nan of Snowdrop, Crash Landing on You, and What Happens to My Family) commits suicide. The Sky Castle families' lives are turned upside down as secrets about the dirty world of getting kids to good universities are uncovered. The show takes us through how these families resolve their huge dilemma of making sure that their kids stay on top of the college admissions game versus keeping their morals and integrity intact. 

Kang Family

The most prominent among the Sky Castle families is the Kang family. Mom is Han Seo Jin/Kwak Mi Hyang (Yum Jung Ah of Cleaning Up and Snowdrop). I'm happy to witness another superb performance from Yum Jung Ah - snarky, elegant, and proud when competing with other moms, anxious in making sure she gets the best for her kids and making her mother-in-law (Jung Ae Ri of Tune in for Love, Snowdrop, Crash Landing on You, and Something in the Rain) like her, sneaky and scheming in getting what she wants, warfreak against anyone who messes with her family, and meek yet confident in convincing the admissions coordinator Coach Kim Joo Young (Kim Seo Hyung) to tutor her daughter Ye Seo (Kim Hye Yoon of Cleaning Up, Snowdrop, Record of Youth, Guardian, and My Love from the Star). 

It was amazing to see Ye Seo's mom, who's often sure of herself, waver when it comes to her daughter's future. I was proud of her when she fired Coach Kim the first time. It's just unfortunate that she eventually succumbed to the pressure of making sure Ye Seo becomes a third generation doctor in her family. 

My favorite Seo Jin moments include her confrontation scenes with Coach Kim. They were both oozing with so much power. I also loved her breakdown scene after her identity was revealed. Although it was humiliating, I was happy that that was out because that was one less thing for her to worry about. And she could finally show her true colors. Like in her super hilarious catfight scenes with her neighbor and friend, Jin Jin Hee (Oh Nara of My Mister and House on Wheels 2). 

Yes, Seo Jin played a huge part in the misfortune that befell her family. And while she was able to redeem herself big time, I still wish she was more proactive in protecting Ye Seo from Coach Kim. 

Ye Seo is the eldest daughter in the Kang family. Kim Hye Yoon is perfect as the overachiever and competitive Ye Seo. Nobody doubts how smart she is. That's why it was heartbreaking to hear her tell her mom that she really wanted to get into SNU Med School and that she really, really tried her best. Because that was so true. It's just unfortunate that her reputation was blemished when her family hooked up with the wrong people. 

Kim Hye Yoon was able to showcase her range as she debated on whether or not to reveal the leakage of her school's exam papers - she was scared, paranoid, sad, and borderline going crazy. 

And while others might find Ye Seo's character development quite abrupt - from someone so selfish and greedy to someone who's willing to give up her future to save a friend - I found all of it plausible. After all, the friend involved was someone she liked and truly cared about, Woo Joo (Kang Chan Hee). I would have found it improbable if it involved someone else. 

Ye Bin (Lee Ji Won of The Producers and Romance is a Bonus Book), the youngest daughter in the family, is probably one of my most favorite characters in the show. This girl can really hold her own against the grown ups. I loved how she was actually brutally frank like her mom - like when she told her dad (Jung Joon Ho) that her live-in tutor Hye Na (Kim Bo Ra) was also dad's daughter or when she told mom that she didn't need to study because mom can just steal exams for her anyway. But I also loved her in her breakdown scenes like when she lamented that mom didn't even care about why she was shoplifting. It was a sobering reminder that although Ye Bin seems so mature, she's still a fragile child who needs to be loved and cared for. And of course, I loved her because she totally didn't subscribe to the study-til-you-die lifestyle that society wanted to normalize. 

The dad, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kang, was my least favorite member of this family. I initially thought I'd like him because he appeared chill and he refused to be nagged by his wife. But he turned out to be quite stupid and incompetent. He only relied on his good background and connections. Yet, I ended up sympathizing with him when he realized that he has actually been living an empty life, having been dependent on his mom for the longest time. So, yes, he also redeemed himself in the end. But I was not quite happy with his dramatic scenes. 

Hwang Family

The Hwang family is the kindest one in Sky Castle. My favorite is mom, author Lee Soo Im (Lee Tae Ran), who is very compassionate but who knows how to stand her ground. Yes, she was not perfect. Although she was provoked, I would've preferred that she didn't go down to Seo Jin's level by revealing the latter's identity. But she was the one who never gave up on finding out the truth about Coach Kim. So she's definitely one of the heroes of this show. 

Woo Joo was okay although I found his acting lacking most of the time. His jail time would have been the perfect moment for him to shine but he didn't really deliver. 

I loved Dad, neurosurgeon Dr. Hwang (Choi Won Young). He was mostly quiet and dignified. But when it involves his family, he just won't back down. He'd even throw in a punch when needed. 

Cha Family

I super loved mom, No Seung Hye (Yoon Se Ah of Snowdrop). Yoon Se Ah was perfect as the meek and kind mom, who unfortunately, was compelled to be competitive by her husband, lawyer Professor Cha (Kim Byung Chul of Descendants of the Sun, Mr. Sunshine, Guardian, and House on Wheels 2). I really loved mom's character development when she started pushing back against her authoritarian and manipulative husband. 

It was unfortunate that eldest daughter Se Ri (Park Yoo Na of Hotel Del Luna) lied about being admitted to Harvard. But I found that necessary, if only to get dad off his ivory tower. It also helped make things a bit easier for adorable twins Ki Joon (Jo Byung Gyu of Hot Stove League) and Seo Joon (Kim Dong Hee of Itaewon Class). I loved how Se Ri stood her ground against dad when she told him that it was pressure coming from him that compelled her to lie and that ultimately, he was the failure because his kids didn't respect him. 

I loved how mom tried to give dad several chances but when he still insisted on having his way, mom and the kids moved out, which eventually paved the way for dad to repent. 

Woo Family

The Woo family is probably the most hilarious one in Sky Castle. I loved how everyone was funny without being slapstick or over the top. 

Oh Na Ra was perfect as Jin Jin, Seo Jin's minion who sides with whoever she's with or with whatever's convenient for her and her family. Like how she was dissuading her husband, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Woo (Jo Jae Yoon of Descendants of the Sun and Reply 1994), from getting his surgery from Dr. Kang because she believed he was incompetent. But when she realized that her husband's career was on the line, she nagged him non-stop about going to Dr. Kang. 

And while she was a rumormonger, I appreciated that Jin Jin truly cared for her son Soo Han (Yoo Jin Woo of Ms. Hammurabi). I loved that moment when she saw her son having a hard time studying and she asked him if he'd like to cuddle. Then she went on to apologize about how she's always pushing him to study even if deep down she just really wants him to be happy and healthy. And when she realized that her son was really not that interested in studying and that he was having a hard time because she kept on pressuring him, she was flexible enough to allow him to cut back on his extra classes. 

Coach Kim

Coach Kim was undoubtedly the most despicable character in the show. But Kim Seo Hyung did it so well that you can't really hate her. 

Coach Kim was so cold, cunning, evil, and manipulative. She was scariest during meditation room scenes like when she told Ye Seo that she can never beat Hye Na. Her means of motivating her students reeked of emotional and mental abuse. 

Yes, we can appreciate that Coach Kim worked hard to discover her students' weaknesses and to use those to motivate them - like Ga Eul (Lee Yun Seol) for Yeong Jae and Hye Na for Ye Seo. But that tactic's scary at the same time. It was also freaky to see how Ye Seo and Yeong Jae's moms knelt before Coach Kim and then she asked them if they were willing to accept any consequence just to get their kids to SNU. 

It was horrible to discover that she was destroying her students because she wanted them and their families to end up like her and her daughter, K (Jo Mi Nyeo of Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo). She hated the proud and greedy parents who reminded her so much of herself. 

Sure, Coach Kim was evil from the start. But murder just took things to a totally different and scary level. Killing Hye Na and framing up Woo Joo was a very despicable plan, which unfortunately helped Coach Kim hit three birds with one stone - she eliminated Hye Na who threatened to squeal on the leaked exams, she hurt Woo Joo's mom who wanted to write a book about her, and she eliminated Ye Seo's distraction yet she had something on Ye Seo by making her and her mom doubt if she really killed Hye Na in case mom reports her illegal activities. And of course, add to that how she killed her husband in the past when the latter threatened to take custody of their genius daughter. 

Hye Na

This show had too many characters and I admit that I was prepared to ignore Hye Na. But Kim Bo Ra did so well as the feisty Hye Na that I couldn't just set her aside. 

It was unfortunate that bad things kept on happening to her - her mom (Lee Yeon Soo) died, she was forced to quit from running as school president, she was threatened that her cheating scandal will be revealed, and she found out that she shared the same dad as her number one competitor, Ye Seo. I really, really wished she could have remained innocent until the end and that she'd choose to be the bigger person. But that would have been very unrealistic. The poor girl was pushed to the wall. She had nothing to lose after losing everything that she had. Naturally, she would be brazen. So while I was unhappy with how Hye Na's life/story ended, I appreciated how the show kept things real. The saddest part of her life was probably how her dad didn't know about her when she was still alive. It was really a misfortune that she went into the lion's den and she realized belatedly that she was no match for them. 


This show was very pretty to watch - the clothes, the bags, the shoes, the houses, etc. Everything was so glamorous and extravagant. And what made the show very compelling from the start was how despite all those pretty things, everyone was still so competitive while trying to protect their own dark secrets. And to end the pilot episode with a suicide was surely a good way to keep viewers hooked. 

With the numerous characters, families, and storylines, I admit that I found the storytelling quite confusing in the beginning. But as I became more familiar with everyone, it was easier for me to follow the story. The use of flashbacks to show the backstories like how Seo Jin read Yeong Jae's diary was very effective. 

The cliffhanger endings were also really cool. It shows you that the entire story was really well thought out. 

Yes, I was not wrong when I predicted that this was going to be a very heavy drama. But it was purposefully and tastefully done while touching on very relevant issues so it didn't feel like a burden at all. 

While I enjoyed the Woo family's kind of comedy, there were some funny scenes that felt quite off like the fight scenes between Drs. Hwang and Kang and Seo Jin and Soo Im. Some episodes/scenes towards the end also felt stretched to extend the story. You can't help but get the feeling that this was originally a 16-episode drama that was extended to 20 episodes because it was doing well. 

But it was easy to ignore these flaws because the show was bold enough to talk about dark issues and things. 

I've watched a good number of K dramas to know that the Korean educational system is a very competitive one where kids have to go to academies after school then go home really late at night and are still expected to study a bit more at home. But the truths (or some of them anyway) revealed in this drama were just really, really shocking. I didn't realize that they were so serious about university admissions that they start beefing up their portfolios and getting admissions coordinators even three years before they graduate from high school. And oh, how elaborate their schemes were - from banks hosting matching events with coordinators to paying these coordinators billions of won to get them to tutor their kids to something as absurd as parents meddling in school elections. And how parents, especially moms, are judged if they continue working because it's tantamount to limiting their kids' potential in getting to the top. 

And how the problem is deeply rooted and how it's actually a vicious cycle. Parents don't stop with pressuring their own kids while they're in school. Grandparents still pressure their kids to give them excellent/perfect grandchildren who can continue their legacies. And how parents use their kids as extensions of themselves as they compete with their colleagues like how Dr. Kang wanted Ye Seo to beat Woo Joo when Dr. Hwang was appointed chief of the hospital's new center. 

I liked how the show shifted the focus on good grades versus good manners in one part of the drama. It's unfortunate that society seems to favor good grades, probably because it's easier to measure, and not caring about whether this intelligent individual is actually greedy and selfish. And it's sad because we all know we should really be focusing on character. 

It was also nice of the show to point out that kids who are privileged automatically get a head start and they're poised to excel. And how those from poorer backgrounds actually have to work harder like Hye Na who had to study while taking care of her sick mother. And how it's so much more admirable to have kids who do well despite the difficult circumstances they have to deal with. 

I also liked how the drama showed us that kids respond to pressure differently. Sure, there are those like Ye Seo who thrive in that kind of environment. But there are also those like Ye Bin who respond by doing bad things like shoplifting to get their parents' attention. And it's heartbreaking to know that there are parents like Seo Jin who don't really care as long as their kids get good results. It was so crazy to hear her say that shoplifting was just a passing fancy to release stress and that it will go away once she gets to university. And you also have those who are pushed to commit fraud like Se Ri. And the sad ones like K who was mentally broken. It's just so sad that these kids have to be pitted against each other when they could actually be friends who care for and support each other. 

Personally, I am not against competition or pushing kids to do their best, as long as these are done legally AND the kid is fine with it or even thrives in it, like Ye Seo. But if kids are having a hard time like Yeong Jae then parents should know when to back down. Unfortunately, most of the time, parents only see what they want to see and kids put on happy faces for their parents out of fear. 

After all the crazy things that happened in Sky Castle, the real question, as per Soo Im's original book title, was who killed Yeong Jae's mom. Who brought all these misfortunes to the Sky Castle families? Yes, Coach Kim played a huge part with how she pushed her students so hard despite knowing that they could end up like K. But ultimately, the buck should stop with the parents. They should know their kids well enough to stop when they see they're having a hard time. They should prioritize their kids over their greed. Like how Seung Hye pushed back against her husband when she saw her twins getting stressed while studying. I loved how breaking that study room was symbolic of them breaking free from tyrannical dad. 

One of my favorite scenes was when Soo Im and Jin Jin visited Seung Hye and they talked about how parenting/raising kids is so difficult. How all parents want the best for their kids but what parents want might not necessarily be what the kids want. 

I'm glad that Yeong Jae came back and allowed Soo Im to write his story. Because it will hopefully stop a lot of parents and kids from making the same mistakes his family did. 

And as if all the competitiveness and the parents obsessing about their kids' grades were not enough, Hye Na had to come into the story as Dr. Kang's illegitimate child. And how she mysteriously fell off the balcony on Woo Joo's birthday. And how Woo Joo was framed up for the crime. I was scared about how traumatic everything will be for the kids. 

The drama made things more compelling when they presented Seo Jin and Ye Seo's ultimate dilemma - should they save Woo Joo or should they focus on getting Ye Seo to SNU? Seo Jin had her chance to make things right when Ye Seo found out the truth about the leaked exams, she started doubting Coach Kim, and she felt bad for Woo Joo. This was a missed opportunity that Seo Jin should have used to convince Ye Seo to give up on her dream, at least momentarily. Yet, Seo Jin chose to reinforce that Ye Seo's dreams were more precious than Woo Joo's freedom. 

Again, when Ye Seo started to show signs of distress, Seo Jin should have stepped in right away. Although it took her some time to come to terms with the truth, I'm glad that Seo Jin chose to be a better person in the end. I'm grateful for that scene between her mother-in-law and her husband (although I didn't really like the acting here that much), which probably helped Seo Jin realize that if she were to insist on hiding the truth, that exact scene was foreboding of things to come for her and Ye Seo. Surely, she does not want Ye Seo to confront her 20 years later about how empty and meaningless her life has been. 


My most favorite part of the show would have to be that scene where Ye Seo and Seo Jin decided to tell all and accept the consequences. I knew things were going to be alright from that moment. And the show didn't fail me. As a bonus, everyone got what they deserved more or less. 

Coach Kim was imprisoned as expected. And while it was unfortunate that she had to be separated from K, just when she was probably realizing her mistakes, things still seem hopeful especially with Soo Im taking an active role in caring for K. 

It was bittersweet to see Mr. Jo's (Lee Hyun Jin) back story. That explained his immense loyalty to Coach Kim. And while it was sad to see him go to jail too, it was just proper for him to pay for his crimes. 

I loved how the show gave us a happy ending for most of the characters. I felt nostalgic with the goodbye scenes among the moms and the dads, between Jin Jin and Seo Jin (who despite their catfights, really knew  and cared for each other), and between Drs. Hwang and Kang (how there was so much respect between the two of them this time, which was so different from how unprofessionally Dr. Kang treated Dr. Hwang in the past). 

It was nice to see Yeong Jae reunited with his dad (Yu Seong Ju of The Silent Sea, Snowdrop, and Squid Game) with dad practicing in a small hospital and Yeong Jae going back to school to study counseling so he can help distressed kids like him. 

The Woo family staying happy as usual and vowing not to pressure Soo Han. And how Jin Jin now appreciates her son's strengths like eating too much and weaknesses like studying. 

And how Professor Cha chose to accept Seung Hye's conditions so they don't have to separate. I really admired Seung Hye's strength. She loved dad and worried about him but she had to fight for her kids. I loved how Se Ri and dad's relationship was healing. The dancing moments were actually cute. 

I also loved how Soo Im's family is recovering. That solo trip should help Woo Joo heal from that traumatic experience. And it was so selfless of Soo Im to take care of K, the daughter of the woman who framed up her son. I'm glad that she was able to publish her book about Sky Castle and Coach Kim. 

And I was happiest with how the Kang family ended up. It was hilarious to see the entire family gang up on Dr. Kang's mom when she was still obsessed about getting Ye Seo to SNU. 

It was nice to see dad trying his best to be a better dad and a supportive husband. It was a wise decision for him to resign from the hospital, even if it meant leaving behind their luxurious life in Sky Castle. 

I loved how the entire family, including grandma, visited Hye Na and how they all took turns apologizing to her. My favorite was of course Ye Seo's. 

It was amazing to see Ye Seo plan her future - taking GED and the CSAT on her own, without the help of any academy or tutor. Then she'll see if she still wants to pursue medicine. I'm confident that she will be okay. It was also nice to see her study with the twins. She even has friends now. 

It was nice to see them live as a normal family - picking up each other and bickering about what food to eat. Simple things that they never got to enjoy in the past. 

I liked how the show went full circle - with the mom of the family moving into the Kangs' home very much like Seo Jin's old self. How she was obsessed with getting a coordinator for her child who was still in middle school. And when the other moms laughed at her and they told her their flaws (Woo Joo dropping out of school, Se Ri not going to university, and Soo Han only attending academy when he wants to) she called them naive. Hopefully, the remaining moms help nip new mom's competitiveness right away, otherwise all of their sufferings would just go to waste. 

Yes, Sky Castle was a heavy drama, but it was a very informative and entertaining one that will really be worth your time. 

Oppa says...4.8.

Noona says...4.7.