The Fangirl Verdict

Completely biased reviews and fangirling

Review: High School King

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THE SHORT VERDICT:

High School King is definitely a drama that is better in concept than in execution.

While the idea of a high schooler going successfully undercover as a sharp-suited corporate warrior is intriguing, the hijinks unfortunately come off as more try-hard than amusing. Characters are treated in broad strokes for the most part, and we get a lot more campy and theatrical than layered and nuanced.

There are definitely some moments of heart, but you’d need to be patient to find them in the midst of the comedic intent, which sometimes feels like it’s on steroids.

On the upside, Seo In Guk looks great in a sharp suit.

High School King OST – 돌아오는 길 (Seo In Guk)

THE LONG VERDICT:

First of all, I really, really loved the concept of the show when I first heard about it. Seo In Guk playing a high schooler going undercover in the corporate world sounded like SO much awesome. I loved that he has the face to play both parts; that he’s got enough dork about him to be a convincing high schooler, and yet at the same time, enough suave about him to look the part of a corporate warrior.

Sadly, I didn’t love this show the way I wanted to. And I really, really wanted to.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t love it, since I’ve heard quite a few raves about this show too.

I really think it all boils down to what works for you and what doesn’t; what you find funny and what you don’t; what you find sweet and romantic and what you find awkward and uncomfortable.

Oh, and it definitely also boils down to exactly how much you love Seo In Guk.

For the record, I really do like Seo In Guk. I mean, that’s one of the reasons I was drawn to this show to begin with. From watching this show, though, I’ve learned that I probably don’t love him quite enough to make this show work for me.

I had mixed feelings about the show through most of its run, and came away with an underwhelmed feeling of meh.

Let me try to break down my mixed feelings a little bit, by touching fairly quickly on a couple of main pieces and their pluses and minuses.

Seo In Guk as Lee Min Suk (& Lee Hyung Suk)

Seo In Guk can be dashing in a suit, and dreamy when he kisses (both big plus points), but as Min Suk, he’s also portrayed as immature and explosive, and that does not help at all. The aegyo that Min Suk puts on quite a lot of time also does not help. It makes him appear immature to the point of me finding it hard to buy into his character as the show’s leading man.

Min Suk’s mile-a-minute teenager speak, punctuated with “jinjja” to fill any and all dead space,  also eventually got really old for me.

On the upside, Seo In Guk can indeed kiss.

Many of those moments were very nice indeed.

Lee Ha Na as Jung Soo Young

Soo Young is kind-hearted and warm, and those are her big plus points. But she’s also made out to be rather strange and very socially awkward, which we see presented most often in her odd tendency to hunch with both arms hanging limp by her sides, and her equally odd habit of practically shouting her greetings at people.

While I found her doormat tendencies aggravating, it was how she was often portrayed as pathetic that bugged me more. Additionally, I found it hard to watch the multiple occasions when she was put in ultra embarrassing situations.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Here are 2 quick examples of when I squirmed from all the second-hand embarrassment.

E1. Soo Young’s inner monologue about Director Yoo Jin Woo (Lee Soo Hyuk) about his “signals,” and her subsequent confession. Spectacularly embarrassing.

E9. Min Suk’s discovery that Soo Young’s bag is full of lingerie, in expectation of sexytimes. So embarrassing that I had to take breaks every few minutes from watching the scene.

[END SPOILER]

I was cringing too much to find it all genuinely funny, so this just didn’t work for me.

The OTP

Min Suk and Soo Young are cute together, and the kisses are sometimes hot, but their relationship generally runs too cute for my taste. It doesn’t feel terribly romantic when they’re mostly just playing like kids. Also, there’s Min Suk’s tendency to raise his voice and manhandle her when he’s upset. Which, again, is something that doesn’t sit so well with me.

I liked that the show touched on Min Suk’s insecurity about his age and station in life when compared to Soo Young’s friends, but overall, I found it hard to buy into this OTP.

The Writing

Honestly, the plotting in this show is pretty predictable. A reasonably experienced drama fan would be able to predict pretty much every milestone in this story’s narrative.

Which wouldn’t be a problem in itself if the execution and characterization of our main players were well done. Unfortunately, neither is very strong. While the execution had some bright spots, it mostly felt rather uneven and I didn’t find the intended funny all that funny, really (more on that in a bit).

Characterization-wise, we got mostly broad strokes all around, with things getting into two-dimensional, flat territory even among our main cast.

[SPOILER ALERT]

The clearest offender in this area is the writing around Jin Woo, who starts out all cold and dismissive towards Soo Young. And then in episode 6, we see a sudden turnaround when he suddenly wants to spend time with her.

I thought maybe this was all part of him plotting something, but we were eventually led to believe that he had real feelings for her. While it’s fine for him to have a change of heart, the writing didn’t make that change of heart at all believable or plausible.

Additionally, the duality of the nice side that he showed Soo Young and his not-so-nice corporate spy side did not feel organic. The different sides didn’t meld very well, and as a result, Jin Woo’s characterization felt stilted.

[END SPOILER]

The Funny.. isn’t so funny

To be honest, I didn’t find the funny all that funny at all, in this show.

Stuff that the show played for laughs just didn’t amuse me the way the writers intended. Like the way Min Suk was irresponsible with the corporate credit card, using it to buy his friends a ridiculous amount of expensive clothes and shoes. Am I too responsible to find this funny? Coz I’m so sure it was supposed to be funny.

The petty rivalry between Jin Woo and Min Suk is also supposed to be funny, but their behavior degenerates to that of little boys fighting over toys, and I didn’t find it very amusing at all.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Here are 2 occasions in a tiny bit more detail, where the writers were gunning for funny, but it didn’t work for me.

E12. Soo Young’s Noona crusade on Min Suk is understandable in concept, but really hammy in execution. That she’d beat his door down to ask him to call her Noona, in front of all the other employees watching on the other side, is just not in character. When the writers do things like this, it totally takes me out of the moment and reminds me that this world isn’t real. And I need to at least be able to sorta believe it’s real in order to feel invested.

E15. The lookalike effect of the brothers confusing other people is ripe for the mining, but it just isn’t funny in execution. Maybe it’s the awkward comic timing of the actors; I cringed through Soo Young’s extended cheek-pinching encounter with an unsmiling Hyung Suk, and then cringed again through Min Suk’s friends’ handsy encounter with the stoically poker-faced Hyung Suk.

[END SPOILER]

Essentially, this show tries hard to be funny, but the trying shows so much that it’s just not very amusing to me. Exaggerated shouting and other OTT antics do not necessarily funny make, at least for me.

Still, I concede that a lot of viewers actually found this show gut-bustingly funny. Which means it really boils down to a matter of preference and personal taste.

Logic Fails

For a show about a high schooler disguising himself as a corporate warrior, the need to suspend disbelief while watching is a total given.

Even so, there are a number of logic fails in the writing which I found hard to swallow, and therefore, distracting.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Here’s one of the big ones.

After Min Suk basically destroys his shoulder playing ice hockey, the doctor explains that his ice hockey career is over, and that there’s simply No Way that he’ll be able to compete again. And then Soo Young proceeds to learn how to rehabilitate Min Suk by looking up stuff on the internet, and succeeds in helping Min Suk play again, with his coach’s permission.

Um. Seriously?

Soo Young trying to help Min Suk with physiotherapy is nice in concept, but unbelievable in execution. If rehabilitation was so possible, wouldn’t the doctor and coach have known to push for it? Her amateur attempts move Min Suk, but surely that shouldn’t result in him getting back on the hockey team? And the coach allowing it, given that the doc had specifically said that continuing to compete might make it hard for Min Suk to live life normally, is just irresponsible.

Much as I’ve practiced suspending disbelief in dramaland, I couldn’t buy this one, even with both eyes closed.

[END SPOILER]

SPECIAL SHOUT-OUT

Before I end this review, I wanted to give the quick spotlight to a couple of secondary characters.

Oh Kwang Rok as Dad

Dad was quite possibly my favorite character in this entire show.

I loved that he was such a kind, sweet, loving father, even though he wasn’t even the boys’ bio dad.

[SPOILER ALERT]

In episode 9, when the doc tells Dad that Min Suk’s injury is too serious and that Min Suk basically can’t play ice hockey anymore, Dad is heartbroken and tearfully pleads with the doc to give Min Suk his arm instead. Oh, Dad. His earnest tears broke my heart and warmed it, all at the same time.

[END SPOILER]

All drama long, Dad’s love for his sons was long-suffering, sacrificial, and so, so warm.

I loved Dad. So very much.

Kwon Sung Duk as Gramps

Gramps was a total scene-stealer in this show, and his childlike antics and gleeful innocence were very endearing indeed.

I loved all his scenes with Min Suk, but in particular, his scenes towards the end of the drama with the heretofore absent Hyung Suk, were the most poignant of all.

Gramps totally deserved his own show.

Lee Yul Eum as Soo Ah

Granted, I found Yoo Ah bemusing in the early stretches of the show, with her determined stalkery (and borderline disturbing) obsession with Min Suk.

But the cute sisterly moments that she shared with Soo Young in the later episodes eventually won me over, and I came away thinking that Yoo Ah wasn’t half bad after all.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

In the end, I felt like the show missed some potentially great opportunities.

A lot of time was spent on office shenanigans, which got really old by the time we entered the later stretch of the show. Instead of all that, we could’ve spent more time exploring the dynamic between the Absentee Hyung and the kid brother who steps in to right hyung’s wrongs.

Seo In Guk is very convincing as both brothers, and I found the dynamic between the brothers way more interesting and engaging than the OTP dynamic, which was played more awkward and childlike than I would’ve preferred.

The brothers who looked so alike, but who were so different in personality, was a potentially rich plot line to mine, but the show – sadly – chose to gloss over this with a pretty light touch.

Overall, there were moments that grabbed me in this show, and that’s definitely a good thing. At the same time, the OTT characterization of the characters sometimes really got in the way of my enjoyment of the show.

When we got moments of poignancy and tenderness, I found the show enjoyable and engaging. But when our characters – in particular, our leads Soo Young and Min Suk – went into OTT mode and it felt like they were on steroids, I found it distracting more than endearing.

Still, I wanted to like this show.

As I watched the show, I kept waiting for the balance to shift. I kept waiting for all the pluses to outweigh the minuses, preferably by a landslide.

Sadly, that didn’t happen.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Some bright spots but overall pretty unremarkable, with a tendency to lean overdone. More for Seo In Guk fans.

FINAL GRADE: C

VISUAL TREATS:

For those who haven’t seen the show, here’s a quick trailer:

For those who don’t mind spoilers, here’s a sweet MV featuring our OTP:

Author: kfangurl

Proud to be a k-fangirl since 2007. Main diet of kdramas with movies and kpop on the side.

22 thoughts on “Review: High School King

  1. It is really great to have intelligent reviews, which are often lacking. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another good review, and shorter than most others, but not a flash. 🙂 I don’t expect I’ll be watching it soon. I remember getting mildly curious when I first heard about it, then I completely forgot until now.

    Once I hear High School and even Noona as a drama’s theme, I tend to run the other way. However, my two favorites of that genre are ‘Big’ and ‘I love Lee Tae Ri.’ Uhh, wow, those are really similar dramas too. I must be the fantasy element that grabbed me. Oh and ‘I hear your voice’ was really good even if I wasn’t taken with miss ice queen fish lips.

    I didn’t quite get the plot of this until I read further down and realized Seo In Guk was playing the older AND younger brother. A storyline like that can definitely be mined for gold! I’m not really a fan of his, but I’m sorry it dissapointed fan expectations.

    At least dad and grandpa kept things afloat. Awww..

    A loud, hunched, scrunched, socially awkward Noona that comes off pathetic does not sound appealing as the female lead at all, no matter how cutesy the moments are. 😒😣

    Liked by 1 person

    • “A loud, hunched, scrunched, socially awkward Noona that comes off pathetic does not sound appealing as the female lead at all” … to that i’d reply with this: (as i got older, i realised that) there’s something lovable in EVERY woman on this planet … one just has to be willing to look for it (even in non-conventional places/circumstances).

      ps: i’m not looking for an argument, it’s just that i think people would be much better off living their lives with open eyes and hearts

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi INTJ, no arguments. You are absolutely right about open eyes and hearts. I’m getting older too and I have to scold some young women I know for constantly obsessing about their looks, and especially, other women’s looks.

        Women constantly, (and I include myself) make comparisons to other women and point out flaws, even in tiny ways. Even if they don’t mean to sound hurtful. It’s really hopeless sometimes. I’m MINUS 100% perfect. That’s totally negative. You won’t see me as a drama leading lady anytime soon.

        I’m working on my attitude to the point I’m trying not to even look at other women with a critical eye. I just don’t care anymore. Life is too hard and tiring enough to worry about whether this woman had a nose-job or this one has no hips, no lips, no chest, blah blah blah. To that I say, enough already!! Mind your own business and body, nobody elses. If they are not hurting you or are involved with you in any way, why stress over anything? It only kills you faster.

        But that’s real life, my comment was directed at the drama character.

        What I should have added in my comment is that that, as a viewer/fan, the cliche of that TYPE of woman is so over-done in Kdramas that it is very frustrating to me. But I understand in the real world, women like that are all over.

        I myself have worked very hard to overcome social awkwardness, shyness, and lack of confidence. I still have many days where I crawl back into my shell. I just feel that no woman is hopeless when they set their mind to it and make a little effort.

        I didn’t see this drama, so I can’t say if this character did or not.

        I just watched a great Taiwanese drama called ‘Rock ‘N’ Road, and the lead girl was really cute, but a total klutzy misfit, and stayed that way almost the whole drama, but she naturally matured through her hard work, determination and perseverance. She was completely optimistic and her heart was good. I loved her and the drama very much. That surprised me because she’s the type of character that normally annoys me.

        The female lead characters in Kdrama are often so caught up in their own heads, acting mopey and dopey and desperate. Prince charming falls right into their laps and they don’t mature at all.

        That is SUPER frustrating for women in real life to see. Because it just doesn’t happen that way. It might not make sense, but it’s just a feeling I have. You are right, there sure is something lovable in every woman, but it’s so often that nobody bothers to look or is willing to. That can be so depressing.

        What can you do? But keep trying to be the best woman (or man for that matter) as you can be.

        Thanks for your comment!

        Like

        • “… but it’s so often that nobody bothers to look or is willing to.” … yes, that’s why i felt compelled to comment. we should bother to look (again and again, everything changes in time) because it’s totally worth it. i liked Rock ‘N’ Road too and Lin Wei Zhen’s optimismus was a refreshing bonus to the story of her personal growth.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Heh. I do believe you’re right about the fantasy elements in Big and I Love Lee Tae Ri being the thing that drew you in! I never got around to I Love Lee Tae Ri, though I did hear that the age gap is really big, and that he’s basically a total minor when they fall in love. It sounds way squickier than what I think you’d normally stand for, so I’m curious about your take on that.

      Yes, Seo In Guk played both brothers, and he was really good at being the cold, sharp, preppy Hyung, versus the hot-headed, passionate, immature little brother. I would’ve loved to see the 2 characters share more screen time! Y’know what, though, I think I might be in the minority, as far as disappointed fans go. A lot of people liked this show, and loved Seo In Guk being a high schooler. I just didn’t happen to be one of them. Dad and Gramps really did offer that silver lining for me, or I might’ve never finished this! 😄

      I didn’t like how the female lead character was conceptualized or delivered, but props to Lee Ha Na, there were some poignant moments where she delivered really well and I did eventually grow to like her character. I just wish they hadn’t made her look weird and pathetic, especially in the beginning of the show.

      Like

      • I surprised myself with Lee Tae Ri. Yes, the age gap was about 10-12 years there. I think the show was a bit more edgy because it was an OCN production at 45 min. an episode. I breezed through it. I barely thought of the squick factor because I found Ki Bum’s performance so charming. He even resembled Gong Yoo. It was definitely more like the movie ‘Big’ with Tom Hanks, than the actual Kdrama ‘Big’ was. And it was pretty innocent throughout. Sometimes I surprise myself because if anything was a Noona romance, that was. And those are not my thing. But coupled with the fantasy aspect and the fact that it was much like the 80’s film it was a fun whirl.

        I think what made some viewers also feel squicky is that actress Park Ye Jin looks older than she actually is. She’s very attractive, but very sculpted, if you get my drift. I like her, she adds elegance to her roles. I’m enjoying her mild, supporting character in Mr. Baek.

        About the female lead in in this drama – that’s what I meant to convey in my comment. I just knew that the way the female character in the movie was conceptualized, would be a pain. But every so often a character can make you forget that weirdness the more the viewer comes to know them. So at least she became likeable for you.

        Like

        • Wait, he resembles Gong Yoo? *googles* Oh my. He sort of does, at certain angles! I never spotted that before! And now my interest to see this show has revived somewhat. HAHA. I can be so shallow sometimes! Although, the fact that she ended up dating a guy who was still technically a minor does niggle at me somewhat. Still, considering how you breezed through this, maybe I ought to give it a shot too!

          Like

  3. given the premise, i started watching this drama almost “blindfolded”. i mean: come on, a highschool kid as a ceo? my expectations were very low. but, suprisingly, imo this drama managed to pull off the concept of “opposites attract” pretty well. therefore, despite many logical blunders (like the one you mentioned), i enjoyed watching this one and, given the right mood, i’ll probably rewatch it (making good use of the ff button) like i recently did with “Witch’s.Romance”.

    Like

    • Aw, I’m glad you ended up enjoying this, INTJ. I know a lot of viewers actually found this a fun watch, and I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t like it the way most people seemed to. Maybe I was expecting too much? Expectations play such a big part in how we experience a show, after all.

      Witch’s Romance is totally a show that I’d rewatch too, and I’m glad you had the chance to give the cute another whirl! ^^

      Like

      • imo every expectation is just a projection of the self … thus excluding “the other” (in fact everything else). and while the inner journey is worth the time, the outer journey is what actually makes us complete.

        Like

        • Aw. You can be so profound, INTJ! I had to reread your comment a few times to understand it – well, I think I understand it! ^^ It’s so true that every expectation is a culmination and projection of all that we’ve got going on the inside; all our experiences, our filters, and what we allow ourselves to hope for. And sometimes, just experiencing the reality vs our expectations, can be a learning journey in itself. In this case, I certainly learned a bit more about what my likes and dislikes are in drama, and to what degree I find campiness amusing. Guess there’s always an element of self-discovery to the journeys we take in life! 🙂

          Like

  4. I loved this drama, but I enjoyed reading your take on it.

    Like

    • Aw, I’m glad you enjoyed this show, Only! Having a drama to love is always a good thing, so even though I didn’t manage to love this as you do, I’m happy that you found something to love. With the drama landscape being as uneven as it can sometimes be, it’s a rare and wonderful thing to find a drama to love unreservedly! And thanks for taking the time to read and enjoy this post, even though we feel differently about this show. That’s pretty awesome of you! 🙂

      Like

  5. I really think it all boils down to what works for you and what doesn’t; what you find funny and what you don’t; what you find sweet and romantic and what you find awkward and uncomfortable.

    This. Surprisingly few seem to understand this concept – whatever works for YOU.

    As you may perhaps remeber, I did like High School King quite a bit. It’s not something I’ll re-watch or even think about now but I did enjoy it while it was on. The comedy was ok by me, it never crossed over to that special brand of too OTT, which I can’t stand and wich so often appears as ‘funny’ in kdramas. I do understand your problems with the execution on the whole though and even agree on a most of them. I just didin’t find them irritating enough to pay attention. 🙂

    Pop and Gramps were great and I also liked the three highschool bros together. All in all I think the best part of the drama were those quiet moments where you could actually see the characters beyond the comedy or the romance.

    Like

    • I know, right? It is surprising that very few viewers seem to really get that idea that not every drama works for everyone, and that that’s perfectly ok. I mean, even Heirs has its serious fans. And while I was extremely aggravated by the show’s terrible writing, I don’t begrudge the show’s fans their enjoyment. Well that, and Heirs did give me plenty of Woob on my screen, so that definitely helped! 😄

      Glad you managed to enjoy this one, Timescout! I know so few shows manage to hit the spot for you, so it’s great that this one turned into an enjoyable watch for you. And I totally agree with you – the high school friends were cute together. And in particular, those quiet moments, especially involving Pop &/or Gramps were the ones that really landed on the drama sweet spot for me. 🙂

      Like

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  7. I really loved this show.. I might say that Im a guilty for not able to see the lacking of the drama.. I just really do love it.. I dont like the acting of the leading lady from the beginning because it’s quite annoying, but as I continue to watch it, I learned to accept her characterization. And yeah I really love the acting of Gramps, he’s really a scene stealer. I also like Min Suk’s friends.. The only problem I saw in the show is the lack of scene of his older brother (Lee Hyung Suk).. The story is all about Min Suk pretending to be his brother, but they only take one or less than two episodes for the scenes of Lee Hyung Suk..

    And by the way, I really love its OST- Fluttering Heart and Finding Myself..

    Maybe Im just really a big fan of Seo In Guk..

    Like

    • Aw, it’s perfectly ok to love a show in spite of its flaws, Jemerald – I know how that feels too! 😄 And you’re alone in your love for High School King.. I’ve heard a lot of raves for this show too. Which is why it makes me a little sad that I felt underwhelmed by it. But, I totally agree that Lee Ha Na grows into the role and becomes more endearing as the show goes on. And Gramps and Dad both stole my heart, they were so wonderful and so sweet. ❤ Totally agree too, that we should’ve had more scenes with both Min Suk and Hyung Suk. That would’ve been interesting, I think. 🙂

      Like

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