Review: Itaewon Class

THE SHORT VERDICT:

An earnest, underdog story with lots of heart, Itaewon Class feels like a breath of fresh air, for a good part of its run. Even though the backstory hinges on the idea of revenge, this always feels more like a story of an underdog trying to make good, while collecting a found family along the way. In particular, I really appreciate the diversity that Itaewon Class embraces, in the course of peopling our drama world. I don’t think I’ve seen the same degree of diversity in another drama, to date.

Oddly, I feel like this drama is at once a Park Seo Joon vehicle, and yet, an ensemble drama, at the same time. Our protagonist Park Sae Ro Yi is the backbone of this story, and it’s his journey, his thoughts, his philosophy and his unflagging determination that drives this story forward. At the same time, it’s the ensemble of endearing characters around him that makes this drama world pop and come alive in such a heartwarming way. Altogether, an unusual dichotomy which I’m happy to embrace.

I felt the OTP loveline was rather too forced in Show’s final leg, and I also feel like Show’s focus shifts in the last stretch, such that Show loses some of its original charm, but I still enjoyed this one very well, overall.

THE LONG VERDICT:

Let me say right off the bat, that I really liked this one.

I came into this watch already having heard that this show slumps and gets lost a little bit, in its late stretch, and now that I’ve emerged on the other side, I just wanted to say upfront that I agree that Show doesn’t do so well in the final few episodes. And like I mentioned in my recent Dear kfangurl post on OTPs that didn’t really work for me, I’m not even super sold on the treatment of the loveline (more on that later).

..Which all contributed to my eventual docking of Show’s final grade.

BUT! EVEN SO. I still enjoyed this drama as a whole, have no regrets watching it, and would recommend it. That’s quite an achievement on Show’s part, yes?

OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to the eclectic mix of tracks as you read the review. My favorite is the rousing third track, Stone Block, also known as Diamond.

SO WHAT IS THIS SHOW, EXACTLY?

I found that I liked this show pretty much right away. Right away in episode 1, I felt the characters popping for me, and I very quickly came to root for our characters and feel invested in their lives.

However, I did struggle for a bit, to categorize this show in my head. While it’s technically true that our protagonist Sae Ro Yi (Park Seo Joon) is seeking revenge, in a manner of speaking, I found that I saw this more as an underdog story than a tale of revenge.

Typically, in revenge stories, the protagonist is consumed with dark, vengeful thoughts, but in this case, Show demonstrates to us that Sae Ro Yi has his mind set on more noble things, and to me, that makes all the difference between seeing him as an anti-hero and the hero that I think he is.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E7. That flashback to when Ho Jin (David Lee) visited Sae Ro Yi in prison, and they laid out their cards and agreed to be allies, is uplifting in a slightly twisted way. I mean it’s uplifting in that these two downtrodden underdogs are choosing to lift their heads up high, and stand strong, and pave a way forward together. But it’s kinda twisted that this ultimately boils down to them wanting revenge. And yet, because Chairman Jang (Yoo Jae Myung) is so twisted in his cruel ways, to the extent of believing that he’s done no wrong, I can’t help but want these guys to succeed.

E8. I do love Sae Ro Yi’s answer when Director Kang (Kim Hye Eun) asks him what he really wants. It’s not revenge, it’s freedom.

“I want my words and acts to have power so no one can mess with me and my people. I don’t want to be swayed by anyone or any injustice. I want to live a life where I make my own decisions and I don’t have to pay for my principles.”

Wow. That’s something I absolutely believe of Sae Ro Yi. He’s not someone who thirsts for power for its own sake. But to seek it out, so that he can be free, and protect the people that he cares about? I can absolutely see that, and I am here for it.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF I LIKED

When Show hits you in the heart, it hits like it means it

This is one of my favorite things about this show. When it serves up the feels, it doesn’t hold back; I sometimes felt like my heart had been put through the wringer, but – more often than not – in the best way.

Here’s an early example from episode 1, which is kind of when I knew that this show was going to have my heart quite firmly in its grasp.

[SPOILER ALERT]

I especially love Dad (Son Hyun Joo), who’s such a pure soul. But, the minute we see Dad talking happily while on his scooter at night, after having resigned from his job, to atone for his son’s “misdeed,” but really, to stand in solidarity with his son, I immediately feel the dread gathering in my chest. There’s going to be an accident, isn’t there, and it’s going to involve the chaebol punk Geun Won (Ahn Bo Hyun) who just got his driver’s license, and Dad’s not going to make it, is he? Ack. I don’t want Dad to die.

OMG that accident scene was awful and graphic and terrible to watch. I mean, to actually watch the whole thing while seeing Dad’s shock and trauma on his face, as he’s not only knocked down but dragged on the ground for a good stretch, is just so distressing. This deserves a trigger alert, seriously.

Ack. Dad’s dying breath is also so very hard to watch. His deep desire to live, overcome by the massive injuries to his body. That last tear that falls, bloodstained even before it leaves his eye. This is so tragic and awful. 🙁

And all this while, Sae Ro Yi is musing to himself that everything is ok in life, as long as you’re alive. Oh man. After taking away his rightful place in school, and his dad’s job, Show takes away Dad too? No wonder Sae Ro Yi’s grudge runs so deep, after this.

I.. feel like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me, with just this first episode. It’d been an emotionally engaging experience getting to know Sae Ro Yi and Dad, and even though they went through hardship, they kept their chins up, and Dad’s love was just so great and all-encompassing, and I felt vicariously grateful, that Dad was such an affirming person, with his heart in the right place, even admiring his son for having the guts to stand by his values. It was a touch bittersweet, but overall heartwarming, to see them rebuild their lives, after Sae Ro Yi got wrongfully expelled, and Dad quit his job to atone for Sae Ro Yi’s alleged sin. And then, just as their spirits are lifting, along with mine, the rug gets ripped from underneath their feet and leaves Dad dead, and Sae Ro Yi all alone in the world, filled with the need to wreak justice for Dad, about to possibly kill Dad’s killer. Oof.

[END SPOILER]

Park Seo Joon as Sae Ro Yi

I love Sae Ro Yi as a character, and I love Park Seo Joon in this role.

Unlike shows like She Was Pretty or What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim, where his roles were mostly defined by the need to be the swoony romantic lead (not that there’s anything wrong with being swoony, mind you), seeing him in this role as Sae Ro Yi feels most like watching him as a character actor, versus a handsome romantic male lead. I’d heard other fans describing his role here as being most similar to his role in Fight My Way, except less dim, and I tend to agree.

I love how unadulterated, pure and single-minded Sae Ro Yi is. His sense of loyalty and justice, and his deep desire to be true to himself and his values, drives most of this story, and his purity is warm, enduring and contagious. I loved seeing him positively affect the people around him, and I loved that this quality about him is what draws people to him, and ensures that he never really is alone, no matter the circumstances.

Park Seo Joon does a fantastic job inhabiting Sae Ro Yi, and making him come alive, despite the slight suspension of disbelief required to believe that such a pure soul like him could exist, and keep persevering onwards, despite the oftentimes gut-wrenching obstacles that he encounters along the way. From the small, slightly nervous ticks like Sae Ro Yi’s habit of rubbing his chestnut bowlcut hair when he feels uncertain, to the large emotional moments of sorrow, or all-out fury, Park Seo Joon breathes life into it all, and I found him a joy to watch.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. Sae Ro Yi’s sense of justice is really strong, and he doesn’t hesitate to put action to his words, even at great cost to himself. It’s a big price to pay, getting expelled because he won’t apologize for punching Jang Geun Won, but he doesn’t regret it. He only starts regretting it when Dad loses his job over it, and ordinarily so stoic, he cries with guilt, which shows how much Sae Ro Yi cares about Dad and wants to protect him.

E1. That blurb in the earlier voiceover when we first meet him, about him always being alone, but never seeing lonely, somehow endears him to me. I like it when people are comfortable being alone. It shows a confidence and sense of self that not everyone has.

E2. Sae Ro Yi’s pain and anguish over the loss of his dad is really hard to watch. I gotta say, Park Seo Jin went all in with his delivery, and Sae Ro Yi’s guttural agony is palpable through my screen. It’s a bleeding, throbbing, open wound, and the tragedy is that nothing can bring Dad back and make it better. Sob.

E2. Sae Ro Yi’s sense of self and sense of pride is admirable. No matter what comes up against him, and no matter what threats he faces, he refuses to get down on his knees. Even when this all gets him in prison, and his new cell mates want him to kneel, he refuses to. He’s a fighter and I can’t wait to see him come into his own.

E2. I’m quite blown away by how Sae Ro Yi responds to Soo Ah’s (Kwon Na Ra) confession that she’s accepted a scholarship by Jangga Co. He tells her that she didn’t do anything wrong; that he had indeed hit Geun Won, and she did the right thing reporting him, or he’d be in prison for murder instead of assault. It’s clear that he’s sad about it, and I think anyone in his place would feel like accepting help from Jangga Co is the last thing they’d want, but he tamps down what must be a huge emotional reaction, to free Soo Ah to have the financial support she needs, to pursue the education she wants. That’s so giving, and so level-headed. I can’t help but feel impressed.

E2. That was ironic. Sae Ro Yi didn’t even have the thought of revenge on his mind, until Soo Ah guessed that that was why he said he planned to open a restaurant and work to make it big like Chairman Jang. And now, because that chance encounter with the idea of revenge filled the void in his heart, he decides to embrace it and run with it. I feel like it’s quite key, that Sae Ro Yi didn’t land on the idea of revenge until it was suggested to him. That’s just how pure his heart is.

E2. I am floored. Sae Ro Yi is in possession of so much single-mindedness and grit. He basically just decided that he would open a restaurant in Itaewon, came up with a plan on how to achieve it, even if it took him years to get there, and he just.. did it. Wow. And he’s right on schedule too. When he’d first told Soo Ah that he planned to open the restaurant in 7 years, she’d literally spat out her drink because to her ears, it sounded so ridiculous. But, exactly 7 years later, he’s right there in Itaewon, preparing for his restaurant’s opening. I am so very impressed, and I am eager to see what else he’s got planned. I am in awe of his determination.

E2. That moment when Soo Ah reminds Sae Ro Yi that he has a sizable chunk of money from the liquidation of Dad’s store, and Dad’s insurance, and Sae Ro Yi acknowledges it and chooses not to use it, is so very poignant. “It’s the price of my dad’s life, so it should be used more meaningfully.” I’m moved by how precious Dad clearly is, to Sae Ro Yi. And I admire him for choosing to go to sea for 7 years to make the capital that he needs, so that he can stash Dad’s life money away.

E2. Sae Ro Yi might appear to more logical than emotional, since we’ve seen him give Soo Ah his blessings to receive the scholarship from Jangga Co, and also, so matter-of-factly applied himself to an arduous task for 7 whole years. But at the same time, there’s a great deal of emotion in the engine that Sae Ro Yi runs on. His love for Dad is so strong, and so charged, that he almost killed Jang Geun Won over Dad’s death. He’s very strong, whichever way he chooses to lean in a given situation – whether logical or emotional – and I am very intrigued.

E3. Sae Ro Yi really is willing to put his pride aside and learn. First, there’s how he studies Chairman Jang’s book and takes lessons from it and even concedes that Chairman Jang is a great man. That’s mind-boggling, because Chairman Jang’s been instrumental in his own misfortunes. Most people would hold a grudge to the extent of refusing to read the book, but not Sae Ro Yi. Second, even though Yi Seo (Kim Da Mi) has lied to him and been rude, he sincerely asks to know more, when she remarks that there are better ways to promote a restaurant. This, when she hasn’t even thanked him for breaking her fall and saving her life. I really like this about Sae Ro Yi.

E4. Just because Sae Ro Yi keeps his head up and his attitude positive, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t feel the sting of the bad things that have happened in his life. His explanation for naming his pub, DanBam, which translates to mean sweet, that it’s because there’s so much bitterness in his life, and he hopes for sweetness, is so poignant and sad. But there’s a hope that tinges the sadness, and I’m all about rooting for Sae Ro Yi to have happier days.

E6. I like the way Sae Ro Yi thinks. He’s not boxed in by the linearity of social norms. When Yi Seo asks him why he didn’t stop her despite knowing that she’d given up on college to work at DanBam, he tells her frankly that it was because he needs her, and that if her mother (Kim Yeo Jin) wanted her to work in a big company, then maybe DanBam could become one. To him, there’s more than one way to reach a goal, and he would know that best, having taken the road less traveled, to get to where he is now. And thinking about it, that thought, that Mom would be appeased once DanBam is big and successful, is exactly Yi Seo’s way of looking at it too. These two have a similar confidence in building DanBam, even though it’s not a lot to look at now. I like the solidarity between them, in this moment.

E6. Sae Ro Yi turning out to have invested a whole bunch of money in Jangga Co., via the very kid he’d protected on that fateful day in high school, no less, is just really satisfying. This reveal is interesting to me because I’m suitably taken aback, because there’s nothing about Sae Ro Yi heretofore that even hinted mildly, that he might have money. After all, he lives so simply, and has scrimped and saved for so long, to open DanBam. But on the other hand, this reveal also feels like something I shouldn’t be surprised by, because we’d been told that Sae Ro Yi had received insurance money, which he’d refused to use. And, Sae Ro Yi has shown flashes of shrewdness in the past, so I feel like I shouldn’t be surprised by this reveal. How very interesting, and because both reactions feel so valid, I feel like this is good writing indeed.

E7. Ooh. I’m quite impressed with Sae Ro Yi, that he’s more shrewd than he appears. When Yi Seo tells him that he just looks like an emotional young punk to Chairman Jang, because he lost his cool, Sae Ro Yi replies calmly, that that’s a good thing. He actually wants Chairman Jang to underestimate him, and I feel suitably impressed.

E12. It’s hard to see DanBam in a mess with all the potential franchisees going ballistic and venting their anger at the DanBam gang. In this moment, I am impressed with Sae Ro Yi for setting everyone straight, and reminding them that they didn’t decide to become franchisees just based on the investors, but because of DanBam’s taste and quality. It’s a big deal that the investors have pulled out, but Sae Ro Yi isn’t daunted, and is determined to carry on as planned, even if he has to take out a mortgage on the building he owns. He will not let his staff or the franchisees down, and I have to admire that confidence and chutzpah.

[END SPOILER]

The DanBam Gang

One of my favorite things in this show, is the coming together of the DanBam gang, not just in terms of how each member comes to join DanBam, but also, in how they eventually become a fiercely loyal family – even though they might still bicker among themselves.

The loyalty and love is really strong in the DanBam gang, and I loved watching that solidarity come into play, as the gang worked through everything that came their way.

Sae Ro Yi, being DanBam’s boss, is the force that shapes this crew, and I love how his leadership and values seep into the group and lift them up to higher things. I love when a drama demonstrates great leadership (because we always need more of it in the world), and I absolutely loved Sae Ro Yi’s brand of hands-on, humble, leading-from-the-front, gracious, second-chances, unwavering, caring leadership. Every time I saw his leadership decision having a positive impact on the individuals in DanBam, my heart surged with satisfaction.

In addition – and I do think this reflects on Sae Ro Yi too – I love the diversity and inclusion demonstrated in the DanBam demographic. [SPOILER] We have ex-convicts, a sociopath, a transgender, and an apparently black person (who’s really half Korean). [END SPOILER] That’s way more diversity in one drama than I’ve seen in all my years of kdrama combined, I think. Very cool.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. Sae Ro Yi is such a big brother to his staff. Even though it turns out that Seung Kwon had knowingly let Yi Seo order drinks even though he saw through her fake ID, Sae Ro Yi doesn’t take Seung Kwon to task. No wonder Seung Kwon is so fiercely loyal to him.

E3. Sae Ro Yi’s big brother streak even extends to Geun Soo (Kim Dong Hee), whom he’s just met and barely knows anything about. When Geun Soo insists on taking responsibility, Sae Ro Yi gently claps him on the shoulder and tells him that he can’t; that’s why he’s called a minor, and walks away. No shouting and no visible anger towards Geun Soo for his part in the deception and the resulting suspension of his pub. Just a tired pat on the shoulder. Ack. I feel it, so much.

E5. Sae Ro Yi again demonstrates his loyalty and belief in his people. When Yi Seo points out that the food isn’t up to par and tells Sae Ro Yi the best plan of action is to fire Hyun Yi (Lee Joo Young), Sae Ro Yi instead pays Hyun Yi double, and asks her to work harder, and gets Yi Seo to give regular feedback, to make sure the food becomes good. I think it’s pretty cool that he not only gives his people second chances, he also gives them the space to figure things out themselves.

E5. It’s a great moment when Yi Seo finally pronounces Hyun Yi’s cooking delicious, and it feels like a milestone worth celebrating. I do love that Yi Seo follows it up by addressing Hyun Yi as Unni, which I’m sure made Hyun Yi just as happy as the fact that she nailed the cooking. I also love that when Yi Seo acknowledges to Sae Ro Yi that she gets that he trusts Hyun Yi, Sae Ro Yi adds on that besides that, he’d trusted Yi Seo too. Aw. That’s sweet.

E8. How very like Sae Ro Yi, to refuse to let Geun Soo go and take the easy way out, and choose the harder route instead, in order to keep everyone together. And how like him, to simply go buy a building, to stop Chairman Jang from buying DanBam out of its premises. It’s awesomely cool, and I can totally see why his people would be so loyal to him.

E8. Tony’s (Chris Lyon) struggle to be recognized as a Korean despite his appearance which suggests that he’s not Korean, is a running arc, and while I don’t feel the delivery is nuanced or natural, I appreciate the spotlight that Show gives to the mixed-race minority in Korea, and their struggle for identity.

E9. I like that Sae Ro Yi discusses the new company’s name with everyone at DanBam. He sincerely sees this as everyone’s baby, and it’s just a natural thing, to him, to have everyone weigh in, and have an equal say in the outcome. I like that.

E9. Sae Ro Yi may not be well educated, but he has a sense for things. He understands that DanBam can’t succeed in a vacuum, and so he goes about helping all his neighbors for free, in order to bring the alleyway to life. It’s quite brilliant to my eyes; if the alleyway becomes poppin’ with life, DanBam can only benefit. And it’s such a community-focused sort of mindset, and it genuinely benefits his neighbors, while gaining him goodwill and street cred. I don’t see why Yi Seo should be upset about this.

E10. I appreciate the way Sae Ro Yi doesn’t attempt to tiptoe around Geun Soo, when Chairman Jang’s dismissal is a distinct possibility. Everyone else tries to pretend like it’s not on their minds, but Sae Ro Yi goes up to Geun Soo and tells him matter-of-factly that Chairman Jang is his enemy, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make Chairman Jang pay for his sins, and to surpass him in business, and that he can’t change his plans out of consideration for Geun Soo’s feelings. He also reminds Geun Soo that he’d been aware of all this, when he’d decided to work at DanBam. Sae Ro Yi is right, and Geun Soo knows it. I just really appreciate how gently candid Sae Ro Yi is, in talking with Geun Soo about this. He doesn’t sugarcoat it, but neither is he aggressive about it either. He’s just laying it out as it is, and I really like that.

E11. It is heartwarming to see the DanBam team cheer each other on, and celebrate together, at each positive milestone. It feels like they’ve become a family of sorts, and I like that. It was also nicely done, how everyone welcomed Hyun Yi back after her surgery, without being weird about it. All Hyun Yi gets are warm comments, sincerely telling her that she looks good. Aw.

E12. I really love how Sae Ro Yi is so gentle and supportive of Hyun Yi, after the entire crew of the competition starts staring and gossiping about her gender identity. The way he talks to her gently, and tells her that she’s a brave and pretty woman who doesn’t need to convince other people of who she is, and then hugs her and lets her cry it out, is the sweetest, meltiest, warmest thing. I love it. I love that he’s so gentle and unhurried and unperturbed about how DanBam might be affected, even though Gran’s (Kim Mi Kyung) investment is supposedly riding on the outcome of the competition. Sae Ro Yi genuinely cares more about his people than about the business itself, and that’s so admirable and moving.

I love that Sae Ro Yi absolutely means it when he tells Hyun Yi that she can run away if she wants to. He even takes off his jacket and gets ready to compete in her place. That shows that it wasn’t just lip service. He was fully prepared for her to take some time out for herself, even in the face of the competition finals. Of course, it’s great that Hyun Yi comes back and is determined to compete, but it’s just as great that Sae Ro Yi was absolutely ready to take her place, if need be.

[END SPOILER]

Spotlight on some of DanBam’s members

Kim Da Mi as Yi Seo

Yi Seo is one of the more unique drama characters I’ve come across. We’re told within minutes of being introduced to her in episode 3, that she’s athletic, good in school, an influential social media star – and a sociopath with the personality of the devil. Woah.

I honestly didn’t know what to do with the idea of a female lead who’s a sociopath, because if she has no feelings, and has no qualms about doing morally questionable things, can I actually root for her? 

As any seasoned drama fan might expect, a female lead character who even has a loveline with our protagonist (not a spoiler, since this is quite obvious from the drama listing and one of its main posters) wouldn’t turn out to be a true sociopath. We do see Yi Seo’s heart over time, and, in the light of her admittedly rather sociopathic tendencies of having almost no empathy for others, it’s gratifying to see her forge bonds with the rest of the DanBam crew nonetheless.

Credit to Kim Da Mi for making Yi Seo more intriguing than unlikable, despite Yi Seo’s problematic outlooks on people and life, and opinionated, no-holds-barred outspoken nature. A potentially explosive combination indeed, and Show makes great use of it, adding a good amount of dramatic tension to our narrative via Yi Seo.

I did grow rather fond of Yi Seo over the course of my watch, credit to Show, and to Kim Da Mi both.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. Is Yi Seo’s mom a sociopath too? I’d expected her to be troubled when Yi Seo’s teacher pointed out Yi Seo’s sociopathic tendencies, but Mom praises her instead. I’m curious.

E4. I can’t blame Yi Seo for being intrigued by Sae Ro Yi. He really does stand out, with his dedication, passion and focus. Plus, he’s clearly a goodhearted person who is loyal and generous. I’m not surprised that she chooses to deviate from Mom’s advice and get close to him, not just because of how rightfully intrigued she is by him, but also, because of her sociopathic tendencies. If she barely feels anything for anything or anyone, how different and intriguing it must be, to actually be drawn to someone. Plus, if she doesn’t really feel anything for anything, then she also doesn’t have much attachment to her achievements in school, if at all. It’d be comparatively easier for her to walk away from her dazzling track record, than for the average person.

E4. Yi Seo is impressive coz she’s far from just all talk. She really knows what she’s talking about, and is able to understand what makes things work, just from observing stuff.

E4. I’m very intrigued by how Yi Seo’s choosing Sae Ro Yi’s happiness and dreams as her focus. For someone who has sociopathic tendencies, that’s huge. She changing her life, and upsetting her mother, for the sake of someone else’s happiness. She can’t be a true sociopath, I think?

E5. Yi Seo’s good at what she does; DanBam is quickly transformed, and opening night is a roaring success. This definitely ups her credibility in her colleagues’ eyes.

E6. As expected, Yi Seo doesn’t seem to bat an eye at Mom’s demand that she leave. I guess that’s one benefit of having sociopathic tendencies? You’re not much affected by anything at all, since you don’t feel anything much at all. I do appreciate that Yi Seo’s matter-of-fact about it, and that that matter-of-fact-ness is tinged by some kindness, like when she tells Mom not to be sad for long, because she’s much more capable than Mom thinks.

E6. I admire Yi Seo’s sense of fairness. Even though having Sae Ro Yi believe that Soo Ah was the one who reported DanBam would be to her advantage, it bothers her, and she comes clean to Sae Ro Yi, to set the record and clear the slate. And even thought it momentarily disadvantages her, she’s not daunted, and is confident of winning, in the end. She’s ballsy and determined and fearless, and that’s quite an admirable combination.

E8. Yi Seo being taken to task this episode, for putting profit before people, in her support of Geun Soo’s resignation to save DanBam, and for lacking empathy, in Tony’s struggle to be seen as Korean, is completely expected of her character. For someone who supposedly has sociopathic tendencies, I feel like Yi Seo has shown a remarkable amount of empathy for Sae Ro Yi. However, in keeping with how her character is written to be sociopathic, it makes complete sense to me, that she fails to see the human aspect of both events, and ends up hurting people with her reactions and remarks. I don’t know if her consequent apologies are a true reflection of a change in perspective, or if it’s something that’s purely driven by her desire to please Sae Ro Yi. Time will tell.

E9. Yi Seo really is fearless. She’s hard to read because her sociopathic tendencies make her every move believable; it’s possible that she’d think of moving to Jangga Co. just based on the benefits alone. And Show makes use of that this episode, with her attending Chairman Jang’s seminar and asking questions that sound innocent, but which are designed to provoke Chairman Jang, and then having her get all frustrated with Sae Ro Yi for his idealism, and accept a meeting with Geun Won, and even look like she’s happy with the job offer that he puts on the table. And yet, the illusion all comes crashing down as it all turns on one key point: Yi Seo is in love with Sae Ro Yi and is determined to crush the people at Jangga Co who’ve hurt him. That moment, when she reveals the incriminating recording to Geun Won, then throws hot coffee right in his face, as she tells him that she’s going to crush all the Jangga folks who’re on Sae Ro Yi’s mind, is just world-tiltingly satisfying. What. A. Gal.

[END SPOILER]

Lee Joo Young as Hyun Yi

Hyun Yi starts out as a fairly unassuming side character, but I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I came to love her, by Show’s second half. Show does a pretty great job teasing out her insecurities, and I loved watching her gain confidence and come into her own.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E11. Hyun Yi is my MVP this episode. She’s so confident, and is a consistent voice of compassion and reason. She’s the one who reminded everyone that it was weird that they hadn’t thrown a farewell party for Geun Soo. And she’s the one who is sensitive to Geun Soo’s feelings, when Yi Seo talks about why the investment company was interested in DanBam. And she’s the one who calls Geun Soo out for his insensitive behavior, and urges Sae Ro Yi to go after Yi Seo, because he’d admitted that Yi Seo was important to him, and tells Sae Ro Yi that he shouldn’t let Yi Seo cry alone. Of course, there’s also that thing where Hyun Yi wins both rounds of the competition for DanBam. Woot!

E13. I am so proud of Hyun Yi for winning the competition, and I love that she was unapologetic about her identity, and faced the cameras head-on, with a touch of defiance. I also love that this was all about her and the team, and less about who she was competing against, or about who was watching. Even before the TV show people have finished their announcement, she’s run off camera, to the welcoming hugs and whoops of the people who matter the most. I legit teared up, watching her receive bear hugs from everyone, with Seung Kwon whooping the loudest and proudest. Heart. Burst. <3

[END SPOILER]

Ryu Kyung Soo as Seung Kwon

I really enjoyed Ryu Kyung Soo as Seung Kwon. He’s consistently quite dim and slow on the uptake, but he’s also consistently fiercely loyal, and I loved his unwavering allegiance to Sae Ro Yi and DanBam, and his fellow crew. I loved that we could always count on Seung Kwon, and that he would literally lay down his life in order to protect the people that he cares about. A bit rough around the edges, but such a good egg.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. The backstory to how Seung Kwon met Sae Ro Yi totally explains why Seung Kwon is literally beating himself up for choosing to serve alcohol to a minor and getting the pub in trouble. He’d been unreasonable and violent towards Sae Ro Yi when they’d just met in prison, but when they’d met again, Sae Ro Yi hadn’t held a grudge, and even gave him a job. Plus, Sae Ro Yi didn’t even scold him for doing what he did, and getting the pub suspended. It’s no wonder Seung Kwon feels so guilty. I can see why he’d be loyal to Sae Ro Yi.

E12. Even though Tony’s shocked at Seung Kwon’s matter-of-fact attitude at the article, when it comes down to it, it’s because Seung Kwon knew Hyun Yi would come out fighting.

“Do you know what Hyun-yi is like? Hyun Yi ignores the way of nature and lives Hyun Yi’s own way. Don’t worry and don’t underestimate Hyun Yi. Hyun Yi is stronger than anyone.”

You tell ’em, sir.

[END SPOILER]

The thing between Yi Seo and Hyun Yi

I love the friendship that develops between Hyun Yi and Yi Seo, as we get into Show’s second half.

The on-going jokey flirtation and genuine affection between Hyun Yi and Yi Seo is really sweet to watch, and every time they stick together, I feel my heart burst a little, at the thought of how far these two have come, since the first time they met.

The affection doesn’t just run skin-deep either; when things get difficult, these two show that they connect with and support each other in the deepest of ways. I loved this.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E12. I love how symbiotic the relationship between Hyun Yi and Yi Seo has become. When Yi Seo’s down and brokenhearted, it’s Hyun Yi who knows where to find her, and it’s Hyun Yi who talks to her and helps her feel better, even though Yi Seo says that she’d rather be alone. When Hyun Yi suggests that Yi Seo takes some time off, it feels like such a sound and wise thing to say.

And then at the end of the episode, it’s a lovely moment of reciprocation, when Yi Seo becomes the one to give Hyun Yi strength in a moment of weakness. In a moment when Hyun Yi feels vulnerable and exposed, and is seriously considering running away, and has actual permission from Sae Ro Yi to run away, it’s Yi Seo’s words, quoting Hyun Yi a lovely, poignant, moving poem about a rock that goes against nature and stays strong under pressure to become a diamond, that gives Hyun Yi the strength that she needs.

It’s just the kind of gentle, tough love that Hyun Yi needs, to galvanize her into putting on her apron, and facing the judgey looks and the glare of attention, and unapologetically declaring her gender identity – and her intent to win – with her head held high. YESS. So proud of Hyun Yi in this moment, and so moved, that it’s this unlikely friendship and sisterhood that’s buoying her, at a time when Hyun Yi felt like she might be drowning. So good.

“I’m a rock. Go ahead and sear me. I won’t budge an inch because I’m a rock. I’m a solid rock. Go ahead and leave me in darkness. I’m a rock that will shine all alone. I don’t break, ash, nor decay as I go against nature’s way. I survive. I’m… diamond.”

The grit and sheer badassery of it all. I swoon. <3

[END SPOILER]

Special shout-out:

Son Hyun Joo as Dad

Because of how our story is built, we don’t spend a lot of time with Dad at all. But that doesn’t prevent me from loving him any less.

I just love how pure Dad is, not just in the way he loves Sae Ro Yi and strives to be a good example and influence to him, but in the way that he cares for everyone around him as well.

Such a beautiful soul, truly. <3

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. Dad is so precious. He’s so proud of his son, and it shows. I mean, when he was confronted by Chairman and asked what he thought of Sae Ro Yi’s refusal to apologize, my heart basically exploded with feels when Dad broke into a smile, in wonder at how Sae Ro Yi’s so cool, to stand by his principles. What a Dad!

E10. That recurring motif, of Sae Ro Yi taking a shot of soju each time a significant event takes place, and thinking of his dad, and deciding whether the soju tastes sweet or bitter, works really well, to me.

It always brings everything back to Dad, and that flashback of Dad’s kind, tender, proud expression always hits me in the gut and brings back all the feels, fresh. And by extension, it makes Dad’s loss feel freshly painful, as well.

Sae Ro Yi tasting that soju, and concluding, in this case (as in basically every other instance since Dad’s death), that it’s still bitter, says so much about how he feels about everything in general. This soju taste test, while thinking of Dad, is like his barometer for life in general.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF THAT WAS OK

Kwon Na Ra as Soo Ah

I decided to put Soo Ah in this section because for much of my watch, I couldn’t decide whether I liked her, as a character. Sometimes, I found her cool and impressive, and then at other times, I found her selfish and unlikable. I found her consistently interesting, though, because of this.

Kwon Na Ra does a very nice job delivering Soo Ah’s conflict, which I often felt was with herself. To my eyes, it felt like Soo Ah often struggled with herself, trying to decide her loyalties and thus her actions, and I suspected, more than a few times, that perhaps Soo Ah didn’t like herself very much, a lot of the time.

By Show’s end, Soo Ah gets a bit of a redemption arc, which I’ll talk more about later.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. Soo Ah’s intriguing, to me. Sometimes, she seems overly practical, like when she dissuades Sae Ro Yi from getting involved with the bullying incident. And then sometimes, she seems to have a lot of heart, like when she gets all upset at Dad losing his job. I have a feeling she’s going to break Sae Ro Yi’s heart because of her practical, self-preserving streak, and we’ve already seen that Sae Ro Yi’s developing a crush on her.

E2. Soo Ah’s very wise though. The way she handles the situation, calling the cops in, and then personally talking Sae Ro Yi out of actually killing Jang Geun Won and ruining his own life. Nothing the cop was saying was getting through to Sae Ro Yi, but Soo Ah is able to say the one thing that could’ve brought Sae Ro Yi to his senses: that Dad wouldn’t have wanted this. That pierces right to the heart of the matter, and Sae Ro Yi drops the rock that he was going to use to smash Jang Geun Won’s head. That’s sharp discernment and quick thinking in one, and I’m impressed.

E2. I actually rather like the conversation that Soo Ah and Sae Ro Yi have, when she visits him in prison. She comes clean with him, about Jangga Co. offering her a scholarship because she’d reported him to the police, and had talked him down from the ledge, just before he’d dealt Geun Won a death blow. That surprises me, because she isn’t really that close to him, since they’d just met not long ago, and she could have easily taken the scholarship without telling him. But she chooses to ‘fess up to it, which I think is honest and quite honorable.

E3. Soo Ah’s all pleasant with Sae Ro Yi, and even tells Chairman that Sae Ro Yi’s pub isn’t doing well and therefore isn’t anything to worry about. Plus, she even offers to look over his accounts when he says that the business hasn’t been doing well. But when the opportunity presents itself, instead of telling Sae Ro Yi that there are minors in his pub and giving him a chance to straighten things out, she seriously considers calling the police. That’s not nice at all.

E5. Even though Soo Ah isn’t the one who called the police, I think she’s punishing herself because she was going to call them, and had stopped herself just in time. Plus, there’s this thing where Chairman Jang is putting pressure on her to choose between him and Sae Ro Yi, as if he’s testing her. And I think it makes Soo Ah feel even worse, that Sae Ro Yi is so understanding towards her, and tells her that he’ll be fine, whatever she does. I’m actually kinda glad she’s suffering on the inside, because she really hasn’t been that good of a friend, to Sae Ro Yi.

E6. We get more insight into Soo Ah, and why she so fiercely abhors the idea of people helping her. She feels pathetic, like she’s less than, and other people are looking down on her with pity, and just doing charity. Her decision to cherish herself because no one else would, explains a lot about her self-preserving tendencies. She would compromise her friendship with Sae Ro Yi, if it means she’s protecting herself.

E6. Is Soo Ah too proud to correct Yi Seo’s guess that she was the one who called the police on DanBam, or did she confess to it out of guilt for the fact that she had basically decided to call the police, and had changed her mind only at the last moment?

E9. When Soo Ah witnesses the way everyone at DanBam is given a say in important things like the naming of the company, she can’t help but think of what Secretary Kim told her, that they are merely employees, and are not required to have an opinion; they only need to carry out Chairman Jang’s orders. It looks like it gives her pause for thought; is she wavering?

[END SPOILER]

Yoo Jae Myung as Chairman Jang

I kid you not, guys. I hadn’t bothered to check the cast list before watching this drama, and it was only after I’d finished my watch, that I realized Chairman Jang was played by Yoo Jae Myung!!

I mean, sure, I did find the texture of Chairman Jang’s skin oddly papery, but I’d shrugged it off as makeup issues – without it ever occurring to me that this was extreme makeup. I don’t know about you guys, but despite having seen Yoo Jae Myung multiple other times in other roles, I just did not see him in Chairman Jang, at all. For all 16 episodes of this show. That’s some mad acting skills, seriously.

As our resident antagonist, Chairman Jang was not likable by any stretch of the imagination. In so many facets and ways, Chairman Jang proved again and again – and then yet again – just how cruel, sickening and vile he was. At the same time, I found him as fascinating as I found him repulsive. He’s almost always so cool and collected, and he often speaks in gentle, even tones, even when he’s threatening someone. And sometimes, he even almost seemed gleeful, while trampling all over someone else.

I have to applaud Yoo Jae Myung for an excellent outing as Chairman Jang; I’ve never seen him in such an.. emotionally gripping role. I didn’t like him, but I also couldn’t look away.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2.  When Chairman Jang takes the opportunity to teach Geun Won a lesson in cruelty and power, the way he cackles with glee when a cowardly, almost nauseous Geun Won finally breaks the chicken’s neck, is just so disturbing and twisted. Gag.

E6. Chairman Jang says that Sae Ro Yi’s not a real threat to Jangga Co., and is just a handy litmus test of Soo Ah’s loyalty, but how true is that? Sae Ro Yi seems to have no trouble getting under his skin.

E6. Chairman Jang’s explosive reaction to the realization that Sae Ro Yi owns a significant stake in Jangga Co, communicates a marvelous mix of emotions. I feel like he’s instinctively deeply impressed, and deeply disgusted, at the same time. How contradictory and yet, how perfect. It befits him, somehow. Yoo Jae Myung killed that scene, I thought it was fantastic.

E7. How low, yet how very expected of Chairman Jang, to squeeze DanBam into a corner by buying the building itself, so that he can pressure Sae Ro Yi to move out, as his new landlord.

E8. The satisfying thing, really, is to see how unsettled Chairman Jang is, even when he’s technically got the upper hand. Even after promising to buy every building that DanBam tries to open in, Chairman Jang continues to be rattled by Sae Ro Yi and his fierce determination, passion and belief in people, and that makes me think about what true victory is. Just because Chairman Jang won that face-off about the building rental, doesn’t mean that he’s confident that he’ll win the war.

E8. Soo Ah is right; Chairman Jang’s decision to buy the building that DanBam is in, reeks of an emotional decision, rather than a business-driven one. In doing this, Chairman Jang is doing exactly what he berated Geun Won for doing, with the radio show. By doing this, he’s admitting that he feels threatened by DanBam. Ironic, much?

E10. I’m not surprised that Chairman Jang threw Geun Won under the bus to save Jangga Co., but I am quite fascinated at the process of how that went down. When the question of whether he’d abandon his own son comes up, Sae Ro Yi’s instinct is that Chairman Jang would do it, while Ho Jin is convinced otherwise. And for a while, it seems that Ho Jin is right, because when Soo Ah tries to suggest to Chairman Jang that he dismiss Geun Won, he waxes lyrical about how he’d never abandon a family member, and darkly warns her never to suggest such a thing to him again. But it isn’t long before we see Chairman Jang systematically, coolly and calmly throw Geun Won under the bus to abandon him.

The way that Chairman Jang gave Geun Won a hug, and spoke warm words to him, before telling Secretary Kim (Hong Seo Jun) to drive Geun Won to the prosecutor’s office, is so out of character in the moment, especially considering how he’d been hitting Geun Won with a hard flourish, repeatedly, when he found out the trouble Geun Won had gotten himself into, with Yi Seo. On hindsight, it’s quite chilling to think that Chairman Jang’s uncharacteristically warm actions were actually to signal his farewell to Geun Won; his last act of consolation to the son that he was about to abandon. Chairman Jang really is heartless; he sent his son to take the fall, with no warning; only instructions to Secretary Kim to deliver him to the location where Geun Won would be prosecuted.

E10. What? Dad’s recipe had saved Jangga Co., back when it’d been in danger because of bad times, and yet, he got kicked out so unceremoniously, and then his death was glossed over so casually? Dang. Chairman Jang is one heartless man.

E12. I kind of knew in my gut that the investment from JM Holdings was too good to be true, especially at this stage of the story. And it turns out that it was all a set-up by Chairman Jang, designed to teach Sae Ro Yi a lesson, and to show JM Holdings that he can be a very petty old man, and to therefore not think about messing with him. In this moment, as Chairman Jang asks Geun Soo if he still thinks that Sae Ro Yi is as strong as he thought, Geun Soo’s answer is quite penetrating: if Sae Ro Yi is so easily squashed, then why is Chairman Jang so bothered by him to begin with? Touché.

E13. It’s disturbing that Chairman Jang is disdainful of Geun Soo’s efforts to win the competition, until he hears that Geun Soo did the underhanded thing of leaking Hyun Yi’s secret to the media, which is when he decides that Geun Soo deserves some points for that. Imagine being raised when you’re rewarded for shady behavior. It’s no wonder that by the time we hit our time skip, Geun Soo’s cold, calculative and quite heartless. He doesn’t blink even, when he hears that Chairman Jang doesn’t have much time to live. He even goes so far as to tell Chairman Jang – falsely – that the doctors don’t advise any treatment. Lies. It makes my blood run cold. And yet, when Geun Won shows how aghast he is at Geun Soo’s detached, uncaring, calculating manner, Chairman Jang responds almost gleefully, that this is why Geun Soo will be his successor. Gosh. To believe so hard in the underhanded, cruel ways of business, that you’d glory in it, even when you’re the one at the suffering end of it? That’s twisted, and quite masochistic. I’m repulsed but fascinated, at the same time.

E13. It’s as ironic as Chairman Jang says, that Sae Ro Yi is the only person to come to him and earnestly tell him not to die. And yet, it isn’t meant with compassion; Sae Ro Yi simply wants him to pay for his sins himself, instead of copping out and dying early. It says something, that you’ve lived a life in such a way that this is the best “wish” you receive, after everyone around you comes to know that you’re dying of cancer.

[END SPOILER]

Special shout-out:

The thing between Yi Seo and Soo Ah

As rivals for Sae Ro Yi’s affections, Soo Ah and Yi Seo are different as night and day.

In terms of theirs perspectives of Sae Ro Yi and where they each stood; in terms of how they each related to him; in terms of focus; in terms of chosen paths; they were so dissimilar, from every angle.

The one thing (that I noticed anyway) that they seemed to have in common, is that they both made an effort to understand the other person. I found this quasi-truce-like state between them quite intriguing. I don’t think I’ve come across another pair of love rivals who’ve related in such an in-depth, personal manner.

I found it somewhat peculiar, and at the same time, quite remarkable.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. Yi Seo is really sharp. She picks up right away, that Soo Ah doesn’t want any other girl hovering around Sae Ro Yi, even though she won’t date him herself, and she also connects the dots really fast, that Soo Ah was the one who called the cops on Sae Ro Yi’s pub for serving alcohol to minors.

When Yi Seo calls Soo Ah out for what she’s done, it stings, and it looks like Soo Ah didn’t really stop to think about what her actions have made her. As she makes her way home and mutters about how she’s annoyed by all this, it looks to me like she doesn’t like herself very much.

E5. Pwahaha, that Yi Seo literally blocks Soo Ah from kissing Sae Ro Yi. Girl sure doesn’t shy away from an awkward situation. That’s in line with her sociopathic tendencies, where I believe her sense of decorum might be affected. But it’s still overstepping her boundaries, particularly since Sae Ro Yi looked like he was far from objecting to a kiss from Soo Ah.

E8. There’s a love-hate sort of connection between Soo Ah and Yi Seo which is hard to articulate or understand. It’s interesting to me that Soo Ah takes the trouble to help Yi Seo see that if she wants to continue to like and support Sae Ro Yi, that she can’t hope to change him, and more important than that, that it’s his unique and impractical perspective that attracted her to him in the first place. Soo Ah says that she tells Yi Seo this because she’s confident of herself, but, that can’t be the whole story. There’s a degree of interest and care mixed in there on Soo Ah’s part, despite the antagonism that Yi Seo shows Soo Ah. I wonder why? Is it because to some extent, she sees herself in Yi Seo? Especially since Chairman Jang remarked that Yi Seo reminds him of Soo Ah?

E12. That moment when Yi Seo calls Sae Ro Yi, and he’s got Soo Ah in front of him, asking him to give up his quest, and Yi Seo on the line, apologizing for throwing his plans off track, is a great picture of just how different these two women are, in relation to Sae Ro Yi. Soo Ah only thinks of herself and her comfort, which is why she asks Sae Ro Yi to give up his revenge on Chairman Jang, while Yi Seo bets her entire life on Sae Ro Yi, and wholeheartedly throws herself into helping him achieve his goal of taking down Jangga Co. And it’s Yi Seo, ultimately, who’s on the same page as Sae Ro Yi. When he replies that this isn’t enough to destroy him, and that he won’t be happy until he takes down Jangga Co., and therefore he won’t give up or stop, it has such a contrasting effect on both women. Soo Ah is brought to her knees in tears, her plea denied, while Yi Seo takes comfort in Sae Ro Yi’s words. That says so much.

E13. Yi Seo hits the nail on the head, during her conversation with Soo Ah in the coffee shop. It’s exactly as Yi Seo says; Soo Ah’s been selfish all this time, asking things of Sae Ro Yi. The thing about her not liking poor guys, and that’s why Sae Ro Yi decided to become rich; the thing about taking down Jangga Co., so that she’d be freed from her prison. It’s true that Soo Ah makes it all about her. Of course, Sae Ro Yi doesn’t help matters; it’s true that he’s the one who decided to become rich and free Soo Ah from her prison. But, it’s also true that Soo Ah didn’t choose to do anything differently. She could have quit, and she could have chosen to help Sae Ro Yi, like Yi Seo. But she didn’t, and hasn’t, and Yi Seo calling her out on it, feels quite satisfying to watch, I have to admit.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH

Ahn Bo Hyun as Geun Won

As our story’s resident perpetrator, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to like Geun Won. In fact, I disliked him greatly, much of the time. I will admit, though, that there were times when I found myself feeling somewhat sorry for him.

When Geun Won was at his worst, I hated him with the fire of a thousand burning suns; he was that vile, detestable and despicable. And yet, when he showed flashes of pathos and tragedy, I couldn’t help but pity him, at least for a while.

I have to credit Ahn Bo Hyun for managing to draw out such contrasting reactions from me, on a regular basis. That’s a skill all its own, I say.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. I almost feel sorry for Geun Won, for having such a father, because that’s definitely had great influence over the jerk that he’s become. But, you can’t blame everything on someone else. Geun Won, in his natural state, is weak and cowardly to begin with. And so far, he just rubs me the wrong way.

E3. Geun Won is truly hateful, and I have to credit Ahn Bo Hyun for doing such a good job of making me hate him. The way Geun Won is so gleeful over the fact that Sae Ro Yi’s life has been ruined on three counts because of him, is just too much. Is he even human? How can he feel gleeful over having caused Sae Ro Yi’s father’s death?? Argh.

E8. Soo Ah’s reason for not liking Geun Won is not what Geun Won expected. He’d thought that it was because of Sae Ro Yi, but hadn’t seemed to consider that Soo Ah might have had a personal relationship with Sae Ro Yi’s dad. That just goes to show just how short-sighted and insular Geun Won’s perspective is. He’s only cared about whether Soo Ah liked him, but never considered that he’d given her multiple reasons not to like him.

E8. Geun Won always seems to be the last to know anything, and while I still dislike him, I’m starting to feel a little sorry for him because he’s starting to look really pathetic.

E10. I actually feel quite sorry for Geun Won. He’s awful, and stupid, and full of empty boasting, but he’s suffered a harsh upbringing with his twisted and violent father. The moment when Chairman Jang approached him and drew near enough to touch him, my heart pinched for Geun Won, that his instinct was to cower. His first expectation from his father, from years of violent indoctrination, was the infliction of physical pain. That’s sad.

And then that moment when Geun Won runs to the press conference location and locks eyes with his father, the tearful realization, as it all hits home, that his only choice is to cooperate with Chairman Jang’s decision, and take the full blame for everything, is quite rich with pathos. His only hope of ever being in Chairman Jang’s good books again, however faint, is in him going along with Dad’s cover story, and being the fall guy. I mean, he is completely guilty of the hit-and-run, but it must still suck to be unceremoniously abandoned by your only family, and without warning, no less.

E12. I do feel rather sorry for Geun Won, who struggles so much with the very idea of calling his own father, only to be told that he’d been deserted all for Jangga’s sake. I wonder how this will affect Geun Won later on? Will he turn against his father when he’s released from prison?

E14. Why is Geun Won targeting Yi Seo? To take down Sae Ro Yi, for his father who abandoned him? Why? Has the desire for his father’s approval been so hard-wired into his brain that even after said father has abandoned him so completely, he still can’t help but try to find a way into his father’s good graces? That’s so twisted.

[END SPOILER]

Kim Dong Hee as Geun Soo

I decided to put Geun Soo in this section, not because I dislike the character, but because I’m not fully convinced of the direction of the character development that writer-nim chose for him. More details in the Spoiler section below, but overall, I found Geun Soo’s eventual development hard to reconcile with everything else that we learn about him in Show’s earlier episodes.

Somehow, the transition doesn’t feel persuasive, and it kinda-sorta feels like Geun Soo got a lobotomy or something, along the way. It doesn’t help that Kim Dong Hee’s delivery is still rather green. Altogether, it adds up to a very uncomfortable situation where I feel I can’t believe Geun Soo, in Show’s later episodes.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E5. Today we see Geun Soo’s disconnect with the rest of his family, and how he’s instinctively drawn to Sae Ro Yi’s uprightness and decency, from the moment he meets him. This kinda feels like a duckling cleaving to the first person he sees.

E7. I’m afraid for Geun Soo. Will he turn to the dark side to 1, win Yi Seo over, because of what she said to him, that he could still win her if he takes over Jangga, and 2, to save DanBam? He’s such a sweet, earnest kid with such a soft heart. I’d hate for him to turn evil. But Chairman Jang’s analogy of the carp that’s raised in the wild being able to grow many times larger than the home-raised carp, feels like foreshadowing.

E8. That scene between Geun Soo and Sae Ro Yi, where Geun Soo apologizes for what his family’s done to Sae Ro Yi, packs such an emotional punch. Geun Soo literally looks like he’s about to cry; he feels so bad for what his family’s done, and yet so helpless. The only thing he can offer is his apology, and that feels so insufficient. And yet, through this, Sae Ro Yi is calm and comforting. He tells Geun Soo that Geun Soo is just himself, and that what his family’s done has nothing to do with him, and he also tells Geun Soo that he saw himself in Geun Soo, and guessed that Geun Soo could use someone to lean on. Sae Ro Yi is spot on, since Geun Soo’s always suffered from rejection and doesn’t see himself as having a place to truly belong, and that hug at the end, where Geun Soo just cries, and Sae Ro Yi silently pats him on the back, is just the kind of thing that I feel Geun Soo will remember for the rest of his life.

E10. I called it early, that Geun Soo would go to the dark side. Yay, me? I’m not completely convinced that Geun Soo is suddenly Chairman Jang’s model son, full of ambition and greed.

I turned out to be completely off in the end, but my initial analysis of Geun Soo’s decision to turn to the dark side felt more organic and believable than what Show tells us later, that he made that decision purely in an attempt to win Yi Seo’s heart. That’s so lame, honestly. For what it’s worth, here’s my initial take on why Geun Soo chose as he did:

I can believe that the moment of reckoning, when Chairman Jang’s dismissal was imminent, was more than he’d bargained for. Because Geun Soo’s got a soft heart, I can believe that his loyalty to his own father, despite their strained relationship, would give him cause for pause. And I can believe that in this moment, Geun Soo’s search for a place to belong, is thrown awry, because he can’t fully get on board with Sae Ro Yi’s plan to ruin his own father – which then drives him to run in the opposite direction, to seek that place of belonging, with his father. I still don’t buy that Geun Soo could become cruel and ambitious like Chairman Jang would want, but I can buy that Geun Soo would seek out his father, in an attempt to find a place to belong.

E11. Geun Soo says that he’s grown up hearing that he shouldn’t be greedy, but that being at DanBam gave him the impetus to feel like he can want something now, too. And he keeps saying that he’s at Jangga Co. because of Yi Seo, and that he wants to take over the company because of what she’d said, about taking over Jangga if he’s ever desperate to be with her. It sounds believable on the surface, but the more I think about it, the more I find it hard to believe that Geun Soo is betting his whole future on something that Yi Seo said in jest. When she’d tried to clarify that she hadn’t meant what she’d said, he refuses to hear her out. I feel like he knows that she didn’t mean it, but he’s choosing to believe that she meant it. And I feel like he’s deluding himself into thinking that he actually has any kind of chance with Yi Seo.

E11. The way Geun Soo talked to the Jangga chef (cameo by Lee Joon Hyuk) who took part in the competition is cutting and condescending, albeit masked with humility and a smile. That feels so out of character. Has he always had the potential to be like this? Because he’s his father’s son? I find this all very odd and hard to wrap my brain around. Is Show’s development of his character wonky, or have I never known Geun Soo, ever?

E12. I find it hard to reconcile Geun Soo’s actions with the Geun Soo that I’d thought I knew. He throws Hyun Yi under the bus by revealing her gender identity with malicious intentions, and yet, in the same breath, tells Soo Ah that Hyun Yi is a precious noona and friend to him. That’s.. really disturbing.

I get that Geun Soo is driven by desperation this episode, that he feels like this is the only way he can guarantee the success that he’s promised Chairman Jang, but this is truly heartless. With a friend like this, who needs enemies? Also, does he really think that Yi Seo would overlook this, even if he does take over Jangga Co.? They say that you only really know what people are made of, after they’re put in hot water (kinda like tea bags), and I guess in this case, we never really knew Geun Soo, until now. I will say, though, that Geun Soo looks like he’s uncomfortable in this new evil skin, like he’s not sure of himself and not sure how to be the evil ambitious chaebol heir that he’s decided to be.

E13. I wonder what Geun Soo is thinking in that moment when Yi Seo confronts him and reminds him that her promise was a joke, and not to be taken seriously. I mean, he blurts out that it’s too late. Does he actually expect her to keep up the end of a bargain that she doesn’t even mean? I find that hard to believe. I feel like Geun Soo’s characterization is very hard to grapple with. I find it hard to reconcile the earlier him with the version of him that we get later on, especially after the time skip. Is it that train of thought where, I might as well keep going, since I’m so far gone? I’m quite conflicted about this.

[END SPOILER]

The thing between Sae Ro Yi and Soo Ah

Although the friendship between Sae Ro Yi and Soo Ah goes back a long way, and although Sae Ro Yi has an unfaltering crush on Soo Ah that’s lasted for all the years they’ve known each other, and although I concede that I noticed more potential for romantic spark between Sae Ro Yi and Soo Ah than between Sae Ro Yi and Yi Seo, I never did root for these two to actually start a romantic relationship.

I found the power imbalance between them unhealthy, with Soo Ah being given all of the power to do as she wanted, while Sae Ro Yi staunchly continued to like her, no matter what. This is a case of too much trust being a bad thing, I think.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. Sae Ro Yi doesn’t bat an eye when Soo Ah throws herself under the bus in order to escape Yi Seo’s upper hand and confesses to having called the cops on him. He trusts her implicitly, and states that she must’ve had a reason, and only says that he’s a bit disappointed. That’s massive trust and loyalty right there. And he even explains to Yi Seo later, that that’s just how committed Soo Ah is, to her work. I think he’s being too understanding of Soo Ah, but that’s just how forgiving and accommodating Sae Ro Yi is, to the people that he cares about.

E6. Sae Ro Yi trusts Soo Ah so much, that even though she works for Jangga Co. and closely assist Chairman Jang, he talks easily about things like how DanBam is doing, and his plans to franchise DanBam. Does he realize that she is likely to report this to Chairman Jang? Part of me wonders if he’s actually counting on her to report this to Chairman Jang, but even though Sae Ro Yi’s shown that he can be shrewd, he seems quite artless when it comes to Soo Ah.

E7. Soo Ah probably is being honest and forthright with Sae Ro Yi when she admits that she doesn’t know how to feel, and that she’s surprised by her own feelings when she’s stuck between Jangga Co. and him. And, I really appreciate Sae Ro Yi’s response, that she doesn’t have to take anyone’s side; she only needs to take her own side. He expects her to exercise her independence and not feel obligated to take his side, and that’s so.. fair, of him. Which doesn’t sound like much, but it really is, since most people would expect a friend to unquestionably take their side.

E7. Why would Soo Ah need to get ice from DanBam? Surely this is just an excuse to see Sae Ro Yi?

E9. Hm. It’s loyal and sweet that Sae Ro Yi tells Soo Ah that he likes her, and that she will always be the one who gets to define their relationship, but I feel like this is too unbalanced. He should have an active say too. Plus, this has just made Soo Ah take him for granted, for literal years.

E12. That thing where Soo Ah tearfully begs Sae Ro Yi to stop his entire plan to take down Jangga Co., and just be happy with her, strikes me as monumentally selfish. Her entire plea revolves around how she feels having to be stuck in between Sae Ro Yi and Chairman Jang. Woah. That’s really self-centered. She’s not the one who lost a father and went to jail. In fact, she’s kinda betraying Sae Ro Yi by swearing allegiance to Jangga Co. He’s the one who’s told her she can do that and concentrate on doing her job excellently and not worry about him, but anyone else would’ve felt betrayed. And yet, she has the gall to ask Sae Ro Yi to stop his plan, just so that she can have peace of mind working at Jangga Co.? The extent of her self-centeredness leaves me lost for words. How could she even think that?

E12. Interestingly, Sae Ro Yi doesn’t even realize that he dumped Soo Ah, in that moment on the phone, where he tells Yi Seo that he cannot and will not stop his plans to take down Jangga Co. Does he intend to just keep on liking Soo Ah, even though she consistently chooses Jangga over him?

E12. Granted, we do see Soo Ah hesitating over her own resignation letter, but I feel like this is too little, too late. Sae Ro Yi’s always been bent on taking down Jangga Co., but Soo Ah has no such strong tie to Jangga Co., even though they did give her a scholarship. She’s paid her dues by working at Jangga all this time, and she can quit if she wants to. Why doesn’t she just look for another job elsewhere, or join Sae Ro Yi and work alongside him, if she likes him so much? From what I can see, the answer is, she cares about herself more than she cares about him.

E14. Soo Ah grabbing Sae Ro Yi by the arm and asking him not to go, saying that he of all people should still like her, because it’s been 15 years, is so futile. I guess she’s taken him for granted all this time, expecting him to stay the same no matter what. She’s assumed that he will always be her anchor, if she wishes it, but.. say what he may, Sae Ro Yi is only human. It’s already incredible that he’s liked her for as long as he has, considering how she’s treated him. The very fact that Sae Ro Yi tries to correct her is enough to tell Soo Ah that his heart has changed, I think.

[END SPOILER]

The thing between Sae Ro Yi and Yi Seo

Like I mentioned earlier, I have an unpopular opinion about Sae Ro Yi’s connection with Yi Seo.

I like their growing bond, I really do. It’s just, I happen to think that this connection was more moving when it was platonic. All those little milestones of Sae Ro Yi and Yi Seo coming to understand each other better, and becoming closer? I loved them, and have no issues with those whatsoever.

It’s the eventual treatment of the loveline that I didn’t like so much.

My favorite alternative iteration of this relationship, is that of the platonic soul mate. That’s partly (largely?) because the turnaround of this relationship from platonic to romantic feels sudden and quite aggressive (I’ll talk more about that in the section on the finale), but also because Sae Ro Yi is portrayed as such a consistent, unwavering character. So while writer-nim does sprinkle breadcrumbs along the way, to hint that Sae Ro Yi maybe-just-maybe might be growing feelings for Yi Seo, it doesn’t feel quite sufficient, to persuade me that Sae Ro Yi really has changed his heart and mind.

My second favorite alternative, is if we had to have this loveline, well, then I would’ve wished for the emphasis in our last stretch, to be a lot less about the loveline, and a lot more about the DanBam gang as a whole. This never was a romance-centric drama, so to have that sudden shift in emphasis, felt a bit like drama whiplash to me. I would’ve preferred to have the loveline confirmed, then have it buzz contentedly in the background, while the DanBam gang takes centerstage, as we close out the show.

Clearly, writer-nim had different ideas. Oh well.

Here’s a look at my thoughts and reactions to this pair, during my watch, with more in the finale section.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. The way Sae Ro Yi asks Yi Seo if she’d like his help is a perfect throwback to how they’d first met, when he’d stepped in to prevent the other student’s mother from slapping her. And, it looks like Yi Seo is impressed that he remembers.

E4. Yi Seo steals a kiss from Sae Ro Yi while he’s dead drunk, and that’s not cool. If the genders were reversed in this scene, I’m sure more folks would feel uncomfortable. Which means that even if you like Yi Seo as a character, this behavior is not ok. And it’s also not ok that Show never calls her out for this, through to the very end.

E7. I’m strangely touched by the way Sae Ro Yi accepts Yi Seo’s request to share in his plans, and then proceeds to tell her everything, blow by blow. He doesn’t hold back, once he’s decided to trust her with the details, and I’m equally touched that Yi Seo understands instinctively, that the best thing she can do in that situation, is to listen carefully.

E7. The scene where Yi Seo rests her head on Sae Ro Yi’s lap, is oddly moving as well. The way she instinctively weeps at the pain and loneliness he must have endured, as he sustained the wounds that led to the scars on his skin, is so visceral. And the way Sae Ro Yi doesn’t understand her tears, but instinctively pats her shoulder to comfort her, is so moving as well. He’s the one who’s been wounded, and yet, he’s the one who’s offering comfort to someone else. I can believe that this is the moment that Yi Seo realizes she’s in love with him, because this is very likely the first time she’s felt so strongly for or on behalf of another person.

However, for the record, I did not see this as a romantic moment. As moving as it was, I felt like this was a moment of feeling vicarious pain; of deep empathy; of compassion, shared between two souls, in an exchange of Agape, the purest, highest form of love. I thought it was beautiful.

E7. I wonder what it means to Sae Ro Yi, when he puts Yi Seo’s head on his shoulder, as she sleeps on the ride back to Seoul. To my eyes, this isn’t a romantic gesture; more of a comrade taking care of a fellow soldier in arms.

E10. Yi Seo is fiercely loyal to Sae Ro Yi. She doesn’t even care that she’s physically hurt; she’s just so pleased to be able to contribute something to his fight for justice for his dad. Sae Ro Yi’s concern for her feels gentle and genuine, and the way he hugs her afterward, also feels gentle, though I still feel it’s also platonic.

E11. I feel bad for Yi Seo, for having her heart broken and her hopes dashed in one fell swoop by Geun Soo, in front of everyone. That was embarrassing and uncalled for, and I can understand why she’d run off, feeling humiliated. I do have to commend Yi Seo for being gutsy about things, though. When Sae Ro Yi catches up to her and asks her what’s going on, she decides to bite the bullet and confess her feelings and ask him pointblank, if he would ever like her. And when Sae Ro Yi tells her no, and starts to explain that he’s too old for her, she’s so sharp; she tells him that when it comes to love, it’s never about age gaps or other excuses. That’s so true. I also appreciate that in her love confession, she’s not actually demanding that Sae Ro Yi like her back; she’s demanding that he see her for who she is. That feels like a fundamental right, and I kind of like that this is about him acknowledging her, rather than liking her back.

E11. As Yi Seo cries on the street and thinks back to her various personal encounters with Sae Ro Yi, I’m reminded how she’s changed her whole life because of her feelings for him, and I feel sorry for her that she put down so much in terms of personal collateral, and for now at least, has nothing to show for it except a broken heart.

E12. I like how Yi Seo’s now so upfront about her feelings for Sae Ro Yi, and even tells him that he can’t tell her whether to like him or not, and that it’s her choice. So true.

E12. That moment on the phone, where Sae Ro Yi apologizes to Yi Seo and thanks her, stuttering a little in the process, it’s quite cute how Yi Seo replies, “I love you.. I’ll see you in your dreams..” Ha. She’s so blithely audacious and carefree about it, that I find it hard to hold it against her.

E13. At the same time, Yi Seo constantly making her feelings for Sae Ro Yi known is rather problematic. I rationalize that Yi Seo is doing it in a joking manner, and is just teasing Sae Ro Yi, plus they have an informal relationship on top of their work relationship, but it’s also true that this is not acceptable behavior at work. By this point, Sae Ro Yi’s asked her, and not in a joking manner, to stop saying that she likes him. The right thing to do, would be to respect his wishes, regardless of her own feelings.

E14. We spend a lot of time dwelling on Yi Seo and what she means to Sae Ro Yi. I acknowledge that Yi Seo is cognizant of the fact that the way she keeps telling Sae Ro Yi that she likes him despite him telling her not to do so, is inappropriate and the only reason she gets away with it is because DanBam needs her. I also acknowledge that it’s possible that Sae Ro Yi had been growing fond of Yi Seo all this time and just didn’t know it, and that it all hits him at once, after she falls ill from overwork, and he’s faced with a bunch of key questions that Seung Kwon happens to read out, from their upcoming event. And it’s true that Show’s hinted at Sae Ro Yi’s growing sense of confusion, as he keeps reacting to Yi Seo. This episode, when Yi Seo leaves in a tearful hurry on seeing him having drinks with Soo Ah, Sae Ro Yi’s slightly confused conclusion, after a few bewildered rubs of his head, is that he needs to go after Yi Seo. He doesn’t quite comprehend it fully, but it’s what his instincts tell him.

So, on paper, it all lines up and I can rationalize this turnaround in Sae Ro Yi. I can also buy that once Sae Ro Yi becomes cognizant of something, or decides something, he’s full on about it. So Sae Ro Yi throwing himself full on into finding and saving Yi Seo is believable too. It’s just.. there’s something about it that niggles at me as somewhat, well, manufactured. I buy Sae Ro Yi’s turnaround in my head – and it all makes sense too – but I’m not quite feeling it, somehow.

[END SPOILER]

The late-stretch time skip

Not gonna lie; I loved Show most before the time skip in episode 13.

This isn’t a deal-breaker, but once we hit the time skip, Show seems to lose some of its initial spark, and feels almost like a different show, to me. Or rather, it almost feels like a second season of the show, rather than part of the original story. My engagement feels different, once we hit the part where IC is doing well and our original team members are all polished up and suited up for corporate life. It feels like Show’s lost a bit of its heart, along with the underdog quality that kept me glued to this story.

Also, on a shallow note, the wigs sit so uncomfortably on our gang, most notably Hyun Yi’s wig, which looks like it wasn’t secured or styled properly. 😛

As a silver lining, despite my reservations about how everyone seems rather different and almost unrecognizable after the time skip, I’m heartened that Sae Ro Yi and the OG DanBam team still use the same business principles as always, and prize people and relationships above all else.

LOGIC STRETCHES AND OTHER ODDS AND ENDS

I enjoyed Show very well, but I couldn’t help but notice some inconsistencies and logic stretches during my watch. Here they are for the record, along with other bits and pieces that I didn’t like so much.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E5. We find out that Soo Ah wasn’t the one who called the cops on DanBam. While that’s nice and everything, what about that shot of her nonchalantly saying out loud, while standing near the pub, “Sorry, let’s hang out another time”? That doesn’t gel with this new version of events?

E10. I find it hard to believe that Director Kang, with all her years of experience, and therefore being a somewhat jaded corporate person, would take so much direction from Yi Seo and Ho Jin. Those scenes of the four of them having big, important discussions about taking down Chairman Jang, and Yi Seo and Ho Jin having the most input, felt off, to me. I find it hard to believe that Director Kang would risk it all, on the word of a twenty-year-old that she’s barely met.

E11. Loanshark Gran turning out to be Tony’s grandmother is very in the tradition of kdrama, and somehow, I feel like it doesn’t suit this show. Probably because I feel like this show is bucking trends in many ways. So why settle for something so tropey, especially since Chris Lyon isn’t that great of an actor? The emotional scene between Gran and Tony was some of the better emoting I’ve seen Chris Lyon do in this role, but it honestly could’ve been better.

E12. It feels like a very kdrama thing, for Loanshark Gran to become the potential investor of DanBam, but because she’s not a new character and has been hanging around DanBam and the gang since they moved to the new premises, it feels reasonably organic. But, that whole thing about Gran walking out when Sae Ro Yi says that she doesn’t have to invest in DanBam, feels like forced drama, to my eyes.

It was a simple thing where all Gran needed to do was clarify that she wasn’t interested in investing because of Tony, but instead, we have Gran walk out, and the DanBam crew tear their hair out trying to find new investors, until Sae Ro Yi decides to ask Gran to invest anyway. That felt like a very unnecessary detour, especially since Gran had snarked that Sae Ro Yi wasn’t worth in investing in because he’s not even competent, and then later, she’s all, “I know you a little. It wasn’t just about food or restaurant. I liked your insight that you cared about the whole alley.” That’s so contradictory. Couldn’t writer-nim have come up with something more consistent?

E14. I did find it odd that Chairman Jang would spell out for Soo Ah why she stayed by his side all these years, despite resenting him, and question if that’s the last impression she wants to leave him, now that he’s dying. It’s out of character for him to challenge his servants, to even tempt them to stand up against him, and yet, he’s doing it here, with Soo Ah. I feel like there’s a narrative purpose for this, which makes this feel even more forced and unnatural. The only saving grace to this scene is how Soo Ah asks why he’s saying all these things to her, and he remarks that he’s being strange now that he’s close to dying. I’m mollified that at least Show acknowledges that its being weird about this.

E14. The way that Sae Ro Yi is run over, and the way his body rolls down a hill, with blood covering his face and trickling from his eye, is so obviously reminiscent of his dad’s death. I think this is supposed to be a poetic mirroring thing, but it strikes me as quite try-hard, somehow. :/

[END SPOILER]

SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]

I have mixed feelings about this penultimate episode.

On the downside, I feel like this sharp turn into kidnapping and potential murder is quite heavy-handed. I can rationalize everything – Geun Won’s been slowly turning into a monster; he still holds a grudge against Yi Seo for the recording; he still has a twisted need for his father’s approval, even if it involves soul-blackening morally shady things – but I also can’t help feeling like I’m watching a different show, all of a sudden.

Gone are my earnest underdog shenanigans, and instead, we have our characters literally fighting to stay alive. It feels unfamiliar and strange, and I’m not sure I like it, to be honest.

On the upside, I do appreciate that Sae Ro Yi’s near-death gives him the healing that his soul has desperately needed, all this time. The coma gives him time, and the whole hanging between life and death thing gives him opportunity, to talk with Dad, whom he’s missed so much, all these years. It feels like a liberating thing, to have Dad tell him all over again, that he’s proud of him. I get the feeling that Sae Ro Yi and Dad talk about a lot of things – more than what we see – before that final exchange at the bridge.

As Dad looks at Sae Ro Yi with so much compassion in his eyes and invites Sae Ro Yi to go with him to where he won’t have painful nights anymore, Sae Ro Yi comes to his conclusion.

“I don’t mind having to spend all those endless nights again. Actually, my nights aren’t that painful anymore. I have friends who need me. And I’m curious about what kind of future we’ll be spending together. I look forward to it. They give me joy. I know you’re no longer with me. But I’m going to embrace my yearning heart. And I’ll continue to live my life.”

What. A. Turning. Point.

For the first time in a very long time, Sae Ro Yi is looking to the future with anticipation and a positive hope, instead of regrets and pain. What a huge milestone, and how fitting, that it’s Dad that brings him there.

With tears in his eyes, and a mixture of pride and wistfulness in his face, Dad answers, “You finally got it, Sae Ro Yi. That’s what life is. You can overcome anything as long as you’re alive. I really mean it. I am so proud of you, my son. Keep on living this way, my son.”

Sob. Such a beautiful moment, truly. <3

As Sae Ro Yi wakes up from his coma, his tears don’t stop for a long time, and I feel like this is him releasing all the pent-up pain and misery that he’s been keeping on the inside, all this time. These are cathartic, healing tears, and much needed.

That said, I’m a little conflicted over where we finish up the episode.

Yi Seo and Geun Soo make a break for it – and I’m rather disturbed that Yi Seo actually seriously considers killing Geun Won in order to protect Sae Ro Yi, coz that’s really just so wrong, even if he’s evil and messed up – and they get cornered by Geun Won and Gangster Boss arriving with his men, AND YET, we spend So Much Time with Sae Ro Yi and Chairman Jang, having a leisurely stare-down and word tussle.

Yes, it’s dramatic and all, with Chairman Jang being evil to the end, taking advantage of the moment to demand that Sae Ro Yi kneel before him, and Sae Ro Yi choosing to do the deed, in order to save Yi Seo, and even musing in voiceover that he’d be willing to do it a thousand times, but I honestly couldn’t enjoy the drama of the moment, because I was so distracted by how much time they were wasting, while Yi Seo and Geun Soo were being cornered.

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

Well, things got Really Dramatic, Really Fast. :/ How does this finale manage to feel so strongly dramatic, and yet so underwhelming and just that crucial bit off-the-mark, at the same time?

Again, like the penultimate episode, I could rationalize most things, but I just wasn’t feeling it, mostly. I’m trying to figure out what was missing for me, and I think it’s that Show seems to have lost its original earnestness and heart – even though it does try to recreate it.

Let me back up.

We spend literally the first half hour of this finale wrapping up the life or death stakes of the kidnapping and attempted murder orchestrated by Geun Won. Sae Ro Yi and Seung Kwon stake their lives on saving Yi Seo, and that’s all bloody and dramatic and all, but it niggles at me that 1, Yi Seo basically throws Geun Soo to the dogs to buy herself some time to run away (ugh, did she really have to do that?), and 2, while Yi Seo and Sae Ro Yi are running for their lives with Geun Won chasing them down, they literally pause to have a love confession Long Moment. Seriously, Show? This was really weird, and I already struggle enough with Show’s insistence on giving us a loveline, without having said loveline shoved right into a scene where our characters’ safety is at stake, time is of the essence, and they could actually get murdered if they don’t run fast enough. This was very perplexing, for me.

And then there’s the thing where Chairman Jang is brought to his knees because Soo Ah reports Jangga Co. for all the illegal stuff that’s been hidden under the table. Um. I’m sorry, but this felt underwhelming to me, because it felt like Show had had this card for a long time, since Soo Ah’s worked closely with Chairman Jang for a long time, and just decided that, Ah, we’ve filled up enough screen time; now’s a good time to wrap things up – let’s use that card we’ve been saving.

I mean, we could’ve literally had this turn of events much earlier in the show, and arrived at the same result, of Chairman Jang being brought to the end of his means, and realize that he has nothing and no one on his side anymore. Although, I suppose that’s a good card for writer-nim to keep handy, in case Show had gotten cut down from 16 episodes? Using this narrative arc would’ve wrapped things up as planned, no matter how many episodes got sliced off, after all?

I felt it fitting that Sae Ro Yi doesn’t simply start feeling sorry for Chairman Jang and accept his tearful apology, because c’mon, Chairman Jang was borderline gleeful in destroying Sae Ro Yi, and he’d thought nothing of covering up Sae Ro Yi’s dad’s death.

..Which brings me to the thing where I found Chairman Jang’s turnaround too extreme and sudden. I know the events of the plot mean that he loses everything, but for him to turn into someone who’s sincerely sorry for his past actions? I.. don’t buy it. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to buy it. What I do know is that Show just leaves him in DanBam, on his knees, sobbing, but doesn’t actually show us what happens to him afterwards. Does he get sentenced to jail for all the stuff Soo Ah reported him for? We don’t get to know, and I kinda wanted to know.

IC Co. takes over Jangga Co. successfully, and Sae Ro Yi gives a nice speech, but what’s Jangga’s new name, that Sae Ro Yi said he would change it to? I thought it would’ve been interesting to see that. Or, if Sae Ro Yi had chosen to keep Jangga’s name, it would’ve been interesting to hear him explain why. But.. Show doesn’t feel the same way. Boo.

In our last stretch, Show gives quick spotlights to our characters. Seung Kwon and Hyun Yi go on a movie date; Geun Soo apologizes to Sae Ro Yi, and Sae Ro Yi tells him to still come around for meals sometimes; Geun Soo apologizes to Seung Kwon and Hyun Yi and says goodbye to Yi Seo, before going abroad to study (I had issues with Yi Seo’s words to Geun Soo, saying that he’d forsaken right and wrong in order to be faithful to her, because that’s really quite twisted, but framed as something sweet, just a little misguided. Not cool); Soo Ah opens a restaurant with Seok Cheon’s investment, and they hire a handsome chef (cameo by Park Bo Gum(!!!!) looking completely incandescent and angelic and beautiful, oh my).

Through most of this, Show spends a fair bit of effort hard-selling the romance between Sae Ro Yi and Yi Seo, and.. it’s all a little too heavy-handed for my taste, to be honest. I think this is what you call, too little, too late? The ending is heavily seasoned with this loveline, and we even get an epilogue which features just Sae Ro Yi and Yi Seo sitting by the lake, with cuddles and kisses, and Sae Ro Yi musing in voiceover about his new normal, working and dating as usual.

I get that Show is trying to tell me that he’s not only fulfilled in his career, but in his personal life, he has a person again now. He’d lost his dad, but he’s gained Yi Seo, so he’s not alone anymore. BUT. This doesn’t land with enough oomph, for me, because this love relationship is still so new, to my eyes. This sudden shift of emphasis, from the found family, to being all about the loveline, also feels out of character, for Show. Since this story has always been about Sae Ro Yi’s journey and the hodgepodge family that he found along the way, it would’ve been so much more meaningful to me, if this found family connection was the one that Show emphasized, in its last minutes. Because, can’t lie; Show was at its best, when this found family was at its strongest.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Earnest & full of heart, though Show loses its original character a little bit, in the final stretch.

FINAL GRADE: B+

TEASER:

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45 thoughts on “Review: Itaewon Class

  1. Jordan Turner

    Greetings,

    Thank you for yet another wonderful review!!

    While there is much I would like to say about the series, this review captured most of it, so I shall refrain from repetition.

    The one item I shall make mention of is the opening scene of the series: Yi Seo tells a random therapist about the conversation on the bridge, and how Sae Ro Yi told her to die. Then, the “15 years earlier” occurs.

    What bothers me about the scene is that…it makes no sense. Yi Seo has the hairstyle from when she is first introduced, which is, I believe, 10 years after Park Sae Royi’s imprisonment. So, it must have taken place prior to the four year timeskip in the last few episodes. So either “15 years earlier” is a subtitle issue or a slip by the editor’s / writer’s (or whoever approved the scene).

    Yet, even if it did take place after the first ten years, there was no reference to Yi Seo attending any form of therapy again. Sure, it did not need to be included, but why have that opening scene at all? It seemed so unnatural without any follow-through during the show’s run.

    Anyway, I apologize for this. It is rather hastily written, so my computer does not die before reaching an outlet.

    Reply
  2. j3ffc

    Every time I read one your reviews I am more impressed: with the quality of your writing, your ability to write lots of text and keep it interesting (as someone who writes a lot I appreciate how hard it is to be as prolific but skilled as you are), and especially the depth of your insights. As usual, I agree with nearly everything you wrote, especially how the final part after the time jump was a letdown compared to what had come before. Because I can’t help myself, I would add a couple of things that struck me as well:

    Agreed with your insights about the thing between Soo Ah and Yi Seo representing an interesting dynamic between the characters and enjoyed those interactions between the characters, starting with the repeated metaphor of running through Itaewon. Much later, it was just YS running with Sae Ro Yi…

    I thought this was a fabulous debut for Kim Da-mi. Even though YS’s character was unevenly written, as you and others have noted, she had fantastic moments during which KDM just jumped off the screen. She has incredible charisma and look forward to what she does next (I’ll even watch “The Witch” though that’s not really my thing).

    I think rather strongly that YS was NOT a sociopath. Simply because she was described that way by Guen-soo does not make it so, and I think her arc throughout the show clearly demonstrated that, while she had plenty of antisocial tendencies, she was not a true sociopath.

    I thought Show did a great job of showing us three different flavors of villainy, all well acted (although the character of Geun-won owed much to Ahn Bo-hyun’s Resting Asshole Face). And I thought that Chairman Jang’s “apology” near the end of the show was just about as sincere as when he held the press conference to throw GW under the bus.

    And I was so glad to see that I wasn’t the only one looking at the clock when SRY and Chairman Jang were all chatty while YS and Dong-hee were being threatened out at the warehouse). Or who loved Dad.

    I should stop here (gotta catch the next episode of “Tree of Deep Roots” which managed to hook me with episode 1!). Thanks as always for the reviews; hope you are staying safe.

    Reply
  3. Gloglo

    Another very enjoyable review. Thank you kfangurl! You bring up some excellent points and I agree with many of them.

    I realised early on during my watching that this show did not have the grit or adult feel other European and US shows of similar subject have, but rather felt like a noir youth cartoon and, sure enough, after some research, I found out that Itaweon Class was indeed based on a webtoon… This made me view the drama with a new lense thus connecting with it so much better… I see the characters as archetypes and particularly enjoyed Sae Ro yi and his dynamic with the Chairman. Sae Ro yi’s righteous quest was compelling. He was like a knight on a mission and, of course, like every proper knight, he needed an idealised damsel, a Dulcinea, for him to worship during his journey: Soo Ah… Of course, this love is just an infatuation, and not the real love he will later feel for Yi Seo. Interesting that he’s the last to realise this.

    I actually think that the love story between Sae Ro yi and Yi Seo was well developed. It was a more faded depiction of the typical romantic relationship in kdramas, which might have led people to believe it was superfluous, but for me, it really wasn’t: Sae Ro yi needed to experience true love in order to put the righteousness driving him into perspective, to conquer his “bitter” nights and to keep living. His pub family was indeed an important source of support and care, but love was always going to be what would cure his wound. I felt the show was strongly suggesting this from the beginning.

    However, I agree with most people here in saying this relationship between them doesn’t land completely … For me the problem doesn’t lie on how the love story is told but rather on how the character of Yi Seo is written. It is difficult to root for someone who, in order to make their loved one happy, will hurt or use anyone with no trace of morality or backbone… That is not love. it’s not cute and it’s not romantic, and the show, even though it was obviously aware that Yi Seo’s tendencies were problematic, did very little to redeem her of her most manipulative traits… I was ok with her being egotistical, self serving and full of ennui to start with, but, it is disappointing that the show does not grapple with the problems these personality traits cause and, instead, appears to reward Yi Seo for them. True that her unsympathetic attitude towards the transphobic friend is convincingly rectified, but her racist attitude towards Tony and her manipulation of Geun Soo is never satisfactorily addressed. I don’t mind so much Yi Seo dedicating her entire life to support Sae Ro yi. This is a male centred, heightened cartoon world after all, where extreme sacrifices for the “awesome hero” are allowed… It is the story’s inability to address Yi Seo’s unhealthy tendencies and the lack of clarity that allows to perceive them as “passionate” or “romantic” what bothers me the most

    Reply
  4. Prashil Prakash

    Coming here after finishing 13 episodes. And even though 3 episodes are left I can see where this is going.
    So I read the entire review, spoilers and all(no regrets tbh)

    I really do like the show and agree with all the points you mentioned and really do agree that the time jump really did change the show from an underdog story. But ok, I’ll bite. I’ll take it cuz at least the bad days are over.

    I really didn’t love the OTP just like you said.
    Even though I really liked Yi Seo as a strong well written character. And I can’t really pinpoint what the reason for this
    Is it the age difference, I don’t think so. Is it cuz she’s sociopath, umm not really. I like sociopath characters finding love and healing themselves.

    So maybe it’s cuz I wanted Soo Ah and Park Saeroyi to be together. Probably yes. And I know the show was giving signs pretty early on that Soo-ah most probably won’t end with him by constantly making her make choices not good for her character and making her a worse choice to be with our lead “The man of Principles”
    But honestly i really liked her as a character cuz of the emotional conflicts she had to go through constantly, which made me feel for her (I’m sure, I’m biased) and since she had defined herself to be a selfish and independent person looking out only for herself, which made it worse for her I’d say.

    And I know it’s not the popular opinion but I actually really found Geun won really interesting. I mean yeah i hated him, he was REALLY despicable. Buti feel all his actions had been the result of terrible parenting by chairman Jang.
    I mean Initially he was affected as he killed Saeroyis dad but even that moment of redemption was taken away by his dad(Today we’ll kill chickens son! Wow dad! You’re the best!)
    I guess he would have been better only if his dad hugged him once in a while and you know that hugs work on him cuz he literally became the fall guy and went to jail cuz of a faux sincere hug by his dad.

    And you’re so on point about Geun soo him being suddenly turned evil and it was really sad. Especially when he betrayed HyunYi and still thought of her as his best friend, was so twisted. Tbh I felt bad for the both of them.
    I’m really hoping his arc comes through well in the final 3 episodes at least.
    Honestly I hope for a Zuko (Avatar the Last Airbender) type arc for him. Cuz it makes perfect sense(his dad is pretty much like Fire Lord Ozai) But I’m sure I’m expecting too much.

    I know you already mentioned what Seung gwon said about HyunYi that “she rejects nature” and to me its probably the highlight of the show.

    Men and women and 2 genders rest everything is unnatural. HyunYi is unnatural.
    She’s stronger than you know cuz she rejects even the flipping nature ( Sorry😅 Bad ad-lib on my end, I know, but I get exited just by writing this!) (Seung Gwon, you’re awesome!)

    I didn’t plan on writing anything, cuz I haven’t finished the show yet but just by visiting the page I guess I ended up rambling 😂

    All in all pretty accurate review!🔥
    Oh and the tracks are killer
    My favourite would be “Shijak”(let’s begin) by Gaho

    Cheers 😊

    Reply
    1. kfangurl Post author

      Haha you are so funny, Prashil, coming by not planning to say anything, but sharing all your thoughts anyway! 😀

      Yes, Chairman was a terrible father, grooming his son to be cruel and ruthless by teaching him to kill chickens and telling him that people are basically animals for him to use. Ugh. 😝 So I did feel rather sorry for Geun Won, coz it was clear he really wanted his father’s love and acceptance. Glad you still managed to enjoy the show, even though not everything worked for you, and YES, some of the tracks on the OST are excellent! 😀

      Reply
  5. vipulasharma

    Hey, I recently discovered your blog and life has become much better. 😂
    I agree with your review. Especially, with the love story angle. I mean, I felt so weirded out by this love storyline. To be honest, I did not like Yi Seo’s character that much. I mean, her life goal was to make a man’s life better? What even? She had too much potential as a character I feel all was let down to serve her ‘husband worship’ story.
    I liked Soo Ah’s character more. Yes, she is selfish but we understand, or rather I understood, where she came from. I disliked her greatly, but I understood her as a character. She was an orphan, with no means, and then suddenly she gets a chance to better her life. Then she has to leave her life, the one she worked for so long for, for her friend. Salaried people don’t have that choice. She had something going on for her. She did shit for her, and was too selfish at times but her character was strong in that sense. At the end, she brought Janga down.
    But Yi Seo just did EVERYTHING for Sae Ro Yi? Like girl, so much lost potential. Also, the weird ass age gap. Like, how do you go from seeing a person as a kid to your potential baby mama, is a little concerning.
    This show didn’t need a love story. The revenge plot, and character plot was enough.
    Also, I feel all the issues like LGBTQA, racism, etc. were brought to show how good of a person Sae Ro Yi is. There were no decent conversations or even conclusions for both the plots. We did get something out of the LGBTQA story but it could’ve been better.
    All in all, I love Sae Ro Yi.
    Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk. 😂

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hi there vipulasharma, I’m so glad to hear that you’ve been enjoying the blog! 😀 A belated welcome to my little corner of the interwebs! <3 I'm also glad we feel similarly about the loveline in this show; although it worked for some viewers, I did find it rather forced, and I agree the show didn't need a love story. And yes, you're right, I do think all the racisim, LGBTQ issues issues were there to show us what a good person Sae Ro Yi is. And he is a very lovely, goodhearted character indeed! 🤩

      Reply
  6. dkoehler47

    I was more emotionally invested in Itaewon than any other K-drama I have watched. Thanks to quarantine, I have watched over a dozen.
    I admired the character of Sae Ro Yi — strong, principled, a man of his word, willing to stand up for those weaker than he.
    I loved the relationship between Sae Ro Yi and his father, wishing, no doubt, that I could have had such a relationship.
    I felt for Soo Ah — shy but summoning up the courage to offer a gift to Sae Ro Yi. She stood between the policeman’s gun and Sae Ro Yi and talked Sae Ro Yi out of killing the SOB that killed Sae Ro Yi’s father. She was the one who really brought down Jang Co. It was to her that Sae Ro Yi made a promise about their future.
    I really liked the elegant and graceful Ms. Kang.
    I got a kick out of the cranky old lady in the street who turns out to be a real estate mogul.
    I enjoyed the variety of characters at DanBam pub.
    I appreciated Yi Seo for her sharp business acumen. She was pivotal in the success of DanBam and later, IC.
    Normally, if the word “revenge” occurs in the description of a series, I don’t watch it. So, when revenge came up when Sae Ro Yi was in prison, I was about to turn off the TV. But, I continued because I was already hooked.
    In the end, I was more disappointed with the ending of this series than any other I have watched. It felt so wrong that Sae Ro Yi should end up with Yi Seo. Despite her skill at conducting business, she was an inconsiderate, immature brat. Her hurtful comments to Soo Ah really made me dislike her. I was so hoping there would be a scene where Sae Ro Yi would overhear her mouthing cruel comments to Soo Ah and think to himself, “Is this the person I love and want to spend the rest of my life with?”
    Someone said that what we watch on TV affects us, that it becomes part of our character. I believe my watching romantic comedies has made me more appreciative of my wife. Think I will go back to something more satisfying like, “Because This Is My First Life” or, my favorite, “Crash Landing On You”.

    Reply
  7. AzureN

    First, I’m so glad to have found your blog! Thank you for the time and effort you put into it!

    I have recently discovered Kdramas and honestly, I cannot believe I wasted so many years of my life not knowing Hyun bin and Ji Chang wook and Kim Woo bin and Park Seo Joon and Gong Yoo…. The upside is that I came to this world with no background, I didn’t know any of these names or their histories or anything about them. So each show is a discovery and I’m loving it!

    Anyway, the reason I mention this background is that I watched most of Itaewon Class without realising that Park Sae Ro Yi was played by the same guy who had made me giggle in What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim!! I know, really silly right! But what it shows is the versatility of PSJ, his range and depth as an actor – he was, for lack of a better description, utterly incredible in IC. I didn’t know this actor (at least I thought I didn’t) and I was blown away by the way his eyes showed pain and humour, depth and humanity. Even now when I think of Park Sae Ro Yi, my heart hurts.

    The scene where Yi Seo weeps over Sae Ro yi’s scars – Kim Da mi was fantastic. And so was PSJ. Her pain feels visceral and his calmness tells you without any words being spoken what pain he has already seen.

    I still find it hard to believe PSJ didn’t win best actor for what he did in IC.

    Reply
  8. cryscaralagh

    I whole heartedly agree of this review! I thought PSJ shined in this portrayal of Sae Ro Yi and he was spot on and held the show together. I personally couldn’t be on board with the sudden love for Yi Seo because he was always so steadfast in his emotions with Soo Ah ( which had more sparks – but was also imbalanced as you pointed out). I like Yi Seo but somehow her repeated declarations of love felt a bit foreceful ( and if the gender was reversed – this would 100% be an issue in other dramas) .

    I was also happy Soo Ah gets a new potential love interest in BoGum – I somehow liked her throughout ( as I could relate to her even if she was selfish)

    Leaving the love life aside, this show was beautiful and makes you believe in principles and how to cherish people like SaeRoYi. Such a refreshing attitude in our times and for someone who has suffered so much. Kudos to the portrayal of Hyun Hi – I had tears when she said her piece. Very well portrayed

    Crystal

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hi there Crystal! Welcome to the blog! 😀 I’m glad you enjoyed this review, and that we have similar opinions of the show! 🙂 Yes, PSJ was truly excellent as Sae Ro Yi; I loved Sae Ro Yi as a character, and thought PSJ portrayed him SO well! 🤩 And yes, the loveline did feel sudden and forced, to me. Bogummy was a lovely surprise indeed! 😀 I hadn’t read anything about him making a cameo, so it was a legit surprise when I got to his scene – FUN! 😍 And yes, Hyun Yi was lovely and badass and SO worth rooting for! <3

      Reply
      1. Natalia

        I almost completely agree with this review, Kfangurl. This is definitely a B. What I liked was that almost all the characters were likable, interesting or both. This for me includes Geun Won, and extra kudos from me to the actor (and his stylist, I don’t think I have ever seen so sharp and dazzling suits in a KDrama so far).
        The only two characters I didn’t really feel were SooAh and the younger Jang brother, for the exact reasons you are mentioning in your review. Still the show managed to make me care somehow and be happy that they got their happy ending (by the way, how is it possible for Park Bo Gum to get younger instead of older?).
        Still, there were so many improbabilities and long stretches in the show that I think I would have dropped it, in spite of the interesting characters and good cast, had it not been for Park Seo Joon and the fact that SeRoYi somehow projected this “big brother that we all love” aura to the audience as well and not just (almost) everyone on the show.
        In addition, like you I didn’t really feel the loveline, mostly because SeRoYi, who is portrayed as such a steadfast person, spends 14 episodes rejecting YiSeo and even asking her to cut it out. His change of heart in the end is as you say explained, but I I didn’t feel it either. Very good acting by Kim Dami though, and, by the way, too bad we didn’t see much of her mama because she seemed like a real jewel too.
        Besides Park Seo Joon though, I really thought that it was Chairman Jang that stole the show. He was simply excellent. Oh, and by the way, I don’t think he repented in the finale, I thought that he begged for SeRoYi to not buy out his company, no?
        To conclude, I think I have already mentioned here that despite my crush on PSJ, I try not to watch all his shows in a row in case my husband takes offense or something. Well, not a problem here: he didn’t even recognize PSJ until the 8th episode or so and then he was bragging that he remembered him while I didn’t (poor innocent baby, if only you knew…).

        Reply
        1. kfangurl

          Ahahaha!! You made me laugh with your comment about your poor innocent husband, Natalia!! 🤣🤣 You are a very smart woman, no question about it!

          Yay that we feel so similarly about the show! And yes, Chairman Jang was great! I mean, Yoo Jae Myung lost himself in the character so well, that I didn’t recognize him until AFTER my watch, when I checked the cast list! That is skillz. 🤩 So funny that in your husband’s case, it was Park Seo Joon that he didn’t recognize! 😀

          Reply
          1. Natalia

            I know, right? And to think that when we watched Secretary Kim (the first PSJ drama we watched) he was the one to shout “Hey, that’s the guy from Parasite!”.

            Reply
            1. kfangurl

              WOW! That’s impressive spotting by your hubs, since Park Seo Joon only did a cameo in Parasite! So funny that he then proceeded to not recognize him in Itaewon Class, for episodes on end! 🤣🤣

              Reply
  9. Pingback: Dear kfangurl: What are some dramas the man in my life might be willing to watch? | The Fangirl Verdict

  10. deliaerre

    dear kfangurl
    I loved your Itaewon Class review.
    I watched IC in the same spirit that I watched Stowe League, an underdog story. And I loved Stowe League a little more.
    In both of them I followed the protagonist’s story with great emotion, and I really loved (and cried in difficult moments) his stoicism and determination. They are certainly characters who have to lead in solitude much of their ascent to the final redemption.
    The character of Yi Seo (Kim Da Mi), while interesting and out of clichés, is really unsuitable for loveline (as you masterfully pointed out). It’s not enough to protect a man or work tirelessly for him to ignite desire.
    And I suffered a lot from the stolen kiss while Sae Ro Yi was sleeping…
    the desire was almost never felt by Sae Ro Yi. Nor does it take repeating “I love you” to the point of exhaustion to be loved.
    While, to give an example from SL, the conversations between the protagonist and his ex-wife are really poignant and delicate. You can feel that they are very much loved (and maybe they still love each other…).
    Park Seo Joon was really good at making a character all in one piece, a bit naive but really irresistible.
    And what can I say? Thank you for the trip you made us take to kdramaland through your reviews.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hi deliaerre, SO happy you enjoyed this review! <3 I agree, this felt much more strongly like an underdog story, than a revenge one, or a romance one. I really enjoyed Sae Ro Yi as a character.. so strong, in spite of his personal scars and pain. 😭❤️

      Yes, the romantic connection between Sae Ro Yi and Yi Seo felt forced, and the more I tried to rationalize it, the less organic it felt. In that respect, I do agree that Stove League did a nicer job presenting the complicated nature of Seung Soo's relationship with his ex-wife. 🙂

      So pleased you enjoyed this review, my dear! <3

      Reply
  11. Kay

    I like a good ensemble and underdog story. Plus, adding in a revenge element is a definite plus in my book to add in a bit of spice. Looks promising, and I have it on my watch list 🙂

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Oh, I think you might just like this one very well, Kay! 🙂 Plus, since you like amped up drama, you might even enjoy the last 2 episodes more than I did! 😉

      Reply
  12. Onlyone

    I started watching this show having read comments that it gets words in the middle, but I have to disagree. The only episode I didn’t really like was ep 14, because it was a build up for the great conflict, but overall I enjoyed the second half of the show better than first four episodes.
    One of the best drama finales I’ve seen! The last two episodes were my favorites, truthfully. Not a fan of the love line in the story (could’ve been just as good with friendship only) but I can tolerate it.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      That’s so interesting, Onlyone! I feel like we swopped drama experiences, while watching the same drama! 😀 I felt like the last episode was kind of out of character, though I did like the Dad part of E15. We DO agree on one thing: the loveline would’ve been better off being classified as a friendship. That would have felt more organic, I think! 🙂

      Reply
  13. phl1rxd

    Hi Fangurl – glad to see this. By the way you have been on fire with the blog. I appreciate the quality or depth of analysis in your reviews.

    Not gonna lie Fangurl. I watched this solely for 2 things and in this order. First, for Ha Hyun Woo’s recording of Stone Block and second for Park Seo Joon, whose talent deserves a serious watch for every one of his projects.

    For me the biggest highlight was hearing Stone Block while PSJ was walking out of Chairman Jang’s office. I believe it was at the end of episode 4 – not sure as it has been a while since I saw it. I am a huge fan of Hyun Woo (like serious) and have been so for many years. I consider him S. Korea’s national treasure and the voice of the millennia. There is not a day that goes by without me listening to at least one of his songs. The lyrics to Stone Block are perfectly written for the character of Sae Ro Yi and perfectly sung by Hyun Woo. Woohoo – double treat!

    I thought that Park Seo Joon did a fantastic job with this role. His reaction to his Dad’s death was so real and the pain was so visceral that I cried buckets while watching that scene – it was an epic and unforgettable scene. The thing I admire most about his acting is how he always keeps it real. I sometimes feel like he is really talking to me as he says his lines. He was a perfect choice for the role of Sae Ro Yi. I look forward to his future projects.

    I really liked the DanBam diversity that was presented in this drama. It was refreshing. Sae Ro Yi accepted them without question and he loved and treasured them. That was beautiful.

    What I did not like was the character of Soo Ah. Not one bit. Not for even a nano-second. I found her sneaky, manipulative and passive aggressive. On the other hand I did not have any problems with Yi Seo – her loyalty to Sae Ro Yi was admirable and helped me overlook her many faults. I will take a Yi Seo over a Soo Ah any day!

    I also felt that the drama rushed its way to end and I felt like we were being thrown onto the Wild Mouse roller coaster. I almost dropped it at that point but Hyun Woo and PSJ kept me on the watch, plus the fact that I could not bear to think that Sae Ro Yi would end up with Soo Ah.

    I think your rating is accurate and your last paragraph was right on point. Thank you for taking the time to review this holistically with all of your fabulous bullet points and music embeds which I always love. This time the music was so very extra-special to me and so much appreciated LOL!! Thanks!

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hi phl! <3 I'm so pleased that you enjoyed this review, and wow, hi5! I loved Stone Block the most out of the entire soundtrack as well! It's so rousing, and like you said, the lyrics are so perfect. I didn't look up the lyrics, but I caught enough of the Korean to get the gist of it, and it felt so perfect not just for Sae Ro Yi, but the team as well, particularly for Hyun Yi during the competition. 🤩🤩🤩

      I agree, Park Seo Joon was a treat to watch in this. I realize I love him more in character-heavy roles like this, than just handsome leading man type things, though he is a legit handsome leading man. I enjoyed him in this so much more than in Secretary Kim, to be honest. I thought it suited him well, but more than that, he dug so deep in the difficult scenes, that my heart pinched for him. Really good. <3

      I think they wrote both Soo Ah and Yi Seo to be flawed, Soo Ah in her selfishness and Yi Seo in her lack of empathy for most people, so neither character was completely likable. I do think they did it on purpose, and it was effective, I felt, in making them both more interesting. But like you, I didn't like Soo Ah much, and preferred Yi Seo's loyalty even though she was sometimes harsh and caustic.

      It's a pity the ending felt rushed yet bloated, and most of all, out of character. That felt bemusing to watch, honestly. But oddly, for this show, the disappointment with the ending doesn't actually take away from my enjoyment of the episodes prior. That's quite something. 😀

      Reply
  14. SZ10

    Yes! Your blog absolutely captures exactly what i thought about this drama.I really loved Iteawon Class and yet by the end, it felt like there was something lacking.
    I have to say the moment where Yo Seo reads the I am diamond poem to Hyun Yi is one of my favorite K drama moment. It was such a powerful and inspiring moment. I literally cried at that moment. I also loved the subtle clues that let us know that Sae Ro Yi had spray painted the racist club. It is these heartfelt surprising moments that truly make Kdrama stand apart from western shows for me.
    So the funny thing is that before Iteowon Class, the only drama I had seen of Park Seo Joon is What is Wrong with Secretary Kim and I had just felt meh about that show and him. I know *gasp* However, after Iteowon Class, I saw the light. He managed both the intensity and the innocence with such aplomb. Naturally I went on Park Seo Joon watching marathon with Fight My Way and She was Pretty (totally love both shows). While watching She was Pretty, it hit me about how I would like Sae Ro Yi and Yo Seo storyline to have been. In She was Pretty, it is probably again one of my favorite Kdrama scene when Choi Siwon tells Kim Hye Jin that he loves her as a person. Not in a boy liking girl way but genuinely as a person. I love love love that moment. The theme of friendship is just as powerful as love. I feel like with Sae Ro Yi and Yo Seo, they really could have explored that more. How her desire to help him steps from the fact that Sae Ro Yi is a genuinely nice guy.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hi5 SZ!!! 😀 We DO feel the same about this show!! First of all, I LOVED the moment with diamond poem too! The words of the poem, lining up with the words of the song – Stone Block, also known as Diamond – and Hyun Yi’s slo-mo hero walk to her place at the competition table. SO GOOD! 🤩🤩🤩 Definitely one of my favorite scenes in the entire drama!! <3

      Second, I SO agree on how this would have felt more pure and more powerful, if they had recalibrated Yi Seo's relationship with Sae Ro Yi, to be platonic. Soul mates who appreciate each other and support each other, but who don't require reciprocal romantic love in order to love. I would have found that much more organic, and also, I think, much more moving. 🤩 I so wish writer-nim would’ve felt the same way we do! 😅

      Reply
  15. luminus

    Thanks for the review @kfangurl!

    I have read quite a few of your review, and I tend to agree with you. This one is no different.

    I really enjoyed the Show pre the time jump. Thereafter, it seemed rushed and a bit jarring, and so I did not feel as deeply invested in the characters and the cause as I had been before. However, it was a positive experience, and I really enjoyed the soundtrack as well.

    Two points:

    1. Re Guen Soo’s trip to the dark side; I felt that he as much as he kept saying he went to Jangga Co in order to win Yi Seo, he knew that her accepting him was a non-issue. My take is that in Yi Seo in suggesting that he take Jangga Co gave him the nudge he needed to fight for something.., to be acknowledged by his father. For someone who was considered second-rate all of his life, and encouraged not to want or aspire for anything, I think seeing Sae Ro Yi claw his way from nothing would – no doubt – be an inspiration for Guen Soo to try to make his own mark in the world.

    2. Re the Sae Ro Yi / Yi Seo loveline: That definitely felt rushed on Sae Ro Yi’s part, as it was packed in the last 3 episodes. In earlier episodes, it could be argued that there were slight inklings that Sae Ro Yi liked Yi Seo more than just a colleague or in a familial manner – a lingering glance here and there, and his concern for her in some instances – but without something prompting us, the viewers, to recognise that, it would not have been plausible for us to make that leap. Perhaps if one or more of people had drawn it to Sae Ro Yi’s attention in some of the earlier episodes, even if he denied it but somehow looked conflicted (e.g. by rubbing his head), at least the seeds would have been sown, as opposed to waiting until Seung Kwon points it out to him as he is leaving the hospital in episode 13.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hi there luminus! So glad we feel similarly about the show – thanks for enjoying the review! <3

      I like your take on Geun Soo's trip to the dark side.. I prefer the idea that he finally felt the urge to fight for a place in the world, to be accepted by his father, than what Show told us, that he went there just because of what Yi Seo said. This alternative feels much more substantial and believable, I feel. I would've bought his decision a lot more, if Show had at least alluded to this.

      That's true, I noticed the little hints that Show was serving up, but only because I was looking out for them. And even then, I didn't find them very convincing. So yeah, I agree it would have at least helped, if other characters had been shown to notice his growing feelings or something similar. I still prefer the idea of Sae Ro Yi and Yi Seo being platonic soul mates though. Gosh I keep saying that! I feel like the Grinch who's trying to steal Romance, HA! 😆

      Reply
    2. zxcmp3

      I totally agree. The whole time I wasn’t really sure about what direction the OTP was headed because Saeroyi and Yi Seo’s relationship felt platonic at best. I liked them together but as friends as that felt more organic. I couldn’t even root for them like I normally would with other OTP’s. I tend to go for romance centred dramas (which Itaewon class was not I watched it because of psj♥️) and I love when the ship realises their feelings for each other but it was so underwhelming in itaewon class,I would’ve enjoyed it so much more without it despite that being one of the things I really look forward to when I watch kdramas.

      Back to my point on it not feeling organic. It would have been better to see Saeroyi struggling with his feelings for Yi Seo from the earlier episodes and being conflicted with the nature of his feelings. Then him realising that it doesn’t matter anyway because he loves her. That would’ve been so much more swoon worthy , instead we got something that didn’t feel natural.

      Reply
      1. kfangurl

        I’m with you, liability (though here you’re listed as zxcmp3, for some reason 🤔) – I think the relationship between Sae Ro Yi and Yi Seo would’ve felt more natural if they’d kept it platonic. I know they’re trying to please romance fans, but like you said, it didn’t feel natural to watch. And anyway, I’d like more shows to celebrate platonic relationships. I feel like those can be so moving in their own way. 🙂

        Reply
  16. Larius24

    Love how we are opposites again 🙂
    Dropped the drama after 3 episodes… characters are not likeable…
    Kim Da mi’s character is the worst for me. And her acting is meeeeeh.
    Would have watched it for PSJ but even he can’t save this one…

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hahaha! I dunno, Larius! Are we opposite twins?! 😆 I think the characters do grow on you as you go, like Kim Da Mi’s character, and the team also becomes more endearing as you go as well. But, again, if it doesn’t work for you, no point in forcing it! If you weren’t feeling it, then it was probably a good decision to drop out early than be frustrated for 16 eps! 😅

      Since we seem to have quite different tastes, have you tried Chief Kim? I don’t think it’s for me, but lots of folks love it, so I’m wondering if it’ll be something you’d like? 🙂

      Reply
      1. Larius24

        Maybe we are 😀
        Yeah the whole thugs vs thugs concept is just not mine and the characters seem pretty dull, maybe they would grow on me but probably not ….

        Yes It is one of my all time faves… Nam Gung min is awesome in it 🙂

        Reply
        1. kfangurl

          Ah, since you like Nam Goong Min, AND you seem to like shows that don’t seem to work for me, how about Beautiful Gong Shim? Nam Goong Min was in it, and I tried to like it, and dropped out partway. If you haven’t seen it, maybe it’s worth a try? 😀

          Reply
  17. Luna

    I decided to watch this show solely for the diversity, which is so rare in Korean dramas, but in the end came away pretty disappointed. I just don’t feel any depth to these characters, as if instead of a full personality all they have is one character treat – the black one, the trans one, the ex-convict. At least, Hyun Yi’s story is fairly well done (if rather unbelieveable, going from passable cook to top of the country in very little time, because… she made up her mind or something?), but even she doesn’t have much to her other than her trans identity. Tony on the other hand is like a puppet, brought out of his box when the plot needs him and then promptly put away again. In a Western show, I would call it horrible tokenism; but for Korea I guess even this poor representation is a step forward.

    I’m not sure if Yi Seo was meant to be representative of neurodiversity, but she doesn’t come away as that, just as an inconsiderate and bratty girl who, of course, learns to be better because of True Love. Yawn. But I loved her fierce personality nonetheless. Paraphrasing Firefly, somebody ever tries to slap you, you try to slap them right back! 😉

    I have no idea why, but the chairman’s older son, once his hair was dark and slicked back, really reminded me of a Twilight character. I worked hard to forget that trashfire but I don’t think any of the sparkly vampires actually had Asian features, so it doesn’t make any sense, but it was a deja vu feeling that kept taking me out of the drama…

    Altogether, Itaewon Class is clearly plot driven rather than character driven drama (i.e. it’s not for me), and rather clunkily put together at that. There are some really ugly bits, like that stolen kiss which is painted as romantic rather than the sexual harassment it actually was. It deserves points for trying to shine some light on the plight of minorities, but sadly the execution fell short, for me. Still it makes me happy that the ratings were so high, because at least it proved that diversity is not a turnoff for the Korean audience, so in the future I hope better writers will pick up the torch.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Hm.. that’s true, that Itaewon Class could’ve fleshed out the characters more.. that would have made it a true ensemble drama. I don’t know if it was trying to be an ensemble drama though, despite the packaging. It began as Sae Ro Yi’s story – and then he collected this found family along the way, and it’s heartwarming stuff, which I enjoyed – but at the end, it’s not the ensemble that gets the spotlight, it’s Sae Ro Yi’s personal situation that gets the spotlight. We see him and new girlfriend Yi Seo cuddling and dating and canoodling, and the rest of the gang is relegated to the background. Thinking of it that way, I suspect that even though it feels a lot like an ensemble drama, that Show always thought of itself as Sae Ro Yi’s story. That could explain why the ensemble of characters aren’t fleshed out enough.. 🤔

      As for Hyun Yi, I decided that her improvements in the kitchen weren’t just due to her determination, but because of consistent feedback which was given by Yi Seo. I personally think feedback can do wonders, and Yi Seo is painted as being very savvy about what works and doesn’t, in the restaurant scene. I rationalized that Hyun Yi’s determination to learn, and her openness to feedback, combined to make her the excellent chef that she became. And because I always advocate feedback, I’d like to believe that this was actually possible. 🙂

      Yes, for a conservative audience like Korea, I do agree that this cast enjoying popularity is actually a positive step in the right direction. Something to be glad about indeed. 🙂

      Reply
      1. Luna

        Thanks for reminding me of Yi Seo’s feedback! It gave me a new view on the scene that finally works for me. 🙂 I consider gourmet cooking as an art, half innate talent and half hard work for many years, not something that can be fast tracked. However, if I think of it not so much as improving Hyun Yi’s skills, but more as the girls cooperating to develop the recipes of DanBam, it fits in the time frame and makes good use of Yi Seo’s refined palate. And it makes perfect sense because we are not talking about a Michelin star restaurant built around one exceptional chef, this is a pub meant to be the first of a franchise. So what they really need is unique recipes that can be the same high quality in each location.

        Reply
        1. kfangurl

          Yay that that helped! 😀 And you’re right, she didn’t become a top gourmet chef. But she did become a great chef who knew how to execute some excellent dishes that had been tweaked uniquely to appeal to customers. 🙂 A great team effort indeed! <3

          Reply
  18. soumya108

    So, finally I get a review of this. You have written such a great review once again,

    I enjoyed the show but as you said the show became way too dramatic in the end. I mean it could have done a lot better without that kidnapping arc and getting beaten up kind of storyline. I felt the end was more about adding a lot of spices to make it more entertaining. All in all I enjoyed the show a lot and just loved park sae ro yi. I hated soo ah a lot I mean a lot. She was practical I get that but contemplating a call to police was just so so heartless. My heart started hating her from that very moment. Even at the end what she did like a redemption didn’t get her any bonus points. *sigh*.

    Kim Dami as yi seo was a treat to watch. It was quite refreshing for female lead so I really enjoyed her. Badass , Sassy and so feisty she was a complete entertainment package. She wasn’t a sociopath rather it is said she was at the brink of becoming one but I guess sae ro yi love changes and softens her a bit.

    Jang dae hee shines as the antagonist. I literally loved to hate him. He is such a heartless fellow that felt like smashing my screen whenever he appeared. Credits to the actor he executed the character so so well.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Aw, thanks for your patience, soumya, I’m glad you found this review worth the wait! <3

      Yes, I agree the ending was all about amping up the drama to spice things up.. I personally didn't prefer that, but some folks did, so maybe they're onto something! 😉 Yeah, I hated that Soo Ah actually dialed the police. Also, I know she's written to have not reported DanBam for serving minors, but the original scene where she stood by and watched the police enter DanBam, seemed heavily skewed towards hinting that she was the one who called the cops. I didn't think that was well done; it felt like a bait and switch, which I didn't like.

      I don't know much about sociopaths, but I'd hazard a guess that a true sociopath wouldn't be able to fall in love like Yi Seo did, or suddenly develop sympathy for people because of the power of love.. I'm guessing that Show took some artistic liberties on that one. 🤔 And OH YES. Yoo Jae Myung was AMAZING as Chairman Jang! I've never seen Yoo Jae Myung like that! 🤯😱

      Reply
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