Flash Review: The Red Teacher [Drama Special]

You guys. I really, really enjoyed this little show.

It’s only 1 hour and 16 minutes long, yet manages to feel like a full story. Plus, it manages to feel fresh and different from most other drama offerings as well. On top of this, I felt completely absorbed during my watch, too.

What more could one ask for, from a little drama special, right?

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

It’s the year 1985, and the government is cracking down on the possession of banned books, which includes erotic literature. Kim Tae Nam (Lee Dong Hwi) is a teacher at an all-girls high school, and one day, he comes upon a banned erotic book at a secondhand bookstore. Hijinks and happenings ensue.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS

Here are a couple of things that I think might be helpful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch.

1. Our characters need time to grow. In particular, you might not take to Tae Nam right away, since he starts out as a teacher that is all-around hated by his students. But he does show growth over the course of our story.

2. This is not a romance. There are lashings of romance in this thanks to our story within the story, but our main narrative is more a story of personal growth and personal journey.

3. This is 1985 Korea. There are things in our story world that might be hard for modern eyes to accept, such as it being a norm for students to be beaten by teachers as a form of discipline. On top of this, there is a delicate and volatile political background to our story. Importantly, Show doesn’t endorse all of this as ideal or correct, and it is stuff that is organic to our story world.

STUFF I LIKED

1. Lee Dong Hwi as Kim Tae Nam. Lee Dong Hwi’s one of those actors that tends to always play supporting roles, and it was great to see him in a lead role. I thought he was pitch perfect as Teacher Kim, and in particular, I found his secret joy while reading the forbidden book both dorky and quite cute. His struggle to reconcile his changing values with his prescribed duties was very well brought out, I felt.

2. Jung So Min as Soon Deok. Jung So Min is perfectly cast as Soon Deok. She’s the perfect combination of feisty yet earnest; vulnerable yet defiant. One of the things that strikes me about Soon Deok, is how bold and forthright she is, even in front of figures of authority, and even when she’s scared.

3. Show feels like a great time capsule. I thought Show does a fantastic job recreating the 1980s feels, from costumes to sets to the general vibe of the society in which our story world exists. I enjoyed the experience of being taken through this time capsule a lot.

4. The story within a story is compelling. We get glimpses of the story that lies within the pages of the forbidden book, and I gotta say, Show does a great job of making it feel interesting and quite thrilling, even though all we get are essentially snippets of story. I felt as entranced by this story, as our characters, and wanted to know what happened next too.

5. There is meaningful growth for our characters. I like that we get to see growth not only in Tae Nam, but in Soon Deok as well. Plus, the growth does feel believable and organic to my eyes, and this made the watch journey feel worthwhile.

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

In the end, it makes a lot of sense to me that Tae Nam makes the choice to take the fall for Soon Deok, in order to protect her. It’s not an easy decision, and it comes at a high price to Tae Nam himself, but it really does feel like the only choice that is available to him, if he wants to keep on protecting Soon Deok. After all, the police are ready to take her away, even though there is no evidence that Soon Deok had written those books.

Plus, there’s probably also the thought, that if he had never discarded the forbidden book so carelessly to begin with, Soon Deok wouldn’t have come upon it, and none of this would have ever happened. I feel like Tae Nam’s decision was probably also colored by this thought, that he had been – albeit unintentionally – responsible for this entire sequence of events.

The fact that Tae Nam feels the need to take responsibility, as well as to protect Soon Deok, shows how much he’s grown, both as a teacher and as a person. As a person, I don’t think he could live with his conscience, if he were to allow Soon Deok to take the fall for something that he’d started, even if he’d started it accidentally. And as a teacher, he sees her talent, her youth, and her potential, and he just can’t bear to have all that snuffed out, before his own eyes.

It’s good to see that, thanks to Tae Nam’s sacrifice, Soon Deok gets to graduate high school without incident. I’m glad that she comes upon that letter that Tae Nam had hidden in the box holding his award, and realizes that he had been her guardian angel all along. He’d been the one to swop out the typewriter, and he’d been the one writing letters to her, encouraging her and wishing her well.

I’m also glad to see that, even though Tae Nam has had to switch to teaching at an academy where the hours are longer and the pay is less, he’s safe, and is able to make an honest living. Plus, it’s great to see that his entire approach to blind dates has changed. He’s no longer only interested in what his potential partner can give him; he’s upfront and honest about the downsides of being with someone like him. It’s heartening to see that his latest blind date likes his honesty enough, that she’d like to see him again. Aw. And here he was, ready to retreat, believing that no woman would find him an attractive match.

Most of all, I’m glad that Soon Deok manages to find Tae Nam again, after all this time. We don’t get to see what they talk about, but we do get to see her address him as “Teacher,” which is something that she had refused to do back in high school, when she’d viewed him with contempt. What a great way to communicate her change of mind, heart and perspective, with the heartfelt utterance of a single word. Such heartfelt respect, so hard-won and so well-earned, demonstrating so much growth, both for the speaker, and the hearer. I love it. ❤️

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Heartwarming and meaningful, with lashings of funny and poignance.

FINAL GRADE: A-

TRAILER:

WHERE TO WATCH:

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BE
BE
1 month ago

Thanks for this tip. I feel your taking on reviewing these specials has been a big plus for your followers here, certainly me, and for enlarging the scope of this blogsite.
Story was perfectly done. Hard to think of any who do period pieces that are pretty uncompromising and unvarnished in their critique of their own nation’s political history than the South Koreans. And it is amazing to think show was about a period only thirty years ago.
While the big serials tend to rely on star leads among the young actors, such is not always the case in specials such as this where a very good character actor can shine, such as Lee Dong Hwi, who while certainly just about the least of the teen actors from Reply 1988 has to be at the same time just about the most memorable (I remember all the stars who have gone on to big things, and yet Lee Dong Hwi and Ahn Jae Hong for some reason stick in my mind more; there was just more flavor and particularity to them).
The show is so cogent and tightly, but imaginatively composed and editied, hard to find a single flaw.

Spoiler
And aside from all that I do love, such South Korean tv, when we first meet our story within the story paramours on a train, and the woman drops her copy of Anna Karennina on the floor, and her young gallant queries her about the novel, stating he had only read part way, and asking was it good enough to finish, she responds by telling him the ending is a sad one (my goodness, is it ever) and asks if then, would he be willing to continue. And then, with delightful irony not only does their story have a happy ending but the story of Tae Nam and Seon Deok which could have gone all sorts of horrific sideways also has a happy one unlike Tolstoy’s Anna who throws herself onto train tracks before an oncoming train at the horror and despair of the upshot of her choice to follow her heart against the sick confines of her place and time.

Last edited 1 month ago by kfangurl
reaper
reaper
1 month ago

I actually liked this one even tho I had my doubts.
Acting was spot on from everyone.
The side characters were the perfect comedic relieve. I mean just the “banana” part had me rolling.
For some reason even before Tae Nam changed I felt for him. I mean he probably grew up being indoctrinated with all that commies are bad stuff. And he was just trying to get by. Not every wants to be a hero and make their own lifes complicated for others or the greater good.
Soon Deok had a bit of a double standard going on. She didn’t like the way Tae Nam treated everybody but she kind of did the same to her mum. “Be careful with the typewriter”… throws it on the bed. “Don’t take the side ladder”… lies to her and takes it anyway. I mean I get the bold, I don’t care mentality but come on… stick to your own principals

The stick punishment scene reminded me of the day my physical ed. teacher punched me in the face that was like 7 years ago xD

The gradual change in Tae Nam was a bit more believable than Soon Deoks.
I mean finding that letter in such a place is already a bit iffy and then that sudden realization… she didn’t care before but now she does?

Natalia
Natalia
1 month ago

This one is going on my watch list!
The 80’s must have been a pretty bad time for Korea, I think I need to do some reading on that. Banned books? I’ve only seen thin in Joseon era dramas so far. But the 80’s? On the other hand, it seems they have come a long way in the last 40 years, so good on them.

seankfletcher
seankfletcher
1 month ago

Your review does make show sound like an engaging viewing experience, kfangurl. Other watchers have made very similar comments to your observations. I have now put this show on my watch list.

I can still remember some teachers where I am, taking matters into their own hands. I can also remember when canning was subsequently banned from use in the public system. However, the catholic system still used straps for quite some time afterwards.

There were many funny moments during such punishments, though. I recall one day looking out over the roof of the catholic college I attended in Year 11 and spotting all these very worn and weathered leather straps. They were the straps the recipients either grabbed hold of during their punishment and when running away, threw them up on the roof, or alternatively, they were ones systematically “removed” by other students. I remember watching one such escapade where the student was successful in his escape and the deputy principal, during the pursuit, issuing the appropriate expletives 😊

seankfletcher
seankfletcher
1 month ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Thanks kfangurl. Yes, my college memories (let alone my university ones) would make an excellent drama. Like the time I was at the Cathederal main enterance in a stand off between myself and a certain formidable Presentation Sister (Nun) with the senior years from both the girls school and the boys school lined up behind her and everyone holding their breath (and mumbling under their breath, idiot). I had a thing about injustice back thing (I still do, I guess). It outplayed anything delivered in Sky Castle and the like. I can’t remember where the priests and the brothers were, ducking for cover I guess 😂

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
1 month ago
Reply to  seankfletcher

I learned from 1st grade to never underestimate the arm strength of a nun.

seankfletcher
seankfletcher
1 month ago
Reply to  phl1rxd

I have visions of the Blues Brothers, phl 😂🤣😂

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
1 month ago
Reply to  seankfletcher

Sean – LOL!

Ours carried their own personal steel rulers everywhere they went. You know, readiness…

Last edited 1 month ago by phl1rxd