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-
WHERE TO WATCH: