School 2013: the Review

school2013 photo K-DramaSchool2013EnglishSubtitle_zps2bda62c5.jpgSchool 2013
air date: 12.03.2012 through 1.29.2013
number of eps: 16
I watched it: increasingly addicted marathon

In a nutshell: Oh, the heady, heady draw of a good bromance. Boy, did this drama know how to get their audience and keep their audience. Not that bromance was what this drama was about (which would be, current issues and challenges facing high-school students and their teachers), but it’s certainly what brought all the buzz to the yard. And wisely, the storytellers ran with it. Which meant I adored part of the story and felt a bit meh about other parts. But the good outweighed the bad(dish) and in the end I’m really glad I gave it a go.

s2013gns photo photo263325_zpsc6f4e4ce.jpgThe Awesome: It began with Lee Jung-suk playing high-schooler, Go Nam-soon, an ancient soul with the calm, unruffled air of someone who’s seen it all before. Petty high-school shenanigans did not bother him and he ducked and weaved his way through the everyday indignities of high-school life with a grace that had me intrigued from his first scene.

Then Kim Woo-bin (a White Christmas alum) arrived in ep. 3, playing transfer student, Park Heung-soo. s2013phs photo 6fb67_school04-00088_zps56a79aec.jpgHis effect on Nam-soon was immediate and electrifying and the drama did an excellent job teasing out the story between the two boys: where they’d been, where they wanted to go, how they were going to get there. I enjoyed their story from beginning to end and it frankly made School 2013 worth the watch all on its own.

Bonus Awesome: Another White Christmas alum (my most favorite drama from which many good actors have sprung, hence my constant mention), Kwak Jung-wook, played the ubiquitous school bully. I was happy to see him playing against type (he’d been the bullied in other dramas), and happy to see him handling the role so well. His Oh Jung-ho was seriously intimidating. s2013thethree photo 65611644_zpsbb732150.jpgThere’s a scene early on when he clashes with a teacher, where I honestly feared the outcome because he came at it with such viciousness.

So he was handling the antagonist role quite well, and I was pleased and then it got kicked up a notch. Instead of keeping Jung-ho and his two minions as typecast, we got to dive into what made them tick. Why were his minions so loyal, why was he so angry, what motivated them? Their story folded in nicely with Nam-soon and Heung-soo, adding a rich undertone to that original story, but also creating an arc of their own. It was completely unexpected and I adored that the drama went there.

Didn’t quite work for me, but I got why it was there: The teachers’ stories were a little… dry, for me. Especially compared with the awesome student storylines above. Much as it seems like while you’re in school, the teachers didn’t really exist outside the school doors. They each represented a type (jaded, probably been here too long, teacher; scary strict but secretly awesome teacher; Yoda). Even our two main teachers were more types than full fledged characters, with Jung In-jae (played by Jang Na-ra) as the heart, and Kang Se-chan (played by Choi Daniel) as the brain.

Plus, there was a lot of “pause for insightful commentary” where the teachers dutifully took opposing sides of various how-to-teach arguments or explained the challenges of teaching in this modern world. None of which I’m all that interested in. But, teaching in this modern world is the purpose of the drama — dealing with current issues faced by students and teachers is what viewers are signing up for. s2013teach photo school-2013-4_zpsae84b2c5.jpgSo while it didn’t float my boat, it’s not like I can really complain that it was there.

Also, I really appreciated what the actors brought to their characters. Choi Daniel and Jang Na-ra especially, managed to put a lot of life and heart into their roles. Though we never saw it in-drama, they still gave us a sense that these characters breathed past the school doors. And the drama took full advantage of their chemistry, throwing them together as often as possible. The teacher storylines still weren’t my favorite, but they didn’t bore me.

The Big Disappointment: The girls were ignored. Especially when compared to the loving story-arcs the boys got. Which was too bad. Because they also had intriguing characters and actors I admire who could have handled much juicer roles. And it made some unfortunate implications (inadvertently, I’m sure) s2013class photo SCHOOL2013-1010_zps8a423e58.jpgthat girl-bullies are just bad to the core and have no chance of redemption, while boy-bullies have squishy, marshmallow hearts beneath their bravado and are worthy of effort.

My hope is that the next “School” drama (I think this is planned as part of an on-going series?) will rectify that. Because, even while I loved it, I suspect the popularity and depth of the original bromance ate up other storylines. And while the secondary story arc, involving the boy-bullies, worked with the bromance, I don’t think any of the girls’ stories would have fit into it as gracefully. And there were some nice stand-alone stories about the girls sprinkled throughout. (It was those brief glimpses that made the lack of any real story arc so frustrating, actually.)  So I think there was an intention to explore the girls’ issues as well, just the timing didn’t work. And that made me sad.

In Conclusion: This was a drama that shouldn’t have worked for me. But, because of the chemistry between Lee Jong-suk and Kim Woo-bin, and because their story was told so well, I fell for it hard. There were flaws, definitely, but there were also unexpected flashes of brilliance. And it’s for that brilliance that I’m glad I watched.

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13 thoughts on “School 2013: the Review

  1. i completely agree with the point that the girls were ignored…..

    hey, I didn’t know that Kwak Jung-wook was bullied by others in other shows….as I haven’t seen any…..wow, that is so amazing as he played this part so well here that I can’t imagine that :0

    • In White Christmas he was totally a bully-magnate (and hated, hated, hated it). Oh, and Kim Woo-bin’s character kind of, sort of looked out for him. If you squint. Really, it’s more his character liked to bully the bully who bullied Kawk Jung-wook’s character. (Simple, really. ;)) And then in Shut Up: Flower Boy Band he wasn’t bullied, but if he’d been in this high-school, his character probably would have been.

      i completely agree with the point that the girls were ignored…..

      Yeah. It was the one thing that bothered me once it was all over.

  2. Yes, I agree… the girls kinda got shafted and it is a pity. There was enough story under the surface for a proper arch for them too but I guess it just didn’t fit in. One could say that the bromances overshadowed everything else. Well, they were rather awesome. 🙂 Lee Jung-suk and Kim Woo-bin being pals for real added an extra dimension to that ‘pairing’. Looks like the ‘triumvirate’ bonded in real life too.

    Kwak Jung-wook…. love that kid! I’ve been keeping tabs on him for a while now and I really hope he’ll finally start getting proper adult roles. He’s another one of those jobbing actors who has gone the long route; starting his carreer when he was a child (just look a that cutie!) and moving slowly towards bigger roles. Btw. did you notice that he played the teen version of UTW’s character in Resurrection and the teen version of JJH’s character in Mawang? ^^

    There are quite a few talented youngsters who have been coming to the fore in the past few years. The likes of LMH et al will soon have plenty of competition, me thinks.

    • Part of the reason I’m not full on outraged is I do think it was a question of time. I really got the impression (based on rumors that there was supposed to be a romance story that got dropped) that the popularity of the bromance took everyone by surprise and the stories got shifted around for that reason. So I don’t think it was an ignorant forgetting of the girls, just they’re the ones who paid for the bromance to happen. (I did not know LJS and KWB are friends. Explains the chemistry. Well, that and I think they’re both good actors. Which always helps.)

      And, oh my gosh, what cute pics! Such a little cutie! I did recognize him from Resurrection but did not realize he was the young JJH in Mawang. That’s a cool resume right there! Weird that he’s been this close to acting with UTW that many times. He’s been picking his projects very wisely. I think we’ll be seeing him in interesting roles for a long, long time. (His wisdom in picking and the variety of roles he’s played tells me he’s in this business for the long haul. Lucky us! :D)

      • All of these youngsters seem to have a good head on their shoulders when it comes to picking up projects. I’ve enjoyed reading their interviews. Yup, I hope to see more of all of ’em in the future.

        KJW was also in QSD as one of the young hwarangs, so there’s another UTW connection. 😀

        • Heh. I’ve come to realize that the S.Korean entertainment world is a small (relatively-speaking) one. It’s like spotting all the familiar Vancouver-based actors on sci-fi shows in the US. 😉

          It’s always so good to see promising talent making such wise decisions. With all the stuff about the bad aspects of the various management companies, I think this points to a few good places being out there.

      • Well, KJW is the sole actor in Woollim, which is more known for their music side (e.g Nell, Infinite) and they are supposedly a pretty good company to be in. He seems to be quite pally with the Infinite boys. He used to train with them. Well, aren’t I the fount of useless info, LOL!

        • Wait a minute, wait a minute — so you’re saying KJW is represented by Jo Jung-suk? 😉 (Couldn’t resist the You’re the Best Lee Soon Shin joke — sorry.)

          Also, useless information is the best kind of information! I stand by that statement faithfully. If it weren’t so, why would I carry so much around? 😉 (I may be getting a little punch-drunk. It’s been a long week.)

  3. Thanks BetsyHP for this post, another well-written capsule of a k-drama. 🙂
    I have not yet watched this drama, nor have read any of the written recaps from other blogs. But after reading your post (which again help piqued my interest in another k-drama), and reading this news from the KBS World site: http://english.kbs.co.kr/about/Latest_at.html?No=8525, I’ll add this to my growing to-watch list…I think I’ll move up this drama from my list, after remembering how I enjoyed the “bromance” in Man of Equator. 😉

    P.S. Although I’m a relatively new k-drama fan, I noticed that I can only name a few k-dramas that focused on the female character(s) story from start to finish (e.g. Dae Jang Geum, Queen Seon Duk, Cinderella Sister). It’s almost like k-dramas tend to be male-character-story centric. For example, in the recent Alice in Cheomdamdong drama, I felt the story progressed by focusing more on the journey and character of Cha Seung Jo, instead of Han Se Kyung, aka Alice, who I thought was what the drama was all about. So, it is not surprising to read that School 2013 did not show more of the girls’ issues, and focused instead of the boys’ characters.

    • Although I’m a relatively new k-drama fan, I noticed that I can only name a few k-dramas that focused on the female character(s) story from start to finish…

      That’s a storytelling challenge that hits more than just Korea, I think. The thought is that women will watch both stories that focus on men or women, while men will only watch stories that focus on men. So the audience for male-centric stories is bigger. (I think statistics support that idea, but I can’t source it so… I do know the Hunger Games movie was cited as exception to that rule, which had everyone really excited. First female-lead movie to hit such blockbuster heights.)

      There definitely are female-centric k-dramas out there — the ones you list, Twelve Men in a Year, …maybe Can We Get Married? in that the women’s stories were as important as the men’s stories. But yeah, the bulk of what I’ve seen tend to have either both or focus more on the guys. (Of course that could also be something I’m creating myself by what I watch.)

      Though I’ll also say that rom-coms do tend to place importance on the female character’s journey. Like in Flower Boy Next Door or Flower Boy Ramyun Shop or even AiCCD. The male character’s journey is important, too. But the female is much more than just a cheering bystander.

      And wow! Long reply is long! I’ll stop now. 😀

      • Thanks much BetsyHP for your thoughtful reply. I appreciate all your replies not only to my comment but to others as well. After posting my comment above, it dawned on me that my observation is indeed not unique to Korea, as you’ve pointed out. This is because we live in a world where guys tend to rule most of the time. 😦 …It’s interesting you mentioned Hunger Games movie because I became a fan of the movie and the books, only because my Dad was a fan first. He’s the one who introduced me to it and to Jennifer Lawrence! So, my Dad is one stat that proved the said exception to the rule. LOL. Have a good weekend! 🙂

  4. Pingback: Drama Review: Medley of Youth | Creating Volumes

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