Another recent teen-centric KBS Drama Special was Middle School Student A about a transfer student, Hae Joon (Kwak Dong Yun) who provokes the top student in the class after he bumps her from her #1 ranking.
The theme and unfortunate reality of young Koreans being pressured about excelling in school has been depicted in various types of stories from drama to comedy to horror. Teens feeling trapped by their parents’ expectations and the nasty competition between the students themselves, high school life in Korea appears to be pretty dramatic. And the themes are certainly not restricted to South Korea.
It is a worthy theme to explore and Middle School Student A even touches on the growing problem of suicide in Korea.
But while the drama takes a dark turn in the last third, it starts off like a typical and cliche-ridden teen romance.
Kwak Dong Yun essentially plays the same character he effortlessly played in another KBS Drama Special, Adolescence Medley; the role of the young, charming, maybe naive lovesick teen.
Here, the object of his affection is Eun Seo (Lee Yul Eum), the top ranked in the class who decides to make Hae Joon’s life a living hell for daring to snag the #1 spot. Part of that plan, for example, includes trying to seduce him into touching her boobs. Unfortunately, Eun Seo soon gets in way over her head and suddenly she goes from bitchy bully to poor victim.
There’s a bit of tonal whiplash throughout the hour that the drama never quite gets the hang of. There’s a perfectly intriguing premise in the story, but it isn’t laid out very well and it in turn dilutes both the romantic angle and the darker, more serious side.
And that is definitely sad since it appears to have the talent and a good foundation, but not everything came together well enough.
Still, attempting such a dark story on Korean broadcast television, even if late at night, is a ballsy thing to do. It’s definitely a topic that much of the Korean public and the government seems to be very squeamish about. But it is one that is important to discuss and if it takes a television drama to provoke discussion, then kudos.
But hopefully next time, it takes more than just an admirable effort that falls short.
You can watch the entire episode here: