I’ve always been a fan of dramas both in Korea and the Philippines that center on high school or college-aged students. Mostly because it’s great seeing some of the best young talent show their stuff.
But also because the school environment is ripe for some great storytelling.
KBS’ School 2013 aims to do just that, depicting the shocking and maybe sad realities of today’s youth and education system.
Now first off, for me, I’ve seen two Korean high school dramas in God of Study/Master of Study and Jungle Fish 2. Three if you count the thriller White Christmas, but I think that series is on a completely different playing field.
God of Study was a lighthearted, but inspirational drama about a group of loveable misfits who not only learn to appreciate school, but also realize the right to follow their dreams, whatever they may be.
Meanwhile Jungle Fish 2 was a darker, less fun, but maybe more realistic look at the stress and angst of high school and teen life juxtaposed with the mysterious murder of one of the students. That part may not be common place in real life Seoul (or maybe it is? I wouldn’t know), but the complicated relationships and stress to get the grades are very much common no matter what country.
However, School 2013 is a much more straightforward story. At least after four episodes, it is a gritty and unflinching look at today’s school as politics system, student apathy, and the ever-prevalent bullying and gang mentality.
With some soapy dramatic flair of course.
While God of Study and Jungle Fish 2 had a clear endgame, School 2013 is much more a slice of life series. The first four episodes haven’t really had a clear direction other than dropping the viewer right into the lives of these students.
And because it is a large ensemble of students, led by Lee Jong Suk as Go Nam Soo, we’re only just learning about them without much indication yet of who they are and where they come from. That almost takes the series in a whole other direction.
But thankfully, Jang Nara as teacher Jung In Jae grounds the series and is the heart of the story, both practically and emotionally.
Practical in the sense that as the teacher, she has relationships with, therefore connecting, all the students. But emotionally as well because the series is as much about teacher Jung’s struggle to make school mean something to these kids and wanting to do right for them as it is about the students’ own teen angst.
If anything, hopping along for teacher Jung’s journey will help serve as a window to the lives of the students. And Jang Nara is such a likeable and talented actress that you are immediately drawn to her efforts and want to see her succeed.
I was excited when news first came out that Jang Nara would be reuniting with her Babyfaced Beauty partner in uber-kilig and romantic crime Choi Daniel. But so far on School 2013, their possible and maybe eventual romantic relationship takes a far backseat to everything else. And I’m perfectly fine with that.
The students have so far been given typical high school material which the young cast has done fine with, but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing them get into the deeper stuff as the series moves along.
What is definitely evident from the first four episodes is that the series is definitely not shying away from anything. And that’s definitely intriguing moving forward and maybe even a little scary.
Real life can be very scary sometimes. And School 2013 is well positioned to bring those scary, but real everyday high school situations to dramatic life on the small screen.