The KBS Drama Special has been home to some of Korean television’s most envelope-pushing and experimental storytelling. And being on a national public broadcast network as opposed to a cable network, that’s a pretty big feat to accomplish. The 2020 slate of the KBS Drama Special again features some unique stories. And To My Assailant (나의 가해자에게) is one of them. Though tackling a familiar theme, the episode brings to light a different side of an all too familiar issue in a way that is enlightening and engaging.
Song Jin Woo (Kim Dae Gun) is a contract teacher at an all-girls high school. He finally gets an opportunity this school year to earn a permanent position. But he encounters a bump in the road when Hee Jin (Woo Da Vi), the granddaughter of the school’s chairman, attempts to manipulate him into enabling her bullying of classmate Eun Seo (Lee Yeon). The situation reminds him of painful memories from his own experience with school violence. And it all comes roaring back when the new teacher, Yoo Sung Pil (Moon Yoo Kang), that threatens his permanent position is the very person that bullied him.
The episode touches on familiar themes relating to school violence such as the complicity of teachers, corruption and herd mentality and peer pressure. But what the episode offers is seeing the effects of bullying and school violence on the victim long after their time in high school. Rarely do we get to see that side of the story as most high school-set stories start and end in high school.
To My Assailant tells Jin Woo’s story as he still carries the pain of his high school experience and is now forced to relive it again with his assailant now a colleague and one of his students now going through the same.
The episode does a great job of expressing Jin Woo’s conflicted emotions. He is sincere as he reaches out to his students and tries to be the bigger person in the situation against his former assailant. But it isn’t as black and white as it may seem. And Jin Woo must find a way to navigate the tense situation while stopping himself from perhaps becoming the person that hurt him the most.
Having to express these different emotions in a short amount of time, Kim Dae Gun delivers a strong performance. Allowing the audience to connect to his character and care about him is a big task, but he accomplishes that easily.
Lee Yeon as Eun Seo, the victim of the present-day bullying, is also a standout as she also must carefully bring to life a deep, multi-layered character. Eun Seo is no caricature. And Lee Yeon is able to do well with making Eun Seo that much more of a full character with her performance.
The episode’s rising tension is palpable. It’s hard not to be affected by the tough situations presented on screen. And it all climaxes in an unexpected, but wholly satisfying way. Being able to tackle a difficult topic in a different and refreshing way while still being accessible and impactful, the episode To My Assailant is another excellent presentation from the KBS Drama Special banner.