The 2020 JTBC series Live On (라이브온) feels very familiar. Tackling school violence and bullying, Live On treads familiar territory. Though it is a noble effort and the continued spotlight on the unfortunate all-too-common reality is quite necessary in today’s Korea, the series somehow falls short and ends up being a middling effort overall.
Live On feels very tired and the way it settles for a middle-of-the-road approach is actually very frustrating. The series’ eight episodes are a positive aspect as any more than eight would feel excessively unnecessary. Even at half the length of a usual drama series, Live On still feels slow and repetitive at times. One wonders if it could’ve been even shorter and more succinct while still having the same amount of development and depth contained in these eight episodes.
Live On is essentially a quick slice of life story following a group of high school students. It centers on Baek Ho Rang (Jung Da Bin), a popular social media influencer who is condescending and cold in person to almost everyone around her. She joins her school’s broadcasting club in order to find the person trying to expose a seemingly traumatic secret from her past.
In joining the club, she meets Ko Eun Taek (NU’EST’s Hwang Min Hyun), the club’s strict and perfectionist leader. This is while deputy manager Ji So Hyun (Yang Hye Ji) is noticeably resentful toward her for reasons that are slowly revealed.
Ho Rang, however, has the bright and easygoing Kim Yoo Shin (VICTON’s Choi Byungchan) as her closest friend. Even though at times, she also gives him the cold shoulder despite his sincere efforts to befriend her. Classmate Kang Jae Yi (Yeonwoo) also tries to be friends, though she also must navigate her relationship with on-again, off-again boyfriend Do Woo Jae (Noh Jong Hyun) who is Eun Taek’s friend.
As the central mystery of the series surrounds Ho Rang’s past, it gets spread out across the series’ eight episodes. And with a straightforward overall narrative, that contributes to the series’ flat execution. Ho Rang’s personality doesn’t necessarily endear you to her or her predicament until the truth is actually revealed. And by then, it’s almost a case of too little, too late.
Live On‘s most interesting story is actually that of Woo Jae and Jae Yi’s relationship. Perhaps one of the more realistic depictions of teenage romance I’ve seen on a Korean drama. They don’t have a fairy tale romance like that of any a K-drama lead couple. But what they go through and experience was much more compelling than anything else happening around them. Noh Jong Hyun and Yeonwoo both deliver very engaging performances.
Choi Byungchan is also a charming scene stealer as Kim Yoo Shin and would often be the single reason scenes and moments would even be enjoyable to watch.
The series’ main lesson is essentially to not push people away. It encourages one to be more open and not afraid to seek out help or even just a kind ear to listen. When someone reaches their hand out, it’s okay to be skeptical. But one must also be willing to be receptive to sincere efforts by others.
Live On also tries to show how one can find confidence in themselves and to believe in themselves more without being overly concerned with what others think.
There is no shortage of depictions of school violence on Korean television. Most series, however, manage to do something different and refreshing (relatively speaking). Some have found profound ways to address this difficult topic. Live On unfortunately does neither and it is surprisingly disappointing in the end. There’s certainly a great show to be made with Live On‘s premise. But that show is unfortunately not Live On.