Monday, February 4, 2013

K-drama, Because Everyone's Doing It, and Why Not: School 2013

So I've officially stopped pretending that this blog is anything more than a paper thin disguise for the fact that the Internet is in no shortage of people who are in no shortage of opinion. In case the title of this blog also hasn't clued you in already, I am not a nice person, and therefore am hijacking my own reclusive corner for manga to squee about TV. Korean TV.

K-drama School 2013
Episodes 1-3

School 2013 is causing quite an uproar over in Eastern media communities (for want of a better term.) I really have no idea why, diving in, because a screencap of two boys getting up in each other's business space cannot have had the same instant I'm clicking so hard the Internet would break effect on everybody. But first of all, to those subscribing to the same weakness, you are not getting any squeal worthy moment in the first three episode, I mean, one half of that pairing couple duo hasn't even made an appearance yet, and in the mean time, School 2013 has been an exercise in failed chemistry and disjointed storytelling.

Wait, not that the show is bad, no, it's not bad. It's even competent. In-jae, idealistic and not just a little bit naive, with a mere five years of experience under her belt, is undertaking homeroom duties of the de facto trouble making class of the school. Se-chan, superstar Literature teacher, jaded and cynical, is transferring to the same school due to violations of some education law that I don't know about but would surmise that it has something to do with him teaching a private class. It's an age old clash and attraction of the polar opposites in a highly charged environment, and if School 2013 was about just that, I would have bailed out at mark 25:37. What makes the episodes as compelling as they are is full-lipped, dreamy, distant, mysterious student Nam-soon (what, what, I'm allowed my objectification) who steals every scene he's in.

The thing about him is that he's maybe more dimensional than the rest combined, because he appears aloof, yes, he doesn't seem partial to more emotions than this-is-a-pain-in-my-ass or private smiles, he turns down what looks like a Bible for test taking saying he doesn't need it, and he is stony and unresponsive to threats of violence as well as expulsion. That's the way he was introduced. But Nam-soon isn't apathetic, if anything, he cares too much, and precisely which fact makes him misunderstood by his peers. Why else would he stand up for another student but not himself and refuse to go to class on the basis of morality? Later, and I don't think it's a spoiler because it's so early into the series, he apologizes to In-jea for having given her the cold shoulder for something she didn't do, trying to make it up by manipulating other students to show up to her class at his own expense. This is who he turns out to be, I am head over heels for characters and adore writing like that.

That kind of attitude is not holier-than-thou, it's just as naive as In-jae's. When Nam-soon says, (asked why he just wouldn't implicate Oh Jung-so, the bully, to save himself from the very real possibility of expulsion,) "School couldn't be that unjust," my heart breaks a little. It's so obviously a foreshadowing and it would shatter a character already so broken. I won't say anything about a resilient strength found inside a fragile vessel, because I have the feeling that Nam-soon is more of a shock absorber: he takes the beating and the misunderstandings because he can take it; and the thing about shock absorbers is, excuse the platitudes, I can see your rolling eyes from over here, thank you, that they have a threshold.

Which brings me to the premise of School 2013; it's supposed to be a realistic portrayal of Korean high school life, test cramming, bullying, and all. The bullying is depressingly prevalent in the education system, yes, but that doesn't mean it's interesting, since for me, like for every other TV viewer, this is its 100th iteration. That isn't saying that School 2013 is dull, that is saying that its subject matter appeals to me none at all. School 2013 isn't doing anything interesting thematically either. It has occasional moments where ideas and dialogues shine, but to few and far in between to count for much against the crippling blandness of the ideal v.s. the disillusioned. It isn't saying anything new about teaching. 

Let's stop discussing nonexistent philosophies now.

Because I will follow School 2013, and I will follow it for the characters. In-jea is quite something herself. Like Nam-soon, her flaw is caring, and she and Nam-soon are explosive together onscreen. They are not always on the same page, but they respect one another. In-jae gets that Nam-soon hid what he did for a reason, and Nam-soon gets that In-jae cares as his teacher. He responds to her as a student. He admires her strength, as do I, however tired the saying might seem I will maintain it because In-jae has proven herself. Credit goes to actress Jang Nara, who I believe has better grasp of her role than the entire cast, though that may be put down to the fact that her stereotype has dominated Korean TV since its inception.

The weak link is not actually Jung-ho whom I want to strangle with my bare hands, or the class clown whose acting is nails on chalkboard, but Se-chan, who is given great dialogues and the appearance of intelligence and hints to Past Events That Derailed His Dream of Being a Teacher. Depending on your view, that is either a lot of land to work with or very little, since his too is a stereotype, but, the point is, his part needs only be competent. Se-chan with pick-your-character-any-character-no-any-I-mean-it is chemistry free, his lines rote. When he and Nam-soon are made to mop the gym together, even charismatic Nam-soon looks uncomfortable bantering with a line delivery AI. His scenes with In-jae are likewise forced, and I'm not rooting for them as potential love interests at all, even though, let's face it, they will be.

Another claim I made is about the structure of the show, i.e., scenes seem thrown together without any regard for editing continuity. The first episode was particularly egregious. It bore the task of introducing 4 individuals, which is the reason, to be sure, but not the excuse for a bumpy 40 minutes with nothing for speak of for a build up or a climax. Now that it's got a good foundation, here's hoping School 2013 finds surer footing.

Worst moment of the show:

Teacher Jo about Nam-soon and Se-chan: they're two peas in a pod. Urgh, not at all. And so so cliched that I am vomiting inside my mouth just thinking about it. Like, teacher Jo was even looking down at them on a balcony speaking in a knowing voice and everything.