Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Drama Review: Dream High

Sadly, my winter break has just come to an end. This means updates will be much less frequent from now on—working full time barely allows time to watch Kdrama, let alone dwell on it the way I've been able to for the past two weeks. I'll try to post at least once a week, though, likely on Tuesdays.

And speaking of dwelling on Korean television, I just wrapped up watching last year's Dream High. Comments below the cut, as they're of a spoilery nature and this is a fairly recent show.

Grade: B+
(Note that points have been docked for human rights violations. Somebody needs to invest in space heaters before the sequel starts filming—you could see the actors' breath in practically every scene, whether they were indoors or out.)

While watching Boys before Flowers, my first Korean drama ever, I could barely stand the suspense: Would Jan Di chose the abrasive but loyal Jun Pyo, or would she end up with Ji Hoo, a best friend type that the show hinted might be her soul mate? A few months of obsessive drama watching later, I know better: Ji Hoo was the second male lead—and second male leads never get the girl.

As you may have noticed if you’ve read previous posts here, even knowing better my heart is often with the second male lead. They’re a reliable, supportive, and stable group, as opposed to the flighty, high-maintenance first leads most shows are built around.

Of course if the girl actually fell for the second lead, shows would get boring incredibly quickly; the road to happiness would be smooth and breakdown free. Ultimately it’s the unattainability of the central relationship that makes my beloved Kdrama rom-coms tick, and unattainability is what you get with the typical male lead: Maybe he’s spoiled. Maybe he’s incredibly wealthy. Maybe he needs to do some growing up. Or maybe all three.

And how does one spot a male lead? He’s almost always introduced first, and from the very beginning receives more screen time than other male characters.

While watching the drama Dream High—a cross between American shows Fame and Glee that aired in 2011—I was prepared to suffer in silence, like always. The character Jin Gook was introduced first, shared the show’s first romantic moments with the female lead, and his storyline dominated the early part of the show. A clear male lead, I thought, and unlikely to come in second place to Sam Dong, the appealing bumpkin with a desperate crush on the female lead.

But in the middle of the show, things started to change. Sam Dong got more and more time on screen, and his plot overtook pretty much everything else going on. Jin Gook might have been objectively handsomer, but after a few more episodes it became clear that I wasn’t the only one swayed by Sam Dong’s beautiful eyes and geeky, homespun wisdom.

Maybe it was scheduling conflicts for the actor playing Jin Gook, or maybe it was because nobody really got the girl in the end—but with a final, teary kiss, Dream High’s second male lead won out. Glory hallelujah!

The show itself was fun to watch, and provided an interesting counterpoint to the similarly themed Heartstrings. When it comes right down to it, Dream High was Jin Gook: a glossy, good-looking, and well-oiled Kdrama machine; Heartstrings was Sam Dong: gawky and awkward, but in possession of a truly good heart.

As is often the case with shows starring lots of idols, Dream High’s acting wasn’t much to write home about, though. Whether it was intentional or a symptom of this problem, I quickly came to love Hye Mi’s Emily-the-Strange look and wooden, dead-eyed, emotionless line readings. The actress could manage cocky bravado, but eventually even the script started joking about her inability to express a wider range of emotions. ("This is the face I make when I congratulate someone.") To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, Hye Mi ran the gamut from A to B.

Beyond the likable actors and fun music you’d expect from a show like this, it also made some interesting narrative choices: Instead of being straightforwardly linear and chronological, Dream High often left viewers guessing by skipping over key scenes and only revealing what actually happened at the last possible minute.

I also suspect that the storyline was pretty edgy—rape and sexual harassment don’t seem like issues that get addressed much in Korean entertainment. (Dream High even predates The Crucible, my boyfriend Gong Yoo's movie about child abuse at a school for the deaf, a film that apparently caused some ruckus by dealing with these topics.)

And unlike many dramas, the show’s narrative tension never flagged; thanks to having no fewer than 6 main characters, there was enough story to go around, from beginning to end. 

In fact, there was so much story that I wish season 2 would pick up with the same characters—did Hye Mi’s saucy little sister ever hook up with Jin Gook? Did Hye Mi and Sam Dong have a real romantic relationship that just happened to be over by 2018? Did Jason finally get over Pil Sook’s weight issues and realize he loved her? And why did Pil Sook, one of the most driven kids, end up singing at a daycare instead of on stage?

I guess we’ll never know. Season 2, airing later this month, is starting over with a fresh crop of kiddie kpop idols.


  1. I was really, truly, happily in love with this show from beginning to end. Still am - I watched it a month ago, maybe? And just last night introduced it to a friend who was hooked immediately - we watched 5.5 episodes in one sitting, with small breaks for me to show her what the idols look like in real life via Youtube videos of the singing groups, and 30 minutes to pull her over to the dark side completely with White Christmas. Anyway...I loved this drama so much that I grinned like an idiot every time a memorable scene came up and got all excited and happy and laughing in anticipation...such a sweet memory, the whole bit of it.

  2. Hey, JoAnne :)

    This show made me squeal a lot, although I haven't watched much showing the actors outside of the drama. Did you see that Dramafever has a full hour-long concert video of them? It looks cute, but I wish they'd filtered out some of the screaming. You can barely hear the singing.

    I can't wait for Moon Embracing Sun (or whatever the heck that show is called) to air a few more episodes so I can get my Sam Dong fix! He plays the king, I think.

  3. I totally agree with your comments above. However, I think that the audience was lead to believe that Jin Gook was the first lead but he really wasn't. Sam Dong was always supposed to be the first lead but the writers... those tricky writers ... just tricked us. And while I would have liked to have said that I did not fall for it, I actually did. And realized that Sam Dong, the accomplished actor, Kim Soo Hyun, was always supposed to be the first lead.

    On another note, there is an actual case where the second lead actually got the girl in kdramaland. Park Shi Hoo was originally cast as the second lead in "How To Meet A Perfect Neighbor" and Kim Seung Woo was the first lead. However, I think due to ratings (the show was really bad) and the reception that he received, Park Shi Hoo was elevated to first lead status and Kim Seung Woo became the 2nd lead. Unlike Dream High, I don't think Park Shi Hoo was introduced until the 2nd or 3rd episode, so he really did have 2nd lead status in that show.

    1. Thanks for sharing this back story! I'm new to Kdrama, so am mystified by anything that happened more than two months ago. I'm starting to wonder if Park Shi Hoo picks intentionally terrible dramas, just so he can be the best thing about them. Prosecutor Princess may have been the least enjoyable Korean drama I've ever seen—the only thing that saved it was his pretty face ;)

  4. Aha I wish it continued on into a second season with the same characters:(

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