Thursday, October 4, 2012

Drama Review: Sang Doo, Let’s Go to School (2003)

Grade (general): D

Grade (if weighted for the indefinable quality sometimes called “heart”): C+

Light melodrama

What it’s about
Clearly influenced by Winter Sonata and its ilk, this melodramatic comedy revolves around tragically separated childhood lovers. Their paths inevitably cross as adults, but a chasm of life experiences still keeps them apart: the girl (winningly played by the always charming Gong Hyo Jin) has grown up to be an upstanding schoolteacher with a doctor boyfriend, while the boy (played by the smoking hot Rain) has become a semi-moral single father-cum-gigolo who romances married women and takes their money to care for his ailing daughter. Having dropped out of high school after they lost touch, Rain’s character eventually becomes a student in the class taught by his first love.

First impression
Nowadays, the production values for the typical Kdrama are on a par with television anywhere else in the world. Back in 2003 when Sang Doo aired, that wasn’t really the case—it’s stunning how amateur everything about this drama seems, from the acting to the direction to the script. And yet...I still totally enjoyed the first episode, which was goofy, improbable fun. What’s wrong with me?

Final verdict
It seems mean-spirited to judge yesteryear’s dramas by today’s standards. But that doesn’t step Sang Doo from feeling like fifth-grade gym class compared to today’s Olympic-caliber Kdramas. The acting (particularly on the part of the supporting cast) is atrocious. On the bright side, the production values are  slightly improved over what we saw in 2001’s Winter Sonata. For example, microphones dangle into the frame only every few episodes, rather than in nearly every scene, and you hardly ever catch random members of the production team crouching behind furniture during interior shots. Then there’s the plot, a hodge-podge of drama clichés that includes everything from (multiple) birth secrets to cancer to families struggling in the grip financial tragedy. Throw in a standard-issue love triangle and a side of law breaking, and you’ve got the same old template a hundred other dramas have been built on, before and since.

And yet, there’s something so likeable about this drama that it’s hard to complain too much. The single-father plotline is sweet, and acts as the impetus for Rain’s best work in the show—he and the actress playing his daughter have cute chemistry, and some of their scenes together are genuinely moving. (Her illness, however, is totally nonsensical in the way of Kdramas. She’s stuck in the hospital for the show’s entire running time without actually being sick, as if the writers were worried that caring for her would get in the way of the male lead’s shenanigans.) The actors playing the leads both do decent work, and their love story actually has some real-life weight to it. And rather than relying on irredeemable bad guys to propel its plot, Sang Doo actually highlights the evolution of its secondary characters into actual human beings and offers up a nice little bromance, years before the term would even be coined.

Do I suggest that you drop what you’re doing and immediately watch Sang Doo, Let’s Go to School? No, I do not. Do I suggest that you give it a shot if you’re ever wondering what comfort-food inanity to watch as you recover from the flu or some minor surgery? I think maybe I do.

Random thoughts
Episode 1. I love that Drama Fever’s new video player allows you to change the subtitle format. The next innovation they need to introduce is some sort of pick-your-hero’s-hairstyle feature that would automatically cover over the once trendy, now tragic haircuts that make old shows so hard to watch without collapsing into fits of giggles. Just what is Rain wearing on his head throughout this episode? It’s hard to believe that it might actually be hair, and that someone might actually have caused it to look like that on purpose.

Episode 3. So it seems that Korean love hotels sometimes feature sex-specific furniture, which look like an X-rated version of the chrome-y, safety-handled Nautilus weight-training machines at the gym. Frankly, there is not enough bleach in the world for me to feel okay about the existence of the “sex chair.” (Or its handy laminated instruction manual.)

Episode 5. Does this doctor ever actually doctor? Or does he just hang out with preschoolers and teach them snide songs calculated to insult their parents? He’s winner of the award for worst Kdrama doctor of all time, methinks.

Episode 6. Wait. The father of your child has never seen you naked? That must have been. . . awkward. I suspect the sex chair was not involved. [Finale note: OH! I get it.]

Episode 6. Another Kdrama girl said she’d “take responsibility”! That makes three, out of all the hundreds of hours of Korean television I’ve watched.

Episode 9. I’m happy to report that even at my darkest moments, I have never once considered using a Kate Hudson movie as inspiration for my life plans. Unlike this drama’s heroine—poor thing.

Episode 9. Note to self: the next time you feel tempted to become obsessed with a foreign country’s television, please make sure they don’t eat dog meat before doing so. You’ll be happier in the end.

Watch it

You might also like
Hello, My Teacher, for its schoolyard high jinks (not to mention stars Gong Hyo Jin and my boyfriend Gong Yoo) 


  1. *nods*
    Sounds like something I'll watch on a rainy day in 2034.. or maybe I'd just use that future day to rewatch Biscuit Teacher.. Ohhh the dilemna I will have to face...

    1. 2034 sounds right on schedule for watching this one. It wasn't that terrible (and there are a few glowing reviews about it), but life's too short to waste time on mediocre dramas like this. (Which is why I fast forwarded through the second half.)

  2. ahah! So you caved and started watching Nice Guy :D I can't put it down... I'm going to be horribly miserable when I catch up and have to wait a week...

    Also on ep 5 of Answer Me 1997.. Amazed at how good it is!

    1. I could not have held off one second longer before watching Nice Guy—I forced myself to wait until TTBY finished airing, because I don't want to get bogged down with a ton of currently airing shows. I love it so far, and can't wait to get caught up so I can read everybody's commentary without getting spoiled. I knew that Song Joong Ki was going places the second I laid eyes on him in Sungkyunkwan Scandal.

      If you're anything like me, you better make sure you have a box of tissue and some eye drops around for episode 6 of AM 1997 ;)

  3. So guys, I have devised the best scheme ever and I am so excited!!! My friend wanted to have a big pot luck dinner thing at her house for my birthday on Friday and I am going to wait until everyone has had a few drinks and then announce that I am forcing everyone to watch kdrama with me!! MWA HA HA HA!!! They can't say no because it's my bday!! So which one should I make them watch? Obviously CP is my favorite ever, but I'm not so sure my guy friends will appreciate that... I was thinking maybe Arang will capture everyone's attention? I dunno...

    1. Genius! (Although it's sad that it takes a few drinks to actually get people to watch Kdramas...::sigh::) It's always especially tough when there are guys in the mix, because who knows what they'll like? Maybe thinking outside the box is the about watching The Host instead of a drama?

    2. Hahaha!! It looks funny. Is it good?

    3. As a monster-movie freak, I saw it when it first came out—which was before I because a K-freak. I loved it back then (and now recognize one of the case members as the female lead from the drama Someday), but don't know how it would play for someone who already knows a lot about Korea. It's more freaky than funny, really, but not super gory.

      I also saw and really liked the UK movie Protect the Block, which it turns out is based on a Korean horror movie called Attack the Gas Station. Now I have to see that one, too.

  4. I still think that doctor on 49 days is the worst. Enjoyed your review though. ;)

  5. Okay, not HIGH quality - but still has endearing qualities. Before anything else though, I totally agree about the great bromance between Sang Doo and the doctor boyfriend. They had some really great scenes and I like how the doctor became a warmer, more compassionate person (to people besides his patients). If a second male lead doesn't have great chemisrty with the girl, I'm usually thrilled to see them go, but this guy became likeable in alot of other ways.
    I loved the father-like school principal who's all nosey and concerned for Gong Hyo Jin's character then later for the outcast Sang Doo - even dragging the other teachers in to sew beads on slippers to help him support his family and be a better person (stop being a gigolo).
    The best for me were the sweet moments between the dad and his little girl. I'm not a fan of Rain as a singer/dancer. I just learned who he was this year after watching I'm a Cyborg(cause I love Im Soo Jung) and A Love to Kill(cause I like Shin Min-A), but he does heartbroken very well. Sang Doo had a life full of regrets and misery and his daughter was all he lived for. He even chose to marry his daughter's mother to make a whole family for her even when his true love came back to him. It was even more tragic to see him using humor whenever he could to get through the painful moments.
    Oh, and the actress who plays Bora's mom. I saw her face on the poster and thought "Nasty Soo-Ran from Lie to Me!" She was so hate-worthy in the beginning of LTM then later let herself be seen as flawed and vulnerable. I wanted to see her again cause she's spunky and fun to watch, especially when she's spitting mad. She has a fantastic glare!

  6. I just found your blog yesterday and love it! I got caught up reading some older reviews and forgot to watch my drama. I started watching Kdramas and Kmovies this year and I'm catching up on some of the older stuff so it's fun to compare impressions.

  7. Hi
    I just hopped on the KD bandwagon about 2 mths ago. Luckily my first KD was The Greatest Love which i loooove very much! Hv since watched other loooove KD such as My princess, Secret Garden, The Snow Queen, Padam padam and Full House. I watched Sang Doo on youtube but i can only found ep 1. It is very promising n i will surely look out for the dvd. Thanks for the review.

  8. Wow. This is so weird to me because this drama is my favorite out of Lee Kyung Hee's dramas along with I'm Sorry, I Love You and Nice Guy. I can't believe A Love to Kill got an A and this got a D. I would have reversed the scores. I also didn't enjoy Thank You as much as I enjoyed this one (although the first half of Thank You is lovely). There was just something so special to me about the atmosphere in this drama to the point where the cliches didn't even bother me. In fact, I barely even noticed them at all.

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