Grade (general): D
Grade (if weighted for the indefinable quality sometimes called “heart”): C+
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.
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?
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.
• 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.
You might also like
Hello, My Teacher, for its schoolyard high jinks (not to mention stars Gong Hyo Jin and my boyfriend Gong Yoo)