Thursday, March 14, 2013

Drama Review: School 2013 (2013)




Grade: C+

Category
Light high-school melodrama

What it’s about
A pair of teachers whose philosophies are apparently at odds manage Victory High’s toughest class, facing bullies, academic underacheivers, and demanding parents.

First impression
This curiously teacher-centric school drama has yet to develop a strong pull for me. The first few episodes have done a fine job of setting up story lines for the rest of the drama—the college entrance-obsessed teacher versus the one who wants to teach the kids to think, the bully versus the bad boy with a heart of gold, the badass school chick versus the world—but none of the characters feel particularly compelling as of yet, and neither does the show’s overarching plot. Based on what I’ve heard, though, the secret ingredient has yet to be added to the mix: Kim Woo Bin’s magnetic troublemaker Heung Soo.


Final verdict
There’s nothing particularly wrong with School 2013—it’s a sympathetic exploration of the difficulties and dangers inherent in high school told from the perspective of both students and their teachers. It’s generally low-key and realistic, rather than being exaggerated and hyper melodramatic.

As a viewer, I just didn’t find it very compelling. Its scattered storytelling didn’t provide the kind of single focal point I prefer in dramas; if anything, its “lead” character is the central class as a unit, not the students or teachers as individuals. Each episode’s running time is divvied up between multiple characters and their problems. And because the show’s scope is limited almost exclusively to the classroom, it never feels like you get to know anyone or understand their motivations. As far as I’m concerned, this resulted in an anchorless narrative that was too broad for its own good.

I also missed any hint of progress. Characters grew and developed over the course of the show, which is definitely a good thing, but the drama itself never developed an endgame. The plot was just day after day in the classroom, filled with the same old conflicts that have been used in this kind of show since time immemorial: bullies against bullied, academic achievers against hopeless cases, noble teachers against the evil establishment. (And let’s not forget School’s go-to narrative device: students in need of money against items of value left in the classroom.)

This drama does have one great saving grace: the relationship between former bad-boys Go Nam Soon and Park Heung Soo. They start off as adversaries, thanks to a nasty bit of shared history, but by the end of the show their friendship is one of the strongest in recent Kdrama memory. Out of all this show’s multiple plot threads, theirs was the only one that made me feel anything; when they were on screen I was actually swept up in what School has to offer. (I’m watching the final episode as I write this review, happily typing away through most of the dialogue. But the second a scene cuts to Nam Soon or Heung Soo, I can’t tear my attention away from the television.) It probably doesn’t hurt that their story is told with all the trappings of my beloved Kdrama romances. They do all the things we’d expect of the bickering couple that’s meant for to be together: tenderly share blankets, exchange longing glances across the room, and get locked together in confined places, where they’re forced to work out their differences.

Ultimately, School 2013 was never going to be a winner for me—in all its screen time, there’s not a single true romance subplot. (Well. One that’s not subtext, anyway.) To quote my beloved webtoon editor from Flower Boy Next Door: Must be full of love!


Random thoughts
Episode 1. It seems that America is pretty much the go-to country for school shootings, and that may be a good thing: these Korean classrooms with all their windows would be very, very dangerous in that kind of situation.

Episode 1. A piece of advice: if you’re teeny tiny and having trouble maintaining authority in your classroom, you should consider not wearing jeans and a blazer that’s virtually indistinguishable from your students’ uniforms. Dress like a grownup and maybe they’ll treat you like one.

Episode 2. It’s bizarre that Daniel Choi is so convincing as a teacher in this show, while Lee Jong-Suk (he of the beautiful, beautiful mouth) is so as a convincing student: They’re only 3 years apart in age.

Episode 3. I like that this drama downplays its background music. After watching an episode or two of I Miss You, I felt as if I was being beaten about the head and shoulders with a violin. Here, music is used sparingly, which helps the show feel more realistic. (Although why they felt the need to go with a cheesy 80s electric guitar riff for its signature sound is beyond me—I’m pretty sure bringing back my memories of watching the original Degrassi Junior High wasn’t the goal. Yet here we are. Maybe it’s a nod to School’s 1990s predecessors?)

Episode 4. No wonder America is such a failure when it comes to math competency; these sophomores are doing work that’s more advanced than I ever did, even in college.

Episode 4. Korean textbook publishers have a great racket going: instead of the school buying and reusing textbooks from year to year, in Korea the kids each have to buy their own textbooks. Plus, the books are all paperback and probably wouldn’t survive more than a year’s use, so there’s no resale value. Genius.

Episode 5. It’s actually hard to watch this drama with an American mindset. A teacher just slapped a row of ten students to punish them for misbehaving, and the show is playing it as if she’s the one we should be feeling bad for, not the kids. Thanks but no thanks.

Episode 7. Back when I used to read a lot of fanfiction, the designation “USR”—unresolved sexual tension—made me laugh. The word “unresolved” was almost always utterly superfluous: they were going to have sex by the end of the story, no matter what. In School 2013 the circumstances are slightly different: the sexual tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife, but there’s no way it’s ever getting resolved. Why? Because it’s between two boys. How is it even possible to read this as anything but a frustrated love story?

Episode 10.  Whenever the tiny female lead and the giant male lead have a conversation in the school’s hallway, they end up on the stairs with her standing several steps higher, which allows them to talk eye-to-eye. Cute.

Episode 10. This drama is treating the relationship between its youthful male leads in an unexpected way—as a Kdrama romance. In my dream world School would end up as a coming-out drama with the boys dating. It’s interesting to consider that this story would never make it on the air if the genders were reversed. Two girls bonding with no central romance and nary a boy in sight? Inconceivable, in both Korea and America.

Episode 12. If only all Kdramas were more like this show, I’d probably have a social life. Every time I hit play a laundry list of things I’d rather be doing comes to mind. Things like filing my income taxes, cleaning behind the stove, and plucking my eyebrows—all of which seem both more pressing and more fun. Usually I sail through multiple episodes of whatever I’m watching per day, but it’s rare I even make it through half an episode of School.

Episode 12. Why is it that built-in closets are considered a God-given right in some cultures but are nonexistent in others? In Korean drama, an actual closet is rare. Instead, people have wardrobes and chests of drawers. (They even store their vacuum cleaners out in the open in random corners of their houses.) I know we Americans are notorious for having a lot of junk, but I have no fewer than six closets all to myself, which is just how I like it.

Episode 12. I really think you should consider building schools with fewer stories, Korea. Maybe that way kids would quit trying to off themselves by leaping off the roof. If The Rage: Carrie 2 taught me anything, it’s that gory splats in the parking lot are morale killers.

Episode 15. This is the second or third show I’ve seen that included a piggyback ride of death. It creeps me out every time...

Episode 16. Early on, I was impressed by School’s restraint when it came to music. By episode 8, though, it had started including the same old score of sweeping, swoony string music that’s all the rage this season. And now it’s fully relying on ham-fisted musical cues to tell the viewer how to feel rather than trusting the actors and the dialogue to do the job.

You might also like
Hello, My Teacher, for its episodic, classroom-based storytelling. (This one is definitely worth watching: it includes a strong central lead and a romance subplot featuring a young, darling Gong Yoo.)

Shut Up: Flower Boy Band, for its moving bromance and gritty take on high school life 

10 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Yeah, I get why some people don't love this quite as much (as me!). This kind of scattered storytelling isn't really my favorite thing either - but maybe because I was comparing it so much to Biscuit Teacher (where the episodic - introduce and dismiss student stories per episode - absolutely infuriated me), I was generally much happier with the slower way side characters were introduced and somewhat developed over time.

    Apart from the bromance (super awesome romance!), I also liked the two teachers' dynamic with each other. I Knew from the beginning there'd be absolutely no romance (just because the show's producers literally said this), but sometimes a nice friendship on screen is enough to make me swoon with happiness. Also - really loved the bullies and their interactions with the main cast.

    As for the ending, I'll admit I was a tad bit empty once it just.. finished. But after I thought about it for a while, I almost appreciate how there was no dramatic finale. So many shows go out in a big way, and I almost think that the purpose of ending school wasn't meant to be left like a life-altering scenario, but more realistic. One school year ends.. another will come. More battles to be fought.

    P.S. This comment will probably be my outline for a full review later.. Lol. I haven't been able to really nail down anything in writing about it so far. Maybe I'll rewatch it another day. haha

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    Replies
    1. Like Flower Boy Next Door, this is just one of those shows that I couldn't watch objectively. I brought too much of my own baggage: I wanted it to be a girlie, introspective coming-of-age drama with a strong love story, but it was actually a no-nonsense series about a classroom of extroverts bouncing off each other for a year. I think the slice-of-life approach and the meh ending were necessary to ensure the viability of a second season, but it just wasn't what I was looking for

      Even I loved the bromance, though, and really liked that friendship was such a strong central theme in the show. (And hot dogs. Can't go wrong with hot dogs.) You're right about Biscuit Teacher—Gong Yoo and Gong Hyo Jin were the only things I really liked about it. It was so episodic it was practically a schoolroom procedural instead of a show with a single narrative.

      I'll look forward to reading your review. (And am now off to read your musings on the Jdrama!)

      Delete
  3. As much as I hated Flower Boy Next Door, I loved School 2013.

    Where FBND dealt with immature puppy love with the feel of pedophile (Why would 26-30 year old women fall for 17 year teenagers in Kdramas???), School 2013 deals with deep friendship between two young man growing up in the mist of difficulties of puberty and fate.

    Anyway it was sad and touching for me. Two thumbs up.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Actually, what I think made you not like this drama so much is that you were unable to relate to it. Because for me, it really did hit home. I actually did enjoy the scattered story line, because I actually find that more realistic, and it allows more viewers to relate to the different problems that actually do occur very often within schools here and throughout most of Asia. Also:

    "Korean textbook publishers have a great racket going: instead of the school buying and reusing textbooks from year to year, in Korea the kids each have to buy their own textbooks. Plus, the books are all paperback and probably wouldn’t survive more than a year’s use, so there’s no resale value. Genius." This actually happens in most schools (Chinese and Korean ones at least) and you'll be surprised how much easier it is to study when you are just allowed to write notes in the books. And it isn't actually that expensive...

    "Back when I used to read a lot of fanfiction, the designation “USR”—unresolved sexual tension—made me laugh. The word “unresolved” was almost always utterly superfluous: they were going to have sex by the end of the story, no matter what. In School 2013 the circumstances are slightly different: the sexual tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife, but there’s no way it’s ever getting resolved. Why? Because it’s between two boys. How is it even possible to read this as anything but a frustrated love story?" You're not going to find sex in a high school drama. They're underage.

    "Why is it that built-in closets are considered a God-given right in some cultures but are nonexistent in others? In Korean drama, an actual closet is rare. Instead, people have wardrobes and chests of drawers. (They even store their vacuum cleaners out in the open in random corners of their houses.) I know we Americans are notorious for having a lot of junk, but I have no fewer than six closets all to myself, which is just how I like it." Not every owns, needs and can afford as many clothes as you do.

    "I really think you should consider building schools with fewer stories, Korea. Maybe that way kids would quit trying to off themselves by leaping off the roof." Korean schools do have a lot more students that American schools do....

    I hope I don't come off too harsh (or butthurt for that matter), but I just wanted to state my point of view :)

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  5. I actually really liked the scattered storytelling and no real ending to the drama because I think it's really representative of school life, because different people have different stories and you hear bits and pieces of other people's stories. I did like that, as you put it, the lead character was the class unit because again it's representative of school life - no one person dominates the time you spend in school, it's more of a collective. I'm a high school student myself and I felt that the scattered story telling and lack of definite protagonist was comfortable and easy to follow because it's what I'm used to in daily life.

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  6. I am guessing you don't really have kids or have ever worked with kids. I don't actually have kids but I was fortunate enough to have parents that disciplined me firmly -read as, I got spanked and I earned every one and I learned from every single one-. I am a firm believer in the the power of physical discipline, however there is a difference between discipline and abuse. The female teacher disciplined, Oh Jung Ho's father abused.

    The teacher did it out of love for her students who she wanted to teach to be better and grow into honest adults. She cared about her students and had been proud of them and for them to do something as rotten as steal a teacher's usb drive and spread the answers around made her very disappointed in them, if she was just angry and acting in anger she would have stuck with the broomstick, it would have been more painful for the students. That could have easily escalated from discipline to abuse.

    That is a big point in the drama, if you didn't notice, is that the students believe that they rule the world because the teachers won't actually do anything about their misbehaving. I honestly think that corporal punishment should be re-allowed in schools. This is coming from a 25 year old who worked with elementary school kids with "behavioral disorders" for a few years. No, I never laid a hand on the kids (unless they were violent and then I was trained to restrain them so they didn't harm anyone else or themselves), however I honestly believe that a most of them would have been better behaved if they had received an in-school spanking or a slap on the hand.

    Kids are too young to understand grown up consequences to their actions; as in jail for breaking the law or being fired because you mouthed off to your boss and were extremely disrespectful or homelessness for not working because you don't want to (I am not saying that is the only reason for being homeless this is simply an example). You have to make their consequences relevant and immediate, taking away recess or giving out detention isn't enough for many and without consequences that actually mean something to the one receiving them the individual begins to act like they run the place because no one will stop them from doing whatever it is they want.

    All that said, I completely disagree on your point about who to feel sorry for in the scene where the teacher smacks the kids hands, I understand her completely. If she hadn't done that the kids would have felt as if they had gotten away with their actions. It wasn't just 10 students, by the way, it was the whole class, one at a time since no one fessed up and since most everyone in the class was guilty of continuing the spread of the stolen test answers. Also, you made it sound as if she seriously slapped them across the face when she actually slapped their palms.

    I find it interesting that it bothered you that she punished them in that fashion but it didn't bother you that she slapped Oh Jung Ho in the first episode after he man-handled her in class and the lunch-line. It didn't bother me one bit because she was defending herself against someone who, though much younger than herself, was twice her size.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the American mindset. That is unfortunate, I am an American and I can't stand the entitled mindset Americans have, it is one of the many reasons our country is no longer great.

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