Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Monstar Alert

I’m writing today to warn you about a serious peril now faced by the Kdrama community: Monstar. This series is violent(ly addictive) and should be considered extremely dangerous—approach with caution.

Upon sighting Monstar, keep your wits about you and immediately seek shelter in an area free of Internet service. Otherwise, you risk contact with its highly toxic venom. Early symptoms of exposure include toe-tapping, daydreams about plaid skirts making a comeback for the over 20-set, and an unquenchable thirst for high-school drama. Signs of advanced affliction include reading Soompi’s entire Monstar thread in one sitting, trolling Tumblr for gifs to reblog, and downloading the show’s OSTs. In some extreme cases, episodes may even be rewatched.

As many a horror movie has taught us, it is important to know our enemy. So in the interest of public service, I give you a brief list of some of Monstar’s most terrifying traits.

Its tone. With shaky camera work and a candid representation of the brutality of high school, Monstar’s low-key approach to the trials of everyday life is intriguing and distinctly different from most glossy Kdramas. It will make you want more. And guess what? There is no more. If you start watching now, you’ll almost certainly burn through all four of the available episodes in one day, leaving you hanging for a full week for your next fix. Save yourself the heartache: don’t hit play.

Its music. Even those who are normally immune to the charms of Korean music will find themselves listening to this drama’s songs over and over. From classical remixes, guitar ballads, and jazzy numbers to hip-hop influenced Kpop, Monstar has it all. Its method of delivery makes these songs especially dangerous: It doesn’t waste time on interminable idol solos, sending you fast-forwarding to the part where the story picks up. The plot seamlessly incorporates its musical numbers and uses them to deepen the characterization of its main players. But just because Monster doesn’t feel like a show that exists solely to shill soundtracks doesn’t mean you won’t be listening to its music nonstop. Even when you should be doing other things, like working or studying.

Its characters. There’s no escape from this show’s appealing cast of characters—just one breezy scene will irreversibly pull you into their world, never to be heard from again.

Initially billed as a show about a Kpop idol who’s forced to return to school to repent for public misbehavior, Monstar is quickly proving to be an ensemble drama revolving around a ragtag group of misfits. And who doesn’t love misfits? In addition to the marketing-bait that is Yoon Chul San, the boyband member who’s on forced hiatus to rehab his image, Monstar gives us a cigarette-smoking girl rebel with a punk-rock attitude and possible ties to gangsters, a geeky boy with a beautiful singing voice who’s mercilessly bullied by the boys in his class, and a popular guy who might just have the soul of a misfit.

Best of all is female lead Min Se Yi, who has just returned to Korea from New Zealand, where she spent most of her time hanging out with sheep on her uncle’s farm. In spite of some serious 4D tendencies—she’s so prone to getting lost that she takes pictures of street signs to be sure she’ll be able to find places again—Se Yi is kind and funny and more than able to stand up for herself, her friends, and even stray birds that find their way into her school’s classrooms. She’s a once-in-a-blue-moon Kdrama girl who’s perfectly flawed: She’s capable but sympathetic, sweet but steely, brave but broken. (And she still has a soft spot for her friends from New Zealand, as the sharp-eyed will note: she keeps a pair of stuffed sheep in her bedroom.)

Monstar has 8 episodes to go, which means it’s a sure bet that we’re going to see all of these wonderful characters suffer, cry, and fail time and time again before the finale rolls around. This drama will torture them, and you—if you succumb to its siren call. Consider yourself warned.

Its story. Instead of rushing headlong into ploty busyness, Monstar is taking its time to introduce its characters and build their world, all the while leaving behind an enticing breadcrumb trail that hints at an overarching plot. How is it that all three points of the show’s love triangle seem to have known each other as children? Just when did Chul San recognize Sun Woo? Were Se Yi’s mom and dad part of a love triangle with Ahjussi? What’s up with the bloody hand scene? Will the button Se Yi pulled from Chul San’s jacket come up again later? (They never really showed just which button it was—will it turn out to be the one over his heart?)

I can’t answer any of these questions, and if you watch you won’t be able to either. This nasty Monstar has barely scratched the surface of its plot, but because only one new episode is airing per week, we might conceivably have to wait until August 2nd to find out what it all means. (That’s when the finale will probably air. Not that I’m counting or anything)

Its feels. It’s my suspicion that the world’s most foolproof recipe for bawling is a group of compelling, relatable characters showcased in a well-constructed coming-of-age story. We’ve all been there, right? Whether you’re from the class of 1950 or 2020, you know what it feels like to be bully and bullied, insider and outsider, winner and loser. And this show is especially virulent when it comes to the key sources of high-school angst: from dead dads, mommy issues, and long-lost bromances to love-triangle losers. Which is yet another reason to beware the Monstar: We’re all clearly in for a world of hurt.


Forewarned is forearmed: If you want a successful, balanced life you should avoid Monstar at all costs. But if you want to watch a good Kdrama that might just become great, you should do the opposite.


  1. This is why I think I need to watch two dramas at the same time. One completed and subbed show to keep me from going crazy during the weeks beteween the currently airing drama I'm waiting for. Why does love and frenzy have to go together? There's just so much good stuff to see! I know there's all the time in the world since everything's online, but why do I still have the feeling that I'm always missing something else great even as I'm watching something I love? I'm still trying to catch up on shows I haven't seen yet from the last two years. Ahhhhh! Kdrama's got me and it won't let go! Anyone out there feel that way?

  2. Thanks for the warning Amanda, but you know it just makes me want to watch it more. Curses!!!

  3. I've been a little too busy with life to watch episode 4. Decided to be responsible this week and take care of other things in life, like my family and my health. That's the reason I woke up at 3am last night to sneak into my computer room and watch it while everyone else slept. Hehehehehe.

  4. Your warning came too late. I've already marathoned all four episodes available and don't know what to do now that I get only one per week. At this point, I can only recommend it to new people so that they'll get sucked into it's vortex, and I'll have someone to talk to about it.

  5. hjhahahah, all of us KEEP waiting for the next episode. one week is just too long, and its producers too merciless, in giving us only one ep. per week.

  6. I wish i had read this BEFORE I started watching it. This drama has taken over my life and my brain. Monstar is to be avoided, but i love it so much!!!!

  7. Can I never learn my lesson that one episode per week shows should only be viewed after they are all aired and subbed? King Flower, Last Cinderella, and now Monstar ... all one episode a week torture. Worse, we get only 12 episodes with Monstar, which will be no where near enough for me to enjoy all the music and characters!

  8. Thanks for the warning, but it's too late.......I'm hooked!

  9. Well, it's obvious I HAVE to watch this. But, seeing as how it is making everyone suffer so, I will wait until it has finished so I won't be totally distraught waiting each week for the next episode! Thanks for the warning gang!!!!

  10. This is totally my newest drama I wanna makeout with. So far, I love it ever so much. The waiting hurts. So. Much. Luckily, I'm making my boyfriend watch it too so I can almost have an excuse for rewatching it so much.

  11. Too late, I'm a goner! I don't know if the symtoms I have can be generalised, but they include:
    - Brain malfunction: friday night suddenly becomes unexplainably important and all invitations to go out are automatically declines.

    It's FRIDAY!!!!

  12. i am kicking myself now for starting a live drama. ugh, the agony!! i am actually trying something new and watching 5 live dramas- monster, cyrano, cruel city (which is another drama crack, i might add!), shark, and i can hear your voice. i clearly did NOT think this through! waaah!!!

  13. Too late this show had me at the first episode and I have already rewatched them all waiting for the new one to air. Monstar is drama-crack, you can't get enough and waiting a week for another fix is enough to drive you crazy!

  14. All right, you all were spot on! Completely sucked in with episode 1. This is where the rest of my weekend will go.....

  15. Just read a review of Monstar in the Wall Street Journal! Here is the link: http://blogs.wsj.com/korearealtime/2013/06/24/korean-cable-tv-refreshes-drama-genre/

    1. Thanks for the link! It's just what I needed to make my Monday morning less Monday-morning-ish.

      I love it when Kdrama is covered in the mainstream press.

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  17. Thank you once again for your nice post. The show was beyond of my surveillance for a while, then accidentally comes within last week. I expected yet-another soap material for teenagers, but it went way beyond. I got spellbound by the first episode, when the female lead and the bullied boy sings together : What a peaceful solidarity! Though last a few episodes are too loosen to hold its early momentum and I don't like the male lead's too-forcible treating his girlfriend (seriously, your honey will kick your butt if you do so), still the series has excellent virtue as an excellent genre experiment in the K-drama scene.

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