This Month’s Binge: K-Dramas Reflecting Social Issues

Annyeong, chingus, welcome to This Month’s Binge!

Don’t you just love it when our favorite K-Dramas mirror the very rotten system we are living in today?

Well, I do.

So for the month of March, as we all stay at home and practice proper handwashing measures, plus some social distancing on the side, let me tell you something about how the K-Dramas Kingdom and Itaewon Class caught my attention because of its intense social relevance.

Tell Me About Kingdom!

First off, let’s look at Netflix’s first Korean original series, Kingdom.

Based on the webcomic series The Kingdom of the Gods by Kim Eun-hee and drawn by Yang Kyung-il, it released its second season on March 13.

This drama is just superb. When I first watched its premiere last January of 2019, I didn’t expect to be hooked by this political thriller. I knew in myself that I’m not a fan of zombie series, but with Kingdom, I think I’m a super fan.

Kingdom’s story is horrifying, twisted, and emotional in its peak. Basically, the plot revolves around the plague of zombies spreading throughout Korea set in the Joseon period. It tackled issues concerning how an existing corrupted government runs its nation.

Ju Ji Hoon plays the character of Crown Prince Lee Chang who wishes to help his said-to-be ailing father (if you’re a K-Drama buff, you’d know that he’s Crown Prince Lee Shin from Princess Hours).

As he strives to discover the truth about his missing-in-action father, he encounters a lot of ~zombie~ problems and digs deeper into the terrifying scheme by the Haewon Cho Clan which the present queen is a member of. Kim Hye Jun portrays the queen who, I think, has the most minimal screen time but imposed more horror on the drama aside from the zombies.

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There wasn’t much of a backstory between the main characters, but they all clicked together due to their humane desire to save their country from an absolute zombie invasion. With just six episodes per season, I can tell the actors delivered their roles successfully. As part of the audience, I know in myself that I easily emphasized with all the characters (except for the goddamn queen).

For me, writer Kim Eun-hee did a pretty good job in building up the plot, thoroughly exciting everyone by never forgetting to include total cliffhangers in every (yes, every) episode. It was all unpredictable and fresh.

Down the Drama’s Road

It’s absolutely not about the zombies. It’s about an entirely corrupt government that sucks the blood of its people (kinda, literally LOL).

For me, the show didn’t put much lighting to backstories, but it actually focused more on the present situation of the characters, which is a good thing.

What I admire about this show is that most of its characters, like Lee Chang and Seo-bi (portrayed by Bae Doona), are highly motivated by their future goals and not their past experiences. Lee Chang strived hard to stay alive just to keep their kingdom safe and sound. Meanwhile, Seo-bi fought with everyone else and continued to find the cure to the plague.

kingdom

The drama is not just horrifying for its zombies, which are actually running in a very organized manner, I must say. But, Kingdom is horrifying for all of the straight-up facts it’s serving its audience.

And what are these straight-up facts? Well, there are people sitting in position who are prepared to kill just so they can remain where they are. There are also people swimming in their greed, who want to manipulate and deceive anyone just to achieve their goals, and the list could go on.

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The drama is also twisted because basically it presents how twisted humans are.

Of course, the perfect example here is the Queen who is a total psychopath. She kills and kills and kills more just to get what she wants. She can even abandon her family for her aspirations in life. It’s not bad to go after your dreams, but don’t do it the Queen’s way. She is just pure evil, and Kingdom tells us that there are real people out there like her.

This Netflix original series also reached out to its audience emotionally. Just the deaths of the normal people in the drama already tugged my heart, what more when some of the main characters died. I think Kim Eun-hee wrote this drama knowing that people out there still have a soft spot for humanity—which, at some point, is the core for Kingdom.

With the drama’s aesthetics, I have nothing to say. Even the zombies look good. I just don’t think they smell good (Haha!). The cinematography is remarkably on point, too!

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If you’re a fan of the American TV series Game of Thrones or if you’ve watched the Battle of Winterfell from its final season, you’d find some kind of similar vibes from it on the first episode of Kingdom’s Season 2 when they were keeping the zombies away from entering the fortress they’ve built. (Kingdom’s zombies also have blue eyes like the White Walkers in GoT!)

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Ultimate Say …

For all that Kingdom already did and will still be doing (because I heard it will run for another eight seasons), I’m in love with it. I am very delighted that the writers of this drama put up another cliffhanger on the second season’s finale.

I don’t know how the third season will go, but hey, SPOILER ALERT, the ~zombie~ virus is still alive amid characters wiping out almost every zombie for seven years.

With that, I’m giving this political thriller four yes-es out of five!

 

Now, we move on to the recently concluded Itaewon Class.

Tell Me About Itaewon Class

Itaewon Class is like a taste of soju when you’ve had a very impressive day. At first, I thought it’s a usual rags-to-riches kind of drama. I thought wrong.

This drama is based on the webtoon of the same name and was released on January 31, 2020. Park Seo Joon plays the main character Park Saeroyi together with Kim Da Mi who plays one of the vital roles in the story, Jo Yi Seo.

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Before anything else, a quick sketch of the two main characters.

Park Saeroyi is a man of his words. He is firm with what he believes in. He has his principles and he sticks to it.

At the first parts of the drama, it’s shown that this guy doesn’t have a hint of changing. He didn’t even have the urge to change his buzzcut hairstyle for 15 years or so. Until … well, you have to watch to find out.

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Then here’s Jo Yi Seo, who is also a woman of her words.

She had straight A’s in high school, and she’s artistic, fashionable, witty, and very intelligent. When she wants something to happen, she’ll definitely make it happen no matter what.

At some point, she’s cunning and selfish. Weirdly, she and Saeroyi have a very intense and interesting chemistry that would actually soften the plot of the drama.

(NOTE: Apparently, the gradual changes of Yi Seo’s hairstyle depicts her character development. *wink*) 

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The story starts when Park Saeroyi faces a lot of difficulties and injustices by the hands of the Jang Family, which owns Jangga Co., the number one in South Korea’s food industry. He uses these difficulties as a motivation to rise to his goal of owning the company that will be Jangga Co. Along the way, he meets a bunch of people from different races, genders, and upbringing who become his source of strength until the end.

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Down the Drama’s Road

Itaewon Class gave a fresh take on K-Dramas today. Kudos to the writer of the webtoon it was based on. The drama bravely tackled different issues that were once taboo to the entertainment industry.

For instance, the issue of racism. I’m amazed how they didn’t try to paint South Korea as a perfect nation that doesn’t discriminate other people of color. Instead, the drama presented the real situation that’s happening right now not just in Korea but also around the world.

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One of the characters is a person of color who identifies himself as Korean, but people frown upon him because it is standardized that Koreans have stereotypical squinty almond-shaped eyes and a white or fair complexion.

Another issue tackled in the show is the acceptance of transgenders. I like how the drama made its best effort to make its audience realize that transgenders are no different and that they can be and should be accepted at all times.

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The drama is well-balanced, opening doors to a lot of discourse with the problems it presented—like a country’s justice system, conscience, morals, principles, and relationships. While addressing those things, it never lost sight of its focal point, which is Saeroyi’s role to beat Jangga Co.

The connection between the characters deserves a standing ovation. It’s well-rounded to the point that you’ll even empathize with the wicked human beings that made Park Saeroyi’s life miserable. Somehow, you’ll also understand why they acted evilly.

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Ultimate Say …

While watching Itaewon Class, I found myself totally immersed with the characters’ struggles and entanglements. At the same time, I found myself thinking about my principles and how I’ve been living my life.

Yes, I almost had an existential crisis because of this drama, and because of that, the show served its purpose well. It shed light upon societal issues, relayed a lot of important messages about humanity to its audience, and most importantly, entertained its viewers.

I’m giving Itaewon Class four yes-es out of five!

(By the way, I still love the classic kissing scene ending!)

 

That’s all for now, folks! I kept this one short so I can discuss two K-Dramas simultaneously. I hope I still gave you a clear overview of the two dramas in such a short read.

You can watch all of Kingdom and Itaewon Class’ episodes on Netflix.

Let’s meet again next time on This Month’s Binge!

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