Given the fact this blog is brand-smacking new, I’m still trying to decide what to do with it. As I’m a huge lover of Korean dramas, I’ve always thought about doing reviews or recaps of them. As of now, I don’t have the time nor the patience to actually recap a full series, and I don’t want to commit this blog to one genre exclusively, so I’ll just start with reviews. Recently I’ve watched a spectacular show, so I am very excited to dedicate my first real post to a review of the 2011 Korean drama White Christmas. I actually only got turned onto it three days ago, when I was surfing dramabeans’ website and came across Heads No.2’s recap of the first episode of this drama (which I’ve linked below in case anyone wants an in depth, episode by episode recap rather than one long summary). This post will be a spoiler-full summary with my thoughts on the show. I warn you now: if you haven’t seen the show and don’t want to know major plot points, do not read this post!
The show’s basic premise is about an isolated school surrounded by mountains in South Korea, where only the 0.1% elite are allowed in. The students are “the smartest of the smart” and are expected to study every day for about 16 hours. They get no weekends or vacations except one, eight-day vacation starting on Christmas Eve and ending after New Years. Most students are of course ecstatic to leave the school they call Alcatraz and other non-complimentary titles. However, for some reason, this year seven students under the supervision of one teacher have chosen to stay at the prison-like school where the doors can only be entered with key cards and every hall and room is monitored through CCTV cameras. The reason they have chosen to stay is because before break they all received an anonymous letter, which is read in voice over:
You tainted me, made me pitiful.
You made me a monster in the corner.
You silenced me.
You ridiculed my false hopes.
You took the only thing I had and put it around your neck.
I held out my hand to you and you let go.
You deleted me from your eyes.
Finally, you replaced me.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
After eight days, walk up the path by the Zelkova tree.
Under the clock tower you will see someone dead.
The night that Jesus was born, I will curse you.
The first half of the drama follows the students’ attempts to discover who sent the letter and what it means. As the story progresses, they realize the letter actually came from a student who committed suicide the Christmas before. Each line applies to one of the people, including the teacher who stayed to supervise. The letter was sent by Lee Jae-Kyu (played by Hong Jeong-Hyun,) whose line is “Finally, you replaced me.” Jae-Kyu is a quiet transfer student who never knew the boy who committed suicide. However, he was accepted into the school after the boy’s death, and upon finding his diary, Jae-Kyu decides to send what was actually the boy’s suicide note to all the people who tormented him in his last months, to make them realize how much their small actions could hurt people.
However, this section of the show only takes up a small section, and is quickly replaced by a much more interesting and dark story line. On the first night of the vacation, when they are all eating dinner, the alarm for the school goes off, and the students and teacher discover the psychologist Kim Yo-Han, played by the brilliant and terrifying Kim Sang-Kyung. Yo-Han was wounded in a car accident, and found his way to the school in the middle of a blizzard. Due to the bad weather conditions and an accident that occurred on the highway, the school is blocked off and inaccessible, and the characters can’t escape. This includes Kang Mi-Reu, an eighth student who stayed secretly on campus, and eventually a woman named Oh Jung-Hye who got stranded hiking when the snow conditions worsened.
Soon, the students find their teacher dead: shot and left outside to freeze. Likewise, the communication lines were severed by the murderer. They find out that Kim Yo-Han is actually an escaped serial killer, who is now holding the children hostage to play sick mind-games with them. He wants to discover the answer to a question that had been bothering him his whole life: Is a serial killer born or made? Therefore he chooses to “counsel” the students through pseudo therapy sessions, where he uncovers their deepest darkest secrets in order to make monsters out of them.
What I love about this show is that rather than being a psychological thriller with lots of bangs and darkness and the occasional ghost, the high-tension moments are all concentrated into the confines of the characters. Their lives, past experiences, and (quite frankly) extremely messed up personalities are used against them by a calm, genius, and psychopathic murderer. The students are all extremely intelligent, even obscenely so in some cases, like Choi Chi Hoon, a boy ranked first in the school, whose intelligence is so all-consuming he is turned into an emotional robot. Other students who try to escape from the school’s imprisoning atmosphere turn to violence, drugs, isolation, and suicide. The show is a chilling commentary on human nature and how in every person there is a bit of a monster, just waiting to rear its ugly head.
The show does a spectacular job of fleshing out its characters. Each and every single one of them is unique. While on the surface they seem to be stereotypical and cliché (the intelligent robot, the obedient good boy, the cowardly bully, the isolated rich boy who actually just wants affection), as the story progresses the characters show much more depth. This is partially helped by the stellar cast. First of all, the boys are all ridiculously gorgeous, so it’s pretty damn easy to recommend the show if you want some eye candy. However, they’re also incredibly talented actors who keep you riveted wondering whether or not they will succumb to darkness. The OST is spectacular and interweaves with the narrative so delicately that at times you don’t even notice it is there. However it adds depth and in some cases, certain songs apply to different characters, and set a mood for that person which tells us more about their personalities than expositions on their back stories ever could.
The cinematography is beautiful. Korean dramas in my opinion are set apart by their attention to detail and beauty on the screen. Of course it depends on the show and PD, but the melancholic mood of this drama in particular is definitely set apart by the camera and director’s focus on stark contrasts, like the white of the snow against the darks of the students’ clothes. It all gives the feeling of a cold waste-land, where there is no love or affection.
This show only had ratings in the 10% margin, which for KBS is pretty low. However it has a huge cult following, which I am definitely a proud new addition to. This show had me fixated from start to finish, and now all I want is to spend more time watching its perfection again and again.
On a side note, that’s the end of my first real blog post! Congratulations to me for finally graduating from wannabe blogger to someone who has blogged! If anyone has questions or comments feel free to get in touch! I’m interested to see how this blog will evolve!
Heads No. 2 Recap: