“School 2013” is exactly how it sounds like – a drama that takes a look at the modern day school life in South Korea for high school students and their teachers. This drama however, focuses on the harsh realities that come with the prestige and honor of the advancing Korean education system; the bullying, violence, corruption and intense competition that students have to face in order to live up to the high expectations put forth from both society and their parental units. As well as bringing an outlook from the teacher’s perspectives; Old-fashion teaching vs. college preparations, the manipulations from parents who are determined to make sure their child not only succeeds, but comes out at the very top, and re-evaluates the standard of how involved teachers can really be in their student’s lives.
The story line centers on “Classroom 2-2” (Second Year High Students); the runt sophomore class of Victory High School was where most of the trouble-makers resided and the slackers doze off (however the class was sprinkled with some extremely studious students that only broke the class division between the top and the bottom students). Teacher Jung In Jae is the short-term teacher who gets cornered into becoming the homeroom teacher/literature teacher for Classroom 2-2, and later is assigned a Co-Teacher, Teacher Kang Se Chan. Both teachers face the difficulties of running the class smoothly due to their polar opposite teaching methods and disciplining standards. But in order to make sure that all 35 of their students graduate and finish off their Third Year (Senior Year), they must put aside their differences and find a way to not only raise their student’s grades, but actually teach them and show them how the real world is.
School 2013 has a wide range of characters, mixed mostly between the different types of teachers (and principals) and the students in Classroom 2-2, which therefore means that there is no real lead male or female character. It rather focuses on a select couple of characters and throughout the drama starts revealing the nature of the rest of the other classmates who all have their own hidden sides and inferior complexes.
The two co-teachers, Teacher Kang and Teacher Jung, receive much of the spotlight since they are the advisers for all the students. Teacher Jung (played Jang Nara) is the kind and good-nature female teacher who takes an immense interest in her students. She makes her students write poems instead of giving them demerits for coming in tardy, she texts message her students if they absent to find out why and if it is a family problem, she is right there at their front door to talk to them about it and then drag them back to school. Teacher Jung is overall an excellent teacher that manages to inspire her students and give them confidence enough to follow their dreams no matter what they are. However as most teachers, she does have some flaws. She gives second, third, fourth, etc…chances to students that miss weeks of school or show violence or unethical type of behavior. And while as viewers we know she is doing the right thing, helping out the troubled students, it does not mask the preference she shows towards the underdogs which in turn, gained resentment from the “model” students. Her character overall though was one of my favorites and she played the role amazingly.
Teacher Kang (played by Choi Daniel) could not be any more different. He is strict and quite frank with his opinions (which usually come off as rude to everyone else even though he sincerely does not mean for them to be so). His idea of a teacher is someone who simply helps raise a student’s grade and does not believe in becoming emotional attached with any of them. His character added to the conflict in the drama but also helped fix it in several occasions, with his acts of yielding to his co-teacher’s wishes to “save” her students from getting expelled or transferred.
Go Nam Soon (played by Lee Jung Suk) played one of the main student characters; an outcast student who slept through most of his classes and was the favorite target by the class bullies. Later it is revealed that Go Nam Soon flies under the radar due to his dark past that he wants to keep from his classmates, however this is not the case when his is elected the new class president and has to be involved with the classroom activities. This character was very consistently stubborn yet extremely endearing due to the loyalty he portrayed to his teacher, his classmates and even towards the ones that once tormented him. Becoming the leader of the classroom helped him take his own stand in his life. Park Heung Soo (played by Kim Woo Bin) is the mysterious transfer student who is linked with Go Nam Soon’s dark past, and while this character does not display very dynamic traits for the drama, he is in fact used as the foil for our dear Go Nam Soon. Helping him face his past and get rid of the guilt that taints his spirit.
Bullying/Violence: One of the most distinctive problems seen in high schools around the world and not just in South Korea, is the high amount of bullying and violence between students. However, the root of the problem for Korean high schools seems to grow from the intense competitions on who gets the best score on the SATs or who is ranked top of their class. Those who get higher marks then turn on the ones “lower” than them and either verbally or physically abuse them to continue the psychological deception that they are less than them. Though, in this particular drama, must of the bullying was done physically by the main male students.
Hierarchy of the Classroom: Very much tied in with the concept of bullying, the “positions” in the classroom reflect the same issues. A perfect example from this drama was the need for the male students to decide who was held the “top position” in the classroom, mainly who was the strongest (physically) in the classroom. Once it has been decided who is the top dog, everyone else forms alliances and brown-nose to the fullest by becoming “shuttles” (basically errand boys). The “top position” constantly changed, as well as the alliances, showing the lack of loyalty that the students owed to one another.
Teacher Kang’s “Golden Notebook”: it appears from the very beginning as the item that all the competing students dream of, the one thing that can make their studying a lot easier. However this special book of notes can only be obtained by being a student of the highest private academy – meaning only the wealthy students can even have access to.
Ramyun: While this was a small symbol, it had its reoccurrences between go Nam Soon and Park Heung Soo’s as sort of a “peace” treaty between the two. Each time they sat down to drink the ordinary soup it would remind them of their good days growing up together and the memories they formed. For those couple of minutes of slurping, they could only reflect on the better times and find a simple parley for their fights.
*Spoilers* (Do not read if you don’t want this drama spoiled for you, you have been warned!)
Things I liked:
- Go Nam Soon/Park Heung Soo Bromance!: Who doesn’t like a good bromance? I have the wonderful habit of shipping…well everything together (shipping= picking two people in a fictional movie, T.V shows that you would like together in a relationship). But I had to leave this one alone because I have not seen such a close bromance in such a long time. Go Nam Soon’s guilt over hurting his friend and killing his dreams and Park Heung Soo’s angst over the decision of keeping his anger with his best friend or forgiving him…oh these boys were just pulling at my heartstrings. Every time either one of them cried, I started tearing up as well.
- Kim Min Ki: Hands down my favorite secondary character. This character was so sweet, and every time his mother would just ignore his words or interfered with his schooling I just started cussing at the screen. It had to take his attempted suicide for her to finally slowdown from the marathon she was running to see that her son was being dragged behind, getting hurt the entire way.
- The lack of love interests: I repeat, THIS DRAMA HAD NO LOVE INTERESTS…HUH? This was the first time I had seen a drama that had no crushes, or unrequited loves, or love triangles. Nope. Nada. Nothing. But strangely, it only made the drama better. Without school love (or any kind of romantic love for that matter) there was no distraction from the plot and it was able to go deeper into themes other than love. And while I would have loved to see Teacher Jung and Teacher Kang get together (because come on…they would have been perfect together), their connections as teachers was so well developed and simply magical in this drama.
Things I didn’t Like:
- Han Young Woo (played by Kim Chang Hwan): Now wait, don’t kill me! It’s not that I didn’t like this character, I really like him actually. My complaint is that I wished there was a bigger appearance from this character. After the fifth episode, he just sort of disappeared from the drama and only reappeared every once in a while with a line or two. I feel like he should have been given the opportunity to grow and develop, but the only reason why I think he didn’t was because they had to give that room for other students. Which makes sense, but still…this guy was adorable.
- Campus Couple: Did anyone else noticed that couple in the classroom? They had no lines (or not any that I can remember which shows they weren’t that important) and were just being an antagonizing cute couple in the background that took selcas together. They were sort of a distraction from the scene at hand.
- “Really? Seriously?”: Aka. Dani from T-ara who was put in the drama to “act” but only gave one-worded lines of random English. I’m assuming it was supposed to be a comic relief, but it only made me cringe.
- The Ending: Now this ending was quite controversial because of the open ending with everyone’s favorite bad boy: Oh Jung Ho. Did he ever come back to school? Or did he actually give up school? At first I was upset because I felt like this drama already emotionally tore me apart with the bromance, and now was not giving me closure with the biggest conflict: whether or not Oh Jung Ho will turn around his life. But after further thought (and several tissues later), I realized why the ending was so open ended and it was actually quite simple. This drama is supposed to give us a realistic view on high school and how it affects our future, right? Well life is open ended, which is why this ending and the ending of all the other students is open ended as well.
Author’s Final Remarks: 9.1/10
As much as I want to move to South Korea and live my life there; you wouldn’t be able to pay me even a million dollars to attend a Korean High School. Not only do I not want to stand back from my newly founded freedom called “College”, but also because frankly…Korean high schools scare me. The pressure and strict structure to studying just makes me want to run to the door. Yet, why is it that I want to become an English Teacher in the very same school I want to run away from? Because I want to help all those students that are pushed down due by the daily stress society throws at them. If I can, I want to be that role model, that inspirational voice or word of encouragement that a student needs to get them through the day. “School 2013” not only helped me understand the world as a student, but helped me understand the world as a teacher.