In more ways than one, Itaewon Class is your stereotypical k-drama that revolves around the ideal hero fighting the world whilst a cunning villain plots to bring him down.
While it is true that the story seems fairly basic, it is the overall execution of the plot which makes it exceptional.
The show follows the life of Park Saeroyi (Park Seo Joon), a young man with strong principles and morals. Saeroyi is quite impressive and intense as a character. His development from a temperamental teenage boy to a composed, determined businessman is spectacular to witness.
The story begins when Saeroyi is expelled on the first day of high school after he interferes in a situation when he sees a fellow classmate getting bullied by Jang Geun Won (Ahn Bo Hyun), son of Jang Dae Hee (Yoo Jae Myung), who is the CEO of Jangga,Co. a renowned company in the food industry, and who also happens to be his father’s employer. He intervenes and ultimately punches Geun Won leading to his expulsion.
But this just marks the beginning of his ill-fated, tumultuous relationship with Jangga Co. as Jang Geun Won hits Saeroyi’s father in an accident which proves fatal for Saeroyi’s father and he dies instantly.
Saeroyi assaults Geun Won as a result for which he has to serve time in prison. While in jail, Saeroyi decides to avenge his father’s death and take revenge from Jang Dae Hee by destroying him and his business and starts planning the same.
This leads him to a neighborhood in Itaewon where he starts a small pub called ‘DanBam,’ with a clear goal of becoming the best in the industry and surpassing Jangga.
Itaewon Class – Characters
Each character has a purpose and every character has multifaceted aspects to them which makes them unique.
What gives them life, however, is the stellar performances by the actors. The drama is practically flawless with its standout performances.
Park Seo Joon is exceptional as Park Saeroyi; he makes you feel for him – all of his sadness, his happiness and his anger. He takes you on his journey as Park Saeroyi, who isn’t this larger than life character but is rather human in every way. He has flaws but it is his ideals and expression that bring out the best of him, turning his flaws into his strengths. You can’t help but root for him and through his life; he somehow makes you experience his experiences. He is a very righteous businessman who builds his empire keeping his principles on the forefront – that of honoring his people and building a business based on trust and keeping the needs of the people in mind. What is even more commendable is Saeroyi’s unwavering resolve of going on and focusing on being a success despite multiple obstacles to throw him off his course which definitely serves as an inspiration for everyone.
Oh Soo Ah (Kwon Nara) is a very intriguing character because of the choices she makes. She really isn’t a very complex character that she is introduced as. Soo Ah has a fairly simple personality which is why she makes complex decisions. Raised in an orphanage after her parents seemingly abandon her, she is very defensive towards the world and which is why she has a clear sense of independence. Even after she falls for Saeroyi, she doesn’t give into her feelings and instead chooses what is best for her. She is very resilient and independent despite being caught up between her loyalty for Jangga Co. and her love for Saeroyi and makes decisions based on what she feels right.
Kim Da Mi as Jo Yi Seo is like a breath of fresh air. She is street smart, levelheaded and a bit of a sociopath. She is very straightforward in her approach and isn’t afraid to tell or do something for achieving what she wants. Her passion to win makes her unstoppable and she is determined to get right back on her feet after a fall as she rejects rejection itself. Yi Seo is a very good representation of the phrase, ‘behind every man, is a strong woman’ because that’s exactly who she is! She is determined to make DanBam and Saeroyi a success and she strives relentlessly until she does!
Yoo Jae Myung definitely steals the spotlight with his portrayal of Jang Dae Hee. A shrewd powerful businessman, Jang Dae Hee commands respect and holds a lot of weight. He is despicable and isn’t ashamed to stoop to any level for his company and his obsession of always being on the top. Yoo Jae Myung is so good that he compels you to hate his character which proves his versatility as an actor.
So, what makes Itaewon Class stand out?
It is very rare for k-dramas to delve into controversial yet existing societal issues and that’s what Itaewon Class does and quite impressively so!
In one of the episodes we see one of the characters Toni being denied an entry to a club and being told quite rudely that ‘people from Africa’ aren’t allowed at the club without citing any other reason as to why. He desperately tries to make them understand that he is Korean as his dad is Korean but he is belittled due to the color of his skin.
While in another episode Ma Hyun Yi (Lee Joo Young) who is a transgender woman working at DanBam as a chef, faces discrimination for the same by her co-workers specifically Jo Yi Seo and Jang Geun Soo who are apprehensive to have a transgender chef on board which shows that despite being educated individuals, people can still be narrow minded.
However, in both these instances, Saeroyi proves to be the man of the hour when he vandalizes the club that discriminates against Toni and he shuts down the stigma against Hyun Yi by proudly and openly supporting her, showing that it doesn’t matter what race or gender someone belongs to, what matters is the core of the person.
Ma Hyun Yi also proves the very same notion that it is the talent, intent and heart of a person that matters irrespective of their gender. A scene that is very powerful is one when Geun Soo, in order to win ‘The Best Pub’ competition, leaks to the press that Hyun Yi is transgender. Despite the initial shock, it does not deter Hyun Yi and she proudly announces and embraces her gender in front of the world, on the show after which she goes on to win the competition despite the producers of the show wanting to evict her due to her being transgender.
Itaewon Class sheds light on these sensitive subjects such as the representation of the stigma that the LGBTQ community faces and racism in a very real but beautiful way.
Itaewon Class definitely has one of the best drama OSTs; with some of the best artists featuring on the album such as Gaho, Crush, BTS’ V, Sondia, Ha Hyun Woo, Yoon Mirae, VERIVERY to name a few.
The OST is multifaceted in its overall style. Some of the best tracks on the list include
Gaho’s “Start Over” – a very upbeat, uplifting track about never giving up on your dreams and pushing forward relentlessly.
BTS’ V’s “Sweet Night” – This track is sure to take you back in time and tug at your heart strings! Sweet Night has a very nostalgic air to it that will make you feel vulnerable, warm and wistful all at once.
“Diamond” by Ha Hyun Woo – Packs a power punch! This song is such an inspiration as it talks about being as strong as a rock and never giving up. Just the track you need to lift your spirits up when you feel kicked when you’re down.
Woosung’s “You Make Me Back” – A very memorable song that shows Woosung’s prowess as a singer. The track talks about how one finds their ground after losing themselves; it is profound as it is powerful.
Kim Feel’s “Someday, The Boy” – The track is melancholic and melodious and it gives an insight to Saeroyi’s mind and is reflective of his journey. The song stays with you and definitely strikes a chord.
VERIVERY’S “With Us” – it is ‘very very’ sincere and soulful. The lyrics are heartfelt and an expression of overcoming all obstacles in life together, being strong and happy forever.
“No Break” by The VANE/ “Brand New Way” by DAMON is quite edgy in its style which suits the lyrics that talk about relentlessly running towards your dreams and achieving your goals.
Crush’ “No Words” is soothing and serene and explores the vulnerable state of the mind and heart when one falls in love, the fears of getting hurt but also the message of living and loving in the moment.
Itaewon Class is definitely a recommended drama for people who want a slice of life with a motivational message. The drama is ‘woke’ in more ways than one. However, for those who enjoy traditional rom coms, romance or melodrama may not enjoy it so much.
Having said that, Itaewon Class is refreshing and trendy and definitely one that you shouldn’t miss out on!
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