The new School from KBS finally had its opening yesterday, delivering a premiere that is good enough to have me hooked on following the second episode. I haven’t watched any past installment of the franchise, so I don’t really know what to expect in this new one. Actually, I tried the first episode of School 2015: Who Are You and…Well, at least I tried.
School 2017 is a drama about high school students—their personal lives, school struggles (and fun), and romantic relationships. The synopsis says it would tackle the problems facing the South Korean high schoolers nowadays and the first episode actually did, with emphasis on grades and how most students hate it. Before I move on to the meat of this review, let me introduce the three major characters of the story and give a summary.
Ra Eun-ho (cast: Kim Se-jeong). She’s just an ordinary, energetic female high schooler who goes gaga over her crush. In this episode, she skips the class just for him (a college guy played by Kang Min-hyuk) and decides to enter into the same university as his first love’s to be able to realize her romantic fantasies. The problem is, she sucks at school, so how could she possibly make it happen? The good thing is, she’s a persistent girl and uses an opportunity to her advantage.
Hyun Tae-woon (cast: Kim Jung-hyun). A guy who rarely talks, he seems to care less about what’s happening around. He has a cold personality unlike Ra Eun-ho but he ranks last in school just like her. His ranking prompts the school’s director, his embarrassed dad, to remind him to do better and enroll in a prep class outside the school. But I don’t think he’s worried about the ranking and his dad’s sermon; he heeds his advice but probably just to avoid of having his credit cards confiscated. There is so much to know about Tae-woon, but I could feel in this episode that behind his distant appearance lies a warm heart and personality.
Song Dae-whi (cast: Jang Dong-yoon). For his classmates, this handsome and kind guy is super cool. After all, he’s a student leader and an ace student who’s at the top of the ranking. He seems perfect for his classmates in school but little do they know that he is having a personal problem that gives him the gloomy look. His mother seems to not care much about his achievement and dreams and it’s like going home after class does not make him excited. He comes from a middle-class family, so I understand that he’s doing some tutorial sessions in exchange for some bucks which he is saving. That’s probably for his college tuition because he is planning to apply for admission to a prestigious university in Seoul.
Ra Eun-ho meets her college crush in the university and gets the idea of entering into the same university after she graduates from high school despite her low grades. Thankfully, she has a talent in drawing and uses this to join a competition that could give her the chance for admission to the university. As she prepares for it during class, her teacher confiscates her work and has no plan of returning it back to her immediately. Desperate to win the competition and get into her crush’s university, she sneaks into the faculty room at night to get her sketchbook back. She is making a story about the mysterious man who is causing serious trouble at their school and has caught the interest of the police. It happens that when she enters the faculty room, that man is also there, wearing a hoodie and setting some pieces of paper on fire.
It seems to me that this episode has two highlights. One is the incident of a mysterious trouble-maker that is praised by the students for having their mock exam canceled, and the other is the individual stories of the characters that go beyond the school premises. I like it that this very first episode already presented one ‘problem’ facing the high schoolers today in South Korea. The hierarchy of grades is in place and the discrimination is so extreme that even at the canteen, students who have higher grades get to eat first than those who have lower marks. I was irritated by that scene really, wondering if such a scenario truly exists somewhere in Seoul or in the countryside. In my opinion, this discrimination has a connection to the mysterious incident that is getting the nerves of the school admin.
The identity of the suspect has yet to be known. I could only guess that he is either one of these individuals based on what he did so far: a currently enrolled student of the school or an outsider related to a student in the school. Both do not like the way by which the students are treated according to their grades, an attitude that explains the setting off of sprinklers in the middle of the class and lighting the class rankings on fire. Given that the only remaining questions worth to be asked are: Who is he? and Is he alone or not?
Ra Eun-ho has no idea about his identity but calls him a hero for his actions. Does he have company or not? There is a scene that hints at a possible collaboration in this incident. The likely suspect says via a voice-over: “Stay for a while. Be careful until you hear from me.” And he gets a reply, ‘”Okay, got it.” Mmm, then Tae-woon and Dae-whi get out of a room as if they just communicated with the suspect through text messaging. Is one of the two related to the culprit? Or is the drama just tricking us into believing that one of them has something to do with this case? The answer is not crystal clear for now but I couldn’t see the reason for either one of them to do something like that. Dae-who is a good kid who has nothing to gain from the incident (or maybe I’m wrong because I just don’t know him enough) and Tae-woon seems to be a boring a guy who does not care too much about the ranking because he’s the director’s son anyway. They have had a heated conversation that night but to be honest I did not bother to understand completely why they are acting like that.
The episode also highlights the personal lives of the student characters, particularly that of Dae-whi. I could empathize with him and understand how it feels like to return home seeing his parents with no vested interest in him. He seems a perfect student beloved by his classmates but he lacks this parental support that could give him an absolutely happy life, inside or outside the school. Somehow it’s a boon and a bane for him. It gives him the motivation to become successful but saddens him to the point that he’s spending too much time studying at home because he could not spend a meaningful time together with his family.
I hate this particular school that only cares about making their students achieve higher grades in a completely twisted way. This school treats its students like animals and assign them with tiers that determine their value, what the. So, I am looking forward to seeing the characters beat this school with their burning passion for achieving their dreams or pursuing whatever they want against the very small odds. School 2017, fail me not or I’ll be dropping out.