[What Mary Thinks] "Itaewon Class" Review

Oh Itaewon Class, what am I going to do with you?

Popular drama ‘Itaewon Class’ just finished airing its last episode on Saturday, March 21. Stars like Park Seo-joon and Kim Da-mi starred in the drama with a fresh and talented supporting cast including Kim Dong-hee (SKY Castle), Lee Joo-young (Ghost Detective), Ryoo Kyung-soo (Confession), and Kwon Nara (Doctor Prisoner) just to name a few. The drama was highly popular with the last episode earning its highest rating yet of 16.5 nationwide.

*Potential spoilers below so read at your own risk!*

Also, a little something for you to listen to while you read my review <3. Hehe.

I’m aware of what the general sentiment about the drama is with the last two episodes, and I have to completely agree with how everyone felt about episodes 15 and 16. I have conflicting feelings about the last two episodes and I had an interesting relationship with this drama overall. I’ll admit, I only turned into this drama because of Park Seo-joon who I am a fan of. He was the biggest drawing factor for me which is why when I finished the first four episodes of this drama, I only stuck through for him. He was the primary reason why I continued even though I didn’t find anything interesting about the drama to watch. If it was any other actor portraying Park Saeroyi, I would have dropped the drama. However, I stuck through because of Park Seo-joon and continued on with the series for him.

Then things started to slowly but surely pick up and Park Saeroyi was finally beginning to achieve his dreams of owning a business. Then came with that a team – a team that would be used against him in multiple ways as his weakness, but that he would eventually protect and care for unlike any other. The first half of the drama heavily focused on his pub team and them working together collectively to uplift both the business and one another. I absolutely loved watching the teamwork and collaboration between the team as well as all the ugly fights and not-so-pretty conversations that took place within the walls of the pub. Things were raw and honest and we saw that everything wasn’t always rainbow and unicorns for our team. That’s what drew me into the drama once the foundation of the premise was set up and our characters were introduced. How funny and ironic that the little to no interest I had for the first few episodes transformed into incredible interest and excitement once everything settled down. The drama began to get interesting and the teamwork got me watching for more than just Park Seo-joon.

I loved watching the team work together to create something out of the pub that originally started off with nothing. That, in my opinion, was the best and strongest part of the entire series to me. And then things started to pick up with Park Saeroyi’s revenge scheme against Jangga Co’s Chairman Jang (Yoo Jae-myung) and that’s when things started to fall a little flat for me. Sure, I understand that Park Saeroyi’s biggest reason for doing what he did was so he could avenge his father and succeed by bringing down his enemy. But when that was pretty much the only thing going on the entire drama, things started to feel slow. It was exciting at first to see the two go against each other and try to one-up the other. But then, the revenge started to drag out and things weren’t as interesting as they used to be.

In terms of the characters, I don’t have too much to say about Jo Yi-seo (Kim Da-mi). I think Kim Da-mi was excellent in portraying the cool, stylish, intelligent, and often controversial team manager, but the character itself was off-putting in terms of her pursuit after Park Saeroyi. I felt like her character centered herself around Park Saeroyi in the sense that whatever Park Saeroyi wanted, she did. And when he didn’t approve of her actions or decisions, she manipulated him and took advantage of him because she was well aware of her strengths as the manager and how big of an asset she was to the team. Something about this aspect of her personality didn’t sit right with me, and I wished the drama showed us more to her than just someone who was obsessed with Park Saeroyi. She was more than that, but the drama chose to instead focus on her as Park Saeroyi’s number one fan. Her entire life revolved around him and only him and everything she did was for him. It’s unfortunate because Yi-seo had many other interesting things about her, but in the end, she was merely painted as the girl infatuated with a man who at first felt uncomfortable with her advances and then eventually reciprocated the same feelings back at the very end of the drama.

I think the same thing could be said about Jang Geun-soo who had an interesting backstory as the outsider in his family. However, the drama turned him into a boy who was obsessed with Yi-seo and did everything just for her. He turned evil and went to the other side because of her. He betrayed his team and joined his father because he wanted to prove himself to Yi-seo and hopefully be able to win her heart. I felt like the drama should have been a lot more interesting with Geun-soo’s transition onto the other side, but it didn’t really feel organic. Of course, he was only doing it because Yi-seo mentioned about it, but there should have been more to it. It would have been interesting to see him join the other side because of Yi-seo at first, but then eventually stay because it taught him a new side of himself he never knew existed and because he was receiving his father’s attention that he never got when he was a little kid. But the drama didn’t go that route and Geun-soo only did the terrible things he did under Jangga Co. in hopes of winning Yi-seo’s heart. Yay for consistency at least?

In regards to Jo Yi-seo and Park Saeroyi’s relationship in this drama. I didn’t buy it, and it was difficult to comprehend how and why all of a sudden Park Saeroyi fell back in love with Yi-seo when he was rejecting her pretty much the entire drama. I’m not so sure what it was about her that caused him to finally change his mind, but I wished it had been a little bit more obvious and arrived at a much earlier time than at the very end of the drama. The only thing that I can think of that caused his heart to sway a little was just how much work she was putting into helping his business succeed once they got much bigger, but even then, she had been helping him since the very beginning. Why 14 episodes in? Is it because she finally got older and turned more age appropriate so he finally felt comfortable opening up his heart to her? Or that he finally, finally realized just how much of a positive impact she had on both his life and the company so he gave her a chance at love? In addition to the confusion, the drama was never quite clear on who the endgame for Park Saeroyi would be since there was a complicated love square of some sorts throughout the series (Saeroyi harboring a crush on Soo-ah, Yi-seo having a crush on Saeroyi, Geun-soo liking Yi-seo, and Soo-ah somewhat having a crush on Saeroyi but postponing any sorts of development because of her job with Chairman Jang). That’s why when the drama decided to finally present its answer with Yi-seo as the endgame, it came a little too late into the game and came in a confusing way. When did Saeroyi’s feelings for Yi-seo begin? Were they always there and just hidden in the back of his heart because he had other priorities and because he knew the timing wasn’t right or did he just finally muster up the courage to make it clear to everyone later on?

Episode 16 wrapped up the love story between Yi-seo and Saeroyi in such a beautiful way and I can’t help but think about how much more satisfying their relationship would have been had there been better pacing and timing for their relationship. Their interactions in episode 16, the honest conversations they had with each other about their feelings, and the touching monologues that Saeroyi had about his team’s impact in his life: everything was so perfect. It was great and moving. But it’s just unfortunate that we didn’t receive any confirmation of Saeroyi’s feelings for Yi-seo until episode 14 in a way that felt inorganic, sudden, and confusing. If there had been hints throughout the drama, I would have totally been fine with the revelation. But things dragged on for so long that I couldn’t buy the relationship between our leads even if I wanted to. If the drama had done a better job in setting up Yi-seo and Saeroyi’s relationship with each other and was more careful in pacing out their relationship, episode 16 would have been so much more satisfying to watch. Everything would have came full circle, but it didn’t personally for me. I felt like our circle had some holes in it and there wasn’t any patching that was done to fix the holes.

I know not a lot of people were happy with episodes 15 and 16 and how sudden all the gangster content was. I too don’t know where all of that came from and the drama turned too melodramatic for me to even try to understand. At that point, all you could do was just watch and hope things would be over with as quickly as it started. Geun-won has always been someone impulsive, evil, and manipulating, but his hate and anger for Park Saeroyi to kidnap Yi-seo and murder Park Saeroyi was just too much. What did he think he was going to do by killing Park Saeroyi? What did he think would happen if Park Saeroyi was gone? That Jangga Co. would prevail as the winner and everything would be alright? I don’t know – if he wanted to get revenge on Park Saeroyi, this wasn’t the right way to go about it. In the end, he suffered the consequences for it again and ended up back in jail. What did he think he was going to accomplish with his plan? Why did the drama pull this when it was doing so well up to that point in the series? Where did all of this stuff come from? To be fair, since I didn’t read the webcomic, maybe the drama was just following the original content? Or maybe the drama decided to do its own thing in the finale week? I’m not sure.

I’m not surprised that the drama pulled what it did on viewers. I mean.. there’s been plenty of dramas out there that have done that before. The first half of the drama starts off great, enjoyable to watch, and just overall wonderful. And then in the second half, things start to go downhill and it turns into a completely different drama. ‘Itaewon Class’ wasn’t as severe of a case (given that it was just episodes 15 and 16 where things turned weird), but it did taint the original perception I had of it. That’s not to say that it wasn’t enjoyable because the drama was fun and great to watch. I really have to commend the drama for slowly capturing my interest and excitement after what was a slow start for me. I absolutely loved the teamwork between our ‘Honey Night’ team and I didn’t mind the rivalry between Park Saeroyi and Chairman Jang. There was context and background behind it and we were aware of why Park Saeroyi was so engaged in the battle. Hell, even after finishing episodes 15 and 16 and witnessing just how beautiful the drama wrapped everything up in episode 16, I still have a small small soft spot for the series. Everything was so beautiful. But I also have to admit that my feelings for the first half of the drama is a lot more bright and positive while the second half remains conflicting. If I were to go back to re-watch this drama, I would definitely go back and watch the first half (basically everything before the four-year time jump) again.

Even though episodes 15 and 16 were not the greatest, I have to admit that episode 15 was so touching to watch because of the scenes of Saeroyi and his deceased father (played by Son Hyun-joo). I’m such a sucker for scenes like those where our characters reunite with their deceased loved ones in their dreams or in another alternate universe. It. gets. me. every. single. time. which is why I didn’t find episode 15 as difficult to watch as I thought I would. Sure, all the Geun-won and gangster content wasn’t fun, but man, the scenes of Saeroyi with his father was so emotional and moving. Saeroyi’s primary incentive in doing all of this was for his father and I’m glad the drama addressed that in episode 15. I absolutely loved the father-son scenes in episode 15 between Saeroyi and his dad.

I appreciate how the drama didn’t shy away from topics that’s rarely ever addressed in other dramas for the fear that it’d be controversial. The first thing that comes to my mind is Ma Hyun-yi’s backstory and her life as a transgender person. It was refreshing to see that type of story in a drama, and I’m honestly surprised that there was some time spent on that in this series. That’s sad to say, but I’m glad that there was some kind of exposure and representation of that in the drama. I’m glad each of the characters in the team got some kind of screen time on their backstory, identities, background, and life.

Moving onto the cast members, Park Seo-joon was great as usual in this drama as Park Saeroyi. Out of the cast, he’s the one with more experience and popularity so it was a little shocking to me at first to see him act with a bunch of new faces. However, he portrayed his character flawlessly and I think he did his character justice. Park Seo-joon is a talented actor in general, but I’m glad he was given a little bit more to do in this drama with Park Saeroyi (than say, his past dramas). This was my first time watching Kim Da-mi and I actually liked her in this drama! I’m not the biggest fan of how her character Yi-seo was represented per se, but I think Kim Da-mi did awesome playing the funky, sassy, and cool girl. Of course, you can’t forget about Kim Dong-hee who played Jang Geun-soo. My first exposure to him was in ‘SKY Castle’ (though I know he was also in the popular web drama ‘A-Teen’) so it was great to see him again in this drama. I’m not sure if Geun-soo was the most fitting character for him to play though; I bought Kim Dong-hee as the naive and innocent puppy in the ‘Honey Night’ team, but it was a little difficult to believe him when he was on Team Jangga. Regardless, it was nice to see him again in another yet popular and successful drama after ‘SKY Castle.’ Seems like everything he’s been in has been a hit! Hopefully he can keep the streak going. Similar to Kim Da-mi, this was also my first time watching Ahn Bo-hyun who played the villain, Jang Geun-won. I was confused when I first saw him since I’ve never seen him in anything before, but I do think he was compelling as the villain in this drama. Geun-won was never a complex villain to begin with and was pretty straight-forward as the rebellious and fearful criminal. Of course, Yoo Jae-myung was outstanding as Chairman Jang as he is with all his other projects. I had to do a double take when I saw him in this drama compared to his role in ‘Strong Woman Do Bong-soon’ since he looks older and weak in this drama. Because Park Seo-joon was so great and so was Yoo Jae-myung, it was easy to buy into the intense rivalry that they had with each other and just how much their respective companies mean to them individually.

‘Itaewon Class’ was a slice of life drama that focused more on our characters than about a specific plot and in fact, I would argue that there wasn’t actually a lot that went on in the drama plot-wise. The drama centered around Saeroyi and his fight against Chairman Jang and in the process of fulfilling that, he met many amazing individuals along the way who changed his life positively. Saeroyi who was lonely but not afraid to fight for justice and to stand up for others became a Saeroyi who still believed in the good of people and achieved justice, but was blessed with plenty of other people to accompany him in that journey. They stuck with him through the good and the bad because they needed someone like him. They needed a role model like Saeroyi just like how Saeroyi needed them to get through his personal struggles in life.

Alas, after finishing episode 15 and 16, there were two parts that stood out to me the most. The first being the moment when Saeroyi woke back up from his coma in the hospital and bursted into tears. That scene spoke volumes about the type of person Saeroyi is and the personal battles that he had been dealing with that he tried not to show his team. Saeroyi knew that he had a team relying on him so he felt this sense of leadership within him to always be strong and to never show any signs of weakness. He didn’t want to disappoint his team and he didn’t want to burden them with any of his issues as well because he was the leader and he felt like he had to hold it together for the entire team. Then when he broke down into tears upon waking back up from a dream with his dad, Saeroyi took down his walls and could finally convey his true emotions without any barriers or concerns. He had been strong for so long this entire time, he couldn’t do it anymore and had to let it all out. It’s fortunate that he was able to meet and befriend so many amazing individuals along the way who’s become his new family, but he also misses his family: his dad. That scene absolutely killed me and it was such a beautiful but heart-breaking scene to watch.

The other scene that stood out to me the most (and once again has to do with Dad) was at the very end of episode 16 when Saeroyi could hear Dad ask the same exact question that he had asked him over some drinks a decade ago: “How does it taste?” It wasn’t just hearing Dad ask the question that got me, but it was also the reassuring look that Saeroyi gave into the camera afterwards that broke me. Yes, Saeroyi misses his father and will always miss his father and will carry bits of his father with him everywhere he goes, but he will also be okay without his father. Life is bittersweet for Saeroyi, but he’s okay. He will no longer have to worry. Once again, the drama came full circle by looping Dad in even until the very last second to remind us viewers the main motivation for Saeroyi’s will to live: not only for his new family, but also for his dad. To make his dad proud.

And we know that Park Saeroyi did make his dad proud. He made his dad and his team proud. Most of all, he made himself proud. He – whose name was unknown and who had little to nothing – ended up achieving his dreams and becoming a big name with plenty of successes in life. He went through a lot when he was younger, but he made everything well worth it. Park Saeroyi made it loud and clear that with self-love and determination as well as strong and talented team players who you have mutual love and appreciation for, the good will always prevail in the end. Always.

Extra screenshots from throughout the series~

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