I came in with low expectations as I’ve watched several school dramas this year and wasn’t sure if another one would keep me interested. I am most definitely glad I took this one up! This drama is breezy with a dose of teenage angst. While the story and themes are not new, it is the characters that make up the heart of this piece. This drama focuses on two rival groups at Sae Bit High. The White Tigers which consist of the top 5% of the school are intelligent, smart and have wealthy parents to back them up or storm up the school. They receive all the resources of the school. Meanwhile, Real King consists of students who are less intelligent than the rest of their peers and are more focused on friendships and dancing instead of academics.
In such a vicious academic institution, they get the short end of the stick and their precious club gets dissolved. The leader of Real King is Yeon-doo, a cheerful and loyal girl who really cares about her friends and tries to reinstate the club to help her less academically talented friends breathe at the suffocating high school. Meanwhile, Kim Yeol is president of the White Tigers and butt heads constantly with this rival group, especially the leader. Unfortunately the former friend of Yeon-doo, Soo-ah, is pressured heavily by her mother to become number one in the school and attend a Ivy League university. Pushed to extremes, she constructs underhanded plans to undermine Kim Yeol, first place in the school, and uses Yeon-doo’s friendship to her advantage. She is unapologetic to the people that she hurts and takes after her mother who also enjoys manipulating and pressuring others to do her bidding. To build up Soo-ah’s resume and specs, the White Tigers and Real King are forced to merge together into a cheerleading squad so that they can compete later in the year. While both teams really hate this idea, the principle subtly threatens them into complying. A sassy outside instructor is hired for leading this new group and she uses unique methods to get the two groups to cooperate.
I very much enjoy the personal stories of each character that make up the heart of the show. Of course, the drama focuses on several common themes. It heavily focuses on academic pressure that students in Asia face. They are pushed to extremes to be number one, go to the best college, and study study study! The parents push and push from using tutors or storming up to the school if something does not reach their standards. They will bribe and shout and demand all sorts of things to make their child stand out from the crowd. The authority figures such as the principles become corrupted and bend over backwards for money or parental pressure. Of course the only decent teachers who care about the student more than just points or money are on the borderline of getting fired or have no true power.
These poor children are the ones who are suffering. For Yeon-doo, she has the family support that does not push her academically to the extremes, but rather teaches her the value of friendship and having a moral compass. She lives her life trying to be happy and helping her friends survive in such a suffocating environment. For Kim Yeol, he is a mysterious character. We can see that he has a strong bromance with Ha Joon and protects him to the extreme. Because of his intelligence, he is often cynical and sees through the schemes of the adults. However, through his constant contact with Yeon-doo, we see that ice wall he has built cracking and a warmer side coming out. His best friend Ha Joon, our Bok Dongie from Angry Mom, unfortunately suffers from an abusive parental figure AGAIN. Because of his grades, which do not meet the high standards of his doctor father, he gets beaten harshly and is threatened with the mental institution. He self harms and has tried committing suicide several times. Unfortunately, Soo-Ah and the principal uses this as a way to manipulate Yeol and Ha Joon. Soo-Ah really seems to hate her life and is constantly jealous of Yeon-doo’s carefree life. She feels so pressured and also had a traumatic experience where her past best friend committed suicide due to academic pressure. While I think she may have a good heart deep underneath, she is so backed up into a corner by her mother, she lashes out at others to save herself.
The last major character is Don Jae, the best friend of Yeon-doo. They are really close and it seems he may also have feelings for her. He is a talented basketball player who has an extreme phobia of physical contact. Whether that was from a traumatic experience when he was younger or maybe a medical condition such as a form of autism, we have not unraveled his story yet. However, he also joins the cheerleading squad to be able to protect Yeon-doo better and to get over his phobia.
And there you have it, amazing characters and a story where hopefully we get to see corrupted officials get their dues and characters redeemed!