Korean Drama Review: Netflix’s “Extracurricular”

Young students are often asked about what they want to do in life throughout their childhood until they’re about to graduate high school — more specifically, which university and job they want to pursue. And while some don’t know exactly what they want, they, at least, try to figure out what they would like to do in the future. However, that’s not the case for everyone; others only hope to make ends meet, eat enough meals every day, and live an ordinary life. These people only dream of survival, and Oh Ji Soo is one of them.

Oh Ji Soo (played by “Itaewon Class” actor Kim Dong Hee) is your not-so-typical “model student.” He boasts of high grades, but is aloof and socially awkward. While this may sound like he just prefers being alone, Oh Ji Soo’s silence actually mostly comes from his painful upbringing rather than it just being his actual personality. He learned to fend off for himself at a young age, doing whatever means possible to survive – whether legal or illegal. And, as much as Oh Ji Soo seems quiet and ordinary on the outside, the high school student is actually hiding a dark secret: he runs a security service to provide safety for girls working for an illegal prostitution ring. The money he earns through his “part-time job” is used to pay for his tuition and other school-related fees, his daily living expenses, and to save up for college. As Oh Ji Soo’s goal is to earn enough to study in a university, hoping to graduate and finally live a normal life.

But things started to become complicated when he gets involved with Bae Gyuri (portrayed by “A Piece of Your Mind” actress Park Joo Hyun), the outgoing heir of an entertainment agency. She seems to have everything Jisoo doesn’t – wealth, friends, and an assurance to graduate college with a bright future ahead of her. Still, despite their difference in personality and background, the two are similar in a way that, deep inside, they’re both wounded, lonely, and in pain. The two are victims of their parents’ selfish decisions and irresponsible parenting: whereas Jisoo’s father left him but still continue to exploit him financially, Gyuri’s parents give her things she never asked for, often without considering what she truly wants. They groomed her to become their company’s next CEO, without room for mistakes, and without a way to think for herself. Hence, Gyuri is forced to act perfectly all the time, even when she’s broken deep inside. And, due to her age, she can’t do anything about it as she doesn’t have enough money to rebel against her parents and live on her own. This led to her decision to partner with Jisoo to earn fast cash, just so she’ll no longer be financially dependent on her mom and dad.

“Extracurricular” follows Jisoo and Gyuri’s illegal escapades, as they tell white lies to try to not get caught. Two students who are both, in their own way, trapped without a choice. One is hoping to survive his day-to-day life, the other hoping to reach financial independence to be able to make her own choices. But, as their lies get bigger, the pair gets entangled in even more serious crimes. Will they get away with it, or will they get punished for their wrongdoings?

Just like other Netflix Original Series, such as “Insatiable” and “13 Reasons Why,” “Extracurricular” also focuses on a sensitive yet realistic topic, as the series tackles juvenile crimes and aims to open the public’s eyes regarding various issues, mainly focusing on illegal and underage prostitution.

The series would also remind you of another Netflix Original Series, “The End of the F****** World”, as both shows start with a slow burn intro, a middle where it looked like we’re just following their daily lives and impromptu adventures, and then finally ending each episode with cliffhangers but this time partnered with suspenseful theme music. This tactic hooks viewers in finishing the whole series in one sitting. The difference, however, is that unlike “The End of the F****** World,” the romance aspect in “Extracurricular” is more conservative and isn’t exactly the focus.

Closing into its Korean roots, there’s also a bit of a “Parasite” feel in the series, where the two main characters’ lies created out-of-control situations, just like the family in the said film. Another similarity is the coloring, the colors are not bold and bright like your usual Korean drama — it’s a bit toned-down, less contrasts, and kind of neutral but with some pops of color here and there. There’s a sense of realism and seriousness in the drama’s overall feel. The actors also nailed their roles by showcasing realistic portrayals and more human-like emotions.

“Extracurricular” also doesn’t sugar-coat their characters, including the main leads, as they too have negative attributes. We know that they did something wrong, and the series doesn’t justify their wrongdoings. “Extracurricular” clearly shows the consequences of their actions. We get a bunch of good people making bad mistakes, as the characters aren’t a “what you see is what you get” type; they all have a lot of layers, and some have secrets other people wouldn’t expect them to have due to the facade they created.

The supporting characters — Seo Min Hee (portrayed by Jung Da Bin) and Kwak Ki Tae (portrayed by Nam Yoon Soo) — also have skeletons in their closets. Min Hee is working as one of the girls in Jisoo’s pool, while Ki Tae is a school bully who hides his true nature from their school’s higher-ups.

At the end of the series, questions such as “Is it their fault? Is it their parents’ fault? Is it the society they live in? Would their lives be completely different if only their parents supported them, or if the world was a tad bit kinder?” would come to mind. As “Extracurricular” also shows how important a parents’ or a guardian’s role is in shaping a kid’s future.

“Extracurricular” also teaches how even young teenagers experience life’s harsh reality, as they realize how high-priced chasing their dreams are, and how even maintaining their current reality or plainly surviving is worth a lot, too; showing the unfair reality of low-income workers and the high cost of living. The series is a reminder that there are people suffering and committing crimes, regardless of age, and always ends with a prompt to reach out if you’re in danger and/or in need of help.

Also posted on Facebook:“Extracurricular”

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