Edited by Yang Young Jun
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
When “webtoon original” is added to the front of a movie or drama, worries come first. Of course, I know that there are many great works like Incomplete Life and Strangers from Hell. However, since more painful memories are left rather than good memories after watching the webtoon-original works, I tend to lower my expectations before starting. Because as you know, if you have high expectations, the disappointments are seemingly bigger.
It went the same with Itaewon Class. And yet, contrary to many concerns, Itaewon Class is currently enjoying immense popularity. It started off to a good start with the viewer ratings of 5% and broke its highest ratings in every episode (as of 9th episode, 14.903%). Some even expect Itaewon Class to break the record set by SKY Castle, which currently holds the highest ratings of the cable channels.
Itaewon Class tells a story of people pursuing their own values around Itaewon-dong. It is a work of the so-called “Underdog Rebellion,” as it deals with the start-up story and the revenge of Park Sae Roy, who became a social outsider because of the Jang family, who owns the nation’s No. 1 company in the food industry and live by the law of the jungle. What is the reason behind this popularity of Itaewon Class, despite the common topics?
First of all, the fact that Cho Kwang Jin, the original writer, writes the script is the most significant advantage. The original webtoon was loved by many at the time of its release. So, as with any webtoons, popularity is guaranteed to some extent. However, the common mistake of the failed webtoon-based dramas and movies lies in “the excessive dramatizations without original writers.” In the process of reducing the number of episodes piled up over the years to 16 or 20 episodes (usual numbers of dramas), some stories get immoderately summarized that fans of the original works are dissatisfied and general public turn away due to lacking probability.
However, Itaewon Class maintains its signature fast development and tension of the original work as the original writer participates directly. While some settings have changed, such as an increased number of scenes of Oh Soo Ah (Kwon Nara) and the addition of romance, all are thoroughly calculated changes made by the original author to enrich stories and characters. These are the positive additions that can appeal to both the fans of the original work and the general public.
The similarity between the original and drama characters is another factor behind the popularity of the Itaewon Class. Everyone knows that the more the actors resemble the characters, the better. Although it’s a common sense, finding the actors who match the original characters is no easy task. But Itaewon Class accomplished such a difficult job. With one look, you will able to tell that actor Park Seo Joon is playing the role of Park Sae Roy.
Of course, the similarity between the actors and the characters doesn’t necessarily mean “good character.” The actor could look exactly like the character, but as long as the actor’s acting prowess is not present, the resemblance means nothing. Since no controversy over the actor’s acting skills has emerged, it can also be interpreted that all of them have proved their concentration and harmony with the characters. Park Seo Joon is not the only one. Everyone, including Kwon Nara, Ryu Kyung Soo, Lee Joo Young, Yoo Jae Myung, Ahn Bo Hyun, and especially Kim Dami, offer more charms than the original characters. As mentioned earlier, this is how the drama naturally increases the level of immersion, despite its common topics.
However, there is also a weakness: the way two characters, Ma Hyun Yi (Lee Joo Young) and Kim Tony (Chris Lyon), are used. The members of “DanBam” are all social outsiders, including middle-school-graduate criminal, sociopath, love child, and former gangster. Among them, Ma Hyun Yi, who is raising money for his sex reassignment surgery, and Kim Tony, an Afro-Asian, stand out. Yet, the way the drama portrays these two characters is somewhat uncomfortable. Despite the fact that Itaewon Class is trying to convey the meaning of life by asking, “Is life worth living if we live them to satisfy others? Who are you living your life for?” the two characters must be appreciated by others and make compromises to fully live their own desired lives. If they changed the setting of Ma Hyun Yi, who was already a transgender person in the webtoon, to a “pre-surgical state” and added the character of Kim Tony, who wasn’t present in the original work, it might have been better if they paid more attention to the story of the two.
Nevertheless, the reason as to why Itaewon Class is so popular is probably because anyone can relate to the story. Even as I wrap up this article, I am sitting in from of the TV waiting for Itaewon Class to air. I’m just glad that there are still seven episodes left as of today (February 29), but at the same time, I’m sad that the drama has already reached the turning point and is running towards the finale. Please, could you make the special edition of the webtoon released with the drama into special episodes of the drama?
Verdict: This is the answer sheet for future webtoon-original dramas and movies (8/10)
Editor Yang Young Jun: There is at least one good part in every movie or TV series. A media geek who isn’t picky with genres.