Edited by Yang Young Jun
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
I couldn’t believe what I saw: a Korean drama that put the sensitive issues of sex crimes against minors at the forefront only a few weeks after the “Nth Room” case that has angered the entire nation. I started the drama, thinking that I would throw out some curse words, but when I came to my sense, 10 hours have passed. It is a story of Extracurricular.
Extracurricular takes place as a high school student, who acts out a model student in school but in reality, runs teenager-prostitution business, gets caught by a classmate. Given that it is a teen drama with sensitive subjects, other TV series such as 13 Reasons Why, The End of the F***ing World and Élite come to mind. The fact that they are all rated R is another similarity. Crucially, just like the three works, Extracurricular presents an unusual level of immersion. What are the charms of the drama that it has captivated viewers at home and abroad?
The first is the narrative of the character. Each character has his or her own reasons for deviating the boundaries of the law. Ji Soo’s mother is missing, whereas the father is addicted to gambling, piling up the debt. Since there is no way for a student to earn at least the minimum amount needed to live a normal life, Ji Soo ended up getting involved in something illegal. Then, when his father spent all the money that Ji Soo had collected in gambling, he had no other choice but to jump into running the illegal prostitution business once again, completing one vicious cycle.
Gyu Ri is from a good family, excels in studying, and is even popular among friends. Although she seems to live the perfect life, she desperately needs money to escape from her parents, who are emotionally lacking and coercive. So she decided to partner with Ji Soo in his crimes. Ji Soo’s partner Wang Cheol and Min Hee, who jumped into the life of prostitution, were also reborn as characters with depth through their own stories.
Interestingly, Extracurricular doesn’t provide a room for viewers to empathize or understand these characters. This is the second advantage. Whatever the behind stories are, the characters, especially Ji Soo and Gyu Ri, are criminals. Despite having a chance to turn everything back, they were blinded by greed and decided to risk their lives on the wrong answer to the ordinary life that they dream of. Self-justification, of course, was followed.
As with reality, it is hard to say that society and family are not at all responsible for the crimes committed by Ji Soo and Gyu Ri. The social atmosphere and the parents’ excessive restraint under the guise of love as they stress how the purpose of the entrance exam is a stable job and achieving it is a “normal life,” put pressure on people in their 10s and 20s in both reality and drama. However, such pressure often causes them, filled with defiance, to go on the wrong path.
Extracurricular, however, focuses more on “choice” rather than external factors. The drama is trying to send a message that no matter how unfortunate the story is, crime cannot be justified and that the responsibility for the wrong choices solely lies with that person. It is the production team’s smart judgment to thoroughly separate the viewers from characters so that we, who know the harsh and bitter reality better than anyone else, can say, “Your choice is wrong no matter what,” without hesitation.
But the shortcomings are as apparent as the advantages. First of all, it’s hard to focus in the early episodes. Not only was the subject completely unexpected, the exaggerated lines and abusive language of the characters were awkward. Also, I, for some reason, strongly felt that these early episodes weren’t organized that well. In dramas where the beginning works as a crucial factor, the lack of early absorption is a fatal weakness. Considering how high the level of immersion is afterward, such shortcoming is even more regrettable.
It is also regrettable how the motives of the characters are not that convincing. It’s not that they don’t have any motives, but it’s not clear and strong enough to understand why they risk their lives and never give up. This may be why I often thought, “Why in the first place?” even though the drama boasts considerable tension and rapid development. Also, the topic of sex crimes against minors can be rejected by many, making the entry barrier somewhat high.
Extracurricular would not have been aired if it wasn’t Netflix. The provocative and heavy topic that this work deals with is hard to carry out on public TV. The drama is worth watching just with the fact that it proved how this kind of quality work with such material is possible in Korea. So if you’re curious, give it a go. You will experience the magic of an entire day disappearing.
Verdict: Korea’s “Spicy-Taste” that Surprised the Entire World (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.