After seeing Lee El and Hong Jong Hyun in their recent villainous turns in Wild Romance, I kept thinking of an earlier drama they had been in together, the 8-episode 2011 KBS drama special White Christmas, which was written by Park Yun Sun, the same screenwriter for Wild Romance. It wasn’t that good, but there were a few standout actors which made the drama really fun to watch. And it was also notable for a strange use of a Britney Spears song as the end credits – was that legal?
Over one winter break at a top private high school nestled deep in the remote mountains, a handful of students and one teacher choose to remain and soon regret their choice. Maybe choice is not the correct word – they each received a letter accusing them of cruelty and threatening revenge, and are trying to find out who sent it and what it all means. The addition of a psychiatrist whose car crashed nearby doesn’t seem likely to help them in their search. But when the students find out that the man is an escaped serial killer, what will they do?
The screenwriter, Park Yun Sun, tried to grapple with “deep” questions (like, Is a monster born or made?), but I kind of checked out of those discussions. I think this drama had the potential to go the whole Lord of the Flies route, but it just didn’t. Oh well. The big reveal was kind of on the lame side, but maybe that means the setup was that good. Even though a lot of it was nonsensical, it was an interesting look into the crazy Korean school system. I had read about these kinds of high schools – kind of like boarding schools on steroids – which are super competitive and elite. I doubt those kids even have time to watch dramas.
But there were some standouts among the very tall cast which made the show a lot more watchable. Sung Joon was really good as Choi Chi Hun, the cold genius who served as a kind of foil and internal nemesis to the show’s protagonist, Park Moo Yeol (the Baek Sung Hyun one, not the Lee Dong Wook one). I am usually predisposed to like those kinds of characters (like Manager Kim), and Sung Joon played it really well.
I must not have been the only one who thought so since the actor has since gone on to bigger roles. He was the second guy in the recent Yoon Eun Hye drama Lie to Me (I wonder if this one is worth watching) and now he is the actual lead in the cable drama Shut Up Flower Boy Band which seems to have a pretty devoted fan base. I was already going to see it for Lee Min Ki alone, but now there is that added Sung Joon factor.
I also liked the actor who played Michin Mi Reu (Crazy Mi Reu) the infamous second genius just behind Chi Hun. Kim Woo Bin (who finally changed his name from Kim Hyun Joong – good move) wasn’t that good of an actor or anything, but he and his character were super likable and interesting to watch. His scenes with Lee El were fun to watch until the drama went to some darker places. But he was always fun in a spazzy way.
He’s currently in the cable sitcom Vampire Idol (playing a vampire turned idol, as far as I can tell) alongside other White Christmas alums, Hong Jong Hyun, Kim Soo Hyuk, who played the super rich and unstable musician Yoon Su, and Kwak Jung Wook (from the strangely compelling Merchant Kim Man Deok), who played the deaf Yang Kang Mo.
But it was Hong Jong Hyun as the unassuming new kid in school, Lee Jae Kyu, who really impressed me, and not just because he reveled in his bowl haircut and then expertly styled it later on before going crazy on one of his classmates. I felt that the 2010 KBS short drama Jungle Fish 2 was a better showcase for him since he got to play the lead and everything, but he really stood out in this large cast.
He is as versatile as a character actor, but I think he’s cute and tall enough to make it to lead – it would probably still be an unconventional drama, but that’s not a bad thing. I still can’t believe that was him in Oh! My Lady (Chae Rim, Choi Si Won) in a boring filler role. It’s scary to think that he was hiding such talent in such a non-role, but even scarier to think that you would think he was normal in the wrong role.
There were very few girls in the cast, just Esom as Yoon Eun Sung, the dark and twisted one time girlfriend of Moo Yeol (who had a stalker problem), and Lee El as the mysterious nuna Oh Jung Hye.
She was pretty freaky, and has since played borderline dissolute and dangerous characters like gisaengs or gold diggers. I wonder how she feels about being typecast in damaged girl roles like this. There were even fewer people over high school age, just the teacher Yoon Jong Il (Jung Seok Won – can you believe he started out as just a stuntman?) and the psychiatrist, Kim Yo Han (Kim Sang Kyung). I didn’t take the serial killer seriously since he was played by the jovial Kim. I don’t like him exactly, but he was in one of my favorite dramas of all time – the criminally underrated Secret Agent Miss Oh (KBS 2010). Such a good, funny drama.
I get that they were going for a fresh cast – so fresh that I didn’t know much about anyone, though many have since gone on to other projects. I was most familiar with Baek Sung Hyun, who seems to have graduated into playing main roles rather than just kid versions of people (like in Emperor of the Sea – I still can’t believe I watched every episode of that seemingly endless drama), but I was a little disappointed. He was probably better in Accidental Couple, but that might have been because I disliked the main couple in that drama so much – I even liked the wicked second guy (Joo Sang Wook – so good-looking) better. I was the least familiar with Kim Young Gwang (how Glory Jane of him) who played the student everyone hated, The Plague Jo Young Jae. He was just in the cable drama Bachelor’s Vegetable Store, but I’ll remember him more as the guy who kind of looked out-of-place in Park Bom’s music video.
These KBS drama specials are pretty hit or miss. They are probably more like Korean movies, in that respect, versus the reliable comfort food feel of Korean dramas. But this one was more like a mini-drama, so it was still fun. Especially thanks to the cast.