This article contains spoilers of “Itaewon Class”
MANILA -- Last month, social media was abuzz with photos, video clips and memes from the hit South Korean drama “Crash Landing on You.”
Now, another show from the East Asian nation, which is also available for streaming on Netflix, has started to attract similar attention from Filipino netizens.
“Itaewon Class” is a compelling tale of an ex-convict’s years-long quest to exact revenge on the snobbish father-son duo responsible for his misfortunes. The series is also praiseworthy for its depiction of various social ills that are rarely shown on Korean television.
The show’s ensemble cast is composed of both familiar and new faces in the world of K-drama, led by multi-awarded actor Park Seo-joon.
The series finale, which aired last March 21, scored an average viewership rating of 16.5 percent nationwide, the second-highest viewership rating in the history of its network, JTCB. It was also the sixth-highest rated drama in Korean cable TV history.
If the social media frenzy and domestic ratings were not enough to convince you to give the show a try, we’ve rounded up a few more reasons why “Itaewon Class” was such a feast that would surely satisfy your K-drama craving.
“Itaewon Class” revolves around Park Saeroyi (Seo-joon in a ridiculously cute bowl cut), whose life was turned upside down when he was sent to jail for assault shortly after his father was killed in a hit-and-run accident.
After his three-year imprisonment, Saeroyi opens a restaurant-bar in Seoul’s Itaewon area, with the aim of expanding the business to defeat Jangga Group, the country’s leading food company owned by the family whose heir was responsible for his father’s death.
It’s hard not to root for Saeroyi when his crusade against the Jang family is also a classic “rags to riches” tale, where his patience and perseverance are repeatedly put to the test. In fact, the show’s entire timeline spans 15 years.
The audience witnesses his hardships when he takes on odd jobs to earn money for his resto-bar, which he names DanBam.
Even when he opens DanBam, his business suffers several setbacks inflicted by his enemies at Jangga.
“Itaewon Class” would not be a K-drama without romance. The show also follows Saeroyi’s relationships with his bar manager, Jeo Yi-seo (Kim Da-mi), and childhood friend, Oh Soo-ah (Kwon Na-ra).
“Itaewon Class” is also admirable for having a diverse set of characters. There’s the DanBam staff composed of the idealistic Saeroyi, a former mobster, a trans woman cook, a manager with sociopathic tendencies, a chaebol (family-run conglomerate) son, and a Guinean-Korean in search of his father.
The recurring characters’ storylines enable the series to tackle issues rarely seen in Korean TV shows.
For instance, Lee Joo-young, who previously starred in “Weightlifting Fairy,” portrays the cook, who gains popularity after joining a televised cooking contest. The character, however, loses confidence after her sexuality is leaked to the media and publicized, reflecting conservative Korean attitudes toward the LGBTQ community.
Chris Lyon, meanwhile, plays the Guinean-Korean part-timer who deals with racism. In one scene, he repeatedly insists that he’s Korean, which Yi-seo, presumably accustomed to Korea’s ethnic homogeneity, rejects on the basis of his skin color.
The show also touches on classism, the divide between salary workers and chaebols, Korea’s high regard for college, and prejudices against ex-convicts and May-December relationships.
MIX OF FAMILIAR, NEW FACES
“Itaewon Class” stars Park Seo-joon, who has starred in a number of popular K-dramas such as “Hwarang,” “Fight For My Way” and “What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim?”.
The show also marks the first TV project and lead role in a series for Kim Da-mi, whose portrayal of the arrogant Yi-seo proves that her acting chops are at par with her more experienced co-stars.
Other familiar faces included Kwon Na-ra from “Suspicious Partner,” Yoo Jae-myung from “Hwarang” and “Strong Woman Do Bong-soon,” Ahn Bo-hyun from “Descendants of the Sun” and “Her Private Life,” and Kim Dong-hee from “Sky Castle.”
AN INTRODUCTION TO ITAEWON
A majority of the scenes were set and filmed in Itaewon, a neighborhood in Seoul’s central Yongsan district popular among residents, tourists, and expats for its restaurants, bars and cafes.
The vibrant Itaewon is also famous for its Halloween festivals, where costumed party-goers overcrowd the streets. It’s an event that’s depicted in the series when Saeoyi visits Itaewon for the first time.
It’s better to watch “Itaewon Class” on a full stomach because viewers would likely find themselves craving for Korean cuisine, which are prominently shown in the drama considering the characters’ businesses revolve around food.