K-dramas can be as fluffy and sweet as cotton candy, but even when they are lighthearted, these dramas can touch on serious social issues being discussed around the world. ‘Itaewon Class’ is such a drama, also based on a webtoon series of the same name.
JTBC's ‘Itaewon Class’ aired every Friday and Saturday from January 31 to March 21 of 2020 with 16 episodes. Long story short, a high school student named Park Saeroyi gets expelled from school at the very start of the drama because he stood up when he saw a classmate was bullying a kid from his class. He was also wrongfully thrown in prison for three years following his father's accidental death which was done by his classmate, who was also the son of his father's boss. Three years in prison didn’t change him at all. He always had his big plans to open his own bar-restaurant in the Itaewon neighborhood of Seoul and get his revenge on Jangga, a company that ruined his life.
His best friend Soo-ah goes on to work for Jangga, while Saeroyi finds his own crew of colourful friends to help him open his own bar-restaurant. And those friends are an ex-convict who was also his cellmate in jail (Choi Seung Kwon), a transgender chef (Ma Hyeon Yi), an intelligent and popular social media blogger with very strong opinions (Yi-Seo), and a biracial man (Toni Kim) and the second son of Jangga Co. (Jang Geun-soo).
The Itaewon area is mostly known for its restaurants serving more than 20 types of international cuisine and for its vibrant nightlife. It is also home to many foreign residents, with some 40 embassies based in the area. Set against the backdrop of Seoul's "most international" neighborhood of Itaewon, the drama has won praise for its realistic portrayal of issues such as prejudice against foreigners, misbehaving scions of conglomeration, and discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
Itaewon Class gave a fresh point of view on K-dramas today. Like the issue of the acceptance of transgender. Fans liked how the drama made an effort to make its audience realise that transgender is no different and can be and should be accepted at all times. Lee Joo-Young who played the character of Ma Hyun-Yi made history by portraying the first transgender character in a mainstream K-drama. She played a character who is a transgender chef at Danbam pub owned by Saeroyi. While her colleagues were uncomfortable with her revelation at first, they eventually accept her with open arms.
Another issue tackled in the show is racism. Viewers were amazed how they didn’t try to paint South Korea as a perfect nation that doesn’t discriminate against other people of colour. Instead, the drama presented the real situation that’s happening right now, not just in Korea but also all around the whole world.
‘Itaewon Class’ shows that for every dream and goal you have, there will be walls and what to do with those walls depends on you.
Koreans assume that all foreigners in their country can speak English. So, Toni Kim, who is half Korean and half Guinean in this drama, always had to explain why he only speaks Korean and French. Toni gets turned away from are public spot due to his skin colour. The actual webtoon series didn’t have the character of Toni. In the drama, they decided to include the character of a foreigner. The problem of people being racist is rising day by day definitely should stop.
While portraying all of these problems, like a country’s justice system, conscience, morals, principles, and relationships, etc. the drama didn’t mess up with the main theme of getting revenge on Jangga Co. With all of his principles, ambition, and a team of non-professionals, Saeroyi pursues his dream of beating Jangga Co. by owning the top spot in Korea's food industry. And this was able to happen because he never gave up on his dreams. The most Iconic dialogues that the fans loved are like “You don’t have to convince others about who you are” and “What good would it do if we decide it won’t work before even starting? We should start first. I don’t care whatever you do to me, I am going to achieve everything I dream.”
There were also some really interesting facts in this drama. Like, Park Bo Gum a well-known South Korean actor was in a scene of the drama's final episode, worldwide famous band BTS' V showed his support for Park Seo Joon by self-producing and singing ‘Sweet Night’ (in English) for the Itaewon Class’s original soundtrack. V also made time to visit Park Seo Joon (Saeroyi) at the drama's Seoul film set where they shot the last two episodes of 'Itaewon Class'. And the interest in the drama of people was so intense that the final episode peaked at a nationwide viewer rating of 16.5 percent.
Many of the Korean drama viewers grew up watching love stories between female and male leads. Now, as societies around the world recognise the existence of multiple genders, Korean dramas are also slowly adapting by featuring more LGBTQ+ lives.
Everyone is able to change if they want to. Sometimes for being better and sometimes worse. People always have choices to encourage the people they love, to grow alongside them. ‘Itaewon Class’ shows that for every dream and goal you have, there will be walls and what to do with those walls depends on you. The journey to your dream might not be easy and quick but as long as you know the risks and as long as you never stop, it’s just a matter of when you get there.
This heart-whelming drama is now available on Netflix and free on a website named Dramacool.
Rumaiysa M Rahman is a 9th grader at Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, Dhaka.