Thanks to the start of a really weird show, kdramaland gave me an air pocket of breathing space to watch a drama I’d always wanted to start — High School Love On. As the name says, it’s about high school, a bunch of teenagers coming of age, and high school romance. These are tried and tested formulae of kdramas — except that THIS high school has one pretty special student.
High School Love On airs once every Fri (subs on Sats), with 20eps (currently at ep8)
- Nam Woo-hyun (from the boyband Infinite) as Shin Woo-hyun. A righteous young man, whose only fault(?) is his tendency to jump in and help people — from performing CPR, to capturing a snatch thief, and even housing an angel-turned-human (Seul-bi) in his house. He lives with his granny, Mdm Kong, who owns a dukbokki restaurant. His mum left him when he was a kid, and the only thing he had from her is a gold chain with a key pendant, which he treasures above all things.
- Lee Sung-yeol (also from Infinite) as Hwang Sung-yeol. Plays the second lead in the usual love triangle. And typical for a second male lead, is practically good at everything. He is an A-grader in class (those that don’t study but still tops the school), but is cold and aloof. He falls for Seul-bi’s warmth (since opposites attract), and begins to take notice of her. His dad is a detective and his step-mum (Mdm An) is his Ethics teacher in high school. However, he despises his step-mum, seeing her as a homebreaker. His biological mum though, doesn’t seem to miss him as much after her divorce.
- Kim Sae-ron (from The Queen’s Classroom) as Lee Seul-bi. Previously an angel of death, now a human. Change is probably caused by a freak electrical storm or a run-in with Woo-hyun. Being non-human, she possesses an unearthly intelligence (when it comes to general knowledge), but is totally clueless on the nuances of human emotions. She receives her “training” on feelings by watching kdrama (yeah, she’s a kdrama addict like us!). Since she saved Woo-hyun when he falls accidentally from a building, she has been bunking in with him and attending the same school with him.
I’ve watched only 3eps, and like what the story has been telling me thus far. It’s light, campy and besides the obvious teenage romance, there’s the running threads of friendship and self-discoveries that make the high school genre so entertaining. Dramabeans has the full recap of ep1.
We are introduced to our 3 main leads, as they meet a road junction. Sung-yeol, forever with his headphones on, mindlessly crosses the road juz as Woo-hyun zips by on his Vespar. Before they collide, Seul-bi intervenes by freezing time and pushing both guys to safer trajectories. Later Woo-hyun tries CPR on an ahjusshi who collapses from a heart attack, but to no avail. The soul of the ahjusshi is led away by Seul-bi, but not before Woo-hyun accidentally walks into her, causing a sudden electrical flux for Seul-bi.
Woo-hyun, being such a nice (and goodlooking) guy, is the popular boy in class. One of his classmates, Jin-young (whose mum owns the school) is infatuated with him. Of cos, that brought Tigress Mummy to school, with claims that Woo-hyun has been leading her daughter on. She insists he transfer school. Jin-young, upset, runs to the roof with the intention to jump. Woo-hyun rescues her, but not before he falls off the roof himself — and lands on top of Seul-bi (who was there to collect either Jin-young/ Woo-hyun’s soul). Seul-bi weirdly becomes humanised in this event, and both kids land in hospital.
Since Seul-bi claims to have “no memory” after waking up (actually, she does…but who would believe her if she said she was an angel previously?!), Woo-hyun “adopts” her and brings her home. His granny, Mdm Kong, takes a liking to Seul-bi instantly. Seul-bi decides to work in Mdm Kong’s dukbokki restaurant as “payment” for free lodgings and food.
Eventually, Woo-hyun is forced to transfer school, thanks in no part to Jin-young’s mummy. The school he enters is the same as Sung-yeol. He soon makes fast friends with Sung-yeol when both are sent to run laps as punishment, and enemies with the school’s gang (headed by Jae-suk) when he openly goes against their “rules”. And of cos, he immediately wins a bunch of adoring female fans — Young-eun / Da-yool (the female counterpart to the boys’ gang), and Ye-na (a loner, whom Jae-suk has a crush on).
High school life, as we all know, is hell. Since Woo-hyun defies the “pecking order”, Jae-suk and gang pick on him with cheap tricks like dunking him in the swimming pool (which nearly killed him, cos Woo-hyun has hydrophobia) and soaking his uniform in water. The mayhem gets worse when Seul-bi enrols in the same high school too. Now the female gang picks on Seul-bi, since she lives with Woo-hyun and appears too “cosy” with him. Woo-hyun, as usual, runs to Seul-bi’s defence — even though he declares quite pointedly to everyone (especially Sung-yeol) that she — the “crazy pervert” — is not his girlfriend. And why “crazy pervert”? Cos Seul-bi happily walks in when Woo-hyun is showering to pass him his ringing mobile phone. =^^=
And cos Seul-bi is such a waif, she projects enough damsel-in-distress signals that even Sung-yeol jumps in to help as her Black Knight. When Woo-hyun loses his precious necklace in the pool, Seul-bi tries to look for it with Sung-yeol…explaining that she lost a necklace. Sung-yeol then shoos her off and goes diving for hours in the pool to locate the necklace for Seul-bi — not knowing it’s actually Woo-hyun’s. (i think this scene is rehashed from somewhere…but i can’t remember where exactly) In return for her cheap outsourcing trick, Seul-bi has to go through muck. On the way to return the necklace to Woo-hyun, it slips into the sewage drain. (whoops)
As I said, the themes for High may not be the most innovative, but since they have worked, there muz be a reason for their successes. High is a mish-mash of School 2013, Monstar and other high school rom-coms we have come across. Except they added in an ET to the student body. Ok, Seul-bi is not exactly an alien…but close. As a death angel, she has been around humans — but she only sees the outward causes and effects of their actions. Now that she is one of us, she feels the intricacies and range of emotions which can be as basic as hunger, to as complicated as love.
And Kim Sae-ron plays Seul-bi down to a pat. Being only 14, the actress can still portray this wide-eyed, child-like wonder. Which convincingly portrays Seul-bi’s amazement at simple things like being able to feel rain. At the same time, we are reminded that Seul-bi is ageless and have a vast store of knowledge gathered over eons as an angel — she solves the high school homework with ease for Young-eun and gang, and knows the answers to trivia questions like “which is the nearest star to Earth?”. But as they say, book knowledge is nothing in the real world. Seul-bi’s profound(ly useless) knowledge is unable to guide her through the high school jungle, with its ever-changing alliances, its inhabitants’ raging hormones and the typical teenage need to assert dominance. We wince when Seul-bi gets physically attacked by the girl gang during a physical training class, but shake our head when she still doesn’t get WHY they want to attack her in the first place.
In contrast, the two Infinite boyband members are a little raw in their acting chops as compared to Kim Sae-ron. (though they can be forgiven for that, since this drama is their virgin attempt) Woo-hyun plays his helpful, young man a little too earnestly, coming across as over the top at times. And Sung-yeol can be quite wooden and stiff when projecting “cool” and “aloof”. I understand that since High is the guys’ debut into dramaworld, the producers (and their managers) muz want them to make a lasting impression on the audience. But, do we need such blatant, glaring reminders? As if having their names barely changed isn’t enough, the other characters in the show muz make references to how they look like members from the boyband Infinite. (duh…)
Like School 2013, many of the so-called side characters here may have backstories developed for them. As early as ep3, we learn that Ye-na comes from a broken family. But unlike Woo-hyun, or even Sung-yeol, who are more fortunate with having surrogate parents who love them, Ye-na’s father sponges on her and uses her hard-earned part time salary as gambling chips. Another classmate — the no. 2 smarty pants in class after Sung-yeol — will probably show some complex as well. But the most interesting development may be that Sung-yeol and Woo-hyun are step-brothers. There are strong hints up to ep3 that Mdm An (Sung-yeol’s stepmum, and the Ethics teacher) is Woo-hyun’s missing biological mum. I guess she is forced to abandon Woo-hyun cos of Mdm Kong (the usual mother-in-law/ daughter-in-law conflict). If that’s so, the budding friendship between the two boys will be further threatened; not only will they love the same girl, they may need to share the same mum.