Despite all that I bitched about Drinking, it is with some sadness to part with our heavily caricatured characters. Drinking may be a tad heavy handed with its portrayals of the trials and tribulations of students taking the civil exam and teachers teaching the exam subjects, but at the end of the show, the overall bittersweet effect has been achieved.
Like the alcohol inspired title, life as a student or teacher in Noryangjin has its ups and downs moments. There’s the bitterness of a student having to face multiple failures despite year(s) of trying their hardest to pass the civil exam.
Dong-young is the classic example. He comes from a middle income family, but has problems getting employment so he has to mulch off his family members’ savings in order to get his golden ticket to a better life. Ashamed of his leech status, he tries to skimp and save his way through. Unfortunately, all that extensive penny pinching (and constant mugging) doesn’t get him the Pass he wants. But he does have that brief episode of hopeful confidence (when he thinks he has aced the latest exams), and he ends up indulging in small things like not licking clean the foil of a yogurt cup.
Chae-yeon is also another example. She is a Fine Arts graduate who can’t get a proper job, though at the end of Drinking, she does pass and becomes a civil servant. However, Drinking mocks fun of her all-work-no-play attitude. She has zero friends in Noryangjin; though she is well-known as the Pretty Face of the school, her Ice Queen demeanor puts so many people off that she gets a nasty Stalker out to ruin her reputation. Also, mugging while on the road is not such a good idea as exemplified by Gong-myung’s near-miss with a motorbike.
On the other end of the student body’s spectrum is Ki-bum. He represents the student who is there supposedly to “study” but ends up taking it as a never-ending holiday. Ki-bum comes from a well-to-do family, who probably sends their “Golden Boy” there with the hope of helping him attain another feather in his cap. Too bad, Ki-bum is more interested in the arcades around Noryangjin than Noryangjin itself. At the conclusion of Drinking, he as usual, doesn’t pass. But at least he gets Chae-yeon’s attention and hopefully, that will spur him to finally graduate from Noryangjin to join her in public service.
The teaching staff is also not spared Drinking’s mocking. Since Noryangjin is a private institution, the teachers face the danger of losing their livelihood if their “clients” (aka the students) decide not to take their classes. Rookie teachers like Ha-na are the hardest hit, thus her doormat attitude towards her superiors. Even Jin-woong and Jin-yi have to resort to “tricks” to keep their students happy, be they silly voice acting, or flashing a tit or a bum here and there.
Those who are at the peak of the pyramid like Jung-seok are spared having to act like a clown. Ironically Drinking mocks this category the most. If you are sick of Jung-seok’s same-old-same-old litany of “Quality Time, Quality an-ju (beer snacks), Quality Drinking” (as much as Ki-bum’s annoying “di-lo-li”), you are not alone. Drinking means it for the viewers to associate Top Lecturer Jung-seok’s snotty, frequent soliloquy with Idiot Ki-bum’s sing-song ditty.
And what better way to reveal that the Top Dog and the Fool are one and the same but have Jung-seok turn into a silly, giggling teenager when he falls in love with Ha-na? Whether Trash Teacher, Rookie Teacher or Lonely Heart Teachers, they all get their happy endings at the end of Drinking. Jin-woong and Jin-yi are married with a baby on the way, and Ha-na gets to tame bratty Jung-seok.
[Afterword: I’m not so hung up on Jung-seok/Ha-na not having a “proper” send-off, since we are likely getting a Drinking Solo II]