Review: Great Shaman Ga Doo-shim

Not sure if it is due to Netflix’s influence, but I have been seeing an increase of short (i.e. less than the usual 16eps) Kdramas on air. Granted, Shaman is on a smaller internet TV channel, so it probably does not have the production capital of larger, and traditional TV stations such as KBS and SBS. But I do enjoy a tighter story line which the 12eps, and each ep being about half-hour, brings.

In a nutshell, Do-shim is the 3rd (?) generation in a line of shamans. She lost her granny to a knife attack after accompanying her to capture an evil spirit which targets young students who do not do well in their studies. Although Do-shim is reluctant to take on the shaman mantle, she finds she has no choice when said spirit (which escaped during Granny’s last mission) returned to exact revenge on her. But Do-shim has help, in the form of Woo-soo. Who ironically, is the school’s smartest kid (so technically he is actually pretty “safe” from evil spirit). Unfortunately, Woo-soo’s association with Doo-shim eventually led him to see ghosts/ spirits too.

Shaman is pretty blatant about the pointing out one of South Korea’s biggest social issue. That of a super competitive educational system. I find this to be endemic in most Asian countries. You also read about students who try all means to pass national exams in countries such as Japan, Thailand, and Singapore. And by “all means”, they can range from the orthodox such as extra tuition classes, to the unorthodox or plainly dangerous, such as taking in “supplements” (which are actually performance enhancing drugs), cheating, etc to name a few. And of course, the other spectrum are students who “fall through the gap”.

Shaman takes a pointed look at those students who are not able to meet the mark in the ultra competitive education system. About why a number of them (even if they are not really rock bottom) break down and commit suicide (and the suicide rates and age of victims are alarming). Of course, the drama outwardly ascribes the phenomenon to an evil spirit. But during the narrative, Shaman exposes much of the unfairness and pressure students face. Especially those who are already floundering and within the bottom percentile.

Of course, the “root” of this evil lies with the adults, who measure the worth of a child by how well s/he performs in school. The parents, the teachers, the education system’s administrators, all of whom place undue importance on good grades. In Shaman, this is embodied by Songyeong High’s principal, who stole the Ga’s family shamanic curse and also murdered Granny Myeo-shim in order to steal the evil spirit. Principal Kyung’s intention is to use the spirit as a form of negative encouragement to his students to ensure they pass their exams…or face a horrible death (literally). Of course, by eliminating the chaff from the wheat (so to speak), he managed to lift Songyeong High from being one of the “rock bottom” schools to an elite high school (and thereby attracting “elite customers”).

So while the premise of Shaman centres around Do-shim/ Woo-soo joining efforts to eradicate the evil spirit, we can extrapolate it to two high schoolers who rebel against the current educational system. And Shaman chose characters who are not your underdog type. As both Do-shim and Woo-soo are pretty book smart. They instead choose to protect the underdogs in the show, Il-nam and Ae-jeong, who are the frequent exam flunkers.

I suppose having 2 above average students acting as mouthpieces for the weaker and vulnerable speak more volume and have more impact than having the usual underdog-wins-the-day theme.

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