original published date: 21 March 2020
I have probably watched hundreds of kdramas over the years but only a few out of those dramas have made me feel the way I felt about Itaewon Class. This drama was in a league of its own. I loved every single second of it and it has become one of my all-time favourite kdramas.
I am aware that not everyone is a fan of this drama and I am not here to fight with anyone who hated the drama - after all, we all are entitled to our own opinions and this is mine: Itaewon Class was a masterpiece.
If you haven't seen this drama and came here to know what it is about here is my spoiler-free review of Itaewon Class. If you have seen the drama, scroll down for a deep dive in the world of Itaewon.
Many dramas are like Itaewon Class in their storyline - an ambitious protagonist loses everything because of some rich, power-hungry antagonist. The protagonist then goes on a journey to be successful and maybe fight injustice.
It’s not a very unique plot, in fact, it is a very obvious one and despite that, Itaewon Class stands out amongst others to me, it was because of the core value it threaded along the way. Here are some of them:
The Story of Two Sons
Our parents can make or break us. As much as I hated Jang Geun Won (played by Ahn Bo Hyun) I felt very sad for him throughout the story. He loved his father and really wanted his approval but his father chose his company over him while Saeroyi’s father resigned from his job just because his son didn’t apologise to his boss.
For Chairman Dae Hee, there was nothing greater than his company while for Saeroyi’s father, there was nothing greater than his son. Both fathers taught their sons how to lead life and while Geun Won arguably had everything as the heir to his father’s empire he lost everything and became a monster because of his father.
Yes, of course, we can’t blame our parents for every decision we make in life and that is the biggest tragedy of Geun Won's story. He could have decided to stop being a privileged dumbass at any point - especially when he called his father from jail and asked why did he do it to him? And his father told him that it was all for Jangga. He could have turned his life around but he didn’t and he paid the price for it.
Meanwhile, Saeroyi lost his father but never lost the love of his father and that was the biggest motivation for Saeroyi even in the darkest time. Telling his son he was proud of him (even when he lost his job and Saeroyi got expelled) was the saving grace for Saeroyi, it taught him that even in the darkest times it was okay for him to be himself because his father was proud of him.
2. A Lesson on Self-Love
Itaewon Class truly had a wonderful take on self-worth, almost all its main characters learned to love themselves along the way whether it was the ex-gangster sidekick who becomes the director of IC or a transgender chef who learned to accept who she was without fear. Each character had their struggles and Saeroyi’s trust and acceptance played a huge part in their character development.
Saeroyi lost everything because he refused to kneel before Chairman Dae Hee. It was such a big deal for both Saeroyi and Dae Hee that when ultimately Saeroyi kneeled in front of Dae Hee Saeroyi realised it was not a big deal because his love and self-worth were bigger than kneeling in front of his enemy.
Itaewon Class had a constant theme of contrasting two characters to narrate the story, likewise, the drama narrated to the story of leadership through the perspectives of Chairman Dae Hee and Park Se Ro Yi.
While Dae Hee was a great businessman and knew exactly what it took to lead a successful business despite his success he was not a true leader - not even to his own sons. While the one son, who he mentored all his life was irresponsible and out of control. The other son became a carbon copy of him and didn't give a shit if his father lived or died.
All of Dae Hee’s employees were afraid of him and did everything to please the man which was why he was surrounded by backstabbers and had to be on his guard at all times.
Saeroyi on the other hand, believed in people. He trusted them even when they didn’t trust themselves. He doubled the salary of a mediocre chef instead of firing her and his belief made her work hard and ultimately become the best chef in the country.
He took care of his employees and accepted them as they were. Instead of forcing his will on them he listened to their views and valued them. He trusted his team completely which is ultimately why he built a company with people who would do anything for him A company that was strong and unbreakable even at the hardest time. Like Seung Kwon says at the end, “a true leader takes responsibility.”
This is where a lot of people found a problem with this drama. Age difference and love arc with an arguably unlikable female lead. Well, I for one was really glad Saeroyi fell for Yi Seo and not Soo Ah. I know I am a minority here but I am all the way team Yi Seo I don’t want to defend her or we will be staying here all night. Let’s just discuss love from the perspective of Yi Seo and Soo Ah.
In the case of Soo Ah, Saeroyi constantly told her that he liked her and that she could go ahead and do whatever she wants even while he was in prison and she told him she was siding with the person who put him there. For her, Saeroyi was just someone who made her feel better about herself.
There was no point in the entire story when he didn’t do anything for the sake of Saeroyi but always wanted him to sacrifice himself because he liked her. She held him back, she constantly told him to not do something, she was selfish and wanted to be with Saeroyi for all the wrong reasons. If he had ended up with Soo Ah, Saeroyi would have never achieved as much as he did.
Dear reader, What is your definition of love?
To me, love is something that makes you happy, love makes you better, it helps you grow. All of it was what Saeroyi and Yi Seo did for each other. They became a better version of themselves because of the other. While Yi Seo learned to love and value people because of Saeroyi, Saeroyi achieved the heights of success because Yi Seo was always with him.
You may argue that there is still an age difference and Yi Seo was selfish and crazy (which, again, I don’t want to talk about here) and forced him to love her. I would like to say, please watch the drama again because you didn’t get it at all. She didn’t force him to do anything, she made his life better, she worked hard so Saeroyi would become successful, and she got hurt constantly for the sake of making Saeroyi’s life a little better.
Saeroyi was a very unhappy character and he thought he would be happy after he won. Which is why he never dated even at his age even though he could have dated Soo Ah but he didn’t. Saeroyi was so single-minded in his revenge and ambition that he didn’t realise he was in love with Yi Seo. It was only when he realised that she was everything to him he let go of his stubbornness and became truly happy.
At last, I want to end this by saying that true happiness isn’t a goal that can achieve. And this is why I loved this drama so very much.