Dream High Review (SPOILERS)

Posted by Stephanie on November 28, 2012

Reviews

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I’m happy to report that the second viewing of Dream High is just as engrossing as the first. The series moved quickly, it had compelling characters and some great music. It was the ultimate under-dog story. A story where almost every character takes their time being the underdog. I am a little astounded as to the skill of this writer; she’s got serious, mad skills. When I think about all that went into this story, all the twists and turns of the plot, the multiple over-arching storylines, and the bevy of characters with crunchy layers? It’s just amazing. This shows that if you put a little effort into your beginning, into your characters, the possibilities of your program is just endless.

I’m going to break this down into 2 main sections, plot and character.

Plot

Holy moly. For a standard 16 episode program a lot went on within this show. Looming over an increasing group of smaller archs the show is shadowed by the question posed in within the first few minutes of first episode. “Who is K?” Who is the one person within this group of students who becomes what may be the first Korean awarded a Grammy? This is actually a pretty smart plan. If a person doesn’t care for a certain plotline, they are still going to hang around to find out the answer to this question. It also drives the story along and gives us hope during the bad times. Terrible things happen to these kids but we remember that one of them makes it through. Since technically all these events are going on within the stories past, it gives a little relief.

Although, being me, I became attached to all the characters and wanted all of them to be ‘K’.

I like though how they set up the show, they bring in the flash forward at the very beginning, show that whoever ‘K’ is has the medallion, and it’s never mentioned again. We are not beat over the head with the stakes, with the over arcing plotline. With the setup of the medallion, we are subtly reminded whenever we see it, whenever it gets passed from one student to another of the main plot.

Heh. Did anyone else think that the medallion looked a little cheesy? With the way the K spun and the giant fake diamond? I did laugh a little whenever I saw it.

While we do have some great characters to back up the show, this is really a plot driven drama. Here are just a few of the over-arching storylines: We have the ‘will these kids make it’, who is ‘K’, the love triangle between Go Hye-me, Sam-dong, and Jin-gook, the rivalry between Go Hye-mi and Yoon Baek-hee, the relationship between Jason and Pil-sook, Go Hye-mi’s family debt and father on the run, and Jin-Gook and his relationship with his father.

Woah. And those are just the overarching storylines, it doesn’t include plot twists, or character developments. See? We never had a chance to be bored.

Within these storylines, the show is written pretty episodically. There’s the issue of the week, the challenge or hit the kids take during the episode. Some last for a few episodes, but really, we move along pretty quickly.

If there were one drawback to the writer, it is the, ‘I think they’re going to be just fine’, writing. With all the plotting and characters, some things get solved pretty easily. Things the kids want, they usually get. Yes, there are strings attached, or it gets taken away from them in the next episode, but the stakes are never really that big. Can I fault the writer for this? I don’t think so. I like that the kids get a lot of wins. I tire of shows where the stakes are so high, or everything is so dire that there are whole series of episodes where nothing good happens and none of our good guys get a win. (Looking at you Love Rain…and Smile Dong Hae.) Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need everything to be sunshine and lollypops, where’s the fun in that? We need our characters to go through the bad times to change and grow in order to deserve and appreciate the good times. What I am saying is that watching hours and hours of doom and gloom isn’t fun for anybody.

Plus, while a lot of the stakes are small and are just a means to an end, there are some large hurdles that these kids have to bear that just breaks your heart. Sam-dong losing his hearing? Raise your hand if you cried like I did when he gets that double whammy—losing the girl—and finding out that you’re going deaf. He no more than gets a dream and then both are stripped from him.

Yep. The tears were a-flowin’.

His hearing loss takes several episodes to clear up and continues to be an issue throughout the remainder of the show. Those are real stakes. While I like that the writer didn’t go the easy way out and just make him a songwriter, I think that it was wrapped up a little too easily. Or maybe I just didn’t understand it. First he just needs to learn perfect pitch, and then he only needs his relative pitch? That seems kind of simple.

But since I’m a huge Sam-dong fan, I’m okay with whatever they chose so that he could continue on with his dream.

A plotline which surprised me was the sexual assault of Yoon Baek-hee. I totally didn’t see that one coming. I may still be new(ish) to the Kdrama world, but I’ve never seen a show where this has happened before. It’s been threatened, but someone (usually the hero) swoops in to save our maiden just in time. Since we all knew the character of Jin-gook, we knew there had to be a pretty big reason for his assaulting the president of the management company, I just had no idea it would be that. It was interesting to see how Kdrama dealt with this very serious subject.

Where I continued to be surprised.

In American television, when something like this happens, victims are encouraged to come forward, to stand up to their attacker for themselves and possible other victims. Within Dream High, Yoon Baek-hee is encouraged by everyone, even the authority figures, to keep her mouth shut. That by keeping what had happened to her quiet was the best thing to do for her career and future. That even as the victim, she would be vilified by the press and society would discard her. I was shocked and a little saddened. Perhaps this is a societal thing I just don’t understand, but it seems wrong. That guy shouldn’t get away with what he did. Jin Gook shouldn’t have to apologize for assaulting him. He should have to go to jail.

But something tells me this doesn’t happen within the story. What the dance teacher feared, all her reasoning’s for Baek-hee to not come forward came true. She was blamed; her band was broken up, and she was blackballed from the entertainment world as other higher ups were still afraid of pissing off the bad guy.

He’s a bad guy! How about chasing him out of the entertainment industry!

Luckily with the support of the people around her Baek-hee is able to pick herself back up, but did she ever really make it on her own? Everyone else went off and had music careers of their own but Baek-hee? In her future she’s teaching at Kirin. Is this because her dreams changed or was this because she was only able to get so far in the entertainment industry on her own?

Or maybe I’m just thinking too much about it.

As for our love stories? This is one of the few stories where I had no idea who was going to end up with Hye-mi at the end. Was it set up this way? To keep us on our toes I mean. And I swear, from the beginning it looked like it was supposed to be Jin-gook. He swoops in and saves her, they have the hidden childhood past, and Sam-dong doesn’t even show up until the end of the second episode.

Usually it’s easy to spot the hero in a Kdrama. Find the guy who is being the biggest ass-hat to the heroine and poof, instant hero. In this case, we have two guys who are nothing but nice and supportive of our heroine. Is it no wonder I was at a loss?

Now, do I agree with the choice of her ultimately choosing Sam-dong? Of course. The writer told me to. And Sam-dong broke my heart. But did Sam-dong need to win her in the end? Ultimately his dream expanded from Hye-mi and became music and being the best. So he won her just to have to let her go again?

Why did I spend my time rooting for a couple, or caring for this love triangle when everyone was going to end up alone in the end? Yep, I was pretty cranky about it the first time around. This, I told myself, this is why I don’t do teen dramas. I’m cranky that they aren’t together forever when the idea of it is just silly. They are kids. Of course they are going to love and loss. It totally makes sense that the writer had an open ending like that.

But I was still cranky.

This time around I was better about it. One, I knew it was coming. Two, it is open ended. She’s chasing her dream, he’s chasing his dream, but they still have that connection. I can totally see them giving it another try in the future. Like I said, they are kids, and they have a very long time in front of them, even 8 years into the future.

I did like how the writer wrapped everything up in the end. Everyone gets their version of the happy ending. This may be trite, but I don’t care. By this time I’m invested in these kids and I want to see that, even if they didn’t become ‘K’, they were still happy with how their lives were shaping up.dream high 3

Characters.

Wow, there were a lot of characters within this show. Not only do we have the group of students: Go Hye-mi, Song Sam-dong, Jin-gook, Yoon Baek-hee, Jason, and Kim Pilsook, we also have the main teachers. Kang Oh-hyuk- Shi Kyung-jin, and Yang Jin-man.

A lot of detail was given to these characters. It reminds me of the show How to Meet the Perfect Neighbor. While I had problems with that show, the attention to detail given to the surrounding characters was a nice change. Usually, within Kdrama, the main couple, possibly the love triangle and the villain will be given layers, and everyone else reeks of cardboard. Here? Almost everyone gets crunchy layers.

And these crunchy layers help move the plot.

It took me a few episodes to get into Dream High. Mainly it was due to our heroine. No, it wasn’t because of Suzy’s dubious acting skills; it was just how unlikeable a character she was. Remember earlier how I was talking about Kdrama heroes? Usual Kdrama heroes start out as the ass-hat. They are selfish, self-centered, condescending, and prejudiced. Throughout the course of the drama, they learn the error of their ways, usually from the super sticky-sweet heroine, and by the end are more rounded likeable human beings. In Dream High, Hye-mi is our ass-hat.

While we learn there are reasons why she is the way she is, it doesn’t make her first episodes easier to take.

However, the show took it’s time and continually knocked Hye-mi down, stripping everything from her until she had to start over. She think she’s all that? She’s forced to ‘belittle’ herself to become a pop-star to pay for her father’s debts. She’s living on the streets with her sister until she asks for help from the one person she hates. She’s rejected from the school she didn’t even want to go to, instead her place given to someone who previously was her lackey. Time and again she’s both fairly and unfairly sent to the bottom of the pile. But through these trials she becomes a better person, she gets actual friends, finds a new dream, and a new love. A pretty good reward.

Can I please take this moment to say how much I HATE her father? Oh. My. God. He is the ultimate irresponsible Kdrama parent. He goes on the run, leaving his children to fend for themselves, knowing he had debtors who would go looking for them. Then he leaves the country and doesn’t bother to bring his kids with him? Come on. We’re finally able to forget about him until the last few episodes where he swoops in and tries to act like a responsible parent and take Hye-mi and her sister away. Oh, after a year of dumping your kids, you now know what’s good for them? He takes them out their home and moves them into a sauna? Yeah, that’s a responsible parent. Grr… he makes me angry.

Anyway, both of the male leads had pretty excellent parts with conflict, secretive pasts, and self-doubt. I was rooting for Sam-dong more, but I wonder—was it because that was the better roll—or was it just because Kim Soo-hyun was the better actor? While I liked the character Jin-gook, Sam-dong took my heart and just kept stomping all over it. While I love the fact that he is ‘K’, it also makes me a little sad. As they said in the drama, while he may have the glory, he also leads the loneliest path. At the end, he gets his wish to be the best, but during his flashfoward, he doesn’t look happy at all. And I love Sam-dong. I want him to be happy. The happiest.

I did love the relationship between Jason and Pil-suk. They were so freaking cute.

My favorite though? When she loses all the weight for him, but then in the end decided she deserved better. What an awesome message that sent out!

Yes, they eventually get together, but he actually has to work for it. He grows-up and learns not everything should come easy. Out of all the featured students, Jason was the one closet to cardboard. He had a few interesting blips, but for the most part, his character was a bit of filler. But I didn’t really care. For one show, there were so many good characters with depth, we didn’t really need his.

As one of the most interesting characters we’ve got Yoon Baek-hee. She has an amazing character arch. She starts out as Hye-mi’s lackey, with no real dreams of her own.

We watch her turn from sad sack to winner, until to stay there; she slowly turns, step by step, to the dark side. She learns that through cheating and manipulation she can get what she wants. But as this writer is awesome, just as soon as she gets what she wants, the foundation below her crumbles and she has to fight even harder to stay there. We see her go from the bottom to the top, to be yanked back down to the bottom again.

Only by hard work and being true to herself is she able to herself is she finally able to start the climb back up again. It’s reminds me a little of Maru in Can You Hear My Heart—the progression from good guy to bad guy and back again—it makes for a really interesting character.

While the teachers were a bit secondary, I don’t want to forget them! I really liked the teacher Kang Oh-hyuk. I liked his progression from sad-sack to someone who also has a dream and is the one adult character these kids can always depend on. He’s not just a teacher; he’s like a father figure to all of them. He wants them to succeed, but only on their terms.

I have to say, one of my favorite characters throughout Dream High, was Jin-man. He and his cowardice were so funny.

He didn’t really grow or change throughout the drama, but like the character Jason, I didn’t really need him too. He served his purpose and entertained the heck out of me.

So I think that covers the writing of the drama. We should move on. Don’t worry, I don’t think I have too much left to say…

Oh, except interesting sidenote. You know how Dream High is awesome and Dream High 2 has gotten terrible reviews? (I haven’t seen it) I was wondering how the writer could have gotten it so right in the first season and tanked it in season 2. A little research gave up a little tidbit. They two seasons were written by two different writers! Did they think just anyone could do what this writer did? Did they think they didn’t need a super good writer because they had the first season to rest on? Or did they think it was because of the music and the idol heavy cast that Dream High 1 did well? Well, they were wrong. If something works really well for you in the first place, don’t change it! They did the same thing in God’s Quiz. Season One? Buckets of awesome. Season Two? Buckets of yech.

Now I’ll move on. Acting. Yep, we all knew it had to be addressed. I had to address the wooden monkey in the room. Yeah. The idols tried their best. They tried very, very hard. But sometimes? An idol is not an actor. While the writer built Suzy’s wooden acting into the plot in a very funny way, there was a definite line between the caliber of acting between idols and actors. I am so glad producers went with an actual actor for the character of Sam-dong. I think this was the more difficult part out of all the kids and I just don’t think I would have cared as much if he hadn’t had been played so well. Kim Soo-hyun did an amazing job and I look forward to seeing more of his work.

As for the teachers. Uhm Ki-hoon also did such a great job as the teacher. He added weight to the character. I believed his progression throughout the show because of it. It’s funny to realize that he is not only this character, but the doctor who bent our hearts in Scent of a Woman, and the gross-out lead in Life Special Investigation Team. He’s almost unrecognizable in the latter. It makes me look forward more to my rewatching of Scent of a Woman, as I’ve been dreading that for a while, knowing what an emotional wreck the first viewing made me.

A surprise? I’ve said this before and I’m saying it again. JYP. He was so unexpectedly funny! He took no care at looking ridiculous and threw himself into the part. I loved every scene he was in.

So. In an effort to keep this review brief (LAUGH) I’m going to wrap it up now.
Will I watch this again. Heck yes. I may skip the first few episodes, but this show is filled with heart, it’s uplifting, moves quickly, and has some great music.

Will I recommend this to others? Uh. Yeah. No surprise there. And if you’ve seen this, so should you.

Will I watch season 2? Probably not. On the one hand, I want to see how bad it got, but on the other hand, I don’t want to see how bad it gets since I enjoyed this so much.

Watching this and knowing that I like the writer so much, it makes me almost want to watch Get Karl, one of her earlier shows. It was never on my TBWList before, as it didn’t seem like my cup of tea, but her skill, makes me want to give it a shot.

 

 

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